Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

This pas weekend I saw Kiss of Death, loosely based on Mickey Spillane's novel of the same title. Mike Hammer rescues a young woman (Cloris Leachman) on a dark road only to have her get killed several hours later. Hammer, naturally, seeks revenge on the villains uncovering a plot about stolen uranium (or atomic energy or something) - a Cold War MacGuffin inserted by the filmmakers. The whole Hammer revenge thing starts of as a standard Spillane plot, but the filmmakers made some changes to the story (expected) and the character along the way.

Instead of being a New York tough guy, he's based in L.A. and wears nice suits and drives a fancy car. They also cut down on the violence and the womanizing (Velda was his girlfriend). The movie Hammer was much more of a film noir PI, getting the crap beat out of him several times, instead of the Spillane PI who beat the crap out of anyone in his way -- even women.

Aside from the sex and violence, the one main theme of Spillane's book his honor. Most stories start off with a friend of Hammer's getting killed and Hammer vowing revenge on the perpetrators. This Hammer seemed more interested in the case because Leachman's character was involved in "something big" rather than his failure to protect her.

That's not to say the movie was bad. It was a fair film noir with a Cold War twist. There's also a bit of controversy about the ending (detailed here by the Noir of the Week guys). I happened to catch the American version of the ending - in case you're wondering.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Playoff Predictions

I usually do these before the first round of the playoffs, but I'm a little late this year. So I decided to do a little something different. Usually I do all the rounds going to the Stanley Cup Finals at once, but now I'm going to do this round and wait for the next round to post those predictions. And away we go.

Pittsburgh vs New York Rangers. Pittsburgh looks like the team to beat. Their superstars Crosby and Malkin are playing great. The deadline deals by Ray Shero to pick up Marion Hossa, Pascal Dupuis, and Hall Gill look like genius moves. Marc-Andre Fleury has been lights-out since coming back from his injury. But we can't count the Rangers out. Jagr has been playing inspired hockey and their veteran leadership of Shannahan, Gomez, and Drury (who I'm a huge fan of) knows how to win when it counts. The Penguins are currently up 2-0, but before the round started I called Penguins in 7. This may be amended to 6, but I'd be surprised if the Rangers rolled over any earlier.

Montreal vs Philadelphia. Before the series started, I would've said Montreal in 5. The Canadiens were the top team in the Eastern Conference, but took seven games to eliminate the Bruins. Philadelphia's goalie Martin Biron has done a good job keeping the Flyers close in every game this playoff season and outright stole Game 2 in Montreal. The Canadiens gave the Flyers fits all season, but Philly has hung tough in both games so far. I'm still picking Montreal in 6 games.

Detroit vs Colorado. Detroit was once again tops in the league, but this time actually look like they can do something in the playoffs. They almost let Game 1 slip away, but manhandled Colorado in Game 2. I haven't seen much of this series, so I'm just basing this on what I know about each team. Detroit in 5.

Dallas vs San Jose. San Jose is another team, like Detroit, that usually has a great season but does nothing come playoff time. They did a little better this year by beating Calgary in 7 games led by veteran Jeremy Roenick. They also have one of the league's top goalies in Evgeni Nabokov and picked up the biggest name defenseman available at the trading deadline in Brian Campbell. Dallas dispatched the defending champ Anaheim Ducks with surprising ease. They've been playing great after slow start to the season and goalie Marty Turco is always dangerous. I think this one will go seven games, but I'm not sure who will come out on top. I'm going to go with San Jose, though.

So, my calls for the conference finals are Pittsburgh vs Montreal in the East and Detroit vs San Jose in the West. Both would be phenomenal match ups.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

PI #3

Got comments back from my personal editor on the third short story featuring my new PI. He feels, like I do, that it's my best yet. I sure hope that's the case because we should get better as writers with the more practice we get, right? He even picked out a couple of the stylistic things I did as things he liked. The two problems he found were the opening paragraph (which I new) and he felt the ending was a bit confusing. Here's to another round of revisions.

Friday, April 25, 2008

So Tired

Between work and playoff hockey, I'm so tired. Haven't had a chance to write up any more reviews. I'm still alive, though.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Se7en (1995)

My last review was Fight Club. Here's another movie by David Fincher that it took me a really long time to see. Just like FC, Se7en features outstanding direction by Fincher and great performances by Pitt and Morgan Freeman. It's amazing how almost every shot in the film gives you a very creepy feeling without resorting to a lot of the tricks that serial killer movies rely on.

I noticed a couple really cool decisions the filmmakers make that I became subconsciously aware of. One thing I noticed while watching was profanity. There is quite a bit of swearing in the movie. But except for one line by Freeman and the interrogation scene at the end, all the profanity was spoken by Brad Pitt's character. Not sure if they were going for some kind of message, but it kept the whole thing a little off-kilter and made Freeman's cursing a lot more powerful.

It was only after a couple days that I noticed something about the violence in the movie. Yes, there's a serial killer going after people based on the seven deadly sins. But except for Wrath and Envy, all of the killing/violence occurs off camera. I think that helped build the eerie atmosphere.

Very good movie. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fight Club (1999)

In January, I finally got around to seeing Fight Club. I know, I know...it's a wonder how I made it this long considering how many people absolutely adore it. Luckily, I hadn't heard many spoilers before seeing it. It was well directed by David Fincher (Se7en - which will be reviewed in the future) and features knockout performances by Edward Norton and Brad Pitt.

Since it's almost a ten year old movie, I don't really have to dance around spoilers much. Early on, the movie gave off a certain vibe. That there were going to be big twists coming. For some reason, I kept going back and forth that possibly Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) was just a figment of the narrator's imagination. At a certain point, I decided that she was real. But at pretty much the same moment, I knew Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) was not real. The one twist I didn't see coming was the last ten seconds of the movie. It makes sense in terms of the previous two plus hours, but I didn't think the filmmakers would actually "go there".

I'm not really sure what to say about Fight Club. I'm not in love with it like many people are. It was good, yes. I'd like to see it again. But there are lots of movies out there that I'd like to see for the first time before watching it again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hello Americans, by Simon Callow

It seems like I had been waiting a long time for Callow to release his second volume of Welles's biography. Thankfully, I had only read The Road to Xanadu four years ago. Many Welles fans had to wait eleven years for the second volume. I don't remember much of Xanadu, but my few recollections are critiques of Callow's work. He seemed to delight in painting Welles as less involved in the radio and stage productions than other accounts put him. And there were many offhand remarks about people Welles met once that had no bearing on the story of Welles's life or work. Thankfully, both these issues were remedied in Hello Americans.

Picking up here Xanadu left off, the second volume covers Welles's life from the release of “Citizen Kane,” in 1941, to the completion of “Macbeth,” in 1948. At first glance, I was upset that the 500 page volume only covered seven years of his life and worried that I'd have to wait another eleven years until volume 3. Callow, however, does a splendid job filling in Welles's activities to the minutest detail: from his trouble editing films from afar, to being completely immersed into Carnival, to his attempt at a career as political commentator.

One thing that always puzzled me was Welles relationship with Rita Hayworth. The union of the powerful director to one of the most beautiful actresses of the day certainly would be tabloid fodder today. Callow doesn't spend much time on their relationship, but provides even more tantalizing tidbits that I'd not heard before.

While he corrected his earlier issues, there are still a handful of things Callow does that made this book a slow read. He has a penchant for super long paragraphs, some as long as an entire book page. And some chapters were a bit too long. I liked the fact that each chapter had a specific focus and ignored most other aspects of Welles's hectic life during that period. But 60+ pages of densely worded prose are almost too much to read in an entire sitting. There were several times that I picked the book up to only put it down again when I saw that I couldn't finish the next chapter in the 20 minutes I had before I had to go somewhere.

Despite the stylistic flaws, Callow's thorough research makes the second volume another must read for anyone interested in Orson Welles. I just hope we don't have to wait eleven years until the third volume.