Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

The Column I Wrote Instead of Watching the Oscars

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

As I take a breath from finishing up my novel Quarry’s Climax, here are a few capsule movie reviews. Prepare to be enlightened and enraged….

The usual four-star rating format:

The Lego Batman Movie – ***. I wrote briefly about this earlier, and those who’ve been paying attention already know how heavily this film leans on my character the Mime. This is a terrific and often very funny film, superior to any Batman film in recent memory (including the so-dark Bale ones). Its only problems are a length that wears out its welcome for young kids and older folks particularly, and a tendency to so fill the screen with so much action as to be dizzying. The theme of family is also a bit heavy-handed, but this return to a non-dark Batman with fun villainy and self-deprecating humor is a welcome one…at least it is for this former Batman writer and fan of the comic book for a good decade before Adam West and Burt Ward came onto the Bat-channel. (For some of us, the shark repellant gags were the best in the film.)

The Great Wall – * 1/2. A lot wrong with this one. What’s right is its epic nature and the very sweep of the thing, so credit that much to director Zhang Yimou (of the overrated House of Flying Daggers). What’s wrong includes a terrible script (six screenwriters – not a good sign!), English-speaking actors given no direction by the Chinese director (Matt Damon spends the film in pursuit of an Irish accent), and a lot of pro-Communist propaganda laughable in its ham-handedness. Hilarious to see the Red Chinese preach against greed while plotting to take greenbacks out of red-white-and-blue pockets. The monsters are rather ugly in their CGI design, another rehash of the Raptors from Jurassic Park Parts Whatever. Back before mainland China took over Hong Kong, there was a vibrant Chinese film culture, including John Woo’s crime dramas, Jackie Chan’s adventure films and such wonderful fantasies as the Chinese Ghost Story films and David Chung’s I Love Maria. Now we get this empty spectacle.

John Wick: Chapter 2 – **** The first Wick movie was the best action film of its year, and this year will find the sequel hard to top. Even if you’re already seen it, watching the first John Wick before taking this one in will be helpful – very nice resonances and returning characters. It’s over the top and people who hate guns will be in the wrong theater. Wick is a modern-day samurai who is driven by vengeance (again) in an almost science-fiction world where contract killers inhabit a secret society of their own. It’s as good as James Bond movies ought to be, and the action sequences – with the understated but very funny and yet scary Keanu Reeves doing almost all of his stunts – is depicted minus the missing frames and frantic editing that turn such sequences into utter incoherence in almost all other modern action films. You can follow what’s going on! What an innovation.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. *** I know I’m supposed to hate a movie like this. It does indeed have incomprehensible action scenes at times (well, more just at times). But the video-game-based film series anticipated the zombie craze and has specialized in making social comments through a genre film in a way that clearly eludes the Red Chinese. At the heart of the series and this (supposedly) final entry is charismatic Milla Jovovich, a strong female protagonist if there ever was one. In 3-D this played overly dark, and many of the secondary characters didn’t particularly register. But – unlike The Great Wall, with its evil puppy dog creatures swarming the barricades – the zombies here are a tangible, scary presence, and when they swarm, they really swarm. Also, the many threads of the five films that precede it are cleverly tied up and for once an X-Files-type “all will be revealed” promise is kept.

Manchester by the Sea – no rating. I’m not giving this a rating because I didn’t finish it. I gave it around forty minutes. I know of really smart people, many smarter than me most likely, who rave about this picture. And some of the acting, particularly the justifiably lauded Casey Affleck, is admirable. But the movie is a painfully slow soap opera. Slowing it down seems to be part of what fools people. What we have here is the story of a sad guy whose beloved brother dies, saddling him with a surrogate son in a nephew. Seems the sad guy got sad after he accidentally burned his little kids to death in a fire, which caused his wife to hate him. Scenes include driving in slow traffic to get to the hospital, and another visiting the brother’s dead body in the hospital morgue. I guess I’m not supposed to notice that the kid actors sitting around talking about Star Trek in the wake of their friend’s horrible news are a bunch of stilted amateurs. If you don’t have enough tragedy in your life, this is your film.

As for the Oscars, ever since Bob Hope stopped hosting, I only watch when a movie I had something to do with is nominated. So far that’s once.

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Here’s a great review of Better Dead.

Here, in two parts (One, Two), is a nice look at the Mike Hammer movies and TV shows, with occasional mentions of yours truly.

Another great Quarry TV review, if a bit patronizing to his daddy.

Road to Perdition again gets love as one of the best comic-book movies.

Finally, here’s a nice article that understands that Mickey and Mike Hammer gave birth to James Bond.

M.A.C.

Batman Refuses to Lego of Me

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

A week or so ago, people started telling me I’m mentioned in the end credits of The Lego Batman Movie. Well, that’s all it takes to get me to a movie!

I’d already been invited to the world premiere in Los Angeles, but somehow DC Comics neglected to send us plane tickets, so Barb and I passed.

This mention in the end credits of this fun, funny film came as a surprise, and a cool one. It comes fast right toward the very end, and you may miss it, because I’m one of a lot of Batman writers and artists thanked. A good number aren’t listed, like my pal Terry Beatty, who worked on more Batman stuff than me by a long shot (it was always a mildly bitter irony that the Collins/Beatty team’s two members each worked on BATMAN projects but never together…though we tried with several rejected projects, one of which prefigured the animated show’s approach).

Terry was the one who figured out why I made an esteemed list that included such greats as Dick Sprang, Jerry Robinson and Neal Adams. I created two characters – one of the versions of Robin (the least popular of all time!) and the villain the Mime, who appears in the film. Check it out here.

Ironies abound. I quit the Batman comic book because the Mime premise (if not the character) was mishandled by the artist. I had written that in search of the Mime, the police had rounded up suspects – and I specifically said all of them would look identical, specifically stereotypical mimes. The artist decided to vary them, tall, short, fat, etc., ruining the gag.

I’d had it and, after a frustrating year or so, I quit…probably an instant before I’d have been fired, but I quit.

That issue’s Batman script was not the last I wrote, however, as the follow-up had the Mime meeting the Joker. It never went into production, however, and I wound up turning it into a short story for a Batman anthology, The Further Adventures of Batman (1989), “The Sound of One Hand Clapping.” The book, with my story singled out, is reviewed here.

Some oh-so-serious Batman fans hate the Mime character, although she clearly prefigures the popular Harley Quinn. These fans of the dark Dark Knight version of the character can’t abide that I brought humor to the mix, since Batman – the story of a guy who dresses up in a costume with bat ears and a cape and refuses to use a gun as he fights crime in the big city – is so obviously a deadly serious premise. Not at all something a couple of kids named Bob and Bill dreamed up for other kids back in the late ‘30s. Such “Bat fans” are seriously in need of therapy. I recommend Arkham Asylum.

And now my revenge: the Mime and I are in a Batman movie!

Briefly, and for no money at all, I grant you…but in it! And I’m ridiculously pleased.

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Nice Quarry TV write-up here.

Here’s another good one, which includes all the special features, including an in-depth interview with me…no, wait, it doesn’t, because I wasn’t asked.

Here’s an interesting review of Mickey Spillane’s The Twisted Thing from top-notch writer, James Reasoner.

And for some context, my take on The Twisted Thing for the Rap Sheet back in 2008 is here.

M.A.C.

2016 Movie Wrap-Up

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

As regular readers here know, Barb and I go to a lot of movies – generally one a week. That doesn’t mean we see everything, of course, so view these lists in that context. No particular order within categories.

Here we go:

BEST MOVIES

Hail, Caesar!
The Nice Guys
Star Trek Beyond
Hell or High Water
Doctor Strange

MOVIES WE WALKED OUT ON

The Boss
Bad Moms
Ben-Hur
The Magnificent Seven
Keeping Up with the Joneses

MOVIES WE WALKED OUT ON & MAYBE SHOULDN’T HAVE

Captain America: Civil War
Kubo & the Two Strings

MOVIES WE SHOULD HAVE WALKED OUT ON
Girl on the Train
Conjuring 2
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

BEST MOVIE WITH BRENT SPINER

Independence Day: Resurgence

WORST MOVIE WITH BRENT SPINER

Independence Day: Resurgence

MOVIES THAT WERE BETTER THAN THEY HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE

Zootopia
Gods of Egypt
Legend of Tarzan
Deadpool
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

MOVIES THAT WERE WORSE THAN THEY HAD ANY RIGHT TO BE

Finest Hours
Ghostbusters

MOVIES WE ENJOYED BUT BARELY REMEMBER

Keanu
X-Men: Apocalypse
Central Intelligence

MOVIES THAT DID THE JOB

The Infiltrator
Masterminds
Rules Don’t Apply
Allied

BEST MOVIE WITH THE GROWN-UP KID FROM PERDITION

Everybody Wants Some!!

MOVIES THAT WE DIDN’T SEE BUT HATE ANYWAY

13 Hours
Dirty Grandpa
The Divergent Series: Allegiant
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2
Alice Through the Looking Glass
Office Christmas Party

PRETENTIOUS TWADDLE

Arrival
The Witch
Nocturnal Animals

A few comments, since I didn’t review all of these films here over the year.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR just wore us down. We left with half an hour to go, generally ready to swear off super-hero movies. DOCTOR STRANGE, then, was an intelligent surprise. So was DEADPOOL, and I understand why anyone might not like its over-the-top nilhistic approach, but we both liked the kick to the seat of the pants it gave to super-hero movies.

ARRIVAL is slow and full of itself, and I found its big surprise obvious. THE WITCH was an unpleasant ride to nowhere. NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is misogynistic and generally unpleasant, with only the story-within-the-story having any merit, most of that coming from the always interesting Michael Shannon. RULES DON’T APPLY is an interesting and quirky return to film by star/director/writer Warren Beatty, a loving though occasionally acid valentine to Hollywood and a disguised autobiography. GODS OF EGYPT we watched at home in 3-D and had fun – no apologies forthcoming.

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Our local weekly paper, Voice of Muscatine, did this nice write-up on the Grand Master award.

Here’s a good review of The London Blitz Murders.

J. Kingston Pierce gives a nice mention to the complete version of Road to Perdition published by Brash Books. Order that yet?

Nice words about the Quarry TV series as one of the year’s best literary adaptations.

And here the Quarry show makes another “best of” list.

Finally, be sure to check out the Quarry Facebook page.

M.A.C.

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And this just in!

QUARRY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Available February 14, 2017 on Blu-ray™ & DVD

New York, N.Y., December 12, 2016 – Season 1 of the “wildly entertaining” (TV Guide) Cinemax® series Quarry, loosely based on the novels of Max Allan Collins set in and around Memphis, is set to make its home entertainment debut on February 14, 2017. Starring Logan Marshall-Green as Mac Conway, this “impressively flawless” (Washington Post) series follows two soldiers’ return home from a second tour of duty in Vietnam. Quarry: The Complete First Season will be available to own on Blu-rayTM ($34.98) and DVD ($24.98), packed with bonus content including more than two dozen deleted scenes and new footage of interviews where Mac and his comrades testify to the events that led up to their discharge from the Marines. DVD and Blu-rayTM will also include a Digital Download copy.

Set in and around Memphis during the early 1970s, Quarry is a thrilling action drama that centers on the character of Mac Conway, a Marine who returns home from a second tour of duty in Vietnam. With his relationship with his wife Joni growing tenuous, Mac finds himself tempted by a lucrative offer from The Broker, a shady criminal involved in a network of killing and corruption that spans the length of the Mississippi River. After a series of events, Mac – whom The Broker codenames “Quarry” – finds himself conscripted against his better judgment into The Broker’s crew, a turn of events that has dire consequences for both himself and Joni. Gripping and “startlingly good” (Yahoo! TV), with action packed storytelling, the first season of Quarry promises to not disappoint.

Bonus Features include:

  • Deleted Scenes – A fascinating selection of more than two dozen deleted scenes from Season 1.
  • “Inside Quarry” – Get an inside look at each episode of Quarry with the cast and crew of the acclaimed series.
  • “Quan Thang Inquiry Scenes” – Check out declassified interview footage in which Mac (Logan Marshall-Green) and other soldiers testify to the events of the Quan Thang tragedy.
  • “About Quarry” – Delve inside the setting, characters and storylines of Quarry with the cast and crew.
  • “Music of Memphis” – Join the cast and crew for an inside look at the classic R&B soundtrack and live music seen in the show.
  • “Recreating 1972” – The cast and crew of Quarry reveal how they turned back the clock to recreate the sets and styles of Memphis in 1972.
  • “Love Letters” – Hear the recorded correspondence between Mac and Joni while he served in Vietnam.
  • “Car Chase Picture in Picture” – Join Quarry star Logan Marshall-Green for this action-packed look at the staging of a rough-and-tumble car chase from the series.
  • Music Videos – Watch a collection of music videos featuring some of the blistering tracks from the series.

Other cast members include: Nikki Amuka-Bird (“Luther”) as Ruth, a hardworking mother who is Joni’s close friend; Damon Herriman (“Justified”) as Buddy; Edoardo Ballerini as Karl, and Mustafa Shakir as Moses, three of The Broker’s most capable and ruthless henchmen; Jamie Hector as Arthur, Ruth’s husband and Mac’s best friend, who is also a Vietnam vet; Ann Dowd as Naomi, Buddy’s doting but unconventional mother; Skipp Sudduth as Lloyd, Mac’s father; Josh Randall as Detective Tommy Olsen, a dedicated member of the Memphis Police Department; and Kurt Yaeger as Suggs, who has fallen within The Broker’s sights.

Quarry: The Complete First Season
Blu-rayTM & DVD

Street Date: February 14, 2017
Order Date: January 10, 2017
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: Approx. 480 minutes (excluding bonus materials)

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This Just In…

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

Not much to say at the moment other than I am thrilled and flabbergasted.

Mystery Writers of America Announces 2017 Grand Masters
Max Allan Collins and Ellen Hart
Plus 2017 Raven and Ellery Queen Award Winners

November 29, 2016 – New York, NY – Max Allan Collins and Ellen Hart have been chosen as the 2017 Grand Masters by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Mr. Collins and Ms. Hart will receive their awards at the 71st Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 27, 2017.

When told of being named a Grand Master, Collins said, “To be in the company of Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and Mickey Spillane is both thrilling and humbling.  This is an honor second to none in the art of mystery and suspense fiction.”

Max Allan Collins sold his first two novels in 1972 while a student at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop.  More than one hundred novels have followed, including his award-winning and groundbreaking Nathan Heller historical series, starting with True Detective (1983). His graphic novel Road to Perdition (1998) is the basis of the Academy Award-winning 2002 film starring Tom Hanks.  His other comics credits include the syndicated strip "Dick Tracy"; his own "Ms. Tree"; and "Batman.”  For the hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, he wrote ten novels selling millions of copies worldwide, and his movie novels include Saving Private Ryan, Air Force One, and American Gangster.

Upon learning that she was named a Grand Master, Hart said. “A writer's stock-in-trade is imagination.  I’ve always felt mine was pretty good, but never in a million years did I ever think winning the MWA Grand Master award was a possibility.  I’m stunned, grateful, and profoundly honored.”

Ellen Hart is the author of thirty-two crime novels.  She is the six-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, the four-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, and the three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award for mystery.  Ellen has taught crime writing for seventeen years through the Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation.

Previous Grand Masters include Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. Dru Ann Love will receive the 2017 Raven Award.

Dru Ann Love is owner/editor of dru’s book musings (https://drusbookmusing.com/), a blog where characters give a glimpse into a day in their life, as well as her musings. Her musings also appear in Crimespree Magazine. She is also a guest blogger at the Stiletto Gang. Dru Ann is an avid reader, writes poetry, quilts, and loves attending reader/fan conventions. Dru Ann’s blog was nominated for a 2015 Anthony Award for Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work. She also serves on the Bouchercon standing committee.

When told that she would receive the Raven Award, Love said, “I’m so thrilled and honored to be awarded the Raven. The mystery community is like a big family and I’m so proud that they have embraced me with open arms. Thanks to the nominating committee for selecting me and a big thanks to the authors—without them, this would not be possible.”

Previous Raven winners include Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry”. This year the Board chose to honor Neil Nyren.

On learning he would receive the Ellery Queen Award, Nyren said, “I’ve spent most of my life with crime and suspense fiction, both as a fan and a professional, but I never imagined this. It’s an enormous honor even being mentioned in the same breath as such legendary previous Ellery Queen Award winners as Joan Kahn, Ed Gorman, Jacques Barzun, Otto Penzler, and Eleanor Sullivan (just to name a few!).”

Neil Nyren is the Executive VP, associate publisher and editor in chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Random House. He has been at Putnam for over 32 years, and before that, at E.P. Dutton, Little Brown, Random House, Arbor House, and Atheneum.

Among his current authors of crime and suspense are Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, C.J. Box, John Sandford, Robert Crais, Jack Higgins, W.E.B. Griffin, Frederick Forsyth, Randy Wayne White, Alex Berenson, Ace Atkins, Alex Grecian, Carol O’Connell, Owen Laukkanen, Michael Sears, and Todd Moss. He has also worked with such writers as Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, Daniel Silva, Martha Grimes, Ed McBain, Thomas H. Cook, and Thomas Perry, and he was the first to publish books by Carl Hiaasen, Jonathan Kellerman, Gerald Seymour, Garrison Keillor, and Ian McEwan.

Among his nonfiction authors: A. Scott Berg, Maureen Dowd, James A. Baker III, Dave Barry, Joe McGinniss, Charles Kuralt, Andy Rooney, Jeff Greenfield, Senator Harry Reid, General Tony Zinni, Abba Eban, John McEnroe, Pat Riley, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky.

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.

The Edgar Awards, or "Edgars," as they are commonly known, are named after MWA's patron saint Edgar Allan Poe and are presented to authors of distinguished work in various categories. MWA is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime-writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. The organization encompasses some 3,000 members including authors of fiction and non-fiction books, screen and television writers, as well as publishers, editors, and literary agents. For more information on Mystery Writers of America, please visit the website: www.mysterywriters.org

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When I was discussing the up’s and down’s of 2016 last time, I neglected two major “up’s.”

Among the blessings for me in the vale of tears that was 2016 was having a Quarry TV series…and a good one, at that. Considering I created Quarry in 1971 at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop, this blessing took a while to pay off…but pay off it did. Many of you have had nice things to say about show. A few wish it were more like the books, and I’ve discussed that here. But for me it was a major blessing.

Soon I will be starting a new novel, Quarry’s Climax, and beginning work on a graphic novel, Quarry’s War, which will be serialized as comic books by Titan’s new Hard Case Crime comics.

The other major blessing, overlooked last time, was being able to play some band jobs this year. In 2015, I had to cancel all but one gig for Crusin’ because of my heart condition – I don’t remember ever cancelling a gig before in the five decades I’ve been playing, and I hated doing so. I’m strictly a show-must-go-on kind of guy. This year we were able to do half a dozen gigs, and I hope more will follow in 2017. My guitar player, the incredible Jim Van Winkle, and I have been together for over a decade. Drummer Steve Kundel has been with the band, off and on, since the ‘90s, and is truly world-class. “New kid” Brian Van Winkle, Jim’s brother, took over bass when Chuck Bunn passed away a few years ago – Brian is one of the coolest guys you could ever hope to meet, and an excellent bass player.


Crusin’ at Muscatine High School 50th class reunion, left to right, M.A.C., Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel, guest Joe McClean, and Brian Van Winkle.

The gigs we played in 2016 were a mixed bag. Actually, every gig went well, but three of them were impacted by my pertussis. Whooping cough does not do a lead singer any favors. The third gig I was getting somewhat back to normal, but it was something of a disappointment because we had originally intended to have a reunion of my original band, the Daybreakers. Illness (not mine for a change!) threw a wrench in the works, although we did add guest artist Joe McClean of the XL’s into the standard Crusin’ mix. The dance went well but I’m afraid a 50th class reunion could not live up to the wild, rockin’ affair of my imagination.

Anyway, 2016 had its highlights, and QUARRY on TV and Crusin’ on stage were chief among them.

Today I am putting finishing touches on the third Caleb York western, The Bloody Spur. That’s the last one on the contract – we’ll see if more follow.

Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. Barb cooked up a storm, and baby Sam Collins was the life of the party. We had our Department 56 Halloween houses up, with lots of movement and scary sounds, and he was fascinated…not frightened in the least.

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J. Kingston Pierce has included Better Dead on his Best 10 list, and has wonderful things to say about it.

Here’s a great review of The Legend of Caleb York.

Mystery Scene magazine has a wonderful Quarry in the Black review by Hank Wagner. Here’s a taste: “…Collins delivers some of the crispest, funniest and most gripping prose of his long career to date. Hardboiled crime fiction at its finest, the Quarry series continues to provide top-notch action, wit and suspense.”

M.A.C.