REVIEW: “DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES / 3-D”

Dawn_of_the_Planet_of_the_ApesSo far, most of the reviews of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have been pretty good, but there have been more bad reviews than I would’ve expected. Memo to bad reviewers: Get over it. This is Planet Of The Apes, not Citizen Kane. You have to take the movie on its own terms.

Now that I think about it, though, this could well be the Citizen Kane of the Apes series. This is the eighth installment, and Michael Seresin’s fearless style of cinematography sets it apart from all the rest. Seresin blends odd angles with relentlessly dark colors to create a moody, unstable environment for the plot, which begins some eight years after the end of 2011′s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. His off-balance shots of dozens of apes swinging through trees at an alarming pace makes the viewer very uncomfortable, in much the same way as Orson Welles and his cinematographer Gregg Toland did during their unorthodox filming of Kane. Even the 3-D effects, which in many films get in the way of the story, are used somewhat sparingly and to good effect in Dawn.

Director Matt Reeves, to his everlasting credit, takes the material seriously and sees to it that every cast and crew member does the same. The result is an intelligent tale of a world wracked by simian flu, killing off most humans, and allowing the apes to develop a well-organized society, complete with family units, schools, the beginnings of a written language, and weapons. When a small colony of humans is discovered (they were “genetically immune” to the flu, it is explained) in what used to be nearby San Francisco, tensions mount.

Caesar, who has ruled his band of apes for the eight years since the end of Rise, is respected and loved by his followers. He wants peace with the humans, who seek to reopen a hydroelectric plant at a dam near the ape colony. However, his right-hand man, Koba, has different ideas. Unlike Caesar, who was raised by humans and has learned the love they are capable of, Koba was raised in a lab, where he was tortured and disfigured for experimental purposes. He sees weakness in the humans, knowing they cannot survive without the power the dam will provide, so he advocates war, regardless of the cost to the apes.

Andy Serkis, who played Caesar in Rise, gives a tour de force this time around. He is clearly the star of the movie and achieves an emotional trajectory I would not have thought possible for someone wearing such heavy layers of ape makeup. He gives real dimension to Caesar’s wisdom, yet stands up to Koba when necessary in a very believable way.

The action, ironically, slows down when the humans take over the screen. This may be intentional, though, so we don’t forget the apes are the real focus of the story. Even when the power comes back on, and little stores open up in San Francisco and music plays through speakers, Reeves and Seresin keep the viewer at a distance.

Needless to say, the ending leaves the door wide, wide open for another sequel, one of ape-human armageddon, which is already in the works. It’s scheduled for release in 2016.

Recommendation:  *** 1/2 (out of 4)    Go see it before it leaves, and see it in 3-D. This is easily the most outstanding entry in the Planet Of The Apes series.

THE “LOST” SHORT STORIES OF JD SALINGER

THREE EARLY STORIES

I’m very pleased to announce my latest audiobook narration, Three Early Stories, has just gone live. It’s a collection of three “lost” short stories by JD Salinger. I was thrilled to have been chosen to narrate this book, and I thank the publisher (DeVault-Graves) for selecting me.

These stories were among the first material Salinger ever published. They appeared in obscure publications in the early 1940s and have not been seen since. In fact, this book is the first legitimate publication of ANY Salinger work in 50 years. As with so much of Salinger’s writing, these stories offer a sly, subtle look at human relationships.

Now the best part. It’s only $3.95, which, believe it or not, is considerably cheaper than either the print version or the digital version. So catch up to the unfolding of history and go to Audible.com. Check out the audio sample here and then spring for the $3.95 and buy it. You won’t be sorry.

 

 

REVIEW: “BORDERLINE”

BORDERLINEImagine several cars plowing full speed ahead from all different directions toward a common intersection. Only now imagine that, instead of going in straight lines toward the center, their routes are long and curvy, allowing some of them to pass each other like ships in the night. In some cases, they even ride two abreast for a while. But their destination is never in doubt. Because this is noir, baby!

In fact, this is Borderline (Hard Case Crime/Titan Books), a 1962 effort by Lawrence Block, and it’s as steamy a tale as you’ll ever read. Block was writing erotic crime fiction in those days, and while this would never be confused with pornography today, in 1962, it was pretty hot stuff. Beyond that, though, is a solid plot involving people moving, for their own troubling reasons, back and forth across the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

Marty Granger is a professional poker player who lives on the Texas side and plays in the lucrative games in Juárez. One day, while walking in a park on the Mexican side, he meets Meg Rector, newly-minted divorcée from Chicago, who’s looking for kicks. And so it begins.

Throw in a teenage runaway and one of the most frightening and despicable serial killers ever to walk onto a printed page, and you have the makings of a delicious noir brew. Noir characters traditionally allow themselves to be consumed by extraordinary emotions, and when faced with their subsequent choices, they always choose wrong. Block has seen to it that his characters do not disappoint.

Hard Case Crime has toiled in these vineyards for years, re-releasing pulp and noir classics from days gone by. Several of Block’s novels are in their catalog, as are many from lesser-known writers. All of these books, however, have spent decades in the forgotten swamps beyond literature’s fringe, awaiting reclamation. And HCC has succeeded in introducing them to new generations of readers.

Recommendation: Buy it here. Print or digital. Audio coming soon. Besides, it’s from Hard Case Crime, so you know it’s going to be good.

NOIR CLASSICS GO LIVE AS AUDIOBOOKS

TiskTiskI’ve had a bunch of new audiobook narrations bottled up with publishers and at Amazon for awhile now, but they’re finally shaking loose. The first two came out today. Sharecropper Hell, written by Jim Thompson and The Secret Squad, written by David Goodis are now live on Audible.com. Published by the folks at Chalk Line Books, these tales are noir to the max, let me tell you. Thompson could delve into the criminal mind of his characters better than anyone before or since, and he did it in the first person. He created some of the most chilling “ordinary” people ever to appear in literature. Goodis was a master at creating characters who lived in a hopeless world, utterly devoid of promise, and his Philadelphia was the bleakest of all possible places.

 

I have to say that these books have been retitled. Sharecropper Hell was originally released as Cropper’s Cabin (1952), while The Secret Squad was first titled Night Squad when it was released in 1961. The publishers aren’t trying to pull a fast one here, since they disclose this fact quite freely in the Amazon descriptions of these novels, so there’s no deception involved. I just have no clue as to why they’re doing it. In any case, it was a true thrill to be able to narrate novels by these princes of noir, and I hope to do more like them in the future.

Meanwhile go here and here to check out their audio samples and then buy them. Come on. It’s Jim Thompson and David Goodis, for cryin’ out loud!

MEMORIAL DAY, 2014

Memorial_Day_Art_American_Soldier_Salutes_Half_Mast_US_Flag-01Nothing more need be said.

 

“GLIMMER” audiobook now available

GLIMMERI’ve got four audiobooks coming out in rapid-fire order over the next week or so. The first one went live on Audible.com today, and will be on Amazon and iTunes in a few days. It’s a novelette called Glimmer, written by Karlos Prince. The author has woven a suspenseful tale around a man trapped in an abandoned mine in Kentucky’s coal fields. Prince has not only captured the claustrophobic nature of the situation, but he also breathes life into the secondary characters, the locals who inhabit rural Appalachia.

The publisher prepared a brief trailer, a very unusual step for such a short piece of fiction. It’s a remarkable example of what can be done with little money and a lot of creativity. You should take a moment and go see it here.

Glimmer is only $6.95, so how can you say no? Go here and check out the audio sample and see if it doesn’t reel you in. Go on. I dare you.

 

“SONS OF THE FATHER” AUDIOBOOK NOW AVAILABLE

sons of father-360x360My latest audiobook narration, Sons Of The Father, a crime fiction tale written by Janette Anderson, is now live on Audible.com. It’s the first entry in a planned series by the author, and it introduces Philip Vega, macho chieftain of a major US organized crime family. This was a very different kind of book for me to narrate, in that it contains elements of suspense, thriller, crime fiction, intrigue, and sexy romance, all deftly woven together by Anderson, who has proven herself in the Kane Branson series of novels.

The audiobook is now available on Audible.com and will soon be live on Amazon and iTunes as soon as it wends its way through their respective pipelines. Check out an audio sample here, and then buy it. I know you’ll enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed narrating it.

HAPPY EASTER 2014

Easter Doxies

SAY HELLO TO MY LI’L FRIEN’

SCARFACEMy latest audiobook, Scarface: The Ultimate Guide, written by Damian Stevenson, has gone live on Audible.com, Amazon, and iTunes. It basically tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the groundbreaking 1983 movie starring Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. Stevenson delves headfirst into how the movie got made, a detailed comparison with its 1932 predecessor, Scarface, which starred Paul Muni, and the tortuous path to finally landing director Brian DePalma and screenwriter Oliver Stone. He also dishes out the true story surrounding the crew’s problems in Miami, how the key roles were cast, and the film’s improbable rise to cult status after a miserable opening, during which it was lustily panned by critics and audiences alike.

This book was a lot of fun to narrate, especially since I’m a big fan of the movie. One of the best features of this book is a shot-by-shot voyage through the entire movie. I have to admit, I hadn’t seen the movie in about ten years, although I owned the anniversary edition 2-disc DVD version. When I was about one-third of the way through the narration, I pulled the movie out and Yleana and I watched it. After that watching, and after narrating Stevenson’s well-researched book, I have a completely new appreciation for this movie, and it has vaulted into my all-time top 10 favorite list. I also have recognized it as a film noir classic, as Tony Montana is a great noir protagonist, constantly blindsided by events and always choosing the wrong course of action.

Best of all, this audiobook is only $6.95! How can you say no?? Go to its page on Audible.com and check out an audio sample, and then buy it.

INTRODUCTION TO HARRY WHITTINGTON

you'll die next 280 stepsBack a few months ago, I agreed to write an introduction for a re-release of Harry Whittington’s tense noir novel, You’ll Die Next!, published by 280 Steps. I wrote a review of it back in 2010, and the folks at 280 Steps spotted it and were kind enough to ask me to do the introduction. The book will be out in April, along with a slew of other Whittington classics. Those books come with introductions by the likes of Joe R Lansdale, Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini, Duane Swierczynski, and Bill Crider. Mighty heady company, if you ask me, and I’m thrilled to be among them. I’m also thrilled to be involved with 280 Steps in their pursuit of keeping alive the work of the great crime/noir writers of the mid-20th century.

If you’ve never read Whittington before, this is the perfect place to start. As noir as it gets.

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