Tag Archives: Twist Ending

Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

the life before her eyes

Rating: B/ Considering that I had already seen the excellent film adaptation a few years before, this novel held few surprises for me, least of all the twist ending alluded to in it’s lyrical title. So it’s a good thing that Laura Kasischke focuses more in her writing on lyricism and less on plot. With the lovely, vivid writing, I still felt like I was getting something new out of the experience of reading the book even though I pretty much knew the story. The Life Before her Eyes is a good book, not a great one. The writing can be meandering and sentimental while at the same time being lush and gorgeous, starting off the bat with a Sophie’s Choice type situation and gradually touching on aging, sorrow, and regret in a bittersweet manner. Continue reading Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

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Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

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Despite the huge Dennis Lehane kick I’ve been on lately, I was unsure about reading his 2003 novel ‘Shutter Island’ because I wasn’t a big fan of the Leo DiCaprio film. While I still highly question the realism of the twist ending, I’m as utterly in love with Lehane’s writing as ever, and this is a slightly different offering from him, an entertaining riff on Gothic mid-20th century pulp fiction that pulsates barely contained malice. I just wish I hadn’t watched the movie first, since nothing was as big a surprise to me as one might hope for.

Teddy Daniels, an emotionally traumatized, serious U.S. Marshall and veteran of the second World War grieving the loss of his wife Dolores in an apartment fire a few years prior, arrives at Ashcliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane searching for an escaped patient, Rachel Solando. Solando was incarcerated for the fillicide of her three children and has seemingly vanished into thin air, leaving nothing but a few puzzling hand-written codes in her wake. Teddy comes onto Shutter Island, the foreboding location of Ashcliffe Hospital by ferry with his good-humored partner, Chuck Aule.

A place that houses only society’s most dangerous and volatile inmates, eerie hints of ongoing human experimentation, a doozy of a hurricane heading their way and threatening to total the control panel and release the crazies from their cells- what could go wrong? Poor Teddy is continually haunted by visions and nightmares of the most macabre variety, spooky reminders of the wife he lost and the uncertainty surrounding her death, He’s not well… and things are going to get a whole lot worse…

Teddy is a tough cookie, but the island begins to not-so-slowly get under his skin, and soon the bereaved paranoiac begins to believe that everyone, and everything, is out to get him. There’s a ton of historical context to this novel, from flashbacks of World War II concentration camps, to Cold War-era anxiety, to the ongoing stigmatization of mental illness. However, none of these things are pedantically pushed upon the reader and the novel as a whole is a fast-paced, exhilarating read.

The setting is fascinating (especially for a self-proclaimed fan of the macabre and Gothic like me) and the characters are easy to picture in one’s head with Lehane’s adept descriptive passages. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book horror- more of a dark psychological thriller with tons of sinister build-up and uncertainty going on, as well as some extremely strange dream sequences that unsettlingly (but accurately) portray Teddy’s troubled psyche. There’s a very important message beneath all this weirdness, a commentary on the horrors that spring up from denying escalating mental illness in a loved one, an all-too-common occurrence in the recent past.

‘Shutter Island’ isn’t perfect, and it isn’t as riveting as some of Lehane’s work. As I stated at the beginning, the end twist seems so improbable that it almost ruined the movie for me. I would go so far as to say it doesn’t really make sense under close scrutiny. Dennis Lehane’s dialogue can be a bit unrealistic at times (while being utterly plausible at others,) especially when he tries to hard to make a particular point, and Teddy’s conversation with the bile-spitting, expletive-screaming warden is one such instance where a little bit of editing and subtle toning-down of the subject matter could have done wonders.

Of the three Lehane novels I’ve read (“Gone, Baby, Gone,” “Mystic River,” and this book, “Shutter Island,”) I recommend you read the one you haven’t seen the movie for first. I was kind of bummed to already see the twist for this and “Mystic River” coming, while “Gone, Baby, Gone”  was a riveting experience unmarred by already seeing the characters and the situations pictured in my head by the movie. I don’t think this is a very believable book when you examine it under a microscope (the other two are much more plausible in terms of plot,) but it’s just as exciting and entertaining as the others, plus there’s the Gothic backdrop that offers some dark spookiness to to the author’s repertoire.

The Other (1972)

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Life on an 1930’s Connecticut gorgeous family farm is idyllic… or is it? Twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) share more secrets than most- but can those secrets kill? To find out, I highly suggest you read the book by Thomas Tryon, rather than bothering with this schlock-fest. To say that the film adaptation by Robert Mulligan in a misrepresentation seems like an understatement, because while the movie is technically a faithful adaptation in many ways, it can’t hold a candle to it’s book in terms of quality scares.

This movie is considered a classic by many, but my God is it cheesy. One of the reasons the film is unconvincing is the acting. The performance of Uta Hagen as the Perry boy’s Russian grandmother is laughably ham-fisted. Her ‘accent’ consists mostly of screwing up her face and crying “Babushka!” as she gesticulates wildly. Mrs. Rowe, as a lonely spinster lady (Portia Nelson)  who was very likable in the novel gives one of the worst acting performances I’ve seen in a critically-acclaimed film. The movie unwisely changes her cause of death from ‘ambiguous’ to include a ludicrous sequence of her dying from a heart attack while the film’s little psychopath wields a rat.

While the child actors gallivant around in pedobear-approved short shorts, the film reaches new levels of unintentional hilarity as the one kid acts as effeminate as fuck while his twin brother tries to be a bad-ass, and all the Gothic suspense Tryon strove for comes to naught. While the big reveal was chilling in the book, the twist simply doesn’t work here, neither does 99% of the acting. I actually found the literary equivalent  of the scene where the boy visits his paralyzed, veg mother to be disturbing, but now all I could do was laugh at at the mother (Diana Muldaur)’s overacting attempt at a glazed stare contrasted with the boy’s manic, exaggerated cheeriness.

“The Other” might of been a chilling viewing experience at one time, but calling it outdated is putting it mildly. There isn’t a scare to be had; there is, however, a whole lotta laughs. Get your money’s worth of hilarity as the kid plays the ‘game’ that was so haunting and memorable in the novel, sweating and screaming “I see it, Grandma, I see it!” like he’s going to jizz his pants.

View for your enjoyment as Uta Hagen tries to cover up her utter ineptitude at a Russian accent by adding ‘Babushka’ to the end of every sentence. “Ya, ya, Play de game, Bbbaaabbbusshhkkaa.” Combine this with the worst attempt at a foreign accent you ever heard, and you’re getting close. If unintentional humor is your forte, than by all means, see this film. But if some real scares are what you’re hoping for do yourself a favor and  read the book.

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Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

Bloody and brilliant, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. The 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is both a crying shame and a sacrilege, because this is Shane Meadows’ masterpiece — a film that transcends the revenge genre, delivering a heart-pounding, intense story that lets events unfold in a way that is anything but simple.

Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home from military service with no intention of living a nice quiet life and settling down. The target of his rage: a low-rent drug gang that did some terrible things to his borderline simple brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) some time before.

After Richard threatens a drug dealer and later gives him an unsettlingly twitchy apology, the gang of thugs suspect that ol’ Anthony’s brother might be a few screws short of a tool box, but don’t know how to react. Sonny (Gary Stretch), the most sadistic and smartest (and in a group like this, that’s not saying much), takes charge as best as he is able, but they are no match for Richard’s cool-headed brutality and military training.

This is when things get decidedly more ambiguous. What exactly happened to Anthony? What parts of Richard’s viewpoint are unreliable? When he faces the thug who has broken off from the gang and raised a family, Richard grows less and less sure of himself, leading to a shocking conclusion that rivals the majority of thrillers in its freshness and great writing.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Paddy Considine’s performance here is one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen. He makes Richard thoroughly believable and doesn’t stoop to any tough-guy cliches. What Richard lacks in size, he makes up for in calm, calculated violence. His performance is powerful and a testament to lesser-known actors who seem to slip through the cracks all too often.

Toby Kebbell, who gets overlooked all too often is also very good as Anthony, a simple-minded fellow whose naivete proves to be dangerous as he navigates a rough area without his older brother, who he looks up to, to protect him. He is very believable playing a mentally retarded character, and doesn’t overplay his hand or make his character a ham-fisted caricature.

The other actors never match up to Considine’s ferocious portrayal of a vengeful loner, but they do fine on their own. There’s a scene between the reformed drug dealer and his wife that is very powerful and moving, and the thugs do good job as their drug-hazed obliviousness turns to fear.

There is also some humor (mostly derived from the stupidity of the antagonists) and some tender moments between Richard and his brother. “Dead Man’s Shoes” proves there is still some smarts left in the thriller genre, and boy do I love it for that. It benefits from a smart script and a blistering performance from Paddy Considine. Watch it, and you will not be wasting your time. I didn’t waste mine.