Friday, February 27, 2009

Book: Night of the Jabberwock, by Fredric Brown (1950)

More goodies from my pilgrimage to San Francisco’s Kayo Books, where if I do say so myself I made quite the haul.

Fredric Brown was a fiendishly inventive writer who could plot like nobody else. (The ending of his short story ‘Knock,’ which I have never forgotten since I read it as a kid: “The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door ...”) He may have outdone himself with Night of the Jabberwock. Doc Stoeger is a small town newspaper editor, heroic imbiber, and Lewis Carroll enthusiast. All he wants is a decent story to run in the Carmel City Clarion. Come one Thursday night he gets his wish and then some in the form of a traffic accident, a bank robbery, an escaped lunatic, and the appearance of two wanted fugitives. Then there’s the mysterious man who turns up at Doc’s house with a theory about Lewis Carroll that beggars belief.

It’s odd that on the same trip I picked up Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand, because the books are similar. Both feature potentially unreliable protagonists recounting singularly bizarre evenings, and both uncork dazzling denouements to make sense of all that’s gone before. Brown’s explanation is more earthbound than Rogers’ tour-de-force, but his book is also looser and funnier. It’s a wild ride.

An earlier post partly about the adaptation of Brown’s Screaming Mimi is one of the most read in this site’s history. I credit my incisive observations. It certainly couldn’t be the accompanying photo of Anita Ekberg.

Miscellaneous: Links

Ed Gorman on authors adapting to the times - or not - as they age.

John August and his assistant recap a WGA panel on the state of the movie industry. Lots of sobering information.

Some movies are trapped on VHS.

Whatever happened to the femme fatale?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book: Spade & Archer, by Joe Gores (2009)

Yes, I took a brief sabbatical. You try seeing two movies a night and then staying up late to post about them.

While attending Noir City, I was also reading Spade & Archer, the prequel to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I’m not a purist about Falcon; after all, it took three tries to get the movie right. (In the comments on my post about the first two films, I am schooled by none other than Max Allan Collins. Go look.) And the character of Sam Spade later appeared in a radio series.

As for following Hammett, you couldn’t ask for a better choice than Joe Gores. They have a lot in common. Both know San Francisco, both toiled as gumshoes themselves. And Gores is a talented writer whose work includes a novel with Dash himself as the protagonist.

But the opening pages of Spade & Archer gave me pause, because we see a young Sam Spade investigating the Flitcraft episode. Spade recounts this incident from early in his career to Brigid O’Shaughnessy in several extraordinary pages in Falcon. Rehashing this story – or, to use a hated term that seems appropriate, unpacking it – at the outset is a miscalculation.

Soon, though, Gores’s uncanny approximation of Hammett’s voice and his feel for San Francisco take over. The book is in three linked segments, another technique lifted from Hammett. The third section, in which Spade finally confronts the villain who has dogged him amidst a caper involving a woman who may be the daughter of Chinese revolutionary Sun Yat-sen, is overcomplicated and anticlimactic. Various aspects of Spade’s life familiar from Falcon are fleshed out in ways that satisfy without surprising. At times Spade & Archer reminded me of Casino Royale, the movie that rebooted the James Bond franchise by explaining a character who was already fully formed. Of course, I liked Casino Royale, and I liked this book. Gores has done as good a job as possible with the project, but when I reread The Maltese Falcon I won’t remember what I learned in Spade & Archer. I won’t need to.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this exchange from the book.

“The bank making money?”

“Tons if it. If you have the routine down and don’t make any crazy investments or shaky loans, it’s all so darned easy.”

Too bad that wasn’t in the original. Someone might have paid attention.

On The Web: The Larry Sanders Show

I have only now discovered that episodes of my favorite sitcom are available on Crackle. To think I am but a click away from the seething anger of Hank Kingsley, or the wisdom of Artie.

“After my first wife gave me the gate, I went on a binge of sex, drugs, and 180 proof Everclear that lasted for three years. After my fourth divorce, I was able to squeeze the same amount of debauchery into a long weekend. But I have a scar from that one.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

Noir City Northwest: Alias Nick Beal (1949)/Night Editor (1946)

As is often the case at Noir City, our host and programmer Eddie Muller saved the best for last. But so did I, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll have you know I wore a suit tonight. Aside from weddings, I haven’t done that since my confirmation.

And that religious note was appropriate, considering the evening’s A feature. Alias Nick Beal is a noir-inflected retelling of the Faust legend. It reunites director John Farrow, writer Jonathan Latimer and star Ray Milland from Monday’s The Big Clock. Milland plays Old Scratch, wheeling and dealing for the soul of politically ambitious D.A. Thomas Mitchell, last seen serving up thick slices of ham in While the City Sleeps. Audrey Totter, that “frosty Scandinavian parfait” to use Eddie’s phrase, melts beguilingly as the fallen woman who becomes Milland’s cat’s paw.

The lapsed Irish Catholic in me was willing to forgive a few sluggish story patches – and George Macready as a man of the cloth – and embrace the sheer artistry on display. Milland has somehow figured out how to wear his hat at a demonic angle. His entrances are inventively staged and cued with a flourish by composer Franz Waxman. But no camera trickery is as spellbinding as the scene in which Milland, rehearsing Totter for an encounter with Mitchell, plays both roles. When Mitchell then delivers every line on cue, Totter’s reactions are astonishing. Watching a brand-new print didn’t hurt, either. Milland’s first appearance, materializing out of the fog, elicited gasps from a packed house.

What better way to follow the ethereal Nick Beal than with “one of the raunchiest B-movies of the 1940s?”

Night Editor was meant to bring the long-running radio drama to the big screen. It ended up being a series of one movie. The hokey framing device barely qualifies it for this year’s newspaper noir theme, as pinochle-playing pressmen pulling the overnight do a “remember when?”. Their first and only tale of woe is about a married cop played by the Brian Doyle-Murrayesque William Gargan. He’s got it bad for society dame Janis Carter. They’re parked at Lovers’ Lane when they witness a murder. Which Gargan, naturally, has to investigate without admitting he saw the entire thing.

Carter, all legs and cheekbones and wildly darting eyes, is nobody’s idea of a good actress. That said, I adore her, and she’s almost great here as a deeply twisted woman who only comes alive when she’s being treated badly. The charisma-free killer is a roadshow version of David Strathairn’s Pierce Patchett in L.A. Confidential. The closing scene between Gargan and Carter is one of the weirdest goddamn things I’ve ever seen. And to my amazement, the wraparound gimmick not only paid off but almost brought a tear to my eye. Bear in mind I said almost. Night Editor is trash through and through, and a perfect way to end a great festival.

My thanks to Eddie Muller, a peerless raconteur and a tireless worker on behalf of film noir and film preservation in general. Also to The Film Noir Foundation – send ‘em a few bucks, you’ll be glad you did – and to SIFF Cinema. A special shoutout to the lovely Darcy, who glammed up the lobby in her vintage threads every night while selling compendiums of Noir City Sentinel articles to benefit the FNF.

It’s always tough when Noir City comes to a close. I’m going to miss going to the theater to see movies that are adult in the truest sense of the word, about men and women grappling with fear and desire. Withdrawal is always tough. Then again, the festival does roll into Los Angeles in April, and I do have reason to be in that part of the world ...

Let’s end this recap right. The old newspaper way.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Noir City Northwest: While the City Sleeps (1956)/Shakedown (1950)

Context can be helpful. I’d already seen While the City Sleeps, but I was able to appreciate the movie anew thanks to the introductory remarks by Noir City host Eddie Muller. For instance, I had no idea that Charles Einstein, author of the novel on which the film is based, was the step-brother of Albert Brooks. More importantly, I didn’t realize that in all probability a good number of the actors onscreen are plastered. I only suspected it.

It’s an odd, odd movie, made late in director Fritz Lang’s career when his budgets and apparently his casts were tight. As a result it has a baffling, hazy pace, with some scenes taking forever and others played in accelerated motion. Every set, even the homes of the great and the good, is threadbare, furnished at the finer flea markets of Poverty Row. Never before have I seen such ugly lamps.

But the story is solid. When the wastrel son of a press baron inherits daddy’s empire, he pits his best newsmen against each other for the top job. Catching “The Lipstick Killer” will go a long way toward securing the spot. As Eddie said, it’s not a thriller so much as a drama about office politics. Think Executive Suite with the added bonus of a psycho played by Drew Barrymore’s father.

The cast is like noir old home week. Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, Vincent Price, Rhonda Fleming. In fact, the entire enterprise feels more like a TV special. Ovaltine presents Palmolive Suspense Theatre, brought to you by Firestone. Fritz Lang said it was his favorite of his American films. A strange choice, considering that he made Scarlet Street. Maybe he’s proud of the fact that in spite of many obstacles, the movie still works.

Seattle’s own Howard Duff has a supporting role in City, but he’s front and center in the juicy and long thought lost B-movie Shakedown. Duff is an up-and-coming news photographer who quickly figures out that the way to get ahead in the picture racket is to be underhanded. Soon he’s pitting two San Francisco crime bosses (Brian Donlevy and Lawrence Tierney) against each other while getting his own name all over page one. It’s the kind of movie they really don’t make anymore, because the main character is an unrepentant bastard. I liked it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Noir City Northwest: Chicago Deadline (1949)/Johnny Stool Pigeon (1949)

Believe me, I am well aware of how odd it is to turn my life upside down for a solid week to watch movies made decades before I was born, then stay up to ... what time is it?!? ... so I can post about them. I do it because there is no other way I’d prefer to spend my time. And because Noir City offers the chance to feel like I’m participating in something special.

Consider, if you will, Chicago Deadline. Number of prints in the world: one, on loan from the UCLA Film and Television Archive. I’m now one of the few people who’s had a chance to see this movie, and I want to get the word out about it. Because it’s a gem, the first true find of the festival, and it deserves a wider audience.

Reporter Alan Ladd discovers a young woman dead in a hotel room. As he goes through her address book, piecing together the sordid saga of her life, he begins to fall in love with her. Yes, it does sound a little like Laura, but the movie has a verve all its own, certainly a different ending, and a potent message about the many forms of loneliness in big cities.

I’ve never been an Alan Ladd fan but he’s at his best here as a man eager to shed his armor of cynicism. He’s aided by an able supporting cast that includes June Havoc and Arthur Kennedy. One of the benefits of the Noir City format is the chance to see familiar faces in different roles. Shepperd Strudwick, billed as John Shepperd in yesterday’s dud Strange Triangle, is effective here as a hoodlum in love. And Donna Reed, who was the voice of reason in the opening night feature Scandal Sheet, is heartbreaking as the fallen angel who becomes Ladd’s obsession.

Johnny Stool Pigeon is a hell of a title, isn’t it? It was going to be called Cocaine before the Production Code folks weighed in. There’s a sad story behind this one, too. We watched a brand-new print struck from the negative because the existing copies were lost in the 2008 Universal Studios fire. It’s worth keeping in circulation, a stalwart example of the B-movie directed by William Castle, who made many of the Whistler films. Narcotics agent Howard Duff and inmate Dan Duryea team up to infiltrate a drug ring. Shelley Winters is the party girl that each man in his own way is trying to save from an unpleasant fate. And an impossibly young Tony Curtis, still being billed as Anthony, turns up as a wordless triggerman.

The evening wrapped up with an encore screening of The Grand Inquisitor, a short film by our host Eddie Muller starring actress Marsha Hunt. I’ve raved about the movie before. It’s still a startling, suspenseful piece of work. And guess what? You can watch it right now.

Two nights remain in the festival. The four movies being shown are currently unavailable on video. These screenings could be your only chance to see them. If you’re in the Seattle area, come on out and join the party. And if you’re not, why not donate a few dollars to the Film Noir Foundation? With enough support, maybe someday Noir City will come to you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Noir City Northwest: The Big Clock (1948)/Strange Triangle (1946)

Not much to say tonight, because one half of the Noir City double feature is close to perfect and the other ... isn’t.

The Big Clock is simply dazzling, and I relished the chance to see it on the big screen at last. It’s a flawlessly engineered movie, based on a book by poet and journalist Kenneth Fearing, adapted by the legendary pulp author Jonathan Latimer. (Someday I will track down his once-banned novel Solomon’s Vineyard.) Media mogul Charles Laughton murders his mistress. Seeking someone to frame, he charges top investigator Ray Milland with tracking down her other visitor that night – not knowing it was Milland himself. Now Ray’s got to deflect suspicion when all the evidence points to him. It’s an ingenious premise that held up when it was remade forty years later as No Way Out.

Laughton leads a grand pack of villains, with George Macready as his Smithers and Harry Morgan as his mute muscle. The Big Clock’s metabolism is so fast that the movie practically fizzes. It’s got the crackle and snap of a screwball comedy, with a third act that knows how to tighten the screws.

Bringing us to Strange Triangle. A true B-movie running a mere 65 minutes, it’s about two men, one woman and a bank. A familiar story made somewhat interesting by its intimate scale. Or at least it would be if the femme fatale weren’t played by Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Ms. Hasso had a distinguished career on the stage, and was good in other films. But she’s a ... how can I put this? ... a handsome woman, who’s a bit, um, severe for the role. And her wardrobe – I’m looking at you, hat department – does her no favors. Still, the movie’s insistence that every man she meets is in her nonexistent thrall eventually exerts a fascination of its own.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Noir City Northwest: Ace in the Hole (1951)/Cry of the Hunted (1953)

In a festival devoted to newspaper noir, the inclusion of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, aka The Big Carnival, is a no-brainer. Perhaps the most scathing critique of the media ever made, from an undisputed master of the genre.

Wilder was coming off an enormous success with Sunset Blvd. Yet his follow-up was condemned by critics and sank into oblivion for decades. To paraphrase Eddie Muller’s introductory remarks, attack the culture of celebrity, as Wilder had done in Sunset, and you will be lionized. But attack the culture, and you will be vilified. Luckily, Wilder would have the last laugh.

A ruthlessly unsentimental Kirk Douglas plays disgraced reporter Chuck Tatum, stranded in dusty New Mexico and angling for a return to the big time. His meal ticket comes in the form of a man trapped in a cave. Tatum orchestrates a press frenzy around the poor bastard. But he soon learns that controlling the story doesn’t mean you get to write the ending. Jan Sterling gives one of the great supporting performances as the wounded man’s wife willing to play along with Tatum’s huckster act. And Wilder’s storytelling, keeping the focus tight on Tatum as the tumult slowly builds around him, is masterful.

The movie’s themes have been disseminated so broadly in this media-savvy society that its DNA is everywhere. Wilder’s problem was that he was too far ahead of the curve. A vaccine must contain elements of the disease in order to effect a cure. But releasing concentrated cynicism on an unprepared world in 1951? It could have damn near killed the patient.

How do you follow Ace in the Hole? That, too, is obvious. With swamp noir. Cry of the Hunted is grade A B-movie hooey about L.A. prison warden Barry Sullivan hunting down an escaped con (Vittorio Gassman) in the Louisiana bayou. Joseph H. Lewis worked low-budget magic with Gun Crazy, but here he’s saddled with a scenario in which the only thing riper than the vegetation is the dialogue. At least he’s got the good sense not to take things seriously.

Eddie alluded to a notable homoerotic subtext, but I didn’t see it. A pair of hard cases who’d rather play backwoods grabass than stay with their wives? An extended dream sequence after Sullivan glugs swamp water in which Gassman seems imprisoned in Sullivan’s bed, flexes for him in silhouette, and beats him about the face and neck with an andouille sausage*? That’s just two men celebrating each other’s strength.

*Caution: sausage sequence may have been imagined.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Noir City Northwest: The Unsuspected (1947)/Desperate (1947)

Numerous cocktails were consumed after this evening’s screenings, yet still I post. Let’s see if I live to regret it. Let’s see if I live.

On night two of Noir City, the thematic net was cast a little wider. Media of all types, not just newspapers, were on display, as well as the evolution of the genre itself. The two 1947 films shown contrast the end of the ‘40s “high noir” approach, driven by expat filmmakers and emphasizing cinematography, with the nascent style of the following decade’s directors, primarily Americans with editing backgrounds, who focused on pace and put raw emotion onscreen.

Michael Curtiz is the textbook example of the studio filmmaker. The Unsuspected marked his Hollywood debut as an independent producer. It’s based on a novel by Edgar winner Charlotte Armstrong, whose work is still inspiring adaptations like Claude Chabrol’s Merci pour le chocolate (2000). I give you our host Eddie Muller’s accurate one-word review of The Unsuspected: incomprehensible. Claude Rains plays a successful radio personality, a proto-Alfred Hitchcock, who has both a dead secretary and an amnesiac niece. It’s the sort of movie where poisonous swells swan around an estate firing barbs at each other. The slightest dip in quality would render it unwatchable, but Curtiz’s sumptuous visuals and canny performances by Rains and the divine Audrey Totter, one of Eddie’s Dark City Dames, make it a hoot.

Desperate was the last film directed by Anthony Mann before the extraordinary run of titles (Railroaded!, T-Men, Raw Deal) that won him a place in the noir pantheon. Character actor Steve Brodie gets a crack at a lead role as a newlywed truck driver roped into a robbery by old friend Raymond Burr. Brodie and bride go on the run, but Burr will not be denied. Desperate is a minor film, subject to the peculiarities of B-movie logic; not many fevered manhunts include Czech weddings, two-plus trimesters of pregnancy, and multiple career changes. But Mann redeems the occasional lapse with a humdinger of an ending.

OK, strictly speaking Desperate isn’t a media noir of any kind. But Brodie does it all for his one true love, which makes it a Valentine’s Day noir. And on February 14, that works for me.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Noir City Northwest: Deadline U.S.A. (1952)/Scandal Sheet (1952)

I’ve got a lot on my plate at the moment, and briefly toyed with the idea of running an apologia in advance saying I might not post nightly during my third Noir City. But this year’s theme is newspaper noir, so missing deadlines seems like poor form. And considering that the very paper cosponsoring the festival is itself on the clock, I think the ironies are thick enough, thank you very much.

Our host and programmer Eddie Muller is all too aware of them. He’s been asked more than once if this year’s “immersion in ink” represents a tribute or a memorial to that bygone age when being a newspaperman – not a reporter or a journalist – was the greatest job in North America.

We began with Deadline U.S.A., a film that is not strictly noir but according to Eddie has the power to make every hard-bitten city desk jockey “puddle up.” Humphrey Bogart plays the editor of a prestigious paper losing the circulation race to the tabloids and about to be sold. He pins his hopes on one last big story, a takedown of the local mob kingpin. Deadline is historic in that regard, the first studio film to depict Italian-American organized crime. It’s also prescient; the arguments Bogart makes have been taking place in newsrooms and boardrooms around the country and a stone’s throw from the SIFF theater. Speaking of stones, you’d have to have a heart of one not to “puddle up” when Kasia Orzazewski, so moving as the mother in another journo drama, Call Northside 777, haltingly delivers Richard Brooks’s speech about how the newspaper taught her how to be an American.

Hang on. I need a minute.

This year’s festival attempts to recreate the theatrical experience of the era by pairing features with true B-movies, shorter programmers meant to fill out a bill. Thus was Deadline followed by its photo negative, Scandal Sheet. Broderick Crawford plays the brains behind the kind of rag that’s driving Bogart out of business. When he commits murder, it’s his own ace reporter (John Derek) who tightens the noose. Crawford, knowing a sensational story when he sees one, can’t help putting his crime on the front page even though every column inch could put him six feet under.

Harry Morgan has a blast as a Weegee-style shutterbug. Phil Karlson, one of the finest noir directors of the 1950s, keeps the action lean and tight. It’s all based on a novel by Samuel Fuller, who in the same year made his own tribute to the fourth estate in Park Row. The greatest independent filmmaker in American movie history would still rather have been a newspaperman.

Here’s the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s article on Noir City including a sidebar on the city’s contribution to the genre, actor Howard Duff.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Book: Sucker Punch, by Ray Banks (2009)

Screw delicate American sensibilities. This book will always and forever be Donkey Punch, baby.

Ex-con turned quasi-P.I. Cal Innes is still recovering from his misadventures in Saturday’s Child, and that includes nursing a bouncing baby painkiller addiction. His sole friend and employer Paulo asks him to escort a promising young boxer to a tournament in Los Angeles. Cal quickly discerns that the competition may not be on the up and up.

The plot is more of a vignette, but I will seize any opportunity to spend time in Cal’s foul-mouthed, hair-trigger, good-hearted company. Banks is a ferociously funny writer, and he has few peers when it comes to scenes of male posturing that escalate out of control.

Of course, our Raymond also has a lackluster website, an unhealthy preoccupation with the amount of water in Stateside toilets, and the wrong opinion of jazz. But these are problems that can be worked out in time.

Book: Leading Lady, by Heywood Gould (2008)

You know what’s a good word, at least when it comes to books and not boxing? Punchy. Punchy’s a good word. It certainly applies to this novel by Heywood Gould, recently nominated for the Hammett Prize.

Gould is a screenwriter, but this yarn owes more to his days as a reporter for the New York Post. It’s the kind of story that rag could really sink its teeth into. A wily veteran thief escapes from prison intent on tracking down the people who set up the job that lead to the death of his female partner, the “leading lady” of the title. The motley crew includes aging wiseguys, a Russian “businessman,” an aspiring actress, and a team of Homeland Security agents who don’t officially exist. Gould sketches them all in detail without sacrificing his relentless pace. Lots of fun.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Book: The Red Right Hand, by Joel Townsley Rogers (1945)

It’s one of those books that pulp aficionados speak of with reverence. For years, I’ve been meaning to read it. A short time after Donald E. Westlake died, Ed Gorman reran a 2006 interview in which Westlake said that “The Red Right Hand should be reissued every 5 years forever.”

That cinched it. And now I owe Mr. Westlake even more.

The cover of the copy I bought at San Francisco’s Kayo Books describes Hand as “a classic of suspense-horror-mystery.” That claim does not represent indecision on the part of the promotions department. The book belongs in all three genres, and is a smashing success in each. It’s a singular, deranged, balls-out masterpiece.

I won’t describe the plot, for fear of spoiling even one of its treasures. All you need know is that it’s about the hunt for a mad killer. An unforgettable one, an “ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man, with his torn ear and his sharp dog-pointed teeth, with his twisted corkscrew legs and his truncated height.”

Rogers achieves wonders with POV, the narrator never quite having a grasp on his own story, what he didn’t see every bit as important as what he witnessed. Never have I read a book that so effortlessly conjured up feelings of dread, with paragraphs of fevered Lovecraftian detail that make the inside of the skull sweat. And structure? Read the closing pages and be amazed. I finished the book in the wee hours and sat there dumbstruck, listening to the walls creak.

Then I almost read it again, just to figure out how Rogers did it.

DVD: Le Trou (1960)

This movie also knocked me on my ass. Jacques Becker’s final film is perhaps the definitive prison break drama. Non-professional actors, documentary realism, a pitiless focus on the physical toll of the bust-out, and an ending that had me hollering at the screen grindhouse-style.

It’s been a good week.

Miscellaneous: Links

A pair from the AV Club: Random Roles with Bruce Campbell and an appreciation of the brilliant commentary track on the DVD of The Limey.

The Financial Times on the relationship between comics and movies. H/t to Arts & Letters Daily.

And a headline that perfectly captures the Florida that I know: Fake Foreigner drummer allegedly steals Corvette.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Book: Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell (2009)

Here’s how good this debut novel is. I am willing to ignore the fact that it was written by a doctor completing his residency. Who do these Type A types think they are?

Peter Brown is already having a lousy day at Manhattan’s worst hospital when a dying patient identifies him as Pietro “The Bearclaw” Brnwa, a notorious Mafia hit man who escaped into witness protection. The book alternates between Peter’s efforts to prevent his old acquaintance from ratting him out, and Pietro’s journey to stone killer.

Reaper is a perfectly turned comic noir. Too many recent entries in the genre start at over-the-top and proceed from there. Bazell smartly grounds the action in the reality of the hospital setting and lets it dictate the pace. He’s also genuinely funny, studding the book with sharp throwaway lines. Like Peter telling the hopeful Mob patient that ‘you have a chance’ is “surgeon talk for ‘I need a slightly longer Chris-Craft.’” Or the observation that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual “seeks to sort out the vagaries of psychiatric malfunction to the point where you can bill for them.” There are a few plot holes I had to work to overlook – Pietro Brnwa to Peter Brown? WITSEC relocating him from New York to ... New York? – and I gleefully overlooked them. That’s another sign of how good the book is.

Upcoming: Noir City

Consider this reminder the bulldog edition. Noir City rolls off the presses and into Seattle starting this Friday. This year’s timely theme, in case you haven’t guessed, is newspaper noir.

Seven nights of double-bills for only ten bucks a pop. Features paired with authentic B-movies in an experience that host and programmer Eddie Muller says is as close as you’ll get to actually going to the movies in 1948.

I don’t expect Seattle to match up to San Francisco and its ability to sell out the Castro Theater night after night. But the Northwest can represent, dammit. If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near the Emerald City, come on out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Memes: V For Victory

No less an authority than Dr. Johnson said it: memes are the last refuge of the overworked. This one has been making the rounds at Facebook and Mark Evanier has done it, so I figure it can’t hurt to post mine here.

The rules are simple. 20 questions. Each answer must start with the same letter as your first name. No repeated answers. If you’re tagged by someone whose name begins with the same letter, you can’t repeat their answers, either.

1. Your name: Vince
2. Four letter word: Vent
3. Boy’s name: Vance
4. Girl’s name: Vivian
5. Occupation: Vintner
6. Color: Violet
7. Something you wear: Vest
8. A food: Vindaloo
9. Something found in the bathroom: Vileness
10. A place: Verona
11. A reason for being late: Vapors (the)
12. Something you shout: “Visigoths!”
13. A movie title: Vanilla Sky
14. Something you drink: Vieux Carre
15. A musical group: Ventures (The)
16. An animal: Vole
17. A street name: Vine
18. A type of car: Volkswagen
19. A song title: Veronica, by Elvis Costello
20. A verb: Vivisect

No tags, but if your name also begins with V, let’s see what you’ve got.

Miscellaneous: Links

OK, you deserve a little more than that. Via John August comes this post on the grammar and aesthetics of comic book lettering.

Yahtzee may have outdone himself with his review of Little Big Planet.

Speaking of video games, more fun Flash: The Visitor, via Paul Herzberg.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Miscellaneous: Stuff

Taken (U.S. 2009). Luc Besson knows how to make action films – sturdy, slick, a little sleazy – and he delivers the goods once again. There hasn’t been a kill-your-way-up-the-ladder movie in a while. Having the villains be members of a human trafficking ring means that ex-CIA op Liam Neeson could off them twice and they’d still deserve it.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, by Charlie Huston (2009). Huston’s latest, about an LA slacker who becomes a crime scene cleaner, felt kinda slight to me. But the chapter in which our hero spends a boozy afternoon with his estranged father, a teacher turned one-shot novelist turned semi-legendary if unproduced screenwriter, is a scorching character study and the best piece of writing I’ve encountered in a while.

The Swinger (1966). Some rubicon has clearly been crossed. Once I could watch bad movies with relish. Now I keep a finger poised over fast forward. The button got quite the workout during this exercise in ersatz ‘60s hipness, with Ann-Margret as a decent Midwestern girl pretending to be a hellion so she can be published in a smut rag. (I didn’t get it either.) There were so many Dutch angles I thought I’d stumbled onto A-M playing a forgotten Batman villain, The Vixen. During her striptease to “That Old Black Magic” I wanted to put my wallet in her mouth so she wouldn’t swallow her tongue. For further appreciation, consult the title sequence.

Bars of Black and White. An interesting hand-drawn Flash game.