Thursday, July 25, 2013

COUNTDOWN CITY: THE LAST POLICEMAN BOOK II

Check out my review of Ben H. Winters's new novel COUNTDOWN CITY, the second book in his Last Policeman trilogy, over at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)

In some ways John Ford's melancholy THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE represents the end of the era of the classic Western. You can read my new essay on the film over at Criminal Element.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pauline Kael on Jack Nicholson

A great new post over at The Stacks is made up of excerpts of Pauline Kael's observations about Jack Nicholson. It's fun to check in with some vintage Kael from time to time. Even when I disagree with her (i.e. her take on Gary Cooper, or her sloppy hatchet job on Orson Welles) it's always bracing to read her.

I like this post, in particular, because it's nice to be reminded of Nicholson in his prime--nice to be reminded that there was a time that he was young and wild and dangerous. Nicholson wasn't just great back in the day--he possessed the aura of something new and original.

Read Kael's piece over at The Stacks.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ellroy Talks

Here's a great interview (new to me via Jedidiah Ayres) with James Ellroy conducted by the Los Angeles Review Of Books. He talks about his ebook novella SHAKEDOWN, his approach to writing, and his current state of mind.

Click here for the interview on YouTube.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

How FAT CITY got made

Screw Rocky. Forget the Raging Bull. Tell the Cinderella Man to go find his glass slipper. For my money the greatest boxing flick of the past forty years is John Huston's 1972 FAT CITY. It's an extraordinary piece of work--dark, brilliant, and haunting. 

In all fairness, unlike ROCKY or CINDERELLA MAN (or even, to a lesser extent, RAGING BULL) it's not really a sports flick. It's a drama about boxers, and for all the interest it shows in fisticuffs, it could be a drama about guys who work at a factory. That's because unlike most every other boxing movie ever made, it's not really that interested in the mythology of the sport itself. It's interested in the people.

In that way, the movie it most reminds me of is Peter Yates's THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. That movie was a crime film that was wholly lacking in crime film cliches. It took its characters at face value and regarded criminal activity as another facet of capitalism. FAT CITY does the same thing with boxing. Here is a movie about boxers that doesn't lead up to "the big fight." There's an important, and brutal, battle toward the end but it's not the mythic fight that other boxing movies have programmed us to expect. FAT CITY doesn't present boxing as the romantic rite of passage for a stalwart hero (even RAGING BULL, for all its grittiness, contextualizes the boxing ring in religiously redemptive terms). Instead this film dramatizes boxing as a job done by poor men who supplement their income by working with itinerant workers in the lettuce fields. Nobody in this film was, is, or is ever gonna be the champion of anything. The best a boxer can hope for is a win and a manager who doesn't steal the whole purse. 

The film is a masterpiece by one of the masters of cinema, and its cast is nothing short of remarkable. Stacy Keach--at the time an experienced stage actor but still a relative newcomer to movies--is astonishingly good. He seems to have wandered out of a Robert Wise B-movie from the fifties. Jeff Bridges is baby faced and innately sympathetic. And as Keach's alcoholic girlfriend, Susan Tyrrell gives as good a performance as any I've ever seen. And I've see a lot. There's a long scene in a bar between Keach and Tyrell here that is simply perfect. It should be plucked out and shown in film schools. This is how you write, shoot, and act a scene between two characters who are flirting and fighting and falling in (something like) love.

All of this is to point you toward a great article over at The Stacks called "How A Great Boxing Novel Got The Movie It Deserved." It's a fascinating look at how Leonard Gardner's novel  found its way to Huston, as well as how the director brought it to the screen. Check it out. Great stuff.