Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Cold Night in Murder CIty

If you like your summer reading cold and bleak (and I know you do), then there's some good news today. In the just released issue of Crimefactory, I have a new story that's a nasty slice of noir, a tale morally compromised officers of the law up to no good. It begins:

He said he needed to talk. I had to go outside for a cigarette break anyway, so we walked downstairs. Wet snow flurries pelted the sidewalks, and all the smokers wedged into a space just beside the front door to keep out of the wind. Graham motioned me away from the smoker’s nook, though. What he had to say was private. He didn’t want to say it around a bunch of cops.

I'm thrilled to be in this issue alongside some fine writers: Eric Beetner, Naomi Johnson, Jason Duke, and Pulp Serenade's own Cullen Gallagher. Crimefactory 3.5, available online and on Kindle. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Killer Cometh

Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me opened in limited release on Friday. It hits DC on July 2nd, but the controversy surrounding the film has already preceded it like a bad reputation.

I've been waiting for this film for over a year now, though honestly, at this point, I'm a little nervous to see it. I'm braced for a disturbing experience, and I remain hopeful that the film is a good disturbing experience--but I'm also open to the idea that the film is cynical trash disguised as art. Only a viewing of the film itself will provide an answer.

Until then, here are some interesting links.

First up, an overview of the long march from novel to screen. A film version was proposed a long time ago with two huge--and somewhat surprising--stars. Why did that adaptation fall through? And how do you now get people to commit to making a film this damn dark in an age of 3D blockbusters?

Second, "Filmed to a Pulp" is a wider look at the challenges of adapting Thompson for the big screen. This one is by Charles McGrath of the New York Times and is thankfully more interested in the film and its source than in the controversy surrounding it.

Lastly, here's an interview with Casey Affleck, the star of the film. No matter what comes of The Killer Inside Me, I think Affleck is a major talent. Anyone who hasn't seen Gone Baby Gone or The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford is encouraged to do so immediately.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cinephile's Lament

If you care about good films, the summer blockbuster season takes on the feel of a child's birthday party--a lavish four-month birthday party for someone else's spoiled brat. You begin to think, "How much sugar can these little creeps ingest? And why don't their parents make them stop?"

Between May and August (though, now, the time frame has been widened to April), we're subjected to Hollywood's artistic implosion, a freaky shadow image of the ongoing financial crisis. The root cause of most evil, as I remember reading somewhere, is the love of money, and Hollywood is breaking its own back in pursuit of big cash.

Look, I'm not naive, Hollywood has always be greedy. Always. But if you look back at the studio system of the thirties and forties you'll find that the people who made movies by and large were in the business because they loved making movies. After the studio system fell apart in the 1950s, Hollywood drifted. Corporations stepped in, and suddenly the studios were being run by marketing people. Movies got bigger and more expensive, but television siphoned away half of the potential audience for a night at the movies. In the late sixties and early seventies, the movie geeks and film school students took over. The late Dennis Hopper got some weed, a couple of motorcycles, and Jack Nicholson and went out in the desert and made Easy Rider. The film was a money machine, so for a while the town handed the keys to the kingdom over to the young and arty and we had the age of Taxi Driver, The Last Detail, and The Conversation.

Then Lucas made Star Wars. Whatever the merits of that particular film, it taught an unmistakable lesson to the suits: one film can generate billions of dollars. It doesn't have to be the best movie ever made. Hell, it needn't even be good. It simply needs to be marketed well.

Summer has become the season wherein the studios--though we would be more accurate to call them the conglomerates--release their "tentpole" films. These movies are designed to go off like fireworks. You buy them, they explode, pretty colors spit across the sky for a few seconds, you buy some more. And now you can pay ten dollars more for some plastic glasses to watch this shit sparkle in 3D.

If I sound bitter, it's because I am bitter. I love movies, and movies (especially Hollywood movies) are being made less and less for cinephiles. Movies are made for fans of television shows (Sex and the City, The A-Team...The A-Team?), fans of comic books, fans of last year's blockbusting marketing extravaganza.

What about the movie geeks? What about the people who want to be wowed by a film, who want to walk into a theater and fall in love with a film? Show me something interesting, show me something smart. Wow me with art. Make me think. Make me smile. Make me cry. It's been done. It's been done so well, in fact, that I've become a film junkie, a man addicted to good movies.

Candy is good. Food is better. I like sugar, too, but five months of nothing but sugar will rot the teeth right out of your head. Beyond the summer season, where it's accepted that movies are supposed to suck, things aren't a whole lot better. How could they be? Infection spreads.

"There's no trick to making a lot of money," Mr. Bernstein says in Citizen Kane "if all you care about is making a lot of money." That's as true in Hollywood today as it is on Wall Street. You needn't make something that people want--a house, a film--you need only sell the idea.

The idea is key. It's the big ATM card. What you're selling doesn't matter, so long as you sell it well. This is why movie screens have become an avalanche of sequels, remakes, and video game adaptations. You need a brand because a brand sells itself. That's the idea, the magic idea. The product sells itself. That's all you need because you're not trying to make movies, anymore. You're trying to make money.


Marshal Fine has similar beef over at Hollywood and Fine. He takes aim at Transformers and his aim is true.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poster Art

I got an email the other day from a guy named Andre Hunt. He's a fan of The Maltese Falcon, but he doesn't particularly like the original posters from the movie. (I have never particularly loved the Falcon poster, either, though they are better than the wholly uninspiring poster art for The Big Sleep) He decided to mock up a poster for the Falcon, which he sent along and I've posted above with his permission.

I love this kind of thing. It reminds me of a piece of poster art that an artist named Rob Kelly mocked up and sent into the Film Noir Foundation a while ago. Kelly had had a fun idea: what if Richard Widmark and Sterling Hayden had been in a movie with Gloria Graham? This is the kind of thought you can't help but have if you're a noir geek. What if...? You concoct all kinds of possible combinations. Kelly took this idea, ran with it, and you can see the results at the Film Noir Foundation.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mug Shots #13: Robert Ryan aka The Man on the Edge

Because he was so often a clenched-teethed, snarling mass of violence (Crossfire, Odds Against Tomorrow, Beware My Lovely) he's been underrated as an actor. While it is true that he'll beat the shit out of you for looking at him wrong, even when he's a cop (On Dangerous Ground), it should be noted that as the doomed-but-brave boxer in Robert Wise's existential classic The Set-Up he is one of the most touching of all heroes in noir.

Essential Robert Ryan:

The Set-Up
Odds Against Tomorrow
Act of Violence

Best of the Rest:

Berlin Express
Clash by Night
On Dangerous Ground
The Woman on Pier 13 (aka I Married a Communist)

For more on Ryan click here.

And here's a typically good piece by Bright Lights.

Ryan also features in the best fight scene in all noir.