Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

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.

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.