The Ax ( Donald E Westlake)

Wanted: Middle management for the oversight of an assembly line in an industrial paper factory. College degree and experience a must. Homicidal maniacs welcome to apply. Burke Devore is a typical middle-aged guy with a steady job, a wife and two kids. When he gets laid off he spends 2 years looking for new employment and realizes that there are too many people with more education and experience looking for similar work. Donald Westlake wrote this in 1997, but his publishers missed an opportunity during the last economic bust to reissue this book with great fanfare because it’s even more poignant now. There is not a single dull moment in the entire novel and to top it all off, the ending is even more brilliant.
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The Forbidden Territory (Dennis Wheatley)

This was a smash hit in 1933 for its first time author. And he never looked back. By the 1960s he was selling a million books a year. He was never ‘big’ in America though, and with his elitist views and prudish characters, Wheatley’s name has faded into near obscurity now. As well as being well written from a technical perspective—plot, story, dialogue, exposition, The Forbidden Territory is also an interesting window on the late British Empire. For this reason, if no other, the books of Dennis Wheatley are worth reading. If you have a warm fire and a comfortable reading chair, this slim novel should provide a top-hole evening of very British entertainment: wealthy debonair characters (resolutely heterosexual) tanning the hide of uppity foreigners. It almost makes one wish for the return of the British Empire. [Read more…]

Assault On Precinct 13 (1976 USA)

Labelled an “auteur” by the French and a “bum” by his compatriots, John Carpenter will never get the acclaim of a Spielberg or a Hitchcock. I’m siding with the Americans…The best thing about “Assault” is its bare-bones construction. There’s precious little backstory, no real explanation for the heinous actions of the gang members, no extraneous “character development” for the protagonists, no scenes where they talk about how they have a wife and kids at home or are retiring tomorrow, and very few cutaways from the main action once it gets going (the lone exception being a few sequences with a couple of clueless cops patrolling the neighbourhood who keep missing the siege on the supposedly abandoned precinct). [Read more…]

The River Wild (1994 USA)

A family-friendly feminist reboot of Deliverance. Without the sodomy. Damn…I knew something was missing. Maybe director Curtis Hanson suggested that Meryl Streep give up her booty, Ned Beatty–style. Was she willing to take one for the team? Obviously not. Anyway, from the viewpoint of 2017 The River Wild screams 1994. Here’s an action film with no CGI, with the obligatory Spielbergian “marital problems”, the typical “90s son”, typical “architect father” and yet another “Jerry Goldsmith score.” The River Wild proudly rode a then-new trend: the extreme sports/wilderness action film (Cliffhanger and The Edge). [Read more…]

Endless Night (1972 Britain)

First I reviewed the novel, now the celluloid. The book was a clever literary trick for its time. It is the first person narration of a psychopathic killer who is trying to hide his real nature and intentions from the reader, while actually dropping a series of clues that things are not quite what they seem. It is this trick, rather the banal situation, which is the real reason for reading the book and it is obviously this trick that made Sidney Gilliat want to film it. The problem is that he could not find a way to replicate it on screen, because cinema only really works in the third person and people are generally uncomfortable with movies that tell lies. [Read more…]

Twisted Nerve (1968 United Kingdom)

I’ve reviewed quite a few movies from that year of our Lord, 1968. A disquieting year for a number of reasons…Twisted Nerve, something of a link between Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” and Hitchcock’s “Frenzy”, has floated about like an apparition for so long it’s somehow managed to permeate the most seemingly unconnected crannies of pop culture. Its main theme, a haunting melody penned by legendary Hitchcock scorer Bernard Herrmann, was stolen by Hollywood’s pet magpie, Q Tarantino, for “Kill Bill, Vol 1”. Penned by celebrated “Peeping Tom” scribe Leo Marks, this is a fairly typical late-1960s psycho-thriller. [Read more…]

The Passenger (Lisa Lutz)

book cA fun 304 page romp. Tanya Pitts husband is dead at the bottom of the stairs. She assumes he fell down them, because she had nothing to do with his death. Instead of calling the police, she decides to “cut and run” as the Americans say. She packs a bag, grabs what money she can find and takes off into the night. It becomes apparent early on that this isn’t the first time Tanya has had to run. After making a phone call to a mysterious man, she requests a new name with credentials and some cash. Hair coloured, disposable phones in hand, Amelia Keen is born and off to find a new back roads town to start over in. The big question is why?
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Blind Corner (1963 Britain)

(This motion picture is also known as “Man In The Dark” for the American market) Director Lance Comfort’s finest 74 minutes of his career. Not that that’s saying much as his stock in trade was the “supporting” B films that were shown before the main feature in British cinemas throughout the 1950s and 60s. These types of movies were done on the cheap as there just wasn’t enough cash in Britain’s post-war film industry those days. Its amazing how many did get made. They were always great value, and its fairly cheap to build up a nice dvd collection of them. They are also historical documents as to how people lived back then. [Read more…]

You Only Live Twice (1967 US/UK)

As I watched “You Only Live Twice,” I developed a nostalgia for many scenes that made the older Bond films work so well. One of the great things about “You Only Live Twice” is that it has the confidence to be quiet. Take Bond’s conversation with Henderson (Charles Gray). Bond walks into Henderson’s home, he asks his contact a few questions, an interesting conversation between the men ensues and then Henderson freezes. Someone threw a knife into his back. “North by Northwest,” also has a man unable to reveal a crucial piece of info because he is suddenly killed. And you know what? Between you, me and the gate post, these scenes never get tired/worn. They are what separates the old world of film from the new. [Read more…]

A Cry In The Night (Mary Higgins Clark)

This is classic MH Clark. She takes the reader to the edge of anticipation, excitement, and makes you feel like you are hiding in a closet/wardrobe/cupboard – take your pick,  peeking in on what’s happening. I like all her older novels but none of the ones she’s written in the last 20 years. If you don’t mind having an unorthodox protagonist then this novel (first published in 1982) is fantastic and eerie–not every book has to have a strong leading character. Our heroine is pretty passive by modern western standards, virtually helpless, and this may upset the feminists and others who are used to women being more pro-active these days. [Read more…]

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