Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

After Party

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The Spillane birthday was truly a phenomenon. So much appeared on line and in newspapers and magazines that I am encouraged knowing the world remembers, and I believe will continue to remember, one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, and who is on the very short list of great private eye writers.

And the celebration will continue all year and into next. Right now we’re discussing a follow-up Mike Hammer radio-style play in Clearwater, Florida, next February or so, as the official closing event. Gary Sandy will likely be back as Hammer.

Killing Town will be out in April, and the Mike Hammer graphic novel from Titan will appear through the summer and fall, and probably be collected before year’s end.

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I am working on Girl Most Likely, a new thriller with a mystery aspect. I hope to be almost finished with it by next update. Though it was conceived as a one-shot, it’s showing signs of wanting to become a series. In an odd way, it’s like a non-overtly-humorous version of the Barbara Allan books – the main characters are a retired police detective father (recently widowed) and his small-town chief-of-police daughter. The thriller aspect is represented by a scary and violent murderer, and the mystery involves the father-and-daughter duo finding out who that killer is, and stopping him or her.

To some degree this flows from my desire to do something American that recalls/invokes the Nordic crime thrillers best represented by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in its various forms and such TV series as the assorted Wallander adaptations and the three versions of The Bridge. I like the social commentary aspect of those works and the way a character-driven, not overly hardboiled detective or detectives deal with really frightening, violent adversaries.

I did my Dragon Tattoo variation for Thomas & Mercer a few years ago – What Doesn’t Kill Her – developed with my frequent collaborator, Matt Clemens. This time I’m on my own, though I’ve leaned on Matt for some on-the-fly police procedure stuff and on Barb to keep me honest with the female protagonist (both the daughter and father have equal weight in the narrative, alternating chapters, occasionally interrupted by chapters from the killer’s POV).

I will share more as we draw closer to publication, which won’t be incredibly soon because it’s not finished yet.

Ahead for me are the galley proofs of Scarface and the Untouchable – the thing is massive. Very proud of this, and I have a hunch it’s going to make some noise. My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, and I are exploring ways to promote the book, which I frankly don’t think will be hard – Capone and Ness are iconic figures in our popular culture. I feel we’ve done them justice and told their story in a new, compelling, ground-breakingly accurate way.

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Barb and I left an area movie theater after about an hour of Red Sparrow.

Now, for a long time I didn’t write negative things about movies. When I started making movies, in my modest way, I got a crash course in how effing hard it is to do. Because of this, I resigned from my Mystery Scene role as film critic, and when I wrote a review column for the late, much-missed Asian Cult Cinema, I wrote almost exclusively about movies I liked.

But, as regular readers of this update know, I have weakened, battered by too many terrible films, until I’m beyond the ability to feel compassion for their makers. Red Sparrow is a good example of why – it is horrid. It makes me wonder if I was wrong to walk out of Atomic Blonde, because Sparrow is so similar and so very much worse.

I am not easily offended. When I am offended, it’s usually something a politician did, not a writer or filmmaker or stand-up comic. But stupidity offends me. Red Sparrow is incredibly stupid, its plot inane. Do I exaggerate? Consider. The female star of the Bolshoi Ballet (which you may be forgiven as thinking of as the Bullshit Ballet in regard to this film) suffers a broken leg that ends her brilliant career. So the KGB (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) recruit her to be a spy…and send her undercover.

World-famous ballet stars being ideal choices for undercover espionage.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, and very beautiful, and that I would walk out of a film knowing that more of her nude scenes lie ahead speaks volumes in and of itself. For her training in spycraft, she goes to sex-and-sadism school and learns how to give blow jobs to men she doesn’t like (Lawrence’s character herself calls this “whore school”). Her trainer is Charlotte Rampling, apparently cast because she was in the famous sadomasochistic Night Porter decades ago, though what she brings to mind here is Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Guess what the plot is about? There’s a mole in the KGB that Lawrence is supposed to expose! Yes, the same as Atomic Blonde. Someone who liked this film said on Facebook (when Terry Beatty wondered if Red Sparrow was worth seeing) that it reminded him of John le Carré. Yes, if you were to read Fifty Shades of Grey and say, “Wow – this is just like Lolita!”

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Here’s a nice Spillane-oriented interview of me by Mike Barson at Crimespree.

I’m somewhat weirded out by reviews of my early work, but this one – of Bait Money and Blood Money in their Hard Case Crime iteration, Two for the Money – isn’t bad.

J. Kingston Pierce provides my chronology of the Mike Hammer novels, which shows where the Spillane/Collins collaborations fit.

Here’s a preview of the final issue of Quarry’s War.

And I am pleased to see Road to Perdition singled out as one of the ten most stylish movies of the century thus far. Most of the writer’s other choices are good ones, though he includes two movies by Darren Aronofsky, one of my least favorite directors, and his top choice, Blade Runner 2049, Barb and I walked out of. A bad movie that looks great is still a bad movie. The play is the thing says I.

M.A.C.

Mike Hammer Comics First Time Ever (sort of)

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Titan and its Hard Case Crime line of noir comics has officially announced the Mike Hammer comic book – actually, a graphic novel that will first be serialized as a four-issue comic book series – and word about it is all over the Net.

We even made the Hollywood Reportersee for yourself.

One of the most exciting aspects of all this is having the great Robert McGinnis provide a cover for a comic book – isn’t that a first? As I kid I dreamed of having a book of mine appear with a McGinnis cover – now I’ve had five!

The other covers are great, too, and you can see some of them here.

A lot of the Net write-ups take the angle that this is the first time Mike Hammer has appeared in a comic book. Well…kind of. Hammer was originally conceived by Mickey Spillane as a comics character, first materializing as Mike Lancer in Green Hornet Comics #10, December 1942. Mickey probably wrote this right before going into the Army Air Corps. Mickey re-named Lancer as Mike Danger, with the same artist, Harry Sahle, and tried to market it after the war. The lack of success of the comics version led Mickey into doing a prose version of the character, re-named (do I have to tell you?), Mike Hammer. Hammer’s first appearance in print was in 1947’s I, the Jury.

Two of Mickey’s unsold Mike Danger comic book stories appeared in Crime Detector #3 and #4 in 1954. Mickey didn’t know about this till years later – somebody pulled them from a drawer and sold them…the unsigned artist maybe? Not Sahle, who did not draw the two stories that were published; but Mickey apparently put together an entire issue, so one or two other stories remain lost.

Hammer himself hit the comics in ‘53 – not funny books, but in newspapers as a daily and Sunday strip, written by Mickey and sometimes by Joe Gill and the strip’s terrific artist, Ed Robbins. It ran for about a year and was collected, and edited with an intro by me in a fifty-buck book from Hermes Press. But you can get it here (in digital form) for under $15.

Here’s where we get into technically murky waters in claims that my comic book series is a first for Mike Hammer. I have two issues of an Australian Mike Hammer comic book from the ‘50s doing reprints of strips. Not original material, however….

Remember Mike Danger? Well, some of you know that Mickey and I revived the original character for Big Entertainment. The differences between Danger and Hammer are slight, but the comic book stories we did from 1995 – 1997 were science-fiction-oriented. For most of the run, Danger was thrust up into a politically correct future. Toward the end we returned him to the 1950s for X-Files type s-f. The first cover was by Frank Miller, a longtime Spillane enthusiast, and my pal Terry Beatty worked on the book for the last year or so, inking several other artists. I would love to see these collected.

You can read about Mike Danger’s torturous history in even more detail here, at Kevin Burton Smith’s fine Thrilling Detective web site.

Does this take anything away from the upcoming Mike Hammer four-issue comic book series? Not at all. It’s just that he and Mickey Spillane – who once wrote comic books for Timely and other Golden Age outfits – are not strangers to the medium. And it will be a great, significant part of the Mike Hammer centenary celebration.

My graphic novel, “The Night I Died,” has a basis in an unproduced Spillane screenplay from the early ‘50s, although I have set it in the vague 1960s, around the time of the Darren McGavin TV version. The art by Marcelo Salaza and Marcio Freire has a lot of flair, and I am glad to be part of bringing Mike Hammer more officially to the world of comic books…back again for the first time ever!

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Two quick notes on movies….

Do not come to our house with torches, but Barb and I did not like Black Panther. In fact, we walked out after about an hour. We are not racists (although most people who say they aren’t are), but found it dumb and convoluted and pandering, with a torturously slow set-up. Speaking of racist, I found the central notion of an African country developing advanced technology but hiding it from the world by pretending to be backward tribesman, well, racist as hell. Now ours is obviously a minority (you should pardon the expression) opinion. We are probably wrong. But we don’t sit through anything we don’t like anymore. We have better things to do, and to watch.

Speaking of which, Game Night with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, both wonderful, is one of the best comedies of recent years. Reminiscent of Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s a crime story and wild comedy about a group of couples going after a shared goal; along the way it pays surprising attention to character. Mostly, though, it’s just very funny. Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons of the great TV series Friday Night Lights are among the stars, and both are hilarious. One imagines every time “Cut” was shouted at the end of a Plemons take, everybody on set fell apart laughing. This had two directors, apparently collaborating (as opposed to one of them getting fired and replaced), one of whom is John Francis Daley who was the main geek on the great Freaks and Geeks TV series. Good for him!

M.A.C.

You Screen, I Screen, We All Scream for…

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Last time here I pretty much just hawked a bunch of books. Seems like it’s time I blessed you with opinions about movies and TV series that Barb and I have viewed lately.

The third season of Fargo arrived on DVD, and I am well and truly pissed that FX has not released this on Blu-ray, after issuing the previous two seasons that way. They are doing the same with Archer. As if I weren’t pissed enough that they didn’t pick up Heller for TV, though they did pay through the nose for my script.


Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor in Fargo Season 3.

Anyway, Fargo Season 3 is wonderful. It certainly deserves a Blu-ray release, because visually it’s unique – the director has dialed down the blue despite the winter time frame, and has created a singular mood. Where do I start? The story has two major threads – a Russian takeover of a parking lot business with strip-mining it in mind; and the rivalry between two brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) over which of them got the better of their late father’s belongings. The dumb brother took the Corvette, the smart one a valuable stamp collection, the former becoming a parole officer whose charges piss all over his shoes as he collects urine for drug testing, the latter building a fortune around that aforementioned parking lot business. Add into this the underestimated small-town local cop (a staple of Fargo, whether movie or TV show, this time Carrie Coon) who says, “Okay, then,” a lot, and a villain (David Thewliss) as a guy who makes Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo of Season One seem like St. Francis of Assisi. Other elements include the dumb brother’s squeeze, parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a whiz at bridge, looking to tourneys to build a better future (she came in third once); a dead grandpa who turns out to have been a briefly famous science-fiction writer, somewhat in the vein of Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout; a benign and occasionally meddling Jehovah by way of beloved Twin Peaks actor Ray Wise; the return of a character who appeared in both previous series; and some particularly nasty Russian thugs. Also Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by Billy Bob, and an animated version of one of the dead grandpa’s s-f tales.

In short, it’s sublime. Unlike that sorta genius filmmaker David Lynch, who has only presented a straight story once (The Straight Story), Noah Hawley can include quirky elements while still spinning a well-structured, coherent narrative. He also knows how to assemble a cast, which has been true of all three seasons. The standout this time is Winstead, who played Joni in the unaired pilot of Quarry. In a beautifully acted series filled with world-class actors, she nonetheless tucks Fargo Season 3 under her arm and steals it. She is now my personal choice for Ms. Tree, if Hollywood ever comes back around to that property (and its senses).

Well, that took a while, so here are some shorter looks, first at TV.

The Tunnel 3: Vengeance turns out to be the concluding season of the British/French version of the Nordic noir, The Bridge. It tells a brazenly over-the-top tale of a couple of activists who punish people they deem bad, particularly Internet trollers; they, shall we say, take things a bit too far. What’s best about this good season of a terrific show is the secondary theme (vengeance being the first) of the effect the loss of a child has on a parent and of a lost parent on a child. Yet another theme explores how the team of compassionate Brit detective Karl Roebuck and his French counterpart, autistic Elise Wassermann (played by Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy, respectively) make bad decisions when the partner isn’t around as a counterbalance. Both actors are excellent. For fans of The Bridge (there was also a pretty good American version from FX – damn them – which paired American and Mexican cops), a real benefit is that – after the first season, which every version has done more or less the same – new stories appear. The Tunnel series has a shocking but ultimately satisfying conclusion. I got this from the UK – it won’t show up here for a while.

Looking for good British series, we tried Shetland, The Loch (shown as Loch Ness here), and Hinterland. We didn’t make it through Hinterland, which was humorless and bleak, and The Loch was passable but nothing more. Shetland, of these somewhat similar series with their barren, beautiful settings, is easily the best, with Douglas Henshall a standout as the central detective. None of these, though, are as good as the Nordic thrillers they somewhat ape – like The Killing, Wallander and Varg Veum.

Victoria‘s second season is very short on murders, but it’s a veddy enjoyable Brit soap opera, with a high standard of acting from a cast that, surprisingly enough, seems largely drawn from the UK.

Onto movies…

The Shape of Water is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, the film is a celebration – and a cautionary tale – of earlier eras and in particular movies. The art direction and lighting, however, creates a mood unique to this film. The only slightly false note is a dance routine that seems straight out of the dreaded La La Land. Otherwise, it’s bewitching and occasionally scary, with dollops of social comment; actors Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins are especially good. So is Michael Stuhlbarg, who is also among the incredible cast of Fargo Season 3 (did I mention how good that is?). I had read quite a bit about the film in advance and yet it was very different from what I’d gathered. That’s because it’s a special experience, oddly reminiscent of Phantom of the Paradise, which it invokes in its opening narration.

Winchester is an Australian-made haunted house movie that has a nine-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Keep in mind movie critics, particularly the younger ones, often don’t know shit. Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are just fine in a movie that wants to be a ghost story, with an intriguing historical backdrop, and delivers on its promise. Perhaps because of the Winchester’s lack of over-the-top gore, the filmmakers (Peter and Michael Spierig) were encouraged to include so many jump scares, it becomes absurd – but a good basis for a Halloween drinking game, as long as there’s a designated driver.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – viewed on Blu-ray (like Fargo Season 3 should have been). A compelling if admittedly fanciful take on the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the two strong women he lived with. I don’t mind the speculation, but writer/director Angela Robinson shows Marston watching in displeasure and disappointment as kids and their parents burn a bunch of comic books because of urging from Dr. Wertham type critics. Trouble is Marston died in 1947 and the comic book purge was mid-‘50s.

The Snowman – also watched on Blu-ray (fill in Fargo Season 3 bitch here). This seems to me a perfectly serviceable Nordic noir thriller from Jo Nesbø’s novel, though it goes over no new ground and ends somewhat flatly. But the savage reviews indicate the Nordic noir cycle may have run its course.

Marshall – another Blu-ray watch. A solid combination of Civil Rights activism and courtroom drama. Leads Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson are fine.

I touched on Den of Thieves and Proud Mary before – both very watchable.

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And here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War #3, which is out now.

Movies Are Your Best Entertainment!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Here’s a video I did to promote the prose Perdition saga in the great new Brash Books editions. If you don’t have them, what are you waiting for? A good use for your Amazon gift cards.

And now for Christmas, I thought I would share more opinions about movies with you, all wrapped in a big red bow. You’re welcome.

My son Nate has mentioned frequently my demented taste in film (some of which he shares). When I’m gone, he threatens to mount a web site where every day he will grab one DVD or Blu-Ray or maybe even laser disc at random, and review it. Might be The Big Combo or it could be The Invisible Ghost with Bela Lugosi (both were directed by Joseph Lewis, after all).

To demonstrate what he is talking about, here some movies I’ve watched on home video lately. These include a few movies I saw as awards screeners that I receive as a WGA member. Most I bought. Also, a few theatrical releases are tagged on at the end. All are mini-reviews.

Dolores Claiborne (1995) – really good Stephen King movie with no supernatural aspect, stylishly directed by Taylor Hackford. Great character study and sorta mystery starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (of Road to Perdition fame).

Death Rides a Horse (1967) – one of my two favorite non-Leone Lee Van Cleef Italian westerns (the other is The Big Gundown). With John Phillip Law as Clint Eastwood. A new, slightly longer Blu-Ray from Kino. Saw it in the theater twice.

T-Men (1947) – excellent noir directed by Anthony Mann about undercover fed Dennis O’Keefe. O’Keefe is way underrated. Black-and-white cinematography by genius John Alton (I, the Jury). Starts with a stilted intro by Elmer Irey, one of the guys who took credit for taking Capone down and dissed Eliot Ness. See him brought to earth next year in Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness & the Battle for Chicago.

The Laughing Policeman (1973) – interesting if dreary police procedural with Walter Matthau in a mostly humorless portrayal and Bruce Dern in a rare heroic role, though he’s casually sexist and sadistic, anyway. From a nordic noir novel. 1973 is starting to feel like a long time ago.

Battle Cry (1955) – wonderful Hollywood-ized Raoul Walsh-directed adaptation of the forgotten Leon Uris bestseller. Great soap opera of men training where my dad did in San Diego; an incredible cast – Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis James Whitmore, Anne Francis, Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone…did I mention Anne Francis? L.Q. Jones appears under his real name playing a character called L.Q. Jones, which he then took as his stage name. Tons of familiar male actors making early appearances. Final half hour of battle finally arrives and is compelling.

Annie Get Your Gun (1957) – from VAI, a Blu-Ray of Mary Martin and John Raitt in a TV “spectacular” of the famous Broadway show. Great performances from the stars and lots of fun. Native American stuff and male/female interaction that will amuse you, especially if a humorless gal is in the room watchin’ with you. Assuming you survive.

Thieves’ Highway (1949) – gritty noir about trucking written by A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly!) from his novel, Thieves’ Market. Excellent villain performance from Lee J. Cobb, striking female lead in Valentina Cortese, and Richard Conte fine as a nice guy who is dumb enough to make you talk back to the screen. Hey, everybody in the sleazy bar! Look at all the money I just got! Director Jules Dassin tells us how much he hates capitalism, right before he packs his bags and heads overseas.

Since You Went Away (1944) – surprisingly effective home front soaper from producer/scripter David O. Selznick, directed by John Cromwell. Teenage Shirley Temple (disturbingly appealing – I’m pretty sure Roy Moore has this one on his fave flicks list) and Jennifer Jones convincingly go from kids to young women while Claudette Colbert reminds us why she was a movie star. Moving and generally unmanipulative for this kind of thing. Great cast also includes Joseph Cotten, Monty Wooley, Robert Walker, Lionel Barrymore and Guy Madison. A Christmas movie, by the way, though that doesn’t come in till the last act.

And now some new things….

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – this is an excellent showcase for both Frances McDormand and especially Sam Rockwell, with nice work from Woody Harrelson, too. The movie is challenging because it keeps shifting, challenging your thinking and assumptions, with none of its characters perfect (except perhaps Harrelson’s) and the resolution of its crime story elusive. Lovely writing and direction from Martin McDonagh. One of the two or three best of the year, topped only by Wind River.

The Post – boy, what a disappointing Mr. Show movie! Though they appear in a number of scenes together, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk just never get truly funny. And the story is quite unbelievable – a crooked United States President who tries to stifle and belittle freedom of the press? Some story ideas, even in a comedy, are too outlandish to pull off – just not funny! Supporting players Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep hog the screen from stars Cross and Odenkirk.

I, Tonya – good, quirky docudrama about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident that ignited interest in women’s competition ice skating. Well done, but star Margot Robbie, though very good, is miscast as Tonya, whose petite figure, not quite pretty face, and white trash aura call for a physically smaller, less overtly attractive, less obviously smart actress. Worth seeing.

Star Wars – The Last Jedi. I am thrilled for Mark Hamill, who knocks it out of the park with a genuine star performance. At its best, this is a wonderful movie and audiences will likely love it, and they should. But it’s way too long and overstuffed with very usual Star Wars plot shenanigans, plus a weak performance or two (Laura Dern, anyone?). But Luke Skywalker shines. This series was launched as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, you know.

So – these were all viewed over a couple of weeks. That’s how we spend our evenings and the occasional at-the-actual-movies afternoon. This is relaxation in Iowa. If you’re nice to me, I won’t do this to you again.

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Bill Morris says Quarry’s Climax is one of the best books of the year – and he’s right. Read here to find me on a list with Joan Didion.

Here’s a nifty little piece about Quarry’s War issue #1.

M.A.C.