Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Girl Most Likely – On Sale!

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

Girl Most Likely is on sale right now at Amazon – $4.99 on Kindle (regularly $15.95) and $10.97 for the trade paperback edition (again, regularly $15.95).

Signed copies of the book are available from vjbooks for $24.99.

Last week I did a TV appearance on Paula Sands Live, the very popular local show on KWQC-TV in Davenport. Some of you may remember Paula from Mommy’s Day, in which she played herself…sending herself up somewhat, and really delivering.

Then this past week – Thursday, April 4 – I made an appearance at the Dubuque Public Library, promoting Girl Most Likely (Galena is a short drive across the river from Dubuque). We had a very nice turn-out – sixty or so – and just about everybody bought books. Great people – fun and friendly, with lots of excellent questions. Among the crowd was my old pal Steve Moes, location manager on the two Mommy movies.

The next day we spent some time Galena, including dropping by the police station to deliver some signed copies of Girl Most Likely to Chief of Police Lori Huntington.

The reviews for Girl Most Likely have been largely favorable, with the exception of a couple of nasty ones at Amazon (which have largely been terrific). One reviewer from Seattle finds the idea that Millennials would even bother having a ten-year class reunion “unlikely” (untrue) and finds the book “definitely written by a white man.” Hmmm…was it the author’s photo that gave it away?

A review by someone who claims to be a big fan who has read all of my stuff, some of it multiple times, advises all fans of my work not to read Girl Most Likely: “What utter crap this book is!”

On the other hand, we had a very nice review – balanced but ultimately highly favorable – that was sent out by the Associated Press to papers all around the good ol’ USA. In the past week, the review has been appeared in 20 publications, at least, and probably many more (the 20 are just the ones that appear online).

And the blog reviews are even better. I’ll list some links later in this update. If you received a copy of Girl Most Likely in my recent giveaway, and don’t agree that it’s “utter crap,” be sure to post a review at Amazon and elsewhere. A review by one of the getaway winners that Amazon wouldn’t publish – for no good reason – was easily posted at Barnes & Noble.

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Remember how I liked the Marvel Captain Marvel movie a while back? Well, I like the DC Captain Marvel movie even more, though the name “Captain Marvel” doesn’t appear anywhere in Shazam.

Don’t be put off by the somewhat deceptive advertising that might make you think this is a kid’s movie – it’s more the equivalent of a YA novel, with plenty of adult themes and scary villainy, perhaps a little too safely political correct, but what the hell – diversity is here to stay and a good thing to honor in a movie that will have a large teen audience.

What I like about it – beyond its acknowledged debt to Big (via a brief walking piano sequence) – is Shazam’s ability to be funny without completely sacrificing the darker elements expected these days. It’s kind of the anti-Deadpool, and I say this liking both of those films; but this has a good heart and the humor never walks the dark side – that’s left to the bad guys.

Zachary Levi is the unnamed Captain Marvel and Asher Angel is Billy Batson, the kid who can turn himself into a super-hero with a word.

The filmmakers go out of their way to honor the original source material – a comic book drummed out of business by DC in 1953! References to the C.C. Beck classic (Beck gets a co-creator screen credit with writer Bill Parker) are frequent, from the high school being named Fawcett (after the comic book’s original publisher) to setting up the most unlikely super-villain of all for a possible sequel. They even make a joke out of Billy Batson’s super alter-ego not having a name. Plus, we get appearances by Captain Marvel Jr. (also not named) and Mary Marvel.

For a rapidly ageing comics fan, this was bliss.

Do you want a plot summary? Just go to it, if nothing I’ve said here scares you off.

On the television front, Barb and I continue to adore Schitt’s Creek, which has done much to quietly normalize the notion of gay romance and now marriage. The show is reportedly wrapping up after one more season, which is a shame but what a run they’ve had – a post-SCTV triumph rivaled only by Christopher Guest’s films, which also starred Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.

We also consumed the sixth season of the Morse prequel, Endeavor, and found it to be the strongest yet, and probably the best of the British crime series. A subtle aspect of these four movie-length episodes is the collision between the rough-and-tumble Sweeney style policing of the early ‘70s and the more cerebral Morse style policing of the late ‘80s-onward – both series having starred John Thaw, whose daughter Abigail is an Endeavor series regular.

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Here’s a nifty review of Girl Most Likely from bookfan.

And a great one from Jonathan and Heather.

Plus this one from Mrs. Mommy Booknerd.


Girl Most Likely

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Audiobook Sample (MP3)
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

I am, no fooling, writing this on April 1, which is the pub date of Girl Most Likely. The Galena, Illinois, based mystery/thriller, introducing police chief Krista Larson and her retired homicide cop father, Keith, marks a slight change of pace for me – although nothing so radical that anyone interested in my work will find themselves untethered.

First, if you live in or near Dubuque, Iowa, here’s what might like to spend the evening of Thursday, April 4 – I will be making the only major scheduled appeared for the new book at Carnegie-Stout Public Library, 360 W 11th Street, in Dubuque, starting at 7 p.m. The event will be hosted by River Lights Bookstore, who will sell books, including Girl Most Likely of course, and my appearance will be in the library’s auditorium space. I’ll give a short reading/talk, followed by an audience Q&A and the book signing. Barb will also be at the event and our “Barbara Allan” Antiques mysteries will be available there, too.

Second, those of you who have won advanced reading copies of the novel can now post your Amazon reviews. I have had one reader encounter difficulty getting Amazon to print a review – for reasons neither he nor I can figure out – but he was able to post the review easily at Barnes & Noble. So there’s your Plan B if you need one.

As I’ve said in interviews, Girl Most Likely grew out of my desire to do something reflective of the approach I’ve seen in the Nordic Noir of The Bridge, The Killing, Wallander, Varg Veum and other mystery/thrillers that combine wildly melodramatic bad guys with, generally, detectives who are a little more real than the P.I.s, hitmen and small-town theatrical divas I’ve been writing about in recent years.

Girl Most Likely is also reflective of my wanting to develop something more thriller-oriented for Thomas & Mercer, where such novels have been successful for them – including mine. The Reeder and Rogers political thrillers for T & M by Matt Clemens and me are among my best-selling novels ever. Supreme Justice has in particular racked up strong sales.

I view Girl Most Likely as an opportunity to expand my audience – to bring in more women, and younger readers who aren’t Baby Boomers like a lot of the Heller, Quarry and even Antiques readers are. The novel alternates points of view chapters between 28-year-old Krista (youngest police chief in the nation) and her 58-year-old father Keith, which allows me to court such new readers, as well as have the nice contrast between generations.

I shared here recently some of the odd reviews I got from the UK a while back – Girl was an Amazon Prime “First Read” title over there, last month – though most of the advance notices here have been pretty good to great. GoodReads (where I hope readers of these updates will consider posting reviews) has been somewhat spotty. This week we are likely to see more reviews and get a better general feel of the reaction.

The two complaints – from younger readers and often female ones – seem to be about the clothing description, which I’ve discussed here previously, and that the ending seems abrupt. The latter is because I ended the story without a post-game wrap-up chapter – you know, like on Perry Mason when Paul Drake says, “Perry, why did you have me drop dry ice into the Grand Canyon from a helicopter?” Instead I revert to my Spillane training and end the story when it’s over, in what is (I think) a punchy way.

One recurring compliment from readers posting reviews has been how much fun the book is – that it’s a great “beach read.” That’s at once nice to hear and a little bewildering. The novel has a number of second-person POV chapters, in which you are in the skin of a butcher-knife-wielding maniac. The violence, when it comes, is as rough as anything I have done elsewhere.

For me, as these early notices (like the wonderful review and article in The Big Thrill), have come at a distracting time, as I have been writing the sequel, Girl Can’t Help It. In fact, I finished that yesterday, or at least shipped it to my editor – one never knows if one is really “finished” until the editorial notes come in.

But working on a book in a series while reviews for the previous entry are coming in can be disconcerting – you feel like people are reading over your shoulder. Nonetheless, complaints about too much description, for example, are not going to convince me to send my characters running around naked in empty rooms – I will stubbornly continue to clothe them and put them in specific locations.

I do suspect – and it’s just a suspicion, and there’s no “boo hoo” in this – that some female readers may not be crazy about a man writing a woman’s point of view. I have of course done this many times before – Ms. Tree, anyone? – but I am occasionally getting that who-do-you-think-you-are vibe, imagined or not. This includes the objection that I sometimes call a female character “attractive,” as if I am imposing a cultural stereotype in so doing. But “attractive” is a subjective word – it’s one of those words that allows readers to plug whatever their idea of attractiveness is.

At any rate, I hope you will judge for yourself. I am very proud of this novel – and its sequel, which finds me dipping into my decades of rock ‘n’ roll in a way no novel of mine has before – and hope you will give them both a try.

Dan John Miller’s reading of the new novel is available now, too (haven’t listened to it yet – but Barb and I will, as Dan always performs in a stellar fashion). And I think Thomas & Mercer did an incredible job on the cover.

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I see that Jordan Peele’s new horror film, Us, has topped $200 million at the box-office. Nonetheless, Barb and I walked out on it yesterday.

Hey, we gave it a good shot. Stayed for an hour. But we found it dreadfully slow in its opening act, rife with over-blown scary music to make up for the lack of scares, pitifully hammy, the dialogue an embarrassment, and the doppelganger menace (and its explanation) downright dopey. During the flashback that begins the picture, I immediately figured out the “big surprise” (confirmed by Wikipedia’s write-up, which I checked when we got home).

This is a 94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so your mileage may really vary.

On a happier note, Captain Marvel is an entertaining super-hero flick with a great lead in Brie Larson and (no kidding) a relatively restrained performance from Sam Jackson. Now, any director who achieves the latter is one fine director (although there were two on this one, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck).

I am also looking forward to the fun, goofy-looking real Captain Marvel movie, Shazam. I am still pissed that DC forced Captain Marvel off the comic book racks when I was five years old.

In other cinematic news, all seven Road movies with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour are now out on Blu-ray (that talented trio was not available for Road to Perdition, by the way). I have loved these movies since childhood, and saw Road to Bali and the somewhat unfortunate The Road to Hong Kong in the theater. Barb loves them, too, and over the years we’ve watched them on VHS and then on DVD and now on glorious Blu-ray. Lots of fun going through them in order.

The casual, somewhat adlibbed repartee between these two performers remains modern and amazing. Crosby, who cheerfully plays a rat throughout all but the first film, and Hope, who plays a cowardly schlemiel, are magical together. Some say the men were not friends off-screen, but this is doubtful – they were in several businesses together, went golfing, guested on each other’s radio shows frequently, etc. But who cares?

I mention this chiefly because when I was searching Google for articles about the Road series, I came across one that informed me that Hope and Crosby were not funny, because Hope was a womanizer and Crosby beat his kids. Apparently, this means the rest of us shouldn’t watch those movies and laugh.

This is a most unfortunate era we’re living in. As the divide between us increases, like Hope and Crosby straddling a widening icy chasm in Road to Utopia, we are all in danger of falling.

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This is an article I wrote for Crime Reads about the rewards and benefits of a writer like me doing a change-of-pace novel.

Here’s a very nice Girl Most Likely review at Where the Reader Grows.

Girl Most Likely gets the number one slot in twelve good books to read in April, as selected by Cosmopolitan magazine.

The New York Post has chosen Girl Most Likely as one of its five best books of the week.

Finally, Matt Damon considers my novel version of Saving Private Ryan to be one of his five most life-affirming books!


Untouchable Vegas!

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

My co-author, Brad Schwartz, and I are making two personal appearances at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada, next week.

First, we’ll be doing a talk about Scarface and the Untouchable with an emphasis on St. Valentine’s Day. Not surprisingly, that appearance will be February 14 at 7 pm. Here are the details:

Wiseguy Speaker Series and Book Signing: “Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness and the Battle for Chicago.”

TIME: 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., with a book signing to follow.
LOCATION: Courtroom on the second floor. Seating is on a first come, first served basis with a maximum occupancy of 120 guests.
DESCRIPTION: Over the decades, the stories of mobster Al Capone and lawman Eliot Ness have been subjected to literacy license and Hollywood exaggeration. This new book from authors Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz peels back the layers of these myths to reveal a deeper narrative of these iconic figures. The event will conclude with a book signing.

Second, on Saturday, Feb. 16, I will be presenting a look at the Road to Perdition in particular as well as at my Nathan Heller novels, in particular Neon Mirage, with its Vegas basis. Interviewing me will be none other than distinguished historian…A. Brad Schwartz! How did we land him? Anyway, here’s the details.

The Road to Perdition
DATE: Saturday, Feb. 16
TIME: 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a book signing to follow.
LOCATION: Courtroom on the second floor.
COST: Free
DESCRIPTION: In this special discussion, “Road to Perdition” author Max Allan Collins will be interviewed by fellow author A. Brad Schwartz (“Scarface and the Untouchable”) about the fascinating story behind his acclaimed novel. Set in Chicago during the Great Depression, the graphic novel, “Road to Perdition” tells the story of Michael Sullivan, a Mob enforcer on the hunt for revenge after a failed hit.
Attend and learn about:
The real-life Mob inspiration behind the character of Michael Sullivan.
The Academy Award-winning film adaptation starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Jude Law.
Collins’ other novel, “Neon Mirage,” which delves into early Las Vegas and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

The Mob Museum will have other events related to their own seventh anniversary. Here’s a cool article about that and about the Massacre.

Hope to see you folks from the Vegas area there, and any vacationers, too!

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An excellent crime film, Cold Pursuit, is in theaters now. It’s not the typical Liam Neeson revenge thriller that it might seem to be. Reviews are mixed, but the bad ones seem obsessed with Neeson discussing his own irrational rage as a young man and how destructive that was. More about that later.

The film is a black comedy based on another good film, In Order of Disappearance (2014), starring Stellan Skarsgaard, who played the Broker in the never-aired Quarry pilot (how I wish he’d been retained, though his replacement wasn’t bad). Though some nice, mostly American-related touches are added, this is one of the most faithful remakes I’ve ever seen, probably because the same director did both: Hans Petter Moland. New screenwriter Frank Baldwin, however, made some interesting adjustments to the new setting, in particular substituting Native American drug-dealing ring for Serbian gangsters.

As for the Neeson controversy, it’s a fine example of how the left is going to screw up their anti-Trump efforts. I am a liberal, as you probably know, a somewhat left of center one who is probably more an independent but who so often votes Democrat, it’s a moot point. My son thinks I am not nearly progressive enough, but then he’s 35 and I’m 70, and that means I’ve suffered through more reality than he has.

So Neeson, discussing revenge, tells an interviewer that after a friend was raped by an African American, he was filled with rage and wanted to go out and thrash the first “black bastard” that gave him trouble. He spoke of this as a bad thing, something that demonstrated how stupid revenge can be, particularly racially oriented revenge, and how dumb he had been as a troubled young man before he grew older and wiser and came to his senses.

Of course the far left has seized upon his racial comments out of context and made Neeson into a racist. No question in this climate that many really shitty things are going down – I mean, is there any politician in Virginia who didn’t think blackface was funny and okay back in the 1980s? Uh, I was there for the ‘80s, and it wasn’t.

But must we work so hard to ruin people’s careers? Is it really surprising Al Franken put his arm around women who wanted their pictures taken with him while he shared his goofy grin with the camera?

Republicans don’t apologize. That’s not an attribute, but it works better than attacking each other when somebody makes a slip or just says something you don’t agree with. Nuance, people.

Just wait. The Democrats will find a way to blow this. The left will somehow manage to keep Trump in the White House. What the hell – every Liam Neeson movie needs a bad guy.


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.