The Ice Harvest

ice harvest poster

Loved the book, though I read it after I saw the movie, and not all that long ago at that. Loved the movie too, a particular holiday time favorite of mine, which for some dark and twisted reason always feels especially Christmasy, despite the sleazy settings, crime and murders.

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Scott Phillips debut novel came out in 2000, and Harold Ramis’ film in 2005. The Ice Harvest takes place almost entirely on Christmas Eve 1979 in Wichita Kansas, where wearily cynical mob lawyer Charlie Arglist (John Cusack) and crooked business associate Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) embezzle two million dollars from the mob and understandably need to hightail it out of town before their theft is discovered by local mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid). But a nonstop ice storm and one complication after another have them corralled in town: Charlie’s drunk pal Pete (Oliver Platt) who’s now married to Charlie’s ex-wife, a side trip to locate incriminating photos of a troublemaking politician, a determined mob gunsel on their tail, repeated run-ins with the local cops and Charlie letting love (or lust, more likely) for local strip club manager Renata – played with beguiling charm by Connie Nielsen as one of neo-noir’s better femme fatales – almost be his undoing.

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Make no mistake. Virtually everyone in this film is rotten to the core. But you’ll be rooting for Charlie Arglist till the end, and the suburban Chicago locations that fill in for Wichita, Kansas make for strangely and authentically festive scenes. Being a noir-ish Noel of a film, though, those scenes are mostly sleazy strip clubs, cocktail lounges, gas stations and desolate roads. I missed this one this Christmas season, but I may not wait till December 2019 to give it another viewing. Crooked embezzler John Cusack, buddy Oliver Platt and even scheming Connie Nielsen are like my neo-noir elves.

Holiday Fare: A Farewell.

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I’m writing this on the 5th, so technically it’s still the holiday season and we’re good till the Feast of The Epiphany on January 6th, right? It’s supposed to be the twelve days of Christmas, or so the song says.

But I guess it’s time for fellows to hang up their Rudolph ties with the illuminated noses and to toss out their wilted mistletoe boutonnieres whether they got any laughs or kisses or not. The gals will stuff their snowflake pattern tights into the back of the sock drawer and drop the unworn spangly club dress off at the dry cleaners. The tree will get unplugged, even if the ornaments aren’t boxed up just yet. All the good Christmas gift Godiva’s have been eaten, so only the really weird ones are left in the fancy gold box, the half full bottles of syrupy sweet holiday wine should probably be spilled out. And, yes: It’s time to concede that it really is too late to mail the Christmas cards.

Once again, December sped by without enough time set aside to re-watch some cherished Christmas favorites, and I don’t mean the 24-7 merry-marathon of saccharine seasonal romances on The Hallmark Channel. Normally I squeeze in a couple nights for Shane Black’s brilliant Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or even the first Lethal Weapon movie. Better yet, Harold Ramis’ 2005 The Ice Harvest (a particular favorite of mine) and actor/director Robert Montgomery’s 1947 Lady In The Lake.

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Montgomery’s directorial debut isn’t dripping in holly and mistletoe and, in fact, was originally intended to be set in mid-summer, using a script penned by the source novel’s author, Raymond Chandler himself. It was some two years later that MGM finally went into production, by then using a briefer (by nearly a third) script by Steve Fisher, which switched things to Christmastime. The holiday setting aside, the story bears little resemblance to Chandler’s novel. Still, there’s a generous bit of vintage 1940’s B&W Christmasy-ness evident throughout, including the film’s opening credits, flipping through a series of Christmas cards that conceal a gun.

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You know this flick, of course, because of actor/director Montgomery decision to mimic Chandler’s (and so many other hard-boiled crime novels) first person narrative approach by shooting nearly the entire film from private eye Philip Marlowe’s POV. We only see what he (Montgomery) sees. It feels a little gimmicky at first and takes some getting used to, but applause to Montgomery for some brave artistry. (Then again, please note that this was his last film with MGM after an 18 year relationship.)

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Audrey Totter is terrific but then she always was. As for Lloyd Nolan, I prefer him as a tough-talkin’ good guy – or at least a sort of good guy. Robert Montgomery may not be most readers’ vision of Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, anymore than Dick Powell was, but both contemporaries acquitted themselves well, IMHO. The story? Well, it’s a little convoluted, but most adaptations of Chandler’s novels were, and lets face it, Chandler’s novels themselves were pretty convoluted. We don’t read them for neatly crafted whodunits. But the movie’s a lot of fun and suitable seasonal viewing for any classic noir and mystery fan, so I’ll earmark Lady In The Lake for the next Christmas and be more diligent about setting out the syrupy wine and edible gifted Godiva’s for a movie night in 2019.

Merry, Merry Miley

miley cyrus jimmy fallon santa babyNothing noir-ish, criminal or even remotely mysterious here…just a holiday tidbit.

I’ll steer clear of the brouhaha over radio stations dropping the 1944 pop carol Baby, It’s Cold Outside from their Christmas playlists. Yeah, P.C. I kinda get it, mostly don’t, and still think it’s just a cute retro holiday tune.

But I did get a real kick out of Miley Cyrus’ rework of the 1953 holiday-goldigger tune Santa Baby, written by Joan Javitz and Phil Springer and originally a hit (and kind of a trademark song) for Eartha Kitt…then again for Madonna on 1987’s A Very Special Christmas album and covered by many artists since, including Kyle Minogue, Taylor Swift and others. The merriment’s plainly mercenary in that song, but once again, in a cute, retro way. Still, I loved Cyrus’ take on it, kind of standing the song on its ear, all in a pretty charming skit.

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In a Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon segment that was spot-on reminiscent of old 1960’s variety show holiday specials, Miley Cyrus argues backstage with host Jimmy Fallon over the implicit message in the Santa Baby tune. But once the band starts up, she has no choice but to head out onstage. Decked out in sleek red and green holiday-chic, Cyrus ambles into a festive living room set while Fallon and guest (and Miley Cyrus collaborator) Mark Ronson appear in green, white and plaid outfits right out of an old Andy Williams Christmas specials’ wardrobe archives. Cyrus takes a seat on a divan for her song while Fallon and Ronson clumsily cavort behind her. She belts out the tune in that throaty honky-tonk voice she’s had since her Disney Channel days and without a hint of Kitt or Madonna’s coy coquette, igniting some well-deserved mid-song cheers from the ladies in the audience. No diamonds, deeds or car keys for this girl, Santa. She can buy her own damn stuff, and would prefer equal pay, not being interrupted or grabbed at work. The song, the skit and the clowning around were all fun, and with the clip everywhere online, I hope it becomes a new holiday classic. Cyrus kicked some serious Xmas-ass.

The revamped lyrics are below, so a ho-ho-ho to you too!

Santa baby, I hear you got some presents for me,
Miley.

I’ve been an awfully good girl.
Santa baby, still hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa baby, I don’t need any fancy jewelry,
Not me. 

I’ve got something else in mind.
Santa baby, I don’t need your presents tonight.

Don’t want diamonds, cash, or stars,
Nothing that comes in a box.
No more fluff, I’ve had enough.
And I can buy my own damn stuff.

Santa baby, I bought a car of my own,
Alone.

Bought it all by myself,
Santa baby, with zero help from Elf on a Shelf.

Listen Santa to what I say:
A girl’s best friend is equal pay.
So stop interrupting me when I talk
And don’t text me pictures of your (junk).

Santa baby, I’d love to know my ass won’t get grabbed
At work. 

By some ignorant jerk.
Tell the dirt bag to put away the chimney tonight.
Put away the chimney tonight.
Just put away your chimney tonight.

Eartha Kitt-Santa Baby

A Noir Noel

Blast Of Silence

Noir Noel: Some darkly noir-ish holiday images from New jersey photographer and self-described ‘visual raconteur’ Mark Krajnak. Look for more of his work at Jersey Style Photography (jerseystylephotography.wordpress.com)

Trouble Out Of Sight

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A Hard-Boiled Christmas

Hard boiled christmas stories

Okay, I’ve waded through snow at home three times so far this season, and this weekend I’ll be a few hundred miles further north where some heaps of white stuff await. So I guess that means there’s no hope of Indian Summer returning before Autumn ends. It’s really December. And almost Christmas.

There are always loads of cozy Christmas themed mysteries released around the holidays. Instead, how about Hard-Boiled Christmas Stories, edited by John Wooley and John McMahon, a 2012 Reverse Karma Press release with 10 holiday themed hard-boiled crime stories from 1930’s and 40’s pulp magazines including Detective Fiction Weekly, Dime Detective, Phantom Detective, Popular Detective and G-Men Detective. This also includes a new “Dan Turner – Hollywood Detective” story penned by John Wooley and emulating the style of the character’s creator, Richard Bellem. The book’s 8-page introduction incudes some nice background and bio info. The Dan Turner tale’s B&W illustrations and the book’s cover art are by David Saunders, son of golden age illustrator Norman Saunders, though he notes that he was trying to do one in the style of H.J. Ward.

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