Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

It’s Christmas (Blue) in March!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2024

This is a big week for us, with two Iowa premiere showings of Blue Christmas, first this Wednesday March 13 at the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids (technically at 1462 Twixt Town Rd, Marion, IA 52302) and on Saturday, March 16 in our hometown Muscatine at the Palms 10 (at 3611 Palms Dr, Muscatine, IA 52761). Both showings start at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a Q and A by myself and various cast and crew members.

There’s good news and bad news about these two screenings, and both are the same news. The Cedar Rapids event is essentially sold out – two seats remain available on their website. The Muscatine event is 70% full. Both events are reserved seating. The Muscatine event’s remaining seating is in the area closest to the screen.

I have to say I was blown away by how great the movie looked (okay, I’m a tad biased) on the huge screen at the Palms in one of its two largest theaters.

The final premiere event will be on Friday, March 22, at the Last Picture House in Davenport at 325 East 2nd Street, the fabulous new theater brought to the Quad Cities area by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods of A Quiet Place fame. As I write this, fifty seats are remaining (about 40% of the seating).

Two screenings will be part of the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival on Saturday April 6, again at the Collins Rd Theater in Cedar Rapids. Showings will be at 9 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. I will be attending the second of those and we may have a Q and A after that screening with myself and cast and crew (haven’t confirmed that yet).

Blue Christmas will be playing in twenty-some theaters in Iowa in December of this year, exact dates to be announced. The physical media (Blu-ray and DVD, from VCI Home Entertainment) will be available starting November 1 of this year. It’ll be offered to the streaming services for the 2024 holiday season as well, but it’s too early to know where and when Blue Christmas will be available in the streaming world.

If you are a cast or crew member, and want to reserve one of our limited set-aside seats at one of these remaining premieres, let me know. Same goes for our indiegogo donors whose level of support promises an advance ticket. (If no seats are available at any of the three remaining premieres, your seats will be provided at one of the 2024 holiday season screenings at the Iowa theater most convenient to you.)

And we hope to avoid any inconvenience, so if you are a cast/crew member or indiegogo contributor, do check with the theater websites to see what’s still available, and in any case check with me at or producer Chad Bishop at to see if we have a seat set aside for you (we were provided a limited number from the theaters who booked the film for the premieres).

We do not want to make anyone unhappy at these happy events, including ourselves! The last thing we want is someone who’s been promised a seat only arrives to discover no seats remain. Barb and I and Chad will give up our seats if necessary, but that’s only three seats, after all.

* * *

Here is an excellent write-up about Blue Christmas from the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

Here’s another article about Tom Hanks extolling the virtues of our film Road to Perdition. Tom, you never call! You never write! Hope all is well.

Here’s an article about the Mike Danger comic strip that I wrote (What? You did?).

Check out this essay on Road to Perdition, focusing on the graphic novel more than the movie.

You may not know this, but Brash Books has all three Perdition prose novels (Road to Perdition, Purgatory and Paradise) in one reasonable e-book package.

Finally, my frequent collaborator, Phil Dingeldein, is a prime mover in the newly revitalized Quad Cities Film Office. A nice article is right here, with a shot of us at work on the set of Blue Christmas last October.


Spirit of Seventy-Six

Tuesday, March 5th, 2024

The Muscatine premiere of Blue Christmas on March 16 is already about half sold-out, so if you want to attend, getting tickets now is not a bad idea. It’s reserved seating, which is another factor.

Advance ticket sales are available here.

Blue Christmas Horizontal Poster
* * *

Here’s a nice article about Blue Christmas and its upcoming Muscatine premiere.

Fridley Theatres to hold red carpet premiere
for local indie film on March 16

A red-carpet premiere is coming to Muscatine for a local indie production.

This month, on Saturday, March 16, the Palms 10 Theatre in Muscatine will be holding a premiere for Blue Christmas. The red-carpet event will begin at 6 p.m. with the movie starting at 7 p.m. A Q&A will be held with the film’s cast and crew afterwards.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, 1942, in Chicago, Blue Christmas focuses on a private eye named Richard Stone, who is visited by the ghost of his late partner on the 1-year anniversary of his murder. Through the guidance of three visiting spirits, Stone is forced to visit his past, present and future to finally find his partner’s killer, as well as redemption for himself.

The film was written and directed by Muscatine novelist Max Allan Collins and stars Iowa actor Rob Merritt; Alisabeth Von Presley, who some may recognize from her time on America’s Got Talent; and Chris Causey. Chad Bishop helped produce and edit the film while Phillip W. Dingeldein served as the director of photography.

Collins described the film’s story as a mash-up of The Maltese Falcon and A Christmas Carol.

“They’re two of my favorite movies and two of my favorite novels, and I just saw a way to kind of do them both at the same time… So the material will be familiar to people, and it’s material that really resonates with people because it’s about a person who becomes better by the end of the story,” he said.

Although Collins is best known for his books and comics, this is far from the only time that he has worked in film. Throughout the ’90s and early 2000s, Collins had the opportunity to work on several independent film productions. After he was unable to get a sequel to the film adaptation of Road to Perdition, however, Collins shifted focus back towards his writing and left the film scene.

Then, in 2022, during the production of Encore for Murder, a Mike Hammer radio play that was performed live before then receiving a video recording, Collins was inspired to try doing film again, he said.

“(Encore for Murder) got me thinking about getting back into doing an indie film after about a decade and a half away from doing them,” he said. “I really do enjoy doing films because I enjoy the collaborative nature of it. Being able to bring talented people together is very rewarding, and it’s very different from the sort of solitary endeavor that writing a novel is.”

Reflecting on the production, which was filmed in October 2023 over the course of only six days, Collins had much praise to give the film’s cast and crew. He also thanked Naomi DeWinter and Muscatine Community College for its support in letting the production use its Black Box Theatre for nearly all of its filming.

“It was very much a Muscatine/Quad Cities affair,” Collins said. “I’m really proud of what we were able to do with it – and, boy, does it look good on the big screen.”

Tickets can be purchased on the Fridley Theatres website at

For those who are unable to make it to these one-time showings, Collins said Fridley Theatres, the chain that owns Muscatine Palms 10, has shown interest in showing the film at each of its Iowa and Nebraska theatres during the 2024 holiday season.

“That’s something we’re really excited about,” Collins said.

You can read the article with photos here, at least for the present.

* * *

Our Cedar Rapids premiere (with Cedar Rapids-area stars Rob Merritt and Alisabeth Von Presley present, as well as me and Chad and various cast members) will be March 13. The house is already half sold out. Tickets can be ordered here.

Our final premiere will be at the Last Picture House in Davenport, thanks to our friends Beck and Woods (creators of A Quiet Place). Here’s where you can buy advance tickets for the Friday, March 22, event.

We are also an official selection in the Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, with a 9 a.m. screening and a 1:05 p.m. screening on April 6. Barb and I will be attending the latter screening.

* * *

For any birthday past 70, my late grandfather Ray Rushing used to answer questions about his age this way: “Over seventy, damnit!”

I know the feeling.

On March 3, yesterday as I write this, I turned 76 and the only thing that’s good about is that I’m not dead. There’s so much left to do and I’m going to try to do it. As Barb says, “Just keep on keepin’ on.”

That may explain why I did Blue Christmas at this ripe old age and have another indie film on the docket for later this year. More about that later. For now I have on my plate a final Heller, more Antiques novels with Barb (we were just offered a two-book contract from Severn), the final Mike Hammer novel for Titan, and a very exciting project that I’ve pitched (apparently successfully, but it’s early days) that I won’t be able to share with you until it’s signed, sealed and delivered. This year’s Quarry novel (Quarry’s Blood) may be the last, as well. Kind of feels like I’m wrapping things up, but there’s still a lot going on – one last indie movie after Blue Christmas, for example. And a Nate Heller series adapting True Detective (True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks) and perhaps other of the novels as fully produced multi-part podcast. This involves my pals Robert Meyer Burnett, Mike Bawden and Phil Dingeldein.

My health seems to be relatively good, though I have a bad day now and then (one was on my birthday itself) that indicates I have to pace myself better if I want to stick around for a few more years.

On my birthday we went to Dune Part Two and I really didn’t care for it. Neither did Barb. Son Nathan, a science fiction fan, liked it more but termed it “slow and unpleasant.” We had all liked Part One, and the advanced praise for Part Two from a bunch of people whose opinions I trust make me question my own judgment. I found the film tedious in the desert sequences and over-the-top in the bad guy portions with two risible villains – the usually reliable Stellan Skarsgård (the Broker in the Quarry pilot!) and least-scary-sociopath-ever, Elvis actor Austin Butler, as well as Christopher Walken as the evil emperor or something, a particularly misguided choice.

Dune Part Two

But Barb and I seem to be alone on this. The best I can say for it is that the lead, Timothée Chalamet, did a creditable job. Best supporting players? The giant worms.

I love science fiction and fantasy movies and TV, particularly Star Trek (I am a stubborn Star Trek The Motion Picture apologist) and the first two Star Wars films, and Forbidden Planet and Outer Limits and on and on. But I’ve always found s-f novels, most of them anyway, clunky with prose worthy of the side of a paint can (Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson excluded). I truly believe this to be my problem, because too many smart people love the stuff, and I was a shit science student. But man I love me some Kirk and Spock and Bones.

Here’s the thing. Feel free to love Dune Part Two. Too many smart people like it for me to be right about this for anybody but myself. The narrative arts (actually a lot of art in general) is the receptor plus the deliverer. Novels and short stories, and movies too, are inherently collaborative – the audience member plus the artist. I like to say, when somebody dislikes a book of mine, fair dinkum (as the Aussies put it) – sometimes I present my shows on Broadway, other times at the Podunk Playhouse.

In other words, your mileage may vary.

Certainly people who dislike my work are not wrong (though I prefer to think of them as misguided). I get complaints from readers (and reviewers) who think I go into too much detail about clothing and setting, when my approach is otherwise fairly spare. It confuses some readers and irritates others.

My frequent collaborator Matt Clemens always says something to the effect of, “Max doesn’t like to have his characters run around naked, unless they’re naked.”

Ironically, this has to do with my twin enthusiasms for prose fiction and motion pictures. From a very, very, I might say VERY, early age I sought out the books (prose novels and comic books) that movies I liked had been based upon. And I would admit, if pressed (and you’re pressing me now, aren’t you?), that the works I most admire tend to be movies. I probably like Chinatown better than Hammett and Chandler, and boy do I like Hammett and Chandler. I probably like the film Kiss Me Deadly more than Mickey’s actual Mike Hammer novels (maybe excluding One Lonely Night, Spillane at his most vivid and crazed).

So on some level I am trying to make prose fiction that plays like a movie in your mind. I may or may not be successful at that, but that’s the attempt, anyway.

Going back to Dune Part Two, the smartest response I’ve seen to it comes from people who love Frank Herbert’s novel and find the film a sort of visual adjunct to that work as opposed to a cinematic version of it.

But what do I know? If I tell you I liked the David Lynch Dune much more, would you have me locked up? Maybe in the cubicle next to David Lynch?


World Premiere of Blue Christmas at the Fleur in Des Moines

Tuesday, February 27th, 2024

M.A.C. outside the Fleur, digging Chad Bishop’s poster for Blue Christmas.

Our world premiere of Blue Christmas at the Fleur Theater in Des Moines on Saturday, February 17, was a blast. It was the first of three Iowa “premieres,” with Cedar Rapids up next at the Collins Road Theatre on March 13, followed by Muscatine at the Palms on March 16, and finally the Quad Cities premiere in Davenport at the Last Picture House on March 22.

We had a nice crowd of around 70 (with some family and friends mixed in, of course), all of whom stayed for a Q and A session with producer Chad Bishop and myself and the cast members you’ll see in the photos below. We weren’t sure star Alisabeth Von Presley – our Cedar Rapids superstar who appeared on NBC’s American Idol and American Song Contest) – would make the event, but make it she did, her star presence (yet entirely unaffected) a great boon to the proceedings.

At the Fleur Theatre in Des Moines, the first public screening of Blue Christmas awaits its audience.

The Fleur staff (and the Fridley theater chain’s Chris Kottman) went out of their way to make the evening go well and make us feel comfortable and at home. And, listen, if you are close enough to Des Moines to see something at the Fleur, they have the best popcorn in the Midwest. As someone who goes to the movies for the popcorn first and the movie second, you can trust me on this.

These four (three remaining) premiere showings will be the last until holiday season 2024, at which time we hope to be in the Fridley chain’s 17 theaters and more in the Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska region, and to be available on DVD and Blu-ray at the same time (we are awaiting contracts from VCI). We should also be on some of the streaming services for the ‘24 holiday season.

Stars Alisabeth Von Presley and Rob Merritt with co-star Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt (the biggest name in show business!).

Seeing Blue Christmas on the big wide screen was a terrific experience. Producer Chad Bishop, director of photography Phil Dingeldein, and myself as writer/director had shot the film knowing that physical media and streaming were the goals. The interest from the Fridley chain and the Last Picture House (the latter the theater our pals Beck and Woods made happen) open us up to a nice regional run when November rolls around.

The Fleur hosted a major screening of Road to Perdition back in the day, for which I was a special guest. I also did a presentation of Kiss Me Deadly there, in the days just before the pandemic kicked in. So this was a bit of a homecoming. Not meaning to sound like I’m accepting an imaginary award, I want to thank Barb – who had sworn she’d not be a part of my return to filmmaking – who of course was my strong right hand throughout.

Left to right: star Chris Causey, co-star Cassidy Probasco, director Collins, co-star Keith Porter, co-star Tracy Pelzer-Timm (with supporting player, son Paxton) and star Rob Merritt.

A modestly budgeted film depends on hardworkers and gifted crew, and d.p. Phil Dingeldein and his first camera assistant Liz Toal brought big-budget skills to our spit-and-chewing-gun production.

Just as important, though, is a strong cast, and Rob Merritt led the way on this one, a remarkable performer who described the six-day principle-photography shoot as “a blur,” but was very much the quarterback. The rest of the cast, topped by Von Presley in her charismatic turn, and local skilled actor Chris Causey (Pat Chambers in Encore for Murder), made me look better than I deserve.

The writer/director, star Alisabeth Von Presley, star Rob Merritt, co-star Tommy Ratkiewicz-Stierwalt, and Associate Producer Barbara Collins.

As I mentioned in the Q and A session after the screening, the rest of the cast – who I will not single out, although every one deserves it – had the tricky job of creating rounded characters out of a few scenes, since the Christmas Carol approach is one that takes us through the main character’s life, encountering important (but essentially glimpsed) people who have impacted that life. Each performer was up to the task. My sincere thanks goes out to all of them.

And of course I salute my editor, producer, lighting tech, sound tech, music supervisor and many more who can’t be mentioned, all of whom are Chad Bishop.

The audience, alert and with popcorn in hand, readies themselves for the first public screening of Blue Christmas.
* * *

Here’s the most comprehensive article on both Blue Christmas and myself that I’ve ever seen.

Road to Perdition is deemed one of the ten best revenge movies.

Finally, here’s an article about the Cedar Rapids Film Festival, including the news of Blue Christmas being an official selection.


Chinatown, Blue Christmas Coverage and Fruitcake

Tuesday, February 20th, 2024

Thanks to producer Chad Bishop we have a Blue Christmas web page. It includes info about buying advance tickets to some of the premieres and we will be updating it to include the others, so check back to the page for the update info over the next few weeks.

Blue Christmas is an Official Selection of the Cedar Rapids International Film Festival. Info about the festival is right here.

I introduced a great screening of Chinatown at the Fleur Theatre in Des Moines on Saturday night (Feb. 17). A good house – about 70 people – took up one of the three screens. The Fleur is a terrific theater, recently re-opened under new management by Iowa’s Fridley chain. Barb and I would like to thank Fridley’s Chris Kottman for inviting us (and for his hospitality). The Fleur staff is stellar (and they have perhaps the best popcorn in the state…though the Collins Road Theatre in Cedar Rapids rivals it) and the venue is among the best in the Midwest.

Seeing Chinatown – probably atop a three-way tie with Vertigo and Kiss Me Deadly for my favorite film – on a big screen in a 4K presentation (where is the 4K disc, Paramount?) was breathtaking for this fan. The audience was divided in roughly two groups – those who’d seen the film before and those who hadn’t. I envied the latter group, and was pleased to hear laughs and gasps coming at the correct moments.

I talked about the film’s relation to various hardboiled (or noir) mystery writers, including Hammett, Chandler and Spillane, names that weren’t necessarily familiar to the younger attendees (which included a good number of film students from Drake University). While screenwriter Robert Towne often pointed to Chandler as a major influence on the story, I mentioned that Kiss Me Deadly had an impact, too – unlike Phillip Marlowe and Mike Hammer, the protagonist of Chinatown – Jake Gittes – was a “divorce dick,” like the Hammer of the Kiss Me Deadly film.

And I of course mentioned the significance of John Huston, director of the 1941 Maltese Falcon, playing a major role (to say the least).

M.A.C. speaking about Chinatown at the Fleur
I explain to the audience at the Fleur why John Huston’s name is bigger than Roman Polanski’s on the CHINATOWN poster.

My appearance – in a Fleur series featuring writers and filmmakers introducing films that had inspired them – was designed in part to promote the World Premiere of Blue Christmas at the Fleur next Saturday (February 24). I will be there with producer Chad Bishop and a number of the actors, including star Rob Merritt and maybe his co-star, Alisabeth Von Presley, in a red carpet event.

We got great coverage from Channel 13, WHO, in Des Moines, who focused on Blue Christmas and the Feb. 24 event at the Fleur. We were sitting at the counter at the Drake Diner having a fantastic breakfast when suddenly the story came on the big screen near the serving window.

Blue Christmas coverage on TV at the Drake Diner
The view of Channel 13’s BLUE CHRISTMAS coverage from the Drake Diner counter!

Advance tickets are available here.

Our three other premieres are the following:

Collins Road Theater/Cedar Rapids Premiere – March 13th
Palms 10/Muscatine Premiere – March 16th
Last Picture House/Quad Cities Premiere – March 22nd
* * *

Barb and I are already in pre-production on the next indie movie, Death by Fruitcake, which (if all goes well or even passably) will introduce Brandy Borne and Mother (of the Antiques cozy mystery novel series) to the big screen (in Iowa, anyway) and on the flat screen in your house.

What kind of movie is it? Well, it starts with a murder and ends with a fruitcake recipe.

That recipe, which was included in the source novella (“Antiques Fruitcake”) and featured in the paperback collection Antiques Ho Ho Homicides, looked wrong to Barb. For one thing, there was no butter in it. How could that even work?

In order to be responsible storytellers and filmmakers, we set about making that fruitcake recipe, planning to at least taste the finished product, though neither of us are fruitcake fans.

The batter looked like fake vomit – you know, the gag item that Magic and Gag Shops always sell.

Fruitcake batter, or fake vomit?
Dessert – comin’ right up!
Fake vomit, or fruitcake batter?
Magic shop fake vomit, kids!

But the result was…we swear…delicious. True, we ate it warm with ice cream, but that’s fair dinkum, as they say on Prisoner Cell Block H and Wentworth.

Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
Fruitcake is served – surprisingly delicious!
* * *

Iowa Public Radio has a really good article on me and Blue Christmas at their web site.

And the great J. Kingston Pierce writes up my announcement that I’m planning for the next Nate Heller novel to be the last. Nice that people still care. Really nice, actually.