Posts Tagged ‘Mike Hammer’

The Column I Wrote Instead of Watching the Oscars

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

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.


Batman Refuses to Lego of Me

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

A week or so ago, people started telling me I’m mentioned in the end credits of The Lego Batman Movie. Well, that’s all it takes to get me to a movie!

I’d already been invited to the world premiere in Los Angeles, but somehow DC Comics neglected to send us plane tickets, so Barb and I passed.

This mention in the end credits of this fun, funny film came as a surprise, and a cool one. It comes fast right toward the very end, and you may miss it, because I’m one of a lot of Batman writers and artists thanked. A good number aren’t listed, like my pal Terry Beatty, who worked on more Batman stuff than me by a long shot (it was always a mildly bitter irony that the Collins/Beatty team’s two members each worked on BATMAN projects but never together…though we tried with several rejected projects, one of which prefigured the animated show’s approach).

Terry was the one who figured out why I made an esteemed list that included such greats as Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson and Neal Adams. I created two characters – one of the versions of Robin (the least popular of all time!) and the villain the Mime, who appears in the film. Check it out here.

Ironies abound. I quit the Batman comic book because the Mime premise (if not the character) was mishandled by the artist. I had written that in search of the Mime, the police had rounded up suspects – and I specifically said all of them would look identical, specifically stereotypical mimes. The artist decided to vary them, tall, short, fat, etc., ruining the gag.

I’d had it and, after a frustrating year or so, I quit…probably an instant before I’d have been fired, but I quit.

That issue’s Batman script was not the last I wrote, however, as the follow-up had the Mime meeting the Joker. It never went into production, however, and I wound up turning it into a short story for a Batman anthology, The Further Adventures of Batman (1989), “The Sound of One Hand Clapping.” The book, with my story singled out, is reviewed here.

Some oh-so-serious Batman fans hate the Mime character, although she clearly prefigures the popular Harley Quinn. These fans of the dark Dark Knight version of the character can’t abide that I brought humor to the mix, since Batman – the story of a guy who dresses up in a costume with bat ears and a cape and refuses to use a gun as he fights crime in the big city – is so obviously a deadly serious premise. Not at all something a couple of kids named Bob and Bill dreamed up for other kids back in the late ‘30s. Such “Bat fans” are seriously in need of therapy. I recommend Arkham Asylum.

And now my revenge: the Mime and I are in a Batman movie!

Briefly, and for no money at all, I grant you…but in it! And I’m ridiculously pleased.

* * *

Nice Quarry TV write-up here.

Here’s another good one, which includes all the special features, including an in-depth interview with me…no, wait, it doesn’t, because I wasn’t asked.

Here’s an interesting review of Mickey Spillane’s The Twisted Thing from top-notch writer, James Reasoner.

And for some context, my take on The Twisted Thing for the Rap Sheet back in 2008 is here.


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.


* * *

(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!)

* * *

Thanksgiving 2016

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

In a year like the one I’ve experienced, it might seem tough to be thankful.

Those of you follow these updates know that I’ve had some health issues. The year began with carotid surgery preceding open-heart surgery, during which I had a stroke. While not major, the stroke left me with a fairly useless right hand – couldn’t type, didn’t even have a signature. And a writer losing his or her signature has lost a key piece of identity.

What followed was a lot of work getting my hand functional again and recovering from the surgery with physical and occupational therapy. Also, in the run-up to the heart surgery, something growing in my lower right lung lobe made itself known, requiring keeping an eye on. Eventually I was scheduled to go in for surgery that would probably be just a closer look, but might result in more serious surgery.

While all of this was going on, my son Nate’s bride Abby gave birth to Sam Collins, a preemie who fought a brave battle for life. Nate and Abby practically lived in the hospital for a month while this little tadpole of a kid fought to be a baby. We visited as often as we could, though this was going on concurrent with my heart condition stuff, and that limited us some.

Then both Barb and I managed to get pertussis, which is to say whooping cough. I got mine in August and she got hers a few weeks later, and we are still coughing (the hundred-day cough, they call it). My adventures, recounted in detail in previous updates, included rushing back from New Orleans the moment I landed because Barb’s pertussis had sent her to the emergency room; and having my lung surgery postponed for a month to allow me to get over my bout with the stuff.

The surgery wound up being more serious. A baseball-size thingie was taken out of my lower right lobe. It’s now been diagnosed as MALT-lymphoma, which has nothing to do with old Pop Jenkins down at the soda shop.

Then, while I was recovering from the lung surgery, glued to the TV, I witnessed Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

So what the hell do I have to be thankful for?

Almost everything (except for the Trump part).

We can start with this career that has allowed me to concoct stories and get paid for it for four decades. We can move from there to my wife Barb, whose love and support got me through all of the bullshit above – she always knows when I need a tender shoulder and also when I need a kick in the pants. She is not a self-pity fan.

From there we can move to my great son and his equally great wife, who gave me this wonderful grandson who has overcome all of the obstacles and is now smart and healthy and very funny. You may have a baby or a baby grandkid who seems pretty cool, but can yours do an evil maniacal laugh at sixteen months?

As for my travails, I was typing almost immediately when I got home from the hospital. Initially all I could move was the mouse, and for some weeks the sensitivity of the computer keyboard was how my weak right hand was able to register anything. But two weeks home after my three-week hospital stay (two of it in O.T. and P.T.), I was working on my draft of Antiques Frame. Before long I was writing The Will to Kill, the new Mike Hammer, and Executive Order with my pal Matt Clemens. Throughout every stage of various recoveries, I have found that my writing has been unimpeded, that it is a place I can go and think of nothing but the story at hand.

Every day I filled at least a full notebook page with my signature, and within a month I had it back. If you ever need an M.A.C signature, my wife can tear one of out the notebook I filled with them. (Ask for one from a later page.)

The pertussis Barb and I shared brought us even closer together, because we were dealing with it at the same time. I won’t pretend it didn’t suck, but something odd happens when you are sick and have a reasonable expectation to get well – you start to really, really appreciate normal, everyday life. To look forward to the most trivial damn things – a meal out, a movie, a walk on an autumn day.

As for the lung thing, I am in a wait-and-see mode, and have a few more tests to take, but I am assured this is a treatable, very survivable condition…and I may have no recurrence. At this point there’s been no talk of chemo or radiation.

If that comes, rest assured I will do everything I can to keep writing, and taking advantage of the support and friendship my readers, editors and my great agent Dominick Abel have always provided. Do not worry about me. I am fine, and I am blessed.


* * *

Here’s the Brash Books blog with stuff about Road to Perdition the novel and Quarry as well.

Here’s a nice latterday review of Kill Your Darlings, though oddly the Bouchercon aspect of the story (usually the favorite aspect of readers) is not so favored here.

Finally, here’s a cool review of Dan John Miller reading Better Dead.