Skip McCoy Takes On The Commies

“Pickup On South Street” is a Cold War era film noir which was released initially in 1953.  Samuel Fuller is the screenwriter and director for this 20th Century Fox entry.  The film stars Richard Widmark as master pickpocket Skip McCoy who manages to slip a bit of microfilm of great interest to the FBI from the purse of a woman named Candy, who has a rather dubious history of her own.  Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Kiley are included in the cast.

This film takes the idea of rooting out Communist spies among the most common of New York denizens.  Apparently, this film rubbed J. Edgar Hoover the wrong way due to the FBI not being portrayed in the best light, and McCoy trying to make a buck off the microfilm despite efforts to appeal to his patriotism.  McCoy could probably be considered the more loathsome of protagonist, however he is certainly one of the most interesting.  Thelma Ritter plays some kind of professional confidential informant whose loyalties go with the highest bidder for her information.  She apparently was nominated for an Academy Award that year and deservedly so, in my humble.

The ending seemed a little rushed, however this was a pretty good film overall.  It had some pretty engaging characters with sharp dialogue.  McCoy still manages to be a likeable protagonist if a pretty untrustworthy one.  The relationships between the characters were pretty tense and unpredictable throughout the unfolding of the story.

Samuel Fuller had a pretty immense body of work in Hollywood, but I was not too familiar with him until recently.  I enjoyed “Pickup on South Street” quite a bit, and I am somewhat nonplussed that I had no real familiarity with it until I stumbled across it on TCM.

Don’t Be Scared; They’re Only Stories

“Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” is a horror movie directed by Andre Ovredal and is based on a series children’s books by Alvin Schwartz.  Dan and Kevin Hageman wrote the screenplay with Guillermo Del Toro contributing to the story idea alongside Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.  The cast includes of younger unknown actors such as Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza, and Gabriel Rush.  Dean Norris and Gil Bellows were the only performers I kind of recognized.

So the films takes the audience back to 1968 Pennsylvania in a small town where there is a haunted house with the troubling legend of the Bellows family.  The spirit of Sarah Bellows is said to tell frightening stories to children, however the stories she tells come to life.   She was held captive by her own family who allowed her to be accused of poisoning children.  A young girl named Stella is the lead protagonist as she and her friends go into the long abandoned and dilapidated house, finding the book of stories written in blood.  Sarah was said to have been kept in a locked room behind a bookcase. Anyway, Stella finds the book and pretty soon, the town bully has disappeared after being menaced by a spooky scarecrow.

I have often been consistently critical of this genre for its predictability and shallow characters, however this piece is almost an exception.  Some of the plot threads and cast of characters were rather familiar, but not overly so.  I don’t remember hearing much about the series of books by Alvin Schwartz, so I could enjoy the film without making the comparisons to the source material and grumbling about the artistic liberties.

Del Toro having involvement probably helped quite a bit in the way of originality in the imagery and overall story.  Del Toro is one of those movie makers that tends to pique my curiosity with unerring consistency.

Although once again, as predicted, I would hesitate to consider this a major feat of cinematic ingenuity, it turned out to be a pretty entertaining afternoon diversion, which is a major victory for the horror genre.  Most of the other entries in this area of cinematic entertainment tend to lead to all too familiar disappointment.

Plenty Of Unkindness To Go Around

“An Unkindness of Ghosts” is a science fiction novel by Rivers Solomon which also serves as some sort of social commentary.

It takes place aboard a colony ship called the Matilda.  Aster Grey lives in the bowels of this ship where she is an amateur botanists and physician’s assistant among those that deemed different or undesirable.  The ship is supposed to symbolize the southern plantations of the past.  There is brutal oppression aplenty in this one.

Solomon is apparently transgender and prefers to use the pronoun of “they”.  Of course, this is designed to reflect how people are discriminated against due to skin color and sexual preference and place it in a futuristic setting that is supposed to be unique.

Solomon isn’t necessarily a terrible writer, however I just struggled with really caring about the characters or their plight.  Of course, if anyone wonders why I put myself through trying to read something that failed to maintain any significant interest, I am in a book club which chose this book, and I am somewhat obsessive about trying to finish whatever I start reading.  Anyway, this one probably wasn’t my cup of tea so I won’t go out of my way to read another of Rivers’ works.

I will be returning to more familiar literary territory for me with a new Sherlock Holmes novel by Philip Purser-Hallard in which the great sleuth tries to ascertain the whereabouts of “The Vanishing Man”.

The Girls Want To Run A Bigger Kitchen

“The Kitchen” is a crime drama written and directed by Andrea Berloff.  It is adapted from a comic miniseries from DC Vertigo written by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle.  A trio of pretty talented actresses star in this one.  Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, and Elizabeth Moss play three wives whose husbands are in the Irish mob of the region of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen.  The three men get pinched by the feds and sent in prison leaving an opportunity for the women to start running the show.

This is another film with a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to enjoyment.  First of all, the casting was very well done.  I am not sure I remember seeing Haddish in a dramatic role before, however she was quite compelling in her role as Ruby O’Carroll, the only black woman in the midst of the Irish mob.  McCarthy plays the brains of this outfit, Kathy Brennan while the part of Claire Walsh falls to Elizabeth Moss.  Claire probably makes the most startling transformation from a meek, abused woman to the most lethal of the three.

The problems seem to come from the writing decisions though.  The road to their success did not seem all that convincing though.  The story takes place in 1978, so the chauvinism these three would have faced would probably have been even more formidable.  Of course, I get that there is only about two hours to tell this tale, but I think the unfolding of this could have been presented a little better.

A couple of the guys in the cast gave some pretty interesting performances themselves.  An Irish actor named Domhnall Gleeson was pretty good as hitman Gabriel O’Malley.  He and Claire fall in love and seal it with a couple of kills.  Bill Camp was also pretty fascinating as an Italian crime boss who goes into business with Kathy and company.

In spite of some misgivings about the writing here, the cast makes this quite watchable and fairly enjoyable even.  The setting was quite convincing with a pretty catchy 70’s soundtrack.  It was a flawed movie but a pretty interesting one.

 

Earth Meets The Thing For The First Time

“The Thing From Another World” is a science fiction thriller first released in 1951. It has a little bit of a perplexing credit billing when one reads up on it, but I will stick with the essentials for the purposes of this blog.  So the main producer appears to be Howard Hawks alongside Edward Lasker with Christian Nyby as the credited directed, but there appears to be some dispute there.  Charles Lederer is the credited screenwriter with Hawks and someone named Ben Hecht as uncredited writers.  The cast seems to be more straight forward in that Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, and Robert Cornthwaite are part of it with James Arness as “The Thing”.

I should also mention that the movie is based on a novella entitled “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. which was published in 1938.  So an alien creature stalking researchers in arctic climates has quite a history.

This film wasn’t quite as scary as the 1982 adaptation directed by John Carpenter, however it’s still worth a look.

The main characters were generally likeable and interesting.  Tobey plays an amicable Air Force captain who ends up heading up the defense of this research outpost after the Thing is awakened from its icy slumber in a foul mood.  The visual effects were quite good for this era.  The prosthetic make-up worn by Arness was appropriately creepy.

The performances were pretty good for the most part.  The characters seem to have a genuine bantering relationship during the calmer moments.  Sheridan and Tobey play characters with a romantic history and they are quite enjoyable in their scenes together as they consider rekindling their relationship.  Cornthwaite plays the scientist who has a more sympathetic take on the alien’s violent reaction.  He plays the typical obsessed researcher who ends up being a bit of a hindrance during the chaos.

The film has a rep for being one of the better science fiction experiences of the 1950’s, and I see little reason to dispute that.

A Serial Killer In Sheriff Brady’s Territory

“Field of Bones” is the latest crime novel by J.A. Jance and features Sheriff Joanna Brady of Cochise County, Arizona.  Life has changed considerably for Joanna in recent years. She has married for the second time and has given birth to her third child after tragically losing her mother and step-father no long before.  Her husband is finding some success as a mystery writer and goes on a book tour while she is on maternity leave.  While she is out, a headstrong mother brings in he soon to turn in a human skull that was found in a field.  An investigation turns up the remains of several people in this field.

In the meantime, a young girl is held in captivity by a depraved monster who wants to be known as the Boss.  Brady does her best to let her people handle these new challenges, however there is a reason the series bears her name.

Jance actually reveals her villain pretty early so there isn’t much that is a real mystery to the reader.  The story introduced a couple of new characters I hope are seen again in future installments.  It’s a fine continuation of a solid series with an admirable protagonist who overcomes some tragic events in her life with the help of charming colleagues and a noble purpose to protect her community.  It was sort of interesting to see Brady sidelined a little throughout this novel by her maternity leave and obligations to the homestead.  Some of the other characters got to shine a little more, including a new deputy who ends up showing some grit when he is injured in a shoot-out and having to care for a traumatized girl, who in turn saves his life.

Jance has been in this business for a long time and still is capable of telling a pretty compelling story and still manages to keep Joanna Brady exceedingly honorable and relatable at the same time.  Jance has given Joanna Brady more than her share of sometimes unbelievable and inexplicable tragedy, but she also has created a world where the friendships and comradery she has with her friends and colleagues still seem genuine and something to admire.  Anyway, I have been a long-time reader of J.A. Jance, and this novel was more than sufficient to keep me interested in her upcoming releases.

The next reading indulgence will be a new author to me with “An Unkindness of Ghosts” by Rivers Solomon.

 

Some Blondes Not Worth The Trouble

“The Green-Eyed Blonde” is a drama film released in 1957 and directed by Bernard Girard.  The writing credit is sort of interesting.  A fellow named Dalton Trumbo wrote it under the name of Sally Stubblefield.  He was alleged to have had some Communist sympathies and was blacklisted by the Hollywood industry and yet was still able to provide some scripts under some pseudonyms.

The film’s cast includes Susan Oliver, Beverly Long, Melinda Plowman.  I really know nothing about anyone in this film, which could make this a little more interesting, however it didn’t really help me stay tuned to this one easily.

It takes place at some kind of girl’s reform school.  One of the residents turns up with a baby who is about be placed in foster care.  The girls led by the pretty and rebellious blonde decide to hide the baby in their dorm.  Oliver plays the title character, but the child does not belong to her.  She does have a boyfriend on parole, so I suppose that makes her somewhat compelling…apparently.

I am not sure of the popularity of this film when it was initially released, however I did not find this to be all that riveting.  There are a few somewhat interesting performances such as the sympathetic matron played by Sally Brophy.  The song that was performed over the credits was pretty dire.  Other viewers may find more value in this effort, but I was not that impressed when it was said and done.

Who Needs Vin Diesel When Dwayne Johnson And Jason Statham Are On Hand?

“Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” is a spin-off action film  of the “Fast & Furious” franchise just in case the full title wasn’t a dead giveaway.  Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprise their roles as Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, respectively, in their very own ridiculous action cinematic extravaganza written by Chris Morgan and Drew Pearce and directed by David Leitch. Idris Elba plays the superhuman bad guy with the unlikely name of Brixton Lore.  Of course, there has to be a killer of a pretty girl, this time in the shape of Vanessa Kirby, who joins the boys as Shaw’s sister, Hattie.  Helen Mirren turns up with a couple of other somewhat surprising cameos.

Time for a full confession. I have not really gotten into this franchise as a whole.  I missed the first movie several years ago and never tried to catch up.

So there is some super virus that everyone is fighting for and is coursing through the veins of Hattie Shaw.  Hobbs and Shaw can’t stand each other and have to work together to save the little sister, who is also in the spy business, and of course the world from some secret organization known as Eteon.

The storyline is a bit of a mess, however the charisma and chemistry between the leads is more than enough to still make this reasonably enjoyable.  Kirby is quite a surprising find here.  She looks great during her own action moments.  She has no trouble keeping up with the witty banter of Statham and Johnson.  Elba is as compelling as always even when spewing some fairly cheesy lines.  This is really just the ultimate mindless popcorn flick, but with a bit more talent in the writing and choreography.  Of course, this one requires a significant amount of suspension of disbelief, but the humor and charm displayed by the cast did help me get on board.  I hope Kirby shows up again in this franchise.  She not only looks great, but she is a scene stealer, which doesn’t seem all that easy when it comes to Statham and Johnson together.

Anyway, don’t try all that hard to make sense of the plot, and there is plenty of pleasant diversion to be found in this piece.

Weldon Holland’s Strange Life

“Wayfaring Stranger” could probably be considered a crime novel primarily, but author James Lee Burke doesn’t make it easy to classify this one.  I haven’t read many of Burke’s works, but he is largely known for the series of mysteries featuring Dave Robicheaux.  He also writes about a family named Holland.  Weldon Harland is the protagonist on this particular novel.  The reader first meets him as a sixteen year-old who lives with his  mother and cantankerous grandfather, Hackberry Holland, a former lawman with a past as wild as his name.  This starts off in Texas not long before the beginning of the Second World War where Weldon meets the lethal lovebirds known as Bonnie and Clyde.

Weldon later goes off to fight in the war and rescues a woman from a Nazi concentration camp and marries her.  Just when one would think his life would go easier after the war, Weldon’s efforts to break into the oil business introduce him to a different and more insidious type of corruption and dark motives.

The characters here turn out to be quite complicated and layered.  Weldon is a man who can fight in a war and sometimes thinks he can act as ruthlessly as those out to bedevil him.  Although he may at times hesitate more than is necessarily wise when dealing with people without scruples, he does not come off as a coward.  He is a man who wants to honor and protect his wife whose Jewish background tends to bring suspicious and abuse to their doorstep.  Weldon’s best friend is a fellow soldier who fell for the wrong woman.  A wealthy would-be benefactor is also someone who he may not be able to trust easily.

Almost all of it works quite nicely.  Burke does have a somewhat distracting style of shifting from first to third person, but the novel still kept me engaged.  There is a kind of gritty eloquence in his style of prose.  This novel is part of a series but it works quite well on its own.

The next literary destination is going to be the sun-drenched landscape of Cochise County, Arizona where Sheriff Joanna Brady has another killer to find just after giving birth to a new child in “Field of Bones” by J.A. Jance.

There Sure Are A Lot Of Deserted Space Stations In Doctor Who

“The Rosemariners” is a Doctor Who audio play released from Big Finish Productions and is from the Lost Stories Range.  Donald Tosh is the writer for this installment which features Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury as they narrate as well as reprise their roles as Jamie and Zoe.  Hines once again stands in for the late Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor.  There is not a large guest cast here, but it’s still an impressive one that has science fiction icon, David Warner, and Clive Wood.

The Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe arrive aboard another seemingly deserted space lab.  They have a tendency to wander into these kind of settings, especially in the Second Doctor era.  The space station is in orbit over a planet known as Rose Damascena and is actually about to be shut down with the staff being relocated.  The Doctor and his friends meet Professor Briggs and quickly learn that a commander named Rugosa has a few dangerous secrets involving the indigenous population on the planet below.

It turned out to be a fairly good story, but I didn’t find it to be all that unique.  Fortunately, the performances of the Hines and Padbury help considerably.  Hines’ still manages to capture the spirit of the Second Doctor quite well.  Warner was quite good as well, but he always seems to provide a certain gravitas.  The story also involved killer plants, which also has been used quite a few times in the series.

It’s one of those stories in which the history of it almost being on television and the performances make this a worthwhile listen.  It is not really a terrible episode, but that may be because of the strength of the performances more than a stellar plot.