Tuesday, June 30, 2015

2014 films: Noah, Maleficent, and The Legend of Hercules

Made in 2014 and probably overlooked in 2015—here are three entries for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

I spent last weekend watching the concluding parts of three mythological and adventure films on cable and decided I'd wasted my time, as it so happens when you’re too lazy to do anything else and sit down and watch all sorts of films on television.

The first of these was Noah directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan). Russell Crowe plays Noah and lives with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), their three boys, and an adopted girl (Emma Watson). As the eponymous title suggests, Noah is chosen by the creator to build an ark for his family and the animal kingdom before god unleashes a terrifying flood and wipes out all civilisation on earth. The film is mildly entertaining. But it has a lot of special effects, like the Watchers, fallen angels who have assumed the form of the many-armed giant stone creatures who protect Noah and his ark from humans led by a villainous king. 

Russell Crowe's Noah is an intense and a more serious version of Steve Carell's Evan Almighty (2007). Both build an ark and that's pretty much it. However, I will say this much—Crowe can pull off any role.

I think Angelina Jolie is one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood and I found her no more inspiring in Maleficent than I did in her other films. Robert Stromberg directs this adventure film that is little more than a twist in the tale of Sleeping Beauty. The last half-hour I saw was unexciting, though I like the way the word ‘maleficent’ rolls off the tongue.

The Legend of Hercules, made by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger), retells the origins of Hercules (Kellan Lutz), the mythical Greek warrior. The half god-half man is forced into exile and slavery by King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), his stepfather, and Prince Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), his stepbrother. In scenes reminiscent of Gladiator (2000), Hercules must fight his way through the arena before he can avenge his mother’s death and regain his kingdom from the evil king. In his quest Hercules receives divine help from his father, Zeus, the supreme Greek god. I didn’t find Kellan Lutz (Twilight series) very convincing as Hercules but the film has plenty of sword-and-spear action.

Have you seen any of these films? If yes, what did you think of them?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Concrete Angel: Guest Post by Patricia Abbott

© Polis Books
Today, I'm delighted to welcome Patricia Abbott to the 3Cs where she voices her thoughts on her debut novel Concrete Angel [Polis Books, June 2015]. Patti, as she is affectionately known, is no stranger to the world of fiction. She has written more than a hundred short stories online and in various print journals and anthologies. Her story ‘My Hero’ won the Derringer award. She has authored two ebooks, Monkey Justice and Home Invasion, and co-edited Discount Noir. Patti, who lives in Michigan, USA, is also a seasoned blogger and spearheads the Forgotten Books meme every Friday on her popular blog Pattinase.

When I requested Patti if she’d write a guest post on Concrete Angel, as part of her blog tour, she agreed readily, and also answered the two questions I asked her—“What did you feel when you held Concrete Angel in your hands for the first time? After your debut novel do you see fiction writing in a new light?” I found her response forthright and refreshing.

Without further ado, I hand over this space to Patti Abbott. I'm happy to say that hers is the first guest post on this blog. Thank you, Patti.

The other side of the coin

© Patricia Abbott

I know the expectation is that someone who has been writing stories for as long as I have would feel tremendous elation on seeing that box of copies of books on my front porch one day. Unmitigated joy. And part of me did feel that. Part of me jumped for joy that at long last I would not be seen as someone striving for a seemingly unattainable goal. That all my work had finally seen fruition.

But another part of me saw that box of books an harbinger of possible failure. As a long time sufferer from dysthymia, it is far more likely I will see the cloud and not the silver lining in any situation. Here are the thoughts that chased that immediate elation away: what if I let down my publisher and fail to sell any copies, what if no one likes the book, how can I ask people to write reviews for it, to post on Amazon and good reads, what if this book proves an embarrassment to my family. How often will my hand have to be out for favors and such?

Now I am sure all authors feel this to some degree but they are more able than I am to push those negative thoughts away. I have never learned to do this. Yes, I can feel pure joy for the success of my family and friends because I have no responsibility there except to help them. But in the case of my own novel, it feels like a responsibility I may not be ready for. I am so grateful that I have been given this chance but so worried that I will disappoint everyone involved with it.

Do I see fiction writing in a new light?

As I look at the pages of my second manuscript, I feel more hopeful than in the past that it might be published. And I am beginning to explore ideas for what might possibly be a third novel. I miss writing short stories though but at the moment, those ideas—ones that came to me almost weekly for most of my life—have disappeared. I miss that.

© Patricia Abbott

Back of the book

Evil doesn’t always live next door. Sometimes it lives right in your own home.

Eve Moran has always wanted “things,” her powers of seduction impossible to resist for those who come in contact with her toxic allure. And over the course of her life, she has proven both inventive and tenacious in getting and keeping whatever such things catch her eye, whether they are jewelry, money, or men. Eve lies, steals, cheats, swindles, and is even willing to take a life, paying little heed to the cost of her actions on those who love her and depend on her. Her daughter, Christine, compelled by love, dependency, and circumstance, is caught up in her mother’s deceptions, unwilling to accept the viciousness that runs in her family’s blood. It’s only when Christine’s three-year old brother, Ryan, begins to prove useful to her mother, and Christine sees a horrific pattern repeating itself, that she finds the courage and means to bring an end to Eve’s tyranny.

An atmospheric, eagerly awaited debut novel, Concrete Angel centers around a family torn apart by a mother straight out of “Mommie Dearest”, and her resilient young daughter who discovers that survival can mean fighting the closest evil imaginable.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Harvest of War by Charles Gramlich, 2012

"Across a snowfield that lies red with dawn, the Orc charge comes. And is met." — opening line

© Razored Zen Press
I'm not very familiar with fantasy fiction or science fiction and it takes me some time to understand stories in the two intricate styles. I often find the plot and the narrative complex. Still, I enjoy reading fantasy and sf stories a lot and I read them regardless of my incomprehension.

But every so often comes along a story that makes reading fantasy or sf a satisfying and delightful experience. Such as Harvest of War, a fantasy short story by noted author Charles Gramlich.

In this story Charles blends rich prose and poetry to narrate a riveting tale of creatures and beasts who clash in the land of startling imagination that is both fascinating and terrifying.

It begins with a gory war between the vicious Orcs and their Human foes, a fight to the death where only one race may survive, or maybe none.

But there is a victor. The Human cavalry led by their leader, Lord Aaron, manages to slay the Orc army. Except for one of their kind who is taken captive and caged and treated so horribly, that his fate in the human settlement is probably worse than in hell.

"Victory rewards the most brutal."

In spite of being grievously wounded and tormented by his oppressors, Khales, the captured Orc, knows no pain or fear. He is a proud warrior of his humanoid race.

As time passes and the Orc begins to accept his barbaric fate, he receives compassion from an unexpected quarter—a small human girl with "red hair and grayish-blue eyes." She is Ehma, daughter of Lord Aaron, who rises above her father's blood-thirsty and vengeful tribe to befriend one of their worst enemies and treat him with kindness. She helps the Orc escape but not before arousing something inside him.

There is hope and redemption in each bloody war, every brutal conflict. The Orc gets a chance to redeem himself, and his own villainous race, when in the absence of the human soldiers, he returns to defend his little friend and her colony against the mighty underground beasts called Reapers, foe to both the Orcs and the Humans.

I may sound clich├ęd when I say this but, Charles Gramlich, author of several fantasy, horror, and sf novels and short stories, has written a cracker of a fantasy story. It is lucid in style and relentless in pace and action. I liked it very much, partly because I understood the story. I only wish the poetic-prose narrative of Harvest of War was longer than the twenty-odd pages of my Kindle edition. I thank Charles for a free copy of the short story available for $0.99 at Amazon.

Highly recommended.

Notes:  Previously, I reviewed Charles' Killing Trail and also interviewed him. You can learn more about the author and his work on his blog Razored Zen and his Amazon page.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Proof of Life, 2000

Todd Mason has the links for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at his blog Sweet Freedom.

Proof of Life, directed by Taylor Hackford (Against All Odds, Devil's Advocate, and An Officer and a Gentleman), is an archetypal thriller with a time-tested formula that can be assumed to be a safe bet for a filmmaker—a man is kidnapped and held ransom and his frantic wife turns to a former special ops soldier to bring him back. Predictably, sparks fly between the wife and her husband’s rescuer.

I might not have liked this film much if the cast had been any one of less repute than David Morse, the victim, Meg Ryan, his wife, and Russell Crowe, the saviour. The three seasoned actors put in a fine performance—Morse as the tortured prey, and Ryan and Crowe who are wracked by a mixture of emotion and guilt.

When US oil company engineer Peter Bowman (Morse) is kidnapped by Leftist guerillas in South America and held ransom, his wife Alice (Ryan), already unsettled by a miscarriage and the transition to an unknown and hostile place, struggles to deal with the crisis. She has little faith in the local negotiator who is eyeing a share of the ransom pie. In desperation, she turns to Terry Thorne (Crowe), a professional mediator appointed by the oil company, to look for her husband. Reluctant at first, Thorne agrees to negotiate with the kidnappers and soon finds himself attracted to Alice, who, in spite of her professed love for her husband, feels likewise. But there is not much they can do about it.

The chemistry between Crowe and Ryan is handled very well; their mutual attraction never crossing ethical limits even as the pain of separation is written on their faces. I like David Morse who I think is a terrific supporting actor, and versatile too, as evident from his roles in The Rock (1996), The Green Mile (1999), and The Hurt Locker (2008), at least among such films that I have seen.

Recommended, if you like action films or the actors.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Do you still read the newspaper?

During my 45-minute one-way train journey to work, I still see a few commuters reading newspapers or solving Sudoku (crosswords are out). It is a reassuring sight for until a little over a decade ago, it was the only thing we did. Most others are either dozing off or thumbing away on their smartphones or listening to music on their iPods. I seldom find anyone reading books these days. This morning, as the mastheads of familiar newspapers caught my eye and touched a sentimental chord, I recalled my own association with the once ubiquitous newspaper long before I entered journalism and ruined my career. 

I grew up with newspapers, thanks to my father and his elder brother who were seasoned journalists in their time. We used to get four papers delivered at home on weekdays and a few more on Sundays, not counting tabloid-size eveningers. I was keen on current affairs, particularly the Cold War standoffs, and there was a time when I knew the names of heads of countries and their foreign ministers by heart. I was also familiar with intelligence agencies and took pride in memorising, and occasionally showing off, the full form of KGB—Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti—or State Security for the Supreme Soviet Society. I can rattle it off even now in the dead of night. Clearly, back then I was idling.

It is possible that reading about KGB and CIA and Mossad and Stasi in the newspapers triggered my interest in spy fiction and one of the first espionage novels I read was The Red Gods (1981) by Donald Lindquist. It was about a Soviet conspiracy to nuke America. I remember the novel as being gripping and well-written. I think I have recommended it to my (blog) friends.

In 1986, I got my first newspaper job and there was no turning back, though how I wish I’d right away. In those days I read an awful lot of newspapers and magazines including foreign periodicals. The Economist, The Times, London, and its literary supplement, The Guardian, Time and Newsweek, and International Herald Tribune were a favourite. I’d enthusiastically stack a variety of Sunday newspapers at home, date wise, so I could read them during the week. That never happened. The newspapers gathered dust. After a while I outgrew the habit and made better use of the trunk space. I got rid of the trunk.

At the time I read all kinds of novels, as I do now. I was particularly fond of Tom Shapre (whose books I’m collecting again), Frank G. Slaughter, Nevil Shute, A.J. Cronin, Lloyd C. Douglas, Charles Dickens, and Malcolm Bradbury. I also read a lot of popular bestselling authors from Harold Robbins to Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum to Frederick Forsyth. Cult writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, and Ray Bradbury came later. And then I took to blogging which changed my reading completely, and for the better. For this I have all of you to thank.

Favourite Cronin
Today, I glance at the headlines on the only morning newspaper I get at home, The Times of India, and barely go through the dozen papers I get in office. Instead, I follow news online a couple of times a day and read analysis and essays on credible political and history websites. I stopped watching television news, because it's all about anchoring and loudmouths and ratings and little else. While I regret getting into journalism at nineteen, as I did, I admit it had a formative influence on my reading, whether it was newspapers and magazines or books and comic books.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

When life meddles with your reading

There is little to write about my reading in May because I read very little. Only a handful of short stories as part of my grand but futile effort to read thirty-one stories during the month. I read less than half and I also didn't make it through any of the unfinished novels. I'm also behind my other challenge to read the ‘first novels’ of various authors.

To be frank, April and May were trying months starting with a month-long home renovation followed by an unexpected health scare in the family and, more recently, my loss of job. Then my laptop crashed beyond repair but my children surprised me with a brand new one. They said they were going to the theatre to watch Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film they’d both seen. My wife and I didn't suspect a thing. They came back in less than an hour with an HP tucked under their arms. What can I say!

I'm relieved the health crisis has passed and all is well. The family is what comes first, nothing else matters. I can always find another job. No one stays jobless for very long. 

I don’t want this to be a sob story any more than it already is, so I’ll tell you about the short stories I read last month. Most of the stories came from Masters of Noir: Volume One which I picked up from Amazon. It's a fine collection of hardboiled stories.

Out of the nine stories in this anthology, I read 
Carrera's Woman by Richard Marsten (Ed McBain) and Look Death in the Eye by Lawrence Block in April, hence they don’t count.

The other seven were…

Identity Unknown by Jonathan Craig

The Girl behind the Hedge by Mickey Spillane

Butcher by Richard S. Prather

On a Sunday Afternoon by Gil Brewer

Frame by Frank Kane

Double by Bruno Fischer

As I lie dead by Fletcher Flora

Besides these, I also read three stories from The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, namely ‘Up in Michigan,’ ‘Black Ass at the Cross Roads,’ and ‘The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio.’ I also read and reviewed The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers.

I liked nearly every one of the eleven short stories. They were full of twists and turns. But two stories—‘On a Sunday Afternoon’ by Gil Brewer and ‘Up in Michigan’ by Ernest Hemingway—stood out for their sexual undercurrent.

In Brewer’s story, housewife Julia is trapped in an unhappy marriage. On a day picnic with her husband Dell and their little daughter, Julia is raped by a gang of unruly boys. Her husband is beaten up and tied to a tree. When the boys leave, Julia tells Dell, “I said, I'm glad you didn't do anything, Dell. Because I liked it, Dell. I liked every minute of it. Every God damned minute of it!”

In Hemingway’s story, Liz Coates is crazy about Jim Gilmore, a blacksmith described as short and dark with big moustaches and big hands. He doesn't seem to notice her much. Until one night when he reveals that he has, in fact, been noticing her. During a walk on the dock by the bay, Jim forces himself on Liz. She wants him too but not quite that way. “A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay.”

Both the stories were suggestive and they kind of left me squirming. I have never read anything like this by Ernest Hemingway though I have read his hardboiled stories like The Killers. Mild as it was it took me by surprise.

I think I'm going to stop putting a number to my reading though I know I’ll be back next month, hopefully, with better figures than in recent months.