Thursday, September 24, 2020

Jane Bradley RIP


Jane Bradley
died this week. I was a fan of hers. I knew her a little bit. I got to spend a day with her when she read at a N@B event I hosted and she let me know when she returned to St. Louis another time for a conference and we spent a nice evening at a bar talking about all the things. She wanted to help me get some respectability and I very badly wanted to read her current work in progress, a novel she was calling The Snow Queen of Atlanta which sounded awesome.

It sounded awesome because I'd already published a selection from it as a short story titled The One Good Thing in Noir at the Bar Volume 2. If you were on the ball enough to score a copy of that book and read it, Jane's story was almost assuredly among your favorites and if it wasn't fucking go read that shit again - clearly you missed something. Though fiction it felt realer than most memoirs I've read. The characters and places were built from solid material. The ugly baggage and staggering beauty were earned awfully and wrought honestly. 


I don't know if she ever finished The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but she left behind a body of work full of the same qualities The One Good Thing promised. Below is something I wrote about her novel You Believers for another website in 2011. 

**************************** reprint **************************

Is there anything more devastating than the loss a loved one? Perhaps the uncertainty of the loss of a loved one is worse; the terrible not knowing what has happened, and being plagued by a multitude of awful imaginings. I think of the psychological torture the characters in Tim Krabbe's The Golden Egg (also made into the haunting film The Vanishing) or William Gay's short story The Paperhanger or Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Pledge, (again a good film with the same name directed by Sean Penn and Starring Jack Nicholson) suffered and pray I never know it from the inside.

Shelby Waters knows first hand what it's like. Years after the disappearance of her sister Darly she has started the Rescue Effort Volunteers, (REV) and taken on the responsibility of searching for the missing and helping the loved ones of those gone to live again. When a young woman named Katy Connor goes missing, Shelby is called upon to help put together what's happened. You Believers by Jane Bradley is, in Shelby's words, "Katy's story. At least I think it's Katy's story. It's hard to say sometimes where one woman's story ends and another begins," and it features just about the most devastating opening paragraph I've ever read. Warning: if you pick it up and sample that opening, you, like me, won't be able to stop.

And while it's not what I'd call a feel-good story, a neat and tidy mystery or even a pulse-pounding thriller, it packs more feeling, mystery and pulse raising to potential coronary levels than you have any reasonable right to expect from one book. Sure, it's emotionally loaded material that any hack can exploit for instant intensity, (and in the hands of a lesser writer that's exactly what you'd have here), but Bradley has gone far beyond the broad side of barns and nailed her target so precisely, (with character, with empathy and the space to soak it in) I hope never to be caught in her crosshairs. Let me be clear here too - You Believers is not an endless bummer of a novel. The warmth and human kinship found in the pages would bring me around for seconds in a heartbeat.

"I'm trying to tell you the story, but to give you the story would be like giving you the churning blue sea one bucket at a time. You might taste the salt, feel the cold, but the weight and wave of so much water, well, it's lost."

**************************************************************

It's been a couple years since I last talked with Jane, but I think about her often. I recommend You Believers any time someone is looking for gems they probably missed and I'd check trade journals for news of The Snow Queen of Atlanta, but as someone with their own long-overdue novel, I quit nagging her about it long ago. Her story collections Are We Lucky Yet? and Power Lines are still available (Power Lines might only be available as an e-book now). 


Goodbye, Jane. I liked you a lot. I was honored to call you a friend.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Gust Wind Dude pt. 1

August is gone and all that's left is the memory of a hundred movies and a handful of books. Here are the notable themes and highlights.

First up - westerns! Watched a lot of westerns for the first time in August. For a couple of reasons: finding one that I really dug and then watching a bunch from the same film makers and looking for unseen movies from icons no longer making movies (Gene Hackman, Oliver Reed, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson - no, wait, not Bronson, more on that later). Anyway - my favorites in historical order are as follows.

Django - Sergio Corbucci - The movie that launched a million movies! Or, more accurately, the international box office sensation that launched a million marketing campaigns to re-title previously released underperformers and add a silent 'D' to fucking anything in some of the weirdest attempts to catch a wave in mockbuster history. Not having been alive, let alone a filmgoer and having no formal film education I'd be hard pressed to explain the quality that elevated this particular movie to pop immortality. Slo-mo sadism, bright blood and dark mud, Franco Nero is always arresting on screen and Corbucci had a fucking eye - a handful of absolutely gorgeously hung frames pop up to attest to that fact - but I think I'm going to have to leave its overwhelming success a mystery until I get a tutorial. Still, I can readily acknowledge its lineage includes personal foundational favorites like TombstoneRobert Rodriguez's Mariachi movies and Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained which continues to rise in my estimation (one of the best American-made movies about America. Just... oof). Anyway, here's a video that lists Every Fucking Django film (85! though where the hell is El Mariachi?)

The Hunting Party - Don Medford - Cast made me take notice of this one (Gene Hackman, Oliver Reed, Candice Bergen, L.Q. Jones) and I'm glad because a plot synopsis might've encouraged me to put it off another decade or two - a bandit kidnaps a school teacher so that she can teach him how to read, subjecting her to endless sexual assault from himself and his gang until her wealthy, sadistic, piece of shit husband can come to her rescue... only she finds herself falling in love with her captor despite his illiteracy and tendency to rape her and her husband finds he's really only coming for murder and rather than rescue her he continues to let the gang escape after picking off one or two of them until he's chased and tormented them at least as much as they've insulted him by defiling his bride. I doubt this one could get made today. It's... icky. But it's also fascinating how far the filmmakers were willing to bet audiences would be willing to go to examine the extremities of toxic masculine psychology. Never going to stand in the company of Sam Peckinpah's best (as it most certainly hoped to), but I hope it doesn't get erased from history for its transgressions, it's kinda something to watch Hackman especially turn in such a nasty performance. 

From Noon Till Three - Frank D. Gilroy - Another one that might have some difficulty getting made today, but I'm very engrossed and delighted by it. Charles Bronson plays a bank robber who chooses to pass the titular time frame holed up with a beautiful widow (Bronson's wife and frequent co-star Jill Ireland) rather than participate in the day's planned bank job. The time is spent coercing sexual favor by a variety of means, but turns into a brief, mutual foot-sweeping that comes to an end when news of his compadres' fate and the likelihood of his own demise reaches them. I don't want to spoil anything that happens next, instead I will only encourage you to stick around to the end of this tragi-comic twister that I suspect will take up brain space long after its run time. Loved this.

Comin' at Ya! - Ferdinando Baldi - Bandito brothers break up the wedding of Tony Anthony and Victoria Abril leaving him for dead and kidnapping her into sex slavery. Only - he's not dead! And he's coming for her (and for them). That's the plot. The marketing catch is that the film was shot in 3-D and the result is that THIS MOVIE IS AWESOME. The story is simple, dialogue is minimal and every bit of the budget was thrown at making the visuals pop which they most certainly do even in 2-D. It's is a good example of a gimick movie draped on a generic revenge/rescue thriller's skeleton that I probably would've been bored with when the technology was new, but man, what a treat this one was. A good reminder for me not to be such a 'cinema' snob about the crowd pleasers of today. 


The True History of the Kelly Gang - Justin Kurzel - Based on the novel by Peter Carey this take on the infamous bush-ranger Ned Kelly lets everybody off the hook immediately by claiming that nothing about The True History of the Kelly Gang is true. Look it up later if you're inclined. I'm just here for Kurzel and this cast to fuck shit up. Since The Snowtown Murders Kurzel's been on a short list of directors whose projects I eye suspiciously as he had proved himself capable and perverse enough, but also eager to horrify and unsettle me. Nothing in The True History quite touches the upsetting depths of Snowtown, and I did not come away with a singular impression of the film at all, but there are so many striking and exciting visuals, memorable scenes and terrific performances I'm sure I will be revisiting it for many years to come. I'd like more roles for Russell Crowe to gleefully say 'cunt' and more roles for Charlie Hunnam to be Australian, otherwise the cast standouts are Essie Davis and especially Nicholas Hoult who steals every scene he's in. "Have you ever fucked in a dress?"

Monday, August 3, 2020

You Lie


I kicked off July with San Francisco crime spree weekend watching Steve McQueen ride the ever-cresting wave of Peter Yates' slick and efficient Bullitt, Lee Marvin tear up Los Angeles with Alcatraz bookends in John Boorman's stylish take on Richard Stark's The Hunter and Clint Eastwood fuck up the Scorpio killer's plans in Don Siegel's Dirty Harry (the perfecting of the kind picture he'd been working toward with Madigan and Coogan's Bluff). Then I revisited Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. and way undervalued Another 48 Hrs. before capping my city by the bay weekend with a first-viewing of Richard Rush's Freebie & the Bean.

Really hard to stress how underrated Another 48 Hrs. is (by me too - I'll own it). I threw Hill's Red Heat on afterward and the dude just knows the formula for action comedies. Yeah, they're funny, but he never lets the laughs upstage the crime-thriller elements and that helps them age gracefully. I rewatched Martin Brest's Midnight Run and feeling lucky with the crime comedies gave Julie Anne Robinson's One For the Money starring Katherine Heigel as Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but alas my winning streak was over. 

A couple more revisits for the month that improved on my initial impressions; Richard Donner's 16 Blocks and David Fincher's Panic Room. 16 Blocks starts off with Bruce Willis as a sad sack cop riding out the end of his less than illustrious career. Oh man, he's beautiful with his receding hairline, (now you see it, now you don't) spare tire, and droopy mustache. He's the guy that gets called in to sit on a crime scene until it can get cleared and he seems happy to booze among the bodies until his shift is over. In fact it becomes clear that his getting stuck with the shit job of transporting Mos Def's small time criminal from lockup to his grand jury testimony at the courthouse was all part of the plan of David Morse and some dirty cops who have no intention of letting Def's Eddie Bunker - yeah, that's his name - get there. But Willis has one good day left in him and boy oh boy did he choose the wrong day to shine. A little more convoluted than it needed to be, but really a much better effort than I gave it credit for when it first came out. Now, on the far end of Bruce giving up I long for the days of 16 Blocks. 

And Panic Room's improved mainly because I now have tempered expectations for Fincher. On the heels of Fight Club I was a little let down by this pretty straight-forward and simple thriller about Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart riding out a home invasion inside the um panic room of their brand new home while a trio of thieves try to break in. The procedural beauty of it really stuck out to me this time, it's a this is how this works and this is how this doesn't fix the problem thriller and is bolstered by a solid cast including Forest Whitaker and Dwight Yoakam as the dudes Jared Leto's rich kid with a scheme brings along to pull of the job. 

I watched the Mission: Impossible flicks with my son and man oh man, what a treat that was. Biggest standouts for us were John Woo's II, Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol and Christopher McQuarrie's Fallout. Each picture's got it's own reason to be there though and it was fun to watch them all in quick succession. I think my personal ranking now would go: Ghost Protocol, Fallout, II, Rogue Nation, Mission: Impossible and III

Also very much enjoyed a run of Class of films from the 80s & 90s

Class of 1984 - Mark L. Lester - This story of an idealistic young teacher driven over the edge by disciplinary issues revolving around a rowdy group of punks who begin by generally fucking off in class, but also deal a bad batch of drugs that hilariously drive good kids to bizarre deaths fits comfortably into the fascists fix schools subgenre that seems to become briefly popular again once a decade or so and it's fun to look at what the squares of the early 80s perceived as the generation's big challenges. "Punks" are a problem as evidenced by the group of bullies (punk bullies, remember that non-existent high school menace?) who wear t-shirts with swastikas and ripped jackets advertising The Clash and terrorize all the good, clean cut kids including baby Michael J. Fox. When this shit escalates to murder it's a hoot.

Class of Nuke 'Em HighLloyd Kaufman, Richard W. Haines - Another bad batch of feel goods drive the plot such as it exists in Troma's version of the horny teen comedy which adds a good dose of corporate malfeasance, nuclear calamity, gruesome mutations and buckets of gore to goose their straight genre peers like Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds... edge goes to Troma.

Class of 1999 - Mark L. Lester - Improving on his initial fascists fix schools entry Class of 1984, director Lester elevates the concept with the introduction of android teachers originally designed for law enforcement who take order and discipline a little too seriously. This is basically RoboCop in the classroom minus any robo-hero. Instead we have a trio of technological terminators (Patrick Kilpatrick, Pam Grier and John P. Ryan) running amok massacring unruly students in a grand experiment run by Stacy Keach and Malcolm McDowell. Fucking A+ for effort. 

Class of 1999 II: The SubstituteSpiro Razatos - The sequel concerns the exploits of a rogue Robo Teacher missing and presumed destroyed from the original batch. Sasha Mitchell plays the terminator and employs his rest of the best level martial arts skills to fuck shit up. Good fun.

And now for a few notable first watches from July...

City Streets
Rouben Mamoulian - Very much enjoyed this early Dashiell Hammett-penned film starring Sylvia Sidney and Gary Cooper as young lovers separated by lifestyle; he's a straight shooter (literally - he's a carnival sharp shooter) and she's a gangster's daughter. Over the course of the movie they'll swap outlooks on crime and easy money as their love refuses to be thwarted. 

Walking Hills
 - John Sturges - A bordertown backroom card game comes to a screeching halt when someone mentions having seen some wagon tracks in the desert that happen to line up with a local legend about a wagon full of gold swallowed up by the sand. The whole group immediately set out to find and share their fortune, but things never go well when you've got partners in a scheme to get rich. The cast of casual comrades quickly break up into factions and then fractions as everybody's story and character come under scrutiny if not quite into focus and you can bet they're not all going to walk out again. Randolph Scott leads a cast that includes Ella Raines, John Ireland, Arthur Raines and Edgar Buchanan

Man of the West - Anthony Mann - Gary Cooper, Julie London and Arthur O'Connell are strangers stranded in the wilderness in the aftermath of a train robbery. When they stumble upon the desperadoes counting the loot their odds of survival get even longer. But Coop's got a history with the outlaws, one that he'll have to go back to to get any of them out alive. I can hear Tony Soprano lamenting 21st century masculinity from here. 


Ten Seconds to Hell
- Robert Aldrich -  Before he sent The Dirty Dozen off to certain death, Aldrich made this picture about a group of German bomb disposal workers clearing post-war Berlin of unexploded British bombs. It's a job so dangerous that the crew do not expect all to survive. Deciding they're already underpaid for their work they decide to pool their money, dedicating half of their checks to the pot so that the last surviving member of the group gets a bigger payday. Jack Palance leads the team and Jeff Chandler is his rival. Not a crime picture, but noirsh hardboiled sensibility to the core. 

Time to Die
- Arturo Ripstein - Oh man, one of my favorite subgenres (man out of prison) gets a great new to me entry here. Written by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez from a Márquez story, Jorge Martínez de Hoyos is Juan, the just-released convicted killer come back to town and trying to pick up where he left off with the woman he loved eighteen years ago. In the meantime she married, had a kid and is widowed and unsure what to do about her complicated feelings for Juan. Most people seem happy to see Juan again, seems like he was generally well-liked, but the wealthy sons of his victim have sworn vengeance for their father and hound him at every turn trying to incite him to fight. The older son is driven by honor and rage to avenge his father and the younger brother, having met Juan on his way into town before knowing who he was, is somewhat less eager to kill him. Will Juan be allowed to live in peace or will he once again be driven to violence? Terrific Mexican melodrama I was entirely absorbed by.

Mise à sac
- Alain Cavalier - Michel Constantin plays Georges, the Parker role, in this adaptation of Richard Stark's The Score. The job this time around is an entire small mining town in badlands middle America including a couple of banks and retailers and will mean incapacitating police and all of the town's communications on top of the usual concerns of safes and security. The extra ambitious nature of the heist in this story, with the larger than usual team and multiple moving parts, is nicely juxtaposed by the stripped down simplicity of the film's approach. No high-energy editing, score or flamboyance in performances, just straight-forward procedural thievery and the character moments at the end add an unexpected emotional element to the finale. 

Freebie & the Bean
- Richard Rush - James Caan and Alan Arkin are the titular cops in this buddy comedy that seems at once to be establishing and skewering genre tropes as it goes from the odd-couple pairing to the comic deployment of racial invective and two way verbal abuse, the petty squabbling and competition masking deep devotion to the over the top aspects of the action and villains. You can see the blueprint of the genre before its eventual perfection by your Walter Hills and Shane Blacks. It's honestly a bit jarring at times and I'm not entirely sure if that's when it's not working as well as it should or when it is at its most effective, it's one I"ll need to see again before I'm confident about it, but it's most certainly a thing and one with plenty to enjoy.

White of the Eye
- Donald Cammell - David Keith stars as a sound installation expert at the center of a police investigation into some brutal murders in this fucking weirdly amazing serial-killer tone poem. As familiar as all the elements are; (giallo-staged killings, Art Evans' driven detective, native peoples' spiritual overtones, obsessive off-beat charming suspect) I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Probably won't be for everybody (I mean, it's over 30 years old and I'm just hearing about it), but man did it hit a sweet spot for me. Loved it.

Dobermann
Jan Kounen - Vincent Cassel stars as the namesake thief robbing banks, creating chaos, generally upsetting the bourgeoisie and causing headaches for Parisian police in this it-came-from-the-90s piece of celluloid detritus. You'll probably lose track of the story because literally every other aspect of the production is screaming much louder for your attention; the soundtrack, the crazy angles and editing, the costume and set design and performances too. It's a fucking mess. But it's a distinctly 90s fucking mess and that has some value as an artifact. Hey kids, this is what it felt like all the time. Really. Yes, your parents liked this shit, got off on this shit and fucked to this shit and that's where you come from. Sorry.

Mekko
Sterlin Harjo - Another man out of prison tale, this time it's Rod Rondeaux as the convicted killer released to the streets of Tulsa nineteen years after his crime. It's a sad, slow, large-hearted, heartbreaker of a portrait of down and out street dwelling among the overlooked, a beautiful losers story unique for its largely American Indian cast and bleakly beautiful midwest setting.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

1010 pt 3

Now that our family's schedule for the rest of the calendar year has officially been determined as stay-at-home (a good thing considering it'd be a terrible idea to send our kids back to school - as much as we/they don't enjoy the whole online learning thing, it's really the only sane and option for our community), I'm looking back on the first half of 2020 and looking forward to more of the same... books, movies, podcasts. Okay. 

Like last summer's deep dive on the films of Cirio H. Santiago, this summer's first new-to-me exploitation legend was Brian Trenchard-Smith whose films ran the genre gamut from sci-fi, horror, action, Lifetime channel thrillers, sci-fi channel thrillers, sex comedies and in the extra especially made just for Jed category; Christian apocalyptic exploitation. That's right, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 starred Michael York, Michael Biehn, Udo Kier, Franco Nero, Diane Venora and R. Lee Ermey as pawns of the principalities of this dark world drawn by Calvinist inclinations toward their destiny. I wouldn't recommend most of you checking it out, but for this pastor's son it was an absolute hoot.

One I absolutely would recommend for everybody is Dead End Drive-In. First, it's a fucking amazing concept - punks and undesirables corralled in a purgatorial drive-in movie theater. They can't leave, but most don't even notice, let alone mind. They're kinda content to watch action movies (BT-S's The Man From Hong Kong and Turkey Shoot are both featured), have sex in their cars and get coupons for the concession stand. It's a great metaphor for malcontents of the Reagan-eighties distracted by MTV and shopping malls, but mostly it's a whole lotta fun. Enjoyed Turkey Shoot a bunch too - mostly for the go-bigness of the whole thing, likewise BMX Bandits for the purity of its dayglo 80s energy and Stunt Rock for its 70s conceptual wtfuckitty.

I read a lot of good books in the front half of the year including some classics I'd never gotten around to (Edwin Torres' Carlito's Way, Ted Lewis' Jack's Return Home, Edward Bunker's Animal Factory, Flannery O'Conner's The Violent Bear it Away, John D. MacDonald's The Executioners, Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress) and even a re-read of one (Richard Stark's The Man With the Getaway Face), some story and novella collections (Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior, Grant Jerkins' A Scholar of Pain and John Hornor Jacobs' A Lush & Seething Hell), a couple turns into non-fiction crime (Jacques Merine's memoirs The Death Instinct and Sins of the City: The Real Los Angeles Noir by Jim Heimann), took precious dips into favorite wells of no-longer-producing and non-prolific writers' bodies of work (William Gay's Little Sitster Death, Tom Piccirilli's The Dead Past, Vicki Hendricks' Sky Blues, John Brandon's Arkansas, Lynn Kostoff's The Long Fall, Rick DeMarinis' A Clod of Wayward Marl), and made a couple exceptions to my - trying to avoid books by personal friends - guidelines to read some N@B alum (the aforementioned John Hornor Jacobs, Scott Phillips' That Left Turn at Albuquerque, David James Keaton's Pig Iron and the first couple collections of The Grass Kings by Matt Kindt, Tyler Jenkins & Hilary Jenkins).


But the main event for my summer's big reading push will be the first two books of James Ellroy's 2nd L.A. Quartet, Perfidia and This Storm. I picked up Perfidia when it was brand new, but put it down fairly quickly sensing that it wasn't the right moment for me to read it. So glad I picked it back up now because holy crap did it sing to me. I'm halfway through This Storm now and it's doing the same. I'm a sucker for his schtick and loving every moment of them.

Who else's schtick am I enjoying lately?

Zach Vasquez keeps delivering the goods with regular pieces at Crime Reads. Even when I disagree with his take/choices I enjoy putting together my rebuttal. You can also follow him on Twitter @zach_vasquez

Another Crime Reads regular contributor that I enjoy is Nick Kolakowski and the same inside-my-head arguments apply. Follow him on Twitter @nkolakowski

Priscilla Page publishes good movie pieces a bunch of places, but also no has a patreon where she regularly publishes essays. Particularly enjoyed a recent piece on Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Follow her on Twitter @BBW_BFF

Andrew Nette's Pulp Curry blog continues to take a good, loving look at all things pulp fiction, film and culture. He's just started a look at all the film adaptations of Donald Westlake's (Richard Stark's) Parker character which kicked off with this piece on Alain Cavelier's Mise à sac adapted from Westlake/Stark's The Score. Follow him on Twitter @PulpCurry

Jen Johans is podcasting regularly about movies and I've enjoyed both Watch With Jen and Watch With Jen & Friends. Her blog Film Intuition is still going strong and she publishes guest pieces around the web too - check out this appreciation of Tony Leung for Phoenix Film Festival. Keep up with her by becoming a patreon subscriber and follow her on Twitter @FilmIntuition

Of course Mike White is still doing an unbelievable amount of good work for The Projection Booth podcast. I've got a few upcoming episodes I'm enjoying boning up for now. Consider becoming a patreon subscriber and keep up with Mike in the Booth on Twitter @proboothcast.

Blake Howard's All the President's Minutes and Travis Woods' Increment Vice keep attracting tremendous guests for excruciatingly in-depth looks at Alan Pakula's All the President's Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice. Both podcasts belong to the One Heat Minute family of podcasts and both gentleman continue to write enthusiastic and insightful essays and criticism on film regularly. Follow them on Twitter @OneBlakeMinute and @aHeartOfGould

Brian Lindemuth's got a new project: One Inch Tall Movies is a blog about foreign films (the title comes from Bong Joon-ho's Oscar acceptance speech where he says that English speaking audiences can discover a whole lot of new worlds in film if they can just surmount the one inch tall barrier of subtitles). Follow him on Twitter @brianlindenmuth

Walter Chaw's always coming up with older films I'm not familiar with and pretty terrific at explaining exactly why they're going to be (or not) specifically for me. He writes at length at Film Freak Central (check out this recent interview with Abel Ferrara) and you can follow him on Twitter @mangiotto

Also been enjoying the Twitter feed of Tony Tost - writer for Longmire, The Terror and creator of Damnation - as he leaves reviews and mini-essays on films he's watching and obsessing over be they Bergman, westerns or The Bad News Bears. Follow him on Twitter @tonytost or find them on Letterboxd.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

1010 pt 2

More of my favorite first-time watches by decade from the first half of 2020, the year that just won't fucking die.

1990s

Hana-Bi - Takeshi Kitano - Kitano plays an ex-cop who goes into debt with a loan shark in order to care for his ailing wife and another ex-policeman whose disabling injury he feels responsible for. When the gangster's muscle start to squeeze him he robs a bank to pay back the loan. Now he's got cops on his trail as well as the loan shark who puts together how he was able to get the money so quickly leading to some tense posturing and an inevitable bloody showdown. Before the fireworks there are some remarkably tender passages of Kitano and his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) as they make the most of their dwindling time together as well as separate scenes of Ren Osugi's wheelchair bound ex-cop battling suicidal depression through painting. An unusually emotionally affecting outing from Kitano whose hardboiled humor is more often the counterpoint to the bursts of stylized violence that punctuate his pictures. Kitano makes some capital-C choices here including the non-linear narrative framing, and the inclusion of the lovely painting sequences scored so distinctly by Joe Hisaishi. I love how aware Kitano is of his own strengths as a performer, choosing to silently absorb all the dialogue his co-stars feed him and react slowly with a slight shift in his amazing face or with decisive physicality alternating his body between a vehicle for violence or slapstick humor. I tend to find his films potent to the point of thinking "a little bit goes a long way" and not particularly wanting to watch another any time soon, but I reacted differently to Hana-Bi and I might go for another very soon.

A Perfect World - Clint Eastwood - Kevin Costner plays an escaped convict who take a young boy (T.J. Lowther) hostage during his getaway while Clint Eastwood's Texas ranger and Laura Dern's criminologist employ a mix of good-old-boy gutsiness and keen highly-educated insight to apprehend their quarry and rescue the boy. Not really sure how I let this one go so long unwatched. It sits unassumingly between Unforgiven and The Bridges of Madison County in Eastwood's directorial body of work at the very end of Costner's run as the biggest bankable movie-star and upon initial release I certainly had some young-man's resistance to both figures even, and probably especially because, I felt such an undeniable attraction to their projects (it wan't them, it was me), but still nearly thirty years is a long time to put it off. I appreciated the low-key approach to the whole affair - it wasn't a high-octane thriller and it wasn't an entirely sappy dysfunctional family surrogate father figures melodrama, but it had big helpings of both in there. There are some harrowing bits like Costner interrupting a sexual assault on Lowther's mother, or Lowther intervening in a hostage situation doomed to end in murder by Costner, while the Eastwood/Dern half of the narrative casts him as the irritated and gruffly competent, but grudgingly acknowledging the importance of progress authority figure while Dern has to bide her time and bite her tongue and deftly navigate the unjust impediments to her rise to respect and equality. The bond that forms between Costner and the kid is the heart of the movie. We like Costner because he's smart and not as bad as another con whom he breaks out with, but also because he does what he wants and he has some genuine affection for the kid who has grown up without a father in a strictly religious home. The boy is magnetically drawn to him (fascinated and frightened too) and in the space of a couple short days learns to read the dangerous new terrain he's navigating (circumstantial and relational). The Eastwood/Dern storyline is the harmony to Costner's melody with The older surrogate paternal figure being on the learning end of relationship. Costner and Eastwood are both problematic father figures who try hard, but in the end find that the best thing they can do is get out of the way of the future.

Hand Gun - Whitney Ransick - Treat Williams and Paul Schulze are semi-estranged brothers, small time criminals of strikingly different styles - one is a strong-arm and the other a weasel-y conman - who must work together to recover the small fortune their father (Seymour Cassel) died making on his final score. I'd never heard of Ransick, but his style lands somewhere between early 90s east-coast indy filmmaker contemporaries like Nick Gomez and Hal Hartley and features a cast (to die for) you'd expect from that scene as well: Michael Rappaport, Michael Imperioli, Frank Vincent, John Ventimiglia, Toby Huss, Anna Thomson, Zoë Lund, Paul Calderon, Luis Guzmán and Vincent Pastore (about half the cast of The Sopranos). Surrendering neither to hardboiled self-seriousness nor cartoonish humor, the film takes the fate of its characters to heart, but presents them as doomed fuckups and nowhere men inviting the audience to care for and laugh at its subjects. As far as I can tell Ransick was a one and done for narrative features (though a fair amount of TV work), which is a shame, 'cause I'd be happy to find a few more like this one.

La Cucaracha - Jack Perez - Eric Roberts is a down and out writer whose bragging about fictional dirty deeds gets him hired by a representative of Joaquin de Almeida's wealthiest man in town to kill a man who wronged his family. Roberts is no soulless killer though, he's troubled by the proposition and even more by his own willingness to consider it, but soon finds that he's put himself in a kill or be killed situation and takes the job. A simple noir set up, but what sets this one apart from so many is the follow through. It's a satisfyingly grimy telling of a familiar crime fable (watch for an early appearance from Michael Peña). I'm really surprised I'd never heard of it before. I checked Perez's filmography afterward and had only seen one (the Kevin Corrigan starring weirdo comic noir Some Guy Who Kills People), but will try some more - maybe Wild Things 2, The Big Empty or Where's Roman?

Shark Skin Man & Peach Hip GirlKatsuhito Ishii - This story of thievery, sexual perversity, hitmen and yakuza families is based on a manga of the same name and it's a big ol' mess of story elements strung together in vignettes which vary wildly in quality. The whole affair is held together by a playful energy that reflects the best (and worst) of the decade's attitudes and innovations. The action rarely thrills, but there are laughs throughout and the extremely stylized nature of the project means there's always something to be watching even when the plot gets away from you. Features one of my favorite cinematic shootouts of the year.

2000s

King of the Ants - Stuart Gordon - When Gordon died earlier this year I took the opportunity to watch whatever was available on streaming platforms and this one stood out. Best known as a horror film maker this one is a crime film that gets more horrific than most are willing to. Another down and out man hired to kill someone, double-cross and revenge saga (this would pair well with La Cucaracha for +a double feature), it's remarkable for the commitment to sticking the noir landing... and breaking it off. Felt like discovering an un-published Allan Guthrie novel (that's a very strong recommendation).

City of ViolenceRyoo Seung-wan - A group of childhood friends are reunited on the occasion of one of their group's murder twenty years later. One is now a policeman another is a gangster and no one is particularly satisfied with the official story of how their friend met his end. Not really a strong example of the Korean flavor of crime films I've enjoyed so much this century, this one leans awfully hard on Hong-Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s and it's not really great... until the climax. The final action show-piece really is a stunner akin to and probably even directly influenced by The House of Blue Leaves chapter of Kill Bill vol. 1 (I'm not knowledgeable enough of Tarantino's influences to say what he's paying homage to in that sequence). Regardless, I found the climax worth the sit and have rewatched it a couple of times since.

Where the Money IsMarek Kanievska - Linda Fiorentino is a caretaker at the nursing home Paul Newman's catatonic elderly bank robber is released from prison into the custody of and she begins to suspect the geezer is playing dumb and planning an escape and, if she's lucky, another heist that she can horn in on to escape the drudgery she feels her life has become. I avoided it despite it being a crime film starring Fiorentino and Newman for 20 years because it was rated PG and I figured that meant 'lame.' I'm glad I finally gave it a go, it was fun. Sucks that neither of them are making movies any longer.

Harry Brown - Daniel Barber - Michael Caine is the titular character, a old man who turns to vigilantism after his friend is murdered. Seems the housing development they shared has become a real shit hole overrun by violent youth with no respect for their elders. Blah-blah-blah, and murder. It's definitely a kick to watch Caine's geezer go to war with the likes of Sean Harris, Ben Drew and Jack O'Connell and it holds its mud with some particularly nasty bits. Emily Mortimer and Iain Glen are cops on Caine's case alternately impressed and repulsed by his work.

The Butcher - Jesse V. Johnson - Eric Roberts (again!) is a middling criminal on a long decline and a gambler with outsized debt who pulls it together for one last stab at fat city. Before Johnson became king of the DTV action movie he made a handful of these low budget gangster flicks with mixed results. They're kinda stuck in the unenviable position of comparison to Guy Ritchie, while undeniably conscious that their own funding owes an awful lot to the success of his films. They're not really going for the same thing Ritchie's were, but they're also not as good. They manage to be too stiff and too hammy at the same time, but they also hit some nice notes often thanks to their veteran casts and this one has a honey of a that-guy lineup including Keith David, Bookeem Woodbine, Michael Ironside, Geoffrey Lewis, Robert Davi, Jeremy Trimble, Timothy V. Murphy, Guillermo Diaz and Nils Allen Stewart. There's perhaps too much plot as well, but this one (also Johnson's Charlie Valentine starring Raymond J. Barry) held me in pleasant suspense about what the ultimate fates of their heroes would be.

2010s (that won't be eligible for 2020 year-end picks)



Tramps - Adam Leon - This low stakes romantic shaggy-dog of a crime oddyssey through New York City stars Callum Turner as a reluctant participant in a criminal transaction of an unknown nature. He's trying to do his incarcerated brother a solid by taking a package and delivering it to someone else, but things go wrong pretty quick and he finds himself partnered with  Grace Van Patten chasing the misplaced goods around the city. There's a series of unanticipated complications and crises that test their wits and guts and the bonds of their new relationship. I was charmed and disarmed by this one that plays like a rom-com version of the Safdie Brothers' Good Time.

Mayhem - Joe Lynch - Steven Yuen is a mid-level cog in a big machine watching his soul slip away in pursuit of a corner office and a retirement plan working for a monstrous legal firm. On the same day that he becomes a scape-goat for his nervous overlords their high rise corporate office is locked down due to contamination by a highly contagious virus that causes the infected to lose all inhibitions and act out their basest impulses. Seizing the opportunity to blow off twenty years' worth of pent up frustration and seething anger he fights his way to the penthouse where the board members run their evil empire determined to give them a piece of his mind. It's a white-collar splatter movie with infectious energy for fans of Greg McLean's The Belko Experiment or Duane Swiercyznski's Severance Package.

The Foreigner - Martin Campbell - Jackie Chan is the titular character intent on getting justice for his daughter killed in a terrorist bombing in London. Frustrated by the lack of progress the Scotland Yard investigation is making, he takes it upon himself to find the Irish Nationalist group who've claimed responsibility and exact his revenge. Pierce Brosnan plays a politician and outspoken former IRA member who may be linked to the group. Both Brosnan's and Chan's characters' pasts are going to catch up to them. Based on Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman I remember when this one came out thinking that grim Jackie Chan wasn't really a thing I was interested in, but it popped up on Netflix and I'm so glad I gave it a go. I'd recommend you do too.

Revenge For Jolly! - Chad Harbold - Brian Petsos plays Harry, a deadbeat criminal who indulges in one last night of blackout drinking with his cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) before leaving town in lieu of paying with broken bones a debt he can't cover in cash. It was one bad choice too many though and he returns home to collect his dog Jolly before hitting the road only to find that his pet has been killed by people looking for him. Harry and Cecil then embark on an investigation and quest for justice that leaves many, many people of varying degrees of culpability equally fucking murdered in this darkly comic and deadpan revenge story that predates both films, but feels like John Wick by way of The Greasy Strangler. I really, really enjoyed it. Killer cast includes Kristen Wiig, Elijah Wood, Adam Brody, Ryan Phillippe, Garret Dillahunt, Amy Seimetz, Kevin Corrigan, Gillian Jacobs, Jayne Atkinson and Bobby Moynihan.

Once Upon a Time in Venice - Mark Cullen, Robb Cullen - Bruce Willis comes out of his coma to play a Venice Beach private detective trying to get his dog back from gangsters who've stolen him for reasons. This is ultra-light-weight, breezy tough-guy stuff that has plenty of room for the groans to be lost among the laughs. It's dumb, so, so very dumb, but a lot of fun and Willis is a big part of the fun - bedding women a third of his age, skateboarding naked, pratfalling, one-liner-ing and smirking like he used to. It won't fill that Terriers-was-cancelled-sized hole in your heart, but it feels like it's trying to. Supporting cast includes Jason Momoa, John Goodman, Thomas Middleditch, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Röhm, Adam Goldberg, Wood Harris, Emily Robinson and Kal Penn.