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

27 March 2019

"The Wild Bunch" at 50


The Wild Bunch was released in 1969, the year of the moon landing. I remember watching Neil Armstrong live on a small black-and-white TV, with rabbit ears, in a broken-down and nearly abandoned hotel in Silver City, Nevada. That was late July. By then, I'd already seen The Wild Bunch half a dozen times, and of course dragged other people along. Which suggests perhaps an odd sense of proportion.



In truth, The Wild Bunch has almost certainly had a deeper and longer-lasting effect on me than the moon landing. It's not an exaggeration to say the movie changed my life. I've remarked before that it was Lawrence of Arabia when I first realized for myself how conscious the movie-making process was, that the effects weren't accidental but calculated. And then, with Kurosawa and Frankenheimer, seeing how expressive the vocabulary could be. Later still, and after Peckinpah, I discovered how transformative guys like Ford and Ophuls were, but I needed that first galvanizing moment, that sudden spark of coherence.

Most of us can say, Oh, such-and-such was a watershed moment. We can also say that there were probably a few starts and stammers, so there was more ground preparation than we imagine. The apotheosis, the insight, the revelation, was waiting to happen all along. But not knowing the object of desire (or once found, how necessary it becomes), how do we recognize the steps in between, the foundation, the accumulated weight on the scales? In hindsight, it's easy enough. I remember specific jolts. The beak of the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Jimmy Stewart's fingers smearing the Frenchman's make-up in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Things that made you catch your breath, but on a visceral level, not something you were ready to appreciate as a device. The evocative image, in isolation.

You might call these moments proto-conscious, meaning we don't consciously process them. As we get more sophisticated - as our vocabulary widens, speaking in movie terms - we begin to see this stuff in context. For me, a good example would be Wayne, in The Searchers, shooting the dead Indian's eyes out. Or more exactly, the way he draws the gun, spinning it up and cocking it at the top of the arc, and then letting the gun's weight bring it down to point of aim. It's very economical, showing he's got such an easy familiarity with the gun, all muscle memory. The shock comes in realizing what he's actually done, when he shoots, not once, but twice. And he explains it, completely matter-of-fact, as common knowledge. The point here is that it tells you something about the character, without expressing it in literal terms. Cinema is nothing if not literal. We see what it is. But in this sense, the evocative sense, what we've seen is more than we've been shown. And we realize it. This is perspective. The image both recedes and expands, like memory.

The third stage, I'd suggest, is when we've become aware we're being manipulated, and we're enjoying the process. We take pleasure in it, because we're an active participant in a passive medium. It isn't that an increased technical fluency gets in the way of immersion (or suspension of disbelief), it heightens the experience. Orson Welles once called it 'looking behind the curtain.' Hitchcock, for one, can't contain his glee, when he both plays the trick, and shows his hand at the same time. It's to my mind, a compliment. Hitch takes us into his confidence.

I don't think, though, that in 1969 all that many of us were quite ready for The Wild Bunch. Yes, we'd had Bonnie and Clyde, in '67, but without taking anything away from it, Bonnie and Clyde really had more of a European sensibility, an art-house feel, than an American one. (Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn had made Mickey One together, two years earlier, and that was very much French-influenced - Shoot the Piano Player - it could have played with subtitles.) Not that Penn was any stranger to violence, either: The Left-Handed Gun is startingly abrupt, and for 1958, no less. And in 1966, we saw Richard Brooks' The Professionals, Anglo mercenaries south of the border, tangled up in Mexico's revolution. John Sturges' Hour of the Gun came out the year after, a decidedly brutal and melancholy version of the Earp legend. The Wild Bunch didn't happen in a vacuum.

But it changed the landscape.

Even when the gunfight starts, outside the freight office, in the opening robbery sequence, you might not know what you're in for. By the time that scene is over, most audiences would be in shock. The obvious influence is Kurosawa, but it was a collaborative effort between Peckinpah, cinematographer Lucien Ballard, and editor Lou Lombardo. They shot with six simultaneous camera set-ups, running at different speeds, 24 frames per second, 30, 60, 90, and 120. Over-cranking generates slow-motion, and Ballard was using long lenses on some of the cameras, which foreshortens the depth of field. Lombardo's rough edit assembly ran twenty-one minutes. He and Peckinpah cut it down to five. Some of the inserts are no more than three or four frames apiece, which on-screen is nearly subliminal, almost too fast for the naked eye. The result is elastic, both in time and physical space. The aspect ratio, how much visual information the screen itself can manage, seems to yawn open and then contract, crowding the edges, optically swollen.

And yet, in the confusion, you don't lose track of the geography, the sight-lines, the physical relationships between the different elements, the composition. I think it's pretty amazing, because it's so easy to stumble into incoherence, particularly in action scenes. Peckinpah has an absolute genius for keeping the spatial dynamics all of a piece.

There's a story that Jay Cocks, the movie critic for TIME, took Marty Scorsese to an advance screening, and the two of them looked at each other afterwards in utter disbelief. They were astonished at what they'd just watched. This wasn't an uncommon reaction. There were also people who were horrified by the picture. Urban legend has it that audience members ran out of sneak previews and threw up. When it screened at Cannes, out of competition, the leading American critics who were there took turns blasting it. It was left to Roger Ebert, in the back of the room, and not a brand name at the time, to stand up and tell them he thought it was a masterpiece.

I'm with Roger, as if you hadn't already guessed. I saw the movie ten or a dozen times that first summer. Some time later, when I had a 16MM projector and an anamorphic lens, I rented the scope print from Twyman - this is back when film schools showed features on actual film, and Twyman was the default source. Then there were the many VHS tapes I stretched and wore out, and the Restored Director's Cut released on DVD.

Peckinpah goes in and out of fashion. Most people agree on Ride the High Country, but that Dundee is a dud. Cable Hogue is a sentimental favorite, and Junior Bonner. The Getaway is technically accomplished, expert and without substance. Straw Dogs will certainly get you into an argument. I know I'm very much in the minority, thinking Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid is a masterpiece, and likewise Alfredo Garcia. Killer Elite, a misfire, but the Chinatown shoot-out is a gas. Cross of Iron is I think very underrated. And we'll leave it at that.

What's the bottom line? I'm fond of the exchange in The Wild Bunch when they get to the river, and Angel looks across the Rio Grande.
  "Mexico lindo," he says.
  Lyle says, "I don't see nothing so lindo about it."
  "Just looks like more of Texas to me," Tector says.
  "Aah, you have no eyes," Angel tells them.

Damn your eyes, Sam. God damn your eyes.



Essential reading:
  Jim Kitses, Horizons West
  Paul Seydor, Peckinpah: The Western Films
  David Weddle, If They Move, Kill 'Em
  W.K. Stratton, The Wild Bunch: Sam Peckinpah, a Revolution in 
     Hollywood, and the Making of a Legendary Film

20 March 2019

Popcorn Proverbs, Number 4


by Robert Lopresti

We have done this before and we are doing it again. These are quotations from crime movies, alphabetical by the titles of the flicks.  Only one of the posters references a movie on the list.  Answers in two weeks.  Have fun!

Remember you're old.

You said to me this is a family secret, and you gave it up to me, boom just like that. You spill the secret family recipe today, maybe you spill a little something about me tomorrow, hm?

-Aren't you worried?
-Would it help?

When they send for you, you go in alive, you come out dead, and it's your best friend that does it.

-You can't give back what you've taken from me.
-OK, then... Plan B, why don't we just kill each other?

-I didn't kill my wife!
-I don't care!

-In this family, we do not solve our problems by hitting people!
-No, in this family, we shoot them!

The competitor is our friend and the customer is our enemy.

How did you ever rob a bank? When you robbed banks, did you forget where your car was then too? No wonder you went to jail.

It takes more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!

Men would pay $200 for me, and here you are turning down a freebie. You could get a perfectly good dishwasher for that.

A man abandoned his family and wrote his son a story. He wouldn't be the first to cloak his cowardice in a flag of sacrifice.

You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates.

-There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
-Let's get him out.

We should all be clowns, Milly.

You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. You're Mr. Pink. Be thankful you're not Mr. Yellow.

- I am a moral outcast.
-Well, it's always nice to meet a writer. 

Frank, let's face it. Who can trust a cop who don't take money?

-Looks like trouble.
-Looks like Christmas.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

- I read where you were shot five times in the tabloids.
- It's not true.  He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids.

To protect the sheep you have to catch the wolves and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.

-Not everyone loves us, Rex.
-Save the punditry for someone whose paid to have an opinion.
-I'm cool with censorship, I know the American people love that.

I do favors for people and in return, they give me gifts. So, what can I do for you?

-Man, I get so mad I want to fight the whole world.  You got any idea what that feels like?
-I do.  I decided to fight the feeling instead.  Cause I figured the world would win.



12 January 2019

Stephen's TV Chocolate Box 2018


It's January, so it's a good time for me to reflect on the things I watched last year on television (TV shows, movies). And just a reminder, the best chocolate in the box for 2017 was Breaking Bad (which I finally got around to bingeing, after everyone else on the planet). Needless to say, there were a few Bertie Bott's farm-dirt flavored chocolates in 2018's box, and they were duly spat out. So, on to the good ones:

Dark Bittersweet 

I watched a handful more episodes of Black Mirror and its self-contained tales of technological terror, and it's still as great as ever. If you don't know this show, it's like the Twilight Zone, if Rod Serling had been British, on serious narcotics, and obsessed with messing with your head. Best episode in 2018: "Metalhead" — because it was taunt and tight, gave no ducks, and was in black and white (because at the end of the world there will be no color left).


Almendra de chocolate 

El Ministerio del Tiemo (The Ministry of Time). I like history, and I like science fiction. This show (3 series, 34 episodes) came out of Spain and put the two together. The premise of the show is that the Spanish government has a top secret division that has the facility to travel back in time; and their job is to put things right when historical events go astray, e.g., Salvador Dali painting a cell phone, the Spanish Armada actually defeating the English, Alfred Hitchcock getting kidnapped at the premiere of Vertigo. The show has a lot of humor; there's even a reference to the US having its own facility to travel in time: The Americans call it a "Time Tunnel." (Time Tunnel was one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid.)





Nougat Nutty 

The Lobster. I like weird movies. And they don't come much bat-shit weirder than this one. If I told you the premise of this movie, you'd think I was nuts. Watching it, at times, reminded me of the first time I saw David Lynch's Eraserhead. Stars Colin Farrell & Rachel Weisz. Filmed in Ireland.





Salted White Chocolate

The Terror (1 season, 10 episodes). History mixes well with many genres, and here it's thrown into the icebox of the Arctic Circle along with horror. In the mid 19th Century, two ships, one of them called The Terror, set out from England to find (and chart) the Northwest Passage in the icy waters between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The two ships, and their crews, were never seen again. All completely true. This show (based on a doorstop-sized novel) speculates (fictionally) on what happened to them. And it isn't pretty. I read a review someplace of this show that described it as "beautiful and horrific." Yep. This was without doubt the best thing I watched last year. Great cast, good script, fantastic design, music, and photography. And very scary... Terror? Oh, yeah.

Peppermint Crème

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (first season) also had some nice writing, a great cast, and great art design (60s retro cool). It's about witches, if you didn't know. A friend of mine described it as Harry Potter dipped in acid and silly putty. If you're of the Christian persuasion (and don't have a robust sense of humor), this show might not be for you.




Other tasty treats in 2018: Stranger Things (season 2), Death in Paradise (first 5 seasons), Tientsin Mystic (season 1), Frankenstein Chronicles (season 2), The Detectorists (seasons 1 & 2), Atlanta (season 1), The Bletchley Circle (seasons 1 & 2).

So, what were your favorite TV treats in 2018?

And happy watching in 2019! I hear there's a TV adaption of Catch-22 on the horizon (a favorite book of mine from my youth).


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25 December 2018

A Stay at Home Christmas


Since my post falls on Christmas Day this year, I thought I should do something Christmassy. I thought I might preach but that would get preachy. I thought I could make snowballs, but I don’t have any snow, though we do get it here sometimes. So instead I thought I’d make a list of Christmas or holiday movies that I like. You probably have your own, which I hope you’ll add in the comments. And then, with Janet Rudolph’s kind permission, after the movies is a list of Christmas mysteries. So, even though by the time you read this the actual holiday will be half over, the season is good at least until the first week of the New Year, so catch up on some good movies or good mysteries and have a very HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON AND NEW YEAR! (Oh, and if you want to get a last minute gift for yourself or someone you’re a little late with…Broken Windows deals with things in the news this past week, immigration, and no one gets off unscathed.)

So, here we go:

Bishop's Wife, The

Black Christmas…

Christmas Carol, A (Reginald Owen version)

Christmas Carole, A (Alistair Sim version) – This is probably the best version. A paranormal Christmas, along the lines of The Blair Witch Project (well, not really). Amy’s (the wife) favorite Christmas movie. Every year she wants to watch it. Every year I balk. And every year I end up enjoying it. One year, in the days of VHS, I bought her tapes of every version of A Christmas Carole that I could find, including Mr. Magoo’s version, the Muppets and everything and anything else.


Christmas Holiday – With Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyck, SZ Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Sydney Greenstreet and Robert Shayne, who played Inspector Henderson on Superman – how can you go wrong? Oh, and the premise is funny, too.


Christmas Story, A – Gotta watch this at least once each year. But sometimes we just put on Turner when they’re running it 24 hours and catch bits and pieces here and there.

Comfort and Joy

Cover Up

Die Hard – There’s an argument as to whether or not this is actually a Christmas movie, but since they play Let It Snow that’s good enough for me.

Four Christmases

Holiday Affair – Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh.

Holiday Inn – The movie that introduced White Christmas. That’s enough.

Holiday, The



Home Alone

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

It’s a Wonderful Life – It’s got Gloria Grahame, if no other reason that would get it included. But it’s good on all those other levels too.

LA Confidential – You know, Bloody Christmas, thus a Christmas movie.


Lady in the Lake

Love Actually – I figured I’d get shot if I didn’t include this. But, hey, I do like it.

Meet Me in St. Louis 

Miracle on 34th Street – The original, of course. My favorite Christmas movie because it proves that Santa Claus is for real. What more do you want?


Remember the Night – Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray pre their Double Indemnity teaming. Hard not to like anything with Stanwyck. And written by the great Preston Sturges. I really like this one.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – Amy has fond memories of this from when she was a kid. Go figure kids’ tastes... If you like cheesy sleazy with terrific production values (is my nose growing?) this is the movie for you. And let’s not forget it was Pia Zadora’s debut as Girmar.

Scrooged

Shop Around the Corner, The – A charming, wonderful movie. I even like the remake, You’ve Got Mail, but not so much the musical version, In the Good Old Summertime.


White Christmas

And every Hallmark holiday movie ever made… ;-)  (Actually, I’ve never seen any, but I understand they’re very popular.)


And here’s Janet Rudolph’s lists of Christmas Crime Fiction:

A-E
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-e.html


F-L
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-f-l.html


M-Z
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-m-z.html


CHRISTMAS MYSTERY SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGIES & NOVELLAS
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mystery-short-stories.html


Thank you, Janet.

~.~.~.~




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!"



And I’m 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 2018 Macavity Award.





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12 December 2018

Skin in the Game


William Goldman died this past month, the week before Thanksgiving. Predictably, his obituaries led with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He wasn't crazy about his own writing, he admitted, but there were two things he wasn't embarrassed by, the screenplay for Butch Cassidy and his novel The Princess Bride.



I remember reading The Temple of Gold in the late spring of '63, and being knocked out by it. It was a coming of age story - Goldman himself was 24 when it was published - and it had a cocky, mischievous attitude, kind of like Dick Bissell's early book, A Stretch on the River, but Bissell was my dad's age. As lively as his stories were, they had a period feel, a little removed. Goldman's voice was right there, immediate, confiding, intimate.



I liked the next couple of books I read, Soldier in the Rain, Boys and Girls Together, but when I recognized his name in the credits for Harper, my mental ears pricked up. (Goldman adapted a second Ross Macdonald mystery, The Chill, but it never got made. Somewhere in the mists, I hear Sam Peckinpah's name attached to this, or maybe that's just wishful thinking.) And then, of course, Butch and Sundance. You might think, looking back, foreordained, In point of fact, not.



It's obvious Goldman was a movie nut, it's right up front in his first book. The Temple of Gold, the title, comes from the RKO swashbuckler Gunga Din. The two best friends in the novel are just kids when they see the picture, and it becomes a metaphor for their lives. The loyal Gunga Din, in his loincloth, climbing to the top of the golden dome to blow his trumpet and sound the alarm. Yes, it's as corny as it sounds.



Goldman wrote some good novels, but he stopped writing novels altogether after Brothers, in 1986. He'd found his metier in movies. Look at his credits. He's the guy who turned in the script when nobody thought a movie could even be made - the example is Stephen King's Misery. He always gave good weight. Interestingly, he isn't rigidly prescriptive when it comes to writing screenplays. His advice (Adventures in the Screen Trade) is sound. The basic template is three acts, and it's all about structure. But he clearly demonstrates that these conventions don't confine the narrative, they sharpen it. They burn away the inessential.



Are they all home runs? No. Chaplin is long on good intentions. The Ghost and the Darkness somehow just rolls over and plays dead. Hard to say, really, what makes a picture work. There's that ineffable something, and Goldman caught lightning in a bottle more than a few times. A few more times than most of us.



There's a footnote in Bill Goldman's filmography I find striking. Among his unproduced screenplays are several for movies that were later made, but written by somebody else. Goldman's original scripts were discarded. He probably got a kill fee, but that's not my point. I'm thinking more along the lines of what might have happened if they'd used Goldman's scripts. Not that they didn't turn out to be good pictures, in the event. Charly. Papillon. The Right Stuff. Shooter. (And now you're thinking about it, too.) 

04 December 2018

Twice Watched Tales


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 October 2018

Based on an Untrue Movie


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....


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.

27 September 2018

Nostalgia Bites


BalthazarNovel.jpgAs a bookaholic from my early childhood, I can assure you that I have read my way through shelves, yards, perhaps miles of books.  (That is not a complaint.)  And I have no problem with that.  I've also gorged on music, movies, television shows, and every other entertainment that is made available to me.  Some of this is because I'm greedy, and some of this is because reading is so much easier than writing:
"Will you be writing a novel?" "If denied every other form of physical gratification." - Pursewarden, in Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Good old Lineaments of Desire.  Seriously, if you've never read The Alexandria Quartet, check it out.  It rivals Roshomon as far as technique, complications, and amazing reveals.  And it definitely has atmosphere.  I'm not sure that Durrell's Alexandria still exists, but I'd love to see if it does.

BTW, Alexandria, Egypt is also the hometown of the poet C. P. Cavafy.  He's best known for Ithaka, and Waiting for the Barbarians.  (The latter has spawned eponymous novels, songs, paintings, an opera, and an upcoming movie.  Seriously good.  And timely.)  My personal favorite Cavafy poem is The God Abandons Antony:
When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who proved worthy of this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
Anyway, along the line I have noticed that my tastes have changed.  Thank God.  For one thing, when I get totally bored by a novel, or it's really, really bad, instead of plowing through I quit reading it. (With non-fiction, I apply my grad school skills and gut the boring ones because knowledge / information doesn't always come in a nice candy coating.)  Even when I was reading novels for the Edgars, there were two books that I just gave up on.  One I called "Fifty Shades of Green" because all the sex took place out in the wilderness.  (Presumably a statement of some kind, but I started laughing about page 15 - for all the wrong reasons - and didn't stop until I tossed it onto the pile and reached for the next book.)  And another book that was absolute torture porn.  The first 10 pages gave me nightmares, so I stopped.

Plan 9 Alternative poster.jpgThis is not to say that there's no place for trash.  I still think that an evening of Plan 9 From Outer Space can be very fulfilling, as well as almost any Joan Crawford movie.  And if you've got Bette Davis fighting with Mary Astor or Miriam Hopkins, I'm front row seating.

And there are some things that are like a train wreck.  You just can't take your eyes off of them:  Ancient Aliens.  Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision (did you know that Venus is actually a comet?  Ha!).  Pink Flamingos.  Richard Wallace's Jack the Ripper, Light Hearted Friend (did you know that Lewis Carroll was actually Jack the Ripper?  Ha!)

And I would not have survived grad school without a stack of really cheesy romance novels for mental popcorn.

A couple of summers back I went through a fit of nostalgia and re-read a bunch of books from my tween/teen years.  Some held up.  Marjorie Morningstar is pretty damn good; so are The Once and Future King (which I still know almost by heart), Ship of FoolsThe Spy Who Came In from the Cold, etc.  

But a lot didn't hold up, mostly the books I'd read for the sex, like Frank Yerby novels, because, in the 60s, it was him, Harold Robbins, or Ian Fleming for an educational experience.  (Harlequin romances barely went beyond a kiss in those days.)  Besides, my mother read Yerby, my father read Fleming, and I simply snuck off with their copies when they weren't looking.  (Even as a teenager I couldn't stand Harold Robbins.) 

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress coverBTW, teenaged Eve was so glad to find Robert Heinlein.  Tunnel in the SkyHave Spacesuit, Will TravelStranger in a Strange LandThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and many more.  It was my first exposure to strong, intelligent women, and got me ready for Emma Peel.

My two favorite Heinlein quotes are both from The Moon is a  Harsh Mistress:
TANSTAAFL  and  "Is no rape on Luna.  Men won't permit." 

And not, I might add, by curtailing women's freedom to dress, work, walk, jog, speak, behave, and live any way she damn well pleased.

Still, be careful giving in to nostalgia:  sometimes it bites.

Back when Netflix first came out I watched a bunch of 1960s movies that I loved when I first saw them, and while there were a lot of great, great, great movies made back then, there were also some that made my jaw drop.  I liked this crap?

Billy Jack:  I'm embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed it back in 1971, even though even then I knew that the dialog was really bad.  And that they'd all have ended up shot to death in real life.  I mean, this is after Kent State, folks.  Idealism was long gone.

And Blow Up turned out to be a big wad of nothing.  I still think it's main reason for success was that it was the first time that a major actress - Vanessa Redgrave - showed her bare breasts on screen.  But then, I've found I can't stand any of Antonioni's films.  If I'm going to do slow-burning moody atmospherics, give me Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock any day, or Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris or Andrei Rublev.  

Five easy pieces.jpgFive Easy Pieces.  Jack Nicholson in youthful full form.  I loved the scene with him playing the piano on the back of a pick-up truck, and the restaurant, searching for toast, both then and now.  But you know something?  The rest of the movie sucked swamp water.  The women were all basically sexual fungibles, with no intelligence or purpose other than to cling to a man like a limpet.  And Nicholson's character was about as much fun as a razor blade.  In fact, Bobby Dupea was the exact [male] embodiment of the description Jack Nicholson's character gives of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Wolf twenty-four years later:
"You know, I think I understand what you're like now. You're very beautiful and you think men are only interested in you because you're beautiful, but you want them to be interested in you because you're you. The problem is, aside from all that beauty, you're not very interesting. You're rude, you're hostile, you're sullen, you're withdrawn. I know you want someone to look past all that at the real person underneath but the only reason anyone would bother to look past all that is because you're beautiful. Ironic, isn't it? In an odd way you're your own problem."
(There's a lot of it about.)

But back to books.  I reread a couple of Yerby novels, and, while I still can't help but like The Devil's Laughter (we all have our guilty pleasures), I nominate An Odor of Sanctity as one of the Top Ten Worst Books of all time.  Set in the time of the Crusader Kingdoms of Outremer, every single scrap of dialog is thees and thous, until certes, when I didst reach XXIV, I didst no longer giveth the rear end of a yon black rat.  Not only that, but the hero, the girlishly fair but apparently extremely well-endowed Alaric, like James Bond, suffers from the Dick of Death:  he can't keep it in his pants, any woman he marries dies, and half the women he has sex with die as well.  And plot?  What plot?  From Goodreads, Jackson Burnett writes:
"At one point, Alaric gets on his horse to ride to Cordoba to rescue his one-of-many true loves. Along the way, his horse stops, refuses to go forward, and turns to take Alaric off on a side story to fix an unresolved plot problem. When the hero's horse makes the calls on a novel's narrative arc, you know you are in trouble."
But I will give it credit:  it's still [marginally] better than:
  • The Playboy Sheikh's Virgin Stable-Girl - no, I haven't read it, but, thanks to Smart Bitches/Trashy Books, I don't have to, and you don't either - what a hilarious review!  
  • The Lair of the White Worm - author, Bram Stoker.  BTW, Ken Russell made a movie of it in 1988 starring Hugh Grant.  I wonder if he's managed to buy up all the prints of it yet? 
  • The entire Left Behind series. 
  • Anything by Ayn Rand. 

27 June 2018

The Big Sleep


If not the most celebrated of noir private dick pictures, The Big Sleep is a pretty tall stick on the way there. Right from the get-go, you know what country you're in, the leads in silhouette, Bogart lighting Bacall's cigarette, behind the titles, the foreboding Max Steiner score. The mansion, the butler, Carmen with her up-from-under look, the general in the hothouse full of orchids, "nasty things, ...like the flesh of men." Not a lot of wasted motion.


It was shot in 1945, right after To Have and Have Not, but Warners didn't release it until '46. In the meantime, they did some reshoots - the famous horse-racing exchange, for one - and Hawks re-cut the picture. The first edit actually makes more sense, and there isn't much difference in the run-times, but the finished product is paced so fast you never get a chance to catch your breath.

People complain the story's too hard to follow. Fair enough. Did the Sternwood chauffeur drive himself off the pier or was it staged? It's a dropped stitch, there's more than one, and nobody gets that worked up over it. Some of this is because of the Production Code. There was stuff they were never going to get away with. The biggest for instance is that Carmen can't have killed anybody, at least not and walk away, so they have to blame it on Eddie Mars. (In the book, Eddie lives to fight another day, and Marlowe even respects him on certain levels.) The book dealer, Geiger, sells pornography to a very select client list that he also blackmails, and the Lundgren kid is his boy-toy. That didn't make it into the picture. Big sister Vivian of course wants to help Carmen out of a jam, but she's not an accessory to murder. And so on. The problem being that if you subtract a key piece, the puzzle falls apart.

On the other hand, it mostly doesn't matter. The movie's all misdirection. It's character, and dialogue. How many pictures have so many amazing bits of business? The script is credited to William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, with an uncredited assist from Philip Epstein. More than a little comes straight out of Chandler. Can you beat it?

The cop, Bernie Ohls, describing Sean Regan: "The ex-legger Sternwood hired to do his drinking for him."

"I don't like your manners."
"I don't like 'em, either. I grieve over them, long winter evenings."

"Is he as cute as you are?"
"Nobody is."

"You know what he'll do when he comes back? [Canino] Beat my teeth out, then kick me in the stomach for mumbling."

"You're a mess."
"I'm not very tall, either."

Hawks later said the picture proved something he'd already suspected, that with enough foreground razzle-dazzle, you didn't have to worry about narrative logic. "I never figured out what was going on," he told an interviewer, and at the end of the day, nobody else could, either.

Bacall gets the last word, right before the fade-out, after Bogart hangs up on the cops.
"You've forgotten one thing," she says. "Me."
He looks at her. "What's wrong with you?" he asks.
"Nothing you can't fix," she tells him.

13 June 2018

Guilty Secrets


I was invited by my Santa Fe pal Johnny D. Boggs, a terrific Western writer, to post a list of ten favorite movies on Facebook, one a day, in ascending order from #10 to #1, with the title and an original theatrical poster, if possible, but without explaining the choices. Every day, nominate somebody else to follow your lead. Sort of like a movie fan chain letter.
Now, this is a serious responsibility - no irony intended. For example, Johnny's choice for his Number 7 was The Grapes of Wrath, and he attached my name to it. (When we got to his Number 1, it was The Searchers.) My point being that you couldn't risk being frivolous. I had to really think about it. My first instinct was to follow Johnny's lead, and do Classics, my personal Ten Best list. The Wild Bunch, Seven Samurai, Letter From an Unknown Woman. But then I thought, No, wait. Why not Guilty Secrets? What if the criteria were, you're sitting down to dinner, you're gonna watch a movie, and saying you had the DVD on your shelf, or you could stream it live, which pictures would be your defaults? Any night, or every night?

So here's the list, which is utterly arbitrary. The only unifying conceit is that I've watched these movies over and over, and would again, tonight or any other night.

[NOTE: I put these upon Facebook without explanation, per the rules. I've added my own little cheats.]



Red Dawn (1984)
Ridiculous, knuckle-dragging claptrap, of the highest order. Then again, if you stop for a minute and consider that Milius meant it as a metaphor for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Wolverines as mujahideen, it actually makes sense. Ravishingly shot, in New Mexico locations, by Ric Waite. Powers Boothe steals the movie.



Juggernaut (1974)
It's been suggested that we're fascinated by the nuts and bolts of how to do things. Heist pictures, Rififi, or here, an ocean liner in the mid-Atlantic wired with high explosive, the bomb disposal team parachuting in, the clock winding down. Dick Lester directed. Enough star power to sink the Poseidon. Clifton James and Roy Kinnear blow them all out of the water.



The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The opening shot, as the credits fade. The camera dollies down, past the snowbound railway platform, and then a car drifts by, at ground level. You can almost see the string pulling it along. The fact that the entire scene is a model only ingratiates it to me. It's an innocent artifice, an invitation. When you catch sight of Charters and Caldicott in the waiting room, you can't help but smile in anticipation. You fall into the familiar rhythms.



In Harm's Way (1965)
Enormous, clunky, overwrought. All of the above. It gets a terrific, muscular punch from Wayne, who delivers a thoughtful, considered character that the other people in the movie seem to think is easy to read. The dramatic mechanics of the picture are pure Preminger, the formal checks and balances, but Wayne demonstrates a gravity of purpose that subverts it. You're all too aware of the labor involved, the engines and devices, the undertaking itself. Wayne doesn't struggle to be convincing. he gives his guy weight, without ever being ponderous.



The Train (1964)
Frankenheimer. What else do I need to say? The disorienting montage of Manchurian Candidate, the pulled focus of Seven Days in May. An integrated technique in this picture. The inertial, iron force of the locomotives. The fact that there's no CGI (oh, and Burt Lancaster does his own stunts). The truly amazing dolly shots, Labiche crossing the freight yards to the boat moored by the canal towpath; the colonel at Wehrmacht headquarters in Paris, the camera finding him in the chaos; the scene with Labiche casting the damaged engine part. I bow to genius.



Charade (1963)
Please. I can't imagine I have to say anything at all.



Two Rode Together (1961)
You knew there was going to be a Ford, right? This is here. of course, because of the scene by the river. "I thought she had something stuck in her teeth." For all its comedy - and 'comedy' isn't really the right word, it's burlesque - Two Rode Together is terrifically dark, much more so than The Searchers, which for all its darkness ends on a note of hope. Two Rode Together is despairing.



The War Lord (1965)
Meditative, although on paper it must have been pitched as a swashbuckler. A guy whose devotion to duty is inflexible throws it all away for love, both carnal and idealized. A very old-fashioned conceit. Terrific art direction. I love the fact that the keep is nothing like the castles in Ivanhoe, say, but a brute stone tower, damp, smoky, the horses stabled below. Guy Stockwell gets all the good lines. Richard Boone's forlorn devotion to Heston commands genuine heartbreak. Haunting score.



The Night of the Generals (1967)
Not much of a mystery, not when the biggest headliner in the cast is twitching like he's got St. Vitus' Dance. but the way they tell the story, the fractured narrative and the unreliable narrators. And the main device, a murder in wartime, where killing is every man's trade. In a movie top-heavy with brand names, the lively presence of Charles Gray in support is like a whiff of ammonia, piercing and astringent, a master class in the pursed lip and the cocked eyebrow. You want supercilious? This is ur-supercilious.



The Duellists (1977)
Ridley Scott's first feature. You're joking, right? Nope. He'd done commercials and TV, but The Duellists is his first movie. People talk about Ridley's eye. The cinematographer on The Duellists is Frank Tidy (and it was his first feature film), but Ridley is his own camera operator - he's the guy looking through the lens. Think about it. The next picture is Alien. Where did this astonishing, feverish, specific gaze come from? It seems to have simply sprung into being, already fully found. The Duellists is hallucinatory, but transparent as glass.

*

Ten runners up.
  The Professionals
  On the Beach
  Night Train to Munich
  Ronin
  Extreme Prejudice
  The Dogs of War
  Rio Bravo
  Midnight Cop
  Hour of the Gun
  Casablanca