Well, you knew I’d have to do this, and you knew it would be a weird list. But here goes, in no order and without overthinking it:
THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE by Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser). This made me a fan of the Shayne series, which I continued to read for years. That came in handy later on. Also, it was the first hardboiled private eye novel I ever read, before Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Richard S. Prather, and a host of other authors.
HOPALONG CASSIDY by Clarence E. Mulford. The first real Western novel I ever read.
HAVE SPACESUIT WILL TRAVEL by Robert A. Heinlein. The first real science-fiction novel I ever read.
FANTASTIC FOUR #16 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I’ve told the story before about how a couple of my cousins gave me a stack of comics they didn’t want on Christmas Day, 1963. I loved them all, but this was my favorite, the issue that turned me from a comics reader into a full-fledged comics fan.
BABYSITTER’S GUIDE BY DENNIS THE MENACE by Hank Ketcham. The first paperback book I ever bought, in the pharmacy of the old Medical Arts Building in Fort Worth, sometime in 1961.
BIGGER THAN TEXAS by William R. Cox. The first adult paperback I ever bought, in a drugstore in Goldsmith, Texas, in the summer of 1963. (There’ll be a Forgotten Books post coming up about this one in the relatively near future.)
THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway. One of the few books I’ve read multiple times.
THE ROCKET’S SHADOW by John Blaine (Hal Goodwin). The first Rick Brant novel. I’ve posted about it before.
CONAN THE USURPER by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp. The Lancer edition that I bought brand-new in Barber’s Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth. When I read de Camp’s introduction and realized that a real author came from the same part of the country where I lived, it helped convince me that I could write books, too.
LONGARM by Tabor Evans (Lou Cameron). To bring this full circle, like THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE, LONGARM turned me into a fan of a series that has been very important to me. As in, more than two and a half million words important.
I could come up with others, but some of these would remain constant no matter how much the rest of the list changed.
Unlike most comics-related trade paperbacks I read these days, CLASSIC MARVEL SUPER HEROES isn’t a reprint collection of stories I first read ‘way back when. Instead, it’s an examination of four iconic Marvel characters: Captain America, Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Wolverine. Author Peter Sanderson summarizes the origin of each character and also tells the back-story of how the character came to be created, including material on the writers and artists involved. It’s heavily illustrated with panels from the original comics, of course, nearly all of which I remember reading when they were new or almost new. (The exception being the Captain America stories from the Forties, before I was born, but even those I read in reprints in the Sixties and Seventies.)
From there Sanderson follows the fictional careers of all four characters up until 2005, when this book was published. Even though it was produced by Marvel for Barnes & Noble Books and written by a Marvel staffer, it’s not wholly a puff piece. Sanderson doesn’t shy away from discussing some of the creative missteps taken along the way by various writers (and there were a bunch of them in the Nineties, in this curmudgeon’s opinion, enough to drive me away from comics for a long time).
I didn’t really learn anything new in this book, but it was a lot of fun revisiting the early days of these characters. I don’t know if there have been similar books done about some of Marvel’s other characters, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you’re a long-time comics fan like me, you’d probably enjoy this one.
Somehow this movie came and went a dozen years ago without me ever hearing of it. It starts out like a Forties film noir: a guy (British actor Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a sleazy hotel room with no memory and a dead hooker. Even not knowing who he is or what happened, he’s smart enough to figure that he needs to get out of there, so he escapes just ahead of several creepy, sinister guys in trenchcoats. Then he gets involved with a mad doctor (Kiefer Sutherland, of all people, who at times seems to be doing a Peter Lorre impression). There’s a sultry torch singer (Jennifer Connelly, as always yowza!) who may or may not be the amnesiac’s wife. The fugitive is also being pursued by a dogged police detective played by William Hurt, who believes that Sewell’s character is a serial killer responsible for murdering half a dozen prostitutes. The whole thing takes place at night, hence the dark city of the title, where the streets are always wet and everything has a sort of bizarre art deco look.
Then things start to get weird.
This is one of those movies where you really can’t discuss the plot without giving away too much for people who haven’t seen it. About halfway through I was thinking that the filmmakers should have just stuck with a straight film noir homage, the way it starts out, but by the end the rest of it had won me over. DARK CITY is a good film that ultimately makes sense, even though for a while you’ll probably wonder. The version I watched was the expanded director’s cut. Since I never saw the theatrical release, I don’t have anything to compare it with. But I liked it, and if you haven’t seen it and have a fondness for oddball movies and film noir, you ought to give it a try.
Seriously, this is a fairly amusing little romantic comedy with enough oddball moments to make it interesting. The fact that Jane Lynch plays one of the most normal characters in the movie ought to tell you something.
Late in his career, Harry Whittington wrote several historical novels under the pseudonym Blaine Stevens. ISLAND OF KINGS is the final book to appear under that name, and in fact, it may be the last book that Whittington wrote. I believe it was the final new Whittington novel to be published, but if I’m wrong about any of that, I hope someone will speak up in the comments.
At any rate, whether or not it possesses the historical significance of being the last Whittington novel, ISLAND OF KINGS is worth reading. It’s set in Hawaii in the 1770s and is a fictionalization of the young prince Kamehameha’s efforts to avenge his brother’s murder, unite all the Hawaiian islands, and establish himself as the king. Kamehameha’s rise of power is complicated by the arrival of the British explorer Captain James Cook and the two ships under his command. This is the first time the islanders have ever encountered anyone from the outside world.
The other protagonist in this novel is a roguish young British officer on one of the ships who falls in love with an island girl, deserts the ships, and goes native, eventually winding up involved in Kamehameha’s plan to unite the islands.
As usual in a Whittington novel, the story is fast-paced, colorful, and filled with sex and violence. Not all the characters turn out the way you’d expect, either, and such surprises are always nice. Never having studied Kamehameha or Captain Cook, I don’t know how historically accurate the book is, but it’s definitely a good yarn, which is all I was looking for.
The only real flaw in ISLAND OF KINGS is the head-scratcher of an ending, which reads like Whittington ran out of time, energy, or both. Despite that, it’s an entertaining, fast-moving novel, and worth reading despite being a definite notch or two below Whittington’s great suspense novels and Westerns. (I couldn't find a better cover scan on-line, so that's the actual beat up, cover-clipped copy I read.)
A while back Livia and I watched the first season of the HBO series ROME on DVD. We just finished watching the second and final season, and overall I liked it quite a bit. I can just imagine the pitch meeting for the series: "It's like DEADWOOD, only in ancient Rome!" There's certainly plenty of sex, violence, and cussin' in ROME. And most of the characters have British accents, so you know they're real ancient Romans.
We've been a fan of this sort of stuff since we watched I, CLAUDIUS on PBS back in the Seventies. (That's a series we ought to revisit on DVD, if we could find the time.) We even wrote a mystery story with Claudius as the detective. ("The Singer at Dawn", in the October 1980 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE.) ROME isn't all that accurate historically, but it tells compelling stories nonetheless and is very well-acted, especially by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson as a couple of Roman soldiers who wind up being on hand for most of the historical events and even playing pivotal parts in some of them. Also like DEADWOOD, there's plenty of purely fictional soap opera to go with the pseudo-history.
I enjoyed ROME and was sorry to see it end after only two seasons. I've heard that the new series SPARTACUS is a lot like it, only with more sex and violence (hard to imagine). I'm sure we'll give it a try, too, when it comes out on DVD.
The other day I went to the post office and found a thick envelope in the box, with a return address of someone I didn't know. When I opened it, I found a 21-page handwritten outline for a Longarm novel, plus a 12-page handwritten letter explaining the background of the story. That's as far as I read. I set the package aside immediately and haven't looked at it since. I don't intend to.
This isn't the first time I've had someone try to give me a story idea, but it hasn't happened in quite a while. I know the fellow who wrote it had the best of intentions. He's a fan of the series, he came up with what he thought was a good idea, and he went to the trouble of writing it down, as well as finding out that I'm one of the authors. For those reasons, I feel kind of bad that I've been ignoring it and will continue to do so.
Because I just can't afford to allow even the appearance of having swiped something from somebody. It could get me in trouble legally, and it could get me in trouble with my publisher, and I don't want either of those things to happen. On top of that, I like coming up with ideas for my books. That's part of the fun of it. Don't get me wrong, Livia gives me plots all the time and I'm very grateful for that, and if a fellow pro I've known for years were to say to me, "Hey, you ought to do a book about so-and-so," I might do it if the idea appealed to me. I think those are very different situations from someone I don't know sending me an unsolicited book outline. If that sounds elitist, I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel and I'll bet a lot of other professional writers do, too.
So if the person who sent me that Longarm outline is reading this, I appreciate the effort you put into it, but I won't be reading it. Maybe you should try to write a Western novel of your own. It won't be easy to sell in today's market, but you never know what might happen. That's one of the great things about being a writer.
Remember when I posted a few weeks ago about my frequent nightmares? Well, since posting that I've woken up yelling only twice, which is a vast improvement and probably the best such stretch I've had in years. Now, I don't seriously believe that posting about it on the blog cured me, but I have to wonder . . . Now, Doctor, let me tell you about my other problems . . .
I think it’s pretty well-established that I’ll watch almost anything with Kate Beckinsale in it, plus WHITEOUT has the added bonus of being based on a graphic novel written by Greg Rucka that I’d read several years ago. Also, it’s set at an Antarctic research station, a similar setting to fiction I’ve enjoyed like Alistair MacLean’s ICE STATION ZEBRA and John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”, although I think maybe those were set in the Arctic, not the Antarctic. But hey, a blizzard’s a blizzard.
Anyway, in WHITEOUT, Beckinsale is hard-nosed U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko, who is about to head home from the station after being there two years. Winter is about to set in, so everybody who’s not staying over for the next six months is about to leave on the last transport plane. There’s a storm coming in, too, which will complicate things.
So what better time to have a series of murders and a mysterious masked killer stalking the station, on top of a dangerous mystery that stretches back more than fifty years?
WHITEOUT is fairly effective most of the time, although the exterior scenes, with wind and blowing snow and people running around bundled up in parkas and such, are a little hard to follow because you can’t tell who’s who or what they’re doing. That’s a minor complaint compared to the fact that the main bad guy might as well be wearing a neon sign on his back announcing his identity, and then when you get the final revelation of what’s been going on, it makes no sense. At least it didn’t to me. But the movie is still a reasonably entertaining way to kill a couple of hours, if that’s all you’re looking for.
THE GUILT EDGE, from the new small press publisher Perfect Crime Books, is, as far as I know, the first collection of short fiction from Robert J. Randisi. It’s split up into several sections featuring various series characters, including Henry Po, a private investigator who works for the New York State Racing Commission; Val O’Farrell, a 1920s PI and friend of Bat Masterson; and retired cop/housesitter Truxton Lewis. There are a couple of stand-alone stories, too, one of them with Bat Masterson as the lead.
Many years and many books ago, I remember reading Bob’s first novel, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY. This book includes the original short story on which that novel is based. I’d read that story, and several more of the Henry Po stories, when they were new, but it had been long enough that I was able to reread them and enjoy them all over again. The rest of the stories were new to me, and they’re really good. The Val O’Farrell stories are fast-paced and a lot of fun, as well as colorful with their Roaring Twenties setting. The Truxton Lewis stories are more low-key and have a little melancholy tone to them that works very well. I wouldn’t hesitate to read novels featuring either of these characters, if Bob ever has the time and the inclination to write them.
This is a fine collection that gives a good overview of Randisi’s career as a mystery writer, and you get a perceptive introduction by Ed Gorman, to boot. If you have any interest in private eye fiction over the past thirty years or just enjoy a good yarn, you need to read THE GUILT EDGE.
Roger Torrey was one of the leading authors of hardboiled detective fiction for the pulps during the Thirties and Forties, starting out in BLACK MASK and writing for a number of other pulps as well, including SPICY DETECTIVE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE, and Street & Smith’s DETECTIVE STORY. This new volume from Black Dog Books, BODYGUARD, is the first major collection of his work.
Torrey’s work has two major strengths. One is the easy-going, conversational style in which the stories are told. According to Black Dog Books’ editor and publisher, Tom Roberts, reading a story by Roger Torrey is like sitting in a bar somewhere and listening to a guy spin an exciting yarn about something that happened to him. The fact that the guy is usually a private eye, and the story concerns some bizarre case mixed up with murder and beautiful babes, is a real plus.
The colorful characterization of the narrators in most of Torrey’s stories is their other strong point. Despite the fact that they all have different names, those narrators are basically the same person: a private detective, often an ex-cop and a lone operative, smart but not infallible, tough but no superman, basically a decent sort but not above a little chicanery and lechery. He’ll get beaten up when the odds are against him, he’ll be fooled by an attractive woman from time to time, and he’ll muddle his way through cases with dogged determination as much as anything else. But in the end, he comes up with the killer every time, of course.
Torrey’s background included stints as a piano player in nightclubs and an organist in movie theaters, and his stories often have some sort of show business background. He was a heavy drinker, and so are many of his characters. Despite their sometimes oddball plot elements, the stories have an air of authenticity about them, including a fatalism that foreshadows Torrey’s early death. (He wasn’t even 40 yet when he passed away, probably from alcoholism.)
BODYGUARD reprints eleven stories, several of them long novellas. While not all of them are what you’d call rigorously plotted, they’re all very entertaining and enjoyable. The book also includes an informative introduction by long-time author and editor Ron Goulart, as well as the first-ever bibliography of Torrey’s work. Torrey hasn’t actually been forgotten – reprints of his stories have popped up in anthologies over the years – but he’s certainly been neglected. BODYGUARD is the first step in remedying that situation. I had a great time reading it, and if you’re a fan of hardboiled pulp fiction, I highly recommend it.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like a good World War II movie. SAINTS AND SOLDIERS has a few flaws, but overall I think it falls into that category. Set during the Battle of the Bulge, it’s about a small group of American GIs who are taken prisoner by the Germans, escape during the infamous Malmedy Massacre, and then accidentally come into possession of some vital intelligence that needs to be gotten back to the Allied lines. The rest of the movie is about their attempt to survive behind enemy lines and deliver the information.
This is another movie I’d never heard of, starring nobody I’d ever heard of, and made on a low budget. But THE BIG RED ONE proved you can make a good war film on a limited budget without any epic battles. SAINTS AND SOLDIERS looks good and is well-acted. Its problems are a certain by-the-numbers feel to the script (one of the GIs is from Brooklyn, although he does make a point of adding “Heights”, as if the writer was nodding to the fact that he knew having a guy from Brooklyn in a World War II movie is something of a cliché) and long stretches where not much happens except the guys trudge along through the snow.
But the movie does generate some genuine suspense toward the end as the soldiers get closer and closer to their goal. The characters are sympathetic, even if they are overly familiar, and it’s hard not to care about them.
This is an “inspirational” film, but the religious element is very low-key and not much more obtrusive than it would be in a mainstream war film of the Forties or Fifties (which is what SAINTS AND SOLDIERS most resembles). According to some reviews I’ve read, there are a number of historical inaccuracies in it, and although that bothers me in films where I’m very familiar with the subject matter, I’m not enough of an expert on the Battle of the Bulge to notice such things here. And double standard or not, if I don’t know about it, it doesn’t bother me. So overall, I liked SAINTS AND SOLDIERS, and if you’re a fan of World War II films, it’s worth a look.
This is another of those movies I’d never even heard of. It’s an indie romantic comedy, and as such, you’d expect it to be quirky. But this movie takes quirky to a whole other level.
Speaking of quirky, the title character is played by Jay Baruchel, who starred in the good but short-lived TV series about college, UNDECLARED. In this one, he’s Reed Fish, the young host of a call-in radio show in a small Midwestern town called Mud Meadows. The radio station is so small and local that the traffic report is about how one of the town’s old-timers has a flat tire and won’t somebody go out and help him change it. As always in movies like this, the town is populated by charming, colorful eccentrics, and all of them have an opinion and don’t hesitate to express it when Reed suddenly breaks off his engagement to his long-time girlfriend and starts to pursue an old flame who has returned to Mud Meadows.
Then, about a third of the way through the movie, there’s a plot twist that causes things to just get weirder and weirder as they go on. You have to watch this one closely to make sense of it, and then there’s one final twist in the credits, so pay attention to them, too.
I liked I’M REED FISH quite a bit. I’m a sucker for small-market AM radio yarns (one reason I loved WKRP), having been around just such a station when I was in college. I doubt if there’s anybody reading this who ever listened to KHRB out of Lockhart, Texas, but if by some odd chance you did, you might have heard a high school football or basketball game I helped broadcast. But that’s another post, and to get back to I’M REED FISH, it’s a good-hearted little movie that’s well worth watching, so give it a chance if you like indie films.
That's the forecast around here. Posting on the ol' blog has been sporadic lately and will likely continue to be so for the rest of the month. Nothing to worry about, just an unscheduled hiatus. I'm still reading books and watching movies and comments on same will appear now and then. I'll be around if anybody needs to drop me an email.
2012 is the great-grandchild of Seventies disaster movies such as EARTHQUAKE and THE TOWERING INFERNO. The formula is the same: take a group of characters with soap-operatic back-stories and plunk them down in the middle of death and devastation. But like its cousins THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and the remake of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, 2012 indulges in such overkill that it makes those Seventies movies look positively dignified and restrained.
I remember reading when this movie came out about how ridiculous all the so-called science in it is. I don’t require absolute scientific accuracy in a movie in order to enjoy it, though. As a good friend who writes science fiction once said to me, “Who do I look like to you? Mr. Wizard?” Just tell me a good story. My disbelief suspends very easily.
Unfortunately, the personal stories in 2012 rely on such a wild string of coincidences that the “Oh, come on!” factor in this movie is pretty high. At the same time, there’s a very by-the-numbers feel to it. As each character is introduced, you can play the “survives/doesn’t survive” game and probably get all of them right.
Which is not to say that the movie is completely without entertainment value. Them special effects is amazin’. And let’s face it, you can’t make a movie about the violent destruction of most of the world without coming up with a few powerful scenes. I had a catch in my throat a few times.
In many ways, 2012 is a remake of INDEPENDENCE DAY (made by the same folks), with natural disasters substituted for alien invasion. I sort of liked INDEPENDENCE DAY. It’s a much more hopeful film. 2012 is watchable, but unless you really, really like special effects, I’d advise you not to get in any big hurry to rent it.
Oliver Strange (1871–1952) was an Englishman who worked as an editor for a British publishing company during the first half of the Twentieth Century. But he also wanted to be a writer and obviously had a fondness for American Westerns, because when he tried his hand at writing a novel, the result was THE RANGE ROBBERS, a book that’s very much the literary equivalent of an American B-Western film or pulp novel.
THE RANGE ROBBERS introduces Strange’s famous character Sudden, and it proved popular enough that over the next couple of decades he wrote nine more novels featuring Sudden. After Strange’s death, the series was continued for five more novels written by Frederick Nolan under the name Frederick H. Christian. Even though THE RANGE ROBBERS was the first book published, when Strange continued the series he backtracked in the character’s history and occasionally went forward, so the publication order isn’t the same as the chronological order.
When we meet Sudden in this one, he’s pretending to be a drifting cowboy named Green. In fairly short order, it becomes obvious why he’s adopted a new identity: Sudden is a famous gunfighter and outlaw who’s wanted for various crimes all over the West. Like many a pulp outlaw, however, he’s not really to blame for most of the offenses that have been attributed to him. Despite his reputation, he’s an honorable man, a fast shot, a great fighter, and a steadfast friend. When he goes to work on a ranch owned by an old-timer who’s having trouble with rustlers, if you’ve read very many pulp novels or watched very many B-Westerns, you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen.
In fact, there’s nothing really new in THE RANGE ROBBERS, although when it was published the plot elements hadn’t had enough time to become quite the clichés that they are now. You’ve got the elderly rancher with the beautiful daughter, the rustlers, the magnificent horse that nobody else can ride, the white villains pretending to be Indians, and so forth. One of the bad guys even kicks a dog so you'll know that he's really bad. So why read this book?
Well, for one thing, even though THE RANGE ROBBERS is a fairly long novel, Strange never lets the pace slow down for very long. It’s full of incident and colorful characters and well-written action scenes. There’s a lot of Western slang and dialect that takes some getting used to, but that was common for the time period. Even though Strange never visited the U.S., his descriptions of the landscape are vivid and reasonably accurate. He was expert at crafting confrontations between the heroes and the villains, and along the way he adds some psychological drama to the plot reminiscent of the work of Max Brand and Walt Coburn. The two big twists near the end are predictable but satisfying.
THE RANGE ROBBERS is an old-fashioned, traditional Western and very entertaining for fans of that genre, which includes me. I have a couple of other Sudden novels and plan to read them soon. If you’re interested, there’s a lot of information about Strange, the Sudden series, and its history here. (Be sure and scroll down to the post by Fred Nolan.)
I hadn’t read anything by H. Bedford-Jones for a while, but he remains one of my favorite pulp authors (favorite authors, period, in fact), and THE GOLDEN GOSHAWK is a prime example of why.
This is an excellent new collection from Black Dog Books. As usual, publisher Tom Roberts has put together a nice-looking volume, and this time around he also provides an informative introduction about the origins of the four stories reprinted here. The title story first appeared in the August 1928 issue of the rare and sought-after pulp, THE DANGER TRAIL, one of the Clayton pulps. By the time the second story, “The Jest of the Jade Joss”, appeared a year later in August 1929, the name of the magazine had been changed to WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES. Bedford-Jones wrote two more stories in this short-lived series featuring Captain Dan Marguard, but they went unpublished when WIDE WORLD ADVENTURES folded. A couple of years later, those stories were published in a different pulp, FAR EAST ADVENTURE STORIES. All four of them appeared under the pseudonym Captain L.B. Williams.
What about the stories themselves? Well, they’re great fun. Dan Marguard is a free-lance trader, adventurer, and mercenary in the South Seas, skippering an old schooner called the Gadfly. In the course of these yarns, he retrieves a stolen idol, rescues some kidnap victims, walks calmly into the stronghold of a headhunter tribe to retrieve the dried head of an old friend, and prevents a bloody native uprising. In the process, he usually finds a way to latch on to a decent payoff for himself and his two Chinese “elder brothers” who raised him. The stories are smartly plotted and told in Bedford-Jones’s usual clean, terse, exciting prose. I don’t know how authentic they are in terms of history and geography, but HB-J had the knack of making everything in his stories sound absolutely accurate and believable. He even goes to the trouble in one case of having the supposed author, Captain L.B. Williams, provide an afterword detailing the inspiration for the story, adding another layer to the fiction.
Bedford-Jones was good at this. During the Thirties, he brought back the good captain to serve as half of a joint by-line on his “Ships and Men” series that ran in BLUE BOOK. Those stories all appeared as by H. Bedford-Jones and Captain L.B. Williams. BLUE BOOK, like numerous other pulps, sometimes ran biographical features on the authors who wrote for them, and on the inside front cover of one issue was a biography and an artist’s portrait of the wholly fictional Captain L.B. Williams. The editors had to be in on the joke, but the readers at the time weren’t.
For fans of pulp adventure fiction, I can’t recommend THE GOLDEN GOSHAWK highly enough. Great yarns, a great author, and a little-known character who appeared in hard-to-find pulps adds up to a must-have as far as I’m concerned.
Some brief comments on a few movies we’ve seen recently, including a couple that fall into the Movies I’ve Missed (Until Now) category:
THE BOONDOCK SAINTS – From 1999, this action movie that has developed a cult following is a crime yarn about a couple of working class Irish brothers from Boston who have a run-in with the Russian mob. After surviving that, they decide to become vigilantes and clean up the town by killing all the criminals they can find, leading organized crime to unleash a legendary hitman on them. Extremely bloody and so over-the-top that it verges on silly at times, it’s also surprisingly funny in places and the action scenes are very good. I can only give it a qualified recommendation, though. Fans of movies like SHOOT ’EM UP might like it, but I suspect it’s too goofy for most people.
MIDNIGHT MADNESS – Another teen comedy from the Eighties that we missed somehow, and in this case, it probably should have remained a movie that I missed. It’s about several teams of college kids running around town looking for clues in a game called the Great All-Nighter. The star is David Naughton, who parleyed his singing and dancing role in a series of commercials for Dr Pepper into a short-lived movie and TV career. Badly acted and not funny, this movie is notable only because of the presence of Michael J. Fox (his film debut) and a cameo by Paul Reubens. Don’t go looking for it.
MY LIFE IN RUINS – I didn’t really mean to watch two Nia Vardalos movies in the space of a week, it just sort of worked out that way. This is a lightweight but fairly enjoyable romantic comedy that finds her working as a tour guide in Greece, leading around a group of eccentric tourists that includes Richard Dreyfuss, Harland Williams, and Rachel Dratch. The ubiquitous Ian Gomez plays a lecherous Greek hotelkeeper. Hijinks ensue, punctuated by the occasional poignant moment. Nia finds true love with the driver of her tour bus. It’s better than I’m making it sound. Worth watching.
The best of the bunch, THE INVENTION OF LYING, is an odd little comedy written by and starring Ricky Gervais. The concept is that the world is exactly as we know it, except that the human race never evolved the ability to tell a lie. So everyone tells the exact truth, no matter what, leading to a near-constant stream of awkward moments. Until the character played by Gervais suddenly discovers the ability to lie, which winds up changing the entire world. This one is smart and very funny in places, touching in others. And it has the added bonus of having Jennifer Garner in it, who, like Sela Ward, is universally beloved by guys the world over.