It’s a Michael Mann kind of week!
1. Michael Mann by F.X. Feeney (Taschen Press)/
Miami Vice: Unrated Director’s Edition (Universal)
The wonderful critic Feeney seizes the opportunity to write a coffee-table book and turns it into the best sustained essay on Mann in print. Feeney uses the format fully, running a still of Robert De Niro contemplating fate during a cobalt-blue night in Heat next to a painting by Alex Colville that mirrors the actor’s posture and mood. He provides a Mann quote — ”My approach to films tends to be structural, formal, abstract and humanist” — that reveals almost everything you need to know about Miami Vice, which you really ought to see in its DVD version. When Colin Farrell and Gong Li do it in the shower, Mann’s commentary track tells you why he imported the kind of tile used in the bathroom: He’s simultaneously dead serious and impeccably deadpan.
2. Feel what it’s like to knife someone in Richard S. Prather’s The Peddler
(Hard Case Crime novel)
Prather is a pulp novelist who’s been churning ’em out since the ’50s; his series character is the private eye Shell Scott. (I remember my late mother consuming Scott novels the way I used to down Three Musketeers bars.) Like John D. MacDonald, however, some of Prather’s best, most enjoyably grungy, and low-down work can be found in his stand-alone novels, of which this 1952 reprint is a prime example of pulp writing at its least purple yet most bruising. Its ”hero” is Tony Romero, an ambitious San Francisco pimp working his way up through the ranks to take over the city’s prostitution network as well as any other illegal sideline he can wangle. To do so, sometimes you have to stick a shiv into a competitor: ”Tony looked at him, feeling the knife in the man’s body, and a hot flood of excitement swept over his own body, making his flesh warm… Tony knew that with only the slightest pressure he could thrust the knife deeper, so deep that the life under his hands would drain out slowly… He stared into the panicked man’s face and said, ‘I’ll kill you, Alterie, I’ll kill you, kill you.”
3. ”Teenagers” on My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade
It’s been out for months now, and I keep waiting for these neo-glam-emo poseurs’ album to become tiresome. Instead, I keep finding cuts I play over and over, like this one, which speaks some truth about an adolescence they aren’t just glad is over but is a condition that, as they sing, now frightens them. A fine joke on an album that tries to be humorless and pretentious and fails, gloriously, again and again.
4. Battlestar Galactica mid-season finale
(Friday, Sci Fi, 9 p.m.)
What a grueling first-half season it has been, and I mean that as a compliment. I don’t need the metaphorical overlay many fans are applying to this series’ current plotlines — its echoes of current issues in Iraq, most prominently — when the show itself has such sweat-it-out suspense and mind-bending twists that stand up on their own merits. No matter what cliff the finale chooses to hang from, Battlestar is providing Mary McDonnell (as Laura Roslin), Michael Hogan (Saul Tigh), Lucy Lawless (D’Anna Biers, a.k.a. Number Three), and James Callis (Gaius Baltar) with some of the juiciest acting challenges of any drama, network or cable.
5. Dr. Strange: The Oath
This five-issue miniseries revives a 1960s character who was best known for mystical powers that made no sense conjured by oaths that made even less (”By the mystic moons of Munnopor!”). Writer Brian K. Vaughan, who specializes in comics that make the most of a novel combination of elation and despair (see Y: The Last Man and Runaways), brings Dr. Strange down to earth with a plot about finding a cure for cancer. Rather than being insufferable, or ”poignant,” the result is endearing. Vaughan and artist Marcos Martin have managed magic: They’ve made Dr. Strange earthy.