Friday, October 31, 2008

Miscellaneous: Boo!

Happy Halloween! To mark the occasion, a little nightmare fuel from my childhood ...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Miscellaneous: Picture as an Exhibition, Part Two

More traveling, more catch-up. This time we were in beautiful Provincetown, Massachusetts, attending the wedding of two dear friends. An absolutely marvelous time was had by all. Here’s the stupendous view from the porch of the inn where we stayed.

In the meantime, a Halloween link. At the AV Club, a newbie to the Saw series watches all five movies in a row.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book: The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane (2008)

Talk about swinging for the fences. Lehane’s latest is epic in size (700 pages) and scope, surveying Boston history from the end of the Great War through the influenza epidemic of 1918 and the city’s police strike the following year. All of it seen through the eyes of a young white cop, scion of a powerful department family, and a black man on the run for murder.

Oh, and Babe Ruth. Still with the Red Sox at the time.

It’s a grand, roistering tale, packed with subplots elbowing each other for room. Lehane’s Irish Catholic sensibility – compassionate and sardonic, with an eye for both weakness and the telling detail – is perfect suited for the material. There are coincidences aplenty, and certain key relationships aren’t fleshed out so much as asserted. But Lehane draws some rich parallels between then and now, and his gift for narrative remains peerless. I devoured all 700 pages in record time. The Ruth sections, with the Babe in his optimism and childishness an able surrogate for the American public, are the strongest in the book.

Plus it never hurts to have a few passages with some contemporary resonance.

But (he) had come to the table with something they’d never expected, something they would have thought outmoded and out-lived in the modern age: a kind of fundamental righteousness that only the fundamental possessed. Unfettered by doubt, it achieved the appearance of moral intelligence and a resolute conscience. The terrible thing was how small it made you feel, how weaponless. How could you fight righteous rage if the only arms you bore were logic and sanity?

Or, even shorter:

“People don’t want truth, they want certainty ... Or the illusion of it.”

’twas ever thus.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Movie: Body of Lies (2008)

Damn the critics and the box office. This CIA thriller is smart, engrossing studio filmmaking. Supple direction by Ridley Scott. A twisty, profane script by William Monahan from David Ignatius’ he-knows-whereof-he-speaks novel. Leonardo DiCaprio flaunting his leading man chops while Russell Crowe serves up a juicy character performance. Plus Mark Strong in his immaculate bespoke wardrobe as the film’s secret weapon. Honestly, his suits were so beautiful they distracted me from the action. As I get older, I find myself more drawn to quality men’s wear.

Halfway through the film, I finally figured out why I was having such a fine time. The revelation occurred when Simon McBurney turned up in a small role as an eccentric Agency computer whiz. I thought, “It’s the Peter Lorre part,” and I realized that for all of Body of Lies’ visual razzle-dazzle, at heart it’s a 1940s thriller, the kind of movie cranked out regularly by Warners or RKO. Dick Powell or Mitchum in the lead, Claude Rains flashy in the Crowe part, Michael Curtiz behind the camera.

Maybe the problem is that the bar is set too high for what is seen, for good or ill, as the “War on Terror” genre. Critics expect every movie set against that backdrop to comment boldly about the state of our troubled world, while audiences shy away thinking they’re going to get a polemic. Not every WWII movie was under pressure to say something significant about the war. Many of them were simply entertaining potboilers about people doing difficult jobs at a dangerous time. Which is statement enough, really. That’s what Body of Lies is, and why I liked it. So there.

Miscellaneous: Links

I’m a week late in highlighting Eddie Muller’s salute to James Crumley. Read it for the Scott Phillips story. I can’t believe Crumley actually worked on the Judge Dredd script.

Behold the Biblio burro!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

DVD: Two for Two

The Fall (2008). A true spellbinder, and one of the best films I’ve seen this year. An injured stuntman in 1920s Hollywood (Lee Pace of TV’s Pushing Daisies) spins an epic fantasy yarn to a young girl in the same hospital. But the story begins to change as we learn more about the teller – and the listener. A sumptuous visual feast, and the closing montage made this movie lover’s Grinch heart grow three sizes. The performance of Catinca Untaru, who never acted before, is nothing short of astonishing.

Bonus: This L.A. Times article chronicles the movie’s tortured history.

Le Deuxième Souffle (1966). Words cannot describe the thrill that comes from knowing I’m about to see a Jean-Pierre Melville film for the first time. Too bad I’m running out of them. Criterion has done its usual sterling job with Second Wind, as it’s known in English. Lino Ventura, star of Melville’s masterpiece Army of Shadows, plays a thief who escapes from prison. Dogged by a wily detective (Paul Meurisse), he signs on for a risky heist so he can afford a final flight to America. As always Melville is more concerned with preparation, anticipation, and the codes among men than action, but when it comes it’s meticulously orchestrated. Souffle’s plot is convoluted rather than complicated, and at 2.5 hours it runs a bit long. But I’d watch at twice that length; Melville’s world is one I never want to leave.

Bonus: The film was remade last year.

Bonus Bonus: One of the DVD extras is an interview with Bertrand Tavernier, who worked as Melville’s publicist on this project. He mentions a critic who praised a trio of 1960s French crime dramas, Le Trou, Classe Tous Risques, and Souffle, all by different directors, marveling that he couldn’t find any link between them. He didn’t notice that all three were based on novels by José Giovanni, who also adapted them. Those auteurists.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

TV: Weekend Programming Note

Watching nothing but baseball, reading nothing but research material. So this post is more of a heads up.

The good people at TCM Underground will again be airing the bizarre, unavailable on video, split-screen serial killer film Wicked, Wicked at 2:15 AM Eastern Saturday, 11:15 PM Pacific Friday. Undoubtedly this encore is due to the overwhelming response to the post I wrote the last time TCM showed the movie. (That post actually is one of the most popular on the site, thanks not to my deathless prose but the photo of Anita Ekberg. Rowr.)

Again, here’s the trailer. Set that DVR. Fortify yourself with strong drink. And behold the madness.

Miscellaneous: Links

During my travels I missed this AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt on his stint as programmer at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. Patton has excellent taste, and he and I are simpatico on Walter Matthau.

There’s a special edition DVD of Capricorn One? Why don’t I have this?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Miscellaneous: Picture As An Exhibition

Still playing catch-up and recovering from a cold after bragging that I never get sick after air travel. Foolish, boastful Vince. In the meantime, here’s a photo I took at Cà d’Zan, the Ringling mansion in Sarasota. It looks fake. It’s not.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Miscellaneous: Back At My Post, Posting

I have returned. Nothing happened while I was gone, right?

We were in Florida for a week, first visiting my parents outside Ocala for my father’s milestone birthday, then heading down to Sarasota to spend some time with my brother Sean, his lovely wife, and their adorable new daughter. Of course, my Twitter feed on the main page told you all that.

The trip was all about family, and nobody needs to hear me wax maudlin on the subject. Instead, some observations of a stripe more suited to this page –-

Florida is clearly a swing state, because the barrage of political ads was relentless. So much so that it made watching TV damn near impossible.

I now want the NFL Network.

The Direct TV “mix” feature – a channel showing all of their news or sports feeds at the same time – is ingenious and should be offered everywhere.

A high point of the trip was our visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum. The 66-acre estate chronicles every aspect of the circus magnate’s life. It includes his waterfront mansion Cà d’Zan, his extensive art collection, and not one but two buildings devoted to circus history and memorabilia. A glimpse of old Florida well worth seeing.

There’s Key lime pie, and then there’s Florida Key lime pie.

Margaritas should, whenever possible, be consumed at an open air bar near the water.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

DVD: The Holcroft Covenant (1985)

You know what I haven’t done in a while? Gas on at length about a movie that everyone else has long since forgotten about.

With the Jason Bourne series, Robert Ludlum finally got the movie franchise he deserved. It’s not surprising that the films only use the set-up of the novels, though. Ludlum was the master of the killer premise and knew how to keep you turning pages, but his books are prime examples of Hitchcock’s fabled “icebox factor.” Only when you finish reading and head for the kitchen to get a glass of milk do you start spotting plot holes.

In an interview in Patrick McGilligan’s Backstory 3, Richard Matheson compared Ludlum’s style to that of a pulp writer, saying “he doesn’t really plot; he just starts out his stories and lets them roll all over the place. ... That must be why they almost never make films out of his books, because you cannot make heads nor tails of his stories.” Sam Peckinpah tried with his final film, 1983’s The Osterman Weekend. Matheson passed on the chance to adapt the novel because he “couldn’t figure it out. They finally made a picture out of it, and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was incomprehensible.” Maybe that explains why I can’t remember anything about the movie other than that I saw it once on cable.

The film version of The Holcroft Covenant interested me for several reasons. A startling array of talent, for one thing. Directed by John Frankenheimer. A script labored on by a trio of writers I admire: George Axelrod, Edward Anhalt (Panic in the Streets, The Sniper), and John Hopkins (The Offence). Michael Caine at the height of what I call his blazer years, when he played a series of men caught up in international intrigue while looking smashing in navy sports coats.

Here Caine is Noel Holcroft, a New York-based architect who is the son of a Nazi general. He discovers that in the waning days of World War II his father and several compatriots, having learned about the Holocaust, began stealing money from the Third Reich and hiding it in Switzerland. Forty years later it now amounts to four and a half billion dollars. Holcroft is to administer it in trust, using it for reparations. Only there are other Nazi descendants with their own designs on this bounty.

See what I mean about the killer premise?

Once again the film deviates from Ludlum’s novel, but to little avail. Everyone has a triple agenda and there are double crosses galore; I was close to breaking out my copy of Visio so I could chart who was on what side. The movie’s tone toggles between deadly serious and antic. In 1962 Frankenheimer and Axelrod collaborated on one of the great thrillers, The Manchurian Candidate. They seem to be trying to recreate that film’s singular mood here, but it doesn’t work. (In Backstory 3, Axelrod dismisses Holcroft as “a terrible picture.”)

Yet such is the power of Ludlum’s idea that I stuck it out. A little late neo-Nazi kink helped. Rosemarie said, “It’s one of those boring movies you keep watching because you’re genuinely curious about how it’s going to end. You know, the worst kind of movie.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

If you miss Ludlum check out the note-perfect parody The McCain Ascendancy. You won’t look at the 2008 election the same way again.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Miscellaneous: Links

I can’t tell if an armored car robbery making use of an inner tube and a Craigslist ad is more Dortmunder or Parker, but either way Donald E. Westlake should be made aware of it.

Can it be? Complete gibberish almost makes sense when rendered as poetry?