Marvel’s Agent Carter…so close to be great.

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Mar 012015

When it was announced that Marvel and ABC would be creating a spinoff of Captain America spotlighting Agent Peggy Carter, I…sort of cheered?  Fans had been hoping for a Black Widow solo outing, or any female superhero feature, but at least this would highlight a female-driven comic book movie.  The abysmal Elektra and Catwoman movies have made studios skittish about the lady superheroes, so with a Wonder Woman film tabled until 2017, and a female Captain Marvel not coming out until 2018, Agent Carter would be the first chance so see a comic book show centered around a woman.

            Origin stories are always rough to present, as fans already know how the hero came to be and generally just want everyone to hurry up and get to the smashing.  CW’s The Arrow bypassed this by getting right to his crime-fighting and unfolding his pathway through flashbacks, and then jumpstarted The Flash by introducing him there.  In contrast, the films of Superman and Spiderman forced audiences to yet another interpretation of their origin until we could get to the good stuff. 

            Ideally, Agent Carter could also have skipped past an origin story since she had already been introduced, fully formed, in the first Captain America movie.  Instead, what we received was a sidelined agent who had regressed from being a kickass partner to Captain America and saving the world to being a secretary who took lunch orders and filed the paperwork.  Of course, as we saw in the One Shot extra included on blu-rays, Agent Carter would soon be going out on her own to take down enemy spies, but within her own agency she was still treated as an inept girl. 

            I adored the two hour pilot of Agent Carter, but having the show back-pedal within her our office in order to protect her “identity” was a chore.  Peggy Carter was facing the same sexism faced by other women who lost whatever independence they had in the workplace once the war ended, but it was particularly grating in this setting after seeing her be so great.  Even Tommy Lee Jones respected her as an equal, so one would think that there would have been some run-off within the S.S.R.  As historically accurate it may have been to have Peggy Carter downgraded to being essentially a secretary, it was a bummer to watch.  By the finale she does finally get the respect of her office, only to have it undercut and stolen by the one agent who knew exactly how capable and extraordinary Peggy Carter was as an agent.

            That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the show or that there wasn’t a lot great about it.  I would definitely tune-in again if it gets a second season.  Carter’s relationship with Jarvis was great, and I especially loved how they never had her resort to “honeypotting” or using her “wiles” to seduce an agent.  Instead she was able to use her intelligence and stellar detective skills.  Then she smashed.  At this point, I guess it will have to be enough.

Mar 012015

I’m essentially an optimist. I see the positive side of most events and trends, and I look for signs of good things happening or to come. When there doesn’t seem to be anything good on the horizon, I settle for “This too shall pass.” But the last couple of months have put me in a rare “When will this end?” mood.

The weather, of course, is the culprit. The unending cold, sprinkled (or inundated) with snow or sleet or freezing rain, seems to have put everyone into grumpy gloominess.  Even sunny days, with temperatures in the teens or single digits, bring just enough melting to create another hazard, black ice. And potholes. No one wants to go outside unless it is absolutely necessary. For retail or restaurant businesses, the persistent cold is keeping customers away. This time of year is always the slowest; this year, it’s almost a standstill. Some restaurants and shops are closing, unable to weather this storm. My shop will be all right, but I’m hoping for some pent-up demand once the temperature gets above freezing (possibly in the next week).

Still, I see signs of hope. There was a robin on my deck railing this morning! Today the temperature got into the high 20s, and there were a few families with children in the shop browsing. The parents said they just had to get the kids out of the house to do something. (But more snow tomorrow!) The longer term forecast says we may break that freezing mark for a few days next week.

The gods of Facebook must have seen my need for good news; it seems that this week there was an overabundance of posts with links to articles on encouraging trends for those of us supporting and being supported by the paperbound book. This winter is dreadful; the long range forecast is bright. The topics are ones I have written about frequently, so rather than elaborating on them, I am providing a few links for those who want to read the details:

Why digital natives prefer reading in print. (Washington Post, February 22)

Sorry, Ebooks, These 9 Studies Show Why Print is Better (Huffington Post, February 27)

The Rise of Independent Booksellers in The Time of Amazon (Buzzfeed, February 26)

The studies seem to be showing that electronic readers are hard on the eyes, lead to lower comprehension of the material, and interfere with sleep. As to the independent booksellers, I was comforted by the lead quote from John Green in the Buzzfeed post: “You cannot invent an algorithm that is as good at recommending books as a good bookseller.”

So here is my question: Would all the brilliant minds who have given us a reading tool that is less suited to the human brain than the method we already have, and who design algorithms that can’t imitate the perception of booksellers we already have please turn their attention to doing something about the weather?

Feb 282015

Just got an intriguing email newsletter from Ramble House, the small Mississippi-based company that publishes all of Harry Steven Keeler (and also great books such as Hake Talbot's "Rim of the Pit"). Here's the note from RH's Fender Tucker:

This is just a teaser about a great new book by James Keirans called THE JOHN DICKSON CARR COMPANION. We're putting the final touches on the huge book, getting the comprehensive index just right and we anticipate that it will be available sometime during the month of March. Of course you'll get a Rambler to announce it.

It contains information about every character and plot in every tale written by Carr, all in alphabetical order. Author Keirans has spent years compiling this information and it's all here to accompany you on your journey through the world of John Dickson Carr.

Stay tuned.

As I said, intriguing, to say the least. Anyone know any more about this project?

Feb 282015

When We Were Animals is a haunting, beautifully written account of a teenager growing up in a small town where puberty takes on a unique form: for one year, children turn feral during the full moon, literally turning “wild” for days at a time.

Click here to request an early copy of the novel from Goodreads.

Feb 282015


The Gunsmith Continues

By Robert J. Randisi, aka J.R. Roberts

It was a bloodbath, probably fitting, given how long adult westerns and men's adventure paperbacks have been spilling blood within their pages.  But in one fell swoop publishers, with seeming disregard for the readers—or the readers that were left, anyway—cancelled all the Adult Western series—notably the long running Longarm and Gunsmith series—and mens adventure series—most notably, the Mack Bolan series.  This move, as of April of 2015, will not only rob loyal readers of the adventures of Custis Longarm and Mack Bolan, but will also put entire stables of writers out of work. Both series, along with many others, were written by multiple writers, having supplied work for many working writers for a good 40 years.  In fact, the Adult Western genre not only invigorated the western genre and kept it alive, but provided income for dozens of writers over the years. And now it’s the end of an era for all of them . . .

. . . except The Gunsmith.


Very simple answer. For the most part, the Gunsmith was created and written by one man. When Charter Books contacted me in 1981 and asked me if I could create an Adult Western series for them, I jumped at the chance.  I created a bible and, when it was approved, signed a two book contract.  Then a contract for a third.  And then they called me and said they wanted to go into the genre whole-heartedly, and could I write a book a month.  I was 30 years old, had no idea if I could write a book a month, but I said “Yes!”

I started writing under the pseudonym J.R. Roberts.  When I attended my first Western convention I discovered what anomaly the Gunsmith and I were. There were several other monthly adult westerns running at the time, and they were being written by three or four writers under a single house name. A “house name” is a name used by many authors on one series.  My “J.R. Roberts” nom de-plume was a pseudonym used by one person, not a house name. (It was only after Berkley Books purchased Charter Books and wanted to keep the Gunsmith going that they asked if they could hire two more writers, just to build up an inventory. The writers were to be approved by me, and I was to own even those books which I did not write, and receive a royalty. It made me even more of an anomaly in the genre. Once we had built up a one year inventory, I went back to writing all the books.).

And I have done so since then, for over 32 years.  Gunsmith #1: Macklin’s Women came out in January of 1982, and there has been a Gunsmith every month since then.  Berkley Books decided to end of the run in April of 2015 with #399, and I was given enough warning so that I was able to place the series elsewhere and assure that Gunsmith #400 would appear in May of 2015, with no break in the action.  They will appear with a new cover design in ebook for from Piccadilly Publishing, and in paperback from Western Trailblazers.  And Our Man Clint will go on appearing in a book a month for as long as my flying fingers can flex.

So to those loyal Gunsmith readers who pick up up each and every month, you may continue to do so, with heartfelt thanks from me, and from Our Man Clint Adams.

I should also thank Charter Books, where it all started, and then Berkley Books, which has kept the series going all these years, as we all move on to the next bend in the road.

Feb 282015
Letter of Recommendation: Turner Classic Movies
The New York Times

Some people turn to psychopharmacology when they are blue. I prefer Turner Classic Movies.
When disappointment has brought you low, or sadness has colonized you, or fear has conquered your imagination, you experience a contraction of your horizon. Your sense of possibility is damaged and even abolished. Pain is a monopolist. The most urgent thing, therefore, is to restore a more various understanding of what life holds, of its true abundance, so that the bleakness in which you find yourself is not all you know. The way to break the grip of sorrow and dread is to introduce another claimant on consciousness, to crowd it out with other stimulations from the world. Sadness can never be retired completely, because there is always a basis in reality for it. But you can impede its progress by diversifying your mind.

Nothing performs this charitable expansion of awareness more immediately for me than TCM. Movies are quick corrections for the fact that we exist in only one place at only one time. (Of course there are circumstances in which being only in one place only at one time is a definition of bliss.) I switch on TCM and find swift transit beyond the confines of my position. Alongside my reality there appears another reality — the world out there and not in here. One objective of melancholy is to block the evidence of a more variegated existence, but a film quickly removes the blockage. It sneaks past the feelings that act as walls.
I recall an evening when my mother was ill in bed and very fragile. The room was lit by only the flickering luminosities of a black-and-white movie that TCM was running. All of a sudden my mother recognized, and quickened to, the sound of Eve Arden’s voice. She gently smiled. It was a small cognitive resurrection. Never mind that I myself have little patience for Eve Arden and her compulsive wisecracking, her tedious insistence upon the last word. The sound of that mondaine voice restored my mother to the rich world in which there were Eve Arden movies. For a few moments, her memory successfully challenged the tyranny of her condition. Her horizon was cinematically extended. She was, however inarticulately, delighted.

When I watch the older movies on TCM, I am struck by the beauty of gray, which makes up the bulk of black and white. How can the absence of color be so gorgeous? Black and white is so tonally unified, so tone-poetic. Shadows seem more natural, like structural elements of the composition. The dated look of the films is itself an image of time, like the varnish on old paintings that becomes inextricable from their visual resonance. There is also a special pleasure in having had someone else choose the film. Netflix, with its plenitude of options, asks for a decision, for an accounting of tastes; but TCM unburdens you of choice and asks for only curiosity and an appetite for surprise. The freedom to choose is like the freedom to speak: There is never too much of it, but there is sometimes too much of its consequences. Education proceeds by means of other people’s choices. Otherwise it is just customization, or electronically facilitated narcissism. Let Mr. Osborne decide!

for the rest go here:

Feb 282015
OUR MAN CLINT The Gunsmith Continues By Robert J. Randisi, aka J.R. Roberts It was a bloodbath, probably fitting, given how long adult westerns and mens adventure paperbacks have been spilling blood within their pages.  But in one fell swoop publishers, with seeming disregard for the readers—or the readers that were left, anyway—cancelled all the Adult Western series—notably the long running
Feb 282015
At first glance, this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY has a pretty run-of-the-mill cover by A. Leslie Ross, illustrating one of Walker Tompkins' Tommy Rockford stories. Then you see what Tommy's carrying, and the cover suddenly becomes more creepy and effective. That's the way it struck me, anyway. I've read only a few of the Tommy Rockford stories but liked them all quite a bit. Maybe someday
Feb 282015
Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

VIBES. Columbia Pictures, 1988. Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Falk, Julian Sands, Googy Gress, Elizabeth Peña. Director: Ken Kwapis.

   Vibes is the cult classic that could have been. A quirky quasi-ensemble cast (check); a mash-up of genres, ranging from romantic comedy to adventure film and fantasy and back again (check); and quite a few memorable, downright repeatedly quotable, moments (check). And for a while, Vibes manages to feel like a hangout film, a movie where you just feel like you’re there, or you’d like to be there, just hanging out, shooting the breeze, with the main characters.

   But it wasn’t to be. Indeed, Vibes really doesn’t seem to have all that much of a critical reputation or a cult following. Which is somewhat of a shame, because it really is a daring, albeit wildly uneven, little comedy-adventure film that is worth watching, if only once. It benefits greatly from the screen presence of both Jeff Goldblum and Peter Falk, as well as 1980s pop singer, Cyndi Lauper, in a film role.

   The plot centers around two New York psychics, Nick Deezy (Goldblum) and Sylvia Pickel (Lauper) who travel to Ecuador at the behest of con artist/criminal/man of mystery, Harry Buscofusco (Falk) to allegedly search for a missing man. A search that turns into a hunt for Inca gold. Which transforms into an encounter with a relic from an ancient alien civilization and a source of psychic power. (Try selling that script today: “So tell me what your screenplay’s about.”). There’s also a budding romance between Deezy and Pickel.

   It’s a difficult plot to pull off successfully and, at times, the movie just falls painfully flat. The ending, in particular, is a serious let down. But the journey to the ending, literally and metaphorically, is half the fun. And the cast, particularly Goldblum, seems to be in on the joke. It’s no classic, cult or otherwise, but it’s an enjoyable enough movie to watch, the later into the night the better. And it’s definitely a product of the 1980s, like for sure.

 Posted by at 5:12 am