Friday, August 2, 2019

July's Books and Movies

This month’s best reads:

The New Centurions, Joseph Wambaugh. His first, and the book that deservedly put him on the map. A little dated in spots, but much of that is because it so heavily influenced so many books that came after it. Wambaugh’s writing style loosened up as he continued but the power of some of these scenes is shown by how well I remembered many of them as I got into them after not having read the book in well over forty years.

The Dain Curse, Dashiell Hammett. Probably the weakest of Hammett’s novels, mostly because the plot is so outrageous it makes L.A. Confidential and Murder on the Orient Express look like Dr. Seuss. This could be because it first appeared as a serial in Black Mask and Hammett may have written himself into a corner. The writing, though. Crisp, clean, not a word wasted and not a word misplaced. It’s a master class in how to tell a story even if the story is a bit much.

The movies I saw in July:

Cop Land (1997) A friend mentioned this on Facebook one day and I found myself at loose ends that night and figured what the hell. Incredible cast includes Sylvester Stallone (don’t laugh, he’s very good in this), Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Janeana Garafolo, Robert Patrick, Annabella Sciorro, Edie Falco, and Michael Rapaport. (Get over it, kids. I’m okay with Rapaport.) Stallone plays the sheriff in a small New Jersey town where the mob has set up corrupt cops with sweetheart deals and houses and who knows what all so the cops let the hoods run the precinct. It’s a classic story of the well-meaning but overmatched boob forced to take too much who settles things himself, but it’s well played and paced and filmed. Reminded me of a 70s movie, and you know how I feel about my 70s movies.

Appaloosa (2008) I don’t watch this one as much as LA Confidential, but as much as any Western. Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen bring Robert B. Parker’s traveling lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch to life with Jeremy irons as a properly greasy “rancher” who has plans other than ranching. The only thing I don’t like about this film is that they expect us to believe a man like Virgil Cole would lose his head over Renee Zellweger, who’s as pinched-face and unpleasant as ever. Classic Western done in revisionist style and well worth watching more than once. Bonus points if you can spot Lance Henriksen without knowing in advance which part he has.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) One of my small handful of comfort food movies. I wanted to relax and smile and this was exactly the ticket. I remember seeing this in the theater with my parents, thirteen years old, and feeling them both tighten up as Katherine Ross started taking off her clothes.

Major League (1989) Not as good a baseball movie as Bull Durham but still eminently watchable more than once. It still amazes me that the Cleveland Indians let them use the team name and logo.

Apollo 11 (2019) Wonderful documentary cut from NASA video and audio recorded during the moon flight, meticulously synched. NASA had cameras everywhere, including in stages of rockets. Crafted seamlessly into HD this is a loving and gripping travelogue of mankind’s greatest accomplishment, though when it was over my first thought was, “It’s all been downhill from here.”

Hombre (1967) One of the small handful of greatest Westerns ever, and deserving to be listed among the best films, period. Paul Newman plays John Russell, a white man kidnapped by the Apaches as a child who came to prefer living as an Apache. The supporting cast of Richard Boone, Frederic March, Martin Balsam, Diane Cilento, Barbara Rush, and Frank Silvero (who steals every scene he’s in) does a wonderful job with what might be Elmore Leonard’s best story and much of his best dialog. I’ve seen Hombre probably ten times now and if there’s a weakness I haven’t found it.

Blade Runner: Final Cut (????) I have no idea which version number this would be of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi noir masterpiece but he should have stopped messing with it at least one version sooner. It had been a while since I saw Blade Runner, was inspired to take another look on the passing of Rutger Hauer, and wasn’t as careful as I should have been when picking from the Amazon list of Blade Runners. At some point creative artists who release their work to the public should understand the public has a certain proprietary interest and limit how much they fuck with it. A bitter disappointment, the slower pacing allowing several holes in the story to stand out. Close to the most disappointing movie I’ve ever seen, though that crown remains solidly in the camp of Blade Runner 2049, a movie I’d encourage Denis Villeneuve to fuck with.

Rules of Engagement (2000) Solid military courtroom drama worthy of mention in the same breath as A Few Good Men. William Friedkin directs the usual outstanding performances from Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson as two best friends from the Vietnam War who reunite when Jackson faces court-martialed for ordering his Marines to open fire on a crowd of supposedly unarmed protesters outside the embassy in Yemen. Guy Pearce plays the prosecutor and Ben Kingsley the ambassador, with Bruce Greenwood his usual slimy self as the National Security Advisor. First rate all the way.


Mark Bergin said...

When I decided to try writing a novel, I reread at least one book from most of my favorite authors. I avoided Wambaugh because he is so good, so powerful I didn’t want to be so influenced that I’d copy him.

Mike Dennis said...

"Cicero Grimes" is one of my favorite character names of all time.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Dana – When I was in school, I read NEW CENTURIONS and THE BLUE KNIGHT, and went on a Wambaugh feeding frenzy. But I have not read much of his later work. Thanks for the reminder.
Hammett’s THE MALTESE FALCON needs to be studied in college lit classes.
COP LAND is a lot of fun and reminded me of a Western.