Monday, October 31, 2005

Miscellaneous: Big Apple Grab Bag

Selected highlights of my trip to New York:

- Correcting a long-standing oversight by finally going to the top of the Empire State Building.

- Coming over the George Washington Bridge after a weekend in the country as “Native New Yorker” plays on the radio.

- Stumbling onto a bistro named after a favorite movie and getting one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had.

- Discovering that I am not suffering from olfactory hallucinations.

- Taking a terrific walking tour of Dorothy Parker’s New York and absorbing just how much of American culture was created in the 20 blocks around Times Square.

- Concocting this recipe for a perfect day. Sleep late. Have lunch at a restaurant that only serves grilled cheeses. Go see a new print of the mesmerizing Nicholson/Antonioni film THE PASSENGER on the big screen. Have post-show snack at a place that only serves rice pudding. Meet friends for a tapas dinner. Walk back to temporary digs through Greenwich Village on the Saturday before Halloween, taking in a dizzying array of costumes.

- Walking the southern tip of Manhattan on our last morning in town, pausing only for the occasional Bloody Mary to slake an Indian summer thirst.

Miscellaneous: Links

I’m going to have to rely on Overheard in New York to tide me over for the next few months. A book based on the site is on the way, with an intro by my spiritual father Lawrence Block.

Mystery*File editor Steve Lewis and I tag-teamed on a review of ‘70s TV classic GET CHRISTIE LOVE! It’s now up at the Mystery*File website, along with a fascinating interview with author Dorothy Uhnak, whose books inspired the series.

Great news: Ed Gorman is back, and he’s blogging.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Website Update: I Have Returned

I'm back. Utterly spent, but back. Regular posting should resume shortly. In the meantime, the latest installment of my column In the Frame is up at Steve Lewis' Mystery*File. That should tide you over until I get my sea legs again.

I would, however, like to comment on one event that transpired while I was incommunicado. As I predicted, the White Sox won the World Series. Which means we all have one year to get our affairs in order. Remember who told you first.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Website Update: Brief Hiatus

Every so often I get the urge to test myself. Do I have what it takes to compete on the mean streets? To make it in the big town? To cut it in a permanent orange alert environment?

It's time for my annual pilgrimage home to New York City. I may post from the road, I may not. I make no guarantees. I'll be back on what passes for my regular schedule around Halloween. In the meantime, check out the sites on the links page and take care of yourselves. I want to find this place exactly as I left it or I'll call your mothers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Movie: The Birds (1963)

When we heard that Turner Classic Movies would be showing Alfred Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS with Tippi Hedren in attendance, we had to go. We don’t get many movie stars in this neck of the woods. They’re all up in Vancouver. Although Rosemarie did once see Ethan Hawke coming out of our local supermarket. We never figured out why he was there. The produce selection is good, but not two-time Oscar nominee good.

Ms. Hedren (suddenly I’m Larry King – “Ms. Tippi Hedren for the hour”) looked every inch the movie star. She was literally dazzling; every time she moved in her chair, the light bounced off a different diamond. She was also wearing the pin depicting three birds in flight that Hitch himself presented to her when he signed her to a contract more than forty years ago.

TCM host Robert Osborne led her through a spirited interview. She was marvelously self-effacing, saying that Hitch wanted an unknown for the lead in THE BIRDS because any established actress would have known not to take the part. She told some wonderful stories about Hitchcock’s technique, but was also very forthright about the director’s obsession with her, which went far beyond their onscreen collaborations. Hitch wanted to control how she dressed, what she ate, what books she read. Osborne asked if Hitch’s wife Alma knew. Ms. Hedren said she did, and that she was very sorry about it. Ultimately, Ms. Hedren had to tell Hitchcock that she was uncomfortable with their relationship and didn’t want to work with him anymore. He accepted that – but also refused to allow her to act in other films. “For years, directors and producers came up to me and said they’d wanted me for a role, but Hitch wouldn’t allow it,” she said. “The worst was when I found out that Francois Truffaut had wanted to cast me. I’d never heard a word about it. That one hurt.”

Osborne is too much of a showman to let the conversation end on a down note, so he asked Ms. Hedren about the wildlife refuge she’s run for decades and her daughter Melanie Griffith. He closed with some kind words about Evan Hunter, who took the film’s premise from Daphne DuMaurier and concocted the screen story himself.

Then, on to the movie. I’ve seen THE BIRDS more than any other Hitchcock film, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. The attack scenes are brilliant, executed with a chilling indifference. The lack of explanations – and the inconclusive ending – are still deeply unsettling. But that first hour of half-baked psychology is awfully slow.

The sound in the theater was first-rate. Loud enough to make me shield my eyes, lest they be pecked out next.

You never know who’s going to show up at these things. There was the celebrity hound in our aisle, who shouted out allegedly witty remarks to Ms. Hedren and then left before the movie started. And the contingent from the Art Students’ League who decamped en masse about twenty minutes in. And the musky-odored gent ahead of us in line, who was there because “movies cost too much, and I heard this one’s free.”

Then again, there was the man who queued up behind us, took one look at the crowd, and said, “Lot of Rod Taylor fans, I guess.” You, sir, made our evening.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Website: Ed Gorman & Friends

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve linked to Ed’s blog. Yesterday he put up what he called his final post. Ed has shut down his site before only to come back. I hope he does so again.

Bill Crider does a far better job than I could explaining Ed’s many contributions to the crime fiction community. I’ve been a Gorman fan for a long time. His blog inspired me to start my own, and the plugs he graciously gave this site in its early days accounted for most if not all of its traffic. For that, I’ll always be in his debt.

Ed is one of the great appreciators, always singling out quality work no matter the medium or genre. By coincidence, in the past week I caught up with two films that Ed brought to my attention:

MISTER BUDDWING (1966) – Amnesia victim James Garner wanders the black-and-white streets of New York attempting to reconstruct his identity. It’s a surprisingly experimental movie, with the role of Garner’s significant other played by several women that his character encounters. I went in expecting a thriller, but the film posed a far more disturbing question. Does losing your way mean losing yourself?

NO DOWN PAYMENT (1957) – Sort of a BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES set a decade later, as WWII vets begin moving out to the suburbs only to face entirely new problems. Ed’s right to single out Tony Randall’s performance as a striver driven to alcohol by the need to keep up with the Joneses.

The films have a lot in common. They deserve to be better known. They’re based on novels by authors generally seen as crime writers (Evan Hunter and John McPartland, respectively). And they focus squarely on the human wants and needs of their characters, a quality evident in all of Ed Gorman’s work.

Like a lot of other people, I’m keeping my bookmark in place and waiting for his return.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Website Update: Changes

The incremental design change continues. I’ve tweaked the Links page, but that’s the least of it. The Purpose page is no more, because by this point even readers of Parade magazine know what a blog is. As for Theories, I finally had to admit that I was never going to update that section of the site. So I’ve kissed it goodbye.

But I stand behind the sentiment that graced that page for lo these many months: everything that is wrong with society can be blamed on either hippies or television.

Book: Hell Hath No Fury, by Charles Williams (1953)

It reads like the ur-noir novel. A slick operator in a small town tempted by a good girl, a bad woman, and an easy bank. Williams’ lethally spare prose conveys the heat, the desperation, and above all the sense that a man who feels trapped can talk himself into anything.

The novel was the basis for the 1990 film THE HOT SPOT. Williams himself had a hand in the adaptation. I somehow missed the film for fifteen years, and I have to say I’m glad. It’s simultaneously too faithful to the source – almost every incident from the book is recreated – and not faithful enough, serving up the action in an arch, self-conscious style.

Still, director Dennis Hopper casts the movie well. The good girl is future Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly, the bad woman recent Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen.

Don Johnson makes a perfect noir protagonist – thickset, good-looking, and not as smart as he thinks he is. I’ve thought Johnson was underrated ever since 1993’s GUILTY AS SIN, which I recently caught again on cable. Screenwriter and personal hero Larry Cohen begins with the conceit of recasting the femme fatale as a man. The result is schizophrenic, to say the least; director Sidney Lumet and costar Rebecca DeMornay seem to think they’re making a courtroom drama. But Johnson is squarely on Cohen’s page, unafraid to push the feminine aspects of his character. The actor also scored in a TV production of THE LONG HOT SUMMER, and as a comic foil in TIN CUP. I had hoped to check out Johnson’s new TV series JUST LEGAL, in which he played a role similar to Paul Newman’s in THE VERDICT, but it was an early casualty of the fall season.

You may have noticed that most of this post has focused on Don Johnson’s career instead of Charles Williams’ novel. That’s because there’s nothing I can say about an acknowledged classic of the genre other than: read it.

Movie: Thunder Road (1958)

The sometime Hollywood stuntman who anchors James Sallis’ DRIVE spoke so reverently about this movie that I had to seek it out. Robert Mitchum, who not only wrote the story but the title song as well, plays a Tennessee bootlegger facing down revenuers and the Mob.

A low budget and a formula script hamper the story, but the film has a genuine feel for life in the holler, and Mitchum creates another in his gallery of screw-you individualists. And fans of fine motoring will find much to savor, including displays of the bootlegger’s turn (a 180-degree change of direction without stopping) and the moonshiner’s turn (the same thing done while driving in reverse). Yes, I had to look them up.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Movie: Blind Spot (1947)

It has been pointed out by many writers that endings are a bitch. But titles aren’t a walk in the park either. At times, they can be the inspiration for all that follows, like MARS NEEDS WOMEN or I CHANGED MY SEX.

They can arrive with the original idea or show up a few weeks later as if by fourth-class mail. Occasionally, a suitable one never presents itself. And then you’re left hanging.

Last year an entire screenplay fell into my head. Plot, characters, dialogue ... everything but a title. I wrote it in a white heat – now there’s a title – then slapped a placeholder on it. THE NEXT LEVEL. As in, “I’m gonna take this to ...”

My manager is very enthusiastic about the script but says we’ve got to call it something else. Out of curiosity I ask why.

“When I hear that phrase,” he says, “I think of video games.”

“Damn,” says the PlayStation-less I. “We’ve got to call it something else.”

Thus began the title fight. The two of us come up with a dozen alternates. Friends and associates contribute even more. The winner, by almost unanimous decision, is BLIND SPOT. It suits a noir-style thriller, and has certain thematic resonance. That’s the title it was optioned under earlier this year.

Other movies have gone by that name. There’s the acclaimed documentary about Hitler’s secretary. And a 1947 mystery which is unavailable on video.

I vowed that at some point, I would track that BLIND SPOT down.

One of the highlights of the fall cinema season in this neck of the woods is the Seattle Art Museum’s film noir series, which always sells out instantly. A few days after that happened, I took a look at this year’s program.

October 13. Blind Spot. 1947.

This is where I’m supposed to explain how difficult it was for me to land a ticket. Nope. A friend put me in touch with SAM’s film curator. When I told him why I had to see the movie, he said, “Don’t worry. We’ll make room for you.”

This is where I’m supposed to say that the 1947 film is a hidden treasure. After all, Leonard Maltin gives it three stars and calls it a “tight little mystery.” Can’t do that, either. It’s got a clever premise. Chester ‘Boston Blackie’ Morris plays an alcoholic writer forced to prove that he didn’t murder his publisher using the method he devised for his next novel. There are some nice jabs at the book business, and Constance Dowling is on hand to look lovely.

The print we watched came from the U.K. and by all accounts is the only one in existence other than the original negative. I was one of the younger people in the audience last night, and it’s strange to think that someday I could be one of the few people who has seen this particular film.

But with any luck, it will live on through the title. A huge grin split my face when it came up on screen and stayed there throughout the movie. Although when the film ended, I did have this thought:

My BLIND SPOT will be better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Book: Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett (1929)

Novelist James Reasoner recently wrote on his blog about the impact of having a teacher talk to you about a book you’re reading. It’s a powerful moment that hints that the transition to adult life might not be as hard as you think, and may already have started.

I remember how grown-up I felt when Miss Clark asked me how I was enjoying Martin Cruz Smith’s GORKY PARK. I was even reading the U.K. edition that I’d picked up in Ireland. I was quite the young sophisticate, in my smoking jacket from Botany 250.

The most memorable of these encounters came on the first day of my first college English course. The professor wanted to begin with beginnings, and hit us with this opening paragraph:

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

On day one of college, I was taught that the kind of books I wanted to read actually mattered. I still consider that knowledge a gift.

As soon as class ended I ran to the library and checked out a copy of RED HARVEST. That night, I read it for the first time. I revisited it most recently the other day. It’s still a staggering piece of work, a relentless narrative engine that’s also a definitive exploration of corruption.

I made a point of watching MILLER’S CROSSING again after I reread it. It’s said that the Coen Brothers wrote this script in frustration after being unable to secure the rights to HARVEST. The result is a Hammett pastiche that captures the flavor of much of his work. The Coens continue to use this approach to great effect; THE BIG LEBOWSKI riffs on Chandler and in particular Robert Altman’s adaptation of THE LONG GOODBYE, while THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE is the best unofficial James M. Cain movie there is.

Miscellaneous: Craig, Daniel Craig

Rumors that Craig would be the new James Bond have been circulating for months. Now that Variety and Slate have picked up the story, it’s seeming more like reality.

Craig is a fine actor – if you haven’t seen LAYER CAKE, rent it at once – and his casting, if true, hints that the 007 producers may finally be serious about reinventing the character in a meaningful way.

Conventional wisdom holds that a franchise part like James Bond can straitjacket an actor. I don’t buy it. Playing Bond put Pierce Brosnan in interesting films like THE TAILOR OF PANAMA. And no one worked the role like Sean Connery. During the height of his 007 fame, he appeared in movies as varied as MARNIE, THE HILL and THE OFFENCE. I’d love to see an actor of Craig’s caliber in films half as demanding.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Miscellaneous: All-Sports Edition

The halftime guests in the booth on MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL were Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi. Interviewed separately. Meaning that ABC staffers blew the opportunity to reunite the stars of RED HEAT live on the air. Do I have to do everyone’s job for them?

Now to baseball. Considering all the ink spilled over the Yankees/Red Sox “greatest rivalry in sports,” I take a perverse satisfaction in seeing both teams bow out of the playoffs in the first round. Factor in another early exit for the hated Atlanta Braves and I’m pretty happy about the league championships.

I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, but if I were a betting man I’d pick the White Sox to win the World Series. And if that happens, watch out. The Red Sox take it one year and the White Sox the next? Only the crosstown Cubs are left, and after they win the 2006 Fall Classic the world will immediately come to an end. God himself will appear at Wrigley Field and say, “All right, I let all the cursed franchises win one more. Now it’s time to go.”

At which point a great cry will rise up from this region of the country. “But what about the Mariners? They’ve never ever been to the World Series!”

And the Good Lord will reply, “An expansion team? Screw that. Everybody has ten minutes and then, seriously, we’re outta here.”

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Movie: Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

The first full-length adventure of W&G contains a rousing action climax typical of the shorts produced by Aardman Animation, a host of sly tributes to old Universal horror films, and a script packed with double entendres and bad puns worthy of Benny Hill. Which I intend as a high compliment. Ralph Fiennes is priceless as an upper-crust lout. Not every Englishman can utter “What ho!” with such brainless bravado.

But enough about the movie. It’s time for me to use this blog as it was intended: to vent about everyday annoyances.

Thanks to poor planning on the part of the theater’s management, the ticket-holders line is stretching into the parking lot instead of along the sidewalk. By the time we arrive all of the handicapped spaces are blocked, and the line has reached the first parked vehicle. The woman one step ahead of us squeezes into the last inch of available space, pressing her body flat against the minivan as if she’s just busted out of the joint.

The decision falls to me. If I go to her right, the line will arc out to the sidewalk. Where it’s supposed to be. If I stand on the left, the line will continue into the middle of the parking lot. Which is rapidly filling up with cars.

Naturally, I break right. I do not expect any thanks for this. I simply want the wisdom of my action to be acknowledged with grateful, wordless awe.

This does not happen.

Instead, the next group of people stands to the left of the woman making like Raffles, the gentleman thief. Others - with kids - begin milling behind them, studiously ignoring me.

And vehicles are still pouring into the lot.

Years of ushering instincts kick in, and I find myself making a public announcement. “Can we please move the line to the right so no one is in the way of traffic?”

Woman several places ahead of me, in no way affected by this request: I think that’s an excellent idea.

Woman hard against the minivan, who also does not have to move: Uh, OK.

The latecomers lope around the minivan and queue up behind me. The first of them is a pixie-faced hipster chick. Who smirks at me and says, in best Pacific Northwest passive-aggressive fashion:

“Sure, if it’ll keep you from stressing about it.”

I don’t want to overstate my actions. I’m no hero. All I’ll say is this: lives were saved by what I did out there. Including the lives of children.

And for my trouble, a Lisa Loeb manqué in an artfully ratty cardigan calls me uptight.

It’s not easy being a force for good in your time.

Miscellaneous: Quote of the Day

From this New York Times article on writers’ rooms:

“If I’m at home working, people don’t respect that that much; they call or text or e-mail, or make arrangements to have coffee.”

And, of course, you simply can’t ignore these distractions. When others “make arrangements to have coffee,” you have no choice but to go.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Book: Drive, by James Sallis (2005)

Abraham Lincoln believed that a man’s legs should be long enough to reach the ground. Jennifer Tilly makes a similar observation in the movie LET IT RIDE. Frankly, I prefer her version. No knock on the Great Emancipator, but La Tilly has better stems.

Length is also an issue in books. The latest from James Sallis is a mere 158 pages. Yet somehow, it encompasses a man’s entire life. A life spent behind the wheel, never running but always moving.

There are other areas where length matters. (Not that one. Get your mind out of the gutter.) Knives, for instance. Does the blade have what it takes to wound?

That’s all I can tell you about DRIVE. It’s short enough to read in a single sitting. And long enough to cut deep.

Miscellaneous: Observations

1. We had a Los Angeles-style freeway chase here this week, covered live on TV. Not that I bothered to watch. The next day one of the local affiliates ran an ad with a city police officer saying the station’s helicopter provided invaluable assistance. Unbelievable, I thought. They’re passing sensationalism off as a public service.

Last night, I saw another station’s ad. In which a county sheriff thanks their helicopter. This could get ugly.

2. Ridley Scott’s Crusades epic KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is out on DVD next week. One of the ads features the tagline “Without faith, there can be no future.” So far, I’ve only seen this spot on Fox News.

3. If you heard that Jack Carter was thinking about mounting a Senate bid in Nevada, wouldn’t you assume it was this guy and not former President Carter’s son? Wouldn’t you hope it was the first guy?

Miscellaneous: Links

Jaime Weinman offers a lovely appreciation of comic actor Hamilton Camp, who improved everything he appeared in. At Ed Gorman’s blog, Terrill Lee Lankford considers a few other luminaries we’ve recently lost.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Movie: The Great Silence (1969)

IFC’s SPAGHETTI WEST documentary certainly did its job. I’m hooked on these movies now.

This entry is revered by aficionados of the Italian western as perhaps its greatest achievement. It’s certainly among the most political examples of the form; director Sergio Corbucci describes it as a Vietnam allegory, although as is often the case with allegories I’m not entirely sure what the parallels are supposed to be.

Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a mute gunman who serves as avenger of the downtrodden. He heads deep into the mountains to square off against a brutal bounty hunter (Klaus Kinski) who always stays within the letter of the law. The action unfolds in a town that makes DEADWOOD look like the Harper Valley P.T.A. (Your choice of novelty song, low-budget movie or short-lived TV series.)

I have to admit that while I liked the movie, it didn’t bowl me over, largely due to the political content. Spaghetti westerns are a stylized genre to begin with, so amping up the symbolism threatens to push SILENCE to the brink of abstraction. Trintignant’s character never shoots first and only acts in self-defense; to put his technique in SEINFELD terms, he’s a goader. It’s an indication of the tenor of the then-times that behavior that made Audie Murphy such a contemptible villain in NO NAME ON THE BULLET is acceptable for a hero a mere ten years later.

The physical production of the film is impressive, exploiting bleak wintry landscapes in a way that prefigures Robert Altman’s McCABE & MRS. MILLER. The ending may be the darkest, visually and philosophically, that I’ve ever seen, and is more powerful for being of a piece with the rest of the movie. It doesn’t come from cynical nihilism, but a cohesive worldview borne of a turbulent era. All of it set to one of Ennio Morricone’s most haunting scores.

So far I’ve worked my way through two of the genre’s three stages as cited in the IFC doc: the films that revitalized the western (the Leone/Eastwood collaborations), then the ones that politicized it. All I have left are the parodies starring Terence Hill. These include movies with titles like FOUR GUNMEN OF AVE MARIA and GOD FORGIVES ... I DON’T, in which Hill plays a desperado named ... Cat Stevens?

The ‘Huh?’ Moment of the Day

From Timothy Egan’s New York Times article on the perils of hiking in Montana in the late summer and early fall:

“... the temperature can plummet 50 degrees in a few hours, and it can snow on a dime.”

I hope that’s a local expression. Stopping on a dime is an extraordinary demonstration of motor skills. The heavens opening up on some pocket change? Not really that big a deal.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Miscellaneous: Mystery*File

Steve Lewis’ first-rate ‘zine Mystery*File is migrating to the web. The site already features plenty to read, including the latest installment of my column In The Frame. This one reviews two of the later novels in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child, as well as Universal’s first batch of film noir DVDs. Check out the whole issue. You won’t be disappointed.

TV: Extras

The HBO series from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant isn’t as good as THE OFFICE, or the surprisingly solid NBC remake of THE OFFICE. But it’s still remarkably funny, lacerating celebrities like no other show on the tube.

Consider this exchange, in which Ben Stiller (playing himself) tears into Gervais as an extra on the movie he’s directing:

Stiller: Who are you? ... That’s right. Nobody. And who am I?
Gervais: It’s either Starsky or Hutch, I can never remember.
Stiller: Was that supposed to be funny?
Gervais: You tell me. You were in it.

This after Stiller has told the Bosnian refugee whose life has inspired the film he’s making to “stop going on about your fucking dead wife.” Ouch.

Miscellaneous: Link

GreenCine Daily has an interview with the criminally underrated director Walter Hill. It turns out his classic 1979 action film THE WARRIORS, just released as a special edition DVD, is actually science fiction. That gang dressed as baseball players should have been a dead giveaway.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Movie: A History of Violence (2005)

In college I took a class called “The Body In Film,” a survey of the ways the human anatomy was treated in movies. It gave me the chance to see rarely-screened films like Nicolas Roeg’s BAD TIMING and Dusan Makavejev’s one-of-a-kind W.R., MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM, which is half documentary about psychotherapist Wilhelm Reich and half ... well, I never actually worked that out. It was the only course where the opening day lecture included the phrase “fucking like puppies.” In the film school, at any rate. I can’t speak for the veterinary college.

Not that I told my parents what their tuition money was going for. When my report card arrived, my mother asked about the class. I said, “It’s about structure. You know, like the body of a letter?”

“Right,” my mother said. “That must be why you got an A.”

Much of that grade came from my term paper on the films of David Cronenberg. It was easy to write, because I truly loved the subject. THE FLY is one of the great movies of the 1980s, a decade in which the director also made VIDEODROME and DEAD RINGERS. He has a singular sensibility that makes his every film worth seeing. The notion of him tackling a contemporary pulp thriller was almost more than I could bear.

Imagine my surprise when it left me cold. At least at first.

The story of a seemingly peaceful man facing up to his dark past is a familiar one in several genres. So familiar, perhaps, that Cronenberg never seems fully engaged by it, using it solely as a carrier for ideas that interest him. But I think of myself as a genre guy, so the underdeveloped plot and inconsistencies of character were initially all I saw. Roger Ebert, in his rave review, notes that VIOLENCE “is not a movie about plot, but about character.” I’m old-fashioned enough to think that the two should be one and the same, especially in a thriller. I like a little text with my subtext.

Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect. I’ll console myself with the new 2-disc edition of THE FLY.

Silly me. Days passed and I couldn’t shake the movie. Cronenberg has packed its deceptively simple frame with concepts and moments that resonate:

- Acts of violence that, as in life, erupt with suddenness and never play out as expected, at times veering into the blackest of comedy

- Unruly sex scenes that deepen our understanding of the participants

- Discomfiting notions about the obligations of family, biological and otherwise

And on top of that, brilliant performances. Maria Bello is matchless; I would now like her to be cast in everything. And William Hurt comes along to blow the roof off the joint in the best scene I’ve encountered in any movie this year.

I should have known Cronenberg would never let me down. VIOLENCE is like a dinner in which the main course is undercooked, but the side dishes are divine. There’s still plenty with which to make a meal.