Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

A Tale of Two Birthdays

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Before I dig in this week, be sure to check out the incredible Wall Street Journal article on Mickey’s centenary and my role in it.

I was born March 3, 1948. Mickey Spillane was born March 9, 1918. I just turned 70. Mickey is about to turn 100. My friend, mentor and collaborator was almost exactly thirty years older than me.

When I told my agent, the great but always skeptical Dominick Abel, that I was going to do everything I could to get notice for Mickey’s centenary, he had his doubts. I reminded him that Mickey was the best-selling American mystery writer of the 20th Century (possibly best-selling writer of that era period), and he reminded me that the 20th Century was a long time ago.

As we say in comics, sigh.

But I had a plan, involving the first, previously unpublished (unfinished-till-now) Mike Hammer novel (Killing Town) and the very last novel Mickey completed on his own (The Last Stand). I felt those bookends could attract attention, and a PR person at Titan (which includes Hard Case Crime) agreed with me. Her name is Katharine Carroll and she has done a stellar job, and continues doing so. That Wall Street Journal piece is her doing, as is coverage in Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal (see below), Booklist and much more. She also landed a Playboy spot for the opening chapter of Killing Town – that issue of Playboy is on the stands now. If you buy it, you will see how big I like to see my byline (a combination of healthy ego and poor eyesight). I have spent so much time staring at my huge byline that I keep forgetting to look at the nude women.

The Titan news release about the Mike Hammer serialized graphic novel (four issues to be followed by a collection) is all over the Net, as well as the Hollywood Reporter (link provided last week). What Titan’s publisher, Nick Landau, and Hard Case Crime’s editor, Charles Ardai, have done for Mickey and me is fairly amazing.

I just completed a massively long interview with J. Kingston Pierce, who is scary in the knowledge and precision of his questioning. That will, I presume, appear on his essential mystery-fiction site, The Rap Sheet, before long.

So Mickey is 100. And I am 70 (a fact noted fairly widely on the Net also). I admit I find this a sobering birthday. When you are in your sixties, life still seems to stretch ahead some. When you are in your seventies, not so much. I look around and my film collaborator, actor Mike Cornelison, is gone…for some time now. Ed Gorman has passed. Bill Crider is gone. That the universe can reclaim that kind of talent and energy is unspeakably sad.

I now look at the books I still want to write and don’t know if I’ll be able to get to them all. I wonder if an indie film project rears its head if I can still direct. Stress is a motherhumper after you’ve had open-heart surgery. I find myself working harder than ever, and as fast as I can manage without a negative impact on the quality of the work and the state of my health. Barb wants me to slow down, but I quite honestly feel my best when I’m working.

We spent the birthday weekend with son Nathan, daughter-in-law Abby and the preternaturally smart and funny Sam, our two-and-a-half-year old grandson. It is with sadness and humility that I must report to you that Sam is smarter than all of your grandchildren (put together), should you have any. Don’t bother trying to correct me. You might as well tell a Trump voter the truth about their guy.

At my birthday I reflect on how lucky I am and continue to be. Let’s start with the smartest, most beautiful and talented wife on the planet, Barbara Collins. Let’s continue with a great son and his growing little family. Let’s continue with my ability to avoid a real job while making impossible career dreams come true…continuing Dick Tracy after Chester Gould, completing Mike Hammer from Mickey’s unfinished manuscripts (for a dozen years!), Ms. Tree, the unstoppable Nate Heller, the resurrection of Quarry, making an unofficial sort of sequel to The Bad Seed with Patty McCormack herself, finally (with brilliant Brad Schwartz) setting the record straight on Eliot Ness and Al Capone (the upcoming Scarface and the Untouchable), playing in a band with some of the most gifted musicians in the Midwest, and, oh hell…lots of other stuff. Little things, like a Grandmaster “Edgar” from the MWA (did I ever mention that to you?).

It’s always seemed special and (ridiculous, I know) that Mickey Spillane and I have birthdays just a few days apart – his 9 is even divisible by my 3 (and you thought I couldn’t do math). And yet here we both still are, writing books together.

Even if the 20th Century was a long time ago.

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Here’s some nice coverage of The Last Stand and the centenary at Library Journal, by way of an interview with me.

Check out this great review of The Bloody Spur at Gravetapping.

To help celebrate Mickey’s centenary, that gifted writer Raymond Benson has reviewed Mickey Spillane on Screen (by Jim Traylor and me) at the Cinema Retro web site.

Here’s a quirky (I think) positive review of Quarry’s Climax.

You have to scroll down a ways for it, but there’s a nice look at the Quarry TV series at Hardboiled Wonderland.

Finally, I was wished a nice happy birthday by Comics Reporter…and an old friend of Terry Beatty’s and mine.

M.A.C.

You Screen, I Screen, We All Scream for…

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Last time here I pretty much just hawked a bunch of books. Seems like it’s time I blessed you with opinions about movies and TV series that Barb and I have viewed lately.

The third season of Fargo arrived on DVD, and I am well and truly pissed that FX has not released this on Blu-ray, after issuing the previous two seasons that way. They are doing the same with Archer. As if I weren’t pissed enough that they didn’t pick up Heller for TV, though they did pay through the nose for my script.


Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ewan McGregor in Fargo Season 3.

Anyway, Fargo Season 3 is wonderful. It certainly deserves a Blu-ray release, because visually it’s unique – the director has dialed down the blue despite the winter time frame, and has created a singular mood. Where do I start? The story has two major threads – a Russian takeover of a parking lot business with strip-mining it in mind; and the rivalry between two brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) over which of them got the better of their late father’s belongings. The dumb brother took the Corvette, the smart one a valuable stamp collection, the former becoming a parole officer whose charges piss all over his shoes as he collects urine for drug testing, the latter building a fortune around that aforementioned parking lot business. Add into this the underestimated small-town local cop (a staple of Fargo, whether movie or TV show, this time Carrie Coon) who says, “Okay, then,” a lot, and a villain (David Thewliss) as a guy who makes Billy Bob Thornton’s Malvo of Season One seem like St. Francis of Assisi. Other elements include the dumb brother’s squeeze, parolee Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a whiz at bridge, looking to tourneys to build a better future (she came in third once); a dead grandpa who turns out to have been a briefly famous science-fiction writer, somewhat in the vein of Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout; a benign and occasionally meddling Jehovah by way of beloved Twin Peaks actor Ray Wise; the return of a character who appeared in both previous series; and some particularly nasty Russian thugs. Also Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” narrated by Billy Bob, and an animated version of one of the dead grandpa’s s-f tales.

In short, it’s sublime. Unlike that sorta genius filmmaker David Lynch, who has only presented a straight story once (The Straight Story), Noah Hawley can include quirky elements while still spinning a well-structured, coherent narrative. He also knows how to assemble a cast, which has been true of all three seasons. The standout this time is Winstead, who played Joni in the unaired pilot of Quarry. In a beautifully acted series filled with world-class actors, she nonetheless tucks Fargo Season 3 under her arm and steals it. She is now my personal choice for Ms. Tree, if Hollywood ever comes back around to that property (and its senses).

Well, that took a while, so here are some shorter looks, first at TV.

The Tunnel 3: Vengeance turns out to be the concluding season of the British/French version of the Nordic noir, The Bridge. It tells a brazenly over-the-top tale of a couple of activists who punish people they deem bad, particularly Internet trollers; they, shall we say, take things a bit too far. What’s best about this good season of a terrific show is the secondary theme (vengeance being the first) of the effect the loss of a child has on a parent and of a lost parent on a child. Yet another theme explores how the team of compassionate Brit detective Karl Roebuck and his French counterpart, autistic Elise Wassermann (played by Stephen Dillane and Clémence Poésy, respectively) make bad decisions when the partner isn’t around as a counterbalance. Both actors are excellent. For fans of The Bridge (there was also a pretty good American version from FX – damn them – which paired American and Mexican cops), a real benefit is that – after the first season, which every version has done more or less the same – new stories appear. The Tunnel series has a shocking but ultimately satisfying conclusion. I got this from the UK – it won’t show up here for a while.

Looking for good British series, we tried Shetland, The Loch (shown as Loch Ness here), and Hinterland. We didn’t make it through Hinterland, which was humorless and bleak, and The Loch was passable but nothing more. Shetland, of these somewhat similar series with their barren, beautiful settings, is easily the best, with Douglas Henshall a standout as the central detective. None of these, though, are as good as the Nordic thrillers they somewhat ape – like The Killing, Wallander and Varg Veum.

Victoria‘s second season is very short on murders, but it’s a veddy enjoyable Brit soap opera, with a high standard of acting from a cast that, surprisingly enough, seems largely drawn from the UK.

Onto movies…

The Shape of Water is as wonderful as I’d hoped it would be. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, the film is a celebration – and a cautionary tale – of earlier eras and in particular movies. The art direction and lighting, however, creates a mood unique to this film. The only slightly false note is a dance routine that seems straight out of the dreaded La La Land. Otherwise, it’s bewitching and occasionally scary, with dollops of social comment; actors Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, and Richard Jenkins are especially good. So is Michael Stuhlbarg, who is also among the incredible cast of Fargo Season 3 (did I mention how good that is?). I had read quite a bit about the film in advance and yet it was very different from what I’d gathered. That’s because it’s a special experience, oddly reminiscent of Phantom of the Paradise, which it invokes in its opening narration.

Winchester is an Australian-made haunted house movie that has a nine-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Keep in mind movie critics, particularly the younger ones, often don’t know shit. Helen Mirren and Jason Clarke are just fine in a movie that wants to be a ghost story, with an intriguing historical backdrop, and delivers on its promise. Perhaps because of the Winchester’s lack of over-the-top gore, the filmmakers (Peter and Michael Spierig) were encouraged to include so many jump scares, it becomes absurd – but a good basis for a Halloween drinking game, as long as there’s a designated driver.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women – viewed on Blu-ray (like Fargo Season 3 should have been). A compelling if admittedly fanciful take on the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, and the two strong women he lived with. I don’t mind the speculation, but writer/director Angela Robinson shows Marston watching in displeasure and disappointment as kids and their parents burn a bunch of comic books because of urging from Dr. Wertham type critics. Trouble is Marston died in 1947 and the comic book purge was mid-‘50s.

The Snowman – also watched on Blu-ray (fill in Fargo Season 3 bitch here). This seems to me a perfectly serviceable Nordic noir thriller from Jo Nesbø’s novel, though it goes over no new ground and ends somewhat flatly. But the savage reviews indicate the Nordic noir cycle may have run its course.

Marshall – another Blu-ray watch. A solid combination of Civil Rights activism and courtroom drama. Leads Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson are fine.

I touched on Den of Thieves and Proud Mary before – both very watchable.

* * *

And here’s a very nice review of Quarry’s War #3, which is out now.

Days in the Life

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Normally I don’t take my work – that is, the novel in progress – along on trips. Business or pleasure or a mix, I like to do the work in my office at home. Also, I hate the smaller, flat-keyed keyboard of a laptop, so generally writing in the hotel room is a non-starter.

Occasionally there are exceptions. On the recent Florida trip, we left Iowa with two chapters remaining to be written on the new Heller, Do No Harm. The second-to-the-last chapter was the action climax, which I was still working on in my mind. It drives me crazy to have to walk away from a book at that late stage because of some event I agreed to do months and months before, never realizing when that event would fall within my writing life.

We were in Clearwater five days. Between rehearsals and performances of Encore for Murder, we were busy and most of what we did, beyond the theater, was look for good eating places and do a little shopping. Took in one movie (Proud Mary, a black version of Gloria that was a nice throwback).

Every night as I tried to go to sleep, my brain was working on that second-to-last chapter. I had outlined that chapter, and knew what needed to be done with it, but something was wrong, or at least wasn’t satisfying. Several nights into the trip, what I needed to do crystalized. And it had hold of me but good.

So the next day I wrote that second-to-the-last chapter in the hotel room, on my laptop, working all afternoon and a few hours after we got back from the opening night performance. I ran it off the next morning in the lobby’s business center and gave it to Barb to read on the plane, and proof and critique. When we got home that night, I incorporated her fixes and suggestions and did a final tweak.

That meant I was able to finish the book ahead of schedule, writing the final chapter and the bibliographic end notes on the day after we got back.

It’s no big deal to write in a hotel room. I have many writer friends (Bob Randisi especially comes to mind) who regularly write on their latest project when they are traveling. But for me it’s a rarity. And it indicates how thoroughly a book I’m writing can take hold of me.

That opened up the following week for other things. In the first few days, I proofed and tweaked the novel, and assembled the manuscript for e-mailing to my editor and my agent. On Wednesday and Thursday I did a rewrite of the other Mike Hammer radio play, The Little Death, for Zev Buffman in Clearwater. Finally Barb and I went to Galena, Illinois, for two days on a combination work-and-pleasure jaunt. The work part was researching Galena for my next novel, The Girl Most Likely (for Thomas & Mercer).

In Galena we met with the charming and very helpful Chief Lori Huntington. This was a particularly important meeting because the protagonist of the novel is the chief of police of Galena. We also drove around the area and got to the know the town a little better than on our previous visits, where we were pretty much strictly downtown shopping and eating. We even toured the historic Galena home of President Grant, the town’s most famous former citizen.

That was Friday and Saturday. On Sunday I wrote a short story, “The Big Run,” for the Strand magazine from an unproduced 1954 Mickey Spillane teleplay — part of the centenary celebration. We also went to a crime movie, Den of Thieves, which has a nice surprise ending, though it suffers from having nobody worth rooting for among either the cops or the crooks.

All in all, a productive couple of weeks.


M.A.C. and Galena police chief, Lori Huntington
* * *

Here’s a nice Publisher’s Weekly interview with me about things Spillane, by fellow Mick fan, Michael Barson, who is a bigtime pop culture expert.

The great James Reasoner likes The Last Stand and tells you all about it here.

M.A.C.

Movies Are Your Best Entertainment!

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Here’s a video I did to promote the prose Perdition saga in the great new Brash Books editions. If you don’t have them, what are you waiting for? A good use for your Amazon gift cards.

And now for Christmas, I thought I would share more opinions about movies with you, all wrapped in a big red bow. You’re welcome.

My son Nate has mentioned frequently my demented taste in film (some of which he shares). When I’m gone, he threatens to mount a web site where every day he will grab one DVD or Blu-Ray or maybe even laser disc at random, and review it. Might be The Big Combo or it could be The Invisible Ghost with Bela Lugosi (both were directed by Joseph Lewis, after all).

To demonstrate what he is talking about, here some movies I’ve watched on home video lately. These include a few movies I saw as awards screeners that I receive as a WGA member. Most I bought. Also, a few theatrical releases are tagged on at the end. All are mini-reviews.

Dolores Claiborne (1995) – really good Stephen King movie with no supernatural aspect, stylishly directed by Taylor Hackford. Great character study and sorta mystery starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (of Road to Perdition fame).

Death Rides a Horse (1967) – one of my two favorite non-Leone Lee Van Cleef Italian westerns (the other is The Big Gundown). With John Phillip Law as Clint Eastwood. A new, slightly longer Blu-Ray from Kino. Saw it in the theater twice.

T-Men (1947) – excellent noir directed by Anthony Mann about undercover fed Dennis O’Keefe. O’Keefe is way underrated. Black-and-white cinematography by genius John Alton (I, the Jury). Starts with a stilted intro by Elmer Irey, one of the guys who took credit for taking Capone down and dissed Eliot Ness. See him brought to earth next year in Scarface & the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness & the Battle for Chicago.

The Laughing Policeman (1973) – interesting if dreary police procedural with Walter Matthau in a mostly humorless portrayal and Bruce Dern in a rare heroic role, though he’s casually sexist and sadistic, anyway. From a nordic noir novel. 1973 is starting to feel like a long time ago.

Battle Cry (1955) – wonderful Hollywood-ized Raoul Walsh-directed adaptation of the forgotten Leon Uris bestseller. Great soap opera of men training where my dad did in San Diego; an incredible cast – Aldo Ray, Tab Hunter, Anne Francis James Whitmore, Anne Francis, Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone…did I mention Anne Francis? L.Q. Jones appears under his real name playing a character called L.Q. Jones, which he then took as his stage name. Tons of familiar male actors making early appearances. Final half hour of battle finally arrives and is compelling.

Annie Get Your Gun (1957) – from VAI, a Blu-Ray of Mary Martin and John Raitt in a TV “spectacular” of the famous Broadway show. Great performances from the stars and lots of fun. Native American stuff and male/female interaction that will amuse you, especially if a humorless gal is in the room watchin’ with you. Assuming you survive.

Thieves’ Highway (1949) – gritty noir about trucking written by A.I. Bezzerides (Kiss Me Deadly!) from his novel, Thieves’ Market. Excellent villain performance from Lee J. Cobb, striking female lead in Valentina Cortese, and Richard Conte fine as a nice guy who is dumb enough to make you talk back to the screen. Hey, everybody in the sleazy bar! Look at all the money I just got! Director Jules Dassin tells us how much he hates capitalism, right before he packs his bags and heads overseas.

Since You Went Away (1944) – surprisingly effective home front soaper from producer/scripter David O. Selznick, directed by John Cromwell. Teenage Shirley Temple (disturbingly appealing – I’m pretty sure Roy Moore has this one on his fave flicks list) and Jennifer Jones convincingly go from kids to young women while Claudette Colbert reminds us why she was a movie star. Moving and generally unmanipulative for this kind of thing. Great cast also includes Joseph Cotten, Monty Wooley, Robert Walker, Lionel Barrymore and Guy Madison. A Christmas movie, by the way, though that doesn’t come in till the last act.

And now some new things….

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – this is an excellent showcase for both Frances McDormand and especially Sam Rockwell, with nice work from Woody Harrelson, too. The movie is challenging because it keeps shifting, challenging your thinking and assumptions, with none of its characters perfect (except perhaps Harrelson’s) and the resolution of its crime story elusive. Lovely writing and direction from Martin McDonagh. One of the two or three best of the year, topped only by Wind River.

The Post – boy, what a disappointing Mr. Show movie! Though they appear in a number of scenes together, David Cross and Bob Odenkirk just never get truly funny. And the story is quite unbelievable – a crooked United States President who tries to stifle and belittle freedom of the press? Some story ideas, even in a comedy, are too outlandish to pull off – just not funny! Supporting players Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep hog the screen from stars Cross and Odenkirk.

I, Tonya – good, quirky docudrama about the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan incident that ignited interest in women’s competition ice skating. Well done, but star Margot Robbie, though very good, is miscast as Tonya, whose petite figure, not quite pretty face, and white trash aura call for a physically smaller, less overtly attractive, less obviously smart actress. Worth seeing.

Star Wars – The Last Jedi. I am thrilled for Mark Hamill, who knocks it out of the park with a genuine star performance. At its best, this is a wonderful movie and audiences will likely love it, and they should. But it’s way too long and overstuffed with very usual Star Wars plot shenanigans, plus a weak performance or two (Laura Dern, anyone?). But Luke Skywalker shines. This series was launched as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, you know.

So – these were all viewed over a couple of weeks. That’s how we spend our evenings and the occasional at-the-actual-movies afternoon. This is relaxation in Iowa. If you’re nice to me, I won’t do this to you again.

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Bill Morris says Quarry’s Climax is one of the best books of the year – and he’s right. Read here to find me on a list with Joan Didion.

Here’s a nifty little piece about Quarry’s War issue #1.

M.A.C.