Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thank You for Smoking, by Christopher Buckley

Nick Naylor is the young, handsome, smooth-talking spokesman for The Academy of Tobacco Studies, a Washington group that takes on anti-smoking groups by trying spin all the damaging heath reports about cigarette smoking in their favor.  After high profile appearances on Oprah and Nightline, Nick's star is on the rise.  One day, he is kidnapped, covered head-to-toe in nicotine patches and left for dead.  This gives Nick and the ATS a lot of public sympathy and extra ammunition to fight back.  At the same time, a senator from Vermont proposes a bill to prominently display a skull and crossbones on every pack of cigarettes sold in the US.

Entertaining and often hilarious, Christopher Buckley's novel is a biting satire on both Big Tobacco and the "Neo-Puritan" (his phrase) elements in our society that want to outlaw such things as smoking, drinking, and firearms.

Having seen the 2005 movie adaptation, I couldn't help comparing the novel to the movie.  The movie version adds the character of Nick's son (mentioned, but off-screen in the novel), which does a good deal to humanize Nick. The endings are completely different and offer a different take on the whole proceedings.  I normally don't deal in spoilers, but since the book came out in 1994 and the movie in 2005, I should be safe.

In the novel, the kidnapping and nicotine patch attack on Nick was perpetrated by his boss, BR, and a rival VP named Janette.  They're jealous of Nick's popularity and want him out of the way.  Nick uncovers their deception and turns their hired goons against them.  After a two and a half year prison sentence, Nick becomes an anti-smoking advocate.

In the movie, the kidnapping takes place later in the story and actually fits better in the story.  The conspiracy against Nick is non-existent and the character of Janette doesn't appear at all.  Nick still has his change of heart and turns against his former employer, but it is done more because of the growing relationship with his son.  While the book makes it look like Nick turns against tobacco to "pay his mortgage" and to spite those who wronged him, the movie shows it as a progression of the emotional growth of Nick.

I think the overall differences between versions is one of tone.  While often hilarious, the novel carries a darker tone overall while the movie plays up the more humorous elements.  They are two different beasts and should be judged each on its own merits.

I can give the movie a big thumbs up, but I'm a little hesitant to do so with the novel.  It was entertaining and funny, but nothing too special.  If you're a fan of Christopher Buckley or the movie, I'd say pick it up.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Until Gwen, by Dennis Lehane

Late last week I read a couple of the "Conversations with the Bookless" series at BSC Review.  One of the authors (I forget which one, sorry) mentioned that a favorite short story of his was "Until Gwen" by Dennis Lehane.  Since I enjoyed A Drink Before the War and was looking for a timewaster, I set about to track down this story. It appeared in The Atlantic a couple years ago and also in a couple fiction anthologies.

Luckily, one if the anthologies is available for preview over at Google Books and the entire story is included in the preview.  Do yourself a favor and go read the story.  It's a good one.

Then head over and read an interview The Atlantic did with Lehane. It's very insightful and extremely engaging.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990)

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of Stevie Ray Vaughan.  One of the great blues guitarists of the 20th century, Vaughan's life was tragically cut short in a helicopter crash just hours after his final performance at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin.  The concert ended with an all-star jam featuring Vaughan, brother Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray.  Initially, Clapton was also scheduled to be on the helicopter, but he gave his seat up to a member of Buddy Guy's band.

Here's just a quick sample of Stevie Ray Vaughan's work:


One of my favorite tunes:


Jimmie Vaughan, a blues guitarist in his own right, spent a lot of time struggling with the death of his brother. He collaborated with Art Neville on the tribute song "Six Strings Down" which is also worth a listen. The song is introduced by a clip of Jimmie talking about how the song came to be:

MST3K Friday: The Space Children

"These monorail designers have a one track mind."
"Anything I can do to help? I have my bike."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mulholland Books

A couple months ago, Little, Brown and Company announced a new imprint dedicated to suspense fiction called Mulholland Books. (Read their mission statement here). Some of the authors signed to the imprint are Mark Billingham, Lawrence Block, Marcia Clark, and Duane Swierczynski.

Recently, they put up a great new website featuring some cool articles by their authors and other "names" in the crime/suspense genre.  They recently posted an interview and a live chat with Don Winslow, author of The Dawn Patrol and other novels.

Check out what Hard Case Crime's Charles Ardai has to say about noir.

The website is a great start and I look forward to reading the books they publish.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell

An elderly farmer and his wife are brutally murdered in the Swedish countryside. The wife’s last word “foreign” touches off a wave of anti-immigrant furor. Inspector Kurt Wallander must solve the murders before things get too far out of hand.

After being introduced to the Wallander character by the fantastic PBS Series starring Kenneth Branagh (if you haven’t watched them, you must), I decided to read the books on which they were based. Thankfully, the translation of Henning Mankell’s novel doesn’t suffer from some of the odd sentence constructions I’ve seen excerpted from the “Girl with the…” series (see here and here for some). With straightforward, almost reporter-like, prose we follow Wallander and his team on their investigation.

Like with most crime novels, the initial crime is only part of the whole story. Wallander must unravel a tale of secret lives, payoffs, and love children all while dealing with his own issues (recent divorce and a father developing dementia). The best crime stories also have a bit of social commentary in them. Mankell uses the story as a backdrop to explore the inefficiencies of Swedish immigration bureaucracy and the underground world of race hate.

The book didn't grip me as some of my more recent reads have, but I did enjoy it. I have another Wallander book in the TBR pile and I'll make my decision to continue with the series after I read that. I will, however, continue to watch the excellent PBS series without hesitation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lie to The Shield

In case anyone out there hasn't been watching FOX's excellent Lie to Me, tonight looks like a good one to watch.  As I mentioned before, this is the episode where executive producer Shawn Ryan brings back several former cast members of The Shield for guest spots.  It should be a hoot and a half.

Here's a TVGuide story on it:  http://www.tvguide.com/News/Lie-Shield-Reunion-1021906.aspx

Maltin's Movies: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The granddaddy of all political paranoia thrillers, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is just as chilling as it was in 1962; it's also smarter (and better crafted) than most recent films.  Frank Sinatra stars as a Korean war vet who's trying to get tot he bottom of a mystery involving Laurence Harvey and his venal mother, Angela Lansbury.

I can't recommend this movie enough.  It grabs you from the opening scene and won't let go until after the movie is long over.  One thing Maltin doesn't mention is the terrific directing job by John Frankenheimer.  Never flashy or showy, Frankenheimer knows how to build tension by using the right shots from the right angles and doesn't let the camera get in the way of the actors' performances.  Just steer clear of the remake.  As much as I love Denzel Washington and Liev Schreiber, it doesn't hold a candle to the original.

Friday, August 13, 2010