Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

October Country

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Barb and I often watch a movie on Blu-ray or DVD in the evenings, and when October rolls around, we make a steady diet of horror films.

For many years, Barb avoided most modern horror films (she’s always liked “monster movies”), but after she worked on Mommy and Mommy’s Day, and had a behind-the-scenes glimpse at making movie mayhem, she has been much more open to such fare. In particular she is a fan of the Alien movies, in part because of the strong female central characters in those films (Aliens by far her favorite).

In the past we’ve gone through the Universal horror films, many Hammer UK films, as well as the Scream, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. This year we tackled Friday the 13th, although we stalled out after number five (a good entry), having begun to tire with number four (a bad entry). We decided to pick up next October with the rest of the series.

The only real misfire was the Phantasm series, which I like but Barb couldn’t abide. I understand that – the Phantasm movies are a very quirky affair and you either get into their sloppy but earnest amateur style or you don’t.

We took comedic side trips into Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Chopping Mall, the latter a film I’d watched earlier this year and put on the “Barb should see this” pile. I have several more of those I want to show her, mostly low-budget ‘80s fare that had limited releases theatrically but success on home video (not unlike Mommy); these include Warlock and Wishmaster, both spawning series that quickly got terrible. Vamp and the two Waxworks film are pending.

The top of the pile (and I spoke of this one before, briefly) is the South Korean film, Train to Busan. If you haven’t seen this, you need to. I avoided it for a while because it is a zombie film, and I’m fairly sick of those. But Busan is a remarkable piece of filmmaking that works on many levels, not the least of which is the scarcy-as-frigging-hell one. Most of it takes place on a train where a handful of survivors are wading through and battling off the many passengers who have gotten infected, died and quickly returned as ravenous zombies. In that regard, Busan is like Dawn of the Dead and other good zombie movies that have a strong adventure aspect – a resilient group of humans flees and outwits a zombie horde.

Train to Busan

But Busan has many serious socially charged themes, including greed, sacrifice, family, and bio-tech hazard. It’s also well-acted and brilliantly shot and staged; the director is Yeon Sang-ho. I think of the Hollywood fare that I’ve either suffered through or walked out on, in recent years, and see in BUSAN a level of filmmaking I’ve rarely encountered of late. I believe you can find this streaming on various services, and the Blu-ray is inexpensive.

We did take a break from horror to watch the fifth season of Wentworth, the reboot/re-imagining of the great Aussie soap opera, Prisoner Cell Block H (actually, just “Prisoner” in its native land, Patrick McGoohan nowhere in sight). We’re about two-thirds through and remain riveted to this deftly plotted and well-acted series, which strikes me as better than any TV series currently generated in America in the crime genre.

A sixth season is in the works. This one is on Netflix, I believe. We’re watching it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

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On the health front, I am doing quite well. I have a procedure scheduled this week that I may be able to skip, as medication seems to have gotten rid of my a-fib and put my heartbeat back where it’s supposed to be. A cough that has nagged me for many weeks seems beaten back, too, and my energy level is close to normal. I am taking a shitload of pills, but gradually am getting off some of them.

I do regret missing Bouchercon. Looks like everybody had a great time.

On the work front, editing on Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and myself continues apace. Killing Town has been delivered, and I am researching the next Heller and hope to be writing in early November.

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Here’s a review column by the great Maxim Jakubowski (no one knows his stuff better) that includes a nifty Quarry’s Climax review.

Check out this terrific Bookreporter review of Quarry’s Climax.

And here’s an interview with me on the Quarry novels from Adam Hill.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Free Books (Again!)

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

[Nate@3:21 PM: All giveaway copies are claimed. Thank you for your support!]

I have six advance copies of the just-published Quarry’s Climax for the first six readers who request one and promise an Amazon review (Barnes & Noble also encouraged, and blog posts, too). Reviews need not be lengthy. And I have six advance copies of The Bloody Spur, the new Caleb York western, which will be published in January.

Rules: only the USA, foreign shipping a little too pricey. And you must include your snail-mail address in the e-mail you send requesting the book.

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I know many of you were disappointed to learn that Stacy Keach had stepped down from reading the Mike Hammer audios. But I was able to enlist the man who has brought Nate Heller to life many times – Dan John Miller.

The Will to Kill is available now from Audible on Journalstone (the CD version isn’t available yet). Barb and I are listening to it in the car as we gallivant about the Midwest, and Dan has done a terrific job.

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More Mike Hammer news, which I should soon be confirming. But reliable sources tell me a Blu-Ray of I, the Jury in 3-D is at long last in the works!

I love the movie and getting it on Blu-ray in 3-D is probably my remaining Holy Grail of movie collecting.

I have seen it theatrically in 3-D, which improves the movie immeasurably. The cinematography is by the great noir master, John Alton, and it’s written and directed by Harry Essex of Creature from the Black Lagoon fame. The cast includes the much underrated Biff Elliott as a very Mickey-like Hammer, the lovely Peggie Castle, Preston Foster, Elisha Cook Jr., and John Qualen.

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I am sorry to report that we walked out of Blade Runner 2049. I have friends (including Terry Beatty) who loved it. I found it infuriatingly poor in pacing and coherence, despite the plot being simple. We gave it an hour, and when we left, Harrison Ford hadn’t been in it yet.

When I got home, I did some checking and discovered the director, Denis Villeneuve, had been responsible for two films I despised, Sicario and Arrival. I should have done my homework.

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It has been, as people of my generation are wont to say, a bummer, having to bail out of the Toronto Bouchercon at the last minute. Matt Clemens is having such a good time there that I have determined to throttle him when he returns (in his sleep – he’s bigger than I am).

But it was necessary (staying home, not throttling Matt). I had another rough week, and am goofed up on meds as the docs work on getting me regulated to where I can have the jump-start procedure that will, I hope, take me out of a-fib and back into a regular heartbeat.

Good thoughts and prayers are appreciated, but what I really want you to do is buy Quarry’s Choice.

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Well, the TV geniuses have screwed up Wild Dog already. Read it and weep.

Barb is speaking at a brunch in Muscatine on Thursday. A rare public appearance by my beautiful, somewhat publicity-averse wife.

Here is a lovely article about Quarry, with a gallery of the Hard Case Crime covers.

Check out this lovely Quarry’s Climax review.

And here, I am pleased to say, is another.

M.A.C.

Toronto No Go

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

Due to a flare-up of health issues, I will not be attending the imminent Bouchercon in Toronto. Barb will also be staying home. We are disappointed, obviously – we were to be on a panel together (a rare treat) and looked forward to seeing readers and signing books, while I am still enjoying MWA Grand Master 2017 bragging rights.

But I’ve had a rough month, leading to getting some medications adjusted and tests taken, with a procedure (not an operation) likely. Just part of the ongoing effort to stay on the green side of the grass. Please don’t be unduly alarmed. Don’t even be duly alarmed.

Throughout a month of sickness, I nonetheless wrote Killing Town, chronologically the first Mike Hammer novel, working from a substantial (60 double-spaced pages) Spillane manuscript from around 1945…before I, the Jury!! It has an ending that will either delight, outrage or disgust you…perhaps all at the same time.

Delivered it yesterday. Killing Town will join The Last Stand in the celebration of Mickey’s centenary, the first Mike Hammer novel bookending the final Spillane solo novel.

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Barb and I went to two movies recently, both of which were based on “true” events (as opposed to what, fictional events?), and both were entertaining.

One was Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs in seriocomic look at the much ballyhooed match between a onetime tennis champ (male) and a current tennis champ (female).

The other, also a comedy-drama, was Victoria & Abdul, in which a lowly Muslim clerk is chosen (because he is tall) to go to England to present Queen Victoria with a gift for her Golden Jubilee from her loyal Indian subjects. The elderly queen takes a shine to him and they become friends (not lovers, though there is a friendly flirtation). Judi Dench presents an amusing and touching portrait of the aged queen, and Ali Fazal is almost as good as a man who is somewhat naive and perhaps a little too ambitious but basically decent.

I enjoyed both films, but Victoria much more. The actors in Battle cannot be faulted, and not just the leads – the supporting casts in both these films are first-rate. The films share a similar agenda – each one attempts to make some serious societal points through the story being told while keeping that story itself the primary goal.

On this score Battle fails rather miserably. Rather than focus on the equality of women as the clear central issue, it takes a sustained side trip into gay rights, by way of a romance novel-ish treatment of the married King’s relationship with another woman (who becomes the team’s hairdresser). What could have been an impactful sidebar insists on being much more, ballooning the film to over two hours.

Instead of allowing the social satire to play out – to let a depiction of the events make the points at hand, in particular the neanderthal attitudes toward women that righteously fuel feminism – a heavy-handedness and even at times embarrassing editorializing (“One day people will be allowed to love who they love”) clouds the narrative and does something Billie Jean King would never do: take the eye off the ball.

On the other hand, Victoria charms and delights, allowing the anti-Indian (and specifically anti-Muslim) attitudes of those around the Queen to speak for themselves. Effortlessly, points are made about today in this look at yesterday – exactly what Battle should have been doing.

Victoria’s director, Stephen Frears, has never been a big favorite of mine; but I now think I may have been wrong about him. His direction here is quietly stylish, the performances he gets from wonderful British actors (particularly Eddie Izzard as the king-to-be) faultless.

Meanwhile, the direction of Battle is plagued by handheld cameras and crushingly claustrophobic close-ups, particularly in the syrupy lesbian love sequences. On the other hand, the film’s tennis court action is well-done and compelling. Two directors are credited, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (of Little Miss Sunshine fame).

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Barb and I spend October evenings watching horror movies, in anticipation of Halloween. Last year we watched mostly Hammer horror. The year before we watched the Nightmare on Elm Street movies and the Halloweens.

This year began with a terrific little sleeper called The Final Girls (2015). This one is so original and clever that I don’t want to spoil it for you, but prepare to have the chills work even though laughs are what it’s mostly after. In brief, some kids at a horror film somehow wind up inside that very horror film.

Chucky

We have just completed the seven Child’s Play/Chucky movies. Barb liked all of them except the newest one, but I liked it, too. What makes Chucky perhaps the best of all these series (there are clinkers in all the other modern horror franchises that began with Halloween) is that an effort has been made to make each movie distinct as to setting and style. While all of the films are dark comedies, the first three are rather more traditional slasher pictures, despite the evil doll at their center. But with Bride of Chucky, things got overtly comedic yet ever darker, and the series knowingly jumped the shark in Seed of Chucky, with Curse of Chucky a knowing return to more scary form.

Here’s why Chucky is the best of these franchises: the same person has written all of them. That is something that Hollywood never allows. But Don Mancini has written them all and directed the last three (he’s a damn good director, too). Mancini and his partners create a continuity that, while wacky as hell, carries over from film to film. None of the other franchises even bother trying. In the world of Chucky, actors return. In Curse of Chucky and the current Cult of Chucky, the kid who played Chucky’s “friend forever” returns as an adult – the same actor. Jennifer Tilly, introduced in Bride, has been around ever since, to an admittedly varying degree, and she is a special effect her own self.

And like Robert Englund in the Nightmare films, actor Brad Dourif (whose daughter Fiona is excellent in the most recent two Chuckys) brings a cackling madness to the voice of the killer doll that makes him both amusing and frightening.

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Here’s a nice little Quarry’s Climax write-up from Mystery People.

Finally, here’s another Wild Dog on Arrow TV article. I have the Blu-ray box of the current season, but still haven’t got round to watching it.

M.A.C.

How I Invented Binge Watching

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

When I landed the Dick Tracy writing gig in 1977, I received a nice advance of $5000. As half of a young married couple, with limited financial means, I somehow convinced my wife Barb that the first thing we should do was buy a home video recorder. I bought a VCR console, which was outlandishly expensive (despite its modest 19-inch screen), an unjustifiable extravagance amplified by my brilliant choice of formats: Betamax.

But I mention this only to let you know that the Collins household (all two of us) were early adapters in the home video revolution. You need to know this to understand that you are indeed in the presence of the person who invented binge watching.

Around 1979, the Australian TV series Prisoner Cell Block H was syndicated nationally. It’s a wonderful women-in-prison series that has recently been updated into the equally wonderful Wentworth. For some reason, the local channel running the syndicated show dropped it after a few weeks – maybe it had something to do with the rampant violence and lesbianism or maybe the Aussie accents.

But I was not to be denied (I rarely am).

I approached a friend of mine in Chicago who ran a comic book shop to work out a trade deal for original comics art for his ongoing efforts to record the five-times-a-week series for me on VHS (I had one of those machines now, too). Every couple of months he would send me a box of tapes, each package containing around 20 hours of Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I, and my cartoonist pal and collaborator Terry Beatty, would hunker in to watch the episodes until our eyes burned. This would be on the weekend, consuming two days (allowing time out for meals and calls of nature).

We did not call it binge watching, but clearly that is what it was. The same comic book shop pal did the same for me with the 1960s-70s Dragnet, which had not yet hit Nick at Night because it didn’t exist yet. Again, these were sent to me four or five shows to a tape, as the series was being “stripped” nightly. Barb and Terry did not join me for this, not being insane, and the binging would usually only be one or two VHS tapes a night.

The first binge watching from pre-recorded tapes came with Poldark, both seasons of which Barb and I consumed in a weekend. Over the years this approach to TV watching continued with the pre-recorded Poirot tapes and beyond. During my son Nate’s college years, he would come home for the weekend when informed that a new DVD season of LEXX had arrived (my favorite science-fiction series). These would be watched, binge-style.

To this day, Barb and I binge in this fashion, although sometimes not quite as aggressively. A House of Cards season usually lasts only two days, but with mystery shows like Murdoch or Midsomer Murders, we hold ourselves to two or three a night, because things in that happily homicidal world start to blur otherwise.

One bad side-effect of binge-watching seasons of favorite shows – particularly when you haven’t followed them in their bite-size weekly episodes – is that a new season can at first seem to have nothing to do with anything you’ve ever seen before. We had that experience with two excellent series that we’ve followed from the beginning – Ripper Street and Orphan Black – both of which we chugged in a couple of gulps.

What happens is that the first episode of the season makes you wonder if you skipped a season, but by the second episode, it begins to come back – especially when two of you are watching, as Barb and I will prompt each other as memories come floating or sometimes bursting back.

So I’ll comment briefly on a couple of series we’ve binged of late.

Poldark Season Three. While Barb and I are devoted fans of the original series, this remake is equally faithful to the books and has the production values of a fairly big-budget feature film, with breathtaking Cornwall location work. Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson do very well as Ross and Demelza, and again the original Poldark, Robin Ellis, is back for a nice scene…a fine show of respect for the original classic series.

Murdoch Mysteries Season 10 – For some while now, Murdoch has been running 18 episodes. This charming, often amusing mystery series – which still plays as a turn of the century CSI – likes to bring characters back, and because those characters have appeared in single episodes (not story arcs), it can be tough to recall them. Also, we always have a little trouble getting used to the non-regulars in the casts because the Canadian acting style can have a dinner theater vibe…but you do get used to it. And the regulars are strong and very comfy in their roles – Yannick Bisson as Murdoch, Helene Joy as Dr. Julia Ogden, Jonny Harris as Constable George Crabtree, and in particular Thomas Craig as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, who recalls Gene Hunt in Life on Mars. The tenth season begins jokey and at first seems weak, but by mid-point it’s playing well, even revealing itself as a particularly strong season, getting more serious and darker as it goes.

Orphan Black Season Five. Orphan Black shares a charming recurring actor – Kristian Brunn – with Murdoch. Otherwise the shows have little in common, and the guest casts never have that dinner theater vibe. Two things are particularly outstanding about this series. First, it’s one of those convoluted, complex science-fiction/fantasy series in the X-Files mode that seems to be getting so ever more complicated, you suspect it doesn’t know where it’s going (Lost, anyone?). Well, Season Five is the final season of Orphan Black and everything from the previous four is paid off with thought and emotion, and no small amount of clever plotting. Virtually everybody of any importance is back from the run of the show and loose ends are not in abundance.

Second, lead Tatiana Maslany may be the best actress of her generation, or maybe several generations, as she portrays the various “clone” sisters who are the orphans of the title, each one distinct in look, mannerism and overall characterization. She is a wonder (and the technical expertise of the “sisters” interacting is mindboggling). Particularly interesting, and rewarding, is the decision of co-creators John Fawcett and Graeme Manson to wrap up the exciting, often frightening storyline midway through the final episode, and follow it with a “three months later” half-an-episode that suggests where the characters are heading and how they are, or are not, dealing with what they’ve been through.

Ripper Street Season Five. Ripper Street, set in Whitechappel just after Jack the Ripper’s reign, is like a much, much darker Murdoch Mysteries. Lead Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Inspector Reid brings modern police methods to London’s most barbaric area with the help of his American forensics expert, Adam Rothenberg as Captain Homer Jackson. Like Murdoch, Ripper Street appears initially to have been born out of the popularity of CSI, but has outlived its inspiration, and surpassed its accomplishments. Creator Richard Warlow wrote around two-thirds of the episodes (early seasons ran 8 episodes, later one 6) and he does not stint on wild plot twists and grittily horrific crimes, but the characters are so real and compelling – and not always admirable – that you will likely stick with them.

Orphan Black runs 50 episodes, and Ripper Street 37, so binging on their complete runs is doable, and will not provide the confusion that those of us doing so a season at time can experience. Murdoch is well over 100 episodes now, so binge-watching can take planning and patience.

So, yes, now that you ask – I did indeed invent binge-watching, with Barb’s help, and Terry’s.

You’re welcome.

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Hey, I bet you didn’t know Road to Perdition came from a comic book. You do? Check this out anyway.

M.A.C.