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Προσοχή στην οργή του Ποσειδώνα! – Beware The Wrath Of Poseidon!

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επικεφαλής του Απόλλωνα – Head Of Apollo

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Behold the sun god’s blinding radiance!

Book Review: Stories Of Southern Humor And Southern Crime

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Disclaimer:  My crime story, The Rag, appears in this and won’t be reviewed. Instead, I’ll focus on the other authors.

Blue Room Books, a small press located in Decatur, GA, has published a fiction anthology that focuses on the “South” with a bifurcated approach; the first third features humorous stories on the general theme of Southernness while the second part deals with crime. I’ve chosen to review the latter stories due to humor being so subjective. A good crime yarn just seems easier to recognize.

These are my thoughts with a caveat to my fellow authors that this only reflects my personal opinion and shouldn’t be taken to heart.

  • Gun, No Bullets – Roy Richardson. A reflection in short story form on firearms and differing attitudes toward them held respectively by Southern common clay and Northern elites. This might have worked better as an essay instead of a short story. The expository passages seem awkward in a fictional context. The story climaxes in a bloody struggle between a couple, each bearing psychological scars, that ultimately seemed forced to me.
  • Ice In Her Veins – Patricia Bowen. A very short, hardboiled yarn about a wronged woman out for revenge and an unfortunate hitchhiker who came along for the ride. This story worked well with a good dramatic conclusion.
  • Nashville Nights – Sean Liam Hastings. One of the standout stories in the anthology. Scott Larsen, an ex-Marine with a counterintelligence background, takes a job in Nashville with an experienced PI. Hastings has a self-confessed obsession with intelligence operations and it pays off with realistic detail and steadily mounting suspense. This writer deserves attention.
  • Skatin’ On Thin Ice In A Self-Cleanin’ Oven – CK Stephens. A kid in ’70’s South Boston (as I said the Southern theme is general) gets mixed up with Whitey Bulger’s crew and sensibly bugs out. Stephens depicts Southie’s mean streets well, but the story ultimately seemed unsatisfying because it’s a novel excerpt, which I know from personal experience doesn’t always work as a short story.
  • Judgie – Jason B. Sheffield. A good old boy judge belatedly tries to help his traumatized Vietnam vet son. Judgie movingly conveys how even the best intentions mean nothing in the face of human dysfunction.
  • Home – William Steven Farmer.  The author, a retired fireman, draws on extensive experience in writing this story. He provides a fascinating, bird’s eye view of a difficult, dangerous, vital job about which most people know absolutely nothing.
  • Married In Haste – Deborah Lacy. A short, effective murder mystery with a twist ending I won’t give away. Lacy is a mystery pro with work appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and it shows.
  • Hunter Hunted – Claire Count. An account of the Barker Gang and the event that led to their downfall. Count cunningly sets the reader up for a surprise ending, not tipping her hand.
  • Paul & Three Pistols – Lee Blevins. The second standout story, about a slacker kid who works at his dissolute uncle’s convenience store and the unexpected consequences that stem from a holdup. Blevins has a genuine feel for family dynamics with tolerance for human foibles and a gift for generating unexpected suspense.
  • A Flash Of Red – J.B. Stevens.  This story previously appeared in Story & Grit, a venue where I’ve also been published. An ex-GI cop has a violent confrontation with a dangerous criminal on the outskirts of Savannah. Stevens has a definite sense of place with a terse, hardboiled style as befits another experienced, published crime writer.
  • The Best Kind Of Husband – Michael D. Davis. A cheating dog and a good woman collide with fatal consequences and some badly needed assistance from other wronged dames. Another well done, brief crime story.
  • Malcolm Lost His Head – John Kojak. A tragic piece about a boy who realizes his kid brother is a psychopath too late.  An effective bummer of a story.

I recommend this anthology to anyone interested in crime fiction, the South as a literal location or  a figurative one, and small press supporters.

https://blueroombooks.com/upcoming-anthology-southern-humor-southern-crime/

https://www.amazon.com/Stories-Southern-Humor-Crime-Anthology/dp/1950729044

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53364787-stories-of-southern-humor-and-southern-crime?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=IkcdhhbM4X&rank=1

 

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Ήρα, Βασίλισσα των Θεών

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Film Review: “Witching And Bitching”

Witching-and-bitching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This fast paced, Spanish film is simultaneously a really disturbing horror tale, a meditation on the battle of the sexes, and one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. Things get off to a lightning start with a holdup of a gold buying emporium in downtown Madrid by criminals posing as living statues with a critical assist provided by a ten year old accomplice, one of the wildest film heist scenes I’ve ever seen and worth the price of admission alone. Seriously, you’ll never forget the sight of a gold painted Jesus sprinting for his life while toting a little kid who’s shooting back two handed at the police.

A beginning like that would be hard to surpass, but W&B continues to pile it on under Alex de la Iglesia’s masterful direction. Having commandeered a cab whose driver willingly agrees to assist them, the criminals try to flee north to France to escape the law and to fulfill the promise made by the leader, José (Hugo Silva), to take his son to Disneyworld in Paris, with the police and José’s divorced wife in hot pursuit. Already a tense situation for the hapless thieves, things take a decided turn for the weird and the worse when they reach the witch infested town of Zugarramurdi, in the heart of Basque country. Led by a three generation family (the oldest witch reminded me of Grandmama from the Addams Family), the witches capture the thieves with malign designs upon them, namely to use the men as sacrifices to restore an oppressive matriarchy.

The pace rarely lets up and the jokes fly fast and furious, interspersed with over the top, gross out scenes of gore. The men lament their inability to get along with women only to find themselves trapped in a decaying mansion (is there any other kind in a horror movie?) by a bunch of smiling, evil, literal witches who want to torture, kill, and eat them. They fight back as best they can, but their fates ultimately depend upon the attraction felt by the youngest witch in the family (well played by the stunningly beautiful Carolina Bang) for bumbling José.  The climactic scene of a Witches’ Sabbath simply has to be seen to be believed, but I won’t give away any spoilers.

About the only real criticism I have of this film is the English title, which I don’t think accurately conveys what the film’s about. The Spanish title, Las Brujas De Zugarramurdi, The Witches Of Zugarramurdi, was apparently a non-starter due to the long, difficult Basque place name. This minor cavil aside, this was a crackerjack movie, absolutely entertaining from start to finish.

I recommend this film to horror fans who don’t mind comedy mixed in with the scares (some horror fans are big purists that way) and anybody who likes a good laugh in general, although I will provide the trigger warning that this is not for anyone with a weak stomach.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404738/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

https://www.amazon.com/Witching-Bitching-Hugo-Silva/dp/B00MHUPMGI/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=witching+and+bitching&qid=1590981834&sr=8-2

The Sphinx Of Naxos

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Book Review: “The King Of Warsaw”

WarsawSzczepan Twardoch, translated by Sean Gasper Bye, 379 pp., Amazon Crossing.

This is an excellent, hardboiled crime novel that also functions as a work of serious literature. An account of Jakub Szapiro, a notorious boxer/enforcer in late ’30’s Warsaw, as viewed by his protegé, Moyshe Bernsztajn, at least ostensibly at the beginning, King starts  tough with the murder of Bernsztajn’s father by Szapiro and his crew for failing to pay protection to their boss, the jovial, socialist thug Buddy Kaplica. Out of guilt or a stray charitable impulse, Szapiro takes Moyshe under his wing, teaching him to box and other aspects of the hood’s profession, including packing heat and hanging out in a brothel with the most unsavory criminal elements in Warsaw, even letting Moyshe live in his apartment with his wife and two small children.

As befits a mobster protagonist, Szapiro dominates the narrative, big, strong, handsome, and ruthless, attractive to Jewish and Polish women alike, a feared and hated figure throughout Warsaw.  King would have made an excellent film vehicle for someone like John Garfield to have played Szapiro back in noir‘s heyday. Twardoch depicts the internecine, highly politicized nature of organized crime in pre-WWII Warsaw as bands of hooligans set up along ideological lines battle in the streets with fists, blackjacks, and pistols, making contemporary American gangsters like Capone and Luciano resemble kids playing beanbag. Populated by a rogues’ gallery of grotesques, the ratlike Munja, the huge, horribly deformed goon Pantaleon, and Rifka, the tough Jewish brothel keeper with a soft spot for Szapiro who left her long ago, fictional characters mingle with actual figures from Polish history, many as awful in their own right as the criminals they lord it over.

Like the best historical novels, King invokes the period well, with exotic, prewar Warsaw shown as a city of Old World charm, deadly intrigue, and miserable oppression, especially for the  lumpenproletariat Jews who regard Szapiro as their champion, inside and out of the boxing ring. The air of menace grows steadily more overpowering as the shadows of what would become the Holocaust increasingly lengthen. Salvation for Szapiro and his young family presents itself in the form of his younger, idealistic brother Moryc with his plans to emigrate to then British Palestine to help build what would become Israel. Tension rises as the reader wonders whether Szapiro will take the opportunity or continue his criminal career.

As I said before, while King works as a thriller and crime novel, it has literary merit also with such postmodern features as an unreliable narrator and the deliberate fostering of uncertainty on the reader’s part as to what’s really happening. Over it all floats the monstrous sperm whale Litani, leaving a track of destruction and filth in its wake, a metaphor for the protagonist and the awful, imminent outbreak of genocide, waiting  all the while in the wings.

Sean Gaspar Bye has done a fine job of translation, no easy task with a language like Polish, so very dissimilar to English.

I recommend this book to crime fiction aficionados although those unfamiliar with Slavic languages may have a hard time wading through multiconsonantal surnames and Warsaw streets.

https://www.amazon.com/King-Warsaw-Novel-Szczepan-Twardoch-ebook/dp/B07VTLQRXX/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+king+of+warsaw&qid=1590535563&sr=8-1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48735658-the-king-of-warsaw?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=BPQJHiFFsT&rank=1

Recensione Cinematografica: “Toto E Cleopatra”

Italian circus queen and actress Moira Orfei (Miranda Orfei) in a scene from the film 'Toto and Cleopatra', 1963, directed by Fernando Cerchio, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the first Toto movie I’ve seen. It’s a good way to get acquainted with this extremely droll buffoon, one of the most popular characters in Italian film. A parody of the contemporary Hollywood film Caesar And Cleopatra, the movie’s almost nonexistent plot revolves around the confusion between Marc Antony and his scamp, slave trader brother Totonno (both roles played by Toto), who masquerades as his more illustrious twin. A mix of low, knockabout comedy and clever repartee (much of it lost on this Americano), the film is basically a vehicle for Toto to make with the yucks, a small man with a beak nose, wit and humor flashing in his eyes and every gesture as he hams his way through this ninety minute romp. Able support is provided by Magali Noël as Cleopatra who shows up scantily clad in a phosphorescent clam shell. The radiant, gorgeous Moira Orfei (pictured above in all her ebullience) does a good comic turn as Ottavia, sister of Augustus. Carlo Delle Piane is also amusing as Cleopatra’s bratty, cowardly son, Cesarione.

Jokes fly fast and furious as Toto alternately woos and spurns Cleopatra depending upon which character she encounters, Antony or his posing brother, until the poor woman is driven to the brink of desperation. Toto And Cleopatra functions well as a parody of sword and sandal films in general with the same excellent sets and handsome costumes as in the genre, but played strictly for laughs all the way with not a real hero in the bunch. Italian cinema was a lot less averse to sexuality than American films of the time and many gags are openly suggestive, adding to the general zest and brio alla’Italiana. The film ends on a suitably ludicrous note with no one really hurt, unlike the actual miserable, historical truth.

I recommend this film to sword and sandal fans who can take a joke, admirers of Italian cinema in general, and anyone who wants to see a master comedian at work at the absolute top of his game.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057595/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

https://www.amazon.com/Toto-Cleopatra/dp/8875840482/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=toto+and+cleopatra&qid=1590385565&sr=8-2

 

 

 

 

Documentary Review: “Tread”

killdozer-og                                       Can you imagine having this beast bear down on you?

This is an interesting documentary about a truly bizarre incident that occurred in 2004 in a small town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Marvin Heemayer, a middle aged businessman with a grudge against Granby and its principal citizens, went on a two hour rampage. Yet instead of going bughouse like most nuts in this country do nowadays with a high powered rifle alone, Heemayer, an admitted genius welder, took a heavy bulldozer, armored it with concrete reinforced steel plates, and then used the dozer to destroy businesses and the city hall. Although no life was lost other than Heemayer’s, he left a vast swathe of senseless destruction, permanently searing the memory of his basically pointless tantrum into Granby’s residents.

The doc’s first hour sets the stage for Heemayer’s onslaught, providing background as to why a highly skilled, relatively affluent man would do such a thing. A talented craftsman with a head for business, Heemayer made enough from his muffler shop in Granby to do as he liked: travel, hang out with his girlfriend, and most of all snowmobile, a winter past time he pursued with fanatical passion. Yet despite this apparently ideal, idyllic setup, resentment steadily built up as Heemayer became frustrated in his business dealings, increasingly more convinced the town’s good old boy network was in league against him. Most of this is conveyed by a voiceover of the long jeremiad Heemayer recorded just prior to going bananas with his homemade tank. Some might find this segment overlong and tedious, but it makes it plain the slights and wrongs Heemayer railed against largely existed in his mind alone. As one friend put it, “he spent too much time in the hot tub by himself.” The poor, deluded man basically hyped himself into believing God told him to do this terrible thing.

Even those who find the prologue overlong will still be amazed and appalled by the doc’s climactic footage. Resembling one of the crude behemoths that crashed through no man’s land in WWI, Heemayer’s bulldozer was basically unstoppable with small arms fire no more effective against it than BBs. He used the dozer blade to devastating effect, first destroying a concrete batch plant next to his own business, then City Hall, and finally a hardware store. It was an absolute wonder no one else was hurt, especially since the library was located in City Hall. Heemayer was incredibly ingenious, not only armoring the bulldozer, but installing loopholes to fire high powered, .50 caliber rifles, video cameras to assist him in steering, and a ventilation system to keep the viewing ports clear. What a shame all this cleverness was devoted to destruction. The frenzy only stopped when the bulldozer got stuck and ended as these things so often do with Heemayer killing himself.

I recommend this film to people with a clinical interest in human dysfunction and also (no shame) to guys like myself who are fascinated by armored vehicles and the damage they can do.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5807330/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

https://www.amazon.com/Tread-Marvin-Heemayer/dp/B083ZSTHTX/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=tread&qid=1589860233&sr=8-1

Film Review: “Capone”

CaponeI don’t see the point of this film other than as a cautionary tale on the miseries of syphilis, a message put across more effectively by those public safety shorts  made back in the 30’s and into the 60’s.

A reflection on the last year of America’s most notorious hoodlum, this film generated zero dramatic tension for me. Capone is shown at his Florida mansion as he becomes increasingly more deranged and dysfunctional as the spirochetes eat away his mind while friends and family watch on in helpless despair.

The film made considerable efforts to develop an effective mise-en-scene with  antique cars, authentic  costumes (men in period suits, women in print dresses), and Florida location shots. The effect was somewhat spoiled though by two glaring anachronisms, which probably won’t bother anyone else at all: 1. Nessun Dorma plays regularly in the background, only sung by Pavarotti who at the time the film was set was still in knee pants; and 2. Capone hallucinates back to a party in his honor at the roaring ’20’s height, only racially integrated with black and Asian guests, something that just didn’t happen in that highly prejudiced era, especially among lowlife gangsters.

Throughout the film, Capone battles various enemies, real and imagined. Under constant government surveillance, figures from Capone’s past emerge as well, with much interplay between what’s supposed to be actually happening and the ghosts in Capone’s mind. What passes for a plot turns on the $10 million Capone may have stashed somewhere. Even this McGuffin didn’t stir any interest as far as I was concerned. Although a film about a gangster, Capone largely lacks the elements of a crime film that fans of the genre enjoy. Since it’s a film solely about a man’s degenerative end, no stakes seem to be involved; there’s no real story arc about the rise and fall of a vicious gangster as in Scarface (both the original and the Pacino remake). We’re just asked instead to contemplate the pitiful, sordid physical and mental decay of a truly rotten human being.

This is despite a strong cast of talented actors (e.g., Matt Dillon, Kyle McLachlan) with an over the top performance by the lead. Tom Hardy proves once again he will literally do anything the role requires. Face covered in putty to depict deep scars and syphilitic sores, he staggers around the house and grounds growling in a deep baritone, throwing fits, fouling the bed while asleep with his wife, and ultimately reduced to wearing adult diapers with carrots substituted for the cigars Capone chain smoked.

The problem is that, despite the makeup and method acting, Hardy really doesn’t resemble Capone who had a very round, moon face. This has happened before. One particularly egregious example was casting the very Irish looking Jason Robards as Capone in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Capone left me with such a bad taste I immediately watched Al Capone afterward, the well done, realistic ’59 flick in which Rod Steiger (who facially did resemble Capone) masterfully portrayed the criminal in all his boorish flamboyance.

I recommend this film to no one.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6199572/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

https://www.amazon.com/Capone-Tom-Hardy/dp/B088BLDZHV/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=capone&qid=1589663152&sr=8-1