Thursday, November 29, 2012

Andrew Dominik: Killing Them Softly

Now, this is how crime movies should be done!

Based on a 1974 novel by George V. Higgins, Killing Them Softly moves mainly through dialogue-driven scenes. I mean: it's mainly just talk. But this is no pseudocool post-Tarantino mannerism, as nor Dominik neither Higgins drive to make it funny. Even though it often is, since I found myself laughing out loud several times, especially to lines like this: "We are not the only smart guys here."

The actors are great, the direction is concentrated and focused, there are no empty scenes - save for some highly esteticized shooting scenes, which I felt were somewhat unnecessary. Dominik also forces the message to the viewer's mind with running George W. Bush's and Obama's speeches on the background almost all the time. But I'm not really complaining, as the picture is otherwise so good.

Here's a good review of the film.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Smokin' Aces

Smokin' Aces is a mildly entertaining post-Tarantino crime film that has lots going for it, but for some reason or another it never really delivers. There are too many characters and plot lines some of which are left undeveloped. Almost all of the characters are way too overblown.

The film has Alicia Keys as a sexy assassin in it, though. I couldn't say anything bad about that aspect.

It also has great ending credits, as evidenced below.

More Overlooked Movies on Todd Mason's blog.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Book: David Hume: Midnight's Last Bow

Besides being a renowned Scottish philosopher, David Hume was also a prolific British crime novelist. His real name was, as Steve Holland here says, John Victor Turner and he lived from 1900 to 1945. He wrote fast, turning out three or four books a year.

His best known creation was private eye Cardby, and Steve Holland says that in these books Hume representend the hardboiled school, being probably the first British writer to have a hardboiled private eye as his hero. I haven't (as yet!) read any of those, but they were hugely popular in Finland in the fourties and fifties. I remember my dad talking about them and I also seem to remember he was also confirmed you could say the books really were hardboiled. (He said the books were "Karppi" books.)

I realized, pretty late (but not too late, since this book will be finished by 2020, if even then), that I'll have to include Hume in my book of British crime paperbackers. I picked up some of his books from a thrift store and after finishing Megan Abbott's The End of Everything, I read Hume's book Keskiyö, originally Midnight's Last Bow.

Now, at first I thought I ran into a bibliographic dilemma, since at first glance Hume didn't seem to have book with this title. Maybe, I thought, someone had been commissioned to write new books under Hume's moniker. But no such thing, as I found out in this fine post by Steve Lewis at his Mystery*File blog. It seems Hume wrote shortish crime novels featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Sanderson for the British weekly paper Thriller and they were collected in two volumes, from which the Finnish translations were picked up and published in separate paperbacks. Hence Keskiyö/Midnight's Last Bow is a very slim book, clocking in at 102 pages.

It's also a pretty quick read. There's no the hardboiled style of the Cardby books here, instead we have a very matter-of-fact style of later police procedurals here. Sanderson moves through the London underworld searching for the mysterious thief Midnight who's rumoured to be making a big caper. There are lots of characters and, in what turned out to be careless reading, I lost myself and in the end I didn't really know who it was they arrested. My bad entirely, as it seems Hume/Turner wasn't a sloppy writer. The emotionless narration was entertaining enough that I'm not dissatisfied with the fact that I'll have to read more Hume in the future.

The cover presented here is the first Finnish edition from 1939. I read the second edition from 1962 with a different cover.

I notice too late that due to Thanksgiving Day Patti Abbott isn't making her usual round-up of blog posts this Friday, so I'll just link to the earlier week's round-up.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Megan Abbott: The End of Everything, pt. 2

The End of Everything is a very beautiful book, hauntingly written - it was actually pretty hard to get into the rhythm of Megan Abbott's writing, its clipped sentences, repetitions and allusions. I found the book demanded some quiet around it, you couldn't read it in passing, just a few pages at a time, you had to concentrate.

As Megan has herself pointed out, there's a strong link to Twin Peaks in The End of Everything. There's the friendship of two young girls in a small town, and suddenly another one disappears, for apparently no reason.

This is a quiet crime novel, almost not a crime novel at all (the Picador edition I read seems to make that quite clear what with the cover). There's only one person killed in the course of the book (I'm not sure if this is a spoiler or not). Up to the middle, the reader hasn't a clue of what's been going on. The secrets stay hidden until the very last pages - and linger on even after the book is over. The sexual tension in the book is almost overwhelming, but there's no actual erotic content in the book. You can't make a mistake this is a book written by a feminist, but Abbott doesn't shy away from showing how awful women and girls can be.

Strongly recommended. I'll be interviewing Megan shortly (after I've read Dare Me, that is) for a Finnish magazine, I'll post the results here as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park

I just saw this TV-made movie on 35 mm print last Monday. It's supposed to be a horror movie, but it's almost a kiddie picture. The film's not very good, to put it mildly (though it was directed by veteran Gordon Hessler), but its cheerful jerkiness is entertaining throughout. Wouldn't you laugh at Gene Simmons acting badly and throwing flames out of his mouth to the sound of a lion roaring? The Kiss guys have also raybeams coming out of their eyes! And they can fly!

As for the music, I don't really care for Kiss, but some of the song are actually pretty good power-pop items.

Here's a sample from the film with "Hotter than Hell" to other lyrics.

More Overlooked Movies at Todd Mason's blog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Modern Noir

Great Pinterest board by Brian Lindenmuth on Modern Noir. Lots of great books and lots of books I haven't read (some I haven't even heard of). Some I managed to get translated in Finnish.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Megan Abbott: The End of Everything

I'm on page 90 and it seems nothing but excellent so far. Might be her best, but I haven't as yet read Dare Me.

My earlier Megan Abbott reviews here, here and here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Death Weekend (1976)

Death Weekend is one of the Canadian exploitation movies made in the seventies and eighties, and this one was strictly made in the wake of Deliverance and other horror movies about hicks terrorizing nice city folks. Death Weekend, however, doesn't portray any of the city folks being very nice.

Produced by young Ivan Reitman, Death Weekend is actually a pretty good film, with solid direction by veteran TV director William Fruet and good actors, mainly with the menacing Don Stroud as the main terrorizer. Brenda Vaccaro is also good as the terrorized woman. She is spending a weekend on a cottage owned by a Corvette-driving dentist playboy, a sleazy scumbag who takes pictures of women he's taken to his cottage. The film begins with a good car chase the terrorizers lose, hence the revenge on the playboy and his woman. 

Everyone in the picture is a scumbag, save for Vaccaro, who's resourceful, strong and knows how to use things (which the dentist doesn't do). One might say Death Weekend is an attack on self-content petty bourgeoisie and also a description of the threats it's facing. There's a frightful scene in the middle of the film where the gangsters start to destroy the playboy's place, throwing things, smashing furniture, books, bottles, mirrors etc. It goes on and on - a whole way of life is being ruined here, almost in a way that an absurdist or surrealist theater group might do. Antonin Artaud might've liked this film. 

Having said that, it's a mild disappointment that Vaccaro's revenge is a little too easy. The major flaw in the film are the last seconds which may be telling that Vaccaro fell in love with his rapist. It's pretty ugly, given the film doesn't show the rape scenes in an erotic way of any kind. 

There's no DVD of the film at the present, but I managed to see a 35 mm print. The colours of the print had started to fade, but not too much. Some of the scenes seemed to be cut. 

Here's the Canuxploitation Site review of the film with more background on the makers. 

More Overlooked Movies here

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

David Ayer: End of Watch

Earlier today I saw David Ayer's new film End of Watch. It covers the same ground as Ayer's previous films Training Day and Dark Blue, which he only scripted. There are also some of the same directorial stylistics as in those two films, especially Training Day, which, in retrospect, might seem to be more Ayer's than its director's, Antoine Fuqua's film. Neither of the two films are entirely successful (see my short reviews here) and the same goes for End of Watch.

It's almost entirely shot through recordings made by Jake Gyllenhaal's character, Brian Taylor, an obnoxious and adventurous cop who acts a bit macho. He keeps a video cam with him all the time and adjusts two tiny recorders on him and his partner's shirtpockets. There are also some surveillance camera shots and other similar stuff. But the film's fault is that the use of these devices is not fully consistent. The same problem lies within the script as well. There are some unmotivated characters, who are not as well developed as they should be. And the final meaning of the film - what Ayer is trying to say - remains unclear. There are some hints that Ayer means to say the war on drugs is futile, but I should say Oliver Stone (and of course Don Winslow) cover that ground much better in his Savages. There are some scenes that are shared by both Ayer and Stone, but whereas Stone veers towards crazy drug fantasy, Ayer tries to remain on the realistic side. Most of the time, he succeeds and there are some very intense moments throughout the film.

The Finnish title of the film is pretty bland: Poliisit, which means simply "Cops". I paste here a comment made by my friend Sami on Facebook and try to provide a translation: "Heh, tai sitten [nimenä voisi olla] "Kyttäkaksikko tappolistalla"... maahantuojan itse keksimänä mainoslauseena "HUUMEGANGSTERIEN varpaille astuminen käynnisti VERIRALLIN!" Ja ikärajana tietenkin komeasti K-18 ("Vellihousut, pysykää kotona!")" ("Yeah, and the new title could be "The Cop Duo On the Kill List"... with the blurb "Stepping on DRUG LORDS' toes started A BLOODPATH! It should have to be X-rated, with another blurb: "If you're chicken, stay home!" Or some such nonsense.)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Friday, November 02, 2012

Michael Dirda on Chandler

Here's Dirda's review on a new biography of Raymond Chandler: "As this new biography by Tom Williams reminds us, the chronicler of Southern California corruption is in multiple ways a hyphenated man, constantly apart or between, neither this nor that, both charming and weird."