Friday, November 28, 2014

True Crime by True Masters in Book & On Screen ~ 4 of the best

There is absolutely nothing like a great crime book. I consider such a book one of the wonders of the world. Today they come in novel, non fiction and novel-true crime blend. The crime blended novel-docu has provided a platform for first rate novelists to bring their talents into the true crime field. Unfortunately, it seems you have to be a Pulitzer Prize winning level talent of author to pull it off so I am giving you those two first, Mailer's and Capote's. The final two are straight true crime books. There is no fiction element to them.

"The Executioner's Song" by Norman Mailer is my favorite of his books. It is based on the true story of Gary Gilmore, a Utah killer, but it is written like a novel. He won the Pulitzer Prize for it and deservedly so. If you don't read and will only watch the movie instead, then you are in luck. Tommy Lee Jones made it playing Gary Gilmore. This is Jones early in his career. He does a wonderful job. His girlfriend is played by Roseanna Arquette who was also quite good. However, you do lose Mailer's prose when you watch it instead of read it. That is a big loss as his words give you insights there is no other way of gaining.

Mailer captures the interior process of a killer. There is something missing inside Gilmore and there is also an inner rage about who he is stuck being as a person. He killed a hapless gas station attendant seemingly just for the hell of it. Gilmore wanted the death penalty and Utah used a firing squad, which was fine by him. You could almost say this was a murderer who wanted to commit suicide. It is a long book and I read it at the speed of light. I couldn't put it down and felt extreme book loss when it was over. Picking another book to read after reading that tour de force was an impossible task.

I read "In Cold Blood" when it was first written and saw the first movie. I also saw the remake and read the book a second time a few years ago. It is always a wonderful experience. Capote was the first writer to take a true crime, research the heck out of it, and then write its account like a novel. No one had done this before. It was considered a huge taboo in the literary world. He smashed this taboo to smithereens with this book so that it is now an American classic.

When the event happened, it was less commonplace than it is today. Specifically, two criminals stopped at a farm owned by the Clutter family and during the night they terrorized and then murdered the entire family. This was also out in the Great Plains, in a very small town, and it was about the last place one could picture this happening. The trial was held with Capote attending and he was also becoming quite close to the murderers, especially Perry.

It is very rare for me to reread a book and even rarer for me to love it as much the second time around. But that is certainly true of this book. It is a tour de force rendering of a crime story and I was enthralled with every page.

Robert Blake played Perry in the original movie and he did a brilliant job. Everyone agrees that it was his finest role as an actor. The irony is that he stood trial for murder himself decades later, of the murder of his wife. He was acquitted, which Perry was not.

Ann Rule did it all in her true crime book, "The Stranger Beside Me." She knew Ted Bundy before she knew he was a serial killer and after she'd finally accepted he was one. She was also an experienced crime reporter who understood the legal system and sat through the legal proceedings as they dragged on and on. Meanwhile, Bundy kills throughout, with the worst being after he escapes from his first prison. Rule even links him with yet an earlier murder in his hometown when he was only 15, showing he started killing even earlier than she'd previously supposed. 

I read the 35th printing of this book, which is no small testimony to how right she's painted the portrait. If you're going to read about a serial killer, there's nothing like the real thing. I read this on a plane ride to Florida and, although I normally detest flying, I barely noticed I was in a plane, I was so engrossed in this book.

Ted Bundy may have had as many as 100 murder victims across the United States.  To stop his killing spree, however, he had to be convicted of one. Serial murderers are hard to find, much less try and convict.  This is because they murder complete strangers. The Bundy case is well known because he was good looking, once a law student and suicide hotline volunteer, charming, and personable. Bundy was also an incredibly vicious serial killer of young woman with long hair usually parted in the middle, just like his former girlfriend who had broken up with him. As you study the pictures of the victims in Rule's book, it is amazing how much they resemble one another.

How early Bundy got started as a serial killer is unknown but it is known that he killed across the country, beginning in the Northwest.  He was caught once in Colorado for his killing but he escaped while awaiting trial. Bundy not only raped and killed his victims but he revisited the bodies when they were decomposing and had sex with them again.  He was thus also considered a necrophiliac.

Bundy made his fatal evidentiary mistakes during his killing spree at the Chi Omega sorority house on the campus of Florida State University. I found the entire Chi Omega murder case fascinating. It also brought Bundy to an end as he was convicted and executed.

There have been movies made of Bundy but none of them are very good. This is one character who has not yet been found by the right actor.

"Helter Skelter" is written by the prosecutor who won the case against the Manson Gang. He has help from a professional writer as well but it was his marshaling of all the facts and exhibits in this huge case which led to victory. So it is truly his book in all important ways. Nevertheless, just like with Anne Rule, no one is going to mistake him for Capote or Mailer anytime soon. 

If you do not like reading, then I have also seen the mini series based on the book. You are in luck. The makers did find the perfect actor to play Manson. Steve Railsback plays the best Charles Manson anyone could ever do. 

The book is huge. I couldn't put it down and learned every detail of the murders perpetrated by the Manson family in 1969 of Sharon Tate and friends plus the La Bianco husband and wife. The miniseries has to omit a lot because of the massive size of the book which has every fascinating detail of the case including taking us through every step of the prosecution of the case. However, you may not be as eager to read every scintillating detail as I was and thus may prefer the mini series. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Dumpster Diver, a Hacker & an Axe Murderer

I asked Felix if he read about Lizzie Borden per my last entry. He started haranguing me about all of my bloody murders, saying he was getting mighty tired of reading about people being chopped up with an axe like the Bordens or meeting similar ends. Didn't he have enough similar stuff to read online in the news every day?

"Did you read it?" I asked again.

"Of course I read it, the whole bloody, grisly thing."

I rather expected this. It is one thing to protest about violence and it is quite another to be noble enough to look away from a double axe murder.

"But doesn't the puzzle behind it intrigue you?" I asked next.

"No. I don't care who did it."

"You don't like the puzzle aspect, that she would have had between 8-13 minutes to clean herself, the murder weapon and dispose of the evidence. It can't be done in 8-13 minutes yet who else could have done it?"

Silence and then he's talking about where we'll go to lunch. We're en route to visit my sleep doctor and I don't need to be a mind reader to know he'll be picking Luchita's for lunch. So although he asks me not one thing about Lizzie axing her parents to death, he is immediately able to segue into he'll be having Chilies Rellenoes for lunch at Luchita's. Although the West Side has come to mean doctors to us, it also means having great Mexican food.

Felix really does not have one ounce of curiosity about the Borden case and he has never spent even one minute turning the puzzle over in his head. I do not think you will be amazed to learn that I am the only one in this family to do crossword puzzles, play Scrabble and gin rummy plus read mystery novels. Felix won't "lower himself" to do any of these.

We are working on developing some continuing ed programs to use in the real estate industry and I said to him, "Do you have any idea how much more interesting it is to develop materials about an axe murder than it is about white collar identity theft?" This is the job I have been doing for days now.

I had him there. Much as he protested about axe murders, even he could see the appeal of them over white collar crime. I have often said though that I think you can make anything interesting. It takes work with this kind of topic but I will share a couple of things with you to make my point. First, there is my art work. This is my creation of what small business owners would feel like if they were computer hacking victims. (note the absence of any axe in the art piece.)

Then I happened to discover a real nightmare about what could happen to people with medical coverage. I don't think it could happen to me as I have too much wrong with me. I am so well documented with medical records that someone would have to be an idiot to try and pass for me. I don't think they'd like some of the treatments they might be facing being me, for one.

I liked the medical art work I put together here but it was nothing special. I was also reminded of John Ritter, the actor's, death when I was writing this. John Ritter was rushed to the hospital with a serious tear in the heart area, called an aortic dissection. It did kill him but what he was concerned about was making sure the hospital checked him in under a fake name because he didn't want the media to know he was in the hospital. This really interfered with the battle to save his life and the battle was lost in part because of mixups with that fake name. When his survivors brought the lawsuit for wrongful death, that fake name change was a big flaw in their case. I wonder if these medical thieves have lost sight of the big picture (living) like Ritter did. I almost wish one of them would check in as me and start receiving unexpected treatment for my many maladies. If the staff gives her my rare A negative blood, it will really be curtains for her.

I really liked the next art work I did of a dumpster diver. It is all in the feet, I believe.

That's it on this topic. I realize I am pushing my luck on this type of thing. How many of us read detective novels about this kind of crime after all?  None of us. There is no Inspector Morse waiting in the emergency room or in the alley way to solve these crimes. It's just too.... well, boring. The picture on the very top is so that you can ask yourself which kind of person you prefer: a dumpster diver, an axe murderer or a hacker?

As a side note, today the nurse asked me as the very first question if I'd been out of the country over the last three weeks. I looked at her and said, "Aha, you're checking for ebola!" She admitted she was. It is a small step in the right direction but anything in the direction of getting a handle on ebola I will take.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Listen Up for the Delight of Your Life!

David Sedaris is NOT to be read.  The only way to experience him is in audio where he reads his own highly personal essays about his family and his life experiences. He is hilarious and touching, all at the same moment.  Listen to ALL of them.

Now that I've listened to all of David Sedaris on audiobook format, I can assure you that it is a treat which will occupy you for hour upon hour with the sheer delight of listening. Gay, originally from New York but brought up in North Carolina, then living abroad, an artist, a writer--really, a remarkable individual--but what he does best is tell the stories of his life and his family's lives aloud. I read one of his essays instead and it was far less of an experience. You absolutely must hear him read his essays instead. Put an audience in front of him and that adds even an extra dimension, such as his LIVE FROM CARNEGIE HALL audio book. 

These are not one liners or zingers like you might expect in stand-up comedy. Instead, these are very individual, very detailed stories about largely daily life with especially a reflection back on one's family, mother, father, siblings and the humor of dealing with one's family all of one's life. He has all of their voices down cold and it is hard for me to pick out my favorite family member. His father and his brother are sure strong contenders though. Sedaris has a family of tremendous characters in their own right. Sedaris 's work was featured a great deal on NPR and he has built up a big following from that. If I had to pick someone who reminds me of Sedaris, it would be Mark Twain.

Jonathan Cecil narrating the Jeeves and Wooster series by P. G. Woodhouse is a fabulous humor delight. Some other narrators who also do an excellent job with Wodehouse's Jeeves & Bertie are Martin Jarvis and Ian Carmichael.  You can't go wrong with any of those.  I can listen to these again and again at any spot in the narration.

What sets Wodehouse immediately apart from anyone I've read in the last decade is that he can really write. Every word is well chosen. If these works were edited by anyone else, they were edited superbly (alas, a disappearing art in our own time). Also, he was extremely witty and knew how to use irony as a literary device. He supremely understood the fine art of characterization. I can't even think of an author to compare him to who is writing today and that is not a compliment to the present day. The only other writer he brings to memory is Jane Austen but more with her idiosyncratic characters than with her romantic ones (so more Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine and Mrs. Bennett instead of Darcy and Elizabeth).

The stories revolve around a well connected English gentleman, Bertie Wooster, who is as idle as can be. There are lords and ladies in his family. He did go to Eton and Oxford and now belongs to all the right clubs. However, the way he behaves, is the way most men of his class behaved in England back in his day, when automobiles were first coming out. 

Jeeves is as opposite from Bertie as can be. Jeeves is of the working class, Bertie's valet. He is suave, intelligent, well read, shrewd and manipulative. Also, he is always calm and collected, never losing his cool. In each and every story, it is Jeeves who rescues Bertie, his friends or his family members after they have gotten themselves (always) into some ferocious mess of their own making. Just with picking out potential marital partners, they are all utter disasters.

All six of the E.F. Benson books regarding Lucia, Mapp or Mapp & Lucia are excellent.  I have read and listened to every one of the them many times. There are many who have narrated these works. Nadia May is one of the best. 

One of my perennial favorites of the six novelsis "Lucia in London". It sees the social climbing Lucia Lucas trying to take London by storm after her husband inherited a house there. She already took her own small town of Riseholm by storm. Lucia is brazen, audacious and fearless. 

Soon she has her own cadre of society ladies called Luciaphiles who eagerly watch her social climbing adventures. Equally hilarious are all of the talents which she claims for herself even though she can only do a smidgen of the art form. She can play one movement only of Moonlight Sonata on the piano, the slow one. She loves to talk Italian but she knows only a handful of expressions and makes up the rest of it. And so it goes....

Lucia has one folly after another and, of course, the reader is a Luciaphile as well by this time. There is no Mapp in this book though and I admit that adding Miss Mapp to the series is sheer genius. This you encounter in all its virulence in "Mapp and Lucia."

Who would have thought two middle aged women in 1920s and 1930s England could be this funny?

I have had excellent success at finding almost all of these in audio format at the public library online using the overdrive app. To review, you can put the overdrive app on your phone or tablet. Add your public library to the app itself. Then look up these works, check them out and click the download button. You immediately have these audiobooks on your phone and can be taking a walk while listening to them instantly! If you have any problems doing this, your librarian will help you by phone or your visit to the library. I've had them respond by email too. I made this suggestion in an earlier entry, Rebecca followed it up and her public librarian has helped her by phone and in person numerous times with overdrive. It is the library's job to provide this assistance to you! Libraries have invested heavily in this online delivery so they want you to "get with the program." They would far rather you do this than order a hard back book for you and go through all the rigamarole of processing that real world book. That is so yesterday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making Art (and Everything Else) for Free from Apple

This is my own art work but this entry is only tangentially about my art work. The real purpose of this entry is to discuss the present state of my electronics. I include the present state of Felix's and Rebecca's as part and parcel of this since I help them with theirs as needed. So they end up heavily with my preferences. Felix is now operating my former two Macbooks and I bring Rebecca's Macbook and iPhone into the future with these new incarnations. They are both very good on these machines. Part of the reason is me but an increasing part of the reason is just how easy Apple is making it to operate its devices.

First, we all now have Yosemite on our Macs so we are state of the art. The reason I put that art work in is that Yosemite made it possible. Apple is either now giving me free software left and right or it is giving me software so heavily discounted that it is incredible. Thus, I now have "Pixelmator" as my $30 image editing software. I got this in the Mac App Store and this app does everything on my Mac that I used to do with Photoshop but even better. Plus it now interfaces with iCloud with its very own Pixelmator setting and folder. Photoshop cost $600 plus updates were another hundred to two hundred dollars. My updates are free with Pixelmator. I made the frame with Keynote and now I am given Keynote for free. Plus my iCloud is free. Plus the images are zipping back and forth between my Mac Air and my iPads without my doing a thing, for free. Pixelmator is now sitting on my iPads too, as is Keynote.

The long and the short of it is that virtually everything I am using when I am making something on my MacAir is now deeply integrated into Apple and I am able to do it for low to no cost. Why is Apple being so magnanimous? My guess is that it wants me totally relying on it for as much as possible and, in time, everything. It doesn't want me using Adobe or Microsoft or even Google. It is getting its wish with everything but Google because there is no way I am giving up my Chrome browser. As for even more distant providers like Yahoo, what in the heck does that even do anymore? I don't have a clue as I haven't been over there in years. Apple has not managed to supplant Amazon or eBay yet but boy, give it time. I am really hoping it doesn't overrun those though. The only thing that makes me think Apple can't do it is that it no longer has Steve.  Yes, it has got tons of business acumen but no longer has its genius.

I don't like being this dependent on the one company. It has made everything so easy and so beautiful that it is almost impossible to remember when this computer company was like the also ran Avis or Betamax. The "cult of Mac" used to be a distinct minority group. It is hardly that anymore. What also gives me pause is that Felix hates Apple yet there he is running two Macs!

Rebecca uses an iPhone. Felix uses the Samsung Galaxy phone, which has given Apple's iPhone quite the run. Thank God something has! Because of my hearing problems, I use iPads instead of a phone. That's the other thing. I noticed on IOS8 that there are all sorts of new settings for people with hearing aids and vision problems. That is very smart because our huge age group is getting lots of disabilities as the years keep mounting.

So it has never been better for using Apple yet I am nervous about this master of the universe business model.  I do feel safer with a lot of healthy competition going on in the market place.

For any of you with Apple products, you will discover that both Yosemite and IOS8 are the best operating systems yet from Apple so get with the updates (free) if you haven't already. Here are some concluding visuals about the biggest features Apple is pushing (please note how it is constantly trying to get me to switch from Chrome to Safari as my default browser too).

If you want to see Apple's presentation on Yosemite, go here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Going Into Voluntary Quarantine!

There is a lot of worry about contagious diseases so I thought I would post some basics about the situation in the USA right now. I cover ebola, the flu, flu shots and vaccinations. After putting this together I am ready to go into voluntary quarantine until Spring! Go to the CDC website for more info.  Remember, to view a much larger slide, just click on the image.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ghost Stories on Film ~ 4 Hidden Treasures

Don't Look Now ~ Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland 
Director Nicholas Roeg brought this gem to the screen in the beginning of his switchover from cinematographer to film director. It may be that his work here is so good simply because his visual powers were so strong from all those years with a camera as his partner. As a director, he would progressively be pulled away from that all visual, solitary world of the camera. 

He had a dream duo of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie, who play a married couple in Venice during the winter trying to come to some terms with the death of their child. She drowned wearing the red cape that is seen everywhere. This couple is haunted at every turn and Venice enhances that effect instead of lessening it. They meet a psychic who leads them into a frightening and suspenseful experience. This is based on one of Daphne Du Maurier's short works of fiction.

By turns erotic and supernaturally chilling, Roeg makes this film his own and it is still as startlingly unique today as it was decades ago when it was first made. It should be a big seller on streaming video online and it deserves to be. It is now on Amazon Instant Video and probably most other competing venues. 

Ghost Story ~ Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
If you have never read the novel or seen the movie, you have got a choice. I read the book first and I just loved it. Peter Straub writes one heck of a ghost story and he would write a few more in later years. Then the movie came out and surprisingly was very good. If you never read, your choice is easy: see the film. If you love reading, it is a much harder choice. The plot is the same for both and the film did not ruin the plot or characters from the book (the usual case).

Four affluent old men continue to meet in New England just the same as when they were young men who had grown up in the the same town. A long time ago a beautiful girl hung around with all four of them. Something went horribly wrong and they had to get rid of her. Now she has come back to haunt them for what they did and to remind them of their act. This is a truly terrifying ghost in a really spooky setting, in both film and book. It is a last time to also see four grand old men of the stage and screen who had been with us for most of the twentieth century. Newcomer Alice Kriege from South Africa played the terrific ghost.

Gotham  ~ Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen
This is a made for HBO movie from 1988 with Tommy Lee Jones playing Eddie, a private detective out of the noir school. A husband hires him because his former wife is driving him crazy. She won't leave him alone. The big problem is that she's dead and a ghost. Eddie doesn't believe she's a ghost and tracks down the ex, played by the very sassy, very sexy Virginia Madsen. She is especially eager to get even with her ex and to get her jewels back. She seems otherwise quite mortal to Eddie. These two have terrific chemistry here and they will keep you guessing as to whether she is a ghost or not. They are also both quite young here and that will "take you back" as well.

The Changeling ~ George C. Scott
George C. Scott meets the ghost of a little boy tied to the house where he is living, who wants the truth to come out about what happened to him in that house. Scott gives a subdued performance which really works well in a ghost story. He plays a composer who has rented the Seattle house after losing his wife and daughter in a car crash. He is grieving plus he is sensitive, just what the boy ghost needs in order to reveal things. 

The screenwriters did a lot of parapsychology research and it shows in this film. Instead of gruesome, bloody scenes, the scenes instead are things which shouldn't be able to happen but are, for the ghost to get Scott's attention. These are creaking doors opening on their own, balls bouncing on their own, water running which no one turned on, windows breaking for no reason, etc., A heck of an actor was needed for small things to build with such menace and Scott was that actor. It all gathers momentum until we can see a bath, running water, fire and all becomes clear. We do get a complete flashback to what the ghost wants to tell and that is terrific. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Terrorism ~ "Who Ya Gonna Send?" "Bernie"

We seem to be in a second era when we are awaiting a Bernie Goetz moment. Any amateur historian knows that people tend to revolt when they feel as if they have nothing else to lose. They're on a continuous spiral downwards anyway so might as well resort to taking the law into their own hands. When I recently saw the article about the travelers in the airport taking down the Texas bully attacking the guy in the pink shirt (read and view it here), I couldn't help thinking of Bernie Goetz, "The Subway Gunman." So today I thought we'd revisit that case while we wait for airline travelers to take down the next fellow traveler who gets out of line in this era of Travel by Terror Delay. With no further ado, let us step back to prior decades and look at both Bernie Goetz and "Death Wish" with the avenging Charles Bronson.

Go here for the above PBS docu-drama.