Monday, July 01, 2019

Labyrinth by Eric Mackenzie-Lamb

(pb;1979)

From the back cover

“A handsome, brilliant college professor framed by the sexual hysteria of a lovelorn student and forced to leave civilization and safety behind. . . A vicious psychopath with bizarre carnal tastes and a bestial talent for killing. . .  A lovely young heiress drawn by forbidden desire into a nightmare of her own perverse making. . . All of them deep in the heart of a vat, unmapped Okefenokee swamp, where a fabulous lost treasure baited the most hideous trap this side of hell.”


Review

Labyrinth is a great, entertaining pulp novel with vivid, simile-rich descriptions, effective and often enthralling action sequences and well-written characters whose passions, light and dark, make for heroes worth sympathizing with and rooting for, as well as villains worth hissing at. If you are looking for fast read, pre-Eighties thriller with a Southern Comfort setting,Civil War history and a violent treasure hunt thrown into the mix, this may be a book you would want to own.

Before the Chop IV (and After): LA Weekly Writing (and More), 2012—2018 by Henry Rollins


(pb; 2018: nonfiction/media column collection)

Review

Chop IV continues in the thematic vein of its first three volumes, with Rollins writing about his love of listening to vinyl, travel and learning, as well as the joys and downfalls of spoken word gigs. He also, of course, geeks out about his favorite bands and friends (e.g., Iggy Pop) and shares blunt, smart observations about getting older in a society that does not value aging, nor the its (hopefully) attendant wisdom.

Of the four volumes, this is the least joyous and fun, but that is not Rollins’s fault, nor is it a reflection of the quality of his writing. It reflects, rather, the times: like so many things in the now, it is tainted with our current US President and his effect on─it seems─everything. This a minor caveat, at worst, for those of us seeking a respite from the daily toxicity oozing from the White House. Or, to put it another way: Chop IV is worth owning despite its inevitable reflections on our current societal climate.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hannibal by Thomas Harris

(pb; 1999: third novel in the Hannibal Lecter quadrilogy)

From the back cover

“You remember Hannibal Lecter: gentleman, genius, cannibal. Seven years have passed since Dr. Lecter escaped from custody. And for seven years he’s been at large, free to savor the scents, the essences, of an unguarded world. But intruders have entered Dr. Lecter’s sanctuary, piercing his new identity, sensing the evil that surrounds him. For the multimillionaire Hannibal left maimed, for a corrupt Italian policeman, and for FBI agent Clarice Starling, who once stood before Lecter and who has never been the same, the final hunt for Hannibal Lecter has begun. All of them, in their separate ways, want to find Dr. Lecter. And all three will get their wish. But only one willlive long enough to savor the reward.”


Review

Hannibal is part witty comedy, part travelogue and part bloody thriller. This third entry in the Hannibal Lecter quadrilogy ups the series’ humor and Grand Guignol elements, as well as Hannibal’s love of Florence, Italy─whose sensory-based glories get plenty of “air time” in this cinematic-descriptive horror work. I tired quickly of this latter element (I’m a barebones thriller reader), but I understand why Harris included these parts in the book: it is consistent with Hannibal’s sensibilities and the tone of the previous novels. I laughed quite a bit, especially during the dinner scene near the end of the book. An over-the-top work, this is worth reading, possibly worth owning if you are into the above, well-written elements.

Followed by a prequel, Hannibal Rising.

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The film version was released stateside on February 9, 2001. Ridley Scott directed the film, from a screenplay by David Mamet and Steve Zaillian.

Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter. Julianne Moore played Clarice Starling. Gary Oldman played Mason Verger. Ray Liotta played Paul Krendler. Giancarlo Giannini played Insp. Rinaldo Pazzi. 

Frankie Faison, billed as Frankie R. Faison, reprised his role of Barney from The Silence of the Lambs.


Essential Marvel: Spider-Woman Vol. 2 by various authors and illustrators

(pb; 1979–1983, 2007 ─ graphic novel, collects Spider-Woman #26–50, Marvel Team-Up #97 and Uncanny X-men #148.)

From the back cover

“The first part of Spider-Woman’s career concludes as her collection of challenges and crises is completed! Some of Marvel’s most stupendous scribes set the heroine against Morgan la Fay, the Viper, Gypsy Moth and other fearsome foes, forgotten or otherwise! Plus: the first appearances of X-Factor’s Siryn and X-Force’s Caliban! But after tearing through a gauntlet of magicians, mad scientists, murder and mystery, what final fate awaits the webbed wonder? Guest-starring Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-men and the Werewolf!”


Overall review

The second half of this series is a vast improvement on it first half, which struggled to find the character “voice” of its titular character, who also went by the name Jessica Drew. For the most part, the writers ditched the uneven, sexist writing and unlikely character twists─these flaws still pop up, but they are relatively rare in the comics that make up the second Spider-Woman volume.

This is a fun, mostly well-written comic book collection, with a character who got better with each progressive issue. It is worth reading, possibly owning if you are a fan of superheroines of that era (late Seventies to early Eighties).


Issues / story arcs

The Blades of the Grinder!” (#26): Spider-Woman’s crime-fighting activities catch the attention of a sleazy newspaper owner (Rupert Dockery), who makes Spider-Woman front-page news. He also sets her up for an attack from a new, blade-spinning foe, the easily defeated Grinder.


Blacked Out—By the Enforcer!” (#27): Dockery, owner of the Los Angeles Courier, continues to endanger Spider-Woman by springing supervillain-thief Carson Collier (a.k.a. the Enforcer) from prison─Carson was last seen in issue #19. He goes on a robbery spree that violently reunites him and Spider-Woman. Cliffhanger finish in this issue.


That Scotty Should Not Die!” (#28): Spider-Woman is forced to aid the Enforcer in his big-time robberies if she wants to get an antidote to save her crippled assistant, Scotty McDowell, from the Enforcer’s poison. Readers may be required to utilize a higher-than-usual suspension of realistic disbelief while reading this issue.


Spider-Man is Dead─And I Killed Him!” (#29): News of the Enforcer/Spider-Woman robbery spree reaches Spider-Man, who flies from New York to LA to suss out whether or not his fellow arachnid-themed friend has truly turned to a career in crime. Meanwhile, LA Courier owner Rupert Dockery continues to track the super-thieves (via a listening/tracking device he planted on the Enforcer) and profit from the front-page crime wave he brought into being. Scotty McDowell clings precariously to life.

As in the previous issue, readers may be required to utilize a higher-than-usual suspension of realistic disbelief while reading this issue.


Come Into My Parlor─Said the Fly!” (#30): Spider-Woman once again confronts Rupert Dockery in a non-violent way. The Enforcer makes an appearance. A supervillain, The Fly, repeatedly attacks Spider-Woman, his assaults indirectly aided by a scientist named Dr. Malus.



Marvel Team-Up: Hulk and Spider-woman—‘Doctor of Madness’ (#97, crossover issue): The Hulk and Spider-Woman, taken prisoner by Dr. W. Lee Benway, make their escape from the crazed scientist and his misshapen monsters.


The Sting of the Hornet!” (#31): Scotty McDowell is transformed into the chaos-causing Hornet, a villain who flies around L.A. and stirs up trouble with Spider-Woman. This is because of the “cure” that Dr. Karl Malus injected him with in the previous issue.


The Fangs of Werewolf By Night” (#32): Dr. Karl Malus continues to manipulate Scotty into becoming the Hornet─an erratic, villainous irritant to the clueless Spider-Woman. Malus also tricks Jack Russell, Werewolf by Night, into becoming his lycanthropic puppet. His target? Spider-Woman, of course.


Yesterday’s Villain” (#33): Jessica/Spider-Woman visits San Francisco to reap the bounty on an arsonist and murderer, Turner D. Century, a.k.a. Morgan MacNeil Hardy. Century’s mission: relentless purification of the city.


The Wildfire Express!” (#34): While a wildfire blazes in L.A., the tough-to-beat techno villains Hammer and Anvil kidnap an industrialist CEO, Amanda Sheridan, one step in an attempted corporate takeover. Enter Spider-Woman, who must infiltrate DRC─Sheridan’s main corporate rival─and battle Mandroids, in order to save Amanda  and her company.


Farewell to L.A.!” (#35): David Angar─a.k.a. the Screamer─is an escaped felon whose sonic screams cause mass hallucinations and amnesia, running loose in Los Angeles.Jessica/Spider-Woman not only has to deal with him, but the increasing tension between her and Scotty McDowell.

Lindsay McCabe, Jessica’s roommate, makes an intriguing offer to Jessica. Great storyline and artwork in this issue.


The Wanderer!” (#36): En route to their new home, San Francisco, Jessica and Lindsay get in a car accident. They are swept into a small-town murder and a UFO visitation/confrontation.

This issue introduces the the extraterrestrial Tsyrami and their female leader, Elhalyn, into the Spider-Woman timeline. This is a fun, off-kilter tale, with great artwork.


Who Am I?” (#37): Jessica, now living in San Francisco, interrupts a bank robbery. The robbers: rogue mutant Black Tom Cassidy and Cain Marko─a.k.a. the Juggernaut. Not only that, Jessica, as Spider-Woman, must face off against Siryn, a mutant whose voice can be used as a sonic blast.


Criminal at Large!” (#38): Spider-Woman, accused of another crime she did not commit, is aided by select X-Men─Angel, Colossus and Storm─as they foil Black Tom, the Juggernaut and Siryn in their criminal endeavors.

Two nits: (1) The cops do not immediately unmask Spider-Woman when they catch her─this does not ring true with cop, even human, nature; (2) one character gives an unlikely confession, given his character─it’s something out of a 1950s crime drama.

I realize this is a comic book, but given how good some of the writing is in this series, these are glaring examples of sloppy writing.


X-men: ‘Cry Mutant!’” (#148, crossover issue): In the Bermuda Triangle, Scott Summers─a.k.a. Cyclops─and Aleyty Forrester, a sailing ship captain, are shipwrecked. They wash ashore a strange metal city.

Elsewhere, when Kitty Pryde is kidnapped by a mysterious shadow man, the Dazzler, Spider-Woman and Oroco rush to rescue her. This is a fun, good issue.


Death Stroke” (#39): When Jessica discovers her friend, David Ishima, has been implicated in a murder, she dons the Spider-Woman suit to help him. While doing so, she fights the leader of an assassination group, a spandex-wearing baddie named Death Stroke.

A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train provides a fun backdrop for this pulpy tale, which makes overall great use of East Bay, California locations.


Flying Tiger—Kills!” (#40): Another assassin, the Flying Tiger, is hired by Morgan Le Fay to kill Jessica/Spider-Woman.

This issue is mostly good, action-packed. There is, however, an indication that Le Fay can read Jessica’s mind─probably just a gimmick to keep the story flowing while hyping the next issue, but it is a glaring inconsistency.


La Morte de Jessica” (#41): In the setting of Camelot, Jessica battles Morgan Le Fay, so that she might rescue Lindsay, her roommate, from the fiendish sorceress. Also: a revelation, possibly?!


The Judas Man” (#42): A failed kidnapping attempt of a college student, Pamela Kramer, leads Jessica Drew to work with Lt. Sabrina Morrel of the SFPD. They need to put down the Silver Samurai, a metal-armored swordsman, and his boss, Viper. The latter foe, an ex-Hydra agent, was first was encountered by Jessica in Marvel Team-Up #85. Viper may have a mystical link to Jessica. Cliffhanger finish to this issue.


Last Stands” (#43): With her roommate, Lindsay McCabe, in danger, Jessica Drew continues to battle an armor-stripped Silver Samurai and the shadowy Viper, whose physical resemblance to Jessica is uncanny. Another cliffhanger finish in this issue.


Vengeance!” (#44): Jessica vows revenge on those who caused Lindsay’s near-death: SFPD Lt. Sabrina Morrel and Viper. Complicating Jessica’s furious mission, Morgan Le Fey─previously thought banished to another realm, and possibly dead─appears to Jessica, prophesying our arachnid heroine’s demise.

Viper’s link to Jessica is revealed. The mysterious villain is Meriem Drew, Jessica’s mother, once a Hydra agent and unwilling killer for Cthon, a demon. Fun, nice denouement to the events of the past few issues.


Mission: Impossible” (#45): The Impossible Man, an impish, cone-headed alien, livens up Jessica’s crime-fighting adventures. Whimsical issue.


Yakuza” (#46): When yakuza thugs try to kill her boyfriend, David Ishima, Jessica─with help from Lt. Sabrina Morrel─seeks out the orchestrator of the attack: Nguyen Ngoc Coy, a former Vietnamese general-turned-crime czar.

Also helping Jessica: Imura, Morrel’s non-criminal clan lord, and the unlikely and curiously cordial Wilson Fisk─a.k.a. the Kingpin. Fisk is a business partner with the shrill Coy.

This is one of my favorite issues. It is fun, well-written, with unexpected character and plot twists. I love the dynamic between Fisk and Jessica in this storyline.


Twisted” (#47): Jessica Drew battles Daddy Longlegs─a mutated, freakishly tall dancer whose failed ambitions have led him toward murderous tendencies.


Original Sin” (#48): Gypsy Moth─a.k.a. Sybarite, born Sybil Dvorak─returns as the leader of a cult of drug-induced followers. Jessica takes her on, again.

Gypsy’s origin story, that of a betrayed woman, is revealed. Also: Jessica goes to visit her friend, Jack Russell, a.k.a. Werewolf By Night, while he locks himself up and transforms into a lycanthrope.


Runaway” (#49): While searching for a runaway boy with “weird powers” (Mickey Silk), Jessica meets─and briefly battles─his new protector, Tigra.


Lifeline” (#50): Jessica Drew finds herself in a high-tech prison populated with fellow superheroes and supervillains. The prison is run by a failed, bitter Magician (Locksmith) and his psychic lackey, Ticktock.

Then things get strange, even for this wild-ride title. Magnuss, her mentor who disappeared, died, in issue #16, returns to astral-guide her to the sixth century, where it is likely she will fight her final battle with Morgan Le Fey.

This is the last issue of the series.

Cronenberg on Cronenberg edited by Chris Rodley

(1992, 1993: nonfiction/filmmaking)

From the back cover

“The volume charts David Cronenberg’s development from The Brood to Naked Lunch, demonstrating how he has invested his own developing genre with seriousness, a philosophical dimension and a rare emotional intensity, and reveals the concerns which continue to dominate his increasingly rich and complex work.

“This edition also includes a new section on Cronenberg’s most recent film, M. Butterfly.”


Review

This is an excellent nonfiction Cronenberg-related read, one of my favorite books read this year. Hearing the auteur talk about his motivations, themes, technique and other stuff related to his cinematic art is consistently interesting (in a good way) and inspiring, even with the intense and sometimes grim elements his work traffics in. If you are a Cronenberg fan, this is a book you should read, if not own. 

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie

(pb; 1944: fifth book in the Superintendent Battle series)

From the back cover

“An elderly widow is murdered at a clifftop seaside house. . . What is the connection between a failed suicide attempt, a wrongful accusation of theft against a schoolgirl, and the romantic life of a famous tennis player? To the casual observer, apparently nothing. But when a house party gathers at Gull’s Point, the seaside of an elderly widow, earlier events come to a dramatic head. It’s all part of a carefully laid plan─for murder.”


Review

Christie turns the mystery novel structure on its head by showing what leads up to the story-centric murder in this fun, clever, fast-moving and character-interesting book, said to be one of her favorites. I can see why, if that is true. This is worth reading, and owning, if you are inclined to collect excellent, fast-read mystery books.

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The resulting film, L’heure zero, was released in France on October 31, 2007. Pascal Thomas directed it, from a screenplay by Clémence de Bléville, Francois Caviglioli, Roland Duval and Nathalie Lefaurie.

Francois Morel played Le commissaire Martin Bataille. Danielle Daurrieux played Camilla Tressilian. Melville Poupaud played Guillaume Neuville. Laura Smet played Caroline Neuville. Chiarro Mastroianni played Aude Neville.

Alessandra Martines played Marie-Adeline. Clément Thomas played Thomas Rondeau. Xavier Thiam played Frédéric ‘Fred’ Latimer. Hervé Pierre played Ange Werther. 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris


(pb; 1991: second novel in the Hannibal Lecter quadrilogy)


From the back cover


“She is Clarice Starling, young, vulnerable FBI trainee. He is Hannibal Lecter, brilliant, evil genius. Theirs is a mesmerizing struggle between good and evil─designed to stop a killer, and chill your blood.”

Review

Silence, like its prequel Red Dragon, is an excellent and intense psychological, brutal and occasionally gory thriller with distinctive, fascinating and empathy-worthy characters, as well as especially disturbing events. This is a classic read, one worth owning. Followed by Hannibal.

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The resulting film was released stateside on February 14, 1991. Jonathan Demme directed the film, from a screenplay by Ted Tally.

Jodie Foster played Clarice Starling. Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lecter. Scott Glenn played Jack Crawford. Ted Levine played Jame Gumb.

Kasi Williams played Ardelia Mapp. Anthony Heald played Dr. Frederick Chilton.Frankie Faison played Barney. Tracey Walter played Lamar. Roger Corman played FBI Director Hayden Burke. Charles Napier played Lt. Boyle.

Stuart Rudin played Miggs. Brooke Smith played Catherine Martin. Diane Baker played Senator Ruth Martin.


Matters of Vital Interest: A Forty-Year Friendship with Leonard Cohen by Eric Lerner

(pb; 2018: nonfiction / memoir)


From the inside flap

“Leonard Cohen passed away in 2016, leaving behind many who cared for and admired him, but perhaps few knew him better than longtime friend Eric Lerner. Lerner, a screenwriter and novelist, first met Cohen at a Zen retreat forty years earlier. Their friendship guided each other through life’s myriad obstacles, a journey told from a new perspective for the first time. . . "



Review

 Matters is an intermittently (mostly) light and entertaining read, with its brief glimpses of Cohen and Lerner’s interactions. These fun, sometimes heart-warming and meaningful parts are often punctuated by story-necessary interludes about how they met via Zen faith. If you are like me, not into religion/faith/whatever, these sections were less than enthralling. Matters is an okay read, worth checking out from the library.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Henry & Glenn Forever and Ever: The Completely Ridiculous Edition by Tom Neely

(hb; 2017: graphic novel, humor)

From the back cover

“The greatest love story ever told has finally been released in graphic novel form, featuring 20 short stories about the domestic life of ‘Henry’ and ‘Glenn’ and their neighbors ‘Daryl’ and ‘John.’ Glenn deals with issues with his mother while Henry, ‘a loud guy with a good work ethic,’ shows his darker side and indifference to a fan as he drinks black coffee and bonds with Glenn over their distaste for their own bands. These are two men who truly suffer best together.

“This book collects four serialized comics, add even more never-before-published pages than the previous collective edition, and will have a spiffy hardcover. This collection does not include Henry & Glenn Adult Activity and Coloring Book.”


Review

Mature fans of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig who have a silly, non-homophobic sense of humor may get a kick out of these true-to-the-title “ridiculous” adventures that the two men embark upon, often with help from their mischievous, satanic neighbors Daryl [Hall] and John [Oates]. A lot of artists submitted work to this anthology, so the artwork varies from really good to really bad, as do some of the brief storylines (for the works that have a storyline). I enjoyed Henry & Glenn a lot, but I would suggest borrowing it from a library or picking it up for a cheap price if you have not read it yet. This is great stuff, if you are open-minded and do not mind being silly about homoerotic, satanic rock stars.

The Shape of Rage: The Films of David Cronenberg edited by Piers Handling

(pb; 1983: nonfiction/film critique/essay collection)

From the back cover

“Heads explode. Parasites fly at people’s faces. Televsion sets breathe. A woman grows a spike in her armpit and unleashes a cataclysm on the world. These are the startling images David Cronenberg uses to shock and disturb us as his films travel through a nightmare world where the grotesque and the bizarre make our flesh creep.

“Yet beneath the blood and gore, Cronenberg has carved out a reputation as one of the masters of the horror and science-fiction genres. Undaunted by the controversy which has followed him throughout his career, Canada’s own ‘Baron of Blood’ and ‘Prince of Horror’ continues to dazzle audiences with the shocking force and power of his vision.

“This book is the first to deal with the work of Cronenberg. Seven critics examine what it is that these horrific films are saying to us. They explore and analyze all of Cronenberg’s explosive creations, from the unique Stereo, though such masterpieces as The Brood, Scanners and Videodrome, to his latest film, The Dead Zone.

“Serving as a counterpoint and insight into the man and his work is a frank, searching and comprehensive interview with Cronenberg himself─a brilliant and relentlessly provocative challenger of our sensibilities and our passions.”


Review

Most of the essays in book are interesting. William Beard’s “The Visceral Mind: The Major Films of David Cronenberg” is expansive and often acute in its observations, although the essay runs way too long. “The Comedy of David Cronenberg,” by Maurice Yacowar, is spot-on, in its directness, length and points. John Harkness’s “The Word, the Flesh and David Cronenberg,” as well as William Beard’s and Piers Handling’s interview with the director (“The Interview”), are excellent, as well.

The other essays did not interest me, either because of their analytical subject matter (e.g., Tim Lucas’s “The Image as a Virus: The Filming of Videodrome”) or their pompous, stubborn and mean-spirited agendas (Robin Wood’s “Cronenberg: A Dissenting View”).

Shape is a superb read for its spot-on analyses, one worth seeking if you are a fan of early Cronenberg films, or someone who is just interested in the auteur’s work.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Endless Night by Agatha Christie

(pb; 1967)

From the back cover

“When penniless Michael Rogers discovers the beautiful house at Gypsy’s Acre and then meets the heiress Ellie, it seems all his dreams have come true at once. But he ignores the old woman’s warning of an ancient curse, and evil begins to stir in paradise. As Michael soon learns: Gypsy’s Acre is the place where fatal ‘accidents’ happen.”


Review

Endless is an excellent, no-wasted-words genre hybrid novel. It is initially a Gothic romance and later a murder story. I say murder story, because any reader paying attention will likely spot the killer, or killers, right away. This probable transparency does not lessen Endless’s impact, though, because Christie─master author that she is─does not draw out the big Reveal, but rather embraces it in bold, almost shocking fashion. This is a great read, one worth owning.

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There are quite a few film versions of this book. Check IMDb.com if you are interested in researching them.

<em>Labyrinth</em> by Eric Mackenzie-Lamb

(pb;1979) From the back cover “A handsome, brilliant college professor framed by the sexual hysteria of a lovelorn student and forc...