Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Format: TCM on DVR
People take a lot of liberties when adapting Raymond Chandler novels to screen. It's not a huge surprise. After all, Chandler's books are winding, complicated, and don't exactly make it easy to translate Marlowe's inner-monologue or exposition in a way that's easy to cram into 90 - 120 minutes and keep the audience with you. To this day, people complain The Big Sleep is "too complicated".
It's been a while since I read The Little Sister, I think the fifth Marlowe novel and the work upon which the studio based Marlowe (1969). Between reading several Chandler novels in a row at that time and years inbetween, not every detail of the plot had stuck with me, but impressions of various characters remained, and as the movie unspooled, it did provide me with a roadmap and certain expectations for the film that gave me a leg up vis-a-vis following the plot and keeping up. A glance at some contemporary reviews suggest that even Ebert and Siskel found it a bit muddled.
Still, the story sticks surprisingly close to the novel, updating some factors for 1969 that would have looked very different in the original setting of 1949. And, I'll argue, while people feel like they've got a grip on Chandler by way of reputation, in practice his novels tend to feel like a morass of detail until the denouement. That's part of the fun (and Hammett did same in books like The Thin Man).
Sunday, July 28, 2019
Format: Amazon Streaming
Viewing: Unknown. 6th or so.
I watched this while I was having my worst day of my cold and running a fever. I mostly remember clicking through options on Amazon and finally saying "ha. Madeline Kahn." And then I was watching Clue (1985) again.
A while back I watched this movie and actually didn't like it that time, except for some particular bits here and there, but on this viewing, I enjoyed it immensely (again. I used to quite like this movie.),
Anyway. Ha! Madeline Kahn!
Sunday, July 7, 2019
At long last, I read both The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback (1958), the last of Raymond Chandler's novels centered upon detective Philip Marlowe.
You'll note a lengthy dry spell between books here, and there's a precipitous drop-off between the two in depth and strength. It's curious as The Long Goodbye feels less like a detective novel and more like an author wrestling with himself, working through the point in his life where he'd enjoyed success and some fame and found neither amounted to much as he was still living with himself as an alcoholic, a writer of genre fiction, and now a widower.*
Friday, June 7, 2019
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
I know it seems like I heap praise on every single noir that comes along, but I'm usually trying to find some good in the film or a reason it was included in Eddie Muller's Noir Alley line-up.
Muller himself warned us up front that Dead Reckoning (1947) wasn't going to shake the Earth, and in practice - the movie has a wide variety of components that, if I were to tell you "it stars so-and-so, it has this and that plot element, it has a unique location" you'd be nodding and getting noir-jazzed for the movie. But, in execution... the movie just feels like a lesser picture almost immediately, and it just never manages to catch fire.
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Format: Noir Alley on TCM on DVR
Viewing: 7th? Unknown
I know I throw a lot of soft recommendations around, saying "oh, you might like this" or "it's worth catching", but The Asphalt Jungle (1950) was one of those hit-me-like-lightning movies the first time I watched it, and, in a lot of ways, I've been chasing that same high ever since. That viewing was way back in college from a rented tape on a 20" TV, and I've seen and owned various copies of the film ever since. Frankly, when I just looked up the movie on this blog, I assumed I'd written it up 3 or 4 times, but, instead, I'm just finding mentions of it tucked into other posts. So, it's been a while.
In some ways, in 2019 there's little new in The Asphalt Jungle - the film is one of those that reset the path for heist movies and created the template from which heist movies would flow from then til now. But for a movie popping up just a few years after World War II, and because of the influence, it feels shockingly modern (especially for modern TV more than movies, which are largely toothless in comparison these days). It's 3/5ths getting to and getting through the heist, and 2/5ths things going wrong and the fallout as our ensemble tries to sort out the mess they're in.
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Format: Noir City Austin at Alamo Ritz
Viewing: First for both
Decade: 1940's/ 1950's
Eddie Muller is back in Bat City for Noir City Austin, our annual showing of films I'd never find on my own, and always can't believe the gold Muller is able to surface. Muller isn't just host of TCM's Noir Alley weekly dose of crime, implied sex and moral gray areas - he's also head of the Film Noir Foundation. Proceeds from the festival and merch sales go back to the FNF, who, in turn use the money to rescue films from obscurity and eventual loss.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Format: Kino Lorber BluRay
Simon and Ryan delve into Film Noir via Neo-Noir, Altman-directed entry "The Long Goodbye" (1973), an oddball of a film with a lot to offer. We explore the role of Philip Marlowe in the world of fiction, some of the mechanics of noir, and whether or not any of this actually works as a movie.
The Long Goodbye - Music by John Williams/ Lyrics by Johnny Mercer/ performed by Jack Sheldon
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Saturday, December 15, 2018
Format: Big screen at Austin Film Society
Viewing: unknown. Fifth?
I'm not actually going to write up this movie. You should watch it. And behold Bacall. I need to re-read the novel. It's been a long time.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
On Monday around 3:07 Pacific Time (I was flying back from Berkeley, CA), I finished the final Parker novel by Richard Stark, Dirty Money (2008).
It's a hell of a thing to say I read all 24 Parker books, plus the four Grofield spin-off novels. That's certainly a first for me, when it comes to books. Back in the 1990's, I read about five or six books with a tight continuity by William Kennedy, and I've read a lot of Hammett's "Continental Op" short stories - but 28 books by one person feels like a lot, airplane reading though they were.
Dirty Money doesn't conclude the series except for the fact that Donald Westlake (Stark's real name) passed on December 31, 2008 without producing any additional Parker novels. Parker doesn't die, doesn't go to jail, doesn't give up on crime to have 3.5 kids and become a manager at Hardee's. Butcher's Moon, the 1974 near-conclusion of the Parker series, also didn't feel quite like a finale, although the bodycount in the novel certainly had the sort of thing you didn't imagine Stark wanting to top. But it did make for a satisfying conclusion of sorts.
Fortunately, so, too does Dirty Money make for a fantastic conclusion to the 90's-00's Parker rebirth. The story ties together the plots of the two prior books into one continuous novel of sorts, refusing to gloss over the complications that I had, as a reader, half forgiven Stark for, thinking he had maybe written the other too quickly, hadn't really paid the same attention to detail he once did in that 1960's-70's heyday that produced the first ten novels of the series.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Ask The Parrot (2006) is the penultimate Parker novel. Frankly, I'd been dreading hitting this book based on the title alone, which sounded like one of those caper novels that would get turned into a movie with Dennis Farina that was funny, but not *that* funny, and mostly forgettable.
It's a strange, small book, playing well to several of Stark's strengths and his interest in exploring multiple characters and POV's in a single book. He sticks with the winning formula, maintaining a limited omniscient narrator's voice but using the 3rd section of the book to jump from person to person in the situation, setting up what would happen in the explosive fourth portion of the novel when everything comes together to fall apart.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
Sunday, December 11, 2016
We were asked to review Cry of the City (1948) by NathanC over at Texas Public Radio.
Click on over there and read my review and Nathan's review of Boomerang (which I've never seen, but now I want to). A thousand thank-you's to Nathan. I had a great time watching the film (which I really, really liked. But I also think Mature and Conte are Mitchum cool.), and it was a great pleasure getting to contribute to TPR.org.
I'll post a draft of the review here in the future, but for now, please do click over to TPR.org
Monday, October 3, 2016
This was the Parker novel I accidentally skipped when I grabbed Nobody Runs Forever off the shelf and plowed through that one. While I was more than able to follow Nobody Runs Forever - the books are episodic enough that you can tell Stark never counted on anyone having had read the other books, let alone in order - thematically, this book points toward Parker's state in life, and maybe something author Richard Stark realized was far more inevitable in the early 00's than in 1962 when Parker first walked across a bridge into New York. By 2002, technology had made heisting far harder, the work of cops far more efficient, and the likelihood of escape from a high-profile job that much harder to swallow for the general public.
So, Breakout (2002), is less about a heist and, instead, about Parker getting caught by the law and the difficulties of extracting himself from the situation as complication after complication rears up. You can almost see how Stark/Westlake might have wanted to use the concept for comedic purposes - the almost insane domino effect of getting compromised within first two or three pages, with nothing following going particularly well. The premise could make for a trials of Job situation or it was going to make for a white-knuckle thriller and Stark chose the latter.
Friday, September 23, 2016
I'd been wanting to see The Split (1968) for a while. Based upon one of my favorite Parker novels, The Seventh, it also starred Jim Brown, pro-football superstar turned movie star (and a generally much better presence on the big screen than you generally get out of other former athletes*). I wasn't aware of the pedigree of the cast for this movie which is all but forgotten. But when you have a movie with Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Julie Harris, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, Gene Hackman, Diahann Carroll... and people don't remember it?
Well, it's not a great sign.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
My mistake - packing for our Seattle trip, I just reached onto my shelf and grabbed this book without checking the reading order. So, after reading 24 of the Parker/ Grofield novels, I finally accidentally read one out of order.
Mostly with Parker novels, it doesn't matter, they're self-contained. But of course, after 24 of these things (if you count both Parker and Grofield books, and I do), this one ends on a cliffhanger. I kind of want to know what happens next rather than go back and read Breakout, the one I accidentally skipped. So, we'll see.
But we're here to talk Nobody Runs Forever, the 2004 Parker novel by Richard Stark.
Of the post-hiatus Parker novels, this one has Parker feeling, perhaps, the most like Parker again, even if much of what occurs around Parker feels less like an old-school Parker strategy session and execution of a heist and, instead, Stark spends his page count and energies on exploring the cast of misfits around the heist, seeming to want to explore new characters he introduces, possibly for a spin-off series.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
For years I've been aware there's a movie called Danger: Diabolik (1968), but I didn't know much about it. You'd see references to it in comics and hear film buffs mention, but details were scant. The movie is based on some Italian comics I've never actually seen in the wild, and of a genre that's never really managed to cross over the Atlantic and with which I've barely any awareness - a sort of super-criminal fantasy.
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is currently running a series their calling "Super Krime", which is a series about "super criminals", ranging from the silent era to the modern era, with some Bond tucked in there. If you're going to do a series about "super criminals", there's hardly a better fit than Danger Diabolik. The movie is entirely about a master thief and robber, a sort of dark-mirror Batman. He's a brilliant, quiet mastermind with a subterranean hide-away where he plans his heists and makes time with his Robin, who - in this case is a sexy blonde who knows how to wear go-go boots.
Thursday, August 4, 2016
After two great movies in a row, the third installment of the Thin Man series, Another Thin Man (1939) feels like a project that just didn't gel as well as it could have.
I recently completed reading The Return of the Thin Man, which is less a book and more the lost story-treatments and scripts that Dashiell Hammett worked on during his tenure in Hollywood and some editorial/ historical notes about what was going on with Hammett in relation to the work. Frankly, you're probably better off just watching the two movies it covers - After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man, but completionists will find the book worth checking out.
The gist of the notes about this third movie indicate that not only was Hammett sort of done with Nick and Nora before he even started work on the movie, the credited screenwriters, Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett - who had worked with Hammett on the two prior films - were also ready to call it a day.
All in all, the film does work. Let's not call it a troubled film. But the alchemy that caught everyone's attention in the original that semi-carried over to the sequel, is fizzling a smidge by this installment.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
In the 1990's, for reasons that involve a lot of co-option of black culture by suburban white kids, and waffling between irony, genuine appreciation and I think a sincere love for the score - young white America somehow became invested in the 1971 film that was considered one of the best films to come out of the blaxploitation movement, Shaft.
Context free, a lot of us cracker kids watched I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka on VHS or HBO, maybe understanding that this was riffing on movies of a prior era, but I hadn't seen them, nor had my peers. I think the closest I got to taking in any blaxploitation film until the early 90's was tuning into Super Fly one night as a kid in middle school, believing from the title that it was a superhero movie I'd somehow missed. If anything, I got a clue as to what the spoof movie had been on about via reruns of TV shows that lifted from blaxploitation, but I confess to being mostly ignorant of the genre until maybe 1992 or when I got to college.
Kids hipper to a wider variety of music than what I listened to picked up pop-culture references as 80's and 90's hip-hop name-dropped and sampled from 70's actioners and that bled over to other genres of dance music. The curious kids picked up some of those movies to rent and saw a lot of stuff I didn't catch until others got me to take a look or I heard about it word of mouth (the internet was just Star Trek fan pages and lo-fi porn then, you see). Other kids who had gotten into soul and funk music tracked down Isaac Hayes and wanted to actually see Shaft. I do know that by the time I left high school, I was at least aware of who Hayes was, but that was about it. Had maybe heard of Shaft, but this was also an era in which your local Blockbuster likely didn't carry movies that were older than 7 or 8 years from the theater.
As a good, sorta-hip white kid of the 1990's, I caught Shaft at some point during film school. I don't remember if it was before or after a unit on blaxploitation as a genre and my first exposure to Pam Grier (something a young man never forgets).
The funny thing is - watching it this last weekend, I didn't really remember Shaft all that well. Once the one guy gets tossed out the window, I couldn't really piece together what the plot had been, just snippets here and there. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find out - Shaft is actually a strong private detective story in a classic pulp-crime style (deeply appealing to this viewer), with a fascinating protagonist who is literally not playing by anyone else's rules - if'n you should ever want to see what that actually looks like, you with your anti-heroes.
And, of course, Shaft is a Black superhero who cuts through white culture through the sheer power of not giving a good goddamn.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
While I'm glad that Stark came back to try Parker again in the 90's, and then, with this novel released around 2001 (and a few more afterward), there's no question that the tone had changed. The first two books back were nearly comedies. Firebreak (2001), has moments of delving back into the Parker of The Green Eagle Score, and, especially, The Sour Lemon Score, but Stark was no longer able to tap into near nihilism that drove the first third of the series again until Slayground and Butcher's Moon.
Here, you can feel Stark doing some hand waving as he deals with the fact that the world of heists has changed since Parker was pulling armored car heists and knocking over rare coin shows. By 2000, security systems were everywhere, surveillance was commonplace, and the internet was still called "The Information Superhighway" by dopey newscasters.
Stark wants to deal with these modern touches, but when he does, it's half-satisfying. Every once in a while he states how something works, and you want to say "well, no... Not even in 2001.". And he's saddled the heisters with a character he's concocted to bridge the books into this new age of technology (which was already well underway when this book was released).
Sunday, May 29, 2016
The Little Sister (1949) is the fifth Raymond Chandler novel starring Phillip Marlowe, the detective character made most famous in The Big Sleep. Clearly written after Chandler's stint in Hollywood (he would team with Billy Wilder during the writing of Double Indemnity), Marlowe's time in LA finally gets him crosswise with Hollywood machinations and mob ties.
A fairly prissy but possibly pretty young woman with the unlikely name Orfamay Quest from Manhattan, Kansas appears at Marlowe's office. She's seeking her brother, Orrin, who has been in LA for a while, but seems to have disappeared. Taking Midwestern thriftiness to extremes, she hires Marlowe at half-price (also, because Marlowe is bored and has no other clients that day) and it soon becomes clear the touchy Orrin may have been in deep into something shady, and, because it's a Chandler mystery, deadly.