Friday, December 28, 2007

Happy Old Year

I know, I'm egomaniacal and need to take a break. But but but. I knew I had a review of my short story collection, American Cool coming out in the new Romantic Times magazine. Online, you can see the rating, but not the text. It got 4 and a half stars, which is really good. But I went out yesterday and picked up the magazine to read the text. Here it is:

DiPlacido's characters are risk-takers and rebels. While not all of these stories fit the erotica genre, they are well written, unique and fascinating. Realistic jargon paints the settings, and the use of unusual points of view is refreshing. A bit like a literary Pulp Fiction, this book offers a glimpse into the exciting, sometimes dangerous lives of people living on the edge. Reviewed by Jennifer R. Wells-Marani

I've conveniently bolded the part that makes me ooze. I can't stand it. I've had friends say a few Tarantinoish things about my stuff before, which I greatly appreciate. But I also sort of brush it off, because, let's face it, I have great friends I figured they'd say things I'd like to hear. But I don't know this person at all! She doesn't know me at all, so she'd have no idea that I'd wanna hear that. She just sort of plucked out that reference all on her own. Once, another unknown reviewer said a different book of mine had a When Harry Met Sally flavor, which was written by Nora Ephron. I loved that, too.

I love those comparisons to films because that's what I try for. I don't try to replicate movies, but I try to write so that it feels like you're watching a movie, not reading a book. Which is to also say, if I'm to be bluntly honest, that I love reading and have certain writers who are very influential upon me. But none are as influential to me as movies and screenwriters are when it comes to my own writing.

To be honest, I don't think I have that Tarantino vibe in my own stuff, because let's face it, Pulp Fiction was a seminal piece of filmmaking and storytelling. I simply don't have the chops that QT has when it comes to character and plotting. Nor does my stuff really have the bang-per-page (or reel) that his does in action. I mean, he's Quentin Tarantino.

But, when it comes to influence and education, maybe I did pick up on and learn a few of his tricks and was able to incorporate them. And that's not a bad thing. I mean, there wouldn't be a Tarantino without Scorsese before him. (and so on, and so on.) And maybe I do sometimes capture the "movie" feel that I'm going for. I can't say I ever set out to write something specifically Tarantinoish or Nora Ephronish. I try to write my own stuff, which someday I hope will be DiPlacidoish. But it's both gratifying and really quite a charge to have something like that said, because that's a piece of art that I so admire.

Now I'll stfu about myself. Thank you.

Year end reading

Found some great fiction to close out this year. Loved all these stories!

"Luna's Future is his Christmas Present" by Dennis Mahagin.

"The Wonks of Santo Tomas" by William Reese Hamilton.

"The Daughters" by Myfanwy Collins, which will also be featured in the Dzanc Books Best of the Web anthology.

"The Honeymoon" by Katrina Denza.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Best of 2007


I still love movies. But this year made it a little more difficult to love them because I often walked out of the theater simply feeling ripped off. I did have a few that I liked, though I can't recall a comedy that made me giddy or a romantic flick that made me sigh. And there was really only one flick that made me appreciate the big screen of a theater.

Released separately on DVD as two movies, Death Proof and Planet Terror, the US theatrical release of Grindhouse was a financial failure. But the double feature was double-the-fun with bonus "trailers" and a truly quirky arthouse meets grindhouse vibe to the presentation. From the carefully replicated worn look of Rodriguez's Planet Terror to the missing reel of Vanessa Ferlito's lapdance (admittedly, a nice addition on the DVD release) these guys tried to bring the onscreen experience of '70s sub-prime cinema to a new generation. The ambience was there, but Rodriguez managed to make a really cool zombie flick in the process, and Tarantino -- with his lack of CGI that was more than compensated for by the incredible Zoe Bell and the mesmerizing-menacing presence of Kurt Russell -- created another near-masterpiece of thrills that utterly bored most audiences.

It was generally a shit year for women in movies. But Planet Terror unleashed vampy-vixen Rose McGowen, while Death Proof had the ultimate trio of Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, and Zoe Bell.

While the underlying premise of Grindhouse was to harken back to a sleazier, previous movie experience, I can't help but worry about the critical and commercial rejection of this film in 2007 and what it means for the future of movies.

I will give props to Matt Damon and The Bourne Ultimatum. Despite Paul Greengrass's over-use of the shaky cam, this is an action franchise that delivers the action. And Damon finally snagged his long-coveted spot as People's SMA. Also not bad? Live Free or Die Hard. Bruce is still sexy when he bleeds.


30 Rock
You know I love my TV, so picking one favorite is difficult. But 30 Rock has those weird running jokes about the Shinehardt Wig Company and "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah". Liz Lemon is an attractive, smart and talented woman, and yet she's a total loser in the 30 Rock universe, with her bras held together with tape and penchant for eating Pop Tarts that may or may not have been previously used as sex toys. Also? Alec Baldwin. There is nothing left to say.

The Sopranos finished its run with what may be remembered as the most contentious finale in TV history. Love it or hate it, that cut to black really shouldn't undermine a season that did so successfully what Grindhouse attempted. It linked back to the classics and updated and reimagined in startling new ways. The scene of Tony standing as Godfather to Christopher's daughter still lingers in my head as the defining moment of the series -- both archly coy and deeply disturbing.


If you hated the ending of The Sopranos, then you definitely loved the ending of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Talk about tying up every end. Quidditch on a crutch, man. She sure as shit did go on... and on. And then she went on some more to elaborate in press conferences that Dumbledore was gay. That revelation, it was about as shocking as Clemens and the juicing, huh? Guess she ended any potential mainstream/literary conversation with this finale.

In the literary realm, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz lived up to its name. And Don DeLillo's Falling Man lived up to DeLillo's reputation.

And in the pulp realm, Paris Noir was a great collection of shorts about the shadows in the city of light.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Free Holiday Cheer from The Erotic Woman and Me

Are your credit cards getting overburdened as we hurtle headlong into the holidays? Well, I've got some free cheer for you. I've got a short story live this week at the classy-sassy and oh-so wonderfully explicit website The Erotic Woman. Do stop by and check it out.

Also, I'm holding a year-end drawing for a free, signed copy of each one of my books. All you have to do is drop me an e-mail at susandiplacido @ (remove the spaces) with your name, address, and the title of the book for which you'd like to be in contention. Then, next Friday, I'll draw one winner for each book and get them mailed out so you can have some bangin' reading material to keep you busy while you stick to your resolutions.

Here's each book (click the links for more info on them) that's available:



American Cool

Mutual Holdings

Thanks, good luck, and I hope to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bad Santa

"I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself." -- Willie Stokes, Bad Santa

It's a week early, but I've got a lot of cooking to do, so here's my top pick for Christmas movies this year. If Christmas is all about hanging out with family, you have to do some recalibration of traditions so that it's inclusive instead of oppressive. There are no little kids in my house, but there are late teenagers. You think a teenager will tolerate sitting through It's a Wonderful Life? It wouldn't be generous in spirit to force that on them. And, honestly? Our Christmas day tradtional movie as a family never was that flick anyhow. It always was, and remains, The Godfather. (Yes, seriously.) The Godfather and Godfather II still plays in one of the rooms during the day, with people popping in and out to catch a certain scene or two as they mill about, eating or taking a break from doing the dishes. But at night, when the extended family has gone and we just want to kick back, cozy up, digest it all down, and continue to eat and drink through the night? Bad Santa is what we sit around and watch together.

This movie is raunchy and lowbrow. At times, it's disgusting. Instead of bells ringing, there are gunshots ringing out. And yet, in recent years, when I think of the King of Christmas, it's Billy Bob Thornton who's managed to supersede the image of Jimmy Stewart.

The original version of this movie was written by the Coen brothers, because they wanted to do a movie about a guy who changed. As I mentioned before, there are echoes of George Bailey (distant, sullied, dirty-mouthed echoes) in Billy Bob's character, Willie. Probably a closer relative is the Grinch. The Grinch was a thief, after all. (I'm not quite sure Grinch was an alcoholic perv with a thing for doing fat women in the ass, but Geisel never really elaborated.) Anyhow, the Coens remained as producers as the script was re-written, presumably to a much nastier degree.

The premise is clever enough. Willie is a safecracker, and every Christmas season, he and his working partner, Marcus, get a gig at a department store as a Santa and elf. Then, come Christmas Eve, they rob the bejeezus out of the store and part ways until the next holiday season. Only problem is, Willie takes self-loathing to previously unheard-of levels, and his drinking, swearing, fucking and insipid behavior are putting their gig in jeopardy. John Ritter is the store manager who's disgusted by Willie, and Bernie Mac is the no-bullshit security dude who's on to them.

But what's a Christmas movie without a kid? Bad Santa somehow unearthed the alarmingly deadpan Brett Kelly to play the kid. He may or may not be challenged, and he's the perfect antidote for the precocious, precious little snots we usually get. Willie gets himself tangled up with this kid and the kid's advent calendar and his compulsion to make sandwiches. Then, somehow, between telling the kid to fuck off and accepting a wooden pickle, the kid does change Willie. The kid unwittingly manages to offer some redemption for Willie's dog-shit soul.

At the outset, Willie pronounces himself an eating, drinking, shitting, fucking Santa Claus. I can't imagine anyone but Billy Bob pulling this role off. He is by turns pathetic and repugnant, a big old fucked-up, drunk ball of slyly sympathetic symptoms of our culture rot. When he's getting sneezed at in the face with chocolate ice-cream by a brat, you can barely imagine a more sorrowful, masochistic mess. And yet, when Lauren Graham is looking at him, sleepy-eyed, or when the kid is quizzing him about the reindeer stables, you kinda, sorta have to love him.

Okay. Not everyone could love him. And that's part of the charm of the movie. Remember those candy cane cocktails I told you about and how sweet they go down for the daytime drinking? There comes a point every season when you really have gone to hell with the "merriment" and all your clothes stink of gin and you just kinda relate. Not everyone in this world has neatly folded chenille sweaters and faux-shearling-lined leather gloves and a pristine background and optimistic outlook to pass along to their well-fed, clean brood of smiling children. Those of us on the shady-to-dismal spectrum of humanity deserve a few cheap and cynical laughs around the holidays to keep us from slipping into a spiraling abyss as rank as Willie's.

And this picture is for people like us. Well, us and anyone else without a candy-cane of saccharine sweetness shoved up their ass. So go ahead and laugh at the crassness, you can always blame it on the talking walnut. And oh yeah. Merry fuckin' Christmas.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bloody Merry

Last night was a battle of finales by the dueling subscription networks, Showtime and HBO. Showtime capped off a riveting season of Dexter while HBO closed out the highly under-appreciated BBC import, Extras.

With its explanatory voice-over and graphic details, Dexter really isn't the kind of show that leaves a lot to the imagination. This season alone we got to see Keith Carradine's ass and James Remar's vomit. And yet, even with all the detail, they were still able to keep us guessing and keep the suspense level rising every week. Thankfully, for the season finale, they also left very little to the imagination. It managed to release the tension not once, but twice, both in totally satisfying moments -- almost like perfect sex -- first with a shocking bang, and then with a whispered sigh.

Just as they'd effectively turned the tables and made me feel sorry for Doakes and somewhat sickened by Dexter, the writers used torchy Lila to keep Dexter's moral code intact by having her do away with Doakes. The show has first rate production, and the grand explosion that ended Doakes' life and sealed his fate as the strawman Bay Harbor Butcher was no exception. Great pyrotechnics. But the best detail wasn't the flames, it was Dexter's bounce in his step as he brought premium doughnuts into the mourning squad room the next day. The mask had to come back on after it was pointed out to him that it was no day for celebration for most folks. Of course, Masuka wasn't fazed and he gladly took a pastry.

Jennifer Carpenter had a good episode. I nearly expected her to go all "Emily Rose" on Lundy's ass when he was packing up to skip town, but she managed to keep her shit together.

The Big Cliche was actually used in this ep to get us back to sympathizing with Dex. For real, he actually saved children from a burning building. Not since The Outsiders have I seen such a blatant display of cheap manipulation and device. And yet, it was coming all season. I once referred to Lila as "smoking hot" but at the time didn't realize just how literal that description was. But more important than the singed eyebrows and saved children was Dexter coming to embrace his Dexterness through the fog of soot and smoke, and once again, he recovered his calm demeanor after being uncharacteristically rattled this season.

And then was the seductive send-off for Lila. In Paris, she immobilized with a spinal epidural, he whispering to her that this was as close as someone could get to him. His blade then slowly piercing her heart. That Dex, such a ladies man.

Michael C. Hall nabbed a Golden Globe nom for this role, and he deserves it. Viewers of the show can now enter to win a walk-on part in next season. So if you'd die for a chance to meet Michael or be on the show, do check it out here. (yes I entered)

If high suspense and gory goodbyes aren't your cup of tea, then perhaps well-mannered emotional torture and vivisection of pride is more to your liking. As fantastic as Dexter was this season, HBO proved why they're still the one to be envied with the series finale of Extras.

The brainchild of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, this unassuming show took a clever idea and spun it into pure gold. Ricky and Ashley Jensen played Andy and Maggie, a couple of pathetic film extras, with Stephen as his incompetent agent. The laughs were often grounded in humiliation, and it was a brilliant toss-off for major stars to skewer their own images. But as the first season closed, Ricky's Andy Millman found himself in a peculiar predicament. He'd penned a television show about a crazy boss and the BBC threw money at him to air it. The catch? They turned his show into an LCD, catch-phrase riddled piece of crap that embarrassed Andy. He had to make a choice -- either have artistic integrity, or take his one shot at fortune and hope to spin into later rewards.

The BBC show became a huge hit, but Andy became the butt of jokes among true actors. (David Bowie singing about the "little fat man who sold his soul, sold his dreams" in a crowded club as Andy had to listen with horror was particularly hilarious.) Everyone was having a laugh, but most of them were laughing at Andy, not with him.

The finale opens at Christmas, with Andy and Maggie out in a store, where the dolls of his character are stocked up and being outsold by Kramer dolls.

What follows is a series finale mining the dark side of fame for both laughs and tears. Clive Owen and George Michael show up, with Clive turning in the most blisteringly nasty degradation scene imaginable.

Though still a C-list celeb, Andy becomes a grade-A asshole in his confused pursuit of integrity, while also finding himself unable to let go of fame. His every attempt at legitimacy is so weighted with his own expectations that he manages to conduct a hilarious symphony of his own debasement, making him further miserable. Meanwhile, Maggie's fortunes and fate have gone from never-was to near-impoverished and she carries the soul throughout the show.

I was expecting the laughs, which were biting and uncomfortable. What I wasn't expecting was the heartbreak and sublime humanity as things got ever more wicked and treacherous.

At one point in the show, Andy's new agent, thoroughly frustrated, finally asks him, "What do you want? Do you want integrity and artistry? Or do you want to be rich and famous? Because only a handful of people in the world have both, and you will never be one of those people."

Andy makes his choice. But Ricky Gervais doesn't have to. With the brilliant finale of this show, he proves -- once again -- why he's one of the handful of people who's got both.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rocket's Crash Landing

Yesterday, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell released his report linking eighty-five Major League Baseball players to illegal use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. In 409 pages, he identified players, including All-Stars, MVPs, journeymen and scrubs.

After perusing the list of names, my reaction was, "No shit, Sherlock." Talk about finally having a firm grasp on the obvious. Wow.

I mean, okay. This report, it's comprehensive and it's going to stir the pot. And I did get a couple of chuckles that I wasn't expecting (Kevin Brown). But did I see any name I was shocked by? No. Not a single one. I suppose I'm a little surprised by a couple of names that aren't on the list that I was expecting would be. Mostly, I'm failing to understand why Roger Clemens has become the poster-boy for this whole non-revelatory information. Is it because he was finally named and "caught"?

The only thing that shocks me is that he wasn't dogged by juicing rumors earlier. Just, fucking look at him. If you couldn't tell that he was drug-enhanced, perhaps you'd also need a 3 year investigation and 400 page report to give you a clue that Pamela Anderson has surgically enhanced tits. Clemens, I'm not a fan of his. I never actively disliked him until he left Boston. It was clear his career was over at that point, and then he had a decade-long resurgence. Year after year, I'd look at his massive bulky frame, listen to the media kiss his injected ass, and wonder what the fuck was going on. Frankly, I've seethed for the past five or six years, when he was informally given the title of "greatest pitcher of his era." I thought his 300th win was a total farce.

If you're a sports fan, or even a casual watcher, I'm sure you already have a fairly clear and strong opinion on what rampant juicing has meant to the game of baseball. And I'm sure you already have your own idea on how all the records and players should be dealt with. Do you want them stripped, or asterisked, or blocked from the Hall of Fame, or should bygones be bygones? I'm not going to scribble my own thoughts and try to justify them. I'm content to sit back and watch the circus continue. Because I'm sure of one thing. Selig and Co. will carefully look at all this information, and then they'll do what they feel isn't necessarily the best thing for the game of baseball, but what's best for the business of baseball. And those are two very different agendas.

But what would make me satisfied is if the asshole sports writers who never did a goddamn bit of investigative journalism and instead just sat back and wrote post-game, op-ed pieces and congratulatory color commentary and helped light Rocket's star-fuse would finally climb out of golden-boy Roger's now-tarnished ass and continue to write whatever the fuck they want to about him, as long as they retire the moniker of "the greatest pitcher of his generation" from their list of seemingly mandatory descriptors about him. It's time to give that title back to the guy who's earned it. Greg Maddux.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Are the writers having a laugh?

So the WGA strike continues. The AMPTP is getting testy. This mock website is hilarious. (the real amptp site is The letter on the front page alone cracked me up. I don't know about mightier, but the Pen is definitely funnier.

And Oh! The title of this post reminds me: The HBO series Extras concludes this Sunday, the 16th with a special finale episode. So sad to see this one go.

Nothing says Christmas like...

Before I wrap up my movie picks next week, I wanted to give a little shout-out to a few other offbeat movies that can give you some holiday happiness in a few different ways.

Nothing says Christmas like Crime

Though not on the level of my previous picks, The Ice Harvest and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, here are a couple more capers high on hijinks that can help add a little salt in case all the old standby sickly-sweet movies are starting to make you sick.

The Ref
Caustic Denis Leary takes Kevin Spacey and his wife, Judy Davis, hostage in their home on Christmas Eve. But they're even bitchier than he is.

Trading Places
Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy. Do I really need to tell you about this movie? No. But Dan's drunk, wearing that Santa suit, stealing buffet food and brandishing a gun. Makes your office party seem a little less painful, now doesn't it?

Trapped in Paradise
You might not like this flick, but I think it's okay. Full disclosure, I have a thing for Nicolas Cage. I'd like to tell you that this offbeat movie about three brothers who try to rob a bank at Christmas was done before Nic turned crazy. But I can't. Let's face it. His jingle bells always did ring a slightly different tune.

Nothing says Christmas like Comedy

Look. We all know that A Christmas Story is the best. And Christmas Vacation still cracks me up. (Randy Quaid in that dickey gets me every time.) But you might find some unexpected laughs or lighthearted levity in these picks.

The Bishop's Wife

Cary Grant is heaven sent. Literally. A bishop is having trouble building a church, so he's sent Cary Grant as an angel named Dudley. Apparently, it was a rule in '40s cinema that angels had to be given dorky names. Clarence. Dudley. Whereas in modern days, we just go for it and namecheck archangel Gabriel and turn him into a nasty piece of work (see Constantine and The Prophecy) Anyhow, everyone falls in love with Dudley, but Dudley falls in love with the bishop's wife.

Just Friends
Ryan Reynolds isn't Cary Grant. Ryan Reynolds is...Ryan Reynolds. If you hate him, you'll hate this movie. But if you give his affected methods a chance, he really can grow on you. The laughs in this flick are in no way sophisticated, but there are some good chuckles and plenty of winter scenery.

Nothing says Christmas like Cranial Injury and Watching other People's Careers Crash

Surviving Christmas
This isn't a good movie. It's a pretty bad movie. Ben Affleck has made a few grabs for holiday gold. (His previous entry, "Reindeer Games" isn't bad, if you can stomach him. It's not good, either.) But you know, Surviving Christmas does have some redeeming qualities. For instance, this happens in the movie:

If Jimmy G smashing Affleck upside the head doesn't make you Ho Ho Ho, then you're totally scrooged.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Holiday Reads

Gift Yourself for Free

Myfanwy Collins has a lovely short published in the new Monkeybicycle, "I am Holding your Hand."

Gift yourself (kinda free)

Author William Vitanyi was recently interviewed on If you're in the Erie, PA area, he'll be hosting a book signing for The Official Guide to Office Wellness at Borders on December 15 from 1-3, followed by a writing/publishing workshop. The workshop is free.

Gift yourself or others (not for free)

Looking for something to stuff a stocking or place under the tree? Books are cool, man. Some of the ones I enjoyed most this year:

I loved my pal Don Capone's debut novel, the very funny and very entertaining Into the Sunset.

Donna George Storey had her debut novel released this year, Amorous Woman. It won't be fully available in the US until next year, but you can order directly from her, and get some free chocolate as an added bonus, if you order from her directly. Details Here.

Shameful Self-Promotion

It's not new, but if you never read it last year, I have a Christmas-themed dirty short story available.

I also had a collection of short stories published by Rebel Press this year. It's called American Cool and it's half erotic, half not.

My first novel, 24/7, is now available on Amazon in Kindle edition, so that's a nice, inexpensive way to get a lot of bang (and banging) for your buck. (Both 24/7 and Trattoria are also still available as paperbacks.)

Also on the cheap, you can order a paperback copy of another one of my books, Mutual Holdings, for just $3, and that includes postage within the US.

Hollywood writers may be on strike, but I'm not. So if you fancy a tale, have at it. I'll save a moment for you under the mistletoe in thanks.

Perfection Dies Hard

"Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs...”

Nineteen years ago, NYC cop John McClane went to LA on Christmas Eve to visit his estranged wife at her company's holiday party.

During the festive soiree, he lost his shoes, defeated a gang of would-be terrorist/thieves, humiliated some FBI guys, got a gun-shy cop back on his feet, won back the love of his life, Holly, and made it "snow" in California. Oh, and yeah. He also redefined the modern action movie and set the bar so high it'll probably never be hurdled.

John's wifebeater went from white to grimy to downright dark green as he wittily sassed his way through gunshots and broken glass. As McClane's shirt darkened, Bruce Willis's star rose. As Gudunov bit the dust, Alan Rickman defined "bad guy." And as the one-liners stacked up and feebs exploded, director John McTiernan created a masterpiece of modern movies.

Special effects have gotten better, but I still can't believe that they'd have marginally improved upon the production of this film. The thrills in this movie are still heart-in-your throat, and there are a few explosions. But so much of the tension comes from intimate danger to our hero, even though the stakes are considerably higher due to the hostages. And through it all, McTiernan never once lost sight of what McClane was suffering for -- Holly. (even her name works with the Christmas theme)

There were action movies and action heroes before Die Hard. But they were never as sassy, sophisticated, sly, or satisfying. I mean, come on. Reginald VelJohnson even carries the Dickensian torch of Tiny Tim throughout this picture -- and it works! The plot of the movie unfolds like a gilded origami. And then it wraps itself back up with neat precision and every thread combines to create the perfect red bow.

But the delightful gift inside the beautifully wrapped box is still Bruce Willis as John McClane. Before Willis, Stallone and Schwarzenegger ruled the roost of this genre. Both had bigger body mass, but less brains. (Stallone's "Rocky" had an amicable meathead charm about him. Schwarzenegger could toss off a one-liner. But they were generally dull and almost workmanlike.) Bruce, he didn't just bring the muscle, he brought the smart-ass funny. Him and his pursed lips and insouciant smirk. From squinty-eyed to slack-jawed disbelief, he was all at once hard-headed and hot-tempered, but with a heart-of-gold and having a ball. And he was smart. He wasn't just out-gunning the bad guys, he was outwitting them. Also? He was sexy when he'd bleed.

"Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker" may never be as festively appropriate as "Ho Ho Ho." But this movie will never lose its place in the pantheon of great action movies and cheerful Christmas flicks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Capra lassos the moon

How much of a staple of Americana has Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life become? Other outlandishly feel-good flicks are often referred to as "capraesque". Capra shot for the stars with this movie, and he at least got hold of the moon.

I've seen it probably over thirty times, and yet, by the time the whole "No man is a failure who has friends" line is read, I still get misty. Frankly, I give a lot of latitude when it comes to taste in movies, but if the ending didn't tear you up a little bit the first time you saw it, I'm inclined to think that you're as dead inside as one of Dexter's victims.

Oh, there's a lot to be said for this, the granddaddy of all holiday films. A slick script, a luminous Donna Reed, plenty of forties-style banter between the leads, a few madcap laughs, and an ending that can make Disney endings seem downright dour by comparison. But still shining brighter than anything else is Jimmy Steward as George Bailey.

Jimmy and George are often pointed to as the ultimate "good guy," and that's something I take great pleasure in. Because George was good. But he sure as shit wasn't cheerful about it. I like my men the way I like my coffee -- strong and bitter. And though George Bailey was determined and ambitious, he most certainly did show cracks in the plaster, just like his drafty old home. He was often cranky, sometimes showing a propensity for bursts of anger and self-pity. Best? He sure knew how to tie one on!

Looking at this movie with a modern eye, George is fairly tame. But I swear I can trace the lineage of Billy Bob's "Bad Santa" back to George Bailey. And I often wonder how his behavior wasn't considered scandalous back in the day. I mean, I mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: The guy sure did like to knock back the booze. For Clarence's sake, when hard times hit, he dealt with it by getting shitfaced and crashing his car! Not to mention that he yelled at the women and children. During his time of being tested, his hair even got wild and his face had a rather unkempt after-five-o'clock shadow creeping across it. And he sure was horny for Mary Hatch. (and maybe even Violet)

But it's all these little crabby tweaks that make George that much more lovable. George, he had to put up with an awful lot of shit. But he invariably did the right thing, even if he bitched about it. Which, of course, is the point of the whole thing. It may not seem so at the time, but in the end, it's all worthwhile.

It's been sixty years and it's been remade, mocked, sentimentalized, grossly colorized, and definitely over-referenced. Sometimes, I roll my eyes when George reaches in his pocket for ZuZu's petals. You can't even make a joke anymore about bells ringing/angels wings because it's so over-used. Yet, I still think it's kind of funny when Mary's naked in the bushes. It still makes me want to scream at the screen when Uncle Billy unwittingly hands the cash to Mr. Potter. I still think Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey is the cat's pajamas. And yeah, I do still get a little teary at the ending. How can I not? It's a wonderful movie.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

If the Suspense is Killing you

If you're a fan of Showtime's Dexter, then you probably already know that we've gotten an early Christmas present because the two final episodes of the season have been leaked online. I have no self control, so of course I've already watched them both. I promise I won't put any spoilers in this post, other than to tell you that they are really high quality, both the downloads and the streams. And, of course, they were killer good!

I can't really believe that this was an accident. Which is to say, I've noticed that Showtime has been using the "It's not HBO, it's Showtime" line an awful lot in their promos. I guess HBO can be flattered, as it's always nice to be king. But should they also be worried? Uh, yah. While HBO tossed up the unwatchable "Tell Me You Love Me" this fall (yes, even with graphic sex, it was unwatchable) Showtime rode "Weeds" and "Dexter" for all they were worth. And they're worth a lot.

Dexter just racked up the highest single showing ratings for Showtime -- ever. The buzz around this season has been growing, and with just cause. It's a terrific series. Tightly written, wonderfully acted, with a deliciously evil premise, a catchy score, loads of suspense, and a riveting leading man.

With all the buzz building, and the fact that Showtime already has this show paid for by the subscribers, the pre-release of the penultimate episode and finale could only spur on holiday DVD sales so that people can get caught up on the series. Also a nice tie-in? Don't forget that the series is based on Jeff Lindsay's excellent novels, the first one titled "Darkly Dreaming Dexter." (the first season followed that book, but this season took a left turn from the second novel this year, so it's all new stuff)

The only possible problem with these being online? I really wouldn't have wanted to be spoiled on this season. The suspense was so intense and mounted each week so that it was almost unbearably good. And scene after scene, Michael C Hall was able to infuse Dex with alternating giddy joy, sly intelligence, and even sometimes monstrously frightening darkness and sickness.

I can't imagine how disappointing it would be to be a curious first time viewer and to go and watch those episodes now, only to then go back and watch the show from the start. Oh sure, it'll still be a great show. But this season turned the whole murder mystery idea inside out. We all know that Dex is the killer. But watching the cops buzz and feds close the loops, wondering if and how he'll wiggle out of each new problem, and trying to get a step ahead and dying to see how it would all pan out was just beautifully, nerve-wrackingly fun.

Premium cable channels like Showtime did have the way paved for them by HBO and the success of their original programming. Also, Dexter is a direct descendant of Tony Soprano, only taken to a much more stomach-turning extreme. Whereas Tony would kill, Dex lives to kill. But Dex is a whole different genre. From the opening credits, we knew this wouldn't be the heavy-weighty, sometimes depressing dramatic enterprise that The Sopranos could be. This series took the killing, moved it to sunny Miami, gave us a guy with a cheery disposition and made it all about thrills, chills, and suspense.

The opening credits tell you all you need to know about this show. The shaving looks repulsive, the cutting of the ham is menacing, the juicing of the blood orange is gross. Even Dexter's muscled arm tying his shoe could frighten you. It's those intense close-ups, paralleling what it'll be like to get so close and personal to the mind of this serial killer. And yet, there's that loopy, quirky theme overlaying it all to give it a skewed perspective.

As a longtime fan of Batman, I loved the little "Dark Avenger" angle that got played up this season, too. One of the things I always loved about Batman is that he always seemed like a bit of a crazy fuck -- and a dangerous crazy fuck at that. That's what Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale captured so well in Batman Begins. The hero doesn't just do away with the bad guys, he takes a bit of a perverse glee in fucking them up. And what allows us to root for Dexter is that he's a crazy fuck, alright. Cracked like an old teacup. But we can sleep easy -- sometimes happily -- knowing that he's not out there carving up us, he's out there gleefully carving up people who would fuck us up.

And you've just gotta admire someone who's so happy in his work. I love the flashbacks to a young Dexter when Michael has on the geek-face and bad wig and he's just flush with excitement about potential bloodletting. It's at once hilarious, disgusting, and heartbreaking.

This was a masterpiece of a season, everything you could want in top-notch entertainment. And having the final two eps sliced off early is the gleam on the cleaver.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Noir Noel

So, on with my holiday movie picks. Today, in the spirit of discount shopping, I've got twotwo for the price of one!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

At first glance, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has all the right ornaments to make it a classic Christmas tree of film noir. Hard boiled private eyes, an LA setting, a femme fatale, and a grisly murder mystery are all lined up and ready to be arranged in formulaic manner. But first time director (though seasoned screenwriter) Shane Black takes Brett Halliday's gift-inside-a-gift novel and re-strings the garland to create the brightest comedy-noir in recent years.

Robert Downey Jr. is the lead as the marvelously named Harry Lockhart, a petty thief who stumbles onto an acting audition while fleeing the cops. Next thing he knows, he's being sent to LA to audition for the role. While there, he bungles his way into meeting up with his childhood sweetheart, Harmony (Michelle Monaghan), who in turn helps him get embroiled in a convoluted murder investigation along with Val Kilmer's PI, Gay Perry.

The only thing quicker than the pacing of this film is the humor. The laughs are fast and frequent, and often sharp and pointed, and much of it is merriment-in-dialogue between Harry and Perry. One of the clever tweaks on the formula is that Kilmer's Perry is gay, and yet he plays the straight man to Downey's Harry. The chemistry between these two is off the charts, making this almost more of a buddy movie than a noir. Then, toss in the magnificent Michelle Monaghan's performance which isn't the least bit coy, and you've suddenly got a third buddy and romantic twist.

The Christmas setting is barely a blip on the radar of this film, though there are plenty of shots of Michelle decked out as a sexy Santa's helper, and she's the perfect mix of jaded Los Angeles ho ho ho and small town innocent. But there's also a refreshing lack of turkeys and tinsel. The real present here is Robert Downey Jr.'s performance, where he proves once again exactly why he's worth the worry to cast in films. He may have destroyed his chances of ever becoming one of our most celebrated movie stars, but he is still one of our most talented actors. The rapid-fire material of this movie often hinges upon his delivery, and he inhabits the role so perfectly that he tosses off the comedy with a cavalier lightness, swinging deftly from witty to silly, and just as easily pulls the weight with a dash of tragic gravitas.

With all the crazy plot turns and fresh takes, this movie ends up being like one of those fad-stylish inverted Christmas trees. Except, like, those trees are mostly ugly and lame, and will probably be passe before long. But this movie is already a smart and stylish screwball classic.

The Ice Harvest

And so comes the second of three of my holiday movie picks to be heavy with the presence of Billy Bob Thornton. Oh, you know what the third, yet-to-be-named movie is, and you knew I'd love that movie. But we'll get to that masterpiece in another post. In this flick, Billy Bob plays the menacing Vic, a partner-in-crime of Cusack's everyman Charlie Arglist. Together, on Christmas Eve, Vic and Charlie have just ripped off a mob man, who's also Charlie's boss, for over a million bucks.

There's a dame along the way. There are other mobsters looking for Charlie. There's a politician with a past. There's a buffoon of a best friend. In other words, plenty of twists, but it's essentially an easy set-up with high stakes: Last man standing will take the dough.

What's most unexpected about this flick isn't the extremely dark humor, it's how pointed and fitting to the spirit of our modern Christmas the humor is. I really can't say that this movie will suit a lot of people's tastes, as it subtly yet savagely attacks what we hold so dear about the season -- greed. It's not exactly spoken, but it's misted into the subtext as heavily as the icy rain falls through the streets as Charlie attempts to navigate his get away.

Now look. I don't give a fuck how crazy Billy Bob is. No one does sexy sleaze the way he does. Directed by Harold Ramis, I expected this movie to have a lot more lighthearted laughs and to play the villains as grey entities. Instead, Billy Bob's Vic walks the line and then eventually catapults over it into a truly disturbing, blackhearted bastard. Meanwhile, it's the desperation of Cusak's long-suffering, existential Charlie that somehow buoys our faith. Oliver Platt has made a career out of being a scene stealer, and his turn as Charlie's best friend, who's also married to Charlie's ex-wife, is no exception. He's drunk and just as desperate as Charlie, but his shenanigans are the spare dusting of glitter that make this movie shimmer and keep it from being treacherously nasty.

I was unfamiliar with Connie Neilsen before this movie, and she's nearly iconic in her turn as the monkey-wrench dame. Both in looks and attitude, she's pulled straight out of old-Hollywood noirs, giving a dangerous performance I haven't seen since Kathleen Turner in Body Heat.

Though deadly and cynical, this movie isn't a wholly "serious" exercise. It is a comedy, black and dark and seemingly cold though it may be. And it did coin the unforgettable disparaging remark "farthammer." Yeah, I don't know what it means, either, but it's funny when it comes of Randy Quaid's mouth. It won't have you cracked-up like Kiss Kiss, but it's heavier on suspense and the twists are actually understandable.

This movie isn't glitzy or glamorous like most holiday offerings. It's more like the crappy-wrapped little package that's left forgotten and ignored-by-most under the tree. But for fans of black comedy and vintage noir, if unwrapped, this movie -- unlike my hack, mistletoe-heavy metaphors -- turns out to be a true gem.