Sunday, December 31, 2023

Farewell 2023 and December at Cocktails and Crime

Is there ever going to be a year I’m sorry to see end? I seem to remember that happening. In any event, bring on 2024.

2023 did turn out to be when I returned to blog-style writing. It just happened to be at Substack, that’s all. Here’s what happened at Cocktails and Crime this month.

It’s a Shane Black Christmas made its debut over there.

I started doing the program outlined in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which meant dealing with the terrors of reading deprivation week. I also reviewed Sam Wasson’s The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story.

I decided to start taking financial advice from movie directors, a choice that I’m sure will not backfire.

25 years of Zero Effect, the great private eye movie featuring a final terrific turn from the late Ryan O’Neal.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

November at Cocktails and Crime

Hey, Substack is pivoting to video! I’m sure that bodes well for the future.

I understand how the game is played. Platforms evolve to the point where they eventually stop doing what you want them to do. Case in point: the now non-functioning Twitter (to hell with that X nonsense) widget to your left. Maybe Substack is the answer, maybe it isn’t. The numbers indicate that it’s working for me right now. Still, I’m keeping my shingle up here even if it’s only to recap what I’m doing there, like the following.

A look at three new books on the big-screen comedies Airplane!, The Blues Brothers, and Anchorman.

Somehow I connect the icy, cerebral thriller Anatomy of a Fall with the raunchy comedy No Hard Feelings. Plus a history of Siskel & Ebert and a martini variation from Phil Ward.

My social media report card, along with Kliph Nesteroff’s new history of the culture wars and Scott Eyman’s Charlie Chaplin vs. America.

Jesse David Fox’s survey of contemporary comedy, documentaries on Albert Brooks and John le Carré, and a cocktail from the glory days of New York’s Amor y Amargo.

The latest spy novel from Mick Herron, plus Nyad and a documentary on the design studio responsible for some iconic album covers.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Substack Season

Short version: I’ve got a new Substack called Cocktails and Crime, which will be the home for most of my ramblings going forward, so if you’re at all interested in whatever thoughts wander into my head, you should subscribe to it.

Upon the advice of friends whom I trust, I have taken the plunge and hung out a shingle at Substack. The numbers here at the blog have held steady over the last few years, but like so much in life, they aren’t what they used to be. All the action is at Substack, and the cool kids are hanging out there as well. Based on concrete examples from people in the know, I started Cocktails and Crime. Which will pretty much be this blog in newsletter form.

I’m not closing up shop here; I have too many fond memories of the ol’ internet homestead to abandon it. My plan is to use this site to promote my work whenever it appears, and on occasion cross-post some of the longer entries after they’ve debuted on Substack.

The first post is up as of today. But again, the best way to keep up is to subscribe.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Piss-Takes, Hurt Feelings, and Vamping

What I’m Watching

Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre (2023). “Piss-take” is too good a term to be used solely by our cousins across the pond. For me, a piss-take isn’t a parody so much as a clear-eyed version of a story, one that says, “Yeah, here’s how that would actually work.” In Guy Ritchie’s gleeful savaging of globe-trotting action thrillers, the caper springs from ignorance and is motivated by greed. His version of an elite operative isn’t a square-jawed do-gooder like Ethan Hunt, but a prickly oddball with expensive tastes. Plus he’s blessed with the singular handle of Orson Fortune, and he’s played by Jason Statham.

Fortune is tasked—only elite operatives are “tasked,” nobody else is—with recovering … well, something. The British government doesn’t know what has been stolen, only that billionaire arms trader Greg Simmonds (Hugh Grant, a welcome addition to the Ritchie company of players) is brokering its sale. How to access the man who has (almost) everything? Give him what he craves, the friendship of his favorite movie star. Josh Harnett is winning as the actor strongarmed into espionage and uncertain about his ability to play the role in which he has been cast: himself. Aubrey Plaza is also on hand to mercilessly mock the gun-wielding hacker babe archetype that always turns up in these movies.

As is frequently the case with Ritchie, the entire enterprise is filled with fine clothes. Ritchie is one of the filmmakers whose work I watch for the wardrobe. See: Exhibits A and B, his still underrated The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) and Colin Farrell’s coordinated track suits in The Gentlemen (2019). Operation Fortune keeps the streak alive.

My Twitter ramblings about the movie convinced Ethan Iverson to watch it, and I love his take.

You Hurt My Feelings (2023). You don’t have to be married to a writer to enjoy Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, but boy, does it help. Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies play one of those perpetually fretful, well-to-do Manhattan couples. But at least they’re happily married—until she overhears him telling a friend that he doesn’t care for her work in progress, despite the encouragement he’s offered her. It’s the funny hook on which Holofcener hangs a deeper look at the many kinds of honesty required in meaningful relationships. I’ll watch it again to wrap myself in the deep, fuzzy blanket of Menzies’ voice. If he was actually a therapist, I’d see him three times a week.

The Innocent
(US 2023). Louis Garrel’s crime comedy is exclusively on the Criterion Channel, yet another reason to sign up for the best streaming service there is. Garrel’s Abel, a still-grieving widower, tries to put the best face on his mother’s latest impulsive act, marrying one of her students in a prison acting class. When new stepdad Michel (Roschdy Zem) is released, Abel starts following him—and soon finds himself roped into Michel’s next job for the sake of family unity. Anouk Grinberg is fantastic as Abel’s impetuous maman, a character worlds away from the no-nonsense jurist she played in The Night of the 12th. And Noémie Merlant deservedly won a César Award for her turn as Abel’s surprisingly encouraging friend.

John Early: Now More Than Ever. When I first saw John Early in the TV series Search Party, I thought, “If there’s ever a Mike Nichols biopic, he’s the guy.” His new HBO special blends comedy and music. The pseudo-documentary framework doesn’t add much, but the material—especially a brutal analysis of his generation’s spotty education and their resulting contributions to the English language—is strong, as is the “Wait, he’s not really gonna sing that, is he?” closing number.

What I’m Drinking

The latest issue of Imbibe magazine spotlights clear spirits in summer drinks. I’m already partial to the Three of a Kind, created by Weisi Basore for Bar Cleeta in Bentonville, Arkansas. Maraschino liqueur is typically used sparingly—even a scant quarter-ounce will boldly declare its presence in a cocktail—so the generous pour here surprised me. But it plays beautifully. I expect to call this complex cooler in from the bullpen often as the season progresses.

1 oz. London dry gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano bianco
1 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Stir. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, June 12, 2023

What I’m Watching: All-SIFF Edition

The Seattle International Film Festival ended on May 28, and I’m only getting around to it now. Which may be just as well, considering that my two favorite movies from this year’s fest are already turning up in theaters.

Chile ’76. The title of this piercing political thriller gives us the where and, more pointedly, the when: the Pinochet years. Retired stewardess Carmen (Aline Küppenheim in a powerhouse performance) is largely insulated from political unrest; her physician husband affords her a comfortable life, with grandchildren and a summer house remodel to occupy her time. But when a priest asks her to tend to a wounded young activist sought by the government, the fragile order of her world comes apart. Directed and cowritten by Manuela Martelli, it’s a look at how normal life can seem under a dictatorship—and how much effort even the smallest act of compassion takes under those circumstances. Mention must be made of Mariá Portugal’s moody and effective score, like something out of a 1970s giallo.

The Night of the 12th. This policier from director Dominik Moll (With a Friend Like Harry), which won France’s César Award for Best Picture, takes a big swing early. It tells you up front that the real-life case that inspired it will not be solved, and is only more compelling because of it. Tense and atmospheric, it follows a young detective (Bastien Bouillon) whose first assignment as the head of an investigative unit is an uncommonly brutal murder in the incongruously beautiful setting of Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps. As the years pass without a solution, he realizes he only knows two things for certain: “Something’s amiss between men and women,” and he’ll have to find a way to carry on in the face of never knowing the truth. It will be playing at Seattle’s Grand Illusion later this month as part of the theater’s “… before the case cracks you” series alongside Zodiac and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, and it deserves to be in their company.

Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes, a solid documentary about the jazz musician, educator, and activist, will air on PBS’s American Masters in October. And fingers crossed that the Irish/UK science fiction film Lola reaches a broad audience. Its 79-minute running time contains an impressive amount of story, about two charismatic orphaned sisters in the 1940s, one of whom constructs a machine that receives radio and TV signals from the future. They use this knowledge first to change their own lives, then the course of World War II. The found-footage conceit is initially hard to swallow, but director Andrew Legge ultimately makes it work through adept manipulation of historical images.

What I’m Drinking

Call me a convert to the French Manhattan, taken from David Lebovitz’s book Drinking French: The Iconic Cocktails, Aperitifs, and Café Traditions of France, with 100 Recipes (2020). This version of the classic is made with cognac and orange liqueur. My next experiment, as I don’t have any of France’s orange-based Amer Picon, is to try one with one of my go-to Picon substitutes: Amer Boudreau, Bigallet China-China Amer, or Amaro CioCiaro. Will report back.

The French Manhattan

1 ½ oz. cognac
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth
¼ oz. Cointreau or Grand Marnier
1 dash orange or Angostura bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Walking That Line

I’m on strike at the moment, and that moment may last a while. Might as well keep limber by making a few recommendations.

What I’m Watching

Rabbit Hole (Paramount+). I waited until all eight episodes of the first (only?) season of this show dropped to make sure it stuck the landing. It did, so now I can say this Kiefer Sutherland series is the best thing I’ve seen on TV in a while, and stronger than any thriller novel I’ve read recently. And I won’t tell you why.

Doing so would spoil the fun. More than one episode of Rabbit Hole ended with a reveal that had me saying “What the fuck?” aloud to my TV. But every twist feels organic, thanks to the show’s devilishly intricate structure and to its premise. Sutherland’s John Weir specializes in shaping perceptions to aid his corporate clients, his tactics and slippery morals perfectly illustrated in the extended sequence that opens the premiere episode; right off the bat, you’re advised not to trust what you see. An old friend hires Weir and his team for a job that ends with Weir framed for murder. Where the show goes from there is … well, you’ll have to watch for yourself.

Rabbit Hole is consistently funny, which shouldn’t have surprised me considering it’s the brainchild of Glen Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa). They write beautifully for Sutherland, wringing laughs out of his gruff persona. The show’s sensibility and Weir’s character are established in this early exchange between Weir and the FBI agent determined to take him down.

FBI Agent: Corporate espionage is a dirty way to get rich.
Weir: Espionage? What are you talking about? I’m not a spy.
FBI Agent: Manipulating people and situations to influence markets for client advantage is … what, then?
Weir: Consulting.

A sequence when Weir, the target of a city-wide manhunt, strolls into a New York police station to see the “evidence” against him is a marvel of low-tech deception and social engineering. And a running gag involving Kiefer and hammers got me every time.

But the show also succeeds as a thriller, tackling thorny topical subject matter in a manner that consistently raises the stakes. The supporting cast is richly idiosyncratic, and when the actor playing the show’s Big Bad finally showed their face, I was ecstatic. (And even that reveal has a reveal.) If the show doesn’t return, its sole season goes into the books a winner, ending on a perfect note of 1970s-style paranoia.

Paramount+ may be primarily known for Yellowstone and Star Trek spinoffs, but it’s also the home of The Offer (my favorite show of 2022) as well as the bonkers Catholic X-Files, better known as Evil. That’s a solid batting average for a streaming service.

(Netflix). I wrote about it in my guise as Renee Patrick, but nowhere near enough people are paying attention to this lush limited series, so I’ll also laud it here. It’s about the ragtag efforts of the Emergency Rescue Committee to transport artists from Europe to the United States in 1940. Like Rabbit Hole, it employs a tone you don’t expect; it’s light and even fizzy, which only lends the dark moments more impact. Watch it for Justine Seymour’s costumes, each and every one a knockout, and the haunting score by Mike Ladd & David Sztanke.

What I’m Reading

The Pitfall, by Jay Dratler (1947). The 1948 film noir Pitfall has been rediscovered, due in part to the efforts of my friend and colleague Eddie Muller. It also stands out by having a femme fatale who’s no seductress, but a woman simply trying to do her best. It’s not the fault of Mona, played by Lizabeth Scott, that men are drawn to her, like bored suburban family man/insurance investigator Forbes (Dick Powell) and sleazy stalker shamus Mac (Raymond Burr). The source novel is by Jay Dratler, who didn’t work on the film but whose own impressive string of noir credits includes the Hitchcock knockoff Fly-by-Night (1942) and Laura (1944). Dratler’s book is back in print, part of Stark House Press’s Film Noir Classics line. (Hat tip to Saturday Evening Post columnist Bob Sassone for reminding me about this series.) Reading it is an object lesson in adapting material, particularly under the strictures of the Production Code.

Which is ironic, given that in the novel, Forbes is no insurance man but a screenwriter. Mac isn’t a private eye but a Beverly Hills cop. He had a hand in arresting Mona’s purse-snatcher husband and wants to make a move on her, but knows he doesn’t stand a chance … unless his buddy Forbes, whose wife is currently very pregnant, sleeps with her first, then vouches for good ol’ Mac. Nothing that sleazy or disturbing occurs in the film version; in the 1940s, it never could. Mona remains the same, a goodhearted woman powerless before her power over men.

The book is packed with vintage Hollywood detail. Forbes says of Schwab’s: “It’s movie-town’s drugstore, and better stories are enacted at its counters and in the rear of the prescription counter than many a studio shapes into its best product.” Toiling on assignment at Fox while he agonizes over Mona, he thinks, “I knew I’d lick the story. I never met one that couldn’t be pounded into shape if you beat your head against it long enough and if you made real people live in it.” Dratler certainly did that here. The Pitfall is a close-quarters study of obsession, as short and sharp as a kidney punch. And it features an extended metaphor involving a centipede that’s still wriggling away in my brain.

What I’m Drinking

I discovered this Martinez riff courtesy of Cocktails with Suderman and was sold on it before sip #1 because:

a) it’s concocted by genius bartender Phil Ward, whom I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in action at the New York bars Death & Co. and Mayahuel and who has gifted us with modern classics like the Oaxaca Old Fashioned and the Final Ward;
b) it features the artichoke-heavy amaro Cynar, a personal favorite;
c) it’s named after a modern noir classic. Forget it, reader, it’s …


2 oz. London dry gin
¾ oz. sweet vermouth (Ward recommends Carpano Antica)
½ oz. Cynar

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a Luxardo maraschino cherry.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

One Last Round for April

What I’m Reading

The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, by Lawrence Block (2023). I’m faced with a tricky proposition in recommending this book, which I am absolutely doing. For one thing, it doesn’t come out until June 24, which also happens to be the author’s eighty-fifth birthday. (Preorders, as always, are welcome.) For another, I’m urging it on a very specific audience, namely people who have already made Matt Scudder’s acquaintance—and have ideally read most if not all of the books and short stories in which the character appears. Luckily, I fit both bills.

Scudder first appeared in The Sins of the Fathers (1976), and the alcoholic ex-NYPD cop turned quasi-private eye has walked the streets of the Big Apple ever since, aging in something close to real time. Larry Block, meanwhile, has embraced the changes in the publishing business to release adventurous books like Dead Girl Blues (2020), among the darkest work of his career (and is that saying something), and last year’s The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, in which he addresses the many challenges facing his long-running character Bernie Rhodenbarr by saying, “Fuck it, PARALLEL UNIVERSE!

This latest book is even more inventive, in that it is exactly what the title promises: a fictional character telling you his life story, or at least all the bits that Block chose not to include elsewhere. Scudder purports to be a real person in these pages, one whose exploits have been turned into fiction by a novelist—and Scudder isn’t entirely happy with some of the changes that scribe has wrought. (We even hear from Block occasionally if indirectly in his instructions to his subject.) It’s evident from his handling of this meta approach that Block hasn’t lost much speed off his fastball. But for devoted readers (like me), there’s an element of pure wish fulfillment at play. The book is essentially a chance to tug the sleeve of a character we’ve gotten to know quite well and offer to buy him another cup of coffee before he heads out, to hear an additional story or two and ask questions long wondered about. It’s an impressive trick that requires decades of work on the part of both writer and reader to carry off. You need to know Matt Scudder in order to appreciate this book, and if you know Matt Scudder you’ve already ordered it.

What I’m Watching

No Bears
(2022). The Criterion Channel is the exclusive streaming home for this remarkable film, which is yet another reason to sign up for the service. (Who else would bring you, in the same month, this movie and a lineup of erotic thrillers including 1994’s Dream Lover, featured in my survey of Hitchcock movies not directed by Alfred Hitchcock?) Jafar Panahi plays himself, an Iranian filmmaker barred from leaving his homeland because of his political beliefs. Undaunted, he journeys to the Turkish border so he can direct a docudrama remotely. As that project takes unexpected and disturbing turns, Panahi finds his presence—and his images—drawn into village life in ways that illuminate his own standing in Iran. A powerful work of art. (And on the day that I’m composing this come reports that Panahi has been allowed to leave Iran for the first time in fourteen years.)

What I’m Drinking

Time to sing the praises of another book at which I got a sneak peek. Eddie Muller’s Noir Bar: Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir, available May 23, is a gorgeous volume, and I’d say that even if my name didn’t appear in it several times. Eddie—my friend, colleague, Turner Classic Movies host, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, and imbiber extraordinaire—spotlights fifty cocktails, some classic, some original, each one linked to a classic film noir. It’s written with Eddie’s usual erudition and verve and it’s beautifully laid out, making it a cocktail book you can actually read from cover to cover. I christened it with one of Eddie’s creations, the Sailor Beware, crafted to commemorate Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai (1948). As Eddie writes: “I felt it needed to be done in the true Wellesian spirit: something brash and startling, using ingredients rarely if ever combined, assembled in a totally unexpected way—and then I’d walk away before I finished making it.” (Time now for a gratuitous reminder that Orson is a recurring character in the novels of Renee Patrick.)

Sailor Beware

1 ¼ oz. Irish whiskey
¾ oz. brandy
½ oz. green chartreuse
½ oz. Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
absinthe rinse
lemon peel twist

Stir the first four ingredients, then let them rest in the mixing glass. Rinse a Nick and Nora glass with absinthe. Strain. Express the oil from a lemon peel over the surface, rub the peel on the rim of the glass, then place in the drink.

It’s a fine concoction. Raise one in honor of the Czar of Noir, who has not only joined the exalted ranks of Cecil B. DeMille, Tyler Perry, and Guy Ritchie in getting his name in the title with this book, but who will also be receiving a Raven award from the Mystery Writers of America tonight in recognition of his film preservation work.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Demented and Sad, but Social

Last week, the thought came to me unbidden: Holy shit, I have a Post account!

It’s true. Back when Twitter first went into convulsions, Post seemed the most viable alternative. I set up shop, made the rounds, then promptly forgot about it. I’ll probably forget about it again soon enough.

Yesterday I nosed around Notes, Substack’s answer to Twitter. Could this be the future of social media? I have to say, it looks pretty good. It underscored how many writers I follow are already on Substack. And it has me pondering questions I have long put off: should I start a Substack of my own? Would anybody read it?

Anyway, that’s our first topic this morning. Give us a call. Our lines are open.

What I’m Reading

Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears, by Michael Schulman (2023). I wrote a little about this book while disguised as Renee Patrick, mild-mannered crime novelist. (Subscribe to Renee’s occasional newsletter here.) Schulman, a New Yorker correspondent, analyzes the role that the Academy Awards have played during pivotal Hollywood moments. One of the best chapters reconsiders the 1989 ceremony, widely regarded as the worst Oscars ever. You know, the one featuring the opening number with Snow White and Rob Lowe, which is even longer than I remembered it being. (There was also a stupefying “Stars of Tomorrow” number, which is far worse.) Producer Allan Carr (Grease) bore the brunt of the nuclear-level negative reaction, which essentially ended his career. Schulman makes it plain that Carr, who had long dreamed of running the Oscars, sealed his fate by making the show partly about him. But he also highlights how much Carr got right, including several innovations that are now mainstays, and how tacky the telecast was before Carr got his hands on it. Although those two numbers are a lot to forgive.

Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess
, by Evan Drellich (2023). If you’re a baseball fan you’re already aware of this book, the definitive chronicle of the Houston Astros’ legacy of cheating, particularly during 2017 when the team won the World Series. (Recent admissions from then-Astros player Evan Gattis aren’t helping the bad blood go away, as any Yankee or Dodger fan will attest.) But I’d also recommend it as an incisive case study about how cultures are built, and how toxic ones can eat away at institutions that appear not only healthy but successful. It’s also about the financialization of every aspect of public life. One Astros player described the team’s mentality—perhaps best exemplified by owner Jim Crane bringing in McKinsey to improve operations, because playing nine innings is exactly like selling widgets—this way: “They just take the human element out of baseball. It’s hard to play for a GM who just sees you as a number instead of a person.” Another choice quote: “The closer I get to the world of the thirty owners, many of them are among the worst people in the world.” Testify, unnamed baseball executive. What makes it all harder to swallow is that the Astros never stopped winning. They’re baseball’s current defending champions—yet in true McKinsey fashion, they parted ways with the GM brought in specifically to right the ship after he’d won them a second title. Sometimes the bastards don’t lose. They don’t even learn.

What I’m Watching

Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb (2022). When I finished reading Caro’s The Power Broker last year, I posted a photograph to mark the occasion. Caro’s four-and-hopefully-five volume biography of LBJ awaits, and this engaging documentary about his life’s work and his enduring relationship with his editor Gottlieb (made by Lizzie Gottlieb, his daughter) has me eager to read them. I was struck by the deep modesty of both men, and by Gottlieb’s belief that having unexpected and intense interests—he collects plastic handbags and consults with ballet companies—contributes to his acuity and the longevity of his career. Above all, it’s a portrait of a genteel literary life out of a bygone era. Every day Caro dons a suit and tie to walk to his office, where he puts in the hours at a typewriter and backs up his work using carbon paper. All I could think as I watched him was Who still makes carbon paper?

What I’m Drinking

Talk to bartenders and you’ll hear tell of the Great Chartreuse Shortage of 2023. This week, a friend told me that in the Seattle area, the price for a bottle has hit three figures. Jason Wilson has a nice overview of chartreuse and what brought its recent scarcity about. I’ve been rationing my own supply, recently dipping into my stash to make a Diamondback after Punch called for this boozy beauty to make a comeback. It’s always been a staple at the Chez K bar—it’s included in my cocktail book Down the Hatch, which I just realized is coming up on its tenth anniversary—but I make it with green, not yellow chartreuse, the way bartending legend Murray Stenson taught me when he was behind the stick at the Zig Zag Café.

1 ½ oz. rye whiskey
¾ oz. bonded applejack
¾ oz. green chartreuse

Stir. Strain. No garnish.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Temperature Check

It’ll be a footnote when the definitive history of Covid-19 is written, but it’s worth pointing out: Rosemarie’s employer was one of the first—possibly the first—in the United States to mandate remote work when the pandemic started. Rosemarie borrowed a monitor from the office to use at home. For over two years, she’d set it up on our kitchen island every morning and take it down each evening, the ritual marking the parameters of the new workday. It was large enough to be inconvenient—on weekends, we had to move it to do laundry—but absolutely necessary.

On a Friday earlier this month, at the end of a week when Rosemarie was in the office for five straight days for the first time since March 2020, she announced, “I’m returning the monitor. I’m at work enough that I don’t need it anymore.” We toasted what felt like a milestone that night, a sign that the pandemic was finally, perhaps, in the rear-view mirror.

Forty-eight hours later, we were both down for the count. After three years of ducking, diving, and blind luck, Covid had caught up to us. We’re fully vaccinated—get your boosters, people—so our cases were mild, and we’re back in the pink now. But “mild” Covid still rendered us completely useless for over a week, with a protracted recovery after that.

We’re still glad Rosemarie returned the monitor.

What I’m Watching

Ice Station Zebra (1968). My main companion during my Covid haze was this year’s World Baseball Classic. I was so looped I hallucinated that Mets closer Edwin Díaz injured himself during a postgame celebration and was out for the season; can you imagine what a disaster that would be? I also watched this Alistair MacLean adaptation best remembered as Howard Hughes’s favorite movie. During his years holed up in Las Vegas, Hughes treated a local TV station he owned as a primitive DVR, calling them up and ordering them to air this film; in his autobiography My Way, Paul Anka wrote “any given week (Hughes) was in Vegas, you’d see Ice Station Zebra showing continually.” I recently recorded it, telling Rosemarie, “The next time I feel like Howard Hughes, I’m finally watching this thing.” Little did I know … A Navy submarine picks up some mysterious passengers before embarking on a secret Arctic mission to recover a downed Soviet satellite. I didn’t like the movie as much as Hughes—the second half lags, and its North Pole-adjacent sets look like the Christmas display windows at the third-best department store in town—but it’s still fun, with some excellent sub scenes and a typically canny Patrick McGoohan performance that includes this priceless bit of dialogue:

“The Russians put our camera made by our German scientists and your film made by your German scientists into their satellite made by their German scientists.”

Troll (2022). I can’t be the only person who has asked, “What would a Scandinavian kaiju flick be like?” Netflix has provided the answer. Every classic monster movie trope is here, delivered with reverence and fresh life by their framing in Norwegian folklore. The ending promises a sequel, and I want it.

Marlowe (2023). All the glassware is too big.

What I’m Reading

The Ferguson Affair, by Ross Macdonald (1960). You crave comfort in your sickbed. While I was sweaty and feverish, I thought, “What I’d really love right now is a new Lew Archer novel.” A few years ago, I heeded the advice of several critics and read Macdonald’s landmark private eye series in sequence, the better to appreciate his evolution from writer working in the Hammett/Chandler mold to one pushing the form into new terrain. After finishing those books, I moved on to the rest of Macdonald’s work, holding two novels in reserve. Covid drove me to break the glass on The Ferguson Affair, which turns out to be an Archer novel in all but name. He wrote it after his breakthrough, 1959’s The Galton Case; Tom Nolan noted in Ross Macdonald: A Biography that despite widespread critical acclaim and its significance in Macdonald’s career, Galton proved a commercial disappointment, forcing the author back to the typewriter because, as Macdonald put it in a letter, “I have to make some money writing this year.” (Always reassuring to read one of the best in the game hustling for a buck.) Ferguson unfolds in Macdonald’s signature Southern California setting and its protagonist, small-town lawyer Bill Gunnarson, is essentially Archer with a very pregnant wife and a budding career to bear in mind, a foundation that make him a bit less preachy than his shamus semblable. The plot, which starts with Gunnarson assigned to represent a stubborn nurse on a stolen property charge, eventually becomes classic Macdonald as the sins of the past wreak havoc on the present. Not up to the level of the best Archers—it goes a twist too far—but exactly what I wanted to read. Fingers crossed I’m not in as bad a shape when I finally reach for that last Macdonald.

What I’m Drinking

In my previous post, I sang the praises of blanc vermouth. Since then, I’ve incorporated it into my martinis, settling on what is now the Chez K default.

2 oz. gin
.5 oz dry vermouth
.25 oz blanc vermouth
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Side note: Whenever someone says “I’m famous for my martinis,” that means they don’t use vermouth. Which is fine. Just don’t call it a martini.

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.