Monday, July 17, 2017

Breaking the Mold

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker – Stephen Galloway (Crown Archetype)

When Sherry Lansing made major headlines for landing as the first female head of a major motion picture studio, Paramount Pictures, it was in reality anything but a typical Hollywood story. Yet the tall and strikingly beautiful Lansing could shake the typical Hollywood stereotype; did she get there because of her good looks and by way of the executive casting couch?

Well over the course of her career Lansing proved beyond doubt that she was a skilled an operator as anyone else, leading a pair of major studios along the way and scoring big box office success with films like Titanic, Braveheart, Black Rain, Indecent Proposal, Fatal Attraction, Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan among many others. These were not just successful movies, but films that became keystones of the American lexicon.

Lansing’s amazing career is the subject of the new biography, Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker. The book details Lansing’s transition from model and actress to behind the camera deal maker that moved in the same circles some of the biggest names in Tinsel Town.

Langsing earned a solid reputation for being a skilled negotiator and tough deal maker. Leading Lady, is a fairly typical Hollywood memoir that gives you just enough insider insight to keep things interesting without getting too deep in the dirt.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reach the Beach - Fiction

Trap the Devil: A Thriller – Ben Coes (St. Martin’s Press)

Given the current machinations floating around about the so-called deep state, there is a real feel, ripped from the headlines quality to Ben Coes’ seventh installment in the Dewey Andreas series, Trap the Devil.

Could a group of highly placed, high profile folks, in positions of trust be at the core of a long game, coup plot to over throw the U.S. government? The wheels of this deviously plotted takeover are starting to ratchet up and the intensity of the story gets slammed into high gear early and often in this break neck thriller.

While some may choose to quibble over realism of some of the turns in this story, I for one am a willing participant, in the one man stands in the way of this fiendish plot, suspension of reality. In the Dewey Andreas character, Ben Coes has long ago claimed his rightful place among the master agents provocateur, who ply the trade craft of thriller writing. Andreas is a tough guy for all seasons, not only a burly brut, but a guy who can think and move fast in dangerous situations.

Coes firmly grounds this ambitious story with just the right amount of head scratching, “hmm…could that really happen” reality to keep things plausible. Coes also knows how to draw the bad characters so well that he will keep you pulling for the good guys win the day. Loved the high velocity nature of the plot and Dewey’s never give up, never say die attitude in the face of growing odds.

Here and Gone – Haylen Beck – (Crown Books)

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. There is just a creeping sense of dread and doom the envelopes the opening passages of Haylen Beck’s debut, Here and Gone. Acclaimed crime writer Stuart Neville, uses the Beck pen name to craft this chillingly good story about a mother trying to escape her abusive husband, when on her cross country journey with her two kids, she gets pulled over on a desolate stretch of Arizona highway.
Arrested for pot possession, that creeping finger crawling up your spine is the sense that something isn’t quite right and while assured the kids will be “someplace safe” you just know that isn’t case.

Beck/Irwin masterfully crafts a dark story that is in one sense familiar and in another utterly terrifying. The pace gets ratcheted up as the clock ticks down in a desperate search for the children; the fires up with the chilling line, “what children?”

You’ve just gotta love a guy who crafts his pen name from his two favorite guitarists, Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Beck!

The Force – Don Winslow (William Morrow)

Don Winslow has penned a half a shelf full of novels over the course of his career with some recognizable titles sprinkled in along the way. In 2015 he stamped his name in bold letters as a writer to reckon with, with his book The Cartel finding its way onto countless lists of the best books of the year.

While I have to admit that I wasn’t familiar with Winslow’s work, I can tell you that there is something just flat out cool about Winslow’s style that he flexes to good effect with his latest, The Force. Winslow populates the pages of The Force with cops that seem to be a throwback to a different era; guys and gals married to the job who struggle mightily with a desire to do the right thing, but who all too often prey to the temptations of an easy score.

You get the sense that Winslow keeps a firm grip on reality when developing his characters, he’s not so much inventing these folks out of whole cloth as he is depicting real people that he has crossed paths with or down a shot and a beer with in a cop bar. There is a cinematic element to the words strung together so elegantly on these pages and it’s easy to see why a big screen auteur like Ridley Scott will be at the helm of the film version of The Cartel.


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Evil X 4 Divided by 2

The Fourth Monkey – J D Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Hear No Evil…get a victim’s ear, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

See No Evil…get a victim’s eyes, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

Speak No Evil… get a victim’s tongue, delivered in a neatly wrapped box tied with black string.

Get The Fourth Monkey, by J D Barker and get the thriller of the year, thus far, delivered in the form of a book that divides the storyline into two neatly gripping sections.

The Four Monkey Killer (4MK) has been plying his evil trade for five years terrorizing Chicago and we get dropped right into the middle of a bubbling story with the arrival of the first neatly wrapped box, tied in black string and containing his latest victim’s ear. You know the old saw about the monkeys who hear, see, and speak no evil, but this troop comes with an extra member.

Author J D Barker spins out a twisted tale of an ultra-smart serial killer who is not only hell bent on yanking the chains of those trying to catch him, but along the way he has made the case and helped the cops to roll up some folks who were doing evil that they didn’t even know about.

Is 4MK dead…the victim of an apparent suicide or is this just another twist; a curve ball to keep the cops guessing? Barker drops a malicious clue in the form of the killer diary which details the killer’s twisted childhood and the making of a future serial killer.

While Barker alternates between the current chase and the killers diary, I defy you to try not to bounce ahead to see where the next twist in either tail leads. 

This is a great concept and the execution is spot on! Barker sets the hook early and the race is on with relentless pacing, great hairpin turns and enough twists to keep you guessing until the final pages. Hands down my favorite fiction of the year and I am ready for what’s next from the devious mind of J D Barker.   

Putting Things in Perspective

Perspective in Action: Creative Exercises for Depicting Spatial Representation from the Renaissance to the Digital Age – David Chelsea (Watson Guptil)

Despite all thoughts to the contrary, artists are not born; they may be gifted with some rudimentary or even advanced skills, but artists work hard to develop their skills over the course of time. Along the way most artists will seek out instruction, information or tools that they can add to their toolbelt to aid in improving their skills.

One of the myriad of skills that most artists seek to hone is the skill of adding perspective to their work. By representing space or depth in their work they can add life and realism to the work.

One of the undisputed masters in the area of training artists to improve their perspective skills is David Chelsea. Chelsea’s third book on perspective is, Perspective in Action: Creative Exercises for Depicting Spatial Representation from the Renaissance to the Digital Age. With this book, Chelsea seems a little more focused on the hands on approach to things showing a range of examples that covers a gamut of styles and artistic mediums.

Chelsea offers some very useful tools that can not only aid artists but are relatively simple to put into action right away. He doesn’t overlook how to best utilize perspective in the digital art age we find ourselves immersed in. This one belongs on the shelf of any artists who would like to take a step in the serious direction when it comes to their work.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Manga Crilley-style

Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator – Mark Crilley (Watson Guptil Publications)

How do I some up Manga style art? Think heavy Japanese influences, impossibly large eyed characters featuring a very youthful appearance and more often than not girlish qualities combined with overt sexual overtones. Most if not all of these female characters feature a bit sexual fantasy stereotype and like their eyes seemingly impossibly large or prominent breasts.

Among the very best at plying the craft of manga style art is American artist Mark Crilley, the author/artists behind more than 30 manga books. Crilley’s latest Manga Art – Inspiration and Techniques from an Expert Illustrator is a combination art book and instruction manual so you can learn the techniques of manga style.

Crilley’s work is certainly eye catching with spikey haired boys, street kids, style mavens and super hero style looks dotting the landscape. While there is a striking similarity to much of manga art, Crilley displays a few stylistic flourishes that are all his own that stand out in his work.

The book makes a nice companion piece to Crilley’s YouTube channel where he loads up videos full of instruction and technique guidance.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of Van Halen

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen – Noel Monk (Dey Street Books)

A little house keeping up front: I am a huge Van Halen fan, the band remains among my favorite bands of all time, with that said if you go into this book expecting a “typical” rock band book, then you will likely go away disappointed. This book really focuses on the quicksilver launch and meteoric rise of Van Halen to the highest ranks of rock superstar status, followed by the seemingly inevitable crash and burn that followed.

The author of Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, Noel Monk got started with the band as the tour manager for the band’s first tour of the States and later Europe. His hard work and steady hand through the pitfalls of such a jaunt lead to the band signing him up to become their fulltime manager. It is from the point of view the book takes its form; focusing on the ins and outs of the minefield that is the music business.

Monk does offer many insights into the inner workings of the band, as well as their larger than life personalities in some cases and their fragile grip on stardom in others. The book served as a reminder in some cases of the band’s exploits both on and off stage as well as shining a light of some of the things even fans would not know about the band. Having come of age as a radio personality and music journalist during the era that the book focuses on, the book offered an interesting perspective/confirmation of many things that were suspected about the band.

Monk delves deeply into the all but certain crash side of the story; the internal squabbles, the personality conflicts, and the massive chemical dependencies that contributed to the bands downfall. It was something that even the steadiest of hands on the wheel and the sheer brilliance of Edward Van Halen’s guitar pyrotechnics could not overcome.

While the band continued to churn out great music with Sammy Hager fronting the group, there is an element of wistfulness for what could have been if Van Halen had remained on the trajectory they had from their start. That “what if” only gets amplified, with the sideshow quality of the band’s recent reunion of sorts, with Eddie’s son (with Valarie Bertinelli), Wolfgang on bass; you just can’t capture the lightening in a bottle twice.