This and That

458490967My wife and daughter are in France for a month, so I’m all alone at home…unless you count my daughter’s dog, the hamster and the fish. I feel like a zoo keeper…my life has become BORN FREE in a tract home. But the solitude has given me the chance to catch up on some books and movies, when I’m not cleaning backyards, cages and fish tanks…


This French spy spoof is everything GET SMART wanted to be and AUSTIN POWERS should have been. It perfectly mimics the look, feel, sound, fashion and acting style of the 1960s spy films down to the smallest, lovingly crafted detail. And on top of that, it’s hilariously funny, too.



This a bloody, dark comedy about two hit men who are sent by their boss to chill out in Bruges, Belgium after an assignment goes bad. I loved everything about this film which, in terms of tone and violence, is sort of a cross between PULP FICTION, JACKIE BROWN and SEXY BEAST. I don’t understand why this movie didn’t generate some attention…it’s seemed to open and close in a weekend here in L.A.. It’s a shame, because this may be one of the best movies I’ve seen all year.


Sure, the stunts and effects are cool, but this movie left me cold. I just never got into the characters or the story. I found myself glancing at my watch, biding my time until the next stunt. It badly wants to be THE MATRIX or BOURNE IDENTITY, but to me it felt like I was watching a video game instead of an actualPoster1 movie.


A post-Civil War western starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, both of whom were totally miscast.
Not that it mattered. It’s a strange cross between OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, JEREMIAH JOHNSON, and RAMBO, and not a fraction as entertaining or fresh as those movies. Brosnan plays a former Union soldier (who apparently has Navy SEAL survival training) relentlessly pursued through snow-capped mountains and parched deserts by vengeance-seeking former Rebel soldier Neeson. Neither man is a villain or a hero which is, of course, the point of the movie, which is driven home with the subtlety of a wrecking ball. The movie seems tired, familiar, and pointless.


This isn’t a movie, but rather one of the hot galleys from BookExpo. It’s by first-time author Andrew Davidson and it’s a breath-taking, though problematic, debut. The story falls into what is becoming something of a genre unto itself:  the “wounded man finds redemption and love with the woman who nurses him back to health” and who endures his agony by escaping into a Gargoyle
fantasy world of imagination and flashbacks. The story, as a result, shares some similarities to THE ENGLISH PATIENT, THE SINGING DETECTIVE and THE WATERDANCE, to name a few. Despite some familiar motifs, this is a brilliant, compelling, and darkly funny novel…at least for the first two-thirds. It’s about a coked-up porno actor who is in a terrible car accident that nearly burns him alive. It’s in the burn ward that he meets a woman who is either a schizophrenic or his lover from several past lives. To say more would ruin things. I was enthralled for the first two thirds of the book, as much by the story as the prose. Davidson is a master storyteller, and I don’t say that lightly. I can’t believe this is his first novel. The writing and structure evokes John Irving, Robertson Davies, and Susanna Clarke…with several “side trips” that could stand alone as mini-novellas (something Irving has done in several of his books by having his “author” characters share their stories or by using extended, anecdotal flashbacks). The book fumbles in the finale third, with an extended dream sequence and a limp, pointlessly drawn out conclusion that doesn’t satisfy on any level. It doesn’t matter. That small disappointment is more than outweighed by the brilliance of what precedes it. The characters, images and stories in this amazing book will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. I strongly recommend it.

Get Smart Isn’t

I loved the TV series GET SMART and I still do. You could pick any episode from the first three seasons of GET SMART and it would be ten times funnier than Steve Carrell’s new movie version. The GET SMART movie is a listless, laughless remake that makes THE NUDE BOMB, the last GET SMART feature film, look like brilliant comedy. But while I was sitting there, fighting sleep and debating whether to walk out or not, it occurred to me that GET SMART has a lot of the same problems as Steve Martin’s THE PINK PANTHER remake. In both cases, someone made the inept decision to make the bumbling heroes smart and capable…and very good at what they do. Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau were lovable, clueless, idiots who thought they were brilliant at what they did…and were far, far from it. That was what made them so funny. So why change the key aspect of their characters? The two Steves are extraordinarily funny guys — but have their egos become so big they are hesitant about playing morons? That wasn’t a problem for either one of them in the past (see THE JERK or ANCHORMAN).  If they didn’t want to play Maxwell Smart and Inspector Clouseau as we know and love them…then why bother playing the parts at all? They even screwed up the “Would you believe” and “missed it by that much” jokes.

The only thing I liked about the GET SMART movie was the very, very, very in-joke of seeing Carrell use all three of the cars that Maxwell Smart drove in the series opening title sequence (cameos by Bernie Kopell and Leonard Stern seemed awkwardly shoe-horned into the movie). But that one moment was hardly worth the agony of watching the rest of the movie.

The Drama Behind Drama

Today was the first day of a three-day “International Drama Summit”
that MediaXChange, in cooperation with CBS, NATPE and Fox, put
together here in L.A.  A sobering fact came out of a panel discussion today with Jeff
Wachtel, head of USA Network, and David Stapf, head of programming for
CBS and Paramount. They were asked point-blank by David Zucker (who
heads Ridley Scott’s TV production company) if they would ever buy a contemporary TV
series set in Europe or South America, written and produced by
Americans and starring American actors…and they both answered with a flat-out NO.

The only exceptions Stapf and Wachtel said they would consider would be
shows set in the past (ala ROME, THE TUDORS or ROBINSON CRUSOE) or that
are science fiction (which are likely to be set on other planets,
regardless of what country they are shot in).  They believe that
America audiences simply won’t accept a contemporary series set in
Europe, no matter how big the stars are. They said there hasn’t been a
successful network show set in Europe since the days of THE AVENGERS,
THE SAINT and I SPY thirty five years ago…and they were unwilling to be the ones to try to break that record.

(So, if their views reflect those of other American network chiefs, I was doomed on FAST TRACK as a series before I ever started…though the movie has quite done well internationally as a “one off” and made money)

That said, Stapf and Wachtel said they are very open to buying formats from overseas
and setting them in America…as the networks have done in a big way this season LIFE ON MARS, 11th HOUR, MYTHOLOGICAL EX, THE
TREATMENT, and NY-LON, to name a few. The key is adapting the format to what they called our “uniquely American sensibility.” A BBC exec on the panel said the biggest difference was story-telling…he said British programs tend to meander more, “though there is some pleasure to be had in meandering.”

They also talked about how immensely successful U.S. shows are in
Europe and that American studios actively consider the international sales
potential of whatever they are developing for the domestic networks.

There was also a fascinating panel of executives and content providers discussing the potential for drama on the web. Christopher Sandberg, of the Companyp in Sweden, said the key difference between TV and the web comes is how they view the relationship between content and the audiences. In the broadcast model, the important thing is getting the viewer to click his remote to your program and to stay there to watch it. In the web model, it’s not getting the audience to the content that counts, it’s what the audience does when they get there that matters…and that is what is saleable to advertisers. Passive viewing isn’t enough in the new media world. What the web provider is selling advertisers is the audience involvement, and how people are experiencing, interactin with, & utilizing the content…not simply the audience’s eyeballs.

Fascinating stuff.

Leaving Kentucky

This was the final day of the International Mystery Writer's Festival. CSI Creator Anthony Zuiker and I did a panel together that became a wide-ranging discussion about TV, the state of the industry, and the balance between story & high concept in a series (that's Bob Levinson, striking his usual pose, with Zuiker and me). It was a lot of fun and I think I found it as informative as the enthusiastic audience did. I caught the last stage performance of MAPES FOR HIRE (which the local newspaper reported today may be heading to Monterey as early as August) and was a presenter at the Second Annual Angie Awards, where special honors/statuettes were given to Zuiker and Mary Higgins Clark for their contributions to the mystery genre. At the riverfront "after party," I chatted for quite Watson
some time with Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson who, in addition to being extremely affable and engaging, is the widest man I've ever met. Not fat, W I D E. I mean he's just huge…and strong. He casually slapped me on the back with a hearty laugh, dislocating my shoulder and paralyzing me from the neck down for ten minutes. You don't want to arm-wrestle with this man.
All in all, I had a fantastic time…as both a participant and a play-goer, and look forward to attending the Festival again some day. A woman who came to one of my booksigning even invited me and my family to stay at her home, that's how friendly and hospitable people in Kentucky are. I lost count of how many women, young and old, called me "honey," "sweetie," "sugar," and  "sweetheart" this week. I'm afraid if my wife comes with me next time, she's going to think I slept with every woman in town.

The Jewish Colonels

J. Allen Eskridge III, Kentucky's assistant Secretary of State, made my day at a packed ceremony at RiverPark Performing Arts Center. On behalf of the Governor and the Secretary of State, Eskridge presented Gene Hackman with a scroll commissioning him as a Kentucky Colonel, the state's highest honor, and told the Academy Award winning actor that he would be joining a distinguished list "that includes Winston Churchill,  Muhammad Ali, and Lee Goldberg." I'm sure Gene was very flattered to be in my company.
My friend Bob Levinson also became a Colonel today, and an honorary judge, and got the key to the city. Stuart Kaminsky got all that stuff, too. The Jews are invading Owensboro. Expect a Kosher deli to open on Main Street any day now.

I'm guessing about 500 people lined up to have Gene Hackman sign their books. It must have been a shock to Mary Higgins Clark. For perhaps the first time in decades, her signing line was shorter than another attending author's. If her ego was bruised, she didn't show it. She was elegant, charming and gracious, as usual. I won't tell you how long my line was. Let's just say I was a distant third. Or maybe fourth.

I'm sneaking  out for some more BBQ now before CSI creator Anthony Zuiker screens some clips from his show and answers questions  on the big, out-door stage. I'll try not the stain my shirt.

(A big thank you to Bryan Leazenby of Onsite Images for taking the photo)

Mr. Monk and the Blog Reviews

MR. MONK GOES TO GERMANY is author/publisher/editor/reviewer/man-of-the-world Ed Gorman's favorite Monk book so far. He says, in part:

For me the only thing more fun than watching Monk is reading the
adventures Lee Goldberg creates for him.

[…]As usual Mr. Goldberg not only keeps the story rolling, he also
gives us a plenty of smiles and out-loud laughs along the way. This
time he gives a sense of a foreign milieu as well, some very sly travel
commentary from time to time. The Monk books take a series that
is one of the best on TV and makes it even better. No small
accomplishment. I can't wait for the next one

But if that wasn't flattering enough, Ed goes on to talk about my novel THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE.

Whenever I review one of Lee's books I feel guilty if I don't mention his masterpiece, The Man With The Iron-On Badge. This
is a novel that pays tribute to the classic private eyes by introducing
a funny, cranky, sly and very bright guy named Harvey Mapes who between
honoring his twin obsessions junk food and crime fiction on page and tv
screen manages to become more than just a security guard–he becomes a
private eye, kind of.

[…]The mystery here is cleverly drawn and not without grit and real
suspense. The other aspect is the tour of LA that Lee/Harvey takes us
on. Too much of LA fiction plays the usual songs. But the cunning
detail in Iron-On Badge makes everything from gated communities to
eating at Denny's seem brand new. This is because we're seeing it
through the eyes of a burned-out working class guy who takes us inside
his dotty but endearing fantasy life.

This is one of those novels that will be around for a long, long time. It's that good.

I hope he's right, though the book is hard-to-find. I still haven't managed to get a deal for a mass market paperback edition…but I'm working on it.

Thanks so much, Ed!