Oh boy…

Are you at all familiar with the Ashley Madison website?  You know, the website that caters to married individuals looking to…uh…spice up their sex life by allowing them to find willing affair partners?

Well, a little while back a hacker group claimed they had broken into the website and taken their database of some 37 million users.  Was the breach real?  Looks like it might have been as the hackers have released the data to the “dark web”:


What does this mean?  Clearly anyone who used the website is now exposed, along with their personal and credit card information.  Given the nature of the website, those who are exposed may be in for a world of hurt when their spouses/significant others get wind of their lurking (at the very least) on that particular website.  And if some of the clients of that website wind up being higher ups in government or industry…?


As a society it seems we’re captivated and repulsed by sexuality.  We can’t get enough of it but it’s filthy to even consider it.  As parents we shield our daughters -how many times have you heard the old “my daughter won’t date until she’s in her 30’s” joke?- yet paradoxically encourage our sons to “play the field” (who exactly will they play the field with?).

We have no big problem with violent action on the television or movie screen but when presented with sexual matters, we’re quick to slap labels on it and, in some cases, hear from others how grotesque such displays of affection (!) are.

I don’t mean to get into a rant so I’ll get to my point: Ashley Madison is a perfect example of society’s sexual mores.  Politicians and “well respected” people rant and rail about our sexualized society yet when the opportunity is presented to covertly engage in your sexual fantasies, people (to the tune of at least 37 million) take advantage of such a service and now they may well stand exposed.

Am I applauding this big reveal?  Absolutely not.  And neither do I want to come off as Mr. Know-It-All…

I suppose the only thing I wish is that we as a society would grow up and honestly face our desires and urges instead of railing against them while engaging in them when we think no one is looking.

Black Money (1966) a very belated book review

Fashioning myself something of a writer, there are several authors out there whose work I greatly admire and keep circling back to in awe and for inspiration.  A partial list of some of the best of the best, IMHO of course, include Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Joseph Conrad, Isaac Asimov, and Raymond Chandler.  This is but the tip of the iceberg.

Without getting too far afield, I also really, really like the Lew Archer novels by Ross Macdonald. (pen name for Kenneth Millar, 1915-1983).  The 18 Lew Archer novels (there were also a handful of short stories) appeared between 1949 (The Moving Target) and 1976 (The Blue Hammer).  While the first few novels were decent enough, Mr. Macdonald/Millar really hit his stride quickly, soon producing one excellent novel after another (the only one that disappointed me was the very last Archer novel, The Blue Hammer.  Mr. Millar would ultimately succumb to Alzheimer’s disease and I suspect that this last published novel was marred to some degree by the early stages of that terrible disease).

As damn good as the Lew Archer series is, I suspect today’s audiences don’t know all that much about these books.  If they do, it may be because of two Paul Newman films, 1966’s Harper (The Lew Archer character name was changed to Lew Harper for the screen but the film was indeed based on the first Archer novel, The Moving Target) and 1975’s The Drowning Pool (based on the second Lew Archer novel of the same name).

While Harper is considered something of a classic (you can read my belated review of that film here), The Drowning Pool isn’t quite as good, IMHO.

The character of Lew Archer would also appear in television shows and on the radio yet, as mentioned above, I suspect not all that many people today know about the books.

Why is that?

Perhaps one of the reasons is because the Lew Archer character and the stories he is in are so very, very derivative of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books.  If one is less kind, one would say Mr. Macdonald/Miller were straight out simply trying to make more Phillip Marlowe books.  Derivative or not, if one can put that aside you’re in for a treat as the Lew Archer novels are incredibly rich works of detective fiction.

The reason I mention all this is because the Coen Brothers (FargoThe Big Lebowski, No Country For Old Men, etc. etc.) recently announced that one of their next projects is a film adaptation of the 13th, and what many, including author Macdonald/Millar, feels is the best of the Lew Archer novels, Black Money. (for the record, my favorite Archer novel is the book that preceded Black Money by a couple of years, 1964’s The Chill).

When I heard the Coens were interested in making Black Money, I tried to recall the novel but given all the years since I read it I couldn’t.  Luckily, I have almost every one of the Archer novels so I headed to one of my bookshelves, picked the book up, and gave it a spin.

And what an enjoyable experience it was.

While The Chill still remains my favorite Archer novel, Black Money proved yet another well written work of detective fiction complete with well defined characters, tragedy, murder, and more than a few red herrings.  Macdonald/Millar had a knack for writing works that appeared deceptively spare yet had a great depth to them.  The novel is indeed short and consists mostly of dialogue between characters yet is packed with interesting scenarios and events.  Some are quite humorous while others are very dark.

The plot, briefly, involves Lew Archer being hired to check up on a supposed ex-pat in hiding Frenchman temporarily residing at an exclusive Californian Tennis Club and romancing a young woman who also resides there.  The man hiring Archer loves and wants to marry this woman and feels, as do several others at the club, that the Frenchman is a fraud.

To reveal much more than this would be a crime (pun slightly intended), but suffice it to say that things get very twisty from here on out and the past and present collide alongside characters who have hidden agendas.

As enjoyable as the novel was, and I certainly recommend it along with the other Archer books to anyone who likes the works of Raymond Chandler, I admit to being a little worried as to how/if it can be successfully adapted into a movie.

Again, this novel consists mostly of dialogue (which is more than fine) between Archer and the various people he encounters but, frankly, there is little actual action to be found.  Obviously the film will be promoted as a work of detective fiction, but I worry people may find the lack of said action a detriment.  And adding -or expanding- on whatever action there is for the sake of creating some exciting scenes may alter, perhaps for the worse, the film/book’s story.

Having said that and given their success rate, if there’s anyone that can make this work it would be the Coens.

So, if you’re a fan of the Coen brothers and want to get a jump on one of their next projects or if you’re a fan of good detective novels, give Black Money a try.  Just be warned: You may be tempted to look up all the other Archer books afterwards.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) a (pretty much on time) review

After Tom Cruise (in)famously did a couch jump to physically express his love for then wife (now third ex-wife) Katie Holmes in an Oprah Winfrey interview, many potential fans/audiences cooled to him personally (his dabbling in Scientology, complete with YouTube videos of said dabbling, didn’t help matters much as well).

Despite this personal low and the ridicule engendered, Tom Cruise kept right on working, releasing film after film after film and while not every one of them have been box office hits, it is difficult not to appreciate, or at the very least respect, the fact that he’s devoted to his art and continues to work hard on each new project after all these years.  There are many actors who, after decades in the industry, have taken to “phoning in” their roles.  Mr. Cruise, like him or not, still gives his all in each new film.

Now, at the risk of sounding waaay too psychological, the above history makes me wonder if the latest Mission: Impossible film, Rogue Nation, is, apart from another entertaining M:I film, also something of a Tom Cruise autobiography.

In Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise’s character in M:I, we have someone who is essentially a cipher.  A blank character (aren’t all actors that?) who submerge themselves into their role, in this case a do-gooder intent on proving himself in spite of the fact that his superiors (in the movie’s case Alec Baldwin as Alan Huntley, a high up U.S. politician who wants to shut the IMF group down; in Mr. Cruise’s case, the audiences) have turned on him.

Like Tom Cruise, Ethan Hunt is a very hard working individual and, despite all obstacles, will perform what’s needed (including having Hunt/Cruise hang on to the outside of a plane as it lifts off and flies around!) to get the mission done.

I tell you, we’re deep into psychological territory here.

But lest that turn you off from seeing M:I – Rogue Nation, don’t let it.  This film, as mentioned before, is entertaining despite having many of the same flaws I found in the last M:I film, Ghost Protocol.  Unlike Ghost Protocol, I don’t get the feeling the script was radically changed toward the second half of the film (In my Ghost Protocol review, which you can read here, I noted that it is my belief the film’s original bad guys of that feature were Paula Patton’s Jane and Josh Holloway’s Hanaway.  Read my review to see why I felt this was the case!).

But like Ghost Protocol, we once again have a film with a nebulous and, ultimately, not fleshed-out enough villain.  In GP (I’ll refer to Ghost Protocol this way from now on), part of the problem was that change in the script, which I’m quite certain happened.  In RN (I’ll refer to Rouge Nation in this way from now on), the villain is simply too often on the sidelines and out of the picture.  When we finally get an understanding of what he’s up to, it winds up being a plan that, if considered seriously, is way too complicated to have any expectation of succeeding.  At the risk of getting too spoilery, there has to be a better way for this very clever man to (ahem) make a buck.

Still, like GP, RN moves along like lightning and doesn’t give audiences the time to dwell on these defects.  The action is crisp, the characters are likeable, especially newcomer to the M:I universe Rebecca Ferguson who plays Ilsa Faust, an Ethan Hunt-level female agent whose nebulous allegiances we’re never quite sure of until the movie’s climax.

Thanks to the success of MI: RN and the last batch of Tom Cruise films, audiences who once scorned the actor appear willing to give him a second chance.  Like Ethan Hunt in M:I – RN, it would appear Mr. Cruise’s personal mission has been accomplished as well as the one on the screen.


Holy crap…

I’ve been curious about the new Fantastic Four movie in the “I-wonder-just-how-bad-it-will-be” kind of way.  No, I don’t relish anyone’s failures but given all the pre-release stories and strange (that’s putting it kindly) castings and creative decisions, including changing the group’s origin and radically (it appears) changing their main villain, I couldn’t see how this film would succeed.

It was like someone was given the Fantastic Four property and decided to remake the whole thing.  In other words, it appeared the Fantastic Four film featured the Fantastic Four in name only.

Well, looks like the film has finally been given to the critics and man, have the reviews been brutal.  Yesterday at Rotten Tomatoes the film was polling at a pathetic 14% positive among critics.

Well, it appears more critics have had their say and adding their opinions to the overall critical score the film, as of this minute, is polling at an even worse 8% positive.



Perhaps what bothers me the most is that I like the Fantastic Four concept…the actual comic book concept, and feel good films can be made with the characters.  Looks like it wasn’t the case here.

A little more on those Led Zeppelin remasters…

The last three albums released by the legendary rock group, Presence, In Through The Out Door, and Coda, have been re-mastered and re-released with bonus material and I took advantage and picked up In Through The Out Door and Coda, though this time via digital download,

When they were at their height of creativity, Led Zeppelin seemed unable to do any wrong.  These last three albums, unfortunately, point out that the creative spark that began and burned so bright on the first six Led Zeppelin albums dimmed somewhat as the band reached its end.  (I say somewhat because even these albums, which I consider lesser works compared to the six that came before them, nonetheless feature some absolutely great tunes)

It was inevitable, I suppose.

Offhand, I can’t think of any artist whose entire career and works produced was uniformly good and/or great.  Hell, Steven Spielberg, one of the today’s greatest living directors, made an incredible splash with Duel, a film I consider one of his all time best works and a clear “first draft” of his first huge hit, Jaws.  Yet the film he followed Duel with in 1972 was the flat out boring Something Evil.

When Led Zeppelin formed, it consisted of both experienced studio folk and newcomers who, together, were a hit from the word go.  Their first six albums, released between 1969 and 1975, are considered by many music lovers to be uniformly excellent and each album carries a mind-boggling amount of classic, very well known songs.

But after the release of 1975’s phenomenal double album Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s 1976 follow-up, Presence, was a more muted affair.  Yeah, the album did have great songs like Achilles Last Stand, but it felt like the band was, for the first time, running in place.  The same most certainly couldn’t be said for In Through the Out Door, though there are few that would place that album among Led Zeppelin’s best.  Released in 1979, this album featured the band moving into other directions and using more synthesizer than most were accustomed to hear.  When Coda, their final album, was released in 1982, it was clear this album was a contractually obligated one consisting of discarded tunes that couldn’t find their way into other albums.  By the time of that album’s release, it had been two years since drummer John Bonham passed away and the band was, for all intents and purposes, dissolved.

So what happened to Led Zeppelin in their later years?  How did they go from creative powerhouse to something lesser?

Perhaps they had exhausted their initial creative spark.  They had, after all, released a tremendous amount of material in a very short period of time and it was only natural they might exhaust their ideas.  Another possible factor, sadly, is the alleged drug/alcohol abuse of several of the band members.  It was shocking to me to compare photographs of the band from 1971-3 to photographs from three to four years later.  Clearly several of the band members look far more aged than they should be given the brief time that has passed.

A third factor is the evolution of music.  By the mid-1970’s, the music scene was evolving, as it always does, and the members of the band may well have realized they needed to move on from their trademark heavy rock/blues and try out other forms of music.  David Bowie made a career through the 1970’s and 80’s of pursuing then abruptly changing musical styles.  So too Led Zeppelin tried to change and, with those final albums, introduced more synthesizer heavy songs, country-esq music, and even a calypso/raggae sound.

Did these experiments work?

Not always.

Focusing on the two albums I bought, In Through the Out Door features some great songs such as In The Evening

The album also featured what may be one of the all time worst Led Zeppelin songs in the country-esq Hot Dog

Still, even that song has its charms even though it feels really wrong coming from this band.

The final Led Zeppelin album re-release, the out-take filled Coda, nonetheless proved to be the most interesting vis a vis outakes/cut songs.  In my previous post regarding the Led Zeppelin re-releases (you can read it here), I lamented the fact that in the two albums I had previously bought, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy, the bonus material simply wasn’t all that impressive and/or different from the songs ultimately released.

With Coda, I can’t make that complaint.

To begin, the remastered album does include Led Zeppelin’s most famous song never formally released on any of their albums, Hey, Hey, What Can I Do…

But there are also great insights into the working of other songs.  For example, I absolutely loved the early version of If It Keeps on Raining found among the bonus material…

As with my previous review, I can’t fault the remastered songs at all.  They sound great and if you’re getting these albums for that, you can’t miss.  If you’re buying these albums to also get the bonus material, you may want to check out Coda first and foremost.

For those switching to Windows 10…

You may want to read this article regarding privacy problems with this new version of Windows, and how to deal with them:

Broken Windows Theory: How To Protect Your Privacy in Windows 10

When the day comes that I’m able to upgrade to Windows 10, I’ll be following this advice.  It’s chilling how so many computer/smartphone companies mine our privacy nowadays…and we let them!

Orwell’s 1984 was wrong in at least one way: We seem to be freely giving up our privacy to these tech giants.

Where I’m at…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my actual, honest to gosh writing(s), so I’ll do so now:

1) I’m a good way into Corrosive Knights Book #6 (I’ll keep the title under wraps for now).  I really like the book though if you’ve read all five books to this point it might take you for a loop…hopefully in the most pleasant way.  I’ve got the first half of the book pretty much locked down but have work to do in the second half.  I’ve written what amounts to a rough version of that second half but there is still a lot of material to sort through and, likely, add to the whole thing.

2) I don’t know why, but it occurred to me that as into the Corrosive Knights book as I was, I longed to take a bit of a break from that universe -at least temporarily- and look back and revise/revisit Haze, the first novel I ever wrote.  I have done the revisiting part and was pleasantly surprised to find Haze’s plot and story still work out quite well.  Alas, my actually writing required some much needed clean up and revising which is what I’m doing right now.  I know the book has been available for a while (it was first made available through Amazon on September of 2008) and I know there are many who picked it up since that time, but luckily most did so through Kindle (ie, digital download) and very soon you’ll be able to download this new, much improved version of the novel without having to pay for it again.  This may happen as early as later this week (I’ll make the formal announcement then).

Haze is a book that is very much close to my heart, and not just because it was my first attempt to write a novel.  It touches upon many of the things that interested me back then and still interest me now, and the protagonist of the story carries more than a little of me within him (though I hope not the crazy part! 😉 ).

Anyway, stay tuned!