MUST LISTEN Audio Books for BLACK HISTORY Month and every other month! :) Part 1 of 2

I first became familiar with these two novels, both by master writers, as novels proper. And both blew my mind in ways both stunning and lasting. Later I listened to the Audio Books. Audio Books, if you get the right reader, for the right work, can be rewarding experiences, even to lovers of the novel.

I love me some Walter Moseley EASY RAWLINS mysteries, I’ve read just about everyone of them, and I have to tell you the pairing of Moseley’s iconic words with a formidable actor such as Michael Boatman, is to have those works enriched, and nuances discovered that may have been skimmed over by even the most loving reader.

A great Adaptation, a great marriage of words and performance can do that, can alchemize into something more than the sum of its parts. Something magical. And an audio book avoids the constraints of time and budget and indeed visuals, that a film or TV show runs into. An audio book has the biggest theater of the world, and the biggest budget, in which to breathe life into the writers words,… the theater of the mind.

So Audio Books when they get that mixture right, become part of a sacred line of story and storytelling, going back to the cradle of not just Black History, but all history.

 

This 2 part post, honors two of the best, that should be loved and listened to and cherished by everyone.

They are:

Charles Johnson’s seminal and National Book Award winning novel, MIDDLE PASSAGE. It is an American epic, a rousing seafaring saga, blisteringly funny at times, deeply harrowing at others, both poetic, prosaic, and magical all at the same time. As someone who has read Melville, and Dickens, and Hemingway, and Crane and Poe and Bradbury and King and Baldwin, all the quintessential American masters, this is the novel I would save when everything else is burning.

 

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I give the hardcover out as presents. I consider it, in an imperfect world, an arrow toward a more perfect union. So having it on a pedestal that high the audio book has to bring it. It was made into an audio book twice, the first was an abridged and hence flawed cassette version, but read by the author himself, I quite liked it. He brought something… wonderful to it.

The 2nd time was on CD, unabridged thankfully. The performer Dion Graham, gives a different performance than Charles Johnson, that I slowly warmed to. And as the story drew you deeper so did his voice. It’s a wonderful way to be introduced to this great novel.

I would say both audio book versions are indispensable. Start with the unabridged CD version, and then follow up by listening to the Abridged version. And have a copy of the paperback or hardcover, to read over especially loved passages.

In an America where folly holds sway, the words of men who both remember history and learn from it, is of the highest value.

Check them out at the links below:

Middle Passage Cassette Audio Book read by the Author!

Middle Passage Audio CD Unabridged!

By Charles Richard Johnson Middle Passage (Reprint) [Mass Market Paperback]

 

If you like this blog please support it by using the links above and by leaving comments! And come back for the 2nd part where we discuss the 2nd, must own, Black History Month (and other months) Audio book!

Currently Watching : HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM

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Watching this classic 1959 chiller courtesy of VIEWSTER’s Roku Channel.

Considering the DVD of this is a pretty penny:

 

Horrors of the Black Museum

Catching it courtesy of VIEWSTER is this weekend’s recommended watch!

And wanted to thank the B-Movie Cast for putting it on my radar in this episode of theirs from a couple years ago.

http://bmoviecast.com/podcasts/bmc142-horrors-of-the-black-museum-1959-toll-free-number-888-350-2570/

Well worth a listen.

 

THE LAST WORD : SUPERMAN II Richard Lester Theatrical Version vs SUPERMAN II Richard Donner Cut!!

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Netflix is showing the theatrical cut of SUPERMAN II. Anyone who tries to tell you the Richard Donner cut of SUPERMAN II is better than the Richard Lester theatrical version is quite frankly deranged.

Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh (no it is not) but while there are pieces of the so-called Donner Cut that would be nice added into the theatrical cut, most notably the Marlon Brando scenes in the fortress of Solitude are essential, and the extended scenes with Luthor and Ms. Teschmacher are just a lot of fun (I strongly recommend getting the DVDs of both and cutting those scenes into the Theatrical cut to create something I call the improved cut. It will wow you).

as a whole the theatrical cut of SUPERMAN II is vastly superior and more satisfying then the Donner cut. Full stop.

The opening is vastly superior in the theatrical cut, as is the reason for Zod’s escape from the phantom zone. And the ending of the Donner cut, SUPERMAN turning back time again, is just lazy and stupid, from a creative level, and makes the memory wiping kiss in the theatrical version look like a stroke of genius.

And yes the theatrical version takes liberties with Superman’s powers, force beams, mirage powers, using the shield on his suit as a net, but I never had a problem with these scenes… because they were fun. And really, in for a penny… in for a pound, once you sign off on heat vision and cold breath, then mirage powers, and force blasts, and memory wiping… seems like just enjoying the ride.

Both versions skate over the final reckoning of the defeated villains, so neither version is perfect, but of the two the theatrical version is head and shoulders better. In my opinion Donner wanting to end the 2nd movie with the same unsatisfying gimmick he ended the first film with, like I said, is just lazy writing and unimaginative thinking. I could clearly see based on that, why the studios replaced him.

Final verdict?

The Richard Lester SUPERMAN II theatrical film, trounces the Richard Donner SUPERMAN II Cut by a mile.

Get your copy here:

 

Superman II (Two-Disc Special Edition)

What I’m Watching : SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) Revisited after 10+ years!

Dracula Movie Poster

Recalling this is Frank Langella’s Birthday and how much I’m enamored of his performances (particularly his DRACULA I think is hypnotic and astounding), I went looking for films courtesy of streaming/VOD and I came across SUPERMAN RETURNS.

 

Superman Returns Movie Poster

Unlike the vocal few, I’ve always liked Bryan Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS. It is not perfect but its weaknesses are minor, and its strengths… deserving of praise.

Watching it today, over 10 years after its release, the film holds up. It is visually stunning to look at, gorgeously filmed and sumptuously framed, outright beautiful. Going for and achieving that feeling of awe, that particularly the first Richard Donner Superman was able to achieve, And it has that romanticized feel, and familial pacing, and doe-eyed optimism that both of the first two Donner Superman movies were able to achieve. But all of this lensed through Bryan Singers unique and ambitious take, his more otherworldly, take on the Man of Steel.

Where some people only saw ‘stalker’ Superman, those of us acquainted with reason, saw an obvious moral quandary tackled head-on. You want a being that can hear you when you call? The price and burden of this means he is always listening and always watching. So the film plays wonderfully with this idea of mensh unt Ubermensh. Of Man and Superman, and the burdens and trials of both.

The film does lose itself toward the end, but not enough to keep the journey from being rewarding, and memorable and fun.

This film falling in solid Bronze medal contention as one of the best Superman Movies of all time, beat out only by those two films that it is a natural sequel and follow-up to, Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN and SUPERMAN II.

MAN OF STEEL, as well as the other post Donner Christopher Reeves films are all left far in this films wake.

My grade after revisiting SUPERMAN RETURNS after 10+ years?

Well, Great Bryan Singer Direction, excellent visuals, stunning production design by Guy Hendrix Dyas, great performances by Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey and Tristan Lake Leabu as Lois’s son.  Also the flying scenes (all of them but particularly, That flight with Lois, a definite homage to the iconic scene in the first film, and I think it’s great),the plane scene, the yacht saving scene,the Daily Planet globe scene, the eye scene, the car scene that is a homage to a classic comic book cover, the mensh unt ubermensh overtones, and just the sheer fun of it, all of that is a solid A.

If you watch those scenes and don’t feel a sense of awe, possibly you shouldn’t be watching a film called SUPERMAN or there may be something fundamentally broken in you. 🙂

Now in the minus column you have that the Lois Lane performance sometimes grates and the general denouement/climatic battle/wrapup didn’t quite work for me (through I appreciate it more on re-watching then when I initially saw it in the theaters), those are a C- at best.

So averaged together the film as a whole is still a solid B+.

[possible spoilers]Too bad Bryan Singer didn’t get to follow this up, as I would have liked him exploring the dynamics of a SUPERMAN with a family, and a kryptonian impervious to kryptonite, and just some of the other ingenious ideas touched on in this film.[spoilers done]

Revisit it yourself on Netflix or better yet get the Blu-ray with Directors Commentary. The film will stand the test of time against the cynics, romance always does. STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

 

 

Superman: The Movie / Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut / Superman Returns [Blu-ray]

Superman Returns (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Drácula (Blu-Ray) (Import Movie) (European Format – Zone B2) (2013) Frank Langella; Laurence Olivier; Donald P

TV REVIEW : Netflix’s LUKE CAGE Season 1 Episode 1-13 by Cheo Hodari Coker

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Well I’ve just finished watching the 13th episode of Netflix/Marvel Studios LUKE CAGE, and I have to say… I loved it. Full stop. Show runner Cheo Hodari Coker manages to in many ways do the impossible, and take a character already spotlighted in the JESSICA JONES series, and whose origins are the milieu of the Black Action or Black Agency film of the late 60s and 70s (mislabeled under the derogatory misnomer of Blaxploitation) and with him tell a rich, evocative, exciting, deeply layered cultural and historical and prescient love letter, to a place, Harlem, New York, and to an idea of local determination, and local agency, and self love, and colored love, and Black love in the age of Ferguson.

 

 

Or you can just look at it as a great action/drama series, set in the wonderfully expansive universe of Marvel shared superhero universe. :).

 

 

But what has exemplified the Netflix/Marvel collaborations to date is how grounded they are in a world not so dissimilar from our own. The gritty street level nature of DAREDEVIL’s 1st season, and ground breaking fight choreography, and fantastic writing made for a justifiably lauded 13 hours of television. (lost a bit in its less cohesive and interesting 2nd season)

 

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LUKE CAGE takes that to another level, in being a show that is as much about cultural signposts and idioms that define us, as it is the ‘A’ story of conflict and resolution. The literary and historical and musical references are not just littered throughout the story, they help define the scope of the character and the scope of the neighborhood that this story takes place in. A man is the things he loves, the things he reads, the things he listens to, the heroes that inspired, the places that mattered, and immediately in one episode Coker defines LUKE CAGE the character and the series in broad strokes, that for me reverberate deeply.

 

 

The first two episodes floored me in how good and rich and beautiful, they are. Coker here hitting, for me, the conversations I have in my soul and my head, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Denis LeHane, George Pelecanos, Donald Goines??? Come’ on Son!!! Kenyatta??? Those few strokes and I knew this was a writer with a deep love and understanding of genre fiction, and those who make it.

 

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But it’s more than name dropping, our influences define us, and define our world, and define who we care for, so immediately they make us part and parcel of this story that Coker and his team of writers tell. It’s a beautifully structured 13 hours of television, in that the first 6 episodes are very much their own chapter. You could bundle those 6 episodes up and have a great season.

 

Episode 7 feels like a swerve, very much like a start over, so if you rush into it, not recognizing that peak at the end of 6, that culmination, it’s going to feel stretched out. One of the possible dangers of binge TV… you have to pace yourself.

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Take a break after episode 6, let that sink in. It is very much, in comic book terms, the end of the first trade paperback or story arc. Episode 7 begins the 2nd story arc, so you have to go into it not rushing to a conclusion, but gearing up for the start, because start it does. As everything from the first arc gets turned on its head, and new major players break on the scene. It’s a jarring ride, but once it hits episode 9 its has picked up steam and by 10 is on a full sprint to the finish. Episodes 11, 12 and 13 are Brilliant.

 

There is a saying out there that ‘it’s not how you begin, but how you end that matters’; that saying is wrong. All of it matters. It is about how you begin, how you endure, and how you end. Cheo Hodari Coker’s LUKE CAGE does the extremely unlikely, in doing all three exceptionally well.

 

 

I want a Blu-Ray of this show, complete with Director’s and cast commentary, like yesterday. It is that good, and replete with episodes you want to go back to and know more about.

 

 

And I have to say it’s wonderful to see here in 2016, that TV is making great strides to not be exploitative, and to have shows where you can have more than a token number of characters of color.

 

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One thing I love about LUKE CAGE, particularly about the 2nd half (I love the first half as well) is it is so wonderful to see 6 beautiful women of color in major speaking parts, taking center stage in moments of strength and weakness, and owning the stage. It’s so rare to see a three shot of powerful, beautiful Black women in uplifting, exciting, dramatic, heroic material. It’s non-existent in Hollywood but thankfully, through great show-runners of color, and the success of shows such as BEING MARY JANE and EMPIRE is becoming finally available on the small screen. And the same love extends to being able to see multiple men of color in powerful, uplifting, heroic roles.

 

 

And the appearance of Method Man, and that song… Amazing. This series in addition to a DVD/Blu-Ray, must release a sound track, because in addition to the songs, the score for some of the episodes… is stunning.

 

 

I’ve recently become addicted to listening and purchasing scores, and LUKE CAGE has a world class score.

 

 

Now, is the series perfect ? No. I thought episode 3, they had a real opportunity to do an action sequence as talked about as DAREDEVIL’s hallway fight, but the director/fight coordinator wasn’t up to it. You’ll know the scene when you see it, it’s perfectly fine, but never rises above fine, when it should have been spectacular. And it’s a different show from DAREDEVIL , so the action will be different, I get that, but you can still do different and STUNNING.

 

Also, my problem with a character like Luke Cage, is the same one I have with a character like Wolverine, just because you can stand there and take being shot by a hail of bullets, doesn’t mean you want to or have to.

 

 

Luke Cage’s character (minor spoiler ahead) is revealed as a former police officer, former Recon soldier, former Prison MMA Fighting champ, former Boxer, all this to say… HE CAN FIGHT. So speed the dude up! Rather than standing there and waiting for someone to unload a clip on you, he should be disarming them and wrapping the gun around their necks before they can get off a shot. Especially since ricochets can kill just as well as any other bullet. I understand visually it’s an exciting thing to depict, but it should be the exception for talented filmmakers, not the rule. When he is shielding people from gunfire, sure… let the bullets fly. But in combat mode he should be disarming these guys before they get a shot off. Particularly later in the season that attitude would have made for exciting sequences.

 

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So that was another issue I had. However, the sequences do improve as the series progresses. Plus it’s not a show that is about fisticuffs like DAREDEVIL, as much as it is about the fight for a soul of a neighborhood. And that tale it tells expertly.

 

 

It is a superlative 13 hours of television, and all involved should take a bow. Cheo Hodari Coker has made not just a great Netflix series, but a great television show, and the one to beat as my favorite show of 2016.

 

Marvel's Luke Cage

Marvel’s Luke Cage

And among the Netflix shows so far where do I rank it? It’s much better than DAREDEVIL Season 2, which was good, but not great, it edges out JESSICA JONES, which was great, and it battles it out with DAREDEVIL Season 1 for the top spot. DAREDEVIL Season 1 which was clearly the best show of 2015, outdoes it in terms of action, a definite A of a show.

 

 

However I have minor quibbles with it, like I didn’t like the loss of Ben Urich, I found the character of Karen page annoying through most of it, the character of Matt Murdock was a bit unlikable, and the last episode it failed to stick the landing with an unimpressive looking costume, and just a bit of a dour ending. So those nitpicks, are the reason LUKE CAGE edges it out, and gets a big A+ grade from me. It possesses a story and characters that I want to revisit… often.

 

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Final Verdict: Seminal, Must Watch TV! Will appeal to fans of mystery novels, especially fans of Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, or fans of movies such as TROUBLE MAN.

 

If you are not a fan or are made uncomfortable or nervous or have unexamined issues with women of color, you probably will have an issue with the later episodes.

 

‘The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Brother, it always does. :).

 

But for the rest of us who watch the series, LUKE CAGE is phenomenal television at its best.

 

Netflix Series of the Month : LUKE CAGE by Cheo Hodari Coker! Report card on Episodes 1 to 8!

The long awaited third Netflix/Marvel series, LUKE CAGE, has launched, and helmed by relative unknown show runner, Cheo Hodari Coker, eight episodes in and I’m LOVING IT!!!

Here’s a minor recap of the eight episodes seen to date. It’s relatively innocuous comments, but to cover my bases I will say minor spoilers ahead, if you haven’t seen the episodes. But really I don’t think it spoils anything. But if in doubt, watch the episodes first.

Episode 1 and 2 written by Cheo Hodari Coker and directed by Paul McGuigan are exceptional. As strong, if not stronger of a start than the previous Netflix entries. It’s really some fantastic, rich, long overdue writing that touches on everything from Crispus Attucks to Walter Mosley to Dennis Lehane.

Episode 3 is good but I have minor quibbles with it. The first 2 episodes sets up Luke Cage as someone who doesn’t curse and doesn’t like profanity, so his going into a battle listening to a profanity laden rap song seems questionable.

Also the Director has the chance to make a pivotal action scene to match the wonderful episode 3 highlight of the DAREDEVIL season 1, and misses a mark with a pretty unremarkable action sequence. However the remaining episode, good dialogue, nice twists, and a literally explosive ending keeps this episode in the winner category.

Episode 4 is FANTASTIC. An excellent origin story. Superlative story

Episode 5 is FANTASTIC! Yes!

Episode 6 Wonderful wrap-up. If this was a 6 episode season it would rock! In many ways this is the end of the first story arc, if this was a comic trade-paperback. And episode 7 begins the 2nd arc.So you should really approach starting the 7th episode, after a small break, like you are starting a new story arc.

Episode 7 – Fantastic score highlights this episode. Probably the best score of any of the episodes. A fantastic origin story, this time for the antagonists. What makes a great hero, is a great villain. And this episode shows you the roots of two of them. One of the best episodes!

Episode 8 – The machinations against Luke tighten as his life, and the lives of those around him come tumbling down. Another engrossing episode, that I was thoroughly entertained by from beginning to end.

3/4ths done and I think this series is a Home Run. I like it much better than Daredevil Season II, and have to wait to see if it sticks the landing… to see if I like it as much as DAREDEVIL Season 1 and JESSICA JONES.

The Marvel/Netflix juggernaut continues to be, like Luke Cage, bullet-proof. 🙂

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Surprise of the Day : TATE on Amazon Prime and DVD

The thing I like about Amazon Prime, and that sets it apart from Netflix is how deep its library of classic and obscure movies and tv shows goes.

It’s a wonderful Rabbit hole of films and TV shows that have been unseen in many cases, since their airing.

 

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TATE I discovered this morning. Its episode HOMETOWN is the pilot of a series that, despite excellent casts and scripts, only lasted 13 episodes..

Filmed in 1960, the show is set almost a 100 years earlier to right after the civil war, and stars a one-armed vet, and an ornery but honest sheriff,  who must hold the line in a town set against them.
Amazon Prime only has the first episode, but what an episode. Watching it in 2016 for the first time, it is just gripping television
I liked it so much that I picked up the entire 1960 series on DVD!
If you are similarly moved, you can get it here:

Tate Entire Series DVD

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Deputy:    I got a wife and family, Morty!

Sheriff:    You took your pay in the summer.

                     Now it’s winter.

                     You either in it, or crawl out of my sight!

                     I SAID CRAWL!

“Even with introspective, personal-story scripts from the always excellent Fink and good casts populated by James Coburn, Royal Dano, Robert Culp, Louise Fletcher, Robert Redford, Paul Richards, Martin Landau, Leonard Nimoy, Warren Oates, Peter Whitney, Chris Alcaide, Cathy O’Donnell, Pat Breslin, Mort Mills, Ted DeCorsia, Julie Adams and others, the 13 episodes of the surly gunfighter failed to catch-on with viewers, finding strong opposition from “I’ve Got a Secret” on CBS and “Wednesday Night Boxing” and “Hawaiian Eye” on ABC. Sponsored by Kraft, the series ended September 21 and Como returned to his time-slot in October ‘60.

Akin to the best of “Have Gun Will Travel”, “The Westerner”, “The Loner” and “The Rebel” scripts, “Tate” deserves a second viewing (if not a first if you missed it in ‘60) as an overlooked western gem.”

—WESTERN CLIPPINGS