Scrolling through options under a “David Mamet” search on my Roku, “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” (2012) comes up a lot. (It’s currently available for free with ads on Vudu.) It’s only tangential to Mamet, who is one of the interview subjects in the documentary. But Jay (1946-2018), like Mamet, is fascinating to listen to when he talks about his craft, so this will likely be of interest to both Mamet fans and magic fans.
The Terror” was one of the most gripping series of 2018, a rare horror TV show that maintains a creepy aura even with the escape provided by commercial breaks. It’s slow-paced, and it doesn’t stick the landing, so it barely missed my end-of-year list. But I’m happy to return for “The Terror: Infamy” (Mondays on AMC).
The Amazon Prime description for “Lansky” (1999) includes “notorious,” “gambling,” “bootlegging,” “racketeering” and “murder,” but the film – written by David Mamet and directed by John McNaughton for HBO – paints a warm picture of mob boss Meyer Lansky (1902-83). Along with a treasure of a performance by Richard Dreyfuss, “Lansky” is driven by the intrinsic fascination of someone who is a normal family man and skilled businessman, but who is targeted by the U.S. federal government and hated by a percentage of the populace.
David Mamet is known for writing great dialog, but “The Old Religion” — his 1997 novel about the murder trial and conviction of innocent Jewish factory manager Leo Frank in 1914 Atlanta — is mostly an inner monologue. While the book is based on historical facts, getting into Frank’s head is purely a matter of the author’s imagination. But the directions Frank’s mind goes in as he tries to make sense of what’s being done to him feel accurate.
Vanya on 42nd Street” (1994) is structured unlike anything I’ve seen before. It starts with the actors walking along the packed sidewalks of the Big Apple to a decrepit abandoned theater where they are rehearsing “Uncle Vanya,” David Mamet’s translation of the 1898 Russian play by Anton Chekhov. But then we – along with a few friends of the play’s director, Andre Gregory – are soon watching the play itself, in its entirety.
Keith R.A. DeCandido, who wrote the solid “Serenity” novelization, checks into the Buffyverse with the series’ most heavily researched novel in terms of real-world details. It’s clear “Blackout” (August 2006) is close to the heart of the author. He lived in New York City as a kid in July 1977, the same time as the real-world 25-hour blackout and looting, and the time of the fictional showdown between Nikki Wood the Vampire Slayer and Spike.
David Mamet’s screenplays are among the most accessible in cinema because he writes – and his actors speak – in a heightened, rhythmic way that’s a pleasure to listen to even as it still feels natural. His dialog in “Chicago” (2018), his fourth novel but first of this millennium, is challenging because his characters talk in a 1920s Windy City fashion that has no rhythm and initially presents a stumbling block. I stuck with the book, though, and I’m glad I did because this is ultimately a horrifying and fascinating portrayal of the ins and outs of merchant-city corruption that sticks with a reader.
Iwouldn’t mind looking at a series of still photos from “The Untouchables” (1987) or listening to the genre-hopping score by Ennio Morricone. But when watching the film, I kept expecting character depth or layers of insight into alcohol Prohibition and the government-versus-mob battles, and these things never emerge. There are occasional lines with a David Mamet flavor (“Yes, surprise is half the battle. A lot of things are half the battle. Losing is half the battle”), but his screenplay doesn’t take the reins of “The Untouchables,” and the film doesn’t rise above something that looks gorgeous and sounds pretty.
It’s a sign of a prolific author when even death doesn’t stop them from putting out novels, and such was the case with Michael Crichton (1942-2008), whose posthumous output includes “Pirate Latitudes” (2009), “Micro” (2011) and “Dragon Teeth” (2017). For some reason, I didn’t read “Pirate Latitudes” when it came out, perhaps thinking that Crichton didn’t intend for it to be released, since it was “discovered” on his computer rather than submitted by the author to his publisher.
Writer-director Peter Farrelly smooths out the excesses of his filmmaking traits for the surprisingly mainstream and easy-to-like “Green Book” (2018), now back in theaters and also available for home viewing. It’s not as funny as his best films like “Dumb and Dumber” and not as high-concept as the likes of “Stuck on You” and “Shallow Hal.” It’s possibly a crass grab at mainstream and critical acceptance, but it’s hard to quibble with the finished product.