Open thread – video file help needed & John Wick edition

Not much news since the last of these–maybe stuff is out there, but I haven’t had a chance to look for it. A huge work project, football season, and lots of great concerts coming through Austin have kept me busy.

I need some help from someone who knows stuff about video files. I don’t know if it’s medium-level or advanced-level knowledge that I need, but it’s definitely above my no-knowledge level. I don’t want to say what I need the help for right at this moment, but if you contact me about it, I think you will jump on board the project about 1/4 of a second after you read about what it is. I also don’t think it will be that time consuming for someone who knows what he’s doing. If you contact me and I tell you about it and you aren’t interested (you will be), if it’s too big a project (I don’t think it will be), or the particular set of skills I’m looking for aren’t yours, don’t worry, I won’t be offended.

Update: Video issues resolved. More to follow.

Also, has anyone seen John Wick yet? The preview looked great, and the reviews are very strong.

I don’t understand why the title follows the baffling trend of naming the movie after the main character even though John Carter and Parker didn’t do well and Jack Reacher only did OK. What the hell, Hollywood? Who is or are the idiot or idiots who think this is a good idea? What’s a better title, James Bond or From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or The Spy Who Loved Me (to pick three favorites)?

Anyway, if you saw it, tell us what you thought.

And, of course, thread is open for anything else.

The Getaway Car: the aftermath

Westlake-Getaway-Car-Cover

NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.

Trent’s been rounding up links to reviews of Levi Stahl’s excellent Westlake nonfiction miscellany The Getaway Carand if you haven’t grabbed yourself a copy of that fine tome yet, why not?—but I’ve come across a few additional bits and bobs in the wake of its publication last month which I reckon might be worth a moment of your time.

There’s a piece by William Kristol at the Wall Street Journal site (if you hit a paywall via that link, try Googling it and going in that way) titled “In Praise of Westlake,” in which Kristol, well, praises Westlake, and along the way praises Levi’s book too. It’s a nicely written article, a good primer for anyone coming to Westlake afresh, which I realize probably won’t include many people reading this post, but still—I enjoyed it.

Paul Westlake has posted a personal and heartfelt tribute to Levi’s book at DonaldWestlake.com, in which he reminisces about his dad “making a manual Smith-Corona sound like a machine gun with the hiccups” and reflects on how his father “had dry spells, he had bills, and kids, and more bills, and more kids. He had no backup plan. If he didn’t write, and get paid for writing, there was nothing else. The next line in that sequence is blank. His vocation was, and was always to be, writing. If the variety of his published works didn’t make that apparent, [The Getaway Car] surely will.” Paul also kindly nods to both The Violent World of Parker and Existential Ennui, and more importantly to a man who played a key role in the genesis of The Getaway Car, Ethan Iverson. Speaking of whom…

Do-the-Math

I’ve referenced Ethan’s excellent overview of Westlake’s oeuvre, “A Storyteller That Got the Details Right,” numerous time over the years; when I was first getting into Parker and Stark and Westlake five years ago, Ethan’s guide proved indispensable, and I still look it up on a regular basis. And just the other day when I was doing so again I realized Ethan had updated it, adding his blog post from April 2014 about what he and and Levi found rooting through Westlake’s attic, and further embellishing the piece here and there. Even if you’ve read Ethan’s essay before, I heartily recommend reacquainting yourself with it; almost every time I go to it I find something new—in this instance, literally.

News roundup for 2014-10-11 (open thread–The Equalizer and Gone Girl edition)

As with the last one of these I posted asking for opinions of A Walk Among the Tombstones, this time I’m interested in your opinions of a couple of other recent crime flicks, The Equalizer and Gone Girl. The next few weeks are going to be busy for me, so I’m not sure I’ll get a chance to see either or both of them in the theater. Should I make an extra effort or will video be fine?

Thread is open to chat about this or anything else.

Movie review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Cover of the Hard Case Crime movie tie-in edition

Cover of the Hard Case Crime movie tie-in edition

A Walk Among the Tombstones, as many of you no doubt already know, is based on the novel by Lawrence Block, the tenth in his series about alcoholic/recovering alcoholic (depending on what book) private investigator Matthew Scudder. Scudder is unlicensed, occasionally doing “favors” for “friends” who sometimes give him “gifts” out of gratitude for his favors.

AWATT  launches when Peter (Boyd Holbrook), who knows of Scudder (Liam Neeson) from Alcoholics Anonymous, asks him to come talk with his brother, Kenny.

Kenny’s wife Carrie has been kidnapped, then murdered despite him paying ransom. Despite this harrowing tale, Scudder at first refuses to help, in part because Kenny is a narcotics trafficker. Needless to say, Scudder does get involved, and away we go.

If you’ve read any of the Scudder novels, you know what a Scudder novel feels like–the atmosphere, the darkness, the general ugliness of the universe he inhabits. Director Scott Frank, shooting his own script, captures that ably. AWATT is a Matthew Scudder movie, not just a movie based on a Matthew Scudder novel (as, reportedly, Eight Million Ways to Die is). I have not yet read the novel (I’m reading them in order and not there yet), so I can’t say how close the script hews to the source material plot-wise, but it hews very closely to the spirit of the series*. That in itself, as exasperated Parker fans know, is quite an achievement.

The always excellent Neeson is perfectly cast as Matthew Scudder, and the supporting actors also do a fine job. A friendship between an older white man and a black youth has a high risk of corn (“You’re the man now, dog!“), but there isn’t a kernel of it in Scudder’s relationship with T.J. (Brian “Astro” Bradley).

Scott Frank’s script and direction are similarly top-notch, perfectly paced for the brooding thriller this is. The man knows how to do crime right, which may mean we missed out when the TV pilot he wrote and directed based on Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosely for FX did not get picked up. (Can we please see it, at least?)

Unfortunately, A Walk Among the Tombstones underperformed at the box office, possibly because it was wrongly perceived as Neeson doing Taken again without actually calling it Taken, meaning a sequel is unlikely. It also means it won’t be in theaters for much longer, so get out there and see it while you still can. And if you miss it, put it at the top of your TBW pile when it comes to video and streaming. It’s a film worthy of Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novels, and that’s high praise indeed.

 

*There is one important change (and if you haven’t read the series or seen the movie, I promise this isn’t a spoiler). Scudder’s origin story is condensed and altered due to filming book ten of the series. In the novels, Scudder’s accidental killing of a seven-year-old girl leads to his descent into alcoholism, or at minimum takes him much deeper into it. Scudder does not give up booze until several entries into the series. In the movie, it is the child’s death that inspires him to kick.

News roundup for 2014-09-20 (open thread–A Walk Among the Tombstones edition)

It’s been a couple of months since I did one of these, so let’s chat a little.

I am particularly interested in the opinion of anyone who has seen A Walk Among the Tombstones based on the novel by friend of Donald Westlake (and occasionally the VWOP!) Lawrence Block. I’m booked solid this weekend but am planning on seeing it Wednesday with a review to follow.

Westlake Score: All the Girls Were Willing

Marshall_All-the-Girls copy

NB: A version of this post also appears at Existential Ennui.

I might not have written about Donald E. Westlake much of late—just one post in the last five months, an outrageous state of affairs for which I can only apologise, especially to Violent World of Parker readers (still, at least Trent’s back now)—but Westlake is never too far from my thoughts. For instance, a few months back I reread the first three Parker novels, gaining a new appreciation of the stripped-back, stylized brilliance of the second book in particular (The Man with the Getaway Face was already one of my favourite Parkers but I’m now of the opinion that it’s the best Parker full stop), and I’ve recently read a couple of later Parkers too; I may write something about some or all of that at some point.

And I’m still picking up the odd Westlake Score when I come across something interesting. Like the one up top: All the Girls Were Willing by Alan Marshall, published in paperback by Midwood/Tower in 1960. Westlake’s fifth novel under the “Alan Marshall” alias, it’s also the second of three books starring ladies man/wannabe actor Phil Crawford, the other two being Backstage Love (Monarch, 1959; reissued in 1962 as Apprentice Virgin) and Sin Prowl (Corinth). I scored a copy of Backstage Love four years ago but noted at the time that I had no intention of collecting any others of the sleaze efforts Westlake wrote under a variety of pseudonyms in the late 1950s/early 1960s; while their scarcity—especially in the UK—does make them attractive to the Westlake collector (i.e., me), they’re of decidedly dubious literary merit. Since then, including All the Girls Were Willing (and one other sleaze title I’ve yet to blog about), I’ve acquired another four of the buggers, which only goes to show (yet again) what a hopeless case I am.

All the Girls Were Willing was an eBay win, so in my defence I suppose I could say that I was swept up in the excitement of the auction; plus I didn’t end up paying very much for it, and the cover art on this first printing—the novel was reissued in 1962 with different cover art under the title What Girls Will Do (Midwood #166)—by an uncredited Paul Rader, is rather nice. Question is, inveterate collector that I am, now that I own the first two instalments in the Phil Crawford trilogy, do I try and collect the third one, Sin Prowl, which is the scarcest one of all? The inevitable answer being, with a weary sigh of resignation: probably, if I ever come across it. Er, so to speak.

Marshall_All-the-Girls-back copy

The Donald Westlake/Joan Rivers connection

Joan Rivers
Here’s an interesting story I discovered amongst the stacks of articles marking the passing of Joan Rivers.

It’s told by Roger L. Simon, novelist and screenwriter. Simon is best known as a novelist for his series of Moses Wine detective novels (which, I’m ashamed to say, have never made it off my TBR pile despite being on there for a decade or more), the first of which is The Big Fix. Simon also wrote the screenplay to the movie adaptation of The Big Fix, which came out in 1978 and starred Richard Dreyfuss. (Incidentally, Simon started on the Left, but developed into a sort-of conservative, while Dreyfuss stayed very firmly on the Left. Despite this political difference, Dreyfuss was kind enough to write the introduction to the latest edition of The Big Fix.)

As a screenwriter, Simon’s most famous credits are likely Bustin’ Loose, starring Richard Pryor, and Scenes From a Mall, starring Woody Allen and Bette Midler, directed by the recently-passed Paul Mazursky.

It was the former that got Simon this gig:

It’s the very early eighties and, as it goes in Hollywood, I’m in one of my intermittent hot periods, having just written Bustin’ Loose for Richard Pryor, ergo the powers that be thought I could be funny. (I’m not altogether sure they were right.)  I got what was then a dream job, writing a script for Lily Tomlin. The premise was that Lily would play a “psychic detective” based on an Italian-American woman in New Jersey who was then doing clairvoyant investigations for the police. I met the woman. Lily told me she wanted me to write her as if she were Al Pacino. Cool, I thought.

It’s a very Hollywood story, and, rather than steal the whole piece, I’ll let him tell it here.  The short version is, Tomlin got fired because the Powers That Be didn’t think she was a box office draw. Instead, they hired Joan Rivers. Simon went to meet with Rivers and it didn’t go well. Rather than being allowed to do rewrites with Rivers in mind, he was removed from the project.

The end of the story?

Joan had the good taste to hire the late Donald Westlake, one of the finest mystery writers in America, to rewrite me. But as you may not be surprised to learn, as with many Hollywood projects, the movie was never made.

So there’s a lost Westlake screenplay for someone to track down!

Rest in peace, Joan Rivers.

Remo Williams’ adventure begins again–the Destroyer returning to film

Created, the Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

As regular readers know, one of my favorite series of paperback originals is the Destroyer, created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. They made a movie version once, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, but it wasn’t a big enough hit to get a sequel, even though everyone who lived through the ’80s seems to have seen it. An attempt was made to go small-screen and turn it into a TV series. One godawful pilot aired (with different actors in the lead roles) and that was that for Remo and Chiun’s film careers, something that no doubt upset Chiun mightily.

After years of rumors and a trickle of solid-sounding news, something that means almost nothing in Hollywood, a new Destroyer movie has been officially announced. This time, it’s as solid as can be, because the director is Shane Black. Shane Black wrote and directed Iron Man 3, which grossed over $400 million in the States and $1.2 billion worldwide. A success like that means Shane Black can do anything he wants for his next movie, and Mr. Black wants to do the Destroyer.

The tales of Remo Williams and his master in the assassin’s art of Sinanju, the incorrigible Chiun, ran to nearly 150 novels before finally fading away in the early 2000s. The series was revived as The New Destroyer for Tor books a few years later, but that series didn’t take off with buyers (perhaps due to really ugly cover art). That was a real pity, because one of those volumes, Dead Reckoning, was one of the best yet in a series with lots of great entries.

Warren Murphy owns the rights to his characters, so he has published a couple of novellas, one novel, and two in a series of Young Adult-ish spinoffs through his own imprint, but my gut tells me they probably haven’t sold much beyond the series’ hardcore following. I feared that my beloved Remo and Chiun would fade away forever, relegated in most people’s minds to a bit of trivia about an ’80s movie.

Enter Shane Black and some interesting history. Black’s first produced screenplay was for a little movie called Lethal Weapon. You may have seen it. If you have, you’ll recall that it’s about a pair of cops, one black and one white.

Those cops bore a striking resemblance to a couple of cops in a five-book series by Warren Murphy named Razoni and Jackson. According to legend, Murphy’s lawyers made some noises and the deal struck was that Murphy would work on the screenplay for Lethal Weapon 2 as compensation.

And now Shane Black wants to do the Destroyer, so he really is a fan of Mr. Murphy’s work.

Black is not writing this one, though. And this is where the news gets really good. Not because he couldn’t write a good screenplay, but because of what it tells us about this movie.

One of the screenwriters is Jim Uhls, best known for writing Fight Club. The other is a fellow named James Mullaney.

There are probably only three people who know the characters of Remo and Chiun almost as well as Murphy and the late Dick Sapir. Those are Murphy’s ex-wife, Molly Cochran, who ghosted several entries, Will Murray, who ghosted many, and James Mullaney, who ghosted the last great run of the original series and earned cover credit for The New Destroyer, the only person other than Murphy and Sapir to get cover credit when the series was mass market.

Jim Mullaney is beloved by fans of the series. His selection means that they are making a real Destroyer movie. And from what we know about Shane Black, he wants to make a real Destroyer movie. They are going to make every effort to make Remo and Chiun the real Remo and Chiun.

Mullaney confirms this via Facebook: “[E]verybody on EVERY level is on the same page as to what a Destroyer film should be.” 

I liked Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, despite it’s devastating weakness of an utterly lame villain. But back in the ’80s it would have been difficult to capture Remo and Chiun’s wilder adventures and physical feats. As far as wilder adventures go, it is thought by many that the shape-shifting T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day was inspired by series supervillain Mr. Gordons. As far as physical feats go, more than one person believes The Matrix has some Destroyer influence in at as well. Things like those weren’t going to happen back when Fred Ward and Joel Grey gave it a go. They can happen now.

And maybe the series of novels can be fully revived? A man can dream.

I’m thrilled about the flick happening in the right hands, and I’m extra-thrilled for Jim Mullaney. Since the Destroyer gig ended, he’s been writing two series, the Red Menace and Crag Banyon. The books are a lot of fun, but I doubt they are making him rich. We are Facebook friends, and he’s a nice, funny guy who shares my love of Warren Zevon. He has spent his time in the trenches doing great work for the characters I love, and he has earned this opportunity by dint of well over a decade’s worth of hard labor and quality output. Congratulations, Jim!

Related stuff

I reviewed the debut entries in Mullaney’s Red Menace and Crag Banyon series here. I may have a couple more Banyon reviews for you in the near future.

I look at a recent Destroyer novella, Savage Song, here.

If you read the Hollywood Report article I linked, you already know that Shane Black is also likely to bring another one of my series heroes back to life–Doc Savage. Former Destroyer ghost Will Murray currently pens the adventures of Doc Savage.

The Destroyer is the second biggest men’s adventure series. The first is, of course, Mack Bolan, the Executioner. He is also coming to film, with Bradley Cooper set to star.

When I was tweeting this news out last night, I said the screenplay was by George Uhl. Too much time spent in the Parker-verse. Wallace Stroby called me out on it.

Inside the new hardcover edition of The Hunter

hunter2014

 

As you may not be aware because I did not give it nearly the coverage I should have, Darwyn Cooke and IDW Publishing have launched a companion line to their highly successful line of comic book adaptations of the Parker novels. They will be reprinting the original Richard Stark novels, each with ten full-color plates by Darwyn himself.

“That’s great!”, you say, “But I’ve already got a couple of copies of The Hunter. Do I need to buy this, too?”

Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, but let’s have a look-see and maybe I can help you decide.

The appropriately stark red dust jacket declares this to be the “first hardcover edition of the classic novel.” That’s not technically true, but it’s close enough. There was a Gregg Press hardcover, but that was pretty much sold only to libraries so it isn’t like you could go to a bookstore and buy it, and there was a UK Alison & Busby hardcover as Point Blank, but that didn’t do you much good if you lived in the USA. So it is the first hardcover available to the general public in the United States.

Excitingly, the spine says “Volume 1.” I know IDW has said they are going to do the set, but that drives it home.

The back features an illustration, based on a photo I have not seen before, of a young Donald Westlake.

hunter2014back

The endpapers will be familiar to anyone who has purchased the graphic novel adaptations, tying these editions to those.

The pages are printed on high-quality, acid-free, blindingly white paper. This book is built to last.

There is a short and touching introduction from Darwyn Cooke, providing a little background while keeping it quick for readers who are likely eager to get to the good stuff.

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for–we get to our plates!

You can see the first one atop this post, titled “Go to hell,” and illustrating a scene that needs no introduction for most of the folks reading this. If you’ve read Darwyn’s comic book adaptations (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?), you’ll immediately note that he’s opted for a more realistic style than he did in the comic books. This is an important and excellent decision. Illustrations in the same style as the comic books may have made it seem like he was simply recycling art. This lets you know that you’re buying a whole new creation.

In selecting what to illustrate, Cooke picked a nice combination of brooding noir scenes and explosive action. Parker sits on the bed with a cigarette next to the corpse of an overdosed Lynn. Parker runs and fires his weapon during the heist that sets the events of the novel into motion. Mal Resnick waits alone, in fear. Parker tells Bronson, “I’ll be seeing you.”

As I’m sure you can guess by now, the plates are on beautiful, high-gloss paper, continuing IDW’s admirable commitment to quality for the Parker line.

I think this edition of The Hunter is a steal at the $20 or so you’ll pay at an online retailer, and even at the $30 MSRP if those discounts go away. For the price of the latest New York Times hardcover bestseller, you get a handsome edition of this classic, wonderfully illustrated, made from top-notch material in every regard. It looks great on my bookshelf, and it will look great on yours.

(If you have any questions about the book, drop a line in the comments and I’ll happily answer.)

PS: On Twitter, Alexander P. points out a Point Blank homage in one of the plates.

News for week ending 2014-07-20 (open thread)