BOOKS OF INTEREST
and other stuff...
So many books and other stuff... and so little time.
Like most people, I'm not just interested in one thing. Hell, even my own web site is subtitled "Detectives. Bicyles. Rock'n'roll..."
And books are the least of it.
My sputtering engine is fueled by detective novels and TV and movies and comic books and rock'n'roll and weird gadgets and politics and Canadian history and cooking and food and beer and trivia and new experiences and all sorts of junk that will inevitably clutter and overflow both my shelves and my overburdened brain.
Here are a few of the things I'm curious and or excited about these days. And possibly why.
- John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood
Ny Michael D. Sellers
True confessions. I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes, just then re-released in paperback, was the gateway drug. But soon I was enthralled by all of Burroughs' universe, both the steady stream of reprints that started appearing everywhere, and DC Comics' masterful adaptations that started filling the spinner racks at local newstands, particularly Joe Kubert's raw, visceral version of the Ape Man. Weird words and place names soon began to pepper my vocabulary (Barsoom, kreegah, Pellucidar, tarmangani, Opar, etc.), as a steady stream of Burroughs pulp began to fill my pre-adolescent brain,competing for space with a swelling interest in girls. For a few years, my dreams were as much about Carson of Venus, the Mucker, John Carter of Mars, Tarzan, Korak and all the other manly men of adventure and derring-do as it was about Susan in History, Diane in English, or Pam in art. Of course, in the end, the girls won, but then they always do. And to tell the truth, a steady diet of Burroughs for a few years eventually wears thin, and that adolescent rush of fantasy quietly slipped into its cave.
But it emerged periodically, that heady mix of awe and discovery, of heroes and perfectly realized new worlds to discover, mostly unleashed by film: the first Star Wars, Bladerunner, the first Alien, the occasional Stephen King novel, Lord of the Rings, Justin Cronin's The Passage. The whole sparkly vampire thing didn't do it, and I thought Avatar was lunkheaded and self-conscious, high-minded silliness and self-indulgent ego wrapped up in the Emperor's new 3D clothes.
Last year's JOHN CARTER from Disney brought me right back. It was a hoot. It might not have always been faithful to the text, but the magic was. It wasn't as awe-inspiring as A New Hope, perhaps, and I could have done without the cutie-pie dog beast (although from a marketing standpoint it makes sense -- after all, R2D2 was cute too), but there was enough rousing action, imaginative artistry and oh-my-god-is-that-cool! moments to keep both my the Girl Detective and I mesmerized -- with ot without 3D.
The "critics" hated it. Well, not real critics, for the most part, who were mixed about it, but those bandwagon jumpers who think they're critics simply because they have a blog or Twitter account and an over-developed sense of snark. The same high-minded critics who drool regularly all over such sub-par but superbly hyped twaddle as Sin City and The Avengers. No, John Carter wasn't perfect, but the vitriol unleashed against it -- even before it was released -- via Twitter and the blogosphere and in second rate "review" sites all over the web was spectacular.
It was like a concerted effort to destroy the film. Bad press piled upon bad press. Almost every "review" I read rushed to mention how much it cost , how much it was losing and how poorly it did on its opening weekend. It was like a sports analyst describing a hockey game by reading only the final score.
I mean, really. "Taylor Kitsch is no Mark Hammil"? Is that the best you can do, buddy?
In his new book, John Carter and The Gods of Hollywoods, film makmer Michael Sellers contends that yes, there was indeed a conspiracy to destroy this film, and most of the damage was done long before most of the Blogosphere Sheep got their bleats in. Not so subtly subtitled "The True Story of What Went Wrong With Disney's John Carter and Why Edgar Rice Burroughs Original Superhero Isn't Dead Yet," it's a sobering tale told by an insider, a story of corporate stupidity, inept marketing, studio politics and petty rivals and jealousies, and an angry indictment of all that's wrong, not just about Disney, but Hollywood (and corporate America) itself.
For those of you who defied the Snark Week Attacks and the Gods of Hollywood and saw the film anyway, and enjoyed it (or even if you didn't), this is still a fascinating and intriguing look at the inner workings (or non-workings) of Hollywood's Dream Factory. And for Burroughs' fans, it's worth it just to bear witness to the long, sad march to the screen of a much-beloved book written over a century ago.†
It will leave you wondering not why Hollywood makes so many God-awful movies but how they ever manage to make any good ones.
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- "Who Did That To You"
By John Legend
This song nails all the contradictions and excesses of Tarantino's Django Unchained right to the wall of your brain in under four minutes. "Nice boy" Legend steps up, unleashing a throbbing, driving Old Testament mess of swagger, vengeance, defiance and wrath that's as raw as it was unexpected. "Now I'm not afraid to do the Lord's work/You say vengeance is his but I'm-a do it first," Legend sings, and he doesn't sound like he's kidding.The whole soundtrack's typically awesome (it's Tarantino, after all, the best DJ in Hollywood), but Legend's song is something else. It's just galvanizing -- it's like Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft," for a whole new, pissed off generation. "Better call the poll-eeese!"
- The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself
The flip side of "Who Did That to You." Henson's 1849 autobiography tells the triumphant story of the black slave and minister who eventually escaped to Canada, where he helped establish the Dawn Settlement, a successful black community (complete with a saw and grist mill) near Dresden, Ontario. There he preached and helped establish the British-American Institute for Fugitive Slaves, an agricultural school. His outspokeness, his oratorical skills, his wit and his bravery (he often served as a "conductor" on the Underground Railway) -- not to mention the ongoing success of his community and school -- made him a key figure in the abolitionist movement. He became something of a mid-century media superstar, visiting cities in not just Canada and the U.S., but even journeying to India and England (where he was invited by Queen Victoria herself). He advised American slaves to come to Canada and live, unmolested by the law, under their "own vine and fig tree." Harriet Beecher Stowe was so impressed by this book that she requested (and received) an audience with the author in 1951. In 1952, she wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.
- Kinsey and Me
By Sue Grafton
I just finished a big interview for Mystery Scene with Grafton upon the release of this book, part short story collection (featuring her private eye Kinsey Millhone and part fictionalized (slightly) memoir of Grafton's own troubled childhood. To read the "and Me" part of the book and not be moved would mark you as either one cold-hearted emotional eunuch or a crass, cynical coward of the first order.
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- House of Earth
By Woody Guthrie
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Who knew? An posthumously published novel from out of the blue, by one of America's greatest songwriters, a nice companion to his 1930 autobiaography Bound for Glory. It's supposedly a head-spinning mix of Dust Bowl blues, Hee Haw schtick, politics and surprisingly rauchy sex scenes, as West Texas farmer Tike and his pregnant wife Ella May struggle to survive bone-crushing poverty and drought. Edited and with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley and -- get this -- Johnny Depp. Consider Pirates of the Cash Cow 2-4 forgiven...
- The Brasher Doubloon
Buy the DVD
Long considered the redheaded stepchild of Philip Marlowe films, this rarely seen 1947 flick is usually dismissed out of hand as inconsequential, and certainly stills from the film, depicting George Montgomery as a Marlowe who sports a cheesy mustache don't hold much promise. But the film, only recently made widely available, while slight, is a pleasant surprise. Some very effective camera work (including some awesome location shots of 1940s Los Angeles) and some great character bits go a long way to making this quickie B-flick an enjoyably satisfying romp.