2023 March 20 • Monday

This interesting two-CD release is the 770th Soundtrack of the Week: music by Noël Akchoté for the movie Loving Highsmith.

This is an album with a few things going on.

Disc one finds Noël Akchoté playing guitar duets with Mary Halvorson.

The first thirteen tracks are pieces that were composed and recorded for the movie, several of them in 3/4. They're atmospheric and nice to listen to.

Tracks 14–26 are, I guess, just other duets from the same recording sessions and were never meant for the film. There are some standards—"What Is This Thing Called Love?, "The Days of Wine and Roses", etc.—plus some pieces by Halvorson and Akchoté that are presumably improvised.

())Jim Hall's "Careful" makes it onto the "Music for the Film" section.)

The second disc is very similar to the first, except this time it'd with Bill Frisell instead of Mary Halvorson—though the first track reprises the "Death Is Only a Dream" piece from disc one but this time with all three guitarists.

The tracks with Frisell tend to sound more Friselly, unsurprisingly, and are also split between film takes and session takes, which this time include some Akchoté solo recordings.

Fans of any of these guitarists will want to hear this. It sounds more like a guitar record than a soundtrack record and is definitely worth your time.
2023 March 17 • Friday

And here's another Peter and Maria Hoey book! This one is the latest issue of Coin-Op!

There are five stories and the first one, "The Chorus Repeats", is one of our favorites. It starts as a low key sci-fi story, shifts surprisingly to something much more different and then springs a final twist on the reader.

"The Event Planner" is a wordless tale that spins off of Shirley Jackson's famous story "The Lottery" while "Double Over the Rainbow" is a collision of Double Indemnity and The Wizard of Oz.

That one was out absolute favorite. If only there were of it!

"Wheel Well" is mostly visual and is intensely nuts and bolts and thoroughly realistic before dropping the reader into something totall unexpected and fantastical.

Finally "The Long Cool Eye", the title story, is a biographical sketch of film director Joseph Losey, told to us by the man himself.

It's another excellent addition to the Hoey collection. You should buy it!

2023 March 15 • Wednesday

We finally got around to Peter and Maria Hoey's new graphic novel, The Bend of Luck!

Like much of the Hoey's work, this book is unusual and unique to them while also nodding in the direction of beloved influences. The styles and narratives of old movies, particularly film noir, are what come to mind here, but they're more in the background.

Probably magical realism is a phrase that could be used to describe the story as well. The first line is "Luck occurs naturally in the physical world" and this is meant literally.

From here we see how luck itself takes the form of stones and pebbles formed as the planet Earth went through geophysical changes.

To find and possess the stones is to have actual luck—providing you can take care of the stones properly. There are some grim fates awaiting some of these "lucky" people.

Despite the violence and death it seems that… well never mind. We won't ruin the ending for you.

As always, the Hoeys' art and writing are beautiful and so very quiet. Are they the Edward Hopper of comics?
2023 March 13 • Monday

The 769th Soundtrack of the Week is Children of Sanchez by Chuck Mangione: his choice of material from the whopping 23 and a half hours of music that he composed and recorded for this movie. Now there's a box set I want!

It starts with the plaintive "Children of Sanchez Overture" for voice and nylon-string guitar: "Without dreams of hope and pride a man will die". Then the band comes pounding in and Mangione begins to play the overture melody on flugelhorn. This is a great groove and makes the opening track about fourteen minutes long. It's all pure plasure, though, with considerable intensity as well.

Gentle and lyrical strings create an appropriately soothing atmosphere for "Lullabye", which also features a celeste-like sound that might be Mangione on electric piano.

The first of four album sides then concludes with the short "Fanfare", a reprise of the opening melody, the main theme, performed on flugelhorn by Mangione solo.

Side two begins with "Pilgrimage" parts one and two. Part one is a high-energy spin on the main theme, with lots of action from the drums, while part two continues much in the same manner but with more space for the drums and more of the spotlight on horns.

"Consuelo's Love Theme" is a nice change of pace, a lovely lilting midtempo number that Mangione can really relax into. Strings and voice get into it too. The chorus refers back to the main theme and it's gorgeous. I'm starting to wonder why more people don't play some of these tunes.

Time to change records for the third side now. It opens with "Hot Consuelo", an uptempo Latin number that starts with a blast of drum kit and hand percussion before Mangione comes sailing in on horn, reprising the main theme.

Solo acoustic guitar starts off "Death Scene", recallin the overture and playing a somber version of the main theme. It's eventually joined by cello and then most of the ensemble comes in for a heavenly finish.

"Market Place" is similar to "Hot Consuelo", another killer groove, though maybe more Brazilian this time, with Mangione tearing it up on flugelhorn.

Solo piano starts out the beautiful "Echano", eventually joined by flute and strings for a lovely and rich sound.

After that comes "Belavia", which starts with Mangione playing a really tasty groove on electric piano, before flute comes in with another wonderfully lyrical melody. This is another absolutely great piece that I hope is in one of the Real Book volumes. Eventually the whole ensemble comes in for a big triumphant build-up.

The third side concludes with "Lullabye (Vocal Version)", this time with female vocals and superbly sensitive electric piano playing from Mangione.

The fourth and last side starts with "Medley", in which a great groove anchors Mangione as he tears through all the themes on flugelhorn.

Then it's another downshift to the soft and slower "B'bye", which starts with a very pretty flugelhorn, guitar and bass trio before strings come in to add a Mancini-ish touch.

Everything wraps up with "Children of Sanchez (Finale)", a reprise of the swinging part of the overture, complete with vocals.

2023 March 10 • Friday

Driven, James Sallis's sequel to Drive is, well… we found it mostly to be regrettable here at Gutbrain Headquarters.

We can no longer remember where we read that stories of this sort, whether they were books or movies or whatever, were "fantasies of male competence", but the phrase has haunted us. We think its a useful and accurate observation and that a fantasy of male competence isn't fundamentally good or bad. It depends on what kind of fantasy and where it takes us.

Driven is actually embarrassing in its promotion of Driver to a superman type. The book is quite short, as was Drive, but it's essentially plotless, taking an extremely long time to explain why people keep showing up trying to kill Driver.

Not that it matterts. In scene after scene after scene Driver immediately gains the upper hand and dominates or destroys every assailant. It doesn't take long for the lack of tension to become monotonous, especially since we have no idea what the stakes are or who's behind all the attacks and for what reason.

And this is a book that's only 147 pages long. With a lot of space on a lot of those pages.

Eventually you do find out why this is happening and it might be a candidate for the anticlimax hall of fame. And getting there is about as exciting as playing a video game with cheat codes enabled, so that nothing can hurt you and you have infinite powers.

Driver also has superman friends who know everything, can do everything, are always in the right place at the right time.

All of the character give big speeches that don't sound anything like the way people actually talk and while the writing style in Drive went right up to the "too flowery, too literary" line, Driven is across that line pretty much all the time.

Often the cadences seem to be reaching for the assured smoothness of Donald Westlake and there's one sentence in particular—"Driver thinking back to what Felix said, they know more about me than anyone should, as waiters lowered plates and platters onto the table—that's so clearly Elmore Leonard's style that you might wonder if Sallis owes money to his estate.

And there are several times when characters appeared to be acting as mouthpieces for the author's deep thoughts and opinions and observations. Not necessarily a bad thing but it's usually overdone and forced. The two Robert Heinlein books we read had that going on, or so we thought, and you'll find that here, too.

Drive was good and entertaining but in retrospect seems to have been something that Sallis got away with. He should have quite while he was ahead. The second book just seemed like a mistake to us and actually ended up lowering our opinion of the first book. Collateral damage.

The first line is "They came for him just after 11:00 on a Saturday morning, two of them".

2023 March 08 • Wednesday

While Paul Verhoeven’s movie of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers gave us a lot more than the book did, Nicholas Winding Refn's film adaptation of James Sallis's Drive gave us quite a bit less. This is not a criticism so much as an observation, however.

The movie of Drive is really about color, light, motion, music, beauty and violence but needs a story to drape all this on top of. And so the unusual and intriguing hardboiled narrative of James Sallis's novel was scooped up and transformed into a much more formulaic though still entertaining piece of work.

The book is dedicated to Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake and Lawrence Block, "great American writers", and other names are dropped within: Westlake pseudonym Richard Stark, particularly relevant here, George Pelecanos, Theodore Sturgeon.

The driver, actually known as Driver, has a lot more interests than the Ryan Gosling version. In the book he reads a lot, loves jazz, is really into food, has some rewarding friendships, appreciates good wine, etc. The Rockford Files is mentioned twice and there's an interesting passage about Thunder Road.

We learn about where he came from and his back story is interesting and sufficiently tragic, violent and extreme for the person he becomes.

The character played by Bryan Cranston in the movie doesn't exist in the book and neither does the subplot about borrowing money to go into professional racing. The character played by Carey Mulligan ends up with a very different path and the Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman mobsters are more generic Italian transplants from Brooklyn.

Driver's best friend is a screenwriter with whom he has meals and can call to ask the definitions of words that he doesn't know (such as desuetude—I didn't know it either). He also has a long-standing relationship with a disgraced alcoholic doctor and, of course, a Hollywood agent who gets him jobs driving for the movies.

(The story of how Driver breaks into the industry is touching and gratifyingly understated. The writing throughout is lean and spare but precise and occasionally verging on poetic: an ever so slightly more flowery Richard Stark style.)

The plot is more or less the same but the story is very different. And the character of Driver in the movie has practically no inner life at all while in the book he's actually pretty interesting and complex, in addition to being highly skilled, not just in driving.

It's a short book that you'll probably read very quickly because it pulls you along with excitement and pleasure. It comes to a perfect stop at the end.

The first line is “Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake”.
2023 March 06 • Monday

Time to listen to some scores by jazz musicians. We'll start with the extraordinary bassist Stanley Clarke and his music for Bleeding Hearts, the 768th Soundtrack of the Week.

The main title theme is a sweet piece with really nice acoustic guitar playing, swaying and soulful and somewhat love theme-sounding.

The energy perks up for "Un Hombre Feliz", a gently bopping number that suggests light, cheerful productivity of some sort, even if it's just someone walking down the street.

Piano kicks off the wistful and romantic "La Cancion De Sofia (Primera Parte)", with strings coming in for extra feeling and a bit of a Love Story feel to it.

"Shearwater" starts with sounds of thunder in the distance before revealing itself to be another feature for acoustic guitar, again playing a very soulful, romantic tune.

There has to be some kind of conflict in this movie and the first hint of dramatic intrigue comes in the short cue "L'Air Dans Sa Cheveaux", with piano and strings suggesting some sort of possible tension.

Things get breezy and lyrical again for "In Another Way", another instrumental love song-sounding piece with acoustic guitar as the primary voice.

After that we hear a bona fide jazz rhythm that wouldn't be out of place in early-1960s Miles Davis. But "In Another Way" changes gears quickly to a more dramatic underscore setting with strings.

Something like an electro-Latin-r&b-jazz groove defines the gently grooving "Complicado", which alternates between syncopated piano and lyrical strings.

The bass finally gets some prominence in "Almost", filling in some spaces between guitar playing with some round, low tones.

Wow, then it's a straight-up acid jazz funk fusion number, "Use the Whip". It's pretty awesome and presumably source music since you can hear crowd noises.

The main title theme gets reprised, more slowly, for "Goodbye" while "Flavor" is similar to but distinct from "In Another Way".

"Theme" is likewise similar to but different from "La Cancion De Sofia (Primera Parte)". Maybe it's the second part?

Following this is another rare mooment of what might be conflict or danger, the mostly ominous-sounding "Malo", which features some electric bass guitar playing.

Then there's a long vocal number that's kind of a jazz funk gospel soul song called "Walktall", with call and response lyrics between a female vocalist and back-up singers. The gist is about "walking tall through the valley of the shadow".

The title theme returns for "Oh, Hello Again" and the possible menace returns for "Countdown".

"The Park" starts out as similar to "Theme" before becoming a somewhat dreamy piece for the ensemble and "I'll Never See You Again!" is also similar to "La Cancion De Sofia (Primera Parte)" but with emphasis on the bass.

The guitar and bass both get featured in "Tree", starting as a duet before drums come in and propel them forward with a relaxed and infectious groove.

"Jazz Tune" is, believe it or not, a jazz tine, mid-tempo swing piano trio.

Then we get a blues rock song with a male vocalist and a dobro player in "Is It Wrong?", which also has some countryish elements.

And then we wrap things up with "Final Theme", a melancholy piece for piano and electric bass with a resonant and tender atmosphere.

2023 March 03 • Friday

Once again we're eager to tell you about Reuben Radding's new photo zine but this time it's not too late buy it! So you should just go ahead and do that by clicking here! You don't even need to read any further!

But if you are still, reading, Bike Kill is one of Reuben's best. I'm sure it's the most kinetic and there's an especially strong aesthetic cohesiveness to the collection of photos, possibly thanks to bright sunlight creating consistently high contrast.

Bike Kill is apparently a "renegade mutant/tall bike rally" that happens in Red Hook, not far from Gutbrain Headquarters. According to Mr. Radding, he has documented its 18th manifestation. We had never heard of it but the photos blew our minds.

Go ahead and get it if you haven't already!
2023 March 01 • Wednesday

Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers has always been a favorite movie of mine and now that I’ve read Robert Heinlein’s original novel, I have new respect and admiration for the work that went into the adaptation.

The movie is a splashy, colorful pulpy melodrama that flits through several genres: sports story, love story, school story, father-son conflict, coming of age, space opera, a story of new recruits and training and of course war story with its contingent action and camaraderie.

Dressed up as war propaganda, the movie is actually on a secret mission to subvert itself and satirize war and propaganda. The paralells it had to real-life history and current affairs always seemed crystal clear to me but were apparently unnoticed by many at the time of the film’s release.

The movie comes up with a group of high school friends and follows them as they join the military, go different ways in some cases, make new relationships and eventually reunite after much experience and personal growth.

This is already a lot more than the book does. The main character is still named Johnnie Rico but he has no personality, very little personal history and no especially significant relationships, with the exception of his father, who appears as a blip on Rico’s radar three or four times. Rico’s dad is a very different character in the book than in the movie (to the extremely limited extent he qualifies as an actual character) and to be fair, practically the only time Rico shows an emotion other than fear (before dropping into combat) or disgust (at the Bug enemy) is when he expresses love for his father.

Typical of the book’s embarrassing and simplistic machismo is that Rico’s father finds all of his problems to be cured by joining the military. Before that he was a Harvard grad and a wealthy businessman. It probably goes without saying that this unlucky lot in life made him so unhappy that he went into therapy. And what could be a bigger waste of time than therapy? No, Rico’s dad (I don’t remember that he had a name—a name is about as much character writing as Heinlein does in this book and I guess Rico’s dad didn’t merit the effort) is there to prove that a boy is never too old to become a man.

Nothing is ever said about why the war is being fought in the first place. There’s even a third alien race whose presence is just confusing. Rico never wonders about anyone’s motives, friend or foe. There’s also a random more or less superhuman character dropped in near the end of the book. The movie’s finessing this out of nowhere figure into the intriguing role played by Neil Patrick Harris is a typical improvement.

Starship Troopers the book spends most of its time describing Rico’s military life: the training, the hierarchies, the protocols, the uniforms, the combat, the communications, the duties… Heinlein seems to love it.

When Rico isn’t giving us incredibly detailed accounts of his daily life, including the hours the canteen is open, for instance, he spends probably about a hundred pages on fairly unexciting prose that focuses on military technology and its uses.

The troopers essentially all have Iron Man suits. There’s a surprising lack of descriptive writing in this book, and your first indication of this comes early on, when Rico launches into an extremely long monologue about his suit, but announces upfront that there’s “No need to describe what it looks like, since it has been pictured so often”.

Okay then. There won’t be descriptions of what anything else looks like either. It’s a simplistic and didactic book, with whole chapters in which Heinlein presumably uses characters as his mouthpiece to share his thoughts on society.

(He did this even more blatantly in Stranger in a Strange Land.)

What he seems to be saying is that military society is an ideal society and that the reason twentieth century society (Western society—other cultures don’t exist for him as much more than a wisp of Orientalism) will fail is because we start disdaining corporal punishment.

There are probably quite a few people who would agree with Heinlein about this and everything else he has to say. His point of view is certainly presented wth finality and an air of having already been proved several times over.

But the actual world of this book is even more simplistic than this very simplistic vision for social order. Religion is not a factor in anyone’s decision making and neither is bigotry or class resentment. There is no corruption. Governments are apparently not making deals with powerful business interests and overthrowing other governments for the mutual benefit of state power and corporate profit. How the messy world of 1959 ended up as Heinlein’s multi-planet federation with absolutely no internal conflict whatsoever is elided almost completely.

In the movie this actually works since the audience’s information comes from state-controlled media or characters whose knowledge derives totally from the same media. The book is narrated in the first person by someone with no personality, no curiosity, no interests and almost no emotions.

If Heinlein were a different person, he could have nudged this book just a bit to make it into something that we could quite reasonably discuss as being similar to Camus's The Stranger.

But no. On its own merits, the book Starship Troopers doesn’t rise much above the level of propaganda or slightly better than average pulp science fiction. The movie aimed much higher and hit its target.

The first line of the book is “I always get the shakes before a drop”.