Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Comic Con Sked, Quarry News, Movies & More

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Barb and I will be attending Comic Con in San Diego. I will be taking it easy, since I’m still in recovery, but it’s nice to be getting back to normal…not that Comic Con is in any way “normal.”

No signings are scheduled, but if you’re in the hall and spot me, and have something for me to sign, I’ll gladly do so. Usually Mysterious Galaxy’s booth has a decent supply of my most recent novels.

The only event I’m part of is the annual International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribes” awards. I will be moderating the awards panel (I have two nominations, both for Mike Hammer – the short story “Fallout” and the novel KILL ME, DARLING).

Here are the details:

Friday, July 22
[ROOM CHANGED, NOW AT:] Room: 28DE
6:00 – 7:00 PM

International Association of Media Tie-in Writers: Scribe Awards — Max Allan Collins(Mike Hammer), co-founder of the IAMTW, will host this year’s Scribe Awards for excellence in tie-in writing, including honoring this year’s Grandmaster Award “Faust” winner, Timothy Zahn (Star Wars) . Join panelists Michael A. Black (Executioner), Adam Christopher (Elementary), Matt Forbeck (HALO), Glenn Hauman (Star Trek), Nancy Holder (Crimson Peak), R.L. King (Shadowrun), Jonathan Maberry (Wolfman), Andy Mangels (X-Files), Cavan Scott (Pathfinder) and Marv Wolfman (Batman) for a freewheeling look at one of the most popular and yet under-appreciated branches of the writing trade. Room 23ABC

Since Nate won’t be along this year, and my activities will be limited, I won’t be posing daily reports from the Con. But there will be a convention wrap-up here next week.

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The news that Hard Case Crime, through Titan, is doing a comics line – with me writing a Quarry mini-series for collection as a graphic novel – was all over the Net last week. No artist has been selected, and I probably won’t start writing for two or three months; the graphic novel will likely be called QUARRY’S WAR and will deal more directly with his Vietnam experiences than I’ve ever done in the novels.

I won’t provide the countless links, but this one should do.

Meanwhile, there’s a new Cinemax trailer for the QUARRY series.

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Here are a few brief reviews of movies recently seen by Barb and me.

GHOSTBUSTERS – Despite the talent on display, and in part because of too much special effects work, this reboot is merely okay. At an hour and forty-five minutes, it seems much longer. Losing ten to fifteen minutes would make it funnier and also more suspenseful. The Bill Murray cameo is disappointing, and the other original cast cameos are mostly perfunctory. Why were the original cast members wasted? Why wasn’t there a passing of the torch, with the original actors/characters? The new cast is winning, though, with Kristen Wiig the standout, though Leslie Jones mostly stands around channeling Ernie Hudson.

LEGEND OF TARZAN – This is much better than it’s cracked up to be, and more faithful to Burroughs than any other Tarzan film with the possible exception of GREYSTOKE. This has more plot and action than the latter, and the two leads, Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie, are charismatic and have nice chemistry. The landscapes are stunning and the CGI animals work fine, especially the apes. Christoph Waltz is starting to wear out his villain welcome, though.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE – Kevin Hart is amusing but upstaged by the Rock – okay, Dwayne Johnson – who is extremely, unexpectedly funny in the best spy spoof since, well, SPY. I was shocked by how entertaining this was.

DE PALMA – We caught this at Iowa City’s FilmScene, the theater smart enough (or anyway nice enough) to recently book MOMMY. Brian De Palma was, for many years, my favorite director, and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (which back in the day, Terry Beatty and I saw endlessly in theaters around the Midwest) remains in my top ten films…make that top five. But some later missteps of director’s like MISSION TO MARS and SNAKE EYES cooled my enthusiasm for everything but the earlier stuff like SISTERS and OBSESSION. The documentary is a long interview with De Palma made visually arresting by many clips from his own films and the films that influenced him. The result is at once a character study of a kid with a nurturing mother and a distant father whose idea of bonding was taking his son to bloody surgical operations, and a master class in direction in terms of a talented young indie director’s rise to Hollywood fame (and his periodic return to his trademark thrillers, to revitalize himself and his career). Virtually every film of De Palma’s is discussed, and excerpted, and the missteps are explained and put in context. His stories of dealing with Hollywood stars and studio executives are funny and revealing (of both himself and a terrible system), though I strongly disagree with his apparently low opinion of Cliff Robertson’s work in OBSESSION. If De Palma has a flaw as a director – and I’m not referring to misogyny – it’s a tendency to value hammy performances over understated ones. But performances and for that matter characterization are secondary to De Palma, whose visual sense and storytelling via camera is second to none…except maybe Hitchcock, who he unapologetically admits is his model and idol. The film concludes in a bittersweet, even moving manner, with De Palma saying that a director is finished when he can no longer walk, which is juxtaposed with the only non-interview footage of the now-overweight De Palma as he walks unsteadily down a New York street. He also, as the film wraps up, states his opinion that directors do their best work in their thirties, forties and fifties. De Palma is 75.

M.A.C.

Heller and York Score

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

J. Kingston Pierce at the excellent Rap Sheet has given BETTER DEAD a splashy rave as this week’s Pierce’s Pick. Also, in honor of Rap Sheet’s ten-year anniversary, Jeff Pierce is giving away five copies of BETTER DEAD and five more of ASK NOT (in hardcover). Read the rave and all about the free copies right here.

Also at Jeff’s terrific second blog, KILLER COVERS, which celebrates paperback covers of the ‘40s through the ‘70s, he has paid tribute to BETTER DEAD with a selection of sexy covers featuring redheads.

My pal Bill Crider has published his own BETTER DEAD rave at one of my favorite web sites, BILL CRIDER’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE. There’s a fun discussion in which I participate in the comments section about the unlikelihood of Nate Heller being involved in so many famous cases. Take a look.

I am pleased and honored to have THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK (now available in paperback!) nominated for Best Novel by the Western Fictioneers. This link will take you to the entire list of nominees, plus one winner – my great friend Bob Randisi, who is receiving a life achievement award.

Since we seem to be leading off with links this week, check out this excellent review from writer Ron Fortier of QUARRY’S VOTE (the McGinnis-covered Hard Case Crime edition of PRIMARY TARGET).

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU by Matt Clemens and me is a Kindle Bargain ($1.99), reachable at a link here.

In memoriam of Darwyn Cooke’s untimely passing, and Bobby Darin’s birthday (May 14), COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN prints a condensed version of THE BOBBY DARIN STORY by Terry Beatty and me.

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I think I’ve had it with superhero movies.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN was long, self-consciously dark and occasionally tedious, but I didn’t hate it, with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s vastly misjudged Lex Luther. Superman and Batman retain their charisma, and it was fun seeing Wonder Woman in one of these movies. Otherwise fun was in short supply in this and so many of the genre.

Barb and I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We did so well into the movie, probably a couple of hours, but an endless fight scene between the two groups of superheroes warned me that the climax of taking on the super villains was yet to come, so we finally bailed, battered but breathing. So many characters and so little impact. And I think I’m finally bored with Robert Downey Jr.’s oh-so-cool schtick as Tony Stark.

The problem with the Marvel movies is the company’s willingness to scrape the bottom of the costumed hero barrel. Even Iron Man is a second-tier guy; and while Paul Rudd is likable as Antman (and his solo movie pretty good), what pop cultural purchase does that character have? At least Superman and Batman are iconic.

But where is the fucking fun? The first AVENGERS movie had that nicely hip/jokey feel thanks to Joss Whedon, without shortchanging the action. Since then it’s been a combination of flat one-liners, over-wrought seriousness, and mind-numbing battles, plus a continuity as convoluted and corny as five years of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Take the laughable CIVIL WAR moment when Tony Stark gets flummoxed by the thought of Pepper Potts. Yes, we are expected to remember and care about a character with a silly name who isn’t even in the movie.

When Jack Kirby created Captain America (about whom Mickey Spillane occasionally wrote), Cap was a symbol of cheerful patriotism whose Robin-type sidekick, Bucky, rode a motorcycle, all jaunty and cheerful. Now Bucky still rides a motorcycle, but he has turned into a sullen, serious half-villain, half-good-guy, sturm und drang not slam bang.

Now I’m not completely cured. I bought DEADPOOL on Blu-ray the other day because it’s been so widely praised. Haven’t watched it yet, but will. I am looking forward, guardedly, to the new X-MEN movie. But stuff like DC’s SUICIDE SQUAD leaves me cold, the preview so unpleasant and struggling to be dark, I want to upchuck my popcorn. The Joker as hero (okay, anti-hero)? So wrong. So very wrong.

My problem is that as I age, so does the popular culture, and neither of us are what we used to be. I bought AMAZING FANTASY #15 at Cohn’s Newsland, as well as SPIDERMAN #1, FANTASTIC FOUR #1, AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1. To me it was all about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – from my perspective, the “new” SPIDERMAN artist is John Romita.

Say what you will about Stan Lee, he wrote fun comic books. He lightly spoofed the genre and seemed to be saying, “Yes, this stuff is inherently silly, but let’s have a good time with it.” So Peter Parker was a nerd who got picked on, and the Fantastic Four got evicted from their penthouse digs because being a superhero didn’t pay so good. And he probably cackled at his typewriter when he typed the name Pepper Potts.

Batman to me will always be cartoonist Dick Sprang’s giant props and a small cast of vivid, recurring villains, most of whom were comical (the Riddler, the Penguin, even the Joker). Wayne Boring’s Superman was never boring, but often funny, from the torturous attempts by Lois Lane to unmask Superman as Clark Kent to the bald super-villain, Lex Luthor, who always failed. And Bizarro! How much fun was that?

Are we having fun yet, at superhero movies? Or are we still suffering under the mantle of seriousness that has so choked a wonderful if inherently juvenile genre? Embrace your inner kid – don’t be ashamed of him.

M.A.C.

Antiques Christmas

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015
Antiques St. Nicked

For those of you who follow the ANTIQUES series (a.k.a. the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries) – written by Barb and myself, as Barbara Allan – you may be interested to know that we again have a Christmas-themed novella available as an e-book.

The new one is ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, but the previous two – ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE – remain available. Right now these are not available in “real” book form, though we hope someday a collection of them might be published (nothing in the works, though).

These are, as I mentioned above, novellas – not mere short stories. As such, they are challenging to write. Our usual brainstorming session must come up not only with a mystery that involves antiques in some fashion, but also a Christmas theme. Beyond that, each story can’t resemble any of the others. And as a novella is by definition a short novel, a lot more work goes into it than a short story.

ST. NICKED has a rather serious story beneath the holiday tinsel (not to mention a dead Santa Claus), and is perhaps the scariest of any of the ANTIQUES tales. FRUITCAKE focuses on a local theatrical production in which Mother is of course involved. And SLAY RIDE centers around Christmas collectibles.

Another Christmas story, not by Barbara Allan, can be found in Otto Penzler’s generous BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES. The “big” part of that title is well-deserved, as I am one of 59 stories (sharing space with the likes of Rex Stout, Agatha Christie and Ed McBain!). The book came out in 2013 but has already become a Christmas staple. My story – one of my favorites among my short stories – is “A Wreath for Marley.” (Some may recall that I developed a film script version called BLUE CHRISTMAS that has yet to be made.) “Marley” is a cross between (obviously) A CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE MALTESE FALCON.

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Speaking of Christmas, here’s a replay from 2014 of my list of the Best Five Christmas Movies:

1. SCROOGE (1951). Alistair Sim is the definitive Scrooge in the definitive filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Faithful, scary, funny, unsentimental, sentiment-filled, flawless (except for a cameraman turning up in a mirror). Accept no substitutes, although the Albert Finney musical is pretty good.

2. MIRACLE ON 34th Street (1947). Hollywood filmmaking at its best, with lots of location shooting in New York. Edmund Gwen is the definitive, real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood gives her greatest child performance; John Payne reminds us that he should have been a major star; and Maureen O’Sullivan is a smart, strong career woman/working mother who could not be more glamorous. Admit to preferring the remake at your own risk.

3. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Heartwarming but harrowing, this film is home to one of James Stewart’s bravest performances and happens to be Frank Capra’s best film. Have you noticed it’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL from Bob Cratchit’s point of view?

4. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The great Jean Shepherd’s great movie that has turned, somewhat uncomfortably, into a cottage industry of leg lamps, Christmas decorations and action figures. Shepherd’s first-person narration has the snap and humor of Raymond Chandler, and the mix of cynicism and warmth is uniquely his. Plus, it’s a Christmas movie with Mike Hammer and Carl Kolchak in it.

5. CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) continues to grow in reputation, possibly surpassing the original film. Somehow the John Hughes-scripted third VACATION go-round manages to uncover every Christmas horror possible when families get together and Daddy tries too hard. It’s rare that a comedy can get go this broad, this over the top, and still maintain a sense that we’re watching a documentary about everything than can go wrong at Christmas.

This year I have no new Christmas movie finds to recommend (with one exception – stay tuned). A BILL MURRAY CHRISTMAS, essentially a movie (not a Christmas special as advertised), reunites him with director Sofia Coppola, whose LOST IN TRANSLATION helped send Murray into many a depressed middle-ager roles. Though it has occasional rewards, the film is glum and sad, and Murray sings many, many songs and wears out the gag of his over-the-top, off-pitch lounge singer. Basically, A BILL MURRAY CHRISTMAS is about a bunch of people stranded in a bar, doing karaoke, during a snowstorm. My son Nate – whose favorite movie is GROUNDHOG DAY (which is high on my list as well) – did not make it through this one. Proof positive that Murray, for all his protestations, was much, much better served by the late great Harold Ramis than by Coppola and even Wes Anderson.

You may recall, on my recent year-end movie wrap-up, that I listed THE NIGHT BEFORE as a film Barb and I walked out of. I suppose it’s possible that it redeemed itself in later reels, but I doubt it – like the MURRAY CHRISTMAS, this seems to be largely about people going from bar to bar and singing karaoke and drinking. Add in drug-taking, which leads to very unfunny sub-Cheech-and-Chong stuff, and it’s like being forced to drag yourself along with the worst friends in your life as they work very hard to have fun, and don’t. I am a Seth Rogen fan going back to FREAKS AND GEEKS – hell, I even like THE GREEN HORNET – but this is an embarrassing Yuletide misstep.

My one new recommendation, for those with a sick sense of humor: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. This is a wonderful anthology film (though the stories are intercut, not one at a time) with William Shatner as an increasingly inebriated disc jockey who serves as part Jean Shepherd, part Crypt Keeper. This Canadian indie, from some of the ORPHAN BLACK creative team, is superior to the much bigger-budgeted (but not terrible) KRAMPUS. Krampus, the anti-Santa, is a major player in HORROR STORY, by the way.

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Here’s a write-up about THE LAST LULLABY and the news that it’s currently streaming on Hulu.

The great Bookgasm site has posted this joint review of QUARRY and QUARRY’S LIST.

Finally, here’s a brief but nice review of SUPREME JUSTICE from the same conservative reviewer who enjoyed FATE OF THE UNION (though we have to wade through the whole Glocks-don’t-have-safeties controversy.)

M.A.C.

2015 Movie Round-Up Part Two

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

A while back I gave my “awards” for the movies Barb and I saw in the first half of 2015. Here is the second half of my movie round-up for this year. Multiple entries are in order of excellence or terribleness.

MOVIE WE WALKED OUT ON (JUST THIS WEEKEND):
THE NIGHT BEFORE

MOVIE WE SHOULD HAVE WALKED OUT ON:
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED

INTERESTING INDIES:
PHOENIX
BEST OF ENEMIES (documentary)

MOVIES THAT WERE BETTER THAN THEY HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE:
GOOSEBUMPS
THE PEANUTS MOVIE
HITMAN: AGENT 47

MOVIES THAT WERE WORSE THAN THEY HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE:
PIXELS
SICARIO

BEST SEQUEL:
CREED

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE:
INSIDE OUT

BEST MOVIE A LOT OF PEOPLE DIDN’T LIKE:
TERMINATOR GENYSIS

BEST SPY FILM EVERYBODY SAW (THAT WASN’T “SPECTRE”):
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION

BEST SPY FILM A FEW PEOPLE SAW:
THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

BEST SPY FILM NOBODY SAW:
SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD

MOVIES I HATE THAT I WILL NEVER SEE:
RIKKI AND THE FLASH
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS
PAN
RIKKI AND THE FLASH
MAGIC MIKE XXL
PITCH PERFECT 2
Did I remember to say RIKKI AND THE FLASH?

BEST BASED-ON-FACT MOVIES:
STEVE JOBS
TRUMBO
BRIDGE OF SPIES
BLACK MASS

BEST SCIENCE-FICTION FILM IN A WHILE:
THE MARTIAN

BEST HORROR-FANTASY IN A WHILE:
CRIMSON PEAKS

MOVIES THAT SHOULD HAVE SUCKED BUT DIDN’T:
KRAMPUS
SELF/LESS (or: REGENERATION WITHOUT ROYALTIES)
NO ESCAPE

BEST ACTION MOVIE SINCE “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD”:
SPECTRE

BEST COMEDY SINCE “SPY” (SURPRISINGLY):
VACATION

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Quarry's List

For those wondering what I’ve been up to, I spent last week writing a script for the second season of QUARRY. Does that mean the series has been picked up for a second season already? Unfortunately, not – but it’s a very good sign that HBO/Cinemax has ordered up a second season of scripts.

The possible second season is loosely based on QUARRY’S CHOICE, and the formative Quarry (aka Mac Conway) is moving closer to the Quarry of the novels. This makes sense, because the first season is a kind of expanded origin story.

Speaking of Quarry – and this is something I discussed last week – it’s increasingly gratifying if odd to see books I wrote a long time ago being reviewed today. Check out this very nice review in the prestigious PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY for my 1976 novel, QUARRY’S LIST. How I wish they’d noticed me back then!

My buddy (and one of my favorite writers) Ed Gorman has taken a look at SPREE on his blog. I think this is a reworking of an earlier review, but I am pleased to see it. Ed singles out this, the last of the Nolan novels, as a particular favorite of his among my books.

Here’s another review of SPREE that I was happy to read (and a little surprised to see).

I am particularly pleased to see my Mike Hammer collaborations with Mickey getting some space in one of the numerous overviews about the current trend of continuations of classic mystery and spy series. Frankly, we often get left out. What’s fun here is that the great Jon L. Breen (the Anthony Boucher of our time) is not at all a Spillane fan, but still appreciates these continuations. Specifically, he takes a look at KISS HER GOODBYE, and says wonderful things. No idea why he’s about four books behind! Do try to keep up, everybody….

M.A.C.