Saturday, December 20, 2008
Favorite Christmas films in no particular order:
Die Hard- "Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
Lethal Weapon - "We're gonna get bloody on this one, Rog."
L.A. Confidential - Bloody Christmas
Donnie Brasco - The money-envelope exchange followed by a loan. So depressing.
Ice Harvest - "Last of the big spenders." "Do you have kids?" "No." "Then shut the fuck up."
Bad Santa - "I'M ON MY FUCKING LUNCH BREAK!!!"
The Shining - Always seemed like a Christmas movie to me.
The Empire Strikes Back - Because the first time I saw it was on t.v. Thanksgiving night... plus snow. Lots of snow.
Fellowship of the Ring - Totally works as a holiday movie if you substitute "credit card" for "ring". Powerful.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
At Close Range, the 1986 family/crime drama starring Sean Penn and Christopher Walken. I can't believe no one had shoved this film down my throat before, it's so friggin great. It's stuck in the '80s in a few ways, but the story and the performances stand up to time and watching the credits I saw something that made me smile - directed by James Foley. Foley's is one of those names that seems to slip in to my mind every couple years as an afterthought to an enjoyable film - as in - that wasn't bad, who directed it again? I've always assumed, perhaps unfairly, that he was a journeyman, a director for hire, a competent captain for somebody else's project, but looking back on his, (admittedly uneven), body of work, I'm impressed. So, a list.
The Corruptor - I remember 1993, seeing The Killer and Hardboiled and the A Better Tomorrow movies and thinking Chow Yun-Fat was absolutely the coolest gunslinger in cinema, (thank you George Pelecanos btw). Then he and John Woo got sucked into the Hollywood machine and started making "real" movies, (read - in English) and it went downhill pretty fast. But the first couple of get to know ya films Chow Yun-Fat made for Western audiences, The Replacement Killers, (get it?), and The Corruptor were not half-bad, the former, (helmed by Antoine Fuqua) was an attempt to indoctrinate Occidental audiences with the ultra-stylized Hong Kong brand of two-fisted bullet shucking, which Yun-Fat remains the ultimate icon of, and the latter was an attempt to form the icon of bullet ballets into a classic American hardboiled street cop with a rainbow of gray in his heart. And it worked alright. Gone were the uber-choreographed action pieces, replaced by grittier, nastier violence and uh, Mark Wahlberg, (at one of the higher points of his career).
Confidence The onslaught of heist/con-man pictures at the millenium's birth, driven by the success of Ocean's Eleven, hit benchmarks like Neil Jordan's remake of Bob le flambeur, (The Good Thief), and Johnathan Glazer's fever dream, Sexy Beast, but quickly played out into lazy games of cinematic gotcha fronted by leading men topheavy with dash and rounded out by a pretty smirk. So when trailers for Confidence started circulating, featuring Edward Burns, never looking more like Ben Affleck, as a con-man topheavy with dash and sporting a pretty smirk - (one that both co-stars Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman seem to be intent on kissing off), it looked like a colossal waste of time. But then I had a lot of time on my hands then, so I paid five bucks, (remember $5 movies?) and found myself entertained against my better judgement. First you gotta love the cast - the supporting cast, that is. Paul Giamatti, Robert Forster, Donal Logue, Luis Guzman, Louis Lombardi, the aforementioned Hoffman and Weisz and Andy Garcia. Then there's the script. It should have sucked - all that con slang spritzed about like perfume at a truck stop rendezvous, (Burns' character's name is Jake Vig for petessake). On the page it must've looked like Mametese for first-graders, but the delivery was (mostly) gold and it was just exactly the breezy brand of entertainment it aspired to be - the "what happened to my two hours? maybe I'll go again sometime." variety.
After Dark, My Sweet Jim Thompson's body of work ran the quality gamut, (when greatness and alcoholism collide) and so too have adaptations made of his books and short stories, (compare the film versions of The Grifters and This World and Then the Fireworks). After Dark, My Sweet hit the source material squarely in its dark, dark heart. Resisting the urge to make a self-conscious period piece decked out with fedoras and old school slang, Foley and co-screenwriter Robert Redlin, smartly contemporized the 1955 story without sacrificing an ounce of its ill-will. Jason Patric, desperate to grow out of pretty-boy roles, found a great vehicle to show off dramatic chops and he stumbles through the film as an escaped mental patient/ex-boxer who may or may not be as dumb as he looks, (an essential Thompson theme). And Rachel Ward finally got noir right, (after the comedic Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and the ill-advised Out of the Past update Against All Odds). Bruce Dern, is dead on in his ever creepy, deliciously malicious way as the mastermind of a kidnapping where everyone gets hurt and the day-glow back-drops make the tone even more sinister. It's headed to a bad bad place from frame one and you just can't wait to get there.
At Close Range Remember when Sean Penn was a heart-throb? Even his blond hair and muscles popping out of his tee-shirt can't distract you from the earnest intensity radiating out of him as Brad Whitewood Jr., a small town kid looking to prove himself to his suddenly present, outlaw father, (Christopher Walken before his cadence was a cliche and every blink a wink). He recruits his younger brother, (an excellent turn from the late Christopher Penn, who - as a possible bastard - is even more desperate), and friends, (including Crispin Glover and Kiefer Sutherland), bored with rural Pennslyvania summers into a gang of tractor thieves as an audition to join his dad's crew, (Tracey Walter, R.D. Call and David Strathairn to name a few). Brad Whitewood Sr. is a charmer and manipulator who plays with his sons' affections the same way he would a one night stand's. In one excruciating scene he pulls out his gun at a diner and places it on the table asking his boys if they'd like to have it. The younger Whitewood brother, Tommy, snatches it up and begins playing with it like a six year old who's just been given his father's fishing gear. Brad Sr. then takes it back and says "Well you can't. It's mine." The pain on Tommy's face is as naked as the amusement on his father's. Brad Jr. falls quickly for 16 year old Terry, (Mary Stuart Masterson) and joins his father's gang for some quick money that he can use to run away with his girlfriend, but gets into deeper and darker waters than he wanted to believe his father capable of swimming in. Based on the true story of Bruce Johnston Sr., it's a crime movie of perfect tone and scale.
Glengarry Glen Ross You've seen it right? What do I need to say? Career bests for... etc. etc. Perhaps when you have Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin and Johnathan Pryce stranded on a sound stage with a David Mamet play, you don't need a director. But, I've seen other movies made from Mamet plays and none come close to this one.
From now on if I see "directed by James Foley", I'm giving it a closer look.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Out of the Gutter magazine, "the modern journal of pulp fiction and degenerate literature" is back on newsstands now with issue #5, the "Revenge" edition. Lemme just get out of the way the fact that one of my own stories appears alongside filthy, filthy offerings from Charlie (Mafiya)Stella, Vicki Hendricks (have you read Miami Purity? - made me blush - seriously)and personal favs Greg Bardsley and Jordan Harper. Bardsley & Harper are apparently not just favorites of mine, (you can read their work in numerous on-line journals including Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Demolition, Storyglossia, Pulp Pusher... it goes on), they also won OOTG's two fiction contest categories, (judged BTW by pulp/noir stalwarts Victor Gun Monkeys Gischler and Anthony Neil Yellow Medicine Smith). The rest of the work, including A Crash Course in Chivalry - a comic by Henry R. Paine and Seth Ferranti's non-fiction piece - The Aryan Circle is worth your precious crapper-reading time any day. Can't find OOTG in your town? You can order issue 5 as well as back issues at http://outoftheguttermagazine.blogspot.com . Drop a line to Matt Louis and his editorial crew and let 'em know you appreciate their work.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The Coen Brothers said in their acceptance speech at last year's Oscars that perhaps their success with adaptations was due to their pickiness in material saying they'd only adapted Cormac McCarthy and Homer. But that didn't ring true to me. They've made no bones about their fondness for James M. Cain and the direct influence his writing had on The Man Who Wasn't There and I think some pretty interesting parallels could be drawn between Miller's Crossing and Cain's Love's Lovely Counterfeit, but I'm thinking of The Big Lebowski. "Ah" you'll say, but Lebowski was mere homage to Raymond Chandler, and there may be something to that, but it's not Chandler I'm referring to. In 1976 Newton Thornburg published an atomic sour-ball of a thriller called Cutter and Bone. Set in its own time, it depicted a post-Vietnam America succumbing to rot from all directions. At the center of the story is Richard Bone, a former husband and father, now California beach bum, societal dropout scraping by as a handyman gigolo. His best friend is Alex Cutter, a bitter, damaged Vietnam veteran who has sacrificed various parts of his body and crucial parts of his humanity for his country. Bone has a love/hate relationship with Cutter, who gives him a place to live in between sugar-mommas, but drives him and everyone else away with his scathing diatribes on culture and depravity and gleefully points out hypocrisy and moral shortcomings everywhere he sees them, especially in himself and his friends. One night Bone witnesses the body of a young girl being dumped in a trashcan and after telling the police he could not identify the dumper, makes the mistake of musing to Cutter the possibility that it was a wealthy businessman he saw do the dumping. And they're off. Bone wants to forget he said anything the minute it leaves his mouth. He just wants to get back to the easy dope haze he calls home, but Cutter will not let go and drags him into a wild investigation of "the man" who stands for everything wrong with the world that can't be pointed to in their own example. The book is strong, hard stuff and was made into the movie Cutter's Way in 1981. The film is pretty good on its own terms, but just can't pack the same punch delivered by the book. But get this, Jeff Bridges plays Bone in the movie. Watch Cutter's Way and The Big Lebowski back to back and try not to see the connections. Is Lebowski a sequel? Or a remake? I think it goes way beyond homage. The Dude and Walter are far less tragic than Bone and Cutter, but they carry the faint echo into the 1990's of the original 1970's scream. I don't think the Coens will ever comment on it, but the glazed smirk of Jeff Bridges' Lebowski says it all. A wink's the same as a nod, Dude. Perhaps Lebowski deserves an entirely new category, (though if O Brother Where Art Thou counts as a straight adaptation...). Can't wait to see what The Yiddish Policeman's Union becomes through their lense.
Friday, November 28, 2008
With trembling fingers, I loaded the vcr with the final episode of one of my favorite television shows ever. The Shield wrapped up its seven year run two weeks ago and I was a little late getting to the final episode. I kept putting it off wanting to savor it a bit, but eventually I tore into it around midnight one evening that I should have been catching up on some much needed sleep. Oh my. I didn't get any of that sleep I needed. The finale was so wrenching that it has haunted my dreams, not to mention my waking hours, since. I'm not big on cop shows, but 2008 saw the wrap up of two of the best ever, The Shield and The Wire both debuted in 2002and revitalized the television crime drama, but where The Wire was measured and methodical, The Shield was balls to the wall every time out, and that's a special special thing. Miss 'em both already, but I'm so glad they wrapped up on their own terms and weren't prematurally cancelled or just spun into eternity hashing over the same material till it was stale. Hope it goes well for all the talent involved with both shows, but I see great things to come from Walton Goggins, no problem. Anybody familiar with his turn as damned and doomed, (the difference is self-awareness)Shane Vendrell knows he can take dark dark shit and spin humanity and compassion from it. He's a partner in Ginny Mule productions along with the multi-talented Ray McKinnon, (Deadwood anyone?) and Lisa Blount, (Starman - she's also from Fayetteville, Arkansas where I spent some formative years). They've already won an academy award, for the short film The Accountant and put out a killer Southern gothic, Chrystal w/ Billy Bob Thornton. Walt and Ray have each got a piece of I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, based on the William Gay short story of the same name, starring and producing and if they're track record, (not to mention Gay's - holy cow) is worth anything, it should be a corker. Also look for Randy and The Mob, a Southern-fried comedy from the Ginny Mule team. Now we need some better projects for Dominic West.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
In the novel I am oh so close to wrapping up, I have settled on a crooked preacher for the villian. I really didn't want to include this character in the story until I realized he was the story and there was no way around it. I use the Preacher as Villian device hesitantly because it has become so overused, but then I think its become a cliche because it is such a strong device to begin with. So, I thought I'd compile a quick list of great preacher/villians.
5) John Lithgow as Rev. Moore in Footloose: You kids and yer rock n roll. You kids and yer dancing. Now it's illegal.
4) Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man: Oh we're just a hippie-dippie, tree hugging commune. We believe in classic pagan rituals and rites like flower children orgies and uh human sacrifice.
3) Harry Dean Stanton as Roman Grant on Big Love. The Prophet of the polygamus cult wooing fourteen year old girls and running some serious gangster operations in Utah. The intimidation is real. His followers may be simpletons, but they're armed to the teeth and he's not afraid to use them. The white stetson hat and white SUV convoy are iconic evil.
2)Robert Mitchum as Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter: A psychotic con man with a new schtick - reformed convict turned preacher. His knuckles branded with L-O-V-E & H-A-T-E, he bullys people with scripture quoting until he's got his way. Those who don't go for that kind of manipulation he can always kill.
1) Clancy Brown as Brother Justin on Carnivale: HBO's Old Testament epic set in Dust Bowl America featured possibly the most convuluted, intricate mythology on television, (take that Lost). Its no wonder it didn't last, but those who witnessed both seasons saw the transformation of Brother Justin from a simple preacher with a calling become evil incarnate, his eyes going black as he summoned demonic power. Whether he was making someone cough up gold coins, burning orphanages to the ground or singing hymns, he was forboding and impossible to not watch. Role of a lifetime for Mr. Brown.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Had such a great time Saturday night at the St. Louis International Film Festival - Eddie Muller event. He showed the restored print of The Prowler, which kicked tail. Thanks btw to Mr. Muller and James Ellroy, among others, for finding that rare print and paying for it's restoration and safe keeping. Good work. After Prowler, The Grand Inquisitor - Eddie's own short film, (which is apparently being overhauled into a feature - hope, hope), screened and then Eddie and Marsha Hunt took part in a panel on Noir and the Blacklist, moderated by Scott Phillips. Marsha had great first hand accounts of the time period from '47-through the fifties. Should I ever reach 91 years of age and can guarandamntee I will not be half as vital and full of fizz as Marsha. I had the opportunity to grab refreshing beverages with the panel afterward and was treated to further fantastic stories and diatribe from that classy dame. Do yourself a favor and check out The Prowler which is recently out on DVD and track down Raw Deal, (w/Marsha - not Arnold) and savor the flavor of a yesteryear so uncomfortably similiar to today.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
With John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road due to depress holiday shoppers soon and the "economic slowdown" looking like the top of a steep-ass slope, it seems the perfect time to pull out the works of the minor prophets and read or watch and learn a thing or two. I had the pleasure of reading Victor Gischler's satire, Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, recently and found myself having a grand old time vicariously watching the world burn down, (and struggle to right itself again). Dunno if his publishers are behind any of the financial meltdown going on, but it looks uncannily like the beginning of the end as recalled by protagonist Mortimer Tate, less a boom than a slowing and atrophic slide into chaos. As I read I pictured the book as a mini-series, (the same way Jonathan Lethem's fantastic Amnesia Moon - another great satiric road trip across post-disaster America - did) with each episode dedicated to fleshing out the perversions featured in a chapter. Honestly, each chapter feels like it's own book - there's just that much material thrown about. I couldn't picture a single two-hour movie doing it justice until I saw Neil Marshall's Doomsday - a kick ass mash-up of The Road Warrior and Escape from New York, with a little Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court thrown in for good measure. Have you seen it? Are you kidding me? Is there any reason this wasn't the blockbuster of the year? The spirit of John Carpenter is alive and well and living in Scotland. He's also made a kick-ass werewolf movie, (Dog Soldiers) and a sort of Deliverance meets Slumber Party Massacre, (except without the nudity or lesbian subtext, so maybe nothing like that at all), flick called The Descent. So, for the most dirgy holiday season in recent memory, I suggest adding a little mirth with these.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Found a mostly unfavorable review of Mosquito Kingdom on line this week @ http://wearemoviegeeks.com/2008/11/sliff-review-mosquito-kingdom/. That's fine, even movie geeks aren't required to like it. Hell, my parent's haven't even finished it, but one point kinda stuck in my craw. A lot of people have said more or less the same thing about it intending it as a favorable comment, but I think they're wrong too. Is the movie "Tarantinoesque"? I too remember the glut of pop-culture riffing/hitman/jewel thief movies that clogged up a lot of the video shelf space in the mid to late nineties and I saw a bunch of 'em. I even liked a few, but everything began to be credited to or blamed on QT like he'd invented criminals, pop music, violence, non-linear story telling and everything short of the medium itself. I want to go on record saying that I'm a fan of his, but didn't rip off Quentin Tarantino writing the script. I ripped off somebody else entirely. 10 points for anybody who nails it.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Mosquito Kingdom, my first produced screenplay will be playing November 23 at the St. Louis International Film Festival. It's a micro-budget noir with a wild guerilla story behind the making of. I'm tickled to death that it's featured the night after the Czar of Noir, himself, Eddie Muller, appears with his own film, The Grand Inquisitor, based on his short story of the same name from last year's fantastic, Megan Abbott edited Hell of a Woman anthology. Scott, The Ice Harvest, Phillips will be joining Eddie, as well as, blacklisted actress and star of The Grand Inquisitor, Marsha Hunt in a panel on Film Noir and the Black List Saturday Nov. 22, @ Webster University, a free event - part of the SLIFF. All in all, it's a great way to have our movie framed, on closing night of the festival to boot. Here's the only drawback, and it's a big one - screening at the exact same time as our little picture, in fact, about 30 feet away will be the new Darren Aronofsky/Mickey Rourke picture The Wrestler. I'm not sure which I want to go see, now. I suppose it'll have to be MK though, as I'm in the program as part of the Q&A to follow. I can just picture it now: Q - Why isn't there anyone here to see your film? (Cricket chirp), A - Next door the Pope of Greenwich Village is winning an oscar. Wanna read more about Mosquito Kingdom - http://www.riverfronttimes.com/2008-07-16/film/dark-night-this-kingdom-is-built-on-sneaky-filming-in-the-florida-keys/ - it's a nice piece. Or visit: http://www.filmneshui.com/
Ken Bruen is getting ready to go before cameras. Jude Law is attatched to star with Sophie Onderdo as Falls in an adaptation of Blitz. That Bruen is finally getting a big screen treatment is great news, but the casting of Law as Brant seems a stretch. It's not fair to prejudge the film or the performance, after all he's a gifted actor, but it's going to take quite a transformation for me to equate Jude Law's delicate bone structure with Tom Brant's bruising, psychotic cop. While I wish them the best and hope they deliver a kick ass film, I'm going to have to categorize the casting along with some legendary almost-was adaptations like Neil Diamond as Jack Ryan in Elmore Leonard's Unkonwn Man #89 or Warren Beatty as Sughrue in James Crumley's Last Good Kiss, until they show me the goods. Also in the works from the land of Bruen is London Boulevard, so best of luck to Ken and the film makers.