Monday, June 30, 2008

Double Feature

1) The new film The Strangers must be a remake of the Romanian film Them, which I saw last night. I haven’t seen The Strangers, but it could not improve on the original. One of the most heartening developments at the movies in the last couple years has been a small surge of short, no-frills suspense films that are all suspense. Films like Vacancy and 13 Tzameti establish character, setting and situation handily, and then drop you right in the protagonist’s shoes for an hour of real-time menace. A film like P2…tries but fails to do the same. Them falls into the former camp, and gets extra points for its ending, not easily forgotten.

2) What I tend to forget, on some level, is how crappy movies starring Will Smith or auteured by M. Night Shyamalan invariably are. Why is that?

It was easy to resist Will Smith for years, when his movies were made for children (Men In Black) or for no one (Wild Wild West), but recently he defiled a couple of classic genre novels in a way that made for good-looking trailers. The kind of trailers that make you go to a movie. His new film Hancock has the best-looking Will Smith trailers yet. Bastard.

My weakness for Shyamalan is easier to explain: Like the DePalma of my teenaged years, the man knows where to put the camera. He always manages to put together at least one or two sequences of eerie beauty before the wheels fall off.

Both these guys bring out the degenerate gambler in me. Odds are against Hancock or The Happening being any good, but odds are even worse that I’ll miss either one.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Up in the Air

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks, Patti.

I thought Up in the Air by Walter Kirn would make a good Forgotten Book. I read the hardcover after reading the NYT review and before the book, still new, disappeared from the front table of bookstores on 9/11 (or days afterward), due to this jacket art:

A quick Internet search for the above image, however, yields the news that the book is being adapted into a film by Jason Reitman, director of the recent Juno and, previously, of a (middling, I thought) adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s Thank You For Smoking.

Anyway, there’s still time for a crack at the book, before the story hits the big screen.

Here is what I remember: our narrator, employed by some mega-corp, circles the globe, firing people for a living. He is, by his own testimony, both contented participant in and delighted observer of this seemingly-numbing hamster-wheel of airport lounges, hotel rooms, USA Today and glass office towers. (His discursions on the beauty of different facets of this world are like a comedic antidote to Don DeLillo.)

This fa├žade begins to show some cracks, though. Why is our man so distant with his family? Why is he interviewing with another firm? And where are his air miles disappearing to?

Kirn makes a lot of comedy out of the character’s insistence that homogenization creates kinship – and makes the guy such good-natured company that you might catch yourself nodding along, right up until Kirn pulls the rug out.

Currently Available in paperback, with this cover:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Detroit Noir: The Anniversary Tour

If you're the sort that likes to plan things out welllll in advance, mark your calendars now:

Detroit Noir event
Wed., October 22, 2008 7 pm
Monroe County Library - Bedford Branch
8575 Jackman Rd.
Temperance, MI
*Featuring editors E.J. Olsen and John C. Hocking, with other contributors TBD.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Island

As with last Friday’s Forgotten Book, I read Thomas Perry’s Island twenty years ago, don’t currently own a copy, and apologize for any errors in fact.

Husband-and-wife con artists, on the lam from Miami mobsters after the brush-off phase of a successful long con goes awry, run aground on an unmapped sandbar somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle.

A few chapters later, after spreading around some of the ill-gotten green, they’ve established their own country.

Before long, their man-made island nation has been turned into a well-appointed paradise, and some of the world’s older nations begin to take notice -- and the real trouble begins…

Island (1987) is long out-of-print, and seems to have redheaded-stepchild status among Thomas Perry’s books (there’s no mention of it on the author’s website); his books since have been leaner -- paragons of the means-business thriller -- but I also enjoyed his earlier, shaggier novels, and especially this forgotten one, immensely.

I think it’d make a good summer reading material suggestion for the reading-averse, too. Fans of the television series Lost, or of the Sims, might take to the story.

Hell, there’s a little something for everyone: a long-con caper, angry mobsters, angrier banana-republic strongmen, the CIA, mercenaries good and bad, and the screwball-comedy chemistry of the couple/protagonists. And it all ends up somewhere unexpected…well, I never expected the ending, which takes “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and twists it into a balloon animal.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Double Feature

First Snow is a really good little movie –- the world’s first lazy-valve thriller. Like The Aura, it’s a quiet film that takes its time setting the mood and giving us a good feel for the characters, their ordinary life and milieu; when the tension begins to ratchet up, you can really feel it. With Guy Pearce (above), William Fichtner, J.K. Simmons (all terrific); Piper Perabo (lovely); and Jackie Burroughs (heartbreaking).

I cannot express how relieved I was to learn that the upcoming Nicolas Cage/Wim Wenders project The Bad Lieutenant is not a remake of the 1992 Harvey Keitel/Abel Ferrara film. I saw Bad Lieutenant in 1992, and I watched it a second time last year, and I look forward (with dread) to watching it again in another fifteen years -- the experience unmarred by memories of some diluted remake. A thing of ugly beauty is a joy forever.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Read | Abandoned | Re-Read


Interface, Joe Gores
The Procane Chronicle, Oliver Bleeck


The Finder, Colin Harrison


Twisted City, Jason Starr


Savage Night, Allan Guthrie

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Freaks' Amour

Detroit's own Patti Abbott recently started Friday's Forgotten Book, a boon to readers -- and content-stumped bloggers -- everywhere.

Thanks, Patti.

Tom de Haven's Freaks' Amour: Twenty-some years ago, someone loaned me their copy, I read it in two sittings, then looked for a copy in every used bookstore I set foot in, for many years, never finding one.

Then I went to work in a bookstore, and anyone I described the novel to said, angrily: "Oh, that sounds just like Geek Love," which was inevitably their favorite book of all time. (Apart from the title, they sound nothing alike.)

Consequently I stopped talking or thinking about Freaks' Amour, even neglecting to look for it when ABE arrived on the scene.

Here is what I remember: The book is a first novel, published in 1979. The male narrator has a twin brother; they were conceived on their parents' wedding night, during a nuclear incident in New Jersey. The boys, and eventually most of their generation, have been born deformed due to the fallout.

[1979 was, of course, the year of the Three Mile Island incident. Did that hurt the book's chances for finding readers? (It didn't hurt the box office of The China Syndrome.)]

The freaks and the normals live in a segregated society. The narrator yearns to be Normal; his twin brother is a leader of an underground Freak movement pushing for a revolution. Intrigue ensues.

And then there's the goldfish eggs.

And the live sex shows.

Tom de Haven went on to write the 'Derby Dugan' books, among others. I've picked up his stuff, but nothing has ever really grabbed me the way Freaks' Amour did. He spoke a bit about the genesis of the book in an online interview of recent vintage:

After getting my master’s degree in 1973, I went to work in New York City as an editor for a number of men’s magazines (Sir!, Mr. and Man to Man) owned by Adrien Lopez, father of naturalist/novelist Barry Lopez. This was that deliciously cockeyed era when “porn” briefly had a lot of cachet (the era of Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones, etc.) and I was assigned to write articles about “the industry.” I met most of the directors and “stars” of X-rated films and from that experience (weirdly enough) sprang my first novel, Freaks’ Amour, a fantasy about a group of mutants living in Jersey City, two of whom make their living by performing live sex shows for “normal” people.

That book, published in 1979, enjoyed a fairly long life as a “cult novel,” to the extent that as late as the early 1990s it was regularly optioned for a film. (The last time it was, it was optioned by Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, Dark City and I, Robot, and I spent two years working with him on a screenplay, which of course was never produced.)

There are copies available on ABE, if your local library doesn't have one, and if you are curious. I'm going to look for a copy right now, to see if it's as endlessly inventive as I remember it to be, and you should find out for yourself.

Unless you're one of those Geek-Love-won't-listen-to-reason types...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Parker Reprints

The University of Chicago Press recently announced plans to reprint Richard Stark's (Donald Westlake's) Parker series.

The first three novels are in their Fall Catalog; there's no cover art at the publisher website, but here are the covers according to Amazon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Art of Losing

Keith Dixon’s The Art of Losing was published just a year ago, but since I can easily foresee a reader making it their pick for Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Books project sometime in, say, 2021, I thought I’d strike first -- while the book is still readily available.

I’m still bewildered that the book never received any mention in any of the places I look for news of books in the mystery/crime genre. It’s slim, swift, criminally-minded, and as dark as they come.

Degenerate gamblers hatch a harebrained scheme to take some money from some bad, bad men; the plan fails, but too late to do anyone any good, and one of the plotters turns out to be a weak sister.

Sounds familiar, but it's not.

The characters buy into the scheme with the same confidence they would have betting their rent--it probably won't work, but it might. The bookmaker's disgust for their clientele has never been so well captured. And that weak sister? I can't think of another character in a noir who cracks the way this guy cracks--leading to the finale, which left me with the deep Catholic jitters.

I've read a lot of books in the year since I read this, but none better.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Parade Tomorrow

(Detroit Free Press photo)

Zero-Sum World generally steers clear of discussion of Detroit -- taking a page from our mayor’s playbook, we concentrate on the business at hand, keep mum on the scandal -- but when a piece of good news presents itself, it’s hard to resist giving notice.

Coming on the heels of the Pistons’ shameful post-season (sic) effort -- not to mention the grisly end to the grisly American Axle strike -- the Red Wings’ Stanley Cup victory is all the more welcome.

Zero-Sum World sez: Way to go.

(Decorum does not permit discussion of my beloved Tigers at this time.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Started, Finished

Bleeders, Bill Pronzini
Against Happiness, Eric G. Wilson
The Drop Edge of Yonder, Rudolph Wurlitzer

Dirty Money, Richard Stark
Bag Men, Mark Costello
Fidelity, Thomas Perry
Your Movie Sucks, Roger Ebert
Somebody Owes Me Money, Donald Westlake

Interface, Joe Gores

On Deck
The Murderer Vine, Shepard Rifkin
Severance Package, Duane Swierczynski