Monday, April 24, 2017

The Rundown

Hang on, let me blow the dust off the—there we go. That’s better.

Things have been hectic lately, what with the launch of the second Lillian Frost & Edith Head novel from Renee Patrick Dangerous to Know. My co-alter ego has the scoop, and believe me when I say there’s more in the works. All kinds of fun and games are coming, including a few things I can’t believe. I’m popping in amidst the promo push to recommend a few items for your delectation.

Under the Midnight Sun, Keigo Higashino (2016). Here’s how busy it’s been: a new Chinese adaptation of Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X—easily my favorite mystery novel of the past 20 years—was playing two blocks for me and I missed my chance to see it. Higashino’s latest is also his most ambitious, at least of the novels that have been published in the United States. It’s a sprawling crime story-cum-social novel, spanning decades and touching on, among other things, the growth of the Japanese computer industry. In 1973, a man is murdered and a woman identified as the likely killer. Each has a child. Higashino tracks this pair through the years, but never as the viewpoint characters. Instead, they’re at a remove, always seen through the prism of others who fall into their orbits. It’s a daring structural choice that for the most part deepens the intrigue. As is so often the case with Higashino, any reservations are swept away by a climax at once elegant and charged with emotion. It’s not Suspect X, but then nothing is.

Five Came Back, Netflix. I raved about Mark Harris’s book, which cast a clear eye on a long-overlooked piece of Hollywood history. The three-part documentary based on it has the added advantage of film clips, and pairs contemporary filmmakers with some surprisingly simpatico predecessors (Guillermo del Toro and Frank Capra make an inspired match) who walked away from their Hollywood careers during World War II to make propaganda films.

Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker (2017). I was occasionally frustrated, frequently spellbound, and always fascinated by this memoir from a reporter-turned-sommelier. I remain a cocktail fanatic, but this opened my eyes (and nose) to vino in a way few books have.

Brockmire, IFC. What threatened to be a one-joke character is the centerpiece of a soulful if deeply, deeply profane comedy, thanks to Hank Azaria’s performance and a low-rent atmosphere out of Slap Shot. Granted, it helps knowing that lifelong Mets fan Azaria based Jim Brockmire in part on the team’s original announcers, specifically Lindsey Nelson’s wardrobe and Bob Murphy’s cadences. Hearing him wax rhapsodic about rye whiskey in that home run call voice is all my worlds colliding. And pontifidrinking is real. Not that I’ve done it or anything.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Around the Horn

I’m over at the Rap Sheet today, talking about a favorite Hollywood novel that’s not quite a Hollywood novel: Ellery Queen’s 1951 spellbinder The Origin of Evil. And my alter ego Renee Patrick has posted her schedule for the coming year, with more events still in the works.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Big Knockover Comes Home

It’s that time of year again, gang. The Seattle iteration of the Noir City film festival kicks off this evening at Capitol Hill’s Egyptian Theater. It’s the all-heist film edition. Seven straight days of double bills (with bonus matinees this holiday weekend!) equaling twenty, count ‘em, twenty capers. It all gets rolling tonight with a peerless pairing of The Asphalt Jungle and Criss Cross.


There’s so much to savor in this roster cooked up by Film Noir Foundation honcho and festival host Eddie Muller. My personal picks: Violent Saturday, in which pulp meets Douglas Sirk; my favorite movie of all time, the original The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, on the big screen at last; and El Aura, a film I’ve been touting for over ten years (and the subject of my first-ever Noir City contribution).

I’ll be living at the Egyptian for the next week—and possibly appearing on stage—so come on out and say hello. Live musical entertainment is on tap tonight and Saturday, as well. Given a battery of other commitments I won’t be doing daily recaps this year, but I’ll try to post updates as the fun unfurls.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Extra, Extra! Noir City!

One of the benefits of being on the masthead of Noir City, the magazine of the non-profit Film Noir Foundation, is pitching in on the planning. I’ve known about the all-TV issue, which went out to subscribers last weekend, for ages, and had my pick of subject matter. I could have cherry-picked a vintage series that provided a small screen home for the migrating talent responsible for the twisted cinematic crime dramas of the 1950s. Or I could have claimed the contemporary cable antihero of my choice. It’s good to be the king, or in this case the managing editor.

Instead I pitched the only story I wanted to write. Which is why the issue features a look back at HBO’s two Phil Lovecraft films. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) somehow knew Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft were two great tastes that taste great together. The result is a sly salute to classic noir that’s also genuinely, consistently funny. The disappointing follow-up Witch Hunt (1994) is an object lesson in the powers that be preparing a sequel while not comprehending what makes the original work.

Joseph Dougherty wrote both films, and proved a funny and candid interview. An acclaimed playwright and TV hyphenate, he’s spent the past seven years working on Pretty Little Liars, which he describes as “mini-Hitchcock movies for teens.” Dougherty wrote and directed “Shadow Play,” a film noir-inspired episode that became a fan favorite. We did a second interview about that show, complete with the welcome news that PLL has introduced a new generation to classic cinema as well as Dougherty’s brilliant advice for penning dialogue for teenage girls: “think of them as a bomber crew in a Howard Hawks movie.”

I’ve also got my usual Cocktails & Crime column, plus reviews of a new Douglas Sirk/George Sanders Blu-ray set and Edward Sorel’s offbeat book Mary Astor’s Purple Diary, covered in the New York Times by some wet-behind-the-ears stringer named Woody Allen.

But I’m not the only person in this issue. You also get—

- A double dose of FNF honcho Eddie Muller, interviewing Warner Bros. Home Entertainment George Feltenstein and holding forth on the small screen-spawned Mulholland Dr.

- Cartoonist/illustrator Daniel Clowes’ one-of-a-kind list of his five favorite noir films

- Imogen Smith on the definitive noir TV show, The Fugitive

- Jazz aficionado supreme Brian Light’s appraisal of the offbeat Johnny Staccato

- Alan K. Rode charting the noir roots of Perry Mason

- Steve Kronenberg’s assessment of the noir episodes of The Twilight Zone and Thriller

- Danilo Castro’s remembrance of Fallen Angels, the ‘90s cable series that brought pulp to primetime

- Sharon Knolle on the recent bumper crop of noir on cable, including Quarry and Animal Kingdom

- Ben Terrall’s very personal history of the pulp origins of Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

And, believe it or not, even more. It’s a true gem of an issue, and it’s yours by making a contribution to the Film Noir Foundation.