Showing posts with label action. Show all posts
Showing posts with label action. Show all posts

26 September 2018

Sharky


Burt Reynolds made his share of dogs, which he'd be the first to admit, but in 1981 he released Sharky's Machine, a rock-solid cop noir about dirty money and easy virtue.

John Boorman was originally signed. It had been nine years since Deliverance, the first picture anybody took Reynolds seriously in. But post-production on Excalibur ran long, and Boorman stepped away, telling Reynolds he should direct Sharky himself.

Burt Reynolds in mid-career, the early 1970's to the early 1980's, was Top Ten box office. He leveraged this into directing his first feature, Gator, in 1976. His second picture, The End, came out in 1978. Reynolds had optioned Sharky's Machine when it was published. He knew he had the chops. Now it was time to ante up.



This is a movie that begins with the first frame of the opening credits. Actually, it begins before the opening credits, because there's an eerie musical echo behind the Orion studio logo, then a fade to black, and then the first fade-in. A freeze frame, the color desaturated. An urban skyline, a tall glass-high-rise. The aerial shot tilts and opens up. Solo saxophone, bluesy, a little wistful. The string section, in a low register. Randy Crawford, her voice smoky, comes in slow, with the opening lyrics of 'Street Life:' "I still hang around/Neither lost nor found - " The single long shot keeps going, dipping closer to the ground, the camera in tighter, traveling left to right, picking up detail. Railroad tracks, a guy with a long, purposeful stride. Jump edit, with a simultaneous music cue, blam! the rhythm section kicking in, the horns. Cut to a sudden reverse, looking back up from a low angle, the camera now moving right to left, keeping pace with the guy's motion, his silhouette against the sky, the glass high-rise on the horizon behind him, distant, a world apart from his. And yes, the opening introduces Burt Reynolds.

First off, it's a virtuoso shot, done in the day before CGI. Secondly, it sets up - formally - a repeated visual effect, from high to low, from low to high. You're not at first aware of it. Then you begin to notice. Early on, there's a wonderful tracking shot, inside a stairwell. Sharky's been taken off Narcotics, and reassigned to Vice, below the salt. In fact, Vice is literally in the basement of the building. The camera backs down the stairs, below Sharky and his partner. A couple of flights down, his buddy tells him, This is as far as I go, people don't come back, and Sharky goes on alone, but the camera turns behind him, so it's hanging back, looking over his shoulder.

Sharky's Machine has very conscious echoes of Laura, and Rear Window, but its deeper influence is the legend of Orpheus, themes of descent and ascending. The journey into Hades, the rescue of the beloved, once lost. The whore Dominoe is an innocent, and the tarnished Sharky the one in need of redemption.



Not that the movie's perfect, by any means. There's one near-fatal mistake, when Dominoe finds Sharky carving a rose into the wood trim of a window seat in the old house he's renovating, and Reynolds has one of those patented Aw, shucks moments that just makes you want to vomit. It almost breaks the spell entirely. Another incident, when Sharky confronts Hotchkins, the crooked candidate whose run for governor can be compromised by Dominoe, loses most its effectiveness because it's played in long-shot, and you don't hear what they say to each other.

Let's look at the strengths. Music supervision by Snuff Garrett. The score's orchestrated by Doc Severinsen, who goes uncredited. But we have both Chet Baker and Julie London doing 'My Funny Valentine,' not to mention incidental tracks by Sarah Vaughan and Joe Williams. The cinematography. William Fraker. Rosemary's Baby, Bullitt, Tombstone. The entire cast. Charles Durning. Brian Keith. Bernie Casey. Richard Libertini. Earl Holliman. Vittorio Gassman. Henry Silva. Not to forget Rachel Ward, either.

What characterizes the picture, in a curious way, is restraint. Considering how much of it is over the top, and how repellent the material could easily be, Reynolds gives it a genuinely human dimension. When he does dial up the shock, it's all the more chilling for not seeming forced or calculated so much as necessary and immediate.

Sharky's Machine was Burt Reynolds' high-water mark. He tried again with Stick, and the movie tanked. It was his last major picture as a director. He later admitted he thought he could always come back to it - he directed a number of episodes for his series, Evening Shade - but time had passed him by.

In one of his last interviews, he said he didn't have any regrets left. I think he meant, not that he had none, but that he'd used them all up. He didn't need to spare any over Sharky's Machine. You could take that guy to the bank and get change back.



12 September 2018

In The Corner


Ever painted yourself into a corner? Writers obviously set targets, like a page count or a due date, or decide on a specific setting or circumstance, maybe a card game, or Elizabethan London, or a child's narrative POV - and then of course we move the goalposts. I'm thinking more particularly of stepping into a snare of your own devising, creating a problem you didn't know you had.
Writing's an obstacle course. And one of the things you learn early on is that you can't leave stuff out, you can't skip something because you think nobody will notice. This is obvious if we're talking about forensic detail, say, but less so when it requires us to bring more to the game. We all play to our strengths, and have lazy habits of mind, or avoidance mechanisms. It's about the comfort zone. 

For example. I first blocked out my spy story "Cover of Darkness" a very long time before the end result saw print. We're talking years. Partly, it was cold feet. I wasn't even entirely sure I wanted to write about the Cold War, and my time in Berlin, and I had a handy alibi, because I knew I was crossing the line between inside information and actual classified material. But the real stumbling block was my own skill level. The set-up for the story - the rainy tarmac, the stuffy car, the security, the briefing - was all very fluent. The  problem was, once the story really starts, once McElroy makes the dive into the icy river, everything takes place underwater. It was claustrophobic, there was no dialogue, it was all physical description. I broke it up a little, of necessity, but the basic story is one long action scene. It was a toughie.

Another story, "Winter Kill," stopped me a third of the way in, because I'd written myself into an impossible box. I had a murder victim, a cold case, skeletal remains, but no ID on the victim. How do you pin it on somebody? Doyle claimed that the Holmes stories were written back to front, he knew going in what Holmes would deduce, so it was a matter of reversing the plot. In my case, I don't think I've ever known going in how a story would turn out. The work-around, in "Winter Kill," is that I blinked. I realized it couldn't be made to happen, and I came up with a way to narrow the possibilities, and put a history to the bones. In other words, I fudged it.

I've talked before about the sex scene in my novella Viper. This is an example where there wasn't any work-around. I put my head in the lion's mouth. I hadn't planned it that way, by any means, but as the story took on shape and momentum, the inevitability loomed. And it had to be full-frontal, it couldn't happen off-stage. I've speculated previously that I did this accidentally on purpose, just to see if I could navigate the rapids.

I'm wrapping a Benny Salvador story now called "Second Sight," and I've hit a snag right at the end. The question isn't what happened, but how to explain it - more exactly, how not to explain it, how to paper over the details because the truth will do more injury than a comforting lie. There's the moral issue involved, Benny being pretty much a straight arrow, and a part of him knows he owes an honest account, but the lie will own him. And then we have the actual mechanics. How do I manage this convincingly?

This last is a different kind of obstacle from the ones I've outlined above, and of course that's the point, that each of them presents a new, and individual, difficulty. The specific, not the generic. I'm perfectly ready to entertain the notion that we're testing ourselves, pushing the boundaries, raising the bar. That it's a contest, or even a contact sport, hand-to-hand combat, wrestling an intransigent syntax to a weary draw. Or is it simply the quiet satisfaction of getting it right? No. There's more to it than that. There's that place we all know, where you get to say it out loud. Gotcha, you bastard.



26 March 2016

What to Eat When You Read (They let me off my leash again...)


I like to get in the mood, when I’m reading. Here’s my list of how to pair your nosh to your book:
Westerns
Riders of the Purple Sage. Cow country. This would suggest a certain menu. Steak, medium rare. Tempting, but hard to cut a steak while simultaneously holding a book and turning pages. Really, Mel Brooks had the right idea. Beans, and plenty of them. Make sure you’re NOT reading in public.

Chick-lit
Slipping into the realm of the unknown here. Chicks are slim young things, right? They would eat salad. I hate salad. Ergo…hand me a western.

Action-Adventure
The trouble with Bond-clone movies and books is you’re apt to spill your martini with all that racing around in the plot. Things blow up a lot in the action-adventure genre. This might suggest popcorn. But make sure you pop it before you eat it. Keep the explosions to your book. (Or switch to westerns.)

Horror
This is obvious. Ribs. Dripping with BBQ sauce.
Herself's personal additions: Cilantro and goat cheese <<shivers>>

Romance
Chocolate.

CanLit (Literature, for all you American types.)
It will be unusual, expensive, and unpalatable. You won’t “understand” why others think it is so good. Your palate has not been suitably developed to appreciate such fineness. Caviar. Escargot (it always sounds so much better in French.) Duck liver (you can look up the French spelling.) If you get beyond the first bite (er…page one,) Yay for you. Hard to read – hard to eat.

Mystery
Should be obvious, right? Chinese food! Get someone else to order it for you, so the mystery deepens.

Fantasy
Try to find Ambrosia. They really dig it on Olympia. If you can’t find that, substitute ice cream. (I know. You thought I was going to say wine. But my fantasy is ice cream with a suitably delicious Greek God-ling. Okay, he doesn’t have to be a God yet. Just young and Greek. Okay, this is slipping into erotica…

Erotica
Forget the oysters, artichokes, or other silly vegetable-type aphrodisiacs. (Fish is almost a vegetable. Trust me.) The answer is more chocolate. (Silly. That’s the answer to almost anything.)

Sci-fi
KIND nut bars. Okay, is the metaphor too obvious?

What to Eat if you’re a Writer:
Coffee.
And humble pie.

Melodie Campbell’s latest mob comedy, TheGoddaughter Caper, has just been released. It’s an offer you can’t refuse. Available at all the usual suspects.

12 December 2014

After Action Report


In my blog article back on February 28th, I mentioned my upcoming Surveillance Workshop which was to be conducted at the Long Beach Bouchercon on November 13,2014. Roughly, it was to be eight celebrity author "Rabbits" and eight teams of conference attendees being taught how  to follow those Rabbits.
So, on Thursday morning at the conference, the Rabbits got a one-hour briefing as to what they could and couldn't do. Their pictures and physical descriptions were taken and they were provided with maps of the playing area and a separate starting location for each of the eight Rabbits.

Diagramming the ABC Method
Early that afternoon, the Surveillance Team Members received a one-hour lecture on the ABC Method of Surveillance, were quickly divided into eight teams and were given maps of the playing area, plus 8x10 photos of their individual Rabbits and a location for where their Rabbit would be at starting time. Cell phones and hand signals were to be used as communication in place of radios. Because conference attendees other than players were allowed to sit in on the lecture and the debriefing, the room was packed, with others left standing in the hallway outside the door.

At 2:30 PM, the Rabbits were off and, just like reality in the world of surveillance, anything that could go wrong did. Once again, I was amazed at how many of these civilians could adapt to and overcome adverse situations on the street. Since I was the only one in possession of the Master Rabbit Plan, I manned the base of operations where those who lost their Rabbit could call my cell phone and find out where to relocate their Rabbit at fifteen minute intervals. The phone soon began to ring, beep, chirp, whatever it is that cell phones do these days.

By 4 PM, everyone returned to the conference room for the Debrief. Each Rabbit, followed by the captain of the team conducting surveillance on that Rabbit got a few minutes of microphone time to tell their side of the story. The laughter began. One team started out trailing a member of another surveillance team. Well, in their defense, she did look a lot like their Rabbit photo. A local business, Radio Shack, got talked into recharging one team member's dead cell phone so she could continue playing, while another team kept running into what soon became a very paranoid drug dealer. No doubt he has moved his street business to another part of town to calm his nerves.

Here are some excerpts from an article in Ransom Notes (a newsletter from a Sisters in Crime Chapter in California) as written by Evelyn Moore with contributions by Eileen Magill, both players in the workshop.

     Our team's rabbit dashed north up the main road, cut across street against the light and stopped to talk with another rabbit under a yellow awning on the northwest corner. I raced up to the southeast corner and did my best to hide behind a palm tree. Ducking and weaving back and forth to avoid our rabbit's ever-scanning eyes, I attracted the notice of another sort. My attention was so intent on the rabbit that I didn't notice that I was standing outside the main entrance to a bank, and the security guard was not pleased with my furtive behavior.

     The tap on my shoulder nearly made me jump out of my skin. I was so rattled , I wasn't quite sure what he said to me, but the tone of his voice was rather harsh. I realized how bad the whole situation looked. The only things I had in my bag were multiple changes of clothes and disguises. No ID. Nothing to say that I was taking part in an exercise with Bouchercon. Gosh, nothing suspicious here. He did not look convinced when I described the exercise. Well, as they say, a good defense is a strong offense. When he told me to look at him--which would have meant turning away from my rabbit--I told him, "Sure, but you'll need to watch my rabbit for me," and then described the man I was watching.

     About this time, one of the members of the other team that was following the rabbit that my rabbit was meeting sidled up to the electrical box a few feet to my north. The guard looked back and forth between us, rolled his eyes, and disappeared back into the bank.

                                                     *      *       *

     At one point, while our rabbit was spending a long time under that yellow awning, I was on the other side of the street hiding in a doorway, or behind a large utility vehicle talking to Eileen on our cell phones while changing back and forth from my jacket to my sweatshirt. I noticed this woman who was also hanging out in my area. She was dressed in a provocative manner in a fancy black dress adorned with black roses and black lace. She kept glaring at me and I thought at one point she was going to come up and yell at me, but instead she angrily bustled away. It then occurred to me that she was perhaps what one would politely call "a lady of the night" and I was bad for business.

                                                       *      *       *

     I was also aware while running from one side of the street to the other that I needed to be very careful watching out for cars and buses. I didn't want my epitaph to read, "She got hit by a car while chasing a rabbit."

                                                        *      *       *

     At the end of the hour we followed our rabbit back to the hotel. We were certain that at several points he had made us, but were thrilled to find out during the debrief, that he hadn't. According to our rabbit Con Lehane, he had a good time but was "terribly disappointed that despite constant vigilance and innumerable evasive actions, I wasn't able to shake (or even see) you guys."

The SinC newsletter article afterwards concluded with hyperlinks to the four SleuthSayers blog articles I had written on surveillance tradecraft. These links allowed their SinC readers to obtain more information on how to conduct surveillance, both by foot and by vehicle, not to mention that it advertised our web site.

Other photos from the conference:
Eve, R.T. & Brian

Saturday panel on feds who write

View of the Queen Mary across the harbor at night

Making a podcast of AHMM story for editor Linda Landrigan

Old Russian sub berthed by Queen Mary (Ignore the people)

View from our room of Carnival Cruise ship & Queen Mary

23 May 2014

Shoot the Woman First


There's an ATF Agent I occasionally swap short stories with online. I met him at the Left Coast Crime Conference in Denver a few years back when we were both presenters at that conference. We soon found the two of us had a lot in common. Afterwards, we recommended new authors to each other and/or new books to read. A couple of months ago, he brought up the name of Wallace Stroby and suggested I try that author's later novels. I'd never heard of the guy, but decided to check out one of his books to see if he was worth reading.

First stop was Amazon for Kindle books, where I found Stroby had three novels in a new series: Cold Shot to the Heart, 2011, Kings of Midnight, 2012 and Shoot the Woman First, 2013. I was intrigued by the last title, wondering why the woman had to go first, especially since the series protagonist is female. I calculated that since this one was his latest work, then it would probably be his best and I would therefore soon know whether or not I was wasting my time. Turned out, I enjoyed the 2013 book so much that I felt compelled to go back and purchase the first two in the series. Since each book is a great stand alone read, yet builds on the one before, had I known they would be that good, I would have bought and read them in chronological order.

If you like action/suspense books written fairly true to the world of criminals, then you will enjoy Stroby's three novels with Crissa Stone as the main character in this series.

As Shoot the Woman First opens, Crissa is meeting with three men in a car on the streets of Detroit at night. Two of the men she has worked with on previous jobs. She trusts them as much as she trusts any criminal she gets involved with, which is to say that trust needs to get re-earned on every new job. The third man in the car is cousin to one of the first two men, and him she has real concerns about because he is a college kid, unproven in the criminal world. However, he is also the man with the needed inside information, so he's part of the crew or there is no job.

The four of them are having a discussion in a rented car on a street in the bad part of town while watching a drop car allegedly containing about a half million dollars of drug buy money in the trunk. Between them and the drop car is a vehicle with three armed gangsters whose duty it is to make sure the right people are the only ones to drive away in the car with all that cash.

You, as reader, are right on scene as Crissa devises a plan to distract and temporarily disable the three armed gangsters while the rest of the crew takes the buy money out of the drop car. The job goes as planned with only a couple of minor problems. It's an hour later that everything goes to hell. A corrupt, retired police detective is subsequently hired by the gang leader to find whoever stole his money. Conflicted with loyalty to certain partners and paranoia of who to trust, Crissa runs the tight wire of protecting herself and members of her family from the ensuing retribution.

Bottom line, all three books are good reads. And, if you want to find out why you shoot the woman first, you need to buy the book, or (according to the corrupt detective) you can ask a member of a counter terrorist team.

See ya again on Fortnight Friday.