Friday, January 30, 2015

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt


(hb; 2014; memoir / humor)

From the inside flap:

"Between 1995 and 1999, Patton Oswalt  lived with an unshakable addiction. It wasn't drugs, alcohol or sex. It was film. After moving to Los Angeles, Oswalt became a huge film buff, absorbing classics and new releases at least three nights a week at the New Beverly Cinema. Silver screen celluloid became Oswalt's life schoolbook, informing his notions of acting, writing, comedy and relationships. Set in the nascent days of the alternative comedy scene, Oswalt's memoir chronicles his journey from fledgling stand-up comedian to self-assured sitcom actor, with the colorful New Beverly collective supporting him all along the way."


Review:

Oswalt's memoir is funny, serious, cinema-geeky, relatable, briefly sad and always a good, focused read. It is relatively light in tone, but this deftly-written book never skimps on substance, its substance being what it's like to get caught up in something -- in this case, dreams, movies and (a lack of) action -- and letting it impede, at least for a little while, one's potential accomplishments, maturation and (other) "could have beens": worth owning, this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette


(pb; 1981, 2002. Translated from the French by James Brook.)


From the back cover:

"Martin Terrier is a hired killer who wants out of the game - so he can settle down and marry his childhood sweetheart. After all, that's why he took up this profession! But 'the company' won't let him go: they have other plans. Once again, the gunman must assume the prone firing position. A tour of force, this violent tale shatters as many illusions about life and politics as it does bodies."


Review:

This Gallic-in-tone thriller is underlined with a mordant and absurdist sense of humor. Its often cruel and cold characters' actions and near-the-end startling plot pretzels are funny (in a quasi-bleak way), even as Manchette's stripped-to-the-cinematic-bone writing chills and highlights the novel's aforementioned qualities.

Prone is not your typical hitman-isn't-allowed-to-retire work, so readers -- especially Americans -- perhaps used to politically rigid and brutally earnest action-political thrillers, may want to bear this in mind before picking up Prone up. Its brutal, succinct philosophy, when mixed with its other exposed-core qualities, makes this an excellent read, one worth owning.

#

Two films have resulted from this novel.

The first version, Le choc, was released in France on April 28, 1982. (It is also known by the titles Contract in Blood and Shock.) It was directed by Robin Davis and an uncredited Alain Delon (who also -- credited -- played the lead role of Martin "Christian" Terrier).

Catherine Deneuve played Claire. Phillipe Léotard played Félix. Etienne Chicot played Michel. Jean-Louis Richard played "Maubert, l'inspecteur de la DST". François Perrot played Cox. Féodor Atkine played "Borévitch, dit 'Boro'". Dany Kogan played Rosana.

#

The second version, The Gunman, is scheduled for stateside release on March 20, 2015. Pierre Morel directed the film from a script by Don MacPherson and Pete Travis.

Sean Penn played Jim Terrier (cinematic stand-in for Martin Terrier). Javier Bardem played Felix. Mark Rylance played Cox. Ray Winstone played Stanley. Idris Elba also co-starred in the film, but imdb hasn't listed his role (as of this writing).






Friday, January 23, 2015

Rash Door by E.S. Wynn


(pb; 2012: poetry anthology)

Overall review:

Rash is an excellent poetry anthology, whose images, themes and works not only complement each other, but flow and weave themselves in a natural-order rhythm that deepened the sense of immersion I got while reading it.

Most of the poems revolve around addiction, loss (of one's self, of a romantic partner), Nature, regret and the process of recreation, whether it's through accepting one's flaws and darkish history, romance or writing. 

What's striking about this collection is that even the relatively few poems (out of an impressive sixty) that didn't grab me were appreciable, in the sense that I could see why they were included in Rash: not only were they solid or good, they also contributed to the aforementioned thematic-flow of the overall work. (In an anthology of this size, it's a near-impossibility -- at least for this reader -- for every poem to become a personal favorite.)

Rash is a superb, worth-owning verseworks collection. If you're interested in purchasing it, here's a link where you can do so.


Standout poems:

1.)  "AA": Emotive and highly visual work about breaking one's addiction, self-wounding and -- hopefully -- the renewal of being. Excellent piece.


2.)  "A Weekend": Relatable versework about the discombobulation one encounters (and slow-and-swift polarities) with the passing of two weekly days.


3.)  "Kissing a Smoker": Flavor- and sensory-intensive poem that aptly describes its titular experience.


4.)  "Hangover Morning": Liquid spirits, history, mythology and literature run in celebratory and long-lined fashion before an inevitable, oh-too-relatable finish. Delightful and wise piece.


5.)  "Sh*t in the Shower": Nightmarish, short and sharp work that details a necessary transformation. It put me in the mindset of David Cronenberg's body dismorphic films (Rabid, Shivers [a.k.a. They Came From Within], Videodrome and others). Yes, that is meant in a complimentary way.


6.)  "Dream Blindness": A strong visual sense of yearning forms this poem, with its desperate, driving flow and rhythms.


7.)  "Seawitch": Stark, stellar and startling work about different multi-layered things. Great end-line, one of my favorite poems in this collection. Part of it reads:

"Mom's van
Ancient maritime mistress
Dull blue, gull grey
Primer and seashells
 
Mermaids and Playa dust 
Greasy drippings under tattered mylar
Musty inside,
Like a forgotten seaside cabin. . .
 
A place to rest, to lay your head
And wait out the long cold night. . ."


8.)  "Rash Door": Horrific, darkly funny (with its end-lines) piece that reads like a companion piece to the desperate, sketchy "Sh*t in the Shower".


9.)  "Sterilize the Dance": Chilling, stark work revolving around lust, interpersonal evolution, terror and innocence. This is another favorite in the bunch poem.


10.)  "Colors": The ghost-hues of an old relationship impel a man to question his present leanings and choices with women. Especially good poem.


11.)  "Visionaries": The wild, imaginative-soar second half of this versework is wow-good.


12.)  "All Is Folly": Especially dark and effective work that succeeds on multiple reading levels.


13.)  "A Moment in Memory": Beautiful, Nature-appreciative piece, this: serene, wonderful.


14.)  "Midnight Rain": Urban, noir-drenched and femme-fatale-as-a-frame-theme poem that is especially striking.


15.)  "Only Silence": A strong sense of personal nothingness suffuses this -- excellent work.


16.)  "The Sculptor": I love this one, a piece about the making of a truly-alive being.


17.)  "Tattoo": Stark, short and sharp-stanza'd versework. This is an especially effective follow-up/counterpart piece to "The Sculptor".


18.)  "Must": Relatable (for a lot of guys, I'm guessing), blunt poem about women and their curious, sometimes (unintentionally) insulting choices.


19.)  "Rage II": Macho attitudes and overall dumbness, along with break-up-inspired bitterness, suffuse this oh-so-GRRRR piece.


20.)  "Visitation": Urban life and its resultant noises form this versework. This is a fitting companion piece to "Midnight Rain".


21.)  "American Wishes": Another woman-as-a-car poem. Especially good, effective read.


22.)  "My Pen Is A Prophet": Relatable-for-writers, theme- and image-tight piece.


23.)  "The Best Soil": Excellent versework with a biting, heart-ouch end stanza. One of my favorite poems in this collection.


24.)  "Artifice Of A (real) Poem": Cut-to-it poem that nails what's wrong and right about writing stanza'd works. Again, excellent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dirty Money by Richard Stark


(hb; 2008: twenty-fourth / final novel in the Parker series)


From the inside flap:

"In Nobody Runs Forever, Parker and two cohorts stole the assets of a bank in transit, but the police heat was so great they could only escape if they left the money behind. In this [second] follow-up novel, Parker and his associates plot to reclaim the loot, which they hid in the choir loft of an unused country church. As they implement the plan, people on both sides of the law use the forces at their command to stop Parker and grab the goods for themselves. Though Parker's new getaway van is an old Ford Ecoline with 'Holy Redeemer Choir' on its doors, his gang is anything but holy, and Parker will do whatever it takes to redeem his prize, no matter who gets hurt in the process."


Review:

The twenty-fourth and final Parker novel sports a largely familiar cast of characters (many of them from Nobody Runs Forever and Ask the Parrot). It also, once again, teams Parker up with an odd, semi-quirky ally mix -- namely: Sandra Loscalzo (bounty hunter, from Nobody), Frank Meaney, thug-boss of Cosmopolitan Beverages (from Firebreak), as well as -- briefly -- Ed Mackey (fellow thief, last seen in Breakout).

Like most of the previous Parker novels, Dirty is full of plot and character twists, ruthlessness, action, intriguing characters and a strong, word-lean sense of series continuity (that doesn't require that you to read previous Parker books). Excellent capper to the series, this, one worth owning.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark


(hb; 2006: twenty-third book in the Parker series)


From the inside flap:

"On a sunny October afternoon a man is running up a hill. He's not dressed for running. Below him are barking police dogs and waiting up ahead is a stranger -- with a rifle, a life full of regrets, and a parrot at home who will mutely witness just how much trouble the runner, Parker, can bring into an ordinary life.

"The rabbit hunter is Tom Lindahl, a small-town lonely heart nursing a big-time grudge against the racetrack that fired him. He knows from the moment he sees Parker that he's met a professional thief -- and a man with murder in his blood. Rescuing Parker from the chase hounds, Lindahl invites the fugitive into his secluded home. He plans to rip off his former employer and exact a deadly measure of revenge -- if he can get Parker to help.

"But Tom doesn't know Parker and that the desperate criminal will do anything to survive -- no matter who has to die."


Review:

Parrot picks up where Nobody Runs Forever left off. Parker, pursued by law enforcement officers and their tracker dogs, is forced to pair up with a loser-by-his-own-reckoning (Tom Lindahl), who wants to rob his old employers, whom, he feels, treated him in a shabby manner.

Once again, I love how Stark changes the situations that Parker finds himself in, exploring new plot, character and creative territories as the series progresses. The first half of  Parrot is, in turns, amusing and annoying (the latter emotion stemming from the actions of the civilians Parker must deal with). (Parts of this section almost feel like a darkly comedic Parker  side novella.) The second half of the novel brings that slow-build desperation (as experienced differently by Parker and Lindahl) together in Stark's ruthless waste-no-action-nor-words fashion.

As with the previous book (Nobody), impatient fans of the series may want to have the next Parker novel -- Dirty Money -- on hand, as Dirty picks up where Parrot leaves off. Worth owning, this.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Charm School, Book One: Magickal Witch Girl Bunny by Elizabeth Watasin


(oversized pb; 2000, 2002: graphic novel)


From the back cover:

"In the town of Little Salem, magic and modern life collide in a hormonally charged storm. . . meet sexy witch Bunny, her vampire biker girlfriend Dean, and the faerie who tries to come between them!"


Review:

Charm School is a fun, flirty, clever and fast-read graphic novel read that is chock full of amusing characters -- e.g., Fairer Than (the brazen "one part faerie.  . one part mortal and. . . one part dragon" faerie who's set her desirous eyes upon good girl Bunny); Bunny's mischievous and protective "hideous" witch "Aunties, Weirdie, Hauntie and Agoosta"; and a few of Bunny's fellow Haunted High School students, whom are somewhat mischievous themselves.

When I call Charm School "flirty" I mean that it is a PG-13 read (there is no explicit sex, though there is kissing, butch dykes and other Sapphic, gender- and sex-leaning characters). Obviously, conservative parents who are not LGBT-friendly may not be fans of this graphic novel, whose main story ("The Wrecking Faerie") ends on a cliff-hanger note.

Watasin also provides several side-backstories about the characters' pasts: "Bunny, the Good Li'l Teen Witch" (which shows how her Aunties' spell to get Bunny a boyfriend backfires in a big way), "Dr. Vanessa Leather, Monster Maker" (where Bunny, confused by her hormones and her budding interest in girls, visits a hilariously "evil scientist") and "Radiate" (a post-"Bunny" story, where Bunny's three Aunties -- with their various reactions, some of them ovary-busting -- process Bunny's coming out while meeting Dean, her girlfriend).

Charm School is a fun, smile- and sometimes laugh-inducing work, with artwork that's fetching while maintaining a curious, slapstick mix of realistic and comic-ky faces, figures and action.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark


(hb; 2004: twenty-second book in the Parker series)


From the inside flap:

"Seven men came to a meeting in Cincinnati. One wore a wire, and another didn't hesitate to kill him -- fast and hard. Now Parker has left that meeting and the murder behind, and gotten involved with a scheme that is stuffed with money and trouble.

"In the rural northwestern corner of Massachusetts, Parker and a pal plan to steal an armored car. But the human element gets in the way. From a nervous ex-con and his well-intentioned sister to a bank manager's two-timing wife and a beautiful, relentless cop, too many people have their hands too close to Parker's pie. Then a bounty hunter, who just happens to be hunting the man who never left Cincinnati meeting, joins the fray.

"Parker can see this job turning bad, yet he can't let go of the score. And when guns go off and the heist goes down, the perfect plan will explode with a sound and fury all its own. For Parker, there's always the choice of turning from fight to flight -- even if there's nowhere to run."


Review:

Parker and his current heistmates -- Nick Dalesia (from an earlier Parker novel, I forget which one) and Nelson McWhitney (a recent acquaintance) -- have their hands full when they take on an armored car heist that initially seems easy-peasy but quickly turns complicated because of other human scavengers who, for various reasons, have taken an interest in the heisters' activities. (Briggs, an explosives expert and another former Parker heistmate, briefly makes an appearance in Nobody as well.)

This twenty-second novel in this series is, like all previous Parker novels, a high-water pulp-noir mark work, hardboiled, masterful and entertaining. It's worth owning, and those reading Nobody should have the next Parker novel in their possession if they can't wait to see how this character-complicated actioner plays out.

Followed by Ask the Parrot.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

There Are No Spies by Bill Granger


(hb; 1986: seventh novel in The November Man series)


From the inside flap:

"The time is early March. The place is Lausanne, the Swiss city with a university and a cathedral, an easy place to live. The name is Devereaux, also known as November, the American field officer with ultrasecret R Section who has gone to ground above the shores of Lake Geneva.

"He does not know that a beautiful KGB agent with a talent for murder and making love has been ordered to stalk two Novembers -- and kill them both.

"He does not know that Hanley, the man who has been his control for nineteen years in R Section, has had a nervous breakdown -- and is currently in a government-subsidized asylum for people who have too many secrets.

"He does not know that Hanley's desperate message 'There are no spies' will activate him back into service -- and into a mission to save both his own life and R Section itself.

"And he does not know that zero hour ticks closer for Nutcracker, the top-secret plan to lure the Soviets' master spy into the fold of the West with himself as the designated pawn. When Devereaux emerges, reluctantly, out of concealment, he will find himself alone and betrayed inside an international free-fire zone. Here morality comes, if at all, at the end of the game -- when there is no victory, only the absence of defeat."


Review:

Spies is a solid and entertaining -- if sometimes chatty -- read, with plenty of Cold War-conspiratorial action livening up the storyline. It runs a bit long near the end, but it's still worth your time if you can overlook those relatively minor flaws, and if you check it out from the library.

#

The resulting, better-than-the-book film, The November Man, was released stateside on August 27, 2014. Roger Donaldson directed the film, from a script by Michael Finch and Karl Gajdusek.

Pierce Brosnan played Devereaux. Luke Bracey played Mason. Olga Kurylenko played Alice. Bill Smitrovich played Hanley. Amila Terzimehic played Alexa.

Lazar Ristovski played Arkady Federov. Mediha Musliovic played Natalia Ulanova. Eliza Taylor played Sarah. Will Patton, billed as William Patton, played Perry Weinstein. Caterina Scorsone played Celia.




Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blind Panic by Graham Masterton


(pb; 2010: fifth novel in The Manitou series)


From the back cover:

"It began without warning. Across the country, people were struck suddenly and totally blind. At first it was just a few, but gradually more and more fell victim to the spreading darkness. Hospital emergency rooms filled to overflowing as highway pileups and airplane crashes were everywhere. But now the true horror has arrived. Silent, spectral hunters have begun to stalk their now-helpless prey. The blind can only grope in frantic fear as the ghostly marauders prowl the streets, leaving nothing but death in their wake."


Review:

Blind is an entertaining, fast-paced, worthy-of-a-B-movie horror novel. It features the return of supernatural con man Harry Erskine, as well as Amelia Carlsson née Crusoe (his psychic non-girlfriend), Singing Rock (Sioux medicine man and ex-car salesman) and Dr. Snow (Native American expert) from previous Manitou books (The Manitou, Revenge of the Manitou, Burial and Manitou Blood). Of course, it wouldn't be a Manitou novel without its titular character, Misquamacus, "the most fearsome Wampanoag medicine man of all time" (a.k.a. "The One Who Went and Came"), whose sixth* shot at resurrection and vengeance -- this time using the spirits of other powerful medicine men and the bizarre, giant Eye Killers -- is spectacularly cinematic and apocalyptic, its gore and terrors off-set by Masterton's quirky humor and his solid use of thematic faith, love and other human emotions.

This is a good, fun read, worth owning. Followed by Infection.


(*Harry Erskine and Misquamacus also tangled in a short story, "Spirit Jump," which takes place between Burial and Manitou Blood. This story appeared in the 1996 Faces of Fear anthology.)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

The Circus of Dr. Lau by Charles G. Finney


(pb; 1935, 1964)


From the back cover:

"Do you dare enter the circus of Dr. Lau?

"Amazing!

"See the werewolf turn into a real flesh-and-blood woman right before your very eyes!

"Fantastic!

"See the bloody sacrifice of one live virgin to a pagan god (you yourself select the lucky lady)!

"Eerie! Terrifying! Stupendous!

"The most amazing circus the world has ever known!

"Spellbinding!

"See the famous Gorgon - one look and she can turn you to stone (just imagine the amazement of the three sailors who tried to rape her)!"

"Plus thousands more!

"Chimeras! Unicorns! Genuine Greek Satyrs!

"The Circus of Dr. Lau"


Review:

Circus is an excellent, vividly cinematic, unsettling and phantasmagorical novel, where the so-called freaks are not the freaks, but rather the small town braggarts and gawpers are, with their religious, societal judgmental attitudes and petty concerns. Dr. Lau's flowery-on-the-surface speeches to the all-Caucasian tourists are canny and subversive in their stinging, effective assessments: he knows the latent racism and other just-below-the-surface arrogance that underlies the "American Dream," and he's not afraid to rub his patrons' faces in it even as he takes their money.

Politically correct and other easily offended readers who like PG-rated writing should not read this, as many of the phrases and for-mature-readers-only scenes could be considered off-putting (remember Circus was published in 1935, when certain phrases and attitudes were deemed publicly acceptable).

Circus - a welcome, fantastical rebuttal to generic, stale writing - is not only worth owning, it's worth re-reading at a later date, perhaps in a few years. Own this, already.

#

The resulting film, 7 Faces of Dr. Lau, premiered stateside on March 18, 1964 (in Denver, Colorado). It received a wide stateside release on July 22 of that year.

George Pal directed the film, from a script by Charles Beaumont and an uncredited Ben Hecht.

Tony Randall played a variety of roles in the film: Dr. Lau, The Abominable Snowman, Merlin the Magician, Apollonius of Tyana, Pan, The Giant Serpent and Medusa.

Barbara Eden played Angela Benedict. Arthur O'Connell played Clint Stark. John Ericson played Ed Cunningham, as well as the "Transformed Pan." Noah Beery Jr. played Tim Mitchell.

Lee Patrick played Mrs. Howard Cassin. Minerva Urecal played Kate Lindquist. Frank Kreig played Peter Ramsey. Peggy Rea played Mrs. Peter Ramsey. Royal Dano played Carey. Argentina Brunetti played Sarah Benedict.

John Doucette played Lucas. Dal McKennon played "Lean Cowboy." Frank Cady played Mayor James Sargent. Douglas Fowley played "Toothless Cowboy."


Sunday, January 04, 2015

Breakout by Richard Stark

 
(hb; 2002: twenty-first novel in the Parker series)

From the inside flap:

"In a drab, hulking warehouse in a hulking, drab city in the center of an empty state, Parker is caught moving pharmaceuticals into a waiting truck. Led into a joint called Stoneveldt -- from which no one has escaped -- Parker has to find a way out, before his whole violent past  catches up with him. And getting out of Stoneveldt means taking on the only partners he can find, including one who is already planning his next job.

"For Parker and his fellow jailbreakers, freedom is just another word for committing their next felony. They pull off the perfect jailbreak then start the perfect heist. But things go south in a hurry -- leaving three men dead and Parker and his fellow escape artists scratching, clawing and running for their lives. Suddenly, the big, drab city in the big, empty Midwestern state has become a prison. A cast of cops, busybodies, snitches and weak links have turned into jailers. And for Parker, the ultimate jailbreak is about to begin."


Review:

The twenty-first entry in the Parker series provides a new, truly-living-on-a-razor's-edge situation for the master thief: not only must he escape from prison (something he hasn't seen the inside of since the first Parker book, The Hunter), but he must pull an immediate job with fellow escapees (Tom Marcantoni and Brandon Williams) while the police search for them.  So much goes wrong in this particular caper, yet -- as in previous ventures -- Parker rarely loses his cool, with help from his aforementioned prison-mates and Ed and Brenda Mackey (last seen in Comeback).

Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake) once again delivers the hairpin plot turns, succinct writing and often-edgy feel that is associated with his Parker novels. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Nobody Runs Forever.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Slan by A.E. van Vogt


(pb; 1940, 1968)


From the back cover:

"Years ago, Mankind fought against the hated slan race in the fierce Slan Wars. The result was the extermination of almost all slans, and the establishment of a world-wide police state.

"But slan Jommy Cross had escaped extermination and was now living in constant fear in the world of cruel humans. Jommy was determined to avoid detection, track down other surviving slans, and with them, the mystery of the slans' strange existence and superiority."


Review:

Slan is an excellent mix of deft tale twists, action, interesting characters, with bits of hard science technology thrown into it. Not all of the twists are unexpected, but they all work in the service of telling this gripping, near-impossible-to-stop-reading science fiction book. One of my favorite works in this genre, Slan is worth owning -- and possibly, within a few years, worth re-relishing again. (This is not a sentiment I extend to most books.)

Own this, already.

<em>The Thirst</em> by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2017:  eleventh novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series – Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith.) From the inside flap ...