Posts Tagged ‘Awards’

First Man and Four Insidious Films

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

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.

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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.

A Rotten Tomato for Rotten Tomatoes

Tuesday, May 8th, 2018

NEWS FLASH: McFarland, who published Mickey Spillane on Screen, is having a big sale. If you avoided this book because of its high price, you can get it for 25% off now, by using the code POPCULTURE25 – that puts it at $26.25, a price that is actually not insane!

Celebrate Mickey Spillane’s birthday with the best critical work ever written about him!

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Barb and I completed and shipped Antiques Ravin’ a few days ago. It’s always an intense ride, as she spends many months on her draft and then I spend a month or so expanding and revising, with her closely supervising. My job is largely to polish and expand, dialogue particularly, plus I add a lot of jokes (and there are always plenty before I start my work, which is why the books are very funny) (no modesty about that at all).

I believe we are at a dozen books in the series. That makes the Trash ‘n’ Treasures books one of my biggest successes in publishing, and I owe it all to Barb.

We sent out five copies of the recently published Antiques Wanted to the first five of you to request a copy, as part of our latest book giveaway.

If you’re won a copy of this (or of Killing Town, The Last Stand or The Bloody Spur), do please post Amazon (and other) reviews. The Last Stand has received a lot of attention, but perhaps because of that, Killing Town has gone almost unnoticed by the professional reviewing community. Judging by the positive response of readers so far – and the historic significance of Killing Town as the first Mike Hammer novel – the critical shrug to the book’s existence is frustrating and a little sad.

Speaking of critics….

As some of you may recall, I gave up my role as Mystery Scene’s film reviewer after I made a film myself and found out how fricking hard it is. Making even a bad film is an extremely tough endeavor for all concerned. The collaborative nature of the process, as well as the financial burdens and responsibilities, means that any time a good film happens, it does just that: it happens, almost in spite of itself. A good film, let alone a great one, is something of a miracle.

So for a long time I resisted the urge to write bad reviews of films. And nothing is easier than writing a bad review, particularly in the age of snark. I still refuse opportunities to write reviews of books by other mystery writers for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is conflict of interest.

I remember once when Tony Hillerman wrote a negative review in a major publication of one of the early Heller novels, how much it hurt to be attacked from above like that, how unkind and lacking in grace it was, coming not only from a writer much more successful than me, but from someone who I’d played poker with and with whom I’d socialized in a friendly way.

But, if you follow this update at all, you know that I have given in to my not better angels and written the occasional bad review of a movie. I have in particular reported when Barb and I have walked out. Because we go to the movies, on average, once a week – an effort to get out of the house where we both do our work – we have gotten into the habit of deciding at least in part about what we will see based on Rotten Tomatoes, where professional critics have their reviews averaged into a fresh or unfresh rating.

This habit has proved about as helpful as getting hooked on opioids.

Two cases in point.

The Blumhouse horror film, Truth or Dare, has a 15% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – decidedly unfresh. Stuck in the nearby Quad Cities, while Barb dealt with a Social Security problem her 93-year-old mother was having, I took in that film, just to kill time. While Barb has warmed to horror films some, I still have to go by myself at times, if one doesn’t appeal to her. I went to Truth or Dare.

Which was scary and well-directed, nicely acted, well-written, and everything a horror film of its kind should be. Somewhat similar to the Final Destination films, but stressing characterization in a far deeper fashion, Truth or Dare is creepy, involving fun. But it’s a horror film, and isn’t politically correct like Get Out (also Blumhouse, incidentally), so the critics don’t like it. None of them seem to understand that what a genre film, or any film, must do its work on its own terms.

Okay. So I Feel Pretty (I really do!). Barb and I both like Amy Schumer; loved her TV series, enjoyed Trainwreck, though we skipped Statched because Goldie Hawn’s plastic surgery was too disturbing.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the trailer of I Feel Pretty didn’t grab us, though we probably would have gone had we not read so many bad reviews of it. Rotten Tomatoes gives it 34% – definitely not fresh.

Then we heard Bill Maher talk about the film, and specifically the critical reaction to it, on Real Time. Now a lot of liberals dislike Maher, and a lot of conservatives dislike him, too. Which probably speaks well for him. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t have to always agree with people to be interested in what they have to say.

Here is what Bill said about I Feel Pretty:

I do agree with everything he said here, particularly nailing movie critics (book critics, take heed) for taking a filmmaker to task for not making the movie that said critic would have made. This is precisely what Gene Siskel used to do. He always beat up on movies that weren’t done the way he would have (this from a guy whose favorite film was Saturday Night Fever). I hope Siskel is in Purgatory right now, where he is not allowed to move on until he makes a movie as good as Plan Nine From Outer Space (good luck).

Anyway, Barb and I went to I Feel Pretty and it was very good. Funny as hell, with Schumer’s performance particularly strong (Michelle Williams is remarkable, too). Its message about self-esteem (including the pitfalls of too much of it) is clear and positive, without shortchanging the laughs. A perfect Sunday afternoon matinee movie.

Rotten Tomatoes, you deserve a basket of them tossed at you, one at a sloppy time.

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Here are this year’s International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Award nominations (and I’m pleased to be among them):

Short Story:
“Banana Republic” by Jonathan Maberry
“Ganbatte” by Keith DeCandido
“Murderers’ Row” by John Jackson Miller
“Pacing Place” by Bob Mayer
“Rear Guard” by Sarah Stegall
“Storm Blood” by Peter Wacks and David Boop

Adapted Speculative and General:
Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by James Goss
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter by Tim Waggoner
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by Christie Golden
Kong Skull Island by Tim Lebbon

Original Speculative:
The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox
Solar Singularity by Peter J. Wacks, Guy Anthony Demarco, and Josh Voight
Halo: Legacy of Onyx by Matt Forbeck
Star Wars Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden
Star Trek Discovery: Desperate Hours by David Mack
Supernatural: The Usual Sacrifices by Yvonne Navarro

Original General:
Don Pendleton’s The Executioner Fatal Prescription by Michael A. Black
The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet A Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

YA Original:
Star Wars Adventures in Wild Space – The Cold by Cavan Scott
Warriors Three: Godhood’s End by Keith R. A. DeCandido
X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry

Audio:
Doctor Who: Across the Darkened City by David Bartlett
Doctor Who: Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton
Warhammer 40,000: Agent of the Throne, Blood and Lies by John French
Torchwood: Cascade by Scott Handcock
Torchwood: The Dying Room by Lizzie Hopley

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Here’s one of the few Killing Town reviews so far. It’s from Ron Fortier and it’s a beauty.

A nice mention of Antiques Wanted can be found in this fun blog.

This is a quirky but positive review of the audio of Murder Never Knocks, which the reviewer calls Murder Never Knows (which does indicate a certain lack of regard to detail).

Take a look at this fun review of The Last Stand (with kind words about “A Bullet for Satisfaction”).

Finally, here’s a nifty write-up about Spillane, with an emphasis on the novel The Girl Hunters, from top-flight tough-guy writer, Wayne Dundee. I hope Wayne is following the posthumous Hammer novels, and is aware that Complex 90 is really more of a sequel to The Girl Hunters than even The Snake.

M.A.C.

Goodbye, Jerry; Hello, Nashville

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

I already did a brief post on Facebook about the passing of Jerry Lewis. I predicted that along with the tributes there would lots of snark, as some people feel the right moment to dis somebody is right after that person dies.

I understand Lewis was both a complicated man and an inconsistent artist. My late friend Bruce Peters used to say, “The only thing funnier than Jerry Lewis at his best is Jerry Lewis at his worst.” And there’s some truth in that. He could be such a putz when he got in self-trained intellectual mode on talk shows (Martin Short, a fellow Lewis lover, could nail that perfectly). He could be notoriously thin-skinned with interviewers and he indulged in outrageously politically incorrect humor right to the end – Barb, Nate, Abby and I saw him in St. Louis not long ago, and he told an Asian joke that was in terrible taste (but I laughed at it, because at 69 I already understand what it is to be of another era and feel the urge to make your own generation smile and younger people squirm).

But I wasn’t always 69. Once I was six, and seven, and eight, and all the ages along the way through junior and senior high school, years when at the Uptown Theater in Muscatine, Iowa, I saw every movie Jerry made. I saw many of Dean and Jerry’s movies that way, too, but also saw them tear it up on TV, manic magic as performed by no other comedy team in history. Nobody could make me laugh harder, and I still find Dean and Jerry a perfectly mismatched pair. I remember seeing Pardners and being so relieved that Dean and Jerry were obviously still pals and partners and, despite what we’d been told, would never ever split. Right up till the day Dean Martin died I was hoping for a genuine reunion of the two. They were, as I said elsewhere, the comedy Beatles.

Jerry could be cloyingly sentimental in his films. This made some otherwise interesting movies – Cinderfella, for example – occasionally unbearable. And he had a thing for clowns that misses me entirely. On the other hand, his infamous unreleased The Day the Clown Cried seems pretty good to me, based upon the clips and readings from the script that were assembled a while back, despite its legendary reputation as an embarrassing disaster. A guy who could be as overbearing as Jerry, and who represented show business at its most phony/traditional, made a great target for smug people of my generation who turned on the whole Rat Pack crowd as part of our general anti-Establishment stance.

It was easy for us to forget that Jerry was an anarchic presence in a dull decade, he and Dean perhaps the first sign of the rebellion that was to come, a bridling against the cookie-cutter post-war world that would soon know Brando and James Dean. Like Elvis and Spillane, Jerry Lewis – and in his way, Dino, too – were rebels serving up gleeful chaos even as they let us know that all was not calm beneath the pablum-paved Arthur Godfrey surface of ‘50s America.

And when the sixties kicked in – really kicked in – it was tough on Jerry. He famously considered his screen persona to be eternally nine years old, and this worked for a long, long time, because of his naturally youthful looks. But when the hippie era asserted its glassy-eyed self, and the sexual revolution changed movies, he started looking like a guy approaching middle age, and his brand of traditional show biz was soon attracting derision from the Baby Boomers who had loved him. He started making some truly dreadful movies with sex farce aspects – Three on a Couch, for example, and Way…Way Out.

And when he took on the Nazis in Which Way to the Front? (not long after Mel Brooks and The Producers), his comic timing seemed oddly off – as a director, his usual mastery of cutting was absent. And yet there are very funny moments toward the end of that generally dire film – Hitler has never been funnier, not even when Dick Shawn was playing him. Jerry’s willingness to do whatever it took to get a laugh would, even in those misjudged circumstances, shine through. Even his comeback comedy, Hardly Working, for all its sketchiness and awkward product placement, had sublime moments of Lewis hysteria, as when a porthole in an art gallery issues gushing water, with Jerry breaking the fourth wall to ask us if we’d seen that, too.

I always watched the telethons selectively. I wanted to see the parts where Jerry himself was performing or interacting with guests. (I saw the Dean Martin reunion, orchestrated by Sinatra, as it happened.) And I sat through Jerry’s excruciating yet strangely thrilling performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at least a dozen times.

So, yes, he was not perfect. But I’m here to tell you that he will join the pantheon of great screen comics. He’ll rank with W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, and Keaton. He’s already outdistanced such contenders as Danny Kaye and Red Skelton (meaning no disrespect to either – I am a guy who adores the Ritz Brothers, after all). I hope Abbott and Costello will last, and Bob Hope, too (his pre-1960s comedies and the Road pictures with Crosby remain hugely entertaining). The Stooges seem impervious, which for Baby Boomers is a sweet surprise, though when we’re gone that may not continue. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the best of Jerry Lewis will endure.

Like what, you ask?

Well, while the Martin & Lewis films don’t always capture the boys at their best, a handful do – Artists and Models (the comic book movie), Sailor Beware, You’re Never Too Young, The Caddy, Living It Up, The Stooge, Hollywood or Bust and Pardners. That’s quite a few, actually.

For Jerry at the top of his game, try The Nutty Professor, The Ladies’ Man, The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Errand Boy, all of which he directed and co-wrote. His collaborations with Frank Tashlin are mostly worthwhile: It’s Only Money, The Disorderly Orderly, and Who’s Minding the Store among them. And of course there’s The King of Comedy.

Fanatics, like myself, have everything of Jerry’s on DVD and Blu-ray – including things you can only acquire from overseas. I even have bootlegs of the two (terrible) movies he made in France.

Nonetheless, France was right: he was a genius. Not everything I’ve said here is flattering about him, but make no mistake – I loved this man and his work. For probably twenty years I’ve dreaded the day when I would learn of his passing. I knew part of me would die with him.

So I’ll be as cloyingly sentimental as Jerry and say that he won’t be gone as long as his films are with us, including moments like this:

* * *

I am a guest of honor at Killer Nashville this weekend (Aug. 24 -27). Barb will be along, and we’ll be very active, doing scads of panels. It’s our first time at this event.

I’m receiving a life achievement “Legends” award – read about it here.

Here’s where you can get more general info about the conference/convention.

And here are the panels one or both of us are on:

Friday, Aug 25
2:20pm panel: M.A.C. Bad Boys and Girls (Hickory 20)
4:40pm signing: M.A.C.
5pm Author Readings (Birch MM)

Saturday, Aug. 26
12:30pm Road to Perdition interview; M.A.C. (Birch 34)
2pm panel: Barb; How to Write Cozy Mystery Series (Hickory 37)
3pm panel: M.A.C./Barb; Art of Collaboration (Sycamore 43)
5:10pm signing; M.A.C./Barb (Azalea S8)
7pm Awards Dinner (Birch KNA)

Sun. Aug 27
9:50am panel; M.A.C. Writing the Scene (Sycamore 49)
9:50am panel; Barb One Night: Lovers, Minor Characters (Redbud 50)
10:50am panel; Barb That’s Funny (Sycamore 54)

I have been in Nashville twice before. In 1967, to record “Psychedelic Siren” with the Daybreakers. And in 1994, to scout locations for The Expert with director Bill Lustig.

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Take a look at these nice comments about Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman Elseworlds graphic novel, with a suggestion that it should be animated.

This nice look at Road to Perdition is, as usual, based on its being derived from a comics source.

Finally, here’s a nice review of The Pearl Harbor Murders (actually of Dan John Miller’s audio of it) with an overview of the entire “Disaster” series.

M.A.C.

A Cancellation, a Nomination & an Anniversary

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

HBO/Cinemax has finally officially cancelled the Quarry series, but this comes as no surprise. A shake-up at the network, as well as a conflict between the star (who is committed to another series pilot) and the director of all eight episodes, spelled it out long ago.

What’s most disappointing to me is that my script for season two will not be produced, and I was really happy with it. We had thought some other network might pick the show up, but that now seems unlikely.

I am happy to have had a quality show that gave my Quarry books a higher profile. My hitman has now generated an award-winning short film, a festival-winning feature, and now a first-rate series, and my writing was a part of all three. Maybe we’ll see more of him on screen yet.

More pleasant news came by way of a Shamus nomination for the Spillane/Collins short story, “A Dangerous Cat,” which appeared in The Strand magazine and is also in the collection A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook from Mysterious Press.

Barb and Al, early 1970s
Barb and Al, early 1970s

But the biggest event of the past week was our 49th wedding anniversary, on June 1, which we celebrated with an overnight stay at Galena, Illinois, where always have a wonderful time. For me, it was especially gratifying because – after the various operations and the stroke and all – I was able to spend a long day walking and enjoying myself, feeling very much back to normal (or as close to normal as I ever get). Galena is a quaint, pretty little town of 3500, with lots of boutique shopping and some 65 restaurants. I will be doing a thriller next year set in this scenic community.

On the trip to and from Galena, we finished listening to the audio book of Antiques Frame, so beautifully read by Amy McFadden. It was a reminder to me about how much Barb has grown and flourished as a writer, a profession she never dreamed of entering. Having such a beautiful, talented, smart, funny, patient wife for all these years is the best award/reward I could ever hope for.

The week leading up to the two-way getaway was a busy one, as was the weekend following. I did final edits on the Spillane volume, The Last Stand, which includes the previously unpublished novel of that name, as well as an early ‘50s novella, also previously unpublished, A Bullet for Satisfaction. The latter is a Spillane/Collins collaboration, the former the last solo effort by Mickey. There’s also an introduction explaining the history of both novels. Hard Case Crime will be publishing in both hardcover and soft.

In addition, I wrote the introduction for the collected Dick Tracy Volume 23, for IDW, and dealt with the copy-edited versions of two short stories written by Matt Clemens and me for a pair of horror anthologies. Finally, I wrote the introduction to Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio.

That book now focuses on the Chicago years, with a second volume projected to deal with the rest of Ness’s life. This week I’ll start work on my polish/tweak of the nearly 900-page manuscript. Co-author A. Brad Schwartz and our writing/research associate, George Hagenauer, are working on the bibliography and end notes.

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The complete list of Shamus nominations can be seen at the great site, The Rap Sheet.

Here’s a good current interview with me.

A ton of articles on the cancellation of the QUARRY series are out there, many quoting Michael D. Fuller’s blog post about it. Here’s a good example.

M.A.C.