3 Movies We Made it Through

October 11th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Now that Barb and I are feeling a little better after our bout with pertussis – and are not contagious – we’ve started going out to movies again. As regular readers of these updates should recall, she and I have walked out of an inordinate number of movies this year – on one occasion, two in one day.

So I am pleased – make that relieved – that the last three movies we’ve seen found us making it through the entire presentation, even when the pop, popcorn, and Milk Duds had run out. Here’s a brief rundown:

MASTERMINDS is an odd one that has left some reviewers cold, but both of us liked this one quite a bit. It’s a true-crime film that is also an over-the-top comedy. Here’s the cast: Zach Galifianakis; Kristen Wiig; Kate McKinnon; Jason Sudeikis; Owen Wilson; Leslie Jones; and Ken Marino. With four of the principals veterans of Saturday Night Live (Wiig, McKinnon, Sudeikis, Jones), and another from The State (Marino), and with SNL’s Lorne Michaels one of the producers, you should have some sense of how this differs from, say, IN COLD BLOOD.

The odd thing of it for us is that as we watched, we began to slowly realize the true incident being loosely depicted was one Barb and I had considered turning into a novel ourselves, a few years ago (the clipped newspaper articles remain in our story files); we just couldn’t figure out how to handle this unlikely, goofy story of a crew of trailer-park “masterminds” who pulled off a $17 million Loomis Fargo robbery. The slapstick nature of the real crime makes great fodder for the improv style of the cast, though (as I say) some found this marriage of true-crime and comedy off-putting. We howled.

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I almost passed on this one, since the screenplay was by Taylor Sheridan, whose SICARIO I despised. But the high Rotten Tomatoes rating got us there, and both Barb and I loved this throwback to the character-driven crime films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, with its strong nod toward BONNIE AND CLYDE. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie follow two sympathetic pairs – Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, Texas Rangers, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster, bank robbers – on a course of inevitable, tragic confrontation. Criminal Pine comes across as an antihero of sorts, and Foster pulls off the very tricky role of Pine’s somewhat unhinged, borderline sociopathic brother, bringing to it unlikely charm. Bridges is the almost crotchety Texas Ranger just days from retirement who needles his Native American partner unmercifully in politically incorrect ways that create nervous laughter. The points of view of both sides of these teams are understandable, and it’s increasingly uncomfortable knowing collision is coming. When it does, no punches are pulled. The cinematography is striking in its depiction of a barren, even ravaged modernday Texas, and echoes of the Wild West past of outlaws and lawmen lurk on the fringes of this melancholy but always entertaining film. Best of the year so far.

GIRL ON THE TRAIN – We didn’t walk out of it, but this one barely eked out our attention. For a more compelling melodrama, try watching a snail crawl across a patio. All of the characters are unsympathetic, and – possibly explaining the sleep-inducing pace – there’s about a short story’s worth of plot here, stretched out and arranged in two hours of pointless flashbacks that don’t announce when they’re over (including some flashbacks within flashbacks, depictions of false memories, and flashbacks remembered by people who weren’t there). The screenwriter is female and so is the author of the novel, and if a man wrote a novel hating women as much as this film hates men, he would be dismissed as a sexist boor. Worst movie we didn’t walk out of in recent memory. Slight compensation: the performances of Emily Blunt (though she’s mostly playing drunk) and Allison Janney as a cop (who ought to be more on top of things).

* * *

Stacy Keach is a nominee for best narrator of a crime & thriller audiobook for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS by Spillane & Collins. Stacy does a fantastic job on his readings of the novels, and if you’re a Mike Hammer fan, you shouldn’t miss any of them.

Another top narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has done QUARRY IN THE BLACK on audio. I’ve not heard this yet, but Stefan always does a good job. He has a deep voice that suggests the older Quarry (of, say, THE LAST QUARRY) ruminating about the adventures of his younger days.

Speaking of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, the positive reviews keep coming, like this one from Criminal Element.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

From Australia comes this great review of the QUARRY TV show, with lots of references to the original books.

Here’s a review of the early novel in the series, QUARRY’S DEAL.

And finally, in German (but you may have a Google translator or something), is a career piece on me the likes of which nobody in the USA has ever done. It comes from the very knowledgeable Martin Compart, who was my editor at several publishing houses in Germany. Martin, the epitome of cool, was an early advocate of both Quarry and Nate Heller. Scroll down the article and you’ll see a great picture of him, next to some young punk.


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8 Responses to “3 Movies We Made it Through”

  1. Bill Crider says:

    Glad you’re both feeling better!

  2. Thomas Zappe says:

    Any chance of getting that piece translated for those of us who don’t have the translator thing and who quit German after our second year in college?

    I almost couldn’t finish

  3. Thomas Zappe says:

    Oops!! I almost couldn’t finish THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN in book form and would be hesitant to invest another couple of hours of my life to see if the movie was any better. I gave the book to a waitress and told her not to expect much.

    Everybody I sent to see HELL OR HIGH WATER loved it.

  4. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, Bill. Hope you’re doing well, too. Still a few issues to deal with, but I’m getting there.

    Tom, Nate provided a link above — just click on where it says Google translator. Be forewarned, it’s borderline gibberish. But you’ll get the idea of what Martin was up to.

  5. Mike Doran says:

    I had four years of high school German, from which I remember almost nothing, save for spelling and pronunciation.

    I do remember our teacher (‘lehrer’), Herr Gahala, who would tell us about idiomatic expressions – or as he sometimes called them, “idiotic expressions”.

    This is the fun of reading direct translation from one language to another, a prime source of humor going back to “English As She Is Spoke”.
    But Herr Compart obviously is a mensch who means only the best, so cheers from here.

    Since you’re steering clear of Thumper the Wabbit, I shall do likewise.
    (But if you’re in the market for a neato conspiracy theory, I’ve heard a slam-doozy from several places; details on request …)

    My moviegoing has pretty well dried up lately; so many promising titles vanish from the plex before I get around to them.
    MASTERMINDS seems promising (your recommendation is a help), but I’ve heard that it’s a throwaway, after much time on the shelf (which could account for the negative notices). If it’s still around by the weekend, I’ll give it a try – but that ‘if ‘ could be a problem.

    See you when I see you …

  6. Thomas Zappe says:

    I just finished reading the transliteration of the German article. I think Lewis & Clark had similar problems in their travels.

  7. Paul Schulz says:

    One mistake I think that THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN film made was to move the setting from London to New York. One reason this was done was supposedly to give the story a “more scenic” background. And yes, the Hudson River Valley is beautiful. But you end up with people living in what must be multi-million dollar homes doing ridiculous things like becoming the nanny for their neighbors two doors down. Or giving what is most likely a high school drop out a past career as an art gallery manager in New York (on a whim I guess). The economic environment of the movie makes no sense. On an unrelated tangent, as it’s the Halloween season, go see TRAIN TO BUSHAN if you get a chance. I felt it was the best zombie movie made in the last few years (21 DAYS variety). Between it and THE WAILING, this has been South Korea’s year for horror. And kudos to your writing on tonight’s episode of Quarry. When does the soundtrack CD come out?

  8. Patti Abbott says:

    Hi Mr. Collins
    I wonder if I could ask you to write a remembrance of Ed Gorman for his 75th birthday on November 2. I know you had a special relationship with him and I would love to include your thoughts. I am hoping to solicit similar reviews, reminiscences, etc from other imminent writers. You can reach me at aa2579@wayne.edu or on my blog. Thanks.