Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

(pb; 1939)

From the back cover

"The Day of the Locust is a novel about Hollywood and its corrupting touch, about the American dream turned into a sun-drenched California nightmare. Nathanael West's Hollywood is not the glamorous "home of the stars" but a seedy world of little people, some hopeful, some despairing, all twisted by their by their own desires -- from the ironically romantic artist narrator to a macho movie cowboy, a middle-aged innocent from America's heartland, and the hard-as-nails call girl would-be-star whom they all lust after. An unforgettable portrayal of a world that mocks the real and rewards the sham, turns its back on love to plunge into empty sex, and breeds a savage violence that is its own undoing, this novel stands as a classic indictment of all that is most extravagant and uncontrolled in American life.


Day is a sharp, satirical tale about Hollywood during the Great Depression. Its characters, poor and otherwise downtrodden, are desperate and often degenerate and delusional in their thoughts and deeds, with their pointless pursuits and drunken, sexual behaviors. This is an excellent, cinematic-vivid novella, one worth reading if you enjoy reading about such things.


The resulting film was released stateside on May 7, 1975. John Schlesinger directed the film, from Waldo Salt's screenplay.

Donald Sutherland played Homer Simpson. Karen Black played Faye Greener. Burgess Meredith played Harry Greener. William Atherton played Tod Hackett.

Bo Hopkins played Earle Shoop. Pepe Serna played Miguel. Billy Barty played Abe Kusiche. Jackie Earle Haley played Adore. 

Geraldine Page played Big Sister. Richard Dysart played Claude Estee. Lelia Goldoni played Mary Dove. John Hillerman played Ned Grote. William Castle, billed as William C. Castle, played Director.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

The Counselor by Cormac McCarthy

(pb; 2013: screenplay)

From the back cover

"In early 2012 it was announced that Cormac McCarthy had written his first original screenplay - news which provoked huge excitement, a swift deal and the appointment of Ridley Scott to direct. But this is no ordinary screenplay. This is a work of extraordinary imagination which draws on many of the themes of McCarthy's work as well as taking it to new dark places. It is also written with great descriptive passages counteracting the dialogue, so the reader is given the full experience of the McCarthy prose. It is the story of a lawyer, the Counselor, a man who is so seduced by the desire to get rich, to impress his fiancée Laura, that he becomes involved in a drug-smuggling venture that quickly takes him way out of his depth. His contacts in this are the mysterious and probably corrupt Reiner and the seductive Malkina, so exotic her pets of choice are two cheetahs. As the action crosses the Mexican border, things become darker, more violent and more sexually disturbing than the Counselor has ever imagined."


McCarthy’s excellent and word-spare screenplay is not for those who like their reading optimistic and warm. Its characters are distinctly McCarthy-esque ─ often cynical and cruel ─  and their dialogue and actions are appropriately bleak, given the harsh, deadly realities that surround them. This is one of my favorite films of 2013, and reading this further confirmed my love of McCarthy’s stark writing and word-lean crime tales. This is one of the best pieces of writing I have read this year.


The film, later retitled The Counsellor, was released stateside on October 25, 2013. Ridley Scott directed it.

Michael Fassbender played Counselor. Penelope Cruz played Laura. Cameron Diaz played Malkina. Javier Bardem played Reiner. Brad Pitt played Westray.

Rosie Perez played Ruth. Bruno Ganz played Diamond Dealer. Dean Norris played Buyer. Goran Visnjic played Banker. An uncredited John Leguizamo played Coverall Man Randy. Sam Spruell played Wireman.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Big Heat by William P. McGivern

(hb; 1952, 1953)

From the back cover

"MURDER WAS IN THE AIR. A COP HAD KILLED HIMSELF, AND EVERY CROOK IN TOWN KNEW THAT WOULD BE SURE TO BRING ON THE BIG HEAT. Why did they fear a dead man? Dave Bannion, homicide sergeant, fought for the answer to that question. The dead man was a police clerk who shot himself for no obvious reason. That was Bannion's first judgment, until a girl named Lucy presented a quite different picture of the dead man from the one he had shown to the world and to his fastidious, glacial wife. Bannion's chief, Lieutenant Wilks, wanted the case closed and speculation ended quickly and tightly. So did Max Stone and Lagana, who held the city in a sinister, underworld grip. But why? Why did they all fear a dead man?"


Heat is an excellent, waste-no-words, tough-guy of a novel about love, morality and revenge. Its temperamental protagonist, a rogue cop named Dave Bannion, takes no guff and metes out violent punishments to the murderous bad guys whose greed and avarice guides them. There is little nuance in this work, but if you are looking for a slam-bang Fifties-style cop tale with memorable characters, this is a top-notch entry in that genre. This is one of the best bad guy-bruising books I have read in a long time, one worth owning.


The film was released stateside in October 1953. Fritz Lang directed it, from Sydney Boehm's screenplay, which was (mostly) lifted -- scene for scene -- from McGovern's Saturday Evening Post serial (which later was brought together as a novel).

Glenn Ford played Dave Bannion. Gloria Grahame played Debby Marsh. Jocelyn Brando played Katie Bannion. Carolyn Jones played Doris.

Alexander Scourby played Mike Lagana. Lee Marvin played Vince Stone. Jeanette Nolan played Bertha Duncan. Peter Whitney played Tierney. 

Willis Bouchey played Lt. Ted Wilks. Robert Burton played Gus Burke. Adam Williams played Larry Gordon. Dorothy Green played Lucy Chapman. 

Dune: House Atreides by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

(pb; 1999: first novel in the Prelude to Dune series)

From the back cover

"Frank Herbert's award-winning Dune chronicles captured the imagination of millions of readers worldwide. By his death in 1986, Herbert had completed six novels in the series, but much of his vision remained unwritten. Now, working from his father's recently discovered files, Brian Herbert and bestselling novelist Kevin J. Anderson collaborate on a new novel, the prelude to Dune—where we step onto the planet Arrakis…decades before Dune's hero, Paul Muad'Dib Atreides, walks its sands.

"Here is the rich and complex world that Frank Herbert created, in the time leading up to the momentous events of Dune. As Emperor Elrood's son plots a subtle regicide, young Leto Atreides leaves for a year's education on the mechanized world of Ix; a planetologist named Pardot Kynes seeks the secrets of Arrakis; and the eight-year-old slave Duncan Idaho is hunted by his cruel masters in a terrifying game from which he vows escape and vengeance. But none can envision the fate in store form them; one that will make them renegades—and shapers of history."


Atreides is a gripping-from-the-get-go, excellent book that fully captures the spirit, pacing, intrigue and tone of Frank Herbert’s original Dune series. It shows many of the characters from the original novel, Dune, when they are young and less developed: Leto Atreides, Shaddam Corrino, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and others. If you are a fan of the original series, there is a good chance you might enjoy Atreides. Followed by Dune: House Harkonnen.

Short Eyes by Miguel Piñero

(pb; 1974: play)

From the back cover

"This powerful drama of prison life is set in a house of detention where a group of young convicts-predominantly black and Puerto Rican-taunt, fight, insult, and entertain one another in an attempt to preserve their sanity and to create a semblance of community. When a young white prisoner accused of child molesting is thrown into the cell block by a guard who says he belongs in Sing Sing because "the men up there konw what to do with degenerates like you," the stage is set for an explosive series of events; for, among prisoners, this child molester called "short eyes" is the lowest of criminals."


Short Eyes is a stark, word-efficient and societally- and racially-charged fast- and brief-read work with an effective twist at its finish. Its characters’ personalities and motivations are skillfully sketched out, with hinted-at depths that further explain their actions. It is a great, sometimes disturbing play.


The resulting film was released stateside on September 30, 1977. It received a limited release. Robert M. Young directed it. Miguel Pinero is listed as its unofficial screenwriter.

José Pérez played Juan. Nathan George played Ice. Don Blakely played El Raheem. Tony DiBenedetto played Tony. Shawn Elliott played Paco. Tito Goya played Cupcakes. Joseph Carberry played Longshoe.  

Play author Miguel Piñero played Go-Go. Bruce Davison played Clark Davis. Richard Matamoros played Gomez.

Keith Davis played Mr. Brown. Bob O'Connell played Mr. Allard. Bob Maroff played Mr. Nett. Mark Margolis played Mr. Morrison. 

Luis Guzmán had a role in it, but the name of his character is not listed by IMDb

Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster

(pb; 1978)

From the back cover

"Luke Skywalker expected trouble when he volunteered to follow Princess Leia on her mission to the planet Circarpous. But he discovered that hidden on the planet was the Kaiburr crystal, a mysterious gem that would give the one who possessed it such powers over the Force that he would be all but invincible. In the wrong hands, the crystal could be deadly. So Luke had to find this treasure and find it fast."


The first Star Wars spin-off novel, published between films A New Hope (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), is fun, action-packed and has the science fiction serial feel of its source film. There are minor character and plot inconsistencies with Star Wars sequel ─ it had not that Luke and Leia were siblings, unbeknownst to each other, and, because of that, it was also not known that she had a special connection to the Force (making her a  possible Jedi practitioner). If you can overlook that, this an entertaining and well-written expansion of the franchise, one worth reading.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Courts of Chaos by Roger Zelazny

(pb; 1978: fifth novelette in The Chronicles of Amber quintology)

From the back cover

"Amber, the one real world of which all others – including our own Earth – are but Shadows...

"For untold millennia, the cosmic Pattern sustained order in Amber and all the known worlds. But now the forces of Chaos have succeeded in disrupting the Pattern, unleashing destructive forces beyond measure... forces meant to reshape the universe.

"To save Amber, Corwin, prince of the blood, champion of the perfect realm, must undertake the most perilous journey of his life. A journey that will take him through all the terrors of Shadows to the enemy's last stronghold. A journey beyond the very edge of existence... to the Courts of Chaos."


Caveat: possible spoilers in this review.

After the revelations of The Hand of Oberon, the Trump card-holding siblings gradually join forces to defeat Brand, their Chaos-loving and Amber-wrecking brother. Keeping with the tone and structure of earlier books, this is a swiftly-plotted, lots-of-dialogue, twisty motives and happenings kind of urban fantasy. Its tone is more genial ─ well, as genial as Corwyn and his brothers and sisters can get ─ and its resolution is satisfying in its personal warmth. This is an excellent read, as are all the Amber books.

Fight Club 2: The Tranquility Gambit by Chuck Palahniuk

(hb; 2015, 2016: graphic novel. Sequel to Fight Club. Publisher: Dark Horse.)

From the back cover

"Some imaginary friends never go away . . .

"Ten years after starting Project Mayhem, he lives a mundane life. A kid, a wife. Pills to keep his destiny at bay. But it won't last long, the wife has seen to that. He's back where he started, but this go-round he's got more at stake than his own life.The time has arrived . . .Rize or Die."


Tranquility is an excellent read, just as incisive, transgressive (albeit in a quieter way) and entertaining as its source novel. The artwork suits the tone of Palahniuk’s distinctive writing. Certain segments and its ending may divide readers with its multipart, meta elements: I found it to be fun, a jab in the face to less self-deprecating and more “serious” works. If you are a Palahniuk fan and/or enjoyed the first novel, you might want to check this out.

The Way Some People Die by Ross MacDonald

(pb; 1951: third book in the Lew Archer series)

From the back cover

"In a rundown house in Santa Monica, Mrs. Samuel Lawrence presses fifty crumpled bills into Lew Archer's hand and asks him to find her wandering daughter, Galatea. Described as ‘crazy for men’ and without discrimination, she was last seen driving off with small-time gangster Joe Tarantine, a hophead hood with a rep for violence. Archer traces the hidden trail from San Francisco slum alleys to the luxury of Palm Springs, traveling through an urban wilderness of drugs and viciousness. As the bodies begin to pile up, he finds that even angel faces can mask the blackest of hearts. Filled with dope, delinquents and murder, this is classic Macdonald and one of his very best in the Lew Archer series."


Way is a superb, cinematic-in-it-descriptions P.I-investigative mystery. Archer, cynical but not heartless, finds himself in a familiar, tightly plotted situation: investigating a cast of mostly sleazy characters with secrets ─ truths that most of them are willing to keep hidden with lies and violence. Its ending, like the cap-lines of the two previous Archer novels, is striking and emotionally-resonant.

If you are looking for a pulp writer who imbues his work with smart, fast-moving storylines, a mix of familiar and fresh pulp elements, and sometimes surprising characters, MacDonald may be a writer for you to seek. Followed by The Ivory Grin.

David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones

(hb; 2017: biography)

From the inside flap

"Dylan Jones's engrossing, magisterial biography of David Bowie is unlike any Bowie story ever written. Drawn from over 180 interviews with friends, rivals, lovers, and collaborators, some of whom have never before spoken about their relationship with Bowie, this oral history weaves a hypnotic spell as it unfolds the story of a remarkable rise to stardom and an unparalleled artistic path. Tracing Bowie's life from the English suburbs to London to New York to Los Angeles, Berlin, and beyond, its collective voices describe a man profoundly shaped by his relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry; an intuitive artist who could absorb influences through intense relationships and yet drop people cold when they were no longer of use; and a social creature equally comfortable partying with John Lennon and dining with Frank Sinatra. By turns insightful and deliciously gossipy, DAVID BOWIE is as intimate a portrait as may ever be drawn. It sparks with admiration and grievances, lust and envy, as the speakers bring you into studios and bedrooms they shared with Bowie, and onto stages and film sets, opening corners of his mind and experience that transform our understanding of both artist and art. Including illuminating, never-before-seen material from Bowie himself, drawn from a series of Jones's interviews with him across two decades, DAVID BOWIE is an epic, unforgettable cocktail-party conversation about a man whose enigmatic shapeshifting and irrepressible creativity produced one of the most sprawling, fascinating lives of our time."


This is one of the best collective-voices biographies I have read in a long time, a compilation of detailed and sometimes-wild quotes relating to Bowie’s numerous distinct phases, musical and otherwise. Life runs from Bowie’s childhood and art-focused adolescence to his last days in New York, when he released his final album Blackstar (2016), days before his death. This is an excellent read if you are a Bowie fan.

The Hand of Oberon by Roger Zelazny

(pb; 1976: fourth novelette in The Chronicles of Amber quintology)

From the back cover

"Across the mysterious Black Road, demons swarm into Shadow. The ancient, secret source of the royal family's power is revealed, & an unholy pact between a prince of the realm & the forces of Chaos threaten all the known worlds with absolute obliteration. The hour of battle is at hand. Now Corwin and the remaining princes of Amber must call upon all their superhuman powers to defeat their brother-turned-traitor before he can walk the magical Pattern that created Amber and remake the universe in his own image."


Having glimpsed the Courts of Chaos, Corwin continues sorting through the tangled motives and actions of his royal treacherous siblings and discovering how to defeat the Black Road, a dangerous path of Chaos.  Like its prequels, Oberon has little lag time between it and its prequel, Sign of the Unicorn, features a lot of dialogue, as well as barebones, fast-moving action and occurrences. In short: it keeps with the plot-propellant tone of previous Chronicle novelettes, with enough character-based twists to further make this an above-average fantasy read. Followed by The Courts of Chaos.

<em>The Day of the Locust</em> by Nathanael West

(pb; 1939) From the back cover " The Day of the Locust is a novel about Hollywood and its corrupting touch, about the American d...