Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Craig McDonald & Kevin Singles: Head Games

I've never read any of the Hector Lassiter novels by Craig McDonald, but have read several good reviews of them, so I picked the graphic novel version of his first novel, Head Games, up in the comic book store my friend runs here in Turku. The drawing style looked stylish, and the story line sounded good.

I wasn't disappointed. The story about Pancho Villa's severed head and people hunting it is funny and tragic, and it reminded me of several other novels and films, such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. I liked how the father George Bush Sr. was brought into the story.

Hector Lassiter himself is an interesting character, a bit macho adventurer, cynical but still humane, good-looking but aging. Lassiter's sidekick, free-wheeling poet and reporter  Bud Fiske is maybe even more intriguing: with him Mcdonald brings up points about the whole era and its change during the late fifties and sixties. The art of Kevin Singles is quite nice, retro but not too retro, which is fitting, since the story takes place in 1957 (there's also an epilogue that takes place in the early seventies). The pictures are black & white with only one process colour (not sure if this is the right word), which works quite well. The style in all is a bit reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke's great Richard Stark graphic novels. It's not only a film noir pastiche.

There are quite many crime graphic novels coming out at the moment. There have of course always been crime comics, but this seems like a boom or a trend, starting perhaps with Road to Perdition, 100 Bullets and Scalped and going on with the Hard Case Crime comics, My Friend Dahmer and what not. Head Games is an entertaining addition to the cycle, which seems to concentrate on hardboiled and noir.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Book: Bill Crider: Outrage at Blanco

The Brash Books reprint.
Don't think 
they have sunglasses in the book...
I've known Texan author Bill Crider for twenty years. I joined the Rara-Avis e-mail list I think in 1997 (not 100% certain about this, it could be 1998 as well) and found Bill's postings to be knowledgeable, funny and not besserwisserish. (Is that a word?) We have swapped e-mails on and off about all things hardboiled and noir, and we've commented each other's blogs for years now. I think Bill is one of my most permanent readers.

So I was actually quite sorrow-struck to learn that Bill is in hospice care. I'd known that he has cancer (he writes about it openly), but still this made me sad. I'm glad to be able to participate in this Friday's Bill Crider commemoration.

With the help of Evan Lewis, I got my hands on Bill's 1999 western novel Outrage at Blanco. It suited me just fine, since I'd been thinking I'd like to read me a good solid western story, and I knew Bill would deliver it. And yes, he does. Outrage at Blanco is a fast-moving tale with multiple point-of-view characters, and each and every one seems like a whole human being, though some of them are merciless bastards with no meaning in life. There are two bank robbers and rapists, there is an old patriarch on the brink of his own death and his cowardly son who's after his father's money, there is a frontier woman whom the bank robbers rape in the beginning of the novel (Bill handles the scene with compassion, I don't anyone could accuse him of using rape as a titillation), there is the woman's husband, an ordinary man who suddenly feels a burst of rage when he hears about what happened to his wife. Some of the folks in the book die suddenly, which keeps the reader guessing who will come out alive.

This was the first Bill Crider's westerns I've read, but I certainly would like to read more. He writes very fluently and effortlessly, like the best of them, and the story keeps moving without a pause, yet there's enough room for building a tension or characters or their backstories. Nothing ever gets in the way of the story. Here's Bill talking about the book.

I've read some of Bill's crime and horror novels earlier, here's my review of Blood Marks, and here's Goodnight Moom. In my book Pulpografia (in Finnish only) I have a reviews of Bill's Nick Carter novel (his first book!) and another horror novel as by Jack MacLane. (There's a side character called Jack MacLane in Outrage at Blanco.) Mind you, I've also published a short story by Bill, namely "Evening Out with Carl", in the anthology Kaikki valehtelevat/Everybody Lies.

By the way, here's a little something most people have probably forgotten: Bill's short story in the form of a blog.

More posts about Bill Crider and his books coming your way on Patti Abbott's blog here.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Hard Case Crime comics: Triggerman, Peepland

I've purchased three of the graphic novels Hard Case Crime has published: The Assignment, Triggerman and Peepland. It's interesting to notice that the director and screenwriter Walter Hill has now stepped into a new career as a script writer for the comics, as The Assignment and Triggerman are based on his scripts. Will there be a novel as well?

I have The Assignment floating around the apartment somewhere, but I don't know where, so I haven't read it. It's based on a film he made, which has had only a limited release. The film hasn't had very good reviews, I'm afraid, but I'm still interested in the story. Hill's other graphic novel script, Triggerman, is based on a script he says he wrote 30 years ago and tried to sell as a screenplay for a film. The story resembles Hill's later film, Last Man Standing - at least the milieu and the characters are from same era: the gangster-filled prohibition era of the 1920's. The story about the gunman searching his lover is a bit sentimental and patronizing, but there was enough gunplay and violence to keep me reading. The graphics by Matz and Jef, two French artists, is very stylish, at least to my eye. The era is created convincingly.

There's nothing patronizing about Peepland, written by Christa Faust (Money Shot, Choke Hold) and Gary Phillips (the editor of Black Pulp, and author of over a dozen novels) and illustrated by Andrea Camerini. The story is set in the same age and milieu as the new HBO series, The Deuce, which Faust knows so well: the Times Square peep-show and porn shop blocks of the 1980's. (Why are these both set in the past, though?) The hero of the story is a punkish lap-dancer called Rox, who gets hold of a VHS tape containing evidence on a famous man doing some evil stuff. There are of course lots of other evil men after the same tape. There's lots of violence in here, as befits a Hard Case Crime graphic novel, but there are also lots of touching moments as well. There's lots at stake in the middle of the ruckus. You can feel the tension and get almost to live in the Times Square hoods. Very well made and gripping as all hell, and with strong, convincing female and African-American characters.

I noticed when I started to write this entry that Hard Case Crime is publishing also another graphic novel version of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. I don't know why this is, since there's also the Denise Mina scripted version from some five or six years back. I have no interest in Larsson, but I might read a good graphic novel version of his 10,000-page series. I do have lots interest in Megan Abbott's and Alison Gaylin's Normandy Gold, which is also due from Hard Case Crime.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Celia Fremlin: Hours Before Dawn

I remember Sarah Weinman mentioning Celia Fremlin as one of the domestic suspense writers who she needed to pay more attention to. When I found one of Fremlin's books in Finnish translation, I picked it up. It was one of those books I'd always known existed, but hadn't paid any attention to them.

But boy, what a good book Hours Before Dawn is! I read it almost in one sitting. I had to take care of some business during the reading, but I really wouldn't've liked to. I heard later that The Times Magazine had included the novel in their list of hundred best thrillers, and I couldn't agree more.

Hours Before Dawn was first published in 1959, and it is a perfect embodiment of domestic suspense: the lead character is a still youngish woman with three kids and an impatient husband, and the mystery concentrates almost entirely on what happens inside their little house. Her smallest kid clearly has colic, and he shouts and screams all the time when he should be sleeping. This bugs the husband and the neighbour and keeps the mother awake. I don't know of any other crime novel that deals with colic - and actually makes the colic baby the center of the mystery.

There's indeed a mystery, but Hours Before Dawn is still a crimeless novel. There are no murders, stabbings, thefts, frauds, shakedowns or what have you. Yet this is one of the most powerful crime novels I've read in a long time.

I read the Finnish translation (see the picture; the Polish-style cover is by Finnish graphic artist Heikki Ahtiala), but the book seems to be readily available in affordable reprint.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mack Bolan: The Fiery Cross

The Fiery Cross, an 1988 entry in the Mack Bolan series, written by Mike Newton as by Don Pendleton, is something we sorely need, when the Nazis - the so-called alt-right - are marching in the US, and in Finland as well. In the book, Mack Bolan beats the Nazis and the Klansmen somewhere in the Deep South and finds out that the extreme right wing is financed by the Russians (as they might well be in Europe, don't know about the US). The Nazis and the Klansmen are ridiculed throughout the book, which is very fine by me.

I didn't think this was a particularly good book, though it's solidly written by a professional. I kind of leafed through the whole thing, just looking for something to pass the time. Which is what this kind of entertainment was made for. But it should be vital that this kind of information also tells us what's important, what are the values that are really worth fighting for. And being low-level literature, it's available also to those who are prone to social exclusion and marginalization and thus to the temptations of the right-wing populism. Mack Bolan could never be called a Leftist social justice warrior (a pejorative moniker used by the right-wingers), so there might be a chance for someone to realize fighting Nazis is also manly.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Anthony Neil Smith: All the Young Warriors

I had a one-week holiday in the first week of September. I though I was going to read some crime novels that were sitting on my Kindle. Well, yeah, I did, but it took longer than a week. I read Barry Malzberg's first Lone Wolf novel, Night Raider, written as by Mike Barry (forgot to blog about it) and then I read W. Glenn Duncan Rafferty's Rules (about which I blogged here). I also started Lawrence Block's old sleaze title, Sex Without Strings, but it didn't seem interesting enough (no crime plot that I could see!). And then I started Anthony Neil Smith's All the Young Warriors, really not knowing what to expect. I finished it only tonight.

Okay, it's only 304 pages in a Down & Out Books paperback, but it felt longer - and I don't mean this in a negative way. I could've sworn it was more like 400 pages. The scope is almost epic, close to what you have in more literary novels. Two Somali guys kill a pregnant female cop in Minneapolis while they are already headed towards Somalia, their fatherland, and the lover of the woman, a cop himself, decides to go after them with the help of the other guy's father, who happens to have a gangsta past. And this is only a skimpy outline. The book's more like Conrad's Heart of Darkness taken into the 2000's (well, with the exception that Conrad's novel is a lot shorter). The grim outcome in the end couldn't be darker, even if it's happy for some of the characters.

The subject of the book could easily be racist in the hands of someone else, but Smith, while he certainly pulls no punches, is not your typical stereotype-weaving thriller hack. The Somali characters come out alive, and while some of them are evil and do evil stuff, I didn't see the book calling them evil only because they are Somalis. The discussion about cultural appropriation is hot at the moment, but I didn't see that in here - of course I'm not a Somali myself, so what do I know? But Smith's novel seems free of that appropriation.

All the Young Warriors takes its time to get going, but the reader is awarded in the end.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Where the Sidewalk Ends

I'm a film noir buff, yet I haven't seen many classic film noirs everyone is already acquainted with. So I was lucky to finally see Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends from 1950, about which I remember reading over 30 years ago. It's a classic film noir, and without the ending it would be a perfect noir.

The plot is great, the stuff of the bona fide noir paperbacks: the violent cop, bent on destruction, kills almost inadvertently a suspect and tries to hide it. Dana Andrews playing the cop is actually a homme fatale in the film, as there's no femme fatale anywhere in sight. There's a woman the cop falls in love with, but she's no bad kitty. It's more like the cop drags him down in his personal hell. The ending is too optimistic, but what can you do? This was Hollywood in 1950.

Preminger keeps the story moving along in a nice pace, and Joseph LaShelle's very noirish cinematography shines throughout the film. There are lots of good character actors in minor roles, such as Karl Malden as a lieutenant and Neville Brand as a gangster. And, oh, did I mention it has Gene Tierney? She looks especially lovely in this.

Anyone read the original novel, Night Cry by William L. Stuart? Vintage Hardboiled Reads has, and it looks great.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Duane Swierczynski: Revolver

I've been a fan of Duane Swierczynski's writing for a long time, and I ended up translating his break-through novel The Wheelman in Finnish. Later on I also translated The Blonde. The books weren't big hits, to put it mildly, but the Finnish crime fiction market is now flooded with Scandinavian titles, and we have also lots of our own crime writers, though not many seem interesting to me. The books don't sizzle the way Swierczynski's books do.

And Revolver, Swierczynski's newest novel, sure sizzles. It's a tale of three generations of cops and possible future cops (the latest one in the line is studying forensics), and the murder of the cop of the first generation. In the first story line, Stan Walczak and his black friend, Wildey, work in the 1960s Philadelphia with all its racial tension. They end up getting shot, and the case if officially closed. In the second story line, Stan's son Jim, also a cop, is digging in the 1990's into a murder case that seems like a serial killer on the loose. The third story line is about Audrey, the daughter of Jim Walczak, who, as a part of her exam, is trying to dig into Stan's killing in the present time. Audrey finds new evidence and the plot starts to unravel.

Swierczynski shows that racism hasn't ceased in the USA. He out-Ellroys Ellroy with his depiction of the corrupt society and the secrets cops have had to take part in. The book shines especially in the delivery of the three separate story lines.

Swierczynski also creates a great female character in the daughter. Audrey is a troubled young woman who doesn't really love her family and feels like no one loves her. She's smart and stubborn, and she consumes large quantities of Bloody Marys during the course of the book. I was actually starting to feel I'd have to have one myself.

Monday, September 18, 2017

W. Glenn Duncan: Rafferty's Rules

Lately I've been reading stuff that's been loaded on my Kindle, something I haven't been doing for ages. One of the books I've now read was Rafferty's Rules by W. Glenn Duncan. I think it was author Paul Bishop who said good things about the Rafferty series over at the Men's Adventure Paperback Series Facebook group some weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try.

Rafferty is a private eye working in Texas. Rafferty's as hardboiled as they come, yet he smokes a pipe - for some reason or another, this bugged me a bit. He dates an attractive woman, Hilda Gardener, who's also an antique dealer, and he also has a sidekick called Cowboy. There's something a bit too Spenserish in the set-up, and Robert B. Parker is one of those private eye writers who briefly turned me off the genre 20-plus years ago. I still can't stand him (or his books, to be precise).

Rafferty's Rules however turned out to be a piece of nice entertainment, no matter how much Spenser there is in the book. Rafferty is hired to take care of some bikers who kidnapped and raped a young woman who later turned out crazy. Rafferty says he won't kill the molesters, but goes after them nevertheless. The case turns out to be more than that, as is usual the case with hardboiled private eye novels. The story moves along nicely and there are good action scenes throughout. The Texas settings reminded me of Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novels, but they are better. There's too much cute stuff here, such as Rafferty eating nice lunches with Hilda. There are several more books in the series that was originally published in 1987-1990, but I still won't go out of my way to find them.

Here's Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective on Rafferty books.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects

I liked Gone Girl quite a bit, but I liked Gillian Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, much more. It was darker and pulled me in with its dirty secrets the way Gone Girl never did.

I was hoping Flynn's debut novel, Sharp Objects, that came out in Finnish translation just a year ago (and which I hadn't read earlier), would pull me in just as deeply as Dark Places. It just quite didn't catch the same depths as the other novel, but it was still very good indeed. (Even though many say Sharp Objects is the nastiest of the bunch.)

The main character is a female journalist, Camilla, who's assigned to cover a possible serial killer case in her hometown. Flynn describes the abysmal feelings that Camilla has go through to get the story done, she lives with her well-to-do mother, her icky husband and their awful teenage daughter, meets all her school mates, eats at the greasy joints, goes to lousy bars. (And she drinks quite a lot - I was thinking all the time: where are my Bloody Mary ingredients?) And Camilla is no pleasant human being to begin with. Flynn is very adept at describing unpleasant characters that the reader cares about. The secrets of a small Missouri town are dark and murky indeed, and Flynn guides the reader's suspicions artfully. The final twist pulls no punches.

Highly recommended - this is also shorter than Gone Girl, which I thought was a tad too long. There's also the fact that Flynn has no series characters. I couldn't take it if the Camilla of Sharp Objects would be the lead character in Dark Places! Here's hoping the publisher won't require Flynn to create series characters.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stark House Western Classics

There's been some talk about the idea of reprinting classic hardboiled and noirish westerns of the fifties and sixties. I compiled such a list earlier on my blog here (I called the list, jokingly, Hard Case Western) and the Spinetingler Mag maven Brian Lindenmuth has been talking about the same kind of westerns on his Facebook site.

Only now I noticed that Stark House Press has started doing this. Earlier they reprinted three of Harry Whittington's noir westerns, and they reprinted one by Arnold Hano, the Lion Books editor, and now they've done a two-fer by Clifton Adams. This is incredible! I only hope I'd have more time on my hands.

If anyone wants to work along these lines, the list I compiled can be used. I only wish my name would be mentioned somewhere.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Reign of Fire

I didn't see this post-apocalyptic dragon film when it was new, and I got interested only after it had gotten some sort of a cult status. Well, I don't really know if it's really a cult film, but it has its admirers. I searched for the film, but quite haphazardly, didn't really go out for it. I would've watched it via some streaming site, but it doesn't seem to be available in Netflix, at least in the Finnish version. Finally I spotted the film on VHS for 10 cents in a thrift store.

Reign of Fire, directed by TV specialist Rob Bowman, is about dragons set loose in London some time in the present time or in the near future. They destroy the world, and only a handful of people remain. These include Christian Bale (who as a kid was responsible for setting the dragons loose) and Matthew McConaughey, who is an American flying across the Atlantic to destroy the only male dragon. Everything is burned to ashes, and people are living in caves and other barbarian environments.

The film doesn't make much sense (why does killing the male dragon help, when there are still hundreds of female dragons about?), and it's way too serious about its subject matter, when I think it should be done firmly tongue in cheek. The script is not very smart, and only Bale and McConaughey are given something to work on, others are merely extras, which sadly goes also for Izabella Scorupco, who's an flying assistant to McConaughey.

But Reign of Fire was still somewhat entertaining. I'm glad I watched it, but I do hope it would've been better. This didn't become my guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

We just had the annual Summer get-together of the Finnish Western Society. We watched three more or less obscure films, one of them being Once Upon a Texas Train that I had bought earlier on VHS from a thrift store not knowing what it was about.

Turns out it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, for whom it must've been some kind of a dream project: lots of old Western stars together possibly for the last time. The story is very traditional: an old train robber (Willie Nelson) gathers his old friends together and plans to rob a train. An old friend of the robber, colonel (Richard Widmark) has a hunch of what the robber is about to do and gathers some of their old acquaintances to stop the robber.

The line-up is sure something: Widmark, Chuck Connors, Jack Elam, Stuart Whitman, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, Ken Curtis, Dub Taylor, Kevin McCarthy (in a small role), Dub Taylor, Angie Dickinson, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden. But the movie is slow-moving and gets bogged down in the talkative middle. The ending is disappointing, and it seems like they shot two endings shot and used footage of both. Burt Kennedy wrote formidable scripts for Budd Boetticher in the late fifties, but his own films have been disappointing. I don't really care for his better-known films, either, like Support Your Local Sheriff!

Once Upon a Texas Train was made for TV, and it premiered CBS Sunday Movie on CBS on January 3, 1988, being a popular film with over 20 million viewers.

Here's Wikipedia on the film. The film seems to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maltese Falcon, comic book version

Evan Lewis has been posting chapters of the comic book version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon on his blog. Check them out here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Just a quick update: election, new books, coming books, a beautiful cover for one

Just announcing I'm not dead yet, though the latest blog post is from, what, two months back! Can this really be? Time flies really fast, doesn't it? 

There have been things going on around here, that's for sure. 

I ran for the city council here in Turku, Finland, in the ranks of the Left Alliance and was elected, almost to my surprise, vice member (or deputy member, I'm not really sure what the right word is). So far, I haven't done much in this official post, but we'll see. 

My publishing house, Helmivyö, has put out new books. One of them is my own "The Short Introduction to Trash/Pulpy Literature" (Roskakirjallisuuden lyhyt historia; it's a tour around the world, focusing mainly on the United States), and one of them is a volume of the the collected short fiction of Kaarlo Bergbom, Finnish writer from the 1860s. There are only four stories, one of them being a Biblical fantasy, one being an almost Westernish story of an old career criminal living as a hermit, and two being psychological short stories. You can check the books out here. (The site is understandably in Finnish.) 

My hands have been full of work, and besides all of the above I've been writing and compiling my own books. I had to postpone one that was supposed to come out next Fall, but the book about the film versions of classic and new Finnish literature is still in the works. It's a sequel to the book I wrote earlier, about film versions of known and forgotten books around the world, not only in Finland. 

And there will also be a collection of fairy tales for adults I edited. It's called "The Hundred Years of Sleep" (or "Dreams"; Sadan vuoden unet in Finnish), according to the shorty story of Johanna Venho that was simply wonderful. I wish someone possibly in the publishing business reading this blog would get excited and ask for a translation sample of some of the stories. Check out the cover above, it's by Charlie Bowater. 

I haven't been reading much hardboiled/noir/pulp/sleaze literature, as I have been deeply immersed in my work, but here's hoping I can squeeze some in during the Summer. So far, it looks bad... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Shellarama

I stumbled on this Shell-produced documentary almost by accident: I've been preparing a book that collects the writings of the Turku-based film critic Tapani Maskula (a Finnish legend), and reading some of his reviews from the sixties I noticed that he said nice things about a short subject that was shown before a longer movie (I believe it was The Hallelujah Trail). The short film was called Shellarama, and it was supposed to be shown in 70 mm (in Cinerama, to be exact), but there haven't been any 70 mm projectors in Turku, so it must've been shown here in 35 mm.

As the title suggests, Shellarama is, to quote the film's IMDb entry, "a celebration of Shell Petroleum, tracing its manufacture from discovery in oil fields to its eventual use as fuel for modern living across the globe". The film contains lots of breath-taking aerial shots with long camera drives over deserts and jungles, and it's fascinating to watch. Here's BFI on the film, I believe they have released the film - and some other 70 mm short films - on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Shellarama is available via YouTube in its entirety, albeit not with a very good quality, but it's still worth your while. As I watched it, I got to thinking the film reminded me of a much later film, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi from the early eighties. Both films are without dialogue or voice-over narration, and both films are structured rather similarly, as both start from nature and continue on to big cities and their car jams. Both films contain similar shots of industrial enviroments and cities. Both films use people almost only as backdrops. Of course the ideology between the two films couldn't be more different: Shellarama praises Shell and oil that is used to promote modern life, while Koyaanisqatsi criticizes the modern life and the turmoil it brings to Earth. The music in the films couldn't also be more different from each other, as Koyaanisqatsi uses Philip Glass's minimalist soundtrack and Shellarama has some Latin percussion.

It's still entirely possible Godfrey Reggio was influenced by Shellarama. If he wasn't, I'm surprised!

But take a look and see for yourselves. Looks like Blogger crops the embedded clip, here's the direct link to YouTube. (More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Suburbia, by Penelope Spheeris

I don't recall anymore when or where I first heard of Penelope Spheeris's film Suburbia (1983). It must've been an old Finnish music magazine, I had a bunch of those in the late eighties and I used to peruse them. Now I had finally a chance to see the film, and I saw it on big screen, which, I'm sure you know, is the option I prefer. The film seems to be out on DVD, and it was released on VHS in Finland thirty years ago, but I've never seen it anywhere.

Suburbia tells about a bunch of homeless teenagers, who have crashed an abandoned suburban house and live there all by themselves, sometimes stealing stuff from garages, sometimes going to punk concerts. It's a touching tragedy, with genuine heart-felt empathy for the kids, even though they are also shown to be jerks, racists or homophobes. One of them is a junkie, and his stuff leads to an overdose of another teenager. The teenagers are harassed by a duo of rednecks with guns, and their action leads to a needless death of a young boy. The movie ends in pessimistic notes.

The film has some great scenes at punk gigs, with bands like DI, T.S.O.L. and The Vandals (see above) giving their frantic best. The gigs are a mess, with young punks running and jumping and crashing on each other in mid-air. Some of the gigs end up violently, with the youngsters ripping off clothes from a young woman who's clearly in a wrong place, or some rednecks crashing the party with knives. It's not a pretty sight, even though Penelope Spheeris clearly knew what she was doing, since she had already made the punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (which I haven't seen).

Suburbia has lots of poignant shots about the desolate sites of Southern California. It was already like this over thirty years ago, even though the eighties was supposed to have been the decade of fortune and fame for everyone. In the beginning, we also see shots of wild dogs running rampant in the midst of abandoned houses, and it's a captivating sight. I don't know many American films that show this kind of societal decay - well, there have been some newer ones, like Killing Them Softly or Nebraska, but they are new. And then there's of course The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford. Spheeris was onto something here.

Suburbia was produced by Roger Corman, and it shows in some scenes of mild nudity and fist fights. Some of them are longer than they'd have to be. Corman had earlier made films about teenager sub-cultures, like The Wild Angels, and I'm sure he saw something similar in Suburbia and in the punk rock scene. Yet, Suburbia is just not another schlock film, it's a serious look at how teenagers are treated in American society. It's sometimes clichéd or badly acted (all the actors are amateurs, some of them are punk rockers from different bands), but it's very sincere and shows that the writer-director knew what she was doing. It's a small miracle Spheeris has since done films like The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), which admittedly I haven't seen. Wayne's World, her famous film, shows some of the flair for the rock'n'roll scene that's evident in Suburbia, but it's only a harmless comedy compared to the earlier film.

Spheeris started out in the 1960's doing some experimental and underground films, when she was a student at UCLA. I had a chance to see some of her early films last year at the Tampere Short Film Festival here in Finland. I didn't write anything about them at the time and my memories of the films are a bit dim, but here goes nevertheless.

Synthesis, Spheeris's first film from 1968, was an ordinary experimental film, unlike any other film she's done (to my knowledge). Bath (1969) is a short film that shows a woman masturbating taking a bath. It's a sensual film, not really shocking, but still possibly one of the first films showing a woman masturbating all by herself, without a man or without the film being porn. I Don't Know (1970) is a 20-minute film about the relationship between a lesbian woman and a transsexual man, and Spheeris depicts them warmly, without any patronizing or shocking revelations. The National Rehabilitation Center (1972) is a mockumentary about concentration camps aimed for possible subversives. It really looks like a mediocre newsreel or educational film, but isn't. There were also films called Shit, Hats Off to Hollywood, and No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll, but I don't remember much of them. Here's more on Spheeris's early films and their restorations.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog, possibly later on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The French Connection (1971)

I don't think anyone with sane mind would be able to say that William Friedkin's The French Connection is an overlooked movie. It's a classic crime film, and it's a classic in its own right. Everyone knows the hectic chase scenes, everyone knows Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, the narc cop prone to violence.

But you should see the film on big screen. I'd seen the film I think twice before yesterday, but now I had the chance to see it projected on silver screen from 35 mm print. The print was faded and scratchy, but boy, did the movie deliver! All the cinematic stuff in The French Connection was designed to work on the big screen, not on television. I remember that I had really not liked the film when I saw it earlier, but now I realized it was because of the wrong media. Friedkin uses lots of pans and zooms that don't work well in television. There are few close-ups, so we don't really get inside the characters. It's more like a documentary we are watching, even though it's a very entertaining and exciting documentary.

The soundtrack by jazz trumpetist Don Ellis is also great. I like the way Friedkin uses music and other sounds in the film, mixing them rather freely with each other.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Andy Straka: A Witness Above

I'd never heard about Andy Straka before, but I snatched his PI novel A Witness Above from the Brash Books newsletter, when it was free for a limited time. I read the book on my cell phone, which worked just fine.

A Witness Above stars Straka's private eye protagonist Frank Pavlicek, who's a former cop, fired from duty after shooting down a black kid, thinking the kid was armed. Pavlicek has retired from New York to his old haunts in Virginia. As he's training his hawk (something Straka seems himself to do), he stumbles upon a dead man, who seems to have a connection with Pavlicek's daughter. Soon Pavlicek gets a call of help from his daughter.

A Witness Above is a fluent, if not spectacularly original read. If you like hardboiled private eye novels, this should work for you. Straka's style is straight-forward and not overtly wordy, which at times suits me just fine. A Witness Above worked very well on the small screen of my phone. This is something one could read on a plane or in a train.

Monday, January 23, 2017

New collection of one-word poems out

As some of may remember, I have some interest in experimental poetry. I've done a collection of e-mail spam poetry that is still available (check it out here), and I've also done some very small booklets of other spam-related or found stuff.

Now there's a new book of experimental poetry out. It's called velernic syoke mulnec, and it's a collection of word verification words that were once used in blogs and other sites that required some sort of notification you're not a bot. So, a machine wanted to know whether we are humans. There's irony in that, to be sure.

velernic syoke mulnec is a part of the "pwoermd" movement (if there indeed is a movement), poems that include only one word. The words in velernic syoke mulnec are fictitious (unless by accident there are some bona fide words included), which also is ironic in itself. There's also a preface (two, actually), and it's in English.

These word verification words seem no longer to be in use, so the collection has already become a historical text, an archive, one might say. The bulk of it was collected by me and some other folks in the end of the first decade of the 2000's, and there was also a publisher, but for some reason or another it never came out. Now I decided to put it out as an e-book, and it will be free for some time now. So go grab it, if you're interested in this type of thing. The book is available also through Kobo. Amazon's preview option might also satisfy your interest.

The book looks like this:

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teuvo Tulio, Finland's mad genius

Here's a new article on Finnish film-maker Teuvo Tulio on the AV Club's site. Short quote: "In the pantheon of unclassifiable filmmakers, there is a special place for Teuvo Tulio, Finland’s king of shameless melodrama. A fetishist, an outsider artist of 1940s and ’50s film, he was outrageous, incapable of subtlety, rising to a higher plane of camp—beyond Ken Russell, beyond Nicolas Cage doing an accent, beyond Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls."

I've mentioned Tulio at least twice on this blog, here and here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dan Simmons: Summer of Night

I was going to do this as a part of the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but then I realized it's not Friday, it's Tuesday, and I should be writing about an Overlooked Film! Well, here goes nevertheless.

I had bad luck selecting my readings for this past holiday season. I read three books that had nothing to do with my other work, but the first two proved to be pretty bland (won't name any names, though). Luckily the third one I picked to read proved to entertaining and exciting. I'd never read Dan Simmons earlier, but I might try another one by him, as Summer of Night was quite good.

Summer of Night is at times a nostalgic look at the small town life in Illinois in the early 1960's. The evil in the book is an old, empty school that seems to nourish a secret or a bunch of them. In the beginning we see a nosy kid getting sucked up in a tunnel in the boys' room, and everything starts to unravel as the main characters, a bunch of kids, start to search for the explanation. There are references to Aleister Crowley and other esoteric stuff, but Simmons has enough style to keep the lecturing away. The book is quite long, which I usually don't like, but this kept me turning pages.

Simmons also clearly has sympathy for the underdog: his heroes are a dyslexic boy who proves to be the cleverest of them all, a dreamy boy who fantasizes about being a writer, a misanthropic kid who hates his out-going mother (I thought the description of the mother was a bit unfair, but it remained believable throughout), and an ugly and ill-kept girl who likes to carry a shotgun around. There's warmth also in the depiction of the somewhat loserish parents. There are lots of exciting scenes, but the long climax was also very good.

Summer of Night came out in 1992 and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award the same year. There have been sequels, but I haven't read any of them. When I was still picking up books for the Arktinen Banaani's paperback line some years ago, I considered Simmons's hardboiled crime novels, Hardcase, Hard Freeze, and Hard as Nails, but I never got around to reading them. His science fiction novels have been popular in Finland, so it might've been worth the effort.

The Finnish cover depicted above is ugly as all hell, it's no wonder this didn't make much impact here. The Finnish title translates back as "The Horror of the Summer Night". I notice now that one of the sequels, namely Children of the Night, has also been translated in Finnish as well - will have to look for it.