Posts Tagged ‘Antiques Slay Ride’

The Five Great Christmas Movies

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

The image this week is our Christmas card to you – originally sent by my parents some time in the early ‘50s.

I’ve talked about Christmas movies here before, and last year I emphasized the fun of looking at some of the more obscure but good Christmas movies, like BELL, BOOK & CANDLE and THE FAMILY MAN.

But there are only five great Christmas movies. This is not a topic for debate. This is strictly factual. You are welcome to disagree and comments to that effect are welcome, but they will be viewed with Christmas charity as amusing, misguided and somewhat sad opinions in the vein of the earth being flat and 6000 years old.

Here are the five great Christmas movies, in this year’s order (it shifts annually).

1. SCROOGE (1951). Alistair Sim is the definitive Scrooge in the definitive filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Faithful, scary, funny, unsentimental, sentiment-filled, flawless (except for a cameraman turning up in a mirror). Accept no substitutes, although the Albert Finney musical is pretty good.

2. MIRACLE ON 34th Street (1947). Hollywood filmmaking at its best, with lots of location shooting in New York. Edmund Gwen is the definitive, real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood gives her greatest child performance; John Payne reminds us that he should have been a major star; and Maureen O’Sullivan is a smart, strong career woman/working mother who could not be more glamorous. Admit to preferring the remake at your own risk.

3. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Heartwarming but harrowing, this film is home to one of James Stewart’s bravest performances and happens to be Frank Capra’s best film. Have you noticed it’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL from Bob Cratchit’s point of view? (View at your own risk: Capra’s last film, A POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES, just barely a Christmas movie, recently released on blu-ray and DVD. Longer than an evening with your least favorite relatives.)

4. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The great Jean Shepherd’s great movie that has turned, somewhat uncomfortably, into a cottage industry of leg lamps, Christmas decorations and action figures. Shepherd’s first-person narration has the snap and humor of Raymond Chandler, and the mix of cynicism and warmth is uniquely his. Plus, it’s a Christmas movie with Mike Hammer and Carl Kolchak in it.

5. CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) continues to grow in reputation, possibly surpassing the original film. Somehow the John Hughes-scripted third VACATION go-round manages to uncover every Christmas horror possible when families get together and Daddy tries too hard. It’s rare that a comedy can get go this broad, this over the top, and still maintain a sense that we’re watching a documentary about everything than can go wrong at Christmas.

You don’t have to agree with this list. I am perfectly happy with you putting the films in some other order, as long as the first three films I’ve listed remain in the first three. I think I’m being remarkably flexible.

There are two Barbara Stanwyck Christmas movies that have gained blu-ray release and in one case a limited theatrical showing. The latter is a 1945 dog called CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (paired in theaters by TCM with a mediocre 1938 version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL – a stocking full of coal of a double feature). But the sleeper, and a small masterpiece, is REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), written by Preston Sturges and co-starring Stanwyck’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY lead, the wonderful Fred MacMurray.

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Both MIKE HAMMER full-cast audio novels (starring Stacy Keach) get reviewed, here and here. The reviewer really likes THE LITTLE DEATH.

Nice mention of SUPREME JUSTICE here.

Here’s a delightful look at ANTIQUES CON from a theatrical point of view.

Finally, Merry Christmas! Remember, you can get in the Christmas spirit (or anyway the Xmas spirit) with ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE on e-book, and “A Wreath for Marley” in THE BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES.


You Slay Me

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013
Bouchercon 2013

Here are two images courtesy of Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton – a photo of Barb, Matt Clemens and me at the recent Albany Bouchercon (courtesy of Mike’s friend Gene) and the cover of the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures Christmas novella, ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE.

Antiques Slay Ride

SLAY RIDE is available only as an e-book, and is the first of three such novellas (all with Christmas themes) that will appear over a three-year period. This one came out very well, and works as an introduction to the series and the characters if you’ve never tried one of these novels by Barbara Allan (Barb and me).

Barb is working on her draft of the next full-length novel in the series, ANTIQUES SWAP – at about the half-way mark. I am deep into SUPREME JUSTICE, a political thriller for Thomas & Mercer, that Matt Clemens has helped develop. It’s due November 1 and, with any luck, I’ll make that deadline.

WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER has done very well so far, particularly on e-book, which is Thomas & Mercer’s long suit. As I write this, we are still number #1 in serial killer books. If you had a chance to read it, or EARLY CRIMES, let me again say how much positive reviews (however short) are helpful. I’ve been told by a credible source that even negative reviews can be helpful at Amazon and Barnes & Noble – statistics apparently show that books with no reviews don’t sell as well as books with primarily negative reviews. Right now we’re at 34 reviews and a four-star average for WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. (EARLY CRIMES has 13 reviews and a five-star rating, which is very nice for such an offbeat little book.)

Barb and I have been watching horror movies, in honor of Halloween, with an emphasis on 3-D (we are set up for that in my office). The new 3-D blu-ray of the classic HOUSE OF WAX (SCTV fans, all together now: “Have you theen my paddleball?”) is quite wonderful and shows how effective and fun 3-D effects can be (from an eyepatch-sporting director who could not perceive the effect himself). Though it’s not a great movie, AMITYVILLE 3-D is also out on blu-ray as part of a boxed set of Amityville movies, and it too has wonderful 3-D effects, as well as a strong performance from the too-little-seen Candy Clark.

On the other hand, we tried to watch GATSBY and bailed after twenty minutes of pretentious self-conscious bilge. I avoided this in the theater but gave in to my 3-D curiosity for an attempted home viewing. I never dreamed Baz Lurhmann could make a film more dreadful than his MOULIN ROUGE, but he seems to have knocked the ball out of the park and into the crapper – based on the twenty minutes we watched. (Barb: “Are you having fun?” M.A.C.: “Not in the least.” Barb: “Can we stop watching this?” M.A.C.: “Absolutely.”)

We also took in the 3-D version of GRAVITY at our new multi-plex and were far less impressed than the critics at Rotten Tomatoes who give it 98% fresh. It’s an impressive piece of filmmaking in the technical sense, and well-acted, working fine as a thrill ride. The story, such as it is, is weak, with Sandra Bullock’s character in particular poorly thought through. It’s probably worth seeing, but keep in mind it’s one of those one-damn-thing-after-another movies. It also has one of those New Age orchestral scores with a wordless soprano caterwauling in a vaguely spiritual manner – the kind I hope never to hear again.

Here’s my blurb: “Way better than GATSBY!”

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There’s a really nice review of several Hard Case titles, including SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, at Barnes and Noble’s web site.

Here’s a nice review of COMPLEX 90.

Finally, no firm news on QUARRY for Cinemax yet, but here’s an interesting interview with a mention of the pilot from an HBO exec.


Pop Culture Clash

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Starting about ten years after I graduated from college, I began having an experience that has repeated itself many times since: I would read some entertainment publication, perhaps Rolling Stone or Entertainment Weekly, and feel hopelessly out of touch with the popular culture around me. Since I make my living in pop culture, and have been a fan of pop culture since early childhood, this is distressing. I have prided myself, over the years, for being more connected to what was going on in entertainment than the average person of my advanced age (whatever that advanced age happened to be at the time…in this country, all ages past 35 are advanced).

That happened again to me over the weekend, as I sat down to read Entertainment Weekly’s 2013 preview issue. And my recurring problem – shared possibly by other purveyors of popular culture who aren’t in their twenties or early thirties – reasserted itself with a vengeance. I understand that the popular culture is fragmented. We don’t have, and haven’t had for some time, the kind of shared experience we once had – Elvis and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, or the premiere episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, or opening week of Thunderball.

There are, obviously, some pop culture experiences of today that rival the shared experiences of the Twentieth Century. The Super Bowl and American Idol, for instance, neither of which I’ve ever seen, but have an awareness of because of their all-pervasiveness. Michael Jackson and Madonna were last gasps of the shared pop culture experience (and even they were not on an Elvis/Beatles level), as they were part of the MTV era that flowed out of the greater cable TV explosion that so fragmented our entertainment experience. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just an undeniable thing. I don’t believe Lady GaGa has a pop cultural resonance on a level with Madonna, just as Madonna doesn’t have a pop cultural resonance on a level with the Beatles. (On the other hand, the Beatles were on a level with Elvis, just as Elvis was with Sinatra before him.)

But for a writer, even one who often deals with historical subjects, to lose touch with the pop culture is death. And at 64, I’ve reached that age the Beatles once sang about in relation to a distant old age, so I know death is also an undeniable thing. Yet somehow it chills to me read an issue of Entertainment Weekly and see so much I know little or nothing about.

What follows are rhetorical questions, and you may post answers if you like, but understand that’s not the nature of these questions.

Who the hell are Niall Horan and One Direction? Must I watch a show called GIRLS on HBO and endure “superawkward sexual encounters”? Why would anyone want a Blu-ray boxed set of the Jackson Five cartoon show? (Not understanding nostalgia may represent a hardening of the arteries in someone as drenched in nostalgia as I am.) Who the hell are Nick Kroll, Hunter Hayues, A$AP Rocky, Conor Maynard, and M83? Who are Campo, Chainz featuring Dolla Boy, and Arcade Fire (the last falls into a category that I would designate as Actually I Have Heard of Them But Have Never Knowingly Heard Their Music). Why are there so many TV stars I am unfamiliar with (Chris Coffer, Monica Potter, Season Kent, Manish Raval, Thomas Golubic)?

The reason I am posing these questions rhetorically is that if they were actual questions, the obvious answer to all of them is: I’m out of touch. But fragmentation is a mitigating factor, as is bad pop culture that a reasonable human shouldn’t be expected to endure. You make decisions, as you trudge through life, about certain things you aren’t going to put up with. For me, Rap/Hip Hop falls into that category, as does country western music. Both pander to our worst instincts, though I am aware that intelligent defenses can be made of various artists and specific works within those fields. Country western music gave us Patsy Cline, so it can’t be all bad. Rap is a travesty, and I refuse to call it “music” since at his core is a lack of melody. I know doggerel when I hear it – I am an English major, after all.

Not that there isn’t plenty in this issue of Entertainment Weekly that I’m familiar with – probably a good share of which would be unfamiliar to a lot of people my age. But this is that moment, which has repeated so many times in my life, where I feel the popular culture is rolling over me, flattening me like a steamroller in an old cartoon.

* * *

This weekend we saw two films, one of which (ZERO DARK THIRTY) will likely be among my favorites this year, and another (GANGSTER SQUAD) which will likely be among my least favorites. Despite the political squabbling (by parties with varying agendas) in the media over the use of torture, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a gritty, involving docu-drama reminiscent at times of the great BBC series SPOOKS (aka MI-5). The real-time Bin Laden raid is stellar filmmaking. By the way, if you lit a match under my foot, I would gladly give you the atomic bomb secrets. So maybe with some weak-willed persons, torture does work.

GANGSTER SQUAD is a handsomely mounted but incredibly dumb supposed look at Mickey Cohen’s reign as a mob boss in post-war LA. I have never seen a more inaccurate “true crime” film, which is essentially a sloppy, riciulously violent re-do of THE UNTOUCHABLES, with Sean Penn’s smirky, sneering one-note performance managing to be even less true to Mickey Cohen’s character than the moronic screenplay. I hate movies like this, because not only do they suck, but they usually flop and make it tough for good period crime movies (say, based on a Nate Heller novel) to happen. Though over the top and obvious, the art direction makes sumptuous eye candy, and Josh Brolin is very good as a Mike Hammer-ish cop. He would make an excellent Hammer. On the other hand, sleepy-eyed, whiny Ryan Gosling remains the opposite of charismatic, a walking void who sucks the life out of any scene he enters.

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I spent the week doing my draft of a 12,000-word novella called “Antiques Slay Ride,” a Christmas-themed e-book being done as a promotion for the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series. It will appear, not surprisingly, toward the end of this year.

Congrats to Dan John Miller, who was selected as one of AudioFile Magazine’s “Voices of the Year” for his performance of FLYING BLIND. If you’re a Heller fan who listens to audios, I highly recommend Dan’s readings of all of the novels (yes, he’s done them all, and the short story collections, too). He really is Nate Heller.

Some nice Net reviews have rolled in of late, including this one on CHICAGO LIGHTNING.

And here’s a swell TARGET LANCER review.

Short but sweet, this review of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT comes from the UK’s Crimetime site.

Speaking of the soon-to-be-published SEDUCTION, here’s some Goodreads reviews of the novel.

Here’s a review of the previous Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER, with a fun discussion of Fearless Fosdick.

Finally, check out this perceptive review of BYE BYE, BABY, and you may want to read my comment posted below it.