Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

Road to Pernicious

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

A while back, I commented on JOHN WICK and how I thought I detected my fingerprints on it. Didn’t bother me, and (unless I was just being typically self-deluded) I even felt a little flattered. It’s nice to move out of the “being-influenced” category and into the “influence” one.

But I had a very different reaction to RUN ALL NIGHT, the Liam Neeson crime drama that co-stars Joel Kinnaman (of the American KILLING), whose presence is what got Barb and me there, since we are both fans of that series and in particular Kinnaman’s work. This is where I would normally give you a review, but I wasn’t able to tell much about the movie, other than the direction was distractingly flashy and that Ed Harris delivered another one of his strange over-acting and under-acting at the same time performances. Neeson was just doing his patented middle-aged-good-guy-who’s-depressed-he’s-been-a-killer-most-of-his-life turns.

Why I can’t discuss this film rationally is because it lifts so outrageously and shamelessly from both the film and graphic novel of ROAD TO PERDITION. There are differences – Kinnamon plays a grown son with a killer father, with whom he’s fallen out because daddy used to kill people…oh, and it’s present day. But almost every major story beat is PERDITION. Neeson is Michael O’Sullivan, Kinnamon is Michael O’Sullivan, Jr. (even named Michael!), Ed Harris is Paul Newman, and the conflict initiates when an innocent kid witnesses a vicious murder by Harris’ homicidal worthless son. The critics haven’t noticed this blatant borrowing (that I know of), but Barb and I picked up on it almost immediately. Maybe ten minutes in, I said to her, “I guess this is kind of a compliment, but it seems wrong that I should have to pay to see this.”

Barb would lean over and point out the parallels: “Now they’re doing the church scene,” “This is Newman calling Jude Law,” “This is Jude Law getting his face messed up so he can appear later ravaged-looking” (which he does – at a cabin on a lake, in the fucking kitchen!).

Some scenes from the graphic novel appear that weren’t in the Sam Mendes film – including one that I wish had been included, where Michael O’Sullivan takes a meeting with the top gangster (here Ed Harris as an amalgam of Looney/Rooney and Frank Nitti) in their stronghold and then shoots his way out.

Much of what I did in ROAD TO PERDITION drew upon novels and books I read as a kid and of course John Woo and LONE WOLF AND CUB (though there’s more Richard Stark in there than anything Japanese). There’s also some GUN CRAZY and BONNIE & CLYDE, because I wanted to merge the classic gangster story with the outlaw saga. My own Quarry was in the mix, and Nolan and Jon, and even MOMMY. But I didn’t lift, not even from myself. I wasn’t lazy. I put together something of my own, or at least I think I did.

I’m not shouting plagiarism, understand. But I am crying shamelessly lazy screenwriting that is an even bigger insult to the audience than it is to me.

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Here’s a write-up that appeared on Mickey Spillane’s birthday a week ago, with a brief review of KILL ME, DARLING.

And if you scroll down to the bottom review here, you’ll find a nice one on KILL ME, DARLING (amusing referred to, at one point, as KILL ME, DEADLY).

M.A.C.

Note from the Bunker

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

As I’ve indicated in an earlier update, I am really up against it in the first half of this year. With only about a week’s break after finishing BETTER DEAD (the new Heller), during which a lot of other business was conducted, I got right on the next Quarry novel, QUARRY IN THE BLACK. I am about a third-of-the-way in, writing one chapter a day, final draft. I took one day a week off, generally.

I don’t mind working hard, and I feel my novels – particularly those in first person – benefit from the intensity and speed of the process. Right now two of my collaborators, my lovely bride Barb and my good buddy Matt Clemens, are preparing their rough drafts of the next ANTIQUES and Reeder & Rogers novels. They make my life and my job much easier, and the resulting novels will be better than I could have made them on my own.

But the writing may mean for some scattered and occasionally, well, grouchy updates. This report from the bunker includes a few stray thoughts.

First, few comments have come in about my favorite and least favorite movies of 2014 list. Probably I was too belligerent in presentation. Whenever you sense that in one of these updates, you’ll know the writing is rubbing up against me hard, trying to make a pearl.

Birdman

Second, I have now seen both BIRDMAN and FOXCATCHER. Both are very good (Barb agrees) and I was especially impressed by BIRDMAN, which is the rare film that is as driven by dialogue as it is visuals; the cast is outstanding, especially Michael Keaton and Ed Norton, who is spoofing himself to some degree. BIRDMAN would have gone on my Favorite lists.

FOXCATCHER suffers from a sluggish pace and some poor narrative choices, but it is nonetheless worthwhile with excellent performances from Steve Carrell, Tatum Channing and Mark Ruffalo. It would not be on my favorites list.

Keaton is now my Best Actor “Oscar” pick.

By the way, I never watch the Academy Awards. I find the show dull and embarrassing, and many of the movies being honored do not interest me. Is this like a sports fan skipping the SuperBowl? I wonder. In any case, we always watch a movie instead.

Third, a good number of readers misunderstood my rant about getting hit on for free advice. I was specifically talking about my home town and people who don’t really have an interest in me or my work, other than sucking information out of me at a social occasion. On the other hand, with very rare exceptions, I can’t give blurbs anymore because I don’t have time to read the books. Too much research to plow through, and when I’m writing a book, I tend not to read fiction.

I am pleased to report that QUARRY’S CHOICE is racking up some great reviews. Here’s one.

And it’s a thrill to get reviewed at Bookgasm; here’s their QUARRY’S CHOICE rave.

M.A.C.

Favorite and Least Favorite Films of 2014

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

Here’s just what nobody was waiting for – my (sometimes) annual listing of my favorite and least favorite movies, this time for 2014. Among my least favorites are Academy-Awards “Best Picture” nominees, BOYHOOD and SELMA, both of which rate my Emperor’s New Clothes Awards, the former because it’s a gimmick in search of a narrative and the latter because it transforms compelling history into a smeary slow-motion bore. The fuss over the lack of Best Director and various acting nominations for SELMA should be replaced with outrage that it got a politically correct nomination.

The black actor who deserved a nomination – in my opinion, the actor period who deserves to win the Best Actor Oscar – is Chadwick Boseman for his spellbinding portrayal of James Brown in GET ON UP. And Brandon Smith’s snapshot of Little Richard in that same film is easily worthy of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Keeping in mind that I prefer to praise filmmakers and films than condemn them – having some experience in just how terribly hard making a movie is – I am nonetheless sharing the names of the films that made my frequent movie-going a blessing and those that made it curse.

FAVORITE MOVIES

1. GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL – Wes Anderson hitting on all eccentric cylinders. Nothing else I saw last year came close.
2. EDGE OF TOMORROW – Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt are first-rate in this wonderful s-f spin on GROUNDHOG DAY.
3. THE RAID 2 – A mindblowing sequel to a mindblowing action film.
4. THE IMITATION GAME – Intellectual thriller both life-affirming and tragic. Benedict Cumberbatch deserves his Oscar nomination and probably should win (but won’t).
5. INTO THE WOODS – Surprisingly good if slightly watered-down film version of Sondheim’s daringly dark take on fairy tales. Haunting music and genius lyrics.
6. THE INTERVIEW – Boldly tasteless but genuinely biting satirical comedy, with both Seth Rogen and James Franco fearlessly self-mocking.
7. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – Worst trailer for a comic-book movie shockingly turns out to belong to the best comic-book movie of recent years; funny and exciting.
8. 22 JUMP STREET – Inspired self-aware sequel.
9. VERONICA MARS – It exists and therefore appears here. You see, a long time ago we used to be friends.
10. THE JUDGE – Traditional Hollywood storytelling at its old-fashioned best. Critics hate that.

Honorable mention in no special order: HORRIBLE BOSSES 2; THE EQUALIZER; JOHN WICK; DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES; EXPENDABLES 3 (surprisingly); NEED FOR SPEED (in 3-D on imported blu-ray); NEIGHBORS; GET ON UP; BIG HERO 6.

LEAST FAVORITES:

1. BOYHOOD – A stunt that does not hold together; no story, flimsy to nonexistent characterization, rife with meandering non-scenes – an endurance test for all but the easily fooled.
2. NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB* – Shoddy sequel with (despite a co-scripting credit) no indication of the work of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the gifted RENO 911 boys who created the franchise. Shameful, but the place to go for seeing a monkey piss on Ben Stiller.
3. SELMA* – Slow, self-important, unevenly acted, incompetently shot (I suggest a crossing-the-axis drinking game), full of speeches (though none written by MLK). It earns a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes…for liberal guilt.
4. DIVERGENT* – A laughable imitation of THE HUNGER GAMES, itself a laughable imitation of the great BATTLE ROYALE.
5. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2* – Slow, irritating, politically correct sequel to a much better film.
6. BOXTROLLS – Unfunny and unpleasant; makes one long for the elegance of the Garbage Pail Kids.
7. A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 – The original kinda funny spoof of found-footage horror films gives birth to this painfully laugh-free sequel.
8. SEX TAPE – Jason Segel, whose work I usually at least like (he’s a FREAKS & GEEKS cast member, after all), joins a particularly irritating Cameron Diaz in an embarrassing shambles of a supposed comedy; an idea for a movie, not a movie.
9. GONE GIRL – Spoiler alert: the victim is the audience and the culprit is the book author’s interminable screenplay.
10. ANNABELLE – A prequel to the much better THE CONJURING, lacking the leads of that picture…and its chills.

* = means that Barb and I walked out. We always gave the movie at least forty-five minutes and sometimes an hour or more. Also, full disclosure: we walked out of BOYHOOD, two-and-a-half hours in. It felt like we’d seen the whole thing. Twice.

FOR THE RECORD: I have not yet seen BIRDMAN, AMERICAN SNIPER, FOXCATCHER and several other Academy Award-nominated films that might have made one of these lists.

Also, for those of you who are going to write in to point out how wrong I am about this film or that one, you are absolutely invited and even encouraged to do so – but do remember this is not a “best” and “worst” list, but a “favorites” and “least favorites” list.

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Here’s a terrific and very smart review of QUARRY’S CHOICE, with some interesting reader comments.

It’s always cool to receive a good review from the UK for something as inherently American as QUARRY’S CHOICE.

Finally, that first-rate writer Ron Fortier likes QUARRY’S CHOICE. Check it out.

M.A.C.

Why Critics Can’t Be Trusted With Sequels

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

The kneejerk reaction of most film critics to a sequel is to trash it. They walk in hating the movie they are being forced to see (usually for free, I might add). There have been exceptions – the second GODFATHER, for instance – but in recent years, when sequels have proliferated, the critical response to them has been so automatically negative as to make their comments worthless.

Case in point: two recent films that are sequels to very successful comedies have received almost interchangeably bad reviews: DUMB AND DUMBER TO and HORRIBLE BOSSES 2.

In the first instance, the critics have a point – this many-years-later sequel to that beloved celebration of idiocy is something many of us looked forward to. Who, with the ability to laugh, would not want to catch up with Lloyd and Harry? For the first two-thirds or so of the film, the movie is funny, and Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels deliver throughout. Then there is a bad and unfortunate stumble in the third act, where plot concerns kick in and laughs fall out. And the co-directing/scripting Farrelly Brothers seem out of step, their gross-out ‘90s sensibility turning cruel, not darkly funny. An easy line to cross, particularly when you’re struggling to catch lightning in a bottle twice. You’re more likely to get hit by it.

So DUMB AND DUMBER TO probably deserves some bad reviews – though not to the severe degree it suffered. But, yes, it’s a disappointment.

Then comes HORRIBLE BOSSES 2. The reviews read almost exactly the same as those for DUMB AND DUMBER TO. But the film is easily funnier than its predecessor, if having less integrity (this is a fate most sequels meet). BOSSES 2 builds on the first movie, turning its trio of former would-be murderers into would-be kidnappers (Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudekis), who are in high bumbling, fast-talking form. Bateman may be the funniest straight-man of all time, and that’s coming from somebody who reveres Bud Abbott and Dean Martin.

Jaimie Fox, Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey reappear in top form (the latter a glorified cameo that still almost steals the film) while Chris Pine turns out to be very funny, at times seeming to channel William Shatner more overtly than in the reboot STAR TREK films. Then there’s the most horrible boss of all – Christoph Waltz – who is, as usual, a master of civility-coated villainy.

This is one of those richly comic films that will require several viewings to catch every funny line. At the same time, it manages to present a new story for the central characters that has enough echoes of the previous one to serve the “same but different” requirement. Because we are familiar with the characters, they don’t build – they reappear full-throttle and yet ascend from there.

A typical critical complaint: the three leads do not have horrible bosses this time. And that’s true – they are the horrible bosses, although in a much different way than the trio they hoped to murder last time around.

The lesson here is simple: don’t trust film critics (except me, of course). Most of them didn’t like either DUMB OR DUMBER or HORRIBLE BOSSES, either – so their reviews tend to be bad sequels to a previous bad review.

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Our condolences to a good friend, Bill Crider, on the passing of his wife Judy. There was not a nicer, smarter couple in the world of mystery fiction. Hearing Bill describe Judy as his in-house editor, business manager and collaborator resonated deeply with me.

Typically, Bill hasn’t missed a day posting funny and informative squibs on what is my favorite blog site, hands down: Bill Crider’s Popular Culture Magazine.

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I posted this already on Facebook, but here’s a terrific review of THE GIRL HUNTERS on blu-ray and DVD.

Here’s a nice review, with a mention of moi, of Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries. This came out last year but is hitting the book stalls again. You can find a personal favorite short story of mine, “A Wreath for Marley,” in its pages.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We certainly did, with son Nate and his wife Abby as well as granddog Toaster, who expects (and gets) walks in the most frigid of Iowa weather (which is pretty damn frigid). We shopped not at all on Thanksgiving (assuming “on line” doesn’t count) and on Saturday we fed mazuma into the mammoth maw of American consumer culture. My sale-item find – a new office chair with improved back support…black leather but with a gold Hawkeye symbol on that head rest. That echoey laughter you hear is from my late father, a devoted Hawkeye fan always mystified by my lack of interest in my alma mater’s sports program.

M.A.C.