The Year in Movies

December 5th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

Okay, here are my annual movie awards. I have generously given awards this time to just about every movie I saw. Now, I will see a few more, probably, before year’s end and will likely comment on them. But for now…

Best film in a series I have no excuse for liking:
UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS

Best film in another series I have no excuse for liking:
RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

Best film I’m mentioned in the end credits of:
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE

Best sequel of the year:
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2

Worst film starring Matt Damon:
THE GREAT WALL

Worst film we didn’t walk out of:
THE GREAT WALL

Best horror film of the year:
GET OUT

Most overrated sequel of the year:
LOGAN

Movie we walked out on but other people liked:
KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Worst movie I didn’t see:
CHIPS

Series most wearing out its welcome:
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS

Series least wearing out its welcome:
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2

Most disappointing sequel:
ALIEN: COVENANT

Best superhero movie (okay, heroine):
WONDER WOMAN

Best movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Worst movie in proposed series that will never happen:
THE MUMMY

Best crime movie:
BABY DRIVER

Best movie that will have Kevin Spacey in it for a long, long time:
BABY DRIVER

Second best superhero movie:
SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING

Most satisfying series entry:
WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

Best historical film:
DUNKIRK

Another movie we walked out on that some people liked:
ATOMIC BLONDE

Stephen King movie that sucks a little less than people say:
THE DARK TOWER

Best movie of the year:
WIND RIVER

Sequel better than the original but still no great shakes:
ANNABELLE: THE CREATION

Movie we walked out on featuring cute nuns and Samuel Jackson:
THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD

Best crime film that isn’t BABY DRIVER:
LOGAN LUCKY

Best thriller nobody saw:
UNLOCKED

Best Stephen King movie and not at all sucky:
IT

Half good, half bad movie of the year:
BATTLE OF THE SEXES

Sorta true movie the critics should have liked more:
VICTORIA & ABDUL

Movie we walked out on that you have no excuse liking:
BLADE RUNNER 2049

Second-best horror movie of the year:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Best GROUNDHOG DAY rip-off:
HAPPY DEATH DAY

Movie I almost went to and then I read the reviews:
THE SNOWMAN

Second-best superhero movie of the year:
THOR: RAGNAROK

Best remake but still not as good as the original:
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Best historical movie viewed through rose-colored glasses:
LBJ

Worst superhero movie (in which Lois Lane tells Superman he smells good after he’s been dead and buried for a while):
JUSTICE LEAGUE

Best actress in a terrific DC movie and also best actress in a terrible DC movie:
GAL GADOT

Best Christmas movie (and pretty good other days too):
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS

Movie I really, really hated but didn’t see:
PITCH PERFECT 3

* * *

Here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War issue #1.

Check out this nice write-up on the film Road to Perdition with a lot of stuff about the graphic novel, too.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Comics!

November 28th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

The first of the four-issue serialization of Quarry’s War, the character’s first graphic novel appearance, goes on sale November 29. There are three alternate covers, designed to fleece you, er, give you an opportunity to choose the one you like best.

This link will take you to all of the covers plus a five-page preview.

The four issues will be collected as a trade paperback, though I don’t know when – sometime next year. To some degree, this project happened because of the TV show, and since Cinemax did not take Quarry past the first season, I can’t be sure there will be another graphic novel.

What this did provide me with was an opportunity to explore Quarry’s back story more thoroughly and do something about his Vietnam experiences. The first three issues are evenly divided between Vietnam and a post-Vietnam assignment from the Broker. The fourth issue kind of pulls both story lines together.

The graphic novel was, in part, a response to the Cinemax series with its Vietnam emphasis. But mostly the visual format of comics made it the perfect place to show what Quarry’s life was like overseas, as well as explore his beginnings from boot camp to the Broker first knocking on his door.

Also, his restrained response to the guy who’d been cheating with Quarry’s Joni.

* * *

I am two chapters in on Do No Harm and, while it’s a pleasure to be with Nate Heller again, brother is it hard. I kidded myself thinking this would be an “easy” Heller. The case is complex and I have a time-hopping structure that may make me (but I hope not you) dizzy.

I managed to get a little work done over Thanksgiving and the long weekend. But with Nathan, Abby and two-year-old Sam visiting, that wasn’t always easy – also, I was busy falling off my stay-away-from-sugar-and-starch diet, eating the equivalent of an entire pecan pie over a three-day period. In my defense, Barb makes the best pecan pie anywhere. Ask Nate.

Also, I am embarrassed to report that there is sad news for the rest of you: none of you have children or grandchildren as cute and smart as Sam Collins. My apologies.

* * *

A very nice Big Showdown review by that fine writer James Reasoner can be found here. Mr. Reasoner has forgotten more about writing westerns than I will ever know, so this one felt especially good.

And speaking of the late/great Quarry TV series, this blog concludes with a look at the episode I wrote.

Full confession: my work on the Quarry series was stretched out over two episodes (the next one after the one reviewed here). The other writer and I were each assigned a solo writing credit for one episode for reasons I’m not entirely clear on. I also wrote (and was paid for) an episode for season two, which of course was never filmed.

M.A.C.

Heller – The Starting Gate

November 21st, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

I have been researching the upcoming Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, for two months. That has consisted chiefly of reading books – ten cover to cover, reading selectively in another ten, filling a notebook with info and page numbers. With any Heller, a lot of research occurs along the way as well; but, in movie terms, I’ve completed pre-production. This past week I read eighteen contemporary articles on the Sam Sheppard murder case, and two more books. On Monday I start the novel.

The process with Heller has remained largely the same since True Detective back in the early ‘80s. I select the historical incident – usually a crime, either unsolved or controversially solved – and approach it as if I’m researching the definitive book on the subject. I never have a firm opinion on the case before research proper begins, even if I’ve read a little about it or seen movies or documentaries on the subject, just as somebody interested in famous true crimes.

The intent is to find the story in the research, as opposed to having the story firmly in mind and researching it. That’s worked out well for me with Heller – any number of times I’ve come up with theories about what probably really happened that have inspired non-fiction books (by authors who never credit me) (but I’m not bitter).

This time I changed my mind about who murdered Marilyn Sheppard, oh, a dozen times. I in part selected the case because it was a more traditional murder mystery than the political subjects of the last four Heller novels – sort of back to basics, plus giving me something that would be a little easier to do, since I was coming out of some health problems and major surgeries.

But it’s turned out to be one of the trickiest Heller novels of all. Figuring out what happened here is very tough. There is no shortage of suspects, and no shortage of existing theories. In addition, a number of the players are still alive (Sam Sheppard’s brother Stephen is 97) and those who aren’t have grown children who are, none of whom would likely be thrilled with me should I lay a murder at the feet of their deceased parents.

Additionally, the case does not lend itself to some of the usual Heller fun-and-games – like violence and sex. There are no bad guys to kill, and the sexual aspects of the murder make Heller hanky panky distasteful. Oddly enough, this comes after the preceding Heller, Better Dead, which found our hero more sexually active than usual (and that’s saying something).

But the research defines the book. The story emerges from the research and I have to be true to it. That story sometimes – this time for sure – takes its time revealing itself. I have changed the structure of the novel almost as many times as I have changed my mind about who killed Marilyn Sheppard.

For that reason, I do not attempt to write a chapter breakdown/outline (vital in a Heller) until I have completed the research phase. In a way that’s too bad, because if I could discern the shape of the book at, say, a third of the way through the research, I could limit further digging to the areas I need. As it is, I’ve taken notes on scores of things that won’t appear in the book.

That’s okay. In an historical novel, it’s all about the tip of the iceberg, and for me to portray that effectively, I need to know the shape of what’s under the water.

As I indicated, research doesn’t end when the writing begins. Each chapter requires some pre-production as I gather the materials from what I’ve already read, and then as I write it and need things I hadn’t anticipated, more research is done on the fly.

In addition to all this, I have to deal with the feeling I always have at the beginning of a Heller – I experience this, to a lesser degree, with Quarry and really any novel I write – that I may not be up to the job. Coming off health problems, that’s a little exaggerated this time. How do I do this? I ask myself. At least a little panic, a minor anxiety attack, always precedes the writing of chapter one.

I have completed the chapter breakdown/outline to my satisfaction, having wrestled the structure into submission – I have even found a bad guy for Heller to kill. I feel good about where I am, even if certain insecurities creep through.

For me, the saving grace has always been Nate Heller. Like Quarry, he has always been there when I need him. I start writing and there he is.

By the time you read this, I will know if he’s come through for me yet again.

* * *

Despite a few inaccuracies, this is a nice overview of Mike Hammer, touching on the Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Here’s an interesting Road to Perdition (film) article.

Check out this good interview with Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai, flawed only in his neglecting to be mention me (again, I am not bitter). Several Quarry covers are featured, though.

Finally, here’s a lovely piece by Bev Keddy covering many of my books – much appreciate, Bev (who is a boy, he will have you know).

M.A.C.

On Kevin Spacey, Bobby Darin and Al Capp

November 14th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

I’m on a Bobby Darin group on Facebook, where several people have talked about throwing away their DVDs and CD soundtracks of Kevin Spacey’s 2004 Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea.

I get it. While I am at times queasy over the witch hunt feel of today – whose career will be ruined tomorrow? – seeing the creepy Roy Moore defend himself by attacking his attackers (the women accusing him, the Washington Post, Democrats in general, the media at large) reminds me that a verdict in a courtroom isn’t always necessary. Sometimes a legitimate verdict can come from the courtroom of public opinion, if the allegations have been vetted by journalists with the credentials of those at the Post. When the number of allegations grows to critical mass, as with Cosby and Spacey, that verdict has the ring of truth.

I can only say that Kevin Spacey – whose love for Bobby Darin’s work was deeply felt – was very kind to my wife, son and me when he performed his Darin tribute concert at the House of Blues in Chicago in December 2004.

Beyond the Sea

Spacey and I had a connection through Sam Mendes, who directed both American Beauty and Road to Perdition. When Barb, Nate and I went to the House of Blues, I brought along a signed copy of Road to Purgatory to send backstage to Spacey. I had ordered tickets for the event the day they went on sale, but when we arrived, we found most of the main floor was reserved for some special party. We were sent high up to nosebleed seats. The atmosphere created by Hell’s Angel type bouncers/ushers was decidedly unfriendly.

When I went downstairs to try to convince someone with the House of Blues to send the book backstage, I was treated harshly (I will never return to that venue). By bribing one, I finally got the book accepted, having the strong feeling it would be tossed in the trash as soon as I was out of sight. Upstairs, we crowded around a tiny table with a bunch of strangers and my family studied me with the cold-eyed “What have you gotten us into this time, you incompetent fool?” expression that I know so well.

Then, over the intercom, I was called to come downstairs to the front of the club. I went down and was told that Mr. Spacey wanted to meet us after the show – there was a scheduled meet-and-greet – and that we were to be given special seating. Chairs were set up for us (by some of the same crabby biker types who had treated us so badly) right in front of the sound board, dead center, best seats in the house.

Spacey came on and did a fine show. Afterward, he greeted us warmly and he and I talked Bobby Darin for about five minutes. He was friendly and articulate and I thanked him especially for making me look good in front of my family (something that rarely happens).

Which brings me to the today’s topic, as Bob and Doug McKenzie would say: Is the work of an artist suddenly invalid because bad conduct is revealed? And is there any coming back from a scandal like this and the behavior it represents?

I’m really just asking. With someone like Cosby, I think the body of work is so large and so at odds with his actual wrongdoing that it’s hard to imagine sitting down now with one of his comedy albums or TV shows. I love the movie Hickey and Boggs but haven’t watched it since Cosby’s fall from grace. I can’t imagine I’ll ever look at my complete DVD set of I, Spy again.

On the other hand, I am a huge fan of Al Capp and Li’l Abner. I have said numerous times that it’s not only my favorite comic strip, but in my opinion the greatest of all comic strips. It had everything – sharp satire, slapstick humor, adventure, suspense, great art, and…beautiful girls.

Capp’s women were outrageously sexy, and a hidden sexual content – the frequent use of the number 69, phallic mushrooms clustered around trees with vagina-like knotholes, the positioning of Shmoos also with phallic intent – was enough to encourage Capp’s former boss, Ham Fisher, to try to get his ex-assistant thrown out of newspapers by going around showing editors examples of supposed pornography smuggled into Abner. Unfortunately, Fisher doctored the examples to make them look worse, and got kicked out of the National Cartoonists Society for it, which led to Joe Palooka’s daddy committing suicide. (See my novel, Strip for Murder, for more.)

Late in his life, when longtime liberal Capp had suddenly gone right wing (as some old rich white guys do), he became a sexual predator. On college campuses, where he gave lectures, he would arrange to meet with coeds and came onto them; he did the same for young actresses who were supposedly interviewing for parts in various Abner TV series. No reports of rape, but plenty of obnoxious behavior, which eventually was exposed (shall we say) in the press. Capp didn’t kill himself, like his old boss, but he killed his strip and died a few years later.

Still, I love Li’l Abner. I have a number of Capp originals framed and on my wall. Is that wrong? Am I supposed to banish his lifetime of brilliant work to the scrap heap of history because he was, in his later years, a dirty old man? Also, am I supposed to be surprised Al Capp liked sexy young women?

Do we think Frank Sinatra would have held up to this kind of scrutiny? How about rock ‘n’ roll stars? Does anyone really want to turn over the rock that is Mick Jagger, much less Keith Richards? Did those lads from Liverpool have their way with some underage groupies? Would you be shocked if they did? Shine the spotlight on rock ‘n’ roll and it’ll be the sexual apocalypse.

The Millennials did not live through the Sexual Revolution, which created a climate of carnal activity for a generation who’d been brought up innocently in the fifties. Beaver was the last name of a kid named Cleaver; then suddenly it wasn’t. I don’t excuse the behavior of any of my generation, but I’m not sure we should have to sit for a jury of kids who didn’t live through it. Free Love and feminism were brewing at the same time, and brother was it a strange brew.

During those years, when things were loosening up sexually, homophobia went on unabated. Closeted gays lived an outlaw life style by definition. Like a lot of straight guys, I had gay men come onto me – the first time freaked me out. Later I realized that they were as uneasy and even more afraid than I was. Roy Moore still wants gays thrown in jail or worse. Might someone like Kevin Spacey or George Takei make a mistake, a misjudgment, a misreading of another male, living as they did in a world of shadows? How harshly should we judge gay men and women who grew up in the second half of the Twentieth Century?

Not excusing anything. I certainly abhor what these famous men, straight and gay, have been getting away with, almost always operating from a position of power. But I wonder – is there any chance for redemption for somebody like Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K.? Can they come back from this? Should they? Can I watch Baby Driver with a clear conscience, or ever revisit House of Cards? Spacey’s scenes are being cut and re-shot for the soon-to-be-released All the Money in the World – should his entire cinematic legacy be similarly snipped away? Must I forget the kindness he showed me and my family?

Can I listen to Frank Sinatra without thinking about Sam Giancana?

I really am wondering.

But I do know plenty of great art has come from terrible people. It’s a subject I’ve been wrestling with, and discussing, for years – long before the daily exposure of this star or that one as a sexual predator.

* * *

The new Murder on the Orient Express isn’t bad. It’s quite sumptuous looking, and is faithful enough to the Christie source material to receive an approving nod from me. True, some action scenes – including questionable heroics from Hercule Poirot – seem like pandering to an audience dumber than anybody who would likely go to a movie called Murder on the Orient Express. But it’s a good, old-fashioned (in a positive way) movie. It’s just not as good as the 1974 original – actually, not even close.

Refresh your memory and look up the cast of the ‘74 version, and see names like Connery, Bacall, Guielgud, Widmark, Redgrave, Finney and on and on. Such giants no longer walk the earth – well, a few still do. This Murder is committed by a cast about half of whom are names – Cruz, Depp, Gad, Dafoe, Jacobi – but hardly the superstars of old. Depp, for example, is quite good…until you compare his performance to Richard Widmark’s. In ‘74, Albert Finney made an oddly cartoonish Poirot (though it worked), while director/star Kenneth Branagh has to compete with David Suchet’s definitive Poirot. In fairness, this one is better than Suchet’s Murder on the Orient Express, a rare misfire for that wonderful series.

Barb and I also took in Thor Ragnarok, which is very funny while retaining the expected spectacle and superhero heroics. Marvel seems to have learned a lot from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of Fate of the Union.

And check out this look at Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.