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Not Fade Away is the new movie from David Chase of "The Sopranos" fame, looking at the travails of a small New Jersey rock band trying to get traction in the mid sixties. Inspired by the Rolling Stones and influenced by counter-cultural forces that seem to creating a chasm between them and mainstream culture, these young people grow their hair, drink and smoke and do drugs, and try to find a way to express their discontent and longings in song. The movie, as you might expect, has a terrific soundtrack, produced by Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band.

This is an interesting and effective little movie, populated by distinctive and individual characters played largely by unknowns; the only actor you are likely to recognize is James Gandolfini, also of "The Sopranos," who plays the protagonist's dad, who is wrestling with his own demons and discontents. Because Not Fade Away doesn't accept easy explanations and resolutions, it is that rare movie that does not seem to be made for teenaged boys, even though it is largely about teenaged boys. I think it works because it is so familiar - I'm just a little younger than the people portrayed in the film (I was just 10 in 1964), but the themes of alienation and searching have a universal quality.

In many ways, Not Fade Away is like the dark side of That Thing You Do, the Tom Hanks film that, oddly enough, portrays the exact same period of time but through a much sunnier prism. That's not to say that one is better than the other - they are like opposite sides of the same coin. In fact, when I came home the other night, I was flipping around and found That Thing You Do starting on one of the myriad movie channels we get. I watched the whole thing (it is one of those movies that I find hard to turn off), and thought that if I were teaching a film class, I'd definitely want my students to see a double feature of Not Fade Away and That Thing You Do - their differences and similarities and instructive about culture, filmmaking and how different artists can see, experience and explain period of time. They are playing the same song, but it sounds entirely different because they are using different instruments and following a different beat.




Speaking of different takes on the same song ... "Ironhorse," by Robert Knott, continues the adventures of Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch begun by the great Robert B. Parker in four novels that began with "Appaloosa." (This continues what has become a tradition with Parker's novels since his death three years ago next Friday. The iconic Spenser novels are now being written by Ace Atkins, an accomplished novelist in his own right, and the Jesse Stone books are being written by Michael Brandman, a screenwriter who is working to find his novelistic voice.)

Knott, as it happens, co-wrote (with Ed Harris) the screenplay for the film version of Appaloosa, which was terrific, so he knows the characters and the genre. This is his first novel, and I'd say that he falls somewhere in between the excellent Ace Atkins and the less accomplished (but working hard to improve) Brandman. I'm a little conflicted about it - I thought it was a decent yarn, and showed that the author did a ton of research to get the western elements right. But it is like a cover band doing a hit song - they may get all the notes right, but it just doesn't measure up to the original.

That said, "Ironhorse" is a strong first effort. Knott changes enough of the formula to avoid some direct comparisons, and he clearly loves the characters and wants to explore them further. If he wants to keep writing the adventures of Hitch and Cole, I'm happy to keep reading them.




I've gotten a couple of emails from readers expressing some surprise that I haven't yet reviewed Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. The reason is simple - I haven't seen it. And I'm completely torn about it.

On the one hand, Tarantino is a major filmmaker, and I ought to see his work. But, especially these days, with the Sandy Hook slaughter so fresh in memory, I cannot work up any enthusiasm for a movie that seems intent on celebrating violence. I am one of those people who believes that the film and television industry does have some responsibility for not being exploitive in how it treats violence, and I'm just not sure I want to go where Tarantino wants to take me.

We'll see.




Three adult beverages to recommend to you this morning...

• 2010 Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon (which includes 12% Malbec, 11% Merlot), which is wonderfully smooth and rich.

• 2008 San Lorenzo Rosso di Montalcino, which is great with spaghetti, meatballs and spicy sausage.

• Allagash Tripel Reserve Belgian Style Ale, which is potent and complex and satisfying.

Great stuff.



That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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