Pop Culture, High and Low, Past and Present.
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    Tuesday, April 06, 2010

    Miscellaneous: Changes Afoot 

    Some websites are redesigned, and some have redesigns thrust upon them.

    Back in the technologically primitive days when I started VKDC, in the long ago year of 2004, publishing via Blogger on a non-Blogspot domain meant using file transfer protocol. Alas, Blogger has decided to stop supporting FTP at the end of this month. Meaning that I now need to do something.

    The plan, if it works, will keep the blog at this URL. The migration process will take some time, more if we screw it up. In the interim, follow me on Twitter for updates.

    Once the migration is done, I intend to make some visual changes around here. Believe it or not, six years ago this was a fairly slick design. Now I’m sick of looking at it.

    If all goes well, there should be no interruption of the top-drawer service you have come to expect. If all doesn’t go well, which is entirely likely, remember me as a consensus builder. Except when it comes to Bigger Than Life.

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    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Books: Kith and Kindle 

    During the week that Amazon got into a feud with Macmillan (fragging Macmillan’s authors in the process) and Apple introduced the iPad, I finally received my Kindle. Once again demonstrating the flawless timing that has made Keenans valued participants in ballroom dances, cavalry raids and open mic nights throughout history.

    (ASIDE #1: Want cogent commentary on Amazon v. Macmillan? Read John Scalzi. Everyone else is. As for the iPad, I’ve lived to the biblical age of however old I am without buying a single Apple product. I’m not about to start now.)

    I dithered about the decision to purchase a Kindle for months. By rights I should have been an early adopter; I’m e-reading’s ideal customer. I love books but am rigorously unsentimental about them as physical objects. I want the stories, not the pages.

    Money kept me on the fence. Not only the cost of the device but the fact that many of the books I read come courtesy of Seattle’s excellent public library. I can work their hold system like a pinball machine. Graze it with my hip and new releases tumble my way.

    But the SPL, feeling the economic pinch, has been forced to make changes. They’ve capped the number of titles you can reserve. And they’ve added a fee to an essential service for researching: interlibrary loans. I could request titles the SPL didn’t carry and a few weeks later a copy would turn up, marked with an orange band. The book, borrowed from the Cerritos, California library or a small college in Minnesota, would be my responsibility for two weeks, a charge I took seriously.

    A few weeks ago I had my nose pressed to the Kindle store’s window when I noticed that a research book I wanted for a project, unavailable at the library and retailing for forty dollars, could be mine for only five bucks over the ILL fee. Wheels started turning.

    (ASIDE #2: Yes, naysayers, I know that I don’t technically own a book on my Kindle, that I only license it and have therefore allowed the serpent of copyright into my intellectual garden. Or something. For good or ill, this doesn’t bother me.)

    Then another discovery. Years ago I’d had a conversation with a book store owner who told me that the three most hardboiled novels were Green Ice by Raoul Whitfield, Fast One by Paul Cain, and Jonathan Latimer’s legendary, censored Solomon’s Vineyard. (I give you no less an authority than James Reasoner on that last title’s history and worth.) I’d found a copy of Green Ice – truth be told, I didn’t care for it – but not the others, aside from imperfect online and POD editions.

    The Kindle store had both. Total cost: $4.98.

    And so, I placed my order.

    It was strange to fire up the Kindle and see the text of John Buntin’s L.A. Noir, which I’d read in hard copy, without page numbers. The interface was simple and intuitive. The e-ink display was astonishingly easy on the eyes. I opened Solomon’s Vineyard, read the introductory note promising “everything but an abortion and a tornado,” and scrolled to Chapter One.

    From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she’d be good in bed. The silk was tight and under it the muscles worked slow and easy. I saw weight there, and control, and, brother, those are things I like in a woman. I put down my bags and went after her along the station platform.

    I don’t know about you, but if I found that smeared on shopping bags I’d keep reading. Which is what I did, devouring half of the book in a single sitting, never aware that I was looking at a screen, letting words written 70 years ago work their magic.

    And having the text-to-speech voice read that Latimer paragraph aloud? Priceless.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    My friend award-winning sportswriter Mike Gasparino has launched Metsanity, a new blog about our mutual favorite team. Go. Read. Enjoy.

    My friend award-winning author Christa Faust inked her new deal, then inked her new deal.

    Get your genres confused? Donna Moore sorts it all out.

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    Monday, January 25, 2010

    Book: The Writing Class, by Jincy Willett (2008) 

    Amy Gallup is a middle-aged loner who hates being alone, a once-promising novelist who now teaches adult extension creative writing courses. She’s been at it for so long she can instantly size up each new group during the first session, knowing at once which students are wasting their time and hers. Then someone in the class begins sending odd notes. Biting parodies, obscene drawings, critiques that cut too close to the bone. The notes turn into pranks, then the pranks become deadly. And nobody really wants to the read the surgeon’s medical thriller.

    Jincy Willett’s darkly funny novel is ruthless when it comes to the teaching of fiction. The samples of each student’s work are priceless. But every barb contains useful writing advice. The book is also an affectionate portrait of a prickly character in Amy, and a sly treatise about what motives people to read, to write, to connect. I missed this book when it was published initially. Thanks to my friend Chad Jones for the recommendation.

    Miscellaneous: Elsewhere

    What I Learned on Twitter. I’ve spoken before about The Three Investigators books, which got me hooked on crime fiction as a tyke. Turns out the boys are so popular in Germany that there’s a movie. Here’s the trailer.

    I’d Link If I Could. The article on the cryonics movement in the January 25 issue of the New Yorker (not online unless you’re a subscriber) is fascinating reading. Jill Lepore analyzes several of the Amazing Stories yarns that inspired Robert Ettinger to start freezing people. Ettinger is the kind of crackpot utopian visionary – briefly famous in the 1960s and 70s, interviewed by Johnny Carson, David Frost and others – that we don’t see enough of any more. A taste of Lepore’s article:

    In ‘Man Into Superman,’ Ettinger throws around a lot of Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw, but shows more evidence of having whiled away the hours reading Penthouse, which began publication in 1965. The world of tomorrow will be unimaginably better than the world of today. How? There will be transsex and supersex! Scientists will invent “a sexual superwoman ... with cleverly designed orifices of various kinds, something like a wriggly Swiss cheese, but shapelier and more fragrant.” Animals will be bred as sex slaves; even incest might be allowed. Also, scientists will likely equip men with wings, built-in biological weapons, body armor made of hair, and “telescoping, fully adjustable” sexual organs. (Hold on. That last one. Doesn’t the existing model already come with that?)

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    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Miscellaneous: The Most Terrifying 3:34 on YouTube

    Martin Scorsese names the eleven scariest movies of all time. Five horror novelists including Joe R. Lansdale weigh in with their choices.

    With all due respect, these people are rank amateurs.

    In honor of Halloween, I am again offering a combination of sound and image that will chill the blood and drive good men mad. It’s the closing three minutes and thirty-four seconds from Paul Lynde’s 1976 Halloween special.

    Watch the whole show if you dare, ideally through one of these. I accept no responsibility for what happens to you.

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    Tuesday, October 06, 2009

    Miscellaneous: New York State of Mind

    Two days after my vacation in NYC and I’m already back in the maelstrom, so I’ll keep this recap brief.

    “Music doesn’t come from us. It comes through us. But we’ve got to keep ourselves clean on the inside so it can come through us. And most of us don’t. So that’s on us.”

    - Barry Harris, whom we saw in performance with his trio at the Jazz Standard

    Dear Citi Field:

    I like you. I do. You’re a little impersonal and not at all Mets-centric, but you’ve got charm and the pulled pork sandwiches from Blue Smoke are to die for. I think you’ll grow on me. I wasn’t sold on Caesars Club, though. You know, that private section for the wealthier fans that feels like an international departure lounge and features its own bar and carving station? I was in there when Francoeur hit the two-run shot that gave the Mets the lead over Houston, a lead they’d never give up, and I almost felt like it didn’t happen because I saw it on a big screen TV. We left immediately and were back freezing out tuchuses off in the bleachers when Murphy went yard. At least we got to the see the Apple come up. I’d complain further but I figure if the team’s good those seats will be impossible for me to afford, so I’m just going to hope for a great season next year. That way, it won’t be a problem.


    PS. Thanks for keeping Carvel.

    Additional recommendations include Coco Before Chanel, the brilliant new Coen Brothers film A Serious Man – if at all possible, see it with a packed house on the Upper West Side on a Saturday after temple, when it plays like Blazing Saddles – and Mike’s NYC tour of the Fashion District.

    You would not think that a cocktail called the New Jersey Turnpike would be good. You would be wrong. Thanks to the bartenders at Little Branch for introducing me to this rye and applejack sour. Also recommended: anything poured at the Flatiron Lounge.

    Three days after we saw and enjoyed the Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of the George S. Kaufman/Edna Ferber play The Royal Family, actor Tony Roberts took ill onstage. We’re glad to hear he’s doing better, and we wish him a swift recovery.

    My Flickr page includes additional photos from our walk along the High Line as well as our visit to various locations from Flight of the Conchords.

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    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Miscellaneous: All Thumbs Up

    Making up for the paucity of recent posts with a slew of recommendations.

    Noir City Sentinel. The latest issue of the house rag of the Film Noir Foundation is now available. This edition has several articles on director André de Toth, a roundup of some recent noir films, an appraisal of actor/wild man Timothy Carey, and more. Go. Give. Get.

    Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn (2009). Libby Day is the sole survivor of the “Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas,” and it’s her testimony that sent her metal-obsessed brother Ben to prison for butchering their mother and two sisters. More than twenty years later, Libby has milked the tragedy dry. Desperate for cash, she agrees to investigate the murder on behalf of the Kill Club, a group of obsessives certain she got everything wrong.

    Some of the final plot turns strain credulity, and Flynn has a thing for coining hyphenated words. On a single page, Libby trance-drives past dusk-black elevators that she views with kitten-round eyes. This koala-cute authorial tic can be cough-syrup-cloying, but it’s a small price to pay for a supple voice that bounces between past, present and three distinctly different viewpoints to tell a haunting story of lives teetering on the precipice of disaster long before any blood is shed.

    The Ancient Rain, by Domenic Stansberry (2008). An elegiac Shamus Award nominee. Ex-cop and ex-spook Dante Mancuso is drawn into an investigation of a 1970s bank robbery staged by political activists, reawakened by and filtered through the paranoia of the months after September 11. Stansberry nails the mood of 2002 perfectly, as well as Dante’s sense of bearing witness to the slow-motion demise of San Francisco’s Italian community.

    The Jerusalem File, by Joel Stone (2009). Europa Editions delivers again, with this posthumous novel by Pulitzer Prize nominee Stone. Retired Israeli state security agent Levin finds himself working as a private investigator when a sort-of friend asks him to shadow the wife he’s sure is being unfaithful. Again, the voice is the draw here, combining the world-weariness of Le Carré with the vinegar of Simenon. Or, to put it another way, it’s a tale told by God if He were in fact George Sanders. (For the record, that’s a universe I want to live in.) This brief novel is one of the best of the year.

    The Informant!, (2009). Proof that Hollywood does sometimes get it right. When I read Kurt Eichenwald’s book, I felt that he didn’t grasp how truly bizarre – and funny – the material was. But Steven Soderbergh, writer Scott Z. Burns and company certainly do, nailing a tricky tone from the outset. Burns’ adaptation is a marvel, deploying voiceover to great effect and paying it off at the end. Extra points for the score by Marvin Hamlisch, the pride of Queens College.

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    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Vamping

    Sorry, kids. Multiple deadlines and big plans have me jumping. Standard operating procedure would be to post the video for “Crucifed” by Army of Lovers – you know, the band featuring my first wife, my half brother Nils, and the guy who handles my landscaping, and I ain’t talking about yard work. But the geniuses at MTV Music have taken their copy down, and once you go digital you never go back. (For you completists, here’s the considerably less crisp YouTube version.)

    These days the last refuge of a scoundrel is his Twitter feed. So why not read this excellent interview with Walter Hill, one of my filmmaking heroes? Or play Little Wheel, a beautiful (and short) Flash game featuring a great soundtrack? Real posts coming soon.

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    Monday, August 24, 2009

    Miscellaneous: San Francisco Treats

    Back from a long weekend in San Francisco, my home away from home (Seattle) away from home (New York). Good friends, good conversation and good cocktails abounded.

    Among the highlights was a visit to Mission Dolores, part of an ongoing pilgrimage to the locations used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Alas, it wasn’t open. But I have it on good authority that Carlotta Valdes isn’t buried there anyway.

    We spent an entire day at SFMOMA, which currently has some extraordinary exhibits. Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities does what every museum show should, which is make you see an artist or in this case two of them in a new way. Running concurrently is an extensive display of photographs by Richard Avedon. Plus there’s SFMOMA’s impressive permanent collection and the new rooftop sculpture garden. It’s one of my favorite museums.

    Also stopped in at the Museum of Performance and Design’s tribute to Noël Coward. Personal papers and photographs galore, not to mention dressing gown after dressing gown after dressing gown. I’ve always admired Coward, but after seeing this exhibit he’s now one of my heroes. He came from nothing and transformed himself into the epitome of international style and sophistication by cultivating that image. He lived the life he wanted by living the life he wanted. There’s a lesson there. Some choices quotations from the man: “I can’t sing, but I know how to, which is quite different.” And, “The only way to enjoy life is to work. Work is much more fun than fun.” Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it.


    Sunday, August 16, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Whip Round #1

    Many projects moving forward at once, so expect more posts like this. Alighting on multiple topics with no diminution of my customary acuity.

    The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson (2009). I was not the only one who fell hard for Larsson’s debut, last year’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Which makes this follow-up so disappointing. Larsson’s old-fashioned style suited the first book, essentially a locked-room mystery set on an island. Without that setting, Larsson’s voice simply seems plodding. (Bad news is delivered by the cops. “Berger’s mouth dropped open. Blomkvist looked as if he had been struck by lightning.”) I read all 500 pages, shopping lists and trips to Ikea included, for one reason: Larsson’s beguiling creation Lisbeth Salander, a sort of real-world version of William Gibson’s Molly forged by cruelty and institutional neglect. I’ll tackle the last entry in the series for that reason, too.

    The Shimmer, by David Morrell (2009). Morrell uses the mysterious Marfa lights as the basis for a conspiracy thriller. He shrewdly reinvents Marfa as Rostov, Texas, even fictionalizing the filming of Giant in the town. The only thing missing is an alternate reality Donald Judd. But for all Morrell’s skill at creating tension, it’s the human moments that register most strongly. When New Mexico cop Dan Page discovers the reason why his wife fled their home to visit the lights, there’s no supernatural explanation. Just pure heartbreak.

    Julie & Julia (2009). Somebody has to admit it, so I will: I enjoyed the Amy Adams scenes. I enjoyed the whole thing.

    College Swing (1938)/Back to School (1986). I read an interview with David Letterman years ago in which he cited Bob Hope as an example of someone who, perhaps, stayed too long at the fair. Watching his early film College Swing, I understood what Dave meant. Hope’s hustling coward character still feels unbelievably fresh and modern. The script, an excuse to link together songs and novelty acts, gets some zing from an uncredited Preston Sturges. Gracie Allen has some great moments, and there’s a Jerry Colonna bit that’s priceless. Also with a fully-haired Jackie Coogan cutting a rug with then-wife Betty Grable. A few days later I stumbled onto Back To School, which uses several of the same plot elements. Featuring New Wave Robert Downey, Junior and his future director Keith Gordon. God, I miss Rodney Dangerfield.

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    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Missive From My Deathbed

    The title is pure hyperbole. A particularly intractable sinus infection has held me in its grippe for over two weeks. I feel like I can only muster a few hours of concentration per day, and those are needed for the paying gigs.

    Example: Just now I was unable to think of the word hyperbole. I wandered into the other room and asked Rosemarie, “Isn’t there a term that means the use of exaggeration as a literary device?” I really ought to go back to watching baseball highlights, but with the Mets’ season going the way it is and my delicate condition, I could trigger something.

    Still, I want to give. So I’ll say that I devoted my Independence Day ration of cogent hours to Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and was glad I did. I’ll also say that I’ve added Donna Moore’s Big Beat from Badsville to the links page, and you should be checking it out regularly.

    Here’s how addlebrained I am. I almost tied together three articles I read today – Cass Sunstein’s exploration of how association with like-minded individuals breeds extremism; Roger Ebert’s levelheaded response to those who disagreed with his review of the Transformers sequel; and an analysis of how porn is abandoning plot and going fuck scenes only – with the Bing advertising campaign that gives me night sweats in an epic post about our mile-wide, inch-deep, instant-gratification culture. Then I remembered I was me and said to hell with it.

    So instead, here’s Slate’s article on stuntmen’s favorite stunt movies. Along with one in its entirety, Claude Lelouch’s blistering Rendezvous. Watch to the end. It’s tres French.

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    Wednesday, July 01, 2009

    Extra, Extra!: Noir City Sentinel

    The July/August issue of the house organ (keep your snickers to yourselves) of the Film Noir Foundation hit in-boxes around the globe this morning. At an epic 33 pages, it’s no longer a newsletter but a magazine.

    Including for your reading pleasure:

    * An extensive interview with writer/director Arnold Laven!

    * Eddie Muller’s profile of Belita, the figure skating Ice Queen of film noir!

    * Philippe Garnier’s astonishing article on a pair of jailbirds who found success as screenwriters in 1930s Hollywood!

    Plus, this issue of the Sentinel features the byline of yours truly not once but twice, on a survey of the Catholic noir of John Farrow and a book-versus-film comparison of Nightmare Alley.

    You know you want to read it. Kick in a few bucks to the Film Noir Foundation and enjoy.

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    Wednesday, June 03, 2009

    Book: The Midnight Room, by Ed Gorman (2009)

    A serial killer cloaked by a veil of respectability in a small Midwestern city. For most authors, that’d be enough to play with for a few hundred pages.

    But not for Ed Gorman. In The Midnight Room Ed gives you that entire city – not just the cops but a family of cops, along with their significant others. The victims, their families, the press, people on the margins of the investigation who will use it to make their presence felt. All that plus a bravura corkscrew plot. Ed starts the game, then every few dozen pages jolts the board so that pawns become kings and pieces you thought would stand tall topple over. Ed calls the book his version of a Gold Medal paperback, and it delivers the goods in that tradition. Put it on your summer reading list.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Movieline sits in on a roundtable with TV gurus Norman Lear, Phil Rosenthal and Seth MacFarlane, parts one and two. For a roundtable of movie producers, you have to go to the L.A. Times.

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    Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Miscellaneous: Shorter San Francisco

    Now that I’ve caught my breath, highlights of a trip that was all highlights.

    The Mets game went as if I’d scripted it. We got to see one of baseball’s best pitchers, Giants ace and reigning NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, in action on a night when he had strong stuff. But a late offensive explosion spearheaded by Rosemarie favorite David Wright tied the score. The Mets seized the lead in the top of the ninth, so Francisco Rodriguez came in to shut the Giants down. Mets win 8-6.

    We stopped in at Bourbon & Branch during San Francisco’s Cocktail Week. The bar had some extraordinary specials, like a Tom Collins variation with applejack instead of gin that included rhubarb syrup and a sprig of rosemary. But it was staples like the Democrat – bourbon, honey, peach liqueur – that hit the spot on a scorcher of a weekend.

    We ended up being invited to a wedding officiated by czar of noir Eddie Muller and his lovely wife Kathleen that took place on the day of our anniversary. Who could say no to such romantic symmetry?

    As a result, we were able to enjoy a performance by artist, lounge singer and honest-to-God licensed private eye Mr. Lucky. When he heard it was our anniversary, he insisted that we have our picture taken in front of his mint ’61 Chrysler.

    Ever the professional, Mr. Lucky set the mood. Henry Mancini’s soundtrack to Touch of Evil is booming out the windows of his sweet ride.

    Next, we crashed the Thrillpeddlers closing night party at the Hypnodrome Theater, where we found ourselves having a conversation with Jello Biafra. When he talked about the early days of the California punk scene I almost told him that Henry Rollins once called me presidential, but thought it would be uncool.

    All in all, a fantastic weekend full of good friends, good times and good cocktails. Now back to my real life and more quotidian concerns, like bears.

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    Sunday, May 03, 2009

    Extra, Extra!: Noir City Sentinel

    The latest issue of the Noir City Sentinel, trade rag of the Film Noir Foundation, hits the streets today. A donation of any amount gets it delivered to your in-box. Twenty-four pages packed with noir news that’s piping hot and ice cold. Here’s just a sample of what’s inside:

    * Guy Maddin lists his five favorite noirs!

    * Bertrand Tavernier on the underrated Cry Danger – and details on the film’s restoration courtesy of the FNF!

    * Edgar Award winner Megan Abbott on Clash By Night!

    * Czar of noir Eddie Muller’s manifesto Noir for a New Century!

    * A vintage pin-up of Kim Novak sure to steam up your monitor!

    And appearing for the first time in the Sentinel, the byline of ... yours truly.

    My debut piece is a tribute to the late Fabián Bielinsky. I look at the pair of extraordinary films made by the man Eddie says “would have been the greatest writer-director of contemporary noir.” Special attention is paid to El Aura, which I call “one of the finest cinematic noirs of this decade.”

    The article will run here eventually. Of course, if you can’t wait, go to the Film Noir Foundation and contribute. You’ll get some terrific reading, and you’ll be helping the Foundation in its vital work.

    Either way, do yourself a favor and rent El Aura. You’ll thank me later.

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    Tuesday, April 28, 2009

    Book: Private Midnight, by Kris Saknussemm (2009)

    Now here’s an odd one.

    I’m not sure how to describe Private Midnight. The dust jacket insists that it’s “a psychoerotic noir fairytale” and “crime noir for a new generation,” whatever that is. My natural contrarian instinct therefore is to say that noir is the one thing I know it’s not.

    As for the crime part ... the main character is a detective. Birch Ritter is looking into the bizarre death of a real estate tycoon, but that investigation gets quickly sidetracked when an old cop buddy sends Ritter to meet a mysterious woman named Genevieve. She knows a great deal about Ritter. Maybe too much. And that’s when things turn all, well, psychoerotic.

    Saknussemm made a splash a few years ago with his science fiction novel Zanesville, which I haven’t read. Here he blends several genres, not altogether successfully. Midnight’s first third is a wobbly hardboiled pastiche, with a dubious grasp of police work and an ill-defined protagonist.

    But the book gets better as it gets weirder. Or maybe that’s weirder as it gets better. As it moves into horror and dark fantasy it addresses a whole host of issues: gender relations, dominant and submissive roles, the transformative power of sex.

    That reminds me. There’s sex in this book. A lot of it. In every variety you can think of, and probably a few that you haven’t. (OK, maybe not all of you, but I was raised Catholic.) All the slap and tickle isn’t necessary to the plot. It is the plot.

    I’m still not certain if I liked Private Midnight. But I’m glad I read it, and that counts for something.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Keeping the theme going: Pakistan! For all your fetish needs.

    John August explains the phrase that haunts my dreams.

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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, April 09, 2009

    Book: The Age of Dreaming, by Nina Revoyr (2008)

    Jun Nakayama was once a huge star of the silent screen, and the first Japanese actor to achieve success in America. By 1964 he’s been all but forgotten, and Jun prefers it that way. Renewed interest in his films leads to the possibility of a comeback role. But the opportunity also forces Jun to revisit the scandalous events that drove him from the motion picture industry in 1922.

    Nina Revoyr’s extraordinary novel weaves together two strands of Hollywood history – the career of Sessue Hayakawa, an unlikely sex symbol of the silent era, and the murder of director William Desmond Taylor, still one of Tinseltown’s great unsolved crimes. It’s a testament to Revoyr’s skill that the book’s mystery plot, as well worked out as it is, takes a backseat to other elements like Jun’s evocative reminiscences of the pioneering days of the movie business, and his present-day reckoning with the lies he has told himself for decades.

    The voice Revoyr has created for Jun – proud and dignified, yet stodgy and repressed – allows her to show his awakening by degrees, and she also uses it to pull off an astonishing scene late in the book that reminded me of Charles Willeford’s Pick-up. All that plus a powerful conclusion. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and a must-read for fans of old Hollywood.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Again repurposed from my Twitter feed.

    The AV Club’s latest Gateway to Geekery focuses on classic crime fiction. I don’t know if I’d start anybody off with Red Harvest; The Maltese Falcon seems a better choice. But their read on Spillane and Thompson is interesting.

    A cab ride with Orson Welles.

    Slate on Howard the Duck. I’ll say this in the movie’s defense: the monster, which Clive Barker once told me he liked, kicks ass.

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    Wednesday, April 01, 2009

    Books: A Pair of Hard Cases

    What have I been doing? Working like mad and reading books from Hard Case Crime.

    The Cutie (1960) was Donald E. Westlake’s debut novel, and it confirms my suspicion that Westlake sprang fully formed from the head of Zeus or the pulp equivalent thereof. It’s the story of a mob fixer – not muscle, y’unnerstand, he’s too smart for that – ordered to figure out who would put a two-bit junky with the singularly Westlakian moniker of Billy-Billy Cantell in the frame for the murder of a kept woman.

    Many of the Westlake trademarks are already in place: the dry wit, the offbeat settings, the smooth prose. The main character Clay is the book’s best feature, a clever guy who fell into the criminal life and isn’t sure if he wants to remain there. The scenes with his girlfriend, a dancer who knows exactly who Clay is and what staying with him will mean, have a sneaky power.

    The book was originally published as The Mercenaries. I may be alone in this, but I think that was a better title.

    I bought the Hard Case edition of David Dodge’s Plunder of the Sun (1949) four years ago. I finally decided to read it before I watched the movie. An American adrift in South America is approached to smuggle an artifact from Chile into Peru. One wild boat trip later, he realizes he’s holding the key to the treasure of the Incas. A terrific adventure novel, with vivid characters and locations. I’m hoping that the new Gabriel Hunt books from the people who brought you Hard Case Crime are something like this. The first title in that series, written by James Reasoner, just won a rave from Publishers Weekly.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    A few extras, because you kids have been so well-behaved while Daddy was gone.

    Lessons in game design taught by Walt Disney.

    You know why everyone’s linking to the Dallas-style opening of Star Wars? Because it’s hilarious. And as Rosemarie said, it tells you everything you need to know about the difference between movies and television.

    Now that the movie is happening, it’s time to revisit this 2004 New Yorker article on the Farrelly Brothers’ plans to reboot the Three Stooges.

    Slate sez: Bring back yellow journalism!

    A.O. Scott revisits The Maltese Falcon in the wake of recent financial shenanigans.

    The AV Club Random Roles I’ve been waiting for: Wallace Shawn.

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    Sunday, March 15, 2009

    Movie: Shack Out on 101 (1955)

    Like all great works of art, Shack Out on 101 functions on several levels.

    First, there’s the level at which it’s total shit. The budget for this Red Scare melodrama was so low that virtually all of the action is limited to one set, a California burger stand that has inexplicably become an espionage hotbed. Every scene runs too long, especially the ones that should have been cut. Like the indoor deep-sea fishing expedition. Or the love scene between deeply uninteresting leads Frank Lovejoy and Terry Moore that includes a civics lesson, with a kiss for each branch of government. Or the workout that takes place next to the serving area, in clear violation of any number of health codes, with the participants complimenting each other on how their bodies look with and without clothes. (“Them’s my pecs!”)

    Then there’s the level at which the movie’s flaws work in its favor. Sometimes having three sweaty actors wedged into a tight frame shouting at each other does build intensity.

    Finally, there’s the Lee Marvin level. As fry cook/spy Slob, his performance is loose and funny until he fires up that gangly, agile menace. When he turns on Moore, I was certain he was going to kill her – not her character, but the actress. He makes this lousy movie crackle with life. You can’t not watch Lee Marvin, even when he’s pimping cigarettes. (H/t to Bill Crider.)

    Music: The Bad Plus

    The trio is closing out a four-night run at Seattle’s Jazz Alley in support of their latest album, For All I Care. The first half of last night’s fantastic set had the boys performing their usual dense yet delicate instrumental pieces. Pianist Ethan Iverson introduced an original about stunt driving legend Bill Hickman’s love of fruit salad that had an entire movie playing in my head.

    Then they were joined by rock vocalist Wendy Lewis for some amazing covers. A spare “Lock, Stock and Teardrops” that included every echo you’ll hear when your lover finally leaves, a version of “New Year’s Day” stripped of bombast but full of passion, a “Comfortably Numb” that can cut through the haze and make any stoner’s hair stand on end. Together, they even found tendrils of twisted longing in “Blue Velvet” that David Lynch somehow missed.

    Here’s Fred Kaplan, who knows a thing or two, on For All I Care. And Ethan’s extraordinary reminiscence of Donald E. Westlake. And again, my favorite thing on the internet, Ethan’s opening of The DaVinci Code as written by Richard Stark.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Repeating these from my Twitter feed. Are you following me over there? You should be.

    The New Yorker profile of Tony Gilroy is packed with great information on screenwriting.

    My favorite bar and a grand cocktail jointly celebrated. Watch the video to see the legend Murray Stenson in action.

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    Wednesday, March 11, 2009

    Miscellaneous: This Space For Rent

    Multiple projects, too many deadlines, no time to post. So –

    A link. The AV Club’s Random Roles returns, with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. Tim Whatley forever!

    Bonus links. Via Mark Evanier with a reminder from John Hall, some vintage L.A. Times coverage of Raymond Chandler.

    A reminder. TCM Underground will be airing the trash Red Scare classic Shack Out on 101 this Friday at 2AM EST (OK, technically that’s Saturday), 11PM PST. With Lee Marvin as Slob!

    A staple. Time for the band featuring my first wife, my half brother Nils, and the guy who handles my landscaping. And I ain’t talking about yard work. When I get swamped, you get ‘Crucified.’

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    Friday, February 27, 2009

    Book: Night of the Jabberwock, by Fredric Brown (1950)

    More goodies from my pilgrimage to San Francisco’s Kayo Books, where if I do say so myself I made quite the haul.

    Fredric Brown was a fiendishly inventive writer who could plot like nobody else. (The ending of his short story ‘Knock,’ which I have never forgotten since I read it as a kid: “The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door ...”) He may have outdone himself with Night of the Jabberwock. Doc Stoeger is a small town newspaper editor, heroic imbiber, and Lewis Carroll enthusiast. All he wants is a decent story to run in the Carmel City Clarion. Come one Thursday night he gets his wish and then some in the form of a traffic accident, a bank robbery, an escaped lunatic, and the appearance of two wanted fugitives. Then there’s the mysterious man who turns up at Doc’s house with a theory about Lewis Carroll that beggars belief.

    It’s odd that on the same trip I picked up Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand, because the books are similar. Both feature potentially unreliable protagonists recounting singularly bizarre evenings, and both uncork dazzling denouements to make sense of all that’s gone before. Brown’s explanation is more earthbound than Rogers’ tour-de-force, but his book is also looser and funnier. It’s a wild ride.

    An earlier post partly about the adaptation of Brown’s Screaming Mimi is one of the most read in this site’s history. I credit my incisive observations. It certainly couldn’t be the accompanying photo of Anita Ekberg.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Ed Gorman on authors adapting to the times - or not - as they age.

    John August and his assistant recap a WGA panel on the state of the movie industry. Lots of sobering information.

    Some movies are trapped on VHS.

    Whatever happened to the femme fatale?

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    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Book: The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers (1945)

    It’s one of those books that pulp aficionados speak of with reverence. For years, I’ve been meaning to read it. A short time after Donald E. Westlake died, Ed Gorman reran a 2006 interview in which Westlake said that “The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

    That cinched it. And now I owe Mr. Westlake even more.

    The cover of the copy I bought at San Francisco’s Kayo Books describes Hand as “a classic of suspense-horror-mystery.” That claim does not represent indecision on the part of the promotions department. The book belongs in all three genres, and is a smashing success in each. It’s a singular, deranged, balls-out masterpiece.

    I won’t describe the plot, for fear of spoiling even one of its treasures. All you need know is that it’s about the hunt for a mad killer. An unforgettable one, an “ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man, with his torn ear and his sharp dog-pointed teeth, with his twisted corkscrew legs and his truncated height.”

    Rogers achieves wonders with POV, the narrator never quite having a grasp on his own story, what he didn’t see every bit as important as what he witnessed. Never have I read a book that so effortlessly conjured up feelings of dread, with paragraphs of fevered Lovecraftian detail that make the inside of the skull sweat. And structure? Read the closing pages and be amazed. I finished the book in the wee hours and sat there dumbstruck, listening to the walls creak.

    Then I almost read it again, just to figure out how Rogers did it.

    DVD: Le Trou (1960)

    This movie also knocked me on my ass. Jacques Becker’s final film is perhaps the definitive prison break drama. Non-professional actors, documentary realism, a pitiless focus on the physical toll of the bust-out, and an ending that had me hollering at the screen grindhouse-style.

    It’s been a good week.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    A pair from the AV Club: Random Roles with Bruce Campbell and an appreciation of the brilliant commentary track on the DVD of The Limey.

    The Financial Times on the relationship between comics and movies. H/t to Arts & Letters Daily.

    And a headline that perfectly captures the Florida that I know: Fake Foreigner drummer allegedly steals Corvette.

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    Thursday, January 08, 2009

    Miscellaneous: No Time For Blog, Doctor Jones

    The first week of the year is always a mess, isn’t it? I’m on a new schedule, which is actually an old schedule, and as a result I haven’t had time to update the site these last few days. I tried, though. I took a whack at that sixteen random things meme making the rounds and realized that there are only eleven salient facts about me. And only six of them are interesting.

    So until equilibrium is restored, check out some other blogs of note. Like author Tom Piccirilli’s The Cold Spot. Or JohnAugust.com. This recent post outlining his involvement with the Captain Marvel movie is as good a primer on how Hollywood works as you’ll find.

    I know, that’s not enough. Tell you what. Here’s a song that Cary Grant used to perform at parties. It’s sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” I learned it from the book I’m currently reading, Roger Moore’s memoir My Word Is My Bond.

    I once had a box of tin soldiers
    I knocked off the general’s head
    I broke all the sergeants and corporals
    Now I play with my privates instead

    Go on, try to do it in Cary’s voice.

    Oh, all right. I know what you really want.

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    Thursday, December 25, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Ho Ho Huh?

    From Alan Feuer’s New York Times article:

    There is a theory of journalism that holds that Christmas Day is relatively news-free, a day spent peacefully at home opening presents, entertaining Grandma, watching “Klute” on DVD or simply mulling over what to order — the shrimp or the chicken lo mein — at the Empire Grand later that night.

    Klute? Really? Who watches Klute on Christmas Day?

    Ah, well. To each his own. Happy holidays, everybody.

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    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Yuletidings

    It’s a Letterman tradition: Paul Shaffer’s interpretation of Cher singing ‘O Holy Night’ from an old variety special. Now, thanks to some enterprising elf, I can finally see the original. It’s just after the four minute mark, but why would you want to fast forward? Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

    As you prepare for your holiday festivities, allow yours truly to shoulder some of the burden and make your movie selections for you. Here are the standard titles in the VKDC Christmas Film Festival.

    The Ref. A movie I have watched every Xmas since its release.
    Die Hard
    The Ice Harvest

    Blast of Silence. A new entry this year. Thanks to Christa Faust for reminding me.

    Followed by the collected oeuvre of the true auteur of the season, Mr. Shane Black:

    Lethal Weapon
    The Last Boy Scout
    The Long Kiss Goodnight
    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

    And now, by popular demand, I give you Vince and Rosemarie Keenan’s Shane Black’s The Twelve Days of Christmas. Well on its way to become its own holiday tradition.

    Twelve cars exploding
    Eleven extras running
    Ten tankers skidding
    Nine strippers pole-ing
    Eight Uzis firing
    Seven henchmen scowling
    Six choppers crashing

    Five silver Glocks

    Four ticking bombs
    Three hand grenades
    Two mortar shells
    And a suitcase full of C-4

    God bless us, everyone. Or else.

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    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    TV: Scream Queens

    By rights, Scream Queens should have been crap. It is, after all, part of VH1’s reality lineup, in which hustlers and fame whores acquire wisdom and disease via hot tub. The premise: ten aspiring starlets share a house (again with the communal living, reality TV?) while competing for a role in the upcoming Saw VI. But Scream Queens, in spite of itself, became DVR-worthy. I learned more about acting in its brief run than I have from years of Inside the Actors’ Studio.

    Each episode is as rigorously structured as a Feydeau farce. In Act I, Saw actress Shawnee Smith leads the ladies through an acting exercise informed by the realities of low-budget horror. Sometimes you have to create a character while drenched in fake blood. Or make ridiculous dialogue believable, hence a recreation of a scene from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die in which you play a disembodied head. Low budget means varying acting ability, so your scene partner will be a gorgeous male model incapable of human emotion.

    Next up, workshop. John Homa, possessed of the righteous prick demeanor and facility for gnomic utterance essential for any acting coach, puts the girls through their paces. At times his tactics seem dubious. More often than not they’re unhinged: locking a bunch of twenty-somethings in the drawer at an abandoned morgue? But there’s Method to his madness. The morgue bit, for example, prepares each actress to play a character facing death. (OK, it’s still ridiculous. But it’s great TV.)

    At this point there’s some filler about “tension in the house,” but the show’s heart isn’t in it; you can sense the producers thinking, “Hey, this acting stuff is actually interesting.” The ladies bring all they’ve learned to bear on the director’s challenge in which they work with James Gunn, the Troma vet who made the delirious Slither. The outcomes can be genuinely surprising. In one episode an early favorite, a striking actress with real chops who occasionally made baffling choices, waited until cameras were about to roll before telling Gunn that she was uncomfortable with kissing another woman. She was cut at the end of the episode for unprofessional behavior. That this was presented as an ethical dilemma – and that we got the girl-on-girl action anyway with a different actress – demonstrates the program’s particular genius.

    There’s also a nice mix of personalities among the contestants. Like Lindsay, a former child actress working through confidence issues. (Politically incorrect aside to Lindsay: in addition to being skilled, you also have the best rack on the show. Do not be afraid to use it. This is Saw VI we’re talking about here, not Mother Courage.) And Tanedra, the oldest and least trained of the ten, who has undeniable raw talent. Both of my favorites made it to the Final Girl stage. Can I spot ‘em or what? I am Flo Ziegfeld reborn.

    It’s been said that it takes as much work to make a bad movie as a good one. Scream Queens drives that point home. Episodes are still airing, or you can watch them at VH1’s website.

    Miscellaneous: Radio, Radio

    The peerless Bill Nighy stars as Simon Brett’s dissolute actor-cum-sleuth Charles Paris in Dead Side of the Mic for BBC Radio. The four-part series airs on Wednesdays, and you can hear each installment online for the next week. Hat tip to Ed Gorman.

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    Monday, December 01, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Thanksgiving Roundup

    Chasing Smoke
    , by Bill Cameron (2008). Oregon homicide detective ‘Skin’ Kadash is supposed to be on disability while he undergoes cancer treatment. But his ex-partner comes to him with a case he can’t resist: several prominent men, all apparent suicides, all patients of Skin’s oncologist. It’s an involving mystery built around a memorable character in Kadash, a brusque, doggedly unsentimental man forced by his illness to deal with the transcendent even as he copes with countless personal indignities. I hope he makes it. I’d like to hear from him again.

    The Tall Target (1951). I never pass up a chance to catch an Anthony Mann movie. Some veteran noir hands spin a historical footnote about Abraham Lincoln’s secretive train ride to his inauguration into a taut thriller. Dick Powell plays the New York cop determined to foil an assassination attempt. (His character is named John Kennedy.) Powell’s brief speech to an impossibly young and beautiful Ruby Dee about his reaction to Lincoln as a man and a leader is a model of Mann’s forceful yet understated style. TCM aired it because it’s featured in Screen Savers: 40 Remarkable Movies Awaiting Rediscovery by John DiLeo. A book I now have to read.

    Ca$h (2008). My affection for OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies lingers. First I bought the DVD days after renting it. Then I ordered this movie from IFC Festival Direct because it also stars Jean DuJardin. Here he’s a small-time con artist bent on taking down Europe’s premiere thief (Jean Reno). Twist heaped upon turn, charismatic actors, lovely locations. The French, they have a word for it: divertissement. It depressed me no end to learn that the French now also say “chill” and “total hottie.” C’est la vie. DuJardin plays it straight in a film adapted from a Lawrence Block novel. Eyes will be peeled for that one.

    Transporter 3 (2008). The latest entry in my favorite junk franchise is the least and the least intelligible. Literally; I understood every third non-Statham word. But I don’t go for the dialogue. I wanted over-the-top action and got enough. Read Christa Faust’s take for your word of the day.

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    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Doorbuster

    Thanksgiving turkey is being digested, which means it’s time to get those Christmas decorations up. So here’s a holiday classic.


    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Business, Bigamy & Brass

    Busy, busy, busy here at Chez K. There’s always my Twitter feed. It’s amazing how often you can say all you need to in 140 characters or less. But here are some recent discoveries worth a sentence or two.

    Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School, by Philip Delves Broughton. The author, the former Paris bureau chief for the Telegraph, dealt with doubts about the future of his profession by enrolling in the Crimson’s MBA program. His book is an engaging, warts-and-all portrait of an institution with an uncommon amount of global influence; HBS graduates include George W. Bush and Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling. (OK, that’s not exactly a representative sample. But in light of recent financial events, fuck fair.) If you want to understand how the people who can be said with little exaggeration to run the world think, this book is a good place to start.

    The Bigamist (1953). Don’t let the pulpy title fool you. Sadness is the overriding tone of this Ida Lupino film, which I caught on TCM. Edmond O’Brien is a decent, profoundly lonely man who finds different satisfactions from each of his two wives (Joan Fontaine and Lupino, directing herself for the only time). The story is handled in compassionate, humane fashion, right up through the slightly unsatisfying ending.

    But the goodwill is almost squandered in a strange reflexive moment. Miracle on 34th Street’s Edmund Gwenn is cast as the adoption agency employee whose investigation causes O’Brien’s double life to unravel. It’s already tempting fate to have Fontaine say that he looks like Santa Claus. But when a Hollywood tour guide blithely announces that the bus is now passing the home of actor Edmund Gwenn, that’s a stunt even Charlie Kaufman would steer clear of.

    Moon & Sand. This Rhapsody channel dedicated to West Coast jazz of the ’50s and ’60s was off the air last week, stranding yours truly at his wit’s end. It’s my daily soundtrack. Recently it introduced me to my new favorite song, ‘Swingin’ on the Moon’ from Mel Tormé’s album of the same name. It features the immortal lyric “Tell mater and pater/We live in a crater.” And dig that crazy cover art.

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    DVD: OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (U.S. 2008)

    Hysterical. One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a while. At a time when spy farce seems old hat, this French movie breaks new ground by making the bold decision to go period. Not just in setting (Egypt, 1955), but in appearance. OSS 117 is a note-perfect recreation of late 1950s/early ‘60s films. The cinematography, the sets, even the fight choreography. As a fan of the early Bond films, I was laughing at individual shots. Star Jean Dujardin, as the sublimely oblivious secret agent, even looks a little like Connery.

    The deleted scenes are funny. The making-of is funny. The whole enterprise is funny. Rent it before the sequel comes out. Rent it before Quantum of Solace comes out.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    L.A.’s one-stop shop for sheet music needs is in danger.

    A day in the life of The Daily Show.

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    Tuesday, November 04, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Polling the Electorate

    I exercised my franchise today. Also, I voted.

    Total time involved: six minutes. There were longer lines for free coffee at the neighborhood Starbucks. I would have gladly waited to cast my ballot, because the Catholic in me is a great fan of ritual. The impending loss of that ritual is what weighs on my mind most today. King County, Washington is switching to all-mail voting in 2009, and the prospect depresses me. I like going to the polls. I want to put forth the effort. It adds something ineffable to the process.

    Following the policy I’ve adhered to all year, that concludes my comments on the election. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. Anybody else watching Scream Queens on VH1?


    Sunday, November 02, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Your Samhain Weekend Roundup

    The Black Scorpion (1957). This low-budget creature feature was our Halloween evening entertainment. Ignore the scorpions’ “faces” and focus instead on the tremendous stop-motion work by Willis O’Brien and Pete Peterson. No less an authority than Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film (now celebrating its 25th anniversary) says: “The terrifying huge scorpions make the monsters in most other films look pathetic.” Star Mara Corday is so much of a ringer for Gina Gershon that it lends a whole new layer of meaning to the proceedings.

    The movie has a special place in my heart because of the circumstances during which I first saw it. I was nine years old, visiting family in Ireland with my mother. She noticed that the movie would be coming on at two in the morning and suggested that we watch it together. Sure enough, she woke me at 1:45 AM with tea and cookies at the ready. I sat with her in my grandfather’s living room watching giant scorpions rampage across Mexico, then went back to bed and slept like an angel. It’s funny to think she had me figured out that early.

    Pride and Glory (2008). After all the trouble this movie had, it’s almost unfair of the New York Times’ Dan Barry to have a go at it in an admittedly funny piece about the depiction of Irish Catholic New York cops. But Pride and Glory can take the heat. It doesn’t break new ground, but director/co-writer Gavin O’Connor, the son of an NYPD officer, knows the terrain and gives it a gritty, lived-in texture. Colin Farrell continues his string of terrific performances. Jon Voight’s teary Christmas dinner speech would be right at home in any number of Keenan family gatherings. I could have done without the reel on the jukebox during the bar fight. But the one cliché that did stand out – Edward Norton’s character living on a boat – has nothing to do with being Irish, and O’Connor takes pains to justify it. Smart, solid filmmaking.

    Earshot Jazz Festival. I missed most of Seattle’s premiere jazz event thanks to traveling. But we did squeeze in the Phil Markowitz Trio at Tula’s last night, and we’re glad we did.

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    Friday, October 31, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Boo!

    Happy Halloween! To mark the occasion, a little nightmare fuel from my childhood ...


    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Picture as an Exhibition, Part Two

    More traveling, more catch-up. This time we were in beautiful Provincetown, Massachusetts, attending the wedding of two dear friends. An absolutely marvelous time was had by all. Here’s the stupendous view from the porch of the inn where we stayed.

    In the meantime, a Halloween link. At the AV Club, a newbie to the Saw series watches all five movies in a row.

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    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Movie: Body of Lies (2008)

    Damn the critics and the box office. This CIA thriller is smart, engrossing studio filmmaking. Supple direction by Ridley Scott. A twisty, profane script by William Monahan from David Ignatius’ he-knows-whereof-he-speaks novel. Leonardo DiCaprio flaunting his leading man chops while Russell Crowe serves up a juicy character performance. Plus Mark Strong in his immaculate bespoke wardrobe as the film’s secret weapon. Honestly, his suits were so beautiful they distracted me from the action. As I get older, I find myself more drawn to quality men’s wear.

    Halfway through the film, I finally figured out why I was having such a fine time. The revelation occurred when Simon McBurney turned up in a small role as an eccentric Agency computer whiz. I thought, “It’s the Peter Lorre part,” and I realized that for all of Body of Lies’ visual razzle-dazzle, at heart it’s a 1940s thriller, the kind of movie cranked out regularly by Warners or RKO. Dick Powell or Mitchum in the lead, Claude Rains flashy in the Crowe part, Michael Curtiz behind the camera.

    Maybe the problem is that the bar is set too high for what is seen, for good or ill, as the “War on Terror” genre. Critics expect every movie set against that backdrop to comment boldly about the state of our troubled world, while audiences shy away thinking they’re going to get a polemic. Not every WWII movie was under pressure to say something significant about the war. Many of them were simply entertaining potboilers about people doing difficult jobs at a dangerous time. Which is statement enough, really. That’s what Body of Lies is, and why I liked it. So there.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    I’m a week late in highlighting Eddie Muller’s salute to James Crumley. Read it for the Scott Phillips story. I can’t believe Crumley actually worked on the Judge Dredd script.

    Behold the Biblio burro!

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    Thursday, October 16, 2008

    TV: Weekend Programming Note

    Watching nothing but baseball, reading nothing but research material. So this post is more of a heads up.

    The good people at TCM Underground will again be airing the bizarre, unavailable on video, split-screen serial killer film Wicked, Wicked at 2:15 AM Eastern Saturday, 11:15 PM Pacific Friday. Undoubtedly this encore is due to the overwhelming response to the post I wrote the last time TCM showed the movie. (That post actually is one of the most popular on the site, thanks not to my deathless prose but the photo of Anita Ekberg. Rowr.)

    Again, here’s the trailer. Set that DVR. Fortify yourself with strong drink. And behold the madness.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    During my travels I missed this AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt on his stint as programmer at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Patton has excellent taste, and he and I are simpatico on Walter Matthau.

    There’s a special edition DVD of Capricorn One? Why don’t I have this?

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    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Picture As An Exhibition

    Still playing catch-up and recovering from a cold after bragging that I never get sick after air travel. Foolish, boastful Vince. In the meantime, here’s a photo I took at Cà d’Zan, the Ringling mansion in Sarasota. It looks fake. It’s not.

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    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Back At My Post, Posting

    I have returned. Nothing happened while I was gone, right?

    We were in Florida for a week, first visiting my parents outside Ocala for my father’s milestone birthday, then heading down to Sarasota to spend some time with my brother Sean, his lovely wife, and their adorable new daughter. Of course, my Twitter feed on the main page told you all that.

    The trip was all about family, and nobody needs to hear me wax maudlin on the subject. Instead, some observations of a stripe more suited to this page –-

    Florida is clearly a swing state, because the barrage of political ads was relentless. So much so that it made watching TV damn near impossible.

    I now want the NFL Network.

    The Direct TV “mix” feature – a channel showing all of their news or sports feeds at the same time – is ingenious and should be offered everywhere.

    A high point of the trip was our visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum. The 66-acre estate chronicles every aspect of the circus magnate’s life. It includes his waterfront mansion Cà d’Zan, his extensive art collection, and not one but two buildings devoted to circus history and memorabilia. A glimpse of old Florida well worth seeing.

    There’s Key lime pie, and then there’s Florida Key lime pie.

    Margaritas should, whenever possible, be consumed at an open air bar near the water.

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    Wednesday, October 01, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Links

    I can’t tell if an armored car robbery making use of an inner tube and a Craigslist ad is more Dortmunder or Parker, but either way Donald E. Westlake should be made aware of it.

    Can it be? Complete gibberish almost makes sense when rendered as poetry?


    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Plus Ça Change ...

    I happened to read this passage in reference to Jimmy Carter last night.

    “... What the hell is he doing? You got any ideas?”

    “No,” Malatesta said.

    “Neither’ve I,” Proctor said. “I have no idea in the world what he is doing. I wished I could convince myself that he does. It’s bad enough, I got to be an asshole, but if the goddamned President’s an asshole we are all in trouble, including poor assholes like me that can’t stay out of trouble anyway, and then what the fuck we do, huh?”

    From The Rat on Fire by George V. Higgins, 1981

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    Miscellaneous: Movie Links

    How hard is it to adapt a good book, anyway?

    Speaking of adaptations, here’s Toby Young on what he’s learned about the movie business now that his life is heading to the silver screen. H/t to 2 Blowhards.

    The 10 Best Designed Criterion Collection DVDs.

    The New Yorker’s 5 Scariest Movies.

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    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Book: Still Shot, by Jerry Kennealy (2008)

    Mix movies and murder and I’m there. If you can serve it up with finger-poppin’ brio the way Jerry Kennealy does in Still Shot, so much the better.

    Carroll Quint, San Francisco film critic and noir expert, has show business in his blood. When his mother, an onetime studio system starlet, asks him to investigate the alleged suicide of her old Hollywood roommate, he’s got no choice but to say yes. The resulting case touches on decades-old Tinseltown scandals, ruthless moguls, phony Picassos, and a hard-boiled LAPD veteran whose claim to fame is being the first person ever to shout “Freeze!” at a perp. Plus there’s sex. What’s not to like?

    Miscellaneous: Elsewhere

    The AV Club offers a primer on TV detectives. Any article that shows love to Spenser: For Hire and Andy Barker, P.I. is OK by me.

    At The Rap Sheet, their tribute to the best TV crime drama openers continues with a salute to The Avengers. As a result of reading this piece, I finally stumped the web. I have been unable to turn up a video I only saw once, for the song “Emma Peel” by Seattle band The Allies. I’m disappointed, people.

    Matt at scrubbles.net has posted a slideshow devoted to old View-Master reels. The things we did for entertainment before the internet.

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    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Miscellaneous: Bits and Pieces

    Expect more posts like this. Terse, unfocused, and repurposing observations already made on Twitter.

    Good book: Envy The Night, by Michael Koryta (2008). Frank Temple III has been adrift in life ever since his father, a federal agent and a hero to his son, was exposed as part of a ring of hit men. Frank gains a sense of purpose when he learns that the man who gave his father up is going home – where Frank can kill him. Strong, muscular writing, rich characters, and a great sense of place. I haven’t read Koryta’s novels about P.I. Lincoln Perry, but I’ll seek them out now.

    Caught the end of We Own The Night today, and was reminded anew of what an underrated movie it is. Both as a thriller and a family drama. The car chase on the rain-slick streets of my old Queens stomping grounds is brilliant, and the closing exchange between brothers Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix got me all over again.

    Elsewhere, I’d like to thank Jaime Weinman for restoring a certain cartoon to my memory. Rest assured I’ll get him for this.

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    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    Comics: Two, Please

    Your favorite married film geeks are back on schedule. This week’s installment below or here.

    Miscellaneous: Tweets for the Tweet

    Posting will continue to be erratic. The bloom is not off the blogging rose, but it’s clear to me that this site is evolving into something else.

    Therefore, I’ve added my Twitter feed to the main page. 140 characters at a clip I can do, usually several times a day. Find out what I’m having for lunch! Learn why the person in front of me at the supermarket annoys me! Discover where I itch! And assorted pop culture bon mots. Just look to your left.

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