Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

3 Movies We Made it Through

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Now that Barb and I are feeling a little better after our bout with pertussis – and are not contagious – we’ve started going out to movies again. As regular readers of these updates should recall, she and I have walked out of an inordinate number of movies this year – on one occasion, two in one day.

So I am pleased – make that relieved – that the last three movies we’ve seen found us making it through the entire presentation, even when the pop, popcorn, and Milk Duds had run out. Here’s a brief rundown:

MASTERMINDS is an odd one that has left some reviewers cold, but both of us liked this one quite a bit. It’s a true-crime film that is also an over-the-top comedy. Here’s the cast: Zach Galifianakis; Kristen Wiig; Kate McKinnon; Jason Sudeikis; Owen Wilson; Leslie Jones; and Ken Marino. With four of the principals veterans of Saturday Night Live (Wiig, McKinnon, Sudeikis, Jones), and another from The State (Marino), and with SNL’s Lorne Michaels one of the producers, you should have some sense of how this differs from, say, IN COLD BLOOD.

The odd thing of it for us is that as we watched, we began to slowly realize the true incident being loosely depicted was one Barb and I had considered turning into a novel ourselves, a few years ago (the clipped newspaper articles remain in our story files); we just couldn’t figure out how to handle this unlikely, goofy story of a crew of trailer-park “masterminds” who pulled off a $17 million Loomis Fargo robbery. The slapstick nature of the real crime makes great fodder for the improv style of the cast, though (as I say) some found this marriage of true-crime and comedy off-putting. We howled.

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I almost passed on this one, since the screenplay was by Taylor Sheridan, whose SICARIO I despised. But the high Rotten Tomatoes rating got us there, and both Barb and I loved this throwback to the character-driven crime films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, with its strong nod toward BONNIE AND CLYDE. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie follow two sympathetic pairs – Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, Texas Rangers, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster, bank robbers – on a course of inevitable, tragic confrontation. Criminal Pine comes across as an antihero of sorts, and Foster pulls off the very tricky role of Pine’s somewhat unhinged, borderline sociopathic brother, bringing to it unlikely charm. Bridges is the almost crotchety Texas Ranger just days from retirement who needles his Native American partner unmercifully in politically incorrect ways that create nervous laughter. The points of view of both sides of these teams are understandable, and it’s increasingly uncomfortable knowing collision is coming. When it does, no punches are pulled. The cinematography is striking in its depiction of a barren, even ravaged modernday Texas, and echoes of the Wild West past of outlaws and lawmen lurk on the fringes of this melancholy but always entertaining film. Best of the year so far.

GIRL ON THE TRAIN – We didn’t walk out of it, but this one barely eked out our attention. For a more compelling melodrama, try watching a snail crawl across a patio. All of the characters are unsympathetic, and – possibly explaining the sleep-inducing pace – there’s about a short story’s worth of plot here, stretched out and arranged in two hours of pointless flashbacks that don’t announce when they’re over (including some flashbacks within flashbacks, depictions of false memories, and flashbacks remembered by people who weren’t there). The screenwriter is female and so is the author of the novel, and if a man wrote a novel hating women as much as this film hates men, he would be dismissed as a sexist boor. Worst movie we didn’t walk out of in recent memory. Slight compensation: the performances of Emily Blunt (though she’s mostly playing drunk) and Allison Janney as a cop (who ought to be more on top of things).

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Stacy Keach is a nominee for best narrator of a crime & thriller audiobook for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS by Spillane & Collins. Stacy does a fantastic job on his readings of the novels, and if you’re a Mike Hammer fan, you shouldn’t miss any of them.

Another top narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has done QUARRY IN THE BLACK on audio. I’ve not heard this yet, but Stefan always does a good job. He has a deep voice that suggests the older Quarry (of, say, THE LAST QUARRY) ruminating about the adventures of his younger days.

Speaking of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, the positive reviews keep coming, like this one from Criminal Element.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

From Australia comes this great review of the QUARRY TV show, with lots of references to the original books.

Here’s a review of the early novel in the series, QUARRY’S DEAL.

And finally, in German (but you may have a Google translator or something), is a career piece on me the likes of which nobody in the USA has ever done. It comes from the very knowledgeable Martin Compart, who was my editor at several publishing houses in Germany. Martin, the epitome of cool, was an early advocate of both Quarry and Nate Heller. Scroll down the article and you’ll see a great picture of him, next to some young punk.

M.A.C.

Road Coming Plus Movie Walkouts

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

The Brash Books edition of the complete ROAD TO PERDITION novel is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in either print or e-book form.

It’s something of a dream come true for me to have my original version out there in the world, after having been forced back in 2002 to cut its 75,000 words to around 40,000, in addition to be made to rewrite it substantially to make it further conform to the film. This is the definitive edition of the prose version of what is undoubtedly my most famoeus and successful work. Read more about it at Brash’s web site.

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This Sunday Barb and I achieved something very special, a personal best: we walked out of two movies on the same day.

We watched forty-five minutes or so the new BEN-HUR, which I would describe as a travesty except a perfectly good word like “travesty” shouldn’t be wasted on this. Where to begin? A nothing score. Unneeded narration. Cheap-looking sets and costumes. Embarrassing dialogue. Slow pace. I felt sorry for actor Jack Huston, who was so memorable as a disfigured hitman on BOARDWALK EMPIRE. His Messala, Toby Kebbel, is an unattractive thug. The carpenter who, in the process of making a table or something, offers up some philosophy is…Jesus! Get it? Jesus.

Leaving a movie called BEN-HUR without staying for the chariot race is like leaving DEEP THROAT before Linda Lovelace gets examined by Doctor Harry Reems. But we left, scurrying across the hall with our 3-D glasses still on, to catch KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS.

Now, some of you may have seen that film and loved it or anyway liked it, and lots of reviewers are gaga over it. But none of you suffered through 45 minutes of the new BEN-HUR before starting KUBO. KUBO is visually lovely, very poetic, and its use of stop motion over computer animation is most winning. But it’s also precious and full of itself, and is nothing approaching a story, at least not in the first hour. I would think for most children under twelve it would be mind-numbing. (My son Nate, with his bent for Japanese culture, may disagree with me.) There is a monkey, voiced blandly by Charlize Theron, who wore its welcome out quickly with us. The film is from Laika, the studio that produced PARANORMAN (which I liked very much) and BOX TROLLS (which I did not, though my smart friend Terry Beatty loved it…he may love this one, too).

As regular moviegoers, we are getting very worn down. I would suspect we have become cantankerous geezers if we didn’t find so much to like on TV. We just watched the excellent second season of THE TUNNEL, the British/French take on the nordic noir, THE BRIDGE, as well as a six-part Australian JACK IRISH mini-series called “Blind Faith” starring Guy Pearce. Both of these intelligently and skillfully use the police procedural and private eye melodrama respectively in ways that seem fresh and not at all dated, focusing on contemporary themes and subjects. The JACK IRISH is available on DVD and Blu-ray in the USA, but I got THE TUNNEL from Amazon UK (the first season has just become available here).

On an entirely different note, VICE PRINCIPALS with the great Danny McBride and the also great Walton Goggins is easily our favorite series currently airing – it’s very dark and yet somewhere deep down there is a beating human heart, in a world where the teachers are far more childish than the students.

Coming soon: QUARRY on Cinemax on September 9.

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Speaking of QUARRY, here is a positive UK review of the first novel, though the reviewer doesn’t quite get it….

And here’s a really great, perceptive QUARRY review from (wait for it) New Delhi!

Finally, give a listen to this interesting, interview-packed look at novelizations, featuring (among others) my pal Lee Goldberg and, well, me.

M.A.C.

A Really, Really Expensive Box of Milk Duds

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

As regular readers of this update will know, my wife Barb and I are dedicated moviegoers, and almost always see at least one movie a week. A typical weekend will have me working on Sunday and then, as sort of reward, catching a late afternoon show at the Palms, a very nice multi-plex here in Muscatine, Iowa.

Those readers will also know that the missus and I have been known to walk out of movies. I mentioned, a while back, that Barb and I were watching a really terrible Italian western at home one evening not long ago, and I said, “Honey, back in the ‘70s, would we have walked out of this movie?” And she said, “No…but then we had our whole lives in front of us.”

Barb usually has long since decided to bail before I’ve given up on a movie. She patiently rests her eyes, waiting for me to catch up with her disgust. Occasionally it takes us, or anyway me, a long time to realize I’m throwing time away on an unworthy film. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (which a good number of people liked) just wore me down with its constant over-the-top battles and contrived conflict, but we stayed probably a good hour before jumping ship. The awful Seth Rogen Christmas comedy (make that “comedy”), THE NIGHT BEFORE, was until this weekend the film that took us the least amount of time before walking out – fifteen or twenty minutes.

But the loser and new champion is BAD MOMS, or as Barb described it, “That was a really, really expensive box of Milk Duds.” We left around the ten-minute mark. We had chosen the film because SUICIDE SQUAD looked like the kind of film we’d wind up writing a suicide note after seeing – the unpleasant imagery of the preview was already more than I wanted rolling around somewhere in my brain. We considered JASON BOURNE, but nothing about the trailer indicated it would include anything we hadn’t already seen three or four times before in the franchise. And BAD MOMS had a decent Rotten Tomatoes rating (63% fresh, 78% favorable from audiences).

Also, BAD MOMS had Kristen Bell in it, second-billed. Both Barb and I are VERONICA MARS fans in particular and Kristen Bell fans in general – I even sat through every episode of her Showtime series, HOUSE OF LIES, despite finding the lead characters incredibly unsympathetic and even unpleasant. We suffered through the really crappy Melissa McCarthy movie, THE BOSS, chiefly because Bell was in it.

But BAD MOMS is so offensive – not in the sense that its would-be raunchy humor offended us, rather that it was an insult to the human race – that we left before the second-billed Bell even appeared on the screen. Reviews indicate that this female version of THE HANGOVER (by the same writers) has a funny, mostly improv performance by Kathy Hahn, who also hadn’t made it on screen before we left. Have to take their word for it.

Mila Kunis plays a Mom with two dreadful children who don’t appreciate her, and a boorish husband whose depiction made me feel like I was Martin Luther King at a Stepin Fetchit film festival. The life on screen, in a supposed suburb of Chicago, had no resemblance to human experience. Kunis, beautifully dressed, works at an office where she seems to be the boss, claiming to be the oldest one there at age 32, yet is also described as a parttime employee who’s been there six years. Clark Duke of HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, either a fellow employee or Kunis’ boss, immediately tells Kunis and another female employee about a creepy, overtly sexual dream he had, something that would get him fired or sued at any real company. Kunis is shown dropping her kids off at school and carrying in a giant paper-mache head of Nixon that she made for her son for a school project. Please explain to me what’s funny about that, and why we should like a mother who does her son’s homework for him (the title BAD MOMS is supposed to be ironic…see, they’re good moms but off on a HANGOVER-type spree, or would have been if we’d stayed around for it). Also at school is a trio of country club women (led by Christina Applegate) whose lot in life appears to be standing at the curb in front of the school to dis Kunis. Kunis’ husband is an unshaven fool who laughs at his wife when she struggles into the house carrying armloads of groceries, says he had a hard day at work because he had two conference calls and a nap, gobbles the elaborate meal she makes without thanks, gives his son a high five for getting a D on a test, and – caught masturbating in front of his computer with his pants down – tells his wife he’s checking his prostate.

Barb went out so quickly she might have been fleeing a fire. I called down the hall to her, “What time is the Apocalypse?”

By the way, a lot of people were laughing at this stuff, inexplicably…and some had their young children with them. There was a Trump rally feel to it.

A bad movie you walk out on is like a really, really bad dream from which you force yourself to wake up.

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Let’s conclude with a prayer for the future of mankind in general and America in particular, and a look at this very nice BETTER DEAD review.

M.A.C.

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.