Karen Black Iconic Hollywood Character Actress Dead at 74

Karen Black Iconic Hollywood Character Actress Dead at 74

Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru: Area 51 Through the Ages?

Published in 2011, Gods Without Men is a multi-timed, multifaceted story of a stretch of desert that seems to draw mysterious forces to it. In the 1700’s a Franciscan Friar attempts to bring Christianity to scattered tribes of local Indians. The area that the friar operates from is near three pinnacles of rock which, to the friar, seem to represent the Holy Trinity.

In the 1800’s a prospector comes to the same area to dig for silver and to uncover a different truth. Truth about lights in the sky and what they mean. He wants to communicate with Gods more ancient than the friar’s God.

Another man and his wife are studying a local Indian tribe. He is trying to learn their history and their ancient stories. He leaves his wife to collect these stories and she falls in love with one of the braves in the tribe.

In the 1940’s another man is drawn to the silver mine. He transmits signals aimed at the sky. His message is “welcome.” He waits for someone or something to arrive, drawn by his peaceful transmission.

In the 1970’s a group of UFO worshipping hippies build a commune at the site. They develop their own “new” religion and it deals with the terrors of nuclear devastation and help from celestial bodies and power that can be channelled at the site.

In 2008 a young English rock musician is in LA. Becoming disillusioned with the direction that his band is heading, he does a runner. High on drugs, he steals one of his manager’s guns and drives through the desert until he reaches the area of the three pinnacles.

A young Punjabi man and his family arrive at the same time as the musician. The young man’s family is coming apart, mainly because of their extremely autistic son. They wind up staying in the same hotel as the awol musician. A hotel that is on its last legs, but one that is so full of vacancies that the young family won’t have to move on because of complaints about their son.

While visiting the rocks, the young family’s autistic son goes missing. This “special” place in the desert is descended upon by waves of media vans, reporters, and police. Despite searching for weeks, all traces of the boy have vanished and the searchers end up empty-handed.

Hari Kunzru weaves these stories and their time periods masterfully. Each timeline and its occupants effect and touch one another. It is though all times are occurring at once. The thread that seems to pull all these together is the presence of a force or power that is not of this world. Someone once said of Alfred Hitchcock that he was an enigma wrapped in a mystery (or vice versa) and that is what Hari has done with his novel.

At 283 pages it is not a long novel, but it is involved and intricate. Each time period, which Hari intertwines and overlaps with no chronological order, serves to cloud the issue of what is actually out there at the three rock towers.

It seems that most of Kunzru’s cast of characters are drawn to the area in search of something bigger than life; a force that either comes from outer space or from the Indian spirit world or from another dimension.

In 2008 a young Iraqi girl and her brother live with their uncle and aunt at the edge of this desert. The girl and her uncle are hired to help train military personnel at a simulated Iraqi village. It is while she is there participating in the training exercise that she finds something that will change a lot of people’s lives.

Hari Kunzru has been compared to Kurt Vonnegut as well as other eclectic modern writers. But it is Vonnegut that he most resembles in his writing style. Not to say that he is emulating “Father” Kurt, but that his story telling is slightly reminiscent of the great writer’s own.

The book, despite moving forward and backward in time, flows smoothly and finishes on a note that would make Hitchcock proud. Like the film ending of The Birds, you are left with a sense of time suspended waiting for the dust to settle before the events speed back up and continue on their odd path.

Gods Without Men is a curious blend of science fiction, folklore, fantasy and even, to a degree, mystery. By the time I finished the book, I felt like I should immediately turn back to the first page and read it again. I felt that I might have missed something; missed some vital clue as to why the book ended the way it did. I felt the need to see if Kunzru did indeed mean for the book to end this way.

Despite my confusion at the end of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the journey that Kunzru took me on. Or perhaps I should say journeys, because the cast of players each had a journey to undertake and without these separate jaunts, the main storyline would not have existed.

I would have to say that Gods Without Men is a 5 out of 5 stars for just the journeys alone.

Author Hari Kunzru

Alfred Hitchcock and ???

 

When I was about eleven or twelve years old I had another series of books that I adored even more than the Brains Benton Mysteries. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. Published by Random House, I was immediately gripped by the adventures of sturdy smart Jupiter, athletic Pete and everyman Bob.  I also loved that fact that their nemesis was a kid the same age as them, with the suitable nick name of Stinky.As soon as a new Three Investigators book came out, I took my hard earned money (I worked for my Dad and mowed a few lawns here and there) and ran down to the book store and bought it. The books never disappointed. As junior detectives these guys were even better than Brains Benton. They even had business cards with this on it: ??? – three question marks equals three investigators. I thought these guys were great.

Jupiter had the investigators headquarters in his Aunt and Uncle’s salvage yard. They had secret entrances  and the headquarters itself (if I remember correctly) was in an old mobile home. At the beginning of the series the boys  solved a mystery for Alfred Hitchcock and he repaid them by giving them access to a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce and became a confidant.  Hitch would always appear at the end of each book where the boys would explain how they had reached their conclusions. Hitch would also occasionally make a “cameo” in the book as well.

The end result of me loving these two book series, Brains Benton and the Three Investigators, was that I decided at the ripe old age of twelve that I wanted to become a writer. Preferably a mystery writer as these were my favourite books. Neither I or the world had yet discovered Stephen King yet.

I sat down and wrote my first ever “fan-boy” letter to the Random House Publishers. I asked if they could please tell the author of the Three Investigators books that I really enjoyed them. I also mentioned that the books had inspired me to start writing my own stories. I ended the letter by thanking them for their time and that I hoped one day they would publish my stories.

Quite a bit of time passed. about three months I think, when I got a letter in the post. My parents were a bit surprised that I had received a letter. I was not a huge letter writer and did not indulge in the pen pal program that the school so regularly insisted that the students partake in. My Mother said it was from Random House.

I can still remember how excited I was that they had written me back. The mists of time have shrouded who from Random House responded to my letter, but I can still remember that it had at least two paragraphs and a closing line or two. Firstly they thanked me for my letter. Then the writer explained to me about “house writers.” It seemed that the Three Investigators had been started by one writer and subsequent books in the series was written by different house writers for each one. They went on to say that they were pleased to hear that I wanted to become a writer. They also said that I should remember, when I was a bit older, to send them anything I wrote  and they would give the material serious consideration. I was amazed.

Amazed about house writers sure, but, the fact that they had taken the time and effort to write to a twelve year old boy really surprised me. But above everything else, the fact that they were encouraging me just left me in a daze.  I was so proud of that letter.

I know that if it hasn’t been lost or destroyed by the advent of time my parents still have that letter somewhere in storage. But even if it is lost, it doesn’t matter. I still have the splendid memory of opening and reading that letter. And because of that one little act of kindness and thoughtfulness I will always hold Random House in high esteem.

It would be nice to imagine that one day I might just get something published by them…If I ever write a book, that is.

Scream 4…Sidney’s Last Stand

Scream 4
Scream 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fell in love with the original Scream after watching the first five minutes. When Wes (we are not worthy) Craven killed off the “name” star in the first reel. With this one action he showed us, the audience, that he knew and loved horror films and thrillers. The little nod to Hitchcock’s killing of Janet Leigh at the beginning  of Psycho told me immediately that this was a film-maker that was going to have fun with the genre.

Scre4m aka Scream 4 is the last of the Scream franchise. I had real reservations about the last of the Screams. I was afraid that Wes had gone to the well once too often and that the bucket he drew up would be empty. Boy was I wrong. This was a brilliant end to a series that has always shown a stroke of genius in each sequel. Yes I know that Wes cannot take all the credit. These films work because of the writing and the acting as well.

Scre4m opens with a murder similar to the first Scream films. Although it comes to us initially via various trailers to the fictional Stab films in the Scream verse. We are introduced to Sidney Prescott’s cousin Jill, played with great panache by Emma Roberts. We then get to see all our favourite living characters from the previous films.   Deputy Dewey, played again by David Arquette, is now the sheriff of Woodsboro and has married Gale.  Gale Weathers-Riley, played by Courtney Cox, has retired from the mainstream news world and is trying to write “the great American novel” and not getting very far with it. Sidney Prescott, played again by Neve Campbell, is now a writer. Her book, about living through and dealing with the events from the previous films, is a bestseller. She returns to Woodsboro as part of her book signing tour.

Sidney Prescott
Sidney Prescott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also meet the new cast of “victims.” Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, one of the slew of friends that Jill has, makes the most of her part. She was born to play this kind of role. I of course still think of her as the cheerleader from Heroes, you know “Save the cheerleader save the world.” But she does a brilliant job as the future “man-eater” Kirby. The other memorable friend of Jill’s is Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker. Charlie is the Randy substitute in this Scream film. A necessary replacement since Randy is dispatched by Ghost Face in Scream 2. Although not in the victim department I have to mention Marley Shelton. As Deputy Judy Hicks she rocked it out of the park. Her characterisation of the love lorn Deputy Judy was both comedic and scary, sometimes at the same time.

Of course Ghost Face is still voiced by Roger Jackson. Could anyone else have done it? I think not. His voice is synonymous with Ghost Face and always will be. I can’t reveal anything else about the plot because I will be heading into spoiler territory if I do. I can and will tell you it deals with the theme of the internet and it’s propensity to make celebrities out of those who know how to use it.

So that’s it. I have, like so many other Scream fans I am sure, waited for this film for ages. I loved it so much that I sat through two viewings on two separate occasions. I also couldn’t wait for a special edition blu-ray to come out. As much as I want special features, in this case it did not matter.

So  hats off to Director Wes Craven for once again pulling it off. The grande finale of all the Scream’s was nigh on perfect.

Name dropping, pt 4

Van der Valk, Season 1 DVD box cover
Van der Valk, Season 1 DVD box cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I got another call from my friend at AFN to tell me that they were casting for the new Van der Valk series that was so popular in England. The crime series followed the Dutch police detective Van der Valk as he solved various crimes. He was played by the late actor Barry Foster. You might know him as the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. A brilliant actor he had helped make Van der Valk a hit in the seventies.So once again I went down to Amsterdam to meet with the assistant director and to my surprise the writer.  Of course the most surprising thing was that the writer was none other than Peter Snow. Peter had been a mainstay on British televisionfor years. He was a presenter and he also used to show how the general elections were going. A very nice chap to meet and to talk to.I was going for a non-speaking roll. The set up was this: A nightclub owner has just had his opening artist murdered. He has had a close relationship with the artist for years. He is desperate to talk to anyone in order to take his mind off his distress. I was to play a beer delivery man who doesn’t want to talk at all. We auditioned in pairs. I played the delivery man to my partners nightclub owner. We got given our directions and the camera rolled and we started.I pushed in my imaginary trolley full of beer. The nightclub owner started talking awkwardly to me. I shot him a glance and ignored him. Cut! “Michael?” This from the director. “Yes.” I replied. “You just don’t want to talk to him, you don’t want to murder him! Can we tone that look down a bit?” Much laughter from everyone in the room including me. “Sorry. I’ll try to lose the Homicidal Look.” I did my bit again, this time with no interruptions and we were then switched around. I would be the nightclub owner this time.

I was slightly lost. What did a nightclub owner do? I decided that as we were in Holland and that this nightclub served beer, it would sort of be like a pub. If there was one thing I knew about it was pubs and publicans. So we got set up, cameras rolled and… Action! I started wiping down the imaginary bar and polishing imaginary glasses. The delivery man strolls in and I say “Hello mate, you all-right?” Very English old boy. Immediately every head in the room swivelled in my direction. Uh-oh, I thought, I’ve either done something very good or very wrong. Not sure of whether what I had done was either I continued being the English publican for the rest of the scene. When we had finished, the director asked if I would mind very much doing that for the rest of the actors auditioning for the delivery man. So I did…about twenty more times.

At the end of the day, the folks that had been cast were told what they would be doing. When they got to me the director said, “Sorry Michael we have nothing for you today.” Before I could say anything, he finished with,”But Peter liked what you did so much as the nightclub owner, he is writing you a part in the show.” I was flabbergasted. I looked dazedly at Peter and he was nodding his head in affirmation. The director then asked if there was any time when I would not be available for shooting. I said yes, we had a NATO tactical evaluation in the first week of June. My new boss had never gone through one before and I needed to show him how things worked. The director nodded and wrote something in his notebook. “Okay, Michael, thank you. We will call you when Peter is finished.”

Peter Snow, Television presenter
Peter Snow, Television presenter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never heard from the director or Peter again. It turned out much later that the time period  I was not available for was right when they would be shooting that episode.I did get to work on Van der Valk eventually but not on that episode and in a part not as big or exciting.