The Dark Fringe

Of my works, the one that remained unavailable via the Kindle was my first one, the graphic novel The Dark Fringe.

No longer.

As of yesterday, The Dark Fringe is now available via for immediate download to your Kindle devices (be they tablets or computers).  And, to celebrate this fact, the book can be downloaded FOR ABSOLUTELY FREE through the weekend.  This offer expires on Sunday, June the 2nd, so please take advantage!


You can find the e-graphic novel at the link below:


The Outfit (1973) a (very) belated review

Having just seen Jack Reacher the other day and noting Robert Duvall in a small role within the film toward its end, it was intriguing -in a time travel sort of way- to subsequently see a much much younger Mr. Duvall in the starring role in 1973’s The Outfit, based on the third novel in the popular (and many times filmed) “Parker” series.

For those unfamiliar with the Parker character, he first appeared in the Richard Stark (a pseudonym for Donald Westlake) novel The Hunter.  That book would go on to be filmed and released in 1967 as Point Blank and starred the tough-as-nails Lee Marvin.  Author Donald Westlake, for whatever reason, didn’t want the movies to use the actual name “Parker” and therefore in Point Blank Parker became Walker.  Many years later the film would be re-made with Mel Gibson as the Parker character, this time named Porter, in Payback.

The third book in the series, The Outfit, is the focus of this 1973 film.  In many ways, The novels The Hunter and The Outfit are bookends.  They tell a larger story between themselves, one which was trimmed a little to make this film version.

When the The Outfit, opens, we follow two hitmen who find and kill a man.  We then shift to Macklin (Robert Duvall), who is in jail and is in the process of being released.  He’s picked up by Bett Harrow (Karen Black, looking absolutely stunning), who we find is more than a little nervous about being with Macklin.  She has good reason to be, as we quickly find that the man killed at the beginning of the film was Macklin’s brother and the mob wants to get rid of Macklin as well.  In fact, the mob put considerable pressure on Bett -including torture- to pick up Macklin when he got out of jail and had her set him up for a hit.  The mob is upset that Macklin and his brother’s last job, a bank robbery, targeted one of their banks.  Needless to say, the outfit will not tolerate such impertinence.

What follows is an intriguing cat and mouse game between Macklin and the mob.  With the aid of Bett and old friend Jack Cody (Joe Don Baker), Macklin intends to not only put pressure on the mob to call off the hit, but to also force them to pay him and make amends for killing his brother!

The Outfit features plenty of intriguing and familiar faces.  Legendary screen femme fatales Marie Windsor and Jane Greer pop up for a couple of scenes, as do familiar faces such as Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Elisha Cook Jr., Joanna Cassidy (in an early, early role), and, as the movie’s main bad guy, Robert Ryan.

The story flows well, never slowing too much and always moving toward its resolution.  If the movie has one big fault, to me it’s the character of Bett Harrow.  While I felt Karen Black delivered a great performance in the film, her character’s story arc was disappointingly small once all was said and done.  Early on in the film Jack Cody states that he and Macklin could do what needs to be done against the outfit without Bett.  Macklin disagrees and she stays in the picture but the movie essentially proves Cody was right.

It’s a minor gripe, to be sure, and while I still believe the best “Parker” film ever made remains Point Blank, to me the director’s cut of Payback (avoid the theatrical cut like the plague!) and The Outfit are neck and neck in second place.  Recommended.

And, just for the heck of it, trailers for Point Blank and Payback

Jack Reacher (2012) a (mildly) belated review

Tom Cruise is…Jack Reacher.  Jack Reacher, of course, is the protagonist of a several books by author Lee Child.  When it was announced Mr. Cruise would play the titular character in a feature film, there was much teeth-gnashing among fans of the novels.

Jack Reacher, as described by Mr. Child, was a mountain of a man, tall and strong, and Tom Cruise…wasn’t.  Isn’t.  So, understandably, fans were incensed that he should be given the role.  I can honestly say the last time I saw that much controversy about the casting of a famous actor in a role familiar to legions of book fans might well have been Tom Cruise again, this time as the vampire Lestat in Interview With A Vampire.  In that case, the author of that book, Anne Rice, was at first just as seemingly aghast at the casting of Mr. Cruise as the fans were, though later on she considerably tempered her words and even acknowledged he did a good job in the role, something I agree with.

In fact, I don’t have much of a problem with Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, either.  He eschews much of his trademark smiling/smirking and instead takes on the role as if he were doing a Clint Eastwood type imitation.  There is very little levity to this particular character, after all.

The story starts with a mysterious man driving his van to an upper level in a parking lot, pulling out a rifle, and shooting five people across the river from his position.  The authorities are quickly on the case and find considerable evidence that points them directly to an Iraq war vet who has a dark past.  The evidence against him is so airtight that, after arresting the suspect, they demand he confess to his crimes to avoid a quick (and harsh) judgment.

The suspect doesn’t, instead asking for ex-military police officer Jack Reacher.  However, before that request is heard by Reacher, he sees the news of the crime and goes to the city it occurred in himself, intent on…well, that is never really made all that clear.  I suppose he went there to rub the subject’s guilt in his face or something.  For you see, Reacher and the alleged sniper had a history in Iraq.  The sniper never killed anyone in combat and when he was very close to the end of his tour of duty he went rogue and took out a group of contractors.  As it turned out, the contractors were criminals and because of that it was decided by the higher ups to hush the entire matter.  Jack Reacher, however, knew the suspect had committed a cold blooded crime and wanted him to meet his justice.

However, upon hearing about the suspect’s request for him and after being convinced by the defense attorney (a lovely blonde played by Rosamund Pike, natch) to take on the case, Reacher decides to investigate.  Soon, he realizes the “airtight” evidence might be just a little too good.

I won’t go into too many more spoilers regarding Jack Reacher, but suffice to say the film is a solid if not outstanding effort, a decent way of passing time but a film that doesn’t reward careful scrutiny.  After the horrific events in the first part of the film, the crime itself recedes into the background and the story becomes a typical good-guy-versus-fearsome-bad-guys drama.

At one point in the film, after an extended car chase, Reacher ditches his car and merges into a group of people waiting at a bus stop.  Many, many police cars come roaring in to surround the abandoned car and –extremely improbably given the horrific sniper deaths the city has just gone through- the waiting passengers don’t point out Reacher to any of the police.  One of them even gives him his baseball cap so that he can hide.  (This scene can be found below, toward the end of the film’s trailer)

Good thing the citizens of Boston weren’t quite that willing to accept a total stranger in their midst while witnessing a massive police hunt.

Still, the main problem with Jack Reacher and what keeps it from rising from being a good action film to being a truly great one is that there is never a point you don’t feel like you’re watching a movie.  There is an artificiality to the product, from the suspect whose case is so completely airtight against him -yet who you know is innocent- to the lovely foil to the stalwart strong and silent type hero to the despicable (and ill-defined in terms of their actual end game) villains to the…I could go on and on, but what’s the point?

As I said, Jack Reacher is a good action film that moves well and gives you plenty to see. Just don’t go in there expecting to have your socks knocked off.

Street People (1976) a (very) belated review

First, sorry for the dearth of posts the past two weeks.  Couldn’t be helped as I’ve been remarkably busy…though now it looks like things have calmed down just in time for summer.

Now then, the 1976 film Street People (the film is also known as Sicilian Cross).  Never heard of it?  Neither, frankly, had I.  That is, until I spotted it on Netflix the other day.  The film features Roger Moore as Ulysses, a suave -yet outwardly very honest- mob lawyer who, on the side, is really a two-fisted fixer who, along with his partner Charlie Hanson (Stacy Keach) makes sure that all the crime bosses behave and if anyone engages in any skullduggery, even if they’re his close relatives, they will meet their justice for any crimes.

My review of the film is brief:  If you enjoy 1970’s era Roger Moore, Street People is a passable diversion, though it is far from the most coherent or exciting thing you’ll ever see.  I suspect most modern audiences, especially those not as aware of Roger Moore’s oeuvre, will find little worth seeing.

But me, being something of that 1970’s era Roger Moore fan, was intrigued to find this movie even existed, yet it fit into a pattern of the type of movies Mr. Moore appeared to be pursuing: Films where he shared the screen with other well known movie/TV stars.

Perhaps the genesis of Mr. Moore’s interest in sharing the screen with other well known actors began with the short lived 1971-72 TV series The Persuaders.  In that show, Mr. Moore shared the title role with Tony Curtis.

The same year that Street People was released came the Roger Moore/Lee Marvin pairing in Shout at the Devil.

Two years later, in 1978, Mr. Moore would join a larger cast, including Richard Burton, Richard Harris, and Stewart Granger in The Wild Geese.

The next year, in 1979, Mr. Moore shared the screen with James Mason and Anthony Perkins in the terrorist drama Ffolkes.

That very same year, Mr. Moore was part of a large ensemble cast that included Telly Savalas, David Niven, Claudia Cardinale, and a whole host of others in Escape to Athena.

The year after that, in 1980, Mr. Moore starred with Gregory Peck, David Niven (again!), and Trevor Howard in The Sea Wolves.

Am I making my point?  Well, let me add just one more film:  In 1981 Mr. Moore played a small -yet arguably the most humorous- role in a movie featuring a very large cast and starring Burt Reynolds.  Who can forget….The Cannonball Run?

Ok, so I’ve gone an awful, AWFUL long way to make this point:  I have a feeling Street People (remember that film?  You know, the one this blog post was allegedly reviewing?) features Stacy Keach in a role that looks an awful lot like it was originally tailored for…Burt Reynolds.

In fact, I’m positive the “good-ol’ boy race driver” role that Mr. Keach played in Street People had to have been originally intended for Mr. Reynolds.  As proof, I offer the following clip from that movie:

Much as I like Mr. Keach as an actor, every time he appeared on screen in Street People I couldn’t help but wonder if the film would have been better had Mr. Reynolds played the secondary role.


Regardless, I doubt he would have made the film all that much better than it eventually was.  Still, an intriguing bit of what it…if nothing else.

History’s Most Overlooked Mysteries…

Fascinating stuff from Live Science:

My two favorite listed pieces are rather grim as they both involve ancient corpses: The Tarim Mummies and the Bog Bodies.

The Tarim Mummies were new to me upon reading the article.  The idea that a group of European people made it as far as Western China, lived their lives there, and were subsequently buried and mummified…is incredible.  Who were those people?  Why did they move so far from their home?  Why settle there?

As for the bog bodies, I had heard of them before.  Some of the more hair-raising stories involved people who were apparently tortured/killed in a cruel manner before their body (whether still alive or not) was thrown into the bogs.  Depending on the chemical composition of the bog they were thrown into, some of the bodies were remarkably well preserved and detailed the grim way some of them died.

If you’re intrigued with the bog bodies, you can find more information on it here:

This link, found in the one above, offers some of bodies found that were clearly victims of violence:

Re-recordings and Beatles give aways…

Just wanted to point out a pair of fascinating articles on Slate magazine for your reading (and listening) pleasure.

The first article, by Dave Mandl, explains why certain popular songs are re-recorded by the original artists and subsequently (and at times murkily/stealthily) released as if these are the original versions:

I suppose it doesn’t spoil the article too much by stating it all has to do with money.  The original artists while working on the original recordings usually signed terrible contracts that resulted in the artists losing royalties they might gain with said music.  Years later, the artists would re-record the songs and sometimes try to hit the material note-for-note so these new recordings may earn them the royalties they cannot gain from the originals.

The big issue is that often the song you as a consumer want is the original version and when you hear the re-recording you almost instantly realize this isn’t the version you want.  Thus the reason some artists may purposely blur the “original” song from the “remake” version.

But not all of them.

I recall a few years ago while listening to (I believe) First Wave on XM radio they had an interview with the two principal members of the band Squeeze.  The band members were promoting a “best of” collection that was about to be released…only every single song on this collection featured new recordings of their most famous works.  The band members were very upfront in explaining the album was a “re-recording”, even naming the album “Spot the Difference” to make it clear what it was audiences were buying.  The band members, in that interview, explained their reasons for re-recording the material, noting that one day they heard one of their songs on a TV commercial and realized they would not make a single penny out of the use of that song on that commercial.  The re-recording, thus, was a way to gain control of their music, albeit in a (obviously) re-recorded format.

Moving on, Andrew Grant Jackson offers a fascinating look (and listen) to a series of songs written by John Lennon and/or Paul McCartney between 1963 and 1964 and “given away” to other artists:

While I tend to favor Beatles music from 1965’s Help! on (and, don’t get me wrong, I consider many of their early works pretty damn good as well, I just happen to like their works from Help! on a little more), this article points out some very interesting songs that the Beatles wound up giving away.  Perhaps the most famous of the lot is “I Wanna Be Your Man”, which they gave to The Rollings Stones.  Of course, the Beatles would wind up recording their own really good version of the song as well!

A fascinating article.  I know there were more songs the Beatles gave away after this particular time period and would love to see (and hear!) more.

Kamandi Omnibus #2, the review

A while back (you can read it here) I reviewed the first Omnibus of what I consider Jack Kirby’s last great comic book series, Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth.

I’m a huge fan of the works of Jack Kirby, and for whatever reason his last major works, which appeared in the early to mid 70’s, hold a special place of interest.  I love The New Gods and the related books.  I love The Demon.  I love OMAC.

And I especially, especially, love Kamandi.

True, none of the DC Comics works are held in quite the same regard as his many classic creations for Marvel Comics in the 1960’s (Jack Kirby had his hand in pretty much all the stable of Marvel heroes that are now so very popular on the big screen), but for whatever reason, it is his run at DC that I go back to again and again.

When I reviewed the first Kamandi Omnibus, however, I noted that this book, which reprinted the first 20 issues of the original series, was the one to get, as it featured the best Kirby works on the series.

Now, having picked up (belatedly) the second Omnibus, my comments are reaffirmed…although I would quickly add that any fan of the works of Jack Kirby should still pick this book up.

Yes, issues #21-40 of the original series featured a clearly less involved Jack Kirby.  The artwork wasn’t quite as lush as before and the stories, while still quite good, weren’t up to the level of the first twenty.  Regardless, there are great ones.  Check out, in particular, issue 29’s story “The Legend”, which has Kamandi and company find a most peculiar suit…one originally (?) worn by Superman!  Or marvel at issue 31, which features sequences that may well have been inspired by the works of the late Ray Harryhausen.

Yes, there are still plenty of good stories to be found, but by issue #34 the book was clearly in trouble.  The legendary Joe Kubert took over cover duties, a sure sign that Jack Kirby’s marketability was reaching a low ebb.  By issue #38, Gerry Conway took over the scripts of the series and remained on the book during the last three Jack Kirby illustrated issues.  Perhaps by that time Mr. Kirby simply had no more Kamandi stories he was interested in telling, or perhaps he was simply trying to kill time before his contract was up.

The book, however, appeared to still be popular despite Mr. Kirby’s departure.  Despite overall poor sales at DC Comics during that time, the series lasted another 19 issues without Mr. Kirby before being cancelled.  I’m such a fan of the series that I would love to see those issues, plus the two issues never actually published (though they were made and eventually released in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade).

Overall, I’m very happy to finally have all the Jack Kirby Kamandi issues in two wonderful volumes.  Give it a try.  You may like it.


John Dies At The End (2012) a (mildly) belated review

Way, waaaaay back when, perhaps late 1979 or early to mid-1980, I got my hands on a betamax tape that carried a copy of the recently released horror film Phantasm.

There was an eeriness to the proceedings, of the story involving a young boy and the strange encounters he has with the supernatural.  It was almost as if the movie presented a particularly twisted version of a fairy tale, complete with a very scary “witch” in the form of the “tall man” and his deadly spherical weapons.

The film, quite frankly, scared the living shit out of me.

Watching the film again many years later, it was obvious the original Phantasm was a no-budget work that featured some rather rough (ahem) acting and effects that weren’t all that good.  While I suspect modern audiences may find the whole thing too slow and too cheesy, way back when Phantasm was a kick to the gut.

The years passed and sequels to the movie appeared.  I wasn’t as into them as I was the original, but then in 2002 I heard about an oddball sounding horror-comedy called Bubba Ho-Tep.  The plot certainly sounded intriguing:  Elvis Presley is not dead but in an old age rest home along with a black man who believes he is John F. Kennedy.  Together, the two old men face off against…a mummy’s curse?!

Clearly, one of the more…original…concepts out there.  Even ten years later.

The best part of it all?  Bruce Campbell was playing Elvis!

The film proved a delight, and it was only after doing some research on it I realized the director of that film, Don Coscarelli, was also the director of Phantasm, its sequels, and a few others, including the cult flick The Beastmaster.  Since then, Mr. Coscarelli has been on my personal radar, and when I heard about his latest film, John Dies at the End, well, it was a must see.

Alas, the film appeared to have, at best, a very limited release.  In fact, I don’t think it showed up at any of the theaters around my neck of the woods so I had to wait for Netflix to get their hands on it and, yesterday, I finally had a chance to give the film a look.

To put it simply:  If you enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep, you’ll probably love this film as well.  However, Bubba remains the superior product.

Having said that, John Dies at the End (JDE from now on) is well worth your time.  The movie concerns two friends, Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) who, while at a party in which John sings with his band, stumble upon a strange drug known as “soy sauce” which grants its users some extraordinary abilities…and may lead to the destruction of Earth as we know it.

The story is told in media res, with the drugged out Dave talking to reporter Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) about the series of strange events that have led to this point in time.  The movie begins on a potentially ominious note, but quickly establishes the tongue in cheek attitude that was prevalent in Bubba Ho-Tep, delivering each scare with an armful of chuckles.

What the film lacks, however, are the stronger stroy concepts and established actors that helped push Bubba Ho-Tep into being something truly special.  This is not a knock against JDE’s young principals, but their characters are lacking when compared to following such historical figures as Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy.  Further, JDE plays out like an extra weird two-part episode of the TV show Supernatural rather than a self-contained film.

Still, and despite these knocks, I still highly recommend John Dies at the End to anyone who enjoyed Bubba Ho-Tep.  When all is said and done, nothing may ever surpass the clever lunacy of Bubba Ho-Tep.  However, while Mr. Coscarelli is still in the game and swinging, I’ll most certainly be around to watch.

Don’t wait for inspiration…

A few days back I posted an entry regarding Mason Currey’s fascinating articles published on Slate regarding creative people and their rituals (in that case, his column was about procrastination).  In this, his last entry regarding creativity, he focuses on what is perhaps one of the more important things a creative individual should do:  Work.

Or, as he put it, don’t wait for inspiration to hit you:

I enjoyed this particular column so much I had to add my two cents, which essentially amounted to repeating what was written above!  For those curious:

Don’t wait for inspiration may well be the best advice to any creative individual. There have been many a day I absolutely DID NOT want to sit before my computer and get to work…yet did so anyway. The temptation not to do work, as Gershwin so aptly put it, is indeed a great one. But if one day you want to have the unique pleasure of looking back at what you accomplished in your creative life and be rewarded with the sight of a bookshelf carrying your books or an art gallery featuring your works, etc. etc., then you have to put in the effort. Inspiration does indeed come to me when I keep working, regardless of my mood.

Argo (2012) a (mildly) belated review

The two big films in the hunt for the Academy Award for motion pictures released in 2012 appeared to be Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  I find this fascinating because both films share much in common.

There’s the obvious fact that both are based on real events that involve the United States and our dealings with the Arab world.  From a story standpoint, both films follow similar patterns.  In Argo, we start with a primer on the United States’ relationship with Iran and how all this lead to the eventual taking of the U.S. Consulate in Iran.  In Zero Dark Thirty, we start with eerie sound from the tragedy of 9/11.

Both films then introduce us to our protagonist and the job they devote themselves.  In both cases, our protagonists are intelligence agents.  In Argo, we follow Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he puts together a phony movie to use as a front to get six American who escaped the U.S. Consulate and are hiding in the home of a Canadian diplomat stationed in Iran out of the country.  In Zero Dark Thirty, we follow the more mysterious agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she spearheads the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  Both movies climax with the end of their respective missions.

The tone of the two films presents the biggest difference between them.  While Zero Dark Thirty was serious and mostly grim, Argo manages to insert considerable humor into the proceedings (mind you, the film is NOT a comedy) which play out like a real life Mission: Impossible episode, minus all the masks and sophisticated equipment.

The events in Argo took place in 1980 while the events in Zero Dark Thirty took place in 2011, some thirty one years later.  And while both films are highly recommended and are equally enjoyable on their own merits, I found it sad to compare and contrast them and realize that after all these years between the events depicted in the two movies we are still caught in a vortex when it comes to the Arab world.

Perhaps one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will finally, finally make a peace between our peoples.