Coincidentally, I watched two Gary Oldman movies in quick succession. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, he plays the subdued but heroic George Smiley. More recently, I watched The Contender. The multi-talented Oldman also produced the film.
Oldman’s character, this time, is the polar opposite of Smiley. Congressman Shelley Runyon, is malevolently and unappetizingly evil. Even the way he eats bloody steaks (and talks with his mouth full) is disgusting.
He abuses his power as the head of the judiciary committee with a ruthless relish. Hearings to confirm a vice presidential nominee (Joan Allen) serve as a vehicle for Runyon to retaliate against the president and, if the career of Senator Laine Hanson (Allen) is ruined, that’s just collateral damage. This is a darker, more disturbing version of The American President. However, a marvelously inspirational closing speech by the president (Jeff Bridges) provides catharsis and hope.
As someone who is not a history buff at all, I was hesitant to pick up The Partly Cloudy Patriot. But at the urges of my best friend, I gave it a shot, and I am so glad that I did. Sarah Vowell makes her nerdiness wholly endearing in this series of humorous essays with topics ranging from the Salem Witch Trials to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the 2000 election of George W. Bush. Vowell fully embraces her nerdiness, especially when describing her “nerd voice” and her various vacations to (often depressing) historical landmarks. Though I always found myself bored in history class, Vowell’s book taught me some things I didn’t know all while making me laugh. She makes the information simultaneously humorous and personal; one of my favorite chapters was about Al Gore speaking to a group of high school students and having his remarks taken wildly out of context by the media, changing his message of hope into something egotistical. Not all her stories are aimed at those interested in politics and history; she also has some gems about how to deal with her parents visiting for the holidays and her fear of Tom Cruise.
Just for a taste of her dry wit, here’s one of my favorite passages: “I was enjoying a chocolatey cafe mocha when it occurred to me that to drink a mocha is to gulp down the entire history of the New World. From the Spanish exportation of Aztec cacao, and the Dutch invention of the chemical process for making cocoa, on down to the capitalist empire of Hershey, PA, and the lifestyle marketing of Seattle’s Starbucks, the modern mocha is a bittersweet concoction of imperialism, genocide, invention, and consumerism served with whipped cream on top. No wonder it costs so much.”
If you’re looking for a thriller that’s engaging and scenic, The Ghost Writer fits the bill. Both Martha’s Vineyard (actually Germany) and a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor are easy on the eyes. The windswept beaches and desolate rainstorms are forbidding yet stunningly beautiful.
Ewan McGregor plays a professional ghostwriter who is hired to finish the memoirs of Adam Lang, a Tony Blair-like ex-prime minister. The book takes on more importance when Lang is accused of war crimes, and it becomes apparent that the job of ghostwriter may be a highly risky occupation.
Directed by Roman Polanski and based on The Ghost by Robert Harris, the movie is intelligent and full of twists and turns right up until the last moment.
With the worlds’ eyes on our nation’s capitol, let’s get the point of view of cops, bureaucrats, lawyers, killers, diplomats and street people that populate the city year-round.
James Patterson’s Detective Alex Cross frequents the “gritty underbelly” of Washington. Alex Cross is a “homicide detective with a Ph.D. in psychology. he looks like Muhammad Ali in his prime. Cross works and lives in the ghettos of D.C. He’s a tough guy from a tough part of town who wears Harris Tweed jackets and likes to relax by banging out Gershwin tunes on his baby grand piano,” according to his creator.
Margaret Truman moved to D.C. at age 10 when her dad, Harry, was elected to the Senate. Compared to Robert Ludlum, she has an insider view of the Capitol’s neighborhoods, restaurants and institutions. For 28 years, she’s written a mystery almost annually, from Murder in the White House to Embassy Row, the FBI, Foggy Bottom and, most recently, Murder Inside the Beltway.
John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer starts out as a corporate lawyer and becomes an advocate for the homeless after a hostage situation radically changes his view of the legal profession. In true Grisham fashion, there are stolen files and conspiracy and a young, idealistic hero.
In Chicago, truth is truly stranger than fiction, but the fiction is awfully good, too!
Scott Simon’s Windy City: A Novel of Politics was published in a very timely manner, this last year. The comic novel involves a poisoned mayor and the exploits of the 50 Chicago alderman who want to determine the next mayor. Simon grew up in Chicago and is a long time National Public Radio host.
“I think politics is a local specialty in Chicago, the way that blues and improvisational comedy is a local specialty,” Simon says.
Scott Turow is generally acknowledged as the best legal fiction writer in the business. Presumed Innocent was one of the first really big legal blockbusters and is a classic in the genre. Turow’s Kindle County is a thinly disguised Cook County, As s a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, he’s had first hand knowledge of fraud and corruption. If you want insight into the Chicago way of doing politics check him out.
Sara Paretsky‘s books immerse the reader in the South Side setting. The heroine, V.I. Warshawski, is a whiskey-drinking private eye who grew up among the steel mills.She first appeared in 1982, and was groundbreaking as a tough female p.i., in a male dominated genre.