Posts Tagged ‘Movie Reviews’

True Noir Is Coming, Criticism and Me, Plus Movies!

Tuesday, April 30th, 2024

The Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign for my new project may go live as early as tomorrow (as you read this – it’s tentatively set for May 1). This is to support True Noir: The Nathan Heller Casebooks, a fully immersive audio production based on the first book in the series, True Detective. I am writing all ten scripts myself.

My talented director, Robert Meyer Burnett, is assembling a great cast, led by Todd Stashwick of Picard and the 12 Monkeys TV series (and much more). Impressive names are being sought, a number of whom have already said yes, but these will be parceled out to the public as the crowd-funding campaign continues.

Here again is a link to the 12-minute proof-of-concept audio we put together.

It’s based on the first chapter of Stolen Away, which is not the book we’re adapting but was chosen for its combination of establishing Heller in an action situation.

It’s truly odd returning to True Detective (no relation to the HBO show that came after) for the first time in over forty years (!). Also the form is one that has special challenges. The story has to be told in completely audio terms. Its length ultimately will be three times longer than a film adaptation, but still substantially shorter than the 100,000-word novel I’m adapting.

I do find myself pleased to tweak scenes and make them better than the first time around (in 1981!) but at the same time I’m trying to honor the work of the young writer who wrote the novel so long ago.

Fortunately, as some of you know, I wrote a number episodes of the web series Fangoria’s Dreadtime Stories, so I’ve written radio-style scripts before and feel I’m fairly adept at it. But nothing as long-form as this, a script of ten episodes that will ultimately add up to over 300 manuscript pages.

I have high hopes for the quality of what we’ll produce – and for its reaction among listeners. As the Heller series winds its way toward its last entry (which I am contracted to write for Hard Case Crime this year), I am happy to be revisiting where the saga began. And it may open the door to more adaptations, and bring more attention to Heller from new readers and perhaps even the TV and movie world.

There will be a strong physical media component. We’re planning a Blu-ray that will contain the entire audio drama, the production of which will be elaborate and truly a movie for the ears; but also an hour-long interview by Rob Burnett with yours truly, footage shot in Chicago of star Todd Stashwick, and much more (my longtime collaborator Phil Dingeldein shot this footage). There may even be a vinyl version!

* * *

You know what my greatest strength is as a purveyor of long elaborate lies? (AKA novelist.) It’s how well I take criticism.

Insert hysterical laughter here.

I have no idea what it is in my psychological make-up that makes me react so badly to criticism. I have a ridiculous amount of self-confidence, but the inflated balloon of my ego is easily pricked. Especially by pricks.

Recently I got dinged at Black Gate, an interesting genre-oriented website where this lovely review of (yup) True Detective appeared in 2018.

But someone named Thomas Parker (the word “Editor” is next to his name but he’s not listed among the Black Gate staff) criticized Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime for using their line as “a Max Allan Collins manuscript dump.”

This gratuitous cruelty appealed to my poor judgment and I replied, but Black Gate did not post that reply. I never understand the reluctance of websites and publications to allow authors – even those like me with poor judgment – to respond to this kind of thing, when they allow people like Parker to prattle on in the first place.

My response was perhaps less-ill-judged than usual because I was defending a great publisher, and editor, who have almost single-handedly kept 1950s-style noir novels alive, both through reprints and books by contemporary authors.

Anyway, here’s what I wrote that did not appear:

HCC a “Max Allan Collins manuscript dump”? Well, yes. Among the manuscripts I dumped (or helped dump) at HCC are The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain; The Comedy is Finished by Donald E. Westlake (I provided the manuscript that Don had given me when he abandoned the project); and the first posthumous, 80% completed Mickey Spillane manuscript (Dead Street) and Mickey’s last completed novel (The Last Stand). I also encouraged the republication of Rex Stout’s early pre-Nero Wolfe novels. When editor Charles Ardai made me the first living author he published (in the first year of HCC), he sought to reprint the second Nolan novel, Blood Money. I gave him instead both the first Nolan (Bait Money) and Blood Money to be published together at the same rate he’d offered for just Blood. After that twofer was published, Charles wanted more reprints but I offered to write new novels at the reprint rate because I relished the chance to write whatever I chose. What I chose was The Last Quarry, designed to end that series but becoming surprisingly popular, which led to more, still at the same reprint rate (which is what I still get, actually a little lower now). That Quarry novel led to a feature film and an HBO/Cinemax series, which led to Charles reprinting the original Quarry novels with McGinnis covers. The Nolans followed, with the first new one in thirty years (Skim Deep) written at Charles’ request. He is, incidentally, the best editor I’ve ever had. Lately I’ve written two Nathan Heller novels — the Edgar-nominated and Shamus-winning historical PI series — for HCC, still at the same reprint-level rate despite being 100,000-word books. I will be doing one more for HCC, ending the series. You may prefer dead authors, but I am 76 so you don’t have long to wait.

I might add to this that I have not foisted any unpublished manuscripts from my drawer for HCC to publish or even consider. Nothing of that kind exists. The only unpublished book from my drawer that I did allow to be published was the first Nolan novel (sans the Jon character), Mourn the Living, which I let be serialized in a fan magazine back in the ‘80s. Later several publishers asked to collect the serialized novel into a book and I allowed that. And when Charles Ardai wanted to reprint all of the Nolan novels as two-fers, when we got to Spree (a rather overlong entry and, at the time I wrote it, another attempt to end a series), he asked to include Mourn in that volume as a bonus.

Look. I understand writers need to learn to take criticism well (I’m still working on that). And I have learned from critical reviews from time to time when the reviewer pointed out some weakness of mine I hadn’t seen or anyway been able to overcome; that’s called constructive criticism, and I may not love getting it at the time, but it can – and often does – pay off.

Sometimes readers, reviewers, just don’t like your stuff and that’s their privilege, obviously. I know that my propensity for describing characters and their clothing in some detail alienates some readers/reviewers. But I’ve explained why I do that, here, any number of times (it has to do with characterization). I’ve been a professional novelist since 1971 and that’s always been the technique I’ve used. That doesn’t make it right, but it does indicate a choice as opposed to some blind flaw. And I am still trying to exercise that approach in a more economical way.

I do not think it proper for me to respond to a thoughtful negative review. But a gratuitous swipe? I do not have enough character to just let that pass.

Or as my wife Barb says when somebody attacks me, “Don’t they know you’re the guy who created Quarry?”

* * *

I generally like Guy Ritchie’s films, which might best be described as British variants on Quentin Tarantino but funnier. Along those lines, I heartily recommend The Ministry of UnGentlemanly Warfare. I freely admit that I thought the bold on-screen claim at the start that the film was based on a true event had to be tongue-in-cheek nonsense.

Then at the end of the film came photos of the actual people and little whatever-happened-to paragraphs.

Turns out historical events and people are at the heart of it, but the outrageousness of its exaggerated version of those events (and the people therein) was such that my assumption that history had nothing to do with it seems reasonable.

Basically it’s a rousing adventure story in which many, many Nazis are slaughtered with relish (and catsup and onions) by the roughneck heroes. What makes it particularly interesting to me is its inclusion of Ian Fleming and Henry Cavill’s dashing and bloodthirty hero, a reflection of the historical figure Major Gustavus March-Phillipps, who was one of Fleming’s role models in creating James Bond.

And it’s cheeky fun that Cavill – often talked about but apparently looked over in the post-Daniel Craig Bond sweepstakes, is playing a guy the character was based on.

Cavill, who appears to be having the time of his life, is joined by a strong cast including Avan Richardson, Elza Gonzalez, and Babs Olusanmokum. I hope you don’t think less of me, but I could watch Nazis getting obliterated all day.

Speaking of the home-grown variety, many nasty folk meet their doom coming up against Jason Stratham (a Guy Ritchie graduate) in one of his best, The Beekeeper, out on home video and streaming here and there right now. I love Stratham, but his list of films is spotty. This one is high on the list (though it does go perhaps too far over the top in the final third), probably right behind the outrageous Crank movies.

For those of you following the saga of introducing my eight year-old grandson Sam to movies not entirely designed for kiddies, we have gone from King Kong (1933), which he loved, to the Ray Harryhausen fest, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958), which he found utterly amazing. I did, too. It’s a movie I saw on it’s first release when I was probably ten and was blown away then, and now.

Lots more Harryhausen to come!


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?


A Kindle Sale, Argylle & I’m Famous! (In Iowa)

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024
The Million-Dollar Wound cover

For you Kindle readers, two novels of mine are being offered by Amazon this month. The Million-Dollar Wound, the third Nate Heller novel, will be promoted via Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals in the US marketplace, starting 2/1/2024 till the end of the month for $1.99.

Supreme Justice, the first novel in the trilogy of Reeder and Rogers novels by Matt Clemens and me, will be promoted via Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals in the US marketplace, starting 2/1/2024 till the end of the month at $2.99.

These are books I’m particularly proud of, respectively the novel in which Heller is a WW 2 Marine, and a political thriller that hasn’t dated a minute.

* * *

I am working on the script for am Antiques novel that, if all works out, will be my next indie movie. Blue Christmas really got my juices going. Much more later.

Once again, here is where you can get advance tickets for the Des Moines and Muscatine showings of Blue Christmas. The Cedar Rapids and Davenport advance ticket availability will be posted soon.

Advance tickets are on sale for the World Premiere of Blue Christmas in Des Moines at the Fleur Theater on February 24.
And the Muscatine, Iowa, premiere tickets are available here.

* * *

Barb and I are beginning to return to our habitual moviegoing ways – which post-Covid had till now been few and far between – and this weekend we took in Argylle.

Argylle Movie Poster with Bryce Howard

We had enjoyed director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman movies very much – cheerfully over the top, reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s best films. We weren’t disappointed in this latest effort. In fact, we were pigs in excrement throughout.

But apparently a lot of people weren’t.

This twisty tongue-in-cheek take on the worlds of pop fiction writing and James Bond has already been deemed a flop (it brought in $18 million at the box office first week out). Rotten Tomatoes shows only a quarter of the reviewers liked the film, and only (?) seventy-five percent of the public liked it.

What does all of this prove? First, the critics have absolutely no taste much less sense of humor in these wretchedly humorless times. Second, the public is better, but not a big enough share of them went to this exciting, witty movie. And third, Barb and I have impeccable taste.

Basically (very basically) Argylle is about a young female writer’s romantic spy series (very much modeled on Bond) that begins to come to life. That’s all I’m going to tell you. This has more credible (in the world of this film anyway) twists than any film I can remember.

It slightly resembles the John Sand novels written by Matt Clemens and me, though I doubt the creators were familiar with those. The Sand novels, the sales of which have not set the world on fire (despite great reader and critical sense) (those critics know what they are talking about) is available here. If you like my work, or the Fleming Bond novels, you will probably like these.

Max Allan Collins Collection: Volume 2: John Sand cover

The complete series is available on Kindle here.

Anyway, Argylle. Don’t listen to the critics or that 25% of readers who didn’t like this film. Apple produced it and it will turn up on that streaming service fairly soon, but you really should take this in on the big screen.

Without spoiling anything, I can say that one of the reasons that 25% didn’t like the film is the advertising that focuses Henry Cavill as the Bond-like Argylle. But Cavill is the fantasy version and the reality version is portrayed by the great Sam Rockwell, playing opposite Bryce Dallas Howard, Ron’s talented daughter. Both Rockwell and Howard are fantastic in Argylle, and neither is exactly the Hollywood model of lead actors. Rockwell is scrawny and scruffy, and Howard – stunningly beautiful in my opinion – is what we used to call zaftig. Her fetching but undeniable heaviness has worked against her here, in this supposedly more inclusive culture. So does that advertising campaign that is at heart a bait-and-switch job.

Lemme tell ya: this is not a culture inclusive where old white guys are concerned. And apparently not to forty year-old actresses who aren’t anorexic (the female star of Argylle does not look even close to forty, by the way). Ms. Howard, you are welcome in Iowa to make a micro-budget movie with us any old time.

* * *

You really should check out this terrific review of the last (to date) Caleb York novel, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, in a series Kensington chose not to continue. The only way this review could have been better is if I wrote it myself.

Check out these five interesting things to love about Dick Tracy…I’m one of ‘em!

Yes, these first two links take you to places that praise my work right before (a) one of my series got dropped, and (b) where the S.O.B.s fired me right before Christmas. On the other hand, the latter inspired me to write “A Wreath for Marley,” the basis of Blue Christmas – so thank you, Chicago Tribune Syndicate!

Here’s a great Killer Covers column by the great J. Kingston Pierce about the great Paul Mann, the artist who has done several of my recent covers at Hard Case Crime (three of the originals are on my office wall!).

This column credits the graphic novel Road to Perdition as one of the works that redefine Hollywood. You’re welcome!

And, finally, I’ll bet you didn’t know I was one of the 27 most famous people living in Iowa. I sure didn’t!


So Long, Christmas! Hello Blue Christmas!

Tuesday, December 26th, 2023

I am writing this on Christmas Day 2023, still in the warm glow of a Christmas Eve with Barb, wherein party mix, little smokies in BBQ sauce, and champagne – combined with our annual gift-giving and a screening of A Christmas Story – added up to a wonderful evening.

The only drawback was not having our family (son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby and two grandkids, eight-year-old Sam and five-year-old Lucy) here to celebrate with us. They are in Texas with Abby’s family (we had an early “Christmas” with them a few days ago, before they headed out) and we missed them. But there’s something to be said for a couple sharing a cozy Christmas Eve.

Still, I hope next Christmas will be the usual family affair.

And I also hope next Christmas there will be a Blu-ray (or access via a streaming service) (or even a theatrical screening) of my latest film, Blue Christmas. This not-at- all lavishly budgeted feature has been completed by editor/producer Chad Bishop and myself, with our fellow producer Phil Dingeldein due to come down to Muscatine later this week for a look at the finished product and a final okay.

I returned, after a long absence, to indie filmmaking after last year’s Encore for Murder, the Gary Sandy-starring Mike Hammer Golden Age Radio style play that we shot and edited into something that might be called a movie. Whatever it is, it’s out on DVD from VCI Home Entertainment, and as a special feature on VCI’s Blu-ray of my expanded documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane. Both Encore and Spillane are also available on VUDU and Amazon Prime for streaming.

The Encore for Murder experience is what prompted me to get back into the indie game, and I’m glad I did because I’m proud of our little movie, Blue Christmas, and hope it will join the favorites on many of your Christmas Season video viewing lists next year at this time.

We are waiting for word from a video distributor (who had expressed a strong interest in the project) and I should know soon whether Blue Christmas will be available on Blu-ray and on streaming services before long or whether it will wait in the wings till next Christmas season. That will be up to the distributor. I do know we’re doing a handful of festivals early this coming year (tomorrow, as I write this!) (the year, not the festivals).

I have enjoyed collaborating with editor Chad and director of photography Phil on this project, as well as our talented cast, many of whom appeared in Encore. Our top-billed stars are Rob Merritt – a mainstay of Iowa independent film – and Alisabeth Von Presley, who appeared on both American Idol and American Songwriting Contest on network television. Also above the title is Chris Causey, who appeared as Norman Baker in Chad Bishop’s The Man in Purple. Very hardcore fans of mine may recall that real-life “cancer quack” Baker was the fictionalized subject of my early novel, No Cure for Death. That both Chad and I did projects about Baker indicates why we are kindred spirits.

Chad’s short, ambitious film can be seen here.

Chris Causey also appears as Mike Hammer’s cop pal, Pat Chambers, in Encore for Murder.

* * *

As is the case with a lot of physical media collectors, I usually buy a Blu-ray – or lately a 4K disc – of any movie I’ve enjoyed seeing in a theater. In last week’s update I discussed the 4K’s of the new Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible movies. Since then we’ve watched at home Oppenheimer and The Equalizer 3 on 4K, having seen and liked them at the Palms Theater here in Muscatine.

Of the four movies mentioned above, the least discussed – the least taken seriously – is The Equalizer 3. On our second viewing of all four, I would rate The Equalizer 3 highest. I realize that’s not a popular view. And perhaps this very Spillane-derived film is one I would be destined to like, even prejudiced to rate highly, since it’s essentially a Mike Hammer vengeance reworking. But I would argue its direction and acting (particularly Denzel Washington and Elle Fanning) are superior examples of the craft. And the script is assembled as if by a Swiss watchmaker.

On second viewing, Oppenheimer continues to impress but the experience is now less overwhelming and its flaws start to reveal themselves. Christopher Nolan’s insistence on shuffling the narrative deck – which flashback am I in now, or is this a flashforward? – reveals the pretentious flaw in this gifted craftsman’s approach. He must be celebrated for getting terrific performances from all concerned. But the narrative’s weaknesses – ironically concealed somewhat by that pretentious deck-shuffling – are jarring.

What weaknesses am I talking about?

The depiction of Oppenheimer’s married life should either have been left out or depicted more fully. The worst realized character is Oppenheimer’s wife, Emily Blunt. The film indicates its protagonist’s womanizing without to any degree explaining it. The wife’s inclusion seems almost grudging.

More problematic is the structure. The last third of the film abandons Oppenheimer as protagonist and focuses on the efforts to paint him a left-wing risk by Lewis Stauss, well-portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr. The daunting length of the film is unnecessary – this whole final section could have been replaced by one of those cards that briefly discuss the ramifications that followed a preceding film. Making your protagonist a bystander for the last third of the movie is incredibly bad storytelling.

Is Oppenheimer a bad movie? No. It is worthwhile and intermittently brilliant. But badly flawed.

On the other hand – and I realize I am to some degree comparing apples and oranges – The Equalizer 3 tells its story in a straight-forward yet bold manner. It waits until the very end of the movie to reveal what motivated its hero to undertake his righteous mission. It makes the stakes that hero faces high indeed, endangering the very people he hopes to protect; but it resists giving us cheap-shot deaths of those people, just to throw more gasoline on the vengeance fire. This director – Antonine Fuqua – deserves the kind of attention someone, like, say, Christopher Nolan is getting.

I liked all four of these movies, by the way. I just think Oppenheimer is the most overrated of the four. And of course it has an obvious weight over the likes of Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible. But a traditional narrative well-crafted, like The Equalizer 3, that accomplishes what it sets out to do will always please me more than one whose self-importance and ambition overwhelm the final product.

Let me say, too, a filmmaker who has never had to deal with a huge budget and all the difficulties that come with it, should tread lightly. I recognize the accomplishment of all four directors and their screenwriters – the degree of difficulty is immense.

I always hesitate to criticize movies, and I never criticize novels. Doing so lacks grace coming from a fellow storyteller. So I avoid discussing novels here, and don’t take money for my film opinions, having turned down opportunities to write reviews professionally; some may recall that I once wrote the Mystery Scene movie review column but stepped down after experiencing actually working on a film. This blog is the only place I allow myself to express these personal cinematic opinions, which I share with the readers who are good enough to follow my fiction and drop by here.

The next time I write you good people it will be, astonishingly, 2024.

* * *

The great J. Kingston Pierce, at the indispensable Rap Sheet, has chosen both Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me, and Too Many Bullets as among his best books of 2023.