I’m over at the Rap Sheet today, talking about a favorite Hollywood novel that’s not quite a Hollywood novel: Ellery Queen’s 1951 spellbinder The Origin of Evil. And my alter ego Renee Patrick has posted her schedule for the coming year, with more events still in the works.
Friday, March 03, 2017
Thursday, February 16, 2017
It’s that time of year again, gang. The Seattle iteration of the Noir City film festival kicks off this evening at Capitol Hill’s Egyptian Theater. It’s the all-heist film edition. Seven straight days of double bills (with bonus matinees this holiday weekend!) equaling twenty, count ‘em, twenty capers. It all gets rolling tonight with a peerless pairing of The Asphalt Jungle and Criss Cross.
There’s so much to savor in this roster cooked up by Film Noir Foundation honcho and festival host Eddie Muller. My personal picks: Violent Saturday, in which pulp meets Douglas Sirk; my favorite movie of all time, the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, on the big screen at last; and El Aura, a film I’ve been touting for over ten years (and the subject of my first-ever Noir City contribution).
I’ll be living at the Egyptian for the next week—and possibly appearing on stage—so come on out and say hello. Live musical entertainment is on tap tonight and Saturday, as well. Given a battery of other commitments I won’t be doing daily recaps this year, but I’ll try to post updates as the fun unfurls.
Tuesday, January 17, 2017
One of the benefits of being on the masthead of Noir City, the magazine of the non-profit Film Noir Foundation, is pitching in on the planning. I’ve known about the all-TV issue, which went out to subscribers last weekend, for ages, and had my pick of subject matter. I could have cherry-picked a vintage series that provided a small screen home for the migrating talent responsible for the twisted cinematic crime dramas of the 1950s. Or I could have claimed the contemporary cable antihero of my choice. It’s good to be the king, or in this case the managing editor.
Joseph Dougherty wrote both films, and proved a funny and candid interview. An acclaimed playwright and TV hyphenate, he’s spent the past seven years working on Pretty Little Liars, which he describes as “mini-Hitchcock movies for teens.” Dougherty wrote and directed “Shadow Play,” a film noir-inspired episode that became a fan favorite. We did a second interview about that show, complete with the welcome news that PLL has introduced a new generation to classic cinema as well as Dougherty’s brilliant advice for penning dialogue for teenage girls: “think of them as a bomber crew in a Howard Hawks movie.”
I’ve also got my usual Cocktails & Crime column, plus reviews of a new Douglas Sirk/George Sanders Blu-ray set and Edward Sorel’s offbeat book Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, covered in the New York Times by some wet-behind-the-ears stringer named Woody Allen.
But I’m not the only person in this issue. You also get—
- A double dose of FNF honcho Eddie Muller, interviewing Warner Bros. Home Entertainment George Feltenstein and holding forth on the small screen-spawned Mulholland Dr.
- Cartoonist/illustrator Daniel Clowes’ one-of-a-kind list of his five favorite noir films
- Imogen Smith on the definitive noir TV show, The Fugitive
- Jazz aficionado supreme Brian Light’s appraisal of the offbeat Johnny Staccato
- Alan K. Rode charting the noir roots of Perry Mason
- Steve Kronenberg’s assessment of the noir episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller
- Danilo Castro’s remembrance of Fallen Angels, the ‘90s cable series that brought pulp to primetime
- Sharon Knolle on the recent bumper crop of noir on cable, including Quarry and Animal Kingdom
- Ben Terrall’s very personal history of the pulp origins of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys
And, believe it or not, even more. It’s a true gem of an issue, and it’s yours by making a contribution to the Film Noir Foundation.
Thursday, December 29, 2016
Titles like the above irk the hell out of me. That’s the peril of PeakTV®: no matter how many hours you clock in front of your various screens, you know you’re missing something.
Unless you’re me, in which case you’re missing everything. I used to joke that watching TV was a skill set I didn’t possess. At some point in the last few years, it stopped being a gag. Television viewing became serious business—maybe the real business of America nowadays—and I lacked the chops for it. I also used to joke that when I could watch whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, I’d wallow like a pig in a trough. Came that very day and I couldn’t be bothered to waddle over from the sty.
Game of Thrones? Haven’t seen it. The Walking Dead? Not one episode. My televisual diet consists of baseball and old movies. I have the occasional spasm of sensibility—I flew through Stranger Things this summer, the show scratching an itch I didn’t know I had—but for the most part I bluff my way through conversations about TV. It’s actually not that hard to do.
That said, allow me to tell you about the best TV show you’re not watching.
What followed was the exact opposite of a binge. What followed was me doling the episodes out incrementally, not wanting them to end. Because Count Arthur Strong is without question one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen. Discovering Count Arthur Strong was a rare high point in a dire year. If you have access to Acorn TV, which you might via Amazon Prime, you still have time before the bells toll the deserved demise of this annus horribilus to make the acquaintance of Count Arthur Strong yourself.
Count Arthur, honorific never explained, is the brainchild of writer/actor Steve Delaney. The Count is a bit player in his dotage now known for his “raconteuring,” a legend in his own mind whose greatest claim to fame is a brief partnership with a man who broke up the act to become a titan of English entertainment. The ex-partner dies and his hapless writer son (played by Rory Kinnear, best known to U.S. audiences as the prime minister in that episode of Black Mirror) is pressed to pen about a book about the old man, which sends him careering into the orbit of Count Arthur and his friends.
That’s it. That’s the show in its entirety, now at thirteen episodes and counting, every one of them packed with laughs. Delaney created Count Arthur in the 1980s and revived him for the Edinburgh Festival in the 1990s, where his popularity led to a radio series. He then teamed up with Graham Linehan (Father Tim) for the TV version, which combines their strong suits: Delaney’s genius at inhabiting a fully three-dimensional character, and Linehan’s flair for lampooning sitcoms while honoring their traditions. Kinnear sends the show deliriously over the top, the putative straight man every bit as mad as his partner. The six episodes of Season One form a nearly perfect whole, unified by the storyline of Kinnear’s dogged efforts to write the biography of the father he never knew and studded with moments of surprising emotional impact. Season Two is looser but frequently more hilarious, as in the episode that is a meticulously detailed send-up of Misery. I told my compadre Ray Banks about my love for Count Arthur. He welcomed me to the brotherhood and steered me toward the trove of Delaney’s radio broadcasts, which I am now again doling out gradually until Season Three crests on these shores.
It’s a few days late, but for a taste here’s Count Arthur Strong’s Christmas message.
While I’m at it, a few other lesser publicized shows I’ve enjoyed this year—
Occupied (Netflix). Created by crime novelist Jo Nesbø and brought to the screen by filmmaker Erik Skjoldbjǣrg (Insomnia), this political thriller details the slow-motion takeover of Norway by Russia in order to commandeer its energy resources. Over the summer I recommended it to people as preparation for the Trump administration, because I’m such a cut-up. Now I’d call it mandatory. Its daring structure, with each episode set in a subsequent month, means key plot business sometimes occurs offscreen and we only witness the fallout. It also makes it a potent exploration of normalization.
Difficult People (Hulu). We pay for Hulu solely to watch Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner say what we’re all thinking. The show that makes me miss living in New York City.
Red Oaks (Amazon). Of course I’m in the tank for a series set in the 1980s about a high school kid who dreams of being a filmmaker. Season One was so flawless I almost resented its return, but the sophomore year brought an abundance of pleasures beginning with a Paris-set premiere directed by Hal Hartley (who helmed the bulk of the episodes) that plays like an independent film. And every single music cue this season broke my fucking heart.
People of Earth (TBS). A comedy from Conan O’Brien and some of the Parks & Recreation team about a recovery group for alien abductees—though they prefer to be called “experiencers” because it gives them more agency—that’s funny, deeply human and astonishingly soulful.
Friday, December 09, 2016
A blast from the past. December 2009, to be exact.
There I am at my favorite watering hole, talking with the staff, when the subject of Christmas movies is raised.
First suggestion, not made by me: the traditional double-bill of Die Hard and Die Hard II: Die Harder.
So I lobby for my own Christmas favorite, The Ref. And then observe, not for the first time, that the entire oeuvre of Shane Black – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – is set at the most wonderful time of the year. (Editor's note, 2013: You can now add IRON MAN 3 to that roster. Editor’s note, 2016: And THE NICE GUYS. The Christmas trees are there if you look.)
Therefore, as you venture out for that last round of shopping, I offer, by popular demand, what has become a VKDC tradition. (“By popular demand” meaning Rosemarie asked, “Why haven’t you posted this yet?” And she did write most of it.) Here, once again, is Shane Black’s 12 Days of Christmas. Record your church group performing this and we’ll post the video here!
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.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Several weeks early, I offer my New Year’s resolution for 2017: whenever I hear someone is making an enemies list, I’m gonna do what I can to be on it.
There’s still time to go, but it’s entirely possible the best movie I saw in a theater in 2016 will be ... the best movie I saw in a theater in 2015. Seattle’s Cinerama recently wrapped a 10-day run of Mad Max: Fury Road – The Black and Chrome Edition. What better time to revisit the apocalypse! George Miller called this black and white print “the best version” of his action extravaganza, a “more authentic and elemental” experience. I loved the film when I saw it last summer, but this viewing was indeed more intense and emotional. Monochrome is Tom Hardy’s friend, revealing new layers to his performance. Both versions will be available on Blu-ray next month, but I may put Fury Road in the rarified category of movie I only watch on a big screen.
One of the titles I picked up in the self-serve book room at Bouchercon in New Orleans was Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, edited by Joseph Goodrich. As one-half of Renee Patrick, I’m always interested in the working methods of other writing teams.
Rosemarie and I intend to remain married, so we’re not about to follow the lead of cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee. As Ellery Queen they wrote numerous novels and short stories about a detective also named Ellery Queen, with Dannay responsible for plotting duties and Lee handling the prose. It was a fraught system, each man resenting their interdependence and feeling unappreciated by the other. Their exchanges are charged with recriminations but also hugely instructive. One letter will offer a devastating critique of the work in progress, followed by an equally avid and airtight response. It’s bracing to read correspondence between partners who both have their reasons and are more than capable of defending them.
Ten Days’ Wonder (1948) is something of a chamber piece, one of the novels where Ellery retreats to the bucolic hamlet of Wrightsville. As such, it has a small cast of characters and for that reason I couldn’t shake the feeling that even coming to it fresh I would have sussed out the killer. The core idea still strikes me as a shade too intellectual. But the writing is soulful, seeking and finding a deepening of the character, and the mechanics of the final revelation are impressive. The next year’s Cat of Many Tails, in contrast, seemed even more thrilling knowing what tricks the boys had up their sleeves. The gripping tale of a serial killer terrorizing New York, it’s thick with mid-century atmosphere; when handing over his detailed outline, Dannay suggests Lee use the then-in-the-theaters The Naked City as a guide. The Cat’s method of selecting his victims is as diabolical now as it was nearly seventy years ago, the motive behind it every bit as chilling. The psychological explanations tend to be long-winded, understandable given when the book was written. But that gentility also makes the shock easier to take.
It was fascinating to approach a book when its gaff has been blown and look for the seams. Time to read some Ellery Queen where I don’t possess any of their secrets.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
some reason I feel compelled to explain why this post exists. I’ll keep it
brief. A week before the election, I went cold turkey on Facebook and Twitter.
I realized that, like the rest of the country, I was going insane, and social
media was only accelerating the process. I was checking Twitter constantly for
updates and new polling numbers, mainlining everyone else’s fears and hopes at
the same time. Conversely, I’d stop by Facebook for a break from the news –
Post some photos of your damn cats! – only to get sucked back into the