Wednesday, September 21, 2016
The last time I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, I was about 15 and had a fairly hard time keeping up with a narrative that wasn't an easily digestible Isaac Asimov plot and which didn't work with a Bradbury-esque flow to carry me over the rough patches. I didn't know anything about Philip K. Dick other than that he was the name of the guy who wrote the book upon which they'd based Blade Runner, at the time one my new favorite movies (and, of course, still a favorite). But, I had heard the novel and movie were different.
I really don't know why I decided it was time to read the book again other than that, like most books I read 25+ years ago, my memories of the details were fuzzy. I mostly remembered feeling that - as screwed as the Rick Deckard of the film had been, the Deckard of DADoES? was in a far more precarious state. I recalled a "fake" police station, Roy Batty seemed less a threat, and the world of the novel existed in a state of decay that went well beyond even the night-time drizzling menace of the film.
It's not that I had a hard time understanding the story from an A to B to C to D perspective, but Dick's books always seem to be doing what science-fiction can do intensely well, and that's act as allegory for some more universal story or truth or as a thought experiment to explore those ideas. I'm sure I got it in that "I read what was on the page" sort of way, but there was no way for me to really relate. Add in my trouble reconciling the differences between the book and movie and expecting the themes and plot to better dovetail, and it was a recipe for forgetting a lot of what was interesting or special about the book as repeated Blade Runner viewings had quashed a lot of what I might have remembered.
Upon a re-read, I'd argue you need to see the two narratives as separate and attempting different stories with different meaning. There are certainly resonant thematic issues, but in making many of the changes Ridley Scott and Co. went with, Blade Runner is far more a product of expectations of films (no matter which cut we're discussing), of roles within films, and the limited running time of a movie and what can be in that story.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
My mistake - packing for our Seattle trip, I just reached onto my shelf and grabbed this book without checking the reading order. So, after reading 24 of the Parker/ Grofield novels, I finally accidentally read one out of order.
Mostly with Parker novels, it doesn't matter, they're self-contained. But of course, after 24 of these things (if you count both Parker and Grofield books, and I do), this one ends on a cliffhanger. I kind of want to know what happens next rather than go back and read Breakout, the one I accidentally skipped. So, we'll see.
But we're here to talk Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 Parker novel by Richard Stark.
Of the post-hiatus Parker novels, this one has Parker feeling, perhaps, the most like Parker again, even if much of what occurs around Parker feels less like an old-school Parker strategy session and execution of a heist and, instead, Stark spends his page count and energies on exploring the cast of misfits around the heist, seeming to want to explore new characters he introduces, possibly for a spin-off series.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
If you've seen Apollo 13, you've seen Ed Harris as the vest-wearing Flight Director Eugene F. Kranz. Kranz served with NASA from the Mercury missions straight through into the mid-90's. Truly the case of The Right Person in the Right Place for the Right Job, Kranz is famous for his post Apollo 1 disaster speech at NASA where he defined the "tough and competent" mantra of NASA's Mission Control Center. He was, as evidenced by Ed Harris playing him in the film, also one of the Flight Directors on Apollo 13 who helped pull together the plan to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth.
But Kranz was there during Gemini, working out procedures and flight plans, debating the wisdom of rushing our first EVA to catch up with the Russians, and he was there for Apollo 11, landing Aldrin and Armstrong.
As you can imagine, the history alone is worth the read, and I'll be picking up some more memoirs and. or histories of the race from Mercury to Apollo 17 and beyond (I mean, my earliest solid memories are around the Space Shuttle, and so a history of the development of the Shuttle Columbia would be more than welcome). But Kranz's personal take is as absolutely fascinating as it is inspiring.
The view from the Flight Commander's Control Console takes us to the point of teeth-gritting responsibility. While thousands have contributed to building the rockets and space-craft, and many, many others have been involved all along the line, it's the MCC that makes the decisions to abort, must know their systems, the craft, the management of the astronauts, etc.. well enough to make moment by moment calls and respond to each challenge as it surfaces. Each decision impacts lives of the astronauts, and every choice could be the one that leads to disaster.
And, the Flight Director is, ultimately, the person who is leading his or her control team and responsible for the calls that manage the Flight during their shift. Anyway, my job suddenly seemed a lot easier.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.
I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work. Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.
The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.
All in all, the film does work. Let's not call it a troubled film. But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
What's most surprising about reading a 1913 Tarzan novel is, really, in many ways how modern it feels. Whether ERB was reflective of a particular brand of cliff-hanger storytelling or whether he shaped a lot of what I think of as a feature of modern adventure entertainment - it's pretty amazing how much you can see of how the adventures of Tarzan work, structurally, in comics and adventure television of all stripes (and probably books, but I don't read that much of this sort of thing).
Tarzan's origin is detailed in the first half of the first book, most of the rest of the book providing the set-up for the ensuing adventures (or, more of the origin, I guess). This second book picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first as Jane takes off with not-Tarzan, aka: William Clayton (but Tarzan's cousin, who is Lord Greystoke as far as the world is concerned).
It's important to point out that ERB's Tarzan is not the "me Tarzan, you Jane" of the Johnny Weissmuller films. He's a hyper-intelligent super human who picks up languages the way I pick up unnecessary action figures. You kind of have to dump everything you've ever read about actual feral-children, maybe one of the saddest things you're likely to read about, and buy into the premise that Tarzan is a really well-adjusted guy in many ways for someone who eats raw flesh and speaks gorilla.
That said - the arc of this second novel is about Tarzan deciding who and what he will be. And, putting up with a shady Russian who keeps turning up like a bad penny.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
I wound up finishing my book I planned to read to and from Boston (note - last night's post on Firebreak) and decided that rather than read the trade paperback I had in my bag, I'd pick up another book at the airport.
I don't know why, exactly, but after a few minutes of perusing the shelves, I was absolutely certain I wanted to read a Neil Gaiman book I hadn't yet read, of which there are plenty, and so I found the one Neil Gaiman book they had on the shelf, bought it, and started it at the gate and finished it by the time we were touching down, with at least a half hour of airplane-nap tucked in there. So I can tell you - it is possible to read this book between Boston and Austin in a single flight.
The book in question was Gaiman's 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which I believe had won a few awards and was (or is) a best-seller.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
While I'm glad that Stark came back to try Parker again in the 90's, and then, with this novel released around 2001 (and a few more afterward), there's no question that the tone had changed. The first two books back were nearly comedies. Firebreak (2001), has moments of delving back into the Parker of The Green Eagle Score, and, especially, The Sour Lemon Score, but Stark was no longer able to tap into near nihilism that drove the first third of the series again until Slayground and Butcher's Moon.
Here, you can feel Stark doing some hand waving as he deals with the fact that the world of heists has changed since Parker was pulling armored car heists and knocking over rare coin shows. By 2000, security systems were everywhere, surveillance was commonplace, and the internet was still called "The Information Superhighway" by dopey newscasters.
Stark wants to deal with these modern touches, but when he does, it's half-satisfying. Every once in a while he states how something works, and you want to say "well, no... Not even in 2001.". And he's saddled the heisters with a character he's concocted to bridge the books into this new age of technology (which was already well underway when this book was released).
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
In some ways it's a goddamn crime that the version of Tarzan that Millennials grew up with was saddled with Phil Collins music and Rosie O'Donnell's voice blasting like an air-horn throughout. I recently tried to re-watch the Disney version of Tarzan, and for all the technical achievements of the film, that "let's do things tied entirely to what's popular in the moment", upon reconsideration, makes the film a grating mess.
I guess Gen X may have been the last generation to be given Tarzan to enjoy in steady doses. I remember watching black and white Tarzan on TV as a kid, and I have to assume it was Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan with Cheeta. It's also possible we were watching later movies, the 1960's TV series... Who knows? Tarzan has known a lot of incarnations in film and television, including maybe the version that really informed me most about Tarzan, the 1970's-era cartoon show.
Before the release of 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, Marvel put out a Tarzan magazine comic which covered the first half of the first Tarzan novel.
And this was really what informed me as to the more detailed version of Tarzan's origin.
Like a lot of kids, we played "Tarzan", even if I can't really recall what that meant other than climbing whatever we could get a grip on around the yard and imagining we'd made friends and foes of the 10 or so jungle animals we could name. But being able to talk to monkeys and lions seemed like a pretty good deal to us. The 70's and 80's were still safely within the 20th Century, and the notion of High Adventure was still very much a marketable commodity at the time, across nearly all genres, and Tarzan was right at the center of that.
I finally watched the original Johnny Weissmuller movie and read the actual Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of Tarzan of the Apes just last year. The book is a book of its time, as is the movie, and both have their place in history. While the prose of the novel may be purple and many ideas in the book would now seem dated, the story still holds as an adventure and romance. And if we're looking for our own cultural DNA, both Tarzan and ERB's John Carter are vital to understanding what was to come with superheroes and superhumans in fiction and popular culture, and - of course - that's now escalated to culture writ large with fifth generation offspring of Burroughs' creations throwing shields in billion dollar movies.
All that to say, I was a bit pre-disposed to want to see a new Tarzan movie, and, yet, I've seen very, very few of them to date. Not even Greystoke, which I am told again and again is not worth seeing.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Signal Watch Reads: "The Elephant to Hollywood" a bio of Michael Caine by Michael Caine as read by Michael Caine (audiobook)
Normally this sort of thing isn't my bag, but a while back my pal SimonUK gave me a print copy of this book, and I picked it up and started reading it only to hear Michael Caine's voice reading the book in my head. "Well," I reasoned to myself, "why not see if he actually did an audio recording of the book." And, indeed, he had.
I don't know much about Michael Caine and I'm not up on his filmography. But, you know, who doesn't like Michael Caine?
This was actually his second memoir, and I suspect the first one probably played up a bit more of his exploits and wild, free-wheeling ways in the 60's and 70's. But this one is more or less Caine's reflections on being a bit of a lad from an area of London called The Elephant and Castle, a down and out neighborhood both during his youth and at the time of the book's writing (circa 2010). He grew up working class, a father serving the army in WWII, and Caine himself evacuated. Post-war, he grows up a bit tough, decides on theater and acting as a career, and as a young man pursues the idea with dogged determination, even as misfortune and the challenges of life heap up.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Full disclosure: this novel was written by a buddy, and I was predisposed to like it for that reason. I read about 100 pages of the first release of the book in PDF, then purchased the first self-printed run of the book - started that, and then Jason alerted folks that he'd actually landed a publisher, and to hang on a minute. So, with my third copy of the book, I started over (again) and just wrapped the book Sunday afternoon.*
Old Green World (2015) is the first novel from Jason Dewey Craft, and it's a curious mix of science-fiction and fantasy, though it's unclear where or if the reader should bother to draw a line between the two genres. It plays off of villages and castles while taking place in a future far removed from our own present day, a post-post-apocalyptic world on an Earth returned to something closer to a state of nature or without deep impact by humanity (depending how you mean).
I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, but part of why I abandoned the genre and had a hard time picking up sci-fi and fantasy was the weirdly patterned and mannered approach to sci-fi and fantasy writing, an overly descriptive method of world building and character which seems more in love with thinking up gadgets and whatnot and less with a reason for telling the story. The tack can lead to a lack of narrative novelty as writers happily cut from the same few templates, the fandom and limited approach of authors showing through in the execution.
From the first pages, Old Green World seems to co-opt and then transform the conventions of the fantasy building, creating an understandable world despite economical detail in the prose, never bothering to fall into the trap of purple exposition, but, rather, simply describing location, character, scene, etc.. where necessary. Much is left for the reader to imagine, to parse, to fill in the gaps. The approach leaves the text subject to interpretation, of course, and many of the ideas that drive the conceit of the story rely on abstraction.
Thursday, June 2, 2016
|if you are not pleased with what follows, Queen Elsa has some words for you...|
Honestly, I have no idea if I was reading Devin Faraci back at BadAss Digest before it became Birth.Movies.Death., and I couldn't tell you exactly when I started seeking out his writing in particular. Pretty recently, I guess, like maybe even in late 2015.
Well, a few days back it seems Faraci went and accidentally lit a spark under the butt of the collective hive-mind of the internet, and whatever was under that butt wasn't just flammable, it was atomic rocket fuel. He wrote an article called Fandom is Broken, but I don't need to tell you this. Because chances are, if you read this site, you've already read the article elsewhere. It's certainly been making the rounds. If you haven't read it yet, here's the link. Go read it and then come on back. These 1's and 0's will still be here floating in the interwebicon.
Back? Excellent. We missed you. How are you?
One more to read - it's that Onion AV article Faraci linked to, and it's also required reading. Sorry. So, off with you if you didn't read that, too.
Sigh. So... For this week I had already planned to write about the upcoming Ghostbusters film, the grousing going on about this new movie ruining some peoples' childhoods, and I thought I might outline why - frankly - that's a really weird stance to take on a 30+ year old movie that was never, ever going to be the same again no matter whether it starred the same four guys (which we should have just let go of since Raimis' passing), four other different guys, four women, four guinea pigs or four plates of nachos.
But we're not going to park it on Ghostbusters. Oh, no. Because these two article made me think about a few things, and, in ways big and small, I am certain I am part of the problem, too. And so are you, buddy, so don't feel so smug.
At this juncture I think it's important to take a breath and have a moment of self-reflection rather than take to the twitters and prove Mr. Faraci absolutely correct by threatening him.
Sunday, May 29, 2016
The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep. Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.
A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office. She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared. Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.
Monday, May 9, 2016
Here's what I know after reading Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture (2016) - I would love to spend a couple hours at a bar with author Glen Weldon knocking back a couple of cocktails and talking comics.
The book is a perfect compliment to the sort of discussion we've been having here at The Signal Watch the past few years, from our Gen-X Recollection Project (still ongoing! Send in your posts!), to trying to contextualize what we see in movies of the past and present as seasoned dorks.
As a matter of course, I've read a few Superman retrospectives, but very few feel like an honest conversation. Les Daniels' works read like what they are - honest if fairly sanitary historical accounts of the rise of Superman in all media. The very-well-selling Larry Tye book felt like a lot of research into something the author felt would move books but for which he had little personal affinity and seemed surprised that Superman wasn't the character he remembered from his years watching The Adventures of Superman. Author Tom De Haven has the strangest relationship with Superman, having written a full novel re-imagining the character from the ground up (in ways that often seemed far, far off the mark), and then a sort of retrospective that made it clear - he kinda hates Superman.
But aside from Les Daniels and a few excerpts in books like Ten Cent Plague and Men of Tomorrow, I haven't read up as much on Batman. I actually heard of author Glen Weldon when he put out a book called Superman: The Unauthorized Biography. I purchased the book, but hadn't read it as I had a stack of books I was making it through. Still haven't read it, honestly, aside from the first few pages, which had me cackling in recognition of someone who truly knew their Superman. But, two days after I picked up the Superman book, Weldon announced on twitter his Batman book was coming, and as I'd just finished the Tye Superman book, I figured - I'll just wait for that one.
I really can't recommend Caped Crusade enough. This is a "run, don't walk" sort of recommendation.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
In college I started reading up a bit on Theodore Roosevelt. If you're reading American History of the 20th Century, he's a figure that looms incredibly large, and I wasn't the first History major to take an interest. In fact, my instructor for my "Presidents and the Press" course was a bit of a Roosevelt scholar, and when it came time to write a paper and I was asking him for topics on TR, he told me to forget it - there was nothing new to research, and sent me down the path of researching a minor scandal during the Wilson administration (and that's when I turned on Wilson).
To Dr. Gould's point, there's a lot of stuff out there both about and by Theodore Roosevelt. And, no, an undergrad history major who wanted to write about the Panama Canal or Russian/ Japanese peace treaty wasn't going to produce any original scholarship on the matter. You begin with reading about TR's great deeds and see him as a champion you can't believe has become something of an obscure lost-uncle figure to many Americans in comparison to FDR (or even his niece, Eleanor), but, much like Shaft, TR is a complicated man.
Colonel Roosevelt (2010) is the third in a triptych of biographies by Edmund Morris. The first to arrive came out in 1979, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, but I wouldn't read it until about 2001 on a trip with Jamie's family. On a personal note - reading that book on the porch of a cabin in Minnesota and taking long breaks to fish, cook fish and eat fish, was maybe some the most pleasant few days I can ever recall. The second installment, Theodore Rex, arrived in 2002, and really covered the era of Roosevelt's presidency (and for anyone who thinks our current administration is acting with unprecedented imperial-like authority, my friends... not even close).
The third installment, Colonel Roosevelt, covers the era between Roosevelt departing office until his death. If you think a post-presidency career for Roosevelt was one of quiet solitude, well... (a) your understanding of 20th Century Presidential Politics needs a refresher, and (b) you are so, so wrong.
One day I will read a Roosevelt biography and reach the descriptions of his death and funeral and not get weepy, but, today is not this day.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
A while back NathanielC suggested this book to me, and after 33+ hours of audiobook, I am, at long last, done.*
I've written about Uncle Walt before, and I've read up on the man and his work in bits and pieces over the years, including The Art of Walt Disney, which is on a shelf about ten feet from me as I type this. Full disclosure as well - my second job as a teenager was as a fresh-faced "Cast Member" at The Disney Store when it was still a prestige sort of store in the halcyon days of the early 90's (and I could have done far worse. I learned a lot between the Princess Dresses and Dalmatian snowglobes.).
The name "Walt Disney" is a name that conjures up a wild array of ideas for anyone. It's a universal brand anywhere in the world, which is really pretty amazing. As children we love Disney, as teen-agers we get cynical and start feeling clever when we find out that maybe Walt Disney's cartoons aren't the same as the dark and often bloody fairytales which inspired them. We retain fond memories of cartoons and live action movies, the theme parks and TV shows and everything else Disney can mean. We wink and nod, no dupes for the product of Walt Disney, right up until we pick up that BluRay or take our kids to another movie or buy that t-shirt, watch anything on ABC, or see a movie produced from a Disney subsidiary making straight up regular movies.
Friday, February 19, 2016
According to The New York Times, author Harper Lee has merged with The Infinite.
Of all the books I read in K-12 as assigned reading, To Kill a Mockingbird one of only two I picked up again and again after the assignments were over and done (the other being Fahrenheit 451).
The book is so profoundly and stunningly... American. But, I assume, also universal. And as important as it is, in general, its also so, so important to share with young people as they move from childhood onto the path to adulthood.
But I don't need to tell you about the book, or its impact. Heck, it's written above the title in the image of the cover I've posted above. And, it's assigned reading in every school district in the US, I assume.
For all the work so many authors put out there, it's fascinating to know Harper Lee released her one novel and then retreated, only releasing new material in the last year, and under shady circumstances. And, yes, I have chosen not to read the other book, which i do not believe she would have intended to release while alive.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
The great thing about novel adaptations back in the day was that they clearly either adapted the movies of books they'd read ten years prior and couldn't remember anymore, or they'd be damned if they were going to finish the book before pounding out a script.
I say this, because I've seen the odd-ball noir detective film, The Lady in the Lake directed by and starring Robert Montgomery at least twice, but more like three times. Why? Well, it's a super strange movie told from a first person POV with a windy plot that takes a surprisingly believable break in the action for Christmas Eve, and features Audrey Totter at her Totter-iest.
|Why, yes, I am going to look right into the camera the whole movie. Why?|
But I don't really want to write a compare-and-contrast of the film and book. First, only one of you has likely even seen this movie (for shaaaaaame...), and, you know, they're two different beasts.
Still, Audrey Totter.
|seriously, this movie is odd, and I totally recommend it|
Thursday, January 14, 2016
I've been thinking a bit about the difference between the Continental Op work, Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Brighter minds than me have surely covered this - but you're here reading this, so... here we go.
To be sure, there are more similarities than there are differences. Working class detectives working in a shadowy world where wealth buys your way into indulging your perversions and clear of ignominy. Low class hoods are always on the make. Dames who can work an angle have it made, until they don't. And then they wind up cold and stiff. It's not whether everyone you meet has an angle, it's what their angle is - and if they don't have one, they're a chump.
The Continental Op doesn't have a heart of gold, but he's a square guy. He's a brawler, almost always has a gun and will throw some lead around. Sam Spade has a heart in there, too, one that's more likely to fall for a dame than the Continental Op, who knows he's no looker and has reason to distrust any dame that gets too close. But Hammett's detectives never really warm to much of anyone, even when they tell you otherwise. At best, they tolerate others and try not to admit it when any women get too close.
Friday, January 1, 2016
Sometime about 10 years ago, I realized I'd only read, like, 2 books all year. While that's still 200% more books than the average American, and I justified it all by telling myself I'd read a lot of comics (I had. A LOT of comics.), I felt a bit bad about not reading books without pictures. So, these days I
strive to read a bit more.
Here's the list of what I read in 2015. It's only 23 books, but I figure that's about two a month, and that's not awful when you add in the numbers I presented yesterday when it came to movies. Plus working and whatnot.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Reading the first two Bond books is a bit of an odd experience. This is still a Bond that's not yet been made into a film, and the books feel oddly slight, especially in comparison to the meandering nature of the typical Bond movie. I'm not sure if I should rehash that the Bond of the book, at this point, is not equipped with super-science gear or any of the trappings I think of when I consider my first exposure to Bond via the movie For Your Eyes Only. And after the exotic locales of the first book (to Americans, anyway), setting much of Live and Let Die in Harlem and then St. Petersburg, Florida is oddly pedestrian despite the death traps and odd goings on. But with the 3rd act change in scenery to Jamaica, it does move the action to a locale I readily associate with the Bond franchise and, of course, Ian Fleming's base of operations when writing his Bond novels.