Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: LBJ: The Early Years (1987)

I can't resist buying stuff like this I find on thrift stores and other places: cheap VHS cassettes with movies that probably have never been released on DVD or don't show up on TV. LBJ: The Early Years cost me 20 cents a year ago, and I finally watched it. As it's pretty long (almost 3 hours) it took me many days to watch. The series was published on video cassette in Finnish in 1989 with the title Vallan huipulla ("Top of the Power" or some such).

LBJ: The Early Years is a solid work from director Peter Werner who's had a pretty long career on TV. For some reason, the screen writer of the mini-series isn't said anywhere, not in the credits nor in IMDb. I don't know why, certainly there's no reason for anyone to hide. LBJ: The Early Years starts from the fifties, with Johnson working in the senate, but not yet being a senator. The series follows his career in politics from running for senate and later for vice-presidency. The climax is of course the assassination of John F. Kennedy on which no time is wasted. The murder is not shown, the series focuses on the aftermath of the assassination. The series doesn't go into LBJ's actual presidency. 

I'm no expert on the US history, but the mini-series seems trustworthy on many themes, like the relationship between the Kennedys and Johnson. As the series is not about LBJ's presidency, it doesn't deal with the war in Vietnam, so it can dust off the more difficult issues. 

The best thing about LBJ: The Early Years is the lead actor. Randy Quaid makes a believable and likable Johnson, with all his quirks, Texas drawl and sudden changes in mood. Quaid is full of energy, when need be, but he's very good also portraying Johnson's depression. There are many good actors in the small roles: Kevin McCarthy, Pat Hingle, R. G. Armstrong, Barry Corbin, Royal Dano, Frances Conroy... In the narration are included several newsreels, which are used to a good effect. 

I don't know if this is regularly shown on American TV, but it could very well be. 

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog here (when they show up). 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ed Gorman

Just noticed that Ed Gorman passed away. It's a damn shame, I'm sure there were more books in him. His work as a novelist, short story writer and anthologist has been great and revered by many.

As far as I know, I'm responsible for the only two Finnish translations of Gorman's work. I published two of his short stories, both of which were excellent. The first one to come out was "Layover", a thoughtful and melancholy look at people who got tangled up in crime. It was first published in my fanzine, Isku, and then it came out in Kaikki valehtelevat/Everybody Lies, the anthology of short stories that were published in my crime fiction fanzines. Then came "Scream Queen", another melancholy story, this time about some nerdy guys working in a video store and meeting the idol of their teenage years, the actor of many slasher films. It was published as a small pamphlet, with a limited print run and with Aapo Kukko's great cover illustration.

May Ed Gorman rest in peace. I know there are many people who miss him - my condolences to them. I never met him, but would've sure liked to.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

On Dylan

As everyone by now knows, Bob Dylan got the Nobel prize for literature earlier today. Now, I've never really understood why people like him and his music so much. To me his music always been a bit boring and at times obnoxious, and it's not just about his singing voice. I have a strong taste for more rhythm and more vigorous beats, and you have to admit there's not much of those in Dylan's music. I have found his orchestrations noisy and incoherent, and it's something I don't like in Bruce Springsteen either. The Big Sound just escapes me. I like it when The Byrds made "Mr. Tambourine Man" into a jingly-jangly pop song.

My ex-girlfriend and the mother of my first child is a great Dylan fan. She had to have everything Dylan ever did. You can easily see this caused some difficulties between her and me - our tastes in music were too different. This wasn't the cause for us breaking up apart, but it had something to do with it. It has also cast a shadow over me and my relationship with Dylan's music. Still, whatever I do, I just can't get the taste of it.

Of course, Dylan got his Nobel prize for his lyrics, not his music. In rock music, though, they are inseparable, but as for me, I've never really cared for listening to the lyrics. I don't really know why this is - maybe it's because it reminds me of my work, reading and writing, and I want music to be something else entirely.

There are some exceptions to my views of Dylan. I like Dylan without a noisy band, like for example here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Roman Polanski: Knife in the Water

The renowned Polish director's first feature-length film was this small-scale film - only three actors - that reflects his familiar themes of humiliation and its bond with erotics, sex and love.

Knife in the Water tells about a well-to-do couple (in communist Poland, no less) that picks up a hitcher, a young innocent guy who's got nothing to do with his life. They ask him to accompany them in a boat. The result is - almost - deadly, as tensions rise between the two men and the young woman. This is an intense little film, with a noirish jazz soundtrack by Krzysztof Komeda, well worth seeing and hearing. There are some breath-taking scenes throughout, as Polanski and his photographer Jerzy Lipman move the camera around the small sailing boat.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I just founded a publishing company

Well, not exactly. I just didn't do it, just like that, it was a long and at times frustrating process. But now it's up, after planning it and thinking about it for many, many years.

The publishing company is called Helmivyö in Finnish. I'm not really sure what it should be called in English - literally it's a bit like "a string of pearls", but the word "helmivyö" is an old word originally meant to be the Finnish translation of "anthology". It's probably translated from the Italian "collana", which means both "collection" and "jewel". And so my publishing company does a lot of anthologies.

The first of which is Ajokortti helvettiin ("License to Hell", according to the short story the title was taken from), a collection of flash fiction stories I published in my short-lived Ässä magazine (plus three new stories from Rob Hart, Stephen D. Rogers and Anthony Neil Smith).

There is also a collection of my reviews, articles and what not about American hardboiled crime novel, called Epämiellyttäviä päähenkilöitä ("Unpleasant Protagonists"). It turned out to be almost 300 pages! There's stuff ranging from John K. Butler and old true crime mags to James Ellroy and Gillian Flynn. (Okay, I'm cheating a bit, since Flynn isn't hardboiled, but she's noir, and that's close enough.)

The third book is Kalmankylväjä ("Deathbringer" or something like that) by Petri Hirvonen, a very short and tense action novel taking place somewhere in South America.

Two of the books, my collection and Petri's novel, were designed by J.T. Lindroos, the mastermind originally hailing from Finland. The cover for the flash fiction anthology was done by Jenni Jokiniemi.

The books are available only in print-on-demand. They are not available as e-books, since there are no markets for them in Finland. (It's a long and boring story.) I have plans for future books (actually I have four almost ready), and this might be something, well, not big, but biggish. We'll see. I'm not one to boast about my possible successes. You can see more here (it's obviously in Finnish).

PS. There might be some translations in the future, as I've accumulated lots of connections through years. I'll contact you.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Joe R. Lansdale binge

I've been reading lots of Joe Lansdale lately, since I wrote an article on him and his works for the magazine of the Finnish Whodunit Society. Here's a lowdown and some mini-reviews:

The Thicket: amazing Western novel that approaches horror literature without using any topics of the horror genre.

Paradise Sky: great epic Western with a very sympathetic African-American lead, some very violent scenes throughout.

Cold in July: great film, but even a better book, one of Lansdale's best. Lansdale himself dubbed this as his Gold Medal paperback. Lots of twists and turns, but I thought each and every one of them was logical.

The Bottoms: great mix of Mark Twain and more gory horror, though I saw quite early who the killer was. (It's never any reason for me to read a crime novel, to keep guessing who the killer is.) Great characters, people you wanted to know about and care for them.

Sunset and Sawdust: maybe a bit too reminiscent of The Bottoms, but still a very good crime novel, with a plausible and likable female lead and his two not-so-likable helpers. Lansdale does the epoque very well without emphasizing it too much. I like that.

Leather Maiden: possibly Lansdale's most conventional crime novel, but thoughtful and gripping nevertheless.

The Nightrunners: some terrific scenes and great characters, but there seemed to be a subtext of warning about teenage criminals, which felt odd.

I'd read almost all of the Hap and Leonard books earlier, so I read now only Mucho Mojo (great) and Vanilla Ride (a bit too straight-forward, but entertaining nevertheless). I didn't have time to read Devil Red nor Honky Tonk Samurai (nor the novellas that were published interim), a short mention based on what I could find had to suffice.

Lansdale doesn't have a Finnish publisher now. He hasn't had one since 2003. That's a crime. Someone should do something about it, what with the Hap and Leonard show on HBO and the graphic novel series coming out.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Donald Westlake's James Bond treatment surfaces as a novel

Hard Case Crime has dug up a James Bond novel Donald Westlake wrote as a treatment several years ago. It looks great. I'm not interested in the Bonds in the least, but this might be worth a look.