Oline Cogdill
Before my close friend <a href="">Doreen</a> and her family went to Europe last year, I wished them a very happy, safe trip and asked them to send me a postcard or two.

Since her trip had a stop in Venice, I added some weight to her luggage. I also gave her several copies of <a href="">Donna Leon’s </a>lovely novels about Venice’s Commissario Guido Brunetti to get her in the vacation mood – as if she had to be prompted for that – and a copy of the tour guide <em>Brunetti’s Venice</em>, written by Toni Sepeda, a professor of literature and art history in Northern Italy who for years has conducted tours of Venetian sites visited by Leon’s hero Commissario Guido Brunetti.<strong> </strong>

<em>Brunetti’s Venice</em> (Grove Press, $16.95). features description and history of the actual place mentioned in excerpts from <a href="">Leon’s novels</a>.

This year, I would probably give <a href="">Doreen, who is an excellent cook</a>, a copy of <em>Brunetti’s Cookbook</em> featuring recipes by Roberta Pianaro and culinary stories by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95). Her birthday is coming up.

<em>Brunetti’s Cookbook</em> is more than a lovely cookbook filled with more than 90 Italian recipes and whimsical color illustrations. It also is a tour of Venice, with Leon’s original essays on food and life in Venice.

Leon talks about sumptuous meals with family and friends, about fish stalls, wine shops, and restaurants, including one that was briefly Chinese.

But she also talks about how fast food has invaded. “…when you come out of Il Fornaio with your fresh-baked bread, you are greeted by the smell coming from McDonald’s.” There also are excerpts from Leon’s novels that fit certain recipes.

Recipes are concise and easy to understand with clear instructions. No nutritional information is included, but these are clearly made for those who love to eat and want to put calorie counting on hold. (Hey, you think I only review mysteries? I also have reviewed cookbooks for more than 20 years.)

While the recipes are easy to follow, most are not quick dishes. But patience is clearly rewarded.

Fusilli With Green Olives is a lovely, savory side dish as is Penne Rigate With Beans and Bacon, which comes together with a minimum of time. Chicken Breast With Artichokes is an elegant dish. Almond Cake makes a sweet ending.

On second thought, I am keeping this cookbook. Doreen needs another pair of earrings for her birthday.
Oline Cogdill
Jim Thompson’s novels do not come easily to the screen.

This hard-boiled author, whose career began in 1942 and lasted through the early 1970s, had a noir vision that often bleak. Yet there was certain poetry in the way he could look into a person’s soul and see nothing but darkness.

[caption id="attachment_1516" align="alignleft" width="144" caption="Casey Affleck in The Killer Inside Me. IFC Films photo"]<a href=""><img class="size-full wp-image-1516" src="" alt="" width="144" height="96" /></a>[/caption]

The most successful filmings of his novels have been by Europeans, as <a href="">the New York Times </a>recently pointed out. British director Stephen Frears gave us the excellent <em>The Grifters</em> in 1990 while Frenchman Bertrand Tavernier’s 1981 film <em>Coup de Torchon</em> was an adaptation of Thompson’s novel <em>Pop. 1280</em>. According to the same <a href="">Times article</a>, <em>Coup de Torchon</em> is considered the best adaptation of any Thompson movie. Even Donald Westlake who wrote the screenplay for <em>The Grifters</em> liked it best.

<em>The Getaway</em>, both Steve McQueen’s 1972 version and the 1994 one with Alec Baldwin, is, admittedly a guilty pleasure, though not as faithful to the book. Both movies ended with Doc and Carol McCoy off to Mexico with a satchel of cash; in the novel, they find that money doesn’t buy them happiness, to say the least.

The latest tackling of Thompson comes from British director Michael Winterbottom whose <em>The Killer Inside Me </em>is a fascinating and quite flawed version of Thompson’s 1952 novel. It is as faithful as it can be to Thompson’s work, and that is one of its high points as well as one of its problems.

Winterbottom delivers a darker than noir journey into hell via the psyche of a serial killer that is riveting. But the scenes of women being battered are cringingly graphic. Admittedly, these scenes aren’t extensive, but they are intense.

In <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>, Casey Affleck portrays Lou Ford, a small town deputy sheriff whose cherry persona masks his cruelty, as he becomes a serial killer. At 29, Ford seems to have a good life. The son of the deceased beloved doctor of Center City, Texas, he is an up and comer in the sheriff’s department and he is engaged to one of the town’s “good girls,” Amy (Kate Hudson).

Ford’s orders to run out of town Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba), a prostitute who has set up shop on the outskirts of town. Instead, Joyce unleashes Ford’s sadistic side that he had tried to keep under wraps and the two begin an intense sadomasochistic affair. The two hatch a scheme to extort money from Chester Conway, the local construction mogul (the brilliant Ned Beatty), whose dim son is in love with Joyce. To say the plan goes wrong is an understatement.

Affleck has proved his acting chops – and ability to immerse himself in his roles, beginning with one of his first roles as the high-school hit man who just wanted his CD’s in <em>To Die For</em> to <em>The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford</em> and <em>Gone Baby Gone</em>.

In <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>, Affleck is mesmerizing. He is charming and menacing, cocky and fearful, cold and calculating yet warm and affectionate. Affleck makes <em>The Killer Inside Me</em> rise above some of its unsavory aspects. Whenever he is onscreen, you cannot watch anyone else. When Affleck talks about how in a small town "everyone <em>thinks </em>they know who you are," there’s no doubt what he means.

Beatty embodies the vengeful businessman used to having his own way – and used to enjoying his revenge. Simon Baker (<em>The Mentalist</em>) does the most with the throwaway role of district attorney Howard Hendricks who sees through Ford’s charade. Elias Koteas, a character actor who’s often mistaken for Robert De Niro, is superb as a union leader and Bill Pullman shines as a self-taught bombastic lawyer.

[caption id="attachment_1517" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Kate Hudson, Casey Affleck"]<a href=""><img class="size-thumbnail wp-image-1517" src="" alt="" width="150" height="144" /></a>[/caption]

However, it’s the women who are pivotal to <em>The Killer Inside Me</em> who are miscast. Without her blonde locks, Hudson seems more brassy and gutsy as a brunette and gives her most nuanced performance since <em>Almost Famous</em>. Still, Hudson falls short. Hudson’s Amy has to decide if her private humiliation is worth the price to keep Ford’s interest.

Alba is too pretty, too passive and too young looking to be a hard-bitten prostitute. When she suggests the extortion scheme, it sounds as if she wants to go shopping or take in a movie. While the 1976 version of <em>The Killer Inside Me</em> with Stacy Keach was a mess, Susan Tyrrell was a better Joyce. Alba lacks the dangerous sexuality that Joyce has. This role needs a Megan Fox, but a Megan Fox who can act.

But Ford’s brutal battering of Joyce and Amy are unwatchable. These intense violent scenes of the two women being brutalized are cringingly graphic. Never mind that these scenes are actually quite brief; the unflinching rawness is disturbing and sickening. Although these scenes are not as bloody or explicit as the violence in many films, the image of women passively accepting a ferocious beating is unwatchable. Sex scenes also are quite intense though very little nudity is shown, except in some old black and white photos.

Flashbacks to Ford’s childhood and the relationship with his mother, who was battered by Ford’s dad, are confusing.

Cinematography is powerful. You can almost taste the dust in the air and the dead-end future that Ford sees for himself

Affleck and Winterbottom perfectly capture small-town 1950s ennui. But sometimes that’s not enough.

<em>The Killer Inside Me is now in wide release and also is available On Demand. Rated R: The film contains graphic violence, gore, sexual situations, nudity, child abuse, strong language and heavy drinking. 109 minutes. </em>

<em>IFC Films</em><em></em>

By Oline H. Cogdill

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