Monday, December 24, 2012

Snow sledding

Here's a Christmas present of sorts to all the readers of this blog: the father of my son's friend shot a video about us sledding some weeks back. The song in the soundtrack is, I believe, also by my son's friend's dad. Merry Christmas to you all! (And oh, by the way, you can take a peek at the Xmas glamour at our house: here's my wife in her Christmas dress in her vintage blog.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book(s): The Eighth Circle, Don't Ask, Chip Off the Bloc

Here are three books all of which I've read or tried to read recently.

Stanley Ellin's The Eighth Circle (1958) has come with high praise from many crime fiction aficionados as one of the more original private eye novels. Ellin has written some very good short stories, some of which are classics, and some good films have come out of his novels, but I couldn't get past page 100 or so of The Eighth Circle. Maybe I'm the one to blame, but nothing much seemed to happen. I also couldn't get into Ellin's style. The situation might be different if there were a good Finnish translation of the book, but unluckily this is not the case here. I'm sure many of Pulpetti's readers might like Ellin's book. (The Penguin cover is so great I wanted to use that, even though it's not very American in style.)

Donald Westlake's Don't Ask (1992) is one of his Dortmunder novels. I haven't been a fan of Dortmunders (lately I've found I don't really find jokes funny, especially in a book), but I've liked to read one now and then. This wasn't very entertaining, I must admit. I struggled the book through, as I hoped the book would turn funnier. Beside some mild amusement and some satire on United Nations and some quirky characterization the book seemed a bit forced. I'm actually sorry to say this, since I've liked other books by Westlake very much.

Gar Wilson's Chip Off the Bloc (1986) is something completely different: it's a book in the men's adventure series Phoenix Force that's a spin-off of the Mack Bolan series. I don't really care for this kind of stuff, but I have, shall we say, an academic interest for it. I left most of these books out of my first book, Pulpografia, and I've been thinking about a sequel in which I'd talk about these later men's adventure series. (Seems though I'll never make it. I might settle for a longer article.) This one was written by a guy called Paul Glen Neuman who has a website of his own (he lists at least thirty screenplays he's written, but none of them seems to have been filmed). Neuman has done also other men's adventure series, so I guess you could call him a pro. Chip Off the Bloc is written in a pretty dull way, I must admit: there's no actual development, the scenes just follow each other and something just happens in them. I understand this is supposed to be simple stuff, to be read shallowly and leisurely (which is actually what I did), but I think you could do these books with more imagination and better characterization. Now there's not much life to these people. The book has also some funny outdated stuff on early modems and computers. (I recall reading somewhere that Dan J. Marlowe penned one or two of these books, is this confirmed in the new Marlowe biography? The Finnish edition of this book, by the way, is credited with the original title as "Chip Off the Bloch"!)

More Friday's Forgotten Books here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Django (1966)

This is the original Django film directed by Sergio Corbucci, who's one of the more important Italowestern directors, not in the rank of Sergio Leone or even Sergio Sollima, but follows rather close behind.

I'm not hot on Italian spaghetti westerns, but there's certain grandiose about them I'm slowly getting warm to. I still think Leone is a bit overrated, but there's no danger of thinking Corbucci is overrated. There's no place for him in the cinematic canon, though there are some nice stylistic touches in Django. Some of the picture compositions are striking as well. The noisy renaissance acting is very far away from the stoic Hollywood acting of the westerns, not to mention the outrageous violence. I think at least 150 people die in the film. 

All this said, I found Django mildly entertaining and quite funny at times. None of it makes any sense, but I don't think anyone thought it should. More Overlooked Movies here

Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: Clark Howard: Dirt Rich

I mention this book in my Pulpografia in the entry for Clark Howard, but I've actually never read it - until now. Dirt Rich (1986) is a long, sweeping epic on Texas, oil, fatherless sons, tyrant fathers, absent sisters, treacherous wives and hard-working men. The story starts from 1918 and ends just after World War II, and there are also some backflashes to the days of Wild West. Lots of things happen in the 800 pages of the book.

Clark Howard is an excellent short story writer and he also seems to be a good novelist. There's lots to admire in Dirt Rich, for example how Howard never really tells what a person looks like, but you still get the feel of how he/she acts, moves, reacts, dresses. The real history of a nation is somewhere in the background, but still effecting the acts of individuals.

I know the Friday's Forgotten Book meme is about Ray Bradbury this week, but I just happened to finish this late last night.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Way of the Gun

Christopher McQuarrie wrote the much-admired The Usual Suspects and much was expected from him after that, but it seems to have taken five years before he got to make another film - for some reason or another, he hasn't made another film with Bryan Singer, who, as we well know, has gone on to make successful films (though they haven't interested me as much as The Usual Suspects). 

McQuarrie wrote and directed The Way of the Gun in 2000 and it seems to have vanished somewhat. There's much to blame in the film itself: the lead characters are not sympathetic (or even interesting) in the least, not even in the you-hate-them-but-can't-turn-your-eyes-away way, and the plot seems forced and pretty difficult to follow at times. The film also begins with a scene that has nothing to do with the rest of the film. 

But at the core The Way of the Gun is actually a pretty good neo-noir film about two almost sociopathic criminals who try to make it big kidnapping a surrogate woman pregnant to a shady millionaire and his cold wife. There's not a good human in the film as everyone is only trying to make things profitable for themselves. In the end, though, some of the characters try to make better, but it proves to be futile. The theme of honour comes to the fore, but in the film there's no sense trying to be honourable. 

The climax with its long shoot-out at a Mexican bordello is reminiscent of Peckinpah and The Wild Bunch. The thematics of the film remind one of Peckinpah, but there's something lacking. Maybe by 2000, one just couldn't handle the thematics of honour and betrayal with confidence. And confidence is something that McQuarrie's direction is lacking, though there are some good moments throughout the film. One thing has to be said in the film's favour: James Caan is simply wonderful as an older heavy. 

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Gil Brewer: The Brat

I meant to do this for the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but I didn't have enough time on my hands. I've been rather tired lately - frustrated even - and am already on some sort of a Christmas vacation (which the tax refund, paid to me by the state of Finland, makes possible). I've been doing too much work for the past couple of years and it's starting to show.

Sorry, didn't mean to vent. Gil Brewer's The Brat (1957) is a prime example of Brewer's mix of white-collar noir and backwoods exoticism: "the brat" of the title is a sultry babe living somewhere in the Florida swamps whom the lead man takes away to the civilization to live with her - only to notice that "the brat" has something in her mind.

I'm sure The Brat was the publisher's title, since this babe sure is no brat, she's an evil liar and a scumbag. You might call Brewer - or at least his books - misogynistic and you'd well be right. But there's no denying the simple, yet forceful narrative drive in the best of his works. An important issue is also his handling of the bourgeoisie despair: there's not much living beyond the boundaries of the family and work. And when these boundaries break, the nightmare awaits.

I don't really like the cover of the book. It looks like the femme fatale of the book is wearing diapers.

The book is readily available from Prologue Books as an e-book. (I read this from my Kindle and I'm not complaining any about it.)