Thursday, January 28, 2010

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes

Like most people my age, I grew up a huge fan of Calvin & Hobbes. I can still remember the day the last strip ran and feeling how much I was going to miss the strip. Recently I started hearing about a new book that tells the story of the rise and ultimate success of C&H.

Author Nevin Martell recently did a book signing in the Pittsburgh area to promote his book. There's a nice little promo piece in the Post-Gazette which tells more of the story of how Martell tracked down people who knew Bill Watterson for interviews for this book. You can read it here.

Just for kicks, here's a random strip to help get you through the day:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Justified Poster

I just saw this poster for the new FX show Justified, based on an Elmore Leonard short story. All I can say about it is "Badass!"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Film Noir Week in Review

Saturday was the end of Leonard Maltin's Film Noir week. It started off with a bang, then tapered off as the week went on. There is no arguing that The Big Sleep, Laura, and Double Indemnity belong on the list. I am quite shocked by a couple omissions (hope they show up later in the year).

If I were putting the list together, I'd drop Mullholland Dr. and put The Maltese Falcon in its place. I haven't seen Blood and Wine, but I'd drop it to add the stellar Out of the Past starring Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas.

Anybody have suggestions of other noirs that should've been showcased?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gun Crazy (1949)

GUN CRAZY is a justly famous 1949 film noir which seems to break all Hollywood conventions of the period, as John Dall falls in lust with sideshow sharpshooter Peggy Cummins, and they embark on a life of crime. Sensual, surprising, and memorable.

Another one I haven't seen, but I've heard a lot about this one. I've wanted to see it for a while, but it never seems to run on Turner Classic Movies. I guess this is the time a NetFlix subscription would come in handy.

Friday, January 22, 2010

MST3K Friday: Quickes 2

Christopher Robin decided on a diabolical plan to kill Pooh.

Blood and Wine (1997)

Jack Nicholson reunited with his Five Easy Peaces pal, director Rob Rafelson, for a deliciously low-key film noir called BLOOD AND WINE. Sexy Jennifer Lopez is his girlfriend, Judy Davis is his wife, and best of all, an oily Michael Caine as his partner in crime.

Not only have I not seen this one, but I haven't even heard of it. Since Maltin is a little skimpy on plot summary, Here's what imdb has to say:

Nicholson is a wealthy wine dealer who has distanced himself from his wife with his philandering and from his son with his negligence. After he steals a diamond necklace with the help of a safecracker partner, Victor, things start coming apart. His wife sets out to interrupt what she thinks is another one of his weekend dalliances, but is really his trip to pawn the jewels.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Filmmakers struggle to make film noir work nowadays, but Tay Garnett dit it - with all sorts of censorship restrictions - in his 1946 production of James M. Cain's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, with Lana Turner as the seductress who ensnares James Garfield. It still crackles today.

I've seen it, but don't really remember it. Not sure if that's an indictment of the movie or of my shoddy memory.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

A plucky young actress arrives in Hollywood and tries to solve the mystery of an amnesiac woman's identity. MULHOLLAND DR. is hypnotic, with full-bore Lynchian strangeness, loaded with the director's trademark visual fetishes and unexplainable dream logic, anchored by a knockout performance by Naomi Watts.

I saw this movie for the first time in December. I know it's cliche, but my first thought after seeing it was "That's two and a half hours of my life I'll never get back." I really wanted to like the movie, but couldn't. The movie takes so many unexplainable turns that even the "it's all a dream" theory can't explain the inconsistencies. Maltin's plot description is even wrong. If it was about a young actress who tries to solve the mystery of an amnesiac's identity, that would be one thing. But that's not the movie at all. In some places director David Lynch's visual flair is breathtaking and others it feels like a film school graduate trying to show off.

After three great noirs, this is the first of Maltin's picks that gets my "Must Skip" rating.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Laura (1944)

Fascinating and witty, LAURA is a classic mystery starring gorgeous Gene Tierney as the subject of a murder plot and detective Dana Andrews trying to assemble the crime puzzle. Clifton Webb is a standout as a cynical newspaper columnist and Vincent Price gives his finest nonhorror performance as a suave Southern gigolo.

One thing Maltin doesn't mention is that this film was directed by Otto Preminger. The plot is made even more twisty by the fact that the first half (or more) of the picture is told primarily through flashback. After a while, we learn that the narrator of the story (Webb's Waldo Lydecker) isn't the most objective person when it comes to Laura.

So far, Maltin's "Must See" movies is living up to its title.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Double Indemnity (1944)

For many the quintessential film noir, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is an American movie classic, with crackling dialogue throughout. [Director Billy] Wilder and Raymond Chandler's script (from the James M. Cain novel) pack fireworks into the account of insurance salesman [Fred] MacMurray lured into a murder plot by [Barbara] Stanwyck's alluring housewife.

Maltin's picked another winner. This is one of the few times early in his career that MacMurray played a villain. You also have Edward G. Robinson playing against type as the tireless insurance investigator who eventually unravels the plot. The scene where MacMurray first meets Stanwyck could be used as a master class for both directors (the shot of Stanwyck entering the room) and writers (the dialog about speeding tickets). This one is not to be missed.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Big Sleep (1946)

THE BIG SLEEP, from Raymond Chandler's first novel, stars a perfectly cast Humphrey Bogart as private eye Philip Marlow. The mystery is so complicated that neither Chandler nor director Howard Hawks could fully explain it - but it's so entertaining it doesn't really matter.

Maltin starts off with a bang with one of my favorite films noir. This is probably the only movie that I own multiple versions of - the official release and the 1945 pre-release cut. They're different in that the official cut has a lot more scenes with Bogart and Lauren Bacall (who Bogie married shortly after filming) to play up their very obvious chemistry. Fans of Chandler, Bogart, noir, and, hell, movies in general MUST see this flick.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Film Noir Week

One of the gifts I got for Christmas was Leonard Maltin's Must See Movies of 2010 calendar. Next week is Film Noir Week. Every day has a capsule review of a classic film noir. As a noir (and movie) buff, I can't wait. Each day as I peel off the calendar, I plan to post Maltin's review of the movie plus (if I've seen it) my own two cents. Should be fun.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robert Crais on The First Rule

I don't often listen to "Between the Covers" with John J. Miller, but I had to check out this week's installment. Miller interviews author Robert Crais on his latest book The First Rule. It's the second Joe Pike novel from Crais, who is more famous for his Elvis Cole series of PI books.

I haven't read many Crais books, but I consider myself a fan. Dave White recommended him to me a couple years back and I read L.A. Requieum - considered my many to be Crais's best book. I quite enjoyed it and started to work my way through Crais's back catalog.

So if you're a Crais fan, take a listen to the interview.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Two For The Money, by Max Allan Collins

Two for the Money is Hard Case Crime’s reprint of Max Allan Collins’s first two Nolan novels. The first novel, Bait Money, finds Nolan convalescing after a run-in with an operative from Chicago’s Outfit. Nolan’s getting tired and decides to reach out to an old Outfit contact to settle a sixteen year old dispute involving one of the local bosses. He’s given the opportunity to commit “one last heist” to pay off his debt and an inexperienced crew to pull off the job. The story follows the planning, execution, and short-term fallout of the heist.

Book Two, Blood Money, follows the more long term fallout from the heist. Nolan is now semi-retired and running an Outfit resort in the Midwest, no longer on the run or in the game. He receives word that an old friend (from the first book) is killed and their take from the heist is stolen.

If you couldn’t tell from the descriptions, Bait Money is a heist book and Blood Money is a revenge book. Hard Case Crime has done Collins a great service by reprinting these two in one volume. You can view Bait Money as acts one and two of the story and Blood Money as act three.

Collins himself admitted that Nolan started off as a rip-off of Donald Westlake’s Parker stories, but Collins rises above mere parody. The heist and action pieces are well done, but Collins shines in the quieter moments when the characters get to know each other better. Nolan is initially disdainful of his young, comic book-loving apprentice Jon, but as the story goes along, you can see Nolan starting to treat Jon as almost a surrogate son.

Collins is one of the most prolific authors we have these days. He’s also a master of pacing, language, and character. Mark this one down as recommended.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Money Shot, by Christa Faust

Angel Dare is a retired adult star and current owner of Daring Angels, a modeling agency. After an old friend entices Angel out of retirement for a one-time only gig with today’s hottest male star, she finds herself beat up, shot, left for dead, and framed for the murder of one of her closest friends. On the run, she turns to the only person who can help: her part-time agency security guy Lalo Malloy. Together, they work to clear Angel’s name and unravel a web of hustlers, adult entertainers, and sex traffickers.

Money Shot is a classic “running man” story made fresh with a female protagonist and setting it in the porn industry. As you can imagine, there are multiple scenes set backstage at video shoots. Rather than being lurid or titillating, Christa Faust writes these scenes through the world-weary, cynical (almost clinical) eye of Angel Dare – a woman who’s seen it all before.

As with stories of this type, there are twists and turns. Some are obvious, some are not. But Faust’s writing never descends into cliché territory.

The book’s not flawless, but still recommended for genre fans who don’t mind a little sex and violence in their pulps.

Friday, January 8, 2010

MST3K Friday: Patrick Swayze Christmas

It's a little late, but here's a nice little Christmas song written by Crow.

"Like a good action sequence don't belong at Christmas?"

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade

As it always is this time of year, we are inundated with Top 10 lists. Since it is 2010, we are also getting Best of the Decade lists (not going to listen to the argument that the decade actually ends December 31, 2010). So it wasn’t a surprise when I read a Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies of the Decade list at BSC Review. As my film noir cred has gone up, my sci-fi cred has gone down. I haven’t seen many of the movies, but they sound like they’re up my alley (the great Children of Men makes the list). One of the things that caught my eye was this paragraph at the end of the list:

A few interesting observations. None of these were high-budget films; several were made for about $5 million, and most […] for no more than $40 million. While some of them have recognizable actors, none of them have big stars who are a box office draw on the strength of their name alone. Yet, somehow, all of them are all quality films from a movie production standpoint–they are well-directed, well-acted, well-written, well-designed, well-constructed movies. They blow their big-budget counterparts out of the water in pretty much all of those ways, and to me that just sort of implies that SF is best left to those who truly love it, not those who are just trying to capitalize on a current trend.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that since these movies were made cheaply (by Hollywood standards), the creators had to focus more on story than spectacle. The classic sci-fi stories – both books and movies – are allegories. They always focused on the human elements, not the wiz-bang, golly-gee technology elements. Sci-fi movies from the 1950’s were all veiled stories about fear of atomic energy, communism, anti-communism, or anti-anti-communism. They mirrored our modern world, but in a fanciful setting that allowed the creators to say things they probably wouldn’t say in a modern story.

Another reason these movies may resonate is because the creators have to do more with less. I’m reminded of a quote from the great director Orson Welles about the theatre. He said, “I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won't contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That's what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.” Since the creators don’t have the resources for an all-out spectacle, they leave certain elements to the audience’s imagination. Sometimes what we come up with may be ten times more powerful than all the computers in Hollywood can render.

Perhaps that’s the heart of all good storytelling. Focus on story and character. Let the audience fill in some of the blanks. Make them an active participant. Not only sci-fi, but all movies will benefit from these ideas.

(In case anyone’s interested, two of my favorite sci-fi movies from the decade are Children of Men and Minority Report).