Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Always Outnumbered

I haven't read Walter Mosley's novel Always Outgunned, Always Outnumbered (1997), but when I saw a free VHS copy of the film based on it, I immediately snatched it. It's great when there are so many free VHS cassettes around in thrift stores and other venues nowadays.

The film has a shortened title: Always Outnumbered, and it was a HBO production in 1998. It was scripted by Mosley himself, and directed by Michael Apted. Larry Fishburne plays the lead, an ex-convict by the name of Socrates Fortlow who tries to live almost all by himself, but getting mixed up with the every-day troubles of his neighborhood. This is not really a crime movie, even though most of the stuff Socrates meets is crime-related: drugs, killing of a pre-teenage boy, stuff like that.

The TV movie is almost all black (or African-American, if you will), except for the director (Apted is an odd choice for this, though he's made noirish films before). There's gritty and believable realism to all this, but there's almost too much of the macho posturing by Fishburne and some others. When Socrates Fortlow talks to a woman whose husband he's promised to find, he says things like "if he doesn't show up, I'm gonna come up and take you and your kids with me" or "there are dozen men waiting for a woman like you". I'd feel this would be terribly disturbing, if I were a woman and someone was talking to me like this. The ending is sentimental, though it's not a happy one.

Made-for-TV movies don't suffer much when watched on VHS, so I was glad to give this a try. It's clearly an above average movie, though it has its problems.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Small Crimes

Evan Katz's Small Crimes (2017) is an excellent neo-noir film after Dave Zeltserman's novel of the same name. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays Joe Denton, an ex-cop who's been six years in jail for maiming the D.A. with a knife. In the beginning of the film, we see him get out and try to redeem his bad deeds and getting in touch with his two daughters. We see him getting mixed up with his old colleagues in crime, both cops and criminals, we see him being asked to do some favours, we see him getting trapped. There's no escaping the past. Whatever Joe does, it only tightens the rope around his neck. Near the end, it seems he's getting out - but that impression doesn't last for long. This is noir at its noirest, and there are no mystic serial killers or any of that Nordic Noir shit around. What I especially liked about the film is that there's no back story, you have to be alert to see what's been happening.

Small Crimes is available in Netflix.

Had the crime paperback series I was editing for a Finnish publisher six or seven years ago, I would've definitely included Zeltserman's novel in the series. I would've also picked up Zeltserman's Killer, which is even better, if you ask me. Both books come highly recommended.

I hope there are more Overlooked Films coming to Todd Mason's blog here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Maltese Falcon, comic book version

Evan Lewis has been posting chapters of the comic book version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon on his blog. Check them out here.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Just a quick update: election, new books, coming books, a beautiful cover for one

Just announcing I'm not dead yet, though the latest blog post is from, what, two months back! Can this really be? Time flies really fast, doesn't it? 

There have been things going on around here, that's for sure. 

I ran for the city council here in Turku, Finland, in the ranks of the Left Alliance and was elected, almost to my surprise, vice member (or deputy member, I'm not really sure what the right word is). So far, I haven't done much in this official post, but we'll see. 

My publishing house, Helmivyö, has put out new books. One of them is my own "The Short Introduction to Trash/Pulpy Literature" (Roskakirjallisuuden lyhyt historia; it's a tour around the world, focusing mainly on the United States), and one of them is a volume of the the collected short fiction of Kaarlo Bergbom, Finnish writer from the 1860s. There are only four stories, one of them being a Biblical fantasy, one being an almost Westernish story of an old career criminal living as a hermit, and two being psychological short stories. You can check the books out here. (The site is understandably in Finnish.) 

My hands have been full of work, and besides all of the above I've been writing and compiling my own books. I had to postpone one that was supposed to come out next Fall, but the book about the film versions of classic and new Finnish literature is still in the works. It's a sequel to the book I wrote earlier, about film versions of known and forgotten books around the world, not only in Finland. 

And there will also be a collection of fairy tales for adults I edited. It's called "The Hundred Years of Sleep" (or "Dreams"; Sadan vuoden unet in Finnish), according to the shorty story of Johanna Venho that was simply wonderful. I wish someone possibly in the publishing business reading this blog would get excited and ask for a translation sample of some of the stories. Check out the cover above, it's by Charlie Bowater. 

I haven't been reading much hardboiled/noir/pulp/sleaze literature, as I have been deeply immersed in my work, but here's hoping I can squeeze some in during the Summer. So far, it looks bad... 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Shellarama

I stumbled on this Shell-produced documentary almost by accident: I've been preparing a book that collects the writings of the Turku-based film critic Tapani Maskula (a Finnish legend), and reading some of his reviews from the sixties I noticed that he said nice things about a short subject that was shown before a longer movie (I believe it was The Hallelujah Trail). The short film was called Shellarama, and it was supposed to be shown in 70 mm (in Cinerama, to be exact), but there haven't been any 70 mm projectors in Turku, so it must've been shown here in 35 mm.

As the title suggests, Shellarama is, to quote the film's IMDb entry, "a celebration of Shell Petroleum, tracing its manufacture from discovery in oil fields to its eventual use as fuel for modern living across the globe". The film contains lots of breath-taking aerial shots with long camera drives over deserts and jungles, and it's fascinating to watch. Here's BFI on the film, I believe they have released the film - and some other 70 mm short films - on DVD or Blu-Ray.

Shellarama is available via YouTube in its entirety, albeit not with a very good quality, but it's still worth your while. As I watched it, I got to thinking the film reminded me of a much later film, Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi from the early eighties. Both films are without dialogue or voice-over narration, and both films are structured rather similarly, as both start from nature and continue on to big cities and their car jams. Both films contain similar shots of industrial enviroments and cities. Both films use people almost only as backdrops. Of course the ideology between the two films couldn't be more different: Shellarama praises Shell and oil that is used to promote modern life, while Koyaanisqatsi criticizes the modern life and the turmoil it brings to Earth. The music in the films couldn't also be more different from each other, as Koyaanisqatsi uses Philip Glass's minimalist soundtrack and Shellarama has some Latin percussion.

It's still entirely possible Godfrey Reggio was influenced by Shellarama. If he wasn't, I'm surprised!

But take a look and see for yourselves. Looks like Blogger crops the embedded clip, here's the direct link to YouTube. (More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: Suburbia, by Penelope Spheeris

I don't recall anymore when or where I first heard of Penelope Spheeris's film Suburbia (1983). It must've been an old Finnish music magazine, I had a bunch of those in the late eighties and I used to peruse them. Now I had finally a chance to see the film, and I saw it on big screen, which, I'm sure you know, is the option I prefer. The film seems to be out on DVD, and it was released on VHS in Finland thirty years ago, but I've never seen it anywhere.

Suburbia tells about a bunch of homeless teenagers, who have crashed an abandoned suburban house and live there all by themselves, sometimes stealing stuff from garages, sometimes going to punk concerts. It's a touching tragedy, with genuine heart-felt empathy for the kids, even though they are also shown to be jerks, racists or homophobes. One of them is a junkie, and his stuff leads to an overdose of another teenager. The teenagers are harassed by a duo of rednecks with guns, and their action leads to a needless death of a young boy. The movie ends in pessimistic notes.

The film has some great scenes at punk gigs, with bands like DI, T.S.O.L. and The Vandals (see above) giving their frantic best. The gigs are a mess, with young punks running and jumping and crashing on each other in mid-air. Some of the gigs end up violently, with the youngsters ripping off clothes from a young woman who's clearly in a wrong place, or some rednecks crashing the party with knives. It's not a pretty sight, even though Penelope Spheeris clearly knew what she was doing, since she had already made the punk rock documentary The Decline of Western Civilization (which I haven't seen).

Suburbia has lots of poignant shots about the desolate sites of Southern California. It was already like this over thirty years ago, even though the eighties was supposed to have been the decade of fortune and fame for everyone. In the beginning, we also see shots of wild dogs running rampant in the midst of abandoned houses, and it's a captivating sight. I don't know many American films that show this kind of societal decay - well, there have been some newer ones, like Killing Them Softly or Nebraska, but they are new. And then there's of course The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford. Spheeris was onto something here.

Suburbia was produced by Roger Corman, and it shows in some scenes of mild nudity and fist fights. Some of them are longer than they'd have to be. Corman had earlier made films about teenager sub-cultures, like The Wild Angels, and I'm sure he saw something similar in Suburbia and in the punk rock scene. Yet, Suburbia is just not another schlock film, it's a serious look at how teenagers are treated in American society. It's sometimes clichéd or badly acted (all the actors are amateurs, some of them are punk rockers from different bands), but it's very sincere and shows that the writer-director knew what she was doing. It's a small miracle Spheeris has since done films like The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), which admittedly I haven't seen. Wayne's World, her famous film, shows some of the flair for the rock'n'roll scene that's evident in Suburbia, but it's only a harmless comedy compared to the earlier film.

Spheeris started out in the 1960's doing some experimental and underground films, when she was a student at UCLA. I had a chance to see some of her early films last year at the Tampere Short Film Festival here in Finland. I didn't write anything about them at the time and my memories of the films are a bit dim, but here goes nevertheless.

Synthesis, Spheeris's first film from 1968, was an ordinary experimental film, unlike any other film she's done (to my knowledge). Bath (1969) is a short film that shows a woman masturbating taking a bath. It's a sensual film, not really shocking, but still possibly one of the first films showing a woman masturbating all by herself, without a man or without the film being porn. I Don't Know (1970) is a 20-minute film about the relationship between a lesbian woman and a transsexual man, and Spheeris depicts them warmly, without any patronizing or shocking revelations. The National Rehabilitation Center (1972) is a mockumentary about concentration camps aimed for possible subversives. It really looks like a mediocre newsreel or educational film, but isn't. There were also films called Shit, Hats Off to Hollywood, and No Use Walkin' When You Can Stroll, but I don't remember much of them. Here's more on Spheeris's early films and their restorations.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog, possibly later on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The French Connection (1971)

I don't think anyone with sane mind would be able to say that William Friedkin's The French Connection is an overlooked movie. It's a classic crime film, and it's a classic in its own right. Everyone knows the hectic chase scenes, everyone knows Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, the narc cop prone to violence.

But you should see the film on big screen. I'd seen the film I think twice before yesterday, but now I had the chance to see it projected on silver screen from 35 mm print. The print was faded and scratchy, but boy, did the movie deliver! All the cinematic stuff in The French Connection was designed to work on the big screen, not on television. I remember that I had really not liked the film when I saw it earlier, but now I realized it was because of the wrong media. Friedkin uses lots of pans and zooms that don't work well in television. There are few close-ups, so we don't really get inside the characters. It's more like a documentary we are watching, even though it's a very entertaining and exciting documentary.

The soundtrack by jazz trumpetist Don Ellis is also great. I like the way Friedkin uses music and other sounds in the film, mixing them rather freely with each other.

More Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog.