Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’s Choice’

Stan Lee, William Goldman, Orson Welles and Much, Much More!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

By the time this appears, Brad Schwartz and I will have made our Chicago appearance at the American Writers Museum. But as I write this, Barb and I haven’t even left Muscatine yet. So any report will have to wait till next time, when I’ll also talk about Thanksgiving with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam and Lucy.

But there’s plenty to talk about first. Let’s start with two great names in American pop culture, both writers, who met their final deadlines recently.

I interacted with Stan Lee any number of times. Coincidentally, the first and most memorable was at WGN in Chicago, where Brad and I will be taping something the day before this update appears. Brad and I will be doing television, but Stan and I did a radio show, where he fielded questions about Marvel and I did the same about the Dick Tracy strip, which I was writing then. I’m guessing this was early ‘80s. Stan was friendly and everything you’d expect him to be, and we got along fine. In future, I would encounter him at comics conventions, mostly just saying hello. He always seemed to remember me, but I doubt he did.

While I have little interest in Marvel today, and have only written a handful of things for them, I was a big fan in junior high and high school (and even college). I knew of Stan Lee by his byline on pre-superhero monster comics and even Millie the Model (I read lots of different comics). I’m sure it made an impression on me that this was a writer getting a byline on comics without doing any of the drawing. I bought all his early superhero stuff at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, including the first issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and The Avengers. I knew of Jack Kirby, too – I subscribed to Challengers of the Unknown in grade school. Kirby was why I was buying monster comic books featuring creatures like “Fin Fang Foom,” “Mechano” and (yes) “Groot” (many Marvel super-hero characters had earlier incarnations as monsters).

How long was I a Marvel fan? As long as Ditko (and then John Romita, Sr.) was drawing Spiderman and Kirby Fantastic Four, I was in.

What I liked about Stan was the humor he brought to his super-hero work, and the way he interacted with fans. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Some have tried to diminish his work by saying he screwed over Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but I know nothing of that and don’t want to know. What I know is he entertained and inspired me, and was friendly to me in person. Excelsior, Stan.

I never met William Goldman, who was a friend of Don Westlake’s – occasionally Don told me stories about his buddy “Bill.” I admired Goldman as a novelist (Soldier in the Rain, Marathon Man), although his screenwriting was where I think he really made an impact. He brought a storytelling touch to the form that made scripts read like, well, stories, not blueprints. He did this to save his sanity and also to make the screenplays compelling to the studio execs and directors who read them.

Goldman is, of course, the man who revealed to the world that the first and only rule about Hollywood is, “Nobody knows anything.” And he gave us the book that became the film Princess Bride. I wrote the novelization of his Maverick, not his best screenplay by a longshot but still good and a pleasure to turn into a novel that some (myself included) consider superior to the film. I like having a small connection to the man.

By any yardstick, William Goldman was a writer who left the world a better place for what he did while he was here. Let’s say it all together now: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

* * *

So Netflix is making theatrical movies now, and streaming those movies even as they are hitting theaters. This is a tragedy, because it almost certainly means I will have to buy an even bigger TV.

So are the movies any good? Having seen two, I may not have enough to go on. But both are worth talking about.

First, Outlaw King. This historical epic is essentially a sequel to Braveheart, although only the dismembered arm of William Wallace appears (apparently not contributed by Mel Gibson). Reviews on this have been mixed, but Barb and I thought it was terrific. Pine was fine (sorry) as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who faced seemingly impossible odds in a struggle to win independence from Britain – as an American whose grandparents on my pop’s side were name MacGregor, I can relate. The filmmaking is first-rate, with an opening shot that goes on forever without a cut, just a dazzling piece of work from director, co-screenwriter David Mackenzie. There’s even a decent love story. Barb was happy with Chris Pine’s nudity (me not so much) but the final battle scene was a bloody wonder, making Braveheart look like a garden party. High marks for Netflix on this one.

Then there’s The Other Side of the Wind. Netflix backed this assembly of footage from 96 hours Orson Welles shot between 1970 and 1976. Welles was attempting something new, influenced and I think intimidated by the American wave of young filmmakers that included Dennis Hopper (who appears in the film) as well as Coppola, DePalma and Scorsese.

To call the production troubled is like saying Citizen Kane is pretty good. Cast members came and went, sometimes due to availability; locations meant to suggest California include Arizona, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium and sometimes even California. The cast is stellar, to say the least, but the shifting players means nothing really coheres – Peter Bogdanovich plays (not particularly well) a role based on himself that was originally acted by Rich Little, who left the production to meet a prior Vegas gig. Lilli Palmer is in a few scenes (shot in Spain), interacting with almost nobody, though it’s supposed to be her house where the interminable Hollywood party is happening. John Huston reveals how limited his bag of acting tricks is, and does himself nothing but harm.

It’s a mess – something of a glorious mess, and that it works at all is due to editor Bob Murawski somehow stitching it all together. Cuts come quickly, from black-and-white to color and back again, creating an auto accident of a movie about a filmmaker’s (off-stage) auto accident. Much of Wind is a film-within-a-film spoof of pretentious European films of the Antonioni variety (at least I hope it’s meant to be a spoof) starring Welles’ female companion/partner, Oja Kodar, billed as co-writer, who is mostly nude (I did enjoy her nude scenes more than Chris Pine’s).

It’s a hateful, ridiculous film, clogged with Welles bitterly attacking Hollywood in general and critic Pauline Kael in particular (via Susan Strasberg, quite good), with side dishes of bile reserved for his supposed friend Bogdanovich, among others. But it is of course fascinating as well, and probably required viewing for any real film buff.

Better than The Other Side of the Wind is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a Netflix documentary, itself feature-length, that looks at the making of the beleaguered film.

For all the hoopla surrounding The Other Side of the Wind supposedly having been finished along lines that would have satisfied Welles (who did leave about 45 minutes of the two-hour feature in an edited form), a similar situation with a great French filmmaker has led to a different approach and a much better film than Wind or even the documentary about it.

Available from Arrow on Blu-ray, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is a 2009 documentary by Serge Bromberg that deals with another legendarily unfinished film. Clouzot, the genius who gave the world Diabolique and Wages of Fear among other masterpieces, stumbled in 1964 with his film, Inferno. Similarly to Welles, Clouzot was dealing with changing times and specifically the changing approach to filmmaking represented by the French New Wave. As far as I’m concerned, no New Wave filmmaker can touch him, but filmmakers are human and Clouzot allowed himself to get caught up in fascinating but largely pointless visual experimentation. He landed the leading starlet of the moment, Romy Schnieder, and cast an actor who’d been in a previous film of his, Serge Reggiani, in a story of sexual obsession and jealousy. It’s essentially James M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice, if the older man with a younger wife is only imaging an affair she’s having with a younger man, and is driven mad to the brink of violence.

Working from fifteen reels of film, with most of the soundtrack missing, the documentation assembles the unfinished Inferno into sequences that appear, roughly, in narrative order. But these scenes are interspersed with revealing test films and interviews with cast and crew. Some of the missing scenes (there actually don’t seem to be that many) are staged with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin, who provide dialogue. The imagery, particularly of lovely Schneider, is stunning. Like Welles in Wind, Clouzot shot in both black-and-white and color; but the French auteur had a method to his madness – the color footage, which was processed to have bizarre coloration, represents only the would-be cuckold’s warped imaginings.

Clouzot ultimately crashed with Inferno because his authoritarian treatment of actors drove his leading man to quit, shortly after which the director had a heart attack and production was halted, never to be resumed. (Clouzot did make another film, La Prisonniere, before his death in 1977.)

Unlike Wind, Inferno might have been a great film, had Clouzot (who wrote the script, as usual) been able to finish it. (Claude Chabrol shot the screenplay years later, but I haven’t seen that…yet.)

* * *

And now, my final verdict: Rotten Tomatoes, and the largely rotten reviewers whose opinions it gathers, is officially worthless.

Barb and I were very much looking forward to Widows. We were aware the source material was a two-season 1980s series from the dependable Lynda LaPlante, creator of Prime Suspect (but we had never seen it). The idea of a group of widows who take over for their late heist-artist husbands seemed pretty foolproof. The reviews for Widows are mostly raves. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 91%.

SPOILER ALERT: it stinks. We walked out, but not until we’d been subjected to an hour of poor direction and stupid scripting. Steve McQueen (much better an actor in The Great Escape than a director here) (yes, I know the British McQueen won a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave) co-wrote with Gillian Flynn. I suspect the original LaPlante series was good.

Virtually every sequence of Widows begins with a disorienting shot (for example, a substance that turns out to be hair being teased, when the camera pulls back; and a lengthy pointless sermon by a hypocritical black-church preacher, in close-up forever before revealing his stereotypical congregation). A sadistic diminutive thug (so sadistic he tortures a wheelchair-bound victim – he’s a baaaaaaad man!) constantly does things for no reason other than to shock the audience. Scenes go on endlessly, and are often staged in a ridiculously show-offy manner – how about a conversation between a Chicago candidate for alderman and his Lady Macbeth of a wife entirely from one-locked down angle on a car in motion, with no view of the people talking.

I seldom hate a film. I hated this. I knew at once (a real SPOILER ALERT sort of coming) where it was headed when Liam Neeson’s character was killed in the first five minutes (maybe I should saying “apparently killed”). I checked on line to see if I was right. And of course I was (Barb, too).

So Rotten Tomatoes gets a 0% fresh rating from the Collins household.

* * *

Paperback Warrior has posted an excellent review of Quarry’s Choice. This is really a wonderful, smart write-up of what is one of my two favorite books in the series (the other is The Wrong Quarry).

If you want to hear me talk about something that isn’t movies, go to Mystery Tribune for an interview with me on the new Mike Hammer: The Night I Died graphic novel.

Crimespree is giving away Scarface and the Untouchable. But, of course, you’ve already bought a copy.

The new issue of The Strand has the Spillane/Collins short story, “Tonight, My Love.” An important piece of the canon, though brief. It’s the holiday issue and a fine way to end the year in a Spillane centenary fashion. Check it out.

And here is a page with info about the next Caleb York western novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Next May, but why not start wanting it now?

M.A.C.

Quarry’s Latest Hit

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Caption: Quarry (Logan Marshall-Green, right) meets the Broker (Peter Mullan, left).

Barb and I, home battling a nasty viral chest thing, were not with a houseful of friends as we’d hoped to be, on the evening of the QUARRY TV series’ debut episode on Friday. Instead we coughed our way through this improbable chapter in my writing life.

I had seen the movie-length episode before, but not this finished cut, with all of the music cues and audio fixes and final edits. Both Barb and I loved it. Director Greg Yaitanes and writers Graham Gordy and Michael Fuller did a great job, and the rough cuts of the rest of the season that I’ve seen maintain the high standard of the opening.

When I first read Graham and Michael’s pilot script, I remember vividly being disappointed at first because elements of Quarry’s backstory seemed to be missing or changed – then I smiled big as in the final pages those elements presented themselves. The two writers did a fine job re-ordering aspects of the story (the Broker approaches Quarry earlier here than in the novels, for example), and the final, familiar-to-my-readers pay-off is handled crushingly well.

This is indeed an origin story. Initially Graham and Michael intended to serialize the novels themselves, but input from HBO/Cinemax led to this rather measured imagining of how Quarry becomes Quarry.

If the series lasts, it’s likely we’ll get into more familiar territory – the scripts for season two, if there is one, will be loosely based on QUARRY’S CHOICE. Incidentally, I like the Southern setting and the Memphis r & b scene – it provides great grit and color, and you may have noticed I’m a music fan. The Midwestern settings of the original novels were purposely bland, contrasting the over-the-top subject matter with an Americana backdrop. For cinematic purposes, this is better. (And one of my favorites of the novels, the aforementioned QUARRY’S CHOICE, has a Biloxi/Dixie Mafia setting.)

I know some of you, maybe a lot of you, don’t have Cinemax. Obviously there will be DVDs and Blu-rays, and probably other methods of accessing the episodes, like Roku.

The critical response has been extremely good. I am assembling below a sampling (and it’s just a sampling) of the many reviews. No expectation that you’ll wade through them all, nor any reward for doing so.

http://www.avclub.com/review/cinemax-crafts-mediative-pulp-fiction-slow-and-ste-241713

http://www.ksdk.com/entertainment/cinemaxs-quarry-a-timely-action-anthem-dripping-with-pulpy-flavor/316119832

https://www.yahoo.com/tv/quarry-cinemax-review-172947405.html

http://www.tvguide.com/news/quarry-review-cinemax-logan-marshall-green/

http://www.channelguidemag.com/tv-news/2016/09/08/logan-marshall-green-cinemaxs-quarry-fall-tv-standout/

http://www.tvinsider.com/article/96815/roush-review-weekend-premieres-of-quarry-one-mississippi-son-of-zorn/

http://www.tvworthwatching.com/BlogPostDetails.aspx?postId=12497

http://flavorwire.com/588779/this-weeks-top-5-tv-picks-12

http://acrossthemargin.com/quarry/

http://reason.com/archives/2016/09/09/70s-pulp-violence-returns-in-cinemaxs-qu

http://canban.biz/tv/quarry-a-deep-new-action-show.html

http://www.ign.com/articles/2016/09/09/quarry-you-dont-miss-your-water-review?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ign%2Fall+%28IGN+All%29

http://www.awardsdaily.com/2016/09/09/south-park-podcast-quarry-hits-big-and-emmy-news-at-adtv/

M.A.C.

Heart and Soul Pt. 1

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

First off, I want to say how thrilled I am that QUARRY’S CHOICE has been nominated for a Barry Award (Best Paperback Original). Toward the bottom of this update will be links to the full list as well as some reviews.

Also, note the cover art for the audio of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS – just finished listening to Stacy Keach’s reading of the book, and it’s fantastic. Speaking of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS, if you’ve read and liked it, please post an Amazon review.

I am back writing these updates (after the four canned entries that appeared during the month following my open-heart surgery). For the next several updates, I am going to talk about my experiences of late, and you are welcome not to read them and to wait until I get back to books and movies and other “funner” topics. But this is on my mind, and I need to purge some.

A month ago today (as I write this) I had my operation, which involved a valve replacement, two bypasses and a couple of other let’s-keep-this-bastard-alive-while-we’re-in-here items. Of that first day, I remember nothing apart from getting wheeled in the operating room. Barb reports that several hours after the operation, I said, “I made it…I made it….” Shortly after that, like most of us with a pulse, I began complaining.

That night, in the ICU, I hallucinated that I was on a spacecraft and being held prisoner. I could see a long windowed-off corridor where futuristic nurses strolled, ignoring my cries of “Help!”

I remember little of the next two days. I know Barb and Nate were with me as much as possible. Apparently I was not a stellar patient. At some point I learned that my right arm and hand were (to use the medical term) fucked up. Basically the arm was weak and the hand felt like a bunch of sausages sticking out of a wad of mashed potatoes. After initial alarm, I wasn’t worried because I figured it would be temporary.

Various nasty things happened during the ICU stay, including getting tubes yanked out of me and the removal of a catheter. But nothing was nastier than the food. I am considering writing a cookbook called HOW TO SCREW UP TATER TOTS. What saved me was Barb, who was spending every afternoon with me, bringing me food from the outside.

The nurses were nice, very helpful, supportive and even sweet. My heart surgeon dropped by every day, and assured me my hand would “come back.” I gradually came to understand that this would include me working very hard to make that happen.

The worst part of the stay was the long nights. Something about my sleep cycle got screwed up as a side-effect of the heart surgery, so that I would sleep for half an hour and then wake up, thinking it was morning. I spent the nights alternating between reading and sleeping and watching movies on a portable blu-ray player and sleeping some more. Of course due to the surgery I had to sleep on my back. The bed was every bit as comfortable as a hotel-room couch fold-out affair. Nurses came in about once an hour to check vitals and give me tests on my lungs and the occasional pills. I hated these long nights and began begging Barb to take me home.

That wasn’t to be – my hand/arm problem required physical therapy and that meant I was headed to the fifth floor. While still on the seventh floor, I began walking (with a walker at first) and had some preliminary work on my hand. Barb spent many hours with me.

The night of the move I hallucinated again. I thought I was sleeping in a bed in a department store showroom that a nurse and an orderly were disassembling. Then they rolled me out of the showroom onto an elevator and down a hall and into a dark room where I was abandoned. I felt afraid, in fact terrified. I began to shout for help and when a kindly older nurse came in, I said I wasn’t comfortable staying here and wanted to call my wife on the phone. The nurse settled me down and I somehow got back to sleep.

NEXT WEEK: THE BEST HALLUCINATION YET

– – –

Here is a fantastic MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review from the great Ed Gorman (glad to have him back reviewing again!).

Here, at the Rap Sheet, is the complete list of Barry Award nominees.

There are several nice mentions of Nate Heller and me in this wonderful piece by Jeff Pierce at the Kirkus blog.

Here’s a short but nice piece on Mickey.

Finally, here’s a good if patronizing review of CARNAL HOURS. The reviewer seems put off by the sexual content – this continues to baffle me, and must be generational. One of the commenters, apparently a Heller fan, finds the novel the “weakest” of the series. I certainly disagree, and have often given it to readers who wanted to sample Heller, because it’s highly self-contained and has a real-life locked-room mystery.

M.A.C.

Heart-Felt

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

I have mentioned in passing some health issues I’ve been dealing with, and perhaps I’ve even been a little coy about it. It’s not been my intention to burden my friends and readers (not mutually exclusive categories) with a boring account of what we’ve been dealing with. I say “we” because Barb has been at my side throughout, as you might imagine, but your imagination cannot do justice to just how fantastic she’s been.

I’m going to make this brief, because even if you’re concerned – and if so, thank you – you shouldn’t have to be bored with the details of somebody else’s health problems. Still, I’m a novelist, so this will most likely go into the situation in more depth than I should.

We’ve been dealing with this for a good eight months. I first got sick (somewhat ironically) when we visited the set of QUARRY in New Orleans late last May. The path has been torturous and frustrating, as it took a while to get this diagnosed, and it really shouldn’t have been. The roughest patch was a period of three weeks when I couldn’t sleep – couldn’t find a position that was comfortable enough – and for that period, I was getting maybe an hour a night.

The problem is a heart valve that needs replacing. There’s also a bypass, and before any of that can happen, I need to get one of my carotid arteries unclogged. The latter appears to be a fairly routine procedure. Open-heart surgery, however, is rather more sobering. But I have top-notch surgeons for both operations, and I feel confident I’ll be back at the old stand before too long.

This has stretched out maddeningly because when the condition was discovered, I was already in pretty bad shape. I needed to get myself back in shape, which consisted of medication and a few preliminary procedures (i.e., getting a jump start to correct an irregular heartbeat that had presented itself). For frustrating reasons (but good ones), I’ve had this surgery postponed on me something like eight times. In fact, Barb wishes I weren’t writing this, because that could happen again.

But right now the plan is for me to go in for the first of the two surgeries on Monday, January 4 (tomorrow, as I write this). And the heart surgery is set for January 5. If you are one of those loyal souls who check out this update the moment it appears each Tuesday morning, it’s likely I’ll be in the operating room as you read this.

There’s a chance – I honestly think not much of one – that my heart surgeon may postpone again, if he thinks I need more time to recover from the first procedure. If that’s the case, my son Nate will update this. He will also post updates on my status here and on Facebook in the several days following the procedures.

[Update from Nate: (Monday Jan. 4, 10 PM) Dad did have a minor complication after the first, successful procedure, and the docs are erring on the side of caution by (again) postponing the second surgery until some time next week. He is doing well and should be back home Tuesday to begin recuperating for the main event.]

You are welcome to post encouragement here and on Facebook, but I held this back so things wouldn’t get out of hand. I also accept prayers and positive thoughts and cash money.

The heart valve/bypass procedures will be followed by some rough weeks of recuperation – the first several, obviously, the most challenging. My next novel deadline isn’t till April 1 (no fooling), so I intend to take my first protracted “vacation” from writing in, well, as long as I can remember. I have been healthy as a horse my whole life (I was asked if I’d ever had surgery before, and I said, “Just my birth”) so there’s no precedent. Before you feel too sorry for me, know that I will be watching a lot of Blu-rays and reading a good number of the books that have piled up around here, and will be given even better treatment than usual by my lovely wife.

It’s possible I may get back to work sooner than the projected six weeks. I’m proud of myself that during this nasty period, I still wrote two episodic TV episodes (one of them for QUARRY) and the Mike Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. And you may have already realized that I never missed one of these weekly updates.

Okay, we all know what’s important here – these weekly updates. I am going to write another three updates, in advance, dealing with forthcoming books. At that point, I am hopeful that I will be back doing this.

I am told I am “low risk.” Like anybody, I don’t hear the “low,” just the “risk.” So without getting too sentimental (or for that matter pessimistic) about it, I want to give all of you my heart-felt thanks. This has been a great career, and it will continue to be.

* * *

My pal Ed Gorman has been kind enough to pay tribute to Quarry by reviewing two of the recent books in the series. The review of THE WRONG QUARRY is a reprint, but the QUARRY’S CHOICE write-up is brand-new and a real corker.

The first novel in the series, QUARRY, got itself onto this fun top-reissues-of-last-year list. I’m on it with one of my favorites, the late great Ted Lewis. As usual, I deplore all such lists…unless I’m on them.

Here’s a nice (if somewhat guarded) Kindle Taproom review of FATE OF THE UNION.

Now check out this even-better FATE OF THE UNION review.

* * *

Finally, I need to mark the passing of actor Wayne Rogers, who provided one of the best classic PI performances of all time in the too-brief CITY OF ANGELS TV series (1976). That series, and the Huggins/Cannell-created character Jake Axminster, had a huge impact on Nate Heller. Rogers, despite the short run of ANGELS, made such an impact as a private eye that he wound up playing a similar recurring character on MURDER SHE WROTE. He also portrayed real-life private eye Raymond Schindler in PASSION AND PARADISE (1989), about the Massie case, which I wrote about (including Schinder) in DAMNED IN PARADISE.

M.A.C.