Posts Tagged ‘The Legend of Caleb York’

Another Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Kobo

The day this update appears, Antiques Fire Sale– the latest Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery by Barbara Allan (Barb and me) – will go on sale.

To help (Amazon) prime the pump, we are offering free copies to the first ten of you who respond. As usual, we can accept no entrants outside the United States, and you must include your snail mail address (even if you’ve won before). Send your request to macphilms@hotmail.com. We will sign all of the books (Barb signs “Barbara” and I sign “Allan”). You are expected to write a review for Amazon and/or similar web sites, like Barnes & Noble and personal blogs. If you hate the book you can bail, but even a tepid review is better than no review at all.

Barb and I wrote a fun interview in the voices of Brandy and Vivian Borne (our Antiques sleuths) that will appear here starting on Thursday the 30th.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important these reviews are. Even if you didn’t get any of the recent books free (Do No Harm, Antiques Fire Sale, Girl Can’t Help It, Masquerade for Murder), please take the time to write a brief review at Amazon – just a couple of lines will do, but if you are inspired…go for it!

All of the titles listed above have sort of stalled out, where reviews are concerned, so all of you bored sheltering-in-place M.A.C. readers, get to reviewing, please. Yes, I am groveling. Yes, I have no shame. No, I am not embarrassed about my behavior.

Right now I am working on a sixth Caleb York novel. The fifth Caleb – Hot Lead, Cold Justice – comes out in about a month. We had a very nice advance review for the Hot Lead, which I’ll share with you now:

Hot Lead, Cold Justice

Spillane befriended Collins and, shortly before dying of cancer, gave him his blessing to complete any unfinished manuscripts. Since 2007, Collins has completed 26 Spillane novels.

This is the fifth in the Caleb York series (e,g, Last Stage to Hell Junction, 2019). In New Mexico during the “Great Die Up” blizzard of 1887, Caleb York is settling into his role as sheriff, but he’s thrown off his game when his deputy is shot in an act of mistaken identity. York quickly learns that Luke “Burn ‘Em” Burnham is out of prison, 10 years after York put him in for bank robbery. Burnham is looking for a quick heist and revenge. Under ordinary circumstances, York would have been two steps ahead, but the blizzard puts York and Burnham on an even playing field.

It’s an exciting game of cat-and-mouse with an entertaining love triangle thrown in for good measure. Accurate details of the historical blizzard are a meticulous touch, and readers looking for more information will appreciate the informal bibliography.

— Sarah Steers

One of the things I really like about that review is that the reviewer is a woman. Mickey always claimed that a good portion of his readership was female, and my editor at Kensington has insisted that a sizeable number of readers of westerns are women. I have always taken that advice seriously, coming from reliable sources as it did, in the writing of the books.

So I have made sure to include strong female characters in the novels – something Mickey always did, too – and a portion of romance. The original Caleb York screenplay I worked from on the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York, had two strong women in Willa Cullen and Lola Filley. Since Lola (SPOILER ALERT!)does not make it out of the narrative alive (END SPOILER ALERT!), I introduced her younger sister in The Big Showdown to essentially take over Lola’s role.

Okay, they’re essentially the same character. You caught me.

There’s a thing in the Broken Lizard film Beer Fest where a loveable character is killed and later his twin brother (obviously played by the same actor, Kevin Heffernan) turns up to take his place in the ensemble, and the convenience of that is brazenly made into a wonderful joke.

Back in the days when we left our house for more than groceries and pharmaceuticals, Barb and I saw Broken Lizard at the Englert Theater in Iowa City. We spent some quality time with the boys afterward, and they were the nicest, most regular guys you could imagine.

So I suppose their shameless Beer Fest resurrection of a character inspired me to replace Lola with Rita.

As I write Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, Barb is working on her draft of Antiques Carry On. Plotting required really putting our heads together, so this time – first time ever – I did my draft on the first third of the book before she pressed on. Speaking of Fire Sale, we had a lovely if odd review of that, as well, from Bookgasm. Take a look:

Antiques Fire Sale

They’re all the same.

You think that would be a terrible critique. But actually, the familiarity, the comfort, works very well. I’m talking about the antiques-themed mystery series of Barbara Allan, a pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Barbara and Max Allan Collins.

With Antiques Fire Sale, we’re now on the 18th book (including three e-books), of an antiques-themed mystery series that features Vivian Borne (now the Sheriff of Serenity, Iowa), her long-suffering daughter Brandy, and their sweet and smart Shih-Tzu, Sushi.

They are all the same, even though there is some dynamism in the characters and their interactions. For instance, Mom Vivian is a strong-willed force of nature, an excellent detective, someone who doesn’t care for rules or protocol, and she generally gets her way. In early books, she’s just a director at the local theater, but all of a sudden, she ends up as the elected Sheriff of Serenity, Iowa. This doesn’t please her daughter Brandy, who tries to rein in her mother, but generally fails. Brandy has moved from one relationship to a much stronger one with a local law enforcement colleague, but she still feels on the edge. Only the dog Sushi seems to be the most well-adjusted.

The series has grown, but the formula of the books remains the same. It’s an American humorous cozy, with recipes, interpolations between the writers and their editor, and even chapters written from different characters’ points of view. The books shift between chapters written by Brandy and some by Vivian. This particular tale includes one chapter written by 14-year-old Jake, Brandy’s son (who lives with his father elsewhere), who has been seduced into the investigation by Vivian. His chapter seems remarkably true to a teenager’s style and shows the character off to his best advantage.

Plots in these stories are actually pretty interesting. In this one, a caretaker for a mansion that is filled with valuable antiques is found dead when the mansion burns down. But Vivian (Sheriff Borne, excuse me) realizes that at least one of the valuable antiques was stolen before the fire. And it turns out the man burned in the fire is not the caretaker. Later on, they find the real caretaker’s corpse in the woods. That’s at least two deaths (with one more to go).

The whole thing is handled admirably by the author(s). Here’s the thing. The stories are pretty good. The character interactions are fun (especially between mother and daughter). But there are things that may grate: the editorial comments between the writers of whatever chapter and the off-screen editor, the constant craziness of Vivian Borne, even the shifting chapter POVs may grate on some.

It’s the kind of series that if you like one of the books, you’ll like them all and read them with pleasure. If you read one and are irritated, then these won’t work for you. Still, I find them charming and worth the day or two it will take you to try one out. Highly entertaining.

—Mark Rose

Okay, and while Mark doesn’t seem to be quite sure whether Barb and I are great or grate, I should point out that he is a male. Which I find to be very cool. Just as it may surprise some that the Caleb York novels appeal to females, so may some be surprised that the Antiques novels appeal to males.

Now, I’m not really surprised at all about Antiques and male readers – at least those of you men secure enough in your masculinity to read a cozy about two “girls” – because a very smart guy named Bill Crider used to love these books.

How I wish you were still around reading them, my friend.

* * *

Here’s a particularly well done interview with me on Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

Here’s Part One of a very good article about me, with quotes from an interview I did with the writer. Again, the focus is on Mike Hammer, but there’s a lot more.

Check out this fun review of Masquerade for Murder (by “Mike” Spillane and me!).

Here’s an interesting if condescending review of the movie version of Road to Perdition. I was amused to see a reference to Dave Thomas, who is now a friend and collaborator (I am thrilled and proud to say).

And now here is a podcast review of the Road to Perdition film, which is described as a “nice, awesome movie.”

Finally, this really good podcast actually compares the book to the movie, and discusses the plot holes in the great film that to this day drive me crazy.

M.A.C.

Mistake for Murder – Hammer Time

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook:

Turns out I make mistakes now and then. Who’d have thunk it.

A reader tells me I mangled an entry in the bibliographic essay at the conclusion of Do No Harm, for example. I will try to correct it in the ebook, when things settle down, but for now it’s all I’ll think about when I look at that book. A small continuity error in Killing Quarry is all I see when I look at the cover of that one (the e-book has been corrected).

For those caring enough to read this weekly update, I made another mistake, although it was not exactly my (or anybody’s) fault. Turns out the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder, was published on March 17, the original announced date, and not April 7, having supposedly been postponed to that date. The audio is available, too, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

Now, here’s the surprise Spillane ending: the novel’s release really has been postponed till April 7…in the UK. Which sort of lessens my error, because after all the publisher is Titan, which is a British publishing house.

The bottom line is you lucky Americans can rush out and buy it now…well, you can order it online, anyway. Corona virus is doing nobody any favors – not even Smith Corona Virus. I may or may not do a book giveaway to help promote the book – I need to discuss the logistics of that with Barb.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss the new Hammer book a bit. The title of Masquerade for Murder is in line with the Stacy Keach TV movies of the ‘80s, all of which had “Murder” in their titles. This is fitting because the synopsis Mickey wrote, from which I developed the novel, was likely written for the Keach series, as was the case with Murder, My Love (the previous Hammer novel).

These two novels have in common something uncommon in Mike Hammer novels – the detective has a client in both of them. In Mickey’s famous novels, starting with I, the Jury, Hammer almost always is on a personal crusade, a vengeance hunt usually (a girl hunt in, well, The Girl Hunters). But with a TV series, Hammer couldn’t play vigilante every episode – the Darren McGavin version only has a handful of revenge plots, for example – so it’s natural Mickey might have developed these synopses with TV in mind.

The only TV synopses he wrote that became a novel written solely by him was The Killing Man, and it had Hammer personally motivated. Mickey did not submit that synopsis, by the way, considering the story “too good for TV.” (He apparently developed a synopsis for the terrible Keach-less Hammer TV movie, Come Die With Me, but only his ending was utilized.)

If Mickey was writing these synopses with television in mind, what am I doing developing novels out of them, in the case of Masquerade for Murder and the previous Murder, My Love?

Let me discuss what my procedure has been in creating novels where my famous co-author is deceased.

As I’ve reported numerous times, Mickey’s wife Jane and my wife Barb and I went on a treasure hunt – following Mickey’s directive shortly before his passing – for unfinished material in his three offices at his South Carolina home.

Our discoveries included half a dozen Mike Hammer manuscripts that represented works well in progress. These were usually 100 pages or a little more (double-spaced) and often had character and plot notes, and in a few cases endings.

Mickey had been racing to finish what he intended to be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically, The Goliath Bone, all but a few chapters of which were unfinished, and a roughed-out ending was there, too. But because of the terrible ticking clock he was working under, Mickey’s nearly complete draft was much shorter than usual and required fleshing out. Also, the novel had no murder mystery aspect. I provided the latter (his ending is the basis of the second to the last chapter).

A non-Hammer novel, Dead Street, existed in a nearly complete draft, a little rougher than usual but with almost everything there. Dead Street had been written in a stop-and-start fashion, however, and had some inconsistencies due to being written over a longer span of time than usual. I smoothed things out, and wrote the last several (missing) chapters.

The other five Hammers-in-progress – The Big Bang; Kiss Her Goodbye; Lady, Go Die!; Complex 90; King of the Weeds – all had individual issues for me to deal with. The Big Bang consisted of about a third of the novel in finished form, and Mickey had told me the ending; but no plot and character notes turned up. Kiss Her Goodbye existed in two substantial manuscripts that went in two different directions (different mysteries developing); a lot of plot and character notes existed. I combined the two manuscripts – removing the redundant material – and used both mysteries, weaving them together.

Lady, Go Die! was an early manuscript, an unfinished follow-up to I, the Jury which had a good chunk of manuscript – about sixty pages – but was missing the first chapter. I had set this manuscript aside until I’d completed the first three Hammers, so that I felt comfortable enough to write the first chapter of one without Spillane input – I’d been intimidated, because nobody wrote better first chapters than Mickey Spillane. And I had a Spillane first chapter for another Hammer that seemed to be a 1970s reworking of the much-earlier story, and this I was able to use about half-way through the novel, to put more Spillane content in.

Complex 90 ran around 100 pages, very polished, but also had an issue: in the opening chapter, Hammer reports his harrowing adventures in Russia to some government spooks. I decided to turn that exposition into a flashback taking Hammer to Russia and experiencing all of his exploits first-hand. So that novel is unusual because it’s mostly the middle third that represents Mickey’s work.

King of the Weeds was the most challenging, and I had held it off for last, since my initial goal was to get these six substantial Hammer novels completed (and to complete Dead Street). Mickey conceived King of the Weeds as the final Hammer (changing his mind after the Twin Towers attack, which sparked Goliath Bone). At some point he misplaced the manuscript and – this is typically Mickey – just started over.

So I had two manuscripts to combine, including two very different opening chapters (the ending he had shared with me in a late-night gab session). The other difficult aspect was that Mickey was doing a direct sequel to Black Alley, a book that at that time was out of print. I almost threw out the Black Alley sequel material, but ultimately couldn’t bring myself not to follow Mickey’s wishes. Ironically, King of the Weeds became one of the strongest of the novels.

There was more material in Mickey’s files. I had done Dead Street for Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, and now completed for HCC the sequel to The Delta Factor, another 100-page Spillane novel-in-progress that gave the world a second Morgan the Raider yarn.

Titan was anxious for me to continue Hammer. I had about forty or fifty pages of the novel Mickey began after Kiss Me, Deadly – a false start for The Girl Hunters with gangsters not Russian spies as the bad guys. It included Hammer traveling to Miami for an unusual change of scene and I felt had great potential. That became Kill Me, Darling.

A strong opening chapter by Mickey, plus some plot notes and his terrific ending became Murder Never Knocks. Two detailed opening chapters by Mickey became The Will to Kill. And – with Mickey’s 100th birthday in mind – I had held back about sixty pages of Mickey’s first, pre-I, the Jury (unfinished) Mike Hammer novel, Killing Town.

Mickey’s last completed novel, The Last Stand, a non-Mike Hammer, was wonderful but somewhat atypical, and rather short. So I revised an unpublished, very typical early novella, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” and it became a sort of preamble to Mickey’s final novel, published by Hard Case Crime. Interestingly, The Last Stand is a modern-day western, and another Spillane project of mine has been to develop a novel and then series of books from an unproduced screenplay he wrote for his buddy John Wayne – the script that became The Legend of Caleb York.

And there’s been a collection of eight Hammer short stories (A Long Time Dead) developed from shorter fragments. I have also sold a handful of non-Hammer short stories, which may someday be collected.

Which brings us up to the latest Hammer novels, last year’s Murder, My Love and Masquerade for Murder. Murder, My Love is the only Hammer novel so far with no Spillane prose stirred in – strictly Mickey’s basic plot. The new book, Masquerade for Murder, came from a rather detailed synopsis, and the opening description of NYC is mostly Mickey’s, with a mini-sequence between Pat Chambers and Mike (about Hammer’s propensity for low-tech armament) that is Mickey’s as well. I feel good about how smoothly this material stirred in.

Where to now?

I have proposed three more Hammer novels, all from Spillane material. One combines two non-Hammer (but Hammer-ish) fragments, including a very different take on Dead Street; another will utilize a Hammer story Mickey developed for radio and again for TV, unproduced; and finally another synopsis apparently for a Keach-era Hammer episode.

I know some of you know all of this, but I thought it might be a good idea to get this recorded and in one place. Also, maybe it will inspire you to get hold of Masquerade for Murder, which I think is a damn good entry in this series.

I can’t express what it means to me to look over at the shelf and see Mickey’s Hammer novels residing next to the ones I’ve completed for him…and for me, the teenager in Iowa who wanted more, more, more Mike Hammer.

* * *

Speaking of short stories, Barb and I – writing as Barbara Allan, of course – have sold a short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” It’s not an Antiques story, but rather harks back to the kind of nasty little tale my beautiful and talented wife concocted when she was specializing in short stories.

It’s a very big deal to get published in EQMM, and we are thrilled.

* * *

With Masquerade for Murder the subject of today’s update, I am pleased to share with you this terrific review of that very novel.

The word is out about Nolan’s somewhat imminent return in Skim Deep. Read about it here.

Also, my friends at Paperback Warrior have a podcast, always interesting, which this week includes some commentary on the Nolan series.

Here’s a wonderful Ron Fortier review of the Brash Books edition of Black Hats.

Guess who’s an Irish comic book character? Michael O’Sullivan, that’s who! Check it out here.

Both yrs truly and Barbara Allan get good play on this discussion of Quad Cities area authors. Hey, what about Matthew V. Clemens?

M.A.C.

Our Audie Murphy Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Killing Town, the “lost” first Mike Hammer novel, is now available on audio read by the great Dan John Miller. Read about it here. If you support this audio (and the previous Journalstone Mike Hammer release, The Will to Kill), more will follow!

* * *

I am writing this week’s update on Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like a good time to say a few things about Audie Murphy.

First, let me share with you a part of my prep for writing the Caleb York novels for Kensington (under the Spillane & Collins byline) – essentially, how I get into the mood.

I am about to start the new Caleb, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Whenever I do a York novel, Barb and I have an appropriate western film festival, watching an “oater” each evening. For the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York (from Mickey’s screenplay, which started it all), we watched John Wayne westerns, as Mickey had written the screenplay for Wayne’s Batjac productions, though it had never been produced. My favorites, predictably, are The Searchers, Red River and Rio Bravo.

For The Big Showdown, we watched Randolph Scott, including all of his outstanding Budd Boetticher-directed westerns. For The Bloody Spur, our nightly western was a Joel McRae. And I have been gathering Audie Murphy’s westerns (and his other films) for several years now, with an eye on the festival Barb and I are beginning now.

Audie Murphy, of course, is celebrated as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He received every military combat award, including the Medal of Honor, having – at age 19 – held off by himself an entire company of German soldiers for an hour, then (while wounded) leading a successful counterattack.

Murphy was a Texas boy from sharecropper stock who learned his skills with a rifle by putting food on the table for his six brothers and four sisters, after their father left their mother, who died when Audie was a teen. Murphy lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army, not long after Pearl Harbor (the Marines and Navy having turned him down).

After the war, making the cover of LIFE Magazine for his courageous service, he was taken under the wing of the great James Cagney. From the late forties until his tragic young death in 1971, Murphy was a movie star. Aside from a few A-pictures (like The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, both directed by John Huston), and several contemporary offerings, Murphy specialized in westerns, as well as a western TV series, Whispering Smith.

But his biggest success was starring as himself (a role he reluctantly accepted) in the film version of his autobiographical war account, To Hell and Back. He was a skilled horseman and a successful songwriter, his work recorded by such stars as Dean Martin, Harry Nillson, Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Dean, among many others. And, not surprisingly, he suffered from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He slept with a .45 automatic under his pillow.

Stopped for speeding, Murphy pulled over and, when the officer noticed the .45 on the seat next to the easily recognizable Audie, the cop smiled and said he was a big fan and wanted an autograph. Murphy provided it. Accosted by a gangster at a horserace, Murphy stared him down and said, “I killed sixty of you bums in Sicily – one more won’t make a difference.” The thug moved on. Many a brawny challenger who figured he’d pick a fight with Murphy was quickly and brutally dispatched by the five-foot-five war hero turned movie star.

Or so go the stories. More easily verified is Murphy’s refusal to do ads for cigarettes or liquor, not wanting to set a bad example for young people. He died in a small plane crash.

My character, Quarry, was in part inspired by Murphy. David Morell told me Rambo had the same source. And Robert Stack said his Ness portrayl was inspired by Murphy.

Around Memorial Day, and all year frankly, Audie’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is among the most visited. He is probably remembered more for his incredible valor as a teenaged war hero than for his movie career, and while that’s understandable, I’m here to tell you he was a fine actor.

In his day – and still today – his ability to star in a film is perceived as a sort of “talking dog” thing – the dog doesn’t haven’t to say anything impressive to qualify for that distinction. My feeling is the studios (chiefly Universal) often felt they had to pair Murphy with a strong character actor – Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Barry Sullivan – to carry him.

But anyone at all savvy about film and film-acting can look at Murphy in almost any of his pictures and see how his instinctive, charismatic under-playing seems modern and real while many of the actors around him appear to be shouting and hamming it up. He is present in every scene, quietly reacting, watching, then delivering lines naturally and effectively.

And in scenes of violence, just who this baby-faced boy/man is always comes to the fore. He’s a killer. Real deal. Not a murderer, but a soldier who unflinchingly does what he has to. But he’s not one note: he can be boyish, he can be scary, he can be romantic, he can be funny, he can be tough as hell – as much as I like Randolph Scott (and that’s a lot), Murphy has far more colors to his palette.

We’ve been watching him for a week or so now, and not all of the movies are good – toward the mid-1960s (particularly when he’s not working at Universal), his films are programmers, bottom-bill fodder for drive-ins. But he made some fine westerns, too, and worked with such great genre directors as Don Siegel, Budd Boetticher and Jack Arnold.

My favorite, the latter director’s work, is No Name on the Bullet. Murphy is an assassin who comes to a small western town, quietly checks in at the hotel and minds his own business – only his business is killing someone while he’s in town…but who. Everyone in the community seems to have a secret worth killing for. It’s a very Quarry-like role. The quiet killer side of him is in evidence – the film is thoughtful, a sort of High Noon turned inside out, and Murphy is great. Just great.

In collecting Murphy’s films, I’ve had to order DVDs and Blu-rays from all over the world. A few are available here (including No Name on the Bullet), and there’s a nice boxed set from Turner Classic Movies – check it out.

Oddly, Murphy is considered a major star in Germany. Think about that – our decorated hero is revered by the losers, and patronized and even ignored by the winners. This is much odder than Jerry Lewis being lionized in France (though the French are right about Lewis, and they like Murphy, too, for that matter).

Salute this Texas sharecropper’s son, while Memorial Day is still in the air, won’t you? For his service to his country, by all means. But track down some of his movies. He was a real movie star, and – unlikely as it seems – a fine actor.

* * *

The forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable is one of the ten summer books Chicago Magazine recommends.

Here’s a fine review of Killing Town.

Check out this advance look at the first issue of the Hammer four-issue comic book mini-series.

The Quarry TV series gets some love here.

Finally, here is a wonderful review of Antiques Wanted by a reviewer who really gets what Barb and I are up to.

M.A.C.

A Showdown and a Ghost

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

The mass-market edition of The Big Showdown, the sequel to The Legend of Caleb York, has just come out. It continues with the characters and stories that Mickey Spillane developed in the (unproduced) screenplay he wrote for his friend John Wayne in the late 1950s.

Response to this new series, representing my first westerns (unless you count the movie novelization Maverick and maybe my Wyatt Earp meets Al Capone novel, Black Hats), has been positive. In fact, I’ve completed a third Caleb York story, The Bloody Spur, and have signed to do two more.

The novels are in part mysteries, befitting the two bylines, and are otherwise very old-fashioned westerns in the manner of Randolph Scott and Audie Murphy movies of the fifties and early sixties…but with a higher, more Leone-like level of violence, which is only appropriate with the name Spillane invoked. Mickey’s York screenplay was far more violent than anyone in the western film or novel field was doing at the time. The sexual content was adult for its time, but that time has passed.

The book was one of the last that I completed before I went in for my heart surgery – one of a handful on my docket that I wanted to make sure got done in case…well, you know. I thought it came out well and am particularly proud of the finale, a shoot-out – you might say, a big showdown – in a rainstorm…also typically Spillane.

If you like my crime novels but don’t usually read westerns, give these a try anyway. I’m pretty sure you’ll like them.

* * *

The movie Ghost in the Shell, based on a famous Japanese animated film (which spawned an anime series and many sequels) has been getting a rough time of it. Only 43% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, it received a scathing review on Facebook by my pal, Terry Beatty, with whom I rarely disagree on films. He hated it so much that I’d decided not to go, though based on the previews I’d been looking forward to it.

But the workload right now is so brutal, I needed a break, and took a risk. I’d read the positive reviews among the pans and caught hints that I might not agree with Terry. And I didn’t.

Barb and I are becoming infamous for walking out of movies, and we fully expected this to be one of them. Instead we both loved it. Scarlett Johansson is Major, whose human brain has been inserted in a robot body, designed to be the perfect terrorist fighter. She inhabits a world futuristically Asian, influenced by Blade Runner’s city but even more complex in its imagery.

Johansson is very good, much as she was in Lucy, moving with a certain robotic gait though not overstating it, her dialogue delivered in a similar fashion. She has a team of cyber-enhanced soldiers, one of whom is her partner, played by “Pilou” Asbæk, the Swedish actor who was so good in the TV series Borgen, the nordic West Wing. Major is having flashes of memory and humanity that are intruding on her search for an uber-terrorist, but of course everything is not as it seems.

A special treat is the presence of Takeshi Kitano, director/writer/star of Violent Cop and Boiling Point, among other great Japanese crime films. He’s essentially M to Major’s Jane Bond, but he gets out from behind the desk and kicks ass, late in the proceedings.

Themes of identity, family and loyalty are explored, but not to the detriment of well-staged action scenes that don’t indulge in that speeded-up crap. The art direction is stunning throughout, and seldom has CGI been better employed. We saw it in 3-D, which really enhanced the levels of the design work.

I have hesitated till recently to review movies again. I know how hard it is to make one. And I realize that taste is individual, and smart people can disagree. If you skip a movie because I don’t like it, you may be making a mistake. And if you go to one because I did like it, you might also be making a mistake.

But I don’t think so.

* * *

This review of The Big Showdown first appeared last year about this time, but if you’re considering picking up the paperback, you might want to check this out.

M.A.C.