Monday, March 31, 2008

Jules Dassin, R.I.P.

It was just last week that we lost actor Richard Widmark. Now comes word that Jules Dassin, who directed Widmark’s best film Night and the City, has died at age 96.

Dassin led an extraordinary life. He started as an actor in New York’s Yiddish theater – his name may have sounded French, but he was Julie Dassin from Connecticut – then moved to the other side of the camera. In the wake of the blacklist he went to Europe and managed to maintain, even reinvent his career. His greatest success was probably 1960’s Never On Sunday. Dassin would end up marrying the movie’s star Melina Mercouri, and both would be nominated for Academy Awards. Mercouri would go on to become Greece’s Minister of Culture.

But it’s Dassin’s impressive body of crime dramas that will earn him a place in cinema history. Name a subgenre and Dassin not only contributed to it, he helped define it. The prison film (Brute Force). The policier (The Naked City). Two landmark noirs, Thieves’ Highway and Night and the City. During his European sojourn, he would direct a pair of essential heist movies, Rififi and Topkapi. An amazing string of films.

Ed Gorman and I talked about Night and the City in the wake of Widmark’s death here. And here’s a vintage Dassin interview. Via GreenCine.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Movie: Jar City (U.S. 2008)

IFC Festival Direct showcases foreign and independent films that will see limited theatrical release in the United States. For less than the price of a ticket, you can watch first run fare on demand. In other words Jar City, one of the best movies I’ve seen in months, may already be on your cable box waiting for you to press play.

An intense Reykjavik detective (Ingvar Sigurdson, whose superficial resemblance to Eliot Spitzer give things an additional contemporary charge) investigates what looks like “a typical Icelandic murder, messy and pointless.” But the crime is the gateway to a larger mystery dating back decades and touching on police corruption and scientific research, with a solution unique to the country where it’s set.

Baltasar Kormákur’s script, based on an acclaimed novel by Arnaldur Indridason, is a marvel of engineering, deftly weaving in a subplot about the detective’s pregnant junkie daughter and deploying an intricate structure that sneaks up on you. There are extraordinary shots of the Icelandic landscape and a haunting soundtrack of male choral music. Watching this movie is a reminder that there are countless American mystery novels crying out to be adapted in such a bracingly effective way. Act fast: Jar City is available on demand through the end of March.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark, R.I.P.

One of the last links to the classic age of film noir has been severed with the passing of actor Richard Widmark at age 93.

Regular readers know that Widmark was a favorite around here. Watch his landmark performance as cackling psychopath Tommy Udo in 1947’s Kiss of Death today and it still feels breathtakingly modern; Widmark, with his utter disregard for generating sympathy and his wealth of telling detail, seems to be inventing an entirely contemporary style of acting before your eyes. There’s his turn in Samuel Fuller’s Pickup On South Street, as a pickpocket up to his jittery eyeballs in a Communist spy plot who responds to appeals to patriotism with, “Don’t wave the flag at me.”

And then there’s his Harry Fabian in Night and the City. It was only last month that I saw it during a Widmark double bill at Noir City. It’s a movie that only grows in my estimation with each viewing, largely because of Widmark’s brave, spare work in the lead role. Performances don’t cut any deeper than that one.

The New York Times obituary features some terrific quotes and a great sense of the man’s life. Richard Widmark will be remembered, and missed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book: The Kind One, by Tom Epperson (2008)

Heading to California to make a name for yourself is perhaps the quintessential American story. Tom Epperson’s version is a pretty good one. He and childhood pal Billy Bob Thornton went west to break into show business. After kicking around for a hard ten years, they finally broke through with their script for One False Move, still a first-rate crime drama.

Los Angeles as a city of last chances and fresh starts looms large in Epperson’s first novel. It’s 1934, and “Two Gun” Danny Landon has a crease in his head where he was struck by a lead pipe, a severe case of amnesia, and a reputation as a tough guy that doesn’t sit right with him. He works for L.A. kingpin Bud Seitz, whose ironic nickname provides the book’s title. Bud gives Danny a choice assignment as bodyguard for his latest girlfriend Darla, a singer who is nowhere near as tough as she pretends to be.

It’s a classic noir set-up. Anyone familiar with the genre will quickly surmise who Danny is and be able to predict the fates that befall him, Bud, Darla, and the neighbors drawn into Danny’s orbit. But the characters are so well drawn that you won’t mind one bit. There are echoes of John Fante and Nathanael West here; Epperson writes with real feeling for the place and time, his story as rambling and expansive as the California landscape. I was more than happy to amble along with him.

Miscellaneous: Links

Gene Weingarten spends a grim 24 hours in the opinionscape of blogs, talk radio and cable news. Biggest surprise to me: you can now use “douche bag” as a pejorative in the august pages of the Washington Post. Oh, and pundustry, pundustry, pundustry. Read the article and you’ll know why I did that.

And the Los Angeles Times sets out in pursuit of John Hughes, the mystery man of 1980s cinema.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Movie: Married Life (2008)

The theater where I saw Married Life didn’t even have a poster for it to hang outside. So I’m putting one up here, because I want to get the word out about this movie. It’s worth tracking down.

It’s based on the 1953 novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham, the former MI5 operative who served as the inspiration for John Le Carré’s George Smiley. (Sarah Weinman reviews Bingham’s literary career here.) The adaptation by Oren Moverman and director Ira Sachs sets the action in 1949 New York and Connecticut.

Chris Cooper’s longtime married man finds himself falling for a fetching war widow (Rachel McAdams). He’s certain his sweet, trusting wife (Patricia Clarkson) would be destroyed by divorce, so he decides that the only humane solution is to poison her. The whole sordid story is told by Pierce Brosnan, playing a lothario friend of Cooper’s with his own designs on McAdams. Brosnan looks rakish as all get out in period duds and narrates with silken menace. If ever a man was meant to do voiceover, it’s him. He should provide it for movies he’s not even in.

There are some taut Hitchcockian suspense sequences, including a dandy involving a bathtub. Noir strings are plucked, but softly. Sachs is more interested in dark comedy and shrewd observations about the deceptions that go into marriage, happy and unhappy alike. It’s said that 90% of a film’s success is dictated by the casting, and that’s certainly true here; all four leads are terrific. Make an effort to see this one.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Miscellaneous: Linkstravaganza!

If you’re in the San Francisco area, you are obligated to attend this because I can’t: the North American premiere of a lost Grand Guignol play by Noel Coward. It’s directed by Eddie Muller, and the run begins tonight. Eddie told me a little about the play during Noir City, and it’s not to be missed.

Speaking of Eddie, here’s the program for the 10th Annual Noir City Festival, kicking off April 3 at L.A.’s Egyptian Theatre. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, you are obligated to attend because I can’t. I recommend the program on April 12, when you’ll have an opportunity to see Eddie’s short film The Grand Inquisitor with star Marsha Hunt in person, and on April 6, when Eddie will be screening Wicked Woman featuring the one and only Beverly Michaels.

Speaking of Wicked Woman, here’s the trailer again. The movie also stars character actor Percy Helton.

Speaking of Percy Helton, he’s also in this Japanese TV commercial in which Charles Bronson marinates himself in a cologne called Mandom. (Thanks, Tony!)

Speaking of ... OK, I’m out of segues. Here’s some other stuff.

Via Neatorama, an espionage story told entirely through Google Maps.

At work last night, I saw this video highlighting Big Dog, a DARPA-funded robot. To quote a colleague, “We need to kill this thing and send it back to Hell. It can carry a gun and it sounds like it’s powered by angry bees.” To me, it’s just a $500 million pack mule. But it’s still probably the first step on the road to this world. Via BoingBoing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book: Pictures At A Revolution, by Mark Harris (2008)

Harris’s book is an essential read for any serious film fan. Which surprises me, because I had doubts about its premise. Subtitled Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, it follows the quintet of titles nominated for Best Picture of 1967, from development to awards glory. As if the Oscars are any indication of quality.

But Harris, an Entertainment Weekly contributor, knows his show biz and merely uses the awards as a framework for a larger story. 1967 was a transformative year in the movie industry. The old guard was still in power, but a new cinematic culture driven by European filmmakers was beginning to take hold. The five movies that ended up in the Oscar derby reflect that tension, and Harris meticulously researches their histories. The nominees are:

Bonnie & Clyde. Easily the contender that has held up the best. My favorite tidbit: 16 year old Texan Patsy McClenny served as Bonnie’s double because Faye Dunaway couldn’t drive a stick. A few years later, Patsy went to Hollywood and became Morgan Fairchild.

Doctor Doolittle. The only one of the five I haven’t seen. A critical and commercial flop, it’s widely seen as having bought its nomination. Harris recounts the campaign in detail.

The Graduate. I saw this week I graduated from college and didn’t get it. Perhaps it captured a moment so perfectly it was lost on those of us who weren’t there. Or maybe it was me. Director Mike Nichols tells a great, sad tale about meeting Ava Gardner – at Ms. Gardner’s insistence – for the role of Mrs. Robinson.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. Harris won me over with his treatment of this Stanley Kramer movie. Yes, it was square at the time, a middlebrow take on race relations that stacked the deck completely. But, Harris asks, why shouldn’t films that speak to middlebrow audiences get a little love? Sadly, Kramer felt he was being overshadowed by the young turks. The section in which he embarks on an ill-fated college tour to talk to “the young people” is one of the best in the book.

In the Heat of the Night. Spoiler alert: it takes home the prize. Truman Capote, fuming that the adaptation of his book In Cold Blood wasn’t in the running although many expected it to be, called Heat “a good bad picture.” It’s also the one I’ve seen the most. It was a fairly important movie for me growing up, because it was the first time I became aware that the crime genre could be used to address other issues. I still like it. I plan on watching it again. Harris has me ready to watch them all – except for Doolittle. Nothing’s getting me anywhere near that train wreck.

I can think of five other 1967 movies I would rather see nominated for Best Picture. Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Two by Stanley Donen, the comedy Bedazzled and the romantic drama Two For The Road. And a pair with Lee Marvin, The Dirty Dozen and my personal choice, Point Blank. Your picks?

And now I present, in its entirety, my favorite story from Harris’s book. Mike Nichols is in pre-production on The Graduate.

With nobody yet cast, Nichols returned to Broadway and spent the fall of 1966 at the Shubert Theatre, directing Alan Alda, Barbara Harris, and Larry Blyden in THE APPLE TREE. Nichols brought in Herbert Ross to help stage the numbers and could at least take comfort in the fact that somebody else’s movie was in bigger trouble than his own: After six months, Ross was still working on DOCTOR DOOLITTLE for Arthur Jacobs and was increasingly grim about the ordeal. “He was dividing his time,” says Nichols. “He’d come to New York and he’d work, say, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and half of Monday, and then he’d go back to Los Angeles and the movie. One week he flew off, and we were rehearsing the next day, and suddenly he comes strolling back across the stage. I said, ‘Herbert, what happened?’ And he said, ‘We’re postponed for three days. The giraffe stepped on his cock.’”

G’night, everybody!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Miscellaneous: A St. Patrick’s Day Memory

St. Patrick’s Day has never been a big deal in the Keenan household. “You don’t have to wear green,” my father says every year. “People can tell you’re Irish just by looking at your face.”

This, by the way, is now more true than ever. At a wedding we attended over the weekend a Polaroid was taken of every couple. When ours developed I said, “Jesus, I look like I went to Fordham and work for the Queens DA.” Rosemarie shook her head. “Your tie’s too flashy. You look like you handle public relations for the Mets.”

I grew up in a neighborhood that to this day has a reputation as an Irish enclave. When I was in third grade my teacher Sister Patricia, knowing that both of my parents were Irish immigrants, asked if I had any records at home that would be appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day.

Come March 17, I arrived at school with a copy of a Dermot O’Brien album featuring “The Merry Ploughboy,” “Johnson’s Motor Car” and other rebel songs that recounted the exploits of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

I presented the record to Sister Patricia. She scanned the song list, turned beet red, thanked me for bringing it in, and handed it back. The cultural portion of the afternoon consisted of her leading the class in a sing-along of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” That’s what I get for trying to help.

Enjoy the day, wherever you are, and raise a jar for me. Another thing I learned growing up is that Jameson’s is typically viewed as a Catholic whiskey while Bushmills is Protestant. Personally, I prefer a drop of Powers meself.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

TV: Thoughts on the AVN Awards

Oh my God! The Adult Video News Awards are being televised on Showtime? This means they read my letters!

Wow. Always a bad sign when the women escorting the winners offstage are better dressed than the winners themselves.

I don’t know any of these people. I don’t watch porn or listen to Howard Stern. But it’s an award show, so I have to watch.

After 25 years they’re still doing jokes about “having hard days”? Bruce Vilanch is just phoning it in.

Every woman who teeters onstage hikes the bodice of her dress up, as if afraid it’s going to fall off. What are they worried about? They’re porn stars.

Ron Jeremy – hey, I do know one of these people! – just said he’s reading off cue cards. All the money in this business and they can’t afford teleprompters?

Every award has three presenters, and some categories have fifteen nominees. The adult film industry is like pee-wee soccer. Everybody gets recognition.

As always, lots of competition in Best High End All-Sex Release. In another year, any of these titles could win.

Guy in the front row! Button your shirt! Oh, sorry. Buckle your shirt.

Sweet Jesus, there’s a production number.

It’s set in the year 2011. It’s about abuses of the Patriot Act. I’m not kidding. And I’m so happy I’m watching this.

Oh, Lord, now the lead dancer is being arrested by FBI agents wearing flak jackets and gimp hoods who are taking her into custody using hula hoops.

I’ve got to admit, this number isn’t completely terrible. I’m glad they finally stopped hiring Debbie Allen.

Look at all the bored tongue kissing in the audience. Is that how you place a drink order?

Jenna Jameson is presenting an award named after her. She’s up there having a mini-meltdown, rambling about her crazy year and generally overstaying her welcome. She’s the Mickey Rooney of the AVN Awards.

So Jenna’s not retiring, but she said she’ll never spread her legs in this industry again. Clearly, there’s some nuance here that is lost on me.

This is the last year of the film category? Only video from now on. Jack Horner must be spinning in his grave.

No. Another production number. It features a drag queen and all the starlets groping one another. It’s like my senior prom is happening all over again.

Female Performer of the Year is the final category, the equivalent of Best Picture. The winner looks like she just came from a My Chemical Romance video shoot.

This must be the only awards show in television history to end with a 2257 notice. To read more about it, pick up Christa Faust’s Money Shot.

DVD: Houdini, The Movie Star

Let’s class it up a little around here, shall we? Via BoingBoing, here’s the preview for Kino Video’s upcoming 3-disc collection of Harry Houdini films. Gotta love that robot.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On The Web: Zero Punctuation

I’ve alluded to this cryptically in the past and will allude to it cryptically in the future, but I now have a job in the video game industry. I landed this position in spite of and to some degree because of the fact that my experience with video games is, shall we say, limited. In related news, I am now also a heart surgeon, a test pilot, and Leonardo da Vinci.

Henry David Thoreau warned to beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. He didn’t say anything about new cultural references. In my video game life, I’ve had to abandon much of my usual shtick. My boundless repertoire of Henry David Thoreau quotes, for instance, cuts no ice. Whereas repeated viewings of The Big Lebowski, Super Troopers and Arrested Development have served me in good stead.

Cultural exchanges are a two-way street. There are landmarks I discover in that world and wish to share. Such as the work of my new hero, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw.

Yahtzee is responsible for Zero Punctuation, a feature at The Escapist magazine. His short animated reviews of video games are breathless, profane, and insulting. They are also damn near perfect, the ideal blend of form and content. Even the song choices work. Most web videos, no matter how brief, are truly dire. Not so Zero Punctuation. After being introduced to one, I scarfed the rest of them down like a box of Raisinettes, which as always left me feeling hyper, vaguely nauseated, and annoyed that I reached the bottom so quickly. I can’t believe I have to wait until Wednesday for a new one.

I’ll start you out with Yahtzee’s take on Devil May Cry 4. It’s NSFW. But what the hell, right? It’s Friday.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Movie: The Great Flamarion (1945)

I’ve had this movie parked on the DVR for almost two years. During that time, I consistently referred to it as “The Great Flame Iron.” (For the record, the name is pronounced Fla-marion.) Catching a pair of Anthony Mann films at Noir City finally got me to fire it up.

It doesn’t start out so good. I take that back; the opening shot is a gem. A long, unbroken take ushers us into a third-rate Mexico City nightclub, showing us latecomers filing in, the acts on stage changing.

But the story is too familiar. Older man, younger woman, her permanently soused husband. You see where this is going. There’s some novelty in the older man being a professional trick shot artist and the couple serving as his nightly targets – but of course, when hubby’s number is up you already know how he’s going to meet his fate. The film begins with the older man recounting the entire tale in flashback after he’s been shot. The other famous example of that device is Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, made the previous year. As it happens, Flamarion was produced by William Wilder, Billy’s brother. (Were they both called Billy?) Bet that family reunion was a pip. At least in Double Indemnity Fred MacMurray doesn’t wave off an offer to call the police by saying “I’ll be dead before they get here,” and then proceed to talk for seventy minutes.

Erich von Stroheim plays the title role. He’s better known now for his work in front of the camera instead of behind it, most famously as Norma Desmond’s enabling butler in Sunset Blvd. (Hey, Billy Wilder again! No, not him, the other one.) But von Stroheim isn’t much of an actor. The first half of the movie is like watching a stone gargoyle get the Blue Angel treatment.

And yet ... damned if the ol’ Teutonic blowhard didn’t grow on me. A rock may not be able to tell you much, but you can still read changes in the weather by looking at its surface. Same effect here. Plus it turns out von Stroheim is surprisingly nimble for a gargoyle.

Other casting helps. Mary Beth Hughes, a staple of the Mike Shayne movies, initially seems too wholesome to play a femme fatale, but that quality ends up working in her favor.

It’s Dan Duryea who walks off with Flamarion as the one-time dancer reduced to dodging bullets to buy his bourbon. No one plays weak like Duryea; he actually gives petulance a kind of charm. To quote Eddie Muller’s Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, “He was a serviceable good guy, but a delectable bastard.” I’ll watch any movie he’s in.

This in spite of the fact that, to me, anyway, Duryea bears an uncommon resemblance to ... Stephen Colbert.

These photos aren’t the best, but work with me here. Just look at the eyes and face. Blond Colbert up and he’s Duryea’s dead ringer. Not that I’m comparing the two. I’m a fan of both. Besides, one is famous for playing the pushy, overbearing type, always certain he’s right but still capable of being weaselly. The other is Dan Duryea.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

DVD: “One of those guys was the Governor.”

The Eliot Spitzer scandal offers ample fodder for commentary. I could contemplate the hypocrisy of a square-jawed reformer being felled by the most sordid personal behavior. Or consider the irony of a former hard-charging prosecutor becoming ensnared in the kind of elaborate investigation he once spearheaded. Or ask why Spitzer felt the need to import a call girl to our nation’s capital. You’d think Washington, D.C. would have plenty to choose from with its mix of money, power, and men separated from their wives. Or do New Yorkers view their prostitutes the way they do their pizza and bagels?

But none of those approaches interests me.

Instead, I will use the love guv’s woes as an excuse to voice one of this site’s long-standing complaints: there is still no special edition DVD of the 1995 sex thriller Jade that includes the extended ending aired on cable television. Joe Eszterhas wrote a prescient script about the governor of a major state frequenting hookers. That fictional governor, to quote a recent affidavit, could also be “difficult” and would ask his escorts “to do things that, like, you might not think were safe.” It’s uncanny. And proof that now more than ever, America needs Jade.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Movies: Paprika (U.S. 2007)/The Bank Job (2008)

These movies have nothing in common aside from my seeing them over the same weekend and liking them both. I met multiple deadlines this past week, so perhaps the rosy glow of accomplishment is influencing my opinion. But I doubt it.

All due respect to Brad Bird and the Brothers Coen, but I’d call Paprika a genuine contender for both Best Animated Film and Best Picture of 2007. Throw in Best Adapted Screenplay, too, because it amazes me how well the movie hangs together.

An experimental therapeutic device that allows the wearer to interact with other people’s dreams is stolen. It’s up to a repressed scientist and her lively alter ego to prevent the boundaries between reality and fantasy from breaking down completely.

Paprika looks extraordinary. The dream imagery has a potent logic to it; the recurring “Parade of All Things Under the Sun,” as writer/director Satoshi Kon calls it, still haunts me. But the movie isn’t just about arresting visuals. It’s a dense story that takes on duality, the subconscious, and filmmaking. The last scene is note-perfect. When it ended, I felt – there’s no other word for it – uplifted. And that doesn’t happen often.

Here’s what’s known about the 1971 robbery that inspired The Bank Job. Thieves tunneled into a London branch of Lloyd’s and raided the safe deposit boxes. They coordinated their efforts using walkie-talkies, and those conversations were picked up by a ham radio enthusiast. Breathless coverage of the caper ended abruptly after several days, leading to speculation that the British government had issued a gag order – and that those boxes must have contained something special indeed.

From those facts and a mix of other historical tidbits, writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais cook up an entertaining stew. The ingredients include salacious royals, dubious “activists,” bent cops, a porn baron, and MI5. Or is it 6? It’s an old-school heist movie. Nothing slick here, just hard work and a lot of luck. Jason Statham, a Chez K favorite – news that there will be a Transporter 3 was greeted with song and feasting – has his best role to date. Well worth seeing.

And now, more deadlines. It never ends.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Movie: Born To Kill (1947)

Noir withdrawal. It’s no laughing matter.

After seeing two movies a day for a week, I needed a booster shot. Might as well go with the concentrated form. Born To Kill, directed by Robert Wise, scripted by Eve Greene and Richard Macaulay from James Gunn’s novel Deadlier Than The Male, delivers everything you could want from a film noir, pitched at delirium levels.

Femme fatale? Check, in the form of personal fave Claire Trevor decked out in a procession of impressive hats.

Doomed passion? Double check, because Claire hooks up with trouble personified: certified bad-ass Lawrence Tierney. He’s a post-crackup quick-tempered killer who insinuates his way into Claire’s clan by romancing her wealthy kid sister. But Tierney and Trevor are the ones made for each other, because they’re both schemers, dreamers, and batshit crazy to boot. Murder is their lovemaking!, as the poster should have said. Lousy Hays Office.

Plot twists? Fire it up and hang on.

Juicy character roles are another staple of noir, and again Born To Kill comes up aces. Walter Slezak as a genially corrupt private eye. Elisha Cook, Jr. as Tierney’s pal, always concerned about what’s “feasible.” Esther Howard as the bibulous old woman who can’t leave well enough alone.

Great scenes abound from the opening, a sharply observed look at the culture of soon-to-be divorcees’ rooming houses in Reno. A dazzling POV shot when Tierney’s first victim is discovered shows how much Wise drew from his experience with horror legend Val Lewton. And a confrontation between Cook and Howard in the blasted hellscape of sand dunes outside San Francisco is not to be missed.

Wise’s reputation has suffered over the years. Plenty of critics will never forgive him for his role as the perceived hatchet man on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons. Others just hate The Sound of Music. I say to hell with them. Wise knew how to tell stories, and he told them like an editor.

Born To Kill is mainly Tierney’s show. It was his one chance at a (sort of) conventional leading man role. Eddie Muller, in a terrific commentary track, provides the full sweep of the man’s career. He recounts the first time they met, at a screening of this movie, a saga involving profanity, headbutts, and unauthorized uses of promotional merchandise. It seems that Tierney – why don’t I let Eddie tell it?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Miscellaneous: Grab Bag

Busy, busy, busy, so here’s a bunch of stuff at once.

A Diet of Treacle, by Lawrence Block (1961/2008). Hard Case Crime has reprinted some extraordinary early novels by Lawrence Block. But Treacle, originally published as Pads Are For Passion by Sheldon Lord, is the first that seems like a paycheck gig. It’s a sordid trip through the Greenwich Village beatnik world. Block paints the scene as peopled largely by posers and venal layabouts, a characterization I have no problem with. As always in a Block book, there’s fluid prose and vivid New York atmosphere to spare. But nothing much happens until the last forty pages or so. To be fair, those forty pages are pretty damn good, but Treacle is more a curio than anything else.

And then there’s that title. I dig that it’s a riff on Lewis Carroll, who always seemed like he Got It. But as a title, man, it’s strictly from Squaresville.

Stardust (2007). Why wasn’t this a big hit? High adventure with a noble hero, a fallen star, evil princes, wicked witches, and a swishbuckling sky pirate (not a typo), all of it served up tongue-in-cheek. Loads of fun.

Let’s All Kill Constance, by Ray Bradbury (2003). In 1960 Hollywood, an unnamed writer (c’mon, it’s Ray himself) is asked by a legendary star of the silent screen to figure out who left two “Books of the Dead” for her. If James Joyce wrote a pulp detective novel after mainlining Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, Constance would be the result. I don’t know if I completely got it, but I did enjoy it.

Larry King Live. Last night, Larry was responsible for the single dumbest hour of television I’ve ever seen. I was on a treadmill at the gym, but as fast as I ran I couldn’t escape it. Larry had tag teams of celebrities talking up their picks in the 2008 presidential election. The dictionary may not agree with me here, but I’m making a new rule I expect Larry to follow. Newspaper editorial boards, political organizations, and elected officials can “endorse” a candidate. Samwise Gamgee and Kumar can only support the individual of their choice. I have spoken.