May You Note These 3 New Books on Movies

Jake Paltrow and Noah Baumbach’s 2016 documentary, De Palma, stands among my 10 favorite films of last year, with my only criticism being that it stops after 93 minutes. Anyone else who was left wanting more (and more and more) may find that itch somewhat scratched by Douglas Keesey’s Brian De Palma’s Split-Screen: A Life in Film. New in paperback from University Press of Mississippi, the book more or less takes the same tack of chronologically examining each of the filmmaker’s features — but here in more detail and from a perspective that is not the filmmaker’s own. A critical piece of Keesey’s thesis is examining how much of De Palma’s recurring themes — such as the ever-controversial merging of sexy women and graphic violence (Body Double and Dressed to Kill in particular) — is ingrained in the man’s own DNA. While he may lack in the behind-the-scenes dish, Keesey overflows with insight and ideas. The result is a close cousin of a Criterion commentary track, flooding your mind with a greater understanding and forcing you to see the films in a whole new light. Regardless of what De Palma might think of this book, I think it’s tops.

Take one look at Escape Velocity: American Science Fiction Film, 1950–1982 and you might sigh heavily and think, “Really? Another history of sci-fi movies?” Well, yes, but also no. For this Wesleyan University Press paperback, film professor Bradley Schauer does indeed take the reader on a fantastic voyage through sci-fi’s cinematic life, but more importantly fueled with cultural and economic perspectives, rather than merely the historical. Starting with the genre’s first recognition as such by studio powers and ending with its box-office apex of Best Picture nominee E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the author covers ground swiftly yet smartly. Terrific design aside, what makes Escape Velocity so worthy of your time is the attention Schauer pays to such avenues of interest similar studies ignore: the value of camp, the infusion of politics, the rise and function of fanzines as film criticism, and the Star Wars-ization of blockbusters, more present today than ever.

Those who read Bryan Senn’s 2013 book, The Most Dangerous Cinema: People Hunting People on Film, will not be surprised at the sheer scope of his latest (and arguably greatest), The Werewolf Filmography: 300+ Films. Although far from the only text on the subject, it is hands (paws?) down the most complete and comprehensive to date, placing it well ahead of the pack. For each of the many, many movies covered, Senn reviews it in authoritative detail and with a healthy sense of humor — the latter primarily in lycanthropic descriptions, such as the “cross between a schnauzer and Fozzie Bear” in 1969’s Dracula (the Dirty Old Man). Every werewolf movie you could possibly think of is here, plus ones the average Joe Moviegoer is not likely to have been exposed to, including the rockin’ Werewolf of Woodstock; the clip comedy President Wolfman and the Paul Naschy/Fred Olen Ray sexploitation pairing, The Unliving. (See Senn’s recent Guest List for Flick Attack for seven unsung gems.) While valuable as a reference work, the McFarland & Company hardback is an absolute pleasure to read page by page, all 400-plus of them. The only thing I can hold against it is getting me interested in all those crazy Howling sequels. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Sleep With the Devil / Wake Up to Murder / Joy House

Day Keene (1903–1969) may not have “invented” noir but he and his contemporary authors (which included Jim Thompson and David Goodis), churning out crime and mystery fiction during the heydays of Fawcett Gold Medal and Lion Book paperback originals, laid the foundations for what is today known and revered as noir.

Now, thanks to this trio of Keene crime novels from the 1950s republished under Stark House Press’s Crime Classics banner, we get to experience noir in the making.

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Red Flags

Tammy Kaehler’s mystery series features racecar driver Kate Reilly, an up-and-coming hotshot who plies her trade in the fictional Sports Car Championship (SCC), but she’s looking to move up into IndyCar and even a potential start in the Indy 500. In Kaehler’s fourth book, RED FLAGS, Reilly comes with her SCC team to the Long Beach Grand Prix, one of IndyCar’s premier events that will feature the SCC race as a support race.

For those who are not attuned, Long Beach, California has been host to both Formula One and IndyCar races since 1976. It’s a beautiful, difficult, technical course run directly on the streets of the city along the waterfront. It’s a glorious track that encourages brilliant racing and with its southern Californian locale and usually great weather, the race weekend becomes more of a spectacular event than a single race.

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Nearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe

Prolific crime and western novelist Loren D. Estleman owes his love of mysteries to his discovery as a young reader of the works of Rex Stout; especially the stories of Stout’s most famous character, Nero Wolfe, as relayed by Wolfe’s legman Archie Goodwin. And, like many authors of his generation, Estleman was moved to pay homage to Stout by writing stories in the popular and enduring tradition of Nero Wolfe.

But rather than produce pastiches of “lost adventures” – like the countless Sherlock Holmes tributes – Estleman created a character so enamored with Wolfe that he reinvents himself, as nearly as he can, in the image of his hero. Thus we have Claudius Lyon and the nine gently satiric and wonderfully humorous stories gathered together for the first time in Estleman’s latest title, NEARLY NERO.

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The Boy in the Earth

Fuminori Nakamura is one of the most intriguing contemporary novelists out of Japan, but I’m glad his works are short. It would be much too difficult to wrap your head around the darkness his characters inhabit if his works were 500 pages long instead of his more usual 200 pages or less. His austere plot lines are inhabited by intensely well-drawn characters, but the characters themselves are “hollow.” Not in the sense that they aren’t fully realized, but in the sense that almost every character is damaged, has an aspect of loss to them, a hole that cannot always be filled.

THE BOY IN THE EARTH opens with our protagonist provoking a motorcycle gang, willing them to beat him into a pulp, which they gleefully do.

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The fifth stand-alone volume of Cinebook’s Marquis of Anaon series, THE CHAMBER OF CHEOPS, delivers a fabulously satisfying final adventure, written with care, sensitivity and intelligence by Fabien Vehlmann and illustrated in a moodily cartoony style by Matthieu Bonhomme.

This time around, our young hero, Mr. Poulain, inherits a large amount of money from a man he never knew. He’s not the only one to be on the receiving end of this gift, but he is the only one who wants to understand his dead benefactor’s motives. In his search he travels to Ottoman Egypt (circa 1730’s) and comes face to face with mystery, adventure and the harsh realities of life in that day and age.

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Dogs of War

In this ninth title of Jonathan Maberry’s series, Joe Ledger and his cohorts in the Department of Military Science (DSM) are once again called upon to battle a villain threatening the world with technology not too far from reality – in this case the latest creations in robotics. But DOGS OF WAR suffers from a meandering plot structure and a sluggish pace – characteristics never experienced in any of the previous Ledger novels.

No sooner does Joe Ledger return from a mission in Prague than he receives a call from his brother Sean, a homicide detective in Baltimore. A local teenage prostitute is found dead and the autopsy reveals very strange results – strange enough for Sean reach out to his brother, who Sean knows works for a clandestine government organization that deals with these kinds of things.

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Remember a few years back when Seth Grahame-Smith’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES hit the book scene, and suddenly it seemed like every hack writer was submitting classic novels interspersed with horror sections to publishers? Unfortunately, some of those “novels” (I use the term loosely) actually made it into print. What should have been a one hit wonder (and it kind of was) sparked imitations.

It’s similar to when Hollywood has a hit movie and hack screenwriters rush to their laptops and attempt to copy the winning formula of what they just saw on the screen rather than come up with something original. They type up a by-the-numbers script instead of being inspired by what they saw and attempt to create something with heart and soul.

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The Snatchers / Clean Break

Crime fiction fans are probably more familiar with the many movie adaptations of Lionel White’s novels than with the novels themselves. Now, thanks to Stark House Press’s Crime Classics series, we can read THE SNATCHERS, White’s first novel, as well as CLEAN BREAK, the basis of Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING.

Cal Dent, in THE SNATCHERS (1953), leads a team of outlaws that have set up what they are certain is the prefect crime – a kidnapping that is sure to bring them half a million dollars ransom. But things start to go wrong as Dent’s team and the kidnapped victims hide out in a vacation rental in Land’s End and wait for the payoff.

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The latest Hugo Pratt book, CORTO MALTESE IN SIBERIA, from IDW’s EuroComics is simply fabulous. Which comes as no surprise to anyone who reads this column. They all are. You should buy each volume, read them every couple of years, and stock extra copies to give away to friends and enemies and complete strangers. I’m not sure a longer review is necessary, but I’ll nevertheless jot down a few thoughts.

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