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    Friday, December 07, 2007

    Book: Head Games, by Craig McDonald (2007)

    Ever read a book and think the target audience consists of ... you? McDonald’s debut – named one of the year’s ten best crime novels by Eddie Muller in the San Francisco Chronicle – is about the intersection of pulp fiction, Hollywood and politics. Naturally, I ate it up.

    Hec Lassiter is the last of the Black Mask boys, still cranking out two-fisted fiction in 1957. He’s being profiled by young poet Bud Fiske for True magazine when a real-adventure comes their way: they wind up in possession of the stolen head of Mexican general Pancho Villa, which is being sought by Yale University’s Skull & Bones Society for use in its secret ceremonies. Hec and Bud square off against intelligence agencies, ancient revolutionaries and homicidal frat boys. McDonald weaves plenty of real-life figures into the tale. Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, John Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Senator Prescott Bush. Even the senator’s grandson makes an appearance.

    The plot moves at a hell-for-leather pace and is basically an excuse to mourn the passing of an era of American manhood and pay tribute to old-fashioned storytelling. Personally, I’ll never see Touch of Evil the same way again.

    TV: Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007)

    The best observation in this HBO documentary about the insult comic comes from Penn Jillette:

    “(Rickles) had this quality of ... pleasing the audience was the most important thing in the world. Not in his life, in the world. But he would not compromise in any way to please them. A very complicated, very important idea. In a certain sense, the definition of art.”

    The documentary is a must-see for fans of old-school showbiz. John Landis, who directed, met Rickles while working as a production assistant on Kelly’s Heroes. But there’s no mention of their other collaboration: 1992’s Innocent Blood, in which a sexy French vampire preys on Pittsburgh gangsters. Rickles plays a Mob lawyer-turned-bloodsucker. Also in the cast are Anthony LaPaglia, future Oscar nominees Angela Bassett and Chazz Palminteri, and half of The Sopranos. It’s great, trashy fun.

    TV: This Week’s Reason Why I Don’t Watch CNN

    I went back and forth about posting this photograph. It’s outside my bailiwick, the image isn’t the best, and it’s in questionable taste to harp on a typo in the midst of sad news. But I mentioned it over at Bill Crider’s blog, and now I feel it’s my duty.

    Here’s Wolf Blitzer reporting on Wednesday’s shooting incident ... in Obama, Nebraska.

    It’s a fast-moving story, they’re under pressure, I get it. But I still can’t believe this went on the air. Is the network using an election season macro? Any word beginning with ‘O’ auto-completes as Obama unless it’s changed to Oprah or Orange?

    Update: The photo is now also up at Leavenworth Street, a blog devoted to Nebraska state politics.

    Video: Farewell, Something Weird

    PopMatters (via GreenCine Daily) brings word of the impending demise of Something Weird Video. I’ve watched a lot of the company’s titles over the years and while the movies themselves may have been disappointing, the presentation never was. Keeping these oddities in the public eye is valuable work, and Something Weird did it well.

    I wrote about two of SWV’s burlesque films with Bettie Page here, and their Barry Mahon double bill here.

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    I believed you saw that, but thanks for the screen shot. What a gang of doofusses.


    Head Games is a thing of twisted beauty, ain't it? I read that sonofabitch in a day, and I couldn't stop grinning the entire time.

    Oh, and you're also totally right about Innocent Blood. I seem to remember being shit-scared of Loggia (more than usual) and seeing a lot of familiar trashy faces. Wasn't Argento in that somewhere?


    Rickles is one of the all-time greats and the doc is a must-see. I've since spent countless work hours watching Rickles clips on YouTube. I also enjoyed Bob Newhart explaining how things were better when the mob (or 'the boys') ran Vegas. In any case, it seems like it was much more fun then. I would have loved to have seen Louis Prima and Keely Smith, or Rickles, or Sinatra ... now it's Celine Dion and Carrot Top.


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