Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Richard Matheson's BUTTON, BUTTON

Richard Matheson is one of my favourite short story writers, with Robert Bloch, Jack Finney, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King and many others. One of Matheson's many classic short story thrillers was Button, Button which was recently reworked by Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly. The film's reception was tepid at best, though I loved it, with the SF twist and retro 1970's feel, though it did give me the creeps.

Here is the original Twlight Zone episode

Button, Button Part I - Twilight Zone 1985

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Button, Button Part II - Twilight Zone 1985


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Disturbing View of Reality

As another decade passes – I thought I’d share my thoughts about one worrying aspect of reality as we approach the close of 2009.

In my private moments I often think about what the purpose of my existence is. I often consider this maybe the root cause of my excessive reading, my wish to learn about existence and the purpose of reality. I keep a moleskin notebook with me at all times, and when I discover or contemplate an axiom or possible meaning to reality – I scribble it down.

Two years ago I stumbled upon an excellent BBC documentary which in its last 10 minutes offered a very distubing view of reality - view at your own peril as it took several pages of my moleskin notebook to write down, and it is a theory that disturbed me considerably -

Part 5 - Everthing, including you, may not be what it seems.

See all the previous parts of the BBC Documentary on Time and Reality to put the simulation argument into context.

If this intrigued you – check out some worrying thoughts from Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford University here – there are many technical papers that will provoke thought in what you see around you.

Incidentally Prof Nick Bostrom was involved in the World Science Festival held this summer in New York – and he was on a panel with some of the Battlestar Galactica team discussing Cyborgs on the Horizon

If all this is too heavy for you – why not chill out before the decade ends with one of my favourite John Carpenter movies – They Live, a paranoid look at reality.

The Existential Man wishes all of you a happy new decade – And let’s hope that the wars that rage around the world come to an end, as we wake up to what reality really is; even if we are living in a simulated reality or unreality, and that reality is more complex than our minds can understand.


NB : I am writing this in Dublin and can not get the HTML links working, so use Google or another browser to search the key words

Monday, December 21, 2009

You got 8 minutes?

That’s how long it will take to read and click on the links for my review of the English Subtitled film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at The Rap Sheet – Here

Extract here –

I was startled to see the Swedish actor Sven-Bertil Taube playing Vanger. In my youth, one of my favorite Alistair MacLean novels was Puppet on a Chain (1969), which was later turned into a film with Taube playing Interpol agent Paul Sherman. That movie featured a spectacular high-speed boat chase through the famous canals of Amsterdam. It was strange to see Taube on screen again after all these years--and yes, he has aged, but when I looked at him on screen, I could still see the handsome looks he had in such 1970s film thrillers as The Eagle Has Landed and Game for Vultures.

And it takes 8 minutes to watch the greatest boat chase filmed [even better than ‘Live and Let Die’] - from the 1970's film version of PUPPET ON A CHAIN

Have a great existential holiday and buy everyone you know some books - reading is important

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dan O' Bannon Passes Away

I am very depressed today, hearing about the passing of Dan O’ Bannon so The Existentialist Man wishes to celebrate his life with this lament from Dark Star which is strangely apt, so let’s have some music in here Boiler……

Now the years pull us apart,
I'm young and now you're old.
But you're still in my heart
And the memory won't go cold.
I dream of times and spaces
I left far behind
Where we spent our last few days
Benson's on my mind.

Benson Arizona,
blew warm wind through your hair,
My body flies the galaxies, my heart longs to be there.

Benson Arizona,
the same stars in the sky,
The days seemed so much kinder,
When we watched them,
You and I.

Benson Arizona’ Music by John Carpenter. Lyrics by Bill Taylor

I’ll miss you Dan, as your work touched my life.

From The Guardian

As a writer, O'Bannon was adept at taking something standard and adding new twists to it. He may not have originated all the concepts he doled out, but he was usually the first to expand on them and think of how they could be realised in visual terms. Witness the vertical cities he and Moebius put forward in their futuristic comic-book short story The Long Tomorrow in a 1977 issue of Métal Hurlant, which was "borrowed" by Ridley Scott for Blade Runner.

O'Bannon's résumé is full of highly enjoyable genre movies that are full of interesting quirks and character, many co-written with Shusett. There's the downbeat and creepy zombie tale
Dead and Buried, the paranoid, surveillance-themed helicopter movie Blue Thunder, and Lifeforce, the muddled but hugely entertaining adaptation of Colin Wilson's Space Vampires that mixes aliens, zombies, vampirism, spaceships, nudity and large-scale destruction of London.

There's also Total Recall, which managed to expand the Philip K Dick original into a high-action script that even managed to add a little ambiguity (Shusett and O'Bannon were way ahead of everyone in realising the cinematic potential of Dick's stories, picking up the rights to a few at a snip long before Scott's Blade Runner upped the price out of their range).

His directing career unfortunately never really got off the ground, but is still worth considering. As someone who had a hand in more or less every department in Dark Star, he wasn't one to delegate easily. As a result his directorial debut, The Return of the Living Dead, apparently wasn't much fun for anyone involved. The story is enjoyably told in B-movie actor Jewel Shepard's frank autobiography, If I'm So Famous, How Come Nobody's Ever Heard Of Me? – it's well worth tracking down a copy. The finished film, however, is great and was a "zomcom" long before Shaun of the Dead; it also had running zombies long before Zack Snyder "invented" them in his Dawn of the Dead remake. 1992's The Resurrected, the rather nifty HP Lovecraft adaptation, is O'Bannon's only other such credit.

Photo : Dan O' Bannon as Lt Pinback from 'DARK STAR'

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sony moving towards US Film version of Larsson Trilogy

The Existentialist Man is heading to a special press screening of the Swedish version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – trailer below

The Girl Who Played With Fire Trailer

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest – teaser trailer

Michael Fleming at Variety reports that the US version seems on its way from Sony Pictures –

Sony Pictures has optioned the English-language screen rights to “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the first of three titles in the Millennium Series of crime thriller novels by late Swedish journalist-activist Stieg Larsson.

Steve Zaillian is in talks to write the script. Scott Rudin will produce with Ole Sondberg and Soren Staermose of Yellow Bird Films.

The novels focus on journalist-investigator Mikael Blomkvist and a precocious computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. The duo become embroiled in life-threatening mysteries as they attempt to expose institutions that pull the strings behind the scenes.

The deal hasn’t closed yet; it’s been gestating for six months because of a rights dispute between Larsson’s parents and his longtime partner, Eva Gabrielsson.

Sony’s pursuit began last summer, when Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal sparked to the novel series.

Read More Here and Here

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Larsson dominates the UK fiction Charts

As a Crime-fiction and Thriller reader, I was delighted to read that the late Stieg Larsson's novels have really hit gold in the UK -

Quercus Publishing / MacLehose Press has just had confirmation from Neilson that THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has overtaken James Patterson by 3,654 copies to take the No. 1 slot in the fiction Paperback bestseller position, with 38,091 copies sold. James Patterson follows at No. 2 with 34,527 copies.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Paperback sits at No. 8 with 18,098 copies and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS’ NEST Hardcover moves to No. 6 with 13,807

That means that all three Stieg Larsson novels in his Millennium Trilogy appear in the UK Book Charts top ten in the same week.
In a word - REMARKABLE

Photo : Ed Kastenmeier of Random House and Translator Steve T Murray [aka Reg Keeland] at Bouchercon Indianapolis 2009 © Ali Karim

More Stieg Larsson info here and here

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Curzon Group Patron Jeffrey Archer lands £18m Advance

I have been interested in how The Curzon Group have been fairing, especially as their ‘manifesto’ has gained a little slice of blogo-war with thriller writer Steve Mosby. There seems to have been a truce declared since the recent heated debate, of which one point of contention has been the involvement of Jeffrey Archer as The Curzon Group patron. Whatever one considers vis-à-vis the merit of Archer as their patron, he certainly is a controversial character – being an ex-convict, bestselling writer and peer of the realm.

It seems that life often mirrors art, as the continual rollercoaster ride of Jeffrey Archer’s fortunes mirror that of his own characters – for The Times reports today that Archer is back in the money –

JEFFREY ARCHER is being paid a record £18m advance to write a Forsyte Saga-style epic spanning a century in the lives of a fictional family from Bristol. The deal is believed to be the biggest signed by a British author so far and requires the peer to produce five novels over five years. The first book is due to be published in 2011.

Archer said that he will begin work on The Clifton Chronicles shortly. The novels will set out the trials and tribulations of a character called Harry Clifton who rises from humble beginnings to become a wealthy tycoon.

Born to impoverished parents in 1920, Clifton wins a place at grammar school where he becomes involved with an affluent shipping family called the Davenports

The deal with Macmillan will see one book published every May until 2015, by which time Archer will be 75.

Only a handful of American authors, including
Michael Crichton, who died earlier this year, Dan Brown, James Patterson and Stephen King, are thought to have received larger advances than Archer.

In Britain he can be challenged only by
J K Rowling, whose contract to write the Harry Potter novels for Bloomsbury has been shrouded in secrecy. She received just £2,500 for the first book in the series. Although Rowling received much higher advances for subsequent Harry Potter books, much of her £499m fortune is derived from royalties and the success of the spin-off films.

The largest advances recently have gone to celebrities writing their memoirs. They include Peter Kay (£2m), Julie Walters (£1.5m) and Ant and Dec (£2m between them). But sales of these showbiz books have been falling away.

Since his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, was published in 1976, Archer, a former deputy chairman of the Conservative party who was jailed for perjury, has made about £100m from his literary career.

Read the full story here

So it seems that The Curzon Group’s patron is back in the Money; so let’s see if Archer's new saga is readable.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Farewell to Arms

When I was younger, I enjoyed watching screen actor Richard Todd who always seemed to play the quintessential British Army officer [in movies such as The Longest Day, The Dam Busters, D-Day The Sixth of June and many others]. I enjoyed the stoic image he portrayed and so was saddened to hear of his passing [aged 90]. Originally considered by Ian Fleming as the first choice for the role of James Bond [which he lost out to Sean Connery in a peculiar twist of fate] he worked continually in film, theatre and also in later years - raising awareness about the risks of depression. His later life was tinged with tragedy with the suicides of two of his sons, which sparked him initiating a campaign to warn parents of the dangers of depression in the young. Despite always showing his stiff upper lip in his military roles, Todd was born an Irishman in Dublin 90 years ago.

The Telegraph has a lengthy obituary on the life of Richard Todd -

In his autobiography, Caught in the Act (1986), Todd recalled that, while training as an actor, he appeared in the crowd scenes for two Will Hay movies and as an extra in A Yank at Oxford (1938). But the main focus of his ambition was the stage. After leaving drama school he performed in regional rep and in 1939 joined the newly-founded Dundee Repertory Theatre.

The Second World War temporarily prevented Todd from advancing his career. He volunteered the day after war was declared and was commissioned in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1941. In 1943 he applied to become a parachutist, and in May of that year was posted to the 7th Parachute Battalion – part of the 6th Airborne Division. For the Normandy landings, he was made the Assistant Adjutant.

In a later article about his D-Day experiences Todd compared the pre-briefing for the landings to "the readthrough and cast list for a new production at the Dundee Rep", and likened himself to an actor who had just been "told the minor role I was to play" after having been "subjected to a four-year rehearsal for the big first night". Yet throughout those years he had kept his profession secret, terrified that he might be put in charge of Ensa: "Not even my closest friends knew I was an actor."

After the war Todd rejoined Dundee Rep before making his West End debut in The Hasty Heart. In 1948 he was invited to London for a screen test and won a film contract with Associated British Pictures.

After making his screen debut in For Them That Trespass (1948) and his triumph in The Hasty Heart, Todd travelled to Hollywood to appear as a bridegroom with a murky past in King Vidor's Lightning Strikes Twice (1950), then starred as Marlene Dietrich's former lover – and a murder suspect – in Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950).

There followed an orgy of swashbuckling heroics in Disney's The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (1954), which served only to prove that Todd was no Errol Flynn.

His role as Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter persuaded Henry Koster to cast Todd in his Virgin Queen (1955) as a roguish Sir Walter Raleigh whose dalliance with lady-in-waiting Joan Collins angers Elizabeth I (Bette Davis), before casting him in D-Day, the Sixth of June the following year.

The Dambusters (1954) marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the director Michael Anderson. He went on to appear in Anderson's Yangtse Incident (1956), as the commander of a crippled frigate breaking a Chinese blockade, and in the Hitchcock-style Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), he played the mysterious stranger claiming to be the late brother of the heiress Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter). He returned as a Wing Commander (this time named Kendall) for their last film together, Operation Crossbow (1965).

Todd worked with a variety of other directors. He was the leader of the escape committee in Don Chaffey's PoW camp movie The Danger Within (1959), and in Leslie Norman's The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961) he played the leader of an Army patrol sent out into the Malaysian jungle. The same year he produced as well as starred in the bedroom farce Why Bother to Knock?

Todd was
Ian Fleming's first choice to play James Bond in Dr No (1962), but a scheduling clash gave the role to Sean Connery. Instead he played Inspector Harry Sanders in Lawrence Huntington's Death Drums Along The River (1963), a role he reprised in Coast of Skeletons the following year. In a rather more unlikely casting, he played a counter-culture hippie guru professor in The Love-Ins (1967).

By the late 1960s Todd's star had waned, and his later film parts were mostly forgettable, with the possible exception of Michael Winner's remake of The Big Sleep (1978), in which he played the police commissioner opposite Robert Mitchum's Philip Marlowe.

Read More

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Talented Mr Ripley

I've known Mike Ripley for many years now, apart from his very droll and award-winning Fitzroy Maclean Angel series, many people don’t realise that he is also a respected critic of crime fiction, writing for the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times and the Birmingham Post among others. He currently writes the "Getting Away With Murder" gossip column at

Now we here he has another project as series editor for Top Notch Thrillers with the release of his first four books -

The Terrible Door by George Sims [ISBN 978-1-906288-28-0]
Night Of Glass by Philip Purser [978-1-906288-29-7]
A Clear Road To Archangel by Geoffrey Rose [978-1-906288-30-3]
Snake Water by Alan Williams [978-1-906288-31-0].

When asked about the first batch he selected - “The first four Top Notch Thrillers show the diversity of styles and the sheer bloody inventiveness which is a long standing tradition of great British thriller writing.”

The 'Top Notch' authors

George Sims (1923-1999) was a well-known antiquarian book dealer; a background he used to good effect in several of his thrillers, notably his first, The Terrible Door (1964), and in The Last Best Friend (1967) which Harry Keating chose as one of the “100 Best Crime and Mystery Books”. Sims had the wonderful ability to create a sudden air of menace and a Dickensian flair for describing the seedier parts of London. He was a member of the famous Detection Club.

Philip Purser (b.1925) was the long-standing television critic for the Sunday Telegraph and is an acknowledged expert on TV and films. His thrillers are reminiscent of the early work of Alfred Hitchcock, where un-heroic people are forced to do heroic things. Night of Glass (1968) is not only a cracking thriller but contains many wry observations on the British class system. Philip Purser is married to crime writer and novelist Ann Purser.

Geoffrey Rose (b.1932) was a professional actor for over 40 years before retiring to the south coast of England in 2000. In the early 1970s he wrote three thrillers in his own very distinctive style, which was once compared to that of the early novels of Graham Greene. A Clear Road To Archangel (1973) is a fantastical, almost surreal, chase/manhunt thriller set during the Russian Revolution.

Alan Williams (b.1935) became a best-selling spy novelist with The Beria Papers (1973) and Gentleman Traitor (1975) but his earlier novels were full-blooded adventure thrillers set in exotic locations. Snake Water (1965) is a violent treasure hunt set in South America and introduced the engaging but totally untrustworthy rogue Sammy Ryderbeit who was to reappear in The Tale of the Lazy Dog (1970).

Mike Ripley told me - “I am delighted and honoured to be able to be able to help put these books and these authors in front of a new audience. Each title has a distinctive flavour and atmosphere and together they show the wide range of quality writing in the thriller genre.”

Top Notch Thrillers and all OSTARA titles will be available to order from all booksellers and through internet retailers. Full details can be found on and they make excellent festive presents as they are ‘Top Notch’