Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Book: Neon Noir, by Woody Haut (1999)

Haut’s survey of contemporary crime fiction places far too much emphasis on politics. I don’t think it adds to my understanding of a novel to know it was published the week before the U.S. bombed Libya. Our tastes differ considerably; he speaks ill of my man Lawrence Block (“though continuing to produce entertaining fiction, (he) seems to have become, and perhaps always was, too slick for his own good”), and he dislikes the film adaptation of James Ellroy’s L.A. CONFIDENTIAL because it doesn’t capture every nuance of a 496 page book. But Haut’s knowledge of the genre is thorough, allowing him to make some fascinating connections. I don’t agree with much in this book, but I’m glad I read it.

Movie: The Naked Spur (1953)

One of Anthony Mann’s taut psychological Westerns. It’s a chamber piece that unfolds in the great outdoors, with each of the five characters playing mind games on the others. Bracing stuff, with Jimmy Stewart at his peak. No talking rabbits here. Mann directed several terrific crime dramas like RAW DEAL, and his cast here is peopled with actors equally at home in the shadows. Ralph Meeker is memorably chilling as a cavalry officer discharged for being morally unsound.

Good Scene, Bad Movie: Outbreak (1995)

Dustin Hoffman obviously had his own writer; you can tell by the way his quirky character details are larded on. In the midst of the hokum, the late, great J.T. Walsh appears unbilled as the President’s chief of staff. He struts around a conference table, shouting at the assembled generals and cabinet members that if they vaporize this small, plague-plagued town, they’d better be prepared for the consequences. He ends the harangue by tossing photos of the townspeople onto the table. And for one moment, this movie crackles.

Mystery Solved: Mindhunters

The fate of this movie, which I’ve written about before, has been revealed. Miramax announces that Renny Harlin’s film will go straight to video the very week that Harlin’s EXORCIST prequel tops the box office.