Saturday, June 30, 2007

TV/Music: The June Stuff-I-Didn’t-Get-To Post

I didn’t get to a lot of stuff this month, so I’m breaking this post into two parts.

Flight of the Conchords. This is exactly what HBO needs after all those series that pushed the envelope: one that barely tries. To paraphrase The Limey, it’s more of a vibe than a show. I’ve watched every episode twice for the music alone. Exhibit A: The Robot Song.

Man Vs. Wild. Former British soldier Bear Grylls, equipped only with an unusually large knife and a camera crew, is dropped into the world’s most hostile environments. A glacier in Iceland, a canyon in Mexico, the English department at a small liberal arts college. I basically tune in every week to count all the ways in which I’d already be dead. Knowing the names of all the James Bond villains and the actors who played them – in order – is apparently not a survival skill. It doesn’t even impress women.

Pink Martini. After reading a rave review of this band, which does lounge music with an international flavor, I looked them up on Rhapsody. Only one of their songs, “Sympathetique,” was available. Rosemarie was kind enough to translate the chorus:

I don’t want to work
I don’t want to eat lunch
I only want to forget
And then, I smoke

Rosemarie also said, “I bought their new album. This sounds like a band we need to get to know.” As usual, she was right.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Movie: Fathom (1967)

I kept catching the same scene from this tongue-in-cheek spy film on the Fox Movie Channel, and it seemed goofy enough to warrant taking in the whole thing.

Raquel Welch stars as La Jolla dental assistant/competitive skydiver Fathom Harvill, and already I’m wondering why this movie never appeared on either version of that AFI list. She’s touring Europe with her parachutist pals when she gets roped into a caper at the behest of an intelligence agency known as H.A.D.E.S. Soon she’s tangling with an international man of mystery who talks like Timothy Leary (Tony Franciosa), his Mongolian consort, and an oversexed Russian with a core body temperature of 88.6 degrees. Did I mention that none of this is meant to be taken seriously? The movie’s most preposterous conceit is that Raquel could put on a helmet over all that hair.

The action is directed with more verve than is strictly necessary by TV veteran Leslie Martinson and written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., a man who knows his way around serious spy fare having worked on Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View. But who are we kidding? The movie is simply an excuse to take in some lovely Spanish scenery and the equally lovely Raquel in a procession of skimpy outfits.

An enterprising Fathom fan has uploaded all the bikini scenes to YouTube, which is essentially half the movie. But I’ve chosen to offer you the title sequence, by Maurice Binder of James Bond fame. Featuring all the erotic magic of Raquel packing a parachute.

Works for me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Movie: Black Sheep (U.S. 2007)

You know how people have a favorite animal? Rosemarie has always been partial to sheep. She’s got sheep books, sheep notepaper, stuffed sheep, ceramic sheep. The fluffy little critters are all over Chez K. Not in a creepy spinster lady way. More in a “this marriage has snuffed out my dreams and this is my only means of expressing myself” way.

Anywho, when Rosemarie heard there was a new movie from New Zealand in which mutated ruminants go on a killing spree, she had to see it at once.

There’s a plot, involving an evil agricultural scientist and his brother with a lifelong sheep phobia. But it’s mainly a set-up for jokes and gore. The latter is provided by Peter Jackson’s Weta Studios. The former comes with a twisted Kiwi bent. The movie’s reaction to the old saw that New Zealand is a place where the men are men and the sheep are nervous is, “Yeah, and?” Plus it joins 28 Days Later on the short list of films where sanctimonious animal rights activists are to blame for everything. It’s good fun all around.

The movie is in theaters now, but also available via IFC On Demand. It still seems odd, watching a brand new movie in the comfort of your own home. It feels like the wool’s being pulled over my eyes. But if it shepherds more people to this film, I say what the flock.

I’m sorry. That was baaaad.

Miscellaneous: Links

AFI released a new list of the 100 best American films. I didn’t watch the accompanying TV special. Not many people did. But why bother with AFI when you’ve got IGS? As in Ivan G. Shreve, Jr., the mastermind at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. He’s assembled his own list of the 100 best American films, and it’s one that I could scarcely improve upon. Well, I might put Death To Smoochy on there, but I’m not about to leg-wrestle him over it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

TV/Music: Elvis ’68 Comeback Special

I can only hope that fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches taste fantastic, and that Elvis Presley enjoyed every one. Because eating them didn’t do the King any favors. Poor dining habits did more than end Elvis’s life. They went a long way toward erasing his legacy. Much of an entire generation knows only the Fat Elvis, the cartoon Elvis, the punchline Elvis.

That’s largely how I knew Elvis, too. The only one of his movies I’d seen in its entirety was Viva Las Vegas, and that was due to the presence of Ann-Margret.

Then, one night a few years ago, the restored version of the 1970 concert film Elvis: That’s The Way It Is aired on TV. “Think I’ll check out a little E,” I told Rosemarie, putting on the drawl I’d cribbed from legions of bad comics. Rosemarie said she was going to read the newspaper instead. By the second number the paper was down for good and we’d both seen the light: Elvis was one of the great showmen of all time. Not to mention a helluva singer.

And That’s The Way It Is ain’t even Elvis at his peak. For years I’d heard his ’68 Comeback Special described with religious reverence. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones had taken the stage while Elvis was off making Kissin’ Cousins and Roustabout. The ’68 special made him relevant again, and in many respects set the stage for his sad decline. I figured it was high time I checked it out.

From the first arresting close-up of Elvis launching into “Trouble” (“If you’re looking for trouble/You came to the right place”), it’s apparent you’re not watching any ordinary TV one-off. No guest stars, no awkward comedy banter. Nothing but Elvis doing what he does best – and thus reintroducing himself to the world – for a solid hour.

It’s an amazingly loose show. When there’s no strap to be found for his guitar during one of the “black leather concert” segments, Elvis stands up anyway and does a rendition of “One Night With You” that’s all the more electrifying for its ad-libbed nature. Production numbers that shouldn’t work, like the gospel medley including jazz ballet or the one that takes place in a “House of the Rising Sun”-style bordello constructed out of leftover bits of the Hee Haw set, become transcendent. (OK, the bordello number isn’t exactly transcendent. It’s still pretty awesome, though.)

By the special’s end, I’d realized three things:

1. Every Elvis impersonator I’ve ever seen sucks. They may capture the obvious – sneer, check, swivel hips, check, rhinestone-bedecked suit, check – but never come close to capturing his essence as a performer or as a man.

2. I am now one with Christian Slater in True Romance. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.

3. I’d seen something more than a pop culture milestone. I’d witnessed, in a small way and almost forty years late, a bit of history.

Miscellaneous: Link

At the Mystery*File blog, Steve Lewis reviews Hollywood Troubleshooter by W. T. Ballard, which may feature the first “studio detective” to appear in fictional form.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rant: Deface The Nation

It’s not like it was the first time I checked out a library book and discovered that someone had written in it. I often find scratches in the margins, usually some private code I was never meant to understand.

Still, it’s odd to open a non-fiction book and find ‘ALL LIES’ scrawled on the first page of text. Stranger still to realize that the phantom scribbler actually agrees with the author and is trying to back him up. You’d think lucid, machine-printed prose would be enough.

I flipped through the book and found several more unnecessary contributions. Fortunately, they were made in pencil. (True believers use ink.) The several minutes I spent erasing made me feel like a good citizen. Next time I’ll wait and do it in the library, so as to lead by example.

I get the same feeling removing a new type of spam comment that’s cropping up around here. Recently I made an idle crack about the ad campaign for an upcoming fall TV series that I’m interested in. I won’t mention its name again for obvious reasons. Instead, I’ll take a cue from Knocked Up and call it Shmiva Shmaughlin, whose star Shmugh Shmackman is best known for playing Shmolverine in the Shmex-Men movies.

Since then, I’ve gotten numerous “comments” that are excerpts from newspaper articles about how the show might fare in the ratings. Said “comments” have been deleted. My house, my rules. And if said “comments” keep turning up, maybe I won’t watch the show after all. Take that, ShmeeBS.

On The Web: Cultural Ignorance

From Andrew Sullivan comes this post by Ilya Sonin on “rational ignorance of pop culture.” It was prompted by Forbes’ list of the top 100 celebrities as determined by pay and media exposure. Sonin hadn’t heard of 26 of them, the highest being Jay-Z at #9.

Big surprise: I knew 98. I’d heard of Michael Schumacher (#25), but not his Formula One cohort Kimi Raikkonen at #41. I also couldn’t place motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi (#58); clearly I don’t follow motor sports. I’m going to give myself Rhonda Byrne at #93. Her name was familiar, and I knew she had something to do with self-help, but I had to click on the link to see that she’s one of the people peddling that mystical hooey The Secret. Why not test yourself?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Miscellaneous: Links

I’ve added Do The Math, the blog by the jazz trio The Bad Plus, to the permanent roster even though it’s going on hiatus for the rest of June. The latest post, cataloging all their recent entries, will tell you why. Not just interesting material on jazz past and present, but thoughts on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, P. G. Wodehouse, Ross Thomas, the use of music in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, and more. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

The A.V. Club decrees Joe Versus The Volcano a secret success. I could have told them that.

Real men love The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. According to earlier entries, they also love Robocop and The Rocketeer. My feelings about those movies prove, to quote another film that belongs in this category, that I am all that is man.

Speaking of real men: Raymond Chandler, Clive Owen, and Frank Miller. That’s quite the potent cocktail.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Books: Hard Case Crime Report

Let’s begin with The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer (1958). In particular the cover painting by Gregory Manchess, which is the finest this line has yet produced.

This is what the inside of my brain looks like 24/7. I want a framed version of this painting to hang on my wall. On black velvet, if possible. I’ve got a birthday coming up.

As for the book behind this cover ...

There was a book behind this cover?

Shirley, the virgin of the title*, is tending to her wealthy, ailing stepfather. She meets Jack Ruxton, a ne’er-do-well who’s thrown his lot into the TV business. They conspire to do the old man in, but naturally there are problems galore. Starting with the other women in Jack’s life.

Brewer packs in the suspense, but it’s the characters who truly shine. Shirley is a girl, aware of the power she has over men but unable to understand it. Ruxton is one of those men who “reckoned (he) would take the world by the tail and kick it smack it in the ass. Only it worked the other way around.” The brief but vivid scenes in Ruxton’s shop depict a man on the path to respectability who chafes at every step. It’s a great example of the keen insight the pulp authors of the ‘50s had into the lives of the working men who bought their books.

To prove I’m not a shill for Hard Case: Grave Descend by John Lange (1970) is the first of the company’s reprints I’ve read that’s something of a disappointment. Not that there’s anything wrong with this tale of an expat American diver in Jamaica hired to salvage a ship before it sinks. It’s a solid, serviceable novel. But compared to the other books Hard Case has rediscovered, solid and serviceable isn’t enough.

Lange is a pseudonym for an author who went on to achieve great success. Hard Case hasn’t mentioned his name in any of their publicity, so you can bet JURASSIC PARK I’m not going to tell you who it is.

There. That was subtle, right?

*I could have said “the titular virgin,” but I respect Brewer’s book too much.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Movie: Ocean’s Thirteen (2007)

Smart, slick summer fun that goes down smooth. My pick for the best of the series. If the phrases “reverse big store” and “the Morecambe & Wise of thievery” provoke any kind of reaction, get thee to the box office.

I mention the movie primarily as an excuse to link to SCTV’s priceless Maudlin’s Eleven, a note-perfect send-up of the original movie and Rat Packery in general. I’ve watched it three times this week and have morphed into Bobby Bittman, prone to yelling out “Oh, yeah! Beautiful!” at the slightest provocation.

Installments #2 - #4 are also available. If you can’t spare the twenty-plus minutes, skip to part 3. It recaps the best jokes and offers Eugene Levy at his absolute peak. You’ll miss Dave Thomas’s rendition of the theme from Exodus, but hey. You’re a busy person.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Book: Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way, by Bruce Campbell (2006)

Things have been a bit lax around here on the book front. That’s because I’ve been doing a lot of research reading.

I made room, however, for the latest tome by Bruce Campbell. If you’re at this site, you probably know who Bruce is. Odds are you’ve caught more than a few of his movies. (If you haven’t seen Bubba Ho-Tep, TCB and queue that bad boy up right now.) Currently, he’s onscreen as the highpoint of Spider-Man 3. I link to all of Bruce’s Old Spice commercials, so it stands to reason I’d read all of his literary work. His previous book, If Chins Could Kill, is that rarest of birds, a genuinely interesting Hollywood memoir. That’s because Bruce is brutally forthright about the effort required to be a working actor.

Make Love! is a novel. I’d call it a picaresque influenced by Pirandello, but no doubt Bruce would slap me down for such highfalutin’ talk. He’d say it’s a goof and nothing more.

Bruce – yes, he’s the star of his own novel – finally gets his shot to bust out of the low-budget ghetto when he’s cast in Let’s Make Love!, an A-list romantic comedy directed by Mike Nichols and starring Richard Gere and Renée Zellweger. Bruce isn’t about to blow this opportunity. He insists that everyone call him by his character’s name and throws himself headlong into preparing for his role as a genteel Southerner turned New York doorman. In short order, though, Bruce’s B-movie instincts not only kick in but infect the entire production.

The book is studded with what Bruce calls “graphic sarcasm:” photos, charts, bogus movie posters. Nice to see this kind of po-mo silliness isn’t the exclusive preserve of hipster literary novelists. Many of the episodes, like Bruce’s encounter with a sex ed film mogul, are hilarious. And the Hollywood material is bang-on. Let’s Make Love! is more than a plausible studio movie. I’m pretty sure I caught it on cable one night.

The “B-movie virus” plot doesn’t make much sense, and I can’t help thinking that another draft could have turned this book from an amiable lark into something truly subversive. But that “if only we’d had more time!” feeling is in keeping with Bruce’s B-movie roots, and I’ll bet that’s how he wants it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Movies: The Big Combo (1955)/The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

All season I’ve been waiting for my beloved New York Mets to play my adopted west coast Dodgers on Pacific time, so I can enjoy the game in its entirety. Last night they kicked off a three-game series in the City of Angels. And I didn’t see a minute of it.

Only one thing could get me out of the house on such a night. That’s noir, baby.

Eddie Muller, the czar of noir and founder of the Film Noir Foundation, was back at the Seattle International Film Festival with another double feature. (I wrote about last year’s twin bill in Mystery*File.) This time out, Eddie offered battle-of-the-sexes night. As he put it, one movie is fueled by pure testosterone, the other by estrogen.

I’ve seen The Big Combo before – and blogged about it here – but I’ll never pass up the opportunity to see John Alton’s extraordinary cinematography on the big screen. Quoting Eddie again, Alton’s camera transforms the movie into a series of live-action woodcuts. It was a treat to see this elemental noir with a packed house. Sure, there were gales of hipster laughter at the none-too-veiled homoeroticism (Earl Holliman’s gunsel wailing to his partner/roommate Lee Van Cleef, “I can’t swallow no more salami!”), but by the end the film’s brute force held the audience rapt.

Who could counter this exercise in swinging dick cinema? Only Joan Crawford. The Damned Don’t Cry is loosely based on the story of Virginia Hill and Bugsy Siegel, but as Eddie observed it’s also the closest Joan ever came to playing herself, a woman from a hardscrabble background who reinvents her identity and claws her way to the top. It’s more of a melodrama than a classic noir, and ridiculously entertaining. Here’s one line worth remembering: “Don’t talk to me about self-respect. Self-respect is what you tell yourself you’ve got when you’ve got nothing else.”

The only thing better than noir is more noir, and luckily that’s what Seattle is in for. Eddie announced that he’ll be bringing his Noir City festival to town for a week in July. Plenty of gems are in store: the “lost” film Woman on the Run, a restored Technicolor print of Leave Her to Heaven, and Pitfall, a rarity based on a novel by my hero Jay Dratler. I’ve already got tickets to the full run, and I plan on posting regular updates. Christa Faust did the same during Noir City’s recent L.A. stint, and it’s time I returned the favor.

For the record, the Mets lost. Rats. But if I’ve learned one thing from noir, it’s that you can’t have everything.

Miscellaneous: Links

A profile of one of Rosemarie’s favorite authors, Edward Tufte, “the world’s only graphic designer with roadies.”

I’ve written before about the jazz trio The Bad Plus, whose new album Prog is phenomenal. They also run an excellent blog. This post on jazz of the ‘90s provides plenty of food for thought. Plus it links to this interview with Ted Nugent from the Beastie Boys’ now-defunct magazine Grand Royal. It truly is as great as Ethan Iverson claims.

Monday, June 11, 2007

TV: Tony & The Tonys

Isn’t that a clever title? I’ll bet I’m the only person who uses it, too.

Thanks to the wonder of the East Coast feed, I was able to watch both the series finale of The Sopranos and the Tony Awards without resorting to the DVR. A few words on each. I’ll insert a SPOILER warning here. But c’mon. If you didn’t watch The Sopranos last night, I’ll assume you just don’t care.

Last chance.

I liked the finale. A lot. Millions of fans didn’t. Want to have a laugh? Head over to Technorati and search for “Sopranos” and “WTF?” You’ll spend the rest of the day there.

If you want to screw with your audience – I mean well and truly upset them – you’ve got two choices. Give ‘em exactly what they want, or exactly what they don’t want. Thomas Harris went the first route in Hannibal. Fans wished there were some way Dr. Lecter and Clarice could get together and make it work. He granted their wish and forced them to consider what they had been asking for.

David Chase took Door #2. Sopranos fans were clamoring for the Russian to wander in from the Pine Barrens, for Tony to go down singing or swinging but to at least go down, goddamn it, for there to be some kind of resolution. And Chase, in a brilliantly shot and scored final scene, said to those fans, “You haven’t been paying attention at all, have you?”

Already there are two interpretations of what transpired when the screen went black, the Tony-got-whacked-and-we-don’t-see-it camp, and the life-goes-on-and-we-don’t-see-it camp. (For the record, I’m firmly in the latter. I never even considered the former.) What matters is what the dual outcomes share. We don’t see it. It’s right there in the haunting final scene with Uncle Junior, when Tony reminds him that he and his brother once ran all of North Jersey. “We did?,” the senile Uncle Junior replies. “That’s nice.” All that work. All that blood and death. Already faded from memory.

The audience may hate it now, but mark my words. In a few years’ time The Sopranos will be remembered for going out without making compromises.

As for the Tony Awards, it was a livelier telecast than in recent years. Several of the numbers have me interested in seeing the shows the next time I’m in New York. But the only nominated performer I saw (Brooks Ashmankas in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me) didn’t win, and the divine Kiki & Herb lost, so on the whole it was a wash. The Tony audience made like an oil painting during the comedy bits. How can America get excited about the show if the crowd in Radio City can’t?

When I first saw the ad for CBS’s V iva L aughlin, I got chills. When I saw it for the tenth time approximately forty minutes later, I was over it already. It’s a musical. We get it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Movie: Rollercoaster (1977)

You gotta get a gimmick, as the song says. What you don’t want is a gimmick that overwhelms.

If Rollercoaster is remembered at all, it’s as one of a handful of movies released in Sensurround, Universal’s experiment in plaster cracking. Which is too bad, because it’s a clever, underrated thriller. I’d go so far as to call it the best movie ever released in Sensurround, a claim that deserves to be in the Guinness Book of World Records as “smallest boast.”

The movie marked a rare foray into features by William Link and Richard Levinson, the storied team of television writers who created Columbo, Mannix and Murder, She Wrote.

The first sign of their consummate craft is their villain, identified only as “Young Man” and played by Timothy Bottoms. He’s a pleasant, low-key sort, never saying a word in anger. He’s also smart, putting his knowledge of demolition to work by rigging bombs on theme park rides and blackmailing the park owners into paying him.

We never learn how he acquired this knowledge. Link and Levinson boldly decide not to explain the character’s motivation or history. The only hint into his past comes in a chilling early scene. Bottoms, killing time before showing off his handiwork, stops by a shooting gallery and drills target after target. The impressed carny rolls up his sleeve to display a military tattoo and asks Bottoms where he was stationed in Vietnam. Bottoms smiles, takes his prize, and walks wordlessly away.

But the movie’s true genius is in its choice of hero. It’s not a hard-bitten cop or an obsessed FBI agent, although there is one of the latter ably played by Richard Widmark. Instead, it’s George Segal as an amiable public safety inspector who gets drawn into the cat-and-mouse action. He’s an everyman, a divorced dad (future Oscar winner Helen Hunt makes her movie debut as his daughter) trying to quit smoking. But his feisty civil servant proves more than a match for Bottoms’ psychotic.

Segal is at his absolute best here. He’s one of the most appealing actors of the 1970s. At the height of his fame he was a late night TV fixture. In William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, he talks about seeing Segal be dazzling on a talk show. Segal told him he treated the appearances as acting exercises: “I tell myself I’m playing a character who’s enjoying himself.” Segal has had a long and varied career, but my favorite performance remains his Andy Kelp in The Hot Rock. Every time I read one of Donald E. Westlake’s Dortmunder novels, it’s Segal I see in the role. Kelp is genial, optimistic and a true professional, just like Segal.

Rollercoaster’s not perfect. The story is a bit formulaic, there are too many thrill ride shots meant to showcase the Sensurround technology, and by the time it’s over you never need to hear the song “Big Boy” by Sparks again. (Not that you’ll ever hear it anywhere else.) But it’s also a well-constructed, unpretentious movie that deserves to be more than a technical footnote.

Miscellaneous: Link

ESPN’s Bill Simmons on how greatness recedes in memory. It ain’t just true in sports.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

DVD: Arrested Development


All 53 episodes, watched in order. I’m sorry that it’s over – but on the plus side, now we get to start from the beginning again.

We marked the occasion with frozen bananas. Have one yourself and enjoy this compendium of the Bluth family chicken dances.

Miscellaneous: Your YouTube Bonus

My new favorite TV commercial. This level of honesty about how I – sorry, we use the internet almost has me ready to switch from Google.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

DVD: Payback, Straight Up: The Director’s Cut (1999/2007)

If there’s a collecting gene, I don’t have it. I can barely bring myself to buy DVDs of movies I enjoy. So imagine my surprise when I picked up one I didn’t like – at least the first time around.

Payback is based on The Hunter, the Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake) novel already immortalized on film as Point Blank. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland, making his directorial debut, set out to make a movie closer in tone to Stark’s book. Plots don’t come much sparer: thief Parker (here renamed Porter) is double-crossed and left for dead by his wife and his partner. He then begins killing his way up the Outfit’s ladder to get the money back. Not all of it, you understand. Just his share.

It was a troubled production. Helgeland’s cut was deemed too dark, and he was replaced by another director. A voice-over was added, a new third act (complete with new characters) was grafted on. And the seams showed. I didn’t care for the movie, which played like a violent cartoon. Recently, Helgeland got a chance to recreate his version. The resulting DVD serves as an object lesson in the power of editing. From the same material, he’s crafted a substantially different film.

It may not be meaner, but it’s certainly leaner. The ending is simpler. Kris Kristofferson is no longer in the movie. His character is now only a voice, provided by Sally Kellerman. Much of the over-the-top quality of the ’99 film has been stripped away, which helps Gregg Henry’s performance as Porter’s duplicitous partner. The entire earlier version seemed to play at his manic frequency; with the film’s metabolism slowed down, he registers not as a caricature but as the kind of loudmouth hothead who drifts into a life of crime. I’m also happy to report that the scene in which dominatrix Lucy Liu kicks the crap out of Henry while wearing leather chaps is untouched. (Honestly, that’s the only thing I remembered from eight years ago.)

I’m still not completely sold on the new cut. It may be a question of casting. Not that there’s anything wrong with Mel Gibson; he’s always an inventive actor. But he’s also a star, and somehow that seems wrong for a professional who doesn’t want to call undue attention to himself. Parker’s more the character actor type.

The DVD includes a half-hour documentary detailing the movie’s history, in which all parties speak their piece. The best extra is an interview with Westlake, who says his favorite cinematic Parker isn’t Gibson or even Point Blank’s Lee Marvin, but Robert Duvall in the unsung The Outfit. “What Lee Marvin did was a wonderful destroyed Lee Marvin,” Westlake says. “What Robert Duvall did was a wonderful terse, taciturn Parker.” I’m partial to the movie myself. As Westlake says, it was made without a lot of fooling around – just the way Parker pulls a heist.

More Stark/Westlake: at Mystery*File Steve Lewis considers another of his novels, leading to a conversation with Peter Rozovsky of the fine blog Detectives Beyond Borders. That, in turn, prompts a question from me about one of Stark’s characters, who may also be a Westlake character. Understand?

Miscellaneous: Links

Last night I wasted half an hour looking up Manhattan strip clubs in Google Street View. I should have known others were waaaay ahead of me.

Michael at 2 Blowhards considers the question that haunts me: whither the grown-up Hollywood thriller?

You mean Graham Greene wasn’t above using The Third Man to settle an old score? That makes me feel a lot better.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Movie: Mr. Brooks (2007)

Loads of lurid fun. We’ve got a pillar of the community who’s secretly a serial killer. An unwanted homicidal protégé. A daughter who may have inherited her father’s “addiction.” A millionaire detective. Plus a second serial killer who has broken out of jail to seek revenge. And Portland seemed so laid-back on my visits there. It’s like an entire spinner rack full of airport thrillers packed into one movie, pitched at a level just shy of hysteria but always maintaining its balance. The whole enterprise is agreeably nuts, and I had a hell of a time watching it.

William Hurt is a blast as the title character’s murderous id. But it’s Kevin Costner’s show as the killer, and he’s damned impressive. Of course, I’m on the record about Mr. Costner. I’d now fold this movie into my argument.

Sports: My Impoverished Fantasy Life, Part II

Play, the New York Times’ excellent sports magazine, has not one but two articles on fantasy baseball in its latest issue. Neal Pollack writes about his obsession with leagues that use players from throughout the sport’s history. Bryan Curtis, meanwhile, dubs fantasy baseball’s ascendance “a minor revolution” that’s creating legions of postmodern fans:

“There’s a wrongheaded notion that we are attracted to fantasy baseball because it reinforces all we love about baseball. In fact, we play fantasy baseball because it shields it from all that we hate about it.”

In other words, blame steroids and lousy management.

Personally, I’m more inclined to see fantasy baseball’s popularity as another manifestation of our collective inability to give ourselves over to something larger, along with the impulse toward participation that’s passed off as vaguely democratizing. You know, the same thing that’s affecting literary criticism and porn. And as goes the skin trade, so goes our national pastime.

Or maybe, as I’ve said before, I simply don’t get fantasy baseball. Which is why I’m making my annual pledge: next year, I’m going to try it out. One team in one league, just to see. I’ll probably punk out as usual. But this time, I’m making the promise in public.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Miscellaneous: The May Clean-up Post

AKA stuff I meant to cover last month.

The Dinner Game. I still haven’t gotten to the theater to see Francis Veber’s new comedy The Valet. But Anthony Lane’s review in the New Yorker prompted me to watch this 1998 film. Lane writes, “The very thought of its plot, with its high-spirited misanthropy – a club of worldly friends meet once a week, each of them competing to bring along the most complete idiot he can find – still makes me laugh.” He’s right. It’s a perfectly turned farce, the kind they don’t make any more. Except for Veber, apparently.

28 Weeks Later. I usually think claims of horror movies being allegorical are so much malarkey. Not so here. This film is quite clearly the first post-9/11, post-Iraq, post-Mission Accomplished scarefest, and that only adds to its intensity. The ending sequence hits my personal nightmare trifecta – zombies in the subway in the dark. Jesus. I doubt you’ll see a better sequel in this season of them. You may not see a better movie.

The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. I stumbled onto this while channel surfing. Not only is O.J. in it, so is Anna Nicole Smith. Which means no one will ever laugh at it again. (OK, it’s the least of the Naked Gun movies, but there are still good jokes in it.) Was ever a film so snakebit?

Miscellaneous: Links

The only celebrity interviews worth reading are those in which the subject is either loose or candid. From Cannes comes an example of each. Representing the former, the gang from Ocean’s 13. For the latter, Michael Madsen.

Thanks to GreenCine Daily, I spent some quality time with the latest issue of Bookforum. Featuring Luc Sante on Georges Simenon, authors and filmmakers discussing the art of adaptation, lists of the best books-into-film, and more.

I don’t want a large Farva: movies continue to corrupt today’s youth. Hat tip to The Obscure Store.