Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Salon: Wonderful Watercolors

Contemporary painter Gabby Malpas - source

Contemporary Polish painter Grgegorz Wrobel - source

Contemporary Russian painter Galina Vasilyeva - source

Alfred Renaudin (1866 - 1944) Nasturtiums - source

Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919) - source

Scottish painter Sir William Russell Flint  (1880 - 1969) - source

Contemporary painter Bella Foster - source

Giacinto Gigante with additions by a Bornone pupil - The House of Castor and Pollux, Pompeii - source

Contemporary painter Danielle O'Brien - source

Russian painter Catherine Klein (1861 - 1929) - source

Contemporary painter Dana Brown - source

Contemporary American painter Susan Abbott - source

Watercolor is extremely difficult to master as anyone who's tried knows all too well. Oh anyone can splash colors about, yes, but to splash in a disciplined manner, well that's rather a different kettle of fish. Especially since water has a mind of its own.

Friday, August 29, 2014

FFB: DEATH OF JEZEBEL (1948) by Christianna Brand

Since John over at Pretty Sinister Books raves about this particular Brand book and I'd never read it, and since a hard copy of DEATH OF JEZEBEL is difficult to come by without shelling out big bucks, I went ahead and ordered it from (I joined a while back) and boy am I glad I did.

Yes John, you were absolutely right. This is an ultra-FABULOUS book. I'm not sure it's the best of Brand but close enough. I think I still like SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE just a teensy bit more. But why quibble. Both books are extraordinarily good.

Christianna Brand is the Queen of Multiple Endings, but in DEATH OF A JEZEBEL she reaches for the stratosphere of multiple endings. Wow. But rather than detract from the thing (or add their own makeshift tedium) as some of these tricky endings do, in Brand's book they just add more and more dazzle to the whodunit atmosphere. Just when you think: AHA! Another clever ending presents itself. Surprise! To me it was obvious that Brand was having a bit of fun with the reader. But when you're a genius you can get away with this sort of thing.

An English pageant, knights in armor, horses, a princess in a tower, a cozy cast of intriguing characters, a locked room murder in full view of Inspector Cockrill (in London for a conference but missing is regular stomping grounds, Kent, where everyone knows who he is and treats him accordingly) and a large audience. The perfect crime? We shall soon find out that where Inspector Cockrill is concerned, no crime is too bizarre or too convoluted to solve.

Isabel Drew (the erstwhile 'princess in the tower' waiting up there to make her pageant entrance on cue) is the 'jezebel' in the title. Bitter, beautiful and bitchy, Isabel thinks nothing of dabbling in a spot of opportunistic blackmail. A clever woman who's been around the block a few times, she is no longer in the first flower of youth and knows her days and nights of opportunity are numbered. A careless sort, Isabel is utterly self-absorbed and oblivious to the feelings of others.

Seven years before, Drew and a male friend participated in a sordid event which led to the suicide of Johnny Wise, a young and impressionable British flyer visiting London from his home base of Malaysia - or as Isabel insists on referring to the place, 'the malaise'. Also involved in the sad affair was the equally young and impressionable Perpetua Kirk (known as Pepi) who was Johnny's fiancee.

Now with World War II finally over, it seems that the past has reached out, determined to seek vengeance for the terrible death of a fair-haired boy whom everyone loved.

When threatening notes are discovered, Pepi asks her old friend Inspector Cockrill to take a hand. She invites him to attend a rather preposterous pageant planned by some of her acquaintances. "Ah, the British and their pageants." mutters Cockrill. But he likes Pepi and wishes she'd get over the events which blighted her life seven years before.

What follows is not only a mystifying locked room murder staged in front of a large crowd of spectators - none of whom sees anything worth noting - but a nasty be-heading as well. Ah, the British and their juicy Golden Age murders.

I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.

My unabridged audio version was beautifully narrated by Derek Perkins.

While Patti Abbott is away from her desk, Evan Lewis will be collecting links at his blog Davy Crockett's Almanack. Don't forget to take a look to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: FROM THE TERRACE (1960) starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Ina Balin.

The main reason to watch this movie is Paul Newman at the very height of his incredible Technicolor good looks. And hey, that's quite good enough for me.

FROM THE TERRACE (1960) is directed by Mark Robson from a screenplay by Ernest Lehman - based on the book (with quite a different ending) by John O'Hara. In truth I did try to re-read the book, but it was hard going so one reading, oh-so-long ago, will have to suffice.

This is a typically glossy film of the period except that here it's Joanne Woodward (who usually played a drab) who gets to parade around in jewels, designer duds and platinum hair, not her usual ambience. She has little to do except play a spitefully unfaithful wife whom it is impossible to like. This is difficult because the tendency is always to like Joanne Woodward, here you can say she's definitely cast against type.

David Alfred Eaton (Paul Newman) is a young man on the go. He is the son of a distant self-made business man (Leon Ames) and, if I remember correctly, a mother who drinks, played by Myrna Loy. Alfred has much to recommend him: good looks, drive, intelligence, good looks, pluck, a will to succeed and finally, good looks and uh, well, good looks. Hard to avoid that.

When Alfred meets the blond vision of his dreams, society miss Mary St. John (Joanne Woodward) she is unfortunately already taken, engaged to Jim Roper (Patrick O'Neal) a future doctor. Roper is perfect hubby material for Mary since he practically oozes money and sophistication and is just as shallow as she is.

But Alfred doesn't pick up on the warning signals. He is brash enough to think he's got the world by the tail.

What with one thing and another, the feckless  Mary soon ditches Jim and gets engaged to the besotted Alfred who can't get over his good fortune. Mary has the connections he lacks, she has the society family (which, needless to say, is not overjoyed to see Alfred join their ranks) and best of all, she will be the perfect sort of wife for a young man who plans on hitting it big in business.

Alfred makes himself believe that the hard-to-please Mary wants the same things he does. Uh-oh.

Some time later, husband and wife are on their way someplace, bickering in the car. Poor discontented Mary can't understand that to keep her in the style that she is accustomed to being kept, Alfred must work hard and often be away from home for days and weeks on end. (His work has something to do with airplanes, I think. I'm doing this post from memory just to be contrary.) So what is a lovely, hot-blooded, passionate woman  (cold appearance to the contrary) to do - languish on her own? I think not.

Anyway, while driving along a winter road, Alfred and Mary spot a young boy ice skating on a pond. When the boy plunges through the ice, Alfred pulls the car over, jumps in and rescues him.

It turns out that the boy is the grandson of Felix Aylmer (James Duncan MacHardie) the very wealthy chairman of a Wall Street firm. The boy's father, however, is a round little weasel who though grateful that Alfred saved his son's life, still recognizes in Alfred, an alpha-male rival to reckon with. When old Aylmer offers Alfred a job at his firm, Alfred readily accepts and soon is on the fast-track towards the top. (Goodbye to his airplane business, hello, Wall Street!)

As his marriage disintegrates, Alfred suspects that his wife's old boyfriend Dr. Roper is back on the scene. And of course he is, in fact, he hardly ever left. Honestly, that Mary is such a slut. But she does wear awfully chic clothes.

In the meantime, Alfred is warned by old Aylmer that he (Aylmer) abhors scandal and that if Alfred aspires to join the board of directors, he must avoid scandal in any way shape or form. Uh-oh.

One day Alfred, away on business in Pennsylvania, meets the beautiful and virginal Natalie Benzinger (Ina Balin) and her parents. Natalie's dad owns the business that Alfred's firm is interested in. The Benzingers have a large comfortable home in the country filled with the sorts of things that tell us that they are nice people, comfortable in their own skins - not at all the sort who carry on as most of Alfred's country club friends do. Alfred is bowled over by the family's warmth and Natalie's quiet beauty and manner. In truth, she appears to be the polar opposite of slutty Mary back in their NY penthouse carousing with the good doctor.

Alfred and Natalie are obviously smitten but since nothing can be done about it, they say goodbye.

But one evening Alfred and Mary run into Natalie who's in the city for some shopping. Clever Mary instantly realizes that Natalie and her hubby have met before and that they are in the thrall of some deep emotion.

Back at the penthouse, Mary rubs salt in Alfred's wounds and calls Jim Roper to arrange a date while poor Alfred stands there like a shlump.

Natalie, in the meantime, throws caution to the winds and asks Alfred to arrange a hotel room assignation. Uh-oh.

After a nice love scene (finally) between Alfred and Natalie, photographers break into the hotel room and take pictures of the couple in a clinch. The next day a package of pictures arrives on Alfred's desk.

Remember that round weasel I told you about? The father of the boy that Alfred saved from drowning? Well, his resentment of Alfred has only grown as he's watched Alfred's rapid rise in a company owned by his own family. Not only that, but the weasel has become involved in some nefarious and illegal business dealings which Alfred knows about and refuses to keep secret. Uh-oh. You know where this is headed.

Well, in the end (a dilly as Alfred is about to be named a member of the Board of Directors), Alfred must choose between success and the woman he loves.

The odd thing about this film is the total lack of sizzle between Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (his wife in real life of course) and the crackling sizzle between Paul Newman and Ina Balin. Occasionally Newman's good looks would overpower the women he played against, I mean, look at him. But Ina Balin, who was not conventionally beautiful, held her own. To my eye, they look good together. Go figure.

Joanne Woodward is a wonderful, occasionally powerful actress but her one weakness (if she has any) is that she can be a little distant no matter the role she's playing. Sometimes this works very well for her and sometimes it doesn't. My favorite role of hers (though she was superb in THREE FACES OF EVE for which she won an Oscar) is as the young girl opposite Yul Brynner in the pretty lame adaptation of Faulkner's THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Talk about sizzle.

Brynner and Woodward though they do not have a love scene in the entire film and for most of that he is her overbearing guardian and she just a young gangling, coltish sort of girl, sizzle enough for several films. Brynner's smoulder alone....Well, it did something to me, sitting in the movie audience all young and impressionable.

FROM THE TERRACE features a hefty cast of reliable character actors who help things along. Among them: Myrna Loy, Leon Ames, Malcom Atterbury, George Grizzard, Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Allen, Ted de Corsia (playing very much against type), Patrick O'Neal and Howard Caine as the weasel.

Don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Forgotten, Overlooked Films, Television and/or Other Audio Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're an esoteric bunch. 

Source of scenes from the movie.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Selfie. More or less. Mostly less.

Portrait d'Yvette by French avant-garde painter, Francis Picabia, 1942 - source

Except for the hair color, this doesn't look anything like me, let me assure you. The simple and self-centered truth is that I  like this painting because it's not only a 'Portrait d'Yvette' but it's dated 1942, the year of my birth.

Lately I've come across several Yvettes - kind of a weird feeling - in two recently read books (one I finished, one I didn't) and then this portrait today. I'm slightly taken aback since I can't ever remember seeing my name used for characters in fiction. (Except for Guy de Maupassant's short story 'Yvette' which I don't remember reading.) Has that ever happened to you? Well, if your name is Jack, it happens all the time and ho-hum.

But for us Yvettes out here, all this is a memorable and rare occasion.

When I was a kid I disliked my name intensely since it was odd and I always had to spell it out for people and, worst of all, Yvette wasn't conducive to a nick-name. Such are the trifles that make misery for young and tremulous ids.

Friday, August 22, 2014

FFB: SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE (1946) by Christianna Brand

Far as I'm concerned, Christianna Brand (1907 - 1988) wrote three mystery classics (of those that I've read so far): GREEN FOR DANGER, TOUR DE FORCE and SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE which I finished just a few days ago.

These three books feature Brand's elusive creation, eccentric British Police Inspector Cockrill, usually referred to as 'Cockie'. If you haven't read them, I recommend dropping everything and doing so forthwith. They are THAT good. GREEN FOR DANGER, of course, was turned into a terrific movie starring Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.

Another of the brilliant doyennes of the Golden Age of Mystery, Christianna Brand is less well known today than Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers and the like, but to my mind, she was just as fiendishly clever.

Though in this particular book, Brand doesn't do a great job of defining Cockrill except for the fact that he rolls his own cigarettes, smokes like a chimney and wears a straw boater, oddly enough, I didn't find this all that bothersome. For whatever reason, in Brand's brand of mystery telling, the overall impression is so good, re: plot and suspects, that the detective is more or less lost in the shuffle. Not a problem with me though ordinarily it should be.

Maybe it's best that the detective does fade into the background in certain instances.

An English country house mystery is always a good thing. An English country house mystery set during the Blitz (WWII) is even better, especially since this impacts the story very satisfactorily in the end.

Question: Who killed grandfather just as he was about to change his will - yet again? (When will these rich and cantankerous old gentlemen learn that loudly broadcasting a change of will is not, generally speaking, a good idea.)

The March clan gathers at the family estate, Swanswater, to honor the day Grandfather Richard's first wife passed away - she who still rules the roost though she's been dead lo, these many years. Sir Richard's current wife Bella (who had been his mistress during the first marriage)  puts up with this yearly event with a certain amount of stoic fortitude, remarkable in and of itself considering that the older her husband gets, the more he reveres his first wife's memory. Guilt and general petulance will do that to a man.

So much guilt and so much petulance that he is constantly threatening to disinherit one family member over and above another for this or that infraction. So another altercation is hardly unexpected especially when all their nerves are frayed by their own individual needs and deeds, not to mention, the clamor of an on-going war.

Even worse and against his doctor's wishes, Sir Richard, who has a ticky heart, insists on spending the night - alone - out in the Grecian folly (or lodge) where his first wife died, there to muse on the wonderfulness of her being. This naturally disconcerts the family who, for various and sundry reasons, would prefer that Sir Richard not go off by himself to brood, especially in his present state of mind.

His death (at first thought to be a natural occurrence brought on by rancor) is discovered in the morning along with the additional drama of it apparently having occurred in a 'locked room'. The folly was surrounded by freshly sanded paths upon which any intruder OR family member would have left vivid prints had they approached the building. How did the killer get in, do this deed and then disappear without leaving footprints?

Everyone has their own theory and the author gives us enough of them (and enough red herrings) to confuse the issue nicely.

When a second murder occurs and that too has a 'locked room' flavor to it, well, it's almost an embarrassment of riches for Inspector Cockrill who understands almost immediately that the murderer must be a family member.

Among those staying at Swanswater is Bella March's thoroughly spoiled and neurotic grandson Edward who has managed to convince himself and everyone else that he is mad, bad and dangerous to know. So when suspicion lands heavily on Edward - in truth he wonders himself if he didn't do it -  the family circles the wagons. After all, the poor boy can't help the way he is - can he?

SUDDENLY AT HIS RESIDENCE is an intelligent and clever mystery which takes place in a secluded, claustrophobic setting with few suspects and less clearly defined motives than most stories of this type. The murders spring purely from the character of the killer and Cockrill, near the end, pulls off a neat bit of obfuscation in the interest of justice. And even thought the denouement wavers slightly under the heavy weight of a deux ex machina intervention, the thing serves its purpose spectacularly well.

Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in at Patti Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Books, other bloggers are talking about today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE starring Dorothy McGuire, George Brent and Ethel Barrymore

Directed by respected film veteran, Robert Siodmak, THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE stars Dorothy McGuire, George Brent and Ethel Barrymore.

This is an oddly titled film (based on the novel by Ethel Lina White) because the 'spiral staircase' which, to my way of thinking, should be prominently on display front and center, is rarely on show and when it is, it's shrouded in shadows and hardly visible. (I blame the camera angles.) I kept looking for the spiral - where is it? I'm still not sure I actually saw it.They do show a spiraling staircase in the opening credits - BUT, NOT THE ONE IN THE FILM. I mean, huh?

Not the greatest of films for sure, but it has enough of a creepy quotient that I thought I'd write about it primarily because in the cast are featured two of my very favorite acting nonentities: George Brent and Kent Smith. YES! Together in one film. Proof positive that they are not the same person (my theory as you may know from a previous post) or else it's a dazzling display of movie magic from 1945.

Kent Smith on the left and George Brent on the right. The duo of Mr. Bland and Mr. Blander.

Here they are as dull and wooden as they've ever been. So much so that it's worth watching the movie for them alone. Why? Well, to see just how monotonous two men can be and still get away with starring in films. Perverse I know.

And the third guy (Gordon Oliver) in the cast is just as bad, in fact he's SO bland that if I had to pick him out of line-up, I couldn't. As a criminal he would probably have made big bucks because no one could have ever described him accurately. Other than two eyes, a nose and a mouth, you'd be hard-pressed to go further.

Admittedly, I watched this from beginning to end with a snarky smile on my face, actually thinking that at some point I might begin to like it.. Oh there were a few enjoyable parts, but on the whole, unless you have a contrary sense of humor (sort of like mine) you'd probably be better off seeing something else.

Here's the basic story:

The setting is small town America way back when. People are still using the horse and buggy for transportation, but since silent films have made their debut (and there is a telephone in the house) it could be anywhere from 1894 - 1929 - though the clothing suggests turn of the century. Americans just don't do this sort of thing as well as the Brits, costume and setting-wise. Unfortunately, the entire thing looks very much like a stage play or little theater production. The whole thing (except for maybe a couple of outdoor scenes) was filmed on a sound stage so you get the idea.

At any rate, the first few rather creepy scenes set up the premise: a serial killer is going around strangling 'defective' young women. Of the three victims so far, one limped, one was 'simple', one had a scar - and our heroine, you guessed it, has a perceived defect which sets her up nicely for the murderer. Dorothy McGuire plays Helen, the paid companion (at least that's what I think she is) of an elderly woman who spends all her time in bed, rolling her eyes and making a nuisance of herself as old ladies were wont to do in those days. She's played by Ethel Barrymore who had exaggerated eye-rolling down to a science if you want my opinion.

The whole movie takes place in the space of one day and night so things begin moving right along from the first.

It must be Helen's day off because she's been in town to watch a silent film and is on hand when the latest murder is discovered (in the same building where they're showing the film). This whole early sequence is handled well enough I suppose - especially the eerie close-up of the killer's eye.

Yeah, pretty creepy.

Shortly thereafter, an undaunted Helen is on her way home after being warned by the local constable to be careful since there's a killer on the loose and  it's going to be dark soon - uh-oh, and what's more a storm is approaching. Okay, we'll leave the eye-rolling to Ethel Barrymore.

But luckily, young doctor Parry (Kent Smith) comes by in his buggy and offers her a lift - he's in love with her, you see, and she with him. BUT, there's a fly in the ointment of love: Helen is mute. A terrible experience in her past has rendered her unable to speak. But we're given to understand that it's a kind of hysterical illness and not based on any physical deformity. Too fine a distinction for the killer, I suppose.

The cozy ride is interrupted as a young boy comes to fetch the doctor and so Helen must walk the rest of the way home. She meanders and soon it's dark and the skies erupt with thunder and lightning. (Well, we knew that would happen.) Finally showing some fear, Helen rushes home in the rain, through a tangle of wet bushes and trees and we see the shadowy outline of a dripping man (he's wearing a slicker) lurking in the trees. Yeah, that part was scary. But Helen makes it inside even after dropping her keys and having to flop around in a puddle looking for them. These things will happen when you're in a hurry and a killer is on your trail.

"Get out of this house. NOW!!! Immediately!!! This minute!!!! Don't wait another second!!! Go NOW!!!

Back indoors, we meet the other inhabitants of the huge, silent and rather ugly house. Upstairs in her room there's the bed-ridden Mrs. Warren (Ethel Barrymore), a cantankerous old lady who knows that something evil is about to happen - though it would have helped things along if she'd told someone her suspicions - but then there'd be no story. You know how that goes.

Please note that the staircase behind George Brent and Dorothy McGuire is NOT a spiral one. The spiral (more or less) is reserved for the basement stairs glimpsed only in candlelight. 

Then there's her son Professor Warren (George Brent) who does I don't know what in his office downstairs aided by a beautiful secretary named Blanche (Rhonda Fleming) who apparently is no better than she should be having caught the eye not only of the professor but of his younger half brother Steven (Gordon Oliver), a slimy Lothario.

Then there are the 'servants': Mrs. Oates (the wonderful Elsa Lanchester) who cooks and cleans, but she also drinks, and her hubby, the grumbly Oates (Rhys Williams) who does whatever else needs doing inside and outside the house. There's a nurse (Sara Allgood) upstairs who takes care of Mrs. Warren but she really has little to do since old lady can't stand the sight of her. Oh, there's also a lovable bull dog who does even less. But he does get some cute close-ups.

Anyway, from the getgo, the old lady begins warning Helen to get out of the house immediately if not sooner. Though she won't say why. Helen apparently weary of being warned goes about dreaming of her doctor (there's a whole dream sequence showing their wedding which ends in disaster since poor Helen can't utter the magic words: "I do."), seemingly oblivious that evil is about to put the kebosh on her happiness.

Once Blanche is murdered, after stupidly going downstairs to the basement in the dark with only a candle to light the way - what is it with these women??? Dark basement. Candle light. Creepy house. Hasn't she ever read a book?

Well, once Blanche's body is discovered, Helen begins to take the immediate danger more seriously. In the end she shows herself to be a young woman with gumption and oh yes, she does overcome her affliction.

Now that I think back on it, maybe the film wasn't half-bad. But it doesn't hurt to approach the thing with a jaundiced eye and a reverence for banality.

Since it's Tuesday, don't forget to check in on Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other films, television or audio/visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're an eclectic bunch.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Okay, FLASH-FICTION CHALLENGE aficionados - are you ready to write up a storm? It's time for another of our little writing phantasmagorias (as I like to call them). This will be our one and only Fiction Fest for the year since 2014 seems to have come and almost gone already. (Where does the time go?)

The rules:

Simply pick an illustration from the three shown above and create a short story around it. Let's not get bulky, try and keep it all to about a thousand words or less. Just realized that a thousand words is nothing much so disregard that and use as many words as you feel your story deserves. Within reason, of course. Maybe a limit of 3,000? 

No prizes except the thrill of writing a story on a dare. Even if you've never written anything like this before, join in. It's all about the fun of seeing what your imagination can come up with. Any style is fine. Any idea will work as long as you keep in mind the illustration and what it might portend. The rest is up to you.

I've arbitrarily chosen September 14th (which is a Sunday) as the date for The Big Reveal. (Is that too much time? If you'd rather it were sooner, make a suggestion in the comments.) So that gives us a month if you're like me and put everything off or simply have too busy a life to just drop everything and take on something new. Plus remember that there's a long holiday weekend in that mix.

So let me know if you'd like to join in (don't be shy, this is NOT a competition) and we'll take it from there.

On September 14th, post the story on your blog. I'll collect the links and post them here as well along with my own story. Then we'll have a nice round-robin of reading and friendly critiquing.

Do try and keep 'expletives' (if any) in your story to a bare minimum. This is a family blog atmosphere and I am a strict task master.

In the final post on your blog, use the illustration you've chosen to write about but make sure you source it as I have and give the artist's name and link to his bio.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Salon: Into Each Life a Little Melodrama Must Fall

Walter Baumhofer  1904 - 1987 - source

Walter M. Baumhofer 1904 - 1987 - source

Robert Fawcett 1903 - 1967 - source

Walter M. Baumhofer

Saul Tepper 1899 - 1987 - source

Tom Lovell 1909 - 1997 - source

Haddon Sundblom 1899 - 1976 

Coby Whitmore 1913 - 1988- source

Dean Cornwell 1892 -1960 - source

Leslie Thrasher 1889 - 1936 - source

Robert G. Harris 1911 - 2007 - source

Edmund Franklin Ward 1892 - 1990 - source

Wonderful illustrated moments-in-melodrama - or at least, that's what I call them. The 1930's, 40's and 50's seemed ready-made for melodrama - it was the heyday of magazine illustration. Back then, most magazines contained stories, serials - even abridged novels - all usually needing an illustration or two. And there were plenty of talented illustrators who answered the call. I love 'the look' of these and enjoy imagining what was happening at that particular moment in fictional time.

Maybe it's time for another Fan-Fiction Fest?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Unforgotten Book Friday: MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD by Charlaine Harris

Haven't read a 'forgotten or overlooked' book lately and have nothing in my head (vintage reading-wise) I wanted to talk about, hence my 'unforgotten' book post. Hopefully that's okay with Patti who conducts the 'FFB Friday' meme at her blog, Pattinase. (Don't forget to check the list and links.)

I don't, normally, read this kind of book so MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD was another of those light, pleasant reading surprises that add spark to the doldrums of summer reading.

Author Charlaine Harris' Stookie Stackhouse books have been turned into a very successful HBO television enterprise so I need hardly introduce her work to you. The series is called TRUE BLOOD and I've never seen it nor do I plan to. I'm not much of a fan of the undead. Haven't read the books either - not my thing. But I know I'm in the very tiniest minority.

Though I am familiar with the oh-so-charming and patient Harris (and am thrilled for her success) because I once ran into her at a conference and spent a few delightful moments embarrassing myself by gushing over a couple of her earlier series, one featuring librarian/crime solver Aurora Teagarden and the other featuring the troubled but kick-ass heroine Lily Bard. Then I ruined the whole thing by attributing a book to Harris that she hadn't written. Embarrassing! But she was SO sweet about it.

The Lily Bard books, in particular, need to be turned into a series, but I fear there's not a vampire or werewolf to be found within - just terrific mysteries with a noir vibe and a compelling, if damaged, heroine. The setting, Shakespeare, Arkansas is also a plus. If you're not familiar with those books then make yourselves familiar asap beginning with SHAKESPEARE'S LANDLORD. You will feel for Lily and you will love her and then you will wish there were more than five books in the series.

Hey, I just realized I could have gone with Lily Bard for today's meme, since I've never actually met or talked to anyone who's read these books. Even if they remain one of the best female-centered series around.

Back to MIDNIGHT CROSSROADS which does, I've read, feature a character left over from the Sookie Stackhouse books. But I thought I'd take a look anyway - it's been awhile since I read any Charlaine Harris and MC has an intriguing premise (...a new mystery-romance-paranormal mash-up...Booklist), first in a planned trilogy set in an isolated small town in West Texas. Judging by this one, I'll be reading the next two soon as they become available.

Manfred Bernardo is the new guy in town. He has secrets. (Who doesn't?)

"...then Manfred realizes that all morning, throughout the camaraderie of unloading the van, neither of his companions asked the obvious questions. Why are you moving to such a godforsaken place? What brings you here? What do you do? Where did you live before?

And Manfred Bernardo realizes he's moved to the right place. In fact, it's just like he belongs here."

I like stories of new beginning in new places most especially if there's a promise of odd doings. Here we get the usual barrage of eccentric misfits - the town is a virtual island of lost and quirky souls - but all are embroidered with Harris' unique touch.

Bernardo reads minds, sort of, though he often doesn't. His neighbor Fiji, is a witch - sort of - with a cat as her familiar - you know how that goes. There's a weird sort of minister of some unspecified religion - he hardly, if ever, speaks at all, so there's that to deal with. Then there's a handsome guy named Bobo who runs the pawn shop - Fiji has her eye on him. Bobo rents a room in the basement to a vampire named Lemuel. Just the one. Not too bad. Just one. He's not introduced until part of the way in so we get used to the more likable characters first.

Lemuel is a very sinister, pasty-faced individual who feeds on blood and energy and comes out at night with his companion, the enigmatic Olivia. Though she's not a vampire (far as I can make out), both are characters to be very wary of in Midnight, Texas. Even if they are neighbors.

Of course there's murder and mayhem to follow and a treasure to be discovered. But in truth, here's all you have to know about this book to know if you'll like it or not:

Remember that cat I mentioned earlier? Fiji's familiar? Well, he talks. Yeah, he does. Though we don't find out for awhile. He is hilarious and worth the price of the book if you're inclined to buy. I might even call him: THE. BEST. CAT. CHARACTER. EVER. And I do.

If you can't accept this little bit of oddness, then don't read the book. Really. It's not for you.

But here's my view: if you accept vampires and their modus vivendi, then why not a talking cat? Especially a talking cat with a serious attitude problem.

I laughed so loud, I was afraid my neighbors might hear.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

FREE FALL (2013) Starring Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt

This is a German film with subtitles. I find no problem with this but some do. It's a love story between two men. I find no problem with this but some do. It you're one who does then don't read this post, don't watch the movie.

FREE FALL (2013) is a film directed by Stephen Lacant, screenplay by Stephen Lacant and Karsten Dahlem, starring two remarkable German actors, Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt. I had heard that this was on par with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN which remains one of my favorite films of all time even if the damn thing broke my heart.

Was this as good as BBM? Almost. Yes, I dare say it, almost.

The raw honesty of the film was not totally unexpected but I was surprised by how incredibly good the acting is. Hanno Koffler as Marc Borgmann got a well-deserved German Academy Award Best Actor nomination and probably should have gotten one here as well. He's THAT good. Max Riemelt as Kay (rhymes with 'eye') Engel is really just as wonderful though the film unveils from Marc's point of view so his character carries most of the weight.

Marc Borgmann is a rookie cop with a girlfriend and a baby on the way. They've moved close to relatives to make things easier on the new mother though in truth what it does is overwhelm Marc. I'm not sure how the German police works, but it seems that they must spend part of the week away in barracks training, I guess like our police academies. This part isn't very clear but since it's not overly important to the story - except that it throws the two men together in a mostly male environment - I won't worry about it.

The work setting has an institutionalized military look and feel to it as the cops train in riot control, hand to hand combat and other police oriented disciplines. There are barking instructors, rigid rules to follow and lines not to be crossed. Marc is working hard to pass his exams and he doesn't give name to his uneasiness because he loves his wife and knows he has a lot to be thankful for. This unease is slowly drawn out and results in Marc being culled from the group in training by Kay Engel, a younger, more easy going rebel-prone type who finds Marc's play-by-the-rules behavior and occasional haplessness, intriguing.

Not that Kay is a predator, he's just a lonely man on the make, not that unusual. Kay's hard veneer covers a vulnerability, flashes of which we get here and there and are all the more beautifully expressed by their subtlety. Max Riemelt is wonderful at expressing by not expressing. He is the perfect foil for his co-star. Then of course, there's that fleeting hint of mischief in his eyes.

The two men begin training, running together. Marc is intrigued by Kay's ease of manner and indifference to the rules. They form an unlikely acquaintance bordering on friendship until, during one of their runs, Kay makes a pass at Marc. Marc's immediate negative reaction causes Kay to dismiss it as a joke. But once Kay resumes their run, Marc stays behind and the camera lingers on his almost expressionless face. Nothing overt, nothing other than the fact that it's obvious Marc has had a reaction he wasn't expecting. The troubled look in his eyes speak volumes.

From that moment, Marc is wary of Kay and tries to steer clear. But as time passes this becomes more and more difficult for him. Especially since Kay senses that Marc - much against his better judgement - is attracted.

Over time, the two men are drawn to each other and fall uneasily into a passionate affair. But as in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, it is more than an affair. That's the problem, really. In this sort of film love means loss and devastation.

There is also some violence but not over the top and the loss is not unexpected. When will there be a dramatic film featuring two men who fall in love and live happily ever after? Well, obviously not when there's a broken marriage in the middle of the mix. As much as a guilty Marc tries to find a solution, tries to do what's right in an untenable situation, he just makes things worse. We then get an ambiguous ending in which we are given to believe that Marc is a stronger and better person.

Otherwise this is one of the more moving films I've seen in a while. It's all in the acting of the two leads which is beautifully sincere and affecting and yes, sexy. The more because these are not two pretty boys, they are, instead two men who look as if they might really be human beings and cops.

Watching Marc's relationship with the mother of his child as it crumbles, you feel achingly sad for the confused and heartbroken Bettina (Katharina Schuttler) who must deal with a newborn and a man who is suddenly a stranger.

"Are you gay?"
"What are you?"
"I don't know."

Three lives torn apart by love. An engaging, moving, perceptive film, the sort that doesn't come along very often.

Yes, there are a couple of sex scenes - one very intensely passionate, but considering that many films featuring heterosexual relationships rarely stray far from the bedroom, there's nothing here that will stun you and cause you to go into abject shock. Hanno Koffler's tenderness in the midst of desire is actually rather beautiful to behold. As is Max Riemelt's bemusement in the face of overwhelming passion. You do believe these two men are desperately in love.

By the way, there's also a shower room scene in which frontal nudity is casually displayed. The men shower in groups. Done this matter-of-factly you don't recoil with horror if that was your inclination. I was not the slightest bit uncomfortable and I'm an old lady with old lady sensibilities. What did make me uncomfortable was the name-calling and homophobia of some of Marc's co-workers. Nudity I can deal with - it's hate that gives me a hard time.

Not an easy film, but definitely one of the most affecting and memorable.

Don't forget to check in at Todd's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're a lively bunch.