Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Christmas Movie Festival – By Popular Demand!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018

All right, I admit this is nothing anyone asked for – it’s just a rundown on our personal post-Thanksgiving Christmas movie fest. Barb and I almost always spend the evening watching a movie (sometimes a TV show or two), and this year we determined to watch nothing but Yuletide-themed movies till Christmas itself rolled around.

So you may want to run a copy of this off to guide you for your Yuletide watching next year (or, if you are sane, you may not).

Here, pretty much in the order we watched them, are our selections. We started with bad-taste Christmas comedies, then moved to TV Xmas episodes, followed by more traditional favorites. Nothing religious. We have no intention of debasing this secular holiday with religion.

The Thing – ****. The Howard Hawks-produced 1951 film. Admittedly not a Christmas movie, but the Blu-ray just came out, and the film is set at the North Pole. We were warming up for Christmas by vicariously experiencing all that cold in the company of a fire and hot chocolate.

Bad Santa – ****. Okay, I understand this is not by any rational accounting a four-star movie. But it accomplishes something very special. It surrounds its good heart with layers and layers of darkly funny coal. Billy Bob is a favorite of mine, and Willie T. Stokes is one of his finest creations.

Bad Santa 2 – ****. All right, I realize this is even less rational. Most reviewers hated this. Hated it! Apparently they didn’t notice how hilarious it is. Billy Bob’s commitment to his character is complete, and he has Kathy Bates as his cheerfully sociopathic mother to explain a lot about Willie’s development as a human being. The now adult Brett Edward Kelly as grown kid Thurman Merman damn near steals the picture, which is even nastier than the first one but with an even better heart.

A Christmas Horror Story – ***. This has become our favorite Christmas horror movie, dealing as it does with Krampus and featuring William Shatner as a hard-drinking, smiling radio personality, linking several interwoven stories, of which the most memorable features a wonderfully bad-ass Santa. Many of those working on this were part of the Orphan Black creative team.

Office Christmas Party – ***. Almost as dark as Bad Santa at times, this features Jason Bateman (nearly rivaling his Game Night performance), playing a funny straight man to an unending array of current comic talent. It, too, turns out to have a good heart but – like the Bad Santa films – not a sentimental one.

Murdoch MysteriesOnce Upon a Murdoch Christmas and A Merry Murdoch Christmas – **. We love this series. It’s uneven, but the recurring cast is winning and often the episodes are first-rate. These two Christmas episodes are among the worst outings, however, over-the-top and even embarrassing at times. A third, more recent Christmas Murdoch is better, but the bar isn’t set high.

Poirot – “The Theft of the Royal Ruby.” ****. One of two excellent Christmas episodes of the wonderful, long-running David Suchet series, this Christie adaptation – set in that great art-deco house that turns up in multiple episodes – is the best, amusing and even exciting.

A Nero Wolfe Mystery – “A Christmas Party.” ***. The repertory cast here is even hammier than usual – most Canadian-produced series, like Murdoch, do well with the central casting but reveal a shallow bench among the Canadian day players. Still, the byplay between Timothy Hutton’s Archie and the late, great Maury Chaykin’s Wolfe is a gift that keeps on giving.

Holiday Inn – ****. A masterpiece of music and well-motivated situation comedy with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire playing off each other beautifully. Just fast-forward through the embarrassing blackface number, “Abraham.” By the way, I see blackface as a cultural thing that once was accepted – so, in that context, I can watch Eddie Cantor in his blackface scenes with little if any shame. Problem with this particular blackface number is…it’s an awful song. Irving Berlin wasn’t perfect. He didn’t think “White Christmas” was the hit in his new score (he figured “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” was the winner).

White Christmas – **. Pains me to say it, because I love Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and my late pal Miguel Ferrer’s mom, Rosemary Clooney…but this film mostly stinks. Even Bing didn’t like it. “Count Your Blessings” with Bing and Rosie is lovely, though.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas – ***. Barb and I reverted to bad-taste comedy after White Christmas – to cleanse the palate. This is very funny, with some uncomfortable moments in the Neil Patrick Harris section (funny how quickly certain things have dated in the #metoo era). Even for non-dopers like Barb and me, this stoner comedy is funny and has a nice pace, getting gradually more absurd as it goes. And represents a rare, really good use of 3-D in a 21st Century film.

Scrooged – *. I love Bill Murray. Groundhog Day, which covers similar ground, is one of my favorite movies. And I love the Christmas Carol story. But this is a forced, shrill comedy with Bill Murray trying uncharacteristically too hard. The whole movie is hysterical, but in a humorless way, and seems filled to the brim with personalities of the moment who were soon to fade away.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – ***. I love this movie, and know it by heart, but there’s no denying it’s uneven. Still, it’s gradually become a favorite among many and has eclipsed the better first film in the series, because of course Christmas is at this third entry’s heart. Julie Louis Dreyfuss’s presence reflects smart (and lucky) casting. Where Scrooged doesn’t seem to really believe its positive message, Christmas Vacation manages to celebrate family even as it lampoons it.

Meet Me in St. Louis – ****. This should not be a four-star movie. It’s almost plotless. The co-star is Tom Drake, for Pete’s sake (or is that Pete Drake for Tom’s sake – I can’t remember). But it’s beautifully directed and perfectly paced, with Judy Garland at her loveliest and most appealing. And Margaret O’Brien is magically good as the little girl who, if you really listen to her, is apparently the first Goth Girl.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 – *** (for the Shout Factory Blu-ray). Okay, I watched this by myself – not Barb’s idea of a Christmas movie. It’s really not worthy of this rating. About a third of the movie is flashbacks from the first film. But the slasher anti-hero, Billy, played by Robert Brian Wilson, is fascinating – is that a terrible performance, or a great one? I’m just not sure! All I know is it’s “Garbage day!”). And the latterday “making of” documentary (longer than the movie!) is one of the best of its kind.

A Christmas Story – ****. Now we’re into the classics. One of my top four. No matter how hard the world tries to diminish this Jean Shepherd classic – with licensed toys, mini-leg lamps, t-shirts and other crap – this movie remains the best film about childhood in 20th Century America ever made. (There’s even an abysmal stage production – aired live, so you can “re-live” the experience, when I thought you relived it by watching the original again!) I love that Darren McGavin (TV’s first Mike Hammer and the great Carl Kolchak) has become an iconic figure, thanks to his perfect performance as Ralphie’s Old Man. Barb and I first saw this with my late, beloved aunt Beth on Christmas Day on the film’s first release. Loved it then. Love it now. It influenced Road to Perdition, by the way – the adult narrator recalling his childhood. Michael O’Sullivan Jr.’s childhood did vary some from Ralphie’s, admittedly.

Scrooge – ****. The Alastair Sim 1951 version. Accept no substitutes.

Miracle on 34th Street – ****. The Edmund Gwenn version. Again, accept no substitutes. This is Hollywood mid-20th Century studio filmmaking at its finest – perfect script and direction, with even the smallest part perfectly cast (Thelma Ritter!). No major stars – John Payne, wonderful, and Maureen O’Hara, also wonderful, were B+ talent, and Edmund Gwenn a little-known character actor whose only other real claim to fame is as a scientist in Them! And yet all of ‘em will live forever, thanks to this impeccably constructed film. Shot on location, by the way, at the real Macy’s in the real New York City.

It’s a Wonderful Life – ****. We haven’t watched this yet this year. We don’t watch it every Christmas season, because it’s a rough ride, in spots. But – like Groundhog Day – you have to forgive the protagonist his flaws in order to witness his redemption. You know what Wonderful Life and the two Bad Santa films have in common? Their protagonist tries to commit suicide, saved by Christmas in the form of Clarence the angel and Merman Thurman, the…God, I’m not sure what.

Merry Christmas, everybody. See you next year.

M.A.C.

Stan Lee, William Goldman, Orson Welles and Much, Much More!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

By the time this appears, Brad Schwartz and I will have made our Chicago appearance at the American Writers Museum. But as I write this, Barb and I haven’t even left Muscatine yet. So any report will have to wait till next time, when I’ll also talk about Thanksgiving with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam and Lucy.

But there’s plenty to talk about first. Let’s start with two great names in American pop culture, both writers, who met their final deadlines recently.

I interacted with Stan Lee any number of times. Coincidentally, the first and most memorable was at WGN in Chicago, where Brad and I will be taping something the day before this update appears. Brad and I will be doing television, but Stan and I did a radio show, where he fielded questions about Marvel and I did the same about the Dick Tracy strip, which I was writing then. I’m guessing this was early ‘80s. Stan was friendly and everything you’d expect him to be, and we got along fine. In future, I would encounter him at comics conventions, mostly just saying hello. He always seemed to remember me, but I doubt he did.

While I have little interest in Marvel today, and have only written a handful of things for them, I was a big fan in junior high and high school (and even college). I knew of Stan Lee by his byline on pre-superhero monster comics and even Millie the Model (I read lots of different comics). I’m sure it made an impression on me that this was a writer getting a byline on comics without doing any of the drawing. I bought all his early superhero stuff at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, including the first issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and The Avengers. I knew of Jack Kirby, too – I subscribed to Challengers of the Unknown in grade school. Kirby was why I was buying monster comic books featuring creatures like “Fin Fang Foom,” “Mechano” and (yes) “Groot” (many Marvel super-hero characters had earlier incarnations as monsters).

How long was I a Marvel fan? As long as Ditko (and then John Romita, Sr.) was drawing Spiderman and Kirby Fantastic Four, I was in.

What I liked about Stan was the humor he brought to his super-hero work, and the way he interacted with fans. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Some have tried to diminish his work by saying he screwed over Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but I know nothing of that and don’t want to know. What I know is he entertained and inspired me, and was friendly to me in person. Excelsior, Stan.

I never met William Goldman, who was a friend of Don Westlake’s – occasionally Don told me stories about his buddy “Bill.” I admired Goldman as a novelist (Soldier in the Rain, Marathon Man), although his screenwriting was where I think he really made an impact. He brought a storytelling touch to the form that made scripts read like, well, stories, not blueprints. He did this to save his sanity and also to make the screenplays compelling to the studio execs and directors who read them.

Goldman is, of course, the man who revealed to the world that the first and only rule about Hollywood is, “Nobody knows anything.” And he gave us the book that became the film Princess Bride. I wrote the novelization of his Maverick, not his best screenplay by a longshot but still good and a pleasure to turn into a novel that some (myself included) consider superior to the film. I like having a small connection to the man.

By any yardstick, William Goldman was a writer who left the world a better place for what he did while he was here. Let’s say it all together now: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

* * *

So Netflix is making theatrical movies now, and streaming those movies even as they are hitting theaters. This is a tragedy, because it almost certainly means I will have to buy an even bigger TV.

So are the movies any good? Having seen two, I may not have enough to go on. But both are worth talking about.

First, Outlaw King. This historical epic is essentially a sequel to Braveheart, although only the dismembered arm of William Wallace appears (apparently not contributed by Mel Gibson). Reviews on this have been mixed, but Barb and I thought it was terrific. Pine was fine (sorry) as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who faced seemingly impossible odds in a struggle to win independence from Britain – as an American whose grandparents on my pop’s side were name MacGregor, I can relate. The filmmaking is first-rate, with an opening shot that goes on forever without a cut, just a dazzling piece of work from director, co-screenwriter David Mackenzie. There’s even a decent love story. Barb was happy with Chris Pine’s nudity (me not so much) but the final battle scene was a bloody wonder, making Braveheart look like a garden party. High marks for Netflix on this one.

Then there’s The Other Side of the Wind. Netflix backed this assembly of footage from 96 hours Orson Welles shot between 1970 and 1976. Welles was attempting something new, influenced and I think intimidated by the American wave of young filmmakers that included Dennis Hopper (who appears in the film) as well as Coppola, DePalma and Scorsese.

To call the production troubled is like saying Citizen Kane is pretty good. Cast members came and went, sometimes due to availability; locations meant to suggest California include Arizona, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium and sometimes even California. The cast is stellar, to say the least, but the shifting players means nothing really coheres – Peter Bogdanovich plays (not particularly well) a role based on himself that was originally acted by Rich Little, who left the production to meet a prior Vegas gig. Lilli Palmer is in a few scenes (shot in Spain), interacting with almost nobody, though it’s supposed to be her house where the interminable Hollywood party is happening. John Huston reveals how limited his bag of acting tricks is, and does himself nothing but harm.

It’s a mess – something of a glorious mess, and that it works at all is due to editor Bob Murawski somehow stitching it all together. Cuts come quickly, from black-and-white to color and back again, creating an auto accident of a movie about a filmmaker’s (off-stage) auto accident. Much of Wind is a film-within-a-film spoof of pretentious European films of the Antonioni variety (at least I hope it’s meant to be a spoof) starring Welles’ female companion/partner, Oja Kodar, billed as co-writer, who is mostly nude (I did enjoy her nude scenes more than Chris Pine’s).

It’s a hateful, ridiculous film, clogged with Welles bitterly attacking Hollywood in general and critic Pauline Kael in particular (via Susan Strasberg, quite good), with side dishes of bile reserved for his supposed friend Bogdanovich, among others. But it is of course fascinating as well, and probably required viewing for any real film buff.

Better than The Other Side of the Wind is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a Netflix documentary, itself feature-length, that looks at the making of the beleaguered film.

For all the hoopla surrounding The Other Side of the Wind supposedly having been finished along lines that would have satisfied Welles (who did leave about 45 minutes of the two-hour feature in an edited form), a similar situation with a great French filmmaker has led to a different approach and a much better film than Wind or even the documentary about it.

Available from Arrow on Blu-ray, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is a 2009 documentary by Serge Bromberg that deals with another legendarily unfinished film. Clouzot, the genius who gave the world Diabolique and Wages of Fear among other masterpieces, stumbled in 1964 with his film, Inferno. Similarly to Welles, Clouzot was dealing with changing times and specifically the changing approach to filmmaking represented by the French New Wave. As far as I’m concerned, no New Wave filmmaker can touch him, but filmmakers are human and Clouzot allowed himself to get caught up in fascinating but largely pointless visual experimentation. He landed the leading starlet of the moment, Romy Schnieder, and cast an actor who’d been in a previous film of his, Serge Reggiani, in a story of sexual obsession and jealousy. It’s essentially James M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice, if the older man with a younger wife is only imaging an affair she’s having with a younger man, and is driven mad to the brink of violence.

Working from fifteen reels of film, with most of the soundtrack missing, the documentation assembles the unfinished Inferno into sequences that appear, roughly, in narrative order. But these scenes are interspersed with revealing test films and interviews with cast and crew. Some of the missing scenes (there actually don’t seem to be that many) are staged with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin, who provide dialogue. The imagery, particularly of lovely Schneider, is stunning. Like Welles in Wind, Clouzot shot in both black-and-white and color; but the French auteur had a method to his madness – the color footage, which was processed to have bizarre coloration, represents only the would-be cuckold’s warped imaginings.

Clouzot ultimately crashed with Inferno because his authoritarian treatment of actors drove his leading man to quit, shortly after which the director had a heart attack and production was halted, never to be resumed. (Clouzot did make another film, La Prisonniere, before his death in 1977.)

Unlike Wind, Inferno might have been a great film, had Clouzot (who wrote the script, as usual) been able to finish it. (Claude Chabrol shot the screenplay years later, but I haven’t seen that…yet.)

* * *

And now, my final verdict: Rotten Tomatoes, and the largely rotten reviewers whose opinions it gathers, is officially worthless.

Barb and I were very much looking forward to Widows. We were aware the source material was a two-season 1980s series from the dependable Lynda LaPlante, creator of Prime Suspect (but we had never seen it). The idea of a group of widows who take over for their late heist-artist husbands seemed pretty foolproof. The reviews for Widows are mostly raves. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 91%.

SPOILER ALERT: it stinks. We walked out, but not until we’d been subjected to an hour of poor direction and stupid scripting. Steve McQueen (much better an actor in The Great Escape than a director here) (yes, I know the British McQueen won a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave) co-wrote with Gillian Flynn. I suspect the original LaPlante series was good.

Virtually every sequence of Widows begins with a disorienting shot (for example, a substance that turns out to be hair being teased, when the camera pulls back; and a lengthy pointless sermon by a hypocritical black-church preacher, in close-up forever before revealing his stereotypical congregation). A sadistic diminutive thug (so sadistic he tortures a wheelchair-bound victim – he’s a baaaaaaad man!) constantly does things for no reason other than to shock the audience. Scenes go on endlessly, and are often staged in a ridiculously show-offy manner – how about a conversation between a Chicago candidate for alderman and his Lady Macbeth of a wife entirely from one-locked down angle on a car in motion, with no view of the people talking.

I seldom hate a film. I hated this. I knew at once (a real SPOILER ALERT sort of coming) where it was headed when Liam Neeson’s character was killed in the first five minutes (maybe I should saying “apparently killed”). I checked on line to see if I was right. And of course I was (Barb, too).

So Rotten Tomatoes gets a 0% fresh rating from the Collins household.

* * *

Paperback Warrior has posted an excellent review of Quarry’s Choice. This is really a wonderful, smart write-up of what is one of my two favorite books in the series (the other is The Wrong Quarry).

If you want to hear me talk about something that isn’t movies, go to Mystery Tribune for an interview with me on the new Mike Hammer: The Night I Died graphic novel.

Crimespree is giving away Scarface and the Untouchable. But, of course, you’ve already bought a copy.

The new issue of The Strand has the Spillane/Collins short story, “Tonight, My Love.” An important piece of the canon, though brief. It’s the holiday issue and a fine way to end the year in a Spillane centenary fashion. Check it out.

And here is a page with info about the next Caleb York western novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Next May, but why not start wanting it now?

M.A.C.

The Max and Brad Show Goes to Chicago

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

My co-author, Brad A. Schwartz, and I will be appearing at the American Writers Museum in Chicago next Monday evening, from 6:30 till 8:30. The address is 180 N. Michigan Avenue, and we will give an informal talk and answer audience questions as well as sign (and, I hope, sell) copies of Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago. For more info go here.

* * *

Paperback:
E-Book:Amazon

You can now advance order the graphic novel version of Mike Hammer: The Night I Died from Amazon. [Note from Nate: I’m also seeing pre-order pages at the usual suspects, and the collection is also available digitally through ComiXology/Kindle. Links are below the cover.]

You may be able to find this at your nearest Barnes & Noble store, but based on Quarry’s War, it looks like they only stock a copy or two. So an Internet order might be worth your trouble.

This is, of course, the collected version of the serialized comic book version that appear in four separate issues not long ago.

* * *

Barb and I have seen three worthwhile movies that you might also enjoy.

Hunter Killer, directed by Donovan Marsh from a screenplay by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss (adapted from a novel), is frankly something we settled on when the movie we went out to see wasn’t available yet. We took a chance on this one and it’s a very traditional (and very good) submarine movie crossed with a commando raid flick. The cast is strong – Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common (a rapper I assume), Toby Stephens, Linda Cardellini, and in what must be his last role, the great Michael Nyqvist. It’s one of those Tom Clancy-like affairs that are believable enough due to the research to sell you on the ridiculous story itself.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a continuation of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series based on one of the sequels not written by Stieg Larsson, whose death stalled what had been projected as an ongoing series, with a new writer hired to take over when materials Larsson left behind became ensnared in estate battles. The reviews have been fairly terrible, but this is a state-of-the-art action film with Claire Foyle excellent as Lisbeth Salander, for whom a resonant back story is created. The excellent score by Roque Baños and cinematography by Pedro Luque serve director/co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez well in creating a 21st Century James Bond feel. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 44%, which is nonsense. Any suspense/action/espionage fan will enjoy this, and if the reviewers manage to sink this reboot, they should be ashamed.

The weakest – but still worthwhile – of the three films we saw recently is Overlord, which has an 81% score from Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting how poor movie criticism has become in this country. We saw it on Veteran’s Day, which got some dark laughter out of us, because this is a movie about how on D-Day a little ragtag group of GIs made the invasion possible by blowing up the place where a mad Nazi doctor (insane, not pissed) was creating super-soldiers by shooting up French villagers with super-serum. I can always have a good time watching Nazi soldiers get shot up (by bullets), and the GIs were well-portrayed. Beginning with the horror of war and segueing into horror film territory is something I can get behind, and the filmmakers largely pull it off. But there are problems of tone here. The unpleasantness of the violence could have used a touch of dark humor. Evil Dead minus humor is just a gore fest, after all. While I liked this movie with reservations, I came away with the opinion that Rotten Tomatoes has become a worthless resource. They give Hunter Killer a 38% Fresh score, by the way.

M.A.C.

Girl Most Likely & Halloween Pushback

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

One of the best things about working with Thomas and Mercer, Amazon’s crime/mystery line, is the way they encourage authors to contribute ideas to, and opinions about, the covers of that author’s books. Girl Most Likely (which will be published on April 1, 2019) (no fooling) went through perhaps half a dozen cover concepts that were executed more or less completely, with many stages of development of the image you see here.

I find this a very strong cover, and appropriate for the novel, which is the first of at least two about Krista and Keith Larson. I hope to do several more, if readers take to the concept, which has a young (late twenties) police chief in tourist-town Galena, Illinois, teamed with her widower father (late fifties), who is a retired homicide detective.

Galena is of course real, and is virtually a character in the novel (and will be in any subsequent ones). Yes, I am pandering after an audience that likes “Girl” in the title, but this is appropriate, as it’s about a ten-year high school reunion and the homicidal designs of a maniac on the successful young woman who was indeed voted “Most Likely to Succeed” of her high school class. The young female sheriff is a classmate who becomes the person carrying out the criminal investigation.

I’ll talk about this novel more as the publication date draws near, but it’s an attempt on my part to do something neither hardboiled nor cozy. While it has its noir aspects – the murderer is a very bad dude, although good at providing creepy, scary moments – I did not depict a traditional tough-guy (or tough-gal) protagonist. Both Krista and Keith are portrayed as real people, decent and working through a personal loss – the fairly recent death of Keith’s wife who is of course Krista’s mom.

While Girl Most Likely is something of a departure for me, my readers (you know who you are) should have no trouble getting onboard.

* * *

A few of you have asked about the status of my partnership with writer Matthew Clemens. Matt was a co-writer on the previous four books I did for Thomas & Mercer, initially credited inside, but the final two Reeder and Rogers novels give him cover credit. Matt and I also wrote two J.C. Harrow thrillers for Kensington, and worked together on many, many tie-in novels, specifically CSI, Dark Angel, and Criminal Minds. He is not, however, co-writing the Krista and Keith Larson novels.

The team has not broken up. We are still writing short stories together (we had two out recently) and are developing a horror noir anthology, to which we’ll contribute at least one story. Later I’ll provide a link to a Publisher’s Weekly review of the antho Pop the Clutch, which singles out our latest story. If we do another novel together, it will likely be developed from one of the two short stories we did this year (the other was for Jonathan Maberry’s Hardboiled Horror).

We have also discussed doing a fourth Reeder and Rogers political thriller, although that series was conceived as a trilogy, each novel focusing on a branch of government. We have brainstormed perhaps half a dozen times, in search of a fourth book about the duo. But the current bizarre political climate makes doing a thriller in that genre, well, problematic.

The thing is, I decided a while back not to seek tie-in work beyond my ongoing role with the Spillane estate. It has to do with my heart surgery and other medical fun and games conspiring to remind me that life is finite. So writing somebody else’s characters (with the exception of Mike Hammer, where Mickey arranged for me to be a full collaborator) just doesn’t seem like a good use of my time. And tie-ins are the area where Matt helped me, doing research and writing story treatments that were essentially rough drafts for me to revise and flesh out. (Matt did not work with me on any of the movie novelizations.)

In the third act of my career (and you only get three), I want to focus on projects that are meaningful to me and aren’t just a matter of bread-and-butter. So while Matt remains one of my best friends and a valued collaborator, I think most of my novels – apart from “Barbara Allan” and Spillane – will be solo, from here on out.

Also, Brad Schwartz and I have signed to do a follow-up Ness/Capone book, and Jim Traylor and I have a non-fiction Spillane project in the works. So I obviously am not turning my back on collaboration.

* * *

I’ve had some pushback on my Halloween review. A lot of people like the movie. Those who read my take on the film should have noticed I didn’t say it was bad – just that it wasn’t good. But it does make me want to share a few more thoughts on it, and moviegoing in general.

The new Halloween finds its defenders focusing on the Jamie Lee Curtis aspect, which is fairly well served by the filmmakers – depicting her almost as a survivalist, viewed as a loon even by members of her own family, but – in a strong last act – asserting herself in a booby-trapped fortress of a home, where she has prepared for decades for Michael Myers to make another assault on her (and perhaps her family).

Unfortunately, the first two acts are weak. The kills are gory but unsuspenseful, unpleasant and poorly thought out. The podcast aspect is frankly stupid, and for a film co-written by Danny McBride, the whole affair is shockingly free of humor and irony, with writing that barely tries – Laurie’s teen granddaughter’s up-till-now nice guy boy friend turns drunk and throws her cell phone into a gloppy punchbowl, to free her of any ability to phone home? The shrink who has been treating Michael in the nuthouse is obsessed with knowing what it’s like to kill, and puts on Michael’s mask to do so? (Yeah, that was a spoiler, but at this point I don’t care.) When people start wholesale dying, law enforcement (including a guy who was on the original “babysitter murders” case) makes no effort to shut down trick-or-treating?

Even the stronger third act is riddled with stupidity. Laurie keeps the rooms in her house very spare, so that when Michael eventually invades, he will have few if any hiding places…except for a room full of manikins (life-size targets for her shooting range). Laurie’s daughter (played by Archer/Arrested Development’s Judy Greer) is depicted as weak and hysterical, and though she has a rifle (she was trained in childhood by her mother), she reacts in her daughter’s safe-room basement as if coming apart, proclaiming her inability to shoot that rifle and defend herself…but when Michael comes down after her, as she raves and rants in supposed fear, she snaps into kill mode, saying, “Gotcha.” But she doesn’t need to fool Michael, because he’s a killing machine bent on destruction anyway. She can be whimpering or she can be taunting, it doesn’t matter.

So the “gotcha” is only for the audience. That’s who is being “gotten.”

Okay, so I don’t like the movie. I don’t hate it, and it has its moments. But it’s disappointing.

However. There’s an aspect of moviegoing that is rarely discussed, and that’s how the moviegoing experience itself can impact your opinion. Two cases in point.

Halloween, which Barb and I saw at a 4 pm matinee, was attended by a boorish crowd. We had to move to different seats early on because some old people (really old – older than us!) wouldn’t shut up. Also, behind us was a family who gorged on candy and giant buckets of popcorn, between slurping drinks, and who had brought along a six- or seven-year-old kid to this kill fest. Neither Barb nor I could shake the uncomfortable knowledge that a kid that age was being abused.

By the way, this is at least a little hypocritical, because I showed all the Lone Wolf and cub movies to Nate when he was around eight or nine. But Nate is not an idiot, nor (despite some of what you’ve read in this update) am I.

When Barb and moved to new seats, at the end of a row, a teenage girl moved past us, not excusing herself, then stood beside us talking on her cell phone. We requested that she do that in the lobby. She told us to “chill” and kept talking, before signing off, re-entering the row and giving us the kind of dirty look teenagers are famous for.

This is the climate in which we saw Halloween, and the overall negative impact could only have been improved if the teenage girl with the cell phone had become Michael Myers’ next victim.

Second case in point.

Barb and I took an overnight trip to Des Moines in part to plot the next Antiques novel and also just for a getaway, which we often do at the end of a writing project (in the case, the recently completed Mike hammer novel, Murder, My Love). At one point, while Barb shopped at Jordan Creek Mall, I went to a movie by myself. Yes, that is sad.

The movie was Johnny English Strikes Back. I like Rowan Atkinson very much – huge Blackadder fan, and Mr. Bean is wonderful, too, and Maigret is fine – but the previous two Johnny English films were just…okay. They do big business in England, but for this James Bond fan, I found the first two films, as spoofs, were just…I would say, “Meh,” if I didn’t despise it when people say (or even type) that. So my expectations were low.

And I loved it. Strikes Back was always amusing and, as it built, frequently laugh out-loud funny. The small but appreciative (and well-behaved) audience added to the pleasure. The Bond spoof aspect was stronger here, as the movie emphasized how a Bond-style agent (even an incompetent one) is an analogue player in a digital world, the film quietly having fun with how out-of-date and wrong the Bond concept is almost twenty years into the twenty-first century.

So. Was Strikes Back really as good as I came away feeling it to be? I’m honestly not sure. Low expectations may have benefitted it in the way high expectations made Halloween a disappointment.

To me. Your mileage, as my friend Terry Beatty says, may vary.

* * *

Here is the nice PW review of Pop the Clutch, singling out “Mystery Train,” a short story by Matt Clemens and me.

Finally, here’s where you can get the new, expanded version of Primal Spillane.

M.A.C.