The Column I Wrote Instead of Watching the Oscars

February 28th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

As I take a breath from finishing up my novel Quarry’s Climax, here are a few capsule movie reviews. Prepare to be enlightened and enraged….

The usual four-star rating format:

The Lego Batman Movie – ***. I wrote briefly about this earlier, and those who’ve been paying attention already know how heavily this film leans on my character the Mime. This is a terrific and often very funny film, superior to any Batman film in recent memory (including the so-dark Bale ones). Its only problems are a length that wears out its welcome for young kids and older folks particularly, and a tendency to so fill the screen with so much action as to be dizzying. The theme of family is also a bit heavy-handed, but this return to a non-dark Batman with fun villainy and self-deprecating humor is a welcome one…at least it is for this former Batman writer and fan of the comic book for a good decade before Adam West and Burt Ward came onto the Bat-channel. (For some of us, the shark repellant gags were the best in the film.)

The Great Wall – * 1/2. A lot wrong with this one. What’s right is its epic nature and the very sweep of the thing, so credit that much to director Zhang Yimou (of the overrated House of Flying Daggers). What’s wrong includes a terrible script (six screenwriters – not a good sign!), English-speaking actors given no direction by the Chinese director (Matt Damon spends the film in pursuit of an Irish accent), and a lot of pro-Communist propaganda laughable in its ham-handedness. Hilarious to see the Red Chinese preach against greed while plotting to take greenbacks out of red-white-and-blue pockets. The monsters are rather ugly in their CGI design, another rehash of the Raptors from Jurassic Park Parts Whatever. Back before mainland China took over Hong Kong, there was a vibrant Chinese film culture, including John Woo’s crime dramas, Jackie Chan’s adventure films and such wonderful fantasies as the Chinese Ghost Story films and David Chung’s I Love Maria. Now we get this empty spectacle.

John Wick: Chapter 2 – **** The first Wick movie was the best action film of its year, and this year will find the sequel hard to top. Even if you’re already seen it, watching the first John Wick before taking this one in will be helpful – very nice resonances and returning characters. It’s over the top and people who hate guns will be in the wrong theater. Wick is a modern-day samurai who is driven by vengeance (again) in an almost science-fiction world where contract killers inhabit a secret society of their own. It’s as good as James Bond movies ought to be, and the action sequences – with the understated but very funny and yet scary Keanu Reeves doing almost all of his stunts – is depicted minus the missing frames and frantic editing that turn such sequences into utter incoherence in almost all other modern action films. You can follow what’s going on! What an innovation.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. *** I know I’m supposed to hate a movie like this. It does indeed have incomprehensible action scenes at times (well, more just at times). But the video-game-based film series anticipated the zombie craze and has specialized in making social comments through a genre film in a way that clearly eludes the Red Chinese. At the heart of the series and this (supposedly) final entry is charismatic Milla Jovovich, a strong female protagonist if there ever was one. In 3-D this played overly dark, and many of the secondary characters didn’t particularly register. But – unlike The Great Wall, with its evil puppy dog creatures swarming the barricades – the zombies here are a tangible, scary presence, and when they swarm, they really swarm. Also, the many threads of the five films that precede it are cleverly tied up and for once an X-Files-type “all will be revealed” promise is kept.

Manchester by the Sea – no rating. I’m not giving this a rating because I didn’t finish it. I gave it around forty minutes. I know of really smart people, many smarter than me most likely, who rave about this picture. And some of the acting, particularly the justifiably lauded Casey Affleck, is admirable. But the movie is a painfully slow soap opera. Slowing it down seems to be part of what fools people. What we have here is the story of a sad guy whose beloved brother dies, saddling him with a surrogate son in a nephew. Seems the sad guy got sad after he accidentally burned his little kids to death in a fire, which caused his wife to hate him. Scenes include driving in slow traffic to get to the hospital, and another visiting the brother’s dead body in the hospital morgue. I guess I’m not supposed to notice that the kid actors sitting around talking about Star Trek in the wake of their friend’s horrible news are a bunch of stilted amateurs. If you don’t have enough tragedy in your life, this is your film.

As for the Oscars, ever since Bob Hope stopped hosting, I only watch when a movie I had something to do with is nominated. So far that’s once.

* * *

Here’s a great review of Better Dead.

Here, in two parts (One, Two), is a nice look at the Mike Hammer movies and TV shows, with occasional mentions of yours truly.

Another great Quarry TV review, if a bit patronizing to his daddy.

Road to Perdition again gets love as one of the best comic-book movies.

Finally, here’s a nice article that understands that Mickey and Mike Hammer gave birth to James Bond.

M.A.C.

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3 Responses to “The Column I Wrote Instead of Watching the Oscars”

  1. Joe Beckey says:

    Al, I have to admit here, that I have not read much of your work. Until the last couple of years, I was not much of a reader, preferring movies or TV. Now however, I find that with the advent of Kindle, it is much easier to obtain books that I would like to read. Also, I have discovered I like to read. LOL!

    I have always admired your screenplay work and admittedly thrown around your name that I know you. My question today is, what books other than the ‘Mommie’ series and your screenplay work, would you suggest that I start with in reading your work. I am truly excited to be on the brink of reading Max Allen Collins books. Thanks Al, I really do appreciate your talent and friendship,
    Joe

  2. Max Allan Collins says:

    Joe — for those not in the know, Joe is a fine, almost legendary musician here in Eastern Iowa — I am proudest of the Nathan Heller series, You can start anywhere, because I didn’t write them in chronological order, despite their historical basis. (Well, the first four are in order, starting with TRUE DETECTIVE). If you saw and liked ROAD TO PERDITION, then the novel version (recently published by Brash Books) and the sequel ROAD TO PURGATORY are also good places to begin. The most noir series is Quarry, which some people like best of all my work, but you have to have a dark sense of humor to “get” them. Try THE FIRST QUARRY. The original four books in the series were written at the start of my career, and while I’m proud of them, I prefer the Quarry novels written during the last decade or so, and THE FIRST QUARRY (a prequel novel) is a good example. My favorite of the Quarrys is probably the recent QUARRY’S CHOICE.

    Thanks for asking!

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