Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Where's the Brief? Dawn

Dawn - d: Rose McGowan w: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller - Tara Lynne Barr is the titular Dawn, a shy and sheltered girl determined to see a little more of the world.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton RIP

With the passing of Harry Dean Stanton we may have to permanently retire the phrase 'hang-dog expression' as no one else may ever fit it so well. Those soulful eyes set deep and resting atop oftten un-shaven jowls (jowls - on a skinny guy) could convey hardness and cynicism as effectively as bottomless wells of tender-hearted warmth and vulnerability.

His body of work includes too many important (to me) films to try and cover in a single piece, but I've assembled a very personal top-five Harry Dean Stanton moments.

Big Love - As Roman Grant, patriarch and prophet of a polygamous Mormon cult who travels everywhere in a well-armed caravan of white SUVs, he is a straight up gangster bringing physical as well as spiritual menace to the proceedings - especially in the first few seasons of the show. The first scene of him trying to muscle in on estranged son in law Bill Paxton's successful business via blackmail is some shiver-inducing shit. 

Paris, Texas - As the lonely figure wandering through the desert in Wim Wenders' adaptation of Sam Shepard's play he spends the first eternity of his performance almost entirely mute - confused, haunted, determined - but he drops the heavy anchor of the film's emotional core in a scene of dialogue with peep-show performer Nastassja Kinski. Separated by a one-way mirror and using a telephone, the barriers between the characters are slowly dissolved and the stage is set for a second similar encounter that packs a wallop. 

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid - A bit player in Sam Peckinpah's oft-maligned (and I've only seen the restored version - so maybe it really did suck for decades) meditation on betrayal, Harry Dean Stanton has a single show-stealing moment that nicely frames the whole film. When Kris Kristofferson's laconically charismatic Billy breaks out of jail and unexpectedly catches up to his gang bunked out in the middle of the night Stanton's Luke gives up his spot in the bed he's sharing with a woman Billy wants to sleep with. He's disappointed to, he's jealous, but he's also happy to see his friend alive and assumes beta-dog position without it a showdown. The look on his face and his body language in the scene pretty much sums up all the film's themes. Breaks my heart every time.

Repo Man - As Bud, mentor to Emilio Estevez's Otto in Alex Cox's weird masterpiece, Stanton has the lion's share of good lines, but it's hard to imagine another actor who could take the contempt the young punk throws his way and hand it back to him so expertly folded and origami'd that initial scorn becomes admiration and hero worship. The 'the life of a repo man is always intense' scene deserves iconic status.

Wild At Heart - As Johnnie Farragut, P.I. and whipped dog to Diane Ladd's Marietta Fortune in David Lynch's expanding adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, Stanton has many memorable moments - driving across the swampy south tapping his fingers on his way to New Orleans, yipping at a hyena on the hotel television and bemoaning the sexual possibilities he and Ladd are passing up by hitting the road instead of staying in that king-sized bed - but it's his final doomed moments being tormented by Grace Zabriski, Calvin Lockhart and David Patrick Kelly as a trio of hired voodoo killers that he looks at the camera, sighs 'oh Marietta' and conveys that he may be a sap and a cuck-hold, but he's no fool - he knew this end was a strong possibility, but he made his own choices  with his eyes open, and he'd probably make them again, for the love of a woman who doesn't return it. 

A few more films I love that he sometimes anchored, other times supported and occasionally made no more than a cameo-appearance in, but, held so much character in his face that he, enriched and sold the entire atmosphere of: Alien, Alpha Dog, Cockfighter, Cool Hand Luke, Dillinger, Escape From New York, In the Heat of the Night, 92 in the Shade, The Pledge, Ride in the Whirlwind, Seven Psychopaths, The Straight Story, Straight Time, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Two-Lane Blacktop.

I was already very much looking forward to John Carroll Lynch's Lucky, but oh man, now I bet it's going to land like an anvil on my heart. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jonathan Ashley

Woke up to news this morning that my friend Jonathan Ashley died last night.

I only spent time with him once in person - it was last year when he came to St. Louis for a N@B event. He read from his novel The Cost of Doing Business and hearing him read it - his own words, in his own voice - gave some soul and world-weariness to the otherwise humorous passage that stuck with me.

Even though we only met the one time I call him a friend because we talked to each other that way. He used to call me on the phone and tell me how he was feeling  - excited, depressed, frustrated, concerned, inspired - and he frequently asked for advice, acknowledgement, consideration, prayer and forgiveness.

He pushed further in to me - asked more from me personally - than most casual friends I have had.

And because he asked I tried to give.

I don't think I gave him much. It wasn't enough. But I was happy to give what I could. It was an honor that he talked plainly to me about his needs and failures. We had those to bond over.

Weakness and moral failure are the cement of some of my closest friendships. I've got tons to share.

Jon was a talented, insightful artist. He was also a friend whose personal expressions sometimes had the charge of exposed wire and raw nerve. I will miss his work, but I will miss our talks more.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Frank Vincent RIP

Frank Vincent 1939-2017 

Raging Bull

The Pope of Greenwich Village

Do the Right Thing

Last Exit to Brooklyn


Mortal Thoughts

Jungle Fever


Cop Land

The Sopranos

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Deuce Drops

If you haven't been a slavering, sweaty mess waiting for The Deuce to drop on HBO this month I honestly don't know why we're even friends. First, it's a writing room dream team featuring creators David Simon and George Pelecanos alongside more of my favorite names like Richard Price and Megan Abbott.

Second, the time period and subject matter - 1970s New York City when Times Square was an open air vice bazaar - are a huge sweet spot for my interests.

If you, like me, are going to have a hard time waiting week to week or for DVD release in a year lemme suggest a few other items that might tickle your (funny) bone.

Across 110th Street - Barry Shear - Based on a novel by Wally Ferris and bolstered by the soundtrack by Bobby Womack this is probably the go-to crime film for getting into the time (1972) and place. Black and white cops have to work together to straddle the world where the only thing that is keeping black and white criminal organizations from killing each other is the love of money. When a trio of desperate characters rip off a mob joint, the under and over-worlds unite against them

The Forty-Two - Ed Kurtz - A love letter to the deuce circa 1979 disguised as a murder thriller, Kurtz packs more pop and poop culture references into this one than... y'know what? It's kind of the porn and horror version of Ready Player One (it's a lot better than that).

Hardcore - Paul Schrader - George C. Scott plays a religious man whose runaway daughter shows up in a stag film and he embarks on a rescue mission to save her. Of course his motives and her reality will require reckoning with before the movies' end. This is the decidedly non-groovy tour of the sex work underworld, but it's not square, daddy-o, it's shattering.

Inside Deep Throat - Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato - Very engaging documentary about the seminal film's impact on cinema, crime and culture in general.

Johnny Porno - Charlie Stella - The fictional version of the mob and porno industry. Stella knows the period, the characters and may have even seen a blue movie or two in his life. Good shit.

King Suckerman - Geore Pelecanos - The Deuce is not Pelecanos' first trip to the seventies. This 1997 novel set twenty some years earlier recreates the vibe of the film, literature and music of the era. It's super funky.

The Mack - Michael Campus - In the golden age of blaxsploitation flicks this one stands out by not setting out to be exploitation at all. It's a socially engaged picture about a pimp in Oakland, but that doesn't keep it from being groovy too.

Mr. Untouchable - Marc Levin - This documentary about 1970s Harlem dope king Nicky Barnes is a terrific portrait of guts, greed and hubris that will probably run parallel to The Deuce's storyline if the show lasts a few years.

Peepland by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips and Andrea Camerini - a murder mystery/corruption thriller set against the backdrop of the peepshows and porno houses and punk rock venues of the early eighties - brought to life by in the know writing and lovingly recreated in gorgeous artwork. First trade collection is out now.

Sick City by Tony O'Neill - okay, not the 70s or New York City, but man, if you wanna get grimy, dig the squalor of this book's world. It's all shootin up, popping pills, sucking dick and stealing shit. It's a real good time. (And if you've already read it, get on the sequel Black Neon - it's crazy good too).

Summer of Sam - Spike Lee - Lee's neighborhood portrait looks at the summer of 1977 when David Berkowitz aka The Son of Sam killer was shooting folks on orders from a demon inside the dog next door. Paranoia and excessive heat inflame the already tense atmosphere of the residents of the Bronx and the strong ensemble criss cross in Altman-esque fashion. Kinda hypnotic. Great soundtrack too.
Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese - Do I really need to tell you to watch this one? The disgust of Travis Bickle reads like a love letter to a bygone era that probably deserves its own iconic stamp on the back of an I HEART NY t-shirt - Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit.  Indeed.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

South of Cincinnati

Today Jonathan Ashley spills about the origins and influences of his latest novel South of Cincinnati. I take note of Ashley's interests since his first guest piece here a couple years ago - a thoughtful piece on David Goodis and Charles Willeford called Obscure Lives, Quiet Deaths, and Noir's Forgotten Men of Tepid Conscience (great title, no?).

Ashley's musician background also informs his literary sensibilities - check out his South of Cincinnati play list at The Largehearted Boy. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all the latest @JonAshley_Books then pick up a copy of South of Cincinnati and be the first person on your cell block to leave a review.

South of Cincinnati Top Five Influences

Mean Streets – I’d like to think of this novel as kind of a southern and far more darkly comedic homage to Scorsese’s first gangster picture. It’s about the petty larceny that leads to organized crime that leads to fallout and tragedy. And, much like in Mean Streets, the two main characters are basically jack-offs in over their heads. But the decisions they make under pressure reveal their true characters, which one is the loyal stand-up guy and which would turn fink to save himself from facing the logical consequences of his actions. Scorsese, a devout Catholic, I believe, loves portraying his characters struggling with the divine inside of them versus the unholy commissions of vanity and ego, reinforced by concomitant criminals and their shifting allegiances. It’s real too. No one breaks down and renounces the bent life, even after bad shit happens that would shock most of us into a nine-to-five white picket fence existence. God is not good for business. And while I remain vague and secular in the novel’s moral compass, my characters all, willingly or not and often violently, atone for their sins. All but one, who I’ll deal with in the shocker of a series finale, The Last Fallout, atones. 

The Rolling Stones – Duh? Martin Scorsese’s favorite band and one I listened to through most of the writing and editing of the novel. Their covers of Drift Away and Let It Loose inspired two of the more heartbreaking sequences. 

Tower by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman – Who would have ever thought a novel written by two people would flow so seamlessly. From what I hear, Bruen wrote the first half, and Coleman the second. Read the book and tell me if you noticed? What about Tower also informed my approach to South, or the entire trilogy for that matter? The abrupt and unapologetic plot twists in this novel hit you so unexpected, I think a few times I physically rose from my chair and cursed. And since I know it personally, I was rather attracted to the morally ambiguous world in which these nearly indistinguishable protagonists and antagonists, the killer cops and pious hoodlums, live and have their being.

Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli – The ambiguous ending. You don’t know who exactly will survive, but you also know it doesn’t matter. These are all broken people.

Jonna Sears – It was my friend Jonna who explained to me in that extremely distracting velvet sandpaper voice  – and guys, please don’t go all phallic referencing on this – with prose, often less is more.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Year in Crime Flicks: Constipation ed.

Here's the thing...

I used to try and review all the crime flicks I was watching on a monthly basis, but... that got away from me. This post is me just dumping random thoughts and micro-reviews, or (in most cases) simply cataloging the crime flicks I've been watching. This post will catch me up on un-discussed viewings from 2016.

As I just crossed the 300 crime films watched thus far in 2017 line, I'm officially giving up hope of ever catching up. So... ugh.

*by request I've updated with a few more extremely brief Tweet-length reviews of certain titles. Feel free to leave requests in the comments

Assault on Precinct 13 - John Carpenter - On the night before the titular police station is shut down, the officers on duty have no telephones, radios or backup. They do have a dangerous collection of surprise prisoners and are under siege from a street gang out for revenge after several of its members were killed by cops. This is suspense/action/exploitation film making at its Carpenter-iffic peak. Good one to show the kids if you don't mind swears.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans - Werner Herzog - Nicolas Cage plays a good cop in a bad way after injuring himself during Hurricane Katrina and becoming addicted to pain killers he resorts to stealing from the evidence locker, robbing criminals and extorting average citizens to keep his monkey fed. He also has a few items of legitimate police interest to attend to and lines blur quick. Cage turns in a highlight reel performance and it's pure joy, my brethren, when he encounters trials of various kinds because we know that his character is about to be tested - he goes wacky-Nicky at the drop of an acid tab, but the movie never veers off course. Never conceived with any relationship to Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, it became a sequel of sorts with a cumbersome name after the fact as a craven marketing ploy, but that doesn't really hurt anything - just makes it weirder. Love this flick. 

Band of Robbers - Aaron Nee, Adam Nee - The brothers Nee borrow plots and characters from Mark Twain and employ them to mixed results in this comedic heist flick. Co-writer/director Adam Nee and Kyle Gallner play Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn respectively with Hannibal Buress as part of the gang and Stephen Lang as their adversary Injun Joe. High marks for concept.

Better Call Saul season 2 - Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould - Bob Odenkirk returns as the whip-smart, resourceful, from the hip conman turned lawyer Jimmy McGill before he became everybody's favorite sleaze-ball Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad. He's being set up to possibly usurp Walter White as Breaking Bad's most tragic figure and I'm enjoying the hell out of the ride especially when the focus falls on Jonathan Banks as Mike.

Beverly Hills Cop - Martin Brest - Detroit detective Axel Foley's (Eddie Murphy) best bud returns home from Beverly Hills just long enough to be killed by the California bad guys he ripped off and Foley uses his accrued vacation to go investigate his pal's murder. If you, like me, saw this one in the 80s it holds up okay with its action comedy schtick - but it's impossible for me to evaluate it objectively today. It's not really hilarious and it's not at all suspenseful, but it does feature a Murphy performance that showcases his natural charisma well - so much so that he's more compelling now for the quieter moments. The ease with which he holds the screen playing it straight makes me wish he'd had an alternate career as a dramatic actor who made the occasional comedy (I had a similar response to Kevin Hart when I watched Central Intelligence with my kids - he kinda loses me when goes big, but he's really got a natural presence). Is this the Brest movie to preserve for posterity? Neither as good as Brest's Midnight Run nor Murphy's 48 Hours, it's nevertheless a solid runner up in either category for enjoyably light entertainment.

Blast of Silence

Blood Simple - Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Blue Murder

Blue Velvet David Lynch -

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - -

Carlito's Way - Brian De Palma -

Chop Shop - Ramin Bahrani - Huge 'thumbs up'

City of Industry

Close Range - Iaac Florentine - Pretty bad. Believe it or not there are different levels of quality to Scott Adkins fare.

Cohen & Tate  -

Collateral - Michael Mann - Every few years I give this one another shot... gah, the reasons it's such a turd only grow more apparent, and they're mostly due to how really great the good elements are. Ugh, this film frustrates me. Every time Mann composes a striking visual Jamie Foxx stumbles through the frame or the script shows its ass, the film's internal logic fails... Add it to my list of hollywood fare that would drastically improve with an edit of most of the dialogue or cutting certain characters out completely. I'd like to dub it into another language and write a new script to subtitle it with... make an "art film" out of it... I'd do something similar to Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale... except that one's much closer to working as it already is - an artfully/glorious mess.

The Conformist
Crank - -

Criminal - Ariel Vromen - Goofy fun. Not quite Face/Off level execution, but the closest I've found to that level of 'just go with it or fuck the fuck off' in a long time.

The Crook - Claude Lelouch - A dud in my run of good 70s Italian fare.

Cry of a Prostitute

Cut Snake - Toy Ayres - Convict is released from prison and tries to hookup with his jailhouse lover for a score and romance, but dude has gone back to his wife and straight life. Disappointing results for a promising premise. Cast ain't bad.

Cutter's Way

Dark Blue - Ron Shelton -

Dark Places - Giles Paquet-Brenner - meh. 

Dead Bang -

Die Hard 2 - Renny Harlin -

Die Hard With a Vengeance

Dirty Pretty Things - Stephen Frears -

Dixieland - Hank Bedford - nice feel and moments, but nothing really happening. Too bad. I recommend sticking to much stronger similar aesthetic fare like Ain't Them Bodies Saints or the true original, Badlands.

Electric Glide in Blue -  -

Exiled - Johnny To -

Far From Men

Fargo Season 2 - Noah Hawley -

The Favor - Paul Osborne -  great premise, ultra-low budget, fizzles quickly
Fight For Your Life - -

Fingers - -


French Connection II - John Frankenheimer -

Get Carter - Mike Hodges -

The Getaway - Roger Donaldson -

Gone in 60 Seconds


La Haine - -

Happy Valley season 1

Happy Valley season 2


Hollow Triumph

The Hot Spot - Dennis Hopper

The Hunter -


In a Lonely Place - Nicholas Ray -

The Infiltrator - Brad Furman - Exactly how old is Bryan Cranston supposed to look in this movie? This flick is set in 1985 and every song it's scored with is from the 70s... weird choice Leonard Cohen's Everybody Knows is the first correct-decade cut in this flick - which is a legit choice, but those tattoo sleeves look wrong

Into the Abyss - Werner Herzog -

Kill Me Again - John Dahl -

The Killers - Robert Siodmak -

The Killing - Stanley Kubrick -

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Shane Black -

Kiss Me Deadly - Robert Aldrich -

King of New York - Abel Ferrara -

The Lady in the Car with the Glasses & a Gun - Joann Sfar - haven't seen the original, it was just okay, highly watchable, but ultimately unsatisfying resolution to the 'mystery' - neither Lynchian/DePalmian/Hitchcockian enough to justify its weird setup

Lady Vengeance - -

The Last Boy Scout - Tony Scott -

The Last Heist - Mike Mendez - Cool, pulpy concept - a caper goes off the rails when the heisters are trapped inside the bank with a patron who happens to be a homicidal psychotic - Die Hard with a serial killer - but oh shit, not even Henry Rollins as the deadly fly in the ointment can make this thing near watchable. Leaden performances, limp script (the lines were either that poorly written or the cast was encouraged to ad-lib way too much) and budgetary stretching to the point of transparency. Oof. Y'know what, though. It's a great concept. I'd be down to let em try it again.

Last Man Standing - Walter Hill -

Legend - Brian Hegeland -

Lethal Weapon - Richard Donner -


The Limey - Steven Soderbergh -

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels - Guy Ritchie -

London Has Fallen - Babek Najafi -

The Long Good Friday

Lost Highway - David Lynch -

Machine Gun McCain - Giuliano Montaldo - Pretty terrific hardboiled turn from John Cassavetes and belongs on a short list of films that feel like they could be quality (Richard Stark's) Parker adaptations... only they're not.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. - Guy Ritchie

The Matador - Richard Sheppard

Mean Streets - Martin Scorsese

The Mechanic: Resurrection - Dennis Gansel - The sparks between Jason Statham and Jessica Alba could make fire a thing of the past.

Mobsters - -

Mona Lisa - Neil Jordan -

Murder, My Sweet

Mystery Road - Ivan Sen - I'm glad the terrible title didn't keep me from watching it - a lot of praiseworthy elements including some good trope-up-ending stuff that may leave some viewers unsatisfied, but got me pretty jazzed... hoping the sequel Goldstone is even better

Night Manager -

Night Moves - Arthur Penn

Normal Life

Un Oso Rojo

Peaky Blinders season 3 - Steven Knight -

Peeping Tom

Perdita Durango


Playing God - -

Point Break -


Rage - Paco Cabezas - Wildly uneven revenge flick that never makes up its mind on tone. Why I bothered to get past the first 30-40 minutes speaks volumes about my character... or options. I'd given up on it as a Redbox action schlockfest, but by the time Nicolas Cage gets into the violent bits I perked up - a few genuinely nasty moments that spoke to the squandered potential had this decided it wanted to be a straight-up gritty Death Wish-esque piece of grindhouse cinema instead of the B-grade mainstream action/mystery it mostly is. Acting is pretty bad with a couple of bright spots (Pasha Lychnikoff is hammy fun and Peter Stormare is a treasure who elevates everything he appears in), script is painfully dumb (instead of dumb fun), the soundtrack is atrocious, but the violence hits the spot once in a while, plus it's one of the more convincing recent performance by Cage's hair. Not sure whether to blame a lack of conviction or failure of execution, but for very brief moments Rage makes me wish there were another, nastier version of it out there.

Raw Deal

Rear Window - Alfred Hitchcock

Rosario Tijeras

Seeking Justice - Roger Donaldson -

Set it Off - F. Gary Gray -

The Seven Five


The Silence

Smokin' Aces - Joe Carnahan -

Smokin' Aces 2

Son of No One - Dito Montiel - For the on-screen talent assembled for fare that I like operating within that budgetary sweet spot (enough money to look good and attract quality actors, but not enough to make investors afraid they're going to lose everything by not delivering a happy ending or making characters 'likable' or some otherwise gutless reason high-budget crime fare so seldom satisfies) this was pretty disappointing. Dumb.

Special I.D.

The Split - Gordon Flemyng - Jim Brown as McClain (Parker) in this adaptation of Richard Stark's The Seventh. One year after Lee Marvin in John Boorman's Point Blank this one

Suicide Theory - Dru Brown - A suicidal man who believes he is cursed to survive all attempts on his life hires a hitman to do the job. It's a concept that starts off with a few nice, gruesomely comic moments, but grows old quickly.

Surrogates - Jonathan Mostow - A few feints at worthy of remembrance, but ultimately a forgettable sci-fi murder mystery. God bless Bruce Willis for taking stabs at high-concept and/or hardboiled crime material, 'cause every fifth or sixth time out we get a winner, but this one is no 12 Monkeys or Looper or The Sixth Sense or... Sin City or Pulp Fiction.

Tango & Cash

Thief - Michael Mann - James Caan plays Frank, the titular professional in Mann's first foray into his most fertile garden - the working professional criminal - based on the book The Home Invaders by Frank Hohimer (John Seybold). Heat may be the most-remembered for its Pacino/De Niro pairing, but all the themes important to Mann's work are being worked out here and it's as potent as anything that's come since.

3 Days to Kill - McG - neither as fun or committed to being goofy and outrageous as Criminal

Two Men in Town - Rachid Bouchareb -  Forest Whitaker plays a cop-killer turned prison Islam convert and Harvey Keitel is a border town law man trying to  balance justice and personal prejudice. A remake of the 1973 José Giovanni film about an ex-con back in town translates nicely to its modern American setting, but the film fails to make much of all the juicy potential. A handful of nice moments, but not a recommendation's worth.

Uncle John - Steven Piet - Watched this one just for the opportunity to see John Ashton in a leading role and it was a half-satisfying experience. The half of the film with Ashton's titular aging character trying to cover up the murder he just committed is swell. The other half that deals with his nephew's love life is... meh.

The Underneath - Steven Soderbergh - Sodebergh's remake of Don Tracy's armored car heist flick Criss Cross is the stepping stone before he hit the peak of his commercial powers with Out of Sight in 1998. It's a minor work, but worthwhile for the William Fichtner performance alone.

War Dogs - Todd Phillips - Jonah Hill has the best coke-eyes since Ray Liotta's in Goodfellas.

Welcome to Collinwood - Anthony Russo, Joe Russo -

Wild at Heart - David Lynch -

Year of the Dragon - Michael Cimino - A fond revisit after Cimino's passing. It's difficult not to see this one through the eyes of the teenager I was when I first saw it. Maybe I'm more forgiving than I should be of some of the pace issues, the race issues and Mickey Rourke's blond hair. Still a tasty slice of violence.
Youth of the Beast - Seijun Suzuki - A cop tears down rival yakuza gangs by going undercover and playing both sides agains the other. It hops and jumps with that distinct vibe that is 1960s new wave criminal cinema. Do I hop with it? Sometimes. It's not the easiest milieu for me to get into.

Zodiac - David Fincher -