Recently, I ventured to Scotland for “holiday” (as the Brits call their vacations), armed with my iPad, loaded with an Ian Rankin mystery.  Rankin, a Scot, is best known for his Inspector Rebus series, set in the gritty underbelly of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. I’ve read quite a few Rankin books, both from his lengthy John Rebus series and his standalone thrillers, and have always been mystified at what drives an author to set story after story in the same town (there are 19 Rebus books in the series, which the author ended in 2007).

Once in the historic city, I began to see what inspired Rankin to write Rebus in Edinburgh for 20 years (his first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, was published in 1987).   Edinburgh, like any major city, is chaotic and cluttered and dirty and crowded and on and on.  But, UNLIKE most major cities (especially the ones on THIS side of the pond), Edinburgh is filled with a captivating and fascinating history around every corner.  And, because of its hilly, winding streets and dark gray buildings (the porous stone has absorbed years of soot and dirt), not to mention the pretty regular mist and/or fog that hangs over the atmosphere, Edinburgh lends itself perfectly to the criminal element.  This is not to say I encountered any nefarious sorts in Edinburgh (hardly! — unless you count men in kilts nefarious) but I can understand why Rankin’s Rebus feels so at home here…fighting crime in a city from another time…feeling almost like another world.  So, if you want to visit Edinburgh, you can either hop a plane at O’Hare or you can pick up a John Rebus mystery by Ian Rankin.  Both give off the same eerie effect, but one will be MUCH easier on your wallet (whether in British Pounds or dollars!).

Oh, and Rebus is also available as a TV series on DVD: the first set with John Hannah as Rebus and the three more sets with Ken Stott as the Edinburgh inspector.

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Rupert Everett adds his name to the lengthy list of men who have played the Arthur Conan Doyle classic detective. Here, Sherlock Holmes starts off this case on a sour note with a look into his habitual and problematic drug use. Watson, his pal and partner-in-crime (played here by British actor Ian Hart), tries his best to pull Holmes out of the addiction but when it comes right down to it, what gets Holmes clean is the work. The work of crime and investigating and putting all the investigating together to solve the case. The case, in this instance, is the murder of a series of young women, all from affluent families, who are found with different clothes on and a silk stocking lodged in their throats. Holmes and Watson begin on the trail of plodding and prodding until they find their man or woman. The relationship of the two men is key here, as it always was in the Doyle books and the subsequent many, many movies based on the character of Holmes. Without convincing chemistry between Holmes and Watson, the story is almost guaranteed not to work. Thankfully, here it does work.

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Unlike Goldfinger which makes a valid attempt at solid, strong filmmaking, You Only Live Twice is just plain fun. It is not to best in the series, nor is it the best of the Connery Bond’s. It’s just a truly guilty pleasure…gadgets, action, romance and super spies…what could be better! The pretty inconsequential plot revolves around Blofeld (again) and his continued drive for world domination. This time, Blofeld is capturing spaceships…in space! First, a Russian one, then a British one…so who is doing this. The Russians, of course, think it is the British. And the British, of course, this it is the Russians. Enter James Bond to save the day and clear everything up for everyone (not!). Along the way he fakes being Japanese (don’t ask!), fakes getting married, and fakes being dead. Too bad he spends all of that time faking and doesn’t get around to taking care of Blofeld for good. Instead, the one-eyed villain comes back for two of the next films…plus a great intro in For Your Eyes Only. Basically, this is not the finest piece of filmmaking ever but, after all, do you watch a Bond movie for purely aesthetic reasons? Probably not. So, this one will satisfy your spy thriller craving.

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An above-average James Bond film with enough explosions and chases to spill into the next film. This time, 007 goes up again an “un-killable” foe who is slowly dying from a bullet another MI-6 agent shot into his head. The plot involves stealing a nuclear bomb that’s needed to destroy an oil pipeline. The un-believability level is high here, but regardless of that, the script is strong. Bond is very human in this film…he shows all sides of his persona and even a little weakness. The third of Pierce Brosnan’s four Bond films, he really seems to shine here as the British spy. Maybe it’s because he’s used to the role after two other pictures. Or maybe because he’s just getting better. Regardless, this is a film that will satisfy your thirst for action and adventure…while tossing in a good deal of romance in between.

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This is by far my favorite Roger Moore “Bond” outing. And, even one of the best in the entire Bond series. The Spy Who Loved Me begins very similar to another one of my favorite Bond films…You Only Live Twice with Sean Connery. Both films start with the capturing of crafts…in You Only Live Twice it is a space rocket and in The Spy Who Loved Me it is a submarine. Obviously, we know that these “stolen” crafts are not to work of a sane person or entity. But, who is it? Is it Russia? Is it China? Basically once the craft is captured, it is up to 007 to save the day, as usual. Where both films differ is in the villain. You Only Live Twice has the ever-popular Blofeld, who by the time You Only Live Twice came out, was getting a little passé. But, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Curd Jürgens plays Stromberg…one of the best Bond villains. His evilness is intense and not prolonged…if he wants to kill someone, he just does it (unlike the other Bond baddies who talk and talk and talk about killing before they actually get around to it). Moore also has excellent chemistry with his Russian counterpart…played by Barbara Bach. They play well off of each other, even though Bach is a little stiff at times. Moore’s quips usually get to be too much after a while but Bach does a good job of countering his jibes with some of her own.

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For Roger Moore’s second time as 007, the filmmakers decide to go back to what James Bond does best…be Bond. In Moore’s previous outing as the super-spy for MI-6, 1973’s Live and Let Die, the best thing about it was the music (Paul McCartney and his post-Beatles band Wings did the title song). Here, Moore’s Bond welcomes back Q’s gadgets and his fast-acting romances. The plot is pretty silly (unlike the other Bond stories???)…Bond believes a famous hit-man (who only shoots his prey with golden bullets from a golden gun) has targeted him so he goes on the lookout for the assassin. What the “Man with the Golden Gun” really wants, though, is money (don’t they always want money!)…money for his clever way to harness the power of the Sun. But, if Bond happens to die, all’s the better. Christopher Lee (of Dracula fame) plays “The Man with the Golden Gun” but even though the role as a baddie usually offers actors to live out their fantasies of depravity, Lee does not seem to be enjoying himself. But, then again, maybe he read the script!!!! All in all, this is a fun romp through the MI-6 world of Bond and his ladies. Not the best Bond but not the worse either. A ringing endorsement, ain’t it?

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John McClane, I have to confess, is one of my favorite movie characters in contemporary cinema. From the first time we met him in 1988’s Die Hard, he has always been there to save the day, no matter who the bad guy is, what the obstacle is, or how old he is. It is now almost 20 years later and McClane is still going strong…maybe even stronger than ever. And, even after all the bruises and bullets and stabbings, he’s still got the goods to add two hours of pure entertainment to our hectic schedules. The plot of this one is pretty convoluted, but the guts of it are that a former computer security employee for the government got mad and wants to show America how angry he is by stealing billions from the country. McClane, once again, finds himself embroiled in this mess, not seeking out any trouble, but rather having trouble find him. Bruce Willis, born in 1955, does not show any wear and tear here…though I’m assuming the stunt team does more for him that they did in the previous outings. He gives McClane that perfect cocky attitude and the right mix of butt-kicking thrown in. The action sequences here are phenomenal…almost as good as the first. If I didn’t know better, I would think McClane was really caught in some of those precarious situations, rather than having them be computer generated. This just proves that even though times have changed, McClane and his Die Hards do not.

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As critics and audiences alike call this their favorite James Bond film, I guess I am no longer alone in thinking this is one of the best spy films ever made. There is very little wrong with Goldfinger and what is wrong is very easily overlooked because of the strong plot and even stronger characters. With many series, the filmmakers begin to wane and rest on their successes when number three (or so) comes along. But, this is the case where the third film truly is the charm. Number one in the series Dr. No and two (From Russia with Love) just seem like practice in order to get to this third installment in the Bond series. Bond creator and author Ian Fleming got the title Goldfinger from the villain’s name…a man who is obsessed with gold. Truly. And the actor who plays the man-in-gold (Gert Fröbe) fits the bill perfectly. Sean Connery’s Bond also comes into his own in this film. In Dr. No he seemed a little unsure of himself and in From Russia with Love, it was the opposite…he seems TOO confident as the super-spy. Here, Connery shows the right tone of power, control and fear. And the plot is also one of the best ever in a Bond film…with Frobe’s Goldfinger trying to destroy the gold in Fort Knox so his mass amounts of gold increase considerably in value. But, for Bond films, plot always seems to take a back seat to the gadgets, romance and action. Here, at least, they made an attempt at a story…and did a great job in the process. No worries, though. There are lots of gadgets, action and romance. Promise.

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For Pierce Brosnan’s first 007 outing, he sure picked a fun ride. This is a James Bond film with bite…one that was perfect for Bond’s reemergence in theaters after a six-year break (the previous Bond film, License to Kill with Timothy Dalton, was produced in 1989). It also is a good film for the end of the 20th Century…no more Cold War doesn’t mean the former Soviet Union countries cannot be used as adequate threats. This story deals with a former MI-6 agent who went over to the other side in order to avenge his past (his Russian parents were Cossacks who were sent home by the British to be executed by Stalin) and cause World chaos. There are MAJOR parts of this film that are outlandish and unbelievable. But, remember, this is a Bond film. Unbelievable is a requirement. Brosnan fits into Bond’s tux perfectly…he mixes the right combination of Connery’s suaveness and Moore’s wit and Dalton’s fierceness. The series lagged with the two Dalton films (License and 1987’s The Living Daylights) mostly because many of the Bond-isms were gone. Yes, Dalton’s 007 was still asking for his Vodka Martini’s “shaken not stirred” but the quips and especially the romances were practically nonexistent…the latter probably because of the 1980s “safe sex” era. Enter Brosnan who brings it all back with gusto! Ian Fleming would be proud.

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This is the one that started it all…we are introduced to John McClane, from the NYPD, for the first time. We like him, though we see he has an edge. And he’s troubled about his estranged relationship with his wife, who accepted a lucrative job in Los Angeles months ago and ended up moving up the corporate ladder quicker than expected. Even without seeing any back story, we know instantly that John is not an “L.A” kind of a guy. So, take this worried, disgruntled man and put him in a skyscraper where he is the only one who is not taken hostage when a gang of slick international terrorists come to rob the joint…to say that his adrenaline kicks in is a vast understatement. All John can think about his that his wife is in danger and he needs to save her. And that means he will go to any lengths, which he does with gusto, humor and incredible vigor. This film became the late 1980-1990s icon of the action film. Films, for years after this one, used the “man trapped someplace alone with baddies” formula. But, none of those imitators came close to the rush of the one and only (and the original) Die Hard.

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