Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Miscellaneous: Placeholder

I’m on sabbatical. Posting every day during Noir City and then live blogging the Oscars has me fresh out of opinions.

And you know what that means. It’s Army of Lovers time! For the uninitiated, they’re a band made up of 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.’

PS. I don’t have to worry about traffic during this fallow period. It’s been through the roof thanks to Tuesday’s link from political superblogger Jonah Goldberg. Of course, he linked to that damn photograph of Pat Harrington as Schneider from One Day At A Time, which I only put up as a joke. All my deathless prose, and that picture gets all the glory. The irony would kill a lesser man, whereas it only leaves me curled up and weeping in the fetal position. Again.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Already Happened: GreenCine Oscars Live Blog

Damn, live blogging is hard. But I did it. Here’s the full transcript. Personally, I think I peaked during the pre-show, when I said that I was also a stripper-turned-writer like Diablo Cody and that I perform under the name Regis Thrillbin. You really need to pace yourself if you’re going to go all night. That’s what she said. No time!

My thanks to Craig Phillips and GreenCine Daily for the invite. I had a lot of fun.

Overall, the Academy Awards show was low energy, but Jon Stewart made the best of a bad situation. And I have no complaints about the winners. I cleaned up in my Oscar pool. Thank you, Marion Cotillard and The Bourne Ultimatum.

I gave up on E!’s post-show coverage when I saw that the horrible Olly girls from Sunset Tan were there, and on the Barbara Walters special when a graphic read that Raiders of the Lost Ark came out in 1985, not 1981. Both errors could have been easily corrected. Anyway, I’ve got work to do. Regis Thrillbin goes on at midnight.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Upcoming: GreenCine Oscars Live Blog

I’ve linked many times to GreenCine Daily, perhaps the best movie site on the web. This year, they’re hosting their first-ever live blog of the Academy Awards. They’ve invited a stellar gaggle of film bloggers to participate, including yours truly. Currently I’m receiving “special guest appearance” billing. Very Quinn Martin. I feel like Robert Lansing. Or John Saxon.

That’s just an example of the kind of razor-sharp wit and timely references to expect on Sunday night. Open up a box of wine and join us, won’t you?

The party is here.

To put you in the right frame of mind, here’s a reprint of Oscar Night in Hollywood, a 1948 essay from The Atlantic by, wait for it, Raymond Chandler. A sample:

Making a fine motion picture is like painting ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ in Macy’s basement, with a floorwalker to mix your colors for you.

Ouch. Sunday night, kids. Fun and games to be had.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Conflict (1945)/The Suspect (1944)

The love triangle gone wrong. It’s a noir stalwart. So it makes sense to close out this year’s Seattle edition of Noir City with a pair of murderous husbands that doubles as a salute to filmmaker Robert Siodmak.

Siodmak has a story credit on Conflict, and a nicely twisted story it is. Humphrey Bogart kills his wife because he’s fallen in love with her younger sister. It’s a perfect crime that has both the cops and psychology expert Sidney Greenstreet fooled. Until Bogie begins receiving hints that maybe the missus isn’t dead ...

Conflict is smartly manipulative fun, with a strong Bogart performance; he goes crazy very well. I’d say it’s surprising that the film isn’t better known, but our host and programmer Eddie Muller explained why. Legal issues held up the movie’s release for two years. That meant it came out after the seminal noirs of 1944, like Double Indemnity and Laura. Conflict was dismissed as a copycat even though technically it blazed its dark trail first, and ever since it’s been treated as a footnote in Bogart’s career. Undeservedly so.

The Suspect is another test of the flexibility of noir’s definition. It’s the classic story – guy falls for another woman, bumps off his wife, and tries to outwit the cops – but set in 1902 London. Siodmak directs what Eddie called “the best Hitchcock movie not made by Hitchcock,” inspired by the infamous Dr. Crippen case. Ella Raines, star of Siodmak’s Phantom Lady and a local girl, plays the other woman. But it’s Charles Laughton’s performance that makes the movie memorable. His character is a profoundly decent man, a killer who is not a killer at heart, and by the film’s end we’re rooting for him to get away with murder. If that’s not noir, I don’t know what is.

And so we bring down the curtain. Fourteen films plus one short in seven remarkable days. My thanks to SIFF Cinema and especially to Eddie Muller. Film noir could not have a better champion.

It’s 2:17 AM as I write this, but I made a pact with myself that I’d post about these movies every night, as if I were on deadline. I’ve realized that in a sense I am. To me, these films – about need and desire, desperation and hope – are still news. And they always will be.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Night and the City (1950)/Road House (1948)

A pair of movies starring Richard Widmark screening just before the Oscars serves as a reminder that the actor is still with us at age 93, and still deserving of a lifetime achievement award. Need proof? Watch Kiss of Death, Panic in the Streets, Pickup on South Street, Madigan. Or either film featured on Noir City day six.

Night and the City received the full Criterion DVD treatment two years ago. I revisited the movie back then, but was still eager to see it again. So was Rosemarie, even though “it’s so hard to watch.” That’s because Jules Dassin’s film distills noir to its essence: failure. People struggle to make a name for themselves, to stake a claim to some small part of the world, only to be foiled by forces larger than they are, or by the indifference of others, or by their own weakness. It’s as bleak as movies get, and strangely beautiful.

Much of that beauty comes courtesy of Widmark’s performance as Harry Fabian, whose only wish in life is “to be somebody.” He’s a hustler down to his bones, always looking for an angle. But years of disappointment have made him desperate. There are few moments as heartbreaking as when girlfriend Gene Tierney tells him he “could have been anything. You had brains, ambition. You worked harder than any ten men. But at the wrong things. Always the wrong things.” Gets me every time. And Widmark’s response ... extraordinary.

A U.K. print was screened on Wednesday night. It’s not Dassin’s preferred cut; it’s several minutes longer and felt like it. But Harry Fabian registers in any version.

An audience needs to be talked off a ledge after Night and the City, and Road House is the movie to do it. It’s a confection of pure Hollywood hokum. Ida Lupino, the not-so-secret star of this festival, is a chantoosie brought to the title establishment by rich boy owner Widmark. He’s got his sights set on more than a six-week engagement, but Ida goes off and falls for his best friend Cornel Wilde. Road House has everything you want in an overheated noir romance. It’s a swillin’, smokin’, singin’ ‘stravaganza. The singin’ is the only problem, as Ida does her own and has a somewhat limited range. To quote Rosemarie again, “It’s like she’s both Kiki and Herb.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Reign of Terror (1949)/Border Incident (1949)

Director Anthony Mann concentrated on noir for only a few years in the 1940s, but over that stretch he created some of the genre’s signature films. Railroaded!, T-Men, Raw Deal. On the last two, he collaborated with John Alton, the rare cinematographer who wasn’t afraid of the dark. It’s only fitting that Noir City day five spotlighted lesser known works from these masters of shadow.

It’s official: Reign of Terror is the strangest movie screened in the festival so far. It’s the French Revolution as crime drama. The surprise is how easily history falls into the noir dynamic. You’ve got Robespierre (Richard Basehart), “fanatic of powdered wig and twisted mind,” as your kingpin making a power grab. The outside muscle (Bob Cummings) who’s not what he appears to be. Arlene Dahl as a femme fatale, and the cops all on the take. A few corners are cut with the story, but it’s refreshing to see a historical drama that doesn’t put the emphasis on spectacle and instead keeps close to the action.

What I’d like to know is why the filmmakers gave France’s past the noir treatment. What’s wrong with American history? Feature it: Robert Ryan as Benedict Arnold, a twitching wreck eaten away by guilt. Or Dan Duryea playing Aaron Burr, always with the chip on his shoulder. “Al Hamilton says he’s a self-made man. Think it’s time somebody maybe unmade him.” Hell, I’d see it. Although that should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

Border Incident is a lot less fanciful. It’s a taut, tough suspense film about a joint U.S./Mexican investigation into the murder of illegal immigrants. George Murphy and Ricardo Montalban play the lead detectives, and noir reliables Charles McGraw and Howard Da Silva turn up as the heavies. It’s sad to realize what’s changed in the span of fifty-plus years in terms of this issue: basically nothing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Jeopardy (1953)/Woman In Hiding (1950)

A: The theme of Noir City day four.

Q: What is dames in distress?

That’s a joke. Look at the first title. Come on, people, cut me some slack. All this noir is making me loopy.

Jeopardy begins with a voiceover by Barbara Stanwyck that could come from the American Highway Council. Only her spiel turns strangely lush and poetic. Then there’s a kicker you don’t see coming. It’s a great set up for an entertaining odd duck of a film.

Running a mere 69 minutes, Jeopardy still takes its time putting all the pieces on the board. Stanwyck, her husband (Barry Sullivan) and their son took a slow drive down Baja for a fishing trip. Just as they set up camp, Sullivan gets pinned underneath a collapsed pier – and the tide is coming in. Stanwyck seeks help, and the first person she finds is an escaped American convict (Ralph Meeker) who wants considerations before he’ll go Good Samaritan.

Meeker is never over the top in his menace. His hoodlum is simply cagey and ruthless, perfectly willing to let Sullivan die if it’ll save his own life. Sullivan is saddled with a thankless part, but he does get one fantastic scene as the water is rising and he tries to impart some advice to his young son. Plus there are excellent physics lessons to be picked up.

It’s hard to believe that Ida Lupino could ever be in distress, but Woman In Hiding does its damnedest. It’s directed by Michael Gordon, whose grandson Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a contemporary noir icon with the films Brick and The Lookout.

Ida’s new husband Stephen McNally only married her because he has designs on the family business. When she discovers the truth, he tries to kill her – only Ida escapes and goes on the run, determined to dig up evidence before McNally locates her. Her only ally is an aimless war veteran played by Howard Duff, who would soon marry Lupino in real life. The movie is a minor effort but a fun one thanks in large part to plot twists provided by Roy Huggins, a man this website has declared a stealth giant of pop culture. It also follows Chekhov’s dictum that if a hydroelectric turbine is mentioned in Act One, it must be turned on in Act Two.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Moonrise (1948)/Night Has A Thousand Eyes (1948)

Day three’s films had two common threads, according to our host and programmer Eddie Muller: actress Gail Russell and a sense of otherworldliness. There’s also a third link, namely curses real and imagined.

Moonrise is the work of one of the least likely filmmakers ever to venture into the genre, Frank Borzage. The winner of the first-ever Best Director Oscar (for 1927’s Seventh Heaven), Borzage was an optimist and a desperate romantic. On the face of it, not a promising match for noir. Yet that spirit and a visual style honed in the silent era work wonders.

Dane Clark believes that “bad blood” courses through his veins because the father he never knew was executed for murder. When he accidentally kills his lifelong tormentor, he’s certain this family curse is about to claim another victim.

The movie announces itself as something special with the opening sequence, which captures a childhood’s worth of torture in stark images that feel more like panels from a graphic novel. There’s also a bravura scene of Clark suffering a panic attack on a Ferris wheel that’s worthy of Hitchcock. (No surprise that Moonrise’s cinematographer John L. Russell would later shoot Psycho and many episodes of Hitch’s TV series.) The redemptive ending flies in the face of what some fans may expect from noir. It also completely works. Moonrise deserves to be better known.

I’ve wanted to see Night Has A Thousand Eyes for a thousand reasons. OK, three. Fantastic title, for starters. It boasts a great premise: bogus psychic develops genuine paranormal powers. And you can’t beat those writing credits, with Jonathan Latimer co-adapting a Cornell Woolrich novel. The plot is as rattletrap as can be, but Edward G. Robinson grounds the action as the ex-grifter now exiled from his fellow man.

As for Gail Russell, the object of affection in both movies, well, perhaps she was cursed worst of all.

On top of that, we were treated to a bonus. Eddie screened a print of his new short film The Grand Inquisitor, based on his story in the Busted Flush anthology A Hell of a Woman. Marsha Hunt, the 90-year-old star of noir classics like Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal, plays a woman who finds a young girl (Leah Dashe) on her doorstep bearing a box of books and a disturbing theory about San Francisco’s greatest mystery. It’s a terrific piece of work, lean, suspenseful and beautifully acted. Look for it on the festival circuit soon.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Noir City Northwest: High Sierra (1941)/The Hard Way (1942)

Funny thing about noir. It even works in the daytime. Saturday afternoon’s films were a double-double shot, honoring both the lovely Joan Leslie and Ida Lupino, who in many respects is the first lady of the genre. (Check out that career.) I’d seen both movies before, but watching them in tandem brought new aspects to light.

High Sierra holds up on DVD, but it seemed shockingly vital on the big screen. Humphrey Bogart’s recently paroled but not reformed thief yearns for the straight life but can only take crooked roads to get there. His performance is all twisted desperation and thwarted desire. The script, by W.R. Burnett and John Huston from Burnett’s novel, sets up a stark contrast with our leading ladies: Joan as a naïf willing to take advantage of her benefactor, Ida as the hard-bitten moll who recognizes a good man when she sees one. Raoul Walsh stages a climax that still packs a wallop.

Ida comes into her own in The Hard Way, taking on the kind of role that buttered Joan Crawford’s bread. Little sister Joan (Leslie, not Crawford) aspires to a career in the theater, and Ida moves heaven and earth to make those dreams come true. The movie is terrifically well-cast, making excellent use of the comic Jack Carson in a dramatic role and singer Dennis Morgan as a slickster curdled by show business.

Our host Eddie Muller said the movie’s inclusion was sort of a test case; we had to decide if The Hard Way were truly a film noir or just a melodrama with a particularly nasty script by Peter Viertel and Daniel Fuchs. I know what my answer is. When I caught this gem on TCM a few years ago, I thought it was about as noir as it gets. Nice to know I’m not alone in that opinion.

While watching Ida today I was reminded of someone. Then, in a scene in The Hard Way where she appeared without make-up revealing a spray of delectable freckles across her face, it hit me. Lindsay Lohan. Call me crazy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Noir City Northwest: The Prowler (1951)/Gun Crazy (1949)

Night one of Noir City was a tribute to a man not credited on either movie on the bill, the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.

The Prowler is a film rich with secret history, not only because of Trumbo’s involvement and that of John Huston as a shadow producer, but because it essentially disappeared for decades. Only a single print remained in limited circulation. Die-hard noir enthusiasts, among them James Ellroy, would speak of it in hushed tones. I’d given up hope of seeing it myself, until a second copy of the original elements turned up in France and Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation stepped in.

Van Heflin plays a disgruntled Los Angeles beat cop, a one-time athlete seemingly fated for bigger things until “lousy breaks” brought him low. He investigates a call at the home of Evelyn Keyes, a woman who knew him when back in Indiana. She had dreams of making it as an actress. Now she’s settled for a dreary marriage with a wee-hours disc jockey (dulcet tones provided, in an in-joke, by Trumbo). Heflin thinks the two of them together could turn their bad fortune around. The only thing standing in the way is that voice in the night.

The first half of the film charts a course through James M. Cain territory. Heflin and Keyes give it their all, but the psychology of their characters never rang completely true to me. The second half of the film takes some borderline-surreal plot twists that would be hard to swallow even if you did accept what leads up to them.

For me, The Prowler is a fascinating movie that doesn’t work. In his comments on the film Eddie Muller praised not only the subversive elements of Trumbo’s script – he’s right to say that many of the story choices were bold for 1951 – but its sheer unpredictability. “You don’t know where this movie is going to go,” he said. I only wish I could have gone with it.

As for Gun Crazy, what is there to say? It’s a landmark film that sixty years on hasn’t lost any of its vitality or its edge of danger. Every movie about young outlaws on the run and in love dwells in its shadow. Even the lousy dialogue shoehorned in by the Production Code can’t diminish its impact. I’ve seen it many times, but never before on the big screen. It was worth the wait.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Upcoming: Noir City Northwest

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since Eddie Muller brought his dark carnival to town. That’s because it hasn’t been a year. The last Noir City was in July. You don’t hear me complaining.

It’s another dazzling line-up that kicks off tomorrow night with Joseph Losey’s The Prowler, restored by UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation. Once again, we have tickets for the entire run. Once again, I will endeavor to write up the whole megillah.

My gavel-to-gavel coverage of the previous Noir City can be found right here.

Book: An Ordinary Spy, by Joseph Weisberg (2008)

If you’ve gotta have a gimmick, former CIA officer Weisberg has come up with a gem. His novel is a putative memoir by a disgraced intelligence operative that includes the redactions imposed by the CIA. Whole swaths of text, sometimes entire pages, have been blacked out. That lack of information becomes essential to a narrative about the relationships that develop between spies and their contacts. It’s tough to describe, but well worth reading.

Miscellaneous: Post-Strike Link

Stephen Colbert welcomes back his illustrious writing staff. The last one out does the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Book/Rant: Confessions of a Political Hitman, by Stephen Marks (2008)

This book is lousy. Which is unfortunate, because there’s a great tale to be told about the world of opposition researchers, who dig up dirt on political candidates.

Marks insists on referring to himself throughout by his alter ego “Oppo Man,” a device that gets tired instantly. The book is clogged with lazy writing; Rudy Giuliani’s 1989 mayoral campaign is caught “flat-footed” twice in three pages, while Congressman Richard Gephardt responds “lamely” twice in two pages. And it comes off the presses past its sell-by date, with Marks singing the praises of sure-to-be-GOP-nominee Giuliani and offering a handful of tips to John McCain “if he’s still even a factor in the race.”

But the book’s worst feature is its truly abysmal copy editing. Not just the dropped punctuation marks that seem commonplace in every book published these days. I mean the misspellings of names.

I’ll let “Brittany” Spears slide. But a book that purports to give you the skinny on how politics really works should not feature appearances by former House Minority Leader Bob “Michael,” California Congressman Dave “Dreir,” Florida Governor and Senator Bob “Gramm,” Utah Senator “Orin” Hatch, New Jersey gubernatorial candidate “Brett” Schundler, Michigan governor “Gennifer” Granholm, and Pennsylvania Congressman “Kurt” Weldon.

I’m not a shadowy political operative. I’m just a guy who reads the newspaper every day. And even I knew those names were wrong.

Oh, and “Hitman” isn’t one word.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WGA Strike: Hello, Grindstone

The strike is over. My pencil is up. Also, I’m ready to go back to work.

When official word came, I symbolically cut the strike bracelet that’s been on my wrist since November. I have plenty left; they were cheaper by the gross so I gave them away to friends and colleagues. Maybe I’ll sell the rest on eBay.

Book: Gas City, by Loren D. Estleman (2008)

The latest by Estleman is, simply put, a thing of beauty. A big rollicking story anchored by perfectly scaled details. The long-serving chief of police in a fading Midwestern metropolis decides after his wife’s death to upend the genial system of corruption in which he has been a more than willing participant. Gas City gives us a cross-section of urban life – mobsters, politicians, press barons, clergymen, even a disgraced cop turned part-time pimp – and has them jockey for position against the backdrop of a hunt for a serial killer.

Estleman is as good a stylist as we have in any genre, and his dialogue is sharp enough to make me laugh out loud. It’s only February, but here’s one of the year’s best.

R.I.P., Roy Scheider

Not too long ago, I watched Scheider in 1986’s 52 Pick-Up for the first time. And was reminded again of why I’d always been a fan. Scheider was an easy but alert presence on screen, always thinking, never phony.

For some reason that 52 Pick-Up piece attracted a lot of attention, and became the most-read post in this website’s history. It even turned up in a newspaper’s online tribute to Scheider. That makes me happy. What would make me happier would be a DVD release of Last Embrace, featuring a Scheider performance that deserves to be remembered alongside his work in The French Connection, Jaws, Sorcerer, and All That Jazz.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Miscellaneous: About As Good As It Gets

Here’s how Rosemarie and I went about constructing a damn near perfect day yesterday.

1. Get up and out a reasonable hour. The Lord loves a working man, even on Saturdays.

2. Stop in at Zanadu Comics to introduce myself to the world of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal.

3. Go to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop so I could get a copy of Money Shot signed by the divine Christa Faust, as well as meet Marcus Sakey, author of the fine novel The Blade Itself, and the lovely and lively Sue Ann Jaffarian. Tell me the sample chapter of Money Shot doesn’t make you want to read the whole thing.

4. Lunch at The Honeyhole, offering the finest sandwiches within Seattle city limits. The Chachi’s Favorite is particularly good.

5. See In Bruges, the feature film debut by brilliant playwright Martin McDonagh. A pair of hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) hide out in Belgium, getting on each other’s nerves while awaiting instructions from their hair-trigger boss (Ralph Fiennes). A dark, moving comedy with a richly mordant Irish sensibility. Tell me that unrated trailer doesn’t make you want to see the whole thing.

6. Meet up with Christa, Marcus, Sue Ann and Kim of Seattle Mystery Books at my home away from home, the Zig Zag Café. I’m not sure I’m old enough for the conversation that followed, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. A marvelous night in the company of good people. Don’t take my word for it: here’s Christa’s report. (UPDATE 2/11/08: And here’s Sue Ann’s.)

All that, plus the Washington State caucuses got along just fine without me. And it looks like the WGA strike is over, meaning I can get back to work.

I tell you, kids, sometimes it’s good to be me.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Miscellaneous: More King of Kong

The AV Club is on a roll this week. Today they have a lengthy interview with Billy Mitchell, the putative villain of The King of Kong. I love how it came about: AV Club staffers ordered up a mess of Rickey’s Barbecue Sauce, probably as part of this article on B-list celebrity food products, and Mitchell himself called to confirm the address. Whatever Billy’s faults, the man knows service. A must-read if you’ve seen the movie.

Miscellaneous: Political Art and Science

The Washington State caucuses are on Saturday, and for once they matter. Within a span of 24 hours Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain were all in Seattle. It’s nice to be wanted. For several hours this morning I couldn’t think with the sound of news helicopters circling the Obama rally.

But I won’t be at the big shindig tomorrow, for three reasons.

1. I have a prior engagement. All those Saturdays when I have nothing to do, and now this happens. Great.

2. I still have nightmares about my experience at the 2004 caucus.

3. I don’t feel so strongly about my choice that I want to stand around a high school gym discussing it with strangers.

Still, it was nice to discover I’m not the only person who is intrigued by Obama but vaguely embarrassed by the frenzy surrounding his campaign.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Rant #1: So Long, Inside The NFL

HBO announced that it was canceling Inside the NFL after 31 years. I can understand the network’s argument; in the era of all-sports channels, Wednesday is a little late for a highlights show. Even when NFL Films provides the footage.

NFL Films, owned by the National Football League, says they’ll bring the show to a new station in the fall. I’d wager that a serious contender would be the network owned by the National Football League.

Guess what, NFL? I’m still not anteing up for your damn channel.

Rant #2: Wrong Robots, Dude

“These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

When that Star Wars line was referenced in The King of Kong, I realized I was getting tired of it. Now that Mitt Romney has said it, its usefulness is officially at an end. The moratorium begins ... nnnnnow.

TV: Weird Show Biz Story of the Day

Arrested Development’s Will Arnett is forced to give up his job on Knight Rider because of his commercial work for General Motors. And I was so looking forward to hearing KITT say, “With club sauce.” At least Val Kilmer makes an excellent replacement.

Miscellaneous: Ministry of Silly Walks Links

The AV Club has a great interview with John Cleese. But they don’t ask the question I want answered. Why is he providing election analysis for Fox News?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Book: Saturday’s Child, by Ray Banks (U.S. 2008)

I’ve linked to Banks more than once. You want to talk horror, he’s your man. We email back and forth on occasion. He is, as they say, good people.

He’s also a novelist, with several critically acclaimed titles to his credit. Alas, not readily available in America.

Saturday’s Child changes that. I grabbed it ASAP, with a single thought in mind: I hope this doesn’t suck. Those emails are gonna be awkward.

Good news all around. Saturday’s Child is, as they say, a damn fine piece of work.

Cal Innes, back on his feet after a stint in prison, is trying to make a go of it as a private investigator when he gets a call from Manchester kingpin Morris Tiernan. Cal went down to cover for Tiernan’s psycho son Mo, and to Tiernan this means Cal owes him a favor. It should be a simple job: track down a blackjack dealer who lit out with some money that wasn’t his. Naturally, Tiernan is leaving a few select details out. And Mo, not exactly a fan, is shadowing Cal for reasons of his own.

It’s the voice that grabs you from the jump, tough, spare, always human. When Banks makes one of his effortless switches from Cal’s perspective to Mo’s, you know whose head you’re in before the first period. Saturday’s Child is intimate in both story and action. When the blows come Cal feels them, and so do you.

What impressed me most was how the book revitalizes the P.I. genre. The last few novels of the type I read, some of them well-regarded, felt secondhand and hollow. Banks has come up with a living, breathing example of the form, one that should win him plenty of fans on this side of the pond. I can’t wait to see what Innes, the poor bastard, gets up to next.

But for the record, Banks, I still like Shoot ‘Em Up.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Miscellaneous: Links

The AV Club on 20 pop culture obsessions geekier than Monty Python. I have mostly dodged these bullets. I confess to going through a Dr. Who phase in junior high. And I do have a Facebook page. But I have never thanked anyone for the add, and I never will.

I watched a documentary on the history of New York’s Grand Central that wasn’t as interesting as this video of 200 people frozen in the middle of the terminal. H/t to Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Miscellaneous: Thrills, Agonies, Defeats

The Super Bowl: I should have known something was up when a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan told me he wanted the Giants to derail the Patriots’ perfect season. When an Iggles fan roots for the team’s most hated divisional rival – in the Super Bowl – then truly unholy forces have been unleashed upon the world. I’m surprised that a cloud of locusts did not enshroud all of Glendale, Arizona, that crows didn’t peck Tom Brady’s eyes out (maybe that’s why they closed the roof), that the earth did not open up and swallow Wes Welker whole. I woke up on Sunday and sensed a great shadow on the land. New England never had a chance.

The Half-Time Show: Missed it. I watched an episode of The Venture Brothers instead. I couldn’t risk a Tom Petty wardrobe malfunction.

The Commercials: Lousy crop this year. My favorite was the hot-air balloons.

How to follow up such brutal competition? With even more! The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about the battle to set the world record for the highest score in Donkey Kong, is hands down one of the best movies of 2007. It’s got everything: high drama, memorable characters, head fakes, last-second twists, even a training montage. And the DVD is packed with dandy extras. Rent it now.

When the movie ended, Rosemarie said, “That was more intense than the game!” Coming from a Big Blue fan on the greatest day in the team’s history, that’s high praise indeed.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Sports: Step Right Up and Greet Him

I don’t want to make too much of the fact that Johan Santana, two-time Cy Young award winner and one of the most dominant pitchers of this era, now wears a New York Mets uniform. I will simply acknowledge this great moment in the history of athletic competition, and humbly move on.

TV: Up and Down the Dial

Last night’s Obama/Clinton debate took place in the Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards, and CNN shot it like there wasn’t going to be a ceremony this year. I caught glimpses of Steven Spielberg, Pierce Brosnan, Diane Keaton, and Stevie Wonder among others. The only thing missing was a red carpet show.

When I had my wonkish fill I flipped channels and found, to my surprise, a bedridden Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) being spelled by ... Bette Davis? Turns out Perry is part of the line-up on the Retro Television Network, added to my cable service with zero fanfare. It’s so new that its website isn’t finished yet. Among the shows in the RTN rotation: The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Rockford Files, Cannon, Hawaii Five-O, and Mission: Impossible. There are even “retromercials.” Of most interest to me is a Saturday night bad movie show hosted by, like, freaky beatniks, man.

Incidentally, Bette won the case.