Review


Running Blind

runblind Running Blind
author: Desmond Bagley

Old-school espionage.

Alan Stewart used to work for MI6, until he got sick of being considered disposable. Now, he’s been talked into helping out the service on one of his regular trips to Iceland. Just deliver a package and then carry on with his life, it should be simple.

But, of course, it isn’t simple. The Russians want the package, and they seem to know his every move. They’ve sent an agent he nearly killed after him, and it seems someone in his old firm is feeding them information. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his fiancee is with him and in just as much danger, and the Americans have stuck their oar in.

Stewart’s a no-nonsense Scotsman, and Elin, his Icelandic fiancee, knows the country well. They lead all the spooks on a chase across the country’s glaciers and hot springs, leading to a violent showdown and final reveal of the Maguffin the whole plot revolved around.

The extended chase in the middle felt a little stretched, until it became obvious how carefully the author was putting everything in place for the finale. Overall, a competent and interesting bit of espionage from the Cold War, with the ‘good guys’ of MI6 and the CIA just as nasty and untrustworthy as the KGB.

From:: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews

I got Running Blind in a 2-4-1 Kindle package with The Freedom Trap, which, it turns out, I’ve already read,albeit decades ago.


Live and Let Die (James Bond, #2)

livenletdieLive and Let Die

author: Ian Fleming

Bond is back!

There is no way to read this book sixty years on and not conclude that it’s a bit racist. Bond is working amongst, and mostly against, “the negroes” of the USA and Jamaica, trying to bring down Mister Big, a Russian spy-cum-crime lord. Big has taken to using voodoo trappings to bolster his control over the whole of the USA’s black population, who are almost all depicted as weak willed and superstitious enough to fall for the old time religion. With the exception of Big, a giant, grey-skinned sadistic genius, the black characters all come across as cartoony caricatures or faceless parts of the herd.

The plot kicks off because Big is sneaking pirate treasure into the States to fund his crime and spying activities. It’s thought it all originates from the lost horde of pirate Captain Morgan, and it would be good if Bond could cut off the supply and dispose of Big whilst he’s about it. In the States, Bond teams up with Felix Leiter again, who proves to be much more progressive than British intelligence or New York’s Police department when he takes Bond for a tour through Harlem and into the heart of Big’s operation. Leiter’s love and knowledge of the jazz greats even gets him out of a beating as he so impresses one of his captors with it. He doesn’t get away so lightly later in the book, though….

The requisite beautiful woman is introduced in the shape of Domino, who immediately falls for Bond and escapes Big’s clutches to run away with him to Florida as he moves on to the next stage of his investigation. She gets recaptured just as quickly, and Bond has to hustle on to Jamaica to catch up with her again.

The book’s resolution is something of an anticlimax, though it is built up to with great care. After all the films, you come to expect a grand finale, with a shootout and explosions, but it’s not delivered. As with all the Bond books, it’s hard not to compare book and film. The movie Live and Let Die was one of Roger Moore’s first, and filtered the story through blaxploitation and added topless double deckers and motor boat chases. It also left out at least two scenes which turned up, with modifications, in later films.

Yes, the book is racist in tone and depiction, but if you can accept that, it’s pretty much the template for the films and all those other larger than life thrillers which came after it.


The Cruel Sea (Classics of War)

cruelsea

The Cruel Sea

author: Nicholas Monsarrat

The classic novel of the Battle of the Atlantic, Cruel Sea follows the crew- primarily the officers- of the Compass Rose from commissioning the Corvette in 1939 to the final day of the war. The book concentrates on the everyday hardships of escorting convoys and the horror of losing so many ships to U-Boats. There’s little action, even the rare times the crew get to chase down submarines are depicted as drawn out and tense rather than gung-ho. Mostly, the crew are fighting the sea itself, and their constant fear of attack and sinking, rather than the enemy.

The strength of the book lies in the fact that it doesn’t glorify the action at sea but focuses on the prolonged campaigns slow grind- punctuated by moments of terror and horror- of the sailors involved.

From:: Garth Owen Goodreads reviews


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 04

jdcc04Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 04

author: John Wagner

It’s a good job I’m getting the Case Files books digitally. By the time I’ catch up with today’s Dredd, I’d be in need of a room just for the books if I were buying paper copies.

File 4 contains another of the great Dredd epics- the Judge Child Quest. This is one I haven’t seen the whole of before, because back when I was picking up the Quality/Eagle reprints, this was a mini-series of its own. Disaster is coming to the Big Meg, and it has been predicted that only a child called Owen Krysler can save the city. Dredd sets off to find the boy- who has a justice-eagle birthmark on his forehead and is a powerful precog- first in the Cursed Earth and then outer space. Along the way, he has to battle the King of rubbish, the Angel Gang, ship eating planetoids and a human hating robot empire. The tale is episodic, much like the original Cursed Earth story, with Dredd encountering strange creatures and situations that aren’t all directly related to his mission, before the final showdown with the Angels and his important decision about the Judge Child’s fate.

The rest of the collection sees Dredd back on Earth, stopping block wars and fending off the poisonous attentions of wayward last Angel, Fink.

All in all, another classic slice of Dredd.

From:: Garth Owen Goodreads reviews


Casino Royale (James Bond, #1)

royaleauthor: Ian Fleming

review: After all the Bond films, going back to the source is an interesting experience. The book is leaner than I’d expected, and harder edged. Bond himself softens towards the end, but for most of the story he’s a driven and not particularly likeable character, but fascinating for it.

The edition I read had a short essay in the front, putting the book in the context of its period and legacy. It commented that Bond could be seen as the start of a strand of stories which were careful to include technical details to give their worlds more depth. We learn about baccarat, Bond’s Bentley and various firearms, but the information is concisely delivered, rather than shoveled on, as it would be in the techno-thrillers which are Bond’s descendants.

From:: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews


Valiant (The Lost Fleet, #4)

valiant

author: Jack Campbell

This is the second book in the Lost Fleet series that I’ve read, and in some ways, it’s indistinguishable from the first. The story has much the same steps- the fleet jumps into various enemy occupied systems on the way back to their home space, there are a couple of massed space battles where Captain John Geary’s old-fashioned tactics prove superior, the fleet loses a few ships, but destroys far more, someone in the fleet puts the mission in danger because they don’t agree with Geary’s command and the captain (who was recently defrosted after a hundred years in a life pod) discovers more differences from the old days.

It’s entertaining enough, and it hasn’t put me off reading the last one in the series (there’s another book between this one and the finale, but I haven’t got it on my bookshelf). The soap opera of Geary’s intertwined professional and personal relationships with his two closest aides is a bit tedious, but the careful doling out of information about a hidden alien enemy is done well, as is the gradual way the defrosted captain is winning over the hearts and minds not just of his own fleet but also some of the enemy.

I’m sure there is more complex and subtle space opera out there- I’ve just got to find it- but this is enjoyable lightweight entertainment that has served as a starter course in some concepts of space combat that I may use in my own works.

From: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 03

jdcc03

author: John Wagner

Still a big batch of classic Dredd, this collection suffers in comparison to the concentrated thrill power of the previous edition.

Lacking an epic tale, where the second edition had two of the greats, this collection feels bitty and a little disjointed. Having said that, the inventive future city stories are still in evidence and lots of interesting and important background is developed.

The stand out tale is the introduction of Judge Death (and Judge Anderson) as the cross dimensional wraith comes to Mega City 1 to pass judgement on the city- by killing as many of its citizens as possible.

The classic artists are still in evidence, but the double page spreads which were so common in the previous collection have gone- Dredd must have been relegated from starting on the centre spread.

Only a disappointment after the highs of the previous edition, this is still a good selection of classic Dredd.

From: Garth Owen Goodreads reviews


Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 02

jdcc02

author: John Wagner

I’m going to work my way through the Dredd case file books one by one, until I’m as up to date as possible.

I didn’t read these early tales in 2000AD, but caught up on them in the eighties in the Eagle/Quality comics US comic size colour reprints. Those issues, it seems, missed out occasional episodes for various reasons. Being a complete chronological reprint*, the complete case files keep throwing out episodes I’ve never seen before, which is always a pleasure.

This book features two of the classic Dredd epic tales- Cursed Earth and Judge Caligula.

The premise of Cursed Earth is stolen almost whole from Damnation Alley, the Judges travelling East to West across America rather than the other way. The over-arching plot of getting a vaccine to Mega City 2 breaks down into a series of shorter tales, as Dredd and his crew encounter the various bizarre denizens of the desert- vampire robots, cloned dinosaurs, alien slaves and more.

Returning from Mega City 2, Dredd is framed by power-crazy (and just plain crazy crazy) Judge Caligula, who is making a power grab for absolute control of Mega City 1. This story is more of a sustained plot than Cursed Earth. Cal’s plans are revealed piece by piece, Dredd and his band of rebels gain victories and suffer setbacks, and it all leads to a grand showdown.

The classic stories are complemented by a roster of classic artists, particularly Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland. Many of the episodes open with a double page spread, giving extra thrill-power to them.

*Apart from, in this edition, four episodes which have never been reprinted anywhere because they depicted certain fast food chains and a well known food advertising green giant and drew threats of copyright based lawsuits.

From: Garth Owen Goodreads reviews


The Dark Heart of Hollywood: Glamour, Guns and Gambling – Inside the Mafia’s Global Empire

darkheart

author: Douglas Thompson

rating: 4

review:
The Mafia and the entertainment industry have been intertwined for a very long time. From the early days of cinema, criminals have been there skimming their share. Whether it was running protection- pay up or your movie doesn’t get made or shown- laundering dirty cash or a glitzy route to legitimacy, they never tired of finding new ways to squeeze some extra money.

Written in a conversational style, with regular wanders off the subject at hand to deliver back story or extra information, this book takes a look at some of the major characters and events in the long relationship between the mob and the movies. Some bits are well known, others I’ve seen alluded to in other books and films, but quite a few were new to me. Marilyn’s there, as are the Kennedys, Bugsy Siegel, the Manson Family and more. And Sinatra, of course. The more I learn about Sinatra, the more he seems a monster, a bully and coward who traded on his mob and political connections but was nowhere near as important or effective for them as he liked to think.

The final section, about the opening up of international markets- particularly Asian ones- isn’t as strong as the rest of the book. This is mostly because the author hadn’t had as much direct contact with the main players, and couldn’t draw on as big a pool of information and anecdotes. It gives a picture of the international reach of the entertainment and extortion industries that others may be able to build upon, though.


Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

chavsauthor: Owen Jones

book published: 2011

review:
This is a book to make you angry, and wonder why you weren’t at one of the street parties celebrating Maggie Thatcher’s passing.

Jones’ argument is that successive governments have- consciously or stupidly- marginalised the power of the working class and put all their effort into making sure that those who already have the money can make ever more at the expense of the rest of us. Along the way, they’ve destroyed whole communities and managed to convince most people that the country’s ills are the somehow the fault of the powerless and poor.

The destruction started with the Thatcher government, though she was just acting out a long-held Tory dislike of the “lower orders”. Blair and Brown continued her work rebranding “New” Labour so that it appealed to the middle classes whilst abandoning its core supporters, and now Cameron is taking advantage of our powerlessness to dismantle the NHS and welfare state.

Jones’ logic is impeccable, and made me see links between facts I already knew but hadn’t figured out myself. The only problem is that he can’t offer much of a solution. You’re left with a feeling of impotent rage- something should be done to stop the theft of our country out from under us, but the odds are so stacked against us we don’t know where to start.

Source: Ian Pattinson Goodreads reviews


B-Movie Night: BMX Bandits

It’s been a long time since I saw a children’s film that wasn’t a cgi animation or laden with special effects. I am aware of High School Musical, Hannah Montana and the work of the Olsen twins, but have managed to avoid them so far. Surely they can’t be the only live action, sfx free fare on offer to kids these days? Is there a modern equivalent to BMX Bandits?

In a very early role, Nicole Kidman is Judy, a BMX mad young lady working in the local market to raise enough money to get herself a new bike. She meets Goose and Maverick P.J., equally bike mad boys, when they wreck their bikes at the store. Though the accident was neither their fault nor hers, it costs her her job. Bonding over their shared love of cycling, the three become fast friends and set out to make their money by more creative means.

Fishing for mussels, Judy, P.J. and Goose find a mysterious box which contains walkie-talkies. With little thought to the legality of their salvage, they proceed to sell the radios. The problem is, there were destined for an armed gang who are planning a big payroll job and need them to communicate. They’re also on the Police band, so both cops and criminals are hunting them. Cue ‘mild peril’ and car chases.

Perhaps because it’s Australian, or maybe because it was the Eighties and they didn’t focus group things to death as often back then, there’s a refreshing coarseness to the film. The kids are self reliant and rebellious and in the end they benefit from these qualities, rather than having to learn important life lessons about how they must conform. There’s no cheesy romance sub plot, though they do cheekily play with it a couple of times. Trapped in a freshly dug grave, Goose tries to kiss Judy and, after dodging it, she tells him that she likes him just as much as P.J. but…. All the while unaware that the radio is on and P.J. can hear their conversation. Later, when jealousy looks like rearing its ugly head again, she comes out with the great line- “Two’s company, three…. Gets us talked about.”

Production values are quite high and the chases are well choreographed. The goons sent to recover the radios are buffoons but still manage, when needed, to be threatening, and the holes in the story aren’t big enough to care about.

I really enjoyed this film, and not just for nostalgic reasons. I don’t know how a modern tween or teen might feel about it. If you’ve got one lying around would you find out for me? Thanks.

You can buy BMX Bandits from Amazon.


B-Movie Night: Strippers vs Werewolves

This should have been so much better. It’s got strippers, werewolves, East End gangsters, a dopey paranormal investigator, sexy vampires and a bunch of familiar faces in it. It shouldn’t have been put together so poorly.

When a punter gets hairy and lairy during a private dance at Club Vixen, Justice the stripper defends herself with the nearest thing to hand- a fountain pen which is conveniently silver. Convenient because the hirsute chap is a werewolf. As the club bouncer and Justice dispose of the body, the club owner remembers events from twenty years earlier. She’s encountered lycans before, and knows what they’re like.

The wolf pack hunt down their fallen member, then set about getting revenge, leading to a show down with one of the least exciting fight sequences ever. There are also some sub-plots about the goofy vampire hunter dating a Russian goth stripper and some dumb connections between the girls and the wolves.

It’s all a bit dull, really. The acting, direction and script are all flat. Most of the shots look like they did one take and decided that was good enough, they couldn’t be bothered to try again. The worst part has to be the fights and werewolf attacks, which are static and confusing- nothing seems to be happening, but you can’t tell who it’s not happening to.

Considering the amount of sleazy, gory fun that could be had by mixing strippers and werewolves, this film is incredibly disappointing.

You could, though I don’t recommend it, buy Strippers vs Werewolves from Amazon.


Available now for Kindle- B-Movie Night: Film, book and game reviews from the Spinneyhead archives

B-Movie-cvr-600

New from Spinneyhead Books is B-Movie Night, which collects together a load of reviews from the Spinneyhead archives. I’s going to be an ever growing ebook, as new reviews will be added to it a month or two after they appear here.

Also available from Amazon.com.


B Movie Night: Oasis of the Zombies

Some time during the second world war, a German convoy crosses the African desert carrying six million dollars worth of looted gold and killing everyone they meet so as to keep their course secret. Until they meet a British Long Range Desert Group attachment in an oasis.

Only one man survives the battle. After being rescued by a local sheik he vows to never return to the haunted oasis. Pausing only to shag the sheik’s daughter, he heads back to the war. Returning two years later, he finds his lover has died giving birth to his son.

Fast forward 37 years and the boy, now in his late teens, is told his father is dead. Reading the old man’s diaries he learns about the raid and sets off with a few friends to find the oasis, which is now guarded by zombies.

This film might have been passable if the transfer had been done properly or from a better quality source. Sound and picture quality were apalling, such that, in some key night time scenes, the picture resembled white noise more than anything else.

You can get Oasis of the Zombies on DVD from Amazon, but I wouldn’t recommend it.


B-Movie Night Book Club: Double Penetrator- Blood on the Strip/ Hijacking Manhattan

Mark Hardin* is The Penetrator.  He was a star school athlete, until he was nobbled and had his knee damaged so badly he could never compete again.  Then he joined the Army and became a top special forces operative and investigator- until he uncovered the wrong piece of corruption and was beaten almost to death.  Returning to the States, he fell in love with his mentor’s niece, but when the Mafia tried to kill him, she was collateral damage.

Now Hardin is waging a secret war on crime and corruption in the USA.

In Blood on the Strip, Hardin goes to Vegas after a friend has her face disfigured by knife wielding thugs. He’s after a corrupt talent agency which is tricking dancers into prostitution as well as strong-arming debtors.

Hijacking Manhattan sees a violent offshoot of the Black Panthers (funded by Communist Chinese drugs) holding New York City to ransom with bombs and a very nasty virus.

Both stories are a bit repetitive- Hardin heads off to a site of interest, meaning to just look around, but getting into a shootout. The scale of the violence escalates and one or more sexy women is put in danger (maybe even killed) before The Penetrator kills all of the bad guys and returns to his desert retreat.

I’m being unfair, there are a few gimmicks that are quite cool, such as the super fine gloves printed with anonymous prints so that Hardin cannot be so easily tracked, and the writing isn’t too bad. It’s a diverting enough book with a lot of the old ultra-violence but not much sex.

You can buy Double Penetrator from Amazon.

*Yeah, I know.


B-Movie Night: Death Wish 5- The Face Of Death

By now, I’m sure you know the drill.

Kersey’s back in New York, but now he’s in witness protection for some reason. His new girlfriend’s a fashion designer, who’s ex is a mobster using her business for a wee bit of financial laundering.

The girlfriend is killed, the ex grabs his daughter and treats her like a hostage, Kersey kills a bunch of people. The end.

There are a couple of neat kills, particularly the one with the football, and it’s better than DW4, but there was really nothing left to be said by this point.

You can buy Death Wish 5- The Face Of Death from amazon.


B Movie Night- Death Wish 4: The Crackdown

Paul Kersey is back in LA, his whole vigilante road trip a distant memory. In fact, this film seems to completely forget about DW3. Which is a shame, because, as stupid as it was, the third film had a lot more energy and entertainment value than this one.

The Curse of Kersey is in full effect, and it’s only a few minutes before his girlfriend’s daughter is introduced and summarily dies of a cocaine overdose. Kersey does his vigilante thing and pretty soon the drug dealer is dead (but not before knifing the girl’s gormless boyfriend).

Before long, Kersey’s had an offer from an old rich white dude (never trust the old rich white dude) who’ll fund him if he’ll try to wipe out the two main drug gangs in the city of angels, setting them against each other if he can. Kersey works his way through over acting kingpins, and at least one corrupt cop, with ease, before the inevitable double cross and showdown. Then he walks away again, like at the end of number three, but not as convincingly.

You can buy Death Wish 4: The Crackdown from Amazon.


B-Movie Night: Death Wish 3

This film features product placement by a gun company. That tells you all you need to know about its tone and intent. For the first quarter of the movie, Charles Bronson keeps going on about how he’s waiting for his friend Wildey to turn up. When Wildey does arrive, it’s revealed that ‘he’ is a rather ugly pistol. Bronson quickly fulfils his contractual obligations by explaining to awed onlookers that the gun takes cut down rifle cartridges and has some sort of compensator device which can be adjusted depending upon the power of the load. Wildey then proceeds to kill loads of street punks.

With everyone he cared about dead or alienated at the end of Death Wish 2, Paul Kersey decided to take a vigilante bus tour of the USA- like the Littlest Hobo, but with violent retribution. Finally returning to New York, he brings the Curse of Kersey with him- the old army pal he’s visiting is beaten by a gang at the exact moment that Kersey phones him. The old codger manages to hold on until Paul has made a mad taxi dash across town, then expires almost immediately he gets there.

Arrested on suspicion of the murder- and giving the name Kimble- Kersey is given an ultimatum by the Chief of Police. He can bring his sidewalk vigilante act back to the Big Apple so long as the cops get to look more effective than they really are as a result. Kersey returns to the warzone that is East New York and sets to work.

It’s particularly dangerous to be a woman when Paul Kersey’s in town. One of his new neighbours starts helping out with his street patrols- so the gang targets his wife to be so brutally raped that she dies of her wounds. A public defender takes an interest in ‘Kimble’ and makes the terminal error of sleeping with him. She ends up dying in an automotive fireball. A local shopkeeper is emboldened by Kersey’s actions- so the gang’s leader slices his wife’s throat.

The men in Kersey’s shadow don’t suffer as much. The battered old veteran who supplies a cupboard full of guns is beaten up and thrown off a fire escape, but he lives and is back on his feet in days even after suffering multiple broken bones. The Curse of Kersey is far worse if you’re a woman.

It all ends with a massive fire fight, leaving dozens- maybe even hundreds- dead and razing even more of the blighted neighbourhood. In amongst all the smoke and blood, Kersey just picks up his suitcases and wanders off, not really giving a toss that he’s destroyed more innocent lives and legitimate businesses in a couple of weeks than the drugged up scum he was killing could ever have hoped to.

A decade had passed between the first Death Wish and its second sequel, and a lot of blood had flowed into the gutter. Michael Winner must have moved with the times, making this a dumb action movie with a nod to the reactionary glorification of street law from the first two. It’s still Charles Bronson killing hipsters, though, so it’s fun if you ignore its attempts to say something nasty about the state of the States in the eighties.

You can buy Death Wish 3 from Amazon.


B-Movie Night: Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape

This documentary is part of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, providing a lesson in how lies, lobbying and the media can create controversy from nothing and destroy businesses and lives.

With the arrival of home video, a whole slew of films were suddenly available for home viewing. What would previously have required a trip to Times Square or a low-rent drive in Stateside could now be found on the shelves at corner shops and petrol stations in Britain. The market for home video grew so quickly that distributors bought the rights to anything and everything. Giallo, grindhouse and all manner of cheap indie horror was rented without any sort of classification or quality control.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that these films were great works of art. Some were groundbreaking, most were entertaining and the most talked about ones broke numerous taboos. They were bound to fall foul of the sort of people who like to condemn things they haven’t seen. The usual suspects all lined up- Mary Whitehouse, the Daily Mail and otherwise impotent Tory MPs caused a fuss which became a frenzy, fuelled by research fudged to give the desired results. The Police got involved, raiding shops and taking all their stock- to watch down the nick later before arbitrarily burning it.

Once the frenzy was up and running, Whitehouse and the Mail found their useful idiot in the gullible shape of Graham Bright MP, who pushed through a Bill introducing over-the-top censorship. The law was used to destroy business and send people to jail, but was never even legal itself. All of this done to “protect” the lower classes from material that might corrupt them.

Almost every new entertainment medium has drawn calls for, and actual, censorship to protect the proles from stuff that might “corrupt” them- from vaudeville to video games. The video nasty palaver was just a particularly bad example. The moral panic is still in use- currently over benefits- with the usual suspects frothing at the mouth and propagating useful lies and damaging people’s lives. Censorship is not as bad as destroying lives, but it was an empowering stepping stone on the way there for fundamentalists (religious and Thatcherite) who bullied and cheated it into law. The takeaway lesson from this film, and the eighties in general, is to question all those who want to crack down on your freedoms for ill-defined reasons.