Monday, November 30, 2009

Finding Rare Noir at Home

Has your favorite noir never been released on home video? Or was it only released on VHS or laserdisc? Is your favorite noir controlled by Warner Bros.? Well, you may be in luck. Warner Bros. started a program this year called the Warner Archive Collection. It is a selection of hundreds of films from the '20s to the '90s that have previously been unavailable on DVD, only now you can get them On Demand in DVD format, as long as you get them through the Warner Archive site: Amongst the many titles offered are some 2 dozen titles that are identified as film noir either in Alain Silver's Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference or Michael Keaney's Film Noir Guide. Here they are:

THE BRIBE (1949)
CRISIS (1950)
HIGHWAY 301 (1950)

There are also a handful of film noir at the increasingly ubiquitous, available for viewing on your computer screen immediately. They're not on the site forever (I've included their expiration dates), but you don't have to make a trip to the video store or wait for the disc in the mail, so check them out:

99 RIVER STREET (1953) - 10/31/2010
COP HATER (1958) - 10/31/2010
CRIME AGAINST JOE (1956) - 10/31/2010
MR. ARKADIN (1955) - Never
THE STRANGER (1946) - Never

So, now there's more reason to explore the breadth and scope of noir. Some of it's at your fingertips, and some of it is easily within reach. Enjoy yourself!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, Episode 2.11

I am thankful for Sons of Anarchy:

Monday, November 23, 2009

Local Author Makes Good

Congratulations to Lorna Barrett, author of the Booktown Mystery Series, and a Rochester, NY mystery writer. Her third book in the series, BOOKPLATE SPECIAL went to #20 on the New York Times Paperback Bestseller list. That means it gets in the paper. Awesome! Pick it up yourself to see what all the sales are about.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Favorite TV of the Last 10 Years, Part 4

#5 - Friends (1994-2004)
Yes, yes. I know. So sue me. This series started when I was 23 years old and was all about where I was in my life - hanging out with friends, trying to figure out the present and the future, as far as relationships and careers were involved. And the snarky, sarcastic Chandler was as close to who I thought I was as I could find on TV. So I watched. And I laughed. "The One with the Embryos" is still one of my favorite half-hours of all time. ("Actually, it's MISS Chenandler Bong.") And I still quote the pilot, although you may not know it. ("All right. Maybe I will.") Can't help it. I loved this show.

#4 - Rescue Me (2004-Present)
Although it really went off the rails in Season 5, this show has always been appointment TV for me. Hey, it's not every show about post-9/11 anxiety, survivor's guilt, divorce, alcoholism, rage, hallucinations, ghosts, religion and masculine failure that can make you laugh liquids out your nose. There have been some really, really dark moments on this show, and there have also been moments that have made me fall off the couch, and when you can do both well, and balance them against each other, you have an emotional experience that is hard to beat. Denis Leary leads a solid cast, and his two Emmy nominations have been well-deserved.

#3 - Lost (2004-2010)
What I love about LOST is that joyous sense of bewilderment I get from watching it. Oh, I can follow the story, at least as much as they give me, but I still don't know what's going on. And it's inevitable that there will be that point in an episode where I'll say, "What!?" But I'm along for the ride because of the storytelling, the philosophical questions, and the characters. Moving images, and especially the narrative form, are the purview of emotion, and LOST is the only show that gives me this sort of experience.

#2 - Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (2006-2007)
Okay, wait, let me see if I've got this right. You're going to take Matthew Perry from FRIENDS, Bradley Whitford and Timothy Busfield from WEST WING, pair them up in a show from Aaron Sorkin, toss in Amanda Peet and the revelation that is Sarah Paulson, top it off with the under-rated Steven Weber and set it behind-the-scenes at a comedy sketch show? Let's face it, I loved this show before the camera turned on. Luckily for me, the writing was fantastic and took on the War, the media, and personal responsibility with a fascinating multi-episode flashback arc. I think the show truly hit its stride, however, with its only Christmas episode:

#1 - The Shield (2002-2008)
If there was ever such a thing as TV Noir, this show was its epitome. Posit yourself as Vic Mackey, a cop in the toughest part of LA that gets things done to keep the public safe, catch the bad guys, and keep the gangs away from innocent people. Yeah, sure, he has to get rough, but it's a rough job. Yeah, sure, he has to make some deals with the devils, plant some evidence, but it's all for the greater good. For Vic, this is how the job needs to get done, and the results back him up. It's the Captains and other higher-ups that don't understand. So, in that moment that they find there's an FBI agent undercover in their Strike Squad - in that moment - it makes sense to kill him. And that's when the real spiral begins. It's a credit to Shawn Ryan that everything in THE SHIELD's seven seasons unspools from this first episode. The show wasn't always tight, but it was always focused. The characters became richer as the series went on. Vic's son turned out to be autistic, giving him more reason to stay on the dark side and give him the treatment he needed. Walt Goggins as Shane Vendrell went from the high-livin' adrenaline jockey giving witnesses "yammies full of Georgia joy-juice" to a shades-of-grey family man. The last episode is possibly one of the most shocking, gut-wrenching put to film. Michael Chiklis and Goggins are great, with a solid supporting cast, and excellent recurring turns from Oscar-nominees Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker.

What? you may say. Where's this show, or that show? Well, I can't rank what I haven't seen, and there are some shows that may be right up my alley that I've just missed. Usually because I have the $8 version of cable. So, my apologies to the following series that I'll try to catch up on: THE WIRE, THE SOPRANOS, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, DEADWOOD, and DEXTER.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Favorite TV of the Last 10 Years, Part 3

#10 - 30 Rock (2006-Present)
I was with this show from the beginning. Then I left. Then I came back and found that they had moved from an ensemble show to focus on Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, which I'll take any day. The absurdist levels of plot development are right up my alley, the apex of which are Tracy Morgan's unique non-sequitirs. There is little plot development, but this show makes me laugh more often than any other show right now.

#9 - Friday Night Lights (2006-Present)
This is the show most likely to make me cry. Yes, it's "about football." But it's about so much more. It's about how you deal when something so totally consumes your life, personally and professionally. It's about the death of dreams. It's about broken families, and the families you make for yourself. It's about the homefront. It's about aging, expectations, personal responsibility, love, life, moving on, growing up. It's about time you started watching this show.

#8 - Battlestar Galactica (2005-2009)
I don't have the Sci-Fi Channel, so I came to this series this year on DVD. I've got a pretty sweet set-up where I get together with friends once or twice a week to watch the shows, and we get to talk about them afterward. And what we have to talk about. Short of OVER THERE, this is about as close as we've come to a weekly allegory about The War. Whether we're talking about torture, or the perception of inhumanity we place on our enemies, or the lengths we'll go to to achieve our goals, and what we'll sacrifice, both physically and personally, it's all here. We're into the third season now, and it's really getting good.

#7 - Sons of Anarchy (2008-Present)
Regular readers have heard me championing this series as a cross between the Godfather, The Wild One, and Hamlet. We have a main character caught at the crossroads of two American dreams: the freedom to be what you want to be without recrimination, and the freedom to make as much money as you can, any way you can. His father's dead, and his mother married his best friend. Oh, did I mention they were bikers?

#6 - Doctor Who (2005-Present)
I've been a fan of Doctor Who for, oh, let's call it 27 years now, ever since I saw "Earthshock" late one Saturday night on WXXI. When Adric (27-year-old spoilers ahead) died at the end of the episode, and they went back to "Robot" the following week, I was devastated. I wanted to know more and more about the show, and watched and taped the show faithfully. What's great about this new version of the show, is that it turns the concept on its ear. The first two series are as much about Rose, the companion, as they are the Doctor. How does her decision affect the life and family she left behind? What exactly is the relationship between the Doctor and his companions? What happens when it's time to leave? It's funny, exciting, touching, and it's a tentpole now on British television. David Tennant only has three specials left, so enjoy him while you can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Favorite TV of the Last 10 Years, Part 2

#15 - Life (2007-2009)
I don't really go for procedurals on TV. But what I do go for is a crime show where the leads have a personal investment in the crime. In LIFE, Charlie Crews was a cop that was set up for murder and sent to jail. When he was finally proven innocent, part of his multi-million dollar settlement was that he get reinstated to the LAPD. Presumably, he wanted his old life back. What he really wanted was the resources to track down who had done this to him.

#14 - Sports Night (1998-2000)
Aaron Sorkin can write a series about watching paint dry, and I'd watch it. In this, his first series, he took a cast on the verge of greatness - Peter Krause (SIX FEET UNDER), Felicity Huffman (DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES), Joshua Malina (THE WEST WING) - and filtered the issues of the day - divorce, drugs, sexual harassment, corporate gluttony - through the eyes and hearts of a SportsCenter-type TV show. A lot of the pathos came from the fact that, no matter what was going on in these character's lives, their job was to be happy for the rest of us. There are some amazing supporting turns, including Robert Guillaume (before and after his stroke), Teri Polo, William H. Macy, Clark Gregg, the underestimated genius that is Ted McGinley, Brenda Strong, Paula Marshall, and Lisa Edelstein. The "behind-the-scenes" concept has carried Sorkin throughout his TV career.

#13 - How I Met Your Mother (2005-Present)
My wife turned me on to this one. The high-concept is this: Our hero, Ted, at a future time, sits his two children down to tell them the story of how he happened to meet their mother. Ostensibly, the entire series is told in flashback, and starts with the day that Ted met Robin, a Canadian emigre newscaster. Each episode, Ted takes a step closer to meeting the elusive "mother," or toward realizing that Robin is the one for him, although she's referred to in the first episode as "Aunt Robin." But don't believe them. The actors that play Ted and Robin are likable, but they are ably supported by Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel, and Alyson Hannigan, all TV comedy veterans.

#12 - The West Wing (1999-2006)
Our dream White House doesn't have to do with party affiliation. It has to do with having a thinking, feeling human being running the show. That's what Aaron Sorkin gave us with Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen), a democrat by affiliation, but a compassionate, intelligent man by nature. Again, the supporting cast is outstanding - Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, John Spencer, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff - and Sorkin still had the ability to pull in more star power as the series went on - Joshua Malina, Stockard Channing, Mary McCormack, Jimmy Smits, Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Mary-Louis Parker, Moira Kelly, Gary Cole, Ron Silver, Tim Matheson, Teri Polo, Marlee Matlin, Janeane Garofalo - not to mention solid guest turns by veterans like John Amos and Karl Malden.

#11 - Over There (2005)
Steven Bochco didn't go away after NYPD BLUE, he just moved to cable. This F/X series may not have been what people wanted to see (as evidenced by a similar reaction at the box office), but the war in Iraq was on everyone's mind, and just as there were films being made about World War II during the war, so too were there artists and producers concerned with getting our fighting men and women's stories on-screen. This series only lasted 13 episodes, and focused on the gritty, dirty world of war, as seen through the eyes of a single company, and the effect it had on the loved ones at home.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Favorite TV of the Last 10 Years

Fans will often ask writers, "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer is actually very easy. We steal them. First go to The AV Club to look at their list of the "30 Best TV Shows of the Oughties." Then come back and look at Part 1 of my list of my favorite TV shows of the last 10 years. Before I get started, you should know that I haven't seen everything. There's a lot of stuff I miss, especially on premium cable, but I'll do my best. And here are some honorable mentions that didn't make the list: FARSCAPE, FIREFLY, FOYLE'S WAR, KEVIN HILL, WHAT ABOUT JOAN?

#20: Clerks - The Animated Series (2000)
A whole 2 episodes of this series played on ABC in 2000, but 6 were produced and put onto DVD. It's loopy, meta-level plots and constant pop culture references were right up my alley, and Alec Baldwin is spot-on as the evil Leonardo Leonardo, pre-figuring his Emmy-winning turn on 30 Rock. "Who is driving the car? Oh no! Bear is driving the car!"

#19: The X-Files (1993-2002)
X-Files was still going for 2 1/2 seasons into the new Millennium, and is still one of the best sci-fi shows in history. It's supernatural investigatory premise virtually kickstarted the SciFi Channel, not to mention tons of shows on the WB.

#18: Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
Yes, I have a feminine side. But this show is not about that. It's about the writing. It's about the dialogue. It's about generational conflict, and about a 30-something mom still finding strength within her.

#17: Damages (2007-Present)
There has only been two seasons of this show so far, but they have both been outstanding. Glenn Close is continuing the great work she started on THE SHIELD, and Rose Byrne is a revelation. Great supporting turns are all over this series, from Ted Danson to Zeljko Ivanek to Anastasia Griffith. I am looking forward to a new season in January.

#16: Da Vinci's Inquest (1998-2006)
Imagine CSI, only with humans! This Canadian series is based on an actual Vancouver coroner who became an activist and eventually a politician, gaining the Mayor's office. Nicholas Campbell is great as Dominic Da Vinci, and Ian Tracey and Donnelly Rhodes are great as the main cops that work with Dom. This may not be the last Donnelly Rhodes series on the list. Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Film Noir Program

I've tried not to keep it too much of a secret that I was curating the next edition of the "Essential Film Noir" series running at the Dryden Theater (at George Eastman House) in January and February. Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to announce the line-up of films.

Jan. 7 – White Heat (1949)
Jan. 14 - Gun Crazy (1950)/My Name is Julia Ross (1945) (double feature) – Joseph Lewis
Jan. 21 - Kiss of Death (1947)
Jan. 28 – Crossfire (1947)/The Set-Up (1949) (double feature) – Robert Ryan
Feb. 4 – Dark Passage (1947)
Feb. 11 - Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)/Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) (double feature) – Joan Fontaine
Feb. 18 - Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Feb. 25 – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The double features will start at 7pm. All the other films will start at 8pm. I'm really excited about this line-up, and excited at the possibility that there may be a special guest or two stopping by to help celebrate. There will be many more details to come, including (I hope), sneak peeks at program notes, who is coming and when, and even (gulp) video of film introductions. We'll see how it works out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Forgotten Friday

I was asked by Patti Abbott of the blog Pattinase to contribute to her ongoing series of blog articles called "Forgotten Fridays," essays about books that should never be forgotten. I didn't think there were any books that I had read that others might not know about, until I realized that there was a whole series I loved that I wish more people knew about: The Owen Keane books by Terence Faherty. I chose the fourth book in the series, DIE DREAMING, to focus on because it plays so well with time and cause-and-effect, but really the whole series is that way, jumping from time to time as needed for the narrative. Here is the text of my entry:

Owen Keane is the perfect example of a character that illuminates the prosaic by highlighting the idiosyncratic. His background is like no other: On a religious retreat between his junior and senior years in high school he came across a boy who claimed he could talk to God. When this claim was proven a deceit, his faiths were shaken: his faith in God, his faith in Man, and his faith in The Truth. This event was never far from him, and his crises of faith were internalized, affecting his belief in God, his belief in himself, and his belief in his ability to find the truth. Hoping to tackle all of these crises simultaneously, he abandoned Mary, the woman who would be the love of his life, and entered the seminary. When his failure at the seminary coincided with Mary’s abandonment of him for his college roommate, Harold Ohlman, Owen began to wander, doing odd menial jobs, and ending up in a liquor store. In a fit of pique, he attended his tenth high school reunion under the guise of a private investigator, and Owen Keane, the amateur detective was born.

This backstory is specific enough to be unique, and yet the sum is the same for many of us. Our lives have been an accumulation of events that led us to question the world around us. And to this end, Owen Keane has many of the same investigative tools we all do. As a fan mystery fiction and mystery film, Owen has been indoctrinated into all the tropes and clich├ęs of the detective’s process. His experience is our experience as he references Dashiell Hammett, or Nero Wolfe, or Double Indemnity. This makes him acutely self-aware of his place in the genealogy of detective fiction, but the broad shoulders he stands on don’t prevent him from jumping to the wrong conclusion or following a lead because he hopes it to be true. His failings are our failings, even as his cynical, self-deprecating exterior belies an underlying belief in the goodness of men and women, and the belief that he will be able to effect positive change through the search for truth.

In fact, his currency is truth. Rarely does he get paid for his services, and even then it only covers expenses. But if he can uncover the truth, not necessarily for himself, and not even necessarily for the victim, it adds to a growing tapestry of truth, something that he can point to as a basis for a belief in his ability to find the truth, which supports a belief in himself and in mankind, which holds up the possibility of a belief in the existence and effectiveness of God, despite the fact that faith requires neither proof nor support. Yet this is what drives him to toil in the long shadows of Sam Spade, Nick Charles and Travis McGee.

DIE DREAMING, the fourth book in Terence Faherty’s “Owen Keane” series, is perhaps the best, taking this mystery-fan/faith-in-crisis context and grafting it onto a mystery story that inverts the mystery story expectation of beginning-middle-end. Owen Keane, 28 and feeling a bit of a failure, decides to play a self-deprecating joke on his high school classmates, The Sorrowers, by running an ad for the Owen Keane Detective Agency in the 10th reunion program. But one of The Sorrowers is a jokester herself and sets up a fake mystery to lure Owen into an embarrassing situation. Owen falls for the ruse, but is saved by another classmate. In the meantime, however, a true mystery surfaces when loose lips mention an event that was suppressed 10 years ago and that tied The Sorrowers together in a code of secrecy. Owen’s investigation stumbles along, following false leads and shaky assumptions, but his dogged determination does eventually reveal the truth. It also reveals that there are as many victims as perpetrators, and in the end Owen decides that the truth, now discovered, is sometimes better left buried.

This decision comes into question 10 years later when one of The Sorrowers turns up dead. Owen must come to terms with his responsibility in the death and determine whether the truth did come out, and if someone would kill to keep it hidden. His investigation takes him back to his hometown and his 20th high school reunion. He starts to look at The Sorrowers and the mysterious event that took place 20 years ago, but he has to take into account the changes that have taken place in the last 10 years, when the end of his last investigation became the beginning of this new crime. He discovers that relationships are even more complex than they appeared, and that crimes can have implications generations removed from the original event itself.

There is no better feeling than finding a piece of art that resonates with you, unless you get to share that discovery with someone else. Terence Faherty and Owen Keane were such a discovery for me, and I hope that, by sharing the discovery with you, they will pass from the realms of the forgotten.

I do hope you check out this book and all of Terence Faherty's work. And make sure you check Patti's blog every Friday for books that shouldn't be forgotten.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, Episode 2.9

I spent last night unsuccessfully turning back The Man, so I haven't watched this episode yet, but this is Hulu's description: "When SAMCRO's adult-film business becomes a hindrance to the club, Clay seizes the opportunity to revive the gun-running cartel." Plus, there's fire.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Crime Beat

Candy and two 12-packs of beer were reported stolen Sept. 25 from the Hess convenience store, 1954 Lyell Ave.

Two large candy boxes valued at $44 were reported stolen Sept. 27 from the Hess convenience store, 1954 Lyell Ave.

If at first you do succeed...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crime Beat

Further developments in the case of the one-legged scarecrow. Don't forget to watch the video at the bottom of the page:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, Episode 2.8

The Sons are out of jail, but in the wake of the fight between Jax and Clay, lines are being drawn, and the Club fractures further under the pressure from Zobell, the ATF and Georgie the porn tycoon.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Noir Images - The Red House (1947)

Sometimes a little lighting can make all the difference.

Check out this single shot where Edward G Robinson goes from obsessing about the past to living in it with a neat switch of the light. The light low and to his right is ominous and keeps half his head in shadow, while the light high and to his left is almost like warm sunshine beating down on his face.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I've been sick recently, so I haven't been at the keyboard as much. (Reminds me, I should wash this thing down now that I'm feeling better.) Anyway, as a reward for your patience, I leave you with some images of the world's greatest crimefighters.