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AICN Books! Frank Bascombe On SOFT, THE DELIVERY MAN, And FX Feeney’s MICHAEL MANN Book!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I’ve got some book reviews of my own that I’m hoping to post next week, but for now, we’ve got AICN’s longest-running book review columnist, the one and only Frank Bascombe, with his take on three new books:

I finally got around to seeing The Police… live, after 38 years, and I have to say they were pretty damn good. I’ve also seen what I hope is the final chapter in the Bourne movies; a superb ending to a knock down drag out fantastic action series that I’ve loved from the very first moment Bourne took the screen. Damon gets better with each movie whether it’s Bourne or his work with Clooney and Soderbergh and Gaghan. Summer is looking good in the book world as is Fall, but… It’s Not A Secret Unless I Tell Someone... Soft! by Rupert Thomson Vintage I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that I really, really, really like Rupert Thomson’s writing. For those of you paying attention this is the second month in a row that I’ve reviewed one of his books, last month ‘Death of a Murderer’, and now; ‘Soft!’ This book is almost seven years old and I’m just reading it now, why…I don’t know, but let me tell you, for the $13.00 they’re charging for the book it seems like a great deal wrapped inside a fantastic novel. Skip the hardcover bestseller list, the Quickie’s and the like, proceed to the paperbacks if you’re going to buy something to read. I mean come on… who needs to spend over $25.00 for a book when you can wait a year and read the trade paper. Soft! Is a surprising delight, a morbid piece of English realism that will most likely be overlooked for years to come. Thomson delivers a modern urban drama under the guise of an old time thriller; well not a conventional thriller…but it thrilled me. Glade Spencer, a woman who’s supposed to be a hero, our hero that is, is living a life of profound normalcy; waiting tables and doing nothing else. Her roommate, a royal rag who eats only broccoli, is a jealous bird that fits the age old stereotype, shut in, tight legged, and bitter at the world. She’s jealous of Glade’s American boyfriend who jet’s her all over the world for a weekend of sex and companionship. Glade thinks this might be how it is, he’s rough on her, treats her terribly, more like a rag doll, practices drunken anal sex on her and she seems to think that if this is the worst of it…well…at least she’s not being stoned to death, (my words, not hers). Enter Barker, well, that’s a lie, he was the first person we met, but Glade was so spectacularly bland that I had to mention her first. He’s just accidentally killed someone, a friend and the deceased’s family is seeking revenge, so it’s time to leave town. On a tip from a friend he gets a job to kill someone, not his cup of tea, but he’s been a bouncer, shit, that’s just a step below murder…right? Finally we meet Jimmy; he’s a suit, working for a company that’s selling the soda pop Soft! They’re looking to branch out in the UK, via Chicago, and a hard line business axe man comes in from the USA to help launch the campaign. Jimmy is ripe with ideas for the marketing campaign of this orange soft drink. His best idea is a sort of hypnosis, and the axe man loves it… so a plan is hatched. Hire money hungry people to take part in a sleep clinic and then blast subliminal messages into their heads while they sleep. They’ll wake up craving Soft! And not know why. Brilliant! Thompson weaves these people together while showing the true details of what makes the class system in England so important. Ms. Glade dreams of a utopia that’s not there while hoping not to turn out like her father who’s stuck in a caravan in a field somewhere remote. Jimmy wants the big bucks and the promotion that goes with it so he can have the BMW, the country house and get someone else to wipe the road apples from his loafers. Stereotypes are here for a reason, Barker is a fringe dweller who realizes he’ll never be more than a killer, a bad man who couldn’t pick a proper wife so he settled for a whore. He lives in regret; he relives these regrets, as do Glade and Jimmy, all in their own way. This is a Thomson specialty, at least in the two books I’ve read, and it’s a wonderful way to round out a character, letting them reminisce, because what are we if not a collection of regrets and past experiences? I liked Jimmy’s stress level, Glade’s bland look on life and how she never really aspires to more than just being a listener. Her trip to New Orleans is so brilliantly chiseled in my mind that I can feel the heat, even at night, the asphalt scraps on her knees, and the shock of being violated by someone you trust. If I had a way to tell Thomson how much I love his books I would. But sadly, these love letters will have to do. The Delivery Man by Joe McGinniss JR. Black Cat Debut novels are tough, you know that, and you know how I feel about them, they’re not easy to write but sometimes they’re great because the writer had forever to write them (see Fight Club). It’s the dreaded second novel you have to watch out for, like the follow up album from a band that’s first record you can’t stop playing. Rumors swirled around the Internet on this book, and it was supposed to be a crime drama, and at its core it’s just that but it doesn’t seem like something that Black Cat would publish, (see Layer Cake). I mean sure, it’s got crime in it, all over it, but this was billed to me as a portrait of a lost generation at the cusp of confusing time period (right now) and a prescient look at the future of America which is embodied by Mr. McGinniss and a multi-layered cast of characters who to put it bluntly are fantastic wastes of space. There is something about the generation that’s going into college right now, or just got out, they are looking for someone to hand things to them, the big $$$ job, or the acting career, maybe stardom and space on the cover of US magazine, but that’s not going to happen. They have to work for it, but they’re not prepared for that, they think they deserve it, really they do. This generation is as common as freckles, and what’s even more amazing is how they stubbornly think they’re something, somebody, when in fact they’re nobodies, just like the rest of us. Richard Price said it best, “Life is what happens to you while you’re waiting for your ship to come in.” This book owes a debt to Mr. Price, and I suspect Mr. McGinniss has read his share of that great writers work. Vegas is where we find our sub-hero’s, not anti-hero’s, not even people you can root for, they’re wasting their time, pre-college, post high school looking for the easy ticket out, the fast money, anything that doesn’t involve paying dues, working your way up the ladder, and it’s sickening to watch. These people are so effectively portrayed that I was loath to greet them each time I picked up the book, but I couldn’t look away while they dug themselves in deeper with each careless adventure. They seem to be chasing after a satisfaction that’s just out of reach, unhealthy and drug fueled but still the carrot is dangling on the string. Chase, the central figure, a once talented painter doing time in a local high school where he teaches art. Michelle is a childhood friend who’s giving massages at high-rise hotels on the strip, happy endings included. Then there’s Bailey, a dark and troubled figure that manages to keep the story moving with his less than holy enterprising. And of course the throw away characters, Rachel, the “high” schooled life failure who’s looking to earn a living on her back…and a truly confounding cast of characters who would all be better off in jail. Chase screws up his job, royally, and ends up falling into a chauffer gig for Michelle. Dig, she’s practicing the oldest gig there is: she’s a whore; she doesn’t care what you think, who you are, just how much you’re willing to pay for her body and to top it all off she’s a young immigrant who’s been beside Chase his entire life. Ever since she slowly realized her place on the food chain, she’s known that the only way to finding happiness is through money, which will put material goods in her possession, a tenet of this generation which is to say; if they can possess it, hold it, have it, drive it, spend it, wear it, smoke it, drink it, screw it, then they’re happy. Chase is trying to get out of the path of this self-inflicted virus and can’t seem to pull his panties up and get real, even take responsibility for his actions. He gladly takes beatings and allows the ramifications of his missteps to undo him. His girlfriend shows up, who’s excelling in corporate America and wants Chase to follow his dreams of being a painter. He will, just you wait, he’ll try, really, someday he’s going to be a big deal, right now though he has to drive whores from john to john. Julia cuts him to the quick in her first visit, “is your prostitute friend going to be there?” when Chase mentions that he’d love to come to her corporate shindig but he’s got to pick some friends up first. He’s ashamed of himself but he can’t stop from doing it. Funny things happen when you bring smart educated people into the same room with pretenders, whores, and fakers; the really smart people are usually more perceptive than the rest of people you bring along for the ride and don’t mind telling you. Chase sees just how stupid what he’s doing is, how all this work is a dead end and nothing but risks. All good things come to an end and eventually Chase has his most recent past bite him in the ass. The bad men are his friends, his pals, and his former students. A crowning moment comes towards the end of the book when a party lacking any adult supervision goes haywire and a caged coyote is set on fire with a can of hair spray, Chase looks away, so will you. Is this a story of redemption, a good kid in bad surroundings…trying to get out? Sure, you can look at it like that. It’s also a razor sharp portrait of a generation that has completely gone off the rails. I spent the entire book looking for the crime, the murder, the heist, and finally in the last sentence of the book I found it. Joe McGinnis Jr. sums this story up in one short paragraph leaving the reader wondering what will happen next. For my money it was the moment where I said to my self; this is pretty damn good. Michael Mann Ed. F.X. Feeney/Paul Duncan Taschen During this past June’s annual BEA conference held this year in Manhattan I stumbled upon the Taschen booth and discovered they’d put together this book about Michael Mann. To say I’m the biggest fan dead or alive of his movies would be an understatement. This book came as a blast of fresh air, a real Holy Cow moment for me. I’ve been looking for a coffee table sized photojournalist type book about the Mann for a long time. Of course there is the gold standard by Nick James; Heat, from BFI Modern Classics (a nifty little paperback) which is a classic dissection of Mann’s work starting with his influences and a take on one of the most important films of the last twenty years… and the film he focuses all his attention on? Why of course that would be ‘Heat’. If you’ve read this column even a little bit you know I think that is the best movie ever made, (this is going on eleven years, and I’ve never wavered on this point) period, I won’t even argue it with you, so save your talkbacks and emails. Now; for a working education around all things Mann, you need to have this book from Taschen, you must own it, you should buy it as soon as possible, probably before you finish reading this column. It starts out with beautiful research photographs from ‘The Jericho Mile’, and talks at great length about getting that movie off the ground and offers some frightening photographs of Folsom Prison (a theme and character background he’ll use again and again in future movies); this section is called ‘How The World Works.’ I’ve always been fascinated by Mann’s portrait of the craftsman, the expert, the solo artist, and it’s all embodied in James Caan and ‘Thief’ also William Peterson’s uncanny performance in ‘Manhunter’. Mann’s themes, male identity, work (high quality craftsman, experts at their chosen field, crime, driving a taxi, being a CEO, and how parallel lives cross) are profoundly on display in these two movies, and celebrated in such a vibrant visual bouquet in this book that’s it’s hard to read through it and not run to the DVD player and put in the movies. Some light is shed on a few things (beyond the incredible commentary on most of Mann’s DVD’s) in that Caan took the role in ‘Thief’ after he read the nine minute scene with Tuesday Weld where he explains his view on life to her. It’s a stunning sequence in the movie and this information tied together with the other motifs that Mann utilizes in the film make for an arresting read. But in the ‘Hunters and Gathers’ section that these movies fall into in the book isn’t over. We treated to a sequence where ‘The Keep’ is discussed, in detail; with countless on set pictures complete with vivid explanation for each section of this often overlooked film. No book on Mann would be complete without taking a close look at ‘Manhunter’, a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It showcased Peterson way before he allowed himself to be turned into the latest McDonalds promotion on CSI; in this Thomas Harris adaptation he performs effortlessly what appears by all accounts to be a man tortured by his own genius to track serial killers. He’s so good at it that he’s the only person they call to investigate the crimes. It’s a tight section of the book, delivering more on set pictures that I’ve never seen anywhere. Moving forward, or backward in time depending on how you see it, we come to a section called ‘Proving Ground’ which covers the television years of Mann’s career, ‘Crime Story’ and ‘Miami Vice’, while we read through his efforts he explains the thrill of television, having an idea and then a few weeks later 44 million people watching it. The part about ‘Last of the Mohicans’ is capable, but for me, I don’t care for the movie, it seems like a documentary, to accurate, like a pool table with no dead spots or a golf course with out bunkers, it’s so clean and tight. Of course the section on ‘Heat’ comes through vividly and finally lays bare the arresting image of DeNiro standing at the window at early dawn with the pistol on the table, it seems to have been inspired by a painting by Alex Colville called ‘Pacific’. All of this is welding seamlessly with Dante Spinotti’s cinematography. Can you believe Lady Barbara fired him from her masterpiece the ‘Mirror Has Two Faces’? All of ‘Heat’ was shot on location and we’re gorged with set pictures that show Mann chin deep in detail while creating the finer points of the movie. The coffee shop scene, now stuff of legend, Mann talking to Ashley Judd, probably her only good movie and finally the shootout between the cops and DeNiro’s crew, a true modern western personified in a heart stopping shoot out sequence that will knock the wind out of anyone who dares watch it. In the later chapters we visit the ‘Insider’ set, watch Crowe hit golf balls as he surrounded by camera’s, steady cam being Mann’s main vehicle for shooting, (check out the scene in ‘Heat’ where Kilmer runs out on Judd and Mann’s camera runs across the yard in total darkness as Kilmer backs his car out of the driveway and towards the frame as the camera as it crosses the street. This shot is so perfect that Mann did it twice in one movie). Finally ‘Miami Vice’ the movie adaptation and ‘Ali’, are given ample time with corresponding pages of images from each film, interviews and running commentary on the details of each film. I think the directors cut of ‘Miami Vice’ is far superior to the theatrical version, but who cares really, Mann’s movies are mine, I feel like he makes them for a specific audience, this movie in particular, you get the vibe, feel the humidity, and smell the gas fumes off the fast boats at the start of the film. He puts you in it, no way around it, submerges you in his world and shuts everything else out. Of course ‘Collateral’ is covered here, and given as much space as the rest of his movies. Sadly the only real clunker, subtly placed in the later third of the book, and it’s an foul ball by the thinnest of mentions is the television series ‘Robbery Homicide Division’ (still not out on DVD, it was just one season I doubt it will ever get the proper treatment, though I do have it VHS which is a poor man’s version, but at least I have it, the show walked on water by my account) In this book we’re given a very precise and candid glimpse into the world of Michael Mann. Combine this with Nick James book and you’re basically prepped to argue all things Mann with the best of them. And finally, don't forget to catch Will Beall reading in LA!!!! September 06, 2007 07:30 PM Author Event Will Beall: LA Rex Fiction Barnes & Noble Booksellers The Grove at Farmers Market 189 Grove Drive Suite K 30 Los Angeles, CA 90036 323-525-0270 Thanks! Frank Bascombe
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