Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

04 December 2018

Twice Watched Tales

by Paul D. Marks

Some people I know only watch a movie once. Once they know how it ends they have no interest in seeing it again. Other people like to watch movies over and over. I fit in the latter category. If there’s a movie I like I can watch it over and over and over. Sometimes I get new things from it. Sometimes I just enjoy the ride. This list just touches the very tip of the iceberg for me and is also heavily weighted towards classics from the 30s and 40s, with only a handful of more “recent” movies and little or nothing from the last few years, ‘cause I have to wait and see what sticks. There are more esoteric movies that I like, but this is a list of movies that I like to watch over and over and can pretty much do so from any point in the picture. So, here’s some movies I’ve seen multiple times:

Sui Genris:

Casablanca – my favorite movie, bar none. What more can I say, except, I’m shocked. Shocked.


Film Noir: I don’t have the time or space to put them all in here, but almost all classic film noirs would be on this list.

Double Indemnity – The ultimate film noir imho. Covers all the bases.

     —Walter Neff: How could I have known that murder could  sometimes smell like honeysuckle?

     —Walter Neff: Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong. It sounds crazy, Keyes, but it’s true, so help me. I couldn’t hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.


Big Heat, The

Big Sleep, The

Blue Dahlia, The

Born to Kill – One of my favorites and has one of my favorite movie quotes of all time. It’s not said by either of the main characters, but by Walter Slezak, a sleazy private eye:

     Delivery Boy: My, that coffee smells good. Ain’t it funny how coffee never tastes as good as it smells.

     Arnett (Slezak): As you grow older, you’ll discover that life is very much like coffee: the aroma is  always better than the actuality. May that be your thought for the day.


Criss Cross

D.O.A. (original) – The ultimate high-concept flick…for my money

Dark Corner, The – Bradford Galt: There goes my last lead. I feel all dead inside. I’m backed up in a dark corner, and I don’t know who’s hitting me.

Dead Reckoning

Detour – Al Roberts: That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.

Fear in the Night

His Kind of Woman

In a Lonely Place – Tied for my second fave movie in any genre (with Ghost World, yes, I love Ghost World):

     —Dixon Steele: I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.

Kiss Me, Deadly – Much better than the book

Lady from Shanghai, The – Mirrors, what else can I say but mirrors?

Maltese Falcon, The – The schtuff dreams are made of.

Murder, My Sweet

Narrow Margin, The

Nightmare Alley

Out of the Past

Postman Always Rings Twice, The (original)

Scarlet Street

Somewhere in the Night

To Have and Have Not (which may or may not technically be noir)

Touch of Evil

Where the Sidewalk Ends

Woman in the Window, The


Thrillers and Neo Noir

Clockwork Orange, A

Devil in a Blue Dress

Die Hard

Final Analysis – Doesn’t get a great rating on IMDB, but I like it.

Fracture – So clever, so good.

Kill Me Again

Last Seduction, The

Malice

Pacific Heights – Creepy.

Pelican Brief

Red Rock West

Sudden Impact – My favorite Dirty Harry movie.

Taxi Driver

Vertigo (and most Hitchcock movies)


Quirky (for lack of a better term)

And Now My Love (Toute Une Vie) – Though I’ve heard horrible things about the DVD version, which I have, but can’t bring myself to watch,

Art School Confidential

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Ghost World – I can’t get enough of this movie.


Lilies of the Field

Sideways – Can’t get enough of this one either.

Soldier in the Rain – Based on the book by the late, great William Goldman.

Tender Mercies


Newer Classics

Chinatown

Godfather Movies – All 3, the third one’s not as bad as it seems initially and if someone besides Sofia Coppola had played that part it would “read” much better.

LA Confidential


Holiday Movies

Christmas Story, A

Miracle on 34th Street

Shop Around the Corner

(since I’m posting on Christmas Day, more holiday movies then)


Where Does This Fit?

Born Losers (John Floyd) – The movie that introduced Billy Jack, before he got too preachy. This one’s just a biker movie. How Billy got his start. When I was younger, I loved going to all the biker movies. That’s how I got introduced to Jack Nicholson before his breakout role in Easy Rider


Screwball/Classic Comedy

Awful Truth, The

Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer, The

Bringing Up Baby

His Girl Friday – Classic and hilarious

Holiday

Libeled Lady – This and Love Crazy below, both with William Powell and Myrna Loy are terrific.

Love Crazy

Monkey Business (Marx Brothers)

My Favorite Wife

My Man Godfrey

Philadelphia Story, The

Sullivan’s Travels

Thin Man series

To Be or Not to Be (original) – Proves you can laugh at Nazis, even at the time they were in power.

     —Colonel Ehrhardt: They named a brandy after Napoleon, they made a herring out of Bismarck, and the Fuhrer is going to end up as a piece of cheese!


Westerns

Monte Walsh (both versions)

Shootist, The – I put The Shootist out of alphabetical order because I see it as a pair with Monte Walsh, both about people who’ve outlived their time, a theme I like to explore in my own writing.

El Dorado

Shane – If I had to show one western to a Martian to show them what the genre is it would be this.


Science Fiction/Horror – Not a big science fiction or horror guy these days. Liked them more as a kid.

Dracula (Lugosi)

Forbidden Planet

Haunting, The (original)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (original)


The Beatles

A Hard Day’s Night

Help! – Help me if you can I’m feeling down…

Let It Be


Newer Comedy

After Hours

Can’t Buy Me Love – Even though it’s named after a Beatles song, which is played at the end, it’s got nothing to do with the Beatles, but it’s still fun.

In-Laws, The (original)

Manhattan

My Cousin Vinnie – One of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and no matter how many times I watch it I always laugh

Reuben Reuben – A treasure!

Sting, The


Musicals/Music:

Ramones: It’s Alive – Okay, maybe it’s not a musical per se, but it is music and ya gotta love The Ramones: “One, two, three, four…



Singin’ in the Rain

Wizard of Oz, The

***

I could go on forever, but I gotta stop at some point. So:

What about you? What movies do you like to watch over and over again?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

I'm thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

***


I’m also honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler. I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html .

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the Macavity Award at Bouchercon a few weeks ago. Wow! And thank you to everyone who voted for it.

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


17 November 2018

Strike Up the Band: Stories and Music


by John M. Floyd



As a movie lover and a music lover, I've always been intrigued by scores and soundtracks. I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the movies I like to watch over and over again are the ones that have what I think is good music. Maybe it's not of vital importance, but it sure helps. Italian director Sergio Leone once said, "It is the music that elevates a movie to greatness."


Masters and commanders

Like many of you, when I walk into a bookstore or go to Amazon.com, I find myself looking first for books by writers I'm already familiar with, writers I know I'll like reading. For me it's novelists like Nelson DeMille, Joe Lansdale, Carl Hiaasen, Greg Iles, Martin Cruz Smith, Lee Child, Nevada Barr, Stephen King, and several others. I have such confidence in those authors I know I'll probably enjoy whatever they write.

It's almost the same with film directors. There are some I like and respect, and when I see one of their names beside a movie, I'll usually watch it. Scorsese, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Carpenter, Joel and Ethan Coen, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, J. J. Abrams, Richard Donner, Frank Darabont, John McTiernan, and--believe it or not--Quentin Tarantino. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but not usually. I'm also especially fond of some composers: John Barry, John Williams, Carter Burwell, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Lalo Schifrin, Mancini, Zimmer, Herrmann, Morricone, Goldsmith, etc., etc.

Creative teamwork

If you're strange enough to be interested in that kind of thing, I'm sure you've noticed that some--if not most--directors choose to work with the same composers, again and again. And because I honestly couldn't think of anything else to write about today . . . here's a list of sixty of those collaborations, along with some of their resulting movies.

First, my top-ten favorite director/composer combinations:


1. Steven Spielberg / John Williams -- E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

2. Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone -- A Fistful of Dollars; A Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West; Once Upon a Time in America

3. Robert Zemeckis / Alan Silvestri -- Forrest Gump, Romancing the Stone, Contact, The Polar Express, Cast Away, Back to the Future

4. Alfred Hitchcock / Bernard Herrmann -- Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Wrong Man, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Psycho

5. David Lean / Maurice Jarre -- Doctor Zhivago, Ryan's Daughter, Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India

6. Blake Edwards / Henry Mancini -- The Pink Panther, A Shot in the Dark, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Peter Gunn, 10, The Great Race, Days of Wine and Roses

7. John Carpenter / John Carpenter -- Escape From New York. Dark Star, The Fog, Vampires, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween

8. M. Night Shyamalan / James Newton Howard -- Signs, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water, The Village

9. The Coen Brothers / Carter Burwell -- The Big Lebowski, Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, True Grit, Miller's Crossing, Fargo

10. Ron Howard / James Horner -- Apollo 13, Cocoon, Willow, Ransom, The Missing, A Beautiful 
Mind

If you're not fed up with all this by now, here are fifty more director/composer teams that might be familiar:

Tim Burton / Danny Elfman -- Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Beetlejuice, Batman
Michael Curtiz / Max Steiner -- Virginia City, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Mildred Pierce, Casablanca
Alfred Hitchcock / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Shadow of a Doubt, Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder
Frank Capra / Dmitri Tiomkin -- It's a Wonderful Life, Lost Horizon, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Howard Hawks / Dmitri Tiomkin -- Red River, Only Angels Have Wings, Rio Bravo
Joel Shumacher / James Newton Howard -- Falling Down, Flatliners, Dying Young
Lawrence Kasdan / James Newton Howard -- Wyatt Earp, Grand Canyon, French Kiss, Mumford
John Huston / Alex North -- The Misfits, Under the Volcano, Prizzi's Honor
Sam Peckinpah / Jerry Fielding -- The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, The Getaway
James Cameron / James Horner -- Avatar, Titanic, Aliens
Edward Zwick / James Horner -- Glory, Legends of the Fall, Courage Under Fire
Sydney Pollack / Dave Grusin -- Three Days of the Condor, Absence of Malice, The Firm, Tootsie
Stanley Cramer / Ernest Gold -- On the Beach, Inherit the Wind, Ship of Fools
Tony Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Days of Thunder, True Romance, The Fan, Crimson Tide
Christopher Nolan / Hans Zimmer -- The Dark Knight, Inception, The Man of Steel, Dunkirk
Ron Howard / Hans Zimmer -- Backdraft, The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, Inferno
Ridley Scott / Hans Zimmer -- Thelma and Louise, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Gladiator
Penny Marshall / Hans Zimmer -- A League of Their Own, Renaissance Man, The Preacher's Wife
Gary Marshall / John Debney -- The Princess Diaries, Valentine's Day, Raising Helen
Paul Mazursky / Bill Conti -- An Unmarried Woman, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto
John G. Avildson / Bill Conti -- Rocky, The Karate Kid, Lean on Me, 8 Seconds
Clint Eastwood / Lennie Neihaus -- Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Unforgiven
Peter Jackson / Howard Shore -- the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbitt trilogy
David Cronenberg / Howard Shore -- The Fly, Crash, A History of Violence
Martin Scorcese / Howard Shore -- Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Hugo
Martin Scorcese / Elmer Bernstein -- The Grifters, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence
Robert Mulligan / Elmer Bernstein -- To Kill a Mockingbird, Love With the Proper Stranger
Evan Reitman / Elmer Bernstein -- Ghostbusters, Stripes, Animal House
George Roy Hill / Elmer Bernstein -- Hawaii, Slap Shot, Funny Farm. Thoroughly Modern Millie
J. J. Abrams / Michael Giacchino -- Lost, Fringe, Alias, Star Trek, Super 8
Billy Wilder / Andre Previn -- Irma La Douce; Kiss Me, Stupid; The Fortune Cookie
Billy Wilder / Miklos Rozsa -- Double Indemnity, Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend
Don Siegel / Lalo Schifrin -- Dirty Harry, Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Charley Varrick
Kenneth Branagh / Patrick Doyle -- Hamlet, Henry V, Sleuth, Dead Again
Mel Brooks / John Morris -- Blazing Saddles, Spaceballs, Young Frankenstein
Cameron Crowe / Nancy Wilson -- Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, Jerry Maguire
John Milius / Basil Poledouris -- Red Dawn, Flight of the Intruder, Conan the Barbarian
Franklin J. Schaffner / Jerry Goldsmith -- Planet of the Apes, Patton, Lionheart, Papillon
Joe Dante / Jerry Goldsmith -- Gremlins, The Burbs, Innerspace
Robert Aldrich / Frank De Vol -- The Flight of the Phoenix, The Longest Yard, The Dirty Dozen
Bryan Singer / John Ottman -- The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns, Jack the Giant Slayer
Mark Rydell / John Williams -- The Reivers, The Cowboys, The River, Cinderella Liberty
Oliver Stone / John Williams -- JFK, Nixon, Born on the Fourth of July
Irwin Allen / John Williams -- The Towering Inferno. Lost in Space, The Poseidon Adventure
George Lucas / John Williams -- Star Wars episodes I, II, III, and IV
Sam Mendes / Thomas Newman -- Skyfall, American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Jarhead
Steven Soderbergh / David Holmes -- Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight, Haywire, Logan Lucky
Peter Weir / Maurice Jarre -- Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Year of Living Dangerously
Anthony Harvey / John Barry -- The Lion in Winter, They Might be Giants. The Glass Menagerie

And #50: I'm cheating here, but composer John Barry teamed with four different directors (Guy Hamilton, Terence Young. Lewis Gilbert, and John Glen) for the following James Bond scores: Goldfinger, Thunderball, From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Diamonds Are Forever, and The Man With the Golden Gun.

There are of course many other collaborations, both foreign and here at home, but these are the ones that came to mind.

Trivial matters 

In looking around for this director/composer information, I found the following little-known (to me, at least) facts:

For Sergio Leone's movies, his former schoolmate Ennio Morricone usually wrote the score first and then Leone shot the film to fit the music, rather than doing it the other way around.

Besides John Carpenter, several directors have served the double-duty of also composing the music for some of their films. Among them are Clint Eastwood and Anthony Hopkins.

When John Williams first played the Jaws theme on his piano, Spielberg burst into laughter and thought it sounded ridiculous. Two years later, Williams went through 300 versions of the five-note Close Encounters theme before Spielberg was happy.  (Mostly, though, they seem to agree: They've made 28 movies together.)

Bernard Herrmann served as "sound consultant" on Hitchcock's The Birds, which used electronic bird noises instead of music. (More on this in a minute.)

Danny Elfman composed the music for Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas AND sang Jack Skellington's singing parts.

Max Steiner composed 11 other film scores the same year he scored Gone With the Wind.

Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard shared composing duties for some of The Dark Knight. Zimmer wrote the themes for the Joker, and Howard wrote the themes for Batman.

Henry Mancini composed the music for 38 movies and TV series for director Blake Edwards.

Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri decided not to have any music at all during the entire time Tom Hanks was stranded on the island in Cast Away. The score begins only when the castaway sails away. (Other well-known films had no music: Rope, Fail-Safe, Dog Day Afternoon, etc.)

John Williams is the most Oscar-nominated person alive today (51 nominations). His 1977 Star Wars score remains the highest-grossing instrumental-only soundtrack of all time.

James Horner said, about his score for Titanic, "I probably wrote all the material in about three hours. The themes literally came to me in twenty minutes."



Questions

What are your favorite story/music collaborations? Do you ever choose movies based on the director, or even the composer? If so, does that ever backfire? I can think of a few big mistakes I've made, using that approach (Exorcist II, Batman & Robin, The Last Airbender, etc.). Are you a film-score fan, or does the music in a movie not matter that much to you? Do you ever find yourself humming theme music instead of "real" songs?

Wait--is that a fin I see in the water? DUMdumDUMdumDUMdum . . .





17 October 2018

Based on an Untrue Movie

by Robert Lopresti

When the movie American Animals  came to town this summer it was pretty much foreordained that I would see it.  The subject is attempted theft of rare books from a college library, a subject with which I am not unfamiliar.  In fact, the flick was based on an event I had already blogged briefly about.

To summarize,  four college students decided to get rich by stealing some valuable books from the Special Collections room at the library of Transylvania University in Kentucky.  Their planning technique consisted mostly of getting drunk/stoned and watching heist movies.  The resulting event  was a disaster and about the only positive things you can say about it are: 1) The victims did not suffer lasting physical damage, 2) No books were destroyed, and 3) All four of the fools went to prison.

The movie is worth seeing but I want to bring up one specific complaint about it.  It begins by pompously announcing that: this isn't based on a true story; it is a true story.

And, of course, it ain't.

The gimmick that makes American Animals unique is that while the main part of the story is carried out by actors, it also contains interviews with the actual culprits, and sometimes even shows the same scene more than once, to reflect the version of whoever is talking.  It's clever and interesting, but like I said, you are not seeing a true story.

I have complained before about a better movie that played fast and loose with the facts.  So call me a serial grumbler.

The important things that American Animals got wrong, as far as I am concerned, involved (surprise!) librarians.  The burglars in the movie showed much more concern about harming the rare books librarian than their real life counterparts did.  And the "true story" completely erased the library director who put herself in harm's way to try to stop the theft.  Maybe she didn't give the producers permission to include her?  I don't know but leaving her out was not the truth.

A few more questions and I am not the first person to ask them: If instead of white suburban guys the crooks had been African-American urbanites would this movie have been made?  If so would the script have tried so hard to show them as Good Boys Gone Wrong?  Hell, would they have even survived their arrests?

Unanswerable, of course.

By coincidence I just rewatched another movie based on a true story, one I liked better than American Animals or Argo.  The Informant! concerns Mark Whitacre who is apparently the highest executive to ever voluntarily turn whistleblower about his company's wrong deeds.  In the 1990s Whitacre was a biochemist and high-paid executive for ADM, one of the world's largest food processors.

And he told an FBI agent that his company was involved in an ongoing world-wide conspiracy to fix the prices for corn syrup, which finds its way into everything. As one agent says in amazement "Every American is a victim of corporate crime before he finishes breakfast."  So Whitacre agrees to wear a wire.

This sounds like we are building up to a dark brooding movie with heart-pounding suspense.  That's not what we get.  The flick is full of bright colors and Illinois sunshine and most of the time Whitacre seems to be having a marvelous time doing his spy gig.  At one point he shows his secret recorder to a virtual stranger and explains that he is Secret Agent Double-oh-fourteen "because I'm twice as smart as James Bond!'

Whitacre often provides a running narration on events, which is not surprising.  But his narrative almost never relates to what's going on.  As he is about to plot price-fixing with fellow executives he tells us: "I think I have nice hands.  They're probably my favorite part of my body..."

By now you may have the idea that Whitacre was not playing with a full corn silo.  In fact, as near as I can tell the place where the movie may depart most from the facts is in choosing to show us whether he was crazy from the start, or cracked under pressure.  (As his lawyer points out, FBI agents going undercover get training on coping with a double life.  All Whitacre got was a recorder and a firm handshake.)

I have simplified the story considerably.  The complications are what makes it so fascinating.  I loved watching Scott Bakula and Joel McHale playing FBI agents looking on in stunned horror as shoe after shoe after shoe drops on their case.

One person who seems to have had a wonderful time with this movie is composer Marvin Hamlisch.  In keeping with the spirit of the film, his music usually has nothing to do with the plot of the film.  When a character is taking a lie detector test the accompanying music is -- a square dance?

In closing, let me just wish that if they make a film of your life it has a happy ending.

13 October 2018

The Fire, Baby....

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
I came of age as a writer in a brief and beautiful era of crime writing—fiction, cinema and television—during the terror that was the Bush years and the War in Iraq.  Many of the films are considered modern classics, Inside Man and Children of Men, The Departed and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But the one I continually come back to, from the soundtrack  on my laptop to the print hanging over my desk as I write this, is Sin City.

Based panel-by-panel on Frank Miller’s 1991-92 Dark Horse comic series, the 2005 Robert Rodriguez adaptation was the third piece of the trifecta that put me on my life of crime (fiction writing). Starring modern-noir veterans Mickey Rourke, Benicio del Toro, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Powers Boothe and Rutger Hauer, as well as Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Carla Gugino and a whole host of others, populating the fictional Basin City with corrupt cops, gold-hearted monsters, hardware-slinging hookers, crooked politicians and a cannibal or two.

06 June 2018

Holding tight or Letting Go


by Robert Lopresti 

Warning: I am going to quote/paraphrase a lot of authors from my own memory.  You are hereby warned that such lines may not be reliable.

Let's pretend that you are an author.  For some of you that will be easier than others.

Congratulations!  A big Hollywood studio just called you.  They are interested in one of your books.  They are excited, even.

And now you're excited too.  Large checks with many zeroes are magically floating over your head.  You tell them you are eagerly awaiting their contract. 

Wonderful, they say.  And then they happily tell you about their plans for your masterpiece.

Remember your main character, the brilliant Native American nuclear physicist?  Well, in the movie she will be a Swedish man who makes balloon animals for a living.  And the cancer cure everyone is hunting for?  In the flick it will be a box of honey-glazed donuts.  It's a creative thing.

Are you still eagerly waiting for that contract?  Will you sign it when it arrives?

Different authors take different views on this, naturally.

Sue Grafton (herself a reformed screenwriter) refused to let Hollywood take a shot on her Kinsey Milhone books and claimed that, for that reason, she was highly respected in that town.

J.K. Rowling allowed movies of her books but, as I understand it, kept a pretty tight leash on Warner Brothers.  The studio wanted to combine her first two books into one movie. and she refused.  Considering how much money they made off those flicks they should send a million dollars a year to her favorite charity.

At the other extreme you have James M. Cain.  Supposedly someone tried to sympathize with him about what Hollywood did to one of his novels.  He replied: "They haven't done anything to my book.  It's right there on the shelf."

On a similar note Elmore Leonard once complained about the film version of one of his novels and his friend Donald Westlake asked: "Dutch, did the check clear?"

The problem with Westlake's philosophy, alas, is visible on his IMDb page.  A lot of the movies  based on his books are terrible.*

One more author example.  When William Gillette was preparing to write a play about Sherlock Holmes he asked Arthur Conan Doyle what he was allowed to do with the character.  The author repled: "You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him."

And the mention of murder brings up our next topic.  How would you feel about someone writing new adventures for your character after you have passed on to your reward? 

When asked that question by his biographer, Rex Stout famously said, "Let them roll their own," meaning other writers should come up with their own characters. 

Lawrence Block said: "I’d prefer not having anybody mucking about with my characters after I’m gone, but when I’m gone it’ll no longer be any of my business. And, in the unlikely event that there’s an afterlife, I can’t imagine it’ll involve my caring much one way or the other."

On the other hand, we have the science fiction great Connie Willis, who said: "Other people have 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders.  I have 'No One Edits My Manuscript.'"

And that brings us to Charles M. Schulz who, arguably, is the teller of the longest single tale in known history.  He never let anyone so much as ink or letter the Peanuts strip, which was intensely personal to him.

When he was a wealthy old man his children gave him one gift money could not buy: the promise that once he chose to put down the pen no one else would ever write or draw the Peanuts comic strip.  And they stuck by their word.  The cartoons that have been running since his death are repeats, all straight from the master's hand.

And that's enough to make Snoopy do his happy dance.

*Yes, two movies Westlake wrote, The Grifters and The Stepfather, were very good.  But they weren't based on his books.

31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera


by John M. Floyd



Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.


Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.


That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.







03 March 2018

Let's Hear It for Heroines


by John M. Floyd



There's been a lot of talk lately about strong female characters, both in movies and books. A recent USA Today article by Maria Puente says the number of movies with female leads dropped off a bit last year, but I think it's significant that the three top-grossing films of 2017--Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Wonder Woman, and Beauty and the Beast--did have female leads. (For what it's worth, I think I'm the only person in America who liked the live-action remake of Cinderella more than that of Beauty and the Beast.) Anyhow, as a male writer, reader, and viewer, I've decided to list some of my favorite movies and novels with female protagonists.

First, the movies. And please note: In the cases of shared male/female leads, I've tried to choose only those movies that I thought focused more on the female protagonist than the male, which excluded dozens of equal-attention-to-the-guy-and-gal favorites like Bonnie and ClydeWitnessDouble IndemnityBody HeatSleepless in SeattleWhen Harry Met SallyAn Officer and a Gentleman, etc.

The ones I enjoyed most are listed at the top, in each very loose category:


Adventure

Romancing the Stone -- Kathleen Turner
Star Wars: The Force Awakens -- Daisy Ridley
The Hunger Games -- Jennifer Lawrence
Kill Bill (1 and 2) -- Uma Thurman
Gravity -- Sandra Bullock
Wonder Woman -- Gal Godot
The River Wild -- Meryl Streep
King Kong (2009 version) -- Naomi Watts

Comedy

Amelie -- Audrey Tautou
Sixteen Candles -- Molly Ringwald
Ghost World -- Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson
9 to 5 -- Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton
Clueless -- Alicia Silverstone
The Devil Wears Prada -- Anne Hathaway
Miss Congeniality -- Sandra Bullock
Private Benjamin -- Goldie Hawn

Drama

To Kill a Mocklingbird -- Mary Badham
Out of Africa -- Meryl Streep
Gone With the Wind -- Vivien Leigh
Hidden Figures -- Taraji P. Henson, Olivia Spencer, Janelle Monae
Music of the Heart -- Meryl Streep
The Help -- Emma Stone
Juno -- Ellen Page
Winter's Bone -- Jennifer Lawrence

(I avoided listing some of the great "message movies" like Norma Rae, Erin Brockovich, and Silkwood. Besides, how many times should Meriyl Streep's name appear in any one list?)

Musical

Mary Poppins -- Julie Andrews
Calamity Jane -- Doris Day
The Sound of Music -- Julie Andrews
My Fair Lady -- Audrey Hepburn
The King and I -- Deborah Kerr
Annie -- Aileen Quinn
Flashdance -- Jennifer Beals
Funny Girl -- Barbra Streisand

Mystery/Crime

The Silence of the Lambs -- Jodie Foster
Fargo -- Frances McDormand
Wait Until Dark -- Audrey Hepburn
Jackie Brown -- Pam Grier
The Long Kiss Goodnight -- Geena Davis
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011 version) -- Rooney Mara
The Brave One -- Jodie Foster
Thelma and Louise -- Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis

Romance/Romantic Comedy

While You Were Sleeping -- Sandra Bullock
Working Girl -- Melanie Griffith
Sense and Sensibility -- Emma Thompson
Muriel's Wedding -- Toni Colette
Enchanted -- Amy Adams
Sweet Home Alabama -- Reese Witherspoon
My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- Nia Vardalos
Peggy Sue Got Married -- Kathleen Turner

SF/Fantasy/Horror

Aliens -- Sigourney Weaver
Psycho -- Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
The Village -- Bryce Dallas Howard
The Terminator -- Linda Hamilton
Cat People -- (1982 version) -- Nastassja Kinski
Contact -- Jodie Foster
The Birds -- Tippi Hedren
Halloween -- Jamie Lee Curtis

Western (these were harder)

Cat Ballou -- Jane Fonda
The Homesman -- Hilary Swank
True Grit (2010 version) -- Hailee Seinfeld
Meek's Cutoff -- Michelle Williams
The Missing -- Cate Blanchett
Cold Mountain -- Nicole Kidman
The Quick and the Dead (1995 version) -- Sharon Stone
Hannie Caulder -- Raquel Welch




And here are some of my favorite novels with primarily female protagonists--again with what I consider to be the best listed first:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Silence of the Lambs, Thomas Harris
Eye of the Needle, Ken Follett
Fierce Kingdom, Gin Phillips
Artemis, Andy Weir
The Hunger Games -- Suzanne Collins
Sunset and Sawdust -- Joe R. Lansdale
Demolition Angel -- Robert Crais
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Hannibal, Thomas Harris
The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Blind Descent, Nevada Barr
True Grit, Charles Portis
The Relic, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
One for the Money, Janet Evanovich
The Fifth Wave, Rick Yancey
Goldeline, James Cajoleas
The Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie R. King
Divergent, Veronica Roth

(The only surprising thing I found after choosing these twenty novels is that ten were written by women and ten by men.)



Again, this is my opinion only, which won't matter much to anyone beyond my home-office door. And I realize there are many, many more fine candidates for heroine-addiction, on both the page and the screen. These are just the ones I remember most.

What are some of your picks of books and movies with female leads? My Amazon wish-list and my Netflix queue await your recommendations.

Meanwhile, picture Sigourney Weaver saying this, in the original Alien, back in 1979: "This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

That still gives me goosebumps.




16 September 2017

A Trivial Pursuit


by John M. Floyd



Yes, I know: there are a lot of productive things I could and should be doing right now, instead of writing a trivial post about trivia. But, as I've confessed in the past, I love little-known facts about fiction and those who create or portray it.

So, for the next few minutes, I challenge you to forget about the stock market and North Korea and politics and global warming and take a look at these worthless little tidbits about movies and novels and actors and writers. Since they surprised me when I learned about them, I hope they (or at least some of them) might surprise you as well.


- Ian Fleming wrote the children's book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

- Jack Kerouac typed the novel On the Road on one continuous roll of paper 120 feet long.

- Dooley Wilson (Sam, in Casablanca) didn't know how to play the piano.

- Dr. Seuss wasn't a doctor, of any kind.

- Harriet Beecher Stowe lived next door to Mark Twain in Hartford, Connecticut.

- The names of the policeman and the cab driver in It's a Wonderful Life were Bert and Ernie.

- Both Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in Field of Dreams.

- Between 1982 and 1984, Nora Roberts wrote 23 novels.

- The announcer who replaced Armed Forces Radio DJ Adrian Cronauer (played by Robin Williams in Good Morning, Vietnam) was Pat Sajak.

- Mel Brooks wrote the lyrics to the theme from Blazing Saddles.

- Steve Buscemi is a former NYC firefighter.

- The final Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, was nominated for eleven Oscars and won all of them.

- Before writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown was a pop singer. One of his solo albums was called Angels and Demons.

- In Raiders of the Lost Ark, a drawing of R2D2 and C3PO appears on a column in the Well of Souls.

- The novel Catch-22 was originally titled Catch-18.

- Robert Louis Stevenson burned stories based on readers' informal responses, Leo Tolstoy's son rescued the manuscript of War and Peace from the ditch where Tolstoy had thrown it, and Tabitha King pulled the discarded manuscript of Carrie from Stephen King's wastebasket.

- James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke) and Peter Graves (Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible) were brothers.

- William Atherton, who played the obnoxious TV reporter in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, sang the "What'll I Do?" theme song during the opening credits of the 1974 (Robert Redford/Mia Farrow) version of The Great Gatsby.

- "Goldeneye" was Ian Fleming's name for the Jamaican beach house where he wrote all the James Bond novels. Sting later used the same desk to write the song "Every Breath You Take."

- One of the voices of E.T. was that of Debra Winger.

- Clint Eastwood composed the main theme ("Claudia's Theme") for Unforgiven.


- Tom Wolfe, who was six-foot-six, preferred to write standing up, using the top of his refrigerator for a desk.

- In The Abyss, many of the underwater scenes were actually filmed in smoky air, using fake bubbles.

- Olivia Newton-John's grandfather, Max Born, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954.

- Both Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie dictated their novels. (Though ESG typed his earliest work.)

- To make some of the spacecraft seem larger in the movie Alien, director Ridley Scott filmed his own two children outfitted in miniature space suits.

- Rowan Atkinson has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering.

- Singer Tex Ritter ("Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darlin'," from High Noon) was actor John Ritter's father.

- Actor/director Anthony Hopkins composed the music for the movie Slipstream (2007).

- Clyde Barrow once wrote a letter to Henry Ford (it's on display at the Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan) praising the V-8 Ford as a getaway car.

- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was the first book written using the typewriter.

- Clint Eastwood did all his own mountain climbing--no stuntmen--in The Eiger Sanction.

- Most of the cast and crew of The African Queen got sick from the water. Only Humphrey Bogart and director John Huston were unaffected because they drank only whiskey.

- Evelyn Waugh's first wife's name was Evelyn.

- Tom Hanks is a descendant of Abe Lincoln's mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln.

- The first U.S. paperback edition of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was published with the title You Asked for It.

- Michael Myers's mask in Halloween was a two-dollar Captain Kirk mask, slightly altered and painted white.

- Carolyn Keene, author of the Nancy Drew novels, was really a pseudonym for a team of several different writers.

- Hoyt Axton (the father in The Black Stallion) wrote "Heartbreak Hotel."

- Melissa McCarthy and Jenny McCarthy are first cousins.

- The original title of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. It was reversed when Newman decided to take the role of Butch rather than Sundance.

- The same author (Larry McMurtry) wrote Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment.

- Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda, the Cookie Monster, and Miss Piggy.

- Mickey Spillane ordered 50,000 copies of his 1952 novel Kiss Me, Deadly to be destroyed when the comma was left out of the title.

- Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller's girlfriend) has had two fathers-in-law: Sean Connery and Jim Henson.

- Director John Carpenter composed the music for most of his movies.

- Noah Webster was T. S. Eliot's great-uncle.

- Ian Fleming got the name for his fictional spy from a book he owned called Birds of the West Indies, by James Bond.

- The charcoal sketch of Kate Winslet in Titanic was actually drawn by director James Cameron.

- Tommy Lee Jones and Al Gore were roommates at Harvard.

- J. K. Rowling came up with the names for the houses at Hogwarts while on a plane. She jotted the names down on a barf bag.

- The keypad on the laboratory's door lock in Moonraker plays the five-note theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

- Author Sidney Sheldon created the TV series I Dream of Jeannie and The Patty Duke Show, and won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.

- When the kid in Home Alone 2 walks into the Plaza Hotel, the person he asks for directions is Donald Trump.

- Tom Clancy was part owner of the Baltimore Orioles.

- Cormac McCarthy wrote with the same typewriter for more than fifty years. When it broke, he auctioned it off for more than $250,000 (to donate to charity).

- In World War II, Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot, Donald Pleasance was a POW, Christopher Lee was an undercover agent for British Inteligence, and Charles Durning was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

- When a hurricane hit the set during filming of Jurassic Park, the pilot who choppered the crew to safety was the man who had played Indiana Jones's pilot, Jock, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

- The top three most-read books in the world are The Holy Bible, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, and the Harry Potter series.

- In The Secret Life of Ian Fleming, Fleming was played by Sean Connery's son Jason.

- Actor Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays; one of them won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1979.

- The roles of both John McClane in Die Hard and Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry were first offered to Frank Sinatra.

- When J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, she typed three separate copies of the manuscript because she couldn't afford copying fees.

- Samuel L. Jackson's Pulp Fiction quote from Ezekiel was originally written for Harvey Keitel's character in From Dusk to Dawn.

- Chocolate syrup was used as blood in Psycho's shower scene; it was also used as the Tin Man's oil in The Wizard of Oz.

- Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was eighteen, and it was published when she was twenty.

- Mystery writer John Sandford, a.k.a. John Camp, won a Pulitzer for Non-Deadline Feature Writing in 1986 for articles about the life of a Minnesota farming family.

- Of his 70-plus film roles, Gregory Peck played a villain only twice (I think), in Duel in the Sun and The Boys From Brazil.

- Dolph Lundgren has a master's degree in Chemical Engineering.

- In the UK, Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book of all time.

- George Lucas had a dog named Indiana.

- Robert Duvall had a bit part as Steve McQueen's cab driver in the movie Bullitt.

- The Salvation (2014) was a Western filmed in South Africa, with a Danish director and actors from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the U.S., and England.

- Haley Joe Osment, the boy who "saw dead people" in The Sixth Sense, played Forrest Gump's son five years earlier.

- Tippi Hedren (The Birds) is the mother of Melanie Griffith and the grandmother of Dakota Johnson.

- Kurt Vonnegut managed America's first Saab dealership.

- Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum both played thugs in 1974's Death Wish.

- As a child, Roald Dahl--the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--was a taste-tester for Cadbury's chocolate.

- Nathaneal West's 1939 novel The Day of the Locust features a character named Homer Simpson.

- In High Plains Drifter, one of the headstones in the cemetery was inscribed with the name Sergio Leone.

- Married (at one time or another): Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum, Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig, Calista Flockhart/Harrison Ford, Marlo Thomas/Phil Donahue, Rita Hayworth/Orson Welles, Uma Thurman/Gary Oldman, Dyan Cannon/Cary Grant, Lorraine Bracco/Edward James Olmos, Catherine Keener/Delmot Mulroney, Mia Farrow/Frank Sinatra, Christie Brinkley/Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand/Elliott Gould, Brooke Shields/Andre Agassi, Lisa Marie Presley/Nicolas Cage, Mary Steenbergen/Malcolm McDowell, Isabella Rosselini/Martin Scorcese, Madonna/Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller/Will Arnett, Michelle Phillips/Dennis Hopper, Mimi Rogers/Tom Cruise, Helen Hunt/Hank Azaria, Drew Barrymore/Tom Green, Katherine Ross/Sam Elliott, Scarlett Johanssen/Ryan Reynolds.

-Dated (at one time or another): Helen Mirren/Liam Neeson, Anjelica Huston/Jack Nicholson. Sarah Jessica Parker/Robert Downey Jr., Courtney Cox/Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg/Frank Langella, Carrie Fisher/Paul Simon, Jeanne Tripplehorn/Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep/John Cazale.

- Barbie in Toy Story 3 is voiced by Jodi Benson, who also voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

- Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make and has grossed $210 million; Deep Throat cost around $25,000 and grossed $600 million; John Carter cost $350 million and lost $200 million.

- Mickey Spillane was at one time the author of seven of the ten best-selling novels in history.

- Sean Connery wore a toupee in all of his James Bond movies.


And maybe the most valuable and surprising piece of trivia of all:

- Katy Perry's cat's name is Kitty Purry.

(Don't ever say I didn't give you the inside info.)


Can you think of any crazy and lesser-known movie/novel/actor/author facts? Inquiring minds want to know . . .




02 July 2017

Take This Movie, Please.

by Leigh Lundin

John Floyd and Paul Marks cast giant shadows when it comes to films. John is known for the depth and breadth of his movie experience. I’ve managed to name a flick or two John hasn’t seen, but it’s difficult. Paul is recognized for his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage Hollywood. What he doesn’t know about Tinseltown could be loosely packed in a brown derby with room left over for a head.

Occasionally one or another of the rest of us bravely steps up to chat about films. Recently a little article caught my attention, ‘Ignore The Critics! 10 ‘Rotten’ Movies You Should Totally Watch Anyway’. I’m not sure what the word ‘totally’ quantifies in this context, but I liked the point of the article. They led with this list, about half which I’ve seen and a couple I wouldn’t have minded seeing.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby
  • (2013)   The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  • (2013)   The Great Gatsby
  • (2012)   To Rome with Love
  • (2009)   Defiance
  • (2005)   Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • (2004)   50 First Dates
  • (2004)   Troy
  • (2003)   Eurotrip
  • (2001)   A Knight’s Tale
  • (2001)   Wet Hot American Summer
Take, For Example…

Take the Ben Stiller version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s less fanciful and more in tune with today’s world of corporate closings and layoffs, in this case the shuttering of Life magazine. It’s flawed, as are most of the movies on this list and yet it’s a satisfying romantic comedy.

Like Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler made early gross-out movies, but also like Stiller, he can be genuinely funny and play sensitive rĂ´les. To me, 50 First Dates is better than this list. It presents an original problem, one Sandler is determined to resolve, the fact his new love’s short-term memory means she forgets him the next day. Out of these ten, it’s my clear favorite.

50 First Dates

With half an eye on the small screen whilst doing paperwork, I watched Troy in one of those 2AM television time slots. It’s the one movie I would recommend only if your Netflix expired, your local Red Box dispenser broke, you don’t have enough light to read a tattered Danielle Steel novel, and you couldn’t even find your kids’ Bugs Bunny tape under the sofa. It survived in rental stores for, well, weeks by our teary, cat-loving gentle sex who watched and rewatched 2¾ hours of a naked Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and Australian muscle Nathan Jones. It’s a pretty bad two hours and forty-three minutes you’ll never get back, but I give it points for a clever explanation of the Achilles’ heel legend.

Troy: Rose Byrne et Brad Pitt

Take Two

While I usually consult critics (Rotten Tomatoes, IMdb), I occasionally defy the experts. I might see a movie because it’s a plot taken from a favorite mystery or speculative fiction writer. When it comes to science fiction, most critics find themselves strangers in a strange land; they don’t grok the genre. (There’s a sci-fi reference.) That’s why SF reviews are often meaningless.

Ever wonder why the movie sound system is called THX? In my student poverty days (as opposed to my writer poverty days), I sometimes visited a pocket-sized dollar movie house off New York City’s Union Square. One afternoon they showed what’s now called a cult film, George Lucas’ THX-1138. It was considered beneath review by major newspapers. It ran on a bit, but I liked it.

THX-1138

My film-fanatic friend Geri should meet John Floyd. When I feel like a movie, I give her a call and she’s always up for a celluloid fix. She’s open-minded, so we’ve seen quite a range from 50 Shades of Grey (lush photography, great music, sad-ass plot) to The Accountant (violently clever). Despite the critics, we recently opted to see The Book of Henry.

The Book of Henry

Rotten Tomatoes’ critics weighed in at a low, low 23%, but audiences tripled that rating. Critic Susan Wloszczyna came up with the cleverest line in her review: “Every book needs an editor.” Zing. It’s true.

Henry's treehouse
We liked the film, the characterization and the childhood atmosphere, but it’s definitely not a children’s story. No child plans a murder and no mother carries it out… not in the real world and not in fantasy, but that’s the premise of the second half of the plot. Clearly the script writer failed to grasp that precept. British critic Kate Taylor said, “I began to wonder if [the screen writer and director] had ever met any children.”

By now, you’re probably wondering how we managed to like anything about it at all, but the setting, character concepts, and acting helped offset a script that lost its way. I simply wish the writer had thought longer and harder about a smarter way to handle his premise. It’s one of those stories where you’re pretty certain you could have written a better outcome.

Take Three

Sometimes I find myself on the opposite side of critics when they over-rate a film. An example is the 2015 The Witch (title stylized as VVitch). Rotten Tomatoes’ critics tipped the scale at 91%. It might have been atmospheric, but it contained absolutely no plot, none, zip. It consisted of nothing more than a series of scenes that were supposed to lead up to… something… but didn’t. Leave it to Puritans to sour a modern day movie about Puritans.

Rotten Tomatoes gave 2013’s Gravity a 96% rating. Think of it as 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL ate the script. The space scenes were meticulously, even beautifully filmed, but NASA forgot to launch the plot, not much of one at least, mainly a dream sequence. Movie critics aren’t the only ones who don’t understand science fiction… sometimes movie makers don’t understand it either.

Pia Zadora in Butterfly
Pia Zadora in Butterfly
I’ve already written about a poorly (and unfairly) received film, 1982’s Butterfly with Stacy Keach, Pia Zadora, and Orson Welles. Sometimes trashing a movie has nothing to do with the film itself.

Let’s spare a moment to talk about Django Unchained, the 2012 Tarantino movie. My acquaintances found it incomprehensible, but I give it marginally passing marks. My gripes weren’t the same as my friends. Tarantino bragged how much historical research had gone into the film, but its anachronisms overwhelmed the story. I quit counting historical inaccuracies when I ran out of 9.5 fingers. (Friends will recognize another in-joke) Yes, I gave it a passing grade– barely– but I’ve thought for some time Quentin Tarantino is way over-rated. His sense of color, style, and violence stands out among less colorful directors, but I suspect future film classes will look back and wonder what the hell we were raving about.

Take Four

What’s your take? What poorly rated films make up your guilty-pleasures list? And what films received high ratings that mystified you?

01 April 2017

Guilty Pleasures


by John M. Floyd




Anyone who posts regularly at blogs like this knows that ideas for topics can come from unexpected places. Today's column is the result of recent discussions I've had with my friend and fellow SleuthSayer Paul D. Marks, who--God help us both--is as obsessed with movies as I am. We've been emailing each other about some recent movies we've seen and why we liked them and why we sometimes prefer the old ones to the new, and so forth. We even decided to exchange lists of favorites, and mine include, predictably, some of the greats--Casablanca, To Kill a Mockingbird, Double Indemnity, Goldfinger, Psycho, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.

But . . . they also contain a lot that were not so great, and certainly not critically acclaimed. Why, then, did I like them? Why would I spend two hours watching something that probably provides little or no educational value, food for thought, lessons about life, or the broadening of any kind of horizon? My answer: because they're fun. Let's face it, when you sit down to watch something called Snakes on a Plane, you know you're not getting Citizen Kane or The Grapes of Wrath. But sometimes those crazy movies just hit the spot. They're sort of like Hostess Twinkies--I know they're not good for me but I scarf 'em down anyhow.


Diamonds in the rough

The following, in no particular order, are some of my cinematic "guilty pleasures." The funny thing is, they're all movies that, before I saw them, I thought I wouldn't like.

NOTE 1: Some of these actually are high-quality, big-budget movies--but most are not. Very few were mentioned in awards ceremonies. Ask me if I care.

NOTE 2: The films I've marked with asterisks are some of those that I could watch over and over and over again. And I do.

Idiocracy
Get the Gringo
*Rustler's Rhapsody
Seven Psychopaths
Dumb and Dumber
*Bubba Ho-Tep
*A Life Less Ordinary
The Pawn Shop Chronicles
Cashback
Trollhunter
Zathura
Spaceballs
*Used Cars
Undercover Brother
The Postman
Captain Ron
*Silver Bullet
True Lies
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Me, Myself, and Irene
*Cowboys and Aliens
Liar Liar
My Name Is Nobody
Billy Jack
*Under Siege
*Hot Shots, Part Deux
Payback
Open Water
*Escape From New York
Last Man Standing
What About Bob?
The Mist
Kings of the Sun
Australia
The History of the World, Part I
Overboard
*Texas Across the River
The Great Race
Welcome to the Jungle
*Office Space
Lockout
*Lady in the Water
The Night Flier
The Hudsucker Proxy
The Betsy
*Waterhole #3
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Sahara
*Galaxy Quest
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
A Million Ways to Die in the West
*Blazing Saddles
*Cat People (1982)
Vanishing Point
Forgiving the Franklins
*The Book of Eli
Kentucky Fried Movie
The Mothman Prophecies
Necessary Roughness


Non-so-guilty pleasures

One of the thrills of watching movies, to me, is occasionally stumbling across one that you've heard nothing about beforehand, and discovering that it's better than many of those that have been hyped to high heaven. These under-the-radar jewels are those that, once you see them, you remember forever.

Add-on category: excellent movies that no one seems to have heard about:

An Unfinished Life
Killer Joe
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Medicine Man
The Gypsy Moths
The Flim Flam Man
Holes
The Last Sunset
Magic
The Spanish Prisoner
The Ballad of Cable Hogue
Apocalypto
Edge of Darkness
The Cooler
True Romance
From Noon to Three
Red Rock West
The Man From Elysian Fields
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Bone Tomahawk
Sands of the Kalahari
In Bruges
Blood Simple
The Lookout
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
A History of Violence
This Property Is Condemned
Eye of the Needle
The Sea of Trees
Someone to Watch Over Me
The Molly Maguires
Out of Sight
Amelie
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Water Diviner
Mountains of the Moon
The Salvation
Mud
The Chase
The Blue Max
Stranger Than Fiction
Leap of Faith
Heaven's Prisoners
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Brassed Off
Sorcerer
Runaway Train
Always
Hearts in Atlantis
The Homesman
Muriel's Wedding


Q and A

What movies have you seen, that might fit into either of these lists? Can you relate to my delight in uncovering good ones that I'd never heard about before? Do you sometimes find yourself disappointed when you see unsatisfying movies that the critics have all said were great? Do you
ever start watching one that you're sure you'll hate and find yourself enjoying it? Do you sometimes hate to admit you enjoyed it? Do you agree that I probably need to find better things to do with my time?

In closing, I should mention that I like a wide range of movies, from Notting Hill to Goodfellas, from Star Wars to Driving Miss Daisy, from Raising Arizona to Django Unchained. And the same goes for my taste in stories and novels and TV shows. I still write mostly mystery fiction, but I'll read and watch almost anything.

Bleary-eyed and poor, yes. Guilty, no.

Pass the popcorn . . .




News flash: Two weeks from today, in my April 15 column, I'll be interviewing my old friend Gerald So, former president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. We'll talk about crime-related poetry (which, if you haven't tried it, is great fun to read AND write). I hope you'll tune in and help me welcome Gerald to SleuthSayers!

And congratulations to all the Derringer Award nominees!