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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Recently viewed: "Battleground"


I'm not that familiar with a lot of the movies that Hollywood made about WWII, and I had never heard of this one until recently, when I happened to find a cheap copy.  Made in 1949, it was the first major film about the war that was released after it was over (and the studio was apparently worried that the audience would be tired of war stories).  Set during the Battle of the Bulge, it is focused on Seige of Bastogne, as the Germans were trying to get control of the crossroads at Bastogne as a crucial part of their drive to get access to the harbor at Antwerp.

The movie follows the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon of Item Company (a ficitonal company) of 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.  To me, it's notably in that the members of the squad appears very human; they are clearly scared at times, and frustrated with the lack of supplies and support that they have.  As to the siege, the movie is apparently fairly accurate.  There's also a wealth of good performances here, starting with Van Johson as Holley and James Whitmore as Kinnie, the sergeant who continues doing his duty as he deals with frostbitten feet.  Notable faces include Ricardo Montalban (Kahn himself!), James Arness and Richard Jaeckel

The result is a great movie, about an important piece of history.  It was a huge hit for MGM, and well regarded (a handful of Oscar nominations, with wins for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Paul C. Vogel) and for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay (Robert Pirosh). 

Highly recommended.

Recently read: "King Kong"

King Kong (Modern Library Classics)

Yes, this is a "recently read" post, not a "recently viewed" post.  I picked up this printing of the Kong novelization a couple of years ago (inspired somewhat by the many "monkey" panels at various ArmadilloCons, along with some comments from Mark Finn about the book).

I was a bit surprised to see that a novelization existed, since I would have thought that the "art" form we think of as novelizations was a relatively recent phenomenon, but I found that they have been written since the 1920's at least.

There's really nothing unexpected here, since it tracks the movie very closely, but there are some interesting changes including:
There is no Chinese cook (Charlie), but instead the character is Lumpy (who we see in the Peter Jackson remake)
We see the "spider pit" sequence in the book (and again, got put into Jackson's movie)
The ship is Wanderer, instead of Venture.

The book is credited to  Delos Lovelace (Adapter) and Edgar Wallace & Merian Cooper (Authors).  There's a nice preface by Cooper biographer Mark Cotta Vaz, and an introduction by SF writer Greg Bear (who's book Dinosaur Summer has links to Kong).  Apparently there's a lot of debate upon how much input Edgar Wallace had on the story, with Cooper claiming later that the script was all his work.

It was an interesting read, and got me in the movie to watch the classic movie once again...

Monday, May 30, 2011

Recently read: "Choke On Your Lies" by Anthony Neil Smith

Choke on Your Lies

I recently read Smith's Yellow Medicine (reviewed here) (and I still blame Bill Crider); something about it made me take note, and I grabbed a copy of Choke when I saw it was $0.99.

Written as sort of a riff on Nero Wolfe (a character I've read nothing of), it's a homage, but written for the "internet porn" generation.  Our Wolfe stand-in is Octavia VanderPlatts, wealthy, a genius, and a "fat b****" in her words.  When her friend, poetry professor Mick Thooft, needs helps in his impending divorce, she wants to "...punish the b****".  Thooft initially says no, since he is still holding out hope his marriage can be saved, but then his wife wants the house, and has paperwork that he signed giving it to her (which he doesn't remember signing!).

Octavia takes control, though Mick keeps helping, but usually making it more difficult.  We find out there's a swingers ring on campus (run by the provost, and he collects tapes of people in action for protection) and almost everyone but Mick is aware, and taking part.  It looks like Mick might win, when someone tips off the cops to Octavia greenhouse full of marijuana, and then Mick's new love turns up dead, and his wife missing.  With the feds involved, and Octavia's money frozen, things look bleak, with only Octavia's butler Jennings, her chef Harriet, and the amazon like lawyer Pamela on their side.

Smith certainly seems to be having fun, in a gonzo, no holds barred sort of way.  I'm certainly willing to see what else he does (and it looks like the Yellow Medicine sequel Hogdoggin' is now out in a Kindle edition).

Recently read: "The Marilyn Tapes" by Ed Gorman

The Marilyn Tapes

Gorman gives us a tale of the aftermath of Marilyn Monroe's death.  There's a mad scramble for tapes made of Marilyn with Robert Kennedy, and everyone wants them.  J. Edgar Hoover is looking to gain the upper hand with the Kennedy's, while Louella Parson sees a chance to regain her power in Hollywood and the Mafia wants to teach the Kenndeys a lesson.

This story is fairly sorid, with a lot of people looking out for themselves, and not concerned about whom is hurt as a by product.  Gorman is not a master stylist, and the book reads fast, in ways more like a screenplay or outline.  There's some attempts at fleshing out the secondary characters (JFK's hatchet man Lenihan, fan magazine editor Sara Drury) but many of the characters are types (Drury's boss, who is just looking for blackmail and Hoover's "agent" Melanie, who is a psychopath lesbian).

A lot of people die in the course of the book, and one character who survives should have (given how she is wounded) but I suspect Gorman wanted somewhat of a happy ending.

This is the first book I've read by Gorman, and probably won't read another.  It's not terrible, and the subject matter remains interesting (Marilyn, after all this time) but I've not a big enough fan of his to follow his work.

Recently read: "Outies" by J. R. Pournelle

Outies (The Mote in God's Eye)

Note, this is J.R. Pournelle, and not J.E. Pournelle.  This is Jerry's daughter, writing an authorized sequel to The Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand.  Mote is one of my favorite books ever, and though Hand is ultimately disappointing, there are things I like about it (I love the stern chase through the Mote system).  If Hand has a problem, it's that it's two books, and though they are connected, it feels less like a novel then two stories set in the same universe.

Here, we have a story which is basically set on New Utah, which is an Outer World, settled by Maxroy's Purchase.  New Utah is about to be visited by the Empire, as the Alderson tram line is about to reappear (it reappears approximately every 23 years), and it's fate lies in the balance (whether it will be a full member of the Empire or not).  Given this premise, the book is in ways similar to Jerry Pournelle's King David's Spaceship,   What makes this book different, and adds to the Mote universe (which is really Pournelle's CoDominium universe), is the presence on New Utah of "Swenson's Apes" which look a lot of Moties...

There's a lot of politics here. Maxroy's Purchase is the world we saw in Hand, where there was a "Motie scare", and where Kevin Renner found out about the periodic tramline from Maxroy's Purchase to New Utah.  On New Utah, we see various groups at odds, with influence from Maxroy's Purchase, and the Jackson Expedition job is to find out what is going on.

I thought the story here was pretty interesting, though as a work of fiction, it reads rough to me.  I found it hard to get into it, with too many characters thrown at the reader, without enough background.  Once Barthes (the Information delegate to New Utah) finds out about the Swenson's Apes, and Asach Quinn (the mission's analyst) travels with Laurel Courter (one of the farmers in the Barrens of New Utah, and a believer in the "Angels") the story seemed to pick up.

This isn't really the story I would have wanted to see in a Mote follow up, but it does look at an interesting section of the Empire of Man, and fills in more background.  We probably won't see a Niven/Pournelle take on further events of this universe, so this might be the best we can hope for.