Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Most Dangerous Game and Other Stories of Adventure, by various authors

(pb; 1957, 1967: story anthology)

OVERALL REVIEW:

Solid, action-oriented anthology, with only one stinker in the mix. Worth checking out from the library.


REVIEW, STORY BY STORY:

1.) "The Most Dangerous Game" - Richard Connell: Sanger Rainsford, an American hunter, gets trapped on the island of a homicidal Cossack (General Zaroff), and becomes Zaroff's prey in literal manhunt. Gripping, sharp work, with a zinger end-line.

Numerous film versions have resulted from this story.

The first film version was released stateside on September 16, 1932. It was directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, from a script by James Ashmore Creelman.

Joel McCrea played Bob. Fay Wray played Eve. Robert Armstrong played Martin. Leslie Banks played Zaroff. Steve Clemente (billed as Steve Clemento) played Tartar. An uncredited Buster Crabbe plays "Sailor who falls off boat".

Other versions include, but are not limited to: A Game of Death (1945), The Most Dangerous Game (1953), Bloodlust! (1961), Surviving The Game (1994, sporting a great cast, among them Rutger Hauer).


2.) "Leiningen Versus the Ants" - Carl Stephenson: A Caucasian gung-ho plantation owner and his native "peons" battle an ant invasion in Brazil. If you can ignore its era-inherent racism, this is a visually wild and thrilling tale.

This story was released stateside as a film on March 3, 1954. Titled The Naked Jungle, it was directed by Byron Haskin, from a script by Ranald MacDougall and Ben Maddow (credited as Philip Yordan).

Charlton Heston played Christopher Leiningen. Eleanor Parker played Joanna Leiningen. Abraham Sofaer played Incacha. William Conrad played "Commissioner". Romo Vincent played "Boat Captain".


3.) "Journalism in Tennessee" - Mark Twain: Witty, raucous take on Southern firebrand newspapermen.


4.) "Alone in Shark Waters" - John Kruse: After a hurricane sinks his ship and leave him afloat in the Indian Ocean, a fisherman (Mike Gardener) fends off dehydration, sharks and other forms of ocean-borne death. Harrowing, intriguing story.


5.) "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" - Rudyard Kipling: This story lost me almost immediately, interest-wise, so I didn't finish reading it - his writing style here is so jangly-noisy, perhaps too vivid.

Two animated films resulted from this story.

The first animated version aired on stateside television on January 9, 1975. Chuck Jones directed and scripted the thirty-minute short.

Orson Welles provided the voices for Narrator, Nag and Chuchundra. June Foray provided the voices for "Nagaina the Cobra, Wife of Nag", Teddy's Mother and Darzee's Wife. Les Tremayne voiced Father. Michael LeClair voiced Teddy. Shepard Menken voiced Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the Mongoose. Lennie Weinrib voiced Darzee the Tailorbird.

A later animated version, made by a different film crew, aired on Hungarian television on November 10, 1983.


6.) "To Build a Fire" - Jack London: In seventy-five-below-zero degree weather, a man wages a spirited struggle for survival against an omnipresent Yukon threat. Infotainment, with a nature-centric, telling finish.

Two film shorts have resulted from this story.

A twenty-minute short resulted from this story in 2003. Directed and scripted by Luca Armenia, Olivier Pagès played The Man.

A second, thirty-minute short was released stateside in October 2008. Mark Dissette co-directed this with Dave Main (who also scripted the short).

Michael Elmendorf played The Man. Eldon Cott played The Old Man of Sulfur Creek. Steven Kramer played Macmorvan. Chad Rowland played Bud. Bill Selig played Jedadiah.


7.) "Locomotive 38, The Ojibway" - William Saroyan: A seemingly crazy Indian (Locomotive 38) and a fourteen year-old boy (Aram, aka "Willie") go on a fishing trip in Locomotive 38's new Packard. Odd, light and charming, this.


8.) "High Air" - Borden Chase: Tunnel miners encounter a potentially fatal emergency. Solid, crises-exciting story.


9.) "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" - James Thurber: A wife- and society-pecked older man (Mitty) imbues his mundane life with unseen but intuited adventures. Fun, brief, to the point.

One film has resulted from this story. A remake of that film is rumored to be on the way.

The first version, released stateside on September 1, 1947, was directed by Norman Z. McLeod, from a script by Ken Englund, Everett Freeman and Philip Rapp.

Danny Kaye played Walter Mitty. Virginia Mayo played Rosalind van Hoorn. Boris Karloff played Dr. Hugo Hollingshead. Fay Bainter played Mrs. Eunice Mitty. Ann Rutherford played Gertrude Griswold.

The second version is scheduled for stateside release in 2012. According to comingsoon.net, Gore Verbinski is set to direct it, from a script by Steve Conrad.

I'll update this remake listing, as more information becomes available.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hide And Seek, by Jack Ketchum

(pb; 1984, 2007)

From the back cover:

"They were young. They were looking for kicks. They decided to play an innocent game in a strange old house.

"First it turned ugly. Then it turned brutal. Finally it became a nightmare of horror and violence.

"None of them was ever the same again."

Review:

Set in Dead River, Maine (also the locale of Off Season and Offspring), this tautly written, quirky, and ultimately horrific coming-of-age tale is unique, and, in true Ketchum fashion, consistently unsettling. It's also gory and nasty in patches, another Ketchum trademark.

Worth owning, this.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Vampire Stories, edited by Richard Dalby

(hb; 1993: vampire story anthology. Forward by Peter Cushing OBE.)

From the inside flap:

"Few mythological creatures can have fascinated writers so much as the vampire: dark legends have been passed down from generation to generation of these undead beings, possessed of supernatural powers of metamorphosis and hypnotism, stalking the night for the blood of the living. Ever since Bram Stoker's novel Dracula projected the vampire into the public's consciousness, vampire stories have had an uncanny hold over readers.

"Loathsome, yet charged with decadent glamour, it is small wonder that the vampire has been a popular and recurring theme of horror fiction, and has inspired some of the finest writing in the genre.

"In this volume are gathered tales that may keep the reader awake long after midnight; a multitude of variations and unexpected twists of the theme which make few concessions to those of a squeamish nature. Included are works by such renowned writers as John Wyndham, Anne Rice, Robert Bloch and the undisputed master of the vampire tale, Bram Stoker, plus an introductory word from a man who has, over his acting career, staked numerous Princes of Darkness -- Peter Cushing."

OVERALL REVIEW:

Eighteen-tale, solid anthology that's worth checking out. Peter Cushing's literate, warm and wise Foreword adds futher charm to this collection.

STANDOUT STORIES:

1.) "Dracula's Guest" - Bram Stoker: A fool-hardy Englishman with a strange benefactor visits a haunted village on Walpurgis Nacht. Spooky, atmospheric, brisk-paced, this. (This originally was an excised chapter from Stoker's novel, Dracula.)

This story resulted in two films.

The first, Walpurgis Nacht, a seven-minute short directed by David Kruschke, was released in 2004.

Michael Glover Smith (billed as Michael Smith) played Jonathan. Jerry Blackburn played Johann. Charity Grella played "Countess". James Hurwitz played "Innkeeper". Mark Johnson played "The Host" / "The Captain".


The second film version, Dracula's Guest, was released stateside as a direct-to-DVD film in August 2008.

Wes Ramsey played Bram Stoker. Amy Lyndon played Mrs. Witham. Andrew Bryniarski played Count Dracula. Kelsey McCann played Elizabeth.

Michael Feifer scripted and directed the film, which re-imagined the story in a slow-paced, different way.


2.) "The Lovely Lady" - D.H. Lawrence: Pauline Attenborough, an outwardly youthful, secretly poisonous old woman, preys on the insecurities of her son (Robert) and her niece (Cecilia).

Theme-rich, classic (in a good way), character-centric tale, with a Pauline-true finish.


3.) "The Author's Tale" - L.A. Lewis: A fireside-chat takes a gripping turn when the Author tells a tale about an otherwise gentle man plotting torturous revenge on his crafty, vicious ex-wife.

Spooky, unsettling work that's equal parts Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker.


4.) "Close Behind Him" - John Wyndham: Two men (Spotty and Smudger) pick the wrong house to burgle. Strange, psychologically-taut story.


5.) "Vampires Ltd" - Josef Nesvadba: Tight, satirical and original story about an amazing vehicle and the darker side of the human drive.


6.) "The Master of Rampling Gate" - Anne Rice: Two adult siblings (Julie and Richard) return to their mysterious family estate, one they haven't seen in almost two decades. Romantic, Gothic, this story plays to Rice's popular, passionate strengths.


7.) "Quiet is the Night" - Jessica Palmer: A girl kills her emotionally abusive father, only to discover a darker fate. Sad, suitably Gothic, spooky -- this possesses a fresh authorial voice; I look forward to reading other works by this author.


8.) "The Last Sin" - Ken Cowley: Lord Ruthven, an immoral wealthy man, gets his bloody comeuppance in this lean, script-flipping morality tale (and update of Dr. John Polidori's famous character).



SOLID STORIES:

"Phantoms" - Ivan Turgenov; "The Haunted House" - E. Nesbit; "An Episode of Cathedral History" - M.R. James; " 'And No Bird Sings'" - E.F. Benson; "Chastel" - Manly Wade Wellman; "The Apples of Sodom" - David Rowlands; "The Undead" - Robert Bloch; "China Rose" - Ron Weighell; "Saint Sebastian and the Mona Lisa" - A.E. Kidd



DOGS**T STORY:

"The Woman on the Stairs" - Margery Lawrence (pretentious, bloated, homophobic "detective" tale)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Call for the Dead, by John le Carré

(hb; 1961, 1962: first novel in the George Smiley series)

From the inside flap:

"It was after a routine check by security that Fennan of the Foreign Office shot himself. George Smiley, the cleverest and most self-effacing man in Security, uncovers new facts in an exciting and dangerous investigation."

Review:

Call is a political murder mystery.

An unassuming, quietly feisty and clever George Smiley begins to solve the strange, badly-staged "suicide" of a fellow bureaucrat, who'd previously been suspected of low-level espionage.

The whos in this mystery aren't important; the whys and the hows are. Le Carré intentionally frames the slyly subversive Call this way, basing the novel's events and motives on the characters' personal histories.

Le Carré's books, whose tones are often set by Cold War era politics and British/aristocratic attitudes, aren't quick-thrill works: they're steady-but-intriguing ramp-ups that immerse readers - or at least, this reader - in the environs of a long-running spy game whose players change over time, even as the game continues.

Worthwhile read, this.

Followed, in a loosely-connected fashion, by A Murder of Quality.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jaws, by Peter Benchley

(pb; 1974)

Review:

Jaws is a fun, blast-through-it "killer shark in local waters" beach read that spawned one of my all-time favorite movies.

The novel has more character-intense subplots, and is a bit nastier (on the human scale) than the film; in the novel, the characters don't bond so much, as put up with each other, with venality and/or desperation defining many of characters' motives/actions. Relatable, and borderline noirish.

Even if you've seen the movie, the novel is a worthwhile read, with a notably different finish than the film.

For another review, check out Bryan's Book Blog.



The film version was released stateside on June 20, 1975.

Roy Scheider played Chief Martin Brody. Robert Shaw played Sam Quint. Richard Dreyfuss played Matt Hooper. Lorraine Gary played Elaine Brody.

Murray Hamilton played Mayor Larry Vaughn. Jeffrey Kramer, billed as Jeffrey C. Kramer, played Hendricks.

Steven Spielberg directed the film, from a screenplay by book author Peter Benchley, Carl Gottileb (who also plays Meadows), an uncredited Howard Sackler and an uncredited John Milius.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Vampires and Violets: Lesbians in Film, by Andrea Weiss

(pb; 1992, 1993: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"Andrea Weiss tracks the often elusive trail of the lesbian through Hollywood films as well as B-movies, European art cinema, and the work of contemporary directors. With wit and political acumen, she opens the concealed sexual world of a host of movies both popular and forgotten and reclaims the secret history of gay women in film."

Review:

Weiss's short-but-sharp analyses and explanations of the social and cinematic dynamics of lesbianism (from the 1920s to the early 1990s) make for an informative, entertaining work. Weiss's writing, stated in everyday language, isn't so deep that it drowns in psychoanalytical excess, nor is it so shallow that it's puff-work.

This is a great gateway book for those interested in the above subjects, or, like me, who read it for research purposes. Worth owning, this.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Holcroft Covenant, by Robert Ludlum

(hb; 1978)

From the inside flap:

"March, 1945. From all over war-devastated Europe, by plane and ship and submarine, are secretly dispatched shipments of precious cargo. Children. German children. To nations everywhere. These are die Sonnenkinder, children who will come of age and in the 1970s carry out their preordained mission -- the establishment of the Fourth Reich. Everywhere.

"Noel Holcroft, an American architect, is flown to Geneva and shown an extraordinary document drawn up by three men more than thirty years ago, each a member of the Third Reich's High Command -- one of them Noel's long-forgotten, natural father. The three men, appalled by the revealed horrors of the Nazi machine, have created a covenant, and executed a massive theft. The sum of $780,000,000.00 was stolen from the German coffers, and in atonement for Hitler's crimes these monies are to be used to aid the survivors and descendants of those trapped in the Holocaust. All that's necessary to release the funds is Holcroft's signature and the signature of the other two heirs. They must be found.

"But the document is a lie. The millions are to be the economic foundation of a vast and ruthless plan that will politically shape governments across the world, a plan so brilliantly conceived it cannot fail. The other heirs are waiting: they know the true intention. Noel does not. In signing the covenant, Holcroft will in effect be signing his own death warrant just as he is signing away the future of free people everywhere. Yet even when he finds out what the document really is, even when he discovers who is enemies are and what power lies in their hands, he determines to aid in the release of the funds, for ironically it is the only chance to stop the plan and the men who are determined to carry it out."

Review:

Ludlum's trademark conspiratorial and labyrinthine plotting/twists/characterization, masterful bursts of violence and action, and reader-compelling prose made this near impossible to set down.

Great, fast read despite its bulk. Worth owning, this.



The film version was released stateside on October 18, 1985.

Michael Caine played Noel Holcroft. Victoria Tennant played Helden von Tiebolt/Helden Tennyson. Anthony Andrews played Johann von Tiebolt/John Tennyson. Lilli Palmer played Althene Holcroft. Michael Lonsdale played Ernst Manfredi. Shane Rimmer played Lt. Miles. Bernard Hepton played Commander Leighton.


Richard Münch, billed as Richard Munch, played Oberst. Mario Adorf played Erich Kessler/Jürgen Mass. Carl Rigg played Anthony Beaumont. Alexander Kerst played Gen. Heinrich Clausen. Michael Wolf played Gen. Erich Kessler. Hugo Bower played Gen. Wilhelm von Tiebolt.

The Holcroft Covenant was directed by John Frankenheimer, who also voiced -- uncredited and unseen -- the character Bernie Sussman. The film was co-scripted by George Axelrod, Edward Anhalt and John Hopkins.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Dead in the Family, by Charlaine Harris

(hb; 2010: eleventh entry in The Sookie Stackhouse Novels)


From the inside flap:

"A Fae War has left the supernatural community of Bon Temps, Louisiana, in chaos -- and waitress Sookie Stackhouse mentally and physically drained. And still, the peace and quiet she so desperately craves is hard to come by. . .

"Even with the blood of two vampires in her system, Sookie is having trouble healing from the terrible torture she endured at the hands of her great-grandfather's enemies during the brief but deadly Fae War. Worse are the emotional wounds -- especially over the loss of her own personal fairy godmother and the near death of her first love.

"Sookie is hurt and she's mad. Just about the only bright spot in her life -- beside the fact that she, after all, still alive -- is the love she thinks she feels for vampire Eric Northman, who is under scrutiny by the new vampire king because of their relationship.

"As the political implications of the shifters' coming-out are beginning to be felt, Sookie's connection to one particular Were draws her into the dangerous debate. And, unknown to her, though the doors to Faery have been closed, there are still some fae on the human side -- and one of them is angry at Sookie. Very, very angry."

Review:

Fun blast of a read, like most of Harris's Sookie works, bubbling with mixed-creature intrigue (that includes the f**ktard human bigots who are pushing through anti-Were legislation), as well as flirtiness, a world-savvy wit and briefly-glimpsed gore.

This is one of the better Sookie novels of the last few years, its focus solely on the action, plot-centric character interactions, and an ably-executed expansion of the Sookieverse.

Followed by Dead Reckoning.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Cream: The Best of the Erotica Readers & Writers Association, edited by Lisabet Sarai


(pb; 2006: erotica anthology)


From the back cover:

"For ten years, the Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA) has offered high quality erotica writing. Now, for the first time, in one steamy volume, Cream showcases the best of what has been been published by the ERWA.

"Offering humor and horror, drama and delirium, Cream introduces readers to characters they won't forget: the no-nonsense sex shop proprietix in Keziah Hill's 'Laying Down the Law,' the lewd and lovely bibliophile in Seneca Mayfair's 'The Bookseller's Dream,' and the tragically tattooed barmaid in Thomas S. Roche's 'Avril's Name.'

"Cream will take you from the slums of Bangkok to the snowy reaches of Central Park, from the jungles of Guatemala to the hockey rinks of Quebec, and from the days of the speakeasies to the post-apocalyptic future. Whether you like your sex as dark and bitter as black coffee or as light and sweet as crème brûlée, Cream has something to suit your taste buds."


Overall review:

Exemplary erotica anthology.

Editor Lisabet Sarai has set a high bar for these authors to clear, and, for the most part, they have done so. (Two of the stories didn't grab me, but that's because I had qualms with their stylistic choices and tones; that said, I still appreciated why Sarai included these distinct stories in this collection.)

There are so many wonderful works in this anthology that I set my standout stories bar higher than usual.

If you only own a few erotic anthologies in your life, make this one of them. All of these stories are worthwhile reads.


Standout stories:

"Because I Could" - Daina Blue: A Death Row inmate (Donald B. Camrooney) writes about the crime that landed him in prison. Brutal, dark, remorseless.

"What Was Lost" - Robert Buckley: Janet, a young woman, establishes a brief but oddly erotic relationship with a decrepit old man (Mr. Havilland) with a wild outlaw past. Intriguing, sympathetic, off-beat, with interesting characters and an eye on early twentieth century history.

"Newborn" - Ann Regentin: A forensics bone specialist, Martina, makes new discoveries about the world and herself in a war-torn Guatemalan village. Troubling, wise and ultimately uplifting work.

"Ghosts of Christmas Past" - Richard V. Rainment: Initially romantic X-mas tale with an effective mood morph at the end.

"Butoh-ka" - remittance girl: In Saigon, a woman (Sara) learns a new, borderline-bizarre way to dance, with help from her instructor (Kaoru). Not your usual "dance as a metaphor for sex/life" clichéd piece, this, "Butoh-ka" reaches into disturbing, gripping emotional territory that put me in a similar mindset of one of my all-time favorite novels, Kenzo Kitakata's Winter Sleep -- intuitive, beyond-words transcendant.

"Junkie" - Jaelyn: Short, sharp tale a nameless woman whose sudden, violent sex with a rough lover (Terry) hook her. Shattering depiction of addiction.

"Absences" - Chris Skilbeck: In a broken-society future, a man (James), his coma-prone wife (Petra) and her sister (Donna) deal with life- and society-changing realities. Longer than most of the stories in this anthology, it's complex, truly original and comparatively epic, echoing the best work of bigger-name science fiction writers.

"Secondhand" - Chris Bridges: Martha, a woman with psychometric abilites - she's "able to the history of a thing by touching it" - goes lingerie shopping in a thrift store, a visit that makes a bigger-than-expected impact on her. Original with a dramatic finish.

"A Man in a Kilt" - Helen E.H. Madden: In Scotland, a Dom (Nan) teaches her Scottish bottom (Jimmy) the difference between want and need. Romantic, in a BDSM way; distinct work.

"Color Less Ordinary" - Sydney Beier: A lipstick shade - "Garnet Chrome" - acelerates a pick-up that takes a surprising, delightful corkscrew. Light, fun.

"The Bookseller's Dream" - Seneca Mayfair: This bookstore fantasy is hot, smart and romantic.

"Avril's Name" - Thomas S. Roche: Sad, lovely, visually-intense tale of love and tattoo ink.

"Tears Fall On Me" - Sydney Durham: An emotionally twisty affair leads to something deeper -- and, for a time, darker -- for two lovers. Enchanting, loving work.

"Challenger Deep" - Kathleen Bradean: While fulfilling her deceased father's last wishes, a woman (Erica) begins to actualize some wishes of her own. Tropical and character-resonant story.

"Up in the Morning" - Mike Kimera: First-person point-of-view acount of male desire in married middle age, and its situational changes. Romantic, smart-minded and protagonist-progressive.

"Black Widow" - Seneca Mayfair: A husband-killer prepares to strike again. Striking, noiresque flasher.

"What Is Thy Name?" - Teresa Lamai: A woman decides between her divine amour, who may or may not be real, and the world's notion of sanity. Biblical, dark, original flasher.

"The Rigby Legacy" - Rose B. Thorny: Sex and revenge flasher, effective with its great finish line.

"Veronica's Knickers" - Julius: The funny exit sentence is a cherry to an effervescent, romantic flasher.

"The Question" - Jude Mason: Solid set-up, hilarious and wicked ending to this 100-word story.


Other stories:

"Laying Down the Law" - Keziah Hill; "A Race to the Finish" - J.Z. Sharpe; "A Little Help" - Nan Andrews; "Debra's Donuts" - Julius; "Mad Dogs" - Lisabet Sarai; "Kiki" - Jolie du Pré; "Drillers" - Dominic Santi; "My Dark and Empty Sky" - Teresa Wymore; "Boy Toy" - J.T. Benjamin; "Successor" - Amanda Earl; "Vegetable Medley" - Madelyne Ellis; "Dirty Velvet" - William Dean; "An Evening at Katzenspieler's" - Cervo; "Home Ice" - Tulsa Brown; "Groupie" - Lisabet Sarai; "Vixen 6.9" - Rachel McIntyre; "Maybe Next Time" - Michael Michele; "Punter" - Mike Kimera; "Lost and Found" - Dani Benjamin; "Grandmother's Inheritance" - Elizabeth Daniels; "A Good Haunting" - Amanda Earl; "Domestic Bliss" - Keziah Hill