Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

Caveman Rocks

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

A lovely review for my documentary feature, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP, just came in from Craig Clarke. It really does a great job of describing not only the film but my hidden agendas — i.e., that it’s my secret biography of Chester Gould. If you haven’t ordered CAVEMAN from Amazon or some other source, this review might just convince you it’s time.

A bunch of ink got spilled in Chicago over my upcoming trip to spend some time with sports commentator Mike North and producer Carl Amari (he’s the guy behind THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIKE HAMMER: THE LITTLE DEATH). I hope to do a screenplay based on Mike’s incredible story — he rose from hot dog vendor to Chicago media superstar — and maybe even direct it. My father, who was the kind of sports nut who would watch the Venezuelan Beaver Toss Championship at four in the morning on ESPN32, would be proud.

Toho Collection

The new issue of ASIAN CULT CINEMA (issue #64 — Fourth Quarter 2009) is out. I don’t think I’ve ever really talked much here about my regular gig at the magazine. It’s edited by Tom Weisser, a great guy and one of the first to really recognize both the artistic worth and sheer entertainment value of Asian genre cinema. Back in the day, I used to buy from Tom gray-market VHS tapes of John Woo and Jackie Chan, among many others, and I’ve been writing a column for him called FOREIGN CRIMES since the start of his great newstand mag. The column is supposed to be about Asian crime films, but I wander afield. This time I talk about the DVD set ICONS OF SCI-FI: THE TOHO COLLECTION, and explore the noir aspects of these fun movies from the house of Gojira (Godzilla to you poor Westernized fools). The magazine’s been around 64 issues, and I’ve had columns in all but two of ‘em (special issues dedicated to nothing but photographs).

We had a flurry of comments last week, after I attacked the film OLD DOGS (nobody defended it). Somehow it became a discussion about how I think STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a great film, and how a lot people think I’m out of my mind. This week Barb and I went to the much-lauded Wes Anderson stop-motion film THE FABULOUS MR. FOX, which Rotten Tomatoes gives a 92 percent “fresh” rating, meaning almost all the critics love it. We hated it. Anderson’s movies keep getting more and more self-indulgently quirky and this is the bottom of the barrel. Adult movie critics may like this kid’s movie, but the kids at our screening didn’t. If I’d heard one more precious folksy lick on the banjo, I’d have jammed drink straws into my ears. If the movie were any more smug, I’d have slapped it.

I mention this not to encourage defenses of the film (it doesn’t need any — everybody loves this movie but Barb and me). Rather, I feel that after last week’s post I need to make a couple of things clear. First, narrative art (really, all art) is collaborative — it’s the artist and the recipient of that art, and none of us appreciate or experience art in the same fashion. We each have our own baggage, which you can call taste, but it includes experience, prejudices, and so much more. So I hate arguing about art. What works for you may not work for me (you remember me — the guy who thinks STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE is a masterpiece?).

Second, I am not interested in converting people to my opinions — I’m glad to share my opinions, and hope they elicit smiles and shrugs or some kind of response, but don’t expect to bring you around to my way of thinking, since thinking isn’t the point, or at least isn’t all of the point — art is something you experience. One man’s delicious taco dinner is another man’s Aztec Two Step. Similarly, you are advised not to try to convert me to your way of thinking. It’s just not going to happen.

Having said that (to quote CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM), I have a pretty good record at being out in front of movies that turned out to grow in critical and public stature. I was writing about KISS ME DEADLY being a great film in college film class in 1970. I was going to every screening I could locate of PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE when it was supposed to be an embarrassment. On the other hand, the ROCKY HORROR sequel, SHOCK TREATMENT — a wonderful film — has yet to get its due (but at least it’s on DVD).

I have faith. You people will catch up with me. Just don’t ask me to encourage you.


Movies Aren’t Better Than Ever

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The Big Bang

Slow week on the work front, although I did receive some bound galleys of THE BIG BANG, the second Mike Hammer novel I’ve completed from an unfinished Spillane manuscript. After the battles over the cover, the package looks very strong, and I admit a thrill seeing my name sharing the cover of a Mike Hammer book with Mickey.

Over this Thanksgiving holiday, I saw several movies. In one case, I saw the first 50 minutes or so of a movie, because I walked out. Barb, Nate and I took my 84 year-old mother to OLD DOGS, and we would have exited sooner if we’d known my mother was hating it as much as we did. I usually don’t bad-mouth films, because I’m a filmmaker. But this is disgraceful.

It’s a supposed comedy that is atrociously made — frenetic editing attempting to disguise nothing happening, a musical score that “Mickey Mouses” everything (fitting, in a way, since it’s a Disney film), a stupid, disjointed, even racist script that lurches from one contrived unfunny situation to the next, and a bunch of talented actors wasted in unfunny cameos (Justin Long, Rita Wilson, Amy Sedaris, Luis Guzman). The three leads make an interesting study — John Travolta (who I admit has never impressed me) is stunningly bad as an overage womanizer (to a moderately attractive waitress: “Well, hellllloooo!”) (Andy Brown did it better on AMOS ‘N’ ANDY sixty years ago); and Robin Williams as an advertising exec seems embarrassed, and plays under the subpar material. Any movie that has Robin Williams as its most understated performer is in a lot of trouble. Also, any movie that cannot find a way to give Seth Green something funny to do should have its master print cut into little pieces and distributed as guitar picks.

Every now and then I see a movie so wretched, so cynical and devoid of energy and care, that it makes me doubt that movies themselves are worthwhile. It’s just a momentary thing — I love film — but a really bad movie can make you question your own interest in the medium at all.

So, to cleanse the cinematic palate, we went home and put on the Blu-Ray of the classic 1947 MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, which ties with Alastair Sim’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL for my favorite Christmas film. Like OLD DOGS, it attempts to tell a story that works on both kids and adults, but 34th STREET manages that small miracle without patronizing either group. It’s a reminder of a Hollywood that still knew how to tell a story. Everything is in its place — it is close to perfect (one camera shadow is about it for flaws). Even the most minor character is memorable and fleshed out. Scenes of humor and drama alternate seamlessly, the premise flirts with fantasy without overstepping, the script sets up a dozen things that it pays off, and the tone remains comic but not broad, with memorable, heart-felt performances from Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Maureen O’Hara and John Payne. Standout among many wonderful sidebar stories is the amusing conflict between judge Gene Lockhart and political fixer William Frawley, faced with the career killer for a judge who puts Santa Claus in the nuthouse. Director George Seaton and writer Valentine Davies made a classic, all right, but they did so in the kind of routinely professional fashion that characterizes so much studio product of the ‘30s and ‘40s. That today’s Hollywood, rife with talent, refuses to find good stories and tell them well, and instead panders after audiences — from explosion fests like TRANSFORMERS II to dumb pandering comedies like OLD DOGS — is shameful.

I can only say so much here without making the wrong/right people mad. After all, I make a certain part of my living from writing movie and TV tie-in novels. While I’ve done novels of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and AMERICAN GANGSTER, I’ve also novelized G.I. JOE and all of the MUMMY movies, and have enjoyed doing so. I can usually find a path in a film script to a book I wouldn’t mind writing. Some people say my novelizations are superior to the films themselves, which is generous (if sometimes accurate).

I simply wish the biggest movers and shakers in the film industry could find something better to do than dangle digital car keys over our collective crib.

Another case in point: so much of British dramatic television is superior to our stateside fare. Barb and I are watching a series called TRIAL AND RETRIBUTION on DVD, and are about half-way through the show’s run so far. The basic premise is LAW AND ORDER — follow a crime through arrests and trial — but the difference is in the execution. The series is gritty and adult, detailed and in depth, and stylishly shot (with signature use of split screen), with flawed detectives, scary but human perpetrators, and lawyers who too often are just playing a game. It’s a beautifully directed show, and so far every episode (each over three hours in length) I would consider better than all but a handful of American theatrical releases I’ve seen this year. And I see a lot, being a glutton for punishment.

Other current British shows with this high standard include ASHES TO ASHES (the LIFE ON MARS follow-up), HUSTLE (inspiration for LEVERAGE, one of the best American shows), SPOOKS (known as M1-5 over here) and LEWIS (sequel to the classic MORSE). Less ambitious but enormously entertaining is the blackly comic MIDSOMER MURDERS.

If you’re wondering about my own filmmaking efforts, I can report that ROAD TO PURGATORY seems to be moving forward — not a “go” yet but seemingly close. And if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer, might I suggest CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP (), ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE (), or THE LAST LULLABY. Indies all.

Eliot Ness


Message from M.A.C. – September 19, 2008

Friday, September 19th, 2008

This is probably my record year for number of books published (and for me that’s saying something, I know). But I’m really proud of what Barb and I have accomplished of late, and want to make sure you’re aware of what’s out there already, and what’s coming.

Antiques Flee Market

In September from Kensington, “Barbara Allan” (Barb and me) will have the reprint of ANTIQUES MAUL (ISBN 978-0-7582-1194-1) out and the new “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mystery, too: ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET (ISBN 978-0-7582-1195-8), with a Christmas theme. It’s been getting the best reviews of the series yet. These are funny cozies with an edge, and fans of my tougher stuff may be surprised by how much they’ll enjoy these…and we’ve just signed to do two more!

The Goliath Bone

Very soon Harcourt will publish the first new Mike Hammer novel in over a decade — THE GOLIATH BONE (ISBN 978-0-15-101454-5), which I completed from Mickey Spillane’s nearly finished manuscript. This is the first of at least three Hammers I will complete from manuscripts Mickey entrusted to me. To say this is an honor and a thrill is an extreme understatement. It’s also getting great advance notices. Do not miss this one!

The success of THE LAST QUARRY (which has been made into the film THE LAST LULLABY, on the festival circuit now) has led to the new prequel, THE FIRST QUARRY (ISBN 0-8439-5965-7), which Hard Case will publish in paperback in the fall. This is also getting wonderful advance reviews. This one is definitely not cozy, and could be the nastiest noir novel I’ve ever written….

I’m pleased to report that in December VCI Home Entertainment is bringing out my documentary, CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP on DVD! It’s a great package, with an extended Will Eisner interview and a panel discussion at a Des Moines Historical Museum screen of the film that features me, producer Mark Lambert and the current OOP writer and artist team, Jack and Carole Bender. CAVEMAN has been seen several times on Iowa PBS as part of the celebration of the OOP strip’s 75th Anniversary. (This means all of my indie films will now be available on DVD.)

For the past several months, Barb and I have been out in the midwest, appearing at bookstores and libraries and other events, talking about various books (including those just mentioned) and other projects. Here’s what we’ve been talking about:

Red Sky in Morning

STRIP FOR MURDER from Berkley Prime Crime — a snazzy trade paperback, a Rex Stout-style mystery that combines graphic novel elements (my longtime MS. TREE cohort Terry Beatty did the comic art), and is a lot of fun. The story is loosely based on the notorious Al Capp (Li’l Abner)/Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka) feud.

RED SKY IN MORNING (ISBN 978-0-06-089255-5) is by “Patrick Culhane” — the byline I began with the Wyatt Earp/Al Capone novel, BLACK HATS (in mass-market paperback now, ISBN 978-0-06-089254-8). This one is special to me, a book I’ve planned for decades based on my father’s experiences in the Navy in WW 2 as a young officer in charge of black sailors handling explosives in the Pacific. It’s my CAINE MUTINY, hinging on the infamous Port Chicago disaster, but there is a mystery. You may have this on the way — please don’t miss RED SKY. EQMM’s Jon Breen says it’s one of my best.

In movie/TV world, my New York Times bestseller AMERICAN GANGSTER picked up the “Scribe” for Best Novel at San Diego Comic Con from the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Current tie-ins of mine included THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (ISBN 978-0-425-22313-0) and X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (ISBN 978-0-06-168771-6), and the second CRIMINAL MINDS novel, KILLER PROFILE (ISBN 978-0-451-22382-1). The third CRIMINAL MINDS, FINISHING SCHOOL (ISBN 978-0-451-22547-4), is out in November from NAL (my fave of the 3).

X Files: I Want to Believe
Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz at Forbidden Planet

In non-literary news, I’m thrilled to report that my ’60s garage band, the Daybreakers, has been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Over the Labor Day weekend, we appeared with seven other inductee bands in concert at Arnold’s Park on Lake Okoboji, to a packed house of over 1000 rock fans. What made this truly special was that the original line-up of the band — guitarist Mike Bridges, bassist Chuck Bunn, guitarist Dennis Maxwell and drummer Buddy Busch (and me) — were able to assemble from around the country and reunite both to be honored and to perform for the first time together since 1968. We did half an hour and, frankly, we killed — a magical set in which we took a major risk, doing mostly original material at an oldies show!

Of course, our major claim to fame nationally (make that our only claim to fame nationally) was our infamous single “Psychedelic Siren”/”Afterthoughts.” “Siren” is one of the most anthologized garage-band songs of the ’60s, currently available on a Sundazed CD called GARAGE BAND ’66: Speak of the Devil. We managed to reproduce the siren sound on stage and the crowd went nuts. We also played live, for the first time, “I Need Somebody,” an original written by our late great bandmate, Bruce Peters.

Daybreakers Hall of Fame Collection

A limited edition of 100 CDs called “THE DAYBREAKERS aka Crusin’ — The Hall of Fame Collection” was pressed for the show. This is essentially the long-out-of-print “Thirty Year Plan,” and is filled with Daybreakers/Crusin’ recordings, studio, demo, live, from 1967’s “Psychedelic Siren” to the ’90s songs from the “Mommy” movies. We have about forty of these left.

For $15 postpaid (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy of “The Hall of Fame Collection.” For $25 (plus $7.50 for shipping outside the U.S.), you can get a copy signed by the entire band (there are only 15 of these).

[2013 EDIT: All options temporarily sold out! We’ll recheck our remaining stock and make a new post soon!]

We have uploaded footage of “Psychedelic Siren” from our Hall of Fame performance. Check back soon for more clips!

And Crusin’ has added Daybreaker bassist Chuck Bunn to the mix, and will be performing more in the midwest than in recent years. Stay tuned!


Message from M.A.C. – July 7, 2007

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Antiques Maul

First off, the paperback of ANTIQUES ROADKILL has just hit the stands as I write this. The hardcover did very well — sales and reviews — and “Barbara Allan” (that’s Barb and me) hope the paperback will boost the series further. The second novel in the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series, ANTIQUES MAUL, will be out in September in hardcover. Barb is working on the rough draft of the third, ANTIQUES FLEE MARKET, right now, and I’ll be getting to my draft in the fall.

We have just signed with VCI home video for ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE to come out very soon on DVD — September 25, to be exact. Phil Dingeldein and I are putting together bonus features right now, including a new short noir film that emerged from another workshop (a la “Three Women” which became part of the SHADES OF NOIR DVD). When we have artwork, we’ll post it here. The film (recording for posterity Michael Cornelison’s definitive Ness) was entered into two regional festivals and won BEST FEATURE at both, as well as BEST DIRECTOR and BEST EDITING at one.

The mini-book tour for BLACK HATS and A KILLING IN COMICS was quite successful, with particularly good turnouts at the Muskego Public Library (where Ted Hertel and Gary Neibuhr expertly grilled research associate George Hagenauer and me) and at Centuries and Sleuths in Forest Park. Barb and I have been discussing cutting way back on such personal appearances, but these well-attended events were encouraging. We also did very well at the new Mystery Cat bookstore in Cedar Rapids, a used/collectible shop that is a real delight, and worth a trip for midwesterners.

The brevity of the tour had to do with my heavy schedule this year, even heavier than usual. Already this year I’ve written three novels, a nonfiction book and a screenplay.

The nonfiction book is a return to the pin-up world, a biography of my late friend Earl Mac Pherson; Collector’s Press (who did just a wonderful job on HISTORY OF MYSTERY) had a coffee-table book essentially ready to go and asked me to contribute a full 10,000 word bio on Earl. I contributed more art and photos from my own collection, as well — don’t know exactly when this will be out.

The screenplay is my own adaptation of ROAD TO PURGATORY, which we are in the early stages of attempting to mount right here in the midwest with me directing. I’m partnered with some very good people, including longtime crony Phil D., and it’s an exciting venture — if we can pull off the fund-raising, it will be the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted in any medium. The script was submitted to the Iowa Motion Picture Awards and won the Award of Excellence for Unproduced Screenplay.

AMERICAN GANGSTER, my movie tie-in for the Ridley Scott film starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, will be out in November along with the film. It’s a fact-based early ’70s druglord tale and the screenplay was first-rate; this is my first novelization (dreaded word) since THE PINK PANTHER and I’m proud of it. TOR is publishing.

I have also completed a long-contemplated novel based on my late father Max A. Collins Sr.’s experiences in the Navy during World War II, when he was one of a handful of very young white officers in charge of a large body of black sailors loading ammo in the Pacific. The book is essentially my CAINE MUTINY (albeit with a murder mystery at its heart) and I believe it came off very well. My title is USS POWDERKEG, and I hope it will remain such, but you never know — my editor at Morrow may have another idea. Matthew Clemens got involved in this one, doing extensive research and helping develop the plot. This may be published as the second “Patrick Culhane” bylined novel, but that’s up in the air – the jury’s still out on whether the Culhane byline was a good idea or not. Should be out in the fall of 2008.

Criminal Minds: Jump Cut

As you may know, I am no longer doing CSI novels. Instead, my researcher Matt Clemens and I are doing at least three novels based on the hit show, CRIMINAL MINDS. We have completed the first book, JUMP CUT, and it came off very well — working with profilers rather than crime scene investigators was liberating, because a lot of Holmes/Wolfe-style speculation can come into play. The novel will be out in November.

Next up for me is the second Jack & Maggie Starr mystery for Berkley Prime Crime, probably called STRIP FOR MURDER. It’s based on the Al Capp LIL ABNER/Ham Fisher JOE PALOOKA feud. Terry Beatty will again be providing comics panels for chapter headings as well as a “challenge to the reader” comics chapter toward the end of the novel. The response to the first novel, A KILLING IN COMICS, has been very gratifying — after a limp review from Publisher’s Weekly (complaining that the book was not a Nate Heller), online reviews have been overwhelmingly favorable, even glowing. Readers seem to “get” the retro fun of a Rex Stout-ish mystery in the context of the world of post-war comics.

The biggest news I’m saving for last: I have signed with Otto Penzler’s Harcourt line to complete three Mike Hammer novels begun by Mickey Spillane. I am working from substantial partial manuscripts — at least half of each book already written by Mickey. That I will be collaborating with Mickey on at least three Hammer novels is thrilling to me beyond words. This is highly unusual, because I am working not only with his wife Jane’s blessing, but Mickey’s own: he asked me to complete these novels. First up: THE GOLIATH BONE, the final Hammer chronologically. (Other novels will be given time frames according to when they were begun by Mickey.)

Mickey’s file of unpublished material was extensive — another trio of Hammers can follow, if these three do well. This is a very big deal – there are only 13 Mike Hammer novels, and adding another three (or six) to the canon is unheard of for so famous a mystery series.

Dead Street

I have already completed Mickey’s last crime novel, DEAD STREET, for Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime; it will be out in December – I edited the existing eight chapters and completed the last three from Mickey’s notes. I am not taking a byline on DEAD STREET, however, though will be sharing byline with Mickey on the Hammer novels. (My afterword explains the process.)

Also from Hard Case is DEADLY BELOVED — the first ever Ms. Tree prose novel. This came about as an offshoot of the current MS. TREE TV option (with Oxygen Network), though no film has yet been made. MS. TREE co-creator Terry Beatty has done a lovely cover – among the best Hard Case has done, and that’s saying something — and I spent a lot of time revising and polishing, trying to make DEADLY BELOVED a novel that would work equally well for longtime fans of the graphic novel series and readers unfamiliar with the character/series. Look for it in December.

Barb and I may go out on another mini-tour late in the year to promote ANTIQUES MAUL, the ELIOT NESS DVD, AMERICAN GANGSTER, CRIMINAL MINDS: JUMP CUT, and DEADLY BELOVED. But if we don’t have time, I bet you’ll understand….