Monday, March 29, 2010

It's New For Everyone Else


Image via Wikipedia
You know you're getting old when a song comes on the radio (or when a music video shows up on cable) and you figure it's some new artist's cover of a famous song from your bygone youth. Then you realize, it's not. This has happened way too often for me now. An entirely new song and lyrics makes its way into your ears and head. And all you say to yourself is, "Wait a minute! They lifted that from so-and-so!" Yeah, I know artists and producers will sample from other older, great(er) tunes. I don't know if it's suppose to be an homage or not, but it happens too often for my thoughts. I suspect it's less than tribute-filled and more that they hope you don't notice while your kids think it great and spend your money to buy it. Will Smith's '97 Men in Black title song lifted freely from Forget Me Nots from 1987 by Patrice Rushen (who just happens to be another native Angeleno that's the same age as me, just way more talented). I remember I just about did what my friends Pop Culture Nerd and Christine refer to as a spit-take when I first heard Changes by Tupac Shakur (since 1986's The Way It Is by Bruce Hornsby and The Range is among my favorites). What did it to me tonight was catching the 2006 song Save Room by John Legend:


It is a good song and has interesting lyrics. But, those of us with long memories will instantly pick up on the chords and recognize them from the 1968 track Stormy by the Classics IV (and featuring the late Dennis Yost):


To be clear, I don't have problems with other artists covering these songs. In fact, Santana did a wonderful update of this song that I really admire from 1978. It's the so-called sampling that's been going on that I have issue with. In another ten years, I'm pretty damn sure label producers will be thrilled that folks my age will be hard-pressed to recall the old tunes that they'll continue to lift for their music sales while barely giving lip service toward the original -- but at least I'm putting a thought down on this today. Do you have any beloved songs that have been rip-offed?

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Forgotten Song: The Supremes - Stoned Love


Way back when, I had friends who'd argue endlessly about the quality and achievements of their favorite musical groups in comparison with others. None more so than with those groups that transitioned with new members over the years. The music labels were not about to let go of a popular (money making) group name just because the lead singer would go on to a solo career (which they also managed). And when that group was The Supremes, excuse me... make that Diana Ross & The Supremes, it could lead to an endless source of vocal disputes among my friends. I always felt the talented singers that came on to the group post Diva Diana got the short end of the stick. They had to compete with the legacy of all of those 60's hits for this Motown girl group that successfully crossed over to Pop. Plus, doing it with Ross still prominently on the scene with her solo songs and albums being promoted on the radio and tours (my friends and I managed to make of couple of these) made it that much harder. Still, new lead singer Jean Terrell had a voice that I really appreciated. Her short stint with The Supremes (aka, 70's Supremes) remains memorable.

The rest of this post has been updated and moved over to my current blog, found here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Robert Culp: August 16, 1930 - March 24, 2010

I feel like someone kicked me in gut when I glanced at the L.A. Times web page this afternoon. There they reported Robert Culp's death after a fall at his Hollywood home. I'm still having a hard time believing this. Literally, I grew up watching this actor on television and films--and in a large variety of genres. I feel like an old friend has passed away... even though I never met the man (though, I did see him once in person when he came to visit someone at the medical center where I work). If you look at his profile on the Internet Movie Database, you will see a great and varied career than spanned decades, and it's one that started just a year before I was born. Just like so many, I was first introduced to his work through his guest appearances on the seminal sci-fi TV series, The Outer Limits. It's hard not to think of those episodes right now: The Architects of Fear, Corpus Earthling, and his haunting portrayal of the character Trent in the influential Demon with a Glass Hand (written by the legendary Harlan Ellison). Yes, I Spy is where he really came into his own with his iconic pairing with Bill Cosby, but he was really all over television during that era. He had guest appearances in just about everything good in TV at the time. From Naked City to Bonanza, The Rifleman to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and from Columbo to Police Story. And that's not counting his film work. He played them all, in all types of roles, and he played them with confiction. Quoting a tweet today from my friend Naomi, she said it well about him:
I loved watching him. Not many actors can go from hero to slimeball and back so convincingly.
So true. I remember being at a neighbor's house watching television as a kid, and when Culp appeared in a show, the head of the household would recall how good he was at being the Western villain. How, "he could curl that upper lip of his in just the right kind sneer that would let you know his bad intentions." I never forgot that thought. The man just seemed to be involved in any television program that drew my interest. So much so, I think he influenced what I choose to watch, in fact. Add to this was his underrated skill at writing. His set of 7 screenplays for I Spy were unique to the program and stood out as some of the best in the entire series. Of those, The Tiger, Court of the Lion, The War Lord (where he played a dual role) and Home to Judgment happen to be personal favorites of mine. Even after I grew up, I still managed to catch this actor in a number of things where his just being in it made the program worth watching. The Greatest American Hero, The Key to Rebecca miniseries (where he played Gen. Erwin Rommel), and even The Cosby Show (where he played the character with the in-joke name of Kelly Robinson). He even directed episodes for The Greatest American Hero and I Spy. Robert Culp could do, and did, so much in a career that it's hard to grasp in this day and age. I think I could spend, and probably will, years watching his TV and movie work again on disc. I know I will miss the man when I do because we grew up together. Him on one side of the TV screen, and me on the other. So, I'll end this piece here with a reprise of a post I did from last July of his only theatrical movie he ever directed, and where he co-starred with his famous partner (Bill Cosby) in a highly underrated crime neo noir written by the great Walter Hill.


"Yeah, it's about four hundred grand."




Though I had noted it awhile back, I hadn't viewed the very underrated 1972 neo noir film, Hickey & Boggs, in a few years. Even though I have both the VHS and the horrid DVD versions of this Bill Cosby and Robert Culp movie (in nowhere near their I Spy modes), I hadn't played either in awhile. But luckily, Corey at The Drowning Machine spotted (paraphrasing) 'the paean Duane Swierczynski penned to the film at Secret Dead Blog'--I highly recommend their insights on this film. And that led to the free Fancast link for the film from a post commenter (which Corey cited, as well). So yesterday, I finally had a couple of hours to myself to watch this on my laptop via the site stream. The film, with Culp directing a Walter Hill screenplay (both excellent), gets better with each viewing. No kidding. I also pick up new items of note each time I watch it. If I can piggyback onto Duane's and Corey's stream of consciousness, I'd like to mention some of these here (spoiler warning for those of you who haven't seen this gem):

  • when the two P.I.'s get to take in a hot dog meal together, it's at the world famous (at least for us Angelenos) Pink's - and I'm pretty sure the last time I was there with the kids I did note Bill Cosby's picture up on their wall of fame (and look what I found on their web site)
  • the pint of liquor Boggs takes a periodic swig from is Dewar's White Label Scotch blend (not that I was ever a drinker of any note, but I use to be a stock person at a liquor store a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away)
  • the parking section for the setup and shoot-out at Dodger Stadium was number 32--which is an athlete number of note, especially for L.A. sports fans: Koufax, Magic, Bill Walton (UCLA), Marcus Allen (as a L.A. Raider), and the pre-notorious O.J. But, that was long ago and that parking lot has changed some--that section # no longer exists
  • the early 60's cars for each of our antihero P.I.'s are a perfect symbol for their down-on-their-luck and out-of-fashion status within the story and this genre in the 70's: Hickey's white Chevy II and Boggs' blue T-Bird (both in beat-to-hell vintage condition)
  • when Boggs seeks a replacement vehicle (and it's the exact same car), the used sales lot he buys it at is not a actual one: the filmmakers used the same Inglewood Oil Field that's been used in many a movie shoot (i.e., the Victory Motel for L.A. Confidential); even author Robert Crais used the location for the climatic shoot-out in his book, Sunset Express
  • lastly, the closing title sequence is a perfect one for this film (in the contrastingly somber tradition of film noir): after Boggs (smartly) picks up the fence's untraceable money and trudges after his partner, the camera beautifully tracks right as it follows the survivors into the background of the setting sun--while in the foreground the lens gathers in the juxtaposed deadly wreckage of the story's other principle characters, who are now strewn about the beach
I really hope one day the legal tangle that's keeping this great film from a proper DVD release gets straightened out. Film and noir fans should see it on a disc with a remastered picture and the extras it deserves. The free stream of this movie, though it has commercial breaks, is the full theatrical release and is a pretty pristine print. Playing it on full screen mode softened it only a mild bit. What's interesting is Amazon is now offering H & B on their Video on Demand service for rent or purchase. So maybe this film is starting to get the attention it warrants. Either way, I'd like to send a big thank you to Corey for sending me Duane's post and to Terrill Lee Lankford for listing the Fancast link in his keen comment.

Note: a great looking print of Hickey & Boggs is now on

Hickey & Boggs

(click to go to it)

BTW, the title of this post is a portion of dialogue - Boggs' earlier answer to his partner Hickey's lament:
It's not about anything.
Oh, yes it is, Hickey. Yes it is.

video



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Monday, March 22, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: Chasing Darkness

With this year's release of The First Rulelucky number 13 in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais, it extends my all-time favorite book series. All of this traces back to when television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist. With his origination of a quirky, tough but tender, private detective--the unlikely named Elvis Cole--he gave birth to a popular series that's working past its second decade now. The author's ardent mix of humor and pathos, along with a gift for creating unique characters (like the P.I.'s one-of-a-kind sidekick, Joe Pike), brought his books acclaim with fans and critics alike. This is the penultimate post in my series examining each novel and the audiobook versions that came out of them.

Chasing Darkness



Robert Crais' twelveth novel, Chasing Darkness (print published in 2008 and pictured above - this cover art uses the archetypal city of lights night-scape) would herald a throw back of sorts to the root of the series, and genre. Unlike the previous novel, The Watchman, this book returns to a linear timeline and traditional crime mystery story. Conceptually, Chasing Darkness moves the work away from the last two Cole-focused novels (The Last Detective and The Forgotten Man) in that it does not plum the depths of the P.I.'s backstory and the character's psychological underpinnings. Still, is it like the first five books in the series? Again, no. This one has more in common with the transitional pair of novels, Sunset Express and Indigo Slam, in form with its prologue setting the stage for the mystery to unfold. As well, the author craftily bestows on this episode a very Chandleresque perspective in how it delves into the L.A. seats of power and its channels of corruption. The Raymond Chandler connection has been a significant influence on this novelist's writings, and on the P.I. genre in general (especially when it lands anywhere near The City of the Angels).

To make the point, I'd highlight a friend's look upon this. Corey Wilde's review from 2008 was succinct, but I appreciated his standpoint. His analysis was equally keen with his reply to my comment at the time as to why the author's skill level shouldn't be overlooked:
"Yes, I agree, in some aspects CD is very Chandleresque. I remember just as I was finishing the book thinking that CD was almost old-fashioned (and I mean that in a good sense: good quality, traditional PI plot) in that the detective work was very real, very dogged. If Marlowe was on the case rather than Elvis, I think he would have trod the same steps, asked the same questions Elvis did.

Also, in some places (but not so often that Crais could be accused of cheap imitation) Crais wrote in that darkly lyrical tone that colored so much of Chandler's work. Right at the beginning, when he describes the fires: "...sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell." And not hell, Hell. Just adding the cap adds impact. Is Crais smart or what?

Crais is, I think, more subtle than Chandler; in fact sometimes he's so subtle I think some of his themes and characterizations escape folks who read just for Elvis's humor and Joe's, um, skills. I particularly thinks that's true of The Watchman."
With Elvis seeking to clear his name (and possibly, his conscience) in a infamous series of murders, all of the undertones are in place in this book. As always, Elvis' orbit of friends and colleagues are there to assist the (self named) World's Greatest Detective. And with his return, it gives his fans hope that there will always be another Elvis Cole novel somewhere on the horizon.

[Chasing Darkness Cover Art photostream]



Brilliance Audio, naturally, used the hardcover's artwork for their audiobook edition (since they were released at the same time as the book). Furthermore, the audio publisher would continue to use their most series-seasoned narrator for this, James Daniels. However, this would be reader Daniels final audio narration for this now venerable series. From Publisher Weekly:
"After earning a law degree, James Daniels quit recording audiobooks, but returned to read Crais's newest Elivis Cole and Joe Pike mystery (his previous Crais recordings include The Forgotten Man, Hostage, The Last Detective, Lullaby Town and The Watchman). It's a welcome return and Daniel's no-nonsense reading elevates one of Crais's lesser efforts and turns it into an enjoyable listening experience. Slipping back into these characters, Daniels easily distinguishes Cole's wise-guy banter from Pike's steely resolution, and he gives this outing's enigmatic villain, Lionel Byrd, just the right note of weirdness."
I'd agree with their take of the narrator's interpretation of the material, but PW is sorely off-target on the rest. This isn't "one of Crais's lesser efforts...". Daniels performed his last double, too, in recording both the abridged version (at just under 6 hours) and the unabridged (7:18) audiobook. I'm including two audio clip samples here from both U.S. versions. The first covers the audiobook introduction and the great initial sentence Robert Crais begins the book with: abridged, unabridged. The second involves a significant sequence late in the novel -- luckily, the abridgment is not as severe as others in the series: abridged and unabridged.



BBC Chivers' audiobook would incorporate an entirely different cover art than the U.S. versions. I liken this artwork to that of the U.K.'s Orion hardcover; and it's one that echoed the imagery of the novel's prologue. Their audio version (coming in at just under 8 hours) would be delayed (again) by a year in lieu of the U.S. audiobook release overseas. William Roberts would bring another strong performance as the most senior and steadfast narrator for the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series. However, he will still have issues with certain Spanish surnames (unfortunately). Check out his audio samples with the introduction and the highlighted passage.

Next up: The First Rule

The Series:
The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Chasing Darkness
The First Rule

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Mother May I - 50's Sci-Fi/Monster Movies For My Kids

Being a parent for over 14 years now, I sometimes look back at the memorable heart-to-heart conversations I had with my wife about parenting. Many of the exchanges we had concerned the movie content I wanted to show my kids, not surprisingly. Movies that were perfectly okay to watch on TV when I was that age (the 3 - 9 year old bracket), now (in this century) had to pass through a parental high summit. Those closed door meetings between you-know-who and she-who-must-be-obeyed to hash it all out are now the stuff of legend. Think a super-power nuclear arms control negotiation that had a 'watch those pronouns' quality. More importantly, the thing holding the balance of the decision was one tangential quotient - your children's nightmares. Of course, it must be stipulated that I was not attempting to introduce my kids to the likes of 70's horror films (The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre etc.). I'm not the greatest parent in the world, but give me some credit. Please... I have enough judgment and discretion to know better than to show those to my children when they were that young. I'm holding those off until they're in their teens. [wife: "What?!?"]

This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Watchman

With this year's release of The First Rulelucky number 13 in the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais, it adds another to my favorite book series. This is the next post in my series examining each novel and the audiobook versions that came out of them. All of this traces back to when television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist. With his origination of a quirky, tough but tender, private detective--the unlikely named Elvis Cole--he gave birth to a popular series that's working past its second decade now. The author's ardent mix of humor and pathos, along with a gift for creating unique characters, brought his books success and elevated the P.I.'s one-of-a-kind sidekick, Joe Pike, to fan favorite status.

The Watchman



Robert Crais' eleventh novel, The Watchman (print published in 2007 and pictured above - this cover art marks a first in the series: a main character appears on it), would arrive after his third standalone book (2006's The Two Minute Rule) was published. And, the new novel would continue the author's groundbreaking streak. Ever since the 1999 game changer of L.A. Requiem, the novelist has been successful in reshaping the series and building upon its characters. With plenty of feedback by series fans, Crais began mining his other potential property, Joe Pike. The first Pike novel entered the marketplace (and aficionados heads) with much excitement. Here was a clear favorite amongst the readers and critics, just itching to come out. And with the book's perspective flipped toward his partner, Elvis Cole would fill in as the sidekick here, one could argue that this is another series entirely. However, that would be an incorrect supposition. The author and most of his readers simply do not see it that way. Since it shares the corresponding landscape (and there's only one L.A.) with the identical character universe, it essentially remains the same series. Although, this one is viewed through Joe Pike's ever present sunglasses and psyche. Here, the hi-powered and laconic one takes on the task of protecting a famous heiress in danger, with the help of his steadfast friend and partner, and tries to find the real reason behind it all. This fresh take on the series will result in a fast-paced thriller, and continues the written reveal of a complex character by the author. Not only will the novel turn out to be the most successful book in the series (in sales, at that time), it will be the one that Robert Crais himself said generated the most reaction from his base of fans. And most of that reaction came from women.

Note: this novel would introduce two new characters to the series that will have impact beyond the book. Larkin Conner Barkley raises a large level of hackles among the fan-base (even to this day) as the spoiled heiress with her relationship to Joe. Jon Stone, the ex-merc and security consultant, adds a name to an enigmatic character only briefly but importantly mentioned in The Last Detective. And he'll return, intriguingly, later in the series.

[The Watchman cover art photostream]



Brilliance Audio will maintain continuity with the hardcover book by using the same cover artwork for the U.S. audiobooks. Interestingly, the paperback cover (pictured at the start) used the inverse color palette for its artwork. This audio series will continue the same flow by staying with James Daniels as the reader in this chain of audiobooks. As he's done before, Daniels uses a distinct vocalization for the character of Joe Pike. It reminds many of a (Clint) Eastwood-like rasp. If you're familiar with John Carpenter's film Escape from New York, actor Kurt Russell's characterization of Snake Plissken will give you a good spoken approximation of just how that performance comes across. Some audiobook fans appreciate the treatment (and the indirect symbolism), while others just can not stand it. As he did with 9th book, Daniels would perform both the unabridged audiobook (7:48 runtime) and the abridged version (5:24 runtime). Luckily, the audio abridgment is not as severe as others in the series. Here's his abridged sample and the unabridged of the same passage.



In contrast, BBC's audiobook cover would use the same one as the U.K. hardcover book's artwork. The Chiver's audiobook would have another delayed release (more than a year later) while Brilliance sold their version overseas. William Roberts returned for another strong performance. In comparison with James Daniels, Roberts (and you could say the same for Recorded Book's narrator Ron McLarty) gives an entirely different vocal interpretation for the character of Pike. You'll need to decide which is your favorite portrayal of Joe in audio form. The same unabridged material done by this publisher and narrator comes in at 8:48 for their audio version. Check out his work with the same passage.

Next up: Chasing Darkness

The Series:
The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Chasing Darkness
The First Rule

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Forgotten Song: Marty Robbins' El Paso

I know why I thought of this old song. It's March. And every year since 1978, it is this month when I think of my mother in clear, wistful terms. As a young child, I recall her moving across the apartment she lived in singing right along with balladeer Marty Robbins whenever this song would drift out of the radio. The memorable number brings to mind how she'd grab me up to dance with her, and how I'd gaze up to look at her in return (and in awe) as we'd meander about that small room that made up a home to her. As my wife reminds me every so often about my nostalgia gene, I know exactly who I inherited the trait from. When she heard the song, I could tell that part of my mother would be instantly transported back to her place of birth... back to Texas. The Tejano roots of the melody, and it's tale of star-crossed lovers, gave it a haunting quality to my mother then... and to her son now.

The rest of this post has been updated and moved over to my current blog, found here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Forgotten Man

The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais remains my absolute favorite among the things I read or listen to. In celebration of this year's release of the 13th book, The First Rule, this is a continuation of the look-back series I started a couple weeks ago to briefly examine each novel within the series, and the audiobook versions that came out of them. When television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist, I don't think even he envisioned the kind of success his books would bring. The tough but tender L.A. private detective (with a penchant for Disney characters) he created, the unlikely named Elvis Cole, is over twenty years old in print (along with his partner, Joe Pike). The chain of novels, and their success and uniqueness, is proof that the author's trademark mix of humor, pathos, and memorable characters remain something special to both critics and fans alike.

The Forgotten Man



Robert Crais' tenth novel, The Forgotten Man (print published in 2005 and pictured above - this time with another nighttime photo of L.A. for the cover art) would bring a number of lives, past and present, to an apex in the series. Crucial revelations of partners Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, begun with L.A. Requiem and accompanied by The Last Detective, are looked at once again by their creator. In this work, Crais puts into motion four past imperfect individuals on a surprising intersect course that's reached by novel's end. Although he's recognized for the quality of his character drama, it's here in this book that the writer's touch for mystery and plotting attains a similar height. His narrative deftly moves across the elements of time, the principals, and their actions in a way that continually ups the ante for suspense and insight into those involved. All the while, the story steadily pulls the reader's emotions in with it. And that (IMO) puts Robert Crais in a rare class with his ability to craft character and relationships, along with an intriguing plot. I'm sure many fans thought Robert Crais would give the P.I. a break from the rigors he put him through in the previous novel. The results of that trial by fire, the scars he now sports, are analogous to his changed relationships toward Lucy Chenier and her son Ben. It is fitting that Cole's tale begins in the wee dark hours of a sleepless night and ends in the revelatory clarity of day.

But once again, the novelist would give his base the unexpected. With the glimpse of Elvis' backstory hitting the light of day in the ninth book, and since it's as interesting as his partner's, the novelist delves more deeply into Cole's demons, here. The preface of the lone child survivor of a family's massacre from years passed, in tandem with a dying man claiming Elvis as his son here, will start this dramatic and emotional tale. Along for this mystery will be all of the regulars that have come to make up the Crais  universe. This includes the now clearly smitten Carol Starkey (still with LAPD, but now ex-Bomb Squad). Her unspoken feelings toward Elvis adds another dimension to the plotline. Robert Crais will slowly unravel the mystery he's dangled at the start and composed with care. But, at no time will the author leave anything to drag in the story's events. For me, this novel (especially in the context of the series) had a bookend quality about it. By the time the reader reaches those last affecting pages, there is a discernible symmetry put there by the novelist. All of it echos back to the finale of that first novel in the series, The Monkey's Raincoat. The story's revelations and drama, humor and poignancy arrive altogether by TFM's end. If this series has proven anything, it's that partners Elvis and Joe are opposite sides of a rare and unique coin. And, it is impossible for something to happen to one without the other feeling it.

[The Forgotten Man cover art photostream]



Brilliance Audio released its audiobook version for the U.S. market at the same time as the printed novel. Their cover work art will employ the same evening shot of the motel location tied with the novel's storyline. For fans of Cole and Pike, and the audiobook format, this series has come a long way compared with the early novel treatments. Publishers now make sure print and audio versions were available the same day as release. Reader James Daniels would continue his impeccable work with the audio publisher and this series with the unabridged version of The Forgotten Man (runtime 8:06). With this performance, Daniels would tie the number for the most read in the series (in the U.S.). This reader's traits with the characters are firmly established, and his vocalizations for each remain subtle but distinct. His unabridged audio sample.



While Brilliance Audio used James Daniels to perform both the unabridged and abridged audiobook for the previous novel, the publisher will throw a distinct change-up with this book. Brilliance will employ Mr. Crais himself for the abridged reading (this was his second such reading - he narrated the abridged 2001 Hostage audiobook). It's not unheard of for authors to read their own work in the audio format. Some insist upon it. On the plus side, no one knows the material (or the wherewithal of storytelling) better than the writer of the words on the page. Some, too, have very good speaking voices, as is the case with Robert Crais. What is potentially missing in these situations, however, are the technical skills of the audio storytelling craft that the best of the professional audiobook narrators possess. Some of these techniques include vocalization, pitch, and cadence, and each can bring the words alive through that audio performer. Occasionally, it's as simple as knowing where to place an extra pause in the sentence that can stir a meaning in the listener, or not leave the passage flat. Brilliance would release the abridged version in the U.S. (above left) at the same time as their unabridged rendition (runtime: 4:54). Orion Publishing would release that same abridged audio a month later in the U.K., in March 2005 (above right). Here's his sample with the passage.



The British audio cover art used the motel theme, too. But, with a decidedly different and moody composition. As it was with the previous novel, BBC Chivers would get a delayed crack at this audiobook with their experienced reader (William Roberts). Brilliance Audio would get to release their unabridged audiobook first overseas in early 2005 (along with the print version) while Chivers wouldn't have their unabridged version out till late in the year (runtime: 8:46). Narrator Roberts stagecraft is fully evident in his narration, as always. His characterizations frame the individual's emotion more clearly in his reading. However, from time-to-time, his Spanish surname pronunciation can be lacking (Daniels and Crais in comparison know how to correctly pronounce Padilla). Check out his work with the sample passage.

Note: Like others, I consider The Forgotten Man the third part in a informal trilogy begun with L.A. Requiem (with LAR being the keystone of that trilogy and the series), and bridged so well by The Last Detective. The quirky Los Angeles P.I. and his taciturn partner were always interesting characters in the first seven books of the series. Having said that, the emotional involvement for readers reached another level entirely starting with the first page of LAR till TFM reaches its last lines:
"Okay. I'm done."
"You good?"
"Yeah. We had a nice talk."
Pike and I drove back to the airport, and returned to Los Angeles the same day.
It was good to be home.
So, for those who've read it (this is your customary spoiler warning), I'm including a bonus clipping of a key scene by each of the highlighted narrators here for your further examination: Robert Crais, James Daniels, William Roberts.

Next up: The Watchman

The Series:
The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Chasing Darkness
The First Rule

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Favorite Film Title/Credit Sequences Part 4

This is my final post in the blog series arc I started a short while ago featuring some my favorite film title or end credit sequences. Hopefully, we'll end it on a high note.

Opening Sequence - Heat: Michael Mann's great 1995 crime saga opening is not very flashy, but it is elegant. The fade in/out titles (using what looks like an old-style label font) follows the entrance of Neil MacCauley from the L.A. Metro-Rail station (while the title song by Kronos Quartet plays in the background). It remains a cool and atmospheric start to this masterwork.



Closing Scene/Credits - Heat: Michael Mann's final scene with the lead actors on the outskirts of LAX (using Moby's God Moving Over the Face of the Waters track to great end and going through to the end credits) is a lasting image from this film. It remains a moving and poignant moment in the film. When I reach this point in the movie, it gets to me every time I watch it.



Main Titles - Star Trek First Contact: The best of The Next Generation movies includes a great visual opening sequence where the blurred titles are pulled back into clarity (with Jerry Goldsmith's grand score playing). It's a great lead-in that then blends into the long pull-back shot from Capt. Picard's iris to the hive of a Borg ship, and to his awakening.



Main Titles - High Plains Drifter: Clint Eastwood's second self-directed film from 1973 begins with the eerie, mirage-like appearance of the "Man With No Name" (with the fearful Dee Barton score played with the titles). The red letters foretell what's coming for the town of Lago, and the stranger's ride in serves to introduce the other principals of the story. For this unique and noirish  western, the titles are "dead on", so to speak. [no embedding allowed, so click the image to watch this on YouTube]




Main Titles - Halloween: John Carpenter's seminal 1978 horror film proves that a film doesn't require expensive design graphics to be effective. The simple, but foreboding, movie titles are enhanced by the director's own one-of-kind score. The camera slowly zooming into the sinister jack 'o lantern's eye is quite a nice touch, and a hallmark for Carpenter.



Main Titles - Panic Room: David Fincher's film titles from his 2002 thriller are a beautifully realized design and look stunning on the screen. Layed out as though they were naturally built into the scenic New York City high-rise landscape, they are a great homage to North by Northwest main titles. [clicking on the image below will take you to The Art of the Title site's clip of this sequence]




Main Titles - Bullitt: this 1968 Peter Yates-directed crime film included the vanguard of movie car chase sequences, but it also had one of the most stylish opening titles, ever. Pablo Ferro's incredible and clever design sequence (accompanied by a brassy, jazzy Lalo Schifrin theme) incorporates the broad titles moving into/out of the frame, and coolly performing cutout reveals within the titles themselves to the very next scene. Like the star of the film, Steve McQueen, this was the epitome of 60's cool.



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Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Forgotten Song: Bobby Fuller Four's Let Her Dance

I thought I'd end the work (and Oscar) week with a forgotten song for this first friday in March. Resurrected recently in Wes Anderson's wonderful adaptation of the children's novel written by Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox, this was the upbeat, up-tempo song used for the final sequence in the film. Written by Bobby Fuller, it was his first top 40 hit in 1965. When people recall the artist, this track seems to take a backseat to Fuller's second hit and higher placed song, I Fought The Law. Still, it remains an infectious tune made by an artist heavily influenced by the music legend (and fellow Texan - my mother would be so proud to hear me say that), Buddy Holly.

The rest of this post has been updated and moved over to my current blog, found here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Favorite Film Title/Credit Sequences Part 3

This is my continuation of a blog series arc I started a short while ago featuring my favorite film title or end credit sequences.

Main Title - The Birds: This is the opening titles for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 suspense masterpiece. The fragmented movie titles play out against the grainy, blurred images and silhouettes of flying birds with only their synthesized sounds as a score. It is quite a unique and eerie start to this tension-filled classic.



Closing Scene - The Birds: This is the closing scene in the suspense classic. This has to be the director's most unexpected, head scratcher of an ending. With the principal players quietly trying to get out of the house and escape, and the birds laying passively in wait with only their eerie sounds heard, it remains a startling scene. And when the survivors drive away, there are no closing credits at all!



Opening Scene/Titles - Pulp Fiction: Quentin Tarantino's second film, released in 1994, had one of the most unexpected of intro's. The seemingly matter-of-fact discussion between a man and woman in a coffee shop that explodes into the profane "This is a robbery..." shouts definitely got your attention. The sudden movie titles and blaring score (Miserlou by Dick Dale) is just unexpectedly great.



Opening Scene - Contact: Robert Zemeckis' 1997 adaptation of Carl Sagan's sci-fi novel includes another extraordinary intro. The opening sequence is a thing of beauty - a long pull back from Earth to the edges of the Universe, to the wonder in a young girl's eye.



Main Titles - North by Northwest: Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 adventure thriller has a classic opening sequence done by the great Saul Bass. The titles hurl across the screen in linear fashion to Bernard Herrman's great score, and title sequence culminates with one of Hitchcock's better cameos. It is a great entertaining introduction to a classic film.



Closing Scene - North by Northwest: This is Hitchcock's fine and thrilling end sequence on Mount Rushmore. When the audience reaches the "The End" title overlay on the closing and very symbolic train and tunnel shot, it is clear that the British director is enjoying one of his classic innuendos.



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Monday, March 1, 2010

Elvis & Joe in Audiobook: The Last Detective

The Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel series by Robert Crais remains my absolute favorite among the things I read or listen to. In celebration of this year's release of the 13th book, The First Rule, this is a continuation of the look-back series I started a couple weeks ago to briefly examine each novel within the series, and the audiobook versions that came out of them. When television writer/producer Crais turned away from Hollywood in the 80's to do what he always wanted, be a novelist, I don't think even he envisioned the kind of success his books would bring. The tough but tender L.A. private detective (with a penchant for Disney characters) he created, the unlikely named Elvis Cole, is over twenty years old in print (along with his partner, Joe Pike). The chain of novels, and their success and uniqueness, is proof that the author's trademark mix of humor, pathos, and memorable characters remain something special to both critics and fans alike.

The Last Detective



Robert Crais' ninth novel, The Last Detective (print published in 2003 and pictured above - first time with a nighttime photo of L.A. for the cover art), was the proof positive that the author had indelibly changed the game. The preceding novel reverberates in this story, its structure, and how these familiar characters spark anew with personal revelations. The narrative was no longer firmly first person, nor was it even restricted to a linear timeline for our heroes. Crais was now free to do whatever this novel's mind demanded. Following the brief break of the two standalone books (Demolition Angel and Hostage) that came on the heels of the breakthrough L.A Requiem, the novelist returned to the series with Elvis Cole clearly in the crosshairs. And the painful past and present would be the aim-points. Though the previous novel was a story of remembrance, this one is a thriller to its core. Remnants of the aforementioned story continue to echo in the lives of Cole and Pike when a crisis very close to Elvis traps him in nightmare kidnapping of a loved one. And with that, this tale will drive the clock, friendships, and the main character's sanity to the edge. The author will put plot and his characters on a very high boil, here.

It's also important to note, at this point in the series, a central penchant of author Robert Crais. Specifically, his continuing skill with weaving in and developing new characters (both minor and major) into this series. If you've read any of these books, you're very much aware of this and how it expands this series' universe. This fact is clearly on display in this reader forum. Here's an insightful thought from that thread:
"How many characters do you remember from the Harry Bosch books, besides Harry? I remembered Bosch plus four more. The Spenser books, after Spenser, Hawk and Susan, how many characters do you remember? I remember three. (But I’ve only read about 2/3 of that series.) How about Lee Child’s Reacher series? I remember three characters besides Jack. John Sandford’s Prey series? Well, there my memory kicked in. I remembered quite a few characters from that series, although at least half of them are recurring characters.

And then I said to self, huh. Crais really does do a remarkable job at creating memorable characters, both good and bad. Maybe better than I had realized." ~ Naomi Johnson
Criminalist John Chen was notably introduced with L.A. Requiem, and etched ever deeper into reader's minds in this novel. But surprisingly, it is the author's brilliant addition (with regards to this book) of Carol Starkey that will bring another dynamic to the series without diluting it. The ex-bomb squad tech protagonist is successfully brought over from Demolition Angel to join the series milieu -- and it may well be Robert Crais' second best idea ever for this chain of novels. The first easily being that he didn't let himself kill Mr. Pike by the end of the first book. The mix of Carol in Cole's fragile orbit of female friends will bring added zest and a re-balancing of sorts by this novel's (perhaps) bittersweet ending.

[The Last Detective cover art photostream]



After the 2000 Demolition Angel audiobook was published by Random House Audio and Recorded Books, all future Robert Crais books once more returned to the Brilliance Audio fold (starting with 2001's Hostage standalone book). It was a short turn for the preceding publishers, but the change back would allow Brilliance's experienced audiobook narrator from prior novels (Lullaby Town and Free Fall) to return to work again with these characters. James Daniels would reprise his earlier efforts by performing afresh, and for the first time executing both the abridged and unabridged versions. His reading here (and in the next novels) pushes his presentation of Elvis and Joe to new levels. His vocalizations, especially for the former with his past and present being deftly explored by Crais through the story's turmoil, are subtle but stirring, nonetheless. Sample audio stream (or to download the clip, click here).



U.K. publisher BBC Chivers was also brought back for audio publication overseas for this and future series novels. However, the change here was Orion Publishing Group (who handled the print novel for British distribution) would also circulate the James Daniels recording (likely licensed from Brilliance) and would put it out the same year, 2003, as the book. Chivers wouldn't publish their version, with audio series-veteran William Roberts, until 2005. Both publishers would use an entirely different cover art (compared with the U.S. version) for both U.K. audiobooks. In this case, a beautiful, arresting image of a paddy field in Vietnam. Roberts' more evocative take returned with him, as would be expected by the senior audiobook reader in the series with the most Crais novels under his belt. His sample stream (download version is here)

Note: the Brilliance Audio unabridged audio runs approximately 8 hours, compared to just under 9 hours for the U.K.'s  unabridged version, and the 4-hour abridged version. I was going to include the other James Daniels passage from the condensed audiobook (also from the prologue segment), but that version completely excises that introductory section of the book! It is amazing, at times, what gets removed in audio abridgments.

Next up: The Forgotten Man

The Series:
The Monkey's Raincoat
Stalking the Angel
Lullaby Town
Free Fall
Voodoo River
Sunset Express
Indigo Slam
L.A. Requiem
The Last Detective
The Forgotten Man
The Watchman
Chasing Darkness
The First Rule


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