Posts Tagged ‘Scarface and the Untouchable’

The Max and Brad Show Goes to Chicago

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

My co-author, Brad A. Schwartz, and I will be appearing at the American Writers Museum in Chicago next Monday evening, from 6:30 till 8:30. The address is 180 N. Michigan Avenue, and we will give an informal talk and answer audience questions as well as sign (and, I hope, sell) copies of Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago. For more info go here.

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Paperback:
E-Book:Amazon

You can now advance order the graphic novel version of Mike Hammer: The Night I Died from Amazon. [Note from Nate: I’m also seeing pre-order pages at the usual suspects, and the collection is also available digitally through ComiXology/Kindle. Links are below the cover.]

You may be able to find this at your nearest Barnes & Noble store, but based on Quarry’s War, it looks like they only stock a copy or two. So an Internet order might be worth your trouble.

This is, of course, the collected version of the serialized comic book version that appear in four separate issues not long ago.

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Barb and I have seen three worthwhile movies that you might also enjoy.

Hunter Killer, directed by Donovan Marsh from a screenplay by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss (adapted from a novel), is frankly something we settled on when the movie we went out to see wasn’t available yet. We took a chance on this one and it’s a very traditional (and very good) submarine movie crossed with a commando raid flick. The cast is strong – Gerard Butler, Gary Oldman, Common (a rapper I assume), Toby Stephens, Linda Cardellini, and in what must be his last role, the great Michael Nyqvist. It’s one of those Tom Clancy-like affairs that are believable enough due to the research to sell you on the ridiculous story itself.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is a continuation of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series based on one of the sequels not written by Stieg Larsson, whose death stalled what had been projected as an ongoing series, with a new writer hired to take over when materials Larsson left behind became ensnared in estate battles. The reviews have been fairly terrible, but this is a state-of-the-art action film with Claire Foyle excellent as Lisbeth Salander, for whom a resonant back story is created. The excellent score by Roque Baños and cinematography by Pedro Luque serve director/co-screenwriter Fede Alvarez well in creating a 21st Century James Bond feel. The Rotten Tomatoes score is 44%, which is nonsense. Any suspense/action/espionage fan will enjoy this, and if the reviewers manage to sink this reboot, they should be ashamed.

The weakest – but still worthwhile – of the three films we saw recently is Overlord, which has an 81% score from Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting how poor movie criticism has become in this country. We saw it on Veteran’s Day, which got some dark laughter out of us, because this is a movie about how on D-Day a little ragtag group of GIs made the invasion possible by blowing up the place where a mad Nazi doctor (insane, not pissed) was creating super-soldiers by shooting up French villagers with super-serum. I can always have a good time watching Nazi soldiers get shot up (by bullets), and the GIs were well-portrayed. Beginning with the horror of war and segueing into horror film territory is something I can get behind, and the filmmakers largely pull it off. But there are problems of tone here. The unpleasantness of the violence could have used a touch of dark humor. Evil Dead minus humor is just a gore fest, after all. While I liked this movie with reservations, I came away with the opinion that Rotten Tomatoes has become a worthless resource. They give Hunter Killer a 38% Fresh score, by the way.

M.A.C.

Untouchable Letterman

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

The Blu-ray of Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is out now. It’s available at any of the usual suspects among Internet retailers, but Amazon has it for about ten bucks off ($15.69).

I’m very proud of this one, which makes a good companion to Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me. It is, in fact, what brought Brad and me together – he went to the play in Des Moines and saw Mike Cornelison perform the one-man show in person.

Mike is gone, for several years now, and I am so grateful that we were able to have this one last, great project with the actor who was the backbone of all of my indie film projects. Mike starred in Mommy, Mommy’s Day and Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market. He narrated my two documentaries, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop. He starred in two short films, one of which – “An Inconsequential Matter” – is a bonus feature on the Blu-ray. That short film was our last collaboration.

Whether, at my age, in the wake of some health issues, I can ever mount another film production is a question I can’t answer (Barb can – “NO!”). My other frequent collaborator, director of photography/editor Phil Dingeldein, is still raring to go. But I admit not having Mike on the team makes it tough to imagine.

For now, however, we have this fine Blu-ray, thanks to VCI Entertainment.

Treat yourself to this one, and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer….

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For reasons I’ve never really understood, one of the questions I am most asked is, “What are you reading?” And, of course, a more general version: “What do you read?”

Regular readers of this update/blog know that I read little contemporary crime fiction, because of my desire not to be influenced by anyone working currently and also the busman’s holiday nature of it. Barb and I do watch a lot of British crime series, which slakes my thirst for mystery narrative – I generally find Brit TV crime more compelling and just, well, better than the American variety. Recently we watched the third season of The Forgotten and the first season of Bodyguard, and both were outstanding (I buy these from Amazon UK).

I also watch a lot of vintage noir, catching up with things I have never seen that have become suddenly available (the very interesting The Man Who Cheated Himself, for example, now on Blu-ray) and revisiting things I haven’t watched in ages.

My reading tends to be in bed, for a half hour or hour before I attempt sleep (not always a successful endeavor). I usually read books about film or other aspects of pop culture, including biographies. Recently I read a good book on Randolph Scott’s key director, The Films of Budd Boetticher by Robert Knott. I also gobbled up Christmas Movies by Jeremy Arnold (a TCM book), which looks at such movies with nice little well-illustrated articles combining making-of info and critical assessment, including my favorites – It’s a Wonderful Life, the Alastair Sim Scrooge and the original Miracle on 34th Street. (I skipped certain later films that I had no interest in, like Home Alone and Little Women. Not all of the author’s selections seem like real Christmas movies to me. Die Hard?) [note from Nate: It absolutely is!]

The only novel I’ve read lately is Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel, co-author of Seven Days in May. I dug this out of my basement storehouse of old paperbacks when I learned it was now a collector’s item. The subject is a president of the United States who goes mad.

Now and then I read a book that serves to do more than just lull me to sleep in a pleasant way. Such a book is The Last Days of Letterman: The Final 6 Weeks. I would say it’s a book that I enjoyed more than any in my recent memory, and yet I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to pick it up.

I loved Letterman’s Late Night at NBC and am fairly sure I never missed an episode. Letterman’s wry, self-deprecating humor resonated with this Midwestern boy, and he peopled his show with guests ranging from oddball to brilliant. I could see Norm Macdonald one night and Andy Kaufmann the next. Pee Wee Herman (my pal Paul Reubens) was often a guest. Band leader Paul Shaffer, with his tongue-in-cheek show biz sensibility, was both funny and hip, an incredible musician who had hung out in Canada with SNL and SCTV stars-to-be. Dave showcased top-notch musical acts. For someone my age, this was the natural next step from Johnny Carson.

And I grew up on Carson, but also Jack Paar and even Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host. Our house was set up with my bedroom adjacent to where my father watched television; he often fell asleep, while I couldn’t due to the blaring TV and frankly didn’t want to, because I was listening to Allen or Parr or Carson. Sometimes, knowing my dad was likely cutting zee’s, I would go out there and sit on the floor right in front of the tube and watch till he woke up and shooed me back to bed. (I learned to write dialogue listening to old Dragnet episodes that way, as if they were radio shows, and of course they had been – Jack Webb came on at midnight after Carson signed off.)

So late night TV was a part of the fabric of my life. I remember dreaming about being a Carson guest some day – he was a Midwestern boy, too – and later I hoped I might get successful enough to be invited onto Letterman’s Late Show. Didn’t happen. Well, it sort of did. Stay tuned through the rest of this essay.

The Last Days of Letterman, written by Scott Ryan, hit me surprisingly hard. I realized that Letterman, of all the great late-night hosts I’d grown up with, was the most intimately, intricately woven into the aforementioned fabric of my life. He was on air for over thirty years. And for a long time, I never missed a show, including when he moved to CBS with the Late Show. I saw it all, for a long while, from Drew Barrymore dancing topless on Dave’s desk to Stupid Human Tricks, from Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” every year to Chris Elliot’s ongoing insanity. I also met Larry “Bud” Melman, Dave’s mom and her pies, Rupert Jee, Biff Henderson, and so many and so much more. For me a particularly memorable thing about Letterman and Late Show was the host’s love for Warren Zevon’s work and the way he and Zevon dealt with the latter’s oncoming death. Zevon’s advice to the rest of us is something I think of frequently, and did even before I (like Dave) had open-heart surgery: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

But at some point, probably around fifteen years ago, I started missing episodes. It began when a guest was announced – usually a sports figure – that I had no interest in. At some point politics had Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tempting me away, now and then, and finally regularly. Things evolved into my having to know that someone I was a fan of (Elvis Costello, for example) was going to be on Letterman for me to watch. And I would tune back into Dave, and bask in the familiarity of Dave and Paul’s effortless banter, and slip back into that comfy shoe of Late Show.

Funny thing is, what made Letterman and his show so comfy was how uncomfortable Dave himself seemed. He was embarrassed by his success. He always seemed like somebody just waiting to get found out and hauled off the stage. He was anything but comfortable in his skin. In a way Johnny Carson only pretended to be, Dave Letterman was us – particularly Baby Boomer boys like myself.

The genius of Scott Ryan’s book is the writer’s decision to focus on the final six weeks of this long-running show (and, let’s face it, Late Night and Late Show were one show). It gives Ryan a framework to discuss all the frequent guests, the famous show business figures who were indebted to Dave and (to Dave’s embarrassment) loved him. Ryan can look at the Top Ten List and various other running gags and traditions, in between describing each individual episode of those last six weeks and who was on and what happened.

Because the show is coming to its conclusion, there’s a sort of suspense-novel engine at play. How will Dave handle the loss of the thing that has been his life? How will the staff around him deal with the pressures of expectation for one special episode after another? How will Letterman endure the love fest that is being flung at him and smothering him into full-throttle embarrassment? Did anyone in bigtime show business ever deal so poorly with praise?

The second stroke of genius in this fine book is Ryan’s decision to tell the story as an oral history. He gets interviews not from Dave and Paul (who would never cooperate, of course, but Ryan seems not to have bothered approaching them) but to the army those two generals commanded. We hear from the officers – directors and producers – and from the grunts – stagehands and bookers. We experience the war of those last six weeks from the trenches. And it’s fascinating. And strangely moving.

As I say, I had not been regularly watching Letterman. I didn’t see the final episode. I think I caught one or two of the shows during that last six weeks. But here’s the thing – as I read about these episodes that I had missed, they nonetheless played in my mind as if I had. I was so familiar, so much a part of the Letterman experience, that a few words could blossom in my imagination into the feeling that I had indeed seen them…or maybe I should say, knew them.

Letterman is my age, more or less. We are Midwestern boys. I’ve had a little success and am not at all embarrassed about it, though mixed in with my egotism is some of that self-deprecation that Letterman – a huge success and extremely embarrassed about it – is so successful at conveying. Again, he also had open-heart surgery. He seemed to like a lot of the same things I did – Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, Darlene Love – and he introduced me to the pleasures of Norm Macdonald, Chris Elliott, and Amy Sedaris. He also gave us new sides of superstars like Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Tom Hanks.

Speaking of Tom Hanks.

This is the closest I ever got to being on Letterman, and frankly it was enough. Okay, almost enough. Dave made it clear, usually when Hanks was a guest but other times too, that he loved Road to Perdition. That got my attention. I talked to the TV and raised my hand like a kid in class.

“Dave! I wrote that! Not the movie, but the book – you could ask me what a graphic novel is! You could call it a ‘funny book’ and make me smile in embarrassment, because you are a Midwestern boy! And so am! Dave! I’m right here!”

As it happens, not long after, I began to leave the fold. I decided that watching talk shows (and I don’t watch any now, though I know Colbert, Fallon, Conan and others are worthwhile) was ultimately an ephemeral waste of time. I stopped watching Colbert when, at the Second City reunion, he refused to sign an autograph (I am a petty fucker). And even Stewart faded away for me, when some of his recurring players went off to have careers. I started watching a movie on DVD and later Blu-ray at night, in the talk-show time slot, wanting to catch up with old films noir and various terrible movies for which I have an inexplicable affection.

Reading The Last Days of Letterman gave the Late Show back to me. Those last six weeks, anyway. If you are or ever were a Letterman fan, you are in for a bittersweet treat.

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This review of Scarface and the Untouchable has a peculiar headline, but the piece itself is fine.

Finally, here’s a great review of Kiss Her Goodbye, a Mike Hammer by Mickey and me.

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.

An Old White Man Speaks (Reluctantly)

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018

I don’t like falling into the Old White Man category, but the facts (remember them?) seem to make my membership in that sad club mandatory.

And I really don’t want to talk politics, and I don’t intend to talk directly about it, exactly…but my brain just won’t give me anything else to talk about right now.

I’ve mentioned before that I used to accept all “friend” requests on Facebook, because I viewed anyone interested in me as either a current or potential reader, aka customer. But because of the vile political rants that often came to me through that door, I now only accept people whose names I recognize. Apologies.

On Facebook, I look at posts in groups I’ve joined having to do with illustration, comics, movies and other quirky interests of mine. I look at my “feed” (or whatever it is) maybe every couple of weeks. So I no longer regularly follow the fun things that friends post about themselves and their families – it’s the price of avoiding the horror of what people think.

So lately I have mostly posted stuff about my band, including links to performances, and links to reviews and interviews with me (and often A. Brad Schwartz, since Scarface and the Untouchable is still out there doing well). Yet my brain urges me to talk politics and current events. I want to swat my head with a rolled-up newspaper – Bad brain! Bad!

Here’s the thing. I have friends and business associates (and sometimes those categories overlap) who are firm Trump supporters. I also have readers who fall into that category, and (as noted above) they are customers, who I would not care to anger and irritate. Call me a coward if you like, but I relish being able to make a living.

But I want to wade in, just a little. I consider myself a centrist, if somewhat left of center. Back in the days of the Ms. Tree letter column, pre-Facebook by decades, I would express my views on a subject – abortion comes to mind – and receive hate mail from both the left and right, from those who could not process the notion that I did not approve of abortion, thought it was probably a sin (if you believe in that kind of thing), but still felt it should be legal, because who am I to foist my opinion on what a woman wants to do with her body?

When you stand in the middle of the road, that gives traffic coming from both ways an equal opportunity to run you down.

Where we are now is that we essentially have three political groups – two parties and an unruly center – who define themselves as republican, democrat or independent. There are major divides within those groups, of course, but more and more people are calling themselves independent because of frustration with both Coke and Pepsi. The problem with declaring yourself independent politically is that in most states you can’t vote in primaries. That means the hardcore republicans and democrats get to pick their candidates, which means one extreme meets another extreme at the ballot box, and many independents feel very frustrated by the choices presented them.

A good friend of mine from high school – the very definition of an independent thinker – told me he had not voted for president last time. He thought Trump was an idiot, but he despised Hillary Clinton. So nobody got his vote.

What I said to him was, “John!” (Let’s call him John.) (After all, it’s his name). “John! The lesser of two evils is still less evil.”

So let me boil down, as someone in the middle, what I think is the biggest problem we face.

Everybody who leans left, whether considering themselves democrats or progressives or independent, needs to consider how good the republicans are at branding. At labeling. What the republican base loves about President Trump is that he “tells it like it is.” But any objective look at the man would tell you he is a liar, possibly a pathological liar. The genius is in the labeling. The other day Trump made up a bill about immigration – made it up, my friends, it doesn’t exist – and gave it a name and blamed it on the democrats. This is in a long line of genius manipulation of branding from the republicans. They are not Anti-Abortion, they are Pro-Life. Genius. When protestors swarm their offices, they call it “mob mentality.” They know that if you want to cut down trees, you call yourself the Tree Conservation Group.

Meanwhile, many democrats are starting to add “socialist” to their name. Bernie Sanders is a mover and shaker in the demo world, but he isn’t even a democrat. I would take him more seriously as a democratic candidate for the presidency if he were a damn democrat. Old White Males like me (on either side, or in my case in the middle of the divide) know that for many older people (say, forty up), “socialist” is a loaded word, like “fascist” or “Communism.” There are plenty of fascists out there on the right who are smart enough not to call themselves fascists. It takes a democrat to do something that dumb.

The right has to own up to the cruelty and falsehoods their leader espouses; they need to examine his pro-Russia stance and look at a lifetime of sketchy business success built on tax fraud and inherited wealth. The left needs to stop requiring purity of their candidates and focus on the shameful way women have been minimized, ignored and even ridiculed in this latest debacle, and then go with the best available choice.

I understand that people are tired of gritting their teeth when they vote for somebody. And I hate being practical. It’s more fun being right, and there is comfort in indignation. But being practical is often necessary.

The lesser of two evils is less evil.

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This past Saturday, Oct. 6, I was a speaker at the Iowa City Book Festival. I appeared on a fun panel about what authors read (and I revealed how little fiction I read these days) but also gave an hour talk to a nice crowd in a room at the Iowa City Public Library.

I was supposed to do a reading, but I wasn’t in the mood and instead gave an extemporaneous talk about my career, with an emphasis on my years at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop. Barb says I was out of control, but in a good way. I did get a lot of laughs, including from Barb.

It was recorded and I’ll share a link, if possible, on a future update.

Here’s another podcast about Scarface and the Untouchable with Brad and me.

And another.

Here’s info about the upcoming, revised Red Sky in Morning, now correctly titled USS Powderkeg.

Finally, here’s a nicely compact Scarface and the Untouchable review.

M.A.C.