Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Film Pairings — Choose Your Own Double Feature From These New Orleans’ Movies

Don’t get around much anymore.  Not only will I miss the Saturday Dance, but I’ll also miss Bouchercon 2016, the biggest mystery conference of the year, and held in one of the most fascinating cities on the continent – New Orleans.   A few years ago, in advance of the annual conference when it was held in held in San Francisco, I came up with a list of crime films set in the City By The Bay.

So, here we go again.  What follows is a list of many of the crime films set in “The Big Easy.” This isn’t an “official “list; but with the help of Wikipedia and my own love of film and of New Orleans I’ve tried to be as comprehensive as my non-academic, erratic mind will allow:

Albino AlligatorAs in most decent hostage films, the drama, directed by Kevin Spacey is about the interaction of those held in close quarters under stressful circumstances.  Reviewers have not been kind to Faye Dunaway, singled out for particularly bad acting. Certainly, there was nothing subtle about her performance. Others also saw the 1997 film wasteful of the talents of Matt Dillon, Gary Sinise, Viggo Mortenson, Joe Mantegna and Skeet Ulrich.  I liked it. Unfortunately New Orleans didn't have much of a role. We spend all our time in a dark cellar bar where we witness the appropriate disintegration of humanity and a genuine noir-style ending. Recommended.

Angel Heart As a scruffy and apparently not too successful P.I., Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), is made a financial offer he can’t refuse. We move from New York to New Orleans, where the P.I. tries to find a missing person and where, it seems, at each turn there is a bloody corpse. It becomes clear to Angel that he is, in the eyes of the Big Easy’s homicide cops, the most likely suspect in each murder. His client, played by Robert De Niro, is obviously holding out on his young hire, and the Louisiana’s mysterious connections to voodoo makes Harry’s life an increasingly terrifying experience. Lisa Bonet provides enough steamy (and brutal) sexual energy to send a rocket to Mars. Charlotte Rampling also appears. The 1987 film was based on the novel Falling Angel, by William Hjortsberg. Recommended.

Assassination Games – An Action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme released in 2011.  It was directed by Ernie Barbarash.

Adventures of Captain Fabian – Errol Flynn wrote and starred in this film based on the Robert T. Shannon novel.  It was set in 1860s New Orleans, but was actually filmed in France. Some reviewers saw the 1951 film as a comedy, though that was an unlikely intent.  Directed by William Marshall, the movie also starred Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – New Orleans’ darkest days, the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, are the backdrop for this “re-imagining” of the cult classic, The Bad Lieutenant. Nicholas Cage plays a tough but ultimately heroic cop, whose noble act injures him. It is the residual and unrelenting pain that eventually sends him spiraling into drug addiction and an illegal means to support his habit. The cast is excellent, including Cage who actually lists like a sinking ship, Val Kilmer and Eva Mendes.  Directed by Werner Herzog, the film was released in 2008. Recommended.

The Big Easy – One of my favorites, this 1987 film, directed by Jim McBride, captures the unique and decadent charm of the city.  There is an authentic feel to Affonso Beato’s cinematography. The movie is almost as good as a week’s stay. It is also a top-notch crime film.  Murder meets police corruption. Dennis Quaid, who plays the potentially tainted police detective, must deal with the reform-minded assistant district attorney, played by Ellen Barkin. Ned Beatty and John Goodman are also featured. They do well, as usual.  But it is Quaid and Barkin who provide the electricity.  Highly recommended.

Bending The Rules – The corrupt cop story featuring the wrestler Edge and Jamie Kennedy had a limited release in 2012.

Bourbon Street Shadows — The Shadow knows. Directed by James Wong Howe, the film is essentially two episodes of a television pilot. With telepathic powers, The Shadow, aka Lamont Cranston (played by Richard Derr), investigates a murder.

A Bullet To The Head — Director Walter Hill released this Sylvester Stallone action film based on the graphic novel Du Plomb Dans La Tête.  The film earned Stallone a “Razzie.”  Cops, hit men and police corruption form the backdrop to the 2012 movie. The film also featured Sun Kang, Sarah Shahi and Christian Slater.

Cat People — Paul Shrader directed what Wikipedia calls an “American erotic horror film.”  Released in 1982, the film was successful financially and, considering many films of its genre, did well critically. Nastassja Kinski is the main shapeshifter. However she was supported by a fine cast: Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, John Laroquette and Ed Begley, Jr.

The Chaperone – Billed as a crime comedy, the movie appears to have failed at every level.  The movie stars wrestler Paul “Triple H’ Levesque.                                                                

The Cincinnati Kid — Originally set to film in St. Louis, the movie finally landed in New Orleans.  So what does Cincinnati have to do with it? More confusion; the film was directed by Norman Jewison after Sam Peckinpah left. The screenwriters were solid though — Terry Southern and Ring Lardner adapted the story from the novel by Richard Jessup. The cast was a 1965 dream team: Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, Ann-Margaret, Karl Malden, Rip Torn, Joan Blondell, and Tuesday Weld. Critics of the day liked it, comparing it favorably to The Hustler. Some suggested that knowledge of poker would be most helpful.

Docks of New Orleans — Described as a comedy crime drama, this is one of the Charlie Chan mysteries. Released in 1948, the movie stars Roland Winters as Chan.

Dragon Eyes — Cung Le and Jean-Claude Van Damme headline this standard martial arts movie about cleaning up a dangerous neighborhood. It was directed by John Hyams and also features Peter Weller.

Drum — Based on the Kyle Onston novel and directed by Steve Carver, this 1976 – some would say sex-ploitation — film is a sequel to Mandingo. Warren Oates Pamela Grier and Ken Norton star in a story about, sex, boxing and slavery.

Escape Plan — Not sure it makes much difference where this was filmed.  Most of it appears to take place in a prison where Sylvester Stallone meets Arnold Schwarzenegger.  One critic suggested the tough-guy prison-break story story didn't do the stars justice (it was below their status as icons, I guess), and that it would have been a better vehicle for Chuck Norris and Jean-Paul Van Damme.  Ouch. An international financial success, this 2013 movie also featured 50 Cent, Amy Ryan, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Hands of Stone — Too early for reviews and financials on this current release of the Roberto Durán bio pic.  Based on the book by Christian Giudice and directed by Jonathan Jakubowicz, the film has an all-star cast: Édgar Ramirez, Robert De Niro, Usher, Ellen Barkin, Rubén Blades and John Turturro.

Hard Target – John Woo directed this 1993 action film starring Jean-Paul Van Damme.

Hell Baby — The haunted-house comedy h-horror film written and directed by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon was released in 2013.

Hotel – A big movie in its day, thievery, blackmail, romance and social issues are investigated in a large hotel symbolic of society at large. Not a whole lot of New Orleans here, but a strong supporting cast in this movie based on Arthur Hailey’s best selling book. Directed by Richard Quine and released in 1967, Hotel starred Rod Taylor, Catherine Spaak, Karl Malden, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Rennie, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Conte, and Merle Oberon.

Heaven’s Prisoners and In The Electric MistHeaven’s Prisoners 1996 is a better movie and a far better rendition of a James Lee Burke novel than In the Electric Mist, which featured amazing Burke look-alike, Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux. Burke fans may like neither, but Heaven’s Prisoners is a pretty good movie if you are willing to separate it from Burke’s remarkable series.  Alec Baldwin is not the actor I picture as Robicheaux. He, nonetheless, creates a believable and likable character. Eric Roberts does a great job being a handsome narcissist and sleazy crook. And a young Teri Hatcher is extremely revealing. In The Electric Mist never made it to movie houses in the USA.  Ned Beatty, John Goodman Mary Steenburgen and Peter Sarsgaard appeared in the film that should have worked, but didn't. So far no one has been able to transfer any of Burke’s fine crime novels to the big or little screen.

Interview With A Vampire – Though there were some negative critical comments, mostly about Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, the film was generally praised and was certainly profitable for the studios.  Based on the best-selling novel by Anne Rice, the story is about the transformation of a young girl into a vampire.  The film was directed by Neil Jordan and released in 1994.  Though the “interview” is in contemporary San Francisco, the setting is 1700s New Orleans. The film also features Christian Slater. Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, and Stephen Rea.

Invisible Avenger — See Bourbon Street Shadows.

Johnny Angel — A ship highjacking, secret gold and a mysterious survivor are the ingredients in this 1945 noir film based on Charles Gordon Booth’s novel, Mr. Angel Comes Aboard.  Directed by Edwin L. Marin, the movie stars George Raft, Claire Trevor and Signe Hasso.

Kickboxer Vengeance — Another martial arts film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is expected to be released next month.

King Creole — Receiving a surprising amount of positive reviews, Elvis Presley plays a young man who flirts with crime but is redeemed by music.  Based on the novel, A Stone for Danny Fisher by Harold Robbins, King Creole, released in 1958, was directed by Michael Curtiz and also starred Carolyn Jones, Walter Matthau, Vic Morrow and Dean Jagger. Presley’s “Hard Hearted Woman” reached number one on the Billboard charts.

Lady From Louisiana — John Wayne headlines this 1941 action comedy, considered to be a well-done movie for its time. It was directed by Bernard Vorhaus.  Dorothy Dandridge appears.

Live And Let Die — Some might say the best thing about this film is the title song by Paul McCartney and performed by Wings. Others criticize the black exploitation aspects of the drama. However, among the James Bond films, this one may have garnered the most attention because it was the first in which Roger Moore replaced Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s super spy. About drugs and voodoo, the 1973 film was shot in Jamaica and New Orleans with the usual preposterous yet fully engaging chase sequences. Guy Hamilton who did the honors for three other Bond films directed the film. Jane Seymour and Yaphet Kotto also star.

A Love Song For Bobby Long — John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson this is probably more of a drama than a crime film.  Critics disagree about its value, but some give it high marks for being intelligent and literary.  The 2004 film is based on the novel, Off Magazine Street by Ronald Everett Capp and directed by Shainee Gabel
Lulu Belle — The film is an adaptation of the play by Charles MacArthur and Edward Sheldon minus the sex and racial components.  Dorothy Lamour, George Montgomery and Otto Kruger appear in this 1948 celluloid version directed by Leslie Fenton.

My Forbidden Past — “She’s the kind of woman who made New Orleans famous,” reads the movie poster.  Robert Mitchum and Ava Gardner light up the big screen with romance and murder in the film directed by Robert Stevenson and based on the novel, Carriage Entrance by Polan Banks.  The 1951 film also features Melvyn Douglas.

Naughty Marietta — A woman fleeing an arranged marriage is kidnapped by pirates in this 1935 film.  Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, and Elsa Lanchester star.  It was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and W. S. Van Dyke. Among the credited screenwriters were the fantastic writing team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.  Also notable is the music with the credit going to Victor Herbert and Dimitri Tiomkin.

Netherworld – This 1992 zombie movie doesn’t have much of a trail.

Night Has A Thousand Eyes — Edward G. Robinson stars in this 1948 metaphysical thriller.  John Farrow directed the film costarring John Lund, Virginia Bruce and Gail Russell.  It is based on the novel, written by Cornell Woolrich.

Nightmare – In a feature similar to Night has A thousand Eyes, the 1956 Nightmare (there were a few of them) also starred Edward G. Robinson and was also based on a Cornell Woolrich novel.  Directed by Maxwell Shane, the film also starred Kevin McCarthy.

The Ninth Guest – A 1934 curiosity, the film, based on a novel, The Invisible Host by Bruce Manning and Gwen Bristow, predated Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which had a near-identical plot.  The Ninth Guest starred Donald Cook Genevieve Tobin and was directed by Roy William Neil.

No Mercy – In a movie not particularly highly regarded, Richard Gere and Kim Basinger appear in this story about a cop out for revenge.  Richard Pearce directed.

Now You See Me – Not a critics’ favorite, but a big box office success, the hit heist film takes place in New York and New Orleans.  Directed by Louis Leterrier and released in 2013, the film has plenty of big-name cast members: Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, and Dave Franco.  On my list.

Oldboy — One of those films that filmgoers question: Why the remake when the original was so good? Spike Lee decided to redo the park Chan-wook classic. Lee’s version came out in 2013 starring Josh Brolin and featuring Samuel L. Jackson. While no one damned the film, it seems no one wants to recommend it either, including Lee.

Panic In The Streets – If you like Noir, you’ve probably already seen it; but if you haven’t, this is a unique film worthy of your attention. Visit 1950 when a plague is about to destroy New Orleans.  Richard Widmark is not only up against a deadly disease, but also some deadly human enemies. Elia Kazan directs Widmark, Paul Douglas, Jack Palance, Zero Mostel and Barbara Bel Geddes.  Recommended.

The Pelican Brief   Released in1993, this was another big moneymaker, largely on the popularity of stars Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington as well as prolific author John Grisham. This is a solid feature, more action-packed than many of the other Grisham-based films.  Alan J. Pakula directed with an all-star cast, including John Lithgow, Sam Shepard, Hume Cronyn, Stanley Tucci, John Heard and Robert Culp.  A young law student is in possession of documents that point to the killers of two U.S. Supreme Court Justices.  Big-time crimes and big-time villains can only mean danger for those want to expose the evil doing. Not intellectually taxing, but solid suspense excellently executed.  Recommended.

The Power Of Few – A non-traditional movie, it had no traditional release.  Though information is scarce, the 2013 film uses interconnected stories and an ensemble cast that includes Christopher Walken and Christian Slater.

Pretty Baby — Not technically a crime film, Pretty Baby was nonetheless controversial. The film depicted brothel life in Storyville, the Red Light district of New Orleans. Though prostitution was legal when and where the story took place, objections to the film centered on the love affair between an underage girl and an adult whorehouse patron — and photographer — played by Keith Carradine. Censors also had problems with the screen nudity of then 12-year-old Brooke Shields. Susan Sarandon co-stars, and Louis Malle directed this Louisiana classic released to rave, if not “tsk tsk” reviews. Recommended.

Pretty Baby
Red and Red 2 –Directors Robert Schwentke and Dean Parisot bring a DC comic book series to life with John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis. Written  by Jon and Erich Hoeber, the films were released in 2010 and 2013 respectively to financial success. The comic book originators are Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer.

Runaway Jury — By 2003 Grisham’s movies were beginning to trail off at the box office.  And this quite fine film is the last of the film adaptations for the time being.  Director Gary Fleder had fewer per capita big names in the large cast — Gene Hackman, John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz  — in a thriller about some dangerous jury tampering.  The verdict in this trial could seriously diminish profits for the gun manufacturing industry.  Recommended.

Safe In Hell
Safe In Hell — A 1931 thriller about a prostitute on trial for murder.  William Wellman directed this pre-code, slightly salacious film based on a play by Houston Branch, starring Dorothy Mackaill and Donald Cook.

Sinners and Saints — Set in post Katrina New Orleans, this is a 2010 action film starring Johnny Strong, and directed by William Kaufman.

The Skeleton Key — Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, Kate Hudson and John Hurt star in this 2005 horror film directed by Iain Softley. A box office hit.

Sonny — The story is about James Franco’s character, Sonny, who returns to New Orleans and his brothel-owning mother after a couple of years in the Army. It appears that his military stint helped the young man sort out his life.  However, Mom, who trained her son to satisfy wealthy women for a fee, doesn’t want to let go of her prime earner, even though he’s decided to live a normal life.  He just came by to say hello and goodbye. The story gets steamy and more complicated when a beautiful and sexy prostitute, played by sensuous Mena Suvari, shows up.  Her surprisingly tender, erotic presence muddies what otherwise would be a clear choice for the troubled young man.  This is Franco’s movie.  However, it is Stanton who makes it more than a high-quality student film.  Sonny was released in 2002. Recommended.

Tightrope — This bears the Clint Eastwood stamp.  No only did he co-produce it, he took over the direction reportedly because the original director Richard Toggle, who wrote the screenplay, was “too slow.’  Eastwood is the star of this 1984 crime film. Eastwood’s daughter Alison is also in the cast. Reviewers suggests that Tightrope shows a little more depth than the Dirty Harry films as does Eastwood in his portrayal of the New Orleans cop.  Geneviève Bujold is given high marks as well.

Undercover Blues — A 1993 release this spy comedy stars Kathleen Turner, Dennis Quaid and Stanley Tucci.  Married spies try to leave the life to raise a family. Things don’t work out the way they planned.  It was directed by Herbert Ross.

Walk On The Wild Side – The movie was panned by some as sleazy, cheap and tawdry. What more could you want?  Based on the novel by Nelson Algren and directed by Edward Dmtryk, the film was a bit too much for the audience in 1962. The bordello-themed movie starred Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Capucine, Ann Baxter, and Barbara Stanwyck.

The Whole Truth – Coming soon, this Keanu Reeves film, described as a thriller, is directed by Courtney Hunt and costars Gabriel Basso, Jim Bulushi and Renée Zellweger.

Wild Card – A remake of the 1986 Burt Reynold’s film Heat, Jason Statham plays the lead role in the 2015 movie based on the William Goldman novel. Simon West directed this not particularly popular gambling movie.

WUSA – A film that had a poor critical reception when it was released in 1970 might fare better today.  The name of the movie comes from the call letters of a right wing, white supremacist radio talk show. Assassination, pep rallies and a radio host (who just revs it all up for the money) move this thriller along.  Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and based on the novel A Hall of Mirrors by Robert Stone, the film stars Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins, Laurence Harvey, Pat Hingle, Bruce Cabot, Wayne Rogers, Cloris Leachman and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. It’s on my list.

The Yellow Handkerchief ­ A small but highly polished film released in 2010 has William Hurt as 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 movie that seems to have slipped in under the radar. It also stars Maria Bello, and was directed by Udayan Prasad. Recommended.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine – A huge box office success, directed by Gavin Hood, this Marvel comic-to-film, starring Hugh Jackman is the fourth installment of an on-going series. Despite its financial success in 2009, Wolverine has a very targeted audience and doesn’t appear to have the general appeal of other iconic comic book characters.

Zandalee – The 1991 erotic thriller is another movie that never saw the inside of an American movie house. It played in other countries and is available on DVD. Wikipedia says the film was based on Émile Zola’s novel, Thérése Rauqin. Nicolas Cage, Judge Reingold, Viveca Lindfors, Marisa Tomei, and Steve Buscemi round out the talented cast.  It was directed by Sam Pillsbury.

You still have until September 9th to register for Bouchercon.  Click below!

Blood On The Bayou

September 15- 18

New Orleans

Note: Some of the above descriptions are taken in part from previous posts on this site.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Film Pairings — The Young, The Pretty And The Mysterious

You’ve met the young, haven’t you?  If you haven’t this double feature will go a long way to making introductions.

Wicker Park — Though not exactly a crime film, it is a mystery.  Adapted from the French original, L’Appartement. We follow Josh Hartnett as he bounces around from his wife-to-be, his former lover and an interloper.  Flashbacks are dizzying as we are theoretically given all the pieces we need to figure out what’s going on.  It’s fascinating and frustrating, if not altogether fulfilling to watch. In the end it is a somewhat clever exercise.  Hartnett is good, sexy and vulnerable. Rose Byrne is sexy and loony and Diane Kruger is lovely and cool, just short of cold.  Paul McGuigan directed this 2004 film with critics not necessarily fully on board. I suspect those watching at home will find it entertaining enough, having not spent the going rate for in-theater viewing. Wicker Park is officially set in Chicago, where there is a Wicker Park.  But you will be forgiven if you recognize a glimpse or two of Montreal.

Jack Ryan, Shadow Patriot — Also sporting young and pretty main characters, this 2014 release was a pleasant surprise.  Not a big fan of movies based on Tom Clancy novels despite the usually excellent plotting. However, this one had a touch of warmth as well as all the hallmarks of a thriller.  It is a solid and under rated film starring Chris Pine and Keira Knightly. It also has strong supporting performances by Kevin Costner and particularly Kenneth Branagh, who also directed. Given the current visibility given to Russia’s increasing involvement in U.S. and world affairs, including Vladimir Putin’s keen interest in covert and overt aggression, the film is also timely.  Ryan is embroiled in a Soviet plot to destroy the U.S. economy through stock market manipulation and terrorism.

Tonight’s double feature is a perfect compromise for those couples whose preferences are split between romance and action thrillers. I think the drink to accompany the entertainment should be wine.  A sweet white for the first and a hearty red for the second.  (I’d also advise watching Wicker park first, and not just because of the wine selection.) For the non-imbibers, try fruit-infused sparkling water.

Friday, August 19, 2016

On Writing – Ramblings

I read a story the other day about a meeting in 1922 between James Joyce and Marcel Proust — two members of literary royalty and authors of the often-compared classic novels many consider the best of the 20th Century, Ulysses and In Search of Lost Time.

Though the recollections of their only and very historic meeting vary a bit from one witness to another, a general truth emerged. They had nothing to say to each other.

Mr. Proust
It’s not surprising to me.  One of the writers I admire, Truman Capote, never failed to deliver truly elegant prose. I believe I’ve read all of his work, certainly most of it. And while I don’t put myself in that league (nor would anyone else), I wouldn’t have chosen him for a lunch companion any more than he would have chosen his arch enemy Gore Vidal. Unfortunately, having witnessed him in person as well as watched a few interviews on television, I prefer the beauty of his prose to his presence. And given my status in the world, no doubt he would wonder why I was in the same room.

On the other hand, I would have enjoyed a conversation with another of my favorite writers, Paul Bowles, not because he is an author, though.  Here is a bright, observant man who lived half a century in Morocco.  I would have liked to learn more about what he thought about that part of the world and what perspective he could provide on world affairs as Eastern and Western cultures appear to clash.

I suspect Joyce and Proust, unless they shared some passion such as gardening or sausage making, would not spend a lot of time with each other. Would we expect them to share exchanging writing tips?
Mr. Joyce

“Marcel, I think you should use less description and more action verbs.”

“You could be a little more cheerful, Jimmy.”

Many observers were interested in what these contemporaries thought of each other. They are both credited with revolutionizing the novel. Both created at least one interminable book, which few have actually read and a style some critics of the time found unintelligible. What would these two giants discuss? 

Again, I’m not surprised they had nothing, or at least very little, to say to each other.    
For me, writing is a solitary undertaking not a gang-related activity. For better or worse, I have no doubt absorbed lessons in the craft, or the art, by simply reading.  But aside from Elmore Leonard’s funny and elementary advice (Essentially, Don’t write what people don’t want to read.), my contention is one must learn by doing.  Then again, the Parisian moveable feast attendees – Stein, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Baldwin and others – might disagree.

Comments, agreeable or disagreeable (though hopefully civil) are welcome.  Also, if you could sit down with an author – dead or alive — who would it be? And why if you have the time.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Rant — Our Own House of Cards

When a presidential candidate makes a veiled suggestion that gun advocates might use their passion to eliminate the opposition, you might have greater drama in the real world than the darkly humorous piece of fiction about the Presidency, ‘House of Cards.”  Some of what happens in the Netflix series seemed preposterous. No more. It is reality that is unbelievable.

Narcissist In Chief (Donald J. Trump)
One could believe a conniving politician and his equally avaricious wife team up to gain the most powerful positions in the world. We’ve had time to adjust to it in a kind of parallel reality filled with all sorts of drama – accusations of illicit affairs, claims of murder, potential violations of national security, illegal quid quo pro deals and actual impeachment. While TV’s “Madame Secretary” shines a golden light on the Hillary Clinton type, “House of Cards” seems to have been inspired by the shadowy side of Bill and Hillary.

Though trending upward, Former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton is regarded unfavorably by more people than almost any other presidential candidate in history.  ALMOST, I repeat.  Even less liked and trending downward is the pretend billionaire, foil hatted conspiracy theorist, fake patriot, race baiting, incredibly uninformed and unhinged Donald Jong Trump.  His antics have set up a scenario more bizarre than Doctor Stangelove. He is a misogynist with videotapes to prove it. He makes fun of the disabled. He has a history of bad business practices and failed casinos, though he runs by peddling his success as a businessman, and refuses— unlike every modern presidential candidate before him — to make his income taxes public. Why? Will they reveal his real income?  How little taxes he pays? Will they show that his very public promises to charity have gone unfulfilled?  Trump is currently on trial for fraud and racketeering for operating a bogus university.  He promises to bring jobs home though nearly every product with the Trump brand is outsourced. He is anti-immigrant, though he employs them en masse at his various golf resorts and spas. 

He has picked as his running mate a failed governor of Indiana who believes the earth is little more than 6,000 years old and that human activity is not affecting climate despite overwhelming scientific proof to the contrary. This at a time NASA is sending back photographs of Jupiter? How could this not make an uproarious satirical comedy much more interesting than “House of Cards?”

This does not mean Donald Trump is without savvy. Even a ten-year-old can be cunning. Trump has the knack for self-promotion. Like the jokester in the back of the classroom or the bully on the playground, he has discovered the art of disruption. “Pay attention to me!”  But if you do, you realize he has nothing to say. As people tire of his tantrums, Trump has had to escalate his threats through calculated, carefully worded statements. About Hillary, he said:

Frank J. Underwood (Kevin Spacey)
“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The meaning is clear to anyone who has half a brain. Through ambiguity, he has deniability. He was only encouraging them to come out and vote, he said. Trump has one more protective layer. If he’s caught, as he was here, he claims the “liberal media is after him.  The bully is the victim.  He whines.  The system, through which he purportedly became rich and certainly famous, is rigged against him. 

The only constant is that it’s all about him. However, in the end, he has no substance anyway. Even his words are empty.  He rarely uses words let alone sentences that have substance. They are exclamations. Everything is incredible, fantastic, unbelievable, amazing. Especially him. True. An “amazing “number of “ditto heads” (remember them) follow him, some with their confederate flags and some with their pointy hats.

Unfortunately for Trump, the very people who were drawn to him because “he tells it like it is,” haven’t been told anything useful. They simply worship a man who worships himself.

Yet the world quakes, awaiting his spontaneous threats and insults. Leaders from major countries —many our long-term allies — cringe, not because they fear his strength as a leader (or negotiator), but because they fear his stupidity in a nuclear age. He is our Kim Jong Un, a thin-skinned egomaniac who inherited his position in life, and who now masquerades as savior.

We haven’t had such a threat to global stability since Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.  The thing is: we truly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. He is a truly dangerous clown.  Who could make the movie of a man who once was the playboy of the western world and became someone who could actually destroy it? Mel Brooks?  The Coen Brothers?  John Waters? David Lynch?

“Certainly House of Cards,’ clever and seductive as it is, collapses as cutting edge political theater in the face of the surreal nature of the 2016 U.S. election. Yes, yes, and with irony, Hillary represents the establishment, the “good old boy” network. Not my first choice, or second, but we’re down to two. The former secretary of state is intelligent, experienced in world affairs and most important, not a nutcase.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

On Writing – Short San Francisco Mysteries And Shameless Self Promotion

New Release – Pre-Order
Even before my Shanahan series came to an end, I was investigating, experimenting and completing shorter mysteries. The standard mystery novel is somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 words.  Short stories probably average around 5,000 words. The novella, or short novel, usually comes in around 20,000 allowing, in my opinion, the writer to develop both substantial character and plot development without fluff.

I’ve written two of these novellas for the Lang-Paladino series — Death In The Tenderloin and Death In The Haight.  More recently I participated in Canadian publisher Orca’s Rapid Reads program, easy-to-read short novels. I think of the series of books by popular authors as the perfect read for that flight from Denver to New York or while you under the covers for bedtime but can’t afford to stay up all night. The first novella, The Blue Dragon, received a genuinely warm welcome.  Here is what an early reviewer had to say about the book and the program:

"What an incredible beginning to a new mystery series by Ronald Tierney...This cover art also provides a capsule view of the multi-dimensions of the novella and becomes more meaningful as the reader progresses through each chapter...[This was] my first introduction to “Rapid Reads” and I am enthralled not only by the individual title selection experience but also for the incredible discovery of this reading series...(LibraryThing Early Reviewer 2015-08-23)

Now, we’re ready for book two, The BlackTortoise: When a low-key forensic accountant with a private investigator’s license is asked to investigate a San Francisco-based nonprofit arts organization, he meets a cast of quirky characters who all seem to be hiding a secret. There is evidence of a probable fraud, but when fraud leads to murder, the reluctant P.I. is drawn deeper into the murky waters of a criminal undertaking and shocking personal revelations.
The Black Tortoise, now available for pre-order, is the second novella featuring Asian American private eye Peter Strand. The Blue Dragon is available in paperback and digital. Both books are part of Orca Publishing’s Rapid Reads series.