Posts Tagged ‘Angel In Black’

Okay, So Maybe Movies Aren’t Better than Ever

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Before I briefly chat about what I’ve been up to on the storytelling front, here are reviews of two movies I endured this weekend.

Live by Night – Where shall I start? This is a terrible movie. It looks great, and I wanted to like it – it’s full of old cars and lots of cool wardrobe and art direction, just the kind of production values I’d like to see lavished on a Nate Heller movie. Unfortunately, this is the kind of lavish dud that will make it hard to get a Nate Heller movie made, because the Hollywood boys and girls will remind me how poorly Live by Night did at the box-office.

I’m not a Ben Affleck basher. He’s done some very good things, like Argo and The Town, and…well, like Argo and The Town. He’s a pretty fair Batman, too. Here he is a multiple threat, and I do mean threat, as actor, director and writer. I have no idea whether the source novel by Dennis Lahane is any good – I don’t read him. Some pretty fair movies have been made from his stuff, like The Drop and Gone Baby Gone, though I disliked both Shutter Island and the hammy Mystic River. My hunch is that the novel here is likely better, which would not make it good.

Clearly the novel was longer, because this has so much expository voiceover, the telling outweighs the showing. No characters take hold, no scenes develop sufficiently, and the stupidity of the plotting is at times mind-boggling.

For example. Affleck is secretly having an affair with the top gangster in Boston’s moll; when the gangster goes out of town, however, Affleck openly cavorts with the moll in public, and then is surprised when the gangster finds out. For example. When the film lurches into a Florida setting, a dumb-ass KKK leader is bombing Affleck’s nightclubs and wantonly killing people in the process; Affleck asks the dumb-ass to meet with him at Affleck’s own casino construction site, and then the dumb-ass is shocked when Affleck’s men pour out and kill him and his own goons. There are half a dozen scenes with set-ups that moronic.

The best moments are throwaways, as after the dumb-ass-gets-killed sequence when Affleck argues with a crony about who accidentally shot him. Only then does Affleck himself (and the movie) come to life. Elsewhere he goes beyond underplaying into a sort of mobile coma. He wears lots of hats, and I don’t mean director/writer/star, I mean hats – tan fedoras, gray fedoras, white fedoras, yellow fedoras, purple fedoras. I see a drinking game coming!

Two women are at the center of the story – the Bonnie Parker-type moll whose betrayal sends Affleck scurrying to Florida to avoid the wrath of the Boston mob boss – and a Cuban girl whose brother is in the rackets with Affleck. Though the latter is portrayed by Uhura herself, Zoe Saldana, and the former by usually reliable Sienna Miller, neither character makes a dent in the proceedings…and they are the two motivators in sleepy Affleck’s life. Elle Fanning as a nice-girl-turned-drug-addict-turned-evangelist, does better, but her role is so fragmented that it too never quite adds up, though its importance is also key to what little story we perceive.

The moral seems to be: when you’re making a movie, don’t wear too many hats, literally and figuratively. Also, when you’re doing a period piece about the twenties, don’t sing a snippet of “Sugartime,” a song from the late fifties. But it’s almost worth seeing for a howler about Hitler that comes very late in the proceedings: “Some little guy in Germany,” he says in voiceover, “was gettin’ people all excited. But they weren’t gonna go to war over him. No percentage in it.”

The Edge of Seventeen – This is a tricky one. It’s very well-made and nicely acted. The dialogue is frequently witty. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 93% Fresh. But there’s nothing very fresh about the story, which is that a nerdy girl (Hailee Steinfeld) has a crush on a bad boy and doesn’t realize the nice smart guy who sits next to her in class is a better prospect. As if that wasn’t enough, the nerdy girl is portrayed by a lovely young actress, more likely to be prom queen than an outcast. On the other hand, she does behave like an asshole throughout, which doesn’t help us like her as a protagonist. Nor does the fact that she lives a privileged, cushy upper-middle-class life. Also, after she accidentally sends the bad boy an explicit text about wanting sex with him, she is surprised that, when they go out parking, he expects to have sex with her.

Additionally, she still doesn’t see the nice boy as a prospect even after he turns out to be very, very rich (he even has a bigger swimming pool than she does) (see how hard she has it?).

The secondary central conflict is rooted in her asshole-ishness: her nerdy outcast best-and-only friend (also portrayed by a lovely young woman) starts dating our heroine’s hunky brother, and this our heroine cannot abide! She is a flaming bitch to both throughout most of the film. Don’t you feel sorry for her? This is interspersed with occasional Breakfast Club self-exploratory soliloquies (as when her hunky brother reveals his life is also very hard, because he has to keep an eye on their emotionally troubled single mom, who by the way has a very, very good job, despite being an emotional wreck). Of course, she comes around to the worthy boy…after he invites her to a film festival where his incredibly professional animated “student” film unspools…and is about her!

How is this twaddle 93% Fresh? How is this a story that touches an average girl’s heart when the central character is a spoiled beautiful upper-middle-class brat?

The writer/director, Kelly Fremon Craig, does a professional job and some nice moments do happen, most with the Woody Harrelson teacher character. The producer is James L. Brooks, whose TV work (The Simpsons, Lou Grant) has often been stellar but whose movies (often acclaimed) have consistently missed me, and I include Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment.

So your mileage may vary.

* * *

This flurry of reviews lately – all positive last week, remember? – does not negate the fact that I genuinely dislike writing bad reviews. They are the easiest kind of thing to write, often filled with cheap shots (see above). For a long time I stopped writing them. I learned from my own indie movies just how hard the process is – that even making a bad movie is a tough, tough thing. I resigned from my movie column at Mystery Scene because of that. Then I wrote mostly good reviews at Asian Cult Cinema for several years.

Now, like a drunk falling off the wagon, I find myself writing bad reviews again. Why? It reflects a level of frustration that I feel as someone who loves movies, and who goes to a lot more of them than most people. Because I’m in Muscatine, Iowa, I often miss the art movies that are highly touted, but often when I see those, I am no more happy than when I see Hollywood’s standard fare. Art movies, indies, have become a kind of genre in themselves; that includes a lot of European stuff.

I am older now, and harder to please. I have quoted several times what the beautiful and wise Barb said when, as we watched a lousy Italian western at home, whether we would have stayed through the entire movie in the theater, back in “the day” (the ‘70s or ‘80s). As I shut off the Blu-ray player, she said, “Yes, but we had our whole lives ahead of us then.”

Truer words.

* * *

I am working on a Quarry graphic novel, which Titan will publish in four issues and then collect. Don’t know the artist yet, though I approved several based on samples.

It’s very, very hard. I have been away from this format for a while, and the story takes place partly in Vietnam in 1969 and then back in the America of 1972. Providing visual reference for the artist has been a dizzying, daunting task. A 22-page script runs to 60 pages with panel descriptions and links to reference photos.

I doubt I will do many more such projects. Prose is far less taxing.

* * *

The Rap Sheet takes a look at the Black Dahlia case, and has nice mentions of the Nate Heller novel, Angel in Black.

Here’s info on the upcoming Blu-ray and DVD of the Quarry TV series.

M.A.C.

Grand Thanks

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The announcement of my Edgar award as a Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America has garnered congratulations and praise from all over the place. I’ve taken to posting a link to these updates on Facebook and that’s increased the activity.

First, I’m very grateful. It’s particularly fun or, in Facebook terms, to be “liked” (you like me, you really really like me) by old friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in decades. The world at once seems bigger and smaller.

Second, I’m a little embarrassed. These updates have become more and more confessional. Originally I only wrote an update once or twice a year. My son Nate, who runs this website, said that was not enough – the only way to encourage traffic was with regular content.

So I went weekly, and for some time all I did was talk about books that had recently become available and share links to reviews (I still do that, obviously). Then Nate encouraged me to do updates that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and what it’s like to be a freelance writer.

People seemed to like hearing about such things, but gradually more personal stuff got into the mix – the major one being my health issues. I didn’t post anything till the day I was set to take my first heart surgery (we had been going through hell for five months prior and I hadn’t made a peep about it here), and what I wrote wasn’t intended to appear till the day I was in surgery.

Then the surgery was postponed, and a second, preliminary surgery scheduled, and suddenly everybody knew about what was going on with my health. As I say, that wasn’t my intention. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that all the good wishes, which included prayers, didn’t give me a real boost. In the subsequent lung surgery, I found that support similarly spirit-lifting.

I thank you all.

And I thank you, too, for the congratulations about the Grand Master award, which won’t be presented till next April, by the way. This is even more embarrassing than courting good wishes for health reasons, as it falls into the “rah yay me” category.

I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.

Throughout my career – and I will be painfully honest here – I longed for, even dreamed of, receiving an Edgar from the MWA. I have been ridiculously well-honored by the Private Eye Writers of America, also by the Iowa Motion Picture Association; even won an Anthony from Bouchercon, and an award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliophile group. “Barbara Allan” won a major award, too (not a leg lamp, though). But the Edgar, despite half a dozen nominations, has remained elusive.

When I see the array of trophies and plaques, which reflect not only achievement but my own needy efforts to land them – you have to enter many of these competitions to win them – I am a little embarrassed. I obviously need validation. Like most people with big egos, I have self-doubts that are even bigger.

What’s really, really nice about the Grand Master is that you don’t enter to try to win it. A group of your peers just agrees that you should get it. That feels really good.

And the company I’m in includes many of my favorite writers as well as others I admire. For example, Agatha Christie; Rex Stout; Ellery Queen; Erle Stanley Gardner; James M. Cain; John D. MacDonald; Alfred Hitchcock; Ross Macdonald; Graham Greene; Daphne Du Marier; Dorothy B. Hughes; W.R. Burnett; John Le Carre; Ed McBain; Elmore Leonard; Donald E. Westlake; Lawrence Block; Sara Paretsky; Sue Grafton; Stephen King; and Mickey Spillane. That’s just the ones that were influential in my writing life. Two (Westlake and Spillane) were mentors. I omit names of stellar types whose work I am not familiar with, and a handful whose work I dislike (here’s a hint – Angel in Black is a response to one).

I am notorious for not reading much contemporary crime fiction. My glib reason is that contemporary writers in the genre fall into three areas: (A) not as good as I am, so why bother reading ‘em; (B) as good as I am, so why bother reading them, either; and (C) better than I am, and screw those guys, anyway.

The real reasons I don’t read my contemporaries much are less smart-alecky.

First, I am a natural mimic and I tend to pick up the style and habits of other fiction writers. I discovered this writing Blood Money (my second published book) while reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. That writer, a very good one, wrote such distinctive dialogue that I could not shake the cadence of it. Some of it is still in that book.

Second, much of what I write is historical, and that requires a lot of research reading. So what reading I do falls largely into that category. And my pleasure reading tends to be non-fiction, too. Again, reading fiction is dangerous for me.

That’s not to say I don’t read some. I re-read my favorite authors (many of them in my Grand Master list above) and, if I’m on a committee for the MWA or PWA, I read the works submitted for award consideration. Plus, I have friends in the field whose work I often read. Also, if somebody gets really, really popular, I check them out. That’s how I came to read some Robert B. Parker, for example, whose work I don’t care for but whose impact on the field I greatly respect.

He won the Grand Master, too.

* * *

This week past the third Caleb York, The Bloody Spur, was shipped to Kensington. In addition, I did final corrections and tweaks on the proofs of The Will to Kill for Titan (Mike Hammer) and Executive Order for Thomas & Mercer (Reeder & Rogers). The proofs of Antiques Frame await.

The Grand Master news was all over the Net, but in some cases it was more than just a regurgitation of the MWA news release. This, from Mysterious Press, for example, includes ordering info on the Mike Hammer collection, A Long Time Dead.

Brash Books, who published the complete Road to Perdition novel recently, did their own write-up as well.

Here’s a brief discussion of the use of history in Quarry in the Black.

My old pal Jan Grape talks about how authors deal with errors in books, leading off with an anecdote that shows me in a perhaps unflattering (but highly accurate) light.

Here’s a brief Quarry TV write-up, with a deleted scene that I (partially) wrote.

The Quarry show makes this Best list.

And here’s a really great review of the finale episode of Quarry, with a look back at the entire world of the series.

M.A.C.

* * *

(Note from Nate: Quarry is available for pre-order on Amazon on Blu-Ray and DVD, although the release date hasn’t yet been determined. Here’s the link!)

* * *

Hammer, Quarry and TV’s Frank

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

This coming Thursday (Sept. 1) at the Fleur Cinema & Café in Des Moines, I’ll be hosting a screening of both my documentary, MIKE HAMMER’S MICKEY SPILLANE, and the classic Mike Hammer noir, KISS ME DEADLY. Seeing the latter on a big screen will be a treat. The documentary goes on at 6:30 and the film at 7:30. I’ll do a Q and A after, and there should be some books on hand for me to sign.

Here’s more info.

My L.A. stringer Leonard Maltin – think of him as an older, wiser Jimmy Olsen – took and sent me the pic posted here this week, the first reported QUARRY sighting in L.A. The billboard is on Vermont Avenue some blocks down from the old Parker Center.

The premiere of the series will be September 9 at 10 p.m. eastern (10:00-11:15 p.m.). Other CINEMAX playdates, also eastern time: Sept. 9 (11:20 p.m., 12:40 a.m.), 10 (9:00 p.m., 12:35 a.m.), 11 (5:35 p.m.), 12 (11:00 p.m.), 13 (2:05 a.m.), 14 (10:00 p.m.), 15 (9:00 p.m.) and 29 (6:40 p.m.).

As indicated above, the first episode is 75 minutes and plays like a particularly strong indie crime film. I anticipate some fans of the novels will have to adjust to the Memphis setting of the series, but let’s face it – the Broker was born to have a Southern accent.

* * *

I have shipped to Thomas & Mercer the third Reeder and Rogers political thriller, EXECUTIVE ORDER, which concludes the Branches of Government trilogy begun by SUPREME JUSTICE and continued with FATE OF THE UNION. This was a tough one, as my co-conspirator Matt Clemens will no doubt confirm. For one thing, it was only the second novel I worked on after my heart surgery, and the first was an ANTIQUES novel for which Barb delivered me a great, easy-to-work-with rough draft. We ran into some plotting difficulties with EXECUTIVE ORDER that had me starting it, then interrupting it to write the Mike Hammer novel, THE WILL TO KILL, while Matt re-worked his story treatment to accommodate the new plot elements.

It was a bear.

The final stage of preparing the manuscript is a read-through that takes a day or two and consists of me marking up a hard copy, with Barb typing in the tweaks and corrections. This one had so much rewriting and tweaking and cutting that I admit I have no sense of the book at all, whereas usually I have a real feel for what’s been accomplished. The read-through took three days – it’s a big book, 450 manuscript pages and 80,000-plus words – and today I feel punchy as hell. But sometimes you take your best shot and cross your fingers.

I have a feeling that some of my readers – I might even say “fans” – who are Nate Heller and Quarry followers have not partaken of these political thrillers. Fact is, the first two Reeder and Rogers novels are among my bestselling books, ever. SUPREME JUSTICE has done 300,000 copies. So however punch-drunk I may feel about EXECUTIVE ORDER after the big fight, it’s should be worth a read if you like my work.

* * *

For some reason, fans are always asking writers what they are reading. They seem to want validation for their own tastes, and expect me to say, James Lee Burke or James Ellroy (or some other James whose books I can’t read), and I really don’t get it. If I were talking to Alfred Hitchcock (and I realize that would probably require a Ouija board), the last thing I’d ask him is what movies he watches.

What I read is rarely fiction, since I’m living in the world of fiction every work day – it’s called a Busman’s Holiday, kids, and I’m not interested. Lately I’ve read THE FIFTY-YEAR MISSION about the first 25 years of STAR TREK, SEINFELDIA about the SEINFELD TV series, CURTAIN UP about Agatha Christie’s plays, FOREVER AMBER: FROM NOVEL TO FILM, two NOIR CITY annuals, and COLUMBO UNDER GLASS, a critical study of the series.

But the greatest book I ever read, including MOBY DICK (but excluding of course my own body of work), is TWENTY-FIVE MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 FILMS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE IN NO WAY WHATSOEVER by Frank Conniff – TV’s Frank! The book, at 104 pages, is somewhat shorter than MOBY DICK and doesn’t have a single whale in it.

Speaking of MOBY DICK, Barb and I just watched the John Barrymore film version from 1931 and were a trifle surprised to find that it has a happy ending. Ahab not only kills the white whale, he goes home dancing on his peg leg to his sweetheart. I guess I should have put SPOILER ALERT in front of that.

The above discursive paragraph is designed to prepare you for TV’S Frank’s book in which he doesn’t really discuss any of the films that he is supposedly showcasing. He instead goes off on free-form riffs (yes, I said riffs) that careen from one hilarious absurdity to another, and if you’re MST 3000 fan enough to buy this book, you’ll have no trouble hearing TV’s Frank’s distinctive dissipated bored baby tones. Discussing being offered the job on Mystery Science Theater of watching old movies, he says, “I stepped up to the plate in my head and accepted the challenge.”

Here are a few more examples:

(Supposedly discussing SIDEHACKERS but instead talking about PSYCHE-OUT with Jack Nicholson): “PSYCHE-OUT is like an episode of the late-sixties DRAGNET series but with only the hippies and no Sgt. Joe Friday to berate them for being a bunch of freak-show screw-ups. Now that we have the technology, somebody should digitally restore this film so that it includes Sgt. Friday. Any film about hippies dropping acid seems incomplete without him, but I’m of the opinion that every movie would benefit from having Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday as a character.” Me, too, Frank!

(Supposedly discussing CATALINA CAPER but instead talking about the Disney film, THE ONE AND ONLY GENUINE, ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND): “You might not have heard of this film, perhaps because its incendiary, iconoclastic message was too edgy for 1968. This was a film that declared, ‘you may think you’re cutting edge, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Stooges, MC Five, Blue Oyster Cult, but we’re the One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band, motherfuckers!’”

(Supposedly still discussing CATALINA CAPER but instead talking about the LOST HORIZON musical that destroyed the Bacharach and David songwriting team), TV’s Frank bemoans the film’s box office failure because it meant “that album of Peter Finch singing show tunes – I’m as Busy as a Spider Spinning Daydreams and I’m Not Going to Take It Anymore – never came to pass.”

(Supposedly discussing ROCKET ATTACK U.S.A. but instead contemplating atomic Armageddon in general): “A New York City decimated by a nuclear war would kind of suck, but it might at least be slightly more affordable to live in. And walking amid radioactive wreckage in Brooklyn would no doubt be a depressing experience, but at least there would be no hipsters around, except maybe zombie hipsters, or as they’re also known, hipsters.”

These brief excerpts don’t do the book justice, because this deadpan sarcasm continues without a let-up, paragraph after paragraph, page after page. You certainly have my permission to read Burke or Ellroy, if you must; but you owe it to yourself to experience 104 pages of TV’s Frank.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Jon Landau says in the advance praise on the back of the book: “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”

* * *

Here’s a brief but much appreciated positive review of ANGEL IN BLACK.

This is a terrific review of A LONG TIME DEAD, the Mike Hammer short story collection coming out September 6. But there’s an odd goof – Mickey Spillane is credited throughout as creating a private eye character called…Mickey Spillane!

And here’s a cool interview with Damon Herriman, who plays Quarry’s partner, Buddy. In the novels, this character is called Boyd, but because of Walton Goggins on JUSTIFIED, Boyd got changed to Buddy. Ironically, Damon Herriman had a major role on JUSTIFIED – Dewey Crowe.

M.A.C.

Centuries & Sleuths Signing

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

As I’ve mentioned here, Barb and I are doing precious few signings these days, but this Sunday (September 14) we will be at Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, Illinois, at 2 p.m. for a discussion and signing. This is a very cool bookstore and ideal for us – it’s a mix of mystery and history, and owner Augie Aleksy is one of the sweetest, most knowledgeable book store guys you could ever hope to meet. The area the store nestles in is full of fun shops (lots of antiquing – like I said, perfect for us) and restaurants.

Here’s the address: 7419 Madision Street, and the phone number is 708-771-7243. For those outside the Chicago area, I’m sure you could order books through Augie and have them signed at the event. Not sure exactly what he’s got on hand, but it’ll likely be: SUPREME JUSTICE, KING OF THE WEEDS, THE WRONG QUARRY and ANTIQUES CON.

Speaking of things I used to do all the time but do only infrequently now (get your mind out of the gutter), Crusin’ did one of its remaining two 2014 gigs this past Saturday. We appeared at Fruitland Fun Days in Fruitland, Iowa, and did 2 ½ hours with just a short break. Glamourous show biz stuff: playing on a truck flatbed with the park bathrooms behind us.

Fruitland Fun Days

Appearing after us was Jake McVey, a rising country star whose stuff I actually like, very rock ‘n’ roll – amazingly nice guy, and his bandmates were extremely complimentary.

In fact, Jake said he thought we’d be perfect for the Midwestern casino circuit and offered his recommendation and networking help. Twenty years ago, maybe even ten, that would have been tempting – casino money tends to be terrific. But we are winding down. Guitar player Jim Van Winkle is probably moving soon – not far away, but far enough to make gigging very occasional – and drummer Steve Kundel has school age kids (and concerts and games to go to). We will always be available for Bouchercon, though.

Fruitland Fun Days

Since my Hollywood trip, things are heating up on that front, and it makes Crusin’ a luxury I dare not indulge in. At least not much. For example, the day after a gig I am so sore, tired and often hoarse that I can’t work (and I am frequently on deadlines that require at least six days a week).

For those of you wondering what we’re working on, Barb is doing her draft of the third of three ANTIQUES Christmas novellas for the e-book trade. We do hope to collect these eventually, likely with a fourth novellas exclusive to the collection. I’ll be getting to my draft (it’s called ANTIQUES ST. NICKED) later this week.

I am working on a TV script – my first – for a top-secret project. I was given two weeks and delivered it in one week. Got notes on Friday. Today I will turn in the second draft on the day the first draft was due. Am I showing off? Not really. Maybe a little. But I like to demonstrate, when I have a deadline-driven new assignment, that I can deliver.

I am convinced that’s how I got the DICK TRACY gig back in 1977. I got the phone call to participate as one of several writers doing try-out scripts, and that same day I wrote it. They had it in lightning speed (at least the “Special Delivery” variety, since this was way before FAXing, e-mail and even Fed-Ex). And they called off the competition and hired me.

Of course, they eventually fired me with lightning speed in 1993….

* * *

I am pleased (maybe even a little bit thrilled) have J. Kingston Pierce – one of our best, smartest crime fiction reviewers – place one of my novels on his all-time favorite list. Jeff has selected the sometimes overlooked ANGEL IN BLACK, the “Black Dahlia” Nate Heller, which is among my personal favorites.

Here the film version of ROAD TO PERDITION is #2 on a list of the five best movies based on graphic novels. Nice things are said about the original book, as well.

M.A.C.