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    Thursday, January 21, 2010

    TV: The Greatest Broadcast in the History of the Medium 

    Five years ago today, a landmark broadcast went out over the airwaves ... of digital cable. An episode of the Independent Film Channel’s Ultimate Film Fanatic, featuring yours truly as a contestant.

    The strangest thing about the show is that a few weeks after it taped, Rosemarie was selected to be on Jeopardy! Making 2005 our year of game shows.

    UFF’s entire run lives on via YouTube. So I might as well mark the occasion by embedding it here. Again.

    Two vital points before watching –

    1. I now have the sense to wear contact lenses.
    2. Also, my hair looks much, much better.

    First, intros and round one: trivia. We were asked to come up with our own opening lines, which the producers then “improved.” Still, I sell the moment and cap it off by staring down the camera Lee Van Cleef-style.

    I had a strategy in this round. My competitor is Tom Tangney, critic for several Seattle radio stations, and I knew from our pre-show conversation that he was an erudite gentleman of taste. I therefore decided to force him to answer questions about crappy thrillers, which I regard as my forte. Watch as careful planning almost blows up in my face.

    Round two: debate. (Spoiler alert: I make it through round one. To this day, I can’t believe I remembered the name of that damn doll.) Your celebrity judges are Academy Award winner Tatum O’Neal and certified badasses Keith David and Henry Rollins.

    The producers stopped tape before this round to ask for topic suggestions. I confess that Kevin Costner was my idea. Again I had a strategy, namely degree of difficulty. If I could ably defend an unpopular position, maybe I’d earn the judges’ respect. For the record, I stand by the argument I made and would add the additional exhibits of The Upside of Anger and Mr. Brooks. As for Rumor Has It ...

    Round three: obsession. Or as I thought of it, collections.

    In a rare moment of prescience, I announced to Rosemarie after my audition, “If I get on the show I’ll make it all the way to the third round, then crash and burn.” Which is exactly what happened. See for yourself. Any of the other contestants would have fared better than me in this section.

    Problem #1: I don’t collect things. Scrounging up three items was a reach. (BTW, the key broke on the flight home.)

    Problem #2: I’m up against Tony Kay, now host of Seattle’s Bizarro Movie Night. I didn’t stand a chance.

    Note the raw sexual chemistry between Tatum and myself. What Rollins says about me is still one of the high points of my life. It was almost worth losing the five grand in prize money to be spared his scorn. Almost. And my popcorn line was used in TV spots throughout the season, so I won the battle for airtime.

    In closing, my hair really does look better now. Honestly. I can’t stress that enough.

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    Monday, August 03, 2009

    Sort-Of Related: Get Real, by Donald E. Westlake (2009)/Made in U.S.A. (1966)

    That there’s not a pall hanging over Get Real, the last novel completed by Donald E. Westlake before his death last year, is a testament to how funny the book is, how sharp Westlake’s eye was. Only when it ended did it truly sink in that we won’t get another John Dortmunder book.

    The sad-sack criminal mastermind and his gang of misfits are between heists when the strangest of all opportunities comes along – their own TV show. A company that produces reality television has the brilliant idea of following the crew while they plan and execute a job. Dortmunder agrees to play along as cover for an actual caper. There are a few snags, naturally. Like, how do you put professional thieves on salary? How do you steal something and get away with it while cameras are rolling? But the biggest problem is one that Dortmunder doesn’t see coming: Andy, Tiny, even Dortmunder himself kinda like being on TV.

    The reality genre – which shapes the truth, into entertainment – takes plenty of well-deserved hits. There are some sly observations about the acting life, which crops up often in Westlake’s books, plus a few bits of business that will only be funny to New Yorkers. Things don’t exactly work out – that wouldn’t be Dortmunder – but they go less wrong than usual, and our last glimpse of the hangdog burglar is him rounding a corner with something that’s almost but not quite a spring in his step. It’s a nice sendoff for the character.

    Coinciding with Get Real’s release was the debut of Made in U.S.A. on DVD. Jean-Luc Godard’s film was based, theoretically, on The Jugger, one of the Parker novels that Westlake wrote as Richard Stark.

    I knew going in that the film bears no resemblance to the source novel, that it was made hastily under bizarre circumstances, that Westlake himself hated it. Here, I’ll quote him: “it’s such a rotten movie.” Godard films, even ones I like, leave me a little cold. But I’m a Westlake completist, so I had to check it out.

    Or at least I had to try. I tapped out after forty minutes, and only lasted that long because of Anna Karina. I did watch the entire 20 minute short film on the new Criterion disc cataloging Godard’s many political and cultural references. A writer in the movie is named David Goodis. Daisy Kenyon is paged at a health club. It’s eighty-five minutes of meta-rib-ticklers and preening self-regard.

    Rosemarie’s review: “Movies like this make me appreciate the Jonas Brothers.”

    Say what you will about Kevin, Joe and Nick – and if you talk trash about Joe, I will so NEVER SPEAK to you AGAIN – you can at least understand how some people find them entertaining. Made in U.S.A., on the other hand, exists simply to make those who “get it” feel superior. That’s not true to the serie noire spirit Godard claims to be honoring. It’s certainly not true to the ethos Donald E. Westlake embodied. I’m fairly sure I know whose works will stand the test of time better.

    Westlake is having quite a few weeks. Also out now is Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptation of the first Parker novel The Hunter. I ordered myself a copy as a birthday present. Speaking of my birthday ...

    Miscellaneous: Meaningless Milestones

    ... it’s today. I’m not picky. Making the check out to cash is fine.

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    Sunday, April 19, 2009

    Meaningless Milestones: I’m Five

    Yesterday I realized with some amazement that this website has been up and running for five years. In that time the site has directly and indirectly led to interesting projects and lasting friendships. I may not post as frequently as I once did, but rest assured I have no intention of stopping now.

    And while we’re on the subject of milestones ...

    Miscellaneous: Gray Lady Down

    For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I did not have the New York Times delivered to my door this morning. I finally canceled my subscription after months of deliberation. It figures that right after making the call I saw State of Play, with its closing sequence of a paper going to press guaranteed to put a lump in the throat of anyone who ever got “newsprint on their hands.” It was like going to a dog show after putting down Old Yeller. I expected the audience to “J’accuse!” me en masse.

    What finally made me pull the trigger? Several things.

    The paper is smaller. In every physical sense – font size, page width, page count. That takes a psychological toll.

    The peculiar phenomenon of news osmosis. I’d flip through the paper over breakfast. Quick read of the op-ed pages, a glance at sports. By the time I returned to the paper in the afternoon I’d have absorbed much of its contents elsewhere. Through the Times’ Twitter feed, or its website, or on various blogs. And I didn’t need a moist towelette when I was done.

    The paper is dumber. A front page article on novelty books spun off from blogs? Chunky male movie stars? And it’s still better than the local rag.

    The cost. Running the numbers pushed me over the edge. For the price of a one-year daily subscription to the Times, I can buy an Amazon Kindle, the attractive leather case, and an electronic subscription to the paper. Throw in access to the Times crosswords for Rosemarie and I’d still have enough left over to load up said Kindle with a few books on how the newspaper business as we know it is dying.

    Why did I hesitate? Because I look at enough screens as it is. Because there are few pleasures as civilized as strolling to the coffee shop with the paper under your arm. But mainly because I still associate reading the newspaper with the mysterious world of adulthood. I remember watching grown-ups file onto the subway, papers at the ready for the long ride in. I remember my father coming home from work at the airport having collected all the newspapers left behind by travelers, from Chicago, Los Angeles, London, the bundle under his arm thick enough to be useful in an interrogation room. I remember him paging through those newspapers for the rest of the evening.

    This morning I fired up my laptop, opened the today’s paper section of the Times website, and read the articles that interested me while I watched the Mets game. It took a third of the time it usually takes to conquer the Sunday edition. No wet naps required.

    It felt strange. But I’ll get used to it. And when a holdout like me can put his romanticism behind him, the industry is in serious trouble.

    Miscellaneous: Link

    How ‘bout one for old Times’ sake? NYC and Pelham 123, then and now.

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    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Book: Jack London in Paradise, by Paul Malmont (2009)

    The first 2009 title I’ve read, and it’s a good one.

    Paul Malmont’s debut The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, in which several legends of pulp fiction find themselves caught up in a plot they could have devised, is one of my favorite novels of recent years. His follow-up also involves real-life figures but in a less fantastical tale.

    Hobart Bosworth is largely forgotten now, but this contemporary of D. W. Griffith was a big name in the early days of Hollywood. In 1915, however, he finds himself at the end of his tether, verging on bankruptcy and about to lose his company to partner Adolph Zukor and the nascent Paramount Pictures. But Bosworth, famed for his adaptations of the hugely popular works of author Jack London, has a plan: to persuade London to write an original screenplay. Step one is to track London down. Step two is to save him from himself.

    Once Bosworth locates London in Hawaii, the paradise of the title, the story meanders somewhat. But Malmont’s bracing descriptions of the landscape, physical action, London’s tumultuous marriage, and two men facing different kinds of crises more than compensate, and the various threads coalesce into a potent ending. Malmont is a name to watch.

    Meaningless Milestones: Post M

    This is the 1,000th post I’ve written for this site. Reaching the four figure mark in a little under five years isn’t that impressive compared to the output of the bloggers I emulate and frequently rip off, like Ed, Bill and Ivan, but it’s not bad, either.

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    Sunday, August 03, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Blowing Out The Candles

    Today’s my birthday. Normally I don’t gloat over my gifts, but this year I received the best one ever – a portfolio of photographs of my blushing bride taken at Old School Pin-Ups. I believe the technical term is “Yowza!” Thanks, sweetie.

    Miscellaneous: Your Young Men’ll Be Twittering

    Yes, I’m on Twitter now. Technically, I’ve been on Twitter for months – I’ll sign up for anything – but I never used it. Once I saw that Banks and Matt were on there, I decided to give it a try. I know already I will never be as pithy as Warren Ellis, whose update from yesterday (Condition: Pub) is as fine a piece of writing as I’ve read all year. Feel free to follow me and find out what I’m doing every minute of the day as I expand the Vince Keenan brand.

    Books: Movie Mystery Link

    In his latest column for the San Francisco Chronicle, Eddie Muller reviews a slew of crime novels with movie backdrops. I can echo his praise of Loren D. Estleman’s Frames. Oh to be in San Mateo, now that Adrienne Barbeau is there.

    Comics: Two, Please

    Your favorite married film geeks are back! Latest installment below or here.

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    Sunday, July 13, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Boot And Reboot

    It was bound to happen eventually. After years of roaming the Wild West ranges of the internet, never troubling no man and receiving no trouble in kind, I finally got winged.

    My primary computer came down with a case of malware on Friday afternoon. It’s not even a particularly bad case; just a blitz of pop-up ads (for anti-malware software, very funny). Thanks to Rosemarie’s tech know-how, we’ve narrowed the trouble down to a single tenacious file that refuses to be killed.

    For the time being I’ve switched to my laptop, a machine that, truth be told, I prefer anyway. I may not be posting much until we get the matter resolved. But we’re not letting it spoil the fun. Behold!

    Comics: Two, Please

    This week’s installment is below or here.

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    Friday, April 18, 2008

    Meaningless Milestones: Four Candles

    Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. Three cheers and a tiger for me!

    I had planned on writing an epic post detailing all that I’ve learned in four years of blogging, building it around a few simple rules. One of the first rules to occur to me was, “Never, under any circumstances, blog about blogging.” Thus rendering the post moot before I’d even written it. Plus, I am swamped. Things have been nuts around here, and only stand to get nuttier.

    So instead, I’ll repeat the news. Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. Three cheers and a tiger for me!


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