Saturday, March 18, 2006

Top 100 Overlooked Films of the '90s

O.F.C.S.: The Online Film Critics Society: "July 27, 2004: It was the decade of Tarantino and Titanic. From Schindler's List to The Blair Witch Project, movies and the hype that went with them seemed bigger than ever.

However, too many great films somehow got lost in the shuffle. While some were recalled by Oscar voters and many managed to squeak out a modest box office return, these films nonetheless failed to click in the memory banks of both the critics and with audiences.

The writers of the Online Film Critics Society recalls the half- and completely-forgotten treasures of the past decade cinematic canon with its list of the Top 100 Overlooked Films of the 1990s. Join us for a trip back into the not-so-distant past and see if you recall the titles celebrated here by the OFCS writers."

Yes, it's another of those lists. I've seen a frightening number of the movies ( or films) on it. Probably not as many as some of you, however.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Old Man's War -- John Scalzi

In John Scalzi's future, you can join the Colonial Defense Forces when you're seventy-five and go out among the stars to fight for humanity's survival. Somehow the CDF will "improve" that old body and make it fight for fighting, but no one can find out how until he (or she) joins and is sent up the beanstalk. And that's about all I'll say about that. I don't want to spoil any of the book's surprises.

Old Man's War is narrated by John Perry, who joins the CDF after the death of his wife (they'd planned to join together). What happens next might be vaguely familiar to fans of Robert Heinlein, and Scalzi couldn't be happier if you find that to be the case. In some ways this is an unabashed tribute to Heinlein and Starship Troopers, but it's also reminiscent of Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, which I believe was Haldeman's response to Heinlien.

Another thing the book has going for it is good old-fashioned storytelling. A lot of contemporary SF leaves me cold because the writers seem to have forgotten that necessary element. But Scalzi hasn't. I mean that as a high compliment. And I like the writing style, too: simple, straighforward, supple, graceful.
I thoroughly enjoyed Old Man's War. Check it out.

Richard Wormser

I really like Richard Wormser's work, particularly his novels for Gold Medal Books. Which is why I gotta have this.


Junebug doesn’t have any explosions or car chases. It just barely has a plot. A guy named George, who’s from North Carolina, meets a cosmopolitan chick named Madeline in Chicago, and they get married. His family doesn’t attend the wedding. When Madeline, who’s an art dealer, wants to go to North Carolina to try to sign a folk artist there, they decide to pay a visit to George’s family: George’s father, mother, brother, and sister-in-law. The visit is what the movie is about.

This ain’t Mayberry. Madeline doesn’t learn any lessons about the goodness of the slow-paced life. I’m not sure anybody learns much of anything, and that includes the audience, which never really learns how George feels about his family until the movie’s last line, and I’m not sure if we learn then. Every member of the family is closed in, and nobody communicates with anybody else, except for the sister-in-law, played by Amy Adams. She’s open and eager for someone to talk to, someone to emulate, someone to tell her things. She lights up the screen every time she’s on, and she pretty much steals the movie. It’s no wonder she was nominated for an Oscar.

There are some great lines in the movie, some careful observations of life in a small town. I’ve never been to North Carolina, but I felt right at home. In some ways, that could have been my family in Mexia, Texas, up there on the screen. Some of the movie’s funny, some of it’s sad, some of it’s hard to figure. It’s slow-paced, and some might find it drags. Not me. I enjoyed every minute of it. The next time you don’t need a car chase to get your adrenaline moving, check it out.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Now This is Really Cool

SkyScout: "The SkyScout is a revolutionary handheld device that uses advanced GPS technology with point and click convenience to instantly identify thousands of stars, planets, constellations and more."

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Mystery*File Update

Absolutely essential stuff.

GIL BREWER, by Bill Pronzini and Lynn Munroe.: "You want to know what the life of a working mystery writer is really like? Gil Brewer could tell you. He could tell you about the taste of success and fame that never quite becomes a meal; the shattered dreams and lost hopes, the loneliness, the rejections and failures and empty promises, the lies and deceit, the bitterness, the self-doubts, the dry spells and dried-up markets, the constant and painful grubbing for enough money to make ends meet. He could tell you about all of that, and much more. He would, too, if he were still alive. But he isn’t."

Good Day in Hell -- J. D. Rhoades & Sea Change -- Robert B. Parker

The Devil's Right Hand introduced Jack Keller, who works for H & H Bail Bonds in North Carolina. It was clear in that book that Jack had a lot of bad stuff in his head, left over from the first Gulf War, and in J. D. Rhoades's Good Day in Hell we find out what a lot of it is. We also find out, as if we hadn't already, that working for a bail bondsman (or bondswoman in this case) is at least as dangerous as fighting in Iraq. This time, Jack's dealing with mass murderers who make the Freeway Killers look like wussies. He's also trying to make a go of his relationship with Sheriff's Deputy Marie Jones, but Jack's not good at relationships, to understate the case. The action is fast and furious, with plenty of fighting, shooting, and sex all tossed into an enjoyable mix of complex characters and violent set-pieces. Good writing, too. Don't miss this one.

Then we come to Robert B. Parker's Sea Change, the latest Jesse Stone novel. Why, you're probably asking yourself, is Crider reviewing these two together? There's a very good reason, that's why. But you should't read any further if you plan to read both of them, because SPOILER ALERT, WILL ROBINSON! both books turn on the very same major plot point. Not that I'm going to tell you what it is right here. END SPOILER ALERT! Parker's book is lean and dialogue heavy. In fact, if Parker uses any more dialogue in the next one, it's going to be a play instead of a novel. But he does it expertly, in my opinion. Anyway, the body of a woman washes ashore in Paradise, and of course it turns out that she was murdered. Will Stone prove that he's mas macho que tu? Damned right. Will he solve the crime? Sure, but he gets a little help this time from a cop in Florida who does a bit of investigating on her own. I always enjoy Parker's writing, and even though this book took me only an hour or so to read, I still recommend it highly.

You Read It Here Second

The Saturday Boy: "Allan Guthrie's finally got off his shapely behind and updated Noir Originals (check out the new author photo) and it's well worth the wait."

Ray Banks beat me to it, but be sure to check out the new articles, interviews, and so on.

Things I Never Read in a Ken Bruen Novel

From Dave Barry's Blog: "In Ireland, if somebody is a wimp, you call that person, quote, 'a big girl's blouse,' as in 'Ah, you're a big girl's blouse.' You can also call such a person 'a complete handbag.'"

Today's Croc News

Man in court after 1067 baby crocs found - The World - Breaking News 24/7 -
From: Agence France-Presse
From correspondents in George, South Africa

March 15, 2006

A MAN allegedly caught with 1067 baby crocodiles in his car appeared in a South African court overnight.
Paul Gildenhuys of Cape Nature Conservation's environmental crime unit said the man faced charges of possession and transport of the crocodiles without the necessary permits.

There was no immediate information about where the crocodiles came from and where they were to be sold."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I'm Among the Faint at Heart 'Testicle festival,' this weekend-Virginia City offers food, fun: "It's not a festival for the faint of heart.

But organizers of the 15th annual Mountain Oyster Fry -- known among Virginia City locals as the 'testicle festival' -- say Saturday will be filled with good food and fun.

'They're all officially known as 'gonadologists,'' Jett Aguilar, chairwoman of this year's cookoff said of the participants, 'and they actually think that's just great.'"

Happy Birthday, Max Shulman!

Max Shulman, born this day in 1919, was another of my formative influences. (He died in 1988.) I laugh just thinking about some of his novels and stories. Lots of people remember Dobie Gillis because of a TV series. I remember him because of Shulman's books. I have a stack of those books here to re-read, and I should do that one of these days.

The Mafia Name Generator

Here's a link provided by Walter Satterthwait (or, as he's known to the Mob, Fat Alphonse Giordano. Walter's the author of the terrific Perfection, as you may know, and you should get a copy soon. Either that or Fat Alphonse will drop a dime on you. (I'm Nicky the Brain, by the way.)

The Mafia Name Generator

Happy Birthday, Phil Phillips!

"Sea of Love" is one of the great ones. It owes a lot of its success to the back-up group, the Twilights, but Phil Phillips was the lead, and he really sold it. Here's a RealAudio clip: streaming mp3

Goldband Artist Phil Phillips: "Born John Phillip Baptiste on March 14, 1931 in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Phil Phillips was a member of the Gateway Quartet and a bellhop before he recorded 'Sea of Love.'

'Sea of Love' was arranged and produced by Eddie Shuler for neighbor George Khoury's label. The first time Eddie heard the song he knew it would be a hit. They took their time with the arrangement, building up the vocal group and trying out different musicians. After three months of work, the song was ready for release. The record sold heavily and was leased to Mercury Records. 'Sea of Love' went to #2 in the U.S. pop charts and spent 14 weeks in the top 40. It sold over two million copies in 1957."

Mystery*File Update

MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE: "March 13. IN THE FRAME. In Vince Keenan’s latest column of commentary on books and film, he discusses two books from Europa Editions (by Massimo Carlotto and Patrick Hamilton) and then compares the two versions of the classic noir film KISS OF DEATH, both available now on DVD."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Depressing News on the Pecker Front

Twitchers in a flap over elusive pecker | The Register:
"'Very rare' bird actually extinct all along?
By Chris Williams
Published Monday 13th March 2006 14:59 GMT

It was with great fanfare last summer that the US Fish and Wildlife service trumpeted the rediscovery of an apparently 'extinct' species: the ivory-billed woodpecker. Until a Cornell team reported the sighting in a Arkansas swamp, the iconic bird had not been spotted for more than 60 years.

The revelation was the hottest news to hit the bird watching community in years, and the administration moved quickly to appoint a dedicated 'recovery team'. They threw $10m at the tenuous grip on existence the species happily seemed to retain.

But now, almost a year on with no further sightings, others are casting aspersions on the original Science identification."

Bigfoot Update "JOHOR : Investigators who found what is believed to be a clear footprint of Malaysia's own 'Bigfoot' are waiting to meet the Johor Chief Minister. They want to present him with a cast of the print found in the rainforest and get his permission to carry out further investigations. They came from across the world, drawn by a common attraction - the prospect of finding Malaysia's very own Bigfoot. "

I hope they're all going to buy a copy of my new book. (Photo on left.)

Prayers for the Assassin -- Robert Ferrigno

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It's what the movie guys call "a futuristic thriller," set in 2044 in an America that's dominated by Muslim culture and religion. While it could have been marketed as science fiction, the publishers must have thought that would be the kiss of death. It might also have invited comparisons with George Alec Effinger's series of novels about Marid Audran, books which I believe to a much better job of picturing what the world would be like in a future where the Muslims run things.

That's not to say that Ferrigno's book isn't effective in some ways. The thriller elements work very well indeed, and if that's what you're looking for, you'll certainly find them. Someone's probably working on the screen play even now.

Ferrigno's a writer whose work deserves to be better known, but I'd suggest that you start with one of his other novels like Scavenger Hunt or Heart Breaker.

And for a slightly different take on Prayers for the Assassin today, check out Vince Keenan's blog.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Where the Buffalo Roam

Judy and I took a quick trip up the road to visit her mother yesterday. And while you might not expect to catch sight of a herd of bison in East Texas, you can sometimes do just that about five miles out of Thornton, Judy's hometown. Here's a snapshot I made this morning.

Happy Birthday, Peyton Place!

Update 3: 50 Years Later, 'Peyton' Memories Remain - "Grace Metalious' sensational story of sex, violence and other scandals in a small New England town, based in part on Gilmanton, made the author an international celebrity and a local pariah. It transformed an otherwise obscure township into a symbol of decadence and hypocrisy and rivaled Elvis Presley as a shocking breach to the official decorum of the 1950s. "

This book had a huge impact on me. I've read it at least three times. Read the whole long, interesting article at the link. And for a fictional account of a Grace Metalious-like author, check out Vin Packer's The Girl on the Bestseller List.