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    Monday, June 30, 2008

    Book: Hollywood Crows, by Joseph Wambaugh (2008)

    Back in April I raved about Wambaugh’s Hollywood Station and said I’d be digging into the sequel post haste. I’d hoped to last a little longer than this, to save the book for when I needed a good one. Still, willpower’s overrated anyway.

    Crows is another group picaresque about the men and women of the LAPD. The surfer cops Flotsam and Jetsam are back, as is aspiring actor Nate Weiss. There are plenty of new characters, though, many of whom work as Community Relations Officers, the CROs of the title, responsible for “quality of life” complaints. It’s supposedly a cushy job, but as always with Wambaugh we soon discover that no part of police work is easy.

    Again, there’s a gossamer of plot, as a drug addict and a divorcing couple taking their animus to murderous lengths cross paths with various police officers and each other en route to a blowout of a climax. But it’s basically an excuse for the snapshots of cop life, from hilarious to shattering, that no one does better than Wambaugh. These books are like stews made from the same basic recipe, each time with different seasonings. The resulting meals always satisfy, yet never taste exactly the same. As long as Wambaugh is dishing them out, I’ll grab a space at the table.

    Comics: Two, Please

    This week’s installment is below or here.

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    Friday, June 27, 2008

    Movie: The Crimson Kimono (1959)

    Turner Classic Movies aired this Samuel Fuller rarity as part of the network’s Race in Hollywood: Asian Images in Film series. A pair of LAPD detectives (Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta) investigating a murder both fall hard for a material witness in the case. Neither man is sure if the tensions that result in their friendship are the product of sublimated racism or simple jealousy.

    All the Sam Fuller touches are here. Startling composition. Excellent location work on the streets of L.A.’s Little Tokyo. A roster of offbeat, lived-in characters, like Anna Lee’s cigar-puffing alcoholic muralist. It’s also a perfect example of the extraordinarily effective storytelling style that Fuller borrowed from pulp fiction: spring wild plot twists on the audience in a way that maximizes their impact, and explain ‘em later. Exposition goes down a lot easier when you want someone to tell you what the hell just happened.

    Sam Goldwyn once said, “Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union.” Fuller found a way around that. Open your “message movie” with a big blonde stripper running half-naked down a crowded street only to be gunned down in traffic, and brother, you can preach to me about anything you want.

    On The Web: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

    This Fast Company article explains how Hollywood’s “Geek Elite” is transforming entertainment by creating brands that play out across platforms.

    That’s the educational portion of the program, and an excuse to run this, from Joss Whedon:


    Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

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    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    DVD: Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

    Time for more Jimmy Sangster. Some Hammer Studios swashbucklers he worked on are part of Sony’s new Icons of Adventure DVD set. (Thanks to Fred Blosser, a regular at Ed Gorman’s blog, for bringing these movies to my attention.)

    The first movie on the disc, 1962’s Pirates of Blood River, isn’t seaworthy. That’s not a Gene Shalit-style pun. Owing to its low budget, Blood River is the first pirate movie set completely on dry land. After some dodgy history, one cool piranha attack, and a few dull fight scenes, I gave up on it.

    But Jimmy only provided the story for Blood River. He wrote the superior Devil-Ship Pirates. He’s also got a ship this time around, even if it spends most of the movie moored near the moors. (OK, that was a Gene Shalit-style pun. What the hell’s the matter with me today?)

    Christopher Lee, in fine menacing form, plays the skipper of a privateer in service of the Spanish Armada. When the ship is damaged in battle, Lee is able to steer it to an isolated English village. The plan: convince the townspeople that the Armada has defeated the Royal Navy long enough to repair the vessel and escape.

    As plots go it’s a gem, and Sangster finds ways to complicate matters nicely. There’s the lord of the manor in full I for one welcome our new insect overlords mode. And the ship’s sole Spanish naval officer, who slowly realizes that his choices are death at the hands of the English or a life of piracy.

    The disc includes commentary from Sangster and other Hammer veterans, plus additional extras. It’s a well-produced package for some lesser-known films.

    George Carlin, R.I.P.

    I don’t have much to add to the many tributes to the late, great comedian all over the web. I can only say that I had tremendous respect for George Carlin as a writer, performer, and thinker. Particularly because he came from a sensibility I understand, namely New York Irish Catholic. Carlin made me realize it was OK to look at the world askance, to take nothing at face value. I always thought of him as the hipster uncle who’d show up occasionally and say, “Don’t sweat it, kid. It’s all bullshit anyway. You want some of my beer?”

    HBO will be rebroadcasting Carlin’s comedy specials in the coming days. And here’s Carlin’s last in-depth interview. Hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily.

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    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Book: Frames, by Loren D. Estleman (2008)

    In January Loren D. Estleman published Gas City, a muscular tale of corruption in a fading Midwestern burg that’s my favorite book of the year so far. That would be enough for most people. But here he is back again, with a novel that’s completely different in tone but every bit as polished.

    Valentino, the UCLA archivist who bills himself as a “film detective,” has appeared in several short stories. In his first book-length outing, Valentino is ready to settle down. Where else but in a movie theater? He buys the Oracle, a Hollywood picture palace otherwise destined for the wrecking ball. In the basement he makes a pair of startling discoveries. A human skeleton, bricked up for decades. And a complete copy of Erich von Stroheim’s infamous Greed, long thought to be lost forever. There’s only one way to keep the precious reels of film from becoming the property of the LAPD, and that’s to solve the murder himself.

    It’s always strange to read a book that seems to have been conceived with you in mind. I am, need it be said, something of a film geek. My last post was about an Al Jolson movie, for crying out loud. So any novel featuring a character who praises the police by saying “there’s not a Barton MacLane or a Bill Demarest to be found” will go down easy. Factor in Estleman’s sparkling dialogue and evocative prose and I’m in heaven.

    OK, I do have one complaint, but it’s not about the book. A few months back Estleman sponsored a trivia contest at his website to promote Frames. I didn’t win, and that’s fine. I never win. But Estleman says only one person answered all ten rather difficult questions correctly. I would argue that technically, I also went ten-for-ten. Still, I’m willing to forgive. That’s another thing I learned from the movies.

    Speaking of Erich von Stroheim, I wrote about The Great Flamarion, in which he appeared as an actor, here. And speaking of film geeks ...

    Comics: Two, Please

    This week’s installment is below or here.

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    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Movie: Hallelujah, I’m A Bum (1933)

    I’m not entirely sure how or why the title of this movie became a punchline around Chez K, but I do know this: Rosemarie started it. She said it so frequently that when I found a poster for the movie in a store I bought it for her. Can’t be many research administrators on the West Coast with a picture of Al Jolson in their offices. Maybe four at the outside.

    Last week it dawned on me that neither one of us had actually seen the movie.

    I expected an amiable bit of fluff. What I got was a politically barbed satire tucked inside an amiable bit of fluff, with enough innovations to mark it as an oddity 75 years later.

    Jolson plays Bumper, the hobo known as the Mayor of Central Park. Frank Morgan, always and forever the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, is the Mayor of New York. You know the movie has several cards up its sleeve when it not only presents these two men as friends, but posits that they’d cross paths on vacation. In Florida.

    Also in the cast are silent movie comic Harry Langdon as the city sanitation worker who is Bumper’s sometimes nemesis, and Keystone Kop Chester Conklin as a hansom cab driver.

    There’s a plot about the Mayor’s girlfriend suffering amnesia and falling for Bumper that doesn’t kick in until halfway through the movie. The script by S. N. Behrman and the great Ben Hecht is more interested in addressing the Depression head on. It both glorifies and sends up the itinerant lifestyle, even as it suggests that them with money ain’t so bad. More impressively, entire stretches of the script are rendered in rhyming dialogue as lead-ins to peppy songs by Rodgers and Hart, both of whom appear unbilled.

    Jolson’s storied charms as an entertainer elude me. His generation of performer simply works too hard; he comes across as your manic uncle who has too much to drink at a family get-together, and throughout his antics you’re pitying the wife who has to pour him into the car for the drive home to Ronkonkoma. But damned if I didn’t feel for him when the simple story drew to a close.

    Hallelujah’s avant-garde nature gives it a currency that many films of the era lack. For every device that dates it, there’s another, like a flashback introduction of a character that wouldn’t be out of place on Arrested Development or 30 Rock, that makes it seem almost contemporary. And as a time capsule of its era, it can’t be beat.

    You can watch one of the film’s numbers here.

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    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Studio-style notes on a video game, from John August. I find this funny for several reasons.

    This, also. Wait for the phone call.

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    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Books: Hard Case Crime Report

    I think of all Hard Case’s covers, the one for Donald E. Westlake’s Somebody Owes Me Money (1969) may be my favorite. I’ve always been a sucker for ... New York cabs.

    Chet Conway drives one for a living. He’s a little steamed when a fare gives him the name of a sure thing at the track in lieu of a tip. Until the horse comes in, and Chet ends up nearly a thousand bucks to the good. When he stops by to claim his winnings, he finds his bookie dead and several rival gangs thinking he’s responsible.

    At times this book reads like a comic riff on The Hunter, the novel Westlake wrote as Richard Stark that was filmed as Point Blank and Payback. Chet, like Parker, wants what he’s owed, no more and no less. And he’s willing to piss off plenty of people bigger and meaner than he is to get his due.

    It’s typical Westlake, fleet and funny with a crackerjack ending. If you can’t get laughs out of Chet responding to an adversary with, “The feeling is mutual ... In fact, the feeling is paramutual,” or an argument about whether one can be winged in the head or only in the arm ... well, I can’t help you.

    You couldn’t ask for a bigger change of pace than The Murderer Vine, a 1970 novel by Shepard Rifkin based on the deaths of three civil rights workers later fictionalized in Mississippi Burning. New York P.I. Joe Dunne, who has on occasion demonstrated a willingness to step outside the law if the price is right, is approached by the father of a college student gone missing during a voter registration drive in the Deep South. The man knows his son is dead. He’ll pay Dunne to find the body. And even more to execute the perpetrators.

    Rifkin shows Dunne meticulously building a cover story for himself, then exposes how fragile that façade is in the hothouse atmosphere of the times. He muddies the waters by having Dunne enjoy the company of the very men he’s stalking. And he delivers an object lesson in the skillful use of dialect. He’s so determined to avoid romanticizing the genre that he becomes self-conscious about it in the late going, blunting the impact of the ending. But I’m still thinking about it days later. Vine is one of the strongest novels Hard Case has reissued.

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    Sports Rant: Black and Blue and Orange

    It’s never easy being a fan of the New York Mets. But it’s been particularly difficult lately. First there was last September’s epic collapse, presided over by manager Willie Randolph. Then this season’s mediocre run, compounded by constant rumors of Willie’s imminent dismissal and mixed signals from the front office.

    All of that paled in comparison to last night’s shenanigans. Following a win in Anaheim, Willie and two coaches were fired at 3:15 AM EST. The Mets management apparently believes that fans, lulled by the pastoral rhythms of the game, are unfamiliar with the internet.

    Say what you will about Willie – and I’ve said a lot – he didn’t deserve the treatment he received this season. He certainly didn’t warrant being dismissed under cover of darkness in what Fox’s Ken Rosenthal calls “one of the most shameful episodes in sports history.”

    I could rant on and on. Instead, I’ll just point you toward this piece. Or this one. Or this one. Or you can pick your favorite search engine, type in “Mets” and your pejorative of choice, and read what turns up.

    All this plus the Mariners have the worst record in the majors, and I’m sucking wind in my first foray into fantasy baseball. It’s a grand old game.

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    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    Comics: Two, Please

    This week’s installment is below or here.



    Movie: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

    Two hours of solid, entertaining superhero action. Rosemarie, who knows about this kind of thing, assigns bonus points for Tim Blake Nelson’s performance as the most believable movie scientist in a long time. Louis Leterrier has directed four films including The Transporter and its sequel, plus the woefully underrated Unleashed with Jet Li and Bob Hoskins. I like ‘em all.

    Music: James Hunter, The Hard Way

    Perhaps, like Carl Carlson, you have asked, “How ‘bout some new oldies?” If so, ask no more. The latest album from James Hunter is out, and it’s like a wormhole has opened to the early 1960s, pumping out original music with that vintage sound. Part soul, part R&B, all tasty. Give it a listen.

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    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Friday’s Forgotten Books: Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, by Vince Passaro (2002)

    I trust you’re all reading Friday’s Forgotten Books, the web series initiated by Patti Abbott. I was flattered when Patti invited me to contribute. Of course, that meant I had to pick a book. Luckily, I had my selection at the ready.

    I’m loathe to call Vince Passaro’s Violence, Nudity, Adult Content forgotten. It’s not that old, for starters, so I’d prefer to think of it as a late breaker, the whip end of the long tail. I’ve got an idea of why it perhaps didn’t make the mark it should have, in spite of:

    A.) Having a truly awesome title; and
    B.) Delivering on the promise of said title.

    The biggest problem faced by Passaro’s first and to date only novel is that the book does so many things well that it’s difficult to know how to classify it. Let’s review.

    V/N/AC is a legal thriller. Will Riordan is an attorney at a Manhattan law firm, earmarked for partner. His up-and-comer status lands him two difficult clients: a wealthy man accused of murdering the wife in the midst of divorcing him, and a rape victim traumatized to the point of constructing elaborate and plausible revenge fantasies. Both cases develop in unexpected, startling ways. Not perfectly; if the book has a weakness it’s the emails that the latter client begins sending to Will, a device that smacks of an MFA workshop. But even those messages come to exert their own fascination.

    V/N/AC is a novel of work. The endless quest for billable hours. The toll those hours take. Humiliations large and small. Compromises both noticed and unremarked upon. All of them ruthlessly anatomized.

    V/N/AC is a story of New York. Maybe the best I’ve read in the last ten years. Passaro perfectly captures the endless sense of effort, the twinned feelings of exhaustion and exhilaration, that living in the city brings. Will’s chance encounters on the subway have a fierce, unalloyed beauty to them.

    V/N/AC is a portrait of a failing marriage. Will and his wife Ellie are in love with each other, but not with their lives. Passaro pulls no punches in depicting their mutual hostility, or their awkward struggle toward reconciliation.

    What’s more, he delivers all of the above with emotional honesty, sharp detail, and a dizzying flair for language. Had Tom Wolfe or Richard Price written this novel, it would have been one of the most acclaimed of its year. Instead, it’s simply a book I haven’t forgotten.

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    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    Movie: Hysteria (1965)

    One of my screenwriting heroes is Jimmy Sangster. Before coming Stateside and cranking out scripts for the staples of ‘70s crime drama, he penned many of the movies that put Hammer Studios on the map. He has a clutch of credits from those days that, in the words of Ed Gorman, “put him in the driver’s seat of the white shimmering Shell Scott Caddy convertible waiting for him in Pulp Heaven.”

    Hysteria finds Sangster and frequent collaborator behind the camera Freddie Francis in thriller mode. An American amnesiac in London begins his post-car wreck recovery armed only with a photograph of a fashion model and the aid of a mysterious benefactor. Before long he’s suffering hallucinations and suspecting himself of murder.

    Character actor Robert Webber, charter member of the “That Guy!” club, excelled at playing men who were a bit too slick but had the decency to feel bad about it. Here, he makes the most of a rare shot at a lead role.

    Movies with an is-he-or-isn’t-he-nuts? premise tend to disappoint in the second half. Sending the character round the bend is fun, but eventually you have to start explaining things. Sangster can’t avoid that pitfall completely, but he does soften the blow with a dandy plot turn that riffs on the Webber persona. I’d love to know the origins of this movie; it seems like one of those projects that came about because the producers had access to an interesting location, in this case a half-completed block of luxury flats complete with creepy abandoned parking lot.

    Hysteria is no lost classic, merely a clever diversion assembled by professionals. I would have watched it in any case because it begins with a shot of a spinning hypno-spiral. I’ve never been able to turn off a movie that starts with a hypno-spiral. Not once. In fact, I – hey, wait a minute ...

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    Sunday, June 08, 2008

    Movies: Bargain Basement Report

    Kinky thrills on a budget, that’s where my head’s been lately. Herewith, a rundown.

    Shock (1946). A woman witnesses a murder, lapses into the title condition – and comes to in a sanitarium under the killer’s care! Modestly entertaining hokum; Vincent Price, as always, is fun to watch as the tortured doc, and Lynn Bari bewitches as his nurse, lover and accomplice. Fox released it as part of its film noir series, but that’s only because they tabled plans for a Gothic Potboiler Collection. The disc is worth checking out for one of the most entertaining and energetic commentary tracks I’ve ever heard, by former Bay Area horror host John Stanley.

    Screaming Mimi (1958). Based on a novel by the great Fredric Brown. Dancer Anita Ekberg – yowza – is almost killed by an escaped maniac. While recovering at a asylum, she falls under the spell of a warped psychiatrist. (Hey, another one!) There are slasher murders, a dog, and some weird statues. With Gypsy Rose Lee as the proprietor of that noted nightclub El Madhouse.


    Mimi’s not a good movie, but it’s a strangely compelling one. With its dream logic, troubled blonde, and constant under-the-surface carnality, I’d wager that David Lynch has seen it. In fact, if he’d like to remake it with Scarlett Johansson, I’ll queue up right now.

    Anita has a bondage-themed dance number that we get to see in its entirety not once but twice in eighty minutes.

    Me: Where’d her wrist cuffs go?

    Rosemarie: She threw them off. It was like a hockey move. You didn’t see that?

    Me: I must have been looking at something else.

    Rosemarie: I’ll bet you were.


    Wicked, Wicked (1973). A thousand thanks to Turner Classic Movies for finally giving me the opportunity to see the only movie shot in Duo-Vision™! Or, feature-length split-screen. It’s like watching two movies at once. Making Wicked, Wicked the first film to have no deleted scenes. Every inch of footage was used; I’m pretty sure I saw some Super 8 stuff from a kid’s birthday party in there.

    The action unfolds at San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado, setting of Some Like It Hot and inspiration for Stephen King’s 1408. The junior handyman, a friendly sort studying embalming by mail, briefly suspends his killing spree when he becomes obsessed with the world’s worst lounge singer. Edd Byrnes plays the surly lifeguard in a performance that inspired the novelty song “Kookie, Kookie, Put On Your Shirt.” The lead character has a name which I forgot once Rosemarie called him Consort For Men. It’s all scored by my Aunt Minna playing the music from the 1925 version of Phantom of the Opera on a pipe organ. Think I’m joking? Watch the trailer.

    Writer/director Richard Bare made the Joe McDoakes comic shorts of the 1940s – see some of them here – and he has no idea what tone to go for. Wicked, Wicked veers from tongue-in-cheek to dead serious and back, then goes for a Grand Guignol ending. The killer is saddled with a grim backstory that prefigures that of Francis Dolarhyde in Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon.

    To his credit, Bare milks the split-screen gimmick for all it’s worth. Sometimes it offers two angles on the same scene, with characters walking out of one movie into another. Sometimes it shows parallel action. A character will allude to an event and we’ll see a flashback on the other side of the screen, or they’ll lie and we’ll witness the truth. It all adds up to a load of nonsense, but it earns Wicked, Wicked an honorific I rarely bestow: the movie so bad you can’t stop watching.

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    Saturday, June 07, 2008

    Comics: Two, Please

    The further adventures of your favorite married film geeks continue below. Or here, if that doesn’t work for you.

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    Friday, June 06, 2008

    On The Web: Ellison Unbound

    The AV Club serves up the first half of an interview with Harlan Ellison, coinciding with the release of the documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth. (UPDATE: Part two is now available.)

    For better or for worse, Harlan was a big influence on me when I was growing up. I remember catching him on TV and thinking, “Wait a minute – adults can act like that?” He was cantankerous, but funny about it. I started reading him, primarily his essays, when I was in high school, and promptly became unbearable.

    As an adult, I don’t match Ellison’s vitriol. Partly because I don’t have the stamina, and partly because when the Catholics get their hooks in you early, your anger is sublimated into incipient alcoholism and bizarre sexual fetishes. And the truth is Ellison’s antics and his tone often seem childish and self-aggrandizing to me now.

    And yet ... I, too, “get very annoyed at the potential that is in everybody, and how little people will settle for.” I’ve got a head full of quotes thanks to Ellison; the Pasteur one he cites is a personal mantra. Here’s another favorite Ellison taught me, from the poet Günter Eich: “Be uncomfortable; be sand, not oil, in the machinery of the world.”

    Ultimately, Harlan is on the side of the angels. I’ll always remember one of his appearances on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect. Ellison, talking about Nixon’s funeral, used the word catafalque. Maher gave him a hard time about it and Ellison gave it right back, essentially saying, “I know what it means and I’m the asshole?” In a world where college students think it’s elitist to expect people to know information they can look up on the web, we could all stand to let our inner Ellisons out.

    Miscellaneous: Filmmaking Links

    Screenwriter Larry Gross is publishing his diaries from the production of 48HRS. at Movie City News. They’re already up to part three. Start reading here.

    Karaoke with Tori Spelling, crying when the monorail doesn’t come through. All part of making an independent movie in Seattle.

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    Thursday, June 05, 2008

    Book: Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith (2008)

    The drums started beating early for Child 44, the debut novel by Tom Rob Smith. Big hardcover sale, film rights snapped up by A-list talent. It’s already represented on the awards circuit.

    I would have read it without the hype. I’m a sucker for crime novels set in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, a genre in which, thanks to Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books, the bar is set fairly high.

    Set in 1953, Child 44 is inspired by the infamous Andrei Chikatilo case. Leo Demidov is a State Security officer who abruptly finds himself disgraced. He’s exiled to a militia post in the hinterlands, where he encounters a murder that bears startling similarities to one he essentially ignored in Moscow. Leo begins to suspect that a monster the likes of which has never been seen in Mother Russia is on the loose, abetted by the country’s culture of paranoia.

    The book’s first third, setting up Leo’s downfall, is too deliberately paced, and Smith’s workmanlike prose – particularly in the murder scenes – doesn’t help matters. PERSONAL GRIPE: I’ve accepted dialogue being set off with dashes as opposed to quotation marks. Smith goes too far by italicizing it as well.

    But Child 44 improves as it goes along. Smith doesn’t overdo the sense of oppression that comes from living in a totalitarian state, allowing the steady accrual of soul-crushing detail to do the work. Leo’s shaky marriage to wife Raisa slowly moves to the fore, becoming a rich, full-bodied relationship. And Smith uncorks a dazzling plot twist two-thirds of the way through that made me appreciate the groundwork laid in the early pages. The ending brazenly sets up not just a sequel, but an entire series. Odds are I’ll read what comes next.

    Smith acknowledges Robert Cullen’s The Killer Department, a non-fiction account of the hunt for Chikatilo. In 1995 Cullen’s book was adapted by writer/director Chris Gerolmo into the HBO film Citizen X. It’s a terrific, suspenseful piece of work with a marvelous cast: character actor Jeffrey DeMunn as Chikatilo, Emmy winner Donald Sutherland as the wily bureaucrat keeping the investigation active, and Stephen Rea as the dogged and dog-tired detective forced to invent his technique as he goes. With this movie and V for Vendetta, Rea cornered the market in tools of the state with minds of their own.

    The Rap Sheet’s Ali Karim interviews Tom Rob Smith here.

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    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Movie: Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971)

    Everyone knows what travels fastest across a schoolyard: cooties. Unless it’s a Catholic schoolyard, when it’s freaky rumors about Beelzebub.

    “You can totally see the Devil’s hand!”

    “Nuh-uh!”

    “Yeah-huh! And it’s actually a claw, like in the title!”


    My Queens schoolyard was alive with such talk years ago after Blood on Satan’s Claw turned up on a late night horror show. One of the older kids saw it, and his description of its grotesqueries was so vivid that the next time it surfaced, I concocted a reason to be up to watch. Here’s all I remember:

    1. The devil’s hand. You really can see it. And it is a claw.

    2. Patches of dark hair spontaneous growing on the backs and legs of young women marked by Lucifer.

    When Blood turned up on Turner Classic Movies a few weeks ago, I made sure to record it. Time to see if it matched those childhood memories.

    It didn’t. It was actually much scarier.

    The simple story goes a long way toward the movie’s effectiveness. An English farmer plowing a field unearths a demon’s skeleton. Some children steal the bones. Soon they form a cult, sacrificing the classmates who are growing the devil’s skin (the film’s alternate title) on their bodies.

    My first thought on watching it this time: this movie would never be made today. Children not only in harm’s way but serving as the agents of destruction. As it happens, demonically possessed kids don’t act that differently from normal ones.

    My second thought: I missed the sexual subtext completely back in the day. Clumps of dark hair erupting on the milky white flesh of pubescent girls? Right over my head. (Please bear in mind, as mentioned above, that I was in Catholic school at the time.)

    Co-writer/director Piers Haggard would later helm the BBC Pennies from Heaven. (BONUS: He’s also the grandson of famed adventure writer H. Rider Haggard.) From the opening frames he quickly establishes that this story takes place in a far different era, when life was brief, cruel, and expected to end badly. The one authority figure who is on the side of right still comes across as imperious, less concerned about the lives of the peasants than how the presence of a demon would affect his travel plans.

    TCM aired the film unedited – including a few shots I know I didn’t see when I was a child – at 2AM Eastern, because it still packs that much of a punch. If a few kids were up late enough to watch, I have no doubt their reports drifted into every corner of schoolyards the following Monday like a chill wind, drawing the unsuspecting near. Which is how it ought to be.

    Miscellaneous: Link

    Director Whit Stillman names five must-read film books.

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    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    Comics: The King (And Queen) Of All Media

    So I’m reading Wired magazine – yours truly has always been a forward-thinking guy – and there’s a shoutout to Bitstrips, a site that allows anyone to create very basic online comics. And I mean anyone, because even I figured it out. Later, I show Rosemarie my handiwork.

    Me: So what do you think of the cartoon versions of ourselves?

    Rosemarie: I have to admit, they do kind of look like us. What do we do with them?

    Me: We could make a comic strip starring a pair of married film geeks.

    Rosemarie: (long beat) I’m on it.


    And so, without further ado, the premiere installment of Two, Please. Written by both of us, titled and designed by the missus.



    Like it? Here’s another one.



    In case the reader doesn’t work, here are links to strip one and strip two.

    The idea is to do at least one a week. Although we said that about the Shamefaced podcasts, and we all remember how that turned out. But hey, we’re busy people.

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