The Ninth Gate (1999)

The Ninth Gate (1999) - DVD Cover

The Ninth Gate (1999) – DVD Cover

In 1999, Johnny Depp teamed up with director Roman Polanski to star in The Ninth Gate, a supernatural thriller that was loosely based on the 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte called The Club Dumas.

Depp stars as Dean Corso, a rare book dealer who is hired to locate and authenticate the remaining copies of The Nine Gate of the Shadow Kingdom, by a wealthy businessman Boris Balkan (Frank Langella)  who wants to know which of the copies is authentic and which are forgeries. The book is reputed to have been co-authored by Satan himself and unlocking the secrets of the book enable the owner to summon the devil.

Corso’s greed and arrogance quickly lead him to become entangled in a satanic conspiracy after several of the people involved with the books are found murdered.

Mind if I smoke? - Depp as Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate

Mind if I smoke? – Depp as Dean Corso in The Ninth Gate

Depp plays Corso with a self-assured confidence benefiting his character. His supreme confidence is exhibited in an early scene when he suavely swindles a couple out of their invalid father’s rare Don Quixote manuscript by playing into their greed. This contrasted with Corso’s vulnerability when physically confronted makes for an interesting character.

During Corso’s travels to authenticate the manuscripts he crosses paths on several occasions with a strange young woman with green eyes. After he confronts her they form an unspoken alliance of sorts, with the girl showing up unexpectedly when Dean needs her the most.

As the film builds to its climax, Dean and the audience begin to piece together the mystery of the Ninth Gates manuscript and how all the players fit together.

The film is one of those supernatural horror films that does a good job of creeping you out without relying on cheap scares, blood or gore. I enjoyed Depp’s strong performance in this and would almost put it on par with his role in Donnie Brasco. The only reason I think I wouldn’t elevate it to that level is because The Ninth Gate is lacking a strong foil for Depp to interact with. Depp relies on a lot on reaction shots in the film and his expressive face does not let him down. For those who like their Depp films with a bit of sex and Johnny bare chested, there’s definitely some of that going on here as Dean Curoso is seduced by two of the principal female characters.

Do I look like I believe the bullshit you're feeding me?

Do I look like I believe the bullshit you’re feeding me?

 

Despite Polanski’s abhorrent personal history he still has talent as a director and this picture has some great shots and timeless feel to it. Depp in interviews said that working with the notoriously rigid Polanski was tough after working for someone as free as Tim Burton, but was thankful for the experience.

By The Numbers

  • 4th film in which Depp’s character wears glasses. The round glasses he wears for the first half of the film have been identified as Savile Row Beaufort Panto 
  • 3rd film in which Depp’s character has some form of facial hair.

Next up is another 1999 flick Astronaut’s Wife starring Charlize Theron as the wife to Depp’s Astronaut.

 

 

 

 

Discovering New Authors

Book swapping

(Photo by Seika Natsuki a.k.a. nSeika)

In this day and age of readily available ebooks and online shopping, there has been a lot written about the demise of “bricks and mortar” stores, both large chains and independents. Sure there are economic factors at play in both retail and in publishing industries driving this decline, but the deeper issue for me is that its becoming more and more challenging for readers and authors to find each other.

Ever since dime store paperbacks were introduced to the North American public in 1939, part of the key to their success was their distribution. Instead of relying solely on book stores, the publishers of Pocket Books teamed with magazine distributors and got their product into places where the average public were more likely to encounter and buy them – drugstores, train stations, and newsstands. There’s a really great article at Mental Floss –  How Paperbacks Transformed the Way America Reads – by Andrew Shaffer. Many people took chances on new authors and titles simply because it was affordable and available.

Paperbacks and ebooks have largely remained “affordable”, but its become increasing difficult to encounter these books in the flesh. Growing up a lot of authors I discovered was by taking a chance on a questionable looking SF title on the wire rack at the convenience store simply because it was in front of me. Those markets are fast dwindling and discovering authors has largely gone electronic via social media and websites like Goodreads. I follow a lot of up-and-coming authors and their publishers on Twitter, but the problem is laying my hands on their books aren’t as easy. Sure I could order them online and have them shipped or in many cases instantly download the ebook version, but a lot of the time I just want to hold the physical manifestation of the authors hard work in my hands and admire its beautiful cover and I want to do it NOW.

It’s then that I realize how small the selection has become at the local bricks and mortar stores. My town of 150,000 has just two book stores both run by the same chain, one is small store in a shopping centre while the other is a “box” store type outlet. The SF&F section at the larger store is perhaps two twelve foot long books shelves that run about chest height. While it might sound like a lot of shelf space its surprisingly not the variety and the depth of titles is limited. The store might carry ONE copy of a book by a specific author. The problem is the average person that didn’t grow up in a world with more selection and opportunity to discover new authors isn’t going to realize how narrow the choices have become.

TheLivesofTao_CoverEven I had forgotten how small my world had shrunk until I revisited one of my favourite Toronto book stores last month – The World’s Biggest Bookstore. Housed in a former bowling alley in downtown Toronto near the Eaton Centre it’s SF&F section is about five 20 foot long double sided shelves of SF&F books with a wide array of authors and sub-genres. I even saw a large display of a new and upcoming author by the name of Wesley Chu (http://www.chuforthought.com) that I had not heard of before and his first novel “The Lives of Tao“. The novel is about a entity – Tao, from another planet that has survived hundreds of years on earth by occupying other people’s bodies and turning them into skilled assassins and hunters in order to fight an ongoing battle with another faction of his race bent on destroying earth. Tao is forced to occupy the body of an out-of-shape computer nerd – Roen Tan. Now I could have snagged one of the twenty or so copies at the store and went merrily on my way, leaving the other 19 copies for others to discover Wesley and his book, but I hesitated. You see I had three titles in my hand already and I thought to myself, I am going to a speciality store later today that sells ONLY SF&F titles called Bakka-Phoenix Books I’ll buy a copy there and support my “local” independent book store.

The cruel irony was Bakka-Phoenix did not have any copies of “The Lives of Tao”  in stock. I asked and the clerk to check and he said that they did not order any copies, but could order one in for me. Being from out of town, I declined but thanked him for his effort and bought another book by another author that they did carry.

Back home in my town of 150,000 I was preparing to order Wesley’s book online when I ventured into the big box store and what should I find – ONE bright and shiny copy of “The Lives of Tao” starring out at me from the book shelf. Of course I bought it, but in doing so I realized I was potentially depriving others from discovering while browsing the aisle.

I’m thankful for The World’s Biggest Bookstore for turning me onto him but I have to wonder in this shrinking world of retail book stores and opportunities for new discoveries where will people go to find new authors?

Post Script

I tweeted about my dilemma about not being able to pick up a copy of Wesley’s book at Bakka-Phoenix and Wesley immediately contacted the bookstore via twitter. Whatever he said he persuaded them to start carrying the book. In a round about way I may have inadvertently helped other Bakka-Phoenix patrons discover Wesley’s writing.