Sunday, August 31, 2008

Miscellaneous: Southland Links

The Los Angeles Times picks the 25 best L.A. movies of the past 25 years. Complete with map. And for the record, Fletch is a good film.

Comics: Two, Please

Trouble at the multiplex for your favorite married film geeks in the latest installment of our web comic, available below or here.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book: Vampyres of Hollywood, by Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott (2008)

I don’t recognize labels like summer book or beach read. But I’m still glad I finished Vampyres of Hollywood before Labor Day. It has that warm afternoon, bottle of beer within reach kind of feel.

The novel by Adrienne Barbeau (yes, that Adrienne Barbeau) and Michael Scott (no, not that Michael Scott) suggests that many of the movies’ brightest lights are in fact the undead. Funny how easy that notion is to accept. None is more powerful than Ovsanna Moore, the “scream queen” turned mogul. (In a book with all manner of hellish creatures running amok, that’s the only element I had trouble with. It’s like saying Brinke Stevens runs Lionsgate. As if an actor could run a movie studio. Oh, wait ...)

But someone is murdering vampires – sorry, vampyres – in unspeakably violent ways. A Best Actor winner has his Oscar rammed into a sensitive place ... pedestal first. That’s an opening in more ways than one. When a Beverly Hills detective discovers that Ovsanna links the victims, she must move quickly to prevent centuries of secrets from coming to light.

The book is funny, packed with choice showbiz observations and inside jokes. Then there’s the scene where Ovsanna is confronted by the title cabal, a coterie of silver screen luminaries you foolishly thought long gone. And you won’t believe who the villain is. Vampyres is great, trashy fun. Read it now while there are still margaritas to spare.

I squandered way too much time in high school watching Adrienne Barbeau in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, a 1980s cable TV staple. They don’t make comic book movies like that any more: goofy, satirical, strangely personal. I miss those.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book: Runner, by Thomas Perry (2009)

That date is correct. Yours truly used his awesome pull in media circles to get a sneak peak at the latest from Thomas Perry. It won’t be released until January, but get those orders in now. It’s that good.

In Runner, Perry returns to his most famous creation: Jane Whitefield, the Seneca “guide” with a talent for helping people in trouble to disappear. Jane has used her own skills to settle into happily married life. But when a young pregnant woman shows up with six ruthless professionals on her trail and Jane’s former name on her lips, Jane is forced to dust off her old tricks.

Jane’s insecurity – Has she gotten rusty? Has technology outstripped her inventiveness? Is her own desire to have a child clouding her judgment? – seasons an already strong character. There are also the trademark Perry villains, implacable but always recognizably human.

Perry, a longtime favorite of mine, has written some terrific standalone thrillers in the nine years since the last Whitefield book. It’s great to have Jane back in action. Put this one on the Christmas list.

Miscellaneous: Link

Wanna write a movie? Joel and Ethan Coen explain how.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sort Of Related: Noir Is The New Black

A $500 million domestic gross propels a movie beyond blockbuster into cultural phenomenon. The Dark Knight should reach that rarified box office air by Labor Day. Weeks into its release it’s still stirring intense conversations; I witnessed one the other day in Quizno’s that jeopardized the pepper bar. Op-ed takes on the movie’s politics abound, ranging from cautiously vague to, forgive me, batshit crazy.

What amazes me is all this passion, all this furor, over a film that is so bleak. So grim. So ... noir.

I’m not the only who thinks so. The Dark Knight receives a lengthy, glowing review in the latest issue of the Noir City Sentinel, house rag of the Film Noir Foundation, in which it’s compared favorably to genre classics like Touch of Evil. Several years ago I heard FNF founder Eddie Muller speak, and he said the films of Dark Knight co-writer/director Christopher Nolan, citing Following and Memento, came right out of the noir tradition.

This summer also saw AMC’s 1960s advertising series Mad Men return for its sophomore season, to continued critical acclaim and higher ratings. Novelist and Sentinel columnist Megan Abbott, in this appreciation of the show, noted that it was “easy to see Mad Men’s noir underpinnings.”

Are you detecting a pattern here?

Maybe this vogue for noir is a fluke. Shadows are cool, literally and figuratively. And The Dark Knight, after all, is still a big-budget superhero movie, one featuring the last complete performance by an extraordinary actor.

Or maybe it’s something more. Again quoting Megan Abbott:

Many point to the impact of World War II as central to the rise of film noir, the sense that the world is a much darker place than we had ever thought before – hence, the feeling of cynicism, anxiety, paranoia and desperation that drives KISS ME DEADLY, DEAD RECKONING, ACT OF VIOLENCE and IN A LONELY PLACE.

I recently read Matt Taibbi’s The Great Derangement, a flawed book built around the brilliant premise that in the wake of 9/11 Americans have become “a people (who) can no longer agree even on the basic objective facts of their political existence.” He writes that “we had become a nation of reality shoppers, mixing and matching news items to fit our own self-created identities.”

Mad Men’s audience is vocal, devoted, and, in the grand scheme of things, small. (I count myself among its number.) But half a billion dollars? That’s another matter entirely. That indicates a worldview that resonates across the political spectrum and a range of “self-created identities.” Getting that many people to agree on anything in this culture, even a vision that could be described as pessimistic, is a step forward and out of the darkness.

2008 was the summer noir came back. And I welcome its return, for more reasons than one.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Comics: Two, Please

Things get technical for your two favorite married film geeks. This week’s installment below or here.

Miscellaneous: Movie Links

In the 1980s, nobody mixed high and low like Cannon Films. They worked with Chuck Norris and John Cassavetes, produced Barfly and American Ninja. (Not to mention one of my favorite movies of that decade, Runaway Train.) Menahem Golan, one of the men behind the company, is still going at age 80. Films in Review has an interview. One gripe: how can you not ask Golan about his greatest directorial ... I’m going to go with “achievement,” The Apple?

I’m late in finding the GreenCine interview with Harlan Coben and Guillaume Canet about their late summer arthouse hit Tell No One. Coben’s descriptions of the never-produced Hollywood versions of his novel are chilling, and further proof of this site’s long-held belief that all thrillers should initially be made in France.

Excerpts of Woody Allen’s diaries from Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The movie, his best in several years, is also worth checking out.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Miscellaneous: Links

By popular demand*, we have set up a Flickr page for our web comic Two, Please. Now it’s even easier to enjoy the exploits of your favorite married film geeks. Of course, if you really want to support the team, you should go to our Bitstrips page and leave comments, kudos, and laughs. Two, Please is turning into a popular feature at Bitstrips, but we welcome any help we can get.

Elsewhere –

Experience the joys of cooking the Vincent Price way.

I’m a big fan of the AV Club’s Random Roles feature, which asks character actors to survey their own careers. The latest subject is one of my favorites: Brian Cox. I must confess a certain degree of disappointment that no mention is made of Cox’s sterling performance as Captain O’Hagan in Super Troopers. Last night I discovered that Cox’s new film Red, based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, is also playing via On Demand during its limited theatrical release. I hope to check it out in the next few days.

* Term applied very loosely

Monday, August 18, 2008

DVD: The Roundup

Spent the weekend watching older films new or newly reissued on DVD.

Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955). Jack Webb’s jazz opus plays like the strangest episode of Dragnet ever. Not only because it’s written by series vet Richard L. Breen with the show’s trademark blend of melodrama and hardboiled pithiness. But because Webb, not an actor noted for his range, is essentially playing Joe Friday in period drag. Same haircut, same monotone delivery, same cheap shirts, only in 1925 Kansas City. I thought Webb’s plodding walk on Dragnet was an artistic choice speaking to the methodical nature of police work. Turns out that’s how he got around.

As a Dragnet fan, I thought the movie was fantastic. Others will not. Jazz fans, however, will want to check it out. There’s tremendous music throughout including performances from Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, the latter netting an Academy Award nomination. Pete Kelly’s Hot 7 may be the toughest combo in history. I can accept Joe Friday. And on drums Adam-12’s Martin Milner, who also played a jazzman in Sweet Smell of Success. But Lee Marvin blowing clarinet? That’s pushing it, daddy-o.

Un Flic (1972). The final film from Jean-Pierre Melville is a mood piece riffing on his standard themes. I knew where it was going and didn’t mind; in fact, I relished it. Movies like this, with their familiar beats, are for me what superhero films are for so many others. You can have your costumes and secret lairs. I want trenchcoats and night clubs. I want the world where cop Alain Delon and criminal Richard Crenna can not only be friends, but both be in love with Catherine Deneuve.

Most of Un Flic is given over to two heists. The first, at an isolated bank during a raging storm, is a marvel of sound design. Due to budget constraints, the action in the second is filmed with a model train and a model helicopter. It’s a strange sequence to watch in the CGI era; you never forget that you’re looking at miniatures, but you’re never knocked out of the story, either. Crenna’s Hefnerian pj’s help.

Inglorious Bastards (1978). More model trains here. Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming WWII film only borrows the title and not the plot, about a group of stockade-bound Allied soldiers who make a run for Switzerland. It’s a film from the one-damn-thing-after-another genre that never stops moving for 100 minutes. It’s crap. Very watchable, highly entertaining crap.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Comics: Two, Please

Your favorite married film geeks are back with their most obscure reference yet! The latest installment is below or here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Miscellaneous: Your Weekend Forecast

“The redheaded homicide detective stepped through the door at 7:30 A.M. and out into the August heat that had already reached 88 degrees. By noon the temperature would hit 100, and by two or three o’clock it would be hovering around 105. Frayed nerves would then start to snap and produce a marked increase in the detective’s business. Breadknife weather, the detective thought. Breadknives in the afternoon.”

- from Briarpatch, by Ross Thomas

OK, it’s only going to be 91 degrees. But still.

Movie: The Mask of Dimitrios (1944)

It’s a story I’ve told before. Flipping channels as a kid, happening onto this movie. The grand Warner Brothers theme. The credits presented on the pages of a book. The ominous written introduction (“Such a man was Dimitrios”).

When Peter Lorre skulked into view, I was hooked.

A short time later, my parents came home. After commenting on the novelty of a small child watching a black and white movie that was more than thirty years old in the middle of the afternoon, they left me alone. For which I am eternally in their debt.

I hadn’t seen Dimitrios since, although I had, as cited above, read the Eric Ambler novel on which it’s based. When TCM aired the movie as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Lorre last night, I cleared my schedule.

It still works. The big third act twist didn’t surprise me as a kid and seems even more obvious now. Zachary Scott registers as a bit of a lightweight, playing the ur-Keyser Soze. But the byplay between Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet is peerless. Lorre, forever muttering to himself, doesn’t receive nearly enough credit for forging a modern style of acting.

And it’s the atmosphere that holds you. Dark, sensuous, mysterious. I stepped into those shadows decades ago and never came out.

Miscellaneous: Swingtown Northwest

All I can say is these people are the salt of the earth. They throw great parties. Just steer clear of the dip.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Movies: And Jack Carson Goes Rolling Along

Here at Chez K, we keep the Jack Carson fires burning. He’s an unjustly neglected actor, remembered primarily for his comic performances. Even that’s misleading; his lighter turns have undercurrents of frustration and loneliness, while his natural buoyancy lends an extra dimension to his dramatic work (The Hard Way, Mildred Pierce).

I would have recorded The Good Humor Man (1950) for the title alone, not to mention timely reminders from Bill and Ivan. But the draw, in addition to Carson, is the one-of-a-kind writing credits. Script by animation legend Frank Tashlin, based on a story by Roy Huggins, called a pop culture giant by no less an authority than this website. The result is a live-action cartoon with a halfway decent crime story at its core, as Carson plays – surprise! – a Good Humor man caught up in a heist. Not many locked room mysteries end with circular saws on the loose cutting holes in the floor. Silly, entertaining stuff.

Allow me a digression on this Huggins business. Humor is based on his 1946 Saturday Evening Post story “Appointment with Fear,” which featured P.I. Stuart Bailey. Bailey appeared in several short stories and novels as well as the 1948 film I Love Trouble before being repurposed in Huggins’ landmark TV series 77 Sunset Strip. But there’s a second 1950 film based on the same material. State Secret, aka The Great Manhunt, involves a dictator replaced by an exact double and a surgeon on the run. I haven’t seen it, but I’ll wager it features no ice cream at all.

We didn’t plan on watching two Carson films over the weekend, but another turned up on TCM. Romance on the High Seas (1948) is old Hollywood heaven. Get a load of these credits. Studio system director par excellence Michael Curtiz behind the camera. Zingy script by the brothers Epstein of Casablanca fame, with additional material by Billy Wilder’s future writing partner I.A.L. Diamond. Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn songs including the standard “It’s Magic,” all choreographed by Busby Berkeley. You want character actors? They’re all here: S.Z. Sakall, Franklin Pangborn, Eric Blore. Yet somehow neither Rosemarie nor I had heard of the movie before.

There’s even a plot, with Carson as a shamus hired by a suspicious husband to follow his wife on a cruise, unaware that the wife, intent on shadowing her hubby, has given her ticket to a lounge singer (Doris Day, enchanting in her screen debut).

It makes for a tasty confection, but the bourbon in this meringue comes courtesy of Oscar Levant, grousing and grumbling from the margins. (ASIDE: You know you’re in an odd marriage when both parties feel they’re “the Levant.”) As usual, Oscar gets the best lines:

You can’t expect to start at the top – although I’ve often wondered why not.

(Her name is) Georgia Garrett. Georgia as in marching through, Garrett as in starving in.

Miscellaneous: Links

The Line has been around for weeks, and I’m only catching up to it now. Here’s the backstory, and Episode I.

Did you watch Eddie Muller’s The Grand Inquisitor yet? What are you waiting for?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

TV: TCM Picks of the Week

As part of the network’s Summer Under the Stars festival, two fine noir dramas air this week. Pushover (Tuesday @ 8PM EST/5PM PST) marks Fred MacMurray’s return to the shadows after Double Indemnity. And The Money Trap (Friday @ 1:30PM EST/10:30AM PST) is a late career reunion for Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. While neither film is a lost classic, both are worth pushing the record button for.

Comics: Two, Please

Things get spicy for your two favorite married film geeks in the latest installment, which is below or here.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

On The Web: The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

I can’t believe I didn’t mention this yesterday. More than one person told me about it, and Bill Crider even thinks I’m responsible. But The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three in its glorious entirety is now free on Hulu. Meaning you have no excuse not to have seen the greatest motion picture ever made.

TV: The Olympics Opening Ceremonies

Director Zhang Yimou did an extraordinary job with last night’s spectacle, even if the Death Star made an appearance and Lang Lang had Heat Miser’s hair.

DVD: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008)

Forget the Olympics. Nothing in recent memory has stirred my patriotism like this movie. USA! USA! USA!

Miscellaneous: An Open Letter to Senator John Edwards

Dear Senator Edwards:

Jesus, man, you’re a trial lawyer! You of all people should know there’s no way to keep an affair secret during a Presidential bid, even if you didn’t father the woman’s child and then pay her off. What if you’d actually gotten the nomination? A laughable notion, I know, but lawyers should consider every angle. I hereby retract every positive statement I have ever made about you, your policy positions, or your hair.

Vince Keenan

PS. OK. I stand by my statements about the hair.

Miscellaneous: An Open Letter to the Various Cable News Networks

Dear Various Cable News Networks:

I understand how difficult it is to resist the siren song of the aforementioned scandal, particularly when Edwards himself says, “If you want to beat me up – feel free.” But could you maybe backburner the story for a spell while Russia is attacking another country? I’d kinda like to know what the hell is going on.

Vince Keenan

Friday, August 08, 2008

On The Web: The Grand Inquisitor

During Noir City I raved about my friend Eddie Muller’s short film The Grand Inquisitor. You can experience this hellish little gem for yourselves now that it’s online.

Marvel at the performances of noir veteran Marsha Hunt and newcomer Leah Dashe! Shudder as a decades-old mystery is solved! Vote on its behalf!

Visit the film’s official site for more information. Then watch the movie. You won’t be disappointed.

On The Web: The Brass Verdict

More multimedia for your Friday, from someone I know. Terrill Lee Lankford has directed another stylish video promoting Michael Connelly’s upcoming novel The Brass Verdict. Watch it here.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Book: Hit and Run, by Lawrence Block (2008)

The philatelist assassin Keller returns in the latest from Lawrence Block. He’s in Iowa on what’s supposed to be his last job, and we all know how those turn out. (Why not just spontaneously decide to quit, so you’ll have wrapped up your last job before you know that’s what it is? That’s my plan.) He’s so focused on his target and his stamps that he barely notices it’s election season. He becomes aware of it in a big hurry when one of the presidential candidates is gunned down, and Keller becomes the sole suspect. After all, who better to frame for murder than a professional killer?

With that premise, you might expect a globetrotting, grandstanding international thriller. I certainly did. But Block works against those expectations, delivering a sweaty, close-quarters novel that has more in common with the Gold Medal books of his early career. How can Keller make his way across the country without cash or a workable identity when he’s the subject of a manhunt? How can he rebuild his life? The big questions of who’s behind the assassination and why are answered, but in an almost throwaway manner. It’s amazing how effective that approach is. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Lawrence Block takes a crackerjack set-up and turns it into what he does best: a Lawrence Block novel.

Sports: An Open Letter to Brett Favre

Dear Brett,

I thought you should know that your recent shenanigans have not only tarnished your NFL legacy, they have also completely ruined the ending of There’s Something About Mary for me. Thanks, champ.

Vince Keenan

PS. You should have gone to Tampa.

Miscellaneous: Video Link

Tough day? Why not practice the art of relaxating?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Movie: Lady In Cement (1968)

This post is purely in the interest of completion. A while back I watched Tony Rome, the Frank Sinatra P.I. movie, and liked it just enough to check out the sequel. I can now attest that Lady In Cement ain’t no Tony Rome.

Gold Medal novelist Marvin H. Albert this time takes a hand in adapting his own book. Tony goes diving and finds the titular murder victim. He tools around Miami looking for her killer and engaging in loads of cheesy repartee. The mystery’s solution will surprise no one; it’s transparently obvious who done it, although by the end I still wasn’t 100% on why. There’s some nice footage of the Fontainebleau Hotel and an entertaining performance by Bonanza’s Dan Blocker, even though he’s miscast. It’s a lousy movie, and I sort of enjoyed it. What can I say? I miss P.I. films, and there’s something about ‘60s smarm that fascinates me.

Frank’s enormous hat from Tony Rome makes a cameo, and this movie also ends with a zoom into a woman’s shapely backside, belonging in this case to Raquel Welch. I applaud the filmmakers’ consistency of vision.

Miscellaneous: Links

Yeah, I’m gonna have to ask you to just go ahead and read this A.V. Club interview with actor Gary Cole.

If you are in New York, I command you to attend the Film Forum’s French Crime Wave series. In particular, next Monday’s Alain Corneau double-bill of Série Noire, based on Jim Thompson’s A Hell of a Woman, and Police Python 357. Or you could just fly me out and give me a place to crash. Whatever works for you.

Aw, yeah. You know what time it is? It’s time for two hundred and forty dollars’ worth of pudding.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Miscellaneous: Blowing Out The Candles

Today’s my birthday. Normally I don’t gloat over my gifts, but this year I received the best one ever – a portfolio of photographs of my blushing bride taken at Old School Pin-Ups. I believe the technical term is “Yowza!” Thanks, sweetie.

Miscellaneous: Your Young Men’ll Be Twittering

Yes, I’m on Twitter now. Technically, I’ve been on Twitter for months – I’ll sign up for anything – but I never used it. Once I saw that Banks and Matt were on there, I decided to give it a try. I know already I will never be as pithy as Warren Ellis, whose update from yesterday (Condition: Pub) is as fine a piece of writing as I’ve read all year. Feel free to follow me and find out what I’m doing every minute of the day as I expand the Vince Keenan brand.

Books: Movie Mystery Link

In his latest column for the San Francisco Chronicle, Eddie Muller reviews a slew of crime novels with movie backdrops. I can echo his praise of Loren D. Estleman’s Frames. Oh to be in San Mateo, now that Adrienne Barbeau is there.

Comics: Two, Please

Your favorite married film geeks are back! Latest installment below or here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

New York Post: The Great White Way

Last of these posts, I promise. But when in New York, you’ve got to go to the theater at least once. Or in our case, twice.

The 39 Steps. When we heard that there was a stage adaptation of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie and Chez K favorite, we knew we’d see it. How do you recreate the train sequence, or the chase across the moors? The answer is with a game cast of four – four! – and bracing theatrical legerdemain. It’s all directed by Maria Aitken, who for me will forever be John Cleese’s wife in A Fish Called Wanda. The Tony Award-winning stagecraft was what had me laughing, not the broader stuff like shoehorning as many Hitchcock titles into the script as possible. Before we saw the show we watched the movie again. And it still holds up.

Celebrity Encounter #1: After the show, the heavens opened. The deluge had us ducking into a diner near our digs. A few minutes later, we saw Mario Cantone darting to cover under an awning. Or at least I did. Rosemarie saw the back of his head.

[title of show]. This meta-musical about the making of a musical was an Off-Broadway smash and came highly recommended. It features energetic songs and a quarter of terrific performers. (Again with the four actors. A coincidence, honest.) But there’s a difference between an Off-Broadway show about holding fast to your dreams and a Broadway show about achieving them. The new third act, about the compromises needed to open on the Great White Way, feels contrived. But on the whole I enjoyed it, and you’ve got to love any show with its own YouTube channel.

Celebrity Encounter #2: Just before the curtain, Peter Gallagher sat down next to Rosemarie. Who initially didn’t notice. “I had bigger problems,” she said. “I was worried someone was going to step on my sprained foot in the dark.”

Miscellaneous: Link

Today’s reason why I love New York.