Posts Tagged ‘Reeder and Rogers’

Ms. Tree Collected, A Royale Review and Boo to Halloween

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018

Softcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The Ms. Tree prose short story, “Louise,” an Edgar nominee, is featured in editor Otto Penzler’s new anthology, The Big Book of Female Detectives.

This seems as good a time as any to confirm that Titan will be bringing out (in five or six volumes) the complete Ms. Tree comics, organized into graphic novel form. This is of course long overdue. I will likely be doing new intros, although it’s doubtful Terry Beatty will contribute new covers – the plan right now is to draw from his many outstanding covers for the comic books themselves.

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Two more brief movie reviews…

Barb and I took in Bad Times at the El Royale, a ‘70s noir with an excellent cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth. It’s written and directed by Drew Goddard, who wrote for Buffy on TV and did the screenplays for The Martian, Cloverfield and World War Z, among others. El Royale resonates with me in part because it’s a take-off on Cal Neva, the resort straddling California and Nevada that figures in my novels Bye Bye, Baby and Road to Paradise.

I’m sure some critics are comparing El Royale to Tarantino, and its novelistic approach (both the way it’s organized and its attention to character) is in that same ballpark. But El Royale has its own feel, and does not suffer the Tarantino habit of all the characters talking like the writer. I won’t say much about the plot, other than a central element is money from a robbery long-hidden in one of the rooms of a hotel that has become a faded relic of Rat Pack days, having lost its gambling license.

The screenplay draws upon a Spillane novella, “Tomorrow I Die!” (title tale of an anthology of Spillane short fiction I edited) that was adapted into one of the best films from Mickey’s work, an episode of Showtime’s Perfect Crimes. (Mickey’s story was his take on The Petrified Forest.) It also draws upon someone I wrote about here a while back, who was a war hero and a movie star (paying attention?).

Anyway, it’s a terrific film. You’ll feel like you’re spending the evening at the El Royale, though you’ll be having a better time than most of the characters.

We also saw the new take on Halloween, which is getting a lot of good reviews. Most of those reviews focus on Jamie Lee Curtis and her empowered if psychotic take on the older Laurie Strode. What rewards the film has are tied up in Curtis/Strode. I was amped for the film because I’m a horror fan, plus the screenplay is co-written by Danny McBride, of whom I’m also a fan. But the movie isn’t good. It’s not exactly bad, either, but there are almost no scares, merely unpleasantness and gore. It has a low-budget feel, and not in a good way, and even the John Carpenter music feels forced. One plot twist having to do with the substitute shrink for the Loomis (Donald Pleasance) character is meant to be a shocking surprise and just plays dumb and unconvincing.

After recently seeing the excellent Insidious films, and revisiting the very good Truth or Dare (all of these are Blumhouse productions, as is this new Halloween), the return of Michael Meyers fell flat for both Barb and me.

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For those keeping track, I have delivered Murder, My Love, the new Mike Hammer. This one is based on a Spillane synopsis, but is the first of the novels with no Mickey prose woven in. I think it came out well, but it raises the question of whether I should continue Hammer when I run out of Spillane source material.

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My novel of In the Line of Fire gets a latterday review! Positive, too.

Finally, here’s a Road to Perdition piece that discussed both the graphic novel and the film. Sorta likes both. Sorta.

M.A.C.

First Man and Four Insidious Films

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

First, let me proudly announce the first award won by Scarface and the Untouchable:

Earphones Award Winner
Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago
Max Allan Collins, A. Brad Schwartz, Read by Stefan Rudnicki, Max Allan Collins, A. Brad Schwartz • Unabridged • OCTOBER 2018
Harper Audio • Trade Ed.

This audiobook is a fascinating examination of the terrible times when the Mob ruled Chicago, with Stefan Rudnicki doing a pretty solid job of substituting for Walter Winchell’s staccato “Untouchables” delivery. Thoroughly researched and expertly executed, the story’s most surprising revelation is how little Eliot Ness and Al Capone had to do with each other. They met only once, and that was momentary. Yet the super-straight-shooting Ness made it his life’s work to take down the illegal bootlegging operation that Capone headed but operated from a distance. The most revealing part of the audiobook is the incredible corruption that was rampant in Chicago at all levels of government during Prohibition. The chronological work follows the lives of the two men and is impossible to turn off. M.S. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award © AudioFile 2018, Portland, Maine

As promised, here is the video of my presentation at the Iowa City Book Festival. It’s around 45 minutes, so if you don’t want to spend that much time with me, I don’t blame you.

On Saturday Barb and I took in First man, which follows Neil Armstrong in the years before and during the moon-landing period. We almost passed, because the director, Damien Chazelle, had been responsible for La La Land, which both of us disliked, despite all the praise heaped upon it. Well, this is a good example of not ruling out every movie by a filmmaker based on one film, because First Man is the best movie either Barb or I have seen in a long time (and we see plenty).


Ryan Gosling in First Man

Though we saw First Man in IMAX, that’s not really necessary, although the epic sweep of the moon sequences do benefit. Other sequences are intensely claustrophobic as the viewer rides along in the small space vehicle and experiences the disorienting terror. What is perhaps most striking is the level of danger – those of us alive at the time were shielded from just how sketchy, even reckless a lot of this was. You can see every screw and bolt jiggle in what look like cobbled-together vehicles, and feel every tremor and jolt, and feel every carnival-ride spin. At the same time, the story on the ground is compelling as well, and gives you a real sense of what Armstrong (an outstandingly understated Ryan Gosling) and those in his life – his wife Janet (played the Claire Foy, unrecognizable as the queen in The Crown) and the other astronauts and their wives – all went through.

Some critics have complained that the earthbound sequences aren’t as riveting as the space stuff. Insert, “Duh!” here. The film is a masterpiece of showing not telling, which requires a viewer to pay attention and interpret what’s being heard and seen, and not led by the hand. Very rarely do I see a film that I realize is great while I’m seeing it. In my lifetime of thousands of movies the list would include the likes of Vertigo, Chinatown, and Bonnie and Clyde, and only a few others. I haven’t had that sensation in a very long time.

We re-watched The Right Stuff at home after taking in a matinee of First Man. The movies have some similarities, and work well together, with Stuff a prequel to Man; but the tone of the former – often satiric and even humorous – differs greatly from the near horror show feel of the latter’s space travel.

Speaking of horror shows…

October is a month that Barb and I spend watching horror (or as she puts it, “spooker”) movies. Sometimes, knowing that my wife is picky (she married me, didn’t she?), I pre-screen horror films. I had done so with the Insidious films, and felt confident she would like them as much.

We watched them, one a night for four nights, and she agrees with me. This is an outstanding “franchise” (horrible term). I can’t recall a series in the horror genre that has taken as much care to maintain continuity even while making sure each installment stands on its own. There are two reasons for this in the quartet of Insidious films: all star Lin Shaye, an amazing actress of “a certain age,” who should have been nominated (hell, won) the Academy Award for Best Actress for Insidious 4: The Last Key.


Lin Shaye in Insidious 4: The Last Key

The other reason is writer (and sometime director) Leigh Whannell, who has an amusing recurring role in all four films. The scripts intertwine cleverly, as they explore a Poltergeist-inspired narrative – their spirit world “the Further” clearly had a major influence on Stranger Things, a show I much admire despite its habitual borrowing.

The actors in every one of the Insidious films are outstanding, with Patrick Wilson doing typically strong work in the first two films, including the tricky job of being both the villain and hero of the second film. Other cast members include Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson (in a role very different from his Fargo Season Two turn, also with Wilson), Rose Byrne, Stephanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney and Bruce Davison. The now superstar director James Wan helmed the first two and produced the other two.

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Here’s a radio appearance for Scarface and the Untouchable by A. Brad Schwartz and me. [Starts @ 40:00]

Here, in a proudly conservative publication, I am given credit for suggesting Supreme Court justices need more protection, but am dismissed as a “liberal” (as is my protagonist, Joe Reeder) who might be giving violent liberals dangerous ideas. You know what other dangerously liberal thing I did lately? Voted early.

Finally, here’s a surprisingly complete rundown of my various publications, worth looking at despite a few mistakes (“Frank” Nolan).

M.A.C.

On Kevin Spacey, Bobby Darin and Al Capp

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

I’m on a Bobby Darin group on Facebook, where several people have talked about throwing away their DVDs and CD soundtracks of Kevin Spacey’s 2004 Darin biopic, Beyond the Sea.

I get it. While I am at times queasy over the witch hunt feel of today – whose career will be ruined tomorrow? – seeing the creepy Roy Moore defend himself by attacking his attackers (the women accusing him, the Washington Post, Democrats in general, the media at large) reminds me that a verdict in a courtroom isn’t always necessary. Sometimes a legitimate verdict can come from the courtroom of public opinion, if the allegations have been vetted by journalists with the credentials of those at the Post. When the number of allegations grows to critical mass, as with Cosby and Spacey, that verdict has the ring of truth.

I can only say that Kevin Spacey – whose love for Bobby Darin’s work was deeply felt – was very kind to my wife, son and me when he performed his Darin tribute concert at the House of Blues in Chicago in December 2004.

Beyond the Sea

Spacey and I had a connection through Sam Mendes, who directed both American Beauty and Road to Perdition. When Barb, Nate and I went to the House of Blues, I brought along a signed copy of Road to Purgatory to send backstage to Spacey. I had ordered tickets for the event the day they went on sale, but when we arrived, we found most of the main floor was reserved for some special party. We were sent high up to nosebleed seats. The atmosphere created by Hell’s Angel type bouncers/ushers was decidedly unfriendly.

When I went downstairs to try to convince someone with the House of Blues to send the book backstage, I was treated harshly (I will never return to that venue). By bribing one, I finally got the book accepted, having the strong feeling it would be tossed in the trash as soon as I was out of sight. Upstairs, we crowded around a tiny table with a bunch of strangers and my family studied me with the cold-eyed “What have you gotten us into this time, you incompetent fool?” expression that I know so well.

Then, over the intercom, I was called to come downstairs to the front of the club. I went down and was told that Mr. Spacey wanted to meet us after the show – there was a scheduled meet-and-greet – and that we were to be given special seating. Chairs were set up for us (by some of the same crabby biker types who had treated us so badly) right in front of the sound board, dead center, best seats in the house.

Spacey came on and did a fine show. Afterward, he greeted us warmly and he and I talked Bobby Darin for about five minutes. He was friendly and articulate and I thanked him especially for making me look good in front of my family (something that rarely happens).

Which brings me to the today’s topic, as Bob and Doug McKenzie would say: Is the work of an artist suddenly invalid because bad conduct is revealed? And is there any coming back from a scandal like this and the behavior it represents?

I’m really just asking. With someone like Cosby, I think the body of work is so large and so at odds with his actual wrongdoing that it’s hard to imagine sitting down now with one of his comedy albums or TV shows. I love the movie Hickey and Boggs but haven’t watched it since Cosby’s fall from grace. I can’t imagine I’ll ever look at my complete DVD set of I, Spy again.

On the other hand, I am a huge fan of Al Capp and Li’l Abner. I have said numerous times that it’s not only my favorite comic strip, but in my opinion the greatest of all comic strips. It had everything – sharp satire, slapstick humor, adventure, suspense, great art, and…beautiful girls.

Capp’s women were outrageously sexy, and a hidden sexual content – the frequent use of the number 69, phallic mushrooms clustered around trees with vagina-like knotholes, the positioning of Shmoos also with phallic intent – was enough to encourage Capp’s former boss, Ham Fisher, to try to get his ex-assistant thrown out of newspapers by going around showing editors examples of supposed pornography smuggled into Abner. Unfortunately, Fisher doctored the examples to make them look worse, and got kicked out of the National Cartoonists Society for it, which led to Joe Palooka’s daddy committing suicide. (See my novel, Strip for Murder, for more.)

Late in his life, when longtime liberal Capp had suddenly gone right wing (as some old rich white guys do), he became a sexual predator. On college campuses, where he gave lectures, he would arrange to meet with coeds and came onto them; he did the same for young actresses who were supposedly interviewing for parts in various Abner TV series. No reports of rape, but plenty of obnoxious behavior, which eventually was exposed (shall we say) in the press. Capp didn’t kill himself, like his old boss, but he killed his strip and died a few years later.

Still, I love Li’l Abner. I have a number of Capp originals framed and on my wall. Is that wrong? Am I supposed to banish his lifetime of brilliant work to the scrap heap of history because he was, in his later years, a dirty old man? Also, am I supposed to be surprised Al Capp liked sexy young women?

Do we think Frank Sinatra would have held up to this kind of scrutiny? How about rock ‘n’ roll stars? Does anyone really want to turn over the rock that is Mick Jagger, much less Keith Richards? Did those lads from Liverpool have their way with some underage groupies? Would you be shocked if they did? Shine the spotlight on rock ‘n’ roll and it’ll be the sexual apocalypse.

The Millennials did not live through the Sexual Revolution, which created a climate of carnal activity for a generation who’d been brought up innocently in the fifties. Beaver was the last name of a kid named Cleaver; then suddenly it wasn’t. I don’t excuse the behavior of any of my generation, but I’m not sure we should have to sit for a jury of kids who didn’t live through it. Free Love and feminism were brewing at the same time, and brother was it a strange brew.

During those years, when things were loosening up sexually, homophobia went on unabated. Closeted gays lived an outlaw life style by definition. Like a lot of straight guys, I had gay men come onto me – the first time freaked me out. Later I realized that they were as uneasy and even more afraid than I was. Roy Moore still wants gays thrown in jail or worse. Might someone like Kevin Spacey or George Takei make a mistake, a misjudgment, a misreading of another male, living as they did in a world of shadows? How harshly should we judge gay men and women who grew up in the second half of the Twentieth Century?

Not excusing anything. I certainly abhor what these famous men, straight and gay, have been getting away with, almost always operating from a position of power. But I wonder – is there any chance for redemption for somebody like Kevin Spacey or Louis C.K.? Can they come back from this? Should they? Can I watch Baby Driver with a clear conscience, or ever revisit House of Cards? Spacey’s scenes are being cut and re-shot for the soon-to-be-released All the Money in the World – should his entire cinematic legacy be similarly snipped away? Must I forget the kindness he showed me and my family?

Can I listen to Frank Sinatra without thinking about Sam Giancana?

I really am wondering.

But I do know plenty of great art has come from terrible people. It’s a subject I’ve been wrestling with, and discussing, for years – long before the daily exposure of this star or that one as a sexual predator.

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The new Murder on the Orient Express isn’t bad. It’s quite sumptuous looking, and is faithful enough to the Christie source material to receive an approving nod from me. True, some action scenes – including questionable heroics from Hercule Poirot – seem like pandering to an audience dumber than anybody who would likely go to a movie called Murder on the Orient Express. But it’s a good, old-fashioned (in a positive way) movie. It’s just not as good as the 1974 original – actually, not even close.

Refresh your memory and look up the cast of the ‘74 version, and see names like Connery, Bacall, Guielgud, Widmark, Redgrave, Finney and on and on. Such giants no longer walk the earth – well, a few still do. This Murder is committed by a cast about half of whom are names – Cruz, Depp, Gad, Dafoe, Jacobi – but hardly the superstars of old. Depp, for example, is quite good…until you compare his performance to Richard Widmark’s. In ‘74, Albert Finney made an oddly cartoonish Poirot (though it worked), while director/star Kenneth Branagh has to compete with David Suchet’s definitive Poirot. In fairness, this one is better than Suchet’s Murder on the Orient Express, a rare misfire for that wonderful series.

Barb and I also took in Thor Ragnarok, which is very funny while retaining the expected spectacle and superhero heroics. Marvel seems to have learned a lot from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

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Here’s a nice review of Fate of the Union.

And check out this look at Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane.

M.A.C.

Holy Supper, Batman!

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.

Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.

When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.

For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.

Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.

Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.

So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.

Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.

Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.

As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.

Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”

I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”

For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.

Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.

Farewell, Adam West.

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There’s a nice review of Bibliomysteries, the Otto Penzler collection that includes the Hammer story, “It’s in the Book.”

Fun review of Supreme Justice here.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing review of both the novel and graphic novel of Road to Perdition by someone who loves the movie and came to the source later.

M.A.C.