First Man and Four Insidious Films

October 16th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

First, let me proudly announce the first award won by Scarface and the Untouchable:

Earphones Award Winner
Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago
Max Allan Collins, A. Brad Schwartz, Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Max Allan Collins, A. Brad Schwartz • Unabridged • OCTOBER 2018
Harper Audio • Trade Ed.

This audiobook is a fascinating examination of the terrible times when the Mob ruled Chicago, with Stefan Rudnicki doing a pretty solid job of substituting for Walter Winchell’s staccato “Untouchables” delivery. Thoroughly researched and expertly executed, the story’s most surprising revelation is how little Eliot Ness and Al Capone had to do with each other. They met only once, and that was momentary. Yet the super-straight-shooting Ness made it his life’s work to take down the illegal bootlegging operation that Capone headed but operated from a distance. The most revealing part of the audiobook is the incredible corruption that was rampant in Chicago at all levels of government during Prohibition. The chronological work follows the lives of the two men and is impossible to turn off. M.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine

As promised, here is the video of my presentation at the Iowa City Book Festival. It’s around 45 minutes, so if you don’t want to spend that much time with me, I don’t blame you.

On Saturday Barb and I took in First man, which follows Neil Armstrong in the years before and during the moon-landing period. We almost passed, because the director, Damien Chazelle, had been responsible for La La Land, which both of us disliked, despite all the praise heaped upon it. Well, this is a good example of not ruling out every movie by a filmmaker based on one film, because First Man is the best movie either Barb or I have seen in a long time (and we see plenty).


Ryan Gosling in First Man

Though we saw First Man in IMAX, that’s not really necessary, although the epic sweep of the moon sequences do benefit. Other sequences are intensely claustrophobic as the viewer rides along in the small space vehicle and experiences the disorienting terror. What is perhaps most striking is the level of danger – those of us alive at the time were shielded from just how sketchy, even reckless a lot of this was. You can see every screw and bolt jiggle in what look like cobbled-together vehicles, and feel every tremor and jolt, and feel every carnival-ride spin. At the same time, the story on the ground is compelling as well, and gives you a real sense of what Armstrong (an outstandingly understated Ryan Gosling) and those in his life – his wife Janet (played the Claire Foy, unrecognizable as the queen in The Crown) and the other astronauts and their wives – all went through.

Some critics have complained that the earthbound sequences aren’t as riveting as the space stuff. Insert, “Duh!” here. The film is a masterpiece of showing not telling, which requires a viewer to pay attention and interpret what’s being heard and seen, and not led by the hand. Very rarely do I see a film that I realize is great while I’m seeing it. In my lifetime of thousands of movies the list would include the likes of Vertigo, Chinatown, and Bonnie and Clyde, and only a few others. I haven’t had that sensation in a very long time.

We re-watched The Right Stuff at home after taking in a matinee of First Man. The movies have some similarities, and work well together, with Stuff a prequel to Man; but the tone of the former – often satiric and even humorous – differs greatly from the near horror show feel of the latter’s space travel.

Speaking of horror shows…

October is a month that Barb and I spend watching horror (or as she puts it, “spooker”) movies. Sometimes, knowing that my wife is picky (she married me, didn’t she?), I pre-screen horror films. I had done so with the Insidious films, and felt confident she would like them as much.

We watched them, one a night for four nights, and she agrees with me. This is an outstanding “franchise” (horrible term). I can’t recall a series in the horror genre that has taken as much care to maintain continuity even while making sure each installment stands on its own. There are two reasons for this in the quartet of Insidious films: all star Lin Shaye, an amazing actress of “a certain age,” who should have been nominated (hell, won) the Academy Award for Best Actress for Insidious 4: The Last Key.


Lin Shaye in Insidious 4: The Last Key

The other reason is writer (and sometime director) Leigh Whannell, who has an amusing recurring role in all four films. The scripts intertwine cleverly, as they explore a Poltergeist-inspired narrative – their spirit world “the Further” clearly had a major influence on Stranger Things, a show I much admire despite its habitual borrowing.

The actors in every one of the Insidious films are outstanding, with Patrick Wilson doing typically strong work in the first two films, including the tricky job of being both the villain and hero of the second film. Other cast members include Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson (in a role very different from his Fargo Season Two turn, also with Wilson), Rose Byrne, Stephanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney and Bruce Davison. The now superstar director James Wan helmed the first two and produced the other two.

* * *

Here’s a radio appearance for Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and me. [Starts @ 40:00]

Here, in a proudly conservative publication, I am given credit for suggesting Supreme Court justices need more protection, but am dismissed as a “liberal” (as is my protagonist, Joe Reeder) who might be giving violent liberals dangerous ideas. You know what other dangerously liberal thing I did lately? Voted early.

Finally, here’s a surprisingly complete rundown of my various publications, worth looking at despite a few mistakes (“Frank” Nolan).

M.A.C.

An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)

October 9th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I don’t like falling into the Old White Man category, but the facts (remember them?) seem to make my membership in that sad club mandatory.

And I really don’t want to talk politics, and I don’t intend to talk directly about it, exactly…but my brain just won’t give me anything else to talk about right now.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to accept all “friend” requests on Facebook, because I viewed anyone interested in me as either a current or potential reader, aka customer. But because of the vile political rants that often came to me through that door, I now only accept people whose names I recognize. Apologies.

On Facebook, I look at posts in groups I’ve joined having to do with illustration, comics, movies and other quirky interests of mine. I look at my “feed” (or whatever it is) maybe every couple of weeks. So I no longer regularly follow the fun things that friends post about themselves and their families – it’s the price of avoiding the horror of what people think.

So lately I have mostly posted stuff about my band, including links to performances, and links to reviews and interviews with me (and often A. Brad Schwartz, since Scarface and the Untouchable is still out there doing well). Yet my brain urges me to talk politics and current events. I want to swat my head with a rolled-up newspaper – Bad brain! Bad!

Here’s the thing. I have friends and business associates (and sometimes those categories overlap) who are firm Trump supporters. I also have readers who fall into that category, and (as noted above) they are customers, who I would not care to anger and irritate. Call me a coward if you like, but I relish being able to make a living.

But I want to wade in, just a little. I consider myself a centrist, if somewhat left of center. Back in the days of the Ms. Tree letter column, pre-Facebook by decades, I would express my views on a subject – abortion comes to mind – and receive hate mail from both the left and right, from those who could not process the notion that I did not approve of abortion, thought it was probably a sin (if you believe in that kind of thing), but still felt it should be legal, because who am I to foist my opinion on what a woman wants to do with her body?

When you stand in the middle of the road, that gives traffic coming from both ways an equal opportunity to run you down.

Where we are now is that we essentially have three political groups – two parties and an unruly center – who define themselves as republican, democrat or independent. There are major divides within those groups, of course, but more and more people are calling themselves independent because of frustration with both Coke and Pepsi. The problem with declaring yourself independent politically is that in most states you can’t vote in primaries. That means the hardcore republicans and democrats get to pick their candidates, which means one extreme meets another extreme at the ballot box, and many independents feel very frustrated by the choices presented them.

A good friend of mine from high school – the very definition of an independent thinker – told me he had not voted for president last time. He thought Trump was an idiot, but he despised Hillary Clinton. So nobody got his vote.

What I said to him was, “John!” (Let’s call him John.) (After all, it’s his name). “John! The lesser of two evils is still less evil.”

So let me boil down, as someone in the middle, what I think is the biggest problem we face.

Everybody who leans left, whether considering themselves democrats or progressives or independent, needs to consider how good the republicans are at branding. At labeling. What the republican base loves about President Trump is that he “tells it like it is.” But any objective look at the man would tell you he is a liar, possibly a pathological liar. The genius is in the labeling. The other day Trump made up a bill about immigration – made it up, my friends, it doesn’t exist – and gave it a name and blamed it on the democrats. This is in a long line of genius manipulation of branding from the republicans. They are not Anti-Abortion, they are Pro-Life. Genius. When protestors swarm their offices, they call it “mob mentality.” They know that if you want to cut down trees, you call yourself the Tree Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, many democrats are starting to add “socialist” to their name. Bernie Sanders is a mover and shaker in the demo world, but he isn’t even a democrat. I would take him more seriously as a democratic candidate for the presidency if he were a damn democrat. Old White Males like me (on either side, or in my case in the middle of the divide) know that for many older people (say, forty up), “socialist” is a loaded word, like “fascist” or “Communism.” There are plenty of fascists out there on the right who are smart enough not to call themselves fascists. It takes a democrat to do something that dumb.

The right has to own up to the cruelty and falsehoods their leader espouses; they need to examine his pro-Russia stance and look at a lifetime of sketchy business success built on tax fraud and inherited wealth. The left needs to stop requiring purity of their candidates and focus on the shameful way women have been minimized, ignored and even ridiculed in this latest debacle, and then go with the best available choice.

I understand that people are tired of gritting their teeth when they vote for somebody. And I hate being practical. It’s more fun being right, and there is comfort in indignation. But being practical is often necessary.

The lesser of two evils is less evil.

* * *

This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I was a speaker at the Iowa City Book Festival. I appeared on a fun panel about what authors read (and I revealed how little fiction I read these days) but also gave an hour talk to a nice crowd in a room at the Iowa City Public Library.

I was supposed to do a reading, but I wasn’t in the mood and instead gave an extemporaneous talk about my career, with an emphasis on my years at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Barb says I was out of control, but in a good way. I did get a lot of laughs, including from Barb.

It was recorded and I’ll share a link, if possible, on a future update.

Here’s another podcast about Scarface and the Untouchable with Brad and me.

And another.

Here’s info about the upcoming, revised Red Sky in Morning, now correctly titled USS Powderkeg.

Finally, here’s a nicely compact Scarface and the Untouchable review.

M.A.C.

Crusin’ the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame

October 2nd, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

I’m going to be a little lazy this week, and for the most part just share this complete record of Crusin’s 25-minute set at the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction concert. This is courtesy of my pal Ken Duncan (who did the Steadicam work on Mommy!).

More about that appearance and our honor can be read here in a Voice of Muscatine write-up (although I don’t remember saying we stole the show – we were perhaps in the top three or four bands out of a dozen, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to claim domination).

I have started work on the new Mike Hammer, which is called Murder, My Love. The first two chapters were written in a St. Louis area Drury hotel, while Barb and I were getting to know our granddaughter Lucy, having a great time with three-year-old grandson Sam, and helping out their dad and mom (Nate and Abby) a little bit, too.

Briefly, let me encourage you to order Primal Spillane, a lovely trade paperback from Bold Venture. It’s a much expanded collection of Mickey’s comic-book filler prose stories, written in the early to mid-‘40s, mostly for Timely, the precursor of Marvel. It also has a similar but longer – but never before published story – as a bonus. The shorter version of Primal Spillane was published about ten years ago, put together by Lynn Myers and myself. Publisher Rich Harvey made this possible and did a great job on this definitive edition.


Hardcover: Bold Venture Press
Trade Paperback: Bold Venture Press |
E-Book: Bold Venture Press | Amazon Nook Kobo

I will bury a somewhat political reference here, though I know it irritates some when I do. Sorry. But am I the only one who noticed that the fictionalized name of Brett Kavanaugh in Mark Judge’s memoir of high school and college debauchery – Bart O’Kavanaugh – substitutes one Maverick brother for the other?

Finally, Scarface and the Untouchable gets moving right along. Check out this great review from Brad Schwartz’s hometown paper.

M.A.C.

Introducing Lucy Collins

September 25th, 2018 by Max Allan Collins

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.