For those of you who follow the ANTIQUES series (a.k.a. the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries) – written by Barb and myself, as Barbara Allan – you may be interested to know that we again have a Christmas-themed novella available as an e-book.
The new one is ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, but the previous two – ANTIQUES SLAY RIDE and ANTIQUES FRUITCAKE – remain available. Right now these are not available in “real” book form, though we hope someday a collection of them might be published (nothing in the works, though).
These are, as I mentioned above, novellas – not mere short stories. As such, they are challenging to write. Our usual brainstorming session must come up not only with a mystery that involves antiques in some fashion, but also a Christmas theme. Beyond that, each story can’t resemble any of the others. And as a novella is by definition a short novel, a lot more work goes into it than a short story.
ST. NICKED has a rather serious story beneath the holiday tinsel (not to mention a dead Santa Claus), and is perhaps the scariest of any of the ANTIQUES tales. FRUITCAKE focuses on a local theatrical production in which Mother is of course involved. And SLAY RIDE centers around Christmas collectibles.
Another Christmas story, not by Barbara Allan, can be found in Otto Penzler’s generous BIG BOOK OF CHRISTMAS MYSTERIES. The “big” part of that title is well-deserved, as I am one of 59 stories (sharing space with the likes of Rex Stout, Agatha Christie and Ed McBain!). The book came out in 2013 but has already become a Christmas staple. My story – one of my favorites among my short stories – is “A Wreath for Marley.” (Some may recall that I developed a film script version called BLUE CHRISTMAS that has yet to be made.) “Marley” is a cross between (obviously) A CHRISTMAS CAROL and THE MALTESE FALCON.
Speaking of Christmas, here’s a replay from 2014 of my list of the Best Five Christmas Movies:
1. SCROOGE (1951). Alistair Sim is the definitive Scrooge in the definitive filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Faithful, scary, funny, unsentimental, sentiment-filled, flawless (except for a cameraman turning up in a mirror). Accept no substitutes, although the Albert Finney musical is pretty good.
2. MIRACLE ON 34th Street (1947). Hollywood filmmaking at its best, with lots of location shooting in New York. Edmund Gwen is the definitive, real Santa Claus; Natalie Wood gives her greatest child performance; John Payne reminds us that he should have been a major star; and Maureen O’Sullivan is a smart, strong career woman/working mother who could not be more glamorous. Admit to preferring the remake at your own risk.
3. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Heartwarming but harrowing, this film is home to one of James Stewart’s bravest performances and happens to be Frank Capra’s best film. Have you noticed it’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL from Bob Cratchit’s point of view?
4. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The great Jean Shepherd’s great movie that has turned, somewhat uncomfortably, into a cottage industry of leg lamps, Christmas decorations and action figures. Shepherd’s first-person narration has the snap and humor of Raymond Chandler, and the mix of cynicism and warmth is uniquely his. Plus, it’s a Christmas movie with Mike Hammer and Carl Kolchak in it.
5. CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) continues to grow in reputation, possibly surpassing the original film. Somehow the John Hughes-scripted third VACATION go-round manages to uncover every Christmas horror possible when families get together and Daddy tries too hard. It’s rare that a comedy can get go this broad, this over the top, and still maintain a sense that we’re watching a documentary about everything than can go wrong at Christmas.
This year I have no new Christmas movie finds to recommend (with one exception – stay tuned). A BILL MURRAY CHRISTMAS, essentially a movie (not a Christmas special as advertised), reunites him with director Sofia Coppola, whose LOST IN TRANSLATION helped send Murray into many a depressed middle-ager roles. Though it has occasional rewards, the film is glum and sad, and Murray sings many, many songs and wears out the gag of his over-the-top, off-pitch lounge singer. Basically, A BILL MURRAY CHRISTMAS is about a bunch of people stranded in a bar, doing karaoke, during a snowstorm. My son Nate – whose favorite movie is GROUNDHOG DAY (which is high on my list as well) – did not make it through this one. Proof positive that Murray, for all his protestations, was much, much better served by the late great Harold Ramis than by Coppola and even Wes Anderson.
You may recall, on my recent year-end movie wrap-up, that I listed THE NIGHT BEFORE as a film Barb and I walked out of. I suppose it’s possible that it redeemed itself in later reels, but I doubt it – like the MURRAY CHRISTMAS, this seems to be largely about people going from bar to bar and singing karaoke and drinking. Add in drug-taking, which leads to very unfunny sub-Cheech-and-Chong stuff, and it’s like being forced to drag yourself along with the worst friends in your life as they work very hard to have fun, and don’t. I am a Seth Rogen fan going back to FREAKS AND GEEKS – hell, I even like THE GREEN HORNET – but this is an embarrassing Yuletide misstep.
My one new recommendation, for those with a sick sense of humor: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY. This is a wonderful anthology film (though the stories are intercut, not one at a time) with William Shatner as an increasingly inebriated disc jockey who serves as part Jean Shepherd, part Crypt Keeper. This Canadian indie, from some of the ORPHAN BLACK creative team, is superior to the much bigger-budgeted (but not terrible) KRAMPUS. Krampus, the anti-Santa, is a major player in HORROR STORY, by the way.
Here’s a write-up about THE LAST LULLABY and the news that it’s currently streaming on Hulu.
Finally, here’s a brief but nice review of SUPREME JUSTICE from the same conservative reviewer who enjoyed FATE OF THE UNION (though we have to wade through the whole Glocks-don’t-have-safeties controversy.)