Thursday, April 27, 2017

Man Out of Prison: By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's J. David Osborne's By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends.

Another breakout, another group of hardened criminals who depend upon, but do not trust, each other. The twists this time? Mysticism and cannibalism.

Set in a Siberian gulag in 1953 this slim book packs a lot of atmosphere and worthy cringing into its economic word count about desperate people plotting their escape. Yeah, I know, this is man out of prison month, WTF with the people in prison this time?

Glad you asked.

Because the prison they inhabit is a terrible and increasingly dangerous place for them to be (hence the need to escape), but it's kind of a cake-walk compared to the tundra they'll cross to freedom, and while the majority of the pages are pre-escape, the sheer awfulness of the task of recruiting an unsuspecting prisoner to join the escape and then serve as cannibalized sustenance for the rest of the team sits like a spiritual pall over the entire thing.

The escape seems like a foregone conclusion. The cost of survival is another question.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Crashout

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Lewis R. Foster's Crashout.

 Six cons break out of prison and hide out in an abandoned mine shaft for a week, tensions and resentments stewing and festering as they wait to make a long, dangerous and arduous trek to recover a cache of stolen money.
With as much to fear from the law as each other the band breaks up and meet their individual fates in a series of stand-off and hostage vignettes as they race headlong toward ignoble destinies until the cast is whittled down to the final survivors for a showdown.

This thing really is about a perfectly written script. It's fighting-lean, perfectly-paced and a structural brick shithouse.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Man Out of Prison: On the Job

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Erik Matti's On the Job.
The twist this time? It's about men only temporarily released from a dingy, dangerous Filipino prison to carry out political assassinations on the streets. They're secreted out, hunt down their targets, shoot the hell out of them and disappear in chaos.
Afterward they have a precious few hours to spend however they like until they have to sneak back in to their real maximum security home.

The film follows an assassination team - an older mentor and younger apprentice. The older man has a family he is supporting one murder at a time and he drops in on them after the dark deeds are done. He absolutely lives for the stolen moments with his wife and the opportunity to see his children grow up.
The younger man sees girlfriends and gets the fuck drunk while he's out and the two men meet bleary-eyed in the morning, reporting back to their secret masters.

The movie is also about alternately corrupt and honest, but frustrated police trying to stem the tide of violence as well as the politicians who hire out hits on their rivals and are keenly aware they may be targets themselves.

But it's the prisoners who capture my imagination in this flick.

Condemned men, playing the only cards they hold, selling their souls, but trying to get the best possible price. Hell of a metaphor.

Shit, though, it's a kickass crime flick. Amazing locations, brutal action and one absolutely show-stopping suspense, action sequence where the assassins have to finish off a target who inexplicably survived their shooting him earlier by getting past the high security surrounding him in the hospital while the intrepid policeman waits for them to come back.

The resulting shootout/chase through the building and the streets is some DePalma-level awesomeness you should not deny yourself the pleasure of experiencing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Pervert Park

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman'Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Frida Barkfors, Lasse Barkfors' Pervert Park.

A documentary about a trailer park in Florida designed to be a place sex offenders can live (not near schools, or parks where children gather for example) when they get out of prison. Watch them attend support meetings, job interviews, barbeques and generally get on with the rest of their lives. It's easy to see why Pervert Park wasn't a big crowd-pleasing hit.

Oof. This isn't a fun one, kids, and it's not a cathartic release. It's even less a hot-topic picture essay that has a point to argue whether you want to deal with it or not. What I found it to be though is an utterly heartbreaking, totally absorbing and unshakable glimpse at people living on the bottom rung.

Follow a social worker who's made this community his life's work, watch this disparate group cling to each other because they're the only humanity they can still honestly touch, hear them confess their crimes... sit in judgement if you're so inclined and then reconsider your violent revenge fantasies as you see them get antagonized and threatened by a steady stream of otherwise mild abusers... or let your heart melt a little, let down your guard because you recognize a shared humanity, then get another reminder of how they got there.

Crime and punishment, morality and legality, humanity and policy, everything is examined and challenged, as the film runs you through a maddeningly messy set of emotions previously believed to exist in mutual exclusion.

Maybe that's the point.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Always Outnumbered

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman'Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Michael Apted's Always Outnumbered.

Laurence Fishburne plays Socrates (Socco) Fortlow an ex-con who served a decades-long prison term for murder and now lives deep between the cracks of society in Los Angeles. It's hard enough for anybody to earn a decent living, but if you're an ex-violent offender without much formal education it's damn near impossible to do it straight.

Fortlow scrapes together a living collecting recyclable materials in commandeered shopping carts that he pushes around the city, doing odd jobs (including the odd philosophical investigation). He makes his lifestyle work by never wasting a resource or opportunity including a neighbor's murdered chicken.

His chance at a redemption of sorts comes in the form of a young boy on the road to a tragic and probably short life who witnessed the murder of one of his friends at the hands of some local street predators. To keep the kid from taking the same path through violence and prison that he did, Socco brings the boy into the community of shadow people he lives amongst and this is where the heart of the movie lies.

Based on the novel Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley (the first in the Socrates Fortlow series), it fits smoothly with the author's favorite themes of crime, class, race and redemption, but it's not really a thriller - don't go in looking for that.

It's deliberately paced, beat down and world weary, but it's also tough and got heart. And that's worth more than breeding and good fortune.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Kent Gowran on Faster

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman'Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today Kent Gowran founder and former publisher of the criminally inclined flash fiction site Shotgun Honey looks at George Tillman Jr.'s Faster.

The 2010 film Faster begins with Dwayne Johnson as Driver being released from prison. Outside the gates, there's no one to meet Driver, so, being an athletic type, he goes for a jog. The sunny morning jaunt leads him to a junkyard where a sweet but seriously Frankensteined 1970/1971/1972 Chevelle SS/Malibu is waiting for him. This is the muscle car option where a big ass revolver under the seat is included and our guy Driver tears out of the junkyard and heads to an office in Bakersfield, where, apparently fed up with the incessant phone calls, he shoots the utilitarianly monikered Telemarketer, played for a few moments by Courtney Gaines, in the head.

Having dispatched the former Hans Klopek, Driver goes to see the guy who hooked him up with the primo ride and gun. He's got a list of names, but, wouldn't you know it, he wants to fleece Driver for said list. Things don't work out, but no one gets shot in the head.

Billy Bob Thornton enters the scene as the accurately named Used Car Salesman Cop. He's partnered up with Cicero, a cop much better at her job played by Carla Gugino. In what could almost be a different movie, Cop and Cicero are tasked with tracking down Driver. Billy Bob's Cop is closing in on retirement, and if you've ever seen a movie with a cop in it, you know nothing good can come of that set-up. He's a mess, and, turns out, gets the bulk of what character development there is in the movie. Billy Bob turns in a solid performance as Cop, and it's not hard to imagine a different film where this character and his wreck of a life take the front seat.

Someone somewhere doesn’t approve of Driver being on the loose. Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who you’ll no doubt like me recognize from nothing else ever, plays a bored and conflicted hitman called Killer (we meet him just as he “beats” yoga) who’s hired to prevent Driver from getting a gold star on his death list. Lily, Killer’s girlfriend then fiancé then wife played by Maggie Grace enters the picture. She’s part of what is complicating the hitman’s life, though she’s also kinda into the whole boyfriend who murders for money thing. You could be excused for nodding off during this part of the movie.

Driver ruins Killer’s day when, not only does he take out the next name on the list, he also escapes supposedly professionally-administered death with not so much as a scratch. The no-one-gets-shot gunfight isn’t half-bad and, really, the man formerly known as The Rock is a lot of fun in this flick.

Through some quick flashback action, we get hip to Driver’s motivations, and it turns out he’s not intent on ridding the world of telemarketers after all. Probably for the best in this case, though I’d buy a ticket to that movie in a heartbeat. We don’t get any of the post-prison trying to adjust to life on the outside moments, because, as the title implies and the movie mostly delivers, it’s all about speed and revenge.

Up to this point, Johnson’s film career had been mostly comedies and family friendly stuff. Director George Tillman Jr. ,working from a script by brothers Tony and Joe Gayton, said he wanted Faster to be a sort of homage to the action films of the 1970s. It’s a nice thought, but it would be hard to say the movie delivers on that level. Johnson is well-suited to the role of an unstoppable killing machine, and if you chucked the modern technology, the movie would fit comfortably with the action hits of the 80s (complete with one-liners).

About midway through the movie, the plot gives up more details and the audience can see where it’s all going. Nothing unexpected nor spectacularly out of left field, but it’s done well enough. This is also the point where, as mentioned before, you can really imagine how a movie built around Thornton’s character could play out.

Driver roars over to Nevada without attracting the attention of the police who are looking for him even though he’d be really hard to miss. He attempts to strike another name from his list, but it turns out he’s not all that handy with an icepick. Realizing a mistake has been made, he heads to the hospital to finish the deed.

Cop and Killer are both tipped to Driver’s slip. Although he’d fostered a bit of mutual respect with Cicero, Cop blows her off and heads to the hospital in Nevada. He’s a little late to do his job, nearly loses his life, and, for at least a moment, there’s a glimmer of potential to not be a total loser.

Killer and Driver have a bit of a back and forth gunplay on the road. Again, this whole hitman thing is unnecessary. Driver gets shot. Killer gets a set of flat tires. We move on to the next name on the list.

Driver thinks he knows who sold him out and is to blame for his brother’s death. At least, he thinks he knows. Turns out, there’s a lot Driver doesn’t know. Conveniently enough, it changes neither his list nor his revenge really much at all.

Down to the last name on his list, Driver finds a man who has changed his life for the better, not only for himself, but for others, too. He’s a different man in the eyes of the Lord now. In the eyes of Driver, not so much.

Back at the cop shop, Cicero puts the whole mess together. She heads out a little too late to divert disaster.

I wasn’t particularly satisfied with every choice made in how the film ends, the Killer plot sticks to its guns and remains dull, but, having now seen an alternate ending which was scrapped, it seems to be the better way to draw it to a close.

Faster probably isn’t going to make anyone’s list of favorites, but it fun. Sometimes, that’s good enough.

Kent Gowran's short stories can be found in Plots With Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Shotgun Honey, Needle magazine and all the hardest corners of the crime fiction web. Follow him on Twitter @kentgowran

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Go For Sisters

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's John Sayles' Go For Sisters.
Yolonda Ross plays Fontayne, an ex-con and drug addict doing sober and straight one drag-ass, tough shit day at a time. When her parole officer retires she's reassigned to the no-nonsense Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) whom she was close with back in high school until they had a falling out over a boy.

Bernice tells Fontayne that she will have to be reassigned to another officer since it's against the rules for her to supervise anyone she has a previous relationship with (she took Fontayne on not realizing who she was because her name had changed after a marriage), but before Bernice can put through the paperwork, a personal crisis will have her reaching out to her ex-con, former friend for help.

Bernice's son has disappeared and is a person of interest in the murder of a local drug dealer. Bernice reaches out to Fontayne and pleads for her help in tracking down her boy - a trip that leads them through the American rough south across the Mexican border. Along the way they hire Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos), a disgraced cop with underworld contacts to help their rag-tag investigation.
Aside from being an engaging mystery/thriller that covers murder, kidnapping, drug trade and human trafficking, Go For Sisters is rich character study of two women holding each other in a precarious balance as they trade places across the thin line of the law.

For Fontayne day to day life is hard - forced to work undesirable jobs and live in a depressed area where she is legally forbidden to interact with many of her neighbors (known offenders). Under pressure from her old friend/parole officer she re-establishes contact with painful reminders of her former life including her ex-husband (Isaiah Washington) and a prison lover (Vanessa Martinez) for whom she still pines who's since gotten out, married and started a family.

While Bernice goes from unmovable arbiter of right and wrong to a mother who will destroy evidence, abuse her position of influence and shoot the odd motherfucker (a cop no less) to protect her child who appears increasingly guilty as her investigation goes on.

Highly recommended.