Daily Archives: April 24, 2010

by Henning Mankell

White

 

Henning Mankell, the popular Swedish mystery novelist, writes two kinds of books:  novels with a strong social conscience, and novels worth reading.  Sad to say, The White Lioness falls into the former category.  Mankell has created a wonderful protagonist in Chief Inspector Kurt Wallander, a depressive, middle-aged cop from tiny Ystad, Sweden.  It’s a joy to follow this miserable man as he solves crimes in and around his seaside village.  We care not only about whatever crime Wallander’s trying to solve, but also about his relationships with a senile father, a maturing daughter, and his sometimes unreliable police colleagues.

But this winning setup isn’t always enough for Mankell, who in some of his books turns Wallander into a globetrotting James Bond (The Dogs of Riga), and in others like this one, puts the reader to sleep with preachy moralizing, in Lioness about South Africa circa 1993.   Mankell is so intent on teaching us all lessons that the actual mystery suffers.  And once the story loses allure, every little plot twist becomes less and less believable.  My advice to the first-time Mankell reader:  Stick to pure Wallander in books like Faceless Killers or Sidetracked.

 

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Eclipse

 

This little number from Ireland is the kind of movie you plop into the DVD player late at night, sit back and enjoy, and eventually forget.  I don’t mean that as an insult, although I suppose it’s not much of a compliment.  The problem with playwright-turned-director Conor McPherson’s ghost story is that it lacks tonal harmony.

The Eclipse begins as a melancholy chiller, with recently widowed Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) moping and coping with his two kids in their eerie little house in County Cork.  One night, Michael thinks he sees a ghost downstairs. 

He volunteers as a driver for a local literary festival, where he meets arrogant writer Nicholas Holden (Aidan Quinn) and, much more to his liking, London novelist Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle).  There begins a middle-aged romance between Michael and Lena, complicated by the jealous and frequently drunk Holden.

Actors Hinds and Hjejle make for a refreshingly mature couple, something Hollywood can’t — or won’t — offer anymore.   They both hold back and reveal just the right amount of their characters’ inner selves.  We find ourselves pulling for them.

But this is also supposed to be a ghost story.  And this is where writer-director McPherson stumbles.  He works hard to create a quiet, charming romance between two very nice people, and every 20 minutes or so the SOUNDTRACK EXPLODES as some horrifying apparition manifests itself to poor Michael.  It’s exactly the same effect you get in any Nightmare on Elm Street film.  It’s jarring and it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie.       Grade:  B

 

Eclipse2

 

Director:  Conor McPherson  Cast:  Ciaran Hinds, Iben Hjejle, Aidan Quinn, Dorothy Cotter, Eanna Hardwicke  Release:  2009

 

Eclipse3      Watch Trailers (click here)

 

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