My novel DUST DEVILS is now available on Amazon for the Kindle. This one received starred reviews from both PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and BOOKLIST, as well as good words from numerous bloggers. Either DUST DEVILS or my historical novel UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS is my favorite among the 250+ novels I've written. It varies according to what day you ask me. If you like Texas-set hardboiled crime novels, I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy it.
Livia's second Lucas Hallam novel, DEAD STICK, is now available on Amazon for the Kindle. I'd have a really difficult time choosing between this one and the third book, DOG HEAVIES, as my favorite in the series. This one is the most BLACK MASK-like of the three and has some great scenes in it. I'm very happy to see it in print again. (Well, it's an e-book, but you know what I mean . . .)
This movie is really a lot of fun. Bruce Willis plays a retired CIA agent who suddenly finds himself targeted for assassination, but he doesn’t know who wants him dead or what it’s all about. So he calls on fellow retired spies John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren to help him stay alive and find out who wants him dead. Mary Louise Parker plays a young woman who gets caught up in the whole mess. Stuff Blows Up Real Good. More bullets fly even than in the A-Team movie. Lots of runnin’ and fightin’ and snappy patter. It’s all over-the-top, of course, but not quite to the point of silliness. The plot isn’t really all that complicated, but it has just enough twists to keep it interesting. Mostly, though, it’s entertaining because the people on screen seem to be having a good time. Well worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.
I’d never heard of this comic book series before, but when I ran across a hardback collection of the first story arc from it, I thought it looked interesting. Also, it appeared to be co-written by Stephen King. Now, I’m not a huge Stephen King fan (I’m sure that breaks his heart), but I have read and enjoyed quite a bit of his work. I figured he helped plot this book, and I liked that other vampire yarn of his, SALEM’S LOT, so why not give it a try?
Well, as it turns out, King didn’t co-plot this series. Scott Snyder actually created it and plotted it, and King wrote half the stories in the book. Each issue has two separate stories in it, one set in Los Angeles in 1925 (written by Snyder), and a connected story running from the 1880s up to 1925 (written by King). Taken together they form an epic yarn about the creation of a new kind of vampire, an American vampire as opposed to the classic European kind, who can walk in the daylight and is even stronger, faster, and more vicious than the originals. The first American vampire is outlaw Skinner Sweet, who’s a fascinating, utterly evil character. The shadow of that evil stretches over a stalwart Pinkerton agent in the Old West, James Book, all the way to Hollywood and a young actress named Pearl Jones years later.
This is pretty good stuff. I don’t read all that much horror, and if this were a movie the buckets of blood necessary to film it would probably keep me from watching it. But it works very well as a graphic novel, and it’s always nice to see vampires used as the bad guys, rather than as brooding romantic heroes, a variation that I confess I’ve never really understood. And most of the vampires in AMERICAN VAMPIRE are really bad guys indeed.
The scripts by Snyder and King are very good, perking right along with action and good dialogue and the occasional plot twist. I’m less fond of the artwork by Rafael Albuquerque, which is a little too grotesque and stylized and hard to follow in places for my old guy eyes. Some of the individual panels, though, are certainly striking. A few of the period details don’t quite ring true, and somebody should have caught the fact that the title “Ms.” didn’t exist in the 1920s. These little flaws are annoying but don’t keep the book from being entertaining.
So if you’re a Stephen King fan or just a horror/vampire fan in general, AMERICAN VAMPIRE is certainly worth reading. From the way the story ends, I assume there’ll be more collections in the future, and I’ll probably read them.
We all know by now that a Gil Brewer novel isn’t going to be full of sweetness and light. All his hapless protagonists have to look forward to is bad luck, poor choices, and more trouble from more different directions than anybody could ever prepare for. And then . . . it gets worse.
That’s certainly the case for Roy Nichols, the protagonist of THE RED SCARF, a novel considered by many to be Brewer’s best and one that was out of print for much too long. Roy has a pretty blond wife and owns a motel in Florida, a business that would have done just fine if a proposed highway had gone through on schedule. Instead the highway was delayed and may not be built at all, and Roy’s motel is floundering on the edge of bankruptcy. As the novel opens on a cold night in Georgia with a mixture of rain and snow falling, Roy is hitchhiking back to Florida from Chicago, where he went to visit his brother and beg for a loan. The brother turned him down, and now he doesn’t know what he’s going to do to save the motel. He stops at a rundown diner (bad idea), winds up getting a ride with a beautiful brunette and her tough-guy boyfriend (worse idea), and ultimately finds himself with both the girl and a briefcase full of money that belongs to the mob on his hands. Roy tries to extricate himself from this awkward and potentially dangerous situation and even manages to get home to his wife and his motel, so for a while he thinks he’s succeeded . . . but no. Murder’s checking in. (I’m sorry. This stuff gets to you after a while.)
In all seriousness, this is a great noir novel. Brewer’s prose isn’t always the smoothest, but the story has such a headlong pace that it doesn’t really matter. And his only equal at depicting the angst and desperation of people slowly being sucked down into a whirlpool of failure and danger was Orrie Hitt. Reading a Gil Brewer book is like driving past a particularly gruesome wreck and hoping that somehow somebody made it out alive, although you don’t really see how that’s possible.
New Pulp Press, the fine small press publisher that reprinted Brewer’s FLIGHT TO DANGER a while back and is also doing some top-notch original books, is to be thanked and congratulated for getting THE RED SCARF back into print and available for Brewer’s fans to read, and with a very good Richie Fahey cover to boot. I can’t really say whether it’s the best of Brewer’s novels because I haven’t read all of them yet, but I can say that it’s very, very good, and if you’re a fan of noir fiction and haven’t read it yet, you ought to go hunt up a copy right now. Highly recommended.
I'm very pleased to announce that WILD NIGHT, Livia's first novel featuring her private eye character Lucas Hallam, is now available on Amazon for the Kindle. For those of you not familiar with Hallam, he's a cowboy stuntman in 1920s Hollywood who also works as a private investigator. He's a former Texas Ranger and Pinkerton agent and has appeared in three novels and numerous short stories, both mysteries and Westerns. WILD NIGHT, the first Hallam novel, won the Shamus Award and the American Mystery Award as the Best Paperback Original of 1987. It's been out of print for a number of years, but now it's back and I hope a lot of new readers will make Hallam's acquaintance. I'm biased, of course, but I think the three books are great hardboiled PI novels. There should be more Hallam news coming up in the near future as well.
I’m not quite sure how we wound up watching two heist movies so close together, but TAKERS suffers a little in comparison to the excellent THE TOWN. It’s also about a crew of bank robbers (Paul Walker, Hayden Christiansen, and some other guys I didn’t know) being pursued by a doggedly determined cop (Matt Dillon). There’s a big job in this one, too, as well as friction among the members of the gang, one of whom has just gotten out of prison and come back to claim his share from the job on which he was captured.
There’s nothing really wrong with TAKERS, other than some of that blasted quick-cut editing. There are some ingenious twists (I thought the way the gang gets away from the first job they pull in the movie was particularly cool), and while none of the characters are really sympathetic, even the cop, the interplay between them is interesting at times. For some reason, though, the whole thing never really came together for me, maybe because it’s so hard to care about the characters. I thought the ending was pretty unsatisfying, too. So while TAKERS isn’t a terrible film, I can’t really recommend it, either, unless you’re a completist when it comes to heist movies.
Mel Odom gives you a lot for your money in SMOKER. This original e-book set in 1952 is a boxing yarn with action like you might have found in the pulp FIGHT STORIES, a hardboiled crime story that would have been at home in MANHUNT, and then . . . something else. I can’t go into detail without giving away too much of the plot, but it’s a very nice twist.
Terry Farrell is in the Merchant Marine, and as the story opens he gets the news that his father, a former prizefighter who raised Terry alone after his wife abandoned the family, has died in Los Angeles. When Terry gets back to L.A., he finds out from the neighborhood priest that basically his dad was murdered, beaten to death in a “smoker” fight set up by a mobster. Terry sets out to get revenge and in the process settle his conflicting emotions about his father. However, things don’t turn out exactly like you might expect.
SMOKER is very different from THE AFFAIR OF THE WOODEN BOY, the last Odom e-book I posted about a week or so ago, except in the most important aspect: it’s very entertaining. Crisp, hardboiled prose and a great pace make this pulpish yarn fly by. Fight scenes aren’t that easy to write – how many different ways can you describe a couple of guys slugging each other – but Odom does a fine job of it, and his dialogue is very good, too. SMOKER captures the feel of the early Fifties, too. It’s the precursor to the FIGHT CARD series being developed by Mel and our mutual friend Paul Bishop, and if the stories are anything like SMOKER, I’ll be there for every one of them. In the meantime, for less than a buck you can get some great entertainment. Highly recommended.
Gordon “Wild Bill” Elliott was a popular Western movie star from the late Thirties through the early Fifties, but he never had the big following that some Western stars did. That’s a shame, because he was a decent actor and made some excellent films that straddle the line between B-movies and A-movies. One of the best is HELLFIRE.
The basic set-up of this movie had whiskers (and I’m not talking about Gabby Hayes) even when it was made in 1949: a gambler, played by Elliott, takes over the identity of a preacher when the preacher is killed by a bullet meant for him. Elliott’s character tries to reform and even sets out to build the church that the dead preacher intended to. But things don’t go as planned, so the gambler-turned-preacher becomes a bounty hunter as well in order to finance the church. Marie Windsor is the lovely local who isn’t exactly what she seems, and Forrest Tucker plays a U.S. Marshal who clashes with Elliott. The supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of Western character actors: Jim Davis, Paul Fix, Grant Withers, Denver Pyle, Harry Woods, Trevor Bardette . . . in other words, everybody but Ward Bond, Roy Barcroft, and Hank Worden.
What lifts HELLFIRE above the average (along with the excellent cast) is the script by brothers and veteran Hollywood writers Dorrell and Stuart McGowan. The characters have some real depth to them, and not everybody turns out to be the sort of person you expect them to. This is a well-written, well-acted film that always has a hardboiled edge despite subject matter that you’d think would steer it toward the sentimental. And it has some great fight scenes in it, too. Elliott was known for his signature line, “I’m a peaceable man”, which he would usually utter just before he beat the crap out of some bad guy who richly deserved it.
Wild Bill made a lot of B-Westerns and a fine serial, VALLEY OF VANISHING MEN (which, by the way, has some really bizarre humor to recommend it), but if you want to catch him at the top of his game and watch a fine Western, give HELLFIRE a try if you can find a copy. It’s certainly worth watching.
My friend and fellow Western Fictioneers member Troy D. Smith has a fine post on the WF blog today entitled "Not Your Father's Lone Ranger". As a Lone Ranger fan for as far back as I can remember, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Check it out.
I like a good historical mystery now and then, and Jed Rubenfeld’s THE DEATH INSTINCT certainly fits into that category. It’s Rubenfeld’s second novel featuring Dr. Stratham Younger and New York police detective Jimmy Littlemore, following THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER, which I haven’t read. This one works fine as a stand-alone, though.
Set in the fall of 1920, this novel begins with the real-life detonation of a massive bomb on Wall Street, right in front of the J.P. Morgan Bank and the U.S. Treasury office, on September 16. Younger, Littlemore, and Colette Rousseau, Younger’s sort-of girlfriend from France who is a protégé of Marie Curie, happen to be on the scene and help out in the aftermath of the explosion, at least until Colette is kidnapped by some sinister and mysterious foreigners, and from there we’re off on a breakneck adventure with half a dozen different plotlines, political intrigue, flashbacks to World War I, racing around Europe, and some wildly over-the-top action scenes that would be right at home in a pulp. For example, an early scene finds Littlemore at the wheel of a roadster pulling a Barney Oldfield while Younger rides on the running board tracking some bad guy by the use of a homemade radiation detector. I have no idea if Rubenfeld ever read any Doc Savage novels, but even if he didn’t, he’s sure channeling Lester Dent in this scene. Later on, there are confrontations with villains that are as lurid as anything in one of the Weird Menace pulps. All of this is mixed in with one of the most complex plots I recall ever encountering, as well as plenty of history and psychology (Sigmund Freud is one of the supporting characters).
My dislike of long books is well-documented, but this is one of the rare long books that easily held my interest all the way through. Rubenfeld really keeps things perking along by cutting back and forth between the various storylines, and his characters are consistently interesting. I especially liked Jimmy Littlemore, who is both smart and persistent in his investigations. Rubenfeld also does a good job of mixing history and fiction, and an informative afterword explains what’s real and what isn’t. The identity of the Wall Street Bombers was never discovered, at least officially, but this book comes up with a strongly plausible explanation for the crime.
The only thing I didn’t like about THE DEATH INSTINCT is that Rubenfeld gets a little heavy-handed in some of the dialogue meant to compare these historical events to more contemporary events. Such things strike me as a little too cute, but I have a very low tolerance for political ax-grinding in the fiction I read. There’s not enough of it here to distract much from the compelling story and characters, though. I enjoyed THE DEATH INSTINCT a great deal and highly recommend it.
The deadline for submissions for the Western Fictioneers' first annual Peacemaker Awards is January 31. So if you've got a piece of Western fiction, novel or short story length, that has a copyright date of 2010, that wasn't self-published, and that you were paid for, you have until a week from tomorrow to submit it. All the details are here.
I spent the day down in Cross Plains, where this year’s Robert E. Howard birthday celebration was held. Half a dozen Howard fans and several of the local stalwarts from Project Pride got together to have birthday cake and ice cream at the Howard House, then adjourned to the Cross Plains Public Library to watch “Pigeons From Hell”, the adaptation of Howard’s classic story from the THRILLER TV series, hosted by Boris Karloff. I’d seen this before, but it’s well worth watching again. This has to be one of the creepiest hours of television you’ll ever see and has some excellent black-and-white photography in it. If you’re a Howard fan and have never seen it, you definitely should hunt up a copy.
Following “Pigeons From Hell”, we watched the recent film version of SOLOMON KANE. I’d heard that other than the name, this movie doesn’t have a lot to do with Howard’s character, and that’s true. It suffers from the dreaded Origin Story Syndrome, which means that almost nothing in it is based on anything Howard actually wrote. However, if you can get past that, it’s a surprisingly decent historical fantasy adventure movie. It looks good, the special effects are okay for the most part (one monster who shows up late in the movie is more silly-looking than scary, in my opinion), and the action scenes are staged and edited so that they’re not incomprehensible. (Odd how competent storytelling has gotten to be something that’s remarked upon in action movies, rather than expected.) If you don’t watch it expecting anything too Howardian, SOLOMON KANE is pretty entertaining.
As always, though, the best part of any gathering like this is getting to sit and talk to people you haven’t seen in a while. It’s been two-and-a-half years since I’ve been to Cross Plains, and it was good to get back there, talk to old friends, and make some new ones. Right now I’m planning to go back for Howard Days this summer, and I’m looking forward to it.
I remember when this book came out, as well as the movie on which it’s based, even though I never saw the movie and never read the novelization until now. I remember them because they both came out in 1964, when I was eleven years old, and that artwork featuring Carroll Baker was on the movie poster as well as the book cover. Yowza!
And since I never saw the movie, I can only judge STATION SIX – SAHARA as a novel. I’m happy to report that it’s pretty good. The story opens with German engineer Martin Donetz arriving at the Medina Oil Company Pumping Station Six, somewhere deep in the Sahara Desert. The station is manned – and I mean that literally – by several guys of various nationalities, all of whom are at each other’s throats due to the monotony and isolation of their existence. Another German, Kramer, is in charge of the station. There’s a wisecracking Australian, a stiff-necked former British Army officer, and an enigmatic Spaniard, plus some assorted Arabs. The first half of the book gives us back-stories and a steadily increasing sense of tension, then a beautiful blonde and her possibly sinister ex-husband show up to make all hell break loose.
Well, it never quite does, but there’s some nice suspense anyway. The legendary Michael Avallone plays it pretty straight here, as he did in most of his novelizations. There’s no sign of the goofy Avallone humor you find in the Ed Noon novels. Old pro that he was, he keeps the plot moving along briskly, or as briskly as he can considering the somewhat stodgy storyline he was handed. The movie itself was written by British authors Bryan Forbes and Brian Clemens (who worked on THE AVENGERS, among other iconic British TV series), and in a sign of how times have changed, the copyright of the novelization is in the names of Avallone, Forbes, and Clemens, rather than Allied Artists, the movie production company.
This is a fairly entertaining novel, not a classic by any means but worth reading. And it’s got that great cover art. Well, it was great when I was eleven years old.
I'm happy to announce that if you got a Nook for Christmas, you can now get HANGROPE LAW and TEXAS WIND to read on it. And there'll be more stuff coming soon, both for the Nook and the Kindle, including more original material. I'm pretty excited about it, to tell you the truth.
I have to admit, I’ve grown fond of the action movies starring Steve Austin, the former wrestler once known as Stone Cold Steve Austin. The production values are usually good, the supporting casts are okay, and the scripts are usually decent. Austin himself has a ton of screen presence and does a good job with what the movies ask him to do. However, the most recent one I’ve seen, HUNT TO KILL, sort of strains that fondness.
The set-up isn’t bad. Austin plays Border Patrol agent Jim Rhodes (yes, I know, the same name as Tony Stark’s buddy who dons the War Machine armor) who not only is abandoned by his wife and left to raise their daughter alone but also suffers another loss during a shootout along the Texas-Mexico border. So he and his daughter (who’s college age, not the feisty little kid you might expect) move to Montana where Rhodes continues working for the Border Patrol, just along a different border now. It’s an idyllic life for him, although the girl doesn’t care for it.
Then they wind up in the middle of a feud between two factions of a bank robbery gang, and a lot of runnin’, fightin’, and shootin’ ensues. That’s all well and good, but where the movie falls short is in all the lapses in logic to be found in the script. I can’t go into detail without spoiling things for those of you who might yet watch this film, but if you watch it you’ll probably find yourself saying, “But . . . but why doesn’t he do such-and-such?” on numerous occasions, along with “Why are they doing this?” and my favorite (MINOR SPOILER) “Shouldn’t you check and make sure he’s actually dead?”
Despite all that, HUNT TO KILL is fairly entertaining if you’re an action movie fan. You can’t help but like Austin, and Gil Bellows makes a suitably slimy, despicable main bad guy. The fight scenes are well-staged for the most part. Just expect to be frustrated by some of the things that go on.
Okay, you’ve got a tough, wise-cracking American who’s a former Special Forces soldier and mercenary who is now partners in a bar in Bangkok but still does the odd, dangerous job on the side if the pay is right. Throw in a beautiful and seductive young woman who may or may not be who and what she claims to be, assorted gangsters, a Cambodian warlord, some missing documents that are very important, and a fortune in money that may be counterfeit, and what do you have? A Fifties Gold Medal by Dan Cushman or A.S. Fleischman, right?
Well, no. What you have is COME HERE . . . I’LL SHOW YOU, a new novel by Derek Lantin published by Bangkok Books. It’s set in contemporary Southeast Asia, an area that Lantin obviously knows well because the local color in this novel is outstanding. The plot, as you can tell from the details mentioned above, is vintage hardboiled paperback original, and Lantin does a fine job of making sure most of the characters have secrets that are revealed in the course of the story, as our hardboiled hero/narrator Edwards is hired by the beautiful Daniella to recover some important papers that her father had with him when he was killed in the jungle some years earlier. There’s a connection between Edwards and Daniella’s father, too, just to make things more complicated.
Lantin, a former RAF pilot and an engineer who’s worked all over the world, writes in a very distinctive, ultra-hardboiled style reminiscent of James Hadley Chase and the other British authors who wrote American-set “gangster” stories during the late Forties and Fifties. It’s a little hard to get used to and I think he may have overdone it a bit, but once I got into the story I found it pretty effective. I’ve said many times before that I like a book with a distinctive voice, and COME HERE . . . I’LL SHOW YOU certainly has that. I also thought the ending could have used a little more action and drama, but you know me and my fondness for slam-bang endings. Lantin does spring a last-minute surprise that I didn’t see coming, which is always a plus where I’m concerned.
Overall, COME HERE . . . I’LL SHOW YOU is an entertaining book, and since it’s Lantin’s first novel, it bodes well for his future as a writer. It’s available as an e-book from Amazon or through the publisher’s website.
You've seen it on Mel's blog. You've seen it on Bill's blog. Now see it here! An offer from Mel Odom:
In an effort to better understand the growing emarket that's out there, I'm offering copies of my newest enovella to interested reviewers. I'm planning on taking 10 from each site that contacts me.
To get ecopies of THE AFFAIR OF THE WOODEN BOY (a Victorian fantasy/steampunk tale), contact Mel Odom at mel at mel odom dot net and let him know which blog you saw the offer on. Ten ebooks will be given away on site with hopes of honest reviews.
Seriously, you should jump on this while you've got the chance. THE AFFAIR OF THE WOODEN BOY is great fun.
I would think that these days, most serials would count as Overlooked Movies for most people, so for my inaugural post in this series I’m going to take a look at what I consider one of the best movie serials I’ve ever seen: S.O.S. COAST GUARD.
Ralph Byrd, who was a lot more famous for playing Dick Tracy in a long series of serials and B-movies about the famous comic strip detective (more Overlooked Movies there, perhaps) is Coast Guard Lt. Terry Kent in this one, who's trying to prevent evil scientist Dr. Boroff (Bela Lugosi) from getting the ingredients to make a disintegrating gas. Terry fails at that (no huge surprise), so then he has to find the plant where Boroff is making the gas and keep him from selling it to agents from the evil European country Morovania. Other than the disintegrating gas, this is actually a pretty realistic serial, with lots of underwater action on the sunken liner Carfax (an in-joke for Lugosi fans). There’s plenty of good miniature work and stunts galore -- boat stunts, airplane stunts, motorcycle stunts, car stunts, etc. Ralph Byrd is as jut-jawed and hyperactive as ever. Lugosi underplays and is very effective in his role, coming across as more of a ruthless businessman than a mad scientist. Although there is one scene where he's playing with a dog that's absolutely chilling, because we know that he's about to test his gas on the poor pooch . . .
As far as I'm concerned, though, the show is stolen by an actor I wasn't familiar with at all, Richard Alexander. After looking him up on IMDB, I see that he had a long but undistinguished career as a supporting player and bit part actor (he's listed as "uncredited" in most of the movies he appeared in). Evidently he's most famous for playing Prince Barin in the Flash Gordon serials. In S.O.S. COAST GUARD, he plays Thorg, the mute, hulking, tormented henchman of Dr. Boroff. It's a fine performance, conveying both menace and tragedy.
This serial also has a slam-bang, very satisfying conclusion, unlike many that sort of just limp to an end. The photography is quite good, including an unusual number of scenes shot on location, and the direction by William Witney and Alan James keeps things moving right along. I highly recommend this one.
By now it’s pretty obvious that Ed Gorman is one of the very best in this business, but if you need more proof, look no further than NOIR 13, his recent collection of short stories from Perfect Crime Books. In these thirteen stories, you get a couple of Ed’s infrequent forays into fantasy and science fiction, plus the sort of dark suspense stories peopled by lost and desperate characters for which he’s best known. A few have been published before (and even though I’d read some of them, I gladly reread them), but most of the stories are new, which gives you even more reason to pick up a copy of this book. It seems to me that despite the occasional moments of black humor, Ed’s stories are mostly about how people hurt each other – and themselves – so there aren’t any light reads here. NOIR 13 lives up to its name, both in its darkness and in the unlucky connotations of the number. Reading these stories is a powerful, rewarding experience. Highly recommended.
I remember Shayna and Joanna talking about Facebook when they were in college, back when you had to have a college email address to sign up for it. Never occurred to me that somebody would make a movie about the founding of it someday. But then, a lot of things never occur to me.
Anyway, THE SOCIAL NETWORK has been widely praised, and you don’t need me to tell you that. Yes, it’s very well-written, well-directed, and well-acted, and it’s surprisingly compelling given its subject matter. I enjoyed it and don’t hesitate to recommend it. But there was still a little voice in the back of my head whispering, “It’s a whole movie . . . about Facebook.” I think I’m just too old to really get it. Watch the movie, though. It’s pretty entertaining.
I’ve always kind of liked Ben Affleck as an actor, and we watched his directorial debut, GONE, BABY, GONE a couple of years ago and I found some things to like in it. But THE TOWN, a cops-vs-armed-robbers yarn directed, co-written by, and starring Affleck, is a big step up. He plays the leader of a four-man crew in Boston that specializes in armored car robberies and the occasional bank job. His childhood friend, played by Jeremy Renner, is part of the crew as well, and the relationship between them is central to this film when they clash over some fallout from the heist that opens the movie.
At the same time, an FBI task force headed by an agent played by Jon Hamm is on the trail of Affleck, Renner, and their partners, and there are a couple of beautiful women involved, and things keep getting more complicated when the guys are forced into a last big job . . .
THE TOWN is a really, really good film, one of the best I’ve seen lately, with some nice twists and turns in the plot and several suspenseful, well-staged shootouts and action scenes. It’s based on the novel PRINCE OF THIEVES by Chuck Hogan, an author I haven’t read, but based on this adaptation, maybe I should give his books a try. The acting is top-notch all around (although I was never really able to accept Blake Lively as a slutty Boston gun moll – really, S., what would B. say?), and Affleck and Hamm do such good jobs as opposite numbers that you really don’t know who to root for. Renner is always good, and in this movie he kept reminding me of Jimmy Cagney, of all people. In fact, in many ways THE TOWN is reminiscent of a Thirties gangster picture with its tough guys and complicated relationships. Dang, now I want to watch THE ROARING TWENTIES again.
Overall, I have to give THE TOWN a high recommendation. If you like heist movies, you really should watch it.
I’ve been a fan of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories for at least three decades, but I never read much of Bellem’s other work until recent years. And there was a lot of it, because he was very prolific over and above the hundreds of Turner stories. He wrote under several names besides his own, too, among them Ellery Watson Calder and Jerome Severs Perry.
As Perry, Bellem authored the Little Jack Horner stories that appeared in the pulp HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE during the Forties. Like Dan Turner, John J. Horner works as a troubleshooter in Hollywood, although Horner appears to have only one client, production chief Lew Quarrie of Epicure Pictures. Also like Turner, Horner has a habit of stumbling over beautiful starlets and murder. There are some important differences in the two series, though. The Little Jack Horner stories are told in third person and are played much straighter than the Dan Turner yarns. There are a few moments of humor, but the Horner stories lack the linguistic fireworks of the Turner stories. Actually, since Horner is big and redheaded and usually several steps ahead of everybody else in the stories in his thinking, he reminds me quite a bit of Mike Shayne.
The Pulpville Press collection LITTLE JACK HORNER contains half a dozen novelettes and novellas about Horner, and they’re all good. The novella “The Big Fix”, in which Horner visits the resort town of Surfside Beach and finds that the police department is being run by former gangsters (no spoiler; it’s revealed almost right away) is particularly outstanding. Bellem was a fine plotter, and while these stories aren’t as complicated as many of the Dan Turners are, they still have quite a few appealing twists. His prose style is fast and very readable, too.
After being out of print for a long time, a lot of Bellem’s work is available again. If you’re a fan, don’t overlook LITTLE JACK HORNER. These are very entertaining yarns and well worth reading.
Bill Crider posted about this new e-book yesterday, and all I can do is echo his comments: it’s a fast-paced, very entertaining Victorian mystery set in an alternate London (here called Drummond) where magic works and all sorts of supernatural creatures live. The detectives are an appealing husband-and-wife pair of occult investigators, James and Mina Stark (Mina narrates the story) who are drawn into a dangerous case when a walking, talking wooden puppet in the shape of a small boy shows up on their doorstep. There’s a nice twist late in the book that took me by surprise, and I always like it when that happens.
This isn’t a totally unbiased review, since the author, “Ian Doyle”, is really our Rancho Diablo buddy Mel Odom, but I promise you, if I didn’t like the book, I wouldn’t post about it here in the first place. I had a fine time reading THE AFFAIR OF THE WOODEN BOY, and I suspect most of you would, too. It’s available on Amazon for the Kindle at a very reasonable price.
We watched THE A-TEAM when it was first on TV, not big fans but watched most episodes for a while before we eventually burned out on it. So we weren’t exactly waiting eagerly for the big-screen remake. However, we watched it recently and I was pleasantly surprised to find it pretty entertaining. Unlike the TV show, the movie has an origin story of sorts showing how most of the members of the team first met, and then the rest of it is a detailed, updated retelling of the back-story from the series. It’s loud, it’s silly, the stunts are ridiculously over-the-top, and for the most part, I rather enjoyed it. As some of the reviews mentioned when it came out, Liam Neeson is miscast as Hannibal Smith. I like Neeson, but the part needed somebody who’s not quite so dour. But Bradley Cooper and Quinton Jackson are okay as Face and B.A. respectively, and Sharlto Copley seems to be having a great time as Howling Mad Murdock. Then there’s the Jessica Biel Rule, which states that almost any movie with Jessica Biel in it will be worth watching at least part of the time. (No bonus points for guessing which part of the movie the Rule applies to.) So, THE A-TEAM isn’t a great movie, but it’s kind of fun and not nearly as bad as what you’ve probably heard. (I still like the A-Team/Three Stooges mash-up you can find on YouTube better, though.)
Don Herron, expert on Robert E. Howard, Dashiell Hammett, and Charles Willeford, as well as an all-around gentleman and scholar, launches a new blog today on his website, with a post marking the 50th anniversary of Hammett's death. Check it out. (That's Dash in the picture, not Don, in case you didn't know.)
I got to visit a fireworks plant today, and I might get to go help set off some of the giant fireworks displays sometime. Pretty cool stuff. I didn't realize that some of the big shells they use are two feet in diameter. That's a big firecracker!
And while this is definitely a feeble excuse, it's still an excuse to post a Katy Perry video in a blatant, shameless attempt bump up my blog traffic numbers. I've actually become fond of Katy Perry's songs. Not great music, but certainly catchy.
I found myself in the mood to read a Zane Grey novel, and since Ron Scheer reviewed THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT a while back and it sounded pretty good, I decided to give it a try. I was interested in it as well because it’s Grey’s first real Western novel, first published a hundred years ago in 1910. Ron does a far better job of discussing the novel than I can, so I urge all of you to go and read his comments, if you haven’t already. As for me, I’ll use this as an excuse to wallow a little in nostalgia and ramble on a bit about Zane Grey.
When I was a kid, my mother did not approve of my choice of reading matter, and that’s putting it mildly. She was scandalized that I wanted to read those dirty James Bond books. The Nick Carter novels were just as bad. Of course, anything with a McGinnis cover drew a frown of disapproval. I came to be very fond of Dell Mapbacks, which were still very easy to find in used bookstores in those days, because their covers were almost always less risqué than the editions coming out in the Sixties. Then there was all that crazy science fiction stuff I liked, and those crazy pulp reprints, which weren’t as bad as the mysteries because they didn’t have racy covers, but they were still, well . . . crazy.
Westerns, however, were okay. (This was in the dawn of the Adult Western era, the Jurassic Adult Western era, if you will, when Belmont was publishing the first few books in the Lassiter series by W.T. Ballard, Peter Germano, et al., writing as “Jack Slade”.) Western paperback covers still looked respectable. They might be violent, but there was no sign of anything sexy. Books by Zane Grey were especially okay, because my mother had read Zane Grey and deemed them inoffensive.
Luckily for me, I liked Westerns. I had discovered Max Brand and Clarence E. Mulford on my own, and I was happy to try Zane Grey. The bookmobile that came out every Saturday from the library in Fort Worth had tons of them, and I read most of them: THE LOST WAGON TRAIN (the first Zane Grey I ever read and a candidate for a Forgotten Books post one of these days), the iconic RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE, NEVADA, DESERT GOLD, THE HASH KNIFE OUTFIT, TO THE LAST MAN, THE DRIFT FENCE, UNDER THE TONTO RIM, and plenty of others. I found all of them quite enjoyable, but over time I became less of a fan of Grey’s work because the negative things you’ve heard about the books are true for the most part: the writing style is long-winded and overblown, the characters sometimes have incredibly goofy names, and the plots are full of melodrama, coincidence, and contrivance. Most plots from eighty to a hundred years ago seem that way to us now. While I would still read a Zane Grey novel from time to time and enjoy it, I found that I really had to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate his strengths as a writer.
Because despite the criticism, his work definitely does have its strengths. Yes, the descriptions of the landscape sometimes go on and on, but they paint vivid pictures and they do a good job of drawing a parallel between the setting and the characters. And you can call it melodrama if you want, but Grey puts his characters through hell and can really make the reader feel what they’re suffering. Finally, when he does get around to an extended action scene, they’re great, full of color and adventure and excitement.
But to get back to a few comments about THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT, this is the old “sickly guy from back east comes west and toughens up” plot, with Jack Hare being rescued from death by Mormon patriarch August Naab and then getting involved in Naab’s range war against the rustlers Holderness and Dene. There’s also a romantic triangle involving Hare, Naab’s gunman son Snap (isn’t Snap Naab a great name for a gunman?), and the beautiful half-Navajo, half-Spanish Mescal, August Naab’s ward. The plot is a little thin, especially for the book’s length, and suffers from the way it meanders around. Those pacing problems may be because THE HERITAGE OF THE DESERT is one of Grey’s first novels. I seem to recall that the later ones flow a little better. There are some great scenes scattered through this book, though, such as the taming of the wild mustang Silvermane and a dangerous encounter with a bear. I guess I was in the right mood, because I was able to throw myself into the book as a reader and wound up enjoying it quite a bit, enough so that I plan to read something else by Zane Grey fairly soon.
If you’ve never read Grey’s work and you have a Kindle, a bunch of the novels are available free on Amazon. You can try one, and it probably won’t take long for you to tell whether or not you like it. There are also plenty of copies still available in most libraries, and you can still find lots of used paperbacks as well. And the best thing about those paperbacks . . . the covers aren’t smutty, so you can read them without being ashamed.
While I’ve read and enjoyed all of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels and most of the short stories featuring Holmes, I have to admit I’m not a huge, avid fan. I’m not a Sherlockian or an expert on the canon, or anything like that. I love THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, but possibly because I remember so well sitting on my parents’ front porch reading it when I was in fifth grade. You had to be there.
That said, I’m fond of the characters – I think Dr. Watson is a great sidekick – and from time to time I’ll pick up a Holmes pastiche and read it. So I didn’t hesitate when I came across the collected edition of a Sherlock Holmes mini-series from Dynamite Comics, THE TRIAL OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. The script is by Leah Moore (the daughter of Alan Moore) and her husband John Reppion, and the art is by Aaron Campbell. The story finds Holmes in a very unusual position indeed: arrested and thrown in jail for the murder of a former Scotland Yard commissioner, the very murder that Holmes was trying to prevent. This leaves Watson and Inspector Lestrade to try to solve the case on their own, although it won’t come as any surprise to the reader that Holmes soon manages to escape from jail and take a hand in the investigation himself.
Since Holmes doesn’t actually appear much in the story, Watson and Lestrade have to carry the load, and the way Moore and Reppion portray them as tough, capable, and determined investigators is the best thing about this yarn. No, they’re not in Holmes’ class as detectives, but they’re far from bumbling comedy relief and Holmes wouldn’t be able to solve the case without their help. The mystery is pretty solidly constructed, and Moore and Reppion save a final twist for the very last page that I didn’t see coming. I was a little less fond of Campbell’s art – some of the pages were a little hard for me to follow – but he does a fine job of capturing the Victorian atmosphere.
This collection also includes the entire script for the first issue of the mini-series and a reprint of Conan Doyle’s story “The Adventures of the Devil’s Foot”. It’s very entertaining, and the whole thing has put me in the mood to read more Holmes stories. Maybe it’s time for me to consider a reread of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES after all these years. I wonder if I can find a copy of the same Scholastic Books edition I read back then . . .
I remember very well buying the first issue of DAREDEVIL off the spinner rack in Trammell’s Grocery Store. I thought it was great, and for a long time DAREDEVIL was one of my favorite comics. I’ll admit, though, I got burned out on the character even before I quit reading comics in the Nineties. Just didn’t care for the direction some of the storylines went. I still have a great fondness for those early issues, though, when Daredevil wore his original yellow-and-red costume.
So it comes as no surprise that I really liked DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, the collected edition of a mini-series by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. It’s not actually a retelling of the character’s origin – that’s referred to but doesn’t take place on-screen – but more of a revisiting of the events in the first several issues of DAREDEVIL told from slightly different angles. There’s not a lot of retconning and monkeying with the original version, either. Loeb and Sale pretty much stick to what Stan Lee, Bill Everett, and Wally Wood created in those issues, just expanding on it here and there.
Everett’s art in the first issue is some of the most memorable I’ve ever seen in comics. A lot of the panels are still vivid in my mind. Sale does a fine job of capturing the same feel without slavishly imitating the work of Everett or Wally Wood, who took over the art chores with the second issue. He’s one of my favorite modern comics artists, being responsible (with Loeb) for the great Batman mini-series THE LONG HALLOWEEN and DARK VICTORY, SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS, and (with Brandon Choi) DEATHBLOW: SINNERS AND SAINTS, one of my all-time favorite graphic novel/collections.
As with MARVELS and MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA, the nostalgia factor is probably one reason I enjoyed DAREDEVIL: YELLOW so much. I can’t read it without remembering the times when I read the original issues on which it’s based. But even if you’ve never read those stories, it’s well worth reading if you’re a Daredevil fan or a fan of good comics in general. Highly recommended.
(Here's an update from Bobby Nash. This looks really good.)
Airship 27 Productions and Cornerstone Book Publishers bring back another classic pulp hero from the 1930s in an all new collection of fast paced, macabre adventures of the supernatural. Meet Ravenwood – Stepson of Mystery!
He is an orphan raised by a Tibetan mystic known only as the Nameless One. As an Occult Detective he has no equal and is called upon by the authorities when they are challenged by supernatural mysteries. One of the more obscure pulp characters, Ravenwood – The Stepson of Mystery appeared as a back-up feature in the pages of Secret Agent X magazine. There were only five Ravenwood stories ever written, all by his creator, the prolific pulp veteran, Frederick C. Davis.
Now he returns in this brand new series of weird adventures, beginning with this volume in which he combats Sun Koh, a lost prince of Atlantis, battles with monstrous Yetis in Manhattan and deals with murderous ghosts and zombie assassins. Four of today’s finest pulp storytellers Frank Schildiner, B.C. Bell, Bill Gladman and Bobby Nash offer up a quartet of fast paced, bizarre thrillers that rekindle the excitement and wonder that were the pulps.
With a stunning cover by Bryan Fowler and dramatic interior illustrations by Charles Fetherolf, Ravenwood – Stepson of Mystery was designed by Rob Davis and edited by Ron Fortier. Once again Airship 27 Productions presents pulp fans with another one-of-kind quality pulp reading experience like no other on the market today.
AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – Pulp fiction for a new generation! ISBN: 1-934935-82-4 ISBN 13: 978-1-934935-82-8 Produced by Airship 27 Published by Cornerstone Book Publishers Release date: 31 Dec. 2010
Ravenwood – Stepson of Mystery! is available today at the Airship 27 on-line store at www.gopulp.info and will be widely available to bookstores and on-line retailers from Cornerstone Books within a week or two.
From his secret lair in the wilds of Bethlehem, Georgia, Bobby Nash writes. A multitasker, Bobby's certain that he does not suffer from ADD, but instead he... ooh, shiny.
When he finally manages to put fingers to the keyboard, Bobby writes novels (Evil Ways, Fantastix), comic books (Fuzzy Bunnies From Hell, Demonslayer), short prose (A Fistful of Legends, Full Throttle Space Tales Vol. 2: Space Sirens), novellas (Lance Star: Sky Ranger, Ravenwood: Stepson of Mystery), graphic novels (Yin Yang, I Am Googol: The Great Invasion, Fantastix), and even a little pulp fiction (Domino Lady, Secret Agent X) just for good measure. Despite what his brother says, Bobby is not addicted to buying DVD box sets and can quit anytime he wants to.
This is another Movie I’d Never Heard Of, but it’s a Western and I try to watch most of the Westerns I come across. (Livia’s the one who actually found this at Redbox.) It’s set in southern Texas and northern Mexico during the early Twentieth Century. The protagonist is Juliette Flowers (Lizzy Kaplan), a female gunslinger and outlaw who’s trying to recover the body of her lover, fellow outlaw Ransom Pride, who was killed during a gun-running deal gone bad. Ransom’s body is being held by the vengeance-seeking Maria de Morena (Cote de Pablo), who has an agenda of her own. Complicating things are Ransom’s father, a crazed preacher (played by Dwight Yoakum, who chews the scenery shamelessly but effectively), and some bounty hunters (Kris Kristofferson, Jason Priestly, and the great character actor W. Earl Brown, who’s top-notch as usual in a small role). Accompanying Juliette into Mexico is Ransom’s brother Champ (Jon Foster), who provides the expected romantic interest for her.
There’s a pretty good plot here, and the acting, while a little over-the-top in places, is decent. Lizzy Kaplan looks great as Juliette and turns in a tough, hardboiled performance that brings to mind Raquel Welch as Hannie Caulder in the film of the same name. The script was co-written by singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, who was one of the leaders of the Texas-based outlaw country movement in the Seventies. It has some decent lines and good action scenes in it.
However, the movie really gets bogged down by quick cuts, frequent flashbacks, and bizarre, grotesque images. I wanted to say, “Cut out all this artsy crap and just tell the damn story!” For me, anyway, that would have improved the movie considerably.
As it is, THE LAST RITES OF RANSOM PRIDE is worth watching, I think, especially if you’re a Western fan. But if you’re a traditionalist like me, prepare to be irritated at times and entertained at others.
I read the novel by Daniel Woodrell a couple of years ago and liked it a lot, but WINTER’S BONE may be one of those cases where something that worked for me as a novel didn’t work as well as a film. There’s nothing wrong with this movie, you understand. It’s very well-made and well-acted, especially by Jennifer Lawrence, who deserves all the praise she’s received for her portrayal of Ree Dolly, the teenage girl from the Ozarks who’s searching for her criminal father. But the movie is so unrelentingly bleak and grim that after a while it’s just painful to watch. So while I admire this film and recommend that you watch it, especially if you’re read Woodrell’s book, I can’t bring myself to say that I actually liked it. Does that make sense?
In SALT, Angelina Jolie is a CIA agent who may or may not be a Russian sleeper agent. Lots of running, fighting, shooting, and impossibly over-the-top stunts. This movie also has a very convoluted plot, but you’ll probably see the big twist coming a mile away anyway. Despite that, I found it thoroughly entertaining.
Very, very loosely based on the Mickey Mouse section of the classic Disney film FANTASIA (which, I must confess, I never liked very much, heresy though that may be), THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is a live-action, special-effects-heavy fantasy adventure starring Nicolas Cage as Balthazar Blake, a thousand-year-old wizard who’s a former apprentice of Merlin. Magically unaging, Balthazar has spent that millennium searching for a true descendent of Merlin who can kill the evil Morgan le Fay, who’s trapped in a nesting doll called the Grimhold. Got all that? It comes at the viewer fast and furious early on.
Then Balthazar finds the “True Merlinean” he’s looking for, who turns out to be physics nerd Dave Stutler, played by Jay Baruchel (who else?). Balthazar’s old enemy, the wizard Horvath (Alfred Molina), tries to recover the Grimhold and free Morgan so she can complete a spell that will allow her to take over the world. Magical chaos ensues, accompanied by a lot of bright flashing lights, nerd comedy, and a little romance.
Despite feeling a lot like a lot of other movies you’ve seen, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE is pretty doggone entertaining. Cage can carry an action film like this and give it some unexpected heft, Baruchel always make an oddball but appealing hero, and Molina is a dependably good villain. The script seems to make up some of its internal logic on the fly, but there are quite a few funny lines and moments. This is a good popcorn movie, the kind you can just sit back and enjoy without thinking too much about it.