You never know what goodies you can find at Half Price Books. Yesterday I stumbled across the book pictured above. It's a hardcover graphic novel, published by Vanguard in 2002. It was in terrific shape, it was an original work about one of my favorite pulp heroes and the artwork was by one of my all time favorite comic book artists, the late, great Gene Colan.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the book and discovered that it was # 575 of a limited signed print run of 600 copies. That's right, SIGNED. By both writer Don McGregor and Gene Colan. Since Colan died in 2011, anything he signed is an instant collector's item. I snatched it up immediately.
I don't think the good folks at Half Price knew what they had. If they did, they most certainly would have had it in one of their locked display cases and would have been asking a much higher price than $12.50. With my five dollar off coupon and the $2.75 they paid me for the bag of books I sold, I only had to put down five bucks of my own for this beauty. Sold!
The book features an 83 page original Spider story by McGregor and Colan. It's in beautiful black and white and Colan's art is, as always, terrific. I had always hoped that Colan would illustrate a Shadow story at some point in his long career. Since he never did, this is the next best thing. His interpretation of the pulp crime smasher is spot on.
While I loved the artwork, I do have a couple of minor quibbles. One is that, for commercial purposes, the powers that be behind the production of this volume, decided that the Spider story had to take place in the current day, 2002, not during the '30s and '40s pulp era in which the character was born and thrived. I strongly disagree with this decision. Almost every attempt to update, modernize and place '30s pulp heroes into modern day, contemporary settings, has met with limited success, if not outright failure. I'm a pulp purist at heart and I believe that these characters work best when their adventures take place in the era in which they were conceived.
My other quibble is with writer Don McGregor. He's quite simply one of the most verbose writers in comic book history. McGregor has never met a story he couldn't overwrite to death. He does so here, layering prose heavy captions on almost every panel of every page. Worse, he uses the second act of the story for some monstrously heavy handed preaching and politicizing. It's ham fisted and brings the narrative to a screeching halt. I don't read pulp fiction, especially a Spider story, to be lectured about various social ills. I read pulp fiction for for escape. I want blazing two gun action and lots of it. Granted, there are some very well executed action set pieces throughout the book but the ending comes a bit abruptly and leaves a few plot threads dangling.
Still, it's Gene Colan black and white artwork on The Spider in a signed hardcover for five bucks. Sweet!
Once again, I have to give thanks to my "Secret Santa" at work this past Christmas (Thanks Corey!) for this one. What a great present! I hadn't seen THE NICE GUYS (2016) but I'd heard a lot of good things about it. Everything I heard was true. And then some.
I thoroughly enjoyed writer/director Shane Black's KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005), which is reviewed elsewhere on this blog. NICE GUYS follows in that same comic/action/mystery/buddy movie vein and it's one wild ride. While not as meta and self-referential as KKBB (which always let you know that the film knew it was a movie), GUYS takes wonderful and full advantage of it's setting: Los Angeles, 1977. The period detail is spot on: the cars, the clothes, the porn industry (which figures prominently in the helter skelter plot) and a killer soundtrack.
Jackson Healy (a pudgy Russell Crowe), is a low rent leg-breaker hired to protect runaway Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) from a sleazebag that is looking for her. That sleazebag turns out to be down-and-out private detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling), who just may be the world's worst detective. Healy and March clash, Amelia goes missing and suddenly they're teamed up and down the rabbit hole in a search that takes them into both porn and automobiles, two industries that, while on the surface are totally separate, eventually dovetail in the corkscrew plot.
The real pleasure here is the comic performances by both Crowe and Gosling. Gosling is an unexpected delight as a comedian. He channels Lou Costello in one scene and is an overall joy to watch. Ditto for Crowe, These two make a terrific comedy duo and I'd love to see them tackle another case.
The supporting cast is solid, especially Kim Basinger who previously co-starred with Crowe in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). The action scenes are well staged and everything is brought to vivid, lurid life by cinematographer Philippe Rousselot. Black and co-screenwriter Anthony Bagarozzi's script doesn't always make sense but you're not here for the plot. You're here for the hilarious by-play and shenanigans of Crowe and Gosling.
Shane Black is set to write and direct a DOC SAVAGE film at some point in the near future with Dwayne Johnson announced to star as the Man of Bronze. I hope that Black doesn't play the material for laughs. Some humor, especially the bickering between Monk and Ham, is necessary for the material to be faithful to the source. But I certainly don't want DOC SAVAGE to play like THE NICE GUYS. Time will tell.
In the meantime, check out THE NICE GUYS. A good time is guaranteed.
A group of professional thieves break into a remote Montana hunting lodge, an outpost owned by a dot com billionaire. They expect to find the usual loot and treasures but they find something more than they bargained for: a secret cache of stolen artwork, masterpieces from around the world that have all been reported as missing or stolen. Before they can begin to pilfer the paintings, two members of the gang are caught. Two escape and begin to plot a return visit for the artwork. But to pull this job off, they're going to need help. They're going to need Parker.
Trouble is, Parker is currently a bit busy. Someone from one of his past scores is trying to kill him. He must tie up these loose ends first before he can fully devote himself to the heist. Of course, he does so with the usual Parker tenacity. But several "x factors" have now been added to the robbery equation, factors that could cause things to go disastrously wrong.
FIREBREAK (2001) is the twentieth published adventure of Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake) master thief Parker. I haven't read all of the Parker novels but I have yet to read one that I didn't love. It's a cliche to say that "the pages practically turned themselves" but it's true in this case. Don't start reading this one if you have something else to do because you'll get sucked in from the first page. This is a classic Stark crime novel, pedal to the metal, lean and mean, propelled by stripped to the bone prose and dialog. Tough, fast and gritty, this is one helluva fun ride.
I haven't read a DOC SAVAGE novel since summer of 2015 so what better way to start the new year than by tearing through a "new" Doc adventure. Judy gave me this one for Christmas (thanks sweetie) and I really enjoyed it. But then, there have been very few Doc Savage books that I haven't liked.
Some background is necessary here. Street & Smith cancelled their DOC SAVAGE magazine in 1949. The last published adventure was UP FROM EARTH'S CENTER. By the time the plug was finally pulled, the magazine had shrunk in page count and dimensions, making it digest sized rather than the traditional, larger pulp format magazine. The stories had shifted in emphasis also, Doc was now more of a glorified detective/spy smasher than a super-hero. He was more human in his abilities and he operated in the vastly different atmosphere of the post WWII Cold War. While these stories are entertaining, it's my belief that Doc always worked best (and still does) when the stories are set in the 1930s.
Doc creator Lester Dent had notes, outlines and material left over after the magazine was cancelled. Much of this material has been worked into new Doc Savage novels by pulp expert Will Murray under the house name of "Kenneth Robeson". Some of this material was for THE FRIGHTENED FISH, which was scheduled to appear after UP FROM EARTH'S CENTER and planned to be the last Doc Savage novel. That never happened but Murray, working with the estate of Lester Dent was determined to bring this story to life.
Murray originally wrote FISH in 1980 but it wasn't published by Bantam Books (who had the Doc license at the time) until 1992. It has since been reprinted by Altus Press and here, in a special edition from Moonstone. The book is a sequel of sorts to another Cold War Doc thriller, THE RED SPIDER (written in 1948 but not published until 1979) and features the return of a Doc villain who first appeared in THE SCREAMING MAN (1945).
FISH opens like so many other Doc narratives: bizarre happenings in New York City, a man who freaks out over fish and fish images all over town, his trail of madness ending at Doc's doorstep. Doc, Monk, Ham and Johnny (no mention whatsoever here of either Renny or Long Tom), take up the trail which leads first to Long Island, then to the coastal waters of Massachusetts where all marine life has mysteriously vanished. From there, Doc and his crew board the redoubtable Helldiver (a vessel somewhat past her prime) and head for Japan by way of the Panama Canal. There's skulduggery in Tokyo and characters from RED SPIDER are brought back before the final showdown aboard a Chinese junk in the Sea of Japan.
That showdown is somewhat bloodier and more violent than previous Doc battles. Monk kills several opponents with a firearm, rather than using mercy bullets and a key character dies at the hands of the master villain (the cover art gives this away unfortunately). The unthinkable happens in this story: Monk strikes Doc in the heat of battle and Doc dares open up a part of himself that has long been securely locked away.
THE FRIGHTENED FISH is a fast paced quick read. A genuine, good old fashioned pulp page turner. While it doesn't reach the heights of some of the 1930s super sagas, it fits nicely into the late '40s niche in which it was originally planned to appear.
If you're new to Doc Savage, don't start with this novel. Save it until you've read a few others. If you're a hardcover Doc fan, you've probably already read it. If not, get it as soon as possible You won't be disappointed.
|"There are always surprises."|
Three things that push my hot buttons: caper films, Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Combine all three, as was done in ENTRAPMENT (1999) and the result is an enjoyable little B movie, full of eye candy, high tech gadgets, plot twists and exotic locales.
Virginia Baker (Jones) is an insurance investigator on the trail of master thief Robert Mac Dougal (Connery). She joins up with him and the two plot a heist involving an ancient Chinese mask. When that job is successful, Gin convinces Mac to help her on an even bigger score, robbing an international bank of billions at the stroke of midnight, December 1999.
It's all a bunch of hugger mugger designed to capitalize on the Y2K phenomenon (you remember that one don't you?) and a chance to stage a third act set piece involving the world's tallest building in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
There are reversals of fortune every few minutes and you never know for sure just who is playing who. But who cares when the two leads are so much fun to watch. A May-December romance slowly builds between Gin and Mac but it's worth considering that Connery was 69 at the time the film was made while Jones was all of 30.
Jones makes a slinky burglar and she would have made a good Catwoman. I can also see her playing Emma Peel, should anyone ever decide to try rebooting THE AVENGERS. And of course, she would have been letter perfect as Princess Diana in a WONDER WOMAN film with Lynda Carter co-starring as her mother, Hippolyta.
Alas, such is not to be but a guy can always dream. ENTRAPMENT is a pure popcorn movie. No heavy lifting required. Just sit back, relax and enjoy it.
|2017 is only fourteen days old but I may have just seen the weirdest damn movie I'll see all year. A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY (1968), is an Italian-French horror film directed by Elio Petri, QUIET is a piece of psychological horror unlike the more traditional fare of other Italian horror auteurs like Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Hell, it's more like Fellini than anything else.|
Franco Nero stars as Leonardo, a disturbed young modern artist. He's suffering, among other things, a creative block that keeps him from producing his abstract "masterpieces", works that fetch a good price on the art collector market. His lover, Flavia (the lovely Vanessa Redgrave), serves as his business manager, finding him clients and gallery showings. But in addition to his creative block, Leonardo appears to be sexually impotent. He reads European skin magazines but can't seem to make love to Flavia. He's also suffering from several bizarre dreams, nightmares with a high quotient of sex and violence.
Leonardo determines that he needs to move out of the city and set up a studio somewhere in the country. Although a wealthy client has a place all set up for him, Leonardo prefers a deserted, crumbling old mansion that comes with it's very own ghost.
Leonardo becomes haunted by the spirit of Wanda (Gabriella Boccardo), a promiscuous young nymphomaniac who lived in the mansion and met her end during World War II. Leonardo becomes obsessed with the young girl and becomes determined to do away with anyone that stands between him and his ghostly paramour.
But after a brutal killing and several other strange episodes, it turns out that Leonardo, already disturbed, has finally gone around the bend. No one has actually been killed and Leonardo is taken to a maximum security asylum where he resumes his painting. Well, at least that pesky creative block is gone.
From the weirdo opening credits, a visual collage of images of classical art, academy film leader, black and white photos and other ephemera, to the bizarre and abrupt ending, QUIET PLACE is one helluva strange movie. Director Petri and cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller choose off-kilter, truncated framing and compositions instead of more traditional camera set-ups. Add to that the discordant, atonal noise (by Ennio Morricone!) that serves as a soundtrack and the result is an avant garde, bizarre for the sake of bizarre exercise in film making.
It's an extremely off putting approach and during the first act of the film I debated whether or not to turn it off. The screenplay by Petri and Luciano Vincenzoni takes it's sweet time developing and once the story finally starts to gel, it's actually pretty routine. It's as if the filmmakers didn't have any trust in the material on the page and decided to spice it up with outre camera work, editing and "music."
The film reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) in the sense that Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) was already crazy from the get-go, the Overlook Hotel just made him crazier. Here, Leonardo is a bubble off plumb from the opening sequence and he just goes more and more off of the rails throughout the course of the film.
A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY is an oddity. Produced at a time when restraints on cinematic sex and violence were being removed, the film offers plenty of nudity and violence. Vanessa Redgrave is awfully easy on the eyes but that's about the best thing I can say about this film.
I received a copy of HARDBOILED HOLLYWOOD (2010) from my "Secret Santa" at work this past Christmas. Thanks Corey! I wasn't familiar with this title but I got a kick out of reading it.
It's a survey of several classic noir films, almost all of which I've seen. The films are LITTLE CAESAR (1931), THE BIG SLEEP (1946), IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), KISS ME, DEADLY (1955), HELL IS A CITY (1954), PSYCHO (1960), POINT BLANK (1967), BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), GET CARTER (1970), DILLINGER (1973) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). The two films here that I haven't seen are both British, HELL IS A CITY (which, despite the title, is about London, not McDade) and GET CARTER. I'll check them out first chance I get.
Author Max Decharne devotes a chapter to each film in which he discuses the true crimes and/or novels (sometimes both), on which the films are based. He writes in a breezy, informal style that is a nice change of pace from the often times overly scholarly approach books like this can take. It's a short, quick read and I wished he had chosen a few more films to write about. As usual with books of this type, reading about these films and novels made me want to revisit the ones I've already enjoyed and seek out the ones that I haven't yet experienced. Mission accomplished and well done.
Recommended to fans of the genre and for those just starting to discover the pleasures of film noir. .
Martine Beswick was the second actress (after Eunice Gayson) to appear in two James Bond films. There was a third and that actress will be identified in a future post, although hardcore Bond fans should already know the answer.
Beswick played Zora, a gypsy girl in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963). Her screen time is limited but memorable as she's featured in Bond's visit to a gypsy camp and the subsequent gun battle that occurs there. Beswick got more screen time in THUNDERBALL (1965), in which she played Bond's assistant, Paula Caplan. She also appeared in several Hammer films including ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1967) and DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE (1971).