Friday, July 29, 2011

Film Pairing — A Night of Kick Ass Women

There’s no doubt that the appearance of tough heroines in crime films shouldn’t be as rare as it is. This, however, appears to be changing. Not only are there more women crime writers than before, more of them are hitting the top of the best-seller lists. And a recent poll shows that more women than men read crime fiction. Still, the female main character, while often cleverer than her opponents — and tough mentally — is rarely tougher in a physical sense. As a panelist on the subject during mystery conference, I learned that female crime fiction readers are divided, sometimes passionately, about how tough women detectives should be.

Enter La Femme Nikita (1990), one of the first films to suggest that a woman could be as tough as Stallone. Anne Paurillaud plays a woman who is a remorseless, and some might say soulless, human. Her seemingly innate ability to maim and kill is finely tuned by the government so that she might act as their hired, and likely disposable, assassin. Luc Besson directed this French movie that was tres avant garde two decades ago.

The film stands up today, though no longer novel. Instead, we have Sweden’s Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who… series of three books and three movies that take us —in many ways — back to Nikita. There are many similarities in the main characters and in the films. Lots of action, lots of intrigue and main characters who are more than capable of icing someone. The major difference is that Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Repace, is not a cold-blooded killer. A vengeful killer, yes. However, we understand Salander’s motivation and develop a deep empathy for the character. And in that sense these newer films are far more romantic than the cooler, more detached Nikita. We are more likely to observe the awesome Nikita, but root for Lisbeth, who is trying to get some justice.

As I said, times are changing. Hollywood is making its own versions of the Larsson trilogy — at least the first one. Also, American television is revisiting and no doubt revising the BBC classic Prime Suspect. If the previews for the fall premiere are any indication, the brainy character played by Helen Mirren will be replaced by a far more punch ‘em out (kickass) character, played by a talented Maria Bello.

But back to the double feature. Pick Nikita and any one or more of the Larsson films. Since we’re doing French and Swedish — Pernod for the first and vodka for the second. If you want something less common than vodka, check out Wikipedia for some very specialized Swedish liquor.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Browser Books, Cozy Spot on Upper Fillmore

This is the fifth in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.

I remember slipping into Browser Books on foggy nights in the late ‘70s. In the early ‘80s, the Elite Café was born. Between the bookstore and the sour cream pecan pie at the café, there was good reason to visit this stretch of Fillmore. Both the restaurant and the bookstore are still there. The pie, unfortunately, is nowhere to be found.

Pie or no pie, it’s still a great neighborhood. Restaurants of all varieties have blossomed — fine Indian, Italian, French, Vietnamese, Japanese and Mediterranean among them. There are plenty of stores that cater to the style-oriented, whether that’s to freshen your image or spice up your living room. The street hosts bakeries, a legendary hat shop and a wonderful, kindly place up the street to adopt a pet.

There is also, of course, Browser Books. Don’t let the size of the store fool you. While they carry books in all the standard categories, what you’ll find here is a selection that focuses on the quality of the books rather than the quantity. Plenty of great fiction here as well, books that range from contemporary and classic literary works to a big selection of retro pulp Hard Case Crime paperbacks. However, Browser Books has an especially expansive collection of books that appeal to our spiritual nature — a large number of books related to Buddhism, for example.

The next time you’re on Fillmore to catch a movie at the Clay, stop in at Browser Books. You will be surprised by all you can find in this compact, neighborhood bookstore.

2195 Fillmore Street, (415) 242-6194,

Monday, July 25, 2011

Blatant Promotion — Good To The Last Kiss

The other day I woke up to find a review of Good to the Last Kiss from Kirkus Reviews in my email inbox. My publisher sent it to me. It read, in part:

“Tierney serves up a dark, twisty little gem in which a pair of embittered detectives and a not-quite-dead victim combine irresistibly.” After a description of the plot, it continues: “Every year the genre has its Goliaths, bigger and better ballyhooed than this modest entry. Come Edgar time, however, Tierney’s well-written, tidily plotted, character-driven David of a book deserves to be remembered.” (starred)

The day before wasn’t a particularly good one. What a great start to this new one. On the other hand, even before my first cup of coffee, I was reminded how much is going on at the moment. There is an odd confluence of publishing dates. Severn House just officially released Good To The Last Kiss (hardback). At roughly the same time the London-based publishers also released both Bullet Beach (A “Deets” Shanahan mystery) and Death in North Beach (a Carly Paladino and Noah Lang mystery) in trade paperback and e-book formats. Bless them.

Add to the mix, my own undertaking, which is to take advantage of the opportunity new technology has presented. Like many other writers, I’ve decided to do a little self-publishing. The first from Life, Death and Fog Books, is Mascara, Death in the Tenderloin. One of the reasons I’m taking this precarious step on my own is because novellas aren’t welcomed in the world by traditional publishers. Unfortunately for me, it is the form I enjoy the most. Most publishers of mysteries want 80,000 words minimum. Mascara came in at half that number. If I fattened it up, I would have screwed it up. So I didn’t.

For me, the novella is a perfect in-flight length or a pleasant evening away from the computer and TV, and about the same number of words as the early private-eye novels. But the downside is serious. Mascara will likely suffer from lack of public notice. Not only will it be ignored by bookstores, even the independent ones, because it is author published, it is not likely to be reviewed either. I understand why and I’m definitely not complaining. It’s simply a fact to be reckoned with (or with which to reckon).

A short message for fans of the Paladino/Lang’s San Francisco mysteries, Mascara is not part of the series, but it is a prequel of sorts, and reveals some secrets about a younger Noah Lang and his savvy and lovely gender-bending pal. My own review of the book is: I think it is a good, quick read. NOTE: For a related story on the Mascara experience, check out this story on the blog, Rapsheet.

Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming — a new San Francisco bookstore profile on Wednesday (Browser Books) and a new double feature movie recommendation on Friday. And maybe some surprises.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Film Pairing — The Humor of Hit Men in Exotic Places

If you can’t separate Pierce Brosnan from the stylish bordering on the silly Remington Steel or his not quite so silly, but enduring James Bond, you might want to give him a chance to impress you. His performance as a world traveling hit man on the skids is worth the price of admission all by itself. The kill or be killed man on a mission in The Matador (2005) is Brosnan’s character. He meets and is befriended by a down-on-his luck businessman, played by Greg Kinnear. The hit plays second fiddle to the interplay between these two unlikely pals. A highly unexpected and entertaining hour and a half.

The Matador is a perfect set up for a darker and perhaps even funnier In Bruges (2008). This time a couple of professional hit men — Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson — are forced to take a little R&R in Belgium, where they do not appreciate being in Bruges. Neither the city’s architecture nor the tourists who have come to admire it impress the two criminals. What one of them doesn’t know is that their painfully boring time off is about to take a nasty turn. Their boss, Ralph Fiennes, has ordered one of them to kill the other. Note to film buffs: Stay Alert. In Bruges is rife with subtle and not quite so subtle visual references to other films.

Together these two movies can be a great Friday night escape. However, as Poirot reminds us, we shouldn’t confuse Belgium with France. Therefore, we’re not uncorking any wine. It is a beer night again. Chimay can be found at any store selling fine spirits. But there are hundreds of Belgium brews.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Booksmith, Up To Date In Historic Haight

This is the fourth in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.

Visitors call it “Haight-Ashbury.” San Franciscans usually refer to it as “the Haight.” And indeed walking through the neighborhood, down Haight Street there are ghosts from the “summer of love.” On the famous street there are still head shops and places to buy cannabis legitimately and illegitimately. There are stores selling vintage clothing, many interesting restaurants and bars, an almost absurd number of shoe stores, a well-stocked hardware and two fine grocers. Booksmith, the Haight’s only bookstore (the anarchist bookstore is gone now) has managed to tastefully and subtly blend in with the neighborhood’s flower-power past while delivering what you’d expect from any fine independent bookstore.

There are well-stocked and smartly selected sections for photography and art, literary fiction, science fiction and mysteries. There are graphic novels, literary journals, comics, books on politics, books for children, a magazine section as well the standard aisles of books on food, self-help, spiritual, politics and philosophy. The Haight hasn’t escaped, nor should it, its strong and some would say radical, political roots. There are more anarchists than registered Republicans living in the area, no doubt. This too is reflected in choices available to the reader along with fascinating suggestions from the staff.

New owners took over the store recently. It was a store already that had a great reputation, especially for author events. The newly revamped Booksmith is making its mark as well. It gets high marks from Yelp, for example. The space is clean and organized. Fortunately and no doubt with intent, the recent makeover didn’t sterilize the environment. It is a warm, calming and welcoming place with a nuanced approach to its legendary location and the expectations that come with it. Just outside its front doors is one of the most bustling neighborhood streets in the city.

1644 Haight Street, (415) 863-8658,

Monday, July 18, 2011

Opinion — E-Books, Self-Publishing, Bookstores, Writers and Divided Loyalty

One extremely unpleasant byproduct of the digital revolution is that it challenges our loyalties — as readers, writers and bookstore owners.

Just in San Francisco in the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed the demise of three Borders stores, and a Barnes & Noble. Chains, no big deal you say. But we also lost Stacey’s, a large and wonderful independent bookstore near the financial district. Cody’s, the great bookstore from the East Bay, set up a beautiful downtown store and then promptly dismantled it. Virgin Records, before packing it all up, downsized its book department. In Noe Valley, one of the longest-lived mystery bookstores in the country closed its doors, as did the LGBT bookstore in the Castro and a travel bookstore on Market Street. Other, smaller new and used bookstores have closed as well. While most neighborhoods have at least one independent store to call their own (I’m compiling a list now), the threat of extinction makes us all want to do what we can for the survival of the species.

As writers, we are supported by bookstores, large and small, and by libraries. However, we are increasingly supported by the online sales of our books as well as the overwhelming phenomenon of e-books. In some cases e-books are the only way we can get our backlist back in the marketplace. So it is with a painfully divided loyalty that we must come to terms with the reality that more and more people want to download their books, rather than pluck them from the shelves. What are we to do about our neighborhood bookstores and the knowledgeable and devoted staff who run them? And what are they to do about us?

Generally speaking, as bookstores struggle, we watch less and less room given to books and more given to the sales of coffee cups, greeting cards and other doodads. The bestsellers are understandably prominent. They are the booksellers’ bread and butter. For years now, with some notable exceptions, the backlist at bookstores is remarkably shallow — again, no doubt for economic reasons. There is much more product than space. The rent goes up and every square foot of space needs to be a moneymaker. So even the independent, neighborhood bookstore has trouble justifying an area for backlists or for local authors. And why should they? Just how loyal are writers, even local ones, if their books are carried on and downloadable from and other online bookstores?

The truth is, in my mind, most writers and most bookstores do what they believe they have to to survive. But it seems there ought to be more we can do to support each other. On Wednesday, I’ll post an article on what appears to be the very successful Booksmith bookstore in the Haight. This will be the fourth in a series of articles about independent San Francisco bookstores. Meanwhile, I’d love to have any thoughts or suggestions you might have about keeping both independent writers and independent bookstores alive.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

OLD GOLD — Paul Levine's Jake Lassiter, How It All Began

Early works by some of our best, current crime writers have been out of print for years. But times are changing. Many of these highly praised novels are available again as e-books and or trade paperbacks. “Old Gold” is a periodic blog feature that focuses on these reissued treasures. Here's the story in the author's words.

Many years ago, I rented a condo on Maui for the summer, intent on polishing my skills as a competitive windsurfer. My second day at Hookipa Beach, bouncing over the lip of a roller, the board exploded out of the water and smashed my femur. The ER physician told me nothing was broken and recommended smoking a little Maui Wowie for the pain. (No, not Dr. House).

So I sat on the beach with a yellow pad and started handwriting a novel featuring a character that popped into my mind: linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter. Here’s the first sentence of fiction I ever wrote, (not counting certain statements in my appellate briefs). “The old man loved gadgets, money, and large-breasted women, and at the moment, he had all three.”

When I returned home to Miami to resume practicing law, I put the novel aside and wrote To Speak for the Dead, which became my first published book. I kept re-writing Riptide, which appeared as a William Morrow hardcover under the title Slashback. And that line about gadgets, money, and breasts? It’s now the first sentence of chapter two. Here’s what the Tampa Tribune had to say:

“A thriller as fast as the wind...a bracing rush, as breathtaking as hitting the Gulf waters on a chill December morning.

There’s more about the Jake Lassiter series on my website, including info about Riptide, in which Jake Lassiter chases two dangerous professional windsurfers from Miami to Maui in pursuit of the old man’s stolen bonds. You can buy the e-book from Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Smashwords. — Paul Levine

Friday, July 15, 2011

Film Pairing — Only The Shadows Know

In Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum arrives to court Shelley Winters, mother of two. He wants her to believe he is a righteous, religious man, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The film, though almost worshipped now, was a failure at the box office, perhaps because it was unlike any film anyone had ever seen. It was a collaboration with renowned writer James Agee and the only film that actor Charles Laughton directed.

Night of the Hunter was story based on David Grubb’s novel of the same name. While there are still those who are critical of the melodramatic nature of the screenplay, its high rank on lists by film scholars is largely because of its ground-breaking, expressionistic cinematography. Deep, dark, angular shadows set the mood. Every moment of the film seems to suggest some deep, dark horror is only a few frames away.

With Sin City, if you want mood, if you want dark and harsh and brutal images, one after another, you’ll get it here as well; but it will be through advances in filmmaking technology. Nothing wrong with using the tools we have. And here they are used well. This is Frank Miller’s movie. It is based on his fine graphic novel, also of the same name. He directed with help from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Like Night of the Hunter, Sin City is shadowy black and white; but with strategic touches of bold color. Where Hunter is more fluid visually, Sin City has more sharp edges. Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Own, Jessica Alba, Benicia Del Toro, Rutger Hauer and Josh Hartnett are among the talented stars rendered in graphic fashion. Sin City has its critics as well. For some, the characters didn’t seem quite human.

There is some truth, I think, in the criticism of both films —created half a century apart. However the truth in both these cases is what makes them the significant contributions to film history that they are. I don’t think either director set out to make a conventional film. And they didn't. That’s one of a number of reasons to see them.

How about Jack Daniels on the rocks for the double feature? Something rugged from Tennessee seems appropriate.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Books Inc., A Chain That Isn't

This is the third in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.

This is tricky. Billed as the oldest independent bookstore in the West, Books Inc. is also a chain. On the other hand, Books Inc. is not only a small chain as chains go, it is a local one — and local in the best possible way. The managers, buyers and members of each staff know books and their neighborhoods. Each of the stores has the independence — even mandate — to stock their shelves with books that reflect the community they serve. Of the dozen Books Inc. stores in California, here are the four in San Francisco neighborhoods:

Opera Plaza — Books Inc. occupies most of what used to be the now departed, but highly respected bookstore, A Clean, Well Lighted Place for Books. The good news is that the store remains clean and well lit and offers a well-balanced selection of new books. It is close to the Civic Center, heart of city, state and federal government and on the busy and increasingly residential Van Ness corridor. Next to and opening into the bookstore is a café belonging to another local chain, Peet’s Coffee. When you’re done exploring all the fine books, you can pick up a cup of coffee and a scone or take in a movie at one of the Opera Plaza theaters. Great place to spend a Sunday morning. 601 Van Ness Avenue, (415) 776-1111.

Laurel Village — Not the largest, but perhaps one of the busiest of the Books Inc. stores, this store serves a neighborhood that could just as well be called be called “stroller village.” Though the shelves are full of great new books for all kinds of readers, they have an especially good selection of children’s books. The location in a shopping strip along California Street in Laurel Heights, is near two great grocers, a couple of restaurants and coffee houses, a fantastic wine shop and other fine stores. Great store, great neighborhood. 3515 California Street, (415) 221-3666.

The Marina — The real surprise is that this newly remodeled store serves not only the Marina, but also Cow Hollow. That means that among all the shops along Lombard, Union and Chestnut, Books Inc., offers the only full-service bookstore. Lots of families and double-wide strollers here as well. One can spend the afternoon on busy, upscale, shop-oriented Chestnut and a lot more time checking out store windows if you include Union Street and the slice of Fillmore that connects the two, uber shopping areas. Have lunch. Read a book. Buy stuff. 2251 Chestnut Street, (415) 931-3633.

The Castro — The neighborhood’s gay and lesbian bookstore, A Different Light, closed its doors recently, leaving Books Inc. as the only store offering a large selection of LGBT books and magazines in the world-famous gay neighborhood. Fortunately for the increasingly diverse residents of the area, this Castro Books Inc. offers a wide range of books for everyone and is located in a lively retail community located a few steps from the Castro trolley line and an underground MUNI station (K, L and M lines). 2275 Market Street, (415) 864-6777.

All of the Books Inc. stores have active reading groups and regularly schedule author events. Also, as you might want to do in all fine bookstores, pay attention to the “staff favorites.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Short, Short Story— The Lady and the Life Sentence

One morning she set the revolver upon the tripod, hammer cocked.

Attached to the trigger was a sturdy thread, which ran to a lever, set to activate a pulley connected by another thread to the arm of a phonograph.

When the needle entered the final groove of the record, it would set about a chain of events that would cause the trigger to be pulled. The bullet would travel a path toward her, entering slightly above and between her eyes.

She had ingeniously strapped herself in a chair, which had been bolted to the floor. She sat motionless.

There she sat, in her chair, as if waiting for the poisonous pellets to snap open in her little room, the electricity to purge her from existence, the firing squad of one to pull the trigger. She waited for the music to rise ... for Mahler to scream ... to exit this plane in some sort of glory ... one last meaningful moment ... one marvelous high drama ... feeling the bullet's ecstatically timed explosion in her brain.

Legs, arms, head strapped firmly in place, she had tricked cowardice. She had done it. She had done it all; and she would do this.

She had participated in life at its fullest, taken advantage of all possibilities. Men. Women. Children. Animals. No one. Every classification of act and being in nearly all ways. So many excesses. So many denials. There was, of course, only one experience left and she had not the patience for it come to her.

Boredom wore cement shoes. Fate was tardy. In her lifetime, she had been deserted, beaten, raped, starved, forgotten, ignored. She had been penniless, a beggar, a scavenger. She had eaten well. She had slept in silk. She had drunk too much. She had suffered the misfortunes of greed and of miserliness, of temperance, of lust, of giving it all and giving none of it. She had lived among the roaches, the rats, among borzoi, marble, gold and Lamborghini. She had seen births and given them. She had loved and cried and bled and bitten. She was dead now, except for the dying.

The music played. She relived it all. The torment, the ecstasy. One more time around the block, this time in front of a loaded revolver.

But the bullet did not come. Instead, coherent in that pattern where there is always a handful of nothing amidst eternal grasping, the needle of the phonograph became lodged, fatefully stuck in the final groove.

There, the lady sat listening to death’s redundant approach

Friday, July 8, 2011

Film Pairing — The Real Chinatown and a Hankie

DVD Photos of Hayashi and Moy by Nancy Wong
There is crime during the evening, but very little. No violence. No sex. In the first, Chan is Missing (1982), we witness two Chinese taxi drivers (Wood Moy and Marc Hayashi) searching for…well Chan, a character no one knows well. In fact they all seem to know a different Chan. But plot here is merely an excuse to travel through San Francisco’s Chinatown — the real one, not the exotic Hollywood version with stereotypical characters. In fact, the black and white, near documentary style is both the film’s strength and weakness. It’s a great way to begin to understand Chinese culture in America. For example, we have a glimpse at the cultural differences between American-born Chinese and Chinese immigrants. But director Wayne Wang’s mix of a real-life documentary with a tale of suspense has its awkward moments.
The second, The Yellow Handkerchief (2010) is a far more polished film. William Hurt is the just-released convict. Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne are the troubled teens. Because of the horrible Louisiana weather, they stumble upon each other. Because of the battered condition of their lonely, lost souls and the need to go somewhere…anywhere… the three slowly bond to discover the road the three of them are now on actually goes somewhere. This is a finely acted small movie that seems to have slipped in under the radar. It also stars Maria Bello, the actress starring in the American version of Prime Suspect.
Drinks for the evening? Seems like a beer evening to me. Because of the strong Chinese half of the double feature, how about Tsingtao?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

San Francisco Bookstores — Green Apple Books in the Richmond

This is the second in a series of short articles on independent San Francisco bookstores. While their numbers are dwindling, there are still many colorful, one-of-a-kind bookstores in various colorful, one-of-a-kind San Francisco neighborhoods.

In Manhattan, there is the Strand and its many “miles of books.” In Portland, Oregon, there is Powell’s City of Books, quite likely the largest new and used bookstore in the US. In San Francisco, if you want the biggest and most smartly culled selection of new and old reading material, it is Green Apple Books. The dusty, old bookstore resides in the main retail district of “the Richmond,” a mostly Chinese neighborhood on Clement near Sixth Avenue.

When you enter the store, having passed by overstuffed “bargain book” bins on the sidewalk, you’ll find new books — best sellers to be sure, but also an eclectic collection of books mainstream readers might find obscure. There are also a significant number of low-priced, high-quality remainders collected by a staff who understands both value and good writing. Beyond this room are stairways — one that leads up a half a story to an area filled with books and a second, book-laden stairway that climbs up to a series of large rooms with creaky wood floors where shelves are filled with thousands of carefully selected used books ranging from photography to philosophy.

If you turn right when you leave the store — if you can tear yourself away — you’ll find another Green Apple two storefronts away. This one has a film lover’s collection of DVDs; jazz, blues and rock CDs; just about any recent magazine you can imagine, as well as great collections of new and used mystery and science fiction novels — including classic pulp.

Every serious San Francisco reader is aware of Green Apple and its resources. But you not only visit the bookstore, you visit the neighborhood, a destination if you like Chinese food markets, restaurants, and bakeries. Busy Clement Street is also full of surprises — sea creatures for your aquarium, a huge hardware full of inexpensive china from China, foot massage parlors and nightclubs interspersed with Irish bars and Russian delis. Have sushi, buy orchids, pick up some chicken feet.

And when you are ready to go home, check out the bookstore again — see if you missed anything. They keep late hours.

506 Clement Street (415) 387-2272

Monday, July 4, 2011

Confession — The Promised Land and Delusions of Grandeur

Once upon a time — several years ago — I received an email from someone I didn’t know. The writer told me that he went to the same gym as Paul Newman. He also told me that he overheard a discussion about the academy award winner playing my aging private-eye character, Deets Shanahan, in a movie.

I confess that I have, from time to time, imagined a book of mine on the silver screen, and even more foolishly imagined who I would cast in key roles should the filmmakers ask for my suggestions. Paul Newman was absolutely number one for Shanahan and Susan Sarandon would have been my choice for Shanahan’s girlfriend, Maureen. I had also thought about Clint Eastwood and more recently about Scott Glenn, but Newman was the gold standard then.

Time passed. Email replies bounced. I’d lost track of my volunteer spy. Slowly I forgot about the whole thing. It was simply an idle piece of gossip, a hoax or an aborted con. Quite likely, there wasn’t one iota of truth to anything in that email. Several months later, I read in snippet of news that Paul Newman was going to play an aging private eye in a movie. Suddenly a heavy stone occupied the pit of my stomach. No one had contacted me. What was happening? Were they stealing my character, perhaps even one of my plots? Worse, they had also cast Susan Sarandon in the same film. No surprise. You know, great minds and all.

Months went by. I could find nothing more about the movie. While I went on with my life, unpleasant thoughts about how I had been cheated popped into my head when I least expected them. Finally, the movie that had tormented me, Twilight, was released. I was at the cinema for the first showing. I sat in the middle of the movie theater, stewing, ready to have my fears justified, my anger stoked, and ready to pounce on those thieving X@&# in Hollywood.

Of course, the plot was not even close to anything I had ever written and the private eye — other than age — was nothing at all like Shanahan. Certainly I had no patent on aging private eyes in crime fiction. There were a few already around when I came on the scene. When the movie was over, I was tremendously relieved and happy. Even better — Twilight was one of the best PI films ever. I’ve watched it many times since. I wish I had written it.

Sadly, this means I will have to come to terms with the idea I will not likely see any of my characters on the wide screen unless … maybe… Mr. Glenn reads this. Scott?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Film Pairing — Cape Fear Times Two

All right, it doesn’t take a genius to pair an original film with its remake. And in this case, it might have been more interesting if Nick Nolte had taken Robert Mitchum’s role in the remake of Cape Fear. We could have compared real life “bad boy” actors in bad boy film roles. However, that was not to be, so the obvious pairing of the same movie in different decades (1962 and 1991) had to be viewed in some other manner. And that manner is the gentlemanly and ungentlemanly manner of the films.

Gregory Peck, usually cast in decent guy roles, is a generally decent guy in the earlier version of Cape Fear. He plays a man who testifies in a trial that convicts a clearly indecent guy, played by Robert Mitchum. When Mitchum is released, he wants retribution. Clearly this is Mitchum’s movie and he plays the ex-con with cool, lizard-lidded, understated menace. The lines of good and evil are pretty clearly drawn and while there is some violence, the suspense comes from anxiously anticipating what we know will happen.

The first film was based on The Executioners, a novel by John D. MacDonald. The second was an adaptation of that first screenplay. Therefore, it’s not odd that the basic plot and the essence of the characters are remarkably similar. But while the first Cape Fear was high on suspense, the second is high on horror. It has been described by some as a “slasher film.” That may be an exaggeration. However the second film, directed by Martin Scorsese, is far more violent. The Scorsese version also blurs that line between good and evil. Nick Nolte, who assumes the Gregory Peck role, is not a genuinely decent guy. As the ex-con’s defense lawyer, he didn’t do everything he could to defend his client and in fact may have violated the law by excluding evidence that would have helped his client. This gives Robert DeNiro, in Mitchum’s role, greater motivation, though not justification, for his acts of vengeance.

One of the great things about Cape Fear (II) is that Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum and Martin Balsam all do cameos in the remake. Both DeNiro and supporting star Juliet Lewis (who was exceptional) were each nominated for Golden Globes and Academy Awards. Perhaps the most interesting part of this double feature is watching Mitchum and DeNiro interpret the same role. Of the two, Mitchum, no lesser talent, is definitely the minimalist.

I’d suggest doing the films in order, not just because of chronology, but also because number two steps up the intensity significantly. For drinks, I’d suggest shots of anything as each film begins to reach its climax.