Saturday, October 30, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 43 - 10 Rules for Writing

I saw this book on the shelf and just couldn't wait to get my hands on it.  I picked it up, almost took it to the register without cracking it open, and for some reason, thought better of it.  It was a nice little hardcover, but a bit on the light side.  Better to be safe than sorry.

It ended up going back to where it came from.

Disappointment might not be a strong enough word.

Don't get me wrong.  The advice offered by Mr. Leonard is rather generic, but good.  If I hadn't already read a million How-To books it might have been helpful.  But after Story, On Writing, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit and a few other gems, it just felt like it wasn't enough to justify the $14.95 price tag. Seriously, I could post the entire content on this site and it would just seem like an overly long post.

However, if you get the chance, read the darn thing.  Like I said, it's helpful, almost like quick reminders instead of a long lecture.  Certainly concise.  And Joe Ciardiello's illustrations are very good.

But not good enough.  To this day I wouldn't own a copy if I hadn't found it in the Dollar Tree.  That's right, a dollar store. It nearly broke my heart to see his work beside copies of unreadable crap, and I ended up purchasing both copies on the shelf.  They just didn't deserve to be there.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 43 - 52 Pick Up

If John Frankheimer, Roy Scheider, Ann-Margret, John Glover, a couple of porn stars, and a screenplay from Elmore Leonard cannot make a good adaptation, then really, even though it is the end of the month, I give up.  Surely a good film (not counting the westerns) must have been made before Get Shorty.

Help me 52 Pick Up, you are my only hope.

Harry Mitchell is an L.A. manufacturer who holds a couple of patents and a contract with NASA.  His attractive wife is running for city council, and his mistress is a pretty sexy lady.  He's doing well for himself.  Only some blackmailers, they have evidence of his indiscretions, and Harry knows a story like that can ruin his wife's chances of being elected.  He could go to the police.  He could pay the $100,000.  Instead, he doesn't do any of that.  The stakes get upped, and things go south.

Not only is it an underrated gem of a flick, it made me rethink the way a Leonard book can be filmed.  Up to this point, the only adaptations I have enjoyed had that slick feeling, the humor, with just breaks of violence.  Frankenheimer tosses that right out the window and made a movie that feels like it came from the 70's. Dark,  gritty, sleazy.  And I love it.

There were some great choices made in making this film.  I've read that Leonard based the novel in Detroit, but moving it to Los Angeles was a stroke of genius.  This is how I imagine the City of Angels to be, nothing but porn, booze, and corruption.  Traditional LA locales are ignored, with this film spending most of it's time in shitty apartments, peep shows, adult theaters, and factories.  Frankenheimer uses these settings as props, and fills them with an overabundance of naked people.  If I had discovered this movie when I was 12 it would have become a favorite.

But the real thrill of this film is the casting.  Roy Scheider is always reliable, but he is so good in this.  He's convincing as the poor sap who just wanted to have sex with a younger woman and is desperately trying to get out of the hole he dug.  But when he needs to take the offensive, he is surprisingly bad ass.

I've also realized for me to really enjoy a Leonard adaptation, the "bad guys" need to be captivating, and the casting director chose the roles of Alan Raimy, Leo Franks, and Bobby Shy perfectly.  As the weak link, Robert Trebor plays him just spineless enough.  He's a good talker, so it's easy to see how he ended up on the crew, and how he was the first one deemed unnecessary.  Clarence Williams III, a fellow I've always found a bit spooky has that quality magnified as Bobby Shy.  Behind those sunglasses and mop top hair is a hard man.

The real revelation though is John Glover as Raimy.  He's charming, handsome, and undeniably disturbing.  His performance was in danger of going over the top a few times, but I don't feel he went over the precipice.  He's smart, but not smart enough, and like most Leonard "villains," his hubris is his own undoing.

52 Pick Up doesn't quite make it into the top tier of Dutch's films, but it fairs better than just about every other movie I watched this month.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Long Con Week 43 - Maixmum Bob

Hard-ass Palm Beach County judge Bob Isom Gibbs enjoys sending even petty offenders away to do hard time - which has made the list of miscreants who want him dead longer than a fully grown Florida gator's tail.  And a good number of his ill-wishers are probation officer Kathy Baker's clients, including young Dale Crowe and his psycho uncle Elvin.  Now, Kathy's got an even more daunting task than keeping BIG's horny hands off her:  keeping "Maximum Bob" alive.  Because Gibb's many enemies seem to be willing to go to any lengths - be it death by amphibian or some more tried-and-true method - to  permanently and the career of an oversexed, racist jurist who's more interested in scoring than saving his own red neck.

I hate to say this, but despite all the interesting characters I encountered, I felt let down by the time I finished this book.  Of the titles I read this month, Maximum Bob was the one that took me the longest to finish.  And itt's not that a week is a terribly long time to read a book, but I can finish most Leonard books in just a few days, blazing through the chapters unable to stop turning the pages.  Not the case here, as most of the chapters dragged along.

I blame Bob.

For a book titled Maximum Bob, I sure don't feel like I got enough of him, maybe "medium amount" Bob.  To me, that is the major flaw, not giving the most interesting character enough page time.  The supporting cast is okay, with Kathy Baker being the lone stand out.  She's another tough as nails Leonard female, and her back and forth with the slime ball men that inhabit this book is fantastic. She can certainly hold her own.  I really wanted to like Elvin as "the villain" but most of the time he just bored me.  He talked a good game, but for most of the book that's all he did.  He, like just about everyone else, was the opening act I sat through waiting for the star to take the stage.

It's clear the moment he is introduced that Bob Gibbs is the headliner, the show stopper.   He is one hell of a character, and if it was 300+ pages of just him ranting and lecturing, you wouldn't hear a peep from me.  This guy's unabashed sexism, racism and just about every other "ism" is captivating.

He doused their glasses with bourbon and took a good sip of his, beginning to believe he might have to strangle this girl if he couldn't get her drunk.  Maybe this wasn't a good time to be thinking of romance.

At a party I would avoid him like a plague (much like Kathy tries) but on the page he is magnetic.  Without him, the book just treads water.  An average Leonard outing, despite the excellent use of alligators.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Western Wednesday Week 43 - Valdez is Coming

From the trailer, it appeared that Valdez is Coming is a revenge flick.  However, within a few minutes of the film's start, it was
obvious this film was going to be something more.

The movie begins with a bunch of men shooting at a shack.  Mr Tanner (John Cypher) recognized the man there, and swears he's a killer.  Valdez isn't so convinced, so he makes his way down to talk to the target.  His caution is warranted, as it is a case of mistaken identity.  As Valdez (Burt Lancaster) goes to get his discharge papers, one of Tanner's goons fires, causing another shoot out.  This time, it is Valdez's bullet which finds the target.

And yes, it was the wrong man.

Valdez hopes for a little justice.  The man left behind a pregnant wife, and it's his hope that the townsfolk will chip in to help out.  Not much luck with that.  The man he killed was African-American, the pregnant wife, Native American, and Valdez himself is Mexican-American, with the wealthy rancher being as white as they come.  And the racism isn't just hinted at, it's out in the open, with some surprising racial slurs being tossed about.  It's a rather uncompromising example of the racism that I'm sure existed, but was usually glossed over.

Valdez presses the matter with Tanner, pleading for his financial help in doing the right thing.  All it gets him is tied up like a scarecrow and sent on his way into the desert.  This is where the classic revenge motif kicks in, as Valdez guns for Tanner and his men, with the message "Valdez is Coming" sent as a warning.

What follows is lots of good old fashion Western gunfights directed with surprising skill by rookie director Edwin Sherin (who went on to direct episodes of Homicide and Law & Order, which he also produced), with lots of blood and steel.

Despite all the soaked Earth, this is still a movie about honor.  Valdez only does what he does in hopes of securing $100 for the widow.  He gives Tanner ample opportunities to present the money, and only kills because it is necessary.  Even his kidnapping of Gay Erin (Susan Clark), Tanner's woman, is only meant to draw him out.  While Valdez represents honor, Tanner and his men will sink as low as possible to kill him, making it quite easy to route for one over the other.

Valdez is Coming is a tight, tense, ninety minute quality film.  As I mentioned, the direction is excellent, and the performances, especially of the two leads, are believable and captivating.  There isn't really a week spot in the film, despite all the misgivings about the open ended finale.  I won't give it away, but I thought it was just another brave choice in a film that made many.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Short Con Week 43 - When the Women Come Out To Dance

People tend to ignore the maid, especially in fiction.  On television, they are usually reduced to background characters, identified only by their uniform or prop.  Even when they are a prominent character, possibly the main, their status as a maid is underplayed or overshadowed by their attitude.

Where is their day in the sun?  If "the butler did it!" can become commonplace, why can't the maid?  Surely maids can be malicious?  They can't all be meek and subservient as fiction often makes them out to be

Elmore Leonard knows how to take advantage of our preconceived notions and misconceptions.

Lourdes seems a rather quiet, dutiful woman.  She came to South Florida as a mail order bride from Columbia.  Her marriage lasted for two years, until Mr. Zimmer met and untimely, cement related death.   She recently became employed as the personal maid to Mrs. Mahmood, formerly Ginger the stripper.  Ginger hit the jackpot when she married a Pakistani plastic surgeon who decided it would be better for her to shop and lounge about his house instead of work the pole.

But for Ginger, the easy life isn't enough.  She knows Mr. Mahmood has another girlfriend, and she's afraid she's going to be burned with acid or something equally horrible.  According to her, these things happen where he came from.  It certainly doesn't help that his former wife died in a fire.  So instead of taking a chance at becoming kindling, she's going to bump him off first.

And if the rumors are true, Lourdes might just be the person to help her.  For $30000, will she get what she wants?  Remember what they say about getting your wish.  You will never look at a woman in a maids outfit the same way again, and I'd bet you will leave a better tip next time you stay at a hotel.

Monday, October 25, 2010

45 Minutes Week 43 - Who Deserves a Show?

Today's post was meant to be another review of the rest of Justified, Season One, but I felt I'd just be beating the dead horse.  The show started out good, continued to be so.

Instead, I think we should talk about what other Leonard characters deserve their own show.  I'm going to post a poll up in the upper right hand corner until the end of the month.  Come Halloween, hopefully we'll have enough votes cast to actually mean something.  Honestly, I'd be happy with six votes.

I've got a few contenders of my own, but since I haven't read every read Elmore Leonard novel, I'll obviously miss a few great choices.  Feel free to comment on your own choice.  I'll gladly add it to the poll.

Here are my choices.

1. Max Cherry from Rum Punch
2. Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara from The Switch and Rum Punch
3. Bo Catlett from Get Shorty
4. Richie Nix from Killshot
5. Raymond Cruz from City Primeval
6. Carl Webster from The Hot Kid and Up in Honey's Room
7. Alan Raimy from 52 Pickup

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 42 - Cat Chaser

A Miami hotel owner finds danger when be becomes romantically involved with the wife of a deposed general from the Dominican Republic where he fought many years back.

Dear God, what have I gotten myself into this time.  This is what I thought a mere two minutes into Cat Chaser.  Not sure if it was the voice over, the horrible synthesizer score, or the monotone delivery of Peter Weller, but almost immediately I knew this film was going to be terrible.  And why on Earth is Reni Santoni narrating the film?

Is there any wonder that Abel Ferrara disavowed this film, supposedly after it was taken away from him and re-edited?  Nothing about this film shows his involvement.

I'm a fan of Peter Weller.  He was good in Robocop and his performance in Naked Lunch was pitch perfect, but he is woefully miscast here.  If I could use one word to describe Leonard's characters, it would be energetic.  That doesn't mean they are bouncing of the damn walls, but there is either energy in their voice, actions, or even eyes, but Weller is just so blank.   That voice that worked so well as Bill Lee just puts me to sleep here.

And he's not the only acting problem.  Frederic Forrest has long been an actor that intrigues me.  Sometimes he's amazing, other times he's shit.  He's neither here.  He just is.  And Kelly McGillis?  What the hell happened to her hair? Not good blonde. I realize that's nit-picky, but it was terribly distracting from her dull acting.  At least Charles Durning was in the film.  Him I like. Every scene he happens to be in is elevated.

I see the pattern now though.  Whenever an adaptation fails, it almost always gets the tone wrong.  Far too much time trying to be serious.

So what was there to like about this movie.  The locations look authentic, even if Puerto Rico is substituting for the Dominican Republic.  And the archival footage was good.  Man, that's some faint praise, but it's all I got.

On the bright side, even after knowing that his books would be adapted into films like this, Elmore Leonard continued to write.  For that, he is a literary hero.

If you need to see the trailer, it can be found here. Not even YouTube wanted anything to do with this movie.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Long Con Week 42 - Riding the Rap

I don't read Elmore Leonard's books for the plots, and I'd be surprised if anyone did.  Not that they are terrible, or poorly thought out, quite the opposite.  But after the first few chapters, they become secondary, if not tertiary to everything else.

Based on the past two reviews I've done, Pronto and City Primeval, it's hopefully obvious that I read Leonard for where the characters are, not where they are meant to be going.  It's all about the now, both with my reading experience and the people who populate his fiction.  Any long term plans, despite the thoroughness (which is usually lacking) and expectations (unusually high), often go out the window within a few chapters.  His characters might expect all their best laid plans to come to fruition, but I certainly don't.  That's fine.  I'm not hoping for the happy endings these guys think they deserve.  I'm along for the ride.

So if I'm not reading for the plots, does that make them unimportant?  I certainly don't want to dismiss them, after all, how would his creations get from point A to point B (with many stops in between) without them.  Without a plot, how else would I describe Riding the Rap to my friends?  I'll let Raylan do it.

Ganz owes Harry a lot of money.  Harry sends Bobby Deo to collect.  Bobby tells Harry to meet him, he has the money, but he doesn't show up.  Instead, Harry happens to run in to Dawn Navarro who, it turns out, happens to know Warren Ganz - from when he was a suspect in a homicide and she touched him.  Harry disappears, and now Bobby Deo, ex-con, former bounty hunter, is hanging out at Ganz's house with a guy name Louis Lewis - however you spell it, check him out - while Ganz happens to be somewhere in the keys.

There you go.  That's most of the necessary information you need in one easily digestible paragraph.  Sure, it seems a little simple, but it's what's needed to push the characters into (in)action.    Wild, intricate plots have their place in fiction, and in cases like The DaVinci Code, it's all they have going for them.  But I hate that book.  Put the characters through all the "cool, mysterious" shit you want, but in the end, if I hate them and the pedestrian way the book is written, I'm going to put it down and never pick it up again.  Based on the jacket copy I gave Dan Brown a chance.  I have no doubt I'll never pick up another of his books again.

So plot isn't everything.

Leonard's books have enough plot to write the jacket copy, but they are loose enough to let his characters live without having to follow a set structure.  It allows an "anything can happen" feeling to emerge in this reader, and I like that.  People can die, plans can get shot to hell, and people that have the tiniest parts might just have enough to them to make a difference in this book and show up again in another.  (Hint: Dawn's story isn't done.)    Hell, after two books, a short story, and a television show, Marshal Raylan Givens is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters, which is a credit to the material because in both Pronto and Riding the Rap he isn't exactly the main character.  Which brings up another discussion point I won't get into now, but do Leonard's books even have main characters?

So...the book.  While not the best, it was an excellent follow-up to Pronto, and established Raylan as a character to watch. And even average Elmore Leonard is better than most.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Western Wednesday Week 42 - More Movies

Since I've only got a one more week, and can't review each of them, here are the trailers.

3:10 To Yuma (both versions)

The Tall T (Based on The Captives)

Joe Kidd (his screenplay)

Last Stand at Saber River

A television movie with Tom Selleck, Suzy Amis, and both David and Keith Carradine.  I cannot find a trailer for this, but it's a Elmore Leonard western starring Tom Selleck.  Thats the reason for seeing it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Short Con Week 42 - Karen Makes Out

Am I the only one who cannot get enough of this woman?

Something about her character that just draws me in, no matter who portrays her.  Could it have been my initial exposure to her that formed such a favorable opinion, in Steven Soderburgh's impossibly sexy adaptation of Out of Sight?  It's the only film, besides U-Turn, that I've been able to stomach the artist formerly knows as J-Lo.  Or how about yesterday's subject, the short lived ABC series Karen Sisco.  Carla Gugino was certainly no slouch in the looks department.  Am I only interested in her because she's usually played by very attractive women?

Not at all.

It's her attitude and the way she carries herself, and this all stems from the written word.  She could easily come off as a Michelle Rodriguez stereotype; tough, over-bearing, and slightly annoying.  I don't need the snarls and tough comebacks to know she can handle herself.  Sure, Michelle Rodriguez could kick my ass, and I'd be okay with that, but not her attitude.  Karen, on the other hand, is confident.  She doesn't need to tell you she's going to whip you, she just does, and probably while wearing some sharp clothes.  And if she happens to have a gun in her purse, that's not going to stop her from having a good time.

But what if that new guy she's dating, the one she really likes, just happens to be a bank robber?  For one, she's not going to believe it without proof, and if it's true, it's not a question of whether or not she'll arrest him, but how quickly she can make him squeal.

And that's the strength of her character, the reason I love to read about her.  It's easy to underestimate her, even harder to say no to her.  However, she has no problem busting your ass, and putting a bullet in it as well.  She's just stronger than we are.

Monday, October 18, 2010

45 Minutes Week 42 - Karen Sisco

"They" say the harder you try to remember something, the easier it is to forget.  Should we assume that nugget to be true, then an argument can be made for the inverse assumption.  Try to forget, and it just burrows itself in deep.

So I try to forget a few things before watching Karen Sisco.  I drive every thought concerning Out of Sight, well, out of my head.  The skill with which it was made, the pitch perfect script, assured direction, and spot on casting.  (Hell, the movie made me forget how much I dislike JLo as an "actress.")  To judge this show against the film would be unfair.

I forget that I just read "Karen Makes Out" (reviewed tomorrow!), the short story which most of the first episode, Blown Away, is based on.

I'm trying to forget far too much.  Karen Sisco has so many expectations, that even moments before I cue up the show, I'm sure it will fail.  Nothing short of an amazing episode is going to be a let down.

Perhaps the executive who gave this show the untimely axe tries to forget?  At the very least, ABC has developed as severe case of Alzheimer's, because Karen Sisco deserves to be on DVD.  Actually, that's not enough.  This show should still be on the air.  Also, in case you are wondering, I've already forgotten what nefarious internet source I retrieved this episode from.

I'm not going to get into the plot synopsis, but if you've read the short, you know most of the story.  (If not, check back tomorrow)  However, the script writer, not content with just that, also added in some flashbacks from a previous case that Karen is having some issues remembering, as well has her father trying to nail an insurance scam.  Both additions strengthened the story and allowed for additional characterization.

Characters are introduced and relationships developed, not need for exposition or previous knowledge of the source material.  It's a tough feet, and writer Bob Brush and director Michael Dinner nail it.  Carla Gugino is far better in the title role than Jennifer Lopez was on her best day, and as much as I loved Dennis Farino as her father in the film, Robert Forrester was an excellent choice for a replacement.  And who is that as her boss?  Holy Hell it's Bill Duke!  Where has that guy been?  If the man can stand toe to toe with a Predator and Arnold, than surely he will be an excellent foil for Sisco.

Based on the one episode I've seen so far, I'm appalled at ABC, and the viewers who ignored this show.  (Okay, I include myself in that as well.)  Karen Sisco had so much going for it.  The style, the score, the editing, even a guest appearance from future McDreamy, Patrick Dempsey.  And check out this intro!

If you manage to catch an episode, it's a show you won't forget.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Cover of the Week 42 - Out of Sight

While nothing will ever match the cool of the theatrical poster

I actually like how sparse this particular book cover is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 41 - Killshot

Beautiful Carmen Colson and her ironworker husband Wayne are placed in the Federal Witness Protection program after witnessing an "incident". Thinking they are at last safe, they are targeted by an experienced hit man and a psychopathic young upstart killer. The ensuing struggle will test Carmen to the limit.

I know what you are all thinking, that I am in need of some serious counseling.  After putting myself through the terrors of The Big Bounce last week, surely I would pick a movie that had at least a small chance of being good. I pledged to only watch films I hadn't seen this month, but I'm sure I could be forgiven for wanting to watch Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, or Get Shorty to cleanse the palette.

Hell no.  Bring on Mickey Rourke.

Not that he, and he alone can make a movie bad.  I actually like the guy.  Sure, he's been in some awful dreck, but he's been on a roll the past few years.  Are my expectations of Killshot unfairly low?  It looks like straight to video trash, judging purely from the cover.

So what's this, it's directed by John Madden?  The guy who did Shakespeare in Love.  That's unusual.  With a screenplay by Hossein Amini, the writer of The Wings of the Dove and Jude?  Now I'm just confused.  This has the makings of a Merchant Ivory film, not an Elmore Leonard adaptation.

Keep in mind, I have yet to read the novel, but based on the film, I'm sure the book is seventeen different types of fun.  There are situations and characters that must come alive on the page. As for the movie, well, I'm sure there is a good film somewhere in the footage, it just didn't make it to the screen.  Killshot sat on the shelf for a while, and it watches like a movie that has been edited and re-edited a bunch of times, especially considering Johnny Knoxville is featured in the trailer, yet doesn't have a moment of screen time.  The victim of test screenings perhaps?

Time out for a quick anecdote.  When I was in high school, I was in the drama club, and one of our preparation exercises was to do mismatched scenes and try to make them work.  For example, we'd take a romantic scene, but instead of the sensitive male and expressive female, we'd do it as a hardcore soldier and a  grandmother.  It was usually good for a laugh, but not much else.  Somethings, unlike leather and whips, just don't belong together.

That is the overwhelming feeling I got while watching Killshot.  Perhaps it would have been two good separate movies, but combined, it just

Mickey Rourke and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are good as a pair of hitmen, one the master, one the student.  Rourke might play Blackbird a bit too seriously, but Levitt is excellent as the wildman Richie Nix.  Of all the characters, Nix feels the most like a Leonard creation, and that is the highest compliment I can give his performance.  However, along with their story comes the unfortunate Rosario Dawson, who is completely out of her element as Nix's Elvis obsessed girlfriend Donna.  I got a feeling she misinterpreted her character in every way possible.  Has Leonard ever written a character so pathetic as Dawson portrays Donna?

The second half of this odd combination film is the story of Carmen and Wayne Colson and their crumbling marriage.  Diane Lane and Thomas Jane have good chemistry, and are believable as a couple on the ropes after years of marriage.  However, they happen to witness...well I'm not quite sure what they witness, but they find themselves in the crosshairs of Blackbird and are quickly moved into the Witness Protection Program, where honestly, they are barely protected.

Again, apart, these might have made for compelling films, but together, they just don't work.  I have to believe that it's mostly because director John Madden is trying to make a film that he just can't pull off.  Leonard's works are not high tension thrillers, despite the presence of hired killers stalking prey.  Gone is the black humor, and the whip-smart dialogue, everything which makes other adaptations work.  The tone is completely wrong, complete with menacing score.

When Leonard's trademark dialogue does show up, it's like a beacon of light for this rudderless ship.  "Honey, you should drink more and talk less."  I almost cheered when the waitress said that, as it was almost the highlight of the film.

So is Killshot worth watching?  Sure.  Why not.  But it's easy to see why it had to be dusted off the shelves.

Extra, extra! - Joe Hill on Elmore Leonard

Joe Hill sums up Leonard's skill as well as anyone can.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Long Con Week 41 - City Primeval

Clement Mansell knows how easy it is to get away with murder.  The seriously crazed killer is already back on the Detroit streets- thanks to some nifty courtroom moves by his crafty looker of a lawyer - and he's feeling invincible enough to execute a crooked Motown judge on a whim.  Homicide Detective Raymond Cruz thinks the "Oklahoma Wildman" crossed the line long before this latest outrage, and he's determined to see the hayseed psycho does not slip through the legal system's loopholes a second time.  But that means a good cop is going to have to play somewhat fast and loose with the rules - in order to maneuver Mansell into a wild Midwest showdown that he won't be walking away from.

Since I made such a fuss over Leonard's ability to create characters last week, I'm going to completely ignore it today.  For the most part.  There are only so many ways to praise an author for a certain trait before it borders on sycophancy. 

So today's topic of choice is.........

Scene creation.

Some guys have a knack for this, and of course, some don't.  Quentin Tarantino, that man can write a scene.  Movies like Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, and Reservoir Dogs might crackle with dialogue and cool, but it's the scenes I remember.  While Sam Jackson might have expressed his furious anger all over Frank Whaley, it's not just the speech I remember.  Think back and feel the tension that was created as Sam washed down that tasty burger with a beverage.  The speech was nothing but the climax of all the tension created as soon as Sam and Travolta walked through that door.   In five minutes, we learned a great deal about all the characters involved.  That's effective scene writing.

So it should come as no surprise that Tarantino kneels at the altar of Leonard, so much that his best movie, in my opinion, was an adaptation of Rum Punch.

In today's novel of choice, City Primeval, Chapter Two presents us with a scene, while not nearly as bloody and frightening, does a stellar job of getting us into the mind of the main character, Detective Raymond Cruz.

It's not a complicated chapter, mostly filled with Cruz talking to a reporter over drinks and dinner.  The reporter, a female, is writing a piece on macho cops.  At this point, we just met Cruz, and macho doesn't immediately come to mind.  He seems quiet, tired, but nice.  There is no bullshit posturing that one associates with a typical "macho" cop.  But the reporter is relentless, pushing all the right buttons, hoping for a response that will correlate with her preconceived notions.

"Why can't a cop leave his macho role at headquarters and show a little sensitivity at home?"

Can you believe that question?  If I was Cruz, I would have walked away.  I'm no murder detective, but I realize they see things I hope to never lay my eyes on.  We should consider ourselves lucky they don't lock themselves in a room at the end of the day and play with their own feces.  But I give credit to the fictional Cruz.  His answer was perfect, and revealed a tremendous amount of his character.  It set the tone for the entire  book, and anyone paying attention should know exactly how the confrontation between himself and Clement Mansell will end.

"I'm serious.  You're the wife.  You say, 'Hi, honey.  Have anything you'd like to share with me?'  And I say, 'As a matter of fact, honey, I want to tell you something I learned today about sharing, as a matter of fact."

The girl from the News was suspicious, but said, "All right, what?"

"Well, a young woman was murdered," Raymond said solemnly.  "Cause of death strangulation, asphyxia due to mechanical compression, traces of seminal fluid in mouth, vagina, and rectum-"

The girl from the News said, "God."

"So today we talk to a couple of suspects and one of them agrees to cop if we'll trade off with nothing heavier than manslaughter.  We dicker around, offer him second degree and finally he says okay.  He says actually it was his buddy that killed her.  His buddy's fresh out of the joint and very horny.  See, what happened, the met the girl in a bar and the guy making the statement says she was all over him.  So they take her out in a field and after the first guy's done he lets his buddy have seconds."


"That's what he said, let his buddy have seconds.  Well, the buddy gets in there and won't stop.  I mean he just keeps, you know, going.  Make a long story short, the girl starts screaming and the buddy panics and strangles her to shut her up.  But, he's not sure she's dead.  What if she comes to and identifies them in a lineup?  So they find this big chunk of concrete that'd been used to anchor a fence post - weighed down about a hundred pounds - and they pick it up and drop it on the girl's face.  Pick it up, drop it on her face again."

The girl from the News was reaching for her big mail-bag purse.

"Pick it up, drop it.  When we found her, we thought maybe a semi had run over her.  I mean, you wouldn't believe this was a girl's face."

"I don't think you're funny."

"No, it isn't funny at all. but then the guy said in his statement-"

The girl from the News was walking away from the table.

"He said, 'This is what I get for playing Mr. Nice Guy and sharing my broad with my buddy."

Sums up Cruz's character pretty well.  He played nice with the reporter until she wouldn't let up, and then he made his point, even if it meant being stuck with the check. 

Now take a guess if the books full title, City Primeval, High Noon in Detroit gives you any more clues?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Western Wednesday Week 41 - The Hot Kid

Remember at the beginning of this month, when I was lamenting the lack of graphic novels/comic books?  Seems like I was just slightly ahead of the curve.

Sure, it's in French, but I know the story and that cover is beautiful  Anyone who can secure one of these for me instantly becomes my best friend.   

For the full story check out the link.  From there you can find a couple of the interior pages.  Good stuff.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Short Con Week 41 - Fire in the Hole

Otherwise known as the story that Justified is based on.

Raylan Givens is one cool lawman.  I'm not talking like he's a "hep cat"" or a "righteous dude," as he seems rather "square."  No.  I mean this man has ice water in his veins.  For him, High Noon would have been a casual stroll down Main Street. He's not afraid to go gunslinger on any man, confident his nerve and skill will leave him breathing oxygen instead of dirt once the shots have been fired.  I learned this reading Pronto, and it was cemented after Riding the Rap.

I like Raylan, but he always seemed out of place in Southern Florida amongst the Palm trees and sun.  Throughout Fire in the Hole, it's constantly mentioned that he was born 100 years to late, and I guess it's true that he would fit in on the streets of Tombstone, but I've been waiting for him to go back home, to East Kentucky.

Raylan is home, helping out a fellow local Marshall.  He wants an old buddy of Raylan's, Boyd Crowder, who has crowned himself king of a local white supremacist movement.  Boyd's been ignoring his income taxes for years, and they are ready to bring him it yet again, but fear his new found Aryan brothers might give them trouble.

Raylan loves trouble. 

While Fire in the Hole is an excellent story, I couldn't help but feel it would have made a better book.  Sure, we've had a few with Mr. Givens already, but Boyd is such an interesting character that it's a shame to have him only appear in this 50 page short story.  In fact, the entire town would have been a welcome place to set a story.

Thankfully, as I commented on yesterday, FX was kind enough to give Raylan a chance to stretch out his legs in Kentucky, expanding this story into the show Justified. 

Now if we can just get a crossover with Karen Sisco.

Out Today!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Can you believe this man is 85 years old?

But just look at how much he accomplished in that time.
Borrowed from Shelf Awareness

45 Minutes Week 41 - Justified Part I

With an opening episode, the most important thing is to establish the main character as quickly as possible.  I don't want to spend an entire episode figuring out who is who and why they are doing whatever it is they are doing.  Sure, don't spell it all out and have the characters wear T-Shirts that say, "Hello. I'm Donnie and I'm out of my element." but give me something to latch on to.

Consider that goal accomplished with the opening scene of Justified.  You want to know who Raylan Givens is? He is a U.S. Marshall who gave a man 24 hours to get out of town or else he would shoot him on sight.  When that man didn't leave, and made the mistake of drawing on him, Givens shot him dead.  No remorse.  No regrets.

The rest of the episode follows the plot of "Fire In the Hole" (which will be talked about soon), so I'm not going to go over the details with you.  If you've read the story, you'll be happy with the adaptation.  A few changes have been made, most of them for the better.  I doubt Dutch had a television series in mind when writing the story, so I can easily forgive the one major change.

As for the actors, well, I want to find the casting director and give them an uncomfortably long hug.  Genius work.  For those, like myself, who have been missing The Shield, Walton Goggins is back on television.  Instead of being a wide eyed sidekick, Goggins plays Boyd Crowder, the good ole boy from Raylan's past who happens to be the leader of a local white supremacy movement.  He's bad news, but played with a heaping helping of redneck charm.  Even the secondary players, such as the other Marshalls or Goggin's gang are played credibly by those given the job.  It will be nice to see them given some moments as the series progresses.

But the reason I watched the show, other than the source material, is Timothy Olyphant.  Since I first caught him in Doug Liman's Go, he's had my attention.  His film appearances have never been well chosen to suit his particular talents, but anyone who caught Deadwood knows this man was born to play  a lawman.  He's got that coiled rattlesnake intensity in his eyes, and we wouldn't expect him to back down to any man.

I managed to catch the second episode before writing this review, and while it doesn't hold up to the promise of the first, there is enough there to keep me coming back for more.  I'll revisit Justified again in two weeks, at which point I'll hopefully have the first season completed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Cover of the Week 41 - Glitz

Rarely has the meaning of a word and it's representative image been so at odds.  Love it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 40 - 2008 F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference

A great interview, well worth watching for the way he dismisses James Patterson in Part 3.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 40 - The Big Bounce vs. The Big Bounce

Nine things I learned while watching this version of The Big Bounce (2004).  Why nine instead of the normal ten?  Because if the filmmakers involved in this can't be bothered to give a damn about the finished product, why should I?

1.  Morgan Freeman is good in anything. His earring is not.
2.  Owen Wilson, despite his laid back charm, makes a terrible criminal.
3.  Charlie Sheen looks stupid with a mustache.
4.  Sara Foster should never be in another movie.  Ever. Next time a film needs a skinny blond scam artist just get Bridgett Fonda.
5.  It is somehow possible to sodomize Elmore Leonard's dialogue.
6.  Why have talent such as Bebe Neuwirth and Gary Sinese only to barely use them, and not use them properly?
7.  This might be the only time I describe a film as "awkward" that wasn't made as a school project.
8.  It is a terrible film.
9.  After watching it, I'm not sure if I can bring myself to watch the earlier version.

Someone out there help me out.  Is it worth it, or will it just be time I wish I could get back?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Long Con Week 40 - Pronto

Harry Arno has been set up.  The FBI wants his boss, Jimmy Cap, but they've got nothing on him.  So they put the word out that Harry's been skimming money from their bookmaking racket.  It's a solid plan, because, wouldn't you know, Harry has been doing just that for years.

So when Jimmy Cap puts a hit on him, Harry's got enough cash to make a run for it to Italy, to a small town where he once met the expatriated American poet Ezra Pound. 

There is another problem.  U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is on Harry's trail.  Arno once gave him the slip years ago, costing him a promotion.  And while it would be easy to just accept the mob's bribe to leave Harry to them, Givens wants to bring him home safely.  None of this sits well with Jimmy's boys, The Zip and Joe Macho.  They each want to cap him for different reasons. 

But Zip and Joe Macho don't get along. 

Characters.  That's my focus on today's review.  Leonard's got a way of creating characters that are interesting, deeply flawed, comical, and 9 times out of 10, likable.  Even the lowest of the low, guys you would never want to meet become real and more importantly, really interesting.  Barely any of them ever make a good decision, and when things do go right, it's often by accident.  Often they are done in by their own overconfidence.  Hell, the "villains" are often more moral than the "good guys."  And despite the problems they find themselves in, I know I hope they always work their way out.

Harry Arno is a typical low man on the mafia totem pole.  He's got a love for Italy and Ezra Pound poetry.  He's in his sixties, and has a model girlfriend twenty years his junior.  We should like this guy, after all, he's been ripping the mob off for years and getting away with it.  And he's the main character.  Shouldn't we like him?  But he's also a loser who doesn't really know what he wants and talks to much when he drinks.  I didn't exactly want him dead like Jimmy Cap, but I wasn't hoping he would get off free and easy.

Then there is his girlfriend, Joyce Patton.  She hasn't exactly set the world on fire, spending time as both a stripper and a model, but she can surely do better than Harry.  She goes along with his escape plans, but eventually sets her sights on a certain Marshal.

Which brings us to U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.  We soon learn that he's let Harry slip from his fingers once before, and yet again, Harry ditches him.  Shouldn't Marshal's be a bit more competent that this?  But Raylan is not your typical macho U.S. agent.  With his cowboy hat and boots, he certainly has a "sheriff" quality about him, and despite is lackadaisical manner, he is deadly when he needs to be.  And he just might have his eye on a certain lady.

Then we get to the hoods.  Both Tommy Bitoniti, "The Zip", and Nicky Testa, "Joe Macho," are sent to Italy to retrieve Harry.  These guys do not like one another.  The Zip is an old fashioned Mafioso, dressed in sharp suits, speaks more with his gun than his mouth.  Joe Macho is the exact opposite.  He doesn't do much than stand around Jimmy Cap and look tough.  He might be muscle-bound, but he's got pudding for brains.  He talks to much and is making the mistake of sleeping with Jimmy's girlfriend.  The Zip wants to kill him, and he wants to kill the Zip.

Throughout the book, Leonard puts these characters in situations that might prove deadly to any of them at any time.  Using the multiple points of view allows us to align ourselves with whomever we choose, and there is a chance that any of the characters could be shot dead at any minute.  That unpredictability is a great strength.

Another strength of Leonard's books is you never know when these characters are going to show up again.  Those that survive might be back.  They might not always be the stars, but a cameo is never out of the question.  It gives the feeling that you are reading a series, without always having to stick to one main character.

I'm hoping I see a few of these guys again.  At the very least, I know Raylan ends up in the FX show Justified.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Western Wednesdays Week 40 - Dos Hombres

Who is ready for a double shot of Hombre?

John Russell has been raised as an Apache.  Now he's on his way to live as a white man.  But when the stagecoach passengers learn who he is, they want nothing to do with him - until outlaws ride down on them and they must rely on Russell's guns and his ability to lead them out of the desert.  He can't ride with them, but they must walk with him or die.

Sounds simple enough, and honestly, it's a pretty simple story.  There are not a thousand shoot outs or stampedes, or stage coach robbing.  Instead, it's more of a morality play on what it takes to kill a man.

I know.  Sounds pretty deep for a 180 page western.

But don't discount the book because of it's length.  Size doesn't always mean everything.  Leonard packs exactly what is needed into the book to make a compelling story.

There is John Russell, the Hombre in question.  He doesn't talk that much, and asks for even less.  But he's a man, and does what's necessary, even if he's not too happy about it.  It's never a doubt that everyone involved in this story would likely end up dead without him.

His counterpoint is "The McLaren Girl" a young lady once captured and held by "the savages."  Despite her situation, she sees the good in everyone and is the conscience of the story.  She feels everyone deserves help.

And what would a morality play be without a villain.  In a story with thugs and armed robbers, it's Dr. Favor who is the true bad guy.  He's been ripping off people for years, and the tide has finally turned on his enterprise.  It's his money the bandits want, and when they don't get it, they take his wife instead.

But let's not forget the narrator of our tale, a naive young man who is often startled by everything.  It's his viewpoint that draws us into the story, and asks the questions we are thinking.

Maybe he let us think a lot of things about him that weren't true.  But as Russell would say, that was up to us.  He let people do or think what they wanted while he smoked a cigarette and thought it out calmly, without his feelings getting mixed up in it.  Russell never changed the whole time, though I think everyone else did in some way.  He did what he felt had to be done.

So it's a good book.  But will it possibly compare to Paul Newman?

The movie is pretty darned good.  Newman does an admirable job as John Russell.  He is isolated and stoic, a tough job for a man as handsome and charming as Newman.  His looks at least helped out his likability, even when he was not.

And speaking of that, we get an addition from the novel.  In the place of the McLaren Girl is Jessie (Diane Cilento), the suddenly jobless boardinghouse lady who has a bone to pick with John.  Cilento delivers the sass, and gets many of the films best lines.  (The writers, Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., were wise to keep much of Leonard's dialogue.  It absolutely crackles and brings life to stagnant scenes.)  She is also the heart of the film. Compared to the other two ladies, she is downright warm.

Mrs. Favor (Barbara Rush) is given more to do in the film than the novel. She was mostly speechless on the page, but on screen she talks a bit too much for Russell's liking.  She's got a big mouth, and comes off as privileged, prissy, and a bit of a bitch.  Oddly enough, that works in the favor of her husband, Dr. Favor (Fredric March).  In the novel he comes off as a lowly coward, a man who won't even come to the defense of his wife.  Considering how Mrs. Favor speaks of him to the other ladies, I don't blame him for not giving up the money. She obviously does not love him.

The next addition to the film is Doris Blake (Margaret Blye). the wife of the novels narrator Billy Lee Blake (Peter Lazer).  I don't know why she was added to the film.  She's certainly pretty, but she has absolutely nothing to do.  Even her husband, stripped of his narration duties, has little to do on screen. They could have been removed completely and I wouldn't have missed them.

What I wouldn't change for the world is the cinematography of James Wong Howe.  Shot on location in Arizona, this film is absolutely beautiful to look at, capturing the landscape in all it's cinematic glory.  And director Martin Ritt was wise to take advantage of that skill.  His direction was nothing to wag a finger at.  The man knows how to frame a shot and keep the picture moving.

I'd be willing to say Hombre is a classic western...but I'll still take the book.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Short Con Week 40 - Sparks

This is why I read Elmore Leonard.  The man makes even the most mundane jobs seem exciting as hell, rife with possibilities of money, sex and danger.

Joe Canahan is a private insurance investigator.  When a claim throws up a red flag, a call goes out to him.  Today, that call leads him to Robin Harris, a former rock star who married better than she played.

She's got money, a face that looks like Linda Fiorentino, a recently deceased husband (for once, not the problem) and a house in California's Arroyo Verde that she loathes.  It should be easy to get rid of.  She owns it, and the annoying Asian interior (statues, vases, bottles, carvings, tapestries, etc.  A bit overboard.) outright.  But she sees selling it off a as betrayal to her late husband, as he happened to love all that junk.  What's a wealthy widow to do?

What if the house happened to burn down?  It's a wildfire area, and as luck would have it, one just happened to rage through the area.  Perhaps a few sparks, carried by the wind, of course, happened to light a bush in the back yard on fire.  It can happen.  Eight other houses close by met a similar fate.

Maybe that's exactly the way it happened.  Maybe that neighbor with the binoculars didn't see her at the house the day of the fire, considering she had already moved out of the house weeks before?  Maybe her seductress act isn't fooling Joe Canavan?  Maybe Joe just doesn't care?

Sparks was the perfect story to begin the collection, When the Women Come Out To Dance.  It's clever, engaging, and subverted my expectations in a mere seventeen pages.  Can't wait to read what comes next.

Monday, October 4, 2010

45 Minutes Week 40 - Maximum Bob

Normally I wouldn't be writing this.  I've never seen a single scene nor frame of this show.  So why the hell is it today's topic?

Because the internet has let me down.  Normally, when I haven't seen or heard of something, anything, all I have to do is log on, maybe do a little bit of searching, and bam! there it is.  But not this time.  I've scoured the web, looking behind every website, peeking underneath every torrent (it's dirty there) and have come up with nothing.

Other than a wikipedia page and a few other assorted odds and ends, there is nothing to prove that the show Maximum Bob even existed.

From Wikipedia:

Maximum Bob was a short-lived television series that debuted in 1998 on ABC TV. Starring Beau Bridges, the show was based on Elmore Leonard's 1991 novel with the same title.  The series centered around an ultra right-wing judge known for giving the maximum sentence to defendants. Other characters included the Judge's psychic wife Leanne, who channels the spirit of a young slave girl named Wanda Grace, a widower sheriff with a knack for ballroom dancing and a spitfire female public defender from Miami. The few story lines produced served mainly to introduce the cast of eccentric characters, and were set in the fictional back woods Florida town of Deepwater. Judge Gibbs' young wife performed in a mermaid show until she nearly lost her life to an alligator, after which she abruptly retired from the business and can no longer even go in her swimming pool. Kathy Baker, a comely defense attorney, comes to Deepwater on a case and becomes a romantic target for the local sheriff, as well as a potential conquest for the always lustful judge. The show also includes a family of inbred, myopic disfunctionals with a criminal bent.

Sounds fantastic, right?  Only  no one watched and it was axed after only seven episodes.  I can understand ABC not wanting to waste there money releasing it on DVD, but seriously, no Youtube footage?  Nothing on Hulu? 

So I come to you dear readers.  If anyone out there has a link which would enable me to watch even one episode I would be greatly appreciative.

At least I have the book.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cover of the Week 40 - Newsweek?

So I'm cheating a bit here, but how often does a mystery writer appear on the cover of Newsweek?  And it's a nice photo.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 39 - Jackie Brown

Otherwise known as the movie that started it all...for me anyway.

It was 1997, and I was still a young, optimistic fresh faced kid, barely old enough to drink, and still eager to tackle the world.  My how times have changed.  Anyway, I was in love with the films of Tarantino, having recently devoured Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, and From Dusk 'Til Dawn.  At that point the man could do no wrong.  His movies were breaths of fresh air, hyper violent and wordy, but endlessly cool.

I couldn't wait for his next movie, even with it's oddly plain title.

A bag of cash and a gun?  This movie was going to make millions.

Of course, Titanic came out and people soon forgot about Jackie Brown as it limped it's way to $39 million, a far cry from the $100+ that Pulp Fiction brought in.  To many it was a disappointment.

To me, it was a revelation.

Years later, it's still my favorite Tarantino film, and it's because of Elmore Leonard.  Based on his novel Rum Punch, Jackie Brown explodes with characters and situations that have become a staple of his work.  Bumbling but overconfident criminals, can't fail plans that go horribly wrong, and usually, a voice of reason to which no one listens.

And it brought back the unbelievable cool Pam Grier and Robert Forrester.

During the press for the film, I constantly heard Quentin talking about the books of Leonard, and how much he enjoyed them.  If they were good enough for his sensibilities, surely I'd like them.  I headed down to the newly constructed Borders and picked up a copy of Rum Punch, even if it did have the movie poster as the cover.  (Sorry, I realize it's done to capitalize on the popularity of the film, but I want my books to have the book covers, not the movie poster.  Drives me up a wall.)  While I should have been studying, or reading one of my required texts, I instead read Rum Punch.  Then I read it again.  Thankfully, it wasn't just a re-hashing of the movie, as enough was changed for Jackie Brown to let the book stand on it's own.  And as much as I love Jackie Brown, I like Rum Punch better.

Oddly enough, the book that got me back on the Elmore Leonard train was The Switch, starring those fantastically inept criminals Ordell Robbie and Louis Gara.  And despite there character descriptions, I couldn't help but envision Samuel Jackson and Robert DeNiro.  I'm okay with that.

As a treat, here is an interview with Quentin from 1997 from Tom Snyder's show.  Tarantino is always fun (okay, sometimes annoying) to listen to, but don't be surprised if you end up yelling at the screen, begging for Tom Snyder to just shut up and let him talk.  They finally get around to talking about Jackie Brown towards the end of Part 1

Friday, October 1, 2010

Elmore Leonard Month!

I've had so much focusing on one subject this past month with film noir, that I've decided to follow it up with yet another theme month.

Welcome to Elmore Leonard Month.

Elmore Leonard was the author who put this whole blog idea in my mind last November.  I was perusing ebay, looking for bargains, when up popped a lot of Elmore Leonard paperbacks.  25 books for $25.  Who in their right mind can pass that up?  I bought them immediately, anxiously awaited for them to arrive, and when they did...I stared at them.  Damn, that's a lot of pages to read.  I better give myself a reason to read them all.

Honestly, I never thought I'd get around to reading them all.  I still haven't.  I've picked a few up and devoured them, but there are still plenty sitting on the shelf, waiting to be enjoyed.  This month I'm going to grab a few more.

And here's the beautiful thing, Dutch's books have been translated, and translated well, to every other medium.  There are television shows (though not many) and movies both made from his books and written specifically by him.  I'm only missing out on comics.  Seriously, someone get on that.  I want a Karen Sisco comic book.

So for this month I go back to the old format, with a few changes.  Monday's will still be television, Tuesdays short stories, Wednesday will now be for westerns, Thursday is novels, Friday is films, and Saturday will still be whatever the hell I want.  Those of you who love covers will still find some great choices up on Sundays.

But why October?  It's Elmore Leonard's birthday month.

Do I need a better reason to celebrate the man?

photo copyright Vince Bucci/Getty Images