Category Archives: Sunday Bloggery

Sunday Bloggery: The FB Director Thing

In following with the recent trend of taking these Facebook memes that I get tagged in and using them for Sunday bloggery, here’s my selections on the Director’s thing.

I guess I should first explain how it works. “Hollywood” Don Adams and Scott Phillips (both fine directors in their own rights) tagged me in this fashizzle, in which they had ruminated on their favorite film of a specific director (Don had the amazing John Carpenter and picked the incomparable The Thing;  Scotty had Paul Thomas Anderson and went with the new classic Boogie Nights)

So here we go:

Don tagged me with Peter Yates, British legend and master craftsman of such films as The Deep, the excellent Murphy’s War, the immensely underappreciated Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Hot Rock, the 70’s car-centric classics Mother Jugs and Speed, Robbery, and goddamn Bullitt. Into the 80’s, his output slowed, but stayed top-bloody-notch with flicks like Suspect, An Innocent Man, The House on Carroll Street and The Dresser, for which was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in 1983. He also directed motherfuckin’ Krull, every 80’s kids idea of the greatest looking movie in the sci-fi/fantasy section of the VHS racks.  Guilty pleasures rarely come more pleasurable.

Yates continued on into the 2K’s, and ended his craeer with an acclaimed version of A Seperate Peace.  He died in 2011 at the age of 81 and left no greater legacy than his other Academy Award nominated classic, 1979’s Breaking Away.

Breaking Away poster 1

Breaking Away was pretty much the template for every buddy movie and John Hughes coming-of-age flick that came after it, a hilarious, touching and sometimes even inspiring story about a small-town kid who dreams of being a world-class bicycle racer, hopefully on the championship Italian team. Dave (Dennis Christopher, somehow time-channeling 90’s era Beck 15 years early) wants this so much that he actually acts like a stereotypical Mastroianni disco-era Italian, which really chaps the ass of his down-to-earth dad (played by Paul Dooley who would later define the “hapless Dad” character in Sixteen Candles). Also along for the ride are a very young Daniel Stern, an undeniably charismatic Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earle Haley, not long out of his Bad News Bears era, stealing innumerable scenes. These young townies (here called “Cutters” in reference to the closed-down rock quarry that employed most of the town, which these boys now use for a swimming hole) have just left High School, unsure of their futures, in an era of extreme disquiet in middle America. Of course they run afoul of the obnoxious students of the local University, they have girl problems, family problems, sexual problems, identity problems, so on and so forth. This is one of the first films I recall having the Caddyshack-style sense of humor, coupled with an actual dramatic undertow, characters that do more than toss one-liners and serious issues tackled gently with comedy. If you haven’t seen it, get to it. To say this is my favorite film from the guy who made Bullit and Krull, you know I’m talking some serious excellence.

Now on to #2, which is a slippery slope indeed. Scotty was either cruel or wise enough (perhaps both) to saddle me with the King Of Film himself, Steven Spielberg. How the hell do you whittle down that body of work?

Spielberg began, like most of his generation, making his own Super 8 films as a kid, then heading off to Film school in the 60’s. By the age of 24 Big Steve was already directing TV (including serious prime-time fare like Marcus Welby MD and Columbo, as well as episodes of Night Gallery and now-classic TV movies like Duel). By 1975, still shy of his thirtieth birthday, Spielberg had unleashed Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind on the world, forever changing Film, Entertainment and Pop Culture in his wake. What followed, through the 80’s and 90’s, was probably the single greatest body of work in the history of Film. From 1981 to 2005 Spielberg directed no less than 21 films, all of which were either massive hits, near-perfect examples of the art of film making, or both. Even the films that failed to burn up the box office, like 1989’s Always, still tended to be beautiful, heartfelt and endlessly enjoyable. I won’t comment too much on the total misstep of 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, or the box office failure of 2011’s Tintin, or even the arching over-dramatic treacle of the recent War Horse. I could argue that each of those films had their audience and still provided more entertainment value than most films in wide release today. The man has produced more than 130 films, directed close to 50 and written at least two other of  my favorite 80’s flicks (that he may or may not have also directed: Poltergeist and The Goonies). In the end, how to you possibly pick a single title out of that list to be above the rest?


Me, like many of you, will go immediately to the coolest flick of 1981, the one that set the bar for very action movie that came after. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Much as George Lucas’ pastiche of WWII flicks, samurai movies and Flash Gordon had redefined the 70’s and ALL science fiction to follow, Raiders rewrote the book on action flicks. Lucas’ influence is all over it, sure, but Spielberg undeniably shapes the tales of Dr. Henry Jones Jr (Indy to his friends and lovers) into the same kind of labor of love and playfulness that fills every other film in his ouvre. At once a two-fisted Doc Savage clone, and a wry, smart-mouthed Humphrey Bogart adventurer a la The African Queen or Across The Pacific, Indiana Jones is a man of mystery from the very first frames, his back to us, that iconic hat perched just right. As the film progresses, we come to love Indy more than any action hero before or since. He is funny, smart, tough and even sensitive. He personifies a well-established mode of loose American morality – he can steal, he can maim and he can flout the rules of any other government. Hell, he can even kill with impunity… as long as he’s doing it for the right reasons. He’s the handsome, talented, worldly man we all wish we could be, and that every woman wishes she could hold on to, even for a single night.

The rest of the cast is just as pitch-perfect, from fire-brand Marion Ravenwood (fiesty Karen Allen, becoming the freckle-faced dream-girl of a generation) to Paul Freeman as the venomous Belloc and the ever-enjoyable John Rhys Davies as egyptian pal Sallah. Even Alfred Molina (in his very first appearance that ends very badly ten minutes in) is memorable and absolutely suited to the film. The action pieces are unparalleled. Every element of this film is pretty much fucking flawless. Spielberg at his best, his most fun, and his most enjoyable.


I remember seeing Raiders at the Drive-In when I was a mere 7 year-old. I also vividly remember it playing on every one of a hundred screens in an electronics store (which seemed like it’s own endless warehouse of arcane treasures) when I ventured out with my parents to get our first VCR. It has always held a special magic for me, led me to a whole world of its influences and imitators (just this Christmas I picked up a DVD copy of cheesy 80’s TV rip-off Tales of the Golden Monkey). My kids love Indy. We have the Lego Indiana Jones video game, I have a half-dozen books on the making-of, behind-the-scenes, and even the props of Indiana Jones. I once bought my best pal a porcelain headpiece to the staff of Ra. I have action figures from three different decades. I studied, and almost majored in, Archaeology. I’ve owned a total of 16 wide-brimmed fedoras over the years.

I’m wearing one right now.

Raiders of the Lost Ark FTW.

Sunday Bloggery: Lucky 7 presents The Key to Steam and Salvation

british-indian-army-uniforms-the-11th-bengal-native-infantry-regiment-1890-170507-p[ekm]101x130[ekm]I was tagged on Crackbook by a couple of authory pals, in something called the “Lucky 7”. Rules state that I am to go to page 7 of a work-in-progress and post two paragraphs and then tag 7 fellow authors to do the same. So here are my two paragraphs, I’ll do the tagging on FB. This is from the Keys to Steam and Salvation novella (maybe novel) to fit in with Bob Vardeman and Nathan Long’s EMPIRES OF STEAM & RUST series, which features some amazing stories by Master Vardeman, as well as David Lee Summers, Stephen D. Sullivan and Sarah Bartsch. These tales cover various times and spaces around the world in what starts as an alternate history 1915, full of sci-fi and steampunkery. Rick Overwater is also working on one full of deep-sea diving and military espionage. Mine own tale mixes the factual history of my own great-grandfather into the alternate universe version of Empirical India, WWI and a far-flung post-apocalypse. Here’s your first taste:

Arthur set the crate next to the man in the alley, noting that the doctor had obviously put his tools to work, a series of syringes lined up neatly next to the leather bag.

“Do we really have to do this here, Davey? Maybe it would be better to get him back to the clinic…”

“No. Thanks to the Sergeant, he may already be useless to me. Time is of the essence now. Prepare the box Arthur.”

Arthur opened the hinged lid of the small crate and carefully removed a strange glass box, of about three feet square, framed in a dull metal, and enclosing a smaller version of the same. Small coils of coppery wire ran in the corners between the inner box and the outer, and a small canister was attached to the outside with a pipe running through a rubber seal into the inner workings. Arthur set the contraption next to the man’s head.

“Quick and clean this time, Davey? Please?”

“It takes what it takes, Arthur. This is science.” David removed a roll of canvas and spread it out to reveal a series of gleaming metal instruments. He carefully extracted a large scalpel and turned the man’s head to one side, slicing neatly through the skin of his neck, a thin line of blood following the track of the blade. As fast as it appeared, the blood was washed away in rivers of pink and mixed into the flood at their damp knees.

“Jesus.” Arthur whispered, swiping at the tangle of wet hair hanging in his face and turning his eyes to the end of the alley where Robert had disappeared.

“He has no place here, Captain Lettington. Science is the true God.”

The hand that shot up and grasped Arthur’s shirttail was accompanied by an unearthly scream. Arthur jumped and fell away, landing with his back in a cold pool of watery mud.


© 2014 Axel Howerton

The Ten Albums That Changed My Life

vintage-girl-with-records-22So music ace and fine pal Don “Mr Hollywood” Adams, tagged me in this thing on the ol’ Crackbook – Ten Albums That Stayed With Me… I’m going to use it as an excuse to throw one of those Gawker/Upworthy/Whateverthefuckwebsite bumper tags that seem so popular and call it The Ten Albums That Changed My Life Forever and add a picture of an attractive, scantily clad young lady on here and see what happens…


Any of you who may have read my novel Hot Sinatra – or any of my short stories – or any of you who have been around long enough to have followed my “career” as a music critic – or any of you who know me as the musically addicted fool that I am, will not be terribly surprised by this list, and have probably heard one or two of these stories already.

ABBEY ROAD by The Beatles: I’m pretty sure I was born to this album and I am absolutely positive I will die with it in my ears. This album has never left my side in almost 40 years. I remember it playing constantly when I was probably too young to remember, and it was the first one of my Dad’s records that I snuck out of the cabinet to play on my own little one-piece portable kid-player. I had mountains of Disney 45’s and K-Tel 50’s hits compilations, but even at the age of six, I hungered for the melodies and meanderings of the single greatest album ever made. I still have vivid memories of reading Madeleine L’Engle and Alan Dean Foster with the side 2 medley playing over and over. And now, through the magic of the YouTubes, I can share the whole beautiful thing with you…


TIME by Electric Light Orchestra: Maybe it’s a Canadian thing, but I find I have a lot of Brit-centric tastes. I’ve been watching Doctor Who since I was a kid, I’ll watch anything with Dame Judi Dench or Bill Nighy, and I have a deep, abiding love of E.L.O.. Most of the E.L.O. platters were in my Dad’s collection when I was a kid. Everything from Discovery to Secret Messages. TIME was undoubtedly my favorite. A weird relic of that early 80’s sci-fi renaissance that gave us Blade Runner and The Terminator and Time After Time (don’t even get me started on the magnificence of Time After Time).  It was also the first Rock Opera I became fascinated with. I was already steeped in Pink Floyd and was vaguely aware that there was a cohesive story behind The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, but TIME was all right there. A whole timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly time travel epic to blow a tiny Canadian kids mind. I`m still trying to figure out how to get that story down on paper without getting sued by Jeff Lynne`s beard.


COMBAT ROCK by The Clash: More Brits! When I was about twelve, I spent a summer at my grandparents house in Edmonton. They lived about two blocks off of what had become a main thoroughfare, and I would sneak off weekday mornings and skulk around the pawn shops and used bookstores. By the end of the summer, my haul included a beaded indian belt, an array of knick-knacks and biker rings, a mountain of Stephen King novels, and three records – Stray Cats, Billy Idol and Combat Rock, by The Clash. The other two have long disappeared from my archives, but Combat Rock remains. There began a lifelong love affair with Punk Rock and, especially, The Only Band That Matters. While in my decrepit wisdom I would put most of the other Clash albums above this one in quality and importance, Combat Rock was my introduction to the attitude, energy and importance of Punk.


OTIS REDDING`S GREATEST HITS by Otis Redding: Finally, some good ol`North American badassery. This was another thrift store find, maybe around the age of 13 or 14. It was post-Pretty In Pink, in any case. Album one of a double-album set, this platter was just laying there in a pile of Herb Alpert and Sammy Davis Jr records. It had no cover, and was totally non-descript in its plain paper sleeve. I read the names of the songs, looking for Try A Little Tenderness. The only other Otis tune you ever heard was Sittin`on the Dock of the Bay, which I had on all of those old K-Tel specials. I figured I`d take a chance for $1.50 and picked it up. When I got home, took it down to my teenage lair in the cool dark of the basement, dropped that needle and laid back in my favorite bean bag chair… holy shit, man. My life was never the same after having Otis dig down in my moody teenage soul and pull the pain, confusion and romantic despair of a sensitive man-child on the verge out into the world. Wow. Otis still rips the heart right out of my chest.


ELECTRIC WARRIOR by T.Rex: Not just one of my own favorite, but one of the greatest rock records of all-time. I picked this one up somewhere in my mid-teens, just in time to really appreciate the groove and the funk laced with powerhouse guitar. Another fine lyricist in Marc Bolan (and another Brit!) I remember skateboarding to this, late at night, on my way home from work, surfing the hills of Calgary to Mambo Sun and feeling as cool as goddamn ice. Every single song is a masterpiece. I still listen to this album at least once a week and it never gets old.


RAIN DOGS by Tom Waits: I had heard of Tom Waits early on, and had heard the One From The Heart soundtrack and some of the early Closing Time stuff, but my real introduction to Ol`Scratch came in my high school broadcasting class, when I found a beat-up copy of Rain Dogs in the radio station stacks. I don`t recall hearing anything so worldly weird and strangely cohesive as Waits`mix of beat-style storytelling, gritty hobo esthetic and odd vintage flair. It was like a seedy detective novel with one of those 70`s covers with a half-naked chick on a bear-skin rug, but you crack the spine and find yourself transported to some opium den in Bangkok eyeballing a cockney gunslinger named Black Slim or some similarly crazybones shit. It was around this time I also got into Zappa and Beefheart and all other manner of weirdo experimental stuff, but Tom captured my heart, and my ears and never let go. There are only two artists I have complete collections of, one is Tom Waits, and it started with Rain Dogs.


HUNKY DORY by David Bowie: The other complete discography in my collection is Bowie. Always Bowie. Forever Bowie. Besides fitting neatly in my Brit-centric listening pattern, Bowie is somebody who has morphed, twisted, transmogrified and warped himself every-which-way and yet always fits my own tastes impeccably. Beginning in my 80s childhood with Lets Dance, there’s always been a Bowie song to match my life. Round about the late 90s, with the advent of Napster and the like, I was finally able to explore the deep dark oceans of Bowie’s backlog. What I found was Hunky Dory. I know most people put Ziggy Stardust on top of the pile when measuring his accomplishments, but there’s just something about Hunky Dory. It has that same cohesion I came to love from the Rock Opera era, as well as that melodic Beatles style and, to me anyways, isn’t tainted by the overwrought theatricality of his extra personas like Ziggy Stardust, or the Thin White Duke. The bottom line is simply that, while I love any and all Bowie, and I will listen to every album from David Bowie to The Next Day, Hunky Dory just happens to be my very favorite Bowie album, probably my favorite album, period. From the funky juke riff that begins Changes to the glorious rise of Life on Mars and the jangly guitar warble of Quicksand.


THE ANGRY YOUNG THEM by Them!: During my years in College Radio I had the time and the means to really explore the history of popular music, and really get into some not-quite-mainstream stuff, from Louis Prima to Laurie Anderson, but most of my time was spent digging into the real garage rock basics, stuff like The Monks, The Boxtops, The Easybeats, early Stones, The Graham Bond Organisation. The conclusion I ultimately came to is that the band Them!, led by a young and growly Van Morrison (and I have a life-long love of Van Morrison. Of course I do.) is the pinnacle of garage rock on this crazy spinning hunk of ore we call Earth. Don’t take my word for it, check that shit out. They consequently influenced everyone from the above-mentioned Stones through MC5, Springsteen, and every band under the sun. They also recorded the single-greatest cover of any Bob Dylan song with It’s All Over Now (Baby Blue) .


ICE STATION DEBRA by Wagbeard: We all cling to that one favorite band from our formative years. My first true love of local indie rock was the megawatt mayhem of 90’s stalwarts Wagbeard, a Calgary institution that I still maintain should have taken over the world and fucking leveled the “grunge” scene. Lyrically excellent, timelessly rocking and full of drunken passion, Wagbeard was my youth. I still have my old Wagbeard “77” T-shirt that I got from bassist Stevie E. I have fought against every new music format to ensure that I can still listen to this stuff. Fuck Pearl Jam, forget Nirvana, and to hell with Rage Against the Machine. Wagbeard was the band of the 90’s. You will never get me to say any different. You can preview or pick up the entire ICE STATION DEBRA album on iTunes


SKETCHES OF SPAIN by Miles Davis: Another case of me being familiar with an artist, being a fan, and not really discovering that one perfect album until much later. I remember buying Bitches Brew, Kind of Blue, Birth of the Cool and Cookin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet in my teens, all albums I treasured and listened to repeatedly in my moody artsy teen angst. It wasn’t until a few years ago, again aided by the technological revolution and my obsessive need for completism, that I came across Sketches of Spain. I have heard it said that is the “simplest” or “most accessible” of Miles Davis albums, usually in a pretentious and negative way. Me, I find it to be the most coherent, musically sound and exceptionally beautiful of his works. I wrote most of Hot Sinatra to a heavy rotation of Art Blakey, Frank Sinatra and Sketches of Spain. It has become one of my very favorite chill-out albums and a constant part of my iTunes playlist.


So there you have it, the measure of me in deep-grooved vinyl. I hope it leads you to enjoy some of my above-mentioned favorites, or even take stock of your own best musical friends.