One Bite at a Time

Friday, January 20, 2017

Movies Since Last Time

The holidays are my busy season for movies. Not that I actually leave the house. That’s crazy talk. There are plenty of other options these days. I’m not hopelessly old-school about everything.

The Hunger Games (2012). Young adults deserve better than two-dimensional characters
designed for the sole purpose of manipulating the audience’s emotions, plot devices that basically allowed the creators to do whatever they want, and technologically created firestorms and hellhounds. All that was missing were the Fire Swamp and Rodents of Unusual Size. Adding insult to injury, at the end you realize it’s not a movie, it’s an episode. (Yes, I know about the sequels. Usually the first one is supposed to at least pretend to be a standalone. Think Star Wars.) Jennifer Lawrence, an actress who deserves all her accolades, plays essentially the same character she played in Winter’s Bone, except that movie actually made sense. I realize I’m not the target audience for this franchise, and I’m delighted.

The Gambler (2014) Good, but after sleeping on it not as good as the sum of its parts. The
acting is uniformly excellent, notably John Goodman. (When are people going to recognize he’s one of the great actors of his generation?) Mark Wahlberg is as believable as possible in a tough role, as a man so self-destructive he only bets ever everything at a time. The college scenes are well done, the film is stylish, but one gets to the end and wonders what we were supposed to take away here.

A Christmas Story (1983) The annual viewing with The Beloved Spouse. It’s a sweet movie,
with Jean Shepherd’s subversive commentary keeping it from becoming saccharine. Some timeless set pieces. (Anyone who’s ever seen it will never forget the lamp scene.) Perfectly cast, with Darren McGavin owning The Old Man the way few others have ever matched up to a role. These kinds of movies aren’t usually my cup of tea—my idea of Christmas fare runs more toward Bad Santa and The Ice Harvest—but this one is well worth its annual viewing.

The Santa Clause 2 (2002) Christmas is when you watch Christmas movies, right? The Beloved Spouse likes the occasional kids movie and not only doesn’t mind me picking at the plot holes, but will do so herself. Tip to Santa: don’t let Chet be one of the lead reindeer until he’s ready.

Bad Santa (2003) The second half of our Christmas Eve doubleheader. No one—no one—
plays these kinds of roles better than Billy Bob Thornton. As laugh out loud as any Christmas movie ever made, so long as you leave large chunks of your conscience in another room. As I always say sometimes, a better person wouldn’t have laughed at a lot of this, but no better person was available.

Holiday Inn (1942) This is one of those movies some will point to and nostalgically say, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” Good. One-
dimensional characters who are, frankly, kind of amoral, and will do or say anything to advance the story, which is kind of disreputable and definitely unbelievable itself. (The only line of defense for such a plot is, “You’re not supposed to take the plot seriously. It’s a comedy.” Then it should have been funnier. See Bad Santa, above.) Oh, and a blackface routine. For those who might want to defend the blackface bit with “Things were different in 1942,” I say, “and good riddance.”

Confidence (2003) An underrated gem. Edward Burns plays Jake Vig, leader of a confidence crew who accidentally take off a vicious LA criminal known
as The King (Dustin Hoffman). Vig and his crew sell The King on the idea of ripping off someone even bigger that The King has personal issues with. After that you’re never really sure who’s working with who or how things are going to shake out. Burns is perfect as Vig, and Hoffman gives one of my favorite of his performances. An excellent supporting cast is led by Rachel Weisz and Paul Giamatti. If you’re into caper films with an edge and sharp dialog, you really ought to see this one.

The French Connection (1971) Damn, this is a great movie. Watch it too often and too close together and some plot holes appear, but the story holds up, as does everything else.
Contemporary when filmed, it now views like a period piece. The famous chase scene serves two roles: great excitement (duh), especially for the time; and it condenses Popeye’s obsession into seven minutes, so everything those else he does makes sense. There are a dozen or so crime films I look forward to watching repeatedly. This is one.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) No one makes more visually beautiful films than Francis Ford
Coppola, and this is no exception. Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins steal the show as Dracula and van Helsing, respectively, though the competition was less than fierce. Winona Ryder is all right, but there must have been fifty English actresses who could have done at least as well. As for Keanu Reeves? Really? Had to be at least a thousand British actors who could have handled this better. Overall, the film holds up. Close to Stoker’s novel, it plays as a love story and works well. Seeing this one again only makes me wonder even more why people feel they need to break the vampire rules to make the stories more appealing. They’ve been popular for a long time for a reason.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) First movie of the birthday double feature and one of a handful of my guaranteed to succeed comfort movies. Just a wonderful film on so many different levels that I’m not going to go into them all. If you haven’t seen it recently, do so. Going on 50 years old and still solid in every regard.

L.A. Confidential (1997) The nightcap of the birthday double
feature. To me, one of the top five crime films ever made, along with The Maltese Falcon, Chinatown, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and The French Connection. Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland make a masterpiece of James Ellroy’s glorious mess of a book, hitting all the right notes in the doing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

People With a Mission

We suffered a loss here at The Home Office over the holidays when The Sole Heir’s uncle died way before his time at age 44. I didn’t know Shawn all that well. He came on the family scene well after TSH’s mother and I separated and I only saw him at family functions. What I saw was a gregarious and easygoing man who adored his family. I never had less than a pleasant experience with Shawn—his Ravens fandom notwithstanding—and I’m sorry we didn’t spend more time together. (We’re not going down that road. The list of people an introvert wishes he’d spent more time with is substantial.)

This post is less to talk about Shawn than his funeral. He was a highly-respected sergeant in the Baltimore Police Department. “Everyone is ‘highly-respected’ at their funeral,” you’d say, and you’d be right. Compliments and platitudes flow like water off a steep hill at such occasions. The BPD put its money where its mouth was. Shawn’s funeral was an hour north off Baltimore. The commissioner, two chiefs, a lieutenant made noteworthy by the fact he was a supervisor in David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, and a retired sergeant who flew in from Colorado for the event, all spoke. Shawn’s first assignment was the Western District in the days when the Western built the reputation that moved Simon to use it as the setting for The Wire. The chief who’d commanded him back in the day said he would have referred to Shawn as a gentle giant, except too many drug dealers feared him. For that many people to go that far out of their way puts to rest any thoughts of kind words as platitudes.

We’ve all seen police funerals on the news. An officer dies in the line of duty and cops from all over the country show up. Shawn died at home from heart failure. Still, he was on The Job even though off-shift at the time, and about a hundred officers of every rank showed up in dress uniforms and white gloves to send him off. A piper played them in, several spoke—along with Shawn’s grandfather and son, and a preacher everyone could have lived without—and the piper played Amazing Grace as Shawn’s remains were replaced in the hearse. Many of the cops shed tears while standing at attention while the pall bearers placed the casket in the hearse. Men—and women—one could be sure had busted their share of heads in their time and would do so again. The scene was touching beyond words, and I’ll not attempt to find any.

The words I can find have to do with the obvious bond cops feel toward each other. Their brother officer ended his journey with those he cared about and who cared about him in return. I doubt those of us who have not been either first responders or in military combat positions have a true understanding of what it means to know someone has your back like that. No breast-beating. More than a few smiles. A solemnity overhung everyone there as the cops’ respect and affection extended to all who’d come to pay their respects to their fallen comrade. Every civilian-police interaction I saw that day had a bit of it.

This is a difficult time in civilian-police relations. It is not a whitewashing to remember cops are the people who run toward trouble when the rest of us can’t get away fast enough. They’re the ones who listen to our bitching when they don’t get there as fast as we want them to. They’re not perfect except in how they reflect the greater community they serve, for better or worse. Cops come from the community at large. Much of the friction felt between cops and civilians may be due to the fact that cops respect their peers better than we respect our own.

Speaking of showing respect, Mission BBQ more than holds up its end. Shawn’s funeral was early in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Good luck arranging for a caterer on a few days’ notice. Not only did the York Mission BBQ step up, they donated everything for the meal, providing food for 150 guests, including delivery and set-up. It’s a standard service they provide for first responders. If you’re out and about and hungry, give them a try. The food is good and though it may be a little more expensive than some other places, remember where that money goes. (And they pay their employees a living wage. It’s a no tipping restaurant.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Twenty Questions With Frank Be Blase

A brief bio of Frank De Blase doesn’t do him justice. For now, let just say he likes the twist in the plot and the twist of the knife. He takes delight in chaos, entropy, and the wrong turns his characters make. His stories are pure pulp noir told in a language that is alliterated, obliterated, and visceral. He’s madly in love with the femme fatale.

De Blase writes as a music critic every week for Rochester City Newspaper, contributes frequently to Crimespree Magazine, writes a monthly column for Skin & Ink Magazine, and photographs pin-up models for several men’s magazines. He likes to sing the blues.

He lives is Rochester, New York with his wife, Deborah and two cats, Rocco and Dixie. His new book is A Cougar’s Kiss, which we’re discussing today.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about A Cougar’s Kiss.

Frank De Blase:  Frankie Valentine, the lead character in A Cougar’s Kiss has appeared in several short stories and my debut novel Pine Box for a Pin-Up and I thought it might be smart to give some background as to Frankie’s first exposure to photography, girls, and photographing girls. A Cougar’s Kiss stars Valentine as a horny teenager and as an adult who still may be a horny teenager at heart.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
FD: I guess I just write what I like to read. Without relying too much on formula, I tend to have the twist, the detour, the surprise already established before I begin. I also love to write dialogue and often rely on the story idea as merely a framework to hang it from. I’m not necessarily tripping over ideas, but when it’s a good one, it won’t leave me alone.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write A Cougar’s Kiss, start to finish?
FD: A year, give or take a few.

OBAAT: Where did Frankie Valentine come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
FD: I get this question all the time. Yes, the character is based loosely upon me. I’ve worked as a photographer for several men’s magazines over the years --- Swank, Leg World, Leg Show, Ultra , Retro Lovely --- and I’m a bit of a wise ass. But Valentine is darker than I care to be and he doesn’t shy away from violence. I also use Valentine’s sidekick, Mickey Miller, to vent the darker urges and borderline behavior that even Frankie doesn’t truck with. They’re like the proverbial angel of virtue and devil of temptation on my shoulder; however in this case they’re both devils vying for my attention.

OBAAT: In what time and place is A Cougar’s Kiss set and why was this time and place chosen?
FD:  My stories are almost exclusively written between V-J Day and JFK DOA Day for two reasons: first of all I love the culture, the social optimism, the flexing of sexual taboos in post-war America, it serves as a swell backdrop and undercurrent for duplicitous dealings and sinister scenes. Secondly, back then, you just needed to be a good liar. The advent of DNA technology disarms lies. And phones no longer go unanswered with everyone having a cell phone in their mitts. A Cougar’s Kiss is set in Rochester, New York because it is where I live and it’s an interesting place, it’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s serves as sort of a character as well. I find it easier to blend in reality and real places in my fiction, it gives an added plausibility.

OBAAT: How did A Cougar’s Kiss come to be published?
FD: Down & Out Books published my first two books. Editor Eric Campbell is a righteous cat. I owe it all to my friend and mentor Charles Benoit who introduced me to Noircon’s Lou Boxer in Philadelphia who in turn introduced me to Campbell who signed me up after two phone calls.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
FD: I primarily read hard-boiled fiction. Besides the obvious classics, some of my favorite writers are Richard S. Prather, Walter Mosley, Lawrence Block, Christa Faust, and James Ellroy.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
FD: Somebody said I could make more money in writing than girlie photography and music. Seriously though, I’ve always been fascinated with wordplay and parlance and syntax. Words are my monkey bars. I love building characters simply out of the way they talk.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
FD: Well, I’ve never been arrested or shot but I’ve had some dark urges. I’ve definitely been done wrong a time or two.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
FD: The endless possibilities, the creative freedom, the groupies.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
FD: Film maker Russ Meyer and guitarist Link Wray. Though couched in social commentary, Russ Meyer’s name is synonymous with the Double D cup and the often violent, sexified sexpots that routinely spill out of it. He frequently filmed and photographed these top-heavy, cantilevered cuties from low angles to accentuate their dominance and celebrate — and accentuate — the gonzo, jaw-dropping busty-ness of it all. There are obvious literal references to Meyer when I describe the desired female victim, villain, or vixen. And like Meyer, I try to balance objectification and worship as both are desirable and dangerous, perfect for setting up the male character who can’t tell the difference. Link’s primal rhythms echo a femme fatale’s strut: swivelin,’ swingin,’ sexy and capable of causing a riot. His guitar is the sound of the getaway car, the five o’clock shadow on a killer’s face, it’s bullets ricocheting down the alley.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
FD: Honestly it’s a precarious cocktail of the two. When I write an outline, it’s generally vague, covering the major plot points. When I dive right in it allows for more spontaneity and if I’m not careful, confusion.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
FD: I generally try to get the semblance of a first draft banged out. Then I begin the polishing, re-tooling, and tweaking. That’s where the real writing begins, s’far as I’m concerned.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
FD: I generally don’t like happy endings. I do like endings that hint at more to come. And just because it may leave you laughing, that doesn’t necessarily make it “happy.”

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
FD: I suppose dark-humored, hard boiled, film noir fans like me are an obvious demographic, but I’d like to go beyond preaching to the perverted and win over new fans for my stuff and the genre as a whole.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
FD: Write every day. Enjoy the ride. Don’t try too hard.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
FD: Narrative ---- the most important component. If you can’t tell a story in a compelling way --- your own way --- the rest are meaningless. The narrative is the writer’s voice. I make it a point to keep it conversational. I write like I talk.

Character ---- the characters share and help propel the narrative. There’s room for quirks and humor here. This is where I call upon people and incidents in my real life for added color.
Story/plot ---- what the narrative conveys. If you’ve got no story then you’ve got nothing.

Setting ---- affects how characters work with, within, and around it as silent component to the narrative. Here I try to personify and give life to the inanimate, for example “The sky cried as cars roared angrily by.”

Tone ---- the sum of all the parts if utilized correctly. And yet you can’t control tone. Every book has tone --- good or bad. This is where the magic and sweat and creativity all align.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
FD: Mickey Spillane’s I, The Jury… it’s what lit my spark, some 40 odd years ago.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
FD: Spending time with my wife, photographing musicians and scantily clad women, eating barb-b-que.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
FD: A yet to be titled follow up to A Cougar’s Kiss, another collection of short stories, a graphic novel of some of the aforementioned short stories, and an album of my beat-inspired poetry performed with the jazz combo Busted Valentines. It’s anyone’s guess in what order this will all get done…

Piqued your interest? Learn more about Frank here:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Best Reads of 2016

I read 67 books in 2016; started and failed to finish nine more. Below are my ten favorites, though not necessarily released in 2016 (I think only two were). I’m not saying they were the best books. These are the ten that stuck in my mind as the best reading experiences. (Listed alphabetically by title.)

A Detailed Man, David Swinson. Often neglected in the well-deserved buzz that surrounds The Second Girl, A Detailed Man deserves attention on its own merits. The story of a burned-out cop as he decides how badly he wants to rebuild his career (or not) and the various vicissitudes of having no regular gig in a police department.

Flash Boys, Michael Lewis. The stock market may have been intended as a way to create fluid capital and bring buyers and sellers together, but the people making the big money have nothing to do with any of that. They think of it as a casino and Lewis’s book described how they filter the skim for themselves.

King Maybe, Timothy Hallinan. The first of two Junior Bender adventures this year continues the series in good form, in part by returning Junior more to his roots as a burglar who gets by more on his wits than on hardware.

LaBrava, Elmore Leonard. Among the few Leonard novels I hadn’t read, ad from his prime crime period. As good as I’d heard it would be. True, his characters and plots have a lot of similarities, but they’re similar in good ways and just different enough you don’t mind. Besides, no one reads Elmore Leonard for the plots.

The Lost Detective, Nathan Ward. Maybe the best book I’ve ever read about a writer.

The Long and Faraway Gone, Lou Berney. Deserves all the acclaim. A departure from Gutshot Straight and Whiplash River, though the elements that made both of them so good are here, as well as an added layer. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

The Martian, Andy Weir. The biggest surprise read of the year. It’s been a long time since I read a book I enjoyed more.

Once Were Cops, Ken Bruen. Snuck in under the deadline to remind me how good Bruen is, even with awkward material.

Rain Dogs, Adrian McKinty. Book Five of the Troubles Trilogy shows why McKinty didn’t stop at three. He had a lot more for Sean Duffy to say and do.

World Gone By, Dennis Lehane. Sequel to Live By Night, and I liked it better.

Honorable Mention

The Hunter and Other Stories, Dashiell Hammett. A good cross-section of Hammett’s shorts.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Finally got around to reading this, thanks to David Swinson. I see why it’s such a big deal, though it probably would have moved me more had I read it in school.

L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy. A big, glorious mess of a book. If you’re into Ellroy’s writing for the sake of the writing, read it. If you have a mission to read the entire LA Quartet, read it. Otherwise, see the movie.

The Long Good-Bye / Bay City Blues, Raymond Chandler. One of the Big Three Chandler novels, and one of the best shorts.

One or the Other, John McFetridge. The Olympics came to Montreal in 1976, and Eddie Dougherty was there. Take a look at how the Olympics affects a major city from the ground up.

Rumrunners, Eric Beetner. No one writes books that lend themselves to movie treatments better than Beetner. Unlike many others, his are outstanding books, too. Picture Harry Dean Stanton as the tough as nails old man here.

Rough Trade, Todd Robinson. Boo and Junior are in over their heads again, and Robinson gets them out in a way only he can.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

December's Best Reads

What can I say? The year went out with a bang and I haven’t even gotten to the Christmas gelt yet.

The Reversal, Michael Connelly. Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch working together. What’s not to like? Great story, expertly told. The only problem I have with Connelly is his journalism roots show in each book, as the writing rarely sings.

The Four Last Things, Timothy Hallinan. Reaching back to Hallinan’s original series featuring PI Simeon Grist. He could start writing these again and I’d pick right up on them. I think the whole series is now available for cheap on Kindle, which is how I scored the first three. Well worth the time.

Unloaded, Eric Beetner, editor. All anthologies—all of them—have the curse of unevenness. Combining different authors guarantees some stories aren’t as good as others. (I often fill this role.) Having acknowledged that, this is as well-conceived and well-rounded an anthology as I can remember—including some of the “Year’s Best” efforts—with no story containing a gun. Proceeds go to a gun control organization. Even if the motive was pure, unbridled avarice, this is a worthy collection that has earned all its accolades.

Dove Season, Johnny Shaw. I finally broke my Johnny Shaw cherry after falling in love with his work at Bouchercon Noirs at Bars. Not as wacky as his readings there, Dove Season is a remarkably diverse book that runs the gamut. The first half is borderline goofy in a Carl Hiaasen way, Jimmy Veeder tasked with finding a particular Mexican prostitute for his dying father. (The story of his first reconnaissance mission to Mexicali is worth the entire price of the book.) The story takes a couple of hard turns after that to remind me more of Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone in its ability to mix drama and comedy. Shaw’s in the rotation for sure now.

Fields Where They Lay, Timothy Hallinan. I try to spread my reading of a single author out more than this, but it’s a Christmas story, and it was Christmas week and it was on my shelf and so what I’m an adult and can read whatever the hell I want. The newest Junior Bender has Junior almost on the right side of the law—almost—working security for a disreputable, run-down mall at Christmastime. All the things you’ve come to expect from Junior, with a holiday twist.

Once Were Cops, Ken Bruen. Bruen’s one of the authors I have to be sure not to let fall through the cracks, as he’s so uniformly good it’s easy to take him for granted. This is no exception. Not a Jack Taylor story—though he makes a cameo appearance—this is the tale of a Galway cop who dreams of moving to New York and has his wish come true. That it comes true in no way implies the wish is altruistic, as Shea is as mean and sick a fuck as you’re likely to encounter. Bruen’s work is Irish through and through and gives a wee hint of what James Ellroy might have sounded like had he come of age across the sheugh.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Today is Festivus, a holiday for the rest of us. As a blog is a written communication medium, we can’t share the feast, nor the feats of strength. We can air grievances. Yes, though it may surprise you, I can be one grievance-airing motherfucker.

1. You’re in a long supermarket line. The person in front of you has 127 items in the cart. The cashier rings everything up, packs everything, sets it in the cart, and has to tell this person how much the total is. Again. Now the person in front of you starts digging in her purse looking for her wallet as though surprised this stranger in a smock is asking for money. (Sorry ladies, but we all know the odds are 95 – 5 this will be a woman.) Bonus grievance points for those who pay in cash and spend five minutes counting out the exact change, even if they have to root around in the aforementioned purse for the last seven pennies. True, such people are always old, but so am I. In the words of the Nighthawks, I’m not long for this old world, so please get out of my way.

2. You’re driving down the expressway at 65 mph and see a car merging onto the road like Meat Loaf* to get in front of you. (* - Bat out of hell.) You ease off to let them in and they immediately slow down to 55. I realize this is the DC area and traffic is not only bad, it’s aggressive, but if you planned to be a religious fanatic about observing the speed limit, would it have broken your balls to wait your turn?

3. How college football determines a national champion. ‘Nuff said.

4. You can’t turn off Amazon 1-click for Kindle purchases. I like to use reward points for books, especially books by authors I’m test driving, and I can’t do it.

5. Google Maps makes me enter my home address every time I want directions. Google knows what size penis warmer I wear, and it can’t assume that when I want directions I want them from my house? Even worse, why do I have to get at least seven characters in before it figures, “Oh, shit! He’s at home and wants to know how to get somewhere, so suggesting 8248 Veterans Highway Millersville MD as a starting point doesn’t help him much?”

6. Metal detectors at Major League Baseball games. There has never been a terrorist act at a baseball game. (What the Pirates’ front office does only manifests itself on the field; it doesn’t take place there.) Every security expert I’ve read says a gathering of people milling about—say standing in a line waiting to go through a metal detector—is a far greater risk.

7. Gary Bettman. That rat-faced fuck can’t be gone soon enough.

8. (For The Beloved Spouse) Misleading headlines that pick up on one small element of the story when something else is the true point. The headline is the abstract of the article; it’s what helps you decide whether to read more. If the information featured in the headline isn’t present in the first paragraph of the story, either the writer buried the lede or the headline writer is a douche. (This need not be an either/or proposition.)

9. People who bitch all summer about Daylight Saving Time. If having hours of sunlight during normal sleeping hours is that big a deal to you, I hear land is cheap in Alaska.

10. I saw a poster the other day advertising a July concert in Nats Park by “James Taylor and his All-Star Band. Special Guest: Bonnie Raitt (and her band).” I’ve been around long enough to know “special guest” in this context means “warm-up act.” Bonnie Raitt warming up for James Taylor, the man who’s put more people to sleep than heroin? This makes it appear the terrorists aren’t just winning, they’re so far ahead they feel they can run out the clock.

11. People who bitch about how cold winter is. It’s winter, people. Get over it or move to Florida or Arizona or Texas. What’s that? You don’t want to move there because the summers are too hot? See below.

12. People who bitch all summer about how hot it is. It’s summer, folks. Get over it or move to Minnesota or Vermont or Montana. What’s that? You don’t want to move there because the winters are too cold? See above.

13. People who bitch about 11 and 12 above. (And you’re often the same people.) This gets old after a while. Summer is hot. Winter is cold. Deal with it. Try bitching about how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west every fucking day and how monotonous it is. Why can’t people on the East Coast have beautiful sunsets over the ocean? Or the West Coast have similar sunrises? Waaaaa.

14. Tower of Power is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What’s that? They’re not a rock band? Tell that to James Brown, Tupac, and Joan Baez. Yet another Cleveland “Mistake by the Lake.”

15. To get a jump on next year’s grievances, here’s one for anyone who voted for Trump and doesn’t like how the next twelvemonth goes: Fuck you. Suffer. And be advised, the lubricant shipment isn’t expected any time soon, either.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Book was Better

Sure it was. Except when it’s not. Some books have extraneous elements or plot holes or things that just don’t make sense. There’s also the inconvenient fact they they’re two distinct storytelling media. Some things that work in a novel won’t work on screen. This is often—maybe even usually—to the novel’s advantage, but not always. There are examples both ways, but today let’s focus on three examples where the movie is far superior to the book and one where the film is much different but at least as good.

The French Connection. (1971) Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by Ernest Tidyman. Based on the 1969 book by Robin Moore. Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

What strikes one here is how the movie captures the aura of the book while making major plot changes. Take the famous chase scene. There’s nothing remotely close to that in the book. No plot reason to even have it. Friedkin and Tidyman (and producer Phillip D’Antoni) needed to show Popeye’s intense, even fanatical, focus on this case and they didn’t have the kind of time Moore had in the book to let the endless surveillances play out. So they took advantage of the visceral reactions to be inspired from an action scene to describe Popeye’s obsessed character as well in seven minutes as it is in the rest of the movie combined. (This is the example of the movie not necessarily being better, but much different and it still works.)

The Godfather (1972) Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Coppola, based on Puzo’s 1969 novel. I’ve heard The Godfather described as “the best bad book ever written.” I can’t argue with thOscars for best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
It’s actually two books in one. We all remember the romanticized gangster story, but there’s a loooong digression into life in Vegas that I’d call a soap opera but that’s an insult to daytime television. The movie cuts almost all of that shit, giving us just enough to let us know who Moe Greene is and why Michael has him shot in the eye, which was the only part of that subplot worth paying attention to, anyway.

Jaws (1975). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screen play by Peter Benchley and Spielberg, from Benchley’s 1974 novel. (No Hollywood screwing around there. The movie appeared on screens 16 months after the book dropped.) No Oscars in the three categories we’re tracking here. Spielberg’s one failure was bringing Jaws out the same year as Cuckoo’s Nest.
The police chief’s wife has an affair with the marine biologist in the book and it’s stultifying to read. Absolutely not a goddamn thing worth knowing happens. Someone must have told Benchley the book needed sex. Spielberg had the innate good sense to know the real story was the three men on the boat that should have been bigger, so he got his movie onto the water as quickly as possible and changed movies forever. Not necessarily for the better in the long run, but that’s not his fault. Jaws is a masterpiece.

L.A. Confidential (1997) Directed by Curtis Hanson. Screen play by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, from James Ellroy’s 1990 novel. Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay; nominated for Best Picture and Best Director but lost both to Titanic, which is a travesty I’ll carry a grudge for to my dying day.

The only one of the four where I saw the movie first. It’s damn near a perfect movie and I was like a kid Christmas morning when I finally opened the book, which is a glorious mess. Ellroy’s at the peak of his writing power here, but the story is out of control. The last 30 or 40 pages are nothing more than two or three characters at a time standing around trying to explain to each other what the fuck just happened here, and it still doesn’t make any sense. Helgeland and Hanson ruthlessly cut unneeded scenes, plots, characters—whole books’ worth of shit—and pulled in little bits of the surrounding LA Quartet novels to create one of the great crime films ever made.

I’m sure you have your own favorites. Let’s hear them.