Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kevin Costner in crazy “Criminal”

The 2016 film, “Criminal,” is a loopy mashup of a crime movie, spy thriller and science fiction yarn.

Jerico, played by Kevin Costner, is an unregenerate career criminal. He is crafty, resourceful, violent and without a conscience. The problem with his brain is exactly what the doctor ordered for an experimental project.

A doctor working for the government implants the memories of a murdered agent into Jerico’s head so the criminal can complete the agent’s mission.

Possessing part of the agent’s mind along with his own hilariously anti-social behavior, Jerico’s journey is a hoot.

A character getting his brain tweaked and surprised by his new thoughts is a concept that’s been done before. But, when this film was over, my wife and I looked at each other and laughed, saying, “What a crazy film,” and, “That was a lot of fun.”

Also in the movie are Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, and Ryan Reynolds.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

No Country For Old Men, the book

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men is an excellent crime novel and a fine book.

If there is a sense of surprise in that statement, it is because I did not care for the 2007 movie based on it. I avoided the book until recently. I should have known better. McCarthy is a hell of a good writer, if one with a very bleak take on life.

No Country For Old Men, published in 2005, is well crafted, involving, and often stunning.

In it, McCarthy sets up three parallel stories that take place in 1980.

Llewellyn Moss, a 36-year-old Vietnam vet living in West Texas, comes upon the scene of a massacre. Out in the desert, two rival drug gangs shot the hell out of each other. They left a lot of dead bodies and a satchel containing $2.4 million in cash. Moss takes the money  and runs off, thinking no one will ever know. But readers know something and he does not. There is a hired killer after him.

A mysterious and lethal weirdo named Chigurh is sent to retrieve the money and in no time is on Moss’ trail. He lives by his own code and no one, but no one, gets in his way or stops him.

No matter where Moss runs or how clever he thinks he is, he has Chigurh after him.

The third story is about Ed Tom Bell, a county sheriff in his late 50s, who starts following the bloody trail of Chigurh. While Bell is experienced and cautious, readers will stress themselves out worrying about him, too.

Cormac McCarthy writes some of the most dead-on, authentic dialogue. But, if I have any bone to pick with the book, it is that I wish he had placed quotation marks around the characters’ lines.

If people skipped this novel because they saw the movie, I would urge them to go get a copy and read it.

(For more posts on books, head over to Todd Mason’s blog.)

(Also, check out my crime novel, Lyme Depot. Thanks.)

Friday, January 10, 2020

Peter Cushing in noir bank robbery film Cash on Demand

Andre Morell and Peter Cushing
Back in December, Eddie Muller, on his TCM program Noir Alley, presented a terrific, if little known film, called “Cash on Demand.”

It is a combination bank-heist story and reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Peter Cushing plays a stiff-necked manager of a neighborhood bank branch who is blackmailed into helping a suave thief rob his own bank. Andre Morell plays the thief.

This little, 89-minute film has a small cast and most of the action takes place in the cramped spaces of the bank.

It is well worth seeing – if it can be found.

Watch Eddie Muller’s introduction to the movie here.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

O. Henry and Season’s Reading

O. Henry (William Sydney Porter)
This was supposed to be my Christmas post, but things got hectic and it never made it to this page.

But since what follows are also winter stories, it is still the season to read them.

In December, I located my old, 972-page Collected Stores of O. Henry. I blew off the dust and cracked it open to “The Cop and the Anthem.”

The story is beautifully structured. It is a lesson in economic writing. And has a perfect surprise ending. It slams down hard and fast on Soapy, a homeless man whose hope is just about restored when reality bites him. When I first read it in grade school, I laughed at the irony. Last month I did not laugh.

Most of the stories I read had the classic O. Henry twist ending, but none of them seemed as light as I remembered. They all seemed dark.

In “Compliments of the Season,” Fuzzy, a down-and-out drunk earns a reward from a wealthy family. When he is invited to have a drink he attempts to give a traditional toast revealing he was raised to be a gentleman but somehow fell to the gutter. The twist at the end could not lighten this tale.

Some of the stories were dark and weird, like “A Chaparral Christmas” from 1903. In it, a Western killer’s present to a woman is not murdering her husband.

Even one of his most famous stories, “The Gift of the Magi,” seemed too bitter. Maybe it was just me.

William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), who signed his work, O. Henry, wrote more than 600 short stories. They were originally published in magazines of his era, and quite a few first appeared in the New York World newspaper’s Sunday magazine. Today, most of his stories can be found on the Web.

Of the stories I read this season, my favorite was “The Last Leaf.” In Greenwich Village in the early 1900s, a young woman in danger of dying of pneumonia is given hope. It is one of the author’s most gentle surprise endings.