Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The Format Is the Formula

It took me long enough, but I finally figured out that social media, particularly Twitter, has become what the Krell overlooked in Forbidden Planet (1956): the monsters from the id. Subconscious desires given raging, destructive form, with the occasional Simpsons reference. Arguably, that has always been the case, but as Twitter continues to spiral down the feeling has only intensified.

Given that, I thought a format change might spur me to post here more consistently. Let’s see if it sticks.

What I’m Watching

All My Sons (1948). Noir City Seattle has come and gone. Packed houses throughout the festival—including Valentine’s Day—and I had fun dispatching my hosting duties. It’s always interesting to see which movies really land with audiences. This year’s winner was So Evil My Love (1948), a noir-tinged Gothic with the blackest of hearts. The title I was most eager to see was Sons, the adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play which has inexplicably fallen out of circulation, resulting in what Noir City master of ceremonies Eddie Muller has called “the great lost Edward G. Robinson performance.” Robinson plays a self-made businessman who has rebounded from charges of selling defective airplane parts to the Army during WWII—a scandal resulting in multiple pilot deaths and the incarceration of his former partner—to participate in the nation’s postwar prosperity. Then his son (Burt Lancaster) announces plans to wed the ex-partner’s daughter, and Robinson’s self-deception collapses around him, jeopardizing all he’s created. Sons isn’t a true film noir. It has abundant noirish elements—how could it not, with that plot—which Miller and screenwriter Chester Erskine assembled into a family drama. A few of Miller’s gambits remain resolutely theatrical and I never bought Robinson and Lancaster as father and son, but it’s a compelling film that proved a great way to close out this year’s festival.

What I’m Reading

A Death in Tokyo
, by Keigo Higashino (2022). A Higashino novel was on my best-of-2022 list, and his latest, published in December, may well appear on this year’s roster. Of course, there’s a murder—a businessman dies of a brutal stab wound on a bridge miles from his regular haunts—that serves as a vehicle for Higashino to explore aspects of Japanese culture. Here, it’s the fascinating, time-honored practice of worshipping at various shrines that provides essential clues. As usual, Higashino channels intense emotion with an exquisitely calibrated touch; Newcomer (2018), the previous entry in his Detective Kaga series in which Kaga unravels multiple neighborhood mysteries while investigating a woman’s death, has stayed with me as an example of his command of structure and his masterly control.

What I’m Drinking

Neal Bodenheimer’s Old Hickory. If Rosemarie and I were on a game show and one of us was asked, “What’s something that’s always in your refrigerator?” the other would say, “Vermouth.” I’ve always got a few bottles open, and one that has belatedly joined the ranks is blanc vermouth. This variation, walking the tightrope between its dry and sweet brethren—more floral than the former, robust enough to smooth out edges like the latter—has become my new favorite cocktail ingredient to play with. But it’s no mere featured player, as its star turn in this lower ABV charmer demonstrates. Note the different approach to mixing.

1 ½ oz. blanc vermouth
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass without ice. Stir. Pour into a rocks glass over a single large ice cube. Express the oils in a lemon peel, then use it as a garnish if you so choose.

Monday, February 13, 2023

A Few February Recommendations

Fake Money, Blue Smoke, by Josh Haven (2022). Nothing beats going into a novel cold and having it completely knock you out. A veteran of the war in Iraq is released from prison and finds an ex-girlfriend, one he’s pined for but also written off, waiting for him. Turns out all these years later she’s a damn good counterfeiter, and has a job on which her old beau might be able to provide assistance. Of course, she’s not telling him the whole truth, and he’s got a duffel bag full of secrets himself. Haven writes in a sleek third-person-omniscient style that leaves room for unexpected deadpan asides. He also pits his half-hearted lovers against some truly odious villains. The result is a globetrotting, thoroughly disreputable heist novel that I loved straight through to the slam-bang finish.

Reboot (Hulu). The main thing I want from a sitcom? Jokes, and lots of them. They’re served up at a furious clip with deadly accuracy in this behind-the-scenes series from Modern Family’s Steve Levitan. When a schmaltzy family comedy series gets a makeover twenty years later, the cast reunites with their problems intact. There’s Keegan-Michael Key as the stage actor who thinks the material is beneath him; Johnny Knoxville as the stand-up comic terrified that he has lucked into the best gig of his life; and Judy Greer as a woman who viewed acting as a stepping stone to a future that didn’t pan out. Even better are Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) as the young writer/producer forced to fight for her edgy vision of the retooled show against the original’s creator—her own father, played by Paul Reiser. Over the last few years Reiser has been the best part of everything he’s appeared in, from The Kominsky Method to Red Oaks, an Amazon show that somehow survived three seasons despite my being the only person to watch it. The highlight of Reboot is the writers’ room scenes, with two generations of hacks kvetching and eventually figuring each other out. (MVP to Rose Abdoo’s Selma, whose every filthy line kills.) I was about to press play on the season finale when I read that the show hadn’t been renewed, and attempts to move it elsewhere have sadly failed. Watch it before it gets disappeared like so many other programs and I’m convinced it was all a beautiful dream I had.

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter
, by John Hendrickson (2023). I hate when reviewers open by telling you something about themselves, but in this case I feel it’s necessary, so here goes: I have a stutter. It occurs rarely now, usually only in moments of stress, and I have a lifetime of workarounds for when I feel it coming on. Journalist Hendrickson wrote an acclaimed article about President Joe Biden’s history of stuttering, which forced him to reconsider his own. This memoir is the result, a powerful book about dealing with a lifelong condition that whenever it rears its head, in the words of writer and fellow stutterer Nathan Heller, leads to “a kind of tightening of the leash, and you can’t ever escape what you were at five years old.” There’s a lot of fascinating material about the science behind stuttering; different neural pathways are used for spontaneous speech and memorized speech, which is why many prominent actors are able to perform in spite of pronounced stutters—including Samuel L. Jackson, who uses the word “motherfucker” to help overcome blocks. Hendrickson also dives into how his stutter has shaped his life, conducting interviews with friends, family, speech therapists, and others to dig into the awkwardness stutterers frequently encounter. (He participated in this terrific short documentary about the subject last year.) It’s given me plenty to think about, including what Joe Biden’s debate coach—and fellow stutterer—described as the condition’s two gifts, one good and one bad: “immense empathy” and “an anger that is very deep … an anger that comes out of frustration.”

Monday, January 30, 2023

Noir City Seattle Schedule

It’s hard to believe that the dark carnival that is the Noir City Film Festival first pitched its tents twenty years ago. Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation just finished feting the fest at its new home at the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland. Seattle’s turn is next; Eddie has been bringing Noir City to SIFF theaters for fifteen years, with your humble correspondent in attendance at all of them.

Eddie programmed this year’s lineup with the occasion in mind. Every film hit the screen seventy-five years ago in 1948, so it’s diamond anniversaries up and down the bill.

Eddie will be hosting the screenings all opening weekend. After that, Renee Patrick—aka Rosemarie and me—takes over those duties, with me working solo a few evenings. The fun kicks off next Friday, February 10, with us as your emcees from February 13—16. If you’re anywhere near the Emerald City, come out for one of these can’t-miss shows.

Friday, February 10
6:30pm - Key Largo*
9:00pm - The Lady from Shanghai

Saturday, February 11
1:00pm - Larceny*
3:15pm - The Spiritualist*
6:00pm - The Big Clock
8:30pm - Unfaithfully Yours

Sunday, February 12
1:00pm - They Live by Night*
3:30pm - Raw Deal
6:00pm - Hollow Triumph*
8:15pm - Kiss the Blood Off My Hands*

Monday, February 13
6:00pm - The Hunted*
8:30pm - Call Northside 777

Tuesday, February 14
6:00pm - So Evil My Love*
8:45pm - Sleep, My Love*

Wednesday, February 15
6:00pm - The Naked City
8:30pm - Cry of the City*

Thursday, February 16
6:00pm - Night Has a Thousand Eyes*
8:15pm - All My Sons*

* screening in 35mm

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Mid(ish) January Ramblin’ Recs

I made some noise earlier this month, back in new year’s resolution season, about updating the blog on a more regular basis. Trouble is, you need to have something to talk about. Expect semi-regular posts like these, where I jabber about what I’ve liked recently.

The Menu
. Once you’ve heard the premise of this pitch-black comedy, you’ll have a fairly good idea of where it’s going. But sometimes there’s nothing wrong with heading to a recognizable destination, particularly when you travel there in style. The Menu serves up savage satire courtesy of a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy studded with sharp lines, committed performances from the entire cast, and direction from Mark Mylod, who has been behind the camera for many of the best episodes of Succession and knows his way around the foibles of the super-rich. Some critics have carped about the obviousness of the film’s targets, but the news about the shuttering of fine-dining landmark Noma has only given The Menu added topicality. (Also, hat tip to that article for teaching me that “luxetarian” is apparently a word.)

Complicit, by Winnie M. Li (2022). Jordan Harper, whose new novel Everybody Knows wowed me, cited this book as part of the new L.A. crime canon. It’s a powerful and powerfully honest look at the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, told from the perspective of a woman compelled by an escalating #MeToo scandal to revisit her derailed career as a producer—and, as the title implies, to confront her own possible culpability in perpetuating the system. Li, who is sadly all too familiar with many aspects of this story, writes about it with clear-eyed force. The perspective makes for a marked contrast with the adaptation of She Said (2022), about the New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein, a dutiful film that lacks the crackle of great newspaper dramas and only comes to life when Weinstein’s victims are given voice. (One minor caveat: much of the late action in Complicit revolves around an independent film nominated for a Golden Globe for editing, when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has never given such an award. But then the HFPA has never cared about the technical aspects of filmmaking; after all, this is the outfit that split the lead acting categories into comedy and drama so they could double the nominees and pack the house with stars, which is the only thing it gives a damn about.)

Slow Horses (Apple TV+). I’m a huge fan of Mick Herron’s scabrously funny spy novels; read this recent New Yorker profile for a taste of his skewed sensibility. The debut season of Apple’s adaptation improved as it went along, and its sophomore outing, based on Dead Lions, builds on that momentum. Christopher Chung seems to have been set loose to make Roddy Ho as obnoxious and oblivious a character as he is in the books; my favorite bit of backstory is that while Ho’s MI5 colleagues have been exiled to Slough House because of mistakes they’ve made in the field, he’s there simply because nobody likes him. Gary Oldman is understandably having the time of his life as shambling wreck Jackson Lamb, and I’m fairly sure that in season’s two first episode he lapses into his George Smiley voice from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) as an in-joke.

(Acorn TV). The release of a special Christmas movie (OK, a 75-minute episode) reminded me of how much I love this show. Mackenzie Crook of the original The Office created the series and stars alongside Toby Jones, the duo playing amateur historians and metal-detector enthusiasts. (As the show points out more than once, a detector is a piece of equipment, a detectorist its operator.) Its meditative rhythms and its celebration of hobbies and camaraderie as necessary balms against the grind of daily life give it a healing quality, so much so I looked into buying a metal detector myself. The movie isn’t the place to jump in—better to experience the full series in all its glory—but it was great to revisit these characters and it features one honest, boozy heart-to-heart between Crook’s Andy and his wife Becky (played by the fabulous Rachael Stirling) that prompted Rosemarie to say that if the lead characters on Fleishman Is in Trouble had engaged in one such conversation, neither Fleishman would be in trouble.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Noir City We’ll Meet Again Edition

Issue 36 of the Film Noir Foundation’s magazine Noir City is now out in both digital and print editions, and it marks a bittersweet moment for yours truly. It’s my final issue as editor-in-chief. After fourteen years on the editorial staff, the last three-plus in the top job, I’m hanging up my spurs. 

But I’m leaving on a high note. Check out that cover image, for starters. We celebrate 100 years of film noir icon Veronica Lake with Lynsey Ford’s story looking at Lake’s career and her private life, “as tragic and convoluted as any film noir plot.” Also in the issue—

A brilliant feature by Farran Smith Nehme, aka the Self-Styled Siren, on the neo-noir world of “the French Hitchcock,” Claude Chabrol;

Brent Calderwood surveys the slippery history of masseurs and masseuses in film noir;

Noir City’s own Steve Kronenberg hears the siren song of Gale Sondergaard;

Jim Thomsen profiles “Driver’s Seat” singer and noir-inspired artist Paul Roberts;

Bob Sassone unwraps the singular charms of the classic yuletide-set noir Cover Up;

Eddie Muller offers a heartfelt memorial to his friend and colleague, novelist Jim Nisbet;

The Nitrate Diva Nora Fiore compares the book and film versions of Out of the Past.

Plus book reviews, film reviews, and more—including the farewell edition of my Cocktails & Crime column, with one last libation for the road.

It’s been an honor to work alongside publisher/FNF honcho Eddie Muller and ace designer Michael Kronenberg on every issue of this magazine, and I’m particularly proud of helping to launch the print edition of Noir City. I’ll still write for the magazine on occasion—look for a story from me later this year—and I’ll remain on the FNF’s advisory board. If you want to know which incredibly capable people will be taking the Noir City reins, why not get yourself a subscription by donating to the FNF, with your contribution going to support the Foundation’s film restoration efforts? If you prefer the hard stuff, you can order a print edition exclusively from Amazon. Either way, you won’t regret it.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Adieu, 2022

Among the lessons of this odd year was one that shouldn’t have needed reinforcing: corporations are not to be trusted. As social media continues its death spiral—I’m still working out how I feel about that impending collapse—I toyed with other outlets. Medium? Substack? ThoughtHub? OverShare? Maybe even, God help us, a newsletter?

Then I remembered how this all started for me: with this blog. In 2023, I plan on making a concerted effort to update this site on a regular basis. Each post, of course, to be touted on every platform that has not yet winked out of existence. May as well start with a rundown of what I liked in the year we just put to bed.

Books—Show Business

I read so many of these as a result of my Renee Patrick and Noir City duties that they warrant their own section.

The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act, by Isaac Butler

“Method acting” has become a catchall term. In this electrifying book, Butler traces the twisted (in every sense) history of this school of performance, from Moscow to New York to Hollywood, bringing each milieu to brilliant life while not being stingy with opinions.

Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, by Dana Stevens

Not a biography of the Great Stone Face but an atlas of his times, using Keaton as a prism through which to view a host of subjects: child labor laws, early chain restaurants, the evolving understanding of addiction, and the Hollywood disappointments of F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Keaton’s genius as the thread somehow holding it all together. Fascinating, endlessly playful.

Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers, by Mary Rodgers and Jesse Green

Rodgers was stage royalty—the daughter of composer Richard Rodgers and mother of Tony winner Adam Guettel, she wrote the music for Once Upon a Mattress and the novel Freaky Friday—and seemed to know everyone involved with American musical theater. Her book, cowritten with New York Times critic Green, more than lives up to its title. 


Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Breathlessly inventive, spanning decades in a partnership between two videogame designers that’s deeper than a friendship but never quite a romance, this is my favorite novel of the last few years.

Silent Parade, by Keigo Higashino

Technically a December 2021 title, but I didn’t get to it until this year. Higashino is perhaps the best current writer of traditional mysteries, and Silent Parade is his latest triumph, riffing on both locked-room stories and Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express while offering a dense, idiosyncratic portrait of contemporary Tokyo.

Everybody Knows, by Jordan Harper

Technically a January 2023 title, but I got to it early. The big, bruising LA noir we need right now.


Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity, by Devon Price

This look at people on the autism spectrum who “mask” as neurotypical hit hard.

The Storm is Here: An American Crucible, by Luke Mogelson

A war correspondent returns home to the US in 2020 and covers the country … like a war correspondent. Ends with Mogelson’s harrowing reportage from inside the Capitol on January 6.

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century, by Beverly Gage

Drawing on new research, Gage’s biography depicts Hoover as a creature of Washington DC (he was born and raised there, which shaped him more than you’d think), of racist fraternities (the impact they made on him was considerable), and of bureaucracy, all of which molded the FBI and in turn 20th century America.

I also would like it noted for the record that 2022 was the year that I started and finished Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. I even took a photo to commemorate the occasion, with Godzilla added for scale.


The Offer (Paramount+). I went in to this 10-episode limited series about the making of The Godfather with low expectations. It ended up being my favorite program of the year, the one I recommended non-stop. Sure, it’s a love letter to the Paramount lot where Renee Patrick’s Edith Head novels are set, but it’s also a canny piece of mythologizing boasting some terrific turns, chiefly Matthew Goode’s as studio kingpin Robert Evans. If this show had aired on HBO, Goode would be a slam-dunk to win an Emmy. Instead, it’s the performance that got away.

Irma Vep (HBO). I didn’t think Olivier Assayas needed to remake his 1996 film, itself about the attempt to remake the 1915-16 silent film serial. I was wrong. With a beguiling Alicia Vikander and Vincent Macaigne in a terrifically funny/sad performance as a director who loses his confidence and his mind.

Severance (Apple+). As good as everyone says it is.

Reservation Dogs (FX). No sophomore jinx here. Season two was every bit the equal of season one.

Ghosts (CBS). A big network hit and a comedy to boot that still doesn’t get enough love for the quality of its writing.

Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Netflix). I haven’t finished the show yet, so according to my own rule I should reserve judgment. But the way I’m rationing episodes of this South Korean series about a novice autistic lawyer is the highest compliment I can pay it. Related: it would have been great to get a second season of As We See It, with actors who are on the spectrum playing similar characters seeking their places in the world, but Amazon recently announced it wouldn’t return.


Decision to Leave. I could describe Park Chan-wook’s film as a brilliant contemporary noir, or a policier with heart, or a dazzling reinterpretation of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Instead, I’ll call it the movie that utterly wrecked me.

The Banshees of Inisherin. Quotes from this movie are already cropping up in my conversation.

Nope. A horror film that is truly horrifying, and that left room for awe.

Top Gun: Maverick. Does some of my affection stem from its status as The Blockbuster That Saved Theaters? Sure, probably. (It’s worth noting that I saw the first four movies on this list on the big screen, which only added to their impact.) But seeing a movie star do movie star things on a huge canvas is no minor thing.

RRR. The one movie I wished I’d seen on the big screen.

Tár. Halfway through, I asked myself if I hated it and considered tapping out. Then it clicked into place for me, and I understood the huge swing writer/director Todd Field was taking.

All that said, the 2022 movie I will end up seeing the most times will likely be Confess, Fletch. And after I’d badmouthed the trailer to anyone who would listen. We’d better get another of these movies with Jon Hamm. We deserve it.