Recent Read: Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls

Kill Devil Falls is a town on its final breaths of life. A former mining town whose water has been contaminated; it’s a cold and hostile place in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. There is no cell phone service, no main roads in or out, and the electrical power is iffy. The town’s main street is loaded with potholes and consists mostly of a lot of empty, dilapidated buildings and trailers. The few folks still living there are a strange collection of oddballs, deviates, and creeps.

Into this hellhole comes U.S. Marshall Helen Morrissey, sent there on a last minute assignment to transport prisoner Rita Crawford, back to Sacramento where she and her boyfriend Lee Larimer have been on a spree of robberies.  One night while on the run, Rita takes the stolen money and high tails it off to Kill Devil Falls leaving Larimer in the wind.  In town, she is apprehended by the local sheriff, Big Ed and his deputy, Teddy, who happens to be his son.

After filling out the required paperwork to transfer Rita into her custody; ready to take her back to Sacramento, Helen discovers her car won’t start. Has it been tampered with? This is just the beginning of a wild ride of terror and death. Rita is the first to die, but far from the last, and Helen soon discovers she’s on her own, isolated, with no one to trust, and fighting to stay alive.

Kill Devil Falls moves at a breathless speed with surprising twists and turns along the way. The author plays it cool with his cast of disturbing in-bred characters. You’re never certain which of them is the crazed psycho killer, or just creepy unscrupulous opportunists trying to get their hands on the money left behind by the late not so lovely Rita.

Recent Read: Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

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What I liked best about Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is how it went beyond the standard “making of” books that have previously come out. Critic Chris Nashawaty spends about a third of the book giving us a history of the rebellious new anti-establishment comedy that was in the air. They came from the Harvard Lampoon, National Lampoon, Chicago’s Second City, and Saturday Night Live. By the time of National Lampoon’s Animal House they all came together, both behind and in front of the camera.

After the success of Animal House, Hollywood was hot for another film from the same sources. The result was a way too long 199-page screenplay by Brian Doyle-Murray, Doug Kenny, and Harold Ramis. The problems only built from there. Filmed in Florida, away from the prying eyes of the studio, first time director, Ramis, co-writers Kenny and Doyle-Murray along with cast members Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield began to improvise. After all, that’s what they did best. Well almost best, What they did best was drugs; pot and cocaine flowed throughout the entire shoot. The set was one big party! According to the author, the only person on the film who was straight was Ted Knight!

Somehow, thanks to the free-flowing improvisational skills of cast members like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and the writers, a disjointed film was made. Many people have complained the film has no plot, and scenes are not connected. They are more like skits. That’s all true, and that is what the studio heads thought after watching the way too long rough cut. They were very nervous. Something needed to be done. That’s when they brought in the gopher!

Nashawaty gives the readers plenty of juicy, outrageous details and background information to enjoy. However, it wasn’t all fun and games; there is a dark sadness overshadowing it all as we follow the meloncholy road of the comic genius Doug Kenny; his depression and drug use accelerating out of control. Kenny would die in Hawaii just one month after the film was released.

Caddyshack is not as funny as Animal House, the studio at first thought they had a disastrous financial bomb, but it made money, thanks mostly to the performances of Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield. Over the past four decades it has picked up a cult following, and phrases from the film (Be the ball!) have become mantras, at least for golfers.

If you are a die-hard Caddyshack fan, the book is a must, though you may notice that if you own the DVD, some of the information is not all new. If you are not a Caddyshack fan, the book is still a good look at movie-making during those crazy, hazy days.

Margot Kidder – RIP

CR Margot Kidder - Making of Willie and Phil2 -1978Some years ago, the combination of living in New York City and a growing interest in photography provided some unexpected opportunities.  There were times I took a day off from work, picked up my camera, and took to the streets of Manhattan. On one of those occasions, I went Greenwich Village and happened upon a movie location in front of the what was then the Waverly theater.

The movie was Paul Mazursky’s Willie and Phil. The stars were Ray Sharkey, Michael Ontkean, and Margot Kidder. Kidder who passed away on Sunday is today best remembered for her role as Lois Lane in four Superman films. I remember her best for roles in Brian DePalma’s Sisters, The Amityville Horror, Black Christmas, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud and a lot of TV shows including the short-lived James Garner series Nichols.

I recognized Kidder and Paul Mazursky right off. Like some other New Yorker’s, I stood around watching the filmmakers do their thing. Only I had my Pentax camera and a 125mm lens, enough to get some nice shots between the shoulders of the other gawkers.

I thought I would share a few today.

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Recent Read: Strip Tease

StripFlorida is a house of hilarious horrors. Just live here for a while, and you will discover that Carl Hiaasen’s outrageous characters are not that far from the truth. Strip Tease is a wild, murderous trip filled with strippers, unscrupulous lawyers, and crooked, self-serving politicians.

Erin Grant works in a “Gentlemen’s Club.” She needs to raise money to fight a court appeal as she attempts to get back custody of her daughter from her sleazy ex-husband. Hey, don’t be judgmental, everyone has to make a buck the best way they can. The evening activities start out like any other at the club until a drunken party-goer (it’s his bachelor party) jumps up on stage and begins groping one of the dancers. In the audience, that night is Florida Congressman Dave Dilbeck who jumps on stage and start plummeting the drunk with a champagne bottle. Not exactly the best of timing for any politician who should remain in the shadows and unrecognized in this kind of situation. After all, it is an election year. This incident sets off a series of events that include a wild assortment of crazies including political fixers, a wheelchair stealing drug addict ex-husband, scam artists, a variety of roaches, bugs and yogurt, and naturally murder. Despite the odd array of people Carl Hiaasen includes, he makes them believable. Most likely, because it’s set in Florida where a wide assortments of wacky types seem to flock, or maybe it’s the Sunshine State’s overbearing heat that bakes a normal person’s brain. Either way, Hiaasen hilariously captures it all. An entertaining fun read.

 

Recent Read: The Neighbor

The NeighborAs a state, Maine, one of my favorites to visit, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, yet it is flourishing with writers in the mystery/suspense/crime genre. I am not sure why that is, but author Joseph Souza is one of those authors, and his new thriller may just keep you up way past your bedtime.

Just published, The Neighbor, takes place in Dearborn, Maine and asks: how well do you know your neighbors? How well do they know you, and how well do you know your spouse? If you are like the two narrators in this fast-moving psychological suspense thriller, the answer is probably not as well as you think.

Souza never lets up the pressure leaving you, really forcing you to turn page after page wondering what happens next? What perverse secrets will be revealed? It’s a dark and winding road filled with characters who all have a box full of secrets and lies they are keeping to themselves.

The dual narrators are husband and wife Clay and Leah Daniels, recent transplants to Maine from Seattle. Their neighbors are Clarissa and Russell Gaines, a black couple. Clay has kick-started his dream job of opening up a craft beer brewery. Leah, a stay at home Mom, is hoping for a friendly neighborhood with friends for both of their two kids and herself. Neighbors Clarissa and Russell Gaines have careers at the local university. They are also not very neighborly. Leah finds herself left alone in a deserted, still undeveloped neighborhood. Lonely, Leah starts doing things that good neighbors don’t do. Clay does things a good husband shouldn’t do. In the process, secrets best left hidden for all begin to unravel.

Reading The Neighbor is  like riding a twisty out of control roller coaster that you will not want to get off as you watch everyone’s lives crumble and their dark and haunted pasts all come colliding together.

Summer Reading 2018

Okay, though the title states Summer Reading, some of these titles have recently been published. That said, here are a few the books I am looking forward to reading over the coming months, if I don’t get sidetracked by other recently published books that I am currently not aware of and really get excited about. You probably know how that can easily happen. You plan on reading one book and another pops up that is a must read right now! Most of the books on the list are crime/suspense/mystery reads (no surprise). I also included a collection of short stories and a film book. Feel free to let me know what you are reading or plan to read.

Old Black Magic

I am always doubtful when another author takes over a series by an author who has passed on. Generally, it’s best to let the series be. Robert B. Parker’s estate, like a few others, decided to continue  with three of Parker’s most beloved characters: Spenser, Jessie Stone, and Vigil Cole and Everett Hitch, each with their own author.  Old Black Magic is Ace Atkins seventh Spenser book and the author captures Parker’s style as close as possible. I have enjoyed his previous works in the series, and am looking forward to reading the latest which came out on May 1st.

The Neighbor

I am currently reading Joseph Souza’s latest, and have read enough of it, half at this point to tell you The Neighbor will keep you up past your bedtime. We have two narrators, husband  and wife who have different views of the truth, and both with secrets to hide. This is a story filled with twists  upon twists making you question whose truth to believe, and how well do you know your spouse, yourself and your neighbors. Everyone has  secrets, and if exposed…

A dark psychological thriller. Now available.

Kill Devil Falls

Not familiar with this author or book, but came by it from author June Lorraine Roberts  in her review over at her website, Murder in Common. You can read it here. Available now.

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From what I understand,  Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story is more than  another “making of “ book which lately have become rather common. Author Chris Nashawaty  provides a fabulous historical background on all the players and how they came together at a time when comedy was in flux. From Harvard’s National Lampoon and  Chicago’s Second City to Saturday Night Live and eventually the movies with Animal House and Caddyshack this book gives you the lowdownAvailable now.

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From Hardcase Crime in July  comes Understudy for Death, a Charles Willeford novel that has not seen the light of day in almost sixty years. For those not familiar with Willeford, he is a master of  crime books with works like  Miami Blues and Sideswipe. Willeford’s books are  macabre and darkly funny, perfect for the offbeat crazy world of Florida noir.

Florida Lauren Groff

I have not read any previous books by Lauren Groff, but her work has received excellent reviews, and Florida a collection of short stories focusing on the strange, weird state filled with hurricanes, heat, humidity and enough odd characters to fill…well the entire state sounds like an intriguing read. Due date: June 5th.

Turbulance Jun 5

Stuart Woods is a light read, generally enjoyable, and a guilty pleasure. If you are in the mood not to think, but just enjoy, he might be for you. Lately, he has been pumping books out at three or four a year, and they have been uneven, still I have a soft spot for him. Available June 5th.

Money SHot Aug 7th

Another Stuart Woods book,  co-written by Parnell Hall. This features Teddy Fay, a supporting character who has evolved from Wood’s Stone Barrington series. Teddy Fay’s journey from the CIA to dangerous criminal to a Presidential pardon to working in the film industry for Stone’s son is hard to swallow, but he is friends with Stone,  and Barrington leads a charmed life; he’s rich, women are constantly willing to fall into bed with him, he’s friends with the President, and best friends with the  NYC Police Commissioner. Available August 5th.

 

Arthur Miller Writer (2017)

Miller4For years Rebecca Miller (Maggie’s Plan, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) had been researching, compiling, filming interviews and taking home movies of her father, Arthur Miller. From this wealth of material, Ms. Miller has produced a fascinating look at the life and career of one of America’s greatest playwright/writers.

Miller1Though best known for plays like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, The Crucible and A View from The Bridge, Miller never stopped writing throughout his life. He wrote 25 plays, numerous essays, short stories, novels and an autobiography (Timebends).

Miller’s film focuses on many aspects of her father’s life; his upbringing (his mother was the artistic one), his work, the House of Un-American Activities hearings(1) and his three marriages. He and his first wife, Mary Slattery, began to grow apart after Miller met Marilyn Monroe for the first time in 1951. There was no affair at this point, but they did exchange letters. The next few years were filled with personal struggles. Monroe was never out of his mind. In 1956, on his way to work each day he would pass the giant cutout of Marilyn above the marquee of the Loew’s State on Broadway; it was advertising her latest film, The Seven Year Itch. Miller had his own continuous Itch for the actress.  His letters to Monroe became more passionate, “I should really die if I ever lost you,” he wrote. He divorced Mary in June 1956 and married Marilyn later the same month. However, for all the passion, they divorced less than five years later. Marilyn would overdose shortly after in August of 1962.

While Miller’s marriage to Marilyn is best known, his third wife, Inge Morath, a well-known photojournalist, and Rebecca’s mother, was his most successful, lasting over thirty years. They met on the set of The Misfits. During their thirty years plus marriage, she would document their life together. The couple also collaborated professionally on a few books.

Ms. Miller had the unique perspective over a twenty-year period to document and record her father doing the simple everyday things around the house, from woodwork to carving the turkey, to discussing his art and his struggles with his later works being ignored by both critics and the public. When asked at the end of the film what he would like written about him when he died he said, “Writer.” That says it all.

Footnotes:

 (1) Miller’s play, The Crucible, on the surface was about the Salem witch trials, but was really an metaphor of the rampant McCarthyism taking hold of the country at the time.

Elvis and The Clash

In 1979, The Clash were still relatively new on the music scene. London Calling was their third studio album. The cover photo was shot by Brit photographer Pennie Smith. She caught Clash guitarist Paul Simonon  bending over smashing his guitar. Smith did not want to use the photo because it was a bit on the blurry side. However, the album’s Graphic Designer Ray Lowery liked the idea and convinced Pennie it caught the mood and fury of the band. It was Lowery’s decision to closely duplicate the style, lettering and colors of Elvis Presley’s debut LP symbolically linking the rock legend to the new guard.

The Elvis cover was photographed by Tampa’s  William V. “Red” Robertson during the second of two shows at Tampa’s Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. The date was July 31, 1955. The show’s headliner was Andy Griffith. Elvis was billed 6th. Below is the original uncropped photo.

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Clearwater Beach Sugar Sand Festival

Just the other day my wife and I went to The Clearwater Beach Sugar Sand Festival at Pier 60. I believe this was the third year we attended this event. Every year there is a different theme. Last year was a Celebration of Musicians which you can see here. This year’s theme is  Celebrating America. The eleven sculptors come from all over the world. The artists do not use molds. It’s all done using brushes, utilities tools and other instruments.

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Mount Rushmore

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Salty Fishermen

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Wall Street

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Edgar Allan Poe

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Abraham Lincoln

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Louis Armstrong and Charley Patton

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Holiday Road

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Lighthouse

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Route 66

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Monroe and Chaplin

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Casey at the Bat

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America’s National Parks

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Recent Read: Early Autumn

EarlyRobert B. Parker was at the top of his game in his early books.  Early Autumn was the 7th in the Spenser series and remains one of his best.

Spenser is hired by the mother of  15 year Paul Giacomin to find her son who has been kidnapped by the father. More out of spite than love. In truth, neither parent wants the teen. The boy seems disinterested in life; he does nothing except look at TV. When asked a question he shrugs. With uncaring parents, Spenser determines that if the boy is to survive in life, he needs to become autonomous: independent, learn how to do things for himself.

Spenser takes the young teen up into the woods of Maine, staying at a cabin owned by Susan Silverman, Spenser’s lady. Here Spenser teaches Paul structure, and how to work with his hands. Spenser tells him he needs to finish what he starts and learn what he is good at doing. It doesn’t matter what you do; you just have to have something in your life that is you.

Spenser meanwhile digs up dirt on the parents. The father is involved with mob figures; the mother sleeps around with men and now has a boyfriend who’d doesn’t want the kid around.

This not the typical Spenser crime novel, though Hawk makes an appearance and when Hawks around people die. And there are plenty of the smart-aleck remarks as you expect from our hero. Still, the story is more about Spenser mentoring the teen boy; teaching him to be self-sufficient, learn to live on his own and wanting something for himself in life. As usual, there are vivid descriptions of New England.