Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks: February

The Americans Season 2 - Joe Weisberg - Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) continue their double life as Washington DC suburban parents and deep-cover Soviet agents living in Reagan's America through season 2, and things get delightfully worse and more complicated for everybody involved - including their children, co-workers and neighbors. The show improved, as all my favorites tend to in their second season, in part from the weight of time spent with the characters and from rubbing the audience's nose in their sympathies (wherever they may lie). It also benefited from the addition of a top-notch antagonist (Lee Tergesen as Andrew Larrick) whose presence elevated every aspect of the show from the suspense to the moral stakes to the grounding the whole affair in history. Best moment: Larrick and Elizabeth square off over another soviet agent.

Bad Turn Worse - Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins - A trio of Texas teens, soon to be parting ways after high school graduation, celebrate the end of their time together by blowing a bunch of money over a weekend that one of them ripped off of a local drug dealer. Said bad guy Giff (Mark Pellegrino) proves himself to be a ruthless bastard though and ambitious to boot, forcing the kids to pull a second heist that will tip the power balance of the region's vice business his direction. I enjoyed the film for its self-assured tone and sense of scale as well as the small town Texas vibe it gave off comfortably and believably, but I resisted some of the elements too: the dream girl who's both book smart (crime novel aficionado no less!) and a grease monkey - she's both boys' wet dream - or generally teenaged characters who think and behave like adults, plus the end has about two twists too many for its refreshingly straight-forward set up. Looking forward to more from the Hawkins brothers who have obvious talent and similar interests to me - call this one a promising start, let's hope not their masterpiece. Best moment: Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) tries to get help from the sheriff (Jon Gries). That's the, 'oh, they're really, truly fucked' moment and it's really nicely handled, especially by Gries.

Boardwalk Empire Season 5 - Terrence Winter - Very satisfying close to my favorite TV show. Left no circle unclosed, and even expanded the scope of the show (very slightly) going into Cuba and the past (and holy heck, the actors cast as young Nucky, Nolan Lyons and Marc Pickering, add dimension to the central character of a compelling ensemble cast and focus to the sprawling story). Sad to see the show go, but happy it went out so strong. Best moment: Chalky plays his final card.

The Brothers Bloom - Rian Johnson - A pair of confidence men ply their craft in a final elaborately staged drama before retiring. Initially I resisted the film crying too precious, too weightless, too bloodless to care about, but upon revisiting I realized that criticizing it for lack of substance is like complaining that a fizzy pop isn't black coffee. True, it's not my usual preferred fare, but it is effortlessly charming and c'mon Mark Ruffalo is highly watchable always. Third of three in Johnson's body of work to date, but not a black mark. Best moment: not sure, but I guarantee Ruffalo was on screen.

Felony - Matthew Saville - When an off duty detective (screenwriter Joel Edgerton) is involved in an auto accident, he reports the incident as a hit and run and pretends to be a witness, making a bad situation worse. The responding officers, a May/December pair (Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney), clash over the suspicions one has about his fellow officer's story and the need for solidarity, politics and the y'know brotherhood. Meanwhile, some kid is in a coma and der copper's soul is melting. The film makers took a pretty juicy premise and sucked all the bigness out of it - and that's not a complaint - leaving us with a downbeat, workaday drama more concerned with the long term cost than the short term thrills. This is my second exposure to Saville, and though it isn't as good as Noise, it takes a solid step toward defining his sensibilities in a damned attractive outline. It also firms up my estimation of Edgerton as a writer. I'd be happy to kick in to keep these guys making similar movies. Best moment: random sobriety test.

Jack Irish: Bad Debts - Jeffrey Walker - Guy Pearce plays Jack, a former attorney turned debt collector washout whose past
isn't finished with him. Adapted from the novels by Peter Temple, Jack Irish is part of the alarming trend of turning book series into television series - wait, that's not the alarming bit - with a 1/1 book to episode ratio. Gak! I'm afraid it's one and done for me. Man... I'm hoping the Bosch tvs from Michael Connelly's books cor-fucking-rects this trend by giving us a slower burn on plot and a heavier focus on tone and character, 'cause if there's a single disposable element to crime dramas on television it's the machinations of plot. Best moment: trying to watch something on VHS.
John Wick - Chad Stahelski - They killed the wrong motherfucker's dog. Scott Phillips and I developed the Bronson scale for rating movies while we were writing our own 'best Charles Bronson movie you never saw' and this film received 3&1/2 Bronsons from a trusted source, so hopes were high going in. I agree in spirit with my friend's Bronson rating, but disagree that it's a particularly good fit for Charlie mostly for the elements that I found most enjoyable here - the otherworldly ones. The deeper this flick crawls up its own ass, the weirder, sharper, funnier and more exciting it becomes. I understand there's a sequel coming and shit, I hope there's a trilogy, 'cause there's whole lotta goods to be harvested from this premise. Best moment: Wick shoots a priest.
Predestination - Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig - Ethan Hawke plays John, a cop who chases a terrorist through time and gets dizzy. Once you start to see where this one's heading (pretty early) it becomes a lot less about twists and more about architecture - or framing. How do you chose to tell this story? What kind of frame do you put around it? Where/when do you focus and upon whom? Whatever conclusions you come to, it's at least interesting to consider the construct the Spierig Brothers built to facilitate this adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's short story All You Zombies. It's a relief to realize Sarah Snook isn't attempting to Jaye Davidson us and once that's out of way (again - early), she's interesting to watch, but it's more choices like making half(?) the film be two actors in one conversation that make it feel like maybe you haven't really seen all of this before. Not sure I want to take the time to rewatch and consider it, but I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. Best moment: Hawke watches the lovers on the park bench.

Public Enemies - Michael Mann - John Dillinger and Melvin Purvis are the stuff of popular mythology and less than a character study or biopic about either this one really is like an artist's sincere and uncomplicated take on a standard ballad - one he assumes his audience is already very familiar with. Enjoyed it, but wasn't bowled over upon its release, but a few short years later, I'm happy to report that it's only gotten better. Love the Mann-ness of it all - the themes, the professionalism that masks the deeper dysfunctions, the gorgeous dirty clarity of his digital camera, the editing and the attentions to detail make this one highly rewatchable and, now I'll say it, a future classic waiting to be rediscovered. Best moment: Dillinger (Johnny Depp) and Walter Dietrich (James Russo) almost make it.

The Purge: Anarchy - James DeMonaco - An annual 12 hours of de-criminalized criminality is a pretty simple and terrific set up for an exploitation film franchise and I'm happy to see the sequel jump from the Last House on the Left/Straw Dogs-esque home-invasion horror of the first to an Escape From New York/The Warriors urban jungle vibe. What could be next? Purge Tour Guides for rich fucks who want to kill the deadliest prey ala The Most Dangerous Game, Hard Target/Surviving the Game? I'd show up. Best moment: that one where they're being chased.

Salvo - Fabio Grassadonia, Antonio Piazza - Salvo (Saleh Bakri), bodyguard and killer for a local crime boss (Mario Pupella) thwarts an attack on his employer, then hunts down the man responsible for it and in the process takes away his enemy's blind sister's only support. If you've ever seen a hitman movie before then you know that this means that he's now responsible for her life - especially if she's attractive - and Rita (Sara Serraiocco) most certainly is. Shit, this sounds exactly like John Woo's The Killer now that I type it out loud. Oh well, The Killer it ain't, but what it is is very worthwhile. A crime/action thriller with a strange, nearly supernatural twist, it is the work of film makers with their own sensibility and clearly having a story they wanted to tell (Salvo is an expansion on themes first explored in their 2009 short film Rita) and features one exceptional extended sequence, the Best moment: the botched hit, turned Salvo's reversal and Rita's experience of the attack. That was a stunning piece of movieness right there.

Two Faces of January - Hossein Amini - Opportunistic American ex-pats in Greece cross paths, purposes, hot blood and cold cash in this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name. Rejoice Highsmith fans, 'cause though I haven't read the source material, the film feels so very right, and by right, of course, I mean wrong. They brought out the venal, opportunistic and the striving of these characters. They brought the nasty and the desperation all around. And, more importantly, by doing all of that, they preserved the humanity of these characters. They are far more relatable and readily investable than your average Tom Ripley in film adaptations (save perhaps for Alain Delon in Purple Noon who brought us in very close) where most of the attention seems to be given to how skilled he is at getting things done. This trio (Colette, Chester and Rydal - Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac respectively) have mostly already done what got them into their situations and what we get to focus on is the cost of their choices. The results are pretty thrilling. (Side bar: how amazing has Mortensen's post-Lord of the Rings career been? Dude is consistently one of the most intriguing performers and choosers of projects out there and, to my mind, deserves a lot more credit  for both aspects that keep him a vital presence. After decades of bit parts in big movies, he lands the lead in the biggest ones, then has the freedom to make bold choices in little films - can't wait for Jauja). Best moment: Rydal and Chester's double date night is terrific. The two recognize themselves in the other, but do not disengage for intriguing tension.

The Wild Geese - Andrew McLaglen - A group of aging, beret-sporting mercenaries are pulled together to violently meddle in third world politics for the benefit of first world money men. It's a tale as old as time based on the novel by Daniel Carney and starring the original Expendables Richard Burton, Richard Harris and Roger Moore doing what they do best - killing tersely and speaking eloquent-ish-ly - so what more do you need? As a piece of popular entertainment from a time gone by it's rife with chuckle/grimace bait and manages a few gems of tonal dissonance (how about the a-warring-we-will-go march that scores scenes of warm up to slaughtering blackies?), but it earns its slot in the lineup, batting cleanup after Zulu, Zulu Dawn and The Man Who Would Be King have loaded the bases. That is to say... I kinda loved it. Best moment: Witty (Kenneth Griffith), the medic and token homosexual, has some delightful last words.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Arkansas it Coming

I don't get jealous too often. Most of the time I walk around feeling like I just stole a Camero, crashed a gated community, broke into your dad's liquor cabinet and got a blow job from the head cheerleader while your mom made me pancakes.  Every single day that I don't wake up in jail is a sweet, scandalous mercy. All to say I don't think that I deserve good things. Maybe that's why I'm happy. All you poor fuckers out there who think you deserve to be happy... you ARE characters in your own personal noirs. But holy hell - I see pictures like this and get a little worked up. Sure that pic could've been taken at a St. Louis N@B event, but that there's N@B stars Benjamin Whitmer and Jake Hinkson appearing together on a book tour in fucking Paris, France - yeah, where the naked ladies dance.

The French have, I gotta say it, taste. Have you seen the lineup of my fucking pals they're currently eating up? Add to Hinks and Whitmer Jon Bassoff, Todd Robinson, Steve Weddle and Matthew McBride and... damn. I am boner-fide jealous. No offense to your mom's pancakes, but, believe it or not, that's the company I'd rather be keeping.

So I'll beat this tired-ass drum once more

Did you know that there's some kick ass, world-class art being made and published in your own back yard? Yes, yours. I don't care where you live. If you don't know who or what or where, do a little digging - it's out there. And if there's one thing the N@B community has taught me it's that if you build it - they will come... from like... Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Illinois or Arkansas.

But... I lose focus.

I'm jealous. Jealous, I tell you. I look at that picture of Whitmer and Hinkson and think I've lived in Arkansas and Colorado. I want to go to France.

Let's hope this Brass Knuckle interview in Revolution John is my first step toward international notoriety. Thanks to Gabino Iglesias for shining a light on this dog's ass, and my sincerest fucking apologies to Rusty Barnes whose name I fucking wrecked in this interview while trying to point people toward his excellent book, Reckoning.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hardcore Heist Stories

Caught Julius Avery's fantastic debut feature Son of a Gun this week and Eddie Little's swan song Steel Toes last month. Loved both and whaddayaknow both were hardcore crime stories of criminal family dynamics that begin as prison dramas and proceed to heist stories and Son of a Gun pulled off the near impossible by thrilling me with a car chase - so, damn. That takes crazy skill. Tried to look up a post I'd done a few years ago for another site on heist material and it had disappeared from the web, so hopefully without repeating myself too badly, here are a few of my heist favorites...

The original post I'd done was upon the release of The Kings of Midnight by Wallace Stroby. His Crissa Stone books, which begin with Cold Shot to the Heart are well worth catching up with.

And hell, I mentioned Eddie Little already. If you haven't read his two novels Another Day in Paradise and Steel Toes, you've denied yourself long enough. They're not making 'em like that anymore.

But I first came to Little's work through the excellent film version of Another Day in Paradise from director Larry Clark and screenwriters Christopher Landon and Stephen Chin. It starred a pre-Mad Men Vincent Kartheiser and post-Lost Highway Natasha Gregson Wagner as young junkies in bliss and crime taken under the wing of older, savvier junkie thieves Melanie Griffith and James Woods. The flick is a terrific underbelly criminal Americana period piece, though I have to agree with fans of the novel, that it's a far cry from the power of the book. So, I'm going to go ahead and recommend you start with the film and move on to the books, so's you can enjoy both fully.

Another flick you should go out of your way to find is John Flynn's adaptation of Richard Stark's The Outfit. This one's got Robert Duvall in the Parker role (called Macklin in the movie) and Joe Don Baker demonstrating why he was a movie-fucking-star for a stretch. It's not got the one big heist plot so many do. Instead it's just business as usual, a caper at a time done with such no-flash common criminal sense  it makes the clever pictures look dumb.

Comic book artist and writer Darwyn Cooke has been creating some great graphic novel adaptations of the Parker books too. You wanna see Parker/Stark go big? Then check out The Score where Parker puts together a take down of an entire town in a case for what adequate brains and sheer ballsiness will can do for you.

Of course you've got to check out the Stark's Parker novels too. Start with the early ones like The Hunter and The Outfit or The Man With the Getaway Face where an armored car job early on sets the stage for the real challenge: surviving your partners.

Sticking with armored cars for a moment, Bruce Beresford's adaptation of Devon Minchin's The Money Movers is another swell Australian import, one that's been streaming on Netflix recently and has popped up in its entirety on Youtube as well.

Add Peter Yates' Robbery to your list of non-canonical hardboiled thievery flicks to watch out for. Stocked with great tough character actors doing their thing, a cold-opening heist with a top-notch getaway sequence and the capper caper The Great Train Robbery. My favorite of the film versions based on the real event.

Don't worry though. Some good recent and upcoming flicks to catch like the Swedish Easy Money trilogy based on the novels by Jens Lapidus, the final act Easy Money: Life Deluxe has got a great heist sequence.

As does Jim Taihuttu's Wolf imported from the Netherlands recently - and it's another armored car job to boot.

And the German film The Robber is a refreshingly simple take on the bank robbery genre following the exploits of Johann Kastenberger a marathon runner and thief who made his getaways covering long distances on foot. Adapted from the novel by Martin Prinz by writer/director Benjamin Heisenberg.

And if you think the yanks threw in the towel on hardnosed armed-robbery fare after Michael Mann's Heat, I'll remind you Ben Affleck made The Town a few years back and shit, let's hope Sarik Andreasyan's American Heist delivers the goods soon.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Voluntary Terror

Thanks to Erik Arneson and the Word Crimes podcast you can experience the magic and stickiness of NoirCon from the comfort of your own toilet (or wherever you listen to podcasts). Joe Samuel Starnes set up an event last Halloween in Philadelphia that challenged an audience to sit through more than twenty authors read their own material which is a terrifying prospect (except Wallace Stroby who read a spooky poem - classy) and now Word Crimes has released the audio experience in two episodes. I read in the first section in absolutely the worst slot anybody could hold - you know what I mean, following David James Keaton reading from The Last Projector on its release day, no less. Participation was not a total loss tho. Afterward Stuart Neville told me he liked my creative use of swear words. Am I still blushing? Yep, still. So here's episode one if you're so inclined. It also features Anthony Neil Smith and Patricia Abbott, so there's that. Episode two features that Stroby-poem, plus Nik Korpon and Rob Hart. Now it's just like we were all there together.

I'm working on a few new short stories now that I hope to find good homes for. Have heard about Florida Man, the anthology Joe Clifford and Craig T. McNeely are putting together for Gutter Books? That there's a juicy concept. I'd like to get in on that action... Aaand maybe I will. (Also check out Mr. McNeely's interview over at Dead End Follies about his new venture Double Life Books). You want to get into the spirit of this thing, I suggest reading some books like Kick Ass by Carl Hiaasen, Paper Trails by Pete Dexter (Low Gear and Minus are just exactly what I wanted Terry and Cal to feel like) and of course anything by Vicki Hendricks.
And good news on that front. New Pulp Press has just brought Vicki's Voluntary Madness back into print and if you've never read Ms. Hendricks, this would be a fine place to start. The following is a reprint of something I wrote when her wildly excellent and auspiciously wild collection of short stories Florida Gothic Stories was released:

…bound by wild desire—I fell into a ring of fire.”

You could pick any random line from the June Carter song Ring of Fire and have a great title for a Vicki Hendricks story. She spins tales of desperate souls who know not half measures. Their hopes and dreams may seem small, (a Tom Waits line comes to mind—“There’s nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix”), but the sincerity and fervor with which those dreams are chased render void all snide attitudes or pious remove we may bring to the reading.

When I’m referring to Vicki Hendricks and I describe her writing as provocative, I don’t intend for you to conjure yourself, the reader, lost in enriching contemplation at the close of one of her stories. I want for you to imagine the words on the page prickly—hurting you—the literary equivalent of sharp sticks jabbing at your fingers and eyes as you turn the pages. But there you go, picking it up again, going back for more. Just can’t help yourself, can you?

Neither can I.

In Hendricks’ land ANYTHING can happen. Reader beware. You are NOT safe. You ARE stimulated, titillated, invigorated, repulsed and obsessed right alongside her characters. Afterward, when you’ve had yourself a good cup of chamomile, a long shower, and some legal drugs to take the edge off, you’re still a long way from satisfied. You need more.

While Vicki’s novels (particularly Miami Purity and Cruel Poetry) are good places to start, the best introduction, I believe, to her world are her short stories. The reason is partly the nature of her material—extremes. The characters voices telling their own tales are going to wear you out. They are going to demand from you what life is demanding from them and frankly, sometimes a novel is exhausting.

So rejoice, finally there’s a collection of many of her best shorts—Florida Gothic Stories.

Read in a string, the intensely personal nature of her work becomes apparent. Nobody really quite goes for it, like Vicki. No one else really hangs it out there the way she does and as you read story after story of bad luck and worse timing, no matter how much manipulation, sexual mis-adventure, greed or violence is engaged in by the protagonists, it will not, simply can not quench the fire of their earnestly yearning hearts that endear them to us immediately and irrevocably.

It’s fitting perhaps that in the only state of the union where the further north you travel, the more southern you get, that the shorter the piece in this collection that features the Sunshine State in the title, the more potent its emotional core. Hendricks wastes no time investing us in the all or nothing schemes and dreams of her characters and spares us no sorrow or momentary joy along the way.

The collection is bookended by essays from a couple of her biggest fans. From the Introduction by Megan Abbott: “These stories – they’re raw and beautiful creations…While the doomfulness of noir snakes through every story here, it’s not the heart beating at the center… Who are we to judge these damaged souls, who rise higher than we do because, in the end, they care more, need more, grasp for it, because for them everything matters so much?” And from the afterward by Michael Connelly: “Her words weren’t written for me but they get to me. Right up under the rib cage.”

Me too.
........................... end repost ..........................

Hanging out with heroes of mine, like Vicki (pictured above with Kieran Shea, Neil Smith, myself, Keaton, Korpon and Scott Adlerberg), is the real thrill and pleasure of attending events like NoirCon. So, enjoy if you like the podcasted reading, but next time be there in person, it's a lot more enjoyable.

Also, check the hell out of these blurbs on Vicki's Miami Purity. I love these:

"An instant classic: so gruesome and funny and deadpan outlandish that you wind up baying at the moon like a Florida coondog." - James Ellroy

"A cracked hymn to American trash culture... Ms. Hendricks proposes a world in which the first thought after murder is sex and the second is inheriting the victim's car." - Robert Polito 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Six Hours of My Future Predicted

Killers - d: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto w: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto

Kill Me Three Times - d: Kriv Stenders w: James McFarland

Man From Reno - d: Dave Boyle w: Dave Boyle, Joel Clark, Michael Lerman

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Country Death Song: Narrative Music by Michael Peck

I asked Michael Peck, the author of The Last Orchard in America, for a Narrative Music piece and he dug up this cozy little murder ballad from the 1980s about a crime from the 1860s. Is it redundant to call it grim? 'Cause it's... grim. So, I'm just gonna leave this here and go take a shower.

Hey, did I mention Michael wrote a book? Is it grim too? Like what you see here? Go pick up The Last Orchard in America. Take it away, Michael...

Country Death Song by Michael Peck

The Violent Femmes’ follow-up to their self-titled debut, Hallowed Ground (1984) is a mashup of Gordon Gano’s ironically un-ironic christianity (Jesus Walking on the Water) and avant-garde gospel (Sweet Misery Blues, It’s Gonna Rain). Song to song, it flits from wonky to bluesy to rebellious to religousy, with a mainly sardonic edge. But Country Death Song puts sarcasm aside. Placed as the first track on Hallowed Ground, it’s a nightmare about an unhinged farmer during the American Civil War. Told from the perp’s perspective in Gano’s screeching folksy vocals, it’s a doom-soaked murder ballad and a darker-than-dark punk hoedown all in one.

Gano sketched out the lyrics in high school, inspired by an 1862 newspaper article telling of the deed. “I started making plans to kill my own kind,” Gano wails, channeling the impoverished farmer whose tale this is, curtailed now and then with the Deliverance-like vibe of a strummed banjo. The farmer, who “had me a wife/had me some daughters”, tricks one of the latter into accompanying him “out to the mountains”, but dispatches her instead into “a hole, a deep black well”, with the advice to “remember that God saves”. In the penultimate stanza, the murderer is heard relating the story, asking his listeners if they “…want to know how to take a short trip to hell?” Finding no way to atone, he heads for the barn “to hang myself in shame”.

A creepy gothic snapshot, Country Death Song is Old Testament-style unnerving, a folk song that should come with its own palmful of frigid water to toss in your face. There are zero hints of vindication — it’s just a tired psychopath’s terse soliloquy of his horrific deeds and where they’ve led him. Tamper a little with Gano’s narrative and Country Death Song could have been done into at least a three-act shitstorm by Sophocles or Christopher Marlowe.

Similar to the later A Good Man is Hard to Find by Sufjan Stevens (which reiterates Flannery O’Connor’s tale from the Misfit’s point-of-view) Country Death Song has deep sorrow behind the grisliness, an unbearable moral aloneness  caught by the frontman with alarming sincerity. But who, in the end, are the “boys” the farmer’s telling about his crime? The sort of disembodied musical extras you’d find listening from the inside of a Springsteen or a Billy Joel song? A couple weirdos at a saloon the farmer frequents? His own demonic nobodies? Us? In any event, these listeners give him the voice of a strange oratorical troubadour, some child-sacrificing dude laying out his guilt so he can go unburden the world of his life. Whatever The Violent Femmes do or do not imply, the fact lingers that this all happens to be true. If somebody asked me if there’s such a thing as homesteader noir, I would have probably chuckled. And then I’d listen to Country Death Song, and stop chuckling right away.

Michael Peck's work has appeared in The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Juked, Pank and elsewhere. His first novel, The Last Orchard in America, is available from THE2NDHAND. He lives in Oregon City, where he deals in rare books.

Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks: January

Calvary - John Michael McDonagh - An irish priest hears the confession of a man who says he was a victim of sexual abuse by a long-dead clergy member as a child and who plans to return in a week's time to kill the 'good' priest (Brendan Gleeson) as an act of vengeance/protest. Thankfully that's about it for plot - the priest spends no screen time pondering the sanctity of the confessional and his duty to keep secret the identity of the confessor (ala A Prayer For the Dying) - instead the soul of the film is the priest wrestling with his sacred duty regarding the well-being of the man who has promised to do him harm. As each day of his potentially final week passes, his faith and character is tested by each of his parishioners in their own fashion and as I steeled myself for the easy and obvious path the, up till then, compelling was surely about to take, I was constantly surprised by its refusal to go for anything trite. Gleeson is a film-making asset of boundless potential and the McDonaghs are proving themselves the most adept at using him for maximum impact. Supporting cast is strong as well. Best moment: Gleeson talks with his daughter (Kelly Reilly) about her recent suicide attempt.

Child of God - James Franco - Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) is about as off-putting a human being as you (or Cormac McCarthy) could dream up. Add up the fucks he gives about personal hygiene, decorum, public decency, private decency or articulate diction all the way to zero and then subtract for poverty, general mental capacity and medieval dentistry and you've got yourself a grade-A social outcast. Lester knows a thing or two about survival and he's just self-conscious enough to understand that he's unlovely, but how long can he live in the woods outside town pilfering the occasional items like chickens and dead folks before the decent folk have had enough and shoot him? It's a peculiarly un-ambitious feeling picture for the stature of the source material, but it's also oddly satisfying in particular moments, though somehow less than cinematic throughout. Franco's directorial style is very similar here to his adaptation of As I Lay Dying - where he let the internal monologues be read directly into the camera to get you into the headspace of each character - only this time it's only Lester all by his lonesome and that, friends is a lot of time to spend with the guy. The film feels most alive when Ballard has other characters to interact with (case in point: the scene where Tim Blake Nelson tries to reason with Lester and gives voice to many of the misgivings the audience feels, when Lester responds he suddenly seems a touch admirable instead of just admirably touched) and if you stick around for the the final fifteen minutes, you'll have some well-earned pay off, though I wouldn't blame you a bit for bailing early. Best moment: all dressed up for a shooting. Doesn't really matter how far away you see it coming, the visual impact is... startling and unnerving.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - George Clooney - Chuck Barris wrote a hit pop-song, created hit television programs and, if his titular memoir is to be believed, a hit-man for the CIA. Director Clooney and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman adapt his story from his perspective - none of this maybe he was, maybe he wasn't pussy-footing around the more audacious claims. Nope, every outrageous element is treated with the same gravity as The Gong Show. For his directorial debut, Clooney aimed high with the script, the style - so much great stagecraft and practical effects for fluid one-takes and non-split-screens etc. - and the tone which is comic, absurd, sweet, paranoid, even heartfelt. Damned if it doesn't fire on all cylinders there. At the center of it all is Sam Rockwell as Barris, a goofy hang-dog, horn-dog with the common touch and an uncommon appetite for killing, and the fact that the film holds together at all is a testament to the man's talent and charisma. Plus, shit, the rest of the cast includes Rutger Hauer and the perfect use of Drew Barrymore - man, the scene in the restaurant where she tells the philandering Chuck that she's giving him just one more chance, she's hitting so many notes at once, it's/she's amazing. I love this movie on so many levels. Best moment: East German prisoner exchange.

The Guest - Adam Wingard - The Petersons are an average suburban family mourning the loss of the oldest son, a soldier KIA, when they are visited by the recently discharged David (Dan Stevens) a platoon buddy just passing through. David soon insinuates himself into every aspect of their lives with unclear motivations and shit starts to get weird. It's a fucking shame the trailer gives away as much as it does about the directions this one goes, 'cause your destination is best arrived at cold. As goofy and slight as the picture ends up being, I enjoyed it all the way through mostly for Stevens's presence (he's clearly relishing the opportunity to shake the Downton Abbey stuffiness out of his system) and the script by Simon Barrett which is having as much fun as it hopes you are. Add great little production design touches and a kick-ass, throw-back horror score and you've got a decent way to kill an evening. Best moment: fit hits the shan.

Hard Time Season 1 - National Geographic - A reality show following prisoners and corrections officers doing their day to day in Georgia. Some good color and details` to pick up, but doesn't stand out from a bunch of other television prison and crime documentaries... this one however is narrated by Thurston Moore... so there's that. Best moment: the manhunt.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit - Kenneth Branagh - Gak! My middle-favorite, middle-brow, middling fictional CIA analyst just shrugged another smidge toward watered-down milquetoastian action hero with half-baked, luke-warm, non-fat, no-foam results! A fairly convincing display of competence without the weight of excitement! If you like your oatmeal flavor straight up in aerosol form, you'll never remember you saw it! Best moment: Yes, there is one - Branagh's baddy's introduction.

The Mule  - Tony Mahoney, Angus Sampson - A first time drug mule is stopped at customs in Melbourne returning from Thailand with twenty condoms full of dope in his guts. He refuses an x-ray and the authorities have the latitude to hold him without charges for seven days. Now he is under house arrest in a hotel room with 24/7 police chaperone and a shitload of will power not to take a crap. Unfortunately his criminal team mates (some of whom are also his football team mates who he was with in Bangkok for a game) are plotzing all over the place, not betting on their man inside or their man's insides - they're offing each other and making plans to off him to cover their asses should he evacuate his. But they should know better. He's the titular character after all, not only a body cavity smuggler, but also possessed of the stubbornness oft attributed to the equidae-family member beast of burden. Wikipedia says of the mule It has been claimed that mules are "more patient, sure-footed, hardy and long-lived than horses" which pretty much sums up Ray (co-writer/director Sampson). The film opens with Ray receiving an award from his team, sort of a MVP thing with the acknowledgement that he's far from the top of the roster - in fact he may not even make the cut next season - but he holds the record for showing up and digging in for the most consecutive games. In other words, kid's got heart. And so does the movie. For as much as the plot description sounds like it precedes a broad comedy, this is a drama with (ahem) guts and a captial-T Thriller with terrific turns from each cast member including Hugo Weaving, Leigh Whannell, Ewen Leslie and John Noble. It's o-fucking-fficial now, Australian crime flick exports are a better product than the domestic selection overall. Best moment: Ray's mother tries to do what's best for her son.

November Man - Roger Donaldson - International spy and expert killer (Pierce Brosnan) with a tragic past is brought back into the game for one last job, one with a personal element... or two... or more... or, oh hell, it's a fucking big-budget shoot-em-up with movie stars and exotic locale helmed by a journeyman with chops, you know exactly what you're getting into here. Question is, do you care? If you're in the right mood, this one fits the bill nicely. If you're looking for something new, move along. Less a script than a string of proven audience-baiting/pleasing cliches with good looking people in good looking places putting the R-rated violence to each other. Sounds good today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe so again the day after. Side note: the Point Break remake's Johnny Utah, Luke Bracey, is apparently not Sean Bean's son, but he sure could pass for it. Best moment: the splosion.

Out For Justice - John Flynn - Steven Seagal as the least Italian, least cop-like, least giving a shit how the future will judge him (future: like the very next week) so-go-the-fuck-ahead-and-wear-the-oily-pony-tail-with-the-beret-and-the-cut-off-sleeves-and-track-suit-with-your-badge-on-a-lanyard tough guy in a wise-guy's neighborhood would be all five of director Flynn's Five Obstructions if a time-travelling Lars Von Trier had challenged him to make a credible hard-nosed crime flick on par with earlier accomplishments like The Outfit or Rolling Thunder and Flynn, God-bless-him, would take him up on it. Or at least take the money and give it his honest to goodness best shot. The results are every bit as cringeworthy as you'd guess though somehow highly watchable and in the scenes without the star feel like discovering the truth behind the rumors about a forgotten favorite hardboiled urban crime thriller and I enjoyed picturing somebody like Harry Dean Stanton or Robert Duvall or Walter Matthau in the lead as the film played and y'know what? That would've been a pretty decent flick. Best moment: William Forsythe has road rage.

The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears - Helene Cattet, Bruno Forzani - A man returns from his travels to find his wife has disappeared from their Paris apartment and he suspects harm has befallen her. That's exactly as far as I'm going to go into the plot because it spirals in several directions at once in a dizzyingly byzantine mythology that springs up around the building itself and what has happened to other tenants. After a while, I just didn't care, frankly, but I'm going to give this one a big fat recommendation if you're up to buy the ticket and take the ride. This is a sumptuously shot trip through psychological horror, erotic suspense and artful trash. It's like somebody gave the film makers a decent budget an abundance of talent, confidence and the charge to make an old-fashioned Brian De Palma/Dario Argento sex thriller. It's gorgeous and creepy and so overwhelmingly rich you'll probably not absorb anything past the first half hour. Which is fine. You'll enjoy the hell out of it in pieces. Best moment: not even gonna try.

Sweetwater - Logan Miller, Noah Miller - A New Mexican homesteading couple (January Jones and Eduardo Noriega) run afoul of a religious cult fronted by Jason Isaacs who is set to take over the territory if he can dodge the blame for a couple of murders that Ed Harris is investigating. I'll give the film this: its heart is in the right place. This flick is out there, a grotesque, weird-western mix of sex, violence and religious psychopathy that could've been great... but wasn't. And the cast is game. Especially Harris, whose long hair somehow is more believable than Isaac's beard and Jones who it seems just jumped at the wrong project to establish a new popular identity after Betty Draper. The problems are in the tone and pacing and atmosphere which just don't hold together, though a handful of moments stand out as testament to what coulda/woulda/shoulda been including the Best moment: Harris carving up Isaac's dinner table.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me - David Lynch - Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is doomed to die as anyone who's seen the TV show the film is a cap and prequel to can tell you. The series opens with the discovery of her body famously "Dead. Wrapped in plastic." But knowing the inevitable end of the film and even the how and who and why of it all doesn't make the experience any less effective as a horror film - it only serves to drive home the tragedy. Most importantly though, the film serves as Laura's chance to speak for herself and what she says is... yeah, it's heartbreaking. Nobody should watch frame one of this film unless they've watched the entirety of the the show's approximately 30 episode run (that is until Twin Peaks returns to television next year on Showtime!) because... well, just because. It won't make any sense. It won't make any fans. It won't mean a thing to you. However, having watched the show's entire run multiple times, this film just wrecks me every time out. It's hard to watch and harder to take your eyes off of. I hope Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) returns in 2016. Oh, I hope. Let's Rock! Best moment: the painting on the wall dream sequence.

A Walk Among the Tombstones - Scott Frank - Ex-cop, ex-drunk and current unlicensed private detective Matthew Scudder (Liam Neeson) takes on a job for a drug trafficker to find the men who kidnapped and killed his wife. Screenwriter/director Frank is the go-to guy for adapting tonally challenging writers (he's had varying degrees of success working from source material by James Lee Burke, Elmore Leonard, Philip K. Dick and Charles Willeford) and this one is the best all-around screen representation of material by Lawrence Block yet (the second time Scudder's been seen after Jeff Bridges had the role in 8 Million Ways to Die), but the material remains tricky, slipping traditional movie structures and beats like it doesn't give a fuck. And I suspect it doesn't. Bully for it. What emerges then feels odd at times - the pov switches occasionally and comes back to Scudder's when it feels like it - but only if you think of it as by-the-numbers blockbuster fare. Plus, it's a moody fucker. It's dark. Darker and less action-packed than the type of hardboiled histrionics Neeson's been lending his visage to of late anyhow. It feels like the role he's been looking for, three grades above and a sidestep away from what he's been making his tough guy bones doing. This is the series that should get three installments, guys... not fucking Taken. Best moment: Scudder's job interview. His no-bullshit acknowledgement of corruption is hard-learned from years in AA.