The Hit

In 1984, director Stephen Frears hadn't made a feature film in 13 years; Terence Stamp hadn't starred in a film in over a decade; and Tim Roth had a single movie credit to his name. The Hit, a flinty crime drama that was anything but its namesake on initial release, finds these three itching to bust into the game, which, in no time at all, each did. Wearing its existential trappings on its sleeve, the premise of this overlooked gem is, appropriately, simplicity itself: four mismatched people in a stolen car have to get from point A to point B, in a journey fraught with predictable but no less delicious tension. Willie (Stamp) is a criminal informer destined for, yet oddly accepting of, imminent death; Myron (Roth) is a loose cannon thug-in-training spoiling for a fight; while Maggie (Laura Del Sol) seems innocent but harbors her own taste for blood. John Hurt's frosty assassin completes the quartet. The Spanish countryside through which they drive -- a disturbing reflection of the characters' equal interdependency and deep mistrust of each other -- radiates a barren aridty that calls to mind The Passenger, Antonioni's similarly philosophically minded road film. The promise exhibited in Stamp and Roth's riveting performances, as well as Frears's deft handling of internal dread and external violence, soon came to fruition. Within a year, Frears had made his career breakthrough with My Beautiful Launderette, while Stamp and Roth would soon go on to establish themselves as vital and durable screen presences (Hurt, of course, was already there). To anyone watching, The Hit already gave notice that they were ready, willing, and able to step up to the plate.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

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Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).