Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How to... Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale, by Jenna Jameson with Neil Strauss

(hb; 2004: autobiography)

From the inside flap:

"In the underbelly of Las Vegas, a cesspool of warring biker gangs and seedy strip clubs transformed the gawky, brace-faced Jenna Massouli into the bombshell Jenna Jameson. Today, Jenna Jameson is the biggest star in the history of adult movies, consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful women alive. But behind the glamour and the meteoric rise to fame was a path paved with tragedy and heartbreak. As a teenager drawn into a chaotic world ruled by rape, abuse, and murder, Jenna plunged into a downward spiral of addiction, even as she became one of the most photographed women in adult magazines.

"Determined to overcome this past, Jenna rebounded in the adult-film business, where she encountered sadistic directors, experienced lovers of both sexes, amorous celebrities (from Howard Stern to Marilyn Manson to Tommy Lee), bitter rival starlets, and finally, glory, as she went on to become the biggest porn star the world has ever seen. But her struggle for happiness did not end when the accolades began. For years she wrestled with her resentment at her estranged father, the loneliness of growing up from the age of two without a mother, and her enduring childhood desire to find a man who give her the security and love she never had."

Review:

Jameson's autobiography is an uneven read.

For the most part, it's interesting, particularly when she's talking about: the dos and don'ts of working in "the [adult film] industry"; her encounters with mainstream celebrities (including Nicolas Cage, Jack Nicholson, Pantera, Nikki Sixx, Bruce Willis and David Lee Roth); her struggle to deal with being raped, once by a bunch of high school boys, and later by a creepy German motorcycle gang member (called The Preacher); her father and brother; and her battles with drug addiction.

When Jameson, helped and edited by co-author Strauss, is talking about the above subjects, her narrative is informative, well-written, and engaging. In the middle of the book she has a dialogue with her brother, Tony, about minute bullshit abuses she and Tony had to put up with (from other folks), and her search for the right mate (she found him in a fellow industry worker). It's then that her book bogs down, which almost caused me to put this book down twice. But then an interesting bit would show up, and I'd soldier on.

One thing that was really interesting was how Jameson, who now owns her own production company, refused to condemn the porn business, unlike Traci Elizabeth Lords, who blasted it in her autobio, Underneath it All. In remaining porn-positive, Jameson provides an equally level-headed, if promo-savvy, counterpoint to Lords' negative experiences.

Co-author Strauss did a better job working with Motley Crue on The Dirt. I can only hope he did the same with Marilyn Manson, in Manson's autobio, The Long Hard Road Out of Hell.

Unless you're curious about the workings of "the industry," a die-hard Jameson fan, or wondering which celebrity names get dropped, don't read this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Man with the Golden Gun, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1965: thirteenth book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Review:

Caveat: spoilers in this review.

A year after his disappearance -- and publicly presumed death -- at the finish of You Only Live Twice, Bond reappears at Ministry of Defense, requesting an audience with M. (aka, Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, to those who know him intimately).

Bond gets his face-time with M., and tries to assassinate him, nearly succeeding.

Bond has been brainwashed by the KGB.

The Ministry of Defence doctors set about wiping Bond's mind of that insidious Russian influence. They succeed.

M., once again figuring a real challenge will put Bond back on track, or at least allow him an honorable death, orders Bond to kill Francisco (aka, Paco, or "Pistols") Scarmanga. Scarmanga is a legendary free-lance assassin, the titular "Man with the [literally] Golden Gun," who's so bad-ass that he doesn't affect disguises or cover names when he travels.

Bond travels to Kingston, Jamaica, where he accidentally hooks up with his ex-secretary, Mary Goodnight (who was reassigned there when Bond disappeared). With her assistance, he "accidentally" bumps into the thin-skinned, trigger-happy Scarmanga at a local whorehouse, No. Three and a Half Love Lane, where Scarmanga hires Bond (working under the name Mark Hazard) to provide security at Scarmanga's next hotel investment meeting -- in truth an investment scam, and a meet with Scarmanga's KGB contact.

It goes south quickly. Fortunately for Bond, his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (from Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger, and Thunderball) and another CIA agent, Nick Nicholson, are working undercover at Scarmanga's hotel, as well.

Scarmanga, as a villain, isn't one of the more impressive ones. Not coincidentally, he reminded me of the lead villains from Diamonds Are Forever, Jack and Seraphim Spang, who were head of the "Spangled Mob" (whom Scarmanga worked for, years ago). It's Scarmanga's shooting skill, comparable (if not better) than Bond's, that makes him noteworthy, something Bond frequently acknowledges throughout Golden Gun.

Bond's final shoot-out with Scarmanga in a "cobra-infested" swamp is a wonder to read. Like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, the quintessential 007 plot dynamics aren't turned on their collective head, but sideways, with endings that are either cliffhanger-shocking, or disturbingly gelid (like Golden Gun's, which simultaneously fuses the cold-blooded end-line of Casino Royale, Bond's womanizing attitude, and the gentling effect that Bond's dead wife, Tracy, has spiritized him with).

Great wrap-up (novel-wise) to a consistently-good series, this. Followed by a four-story anthology, Octopussy and The Living Daylights.

The Man with the Golden Gun was released stateside as a film on December 20, 1974.

Roger Moore played Bond. Christopher Lee (step-cousin and regular golfing partner of Ian Fleming) played Francisco Scarmanga. Britt Ekland played Mary Goodnight. Maud Adams played Andrea Anders. Herve Villechaize played Nick Nack. Bernard Lee played M.. Lois Maxwell (once again) played Miss Moneypenny. Desmond Llwelyn played Q (whose character, again, doesn't appear in the novel).

Guy Hamilton directed the film, from a script by Tom Mankiewicz and Richard Maibaum.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Farriers' Lane, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1993: thirteenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

"When Mr. Justice Stafford, a distinguished judge in the court of appeals, falls ill and dies of opium poisoning, his shocking demise resurrects on of the most sensational cases ever to inflame England: the murder five years before of Kingsley Blaine and the crucifixion of his body against a door in Farriers' Lane. Amid the public hysteria for revenge, the police had arrested a Jewish actor, who was soon condemned to hang.

"Police Inspector Thomas Pitt, investigating Stafford's death, is drawn into the Farriers' Lane murder as well, for it appears that Stafford may have been about to reopen the case. He receives curiously little help from his colleagues on the force, but his wife, Charlotte, gleans from her social engagements startling insights into the women in both cases. And slowly both Thomas and Charlotte begin to reach for the same sinister and deeply dangerous truth..."

Review:

The Pitts' current case is crazy-quilted with divergent elements: possible miscarriage(s) of justice, anti-Semitism and good intentions gone awry. So it's especially good that Charlotte's mother, Caroline Ellison (who's enamored with one of the suspects), Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould (Charlotte's great-aunt by marriage), and the Pitts' maid, Gracie (loyal, streetwise and stubborn), are there to lend their help in solving the murders. (Emily and Jack Radley, Charlotte's sister and brother-in-law, and series regulars, are "in the west country away from the social bustle of London," where Emily is close to giving birth to her second child, the Radleys' first one together.)

The murders -- and their motivations -- are particularly ugly this time out. The twists are envy-inducing, the characters (several of whom have clear potential to join the ranks of other series-regular characters in future books) are interesting and worth remembering, the red herrings aren't obvious, and the story-plotting, especially in the last fifty pages, is tension-filled and relevant to our current times.

Another charming, read-worthy entry in the Pitt series, followed by The Hyde Park Headsman.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill

(hb; 2005, 2007: story anthology)

Overall review:

This is one of the best short story anthologies I've read in a long while. It's up there, excellence-wise, with Clive Barker's three-volume Books of Blood, Richard Christian Matheson's Dystopia: Collected Stories, Stephen King's Night Shift and Ray Bradbury's The October Country -- favorites of mine.

Hill is a master storyteller, with a flair for clever sublime end-lines (reminiscent of another writer I admire, Robert Bloch). If you love short stories, you should be reading this sixteen-story anthology. Not a literary stinker in this bunch.

Review, story by story:

"Best New Horror" - A falling-apart-at-the-seams horror editor (Eddie Carroll) is turned on to an exciting, elusive writer whose disturbing stories drive Carroll to seek him out, with a result both expected and terrifingly wrong. Hill's able writing and effective foreshadowing makes this tale work -- in lesser hands, it wouldn't have.

"20th Century Ghost" - Gentle, sweet-natured tale about a woman (Imogen Gilchrist) whose of love of cinema defies Death. Memorable, classic piece.

"Pop Art" - Cleverly titled first-person account of an asocial boy who befriends an inflatable sixth-grade classmate, Arthur Roth. Funny, original, melancholic and ultimately inspiring. One of my favorite stories in this collection.

"You Will Hear the Locusts Sing" - An adolescent boy wakes up transformed into a locust -- and is delighted. Excellent thematic flip-flop of Kafka's "Metamorphosis".

"Abraham's Boys" - The Van Helsing brothers, sons of the famous vampire-executioner, discover their legacy. Well-written, ironic.

"Better Than Home" - An anxiety-ridden boy (and son of a Major League baseball player) talks about his boyhood, even as it happens. Pleasant, solid.

"The Black Phone" - Stunning, clever piece about a kidnapped boy (John) who's thrown into a basement with a supposedly-disconnected phone. One of my favorite entries in this anthology.

"In the Rundown" - A socially-inept store clerk encounters a roadside murder scene. Solid, this.

"The Cape" - A resentful ne'er-do-well accidentally finds a childhood blanket-turned-cape that allows him to fly. Excellent, with a sneaks-up-on-the-reader denouement.

"Last Breath" - Delightfully Bradbury-esque macabre tale about a retired doctor whose "museum of silence" contains the final exhalations of the now-dead. One of my favorite stories in this collection.

"Dead-Wood" - Trees with the ability to haunt: this uber-short piece is an interesting, confident and effective contrast to the other pieces in this anthology.

"The Widow's Breakfast" - Warm, sad tale about a rail-jumper who gets fed by a widow. Spine-freezing, sad end-line to this one.

"Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead" - 1978. During the shooting of Dawn of the Dead, a made-up zombified extra (Conroy) runs into an old high school sweetheart -- who's married, with a six-year old kid. Bittersweet, nostalgic - on multiple levels. One of my favorite stories here.

"My Father's Mask" - Unsettling, at-times surrealistic take on the family-on-the-lam story, as told by a pubescent boy. Strange, solid work.

"Voluntary Committal" - Twilight Zone-esque entry about a schizophrenic, maze-building boy who sets out to save his brother. Melancholic, effective, runs a bit long.

"Scheherazade's Typewriter" - "Hidden" charming story in the author's Acknowledgements section, about a haunted Selectric typewriter. One of my favorite stories in this collection.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

(pb; 2003: first book in the Inkheart trilogy. Translated from the German by Anthea Bell)

From the back cover:

"One cruel night, Meggie's father reads aloud from Inkheart, and an evil ruler named Capricorn escapes the boundaries of fiction and lands in their living room. Suddenly, Meggie is smack in the middle of the kind of adventure she has only read about in books. Somehow, Meggie must learn to harness the magic that has conjured this nightmare. Only she can change the course of the story that has changed her life forever."


Review:

The first book of the Inkheart trilogy is heartfelt, frisky (it has numerous lightly sarcastic moments), family friendly and near-impossible to put down. Funke never lets up on the action, and the characters (from plucky twelve-year old Meggie Folchart to the knife-wielding Basta). 

Inkheart's ending, like the rest of the book, is smart and fleet-footed, with a few predictable (but sequel-necessary) elements. Not quite a cliff-hanger, it made me want to read the next book, Inkspell.

This is a worthy read for fans of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series.

#

Inkheart graced the silver screen on January 23, 2009. Iain Softley directed the film from a script by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Brendan Fraser played Mo "Silvertongue" Folchart. Andy Serkis played Capricorn. Eliza Bennett played Meggie Folchart. Paul Bettany played Dustfinger. Jim Broadbent played Fenoglio. Helen Mirren played Elinor Loredan.

Jamie Foreman played Basta. Leslie Sharp played Mortola (aka, "the Magpie"). Rafi Gavron played Farid. Marnix Van Den Broeke played The Shadow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

You Only Live Twice, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1964: twelfth book in the original 007/James Bond series)

Review:

Caveat: spoilers in this review.

It's been nine months since Ernesto Stavro Blofeld and Fraulein Irma Bunt gunned down Tracy di Vincenzo, Bond's bride of a few hours, on their honeymoon. Bond is an emotional and professional wreck.

M., concerned about one of his best agents, figures 007 needs a real challenge to kick him out of his doldrums. So M. sends Bond to Japan to get additional intel on the Russian drug trade from Tiger Tanaka, the samurai-hearted head of the Japanese Secret Service.

Tanaka agrees to give Bond unofficial access to the Russian files (dubbed "MAGIC 44"), if Bond will do him a big favor -- also off the record.

The favor: kill Doctor Guntram Shatterhand, a Swiss multimillionaire and amateur botanist, whose remote island castle in Kyushu houses a "garden of death," where five hundred or more Japanese people have gone to commit culturally-approved suicide. This garden is full of rare poisonous plants and animals; one wrong move there means instantaneous, painful expiration.

Tanaka considers Shatterhand, as well as Shatterhand's wife, the ugly Emmy, a mass murderer. And he sees no end to these "honorable" killings, so the only way to stop them is by killing the Shatterhands. Since Tanaka would face repercussions for such actions, it falls to Bond to do the deeds.

Bond accepts the secret assignment: the intel is too important. Also, more importantly, Bond is startled when he recognizes the Shatterhands from their photos -- they're Ernesto Stavro Blofeld and Fraulein Irma Bunt, who killed Tracy at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Helped by Kissy Suzuki, a one-time Hollywood film star and Ama awabi shell diver, Bond infiltrates Blofeld's private garden. Once inside the garden, Bond confronts Blofeld and Bunt, once and for all...

Structurally, You Only Live Twice is a template replica of Doctor No, but Twice's location -- Japan, with its distinctive social mores -- renders that (possible) complaint moot. Not only that, but Bond's attitude is different; he's resumed his womanizing ways, but he's less cool in how he handles his women: his dead bride has humanized him a bit more.

You Only Live Twice is not as radical, tone-wise, as On Her Majesty's is, nor is the cliffhanger ending as shocking, but it is a stand-out entry in a consistently-pleasing series.

Followed by The Man with the Golden Gun.

#

You Only Live Twice was released stateside as a film on June 13,1967.

Sean Connery played Bond. Mie Hama played Kissy Suzuki. Tetsuro Tamba played Tiger Tanaka. Donald Pleasence played Ernesto Stavro Blofeld. Charles Gray (who later played Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever) played Dikko Henderson.

Bernard Lee played M.. Lois Maxwell played Moneypenny. Desmond Llewelyn played Q (whose character is not in the novel). Burt Kwouk played "SPECTRE #3".

Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay.

Lewis Gilbert (who also lensed The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) directed.

(Side-note: Fleming gives a shout-out to David Niven, who would later play one of the James Bonds in the 1967 version of Casino Royale, when Kissy Suzuki, talking about her Hollywood experiences, tells Bond: "They were all disgusting to me in Hollywood... Nobody treated me honourably except for [David] Niven.")

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Penelopiad, by Margaret Atwood

(hb; 2005)

From the inside flap:

"In Homer's account in The Odyssey, Penelope -- wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy -- is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and -- curiously -- twelve of her maids.

"In a... contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give her telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: 'What was Penelope really up to?'..."

Review:

Sly puncturing of a "timeless" myth, this. Penelope, in the words of a smart, average-attractive wife and mother, tells her side of the Odyssey-based story, where Helen of Troy, Penelope's cousin, may be outwardly beautiful but is ultimately vapid and cruel; where Odysseus, suave and brave, is considerably less noble than he's shown to be in the myth; and Penelope's refactory son, Telemachus, is all-too-ready to destroy his mother's careful management of what could've been an instant tragedy.

Leapfrogging through Penelope's recounting is the collective outrage of Penelope's twelve hanged maids, who, though loyal to Penelope, were executed because of deception and jealousy. The maids' outrage, taking various literary forms -- poetry, a case study, moments from a court room case -- provides a seering counterpoint to Penelope's seemingly-honest account.

Wow-worthy read, this, shot through with ego-diminishing digs (many of them distinctly feminine), incisive revenge, and all the other attendant emotions that culminate in a tragedy: these thirteen women are/were no shrinking vulvae, but intelligent women who were dealt the wrong cards, and suffered ignoble wounds (of varying degrees) because of them.

Check it out.

<em>Sharp Objects</em> by Gillian Flynn

(pb; 2006) From the back cover “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: ...