Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Dennis Hopper: Out of the Blue

Dennis Hopper made only a few films as a director. His third directorial effort was Out of the Blue (1980) that has largely almost duplicated his earlier film's, The Last Movie's fate: the film hasn't really been available to audiences for many years. I've heard there has been a dismal DVD release, but I hadn't seen the film myself before this week's Monday when I had a chance to see it on big screen, on 35 mm film. The film was made in Canada and shot in British Columbia and Vancouver. Hopper clearly couldn't have made this in Hollywood.

Out of the Blue is a restless film about a young girl called Cebe who lives in a dysfunctional family (well, he has Dennis Hopper as her father, right?) and is interested only in Elvis and punk rock. She keeps saying things like "subvert normality" and "disco sucks" and "kill all hippies!" Her father is released from jail, and the family pretends everything's normal. There's even some criminal stuff, but the story doesn't focus on it.

The film is very non-dramatic. Nothing much happens, and seems like Hopper has allowed his actors to improvise. This could be fatal, but it works here, since the acting reflects the free-flowing narration. The film has quite an experimental soundtrack, since there are scenes with two different pieces of music playing at the same time, and the actors also speak over each other almost all the time. This all makes the film a bit jarring, but it's also quite effective and even funny at times, with Hopper pouring liquor all over his face and shouting and stuff like that.  The shots are quite long and there are elaborate camera drives and pans, which makes clear the film wasn't made sloppily and on a whim.

Out of the Blue is a very depressing film and it ends with a very tragic climax. Hopper refuses to give an explanation to the tragedy, which makes it even more depressing. There are some scenes with punk bands of the era, mainly the Canadian Pointed Sticks playing two songs, and they are great, energetic powerpop anthems! Check them out!

Here's a pretty good essay on the film. There's a Kickstarter project to restore the film and release it in 4K Blu-ray.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog (later, it seems).

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (spoilers!)

Lots has been said about Tarantino's newest film, and I don't pretend I have something entirely new to say about it. I enjoyed the film, but two weeks after seeing it I notice I don't really remember much about it. This is a totally different reaction from Reservoir Dogs (which, admittedly, I saw three times in a row) or Pulp Fiction or even Django, which I enjoyed a great deal, though I had given up on Tarantino after being bored watching Kill Bill (which I haven't rewatched).

But I keep thinking about the new film. There's something I can't quite put my finger on. The narrative is very loose, there really is no plot (I think this is something people who didn't like the film are complaining about) and there are scenes that don't usher the story on. The ending has also been criticized, a friend of mine said it was an adolescent fantasy. To me it was possibly the point of the whole film. As everyone probably knows already, the Sharon Tate murders don't take place in the world of Tarantino's film. This is because Brad Pitt kills Charles Manson's cronies in a frenzied battle after they've gone to a wrong house! Shortly before we've witnessed Sharon Tate watching her film (the Matt Helm vehicle The Wrecking Crew) in a state of happiness and joy. The magic of cinema is so strong that it can even give you the world where Sharon Tate was not killed! This is pure poetry to me, and a proof that Tarantino really loves cinema and is not simply a movie buff showing off.

Or then the ending scene could be fiction, imagination. Just before Manson's killers enter the house, Pitt drops some acid. I think it's entirely plausible to say that Pitt just imagined the whole thing. It might also explain the weird scene with Bruce Lee.

I was also thinking about the films that are being watched or are visible in other ways, i.e. as posters on the wall. Almost none of them seem to be very good  (for example, The Wrecking Crew), but it seems to me Tarantino has affinity towards all of them. See these links: Ten films you need to see to appreciate Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood and Tarantino's curated list of the films to go with OUATIH. This is a work of true love.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Tana French: The Witch Elm

As almost everyone who's ever read my blog (that sadly seems defunct most of the time nowadays) knows I love American crime fiction. But when I read this interview with Irish writer (okay, she was born in the US) Tana French, I knew immediately I'd have to read something by her. I settled on her newest novel and read it during the holidays.

The Witch Elm is a devilishly brilliant novel, with a unreliable narrator who has a reason for his unreliability: he has been knocked out and beaten by some burglars, and due to the concussion he can't remember everything he's said or done. He's not your everyday sociopath that now people almost every crime novel, and he's not a devious criminal. He's just a guy with bad luck - or is he..? 

The Witch Elm is pitch-perfect satire on art world, and furthermore it's full of true notions of the middle-aged lives and the interactions between brothers and sisters. Violence is very scarce, but this is no cozy.

It took me almost a week to read The Witch Elm, but it was very rewarding. It's not usual to read a crime novel that is so well executed, even though the book is quite long (over 600 pages). Yet there's nothing in it in vain. I wouldn't take anything out of the book. It hooks you almost like nothing else. There aren't any of your usual narrative tricks, but the book still grabs you and holds you down. It's truly a wonder Tana French hasn't been translated in Finnish, though seems like they are publishing only books that are sure to sell, namely Scandinavian serial killer thrillers. Blah, say I!

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Book: Donald E. Westlake: Brothers Keepers

I've always been more interested in Donald Westlake's darker and more hardboiled stories than his humorous crime fiction, but I was still delighted to read the rather recent reprint from Hard Case Crime, Brothers Keepers. There's originality to the plot and the characters (it's about monks trying to protect their obscure monastery from the developers), and the prose flows smoothly. Still I would've liked some more fist fights.

Hard Case Crime say on their website that the book has been out of print for 30 years. It was originally published by Lippincott in 1975, but there was a Mysterious Press reprint in 1993, so technically it hasn't been out of print for 30 years.

This was one of the few books I managed to read during my Summer holiday that wasn't work-related. I'll try to get something said about the other books as well. Sorry to keep this so short, but I think it might be fun to get back to blogging (once again!).
The first edition from 1975

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Ed Wood's sex stories coming your way!?

Ed Wood's erotic prose is getting a collection. Find out more about it here!

I never got around to reading Wood's earlier horror and crime collection Blood Spatters Quickly, though I was tempted, but this intrigues me even more.

EDIT: deleting spam comments I managed to delete also Todd Mason's comment which, for some reason or another, I hadn't noticed before.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Jordan Harper: She Rides Shotgun

I'm late joining the crowd praising Jordan Harper's first novel, She Rides Shotgun. It came out already in 2017 (okay, less than two years ago, which to my mind means it's a new book), but I managed to get it only last Christmas (it was a present from me to me). True, I read it very fast once I started it. She Rides Shotgun is an excellent crime novel, which really deserved the Edgar for the best debut it got.

She Rides Shotgun has been compared to Charles Portis's True Grit, a marvellous anti-Western Western from the late 1960's. True, Portis's novel is narrated by the 14-year female lead herself, and She Rides Shotgun is divided between chapters in which the main focalizer (and not the narrator) is either 11-year old Polly McClusky or his ex-con father  Park, who is out to save her ass from the neo-nazis that already killed her mother.

The premise is already intriguing. Add to that Harper's narrative skills and his lines of occasional poetry, and you have a winner. Add to that a copious amount of shuddering violence, and you have a double-winner. And mind you, there's never a hint of sexual abuse toward Polly, though lesser writers might have veered into that direction. I didn't know if the prelude with the bad sheriff of a Hicksville was necessary, but it got the fear of him into my heart.

You've all probably read about Dan Mallory already. I have his Woman in the Window as by A. J. Finn sitting on a shelf, but I can forget it and read She Rides Shotgun again instead. (But really, the New Yorker piece on Mallory is amazing.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jason Starr: Fugitive Red

I bought three new crime novels for Christmas presents for myself, and I managed to read two of them during the holidays (Tana French's The Witch Elm will have to wait, as I had to get back to work). Both were very good.

Jason Starr's Fugitive Red I read in a day. I started it late at night, but couldn't wait to get back to it the next day, and then I stayed up till two. This is vintage Starr, up there with some of his best work, trimmed, exciting, bursting with suspense and despair, with an ambivalent ending.

Fugitive Red is about a real estate broker who starts to flirt with a woman he meets online on a dating site. This leads to a nightmare he couldn't imagine and one he can't get out of. Starr writes about relatable characters - at least I felt I could relate to this guy, who keeps telling himself he can lose some weight if he wants to and who thinks there's a reward for him, if he just keeps on doing his thing. Wouldn't want to be in his shoes, though. Starr is the perfect embodiment of the noir sensibility of the fourties and fifties, but he doesn't retort to old clichés of hardboiled school, and the use of online social media is very believably mixed into the narrative. (Which is something you don't often see - not long ago I read a newish Finnish horror novel, and I thought it was set in the past, possibly in the early-to-mid-nineties, since no one used a smartphone!)

There's a bit of a news about Jason Starr I want to share, but you'll have to wait. (Someone might remember what I'm talking about, if he's been reading my blog for long enough. )

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Sam Hawken: Missing

I really liked Hawken's earlier novel, Juaréz Dance, in all its minimalism. During the last Christmas holiday, I read his later novel, Missing, which is also set in Texan-Mexican milieu. I have heard that his critical view of Mexico is not necessarily true or honest, but it makes for a gripping read. Missing is about a former Marine, who leads a pretty quiet life in Laredo, Texas. Things get sour, when his half-Mexican daughter and her Mexican friend disappear after a concert. The book starts slowly, develops slowly and builds into a violent, shattering climax that leaves you gasping for air. What's more important is that the book is also believable, with relatable characters.

A lengthier post to follow, on Jason Starr and Jordan Harper - or two posts.