Friday, September 30, 2011

FFB: Killer on the Road by James Ellroy

           Ellroy is hardly forgotten, and might be the best and most important crime writer of the last 30 years, but his take the on the serial killer novel, Killer on the Road, seems to have largely fallen to the wayside…. Which is too bad, because not only is it one of the few times that Ellroy was willing to play the game and try and five the publishing world what it wanted, but it was also one of the first that really contained autobiographic elements.

            Killer on the Road was my first Ellroy book, I discovered it on the shelves of Curious Books in East Lansing Michigan when I was a student, and it would have been either 1994 or 1995. I have the exact date that I finished my first reading some where at hand…. Ok, looking it up.. I see that I finished reading it on 26 April 1995.

That same year I read; Ripper by Michael Slade (Finished 13 Feb), Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block (Finished 4 April), Tricks by Ed McBain (Finished 14 April) and followed Killer on the Road with a after the bomb book not worth noting and then Miami Blues by Charles Willieford (Finished 7 May). My next Ellroy was Because the Night which I finished on 12 June.

            The plot follows a wayward youth who is left on his own after the death/abandonment by his parents (stop me if this starts to sound familiar…) and after getting started with small time prowling and petty larceny, ends up following his impulses to killing and heading out on the road… hence the title. There is also a cop who the main character get’s caught up with, mind warping exposure to comics and more than a bit of potential homo erotic undercurrents…. In other words what we have come to expect from Ellroy.

 Honestly I haven’t reread this one, and am a little afraid to crack it open again after all these years. That same copy is shelved in my Ellroy collection. While I tend to point people towards the master pieces, The Big Nowhere and LA Confidential as a starting point in the Ellroy collection, Killer on the Road is of interest in show casing a young writer still trying to find his place in the publishing world and giving what even by then was a tired genre his own spin.

Other Ellroy books read in 1995 not noted above?
Hollywood Nocturnes
White Jazz
(I didn’t get to The Big Nowhere and LA Confidential until early in 1996)

A selection of Crime Books I am not embarrassed to have finished reading in 1995?
Hells only Half Full by Rob Kantner
Wilderness by Robert B Parker
Let Us Prey by Bill Branon
The Michigan Murders by Edward Keys
Bandits by Elmore Leonard
B.O.L.O. by Dave Pedneam
Farwell, My Lovely by Chandler
Trace: Too Old a Cat by Warren Murphy

Thursday, September 29, 2011

TFM: Marillion Brave

I’ve been a sucker for concept albums for a long time; the idea of a rock opera, something that tells a story via a cycle of songs has appeals to the storyteller in me.

Arriving in 1994 Brave, by the UK band Marillion tells the story of a woman found wandering on a bridge in Bath with no memory of who she was or any details of her past.

    It’s a quite reflective album for the most part, dripping in imagery. The lyrics don’t explicitly flesh out the story, but rather provide a mood and feeling of the experience. It’s the kind of album that needs to be listened to and revisited several times. 

On the Web:
Wiki: Marillion
       : Brave

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tender Mercies by Priscilla Peterson

While continuing to clean out my mother’s estate I came across this review and felt like I should share it with everyone. My mother grew up in a household where films were of the devil and as a student in the 1950s during lunch on raining days she wasn’t allowed to watch the Shirley Temple short with the rest of the children, nor was she allowed to have the Ice Cream Cup treats that her peers were because photos of film stars were some how involved. She often told my siblings and I that the first film she saw in the theater was The Sound of Music when she was 21. She like a lot of parents was concerned about what we saw on TV and at the movies and often times would not let us watch the same films and TV shows our peers were, but often she let us see films that our peers were not seeing, because they were too mature or parents didn’t think that their kids would like them.

            Tender Mercies was on of those films that we were not only allowed to see, but were taken to by our mother because she felt it was important somehow. I recall going to the State Theater in Ann Arbor, and I am sure that it did effect me, but I honestly can’t say what I thought of it at the time.

Having seen it again a little over 4 years ago I did more fully understand the film and found it still had something to say for current audiences. It still resonated with me strongly enough that when I saw the recent Crazy Heart I recognized that film as being tied to Tender Mercies in more than Robert Duvall’s performance… anyway, without further ado my mothers 1987 review of Tender Mercies…

From Cross References the newsletter for University Reformed Church in Ann Arbor Michigan
Originally published in the August 1987
Tender Mercies
            A deceptively simple story, Tender Mercies with its stark plot and poetic dialogue has the ability to grab onto your heart. Don and out country singer Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) fetches up in Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) and her son’s corner of Texas. Rosa Lee, a Vietnam era widow who runs a gas station/ motel in what seems like nowhere. She and Mac Marry, while he reconstructs his life as a singer and rehabilitated alcoholic.
            Meanwhile, in nearby Austin, Mac’s ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley of Cats) is singing Mac’s songs and pursuing a successful career. Their teenage daughter languished backstage while mama “belt’s ‘em out.” Dixie is as haunting in her empty lyrics as Mac is in his heartfelt, newfound truths.
            The theme, “It Hurts to Face Reality” is a poignant as sung by Duvall. Although there is plan, Mac, Rosa Lee and Sonny never flinch – sometimes you wish they would. Their day to day existence is carried out against sparse furnishings: neat, clean survival living. Unified by their respect for one another and their faith in god the look life in the eye, relentlessly.
            The understated dialogue sketches in a richer world than meets the viewer’s eyes. The statement, “I don’t Know,” is a response which is followed by an action to discover the truth or accept the unknowable. When Sonny, Rosa Lee's son, asks how and hen his Daddy died, the three visit the cemetery. Many issues are dealt with directly without the tedium of analysis, accusation or blame.
            Robert Duvall is so believable in this role that it seems autobiographical/ He becomes the taciturn Texan, who’s half-smiles and gestures tell the rest of the story. His singing is as pleasant and easy as the songs, some of which he wrote himself.
            It would be a mistake to underrate Rosa Lee as the little housewife. She can more than convey more in a glance than any word could. Her singing takes place in the country church choir and she shines where she is.
            Sonny has the sagacity of a child touched by tragedy. He also possesses the privilege of the childe of a single parent -- intruding when he senses Rosa Lee and Mac are getting close and addressing them as peers. His joy and chatter enlivens’ their lives.
            The photography is another dramatic element. Many statements are mad in the silence. The spaces almost become characters in themselves. This is the Texas most non-Texans will never know – simple, earthy, spacious.
            God is not given lip service in this film. When Dixie’s cries out in anguish to Mac, “Why did God do this to me?” he ahs no answer, only compassion in his eyes. There is forgiveness and love, with thankfulness and joys as subtle undercurrents, as Rosa Lee says to Mac, “When I say my prayers at night and thank God for his blessings and tender mercies, you and sonny head the list.  This movie touched my children and me deeply after my husband’s dearth. I think we all agree: it hours and heads) to face reality.           
            This is a movie which could open up dialogue among families. We shy away from talking about pain and death until it is upon us. This is not he pattern God has given us. We have as Christian people a long history of wrestling with God on the hard ground. Tender Mercies helps us see it again --- PBP

Monday, September 19, 2011

26 Films: Scenes from the Goldmine

Scenes from the Goldmine

            The music industry is a heartbreaker, so is the movie industry. Scenes from the Goldmine is the story of Debbie DeAngelo, an singer who is looking for a band. Niles Dresden and the Pieces are looking for a keyboard player and she lands the job, bringing not only her playing to the band but her voice and her songs.           

To be honest this film is a bit of a mess and while there is an effective scene here and there, it seems to be a patchwork of moments… but those moments. Starting with a lovely panning shot of Catharine Mary Stewart’s amazing legs and ending with her singing, Goldmine is a collection of moments strung together.

Stewart is one of those 80s actresses who, despite having rolls in some big films – Weekend at Bernie’s and The Last Star Fighter – and having a great girl next door quality never got the kinds of roles that were going to make her an A lister…. Which is too bad, because she is so likable a presence on screen. She’s beautiful, but never projects a hint of crassness. She sings her own vocals in the film and is solid belting out mid 80s commercial hard rock, that while never reaching the skill and power of Joan Jett, is as good as any number of half forgotten vocalists of the era.

            The rest of the cast have their moments, Steve Railsback as the bands manager wears a series of jackets hat have to seen to be believed, and Jewel Sheppard looks great as always, but never seems to have a real purpose in the film. In her autobiography she wrote about her part being cut a lot because of issues behind the scenes.  Cameron Dye, playing singer Niles Dresden the heel of the film is very good, and also provided vocals for his part. He’s effective and if the film had been better marketed and promoted he might have had an nice music career.

I should also mention that the songs are quite good. Nothing earth shattering, but as good as anything used in other music industry tales of the decade…. Ok maybe there isn’t an Over on the Darkside or an I Can Dream About You, but Play to Win and a few of the others are catchy enough to have had a life outside of the film.

 It looks like the whole film is on youtube for anyone that wants to check it out...

Friday, September 16, 2011

FFB: KILLER’S WEDGE (1959) by Ed McBain

The Killer's Wedge is McBain riffing on the locked room mystery in several ways.... and commenting on them in a way that we would call Meta these days. The two plot lines involve a dead man in a locked room who looks to have killed himself and a group of 87th Precinct Bulls trapped in a squad room while a woman waits to kill Det. Steve Carella with a .38 Special and a jar of Soup (nitro). The action takes place over the course of 1 day, mostly the afternoon, and it tense and driving.  

Carella wrestles with the suicide squeal, the rest of the squad wrestle with how to escape the trap they have been placed in.  It's a fast, punchy read that shows what a limited story in a small setting can be and still keep the larger story of the 87th Precinct moving along. McBain knew how to keep the pages turning and his readers waiting for the next installment. As with earlier installments in the series the book a product of the market of the time, 160 pages of sparse proses telling two simple stories and at the same time fleshing out the world of the 87th Precinct... well worth checking out, and I hear tell that Amazon is going to start reprinting the series in the near future for anyone that wants to check it out.

another look at the book can be found HERE. Patti Abbott advises that this weeks links are going to be collected by  Brian Lindenmuth at SPINETINGLER 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

26 Soundtracks: Escape from LA

            Released in 1996, Escape from LA along with films like the Crow and Demon Knight (both of which have soundtracks that I am going to cover in the next couple of months) had notable hardrock / Alternative Rock soundtracks.  Most of the songs were just sort of there, the only one of these that I think really has stayed with me is the White Zombie track The One…. Oh and the Clutch song, Escape From The Prison Planet, is one of their best.

I think it’s interesting to note the amount of music that was on the pop industrial side, Stabbing Westward, White Zombie, Tool and Gravity Kills all were mixing rock, pop and industrial sounds. Ministry of course is one of the pillars that Industrial was built on. For those who don’t know, industrial is a form of hard rock that includes sounds made by machines. Sometimes it’s revving motors, or gridding gears, or even the sound of clanking metal. The lyrics often deal with dark themes.

Anyway, Escape from LA is a relic of an era and honestly I am not sure why I still own my copy. I think that for now I am going to hold on to it, and maybe even give it a couple of new spins.

1.              "Dawn" – Stabbing Westward
2.              "Sweat" – Tool
3.              "The One" – White Zombie
4.              "Cut Me Out" – Toadies
5.              "Pottery" – Butthole Surfers
6.              "10 Seconds Down" – Sugar Ray
7.              "Blame (L.A) Remix" - Gravity Kills
8.              "Professional Widow" – Tori Amos
9.              "Paisley" – Ministry
10.           "Fire In The Hole" – Orange 9mm
11.           "Escape From The Prison Planet" – Clutch
12.           "Et Tu Brute?" – CIV
13.           "Foot On The Gas" – Sexpod
14.           "Can't Even Breathe" - Deftones

Monday, September 5, 2011

26 Films: The Running Kind

The Runnin' Kind is one of those great little b films from the 80s that has largely been forgotten. The plot is about a kid from a nice upper class family in Ohio meets the drummer of the band The Screamin' Sirens and kinda falls for her. Instead of staying home and taking the career ladder internship set up by his family he takes off for LA to follow the band. It's a sweet story about a kid who has been controlled all his life by family breaking out and doing something for himself. He opens his mind enough to see that these punks aren't just a bunch of thugs and that there is more to life than just going to work and doing what you are told.

The fashions are pure Cowpunk, mixing Western wear, lingerie, and Punk and Glam clothes of the mid to late 80s, which I kinda like. The music is fairly Cowpunk mixing those sounds in a way that I like... and that I like enough that I own both released albums by the real Screamin' Sirens. 

I have a lot of affection for this film, in many way's it reflects parts of my life. I grew up in a proper christian household where there were a lot of expectations about how my life would play out. I ended up falling off that track for various reasons, and one of the places I ended up was in the punk rock world.  I wasn't lucky enough to have a cadre of Cowpunk chicks chasing me, but hey you can't have everything.... but I digress, The Runnin' Kind is one of those films that needs to be rediscovered, sure it's on the slight side, but it never bored me and I think that a lot of people will find a lot to like in it. Of course it's not on DVD, but if I had all the money in the world, it would end up on a 2 in 1 DVD with our next enter Scenes from the Goldmine. I also really want to know what Yum Yum from House of Self-Indulgence Blog would think of this film. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Forgotten Book: Big Rock Beat by Greg Kihn

Following The Horror Show Kihn pick up the story a decade later. This time around director Landis Woodley and his crew is headed to the beach to film a Beach Party Rock and Roll flick, and of course things go wrong.  Just as Sci Fi/ Horror films were the cheap fast buck film genre of the 50s, for at least a portion of the 60s a beach flick was going to make money... and what would a good beach flick be without a Rock and Roll band. Take a look at Tom Hank's That Thing You Do! (well worth revisiting) for a bit of insight into that scene.... anyway,  It's been so long since I have read the book that I have largely forgotten what all happened. I have fond memories of it and  I liked it enough to read the next installment in the series.
check out Greg Kihn on the web HERE

as always more FFBs can be found via Patti Abbotts blog here

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monthly Reads: Aug 2011

Lawrence Block book of the Month: To Murder and to Create
The second of the Matt Scudder books finds Scudder trying to figure out which of three blackmail victims bumped off his acquaintance who was running the blackmail. Told with Block’s usual deftness, the story unfolds and we see how Scudder handles the secrets of those with power and money who might wish to keep them hidden. This is also one of the shorter books in the series, and I am not sure if that is just Block still feeling out the character or if it was a reflection of the market for mysteries at the time. Either way another solid entry in the series and worth a read.

Stark House Press novel of the Month:  Danger in Paradise by A.S. Fleischman
 Originally a Gold Medal paperback from 1953, Danger in Paradise is pretty much a rip roaring island adventure. Oil Geologist Jeff Cape is just looking to get back to the states when he falls into intrigue with guerillas, reds, gunrunners and a rich American woman who likes to walk around topless. Needless to say there is nothing outstanding about the plot, it’s all in the telling, which is first rate. Clocking in at just under 150 pages Danger is a solid read that’s part of another time and place. I look forward to reading the second reprint in the volume, Malay Woman.

The Cold Kiss by John Rector
A Solid Neo-Noir debut from Rector, Cold Kiss is the story of a couple of kids looking to escape their past and start anew when a suitcase of money falls into their hands. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…. Anyway, things go wrong and moral and practical choices must be made. I find that for first time writers the small story pallet of a limited set of characters and possible interactions is best, and the Cold Kiss is mostly a fine example of starting small. My only criticism is that the last two chapters could have been skipped and the Cold Kiss would have been a Hard Case Crime worth tale. Either way if you like Noir this is worth a look.

33 1/3: Slayer - Reign in Blood by D. X.Ferris
The untold story of the death of Hair Metal is not only the rise of Grunge, but the rise of Thrash. Reign In Blood tells the story of Slayer and their ascension at thee great thrash band of the 80s and 90s. Never the big sellers that Metallica or Megadeth were, Slayer has defined a sound and a genre that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. Ferris tells the story of the band, the record and it’s legacy in a mostly flowing manor that is readable and if not totally engaging then at least interesting.

Deep Focus: They Live by Jonathan Lethem
The first of the Deep Focus series, They Live unpacks John Carpenters Regan-era analysis of unchecked greed and baby boomer egotism run amok. It’s a fast insightful book that inspired me to finally pick up a copy of the DVD to add to my small, but growing Carpenter collection. I did find myself skimming some of the more academic portions of the book, but over all I liked it and look forward to seeing what the forthcoming volumes of the Deep Focus series are going to have to offer.