French Connection II

Country: United States
Director: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Bernard Fresson, Cathleen Nesbitt
Music: Don Ellis

The French Connection was such a good film that any sequel was bound to pale in comparison. But French Connection 2 is not a bad film – just an inferior sequel. They key to the success of both films however, is Gene Hackman’s portrayal of New York City cop Popeye Doyle – and French Connection 2 sees him on the trail of drug lord, Charnier; AKA: Frog One (Fernando Rey), in Marseilles.

At the end of The French Connection, Frog One slipped away. Here it is explained that he was actually caught, but of the eighty odd police who questioned him, fifty-three of them accepted a bribe, which enabled him to escape back to France.

Doyle is on his trail. Although, what he doesn’t know, is that he has been setup as bait. It is believed that when Charnier sees Doyle, he will react, drawing attention, enabling the local French authorities to move in. And essentially, that is the whole plot of the film. The devil is in the detail though, because much of the story is built upon the relationship between Doyle and his French counterpart Barthélémy (Bernard Fresson). These men don’t really like each other, but there is a grudging respect.

The biggest problem with the film, paradoxically is its strength too – but I’ll talk about its strength in a second. The main problem is the the middle section of the film features a very protracted scene where Popeye Doyle is kidnapped by Charnier and his men, and doped up so much that he becomes depended on it. Then when Doyle is of no further use, he is dumped from a moving vehicle, and the French police pick him up – save his life, and then Barthélémy watches agonizingly on, as he goes cold turkey. This just goes on and on – and as far as the narrative goes – it kills the film dead in the water.

However it must be said – and this is one of the film’s strengths, is that Hackman’s performance as both junky and going cold turkey is amazing. It’s hard to take your eyes off him as he spouts gibberish about baseball, chocolate and cognac. You really feel his need. But ultimately, no matter how good Hackman is, we are talking about an action police thriller – with a style and a template established in The French Connection – so watching Hackman shiver and sweat, rather than shaking down suspects isn’t really in keeping with the tone of the film. The last third reverts to a more traditional action template and that works reasonably well, with nice setpieces in a shipyard, a shootout at the heroin laboratory, and a exhausting chase through the streets of Marseilles.

As I said at the top, I think French Connection 2 is a good film, albeit a very flawed one – and of course, it lives in the shadow of the original, which is a masterpiece of early seventies cinema. But it is still very enjoyable, and delivers enough of the good stuff to override any stodgy patches – and Hackman is brilliant. What more could you ask?

French Connection II

The Judas Strain

Author: James Rollins
Publisher: Orion Books
Published: 2007

I have a few James Rollins novels, but The Judas Strain was the first Sigma Force novel that I have read – I think it is the 4th in the series. Not that reading them in order seemed to matter. There is some backstory to the characters, but not being familiar with it, does not detract from the story at all.

This tale starts in the past, with Marco Polo returning to Venice after many years at the court of Kublai Khan. On route, a plague decimates his fleet. The story then skips ahead to present day, where some scientists from the University of Sydney are investigating the beaching of eighty dolphins along the coast of Java. After diving, Dr. Susan Tunis notices red blotches on her skin.

Meanwhile in Washington, Sigma Force Commander, Gray Pierce is enjoying a barbecue with friends and family at his parents home. As the evening draws to a close, and assassin from a shadowy organisation known as the Guild, known as Seichan, crashes her motorcycle on the front lawn. She has a bullet wound in her back, and is carrying a small stone pyramid.

Despite being enemies, Seichan enlists Pierces and Monsignor Vigor Verona – the prefect of the Achivio Segretto Vaticano (the Vatican’s Secret Archives) – and man well versed in the esoteric, to help crack the code enscribed on the pyramid in a forgotten language known as Angelic Text.

Another Sigma Force operative, Monk Kokkalis and Dr. Lisa Cummings are on Christmas Island helping to control a biological outbreak which has swept the island. That is, until pirates seize the Mistress of the Seas, the vessel they are working from.

As you can see there are several story threads at the beginning of the novel, which spiral and twist in different directions – with thrills and danger at each turn. I particularly liked the ‘killer’ crabs and the sequence at the Haga Sophia in Istanbul.

Along the way, each of the characters plays their part in the story, whether it be solving clues to ancient puzzles, or fighting of rampaging hordes of cannibals. As the story moves along – and at quite a brisk pace, I might add – the strands come together for an exciting climax.

If I have one small quibble with the book, it is the depiction of the Australian characters at the beginning, which are broad outdated stereotypes. Nobody has used the word ‘bonzer’ (actually it should be ‘bonza’) since 1974. Most Australian’s would say ‘arse’ rather than ‘ass’ – and hardly anybody drinks Foster’s. As I said a small quibble, and would not detract from most people’s enjoyment of the book – but I found it rather jarring. Thankfully it is only a short passage at the start.

From the blurb:

Buried deep within a jungle, ancient ruins conceal a deadly secret…

Buried in a tomb in Venice, a great explorer hides a truth that could shatter history…

Buried in our genetic code, a mystery like no other…

But nothing stays buried forever… and it will be up to Sigma Force, a covert team of elite scientists, to face what will be unearthed: a plague beyond any cure, a scourge that turns all of nature against mankind.

From the high seas of the Indian ocean to the dark jungles of Southeast Asia, from the canals of Venice to the crypts of ancient kings, the Sigma Force team must piece together a mystery that, unless solved, will end all life on our planet. But this challenge may prove too large for Sigma Force alone. With a worldwide pandemic looming, Painter Crowe and Commander Gray Pierce turn to their deadliest adversaries for help, teaming up with a diabolical foe who thwarted them in the past.

But can the enemy be trusted even now? Or will they prove to be another Judas?

Combining stunning historical revelations, breathtaking action and mysteries on a grand scale, James Rollins delivers adventure in its purest form.

All in all, The Judas Strain is an enjoyable romp, and I guess I am saying nothing new here, but Rollins is clearly the successor to Clive Cussler’s empire as the number one action adventure writer. Needless to say, I will track down a few more Sigma Force adventures to see what wild and frantic shenanigans Rollins can throw my way.

The Judas Strain

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Get a piece of the ACTION!

Typefaces & Genre

Most visitors to this site, would be well aware that my first novel King of the Outback was released last month. As somewhat of a newbie to the world of publishing, I have been fascinated by how the book has slotted into the market place. Now, I will freely admit that many of the decisions for the labeling of the book on Amazon, fell on my shoulders, so it should have come as no surprise to me. Also the book is a part of an established series, so digressing from the ‘house brand’ would also have been foolish.

But so far, King of the Outback, has done well in the Sporting categories – rocketing to No.2 in paperbacks on the first day, and around No. 40 for the eBook. It has also been suggested it is currently the 3rd most popular Neo-Pulp release.

Naturally I am very happy with this. But, King of the Outback could have quite easily fitted into other categories. As it is set in 1954, it could have easily been marketed as a historical drama. As it is set in Outback Australia, it could have been tagged as and adventure story. As there is a shady criminal organisation pulling the strings in the background, it could be considered a crime thriller. So there are lots of facets to the story, but not all of them can be adequately presented.

As a hack graphic artist, ignoring illustration, I thought I’d have a quick play with some typefaces to see what they could convey? Which would you have chosen?

Typefaces & Genre