Just A Quick Note

ch1I hope that all of you are enjoying a merry Christmas or whatever holiday you may be celebrating or just having a good day.

Anyway, I just wanted to let y’all know that for the next week or so you probably won’t be seeing much posting here, but I will be back once the New Year has begun with plenty of new posts and possibly even some new features.

And hey! Thanks for reading the posts here and following along! It’s you guys and your responses that keep me going!

 

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My Favorite Detective (Part One) – The New Adventures Of Nero Wolfe (1950 – 1951)

nero1Though I am, like most mystery lovers, a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, there has always been one character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories who has actually fascinated me more than the famed detective himself. No, I’m not talking about his famed arch-rival Moriarty, though he is also a very intriguing figure, especially when one considers his actual “screen time” in the canon stories is so short.

No, the actual character I’m talking about is Sherlock’s “smarter brother”, Mycroft.

The main reason that I find Mycroft intriguing is that he is, at least in the Conan Doyle stories, a sedentary figure who appears to be even smarter than his more famous younger sibling, but who, as Sherlock describes him in “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter”

…has no ambition and no energy. He will not even go out of his way to verify his own solutions, and would rather be considered wrong than take the trouble to prove himself right. Again and again I have taken a problem to him, and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points…

Mycroft, therefore, is a perfect example of what is known as the “armchair detective”. At least he is in the Holmes canon. For those of you who mostly know Mycroft from his portrayal in either the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary, Mycroft, probably to disguise his identity from viewers who know the canon and add their own “twist” or “surprise reveal” is portrayed as a much more active figure.

nero2Of course, Mycroft is not the first armchair detective in mystery fiction. That distinction probably goes to C. Auguste Dupin who was the creation of the man who is responsible for innovating so much of what are now considered standard detective mystery tropes, Edgar Allan Poe.

Neither of these two men, however, is ny personal favorite character in the genre of the armchair detective. No, that distinction goes to a man who unfortunately goes largely unknown to today’s audiences, even, I would say, to many of those who consider themselves fans of mysteries stories.

His name is Nero Wolfe.

Wolfe is the creation of mystery writer Rex Stout who not only created the character, but wrote 33 novels and about 40 novellas and short stories featuring the character. (The reason for the “about” there is because there are a few stories which Stout wrote for magazines or other venues and then either revised or otherwise changed and which were then printed in the new version or even, depending on the extent of the changes, as new stories.)

Wolfe first appeared in the 1934 novel Fer-de-Lance, and the last Wolfe story written by Stout was A Family Affair, published in 1975. One of the most interesting aspects of Wolfe’s adventures is that while Stout’s stories were written over a period of more than forty years, and they quite often reflected what was going on in the world around them – for example, during the years of World War Two Wolfe was quite often consulted by the War Department for aid in tracking spies, and during the 60s Wolfe’s adventures took place amidst the civil rights movement – the characters of Nero and his assistant Archie Goodwin never aged or really changed.

nero4Ah, yes, Archie Goodwin. Some people would likely say that Archie is the true protagonist of Stout’s stories, and while I won’t go that far, I will say that it is Archie’s unique voice which truly brings Wolfe to life. Goodwin acts as the narrator of Wolfe’s adventures, acting in much the same role that Dr. Watson plays in the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is the person who acts as the reader’s stand-in in the stories, though considering the sedentary nature of Wolfe – remember, he is an armchair detective – Archie is arguably more valuable to Wolfe than Watson is to Holmes. As a matter of fact, in their preface to a reprint of Stout’s book Too Many Cooks, mystery scholars Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor describe the relationship between Nero and Archie thusly:

First, Archie is not a friend but a paid employee, who acts as secretary, chauffeur, and legman to the mountainous and sedentary Wolfe. Then they differ in all important respects—age, background, physique, and education. Finally, it is impossible to say which is the more interesting and admirable of the two. They are complementary in the unheard-of ratio of 50-50. … Archie has talents without which Wolfe would be lost: his remarkable memory, trained physical power, brash American humor, attractiveness to women, and ability to execute the most difficult errand virtually without instructions. Minus Archie, Wolfe would be a feckless recluse puttering in an old house on West 35th Street, New York.

Personally, I think that Archie’s voice is the thing that makes the Wolfe stories stand out from most other detective fiction, even Stout’s own attempts at creating other detectives and characters. I’ve tried reading some of those other stories and have inevitably found them wanting, and in analyzing my reaction to them, I’ve become convinced that the reason for that is that they are missing the unique voice that Goodwin brings to Wolfe’s adventures. Archie, in his role as narrator, seems to be one of those “lightning in a bottle” creations that sets Stout’s Wolfe stories apart from his rivals.

nero3Okay, for now I’m going to stop there, before actually getting into the character of Nero Wolfe and the things that make him a truly unique character even when compared to other armchair detectives. Instead, I want to take a moment to focus on one of my favorite adaptations of Rex Stout’s stories.

As indicated by the word “New” in the title, The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe was not the first series to bring the detective to radio. That distinction goes instead to the 1943-44 series The Adventures of Nero Wolfe which first aired on the on the regional New England Network before being picked up for national broadcast by ABC. Next came 1945’s The Amazing Nero Wolfe, which featured Francis X. Bushman as the titular character.

By far, however, in my mind the best characterization of Wolfe on the radio came from the aforementioned NBC series The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe, which aired on the network from 1950-51 and starred Sydney Greenstreet as Nero. Yes, that Sydney Greenstreet. The man who played Kasper Gutman (otherwise known as “The Fat Man”) in The Maltese Falcon and Signor Ferrari in Casablanca along with many many other roles.

As a matter of fact, Greenstreet’s portrayal of Wolfe is so strong that when I am reading Stout’s Wolfe stories it is his voice that I hear in my head as Wolfe. Who do I hear as Archie? Ah, we’ll get to the answer to that question in the second part.

nero5There are only two problems that I have with this series, and they are easily overcome by the love that I have for Greenstreet’s Wolfe. The first is that the series had no consistent actor to play the part of Archie Goodwin. Over the course of the twenty-six episodes which make up the series, the voice of Archie was played by actors such as Gerald Mohr, Herb Ellis, Lawrence Dobkin, Harry Bartell, Lamont Johnson, and Wally Maher. The other problem is that the series consisted of original stories rather than adaptations of Stout’s writings, though that’s actually understandable and forgivable considering the complexity of Stout’s plots. They would have been nearly impossible to shoehorn into an thirty minute radio time slot, so it’s for the best that the producers didn’t even try. Instead, the producers opted to emphasize characterization over plot, and while one could perhaps nitpick bits of that, the truth is they did a pretty good job. Again, I’d say as well as could be done in a 30 minute time slot.

The other bit of good news about this series is that out of those twenty-six episodes, twenty five are known to survive and are available to collectors as opposed to the two earlier series of which only one episode each is known to have made it intact to the current day.

So I think it’s time to quit talking about the series and give you a chance to give it a listen.

Next up: Part Two where we take a look at the character of Nero Wolfe himself, my favorite television adaptation of the character, and my favorite portrayal of Archie Goodwin.

 

Posters Or Posers? – Here Are The New Character Posters For Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice

I’ve written on here before about just how craptacularly tired I am of “character posters” that are released to theaters in advance of new movies coming out. I suppose my biggest problem with them is that I don’t understand what purpose they are supposed to serve, especially when they’re for the next huge blockbuster franchise movie.

Take for example the three posters released last week to promote next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Is there any reason at all for these posters to exist other than to hopefully take up space in the local multiplex? I certainly can’t think of one.

bvs3p

I suppose for me it gets to the heart of just what a movie poster is supposed to do, and there are a number of answer to that, none of which these posters really does.

First, a poster can be used to either induce or expand awareness of an upcoming movie. We’ve all had those moments when we’re walking down the halls of a theater and seen a poster and said “Hey, what’s that? I didn’t know that was going to be a movie,” or “Hey, that looks interesting, wonder what it could be”. But in the case of BvS:DOJ, is there really ANYONE who is going to have any interest in seeing this movie that doesn’t already know about it? No. So we can just go ahead and strike that one off the list.

bvs22pOkay, then maybe the purpose is to give those who see them more information about or more of a feel for what the movie is about. So do they do that? Not that I can see. Sure, they show us that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are going to be in the movie and they show us what they look like. But again, with all of the buzz the movie has already generated, with all of the casting news and pictures that have already been released, and with the trailer already showing us all three of them in action, there’s nothing at all new or exciting about the information being delivered on that front with these posters.

Another purpose of a movie poster can be to gin up more excitement about a movie, perhaps by way of spotlighting a particular image or scene from the movie or by promising action or thrills or romance or…  well, you get the idea.All these posters seem to promise is more dirt or rock or debris – which the predecessor to this movie certainly delivered – or whatever that is supposed to be that is flying or falling around the characters.

bvs1p

But really the biggest problem with these posters is that they do absolutely nothing to distinguish themselves or the movie they’re trying to promote from every other poster lining the multiple’s hallways. There’s absolutely nothing about them that makes them anything other than generic. Of course, maybe that is the message that Warner Brother is trying to get across. Maybe they’re just trying to ptomote this film as action movie comfort food. Maybe the ultimate message is “Hey, you know that movie you’ve seen over and over again? Well here’s another one just like it!”

If that’s the case, then I guess I’m wrong, and these posters do succeed after all.

Good Cops, Bad Cops – 70’s Cop Movies and Today’s Headlines

cops11I generally try to keep politics and other real-world events from seeping into this blog, preferring to keep it instead devoted to the Reel World. However…

I had a couple of articles skitter across my desk this week that gave me a thought. The first was one from the Los Angeles Times headlined “LAPD found no bias in all 1,356 complaints filed against officers“. Here are some quotes from the article:

The Los Angeles Police Department did not uphold any of the 1,356 allegations of biased policing by officers that the agency investigated in recent years, according to a report by the Police Commission’s watchdog.

The numbers, which covered 2012 to 2014, prompted the president of the Police Commission to call Tuesday for a “deep-dive briefing” from the LAPD on how the investigations are conducted.

“I don’t think anybody believes that there are actually no incidents of biased policing,” [the panel’s president, Matt] Johnson said. “The problem is we don’t have an effective way of really adjudicating the issue.”…

Commissioner Robert Saltzman echoed Johnson’s remarks, calling the lack of substantiated allegations “quite troubling and disappointing.”

“While no doubt the vast majority of LAPD officers do not engage in biased policing, it strains credibility to suggest that … there were zero instances of biased policing,” he told The Times. “It should not be surprising that there is diminished trust in the LAPD given these results.”…

Craig Lally, head of the union that represents officers, said that officers usually can’t tell the race of a motorist when they make a traffic stop. Even if an officer was racist, he said, it’s nearly impossible to prove whether he or she stopped someone because of that bias, rather than appropriate probable cause or reasonable suspicion.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 13 hundred or 13 million [complaints], it’s always going to be the same,” he said. “We don’t want racist cops because that makes us all look bad. But there’s no way to really do it. I haven’t seen a real system in place that could weed that out.”

The second article comes from the website Five Thirty Eight Politics and is headlined “How To Predict Bad Cops In Chicago“. Here are some quotes from that one:

Protests against police violence raged on in Chicago over the weekend, with some demonstrators demanding Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation over the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a police officer who is now charged with his murder. The charges came more than a year after officer Jason Van Dyke shot McDonald 16 times, drawing scrutiny of the department’s handling of the case and of police misconduct in Chicago more broadly.

cops3At the heart of the reaction to the McDonald case are the questions of whether officers like Van Dyke are the exception or the rule, and how much responsibility the police department has to identify and discipline violent officers, as well as those who commit other types of misconduct.

The “few bad apples” theory of police violence posits that a small portion of the police force is ill-intentioned or inclined to misconduct or violence, while the majority of officers are good cops. Until recently, this theory was difficult for civilians to investigate, but department data on complaints against officers obtained through a legal challenge shows that police misconduct in Chicago is overwhelmingly the product of a small fraction of officers and that it may be possible to identify those officers and reduce misconduct…

The extensive catalog of complaints against officers appears to bear out the theory of a few bad apples: Among the 7,758 police officers who received a complaint during that time period, more than half received less than one per year (officers with zero complaints do not appear in the database). Meanwhile, the bad apples seem to be the ones racking up the grievances…

To avoid the overworked “bad apple” metaphor, the Invisible Institute prefers to call officers with many complaints against them “repeaters.” Repeaters only make up a small fraction of the more than 12,000 officers on Chicago’s force — perhaps 1 percent to 10 percent of the officers in the database, depending on where you draw the line — but are responsible for a huge fraction of the complaints: 10 percent of the officers who had received complaints generated 30 percent of the total departmental complaints since 2011. The 10 individual repeaters with the most complaints in the past five years averaged 23.4 complaints against them in that span.

cops2In my analysis of the Invisible Institute data, I found that the number of complaints an officer receives in a certain year predicts whether and how many complaints he or she will have in the following year. Over multiple years, the signal becomes even stronger. Officers with a baseline history of one or two complaints in 2011-13 have a 30 percent to 37 percent chance of receiving a complaint in the following two years. But repeaters — those with 15 or 20 incidents in the first part of the data set — are almost certain to have a complaint against them in 2014-15.

Okay, I think that’s probably enough for you to get the gist of the articles. Obviously, if you want to follow up and get more of the full stories all you have to do is click on the links above and read them in full.

Of course there are a lot of other related stories in the news lately that follow these or other lines that are a part of the ongoing national discussion about the way that police nowadays relate to the public that they are supposed to serve and protect and vice-versa.

So why am I bringing these stories into a blog that is supposed to be about the movies? The answer is simple. When I was thinking about these stories and the current dialogue, I got to thinking that perhaps the time is ripe for today’s film makers, who are always looking to past movies for “inspiration” to remake or revisit some of the cop movies of the past.

Specifically, I was thinking about movies such as Dirty Harry with its rogue cop “Dirty” Harry Callahan played by Clint Eastwood:

Or maybe Gordon (Shaft) Park’s 1974 outing The Super Cops which sees Ron Leibman and David Selby taking on the roles of NyPD officers Dave Greenberg and Robert Hantz who became somewhat infamously known as “Batman and Robin”. I don’t have a trailer for this one, but here’s a clip:

Or perhaps Walking Tall in which Joe Don Baker portrays legendary Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser and his big stick. (Yeah, I know, they already remade this one some years back with The Rock, but let’s not mention that, shall we?)

Or for those who are more in the mood for cleaning up the force, maybe the way to go is with the Al Pacino starring Serpico:

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not meaning to make light of the current scandals and problems that seem to be plaguing our nation, far from it.  I just thought I’d share these thoughts and movies with you and maybe see what movies from the past you could think of that would also fit into this ongoing storyline. Let me know down below in the comments.

 

It’s Spoiler-Free Because I Haven’t Seen The Movie Yet – Here’s My Review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

sw1Yeah, it’s true, I haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, and it’s likely that I won’t for a couple of weeks. That’s Just the way my life is right now. And of course, I’m trying my best right now to stay away from any other reviews and spoilers. But why should I let that keep me from going ahead and chiming in with my own opinion on the movie? No reason I can think of. After all, that’s how things work on today’s interwebs, right?

Okay, so here goes:

Is SW:TFA The. Best. Movie. Ever? No.

Does it live up to all the hyperbole and over-heightened expectations that are going to be brought to it? No, but at this point, no movie could, so…

Instead, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a perfectly good entry into the canon, with just enough call back to the original movie to satisfy the long time fans, and just enough new characters to excite younger viewers who want something new for themselves and marketers who get to make all kinds of buck off merch.

There’s loads of action and some nice quieter character moments, but how well the film balances the two will largely depend on which is more important to you as the viewer and what expectations you bring to the table. The movie also moves forward the entire story of the ongoing Star Wars universe, but again how well it manages that will be largely dependent upon how much of that you expect and how invested you are in the original movies and all the peripheral ephemera that has come since.

sw2So in the end, the real question that you’re looking for from any review is “Should I go see the movie?”. But let’s be honest, you already know the answer to that. More than likely, if you’re reading this, you’re going to no matter what I say here. And if you’re not planning to, whether it’s through sheer indifference to the franchise or whatever other reason, there’s probably not much I’m going to say that’s going to convince you otherwise. You’ve seen the trailers (or at least the innumerable TV spots), you’ve heard and read about all the excitement the film has generated, and you’re unlikely to change your mind just because I say you should.

So go. Enjoy yourself. And remember, as you’re exiting the theater, no matter how you feel about it, there are now going to be at least two more direct sequels and a lot more Star Wars to come. Because in the end, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a movie that puts a lot of butts in seats and makes a lot of money for everyone involved.

 

 

Dr. Gangrene Has A Pricey Prescription For You – The Fantastic Films Of Vincent Price

dgI’ve been meaning to run a feature on this for quite a while now, really ever since it started, but somehow it got away from me, and now that Doc has just posted his 50th episode, it seems time to finally get around to it.

For around a year and a half now, Nashville’s own Horror Host Dr. Gangrene has been producing a web series which he is calling “The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price“. It’s a wonderful overview of the entire career of the delightful actor, and the good Doctor is definitely giving him every bit of attention that he deserves. One might assume from the title that he might be hitting only the highlights of Mr. Price’s career, but that is far from true. As a matter of fact, it’s clearly obvious that Doc has done his homework and, moving through Price’s career in chronological order, he is spotlighting not only those films that would come to make Mr. Price a household name and a genre icon, but those smaller roles that helped to build his career early on, beginning with the first episode which focuses on Vincent’s role in 1938’s Service de Luxe.

As you can tell, The Doc clearly loves his subject matter, and his enthusiasm for the work of Mr. Price comes through clearly in each episode, even when the focus is on those not-so-great films which are inevitably a part of any prolific actor’s career.

Another truly fun aspect of this series are the movie stills and posters and classic television ads featuring Mr Price which follow the credits in each episode.

Whether you’re already a Vincent Price fan or are largely unfamiliar with the iconic actor’s work, I highly recommend giving The Fantastic Films of Vincent Price website a visit and taking a look around and watching at least a few episodes, as I have no doubt that you will not only come away with a new knowledge of and appreciation for just what made Mr. Price so dear to so many of us.

Speaking of dear, why not take a final look at the web series with Dr. Gangrene’s take on one of my all-time favorite Price movies (and one of his, too, which is really no surprise), House on Haunted Hill, a movie which you may see referred to here again soon.

Fantastic? Yes.

 

I’m Glad She Knows Why We’re Here – Here’s The Trailer For Star Trek Beyond (2016)

st1I’ve already seen a lot of chatter online saying that this trailer “doesn’t look like Star Trek” and other variations on that theme.

I’m not sure I agree with that.

Look, I’ll be the first to admit, as a fan of the original series, as someone who grew up with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, etc. as the only Star Trek that no, from this trailer, the upcoming Star Trek Beyond  isn’t what I would expect from a movie built around the original franchise. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? This isn’t the original franchise. We’ve known ever since the first J.J. Abrams “it’s not a reboot” movie that we were no longer going to be dealing with the original characters/framework – or at least not in the way we were used to.

In a lot of ways, the clue is right there in the title. This isn’t Star Trek. This is Star Trek Beyond. This is a new Star Trek, for a new generation. (No “Next Generation” pun intended there.) At the same time, let’s take a look at what we do have here. We’ve got the Enterprise (at least for a little while, though it does look like dire things may be happening to it.). We’ve got a new world, a new civilization. We’ve got strong, at times comedic interactions between the main characters (including a completely in-character line from Karl Urban’s McCoy who in my mind is the one actor who has really gotten the heart of his predecessor). We’ve got action that yes, I’ll admit looks more like any other space movie than I’d like, but I’ll defend that by saying it’s what’s necessary to draw in today’s crowd beyond just the die-hard fans. The only thing we’re missing really is Kirk macking on the alien chick, but hey, they’ve got to save something for the film, right?

Plus, there’s one other thing you have to keep in mind. This is just the first trailer. There are sure to be plenty more to come before the actual film comes out. And as such, it does what it’s supposed to. It sets the tone and looks to get people excited about the movie. Does it succeed? Is it an accurate portrayal of what the final movie will look like? Well, we won’t really be able to answer that until the movie opens next year.

So no, it doesn’t look like an Old School Star Trek trailer like some of us might have been hoping for. But for now at least, I’m still willing to climb on board this new Enterprise and see where she takes me.