Monday, September 18, 2017

W. Glenn Duncan: Rafferty's Rules

Lately I've been reading stuff that's been loaded on my Kindle, something I haven't been doing for ages. One of the books I've now read was Rafferty's Rules by W. Glenn Duncan. I think it was author Paul Bishop who said good things about the Rafferty series over at the Men's Adventure Paperback Series Facebook group some weeks ago, so I decided to give it a try.

Rafferty is a private eye working in Texas. Rafferty's as hardboiled as they come, yet he smokes a pipe - for some reason or another, this bugged me a bit. He dates an attractive woman, Hilda Gardener, who's also an antique dealer, and he also has a sidekick called Cowboy. There's something a bit too Spenserish in the set-up, and Robert B. Parker is one of those private eye writers who briefly turned me off the genre 20-plus years ago. I still can't stand him (or his books, to be precise).

Rafferty's Rules however turned out to be a piece of nice entertainment, no matter how much Spenser there is in the book. Rafferty is hired to take care of some bikers who kidnapped and raped a young woman who later turned out crazy. Rafferty says he won't kill the molesters, but goes after them nevertheless. The case turns out to be more than that, as is usual the case with hardboiled private eye novels. The story moves along nicely and there are good action scenes throughout. The Texas settings reminded me of Joe R. Lansdale's Hap and Leonard novels, but they are better. There's too much cute stuff here, such as Rafferty eating nice lunches with Hilda. There are several more books in the series that was originally published in 1987-1990, but I still won't go out of my way to find them.

Here's Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective on Rafferty books.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects

I liked Gone Girl quite a bit, but I liked Gillian Flynn's earlier novel, Dark Places, much more. It was darker and pulled me in with its dirty secrets the way Gone Girl never did.

I was hoping Flynn's debut novel, Sharp Objects, that came out in Finnish translation just a year ago (and which I hadn't read earlier), would pull me in just as deeply as Dark Places. It just quite didn't catch the same depths as the other novel, but it was still very good indeed. (Even though many say Sharp Objects is the nastiest of the bunch.)

The main character is a female journalist, Camilla, who's assigned to cover a possible serial killer case in her hometown. Flynn describes the abysmal feelings that Camilla has go through to get the story done, she lives with her well-to-do mother, her icky husband and their awful teenage daughter, meets all her school mates, eats at the greasy joints, goes to lousy bars. (And she drinks quite a lot - I was thinking all the time: where are my Bloody Mary ingredients?) And Camilla is no pleasant human being to begin with. Flynn is very adept at describing unpleasant characters that the reader cares about. The secrets of a small Missouri town are dark and murky indeed, and Flynn guides the reader's suspicions artfully. The final twist pulls no punches.

Highly recommended - this is also shorter than Gone Girl, which I thought was a tad too long. There's also the fact that Flynn has no series characters. I couldn't take it if the Camilla of Sharp Objects would be the lead character in Dark Places! Here's hoping the publisher won't require Flynn to create series characters.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Stark House Western Classics

There's been some talk about the idea of reprinting classic hardboiled and noirish westerns of the fifties and sixties. I compiled such a list earlier on my blog here (I called the list, jokingly, Hard Case Western) and the Spinetingler Mag maven Brian Lindenmuth has been talking about the same kind of westerns on his Facebook site.

Only now I noticed that Stark House Press has started doing this. Earlier they reprinted three of Harry Whittington's noir westerns, and they reprinted one by Arnold Hano, the Lion Books editor, and now they've done a two-fer by Clifton Adams. This is incredible! I only hope I'd have more time on my hands.

If anyone wants to work along these lines, the list I compiled can be used. I only wish my name would be mentioned somewhere.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Reign of Fire

I didn't see this post-apocalyptic dragon film when it was new, and I got interested only after it had gotten some sort of a cult status. Well, I don't really know if it's really a cult film, but it has its admirers. I searched for the film, but quite haphazardly, didn't really go out for it. I would've watched it via some streaming site, but it doesn't seem to be available in Netflix, at least in the Finnish version. Finally I spotted the film on VHS for 10 cents in a thrift store.

Reign of Fire, directed by TV specialist Rob Bowman, is about dragons set loose in London some time in the present time or in the near future. They destroy the world, and only a handful of people remain. These include Christian Bale (who as a kid was responsible for setting the dragons loose) and Matthew McConaughey, who is an American flying across the Atlantic to destroy the only male dragon. Everything is burned to ashes, and people are living in caves and other barbarian environments.

The film doesn't make much sense (why does killing the male dragon help, when there are still hundreds of female dragons about?), and it's way too serious about its subject matter, when I think it should be done firmly tongue in cheek. The script is not very smart, and only Bale and McConaughey are given something to work on, others are merely extras, which sadly goes also for Izabella Scorupco, who's an flying assistant to McConaughey.

But Reign of Fire was still somewhat entertaining. I'm glad I watched it, but I do hope it would've been better. This didn't become my guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Once Upon a Texas Train (1988)

We just had the annual Summer get-together of the Finnish Western Society. We watched three more or less obscure films, one of them being Once Upon a Texas Train that I had bought earlier on VHS from a thrift store not knowing what it was about.

Turns out it was written and directed by Burt Kennedy, for whom it must've been some kind of a dream project: lots of old Western stars together possibly for the last time. The story is very traditional: an old train robber (Willie Nelson) gathers his old friends together and plans to rob a train. An old friend of the robber, colonel (Richard Widmark) has a hunch of what the robber is about to do and gathers some of their old acquaintances to stop the robber.

The line-up is sure something: Widmark, Chuck Connors, Jack Elam, Stuart Whitman, Gene Evans, Royal Dano, Ken Curtis, Dub Taylor, Kevin McCarthy (in a small role), Dub Taylor, Angie Dickinson, Harry Carey Jr., Hank Worden. But the movie is slow-moving and gets bogged down in the talkative middle. The ending is disappointing, and it seems like they shot two endings shot and used footage of both. Burt Kennedy wrote formidable scripts for Budd Boetticher in the late fifties, but his own films have been disappointing. I don't really care for his better-known films, either, like Support Your Local Sheriff!

Once Upon a Texas Train was made for TV, and it premiered CBS Sunday Movie on CBS on January 3, 1988, being a popular film with over 20 million viewers.

Here's Wikipedia on the film. The film seems to be available on DVD.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maltese Falcon, comic book version

Evan Lewis has been posting chapters of the comic book version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon on his blog. Check them out here.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Just a quick update: election, new books, coming books, a beautiful cover for one

Just announcing I'm not dead yet, though the latest blog post is from, what, two months back! Can this really be? Time flies really fast, doesn't it? 

There have been things going on around here, that's for sure. 

I ran for the city council here in Turku, Finland, in the ranks of the Left Alliance and was elected, almost to my surprise, vice member (or deputy member, I'm not really sure what the right word is). So far, I haven't done much in this official post, but we'll see. 

My publishing house, Helmivyö, has put out new books. One of them is my own "The Short Introduction to Trash/Pulpy Literature" (Roskakirjallisuuden lyhyt historia; it's a tour around the world, focusing mainly on the United States), and one of them is a volume of the the collected short fiction of Kaarlo Bergbom, Finnish writer from the 1860s. There are only four stories, one of them being a Biblical fantasy, one being an almost Westernish story of an old career criminal living as a hermit, and two being psychological short stories. You can check the books out here. (The site is understandably in Finnish.) 

My hands have been full of work, and besides all of the above I've been writing and compiling my own books. I had to postpone one that was supposed to come out next Fall, but the book about the film versions of classic and new Finnish literature is still in the works. It's a sequel to the book I wrote earlier, about film versions of known and forgotten books around the world, not only in Finland. 

And there will also be a collection of fairy tales for adults I edited. It's called "The Hundred Years of Sleep" (or "Dreams"; Sadan vuoden unet in Finnish), according to the shorty story of Johanna Venho that was simply wonderful. I wish someone possibly in the publishing business reading this blog would get excited and ask for a translation sample of some of the stories. Check out the cover above, it's by Charlie Bowater. 

I haven't been reading much hardboiled/noir/pulp/sleaze literature, as I have been deeply immersed in my work, but here's hoping I can squeeze some in during the Summer. So far, it looks bad... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Shellarama

I stumbled on this Shell-produced documentary almost by accident: I've been preparing a book that collects the writings of the Turku-based film critic Tapani Maskula (a Finnish legend), and reading some of his reviews from the sixties I noticed that he said nice things about a short subject that was shown before a longer movie (I believe it was The Hallelujah Trail). The short film was called Shellarama, and it was supposed to be shown in 70 mm (in Cinerama, to be exact), but there haven't been any 70 mm projectors in Turku, so it must've been shown here in 35 mm.

As the title suggests, Shellarama is, to quote the film's IMDb entry, "a celebration of Shell Petroleum, tracing its manufacture from discovery in oil fields to its eventual use as fuel for modern living across the globe". The film contains lots of breath-taking aerial shots with long camera drives over deserts and jungles, and it's fascinating to watch. Here's BFI on the film, I believe they have released the film - and some other 70 mm short films - on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Shellarama is available via YouTube in its entirety, albeit not with a very good quality, but it's still worth your while. As I watched it, I got to thinking the film reminded me of a much later film, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi from the early eighties. Both films are without dialogue or voice-over narration, and both films are structured rather similarly, as both start from nature and continue on to big cities and their car jams. Both films contain similar shots of industrial enviroments and cities. Both films use people almost only as backdrops. Of course the ideology between the two films couldn't be more different: Shellarama praises Shell and oil that is used to promote modern life, while Koyaanisqatsi criticizes the modern life and the turmoil it brings to Earth. The music in the films couldn't also be more different from each other, as Koyaanisqatsi uses Philip Glass's minimalist soundtrack and Shellarama has some Latin percussion.

It's still entirely possible Godfrey Reggio was influenced by Shellarama. If he wasn't, I'm surprised!

But take a look and see for yourselves. Looks like Blogger crops the embedded clip, here's the direct link to YouTube. (More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Suburbia, by Penelope Spheeris

I don't recall anymore when or where I first heard of Penelope Spheeris's film Suburbia (1983). It must've been an old Finnish music magazine, I had a bunch of those in the late eighties and I used to peruse them. Now I had finally a chance to see the film, and I saw it on big screen, which, I'm sure you know, is the option I prefer. The film seems to be out on DVD, and it was released on VHS in Finland thirty years ago, but I've never seen it anywhere.

Suburbia tells about a bunch of homeless teenagers, who have crashed an abandoned suburban house and live there all by themselves, sometimes stealing stuff from garages, sometimes going to punk concerts. It's a touching tragedy, with genuine heart-felt empathy for the kids, even though they are also shown to be jerks, racists or homophobes. One of them is a junkie, and his stuff leads to an overdose of another teenager. The teenagers are harassed by a duo of rednecks with guns, and their action leads to a needless death of a young boy. The movie ends in pessimistic notes.

The film has some great scenes at punk gigs, with bands like DI, T.S.O.L. and The Vandals (see above) giving their frantic best. The gigs are a mess, with young punks running and jumping and crashing on each other in mid-air. Some of the gigs end up violently, with the youngsters ripping off clothes from a young woman who's clearly in a wrong place, or some rednecks crashing the party with knives. It's not a pretty sight, even though Penelope Spheeris clearly knew what she was doing, since she had already made the punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (which I haven't seen).

Suburbia has lots of poignant shots about the desolate sites of Southern California. It was already like this over thirty years ago, even though the eighties was supposed to have been the decade of fortune and fame for everyone. In the beginning, we also see shots of wild dogs running rampant in the midst of abandoned houses, and it's a captivating sight. I don't know many American films that show this kind of societal decay - well, there have been some newer ones, like Killing Them Softly or Nebraska, but they are new. And then there's of course The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford. Spheeris was onto something here.

Suburbia was produced by Roger Corman, and it shows in some scenes of mild nudity and fist fights. Some of them are longer than they'd have to be. Corman had earlier made films about teenager sub-cultures, like The Wild Angels, and I'm sure he saw something similar in Suburbia and in the punk rock scene. Yet, Suburbia is just not another schlock film, it's a serious look at how teenagers are treated in American society. It's sometimes clichéd or badly acted (all the actors are amateurs, some of them are punk rockers from different bands), but it's very sincere and shows that the writer-director knew what she was doing. It's a small miracle Spheeris has since done films like The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), which admittedly I haven't seen. Wayne's World, her famous film, shows some of the flair for the rock'n'roll scene that's evident in Suburbia, but it's only a harmless comedy compared to the earlier film.

Spheeris started out in the 1960's doing some experimental and underground films, when she was a student at UCLA. I had a chance to see some of her early films last year at the Tampere Short Film Festival here in Finland. I didn't write anything about them at the time and my memories of the films are a bit dim, but here goes nevertheless.


Synthesis, Spheeris's first film from 1968, was an ordinary experimental film, unlike any other film she's done (to my knowledge). Bath (1969) is a short film that shows a woman masturbating taking a bath. It's a sensual film, not really shocking, but still possibly one of the first films showing a woman masturbating all by herself, without a man or without the film being porn. I Don't Know (1970) is a 20-minute film about the relationship between a lesbian woman and a transsexual man, and Spheeris depicts them warmly, without any patronizing or shocking revelations. The National Rehabilitation Center (1972) is a mockumentary about concentration camps aimed for possible subversives. It really looks like a mediocre newsreel or educational film, but isn't. There were also films called Shit, Hats Off to Hollywood, and No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll, but I don't remember much of them. Here's more on Spheeris's early films and their restorations.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog, possibly later on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The French Connection (1971)

I don't think anyone with sane mind would be able to say that William Friedkin's The French Connection is an overlooked movie. It's a classic crime film, and it's a classic in its own right. Everyone knows the hectic chase scenes, everyone knows Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, the narc cop prone to violence.

But you should see the film on big screen. I'd seen the film I think twice before yesterday, but now I had the chance to see it projected on silver screen from 35 mm print. The print was faded and scratchy, but boy, did the movie deliver! All the cinematic stuff in The French Connection was designed to work on the big screen, not on television. I remember that I had really not liked the film when I saw it earlier, but now I realized it was because of the wrong media. Friedkin uses lots of pans and zooms that don't work well in television. There are few close-ups, so we don't really get inside the characters. It's more like a documentary we are watching, even though it's a very entertaining and exciting documentary.

The soundtrack by jazz trumpetist Don Ellis is also great. I like the way Friedkin uses music and other sounds in the film, mixing them rather freely with each other.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Andy Straka: A Witness Above

I'd never heard about Andy Straka before, but I snatched his PI novel A Witness Above from the Brash Books newsletter, when it was free for a limited time. I read the book on my cell phone, which worked just fine.

A Witness Above stars Straka's private eye protagonist Frank Pavlicek, who's a former cop, fired from duty after shooting down a black kid, thinking the kid was armed. Pavlicek has retired from New York to his old haunts in Virginia. As he's training his hawk (something Straka seems himself to do), he stumbles upon a dead man, who seems to have a connection with Pavlicek's daughter. Soon Pavlicek gets a call of help from his daughter.

A Witness Above is a fluent, if not spectacularly original read. If you like hardboiled private eye novels, this should work for you. Straka's style is straight-forward and not overtly wordy, which at times suits me just fine. A Witness Above worked very well on the small screen of my phone. This is something one could read on a plane or in a train.

Monday, January 23, 2017

New collection of one-word poems out

As some of may remember, I have some interest in experimental poetry. I've done a collection of e-mail spam poetry that is still available (check it out here), and I've also done some very small booklets of other spam-related or found stuff.

Now there's a new book of experimental poetry out. It's called velernic syoke mulnec, and it's a collection of word verification words that were once used in blogs and other sites that required some sort of notification you're not a bot. So, a machine wanted to know whether we are humans. There's irony in that, to be sure.

velernic syoke mulnec is a part of the "pwoermd" movement (if there indeed is a movement), poems that include only one word. The words in velernic syoke mulnec are fictitious (unless by accident there are some bona fide words included), which also is ironic in itself. There's also a preface (two, actually), and it's in English.

These word verification words seem no longer to be in use, so the collection has already become a historical text, an archive, one might say. The bulk of it was collected by me and some other folks in the end of the first decade of the 2000's, and there was also a publisher, but for some reason or another it never came out. Now I decided to put it out as an e-book, and it will be free for some time now. So go grab it, if you're interested in this type of thing. The book is available also through Kobo. Amazon's preview option might also satisfy your interest.

The book looks like this:



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Teuvo Tulio, Finland's mad genius

Here's a new article on Finnish film-maker Teuvo Tulio on the AV Club's site. Short quote: "In the pantheon of unclassifiable filmmakers, there is a special place for Teuvo Tulio, Finland’s king of shameless melodrama. A fetishist, an outsider artist of 1940s and ’50s film, he was outrageous, incapable of subtlety, rising to a higher plane of camp—beyond Ken Russell, beyond Nicolas Cage doing an accent, beyond Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls."

I've mentioned Tulio at least twice on this blog, here and here.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dan Simmons: Summer of Night

I was going to do this as a part of the Friday's Forgotten Book series, but then I realized it's not Friday, it's Tuesday, and I should be writing about an Overlooked Film! Well, here goes nevertheless.

I had bad luck selecting my readings for this past holiday season. I read three books that had nothing to do with my other work, but the first two proved to be pretty bland (won't name any names, though). Luckily the third one I picked to read proved to entertaining and exciting. I'd never read Dan Simmons earlier, but I might try another one by him, as Summer of Night was quite good.

Summer of Night is at times a nostalgic look at the small town life in Illinois in the early 1960's. The evil in the book is an old, empty school that seems to nourish a secret or a bunch of them. In the beginning we see a nosy kid getting sucked up in a tunnel in the boys' room, and everything starts to unravel as the main characters, a bunch of kids, start to search for the explanation. There are references to Aleister Crowley and other esoteric stuff, but Simmons has enough style to keep the lecturing away. The book is quite long, which I usually don't like, but this kept me turning pages.

Simmons also clearly has sympathy for the underdog: his heroes are a dyslexic boy who proves to be the cleverest of them all, a dreamy boy who fantasizes about being a writer, a misanthropic kid who hates his out-going mother (I thought the description of the mother was a bit unfair, but it remained believable throughout), and an ugly and ill-kept girl who likes to carry a shotgun around. There's warmth also in the depiction of the somewhat loserish parents. There are lots of exciting scenes, but the long climax was also very good.

Summer of Night came out in 1992 and was nominated for a British Fantasy Award the same year. There have been sequels, but I haven't read any of them. When I was still picking up books for the Arktinen Banaani's paperback line some years ago, I considered Simmons's hardboiled crime novels, Hardcase, Hard Freeze, and Hard as Nails, but I never got around to reading them. His science fiction novels have been popular in Finland, so it might've been worth the effort.

The Finnish cover depicted above is ugly as all hell, it's no wonder this didn't make much impact here. The Finnish title translates back as "The Horror of the Summer Night". I notice now that one of the sequels, namely Children of the Night, has also been translated in Finnish as well - will have to look for it.