Monday, December 20, 2021

Keenan's Klassics: It's a Shane Black Christmas

From 2009. Needed now more than ever.

There I am at my favorite watering hole, talking with the staff, when the subject of Christmas movies is raised.

First suggestion, not made by me: the traditional double-bill of Die Hard and Die Hard II: Die Harder.

Thus giving me the tenor of the conversation. This is not the time, perhaps, to mention Remember the Night and Holiday Affair, two overlooked films (with noir connections!) that Turner Classic Movies has labored to turn into Yuletide staples. Although a mention of Blast of Silence, full of Wenceslas wetwork, might not be out of the question.

So I lobby for my own Christmas favorite, The Ref. And then observe, not for the first time, that the entire oeuvre of Shane Black – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – is set at the most wonderful time of the year. (Editor’s note, 2013: You can now add IRON MAN 3 to that roster. Editor’s note, 2016: And THE NICE GUYS. The Christmas trees are there if you look. Editor’s note, 2019: The streak comes to an end with Black’s 2018 film THE PREDATOR, which is set at Halloween. It was fun while it lasted.)

Therefore, as you venture out for that last round of shopping, I offer, by popular demand, what has become a VKDC tradition. (“By popular demand” meaning Rosemarie asked, “Why haven’t you posted this yet?” And she did write most of it.) Here, once again, is Shane Black’s 12 Days of Christmas. Record your church group performing this and we’ll post the video here!

Twelve cars exploding
Eleven extras running
Ten tankers skidding
Nine strippers pole-ing
Eight Uzis firing
Seven henchmen scowling
Six choppers crashing

Five silver Glocks

Four ticking bombs
Three hand grenades
Two mortar shells
And a suitcase full of C-4

God bless us, everyone. Or else.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Noir City Fit to Print Edition

Things have been a mite hectic around here. So much so that I neglected to trumpet from the rooftops that the latest issue of Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation, came out this month, and it’s a particularly special one. Our one-of-a-kind cover story is the reason why.

Gloria Grahame is perhaps the most popular actress in all of film noir. The details of her life have been well-documented. Offering a fascinating and fresh perspective on her legacy: Emmy Award winner Dana Delany, who candidly admits that Gloria has been her lifelong muse. Dana’s heartfelt, meticulously researched essay is a unique opportunity to venture inside the craft, “actor to actor.”

Working with Dana on this story was an absolute joy, and the result speaks for itself. I was remiss in not posting this update before Dana made her debut appearance on TCM’s Noir Alley alongside FNF honcho Eddie Muller introducing Gloria in Human Desire (1954), but if you hurry you can read Dana’s work before she returns to the show on Saturday, October 2 (with a repeat broadcast on Sunday, October 3) for more Gloria with The Glass Wall (1953).

Also in this issue—

Randy Dotinga on how classic film noir hid LGBTQ characters in plain sight;

Nora Fiore, Twitter’s Nitrate Diva, surveys astrology in crime films;

Nathalie Atkinson interviews Pornsak Pichetshote, writer of the new noir comic The Good Asian;

Eddie Muller tells the story behind the noir-stained paintings of the outsider artist known as Ely Legerdemain;

Novelist S.A. Cosby—you’ve read his books Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears, right?—explains why Point Blank (1967) is his favorite neo-noir;

And more.

I’ve got my usual column, a few book reviews, and a conversation with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, whose Velvet Was the Night is the noir novel of this summer.

The best way to get Noir City is to contribute twenty dollars or more to the FNF and its ongoing campaign to restore and preserve film noir. But now there’s a whole new wrinkle.

We’ve launched a print edition of Noir City, available via Amazon’s print on demand service. If you thought ace designer Michael Kronenberg’s graphics looked stunning in our digital mag, wait till you see his handiwork in hard copy.

While you’re at it, why not pick up our debut print edition, the Modern Noir Master issue from earlier in 2021 featuring m’colleague Ray Banks’s interview with filmmaker Mike Hodges—and exclusive testimonials from Hodges’s frequent collaborators Michael Caine (Get Carter, Pulp) and Clive Owen (Croupier, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead)?

What the hell, I might as well beat all the drums and hip you to the latest edition of our Noir City Annual, featuring the best the magazine published in 2020. The year’s installment is a few months late—thanks, Covid—but the writing remains as fresh as ever. It’s the first book I’ve ever edited, and I’m proud of it. Stock up on your noir reading as shadows begin to lengthen.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Noir City “With Me, It’s A Full-Time Job” Edition

The latest issue of Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation, reached subscribers this week. And even if I did edit it myself, I’ll say this for it: it’s pretty good.

Enough false modesty. Honestly, you need to check this installment out, with all credit going to our top-drawer contributors, the wizardry of ace designer Michael Kronenberg, and the guiding hand of our publisher Eddie Muller.

I will humbly admit to getting the ball rolling on the cover story. A while back, I came up with the idea of the FNF presenting an annual Modern Noir Master Award, an honor that has been bestowed on Stephen Frears, James Ellroy, and David Mamet. When I realized that 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark UK crime film Get Carter (1971), I suggested to Eddie who our next recipient should be.

Writer/director Mike Hodges also made Pulp (1972), Croupier (1998), I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead (2003), and other noir-adjacent films. In his 89th year, he has a new film in the works. All I had to do was put him together with our man on the Continent Ray Banks. The result is a free-wheeling, career-spanning interview that even covers Hodges’ own noir fiction.

I’ll also pat myself on the back for another contribution to this feature. We won’t be able to present the award live for obvious reasons, so I wanted to do something extra. Something special. Thus did I become fixated on the notion of having Sir Michael Caine and Clive Owen, the two actors who loom large in Hodges’ noir filmography, contribute to Noir City.

A longshot, I figured. But I am as tenacious an optimist as you will find, so I started making inquiries. Turned out, it couldn’t have been simpler. Both gentlemen were eager to say a few words on behalf of a valued collaborator and colleague, and you can read those words in this issue. I’ll admit I was chuffed it came together, as they say across the pond.

But that’s just for openers. In this issue, we also have—

Imogen Sara Smith with a definitive look at the work of filmmaker Christian Petzold, from his early German films never screened in the US to masterful features like Phoenix (2014) and Transit (2018);

An appreciation of a longtime noir favorite, the hard-luck actress Virginia Grey, from the Self-Styled Siren Farran Smith Nehme;

The career of self-described “Hungarian-born one-eyed cowboy from Texas” AndrĂ© de Toth, whose directorial credits include Pitfall (1948) and Crime Wave (1954);

An interview with Eve Plumb—yes, that Eve Plumb—about her second act as a painter whose work is inspired by classic noir films, and her turn as a villain in the neo-noir Blue Ruin (2013);

The screenwriting career of sportswriter Art Cohn, best known for the quintessential boxing film The Set-Up (1949);

Jason A. Ney’s insightful look at amnesia noir, and how this plot gimmick has evolved along with our understanding of memory;

I raise the question “Charlie Chaplin … noir filmmaker?” with an appraisal of his most confounding role, as the serial murderer Monsieur Verdoux (1947). My first draft of this article was heavy on Chaplin and Orson Welles, who came up with the idea for Verdoux, trash-talking each other for decades. I still think I should mount this as a one-man show.

And there’s still more. Trust me, you want this issue. All you have to do to get it is make a modest contribution to the Film Noir Foundation and our efforts to restore classic film.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Reach for The Sharpest Needle

Tuesday was the official U.S. publication day for The Sharpest Needle, the fourth Lillian Frost and Edith Head mystery that I wrote with Rosemarie under our pen name of Renee Patrick. It’s set in 1939. The world is about to plunge into war, Orson Welles has recently arrived in Hollywood, and Lillian and Edith are asked by Marion Davies to get to the bottom of some poison pen letters she’s received. (Did you watch Mank? Then you’ll want to read this book. Did you not watch Mank? Then you’ll definitely want to read this book.)

I don’t want to appear immodest and big up Needle myself. Instead, I’ll tell you that Publishers Weekly called it “a tailor-made treat for film buffs” while Historical Novel Review said “the mystery has plenty of tantalizing sidetracks … carefully stitched and neatly sewn together.”

Rosemarie and I were interviewed by Library Journal.

Everything Zoomer has the book in terrific company as one of its recommended February reads.

Over at CrimeReads, I have a piece detailing a fascinating footnote unearthed in our research: the history of Welles’s unmade adaptation of the Nicholas Blake novel The Smiler with the Knife. He’s planning the film—about a fascist coup in the United States spearheaded by a flashy playboy businessman, if you can imagine such a thing—at the time The Sharpest Needle is set. Full of surprise cameos and an explanation of how the proposed project ended up shaping Citizen Kane. Go on, give it a read.

Friday, January 01, 2021

A Bloody (Mary) Kind of Year

The inaugural effort
I’m not really a holiday person. Our sole tradition is one we came up with ourselves: The Big Boozy New Year’s Breakfast. Get up and out early for a meal, and there must be cocktails. Your first act of January 1 should be to treat yourself right, establishing the tone for the year ahead.

We couldn’t ring in 2021 by going out for breakfast, obviously, but we weren’t about to abandon our only tradition. So we made adjustments. We laid in a spread for New Year’s Day. Fresh bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, the works. All that remained were the cocktails. I had to fix a Bloody Mary or two.

Which, astoundingly, I had never done before. My default brunch cocktail—damn near everybody’s, really, although don’t sleep on the possibilities of the Blood and Sand as an eye-opener—and at no point had I even attempted to make one. When I’m in the mood for a Bloody Mary, I’m out and about, and consequently I let the professionals handle it. Not so in 2021.

Chalk up another modification to our tradition. This year, my first act of January 1 was to step just a little bit outside of my comfort zone. May that also help set the tone for the next twelve months.

As for the drink itself, I consulted experts before getting down to work. (In the interests of full disclosure, I did stage a trial run in the waning days of 2020 so I wouldn’t stagger into this project unprepared.) Everyone has their own preferences for the Bloody Mary; I opted for a variation on Jim Meehan’s excellent recipe from his Meehan’s Bartender Manual. I also rolled the cocktail, rather than building it in the glass or shaking it, which dilutes the tomato juice. To roll the drink, you assemble the ingredients in the shaker, which you then turn over twenty or so times.

The verdict? Rosemarie liked hers. I liked mine. And the year is off to a good start.

The Bloody Mary
apologies to Jim Meehan

4 oz. tomato juice
1 ½ oz. vodka
¼ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. lime juice
¼ oz. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. horseradish
¼ tsp. celery salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. hot sauce

Combine ingredients. Roll in a shaker (see above). Strain over fresh ice into a tall chilled glass. Garnish with a celery stalk.