Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Shock Value

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

I recently received in the mail from the UK the Arrow Films blu-ray box set of Shock Treatment, the much unloved sort of sequel to Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will now discuss this a little – not in depth, because for you to have access to this, you’d have to have an all-regions blu-ray player, which still isn’t very common (though they are not expensive).

Shock Treatment is high on my list of things that I love that I’m not supposed to. (Also on this list is another movie sequel – the Chinatown follow-up, The Two Jakes.) I am one of the few people you’re likely to run into who saw Rocky Horror in a movie theater on its first run. I was at the time teaching cops English in the Quad Cities (with my back to the firing range at the Davenport PD) and had a long stretch of time between the morning and late afternoon sessions. This I would fill with a movie. So it was that I found myself the only person in a very big theater watching Rocky Horror.

I liked it, and bought the soundtrack (vinyl days). When it became a cult hit, I disliked the talking-back-to-the-screen and dress-up midnight-show screenings, because I actually wanted to hear, see and enjoy the film. That’s how strange I am.

Anyway, Shock Treatment was, on one level, a misguided attempt to create a cult film; its first run in theaters was as a midnight show, and the movie itself was brimming with colorful characters in colorful costumes for Rocky Horror-ites to dress up as.

But it was also a fairly acid criticism by creator Richard O’Brien of America in general and Rocky Horror fans in particular, although you had to be smart to get the latter. Whereas Rocky Horror was about “don’t dream it, be it,” and letting your freak flag fly, Shock Treatment was a critique of everybody wanting to be a star in the “me” decade, which in 1981 had just begun. One of the big production numbers had much of the cast dancing with wheeled full-length mirrors.

Even detractors of Shock Treatment will occasionally admit that the score is at least as good as Rocky Horror and probably better – the soundtrack is a virtual compendium of “New Wave” at its best. I was sold on Shock Treatment going in, because I knew that Janet (of the Brad and Janet duo) was going to be played this time by Jessica Harper, the mesmerizing Phoenix of Phantom of the Paradise, who brought her Karen Carpenter-like alto to all the great Paul Williams music in a film that is on my shortest short list of favorites. And Shock Treatment seems to have been more heavily influenced by Phantom than by Rocky Horror, oddly enough.

Shock Treatment presents the residents of Denton, USA, as the members of a studio audience, who even sleep in that studio. As they watch monitors and live broadcasts, they are caught up in the lives of the various local people who have become the stars of game shows, religious programming and reality TV.

Now here’s the thing: when Shock Treatment was made in 1981, reality TV didn’t exist. Nor did MTV, though the DTV of Shock Treatment seems to be a parody of it, right down to the logo. I had probably seen Shock Treatment fifteen times, easily, on its initial release and later on a laser disc I got from Japan. But I hadn’t watched it in at least ten years.

I had realized the film was remarkably prescient long ago, but seeing it again I was staggered by how much it seemed to be a satire on Trump’s America. It not only predicts and defines MTV and reality television, Shock Treatment includes “selfies,” anti-Mexican Americanism, anti-gay Americanism, and the fast food culture. Most shocking (so to speak) was seeing the movie’s climax in which the much-manipulated studio audience is handed out matching baseball caps with a dumb slogan to wear for the rally-like appearance of a Trump-ish figure whose slick-haired resemblance to Donald Trump, Jr., is downright creepy.


Cliff De Young as…Don Jr.?

This satire of Trump and his followers would seem too on-the-nose and heavy-handed, if it were done today…and not thirty-six years ago.

I don’t expect anybody reading this to send to the UK for the Arrow box set (and Arrow doesn’t have the rights to release the package in the US). But there’s a DVD available, as well as a double feature DVD with Rocky Horror.

* * *

Another movie walk-out: The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I am partial to Ryan Reynolds as a quipster, but Samuel Jackson must have really good material to be tolerable, and this one doesn’t have that. The tone is an uneasy combo of extreme, nasty violence and supposed dark humor, with tons of lazy f-wording. We bailed when Reynolds and Jackson, hitchhiking, were picked up by a van that turned out to be transporting cute nuns. Jackson says to the girls, “Whose lap am I going to sit on?” The nuns blush and titter, and we are gone.

* * *

Bookgasm has often been very good to me, but this review of Quarry’s Climax rubbed me the wrong way.

Anybody has a right not to like a book, and say so; but this reviewer (who has liked other Quarry novels and has a few nice things to say even here) accuses me of “a disturbing lack of commitment.” That’s a combination of personal insult and mind-reading that goes over the line.

I will counter this review by sharing these Quarry’s Climax reviews with you:

Publisher’s Weekly on Quarry’s Climax:

Set in 1975, MWA Grand Master Collins’s taut 14th Quarry novel (after 2016’s Quarry in the Black) presents a peculiar challenge for the professional hit man. Instead of simply killing his target, Quarry is tasked by his employer, the Broker, with protecting Max Climer, the Memphis-based publisher of a raunchy skin magazine called Climax, from a hit that has been assigned to parties unknown—and then eliminating the rival hit men. Quarry travels from his home in Paradise Lake, Wis., to Memphis, where he joins forces with his longtime partner, Boyd, a proficient assassin, and the two plunge into the city’s underworld in search of those out to get Climer. One of the book’s pleasures is watching the cold-blooded Quarry make tactical decisions with utter logic. Fun, too, is Quarry’s raffish way with the women he meets at every turn, leading to several colorful (and explicit) assignations. Numerous ’70s pop culture references leaven the criminal proceedings in this deft exercise in the business of violence.

Booklist on Quarry’s Climax:

Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story
is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with Climax in the title only for the characters).
* * *

Here’s an interview with the guy who plays Wild Dog on Arrow (still haven’t seen it, but the blu-ray set is on its way).

And finally here’s a Wild Dog podcast.

M.A.C.

Perdition, Zorro, Movies and More

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
Road to Paradise

Road to Paradise is coming to trade paperback in November. I am thrilled with the job Brash Books has done on bringing the complete prose trilogy into print. The covers are great, and though many will read the e-book versions, the physical items are handsome.

Of course, this all hinged on getting the original, complete, previously unpublished Road to Perdition prose novel into print, the first of this matched-set trilogy.

Before long Brash will be bringing out USS Powderkeg (a slightly revised version of Red Sky in Morning) and Black Hats under my name, jettisoning the Patrick Culhane pseudonym the publisher insisted upon.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, please support these great efforts by Brash Books to get my novels out there again and in the manner I prefer.

Check out the Road to Paradise page out at their web site.

* * *
Zorro Vol. 6

I’ve been a fan of Zorro since childhood – some of you may have read my introduction to the Hermes Press collection of Dell’s pre-Disney-TV version of the character, including four wonderful issues drawn by the great Everett Raymond Kinstler.

Well, publisher Rich Harvey’s Bold Venture Press has just completed an ambitious program to collect all of the original novels and stories about Zorro by his creator, the underrated Johnston McCulley. The sixth and final volume was just published, and I had the honor of writing the introduction, in which I detail the torturous route to finally having these rare Zorro tales collected and accessible to readers. It’s a bewildering mystery why the well-written stories by the creator of one of popular fiction’s most iconic characters (on a par with Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan and, uh, well, Mike Hammer) have been so elusive. That doesn’t mean I don’t try to solve it….

The great color covers of those early Dell issues provide most of the cover images of this series.

Read about it (with ordering info) here.

* * *

Two excellent recent crime films are worthy of your attention (and your money).

Steven Soderbergh’s return to movie-making, Logan Lucky, is a clever, funny but not campy heist picture with a Southern twist. The cast is terrific, but the stand-out is Daniel Craig, and to say he’s playing against type is a bit of an understatement – stick around for his hilarious credit at the close. And what a surprise it’s been seeing just how much talent Channing Tatum turns out to have, and this is coming from the skeptical author of the G.I. JOE novelization.

Writer/director Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a worthy follow-up to the excellent Hell or High Water (and, yes, I remember how much I hated Sicario, but he didn’t direct that). It begins leisurely and takes full advantage of its beautifully bleak snowy Indian reservation setting before some shocking action kicks in. There’s nothing new here – a fish-out-of-water young female FBI agent is teamed with a somewhat older local fish-and-wildlife man, and the sad backstories of various characters are things we’ve heard before…virtually everything here is familiar. But the kicker is how well done it all is, how quiet and deep the characterizations are, with Jeremy Renner nailing a quiet, modern cowboy with all the right tough-guy moves. He looks nothing like Nate Heller or Mike Hammer, but could play either one admirably.

* * *
Crusin' @ Ardon Creek

Crusin’ played a gig last Friday evening at Ardon Creek Winery – a lovely setting and a lovely evening. We play under a tent, open to a gentle slope where people dance and sit at tables to sip wine and munch bring-your-own goodies. To one side is the vineyard. Really a beautiful venue for us, with an appreciative crowd. We’ll be back next year.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a terrific job; good singer and he plays very well. He had to pick up about 36 songs – well, he brought about five or six suggestions along, which we learned – in about three weeks, during which we played two gigs. As I said about the previous performance, there were a few train wrecks but no fatalities, and we have the makings of a very good version of the band.

We play once more this year – at Ducky’s in Andulsia, Illinois, Thursday evening (6 to 9) – outdoors again, for their “bike night.” Our next scheduled appearance is April ‘18, and over the winter we’ll be retooling our list.

M.A.C.

…I Spoke Too Soon

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

Remember how last week I talked about how good the summer movies were, and how Barb and I didn’t seem to be walking out of movies anymore?

Then Atomic Blonde happened.

This was one I was really looking forward to – Charlize Theron as a spy in ‘90s Eurotrash-ville, showing off stylish clothes of the era, a popcorn flick with lots of action and a striking visual sense. Based on the trailer anyway.

And Charlize looks great. The visual style and the ‘90s fashions also look great. Lots of style, plenty of style, oodles of style.

No substance.

But you know what? I don’t care as long as I’m entertained. Hold me past my popcorn and I’m yours. But after forty-five minutes, Barb and I bailed. Life is too short.

Here’s the thing. The script sucks. It sets up a convoluted structure, where Charlize is getting debriefed (and not in the fun way) by solid actors Toby Jones and John Goodman. But the flashback-and-forth stuff tries to disguise a shopworn espionage set-up. Guess what the Maguffin is? Somebody has stolen a list of all the Western secret agents and if it’s found and they are exposed blah blah blah. Oh, and agent Jane Blonde…you are also try to uncover the traitor in our camp.

Then when you get to the airport, Jane, be sure to climb into the suspiciously waiting car not driven by the guy who’s supposed to pick you up. If you’re confused, just watch the start of Dr. No. You remember Dr. No, don’t you? It was released in fricking 1962!

Then, kids, stay tuned for mindless carnage and Charlize taking lots of baths in tubs full of fake ice cubes between stints of trying to convince you she’s a martial artist and…whoops, the popcorn’s gone.

Us, too.

* * *
The Prowler

So what have I seen that I liked lately?

Bizarre as it may seem, I caught up with two very well regarded films noir that I hadn’t gotten around to seeing yet. Both looked splendid on Blu-ray.

The Prowler, directed by the sometimes obtuse Joseph Losey, is a terrific 1951 crime movie ghosted by blacklister Dalton Trumbo, also responsible for the script of the great Gun Crazy. Van Heflin plays against type (he’s not the friendly rancher of Shane here) as a sort of male “femme fatale” who ensnares lonely housewife Evelyn Keyes in a Postman Always Rings Twice variant. Heflin is a sleazy, smirky cop, and we don’t even see the husband/victim till the murder – previously just been a disembodied voice on the radio. Wonderful.

On Dangerous Ground is from 1952. I can’t believe I never saw this before! The stars are Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino and Ward Bond, and the direction is by Nicholas Ray, produced by John Houseman. Despite this pedigree, the key credits are writer A.I. Bezzerides (who penned the screenplay for Kiss Me Deadly) and composer Bernard Herrmann, who for this low-budget B offers up a haunting score that prefigures every major noir/crime score of his to come. Ryan is a tough cop, as beaten down by his job as the punks he batters confessions out of. Bezzerides is clearly taking Spillane on, three years before Kiss Me Deadly (!), lambasting both tough-guy brutality and eye-for-an-eye justice, by way of Ward Bond’s out-of-control bereaved father. Ryan encounters blind Ida Lupino, a gentle soul who reveals his own metaphorical blindness. The narrative moves a little too fast to be credible, but forget it, Jake – it’s melodrama-town.

* * *

With luck, when you read this, I will have delivered the manuscript for Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago by M.A.C. and A. Brad Schwartz. Almost 900 pages, including end notes and bibliography.

So today’s update is brief.

I have things to do.

M.A.C.

Walk Out! Girl, Don’t You Walk Out….

Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
Quarry's War

The Quarry comic book mini-series (which will later be collected as a graphic novel) was officially announced at San Diego Comic Con, where I was not in attendance. The splendid cover is included here for your enjoyment, although my enjoyment is hampered by the fact that my name isn’t on it.

I trust this is an oversight that will be rectified by Hard Case Crime Comics, though I admit it rankles when the writer of the other comic book announced did make the cover of that number one issue.

I will leave it to you whether to file this under “What am I, chopped liver?” or sour grapes.

In the meantime, here’s the Booklist advance review of Quarry’s Climax:

Collins, Max Allan (Author)
Oct 2017. 240 p. Hard Case Crime, paperback, $9.95. (9781785651809). e-book, (9781785651816).

Chronology is always a little tricky in Collins’ Quarry series. Take this one. It’s a new entry, but the story is set in the 1970s, when the first Quarry thrillers were written. The hit man with a heart of steel (and a skewed sense of, well, just desserts) is working for the Broker, a murder middleman who farms out hired kills to his operatives. This time it’s a little complicated: Quarry and his partner, Boyd, must first dispatch the hitters sent to eliminate the publisher of the Memphis-based porn mag, Climax; then determine who hired the hitters; and, finally, get rid of them, too. All in a few days’ work for the resourceful Quarry, of course, who developed his killing chops as a Vietnam sniper, but along the way Collins treats us to a wonderfully vivid look at the pornography industry in its heyday. From publishers to centerfolds to strippers to feminist protesters, he cuts through the stereotypes with quick bits of subtle characterization (but, please, don’t say you read a book with ‘Climax’ in the title only for the characters).

— Bill Ott

* * *

The title of this week’s update is a line from the Monkees’ “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” which Crusin’ covered for a Monkees tribute CD some years back. But the subject is not rock ‘n’ roll – rather, the now legendary tendency of my wife Barb and myself where walking out of movies is concerned.

We were walking out of so many movies, readers of this weekly update were wondering what movies I might actually be able to tolerate, or perhaps even (choke) like. But others have noticed that there have been no reports of such walk-outs lately.

One possible reason for all the walk-outs has been a spate of overblown, mediocre would-be blockbusters, frequently cribbed from comics or otherwise pop-culture retreads. The Great Wall and Kong: Skull Island are typical. CHIPs and Baywatch are the kind of movies where you consider walking out during the trailer, which is all we saw of them.

The truth is, though, something strange happened this summer, at least so far: the blockbuster movie releases have been…how can I put it…good. Here’s a rundown on them, just little mini-reviews to pop like Milk Duds. And what part of the cow is the “dud,” anyway? A few of these I’ve already commented on, in passing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. A lot of care went into making sure the quirky humor of the first film was maintained, and it paid off. Casting Kurt Russell was a very good move. These movies know exactly how to walk you up to sentimentality and then drop the trap door on you.

Wonder Woman. Chris Pine, channeling William Shatner in the manner of the recent Star Trek movies, contributes humanity and humor while lead Gal Gadot brings provides charm, beauty and athleticism in an epic origin tale craftily set in a vivid Great War setting. And it’s surprisingly faithful to the Golden Age comic book.

The Mummy. The weakest of the non-walkout-worthy summer blockbusters is nonetheless a lot of fun, with Tom Cruise (no matter what you may think about Scientology) bringing his genuine movie-star charisma and skill to the party. A female mummy (Sofia Boutella) is a nice twist, although too much back story and the clumsy inclusion of Jekyll/Hyde (Russell Crowe) is a lame attempt to build a franchise nobody is waiting for.

Baby Driver. A reminder of what it felt like to go to the movies in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, this is a slick, fast-moving crime film that is propelled by music and moves from one phenomenal, and mood-changing, set piece to another. It’s an outrageous melodrama, with compelling, often larger-than-life characters. Not sure the proposed sequel is a good idea, though.

Spiderman – Homecoming. It took some doing, getting Barb to go along, and she wasn’t won over immediately. But this third reboot (who’s counting?) manages to both re-imagine and yet be quite faithful to the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko original (how I wish I had hung onto Amazing Fantasy #15). Tom Holland is a winning Peter Parker/Spidey, though the heart and soul of the movie, oddly enough, belongs to the villain, the wonderfully cast Michael Keaton. Only real flaw is how hard the film works to invoke other aspects of the Marvel film franchise universe, with much more Avengers and Iron Man stuff than necessary. It’s too much salt on an already well-seasoned popcorn.

War for the Planet of the Apes. This may be the best Planet of the Apes movie of all, and as good as the two previous ones are (Rise and Dawn), that’s saying something. There is a grandeur and even majesty to this one, and the believability of the apes is complete and stunning. But it’s also emotionally wracking, action-packed and even frightening. Give Andy Serkis an Oscar already, would you, Academy?

Dunkirk. I’ve never been a Christopher Nolan fan, but I am now a convert. This is the year’s best movie so far. It’s demanding – for Americans, the various Brit accents may mean losing this line or that one, and there’s no Pearl Harbor back story: you’re just thrown right into four or five storylines that crisscross over the running time. The Hans Zimmer score is ruthlessly relentless, and a relaxing time at the movies this isn’t. A few have complained that the film lacks any overview, but the situation is simple: the Germans have driven the British and the French armies to the coast of France with the Channel between the Brits and home. Hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers are trying to get home, and the advancing German army as well as their fighter pilots are trying to stop that, while British civilians in their own little boats are heading across the Channel to take soldiers home by the handful. That’s all you need to know. There is heroism and cowardice and various other shades of humanity, but also a sense of patriotism in a just cause that today somehow seems remote. Churchill’s famous speech, read by a soldier from a newspaper, is a reminder that giants once guided government.

* * *

My pal Bud Plant has found a supply of the first Ms. Tree trade paperback. It’s cheap and it’s here.

The Hard Case Crime announcement of Quarry’s War made at SDCC was picked up all over the Internet.

Finally, here’s news of the live performance of Mike Hammer: Encore for Murder next January in Florida. It stars my buddy Gary Sandy, who appeared in Mommy’s Day.

M.A.C.