Tuesday, March 23, 2010
A little over a year from his death, Donald Westlake's final unpublished novel, (written in the early sixties), Memory has just been released by Hard Case Crime. You can read my review at Ransom Notes. Besides his prolific prose output Westlake won an Academy Award for his screenplay The Grifters based on the novel by Jim Thompson and directed by Stephen Frears. Frears had visited crime earlier with The Hit starring Terence Stamp, John Hurt and a peroxide blonde Tim Roth. Where The Hit had fun playing with genre staples like hit men and stoic criminals, often to comic payoff, The Grifters went straight into the heart of darkness featuring many Thompson motifs like well grifters, betrayal, incest and murder. It was so dark in fact that Westlake turned down the original offer to adapt the material on that basis. Frears convinced him to take another look at it and consider the story a survival tale from the mother's point of view, (a peroxide blonde Angelica Huston), rather than from the son's (John Cusack). The cast included Annette Bening and J.T. Walsh and a visual style so effortlessly slick you hardly notice it's hell you're sliding recklessly toward. Seriously, the bloom of red emerging late in the film, in the decor, in the blood is scary pretty. If you haven't seen this one, what the hell are you doing still reading this? Fix that, pronto.
Frears returned to crime with 2002's Dirty Pretty Things about illegal immigrants working menial jobs in London, including at a hotel where the staff cow and dodge management's truly disturbing black market retail business. It starred Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor and to my mind evoked Thompson too, (probably the seedy hotel setting).
Dirty Pretty Things shared themes and screenwriter Steven Knight with David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Once again it centered on the London immigrant underground and the fortunes the cruel make on the refugee. Promises supposedly has a sequel in gestation somewhere with all the major players attached. If any movie ever cried out not to have a sequel... Oh, who am I kidding? I'll be first in line. Disappointed after, maybe, but first in line for sure.
Speaking of first in line, (and Thompson), The Killer Inside Me approaches. If you haven't read that beast, you should. Prepare yourself for Lou Ford's singular brand of simmering, sadistic misogyny and what could be a scorching turn from Casey Affleck.
In other news, Tony Black's Pulp Pusher online journal has folded up tents. Bummer. But Crime Factory's Keith Rawson has an offer for anybody ever published at PP.
And as PP falls, Needle rises. I'm hearing things about the lineup for the first issue - aside from my own piece there'll be Patti Abbott, Kieran Shea, Sandrea Seamans, Hilary Davidson, Kent Gowran and Paul Brazill as well as others Steve Weddle and John Hornor Jacobs are keeping under wraps for the time being.