Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Ms. Tree Collected, A Royale Review and Boo to Halloween

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Softcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The Ms. Tree prose short story, “Louise,” an Edgar nominee, is featured in editor Otto Penzler’s new anthology, The Big Book of Female Detectives.

This seems as good a time as any to confirm that Titan will be bringing out (in five or six volumes) the complete Ms. Tree comics, organized into graphic novel form. This is of course long overdue. I will likely be doing new intros, although it’s doubtful Terry Beatty will contribute new covers – the plan right now is to draw from his many outstanding covers for the comic books themselves.

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Two more brief movie reviews…

Barb and I took in Bad Times at the El Royale, a ‘70s noir with an excellent cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth. It’s written and directed by Drew Goddard, who wrote for Buffy on TV and did the screenplays for The Martian, Cloverfield and World War Z, among others. El Royale resonates with me in part because it’s a take-off on Cal Neva, the resort straddling California and Nevada that figures in my novels Bye Bye, Baby and Road to Paradise.

I’m sure some critics are comparing El Royale to Tarantino, and its novelistic approach (both the way it’s organized and its attention to character) is in that same ballpark. But El Royale has its own feel, and does not suffer the Tarantino habit of all the characters talking like the writer. I won’t say much about the plot, other than a central element is money from a robbery long-hidden in one of the rooms of a hotel that has become a faded relic of Rat Pack days, having lost its gambling license.

The screenplay draws upon a Spillane novella, “Tomorrow I Die!” (title tale of an anthology of Spillane short fiction I edited) that was adapted into one of the best films from Mickey’s work, an episode of Showtime’s Perfect Crimes. (Mickey’s story was his take on The Petrified Forest.) It also draws upon someone I wrote about here a while back, who was a war hero and a movie star (paying attention?).

Anyway, it’s a terrific film. You’ll feel like you’re spending the evening at the El Royale, though you’ll be having a better time than most of the characters.

We also saw the new take on Halloween, which is getting a lot of good reviews. Most of those reviews focus on Jamie Lee Curtis and her empowered if psychotic take on the older Laurie Strode. What rewards the film has are tied up in Curtis/Strode. I was amped for the film because I’m a horror fan, plus the screenplay is co-written by Danny McBride, of whom I’m also a fan. But the movie isn’t good. It’s not exactly bad, either, but there are almost no scares, merely unpleasantness and gore. It has a low-budget feel, and not in a good way, and even the John Carpenter music feels forced. One plot twist having to do with the substitute shrink for the Loomis (Donald Pleasance) character is meant to be a shocking surprise and just plays dumb and unconvincing.

After recently seeing the excellent Insidious films, and revisiting the very good Truth or Dare (all of these are Blumhouse productions, as is this new Halloween), the return of Michael Meyers fell flat for both Barb and me.

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For those keeping track, I have delivered Murder, My Love, the new Mike Hammer. This one is based on a Spillane synopsis, but is the first of the novels with no Mickey prose woven in. I think it came out well, but it raises the question of whether I should continue Hammer when I run out of Spillane source material.

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My novel of In the Line of Fire gets a latterday review! Positive, too.

Finally, here’s a Road to Perdition piece that discussed both the graphic novel and the film. Sorta likes both. Sorta.

M.A.C.

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.

Mission: Incredible

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Knowing a new Mission: Impossible was coming, Barb and I decided to watch all of the movies in order, one night at a time. Which we did on Blu-ray. Most I hadn’t seen since first seeing them in the theater. And I came away much impressed – I would be hard pressed to think of a series that maintained this high a level, and even improved as it went along.

Brian DePalma and John Woo are two of my favorite directors, and I was struck this time by how their entries (the first and second respectively) were so much their movies. DePalma’s style but also his recurring themes were much on display and the same was true of John Woo in number two, right down to the pigeons in slow motion.

But the auteur here is Tom Cruise. He is a genuine movie star, who commits every molecule of his being to the job at hand. In the new film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he spends much time telling his comrades that he won’t let them down – that he will pull off whatever crazy job is expected of him. But the subtext is that he’s saying the same thing to the ticket buyers. His Jackie Chan-like insistence of doing his own stunts is both thrilling and frightening. Learn to fly a helicopter in a matter of months? No problem. Run on a broken ankle? Piece of cake.

But none of that would work if he wasn’t a strong screen actor – not just presence, but actor. He brings an emotional reality and intensity to this, let’s face it, inherently silly material that is the real impossible mission that he and the various directors and writers pull off.

J.J. Abrams is also key to the enduring success, both commercially and artistically, of this stellar franchise. Just adding Simon Pegg and his humor and humanity lifted an already soaring series. Abrams fine-tuned the formula with the third entry, and my son Nathan’s favorite – the fourth film, Ghost Protocol – found a strong director in Brad Bird. Christopher McQuarrie followed that perhaps definitive entry as the first director (also writer) to do two chapters in the saga, rather boldly making Fallout a direct sequel to his Rogue Nation.

If you’re down on Cruise because of Scientology, let me say that I’m no fan of the L. Ron Hubbub, either. But I’ve said it before and will likely say it again: what an artist owes the public is his or her work. And Tom Cruise works damn hard and so well.

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Crusin’ played another outdoor gig in Muscatine (well, the rural area near Muscatine) last Friday night, at Ardon Creek winery. It went very well, and showed what we can do on a beautiful cool evening as opposed to the horrific, soul-crushing heat we’ve played in previously this year.

I have frankly considered throwing in the towel, after over fifty years of this; but we had fun and the crowd was large and responsive, so what was not to love? The band is like a woman; just when you say you’re going to quit her, she gives you a really, really good night, and all bets are off.

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Here’s one of the interviews I did at San Diego, where I was promoting the Mike Hammer comic book mini-series and the graphic novel Quarry’s War.

This is a fresh link on the Mr. Media interview.

Here’s another San Diego podcast, this one with the prestigious PW’s graphic novel editor.

Finally, here’s a nice, loving piece about Mickey.

M.A.C.

White Man’s Burdon

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

This past Saturday evening, Barb and I headed to Riverside, Iowa (future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk) to the casino resort there for a concert by Eric Burdon and the Animals.

The Riverside Casino and Golf Resort is a great venue that brings in major acts (within half an hour of our home!) and some of them, like this one (and the Happy Together Tour a while back), are top stars of the Baby Boomers’ youth. For example, they have Micky Dolenz and Paul Lindsay coming up on September 29. Crusin’ has appeared on the Riverside Casino’s smaller stage three times, and it’s always a thrill to get to entertain there.

The house for Burdon was packed and enthusiastic…also old. So is Burdon, at 73 a kind of wonderful train wreck, a grizzled, gifted survivor of the British Invasion. He’s a small but formidable man, and the only real Animal on stage – he’s surrounded by kids, relatively speaking, who mostly serve him well. Despite a cold that he apologized for, as it gave his voice even more gravel, he performed well, enthusiastically and long – an hour and a half, no break – giving the crowd most of his hits, the only really major omission being “It’s My Life.”

My only complaint is the current Animals line-up – the bass needs more definition, and the keyboards more balls. I wanted to rush the stage, yelling, “Let a man in!”, when the keyboard guy played piano all through “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.” His piano keyboard is a Nord, and a Nord is one of my two keyboards and a fine instrument…but right behind him was a Hammond B-3!

The Animals’ sound, in its first and most popular incarnation, was driven by organ – either Vox or Hammond, with Alan Price its famous keyboard player. Not bringing that Hammond into full, robust play was a blunder.

Okay, I realize I’m seeing that through my end of the telescope, and I don’t want to indicate the evening in Eric Burdon’s legendary presence wasn’t a wonderful thing, a real privilege. Burdon is the kind of dedicated singer who can bring brand-new passion to a song he’s sung literally hundreds and hundreds of times, every time.

Burdon is as much as anyone – and I include Mick Jagger – responsible for bringing the blues to white America (and the UK), exposing my generation to the joys and rewards of the African-American musical experience, sending us to Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, among many others. Is there a more unlikely smash hit single of the sixties than “House of the Rising Sun”?

Here’s a cool interview with Burdon done just before the Riverside appearance.

And now, because absolutely no one asked for it, here is my list of my 10 Most Influential Albums of the Sixties. These are the actual albums I listened to most, as opposed to my assembling something reflecting what I should be listing, i.e., black artists, female artists, and not just white boys (mostly British). But it was the British Invasion that sent me down a path that would have me still playing rock ‘n’ roll at 70 (thankfully not for a fulltime living).

1. Rubber Soul – the Beatles. 1965 (December). This list could be nothing but Beatles, as their albums and singles were what I listened to most. Rubber Soul is where the group blossoms into something even more special. I am in a minority, but I like least The White Album and everything that follows.

2. Along Comes the Association – The Association. 1966. Still, perhaps, their finest hour, with the possible exception of the follow-up, Renaissance. Includes “Enter the Young,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Cherish” and more. Barb and I saw them perform more often than other band of the era, the greatest vocal group that was also a fine rock band.

3. The Zombies – the Zombies. 1965. Their wonderful early material is here in this American release, including my two favorite singles of the ‘60s, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” Colin Blunstone’s breathy, heart-felt singing melds with Rod Argent’s great, inspiring (to me) piano and organ – this is pure pop bliss.

4. Them Again – Them. 1966 (January). My favorite Van Morrison material almost all dates to his days fronting Them. This second album made not much of a splash in the USA, but it’s great, with “Could You, Would You,” “Call My Name” and “I Can Only Give You Everything” outstanding.

5. Animal Tracks – The Animals. 1965. Their third album (a U.S. mongrel), it features “We Gotta Get Outa This Place,” which was Muscatine High School’s senior class of ‘66 song. As a listener caught up in the pop of the Beatles, the jolt of r & b from Eric Burdon (and also Van Morrison with Them) was the start of an education.

6. It Ain’t Me Babe – the Turtles. Before “Happy Together,” the Turtles were a folk-rock band with an edge, the Byrds but not precious. This album has not only the title track but a pre-Sinatra, rocking “It Was a Very Good Year,” P.F. Sloan’s “Let Me Be,” and some nice Dylan covers. Opening for Flo and Eddie (twice) was a real career highlight for this weathered garage band rocker.

7. Midnight Ride – Paul Revere and the Raiders. 1967. This was the last album that the Raiders – a great bar band from the Pacific Northwest – actually played on, with the famous Wrecking Crew taking over after, so the group could tour and tour and tour. This was their Rubber Soul, with such great tracks as “Kicks,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Louie Go Home” (a sequel to “Louie Louie,” their version have been hijacked by another local band).

8. Eighteen Yellow Roses – Bobby Darin. 1963. My obsession with Bobby Darin was not entirely blotted out by the British Invasion. This album has Darin’s hit title track and a bunch of covers, including “On Broadway” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Not a major album, but I listened to it a lot. Ditto his later (1968) Bobby Darin Born Walden Robert Cassotto, a singer-songwriter effort of personal folk rock and protest material in his Bob Darin phase. My band played “Long Line Rider.”

9. Younger Than Yesterday– The Byrds. 1967. Such an influential band. I recall playing “Turn, Turn, Turn” at a frat party in Iowa City around ‘68 and the frat brothers having us play it over and over and over. Guitarist Bruce Peters of the Daybreakers had a 12-string Rickenbacker to give it the real McGuinn flavor. That track isn’t on this album, which is the “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star” LP, with such wonderful songs/performances as “Have You Seen Her Face” and “My Back Pages.” This was our late bass player Chuck Bunn’s favorite album.

10. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys. 1966. The great American answer to the question posed by the British Invasion: which of you stateside losers can compete with us? Well, these guys. It’s possibly the best, most beautiful rock album ever written, produced and performed.

Looking at this list – which is in no particular order – I realize how much of it centers around 1966, and just before and just after. Subjectively, it suggests that the music that appeared as I came of age – if 17 or 18 is coming of age – happened to be some of the best popular music ever…or was it just the stuff (objectively speaking) that was out when I was a junior and senior in high school?

Let me mention, too, that if this list continued further, the albums from my college years – everything from the frankly poppy Monkees to the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Cream and Deep Purple – would be on it.

So. Now that you’ve read it…aren’t you glad you didn’t ask?

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Barb and I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2. We had discovered the first DP (so speak) movie on home video, and found it a hoot, if dark. This one isn’t quite as dark, and is even more joke-laden than the previous. There are smart people I know (like Terry Beatty) who hated the first Deadpool and are unlikely to try the second (and probably shouldn’t). But I enjoy the way the Deadpool films send up the super-hero genre while celebrating it – that it points out and revels in the absurdities of the genre (particularly the movie version of superhero comics) and still manages to be a terrific superhero movie. Deadpool 2, for all its smart-ass nastiness, even has a good heart.

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Here’s a fun, quirky review of Quarry’s Climax. I think the reviewer doesn’t quite get Quarry’s view of women (or humanity, actually), but he likes the book, which is what matters. Quarry has contempt for the entire human race, including himself, but he isn’t a dick about it.

And a nice Quarry write-up is here, in this look at post-Vietnam crime novels.

M.A.C.