Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Blood & Gasoline

Pleased to announce I've got a new story, Little White Lines, appearing in the anthology Blood & Gasoline edited by Mario Acevedo arriving May 1. They's even a pre-order link for that shit here. If my story isn't enough to getcha interested then check out my partners in crime: Les Edgerton, Gary Phillips, Jon Bassoff, Gabino Iglesias, James R. Tuck, Manuel Ramos, Carter Wilson, Catherine Dilts, Angie Hodapp, Jeanne C. Stein, Warren Hammond, Merit Clark, Travis Heermann, Robert Jeschonek, Quincy Allen, Joshua Viola and Sean Eads. If you're a big nerd who reads all my stories it may be of interest to you that Little White Lines connects two previous stories - The Plot and Have You Seen Me? from Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded  (Both Barrels vol. 3) and St. Louis Noir respectively.

Fierce Bitches is now officially and completely out of print - as in you can't even get that shit on Kindle anymore. The last set of paperbacks made their way from Australia and I've got a few I can sell directly to you via Paypal if you're interested. The french translation Les Féroces is coming in November from Editions les Arènes' EquinoX line. I saw its first mention in this interview with EquinoX publisher Aurélien Masson and was amused by the claim that I am the son of a Texan pastor. Not to split Ayres, but while it's true I'm a p-k my father pastored churches in Kansas and Arkansas (never Texas I'm afraid). 

Fierce Bitches/Les Féroces comes right out of being a pastor's kid. I've said it before, but besides being allegorical it's also a riff on certain old testament stories - a writing habit I continue to use. I talked a little bit about that in an interview this week at Digital Media Ghost. Will Viharo posed the questions and I was happy to say things I may later regret. Thanks, Will. Also - check out that sweet ass author photo taken by Scott Phillips.

Dropping this week from ABC Group is Grant Jerkins' razor sharp story collection A Scholar of Pain which I was honored to give a blurb to (and here it is)..."A Scholar of Pain hits that literary sweet spot: Could be crime fiction, might be southern gothic - or even horror. The stories are funny as hell, too. And compassionate. In fact Jerkins' voice is amongst the most compassionate I've heard, because he extends it to some hideous wretches in a way that underscores the humanity I share with them. I heartily recommend Grant Jerkins." It's available to order now

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Crime Fiction Recommendations for International Women's Day

Bad Penny Blues - Cathi Unsworth

Bump - Diana Wagman

Dahlia's Gone - Katie Estill

DopeSara Gran

The Dying Ground - Nichelle D. Tramble

Escape - Perihan Magden

I-5 - Summer Brenner

I'd Know You Anywhere - Laura Lippman

Low Bite - Sin Soracco

Miami Purity - Vicki Hendricks
 Money ShotChrista Faust

QueenpinMegan Abbott

Strangers On a Train - Patricia Highsmith

You Believers - Jane Bradley

Monday, March 5, 2018

Link Break

Taking a break from the endless cataloging of movies I watched last year to talk briefly about a few articles that caught my eye recently.

First up is Rob Hart talking about the differences between Brian Garfield's source novel and the 1974 Michael Winner film, Death Wish that turned into a long-running-ever-running-away-from-its-origins series starring Charles Bronson as a vigilante at Criminal Element. It's an article he wrote in a while back, but it's surfaced again because of the Joe Carnahan-penned Eli Roth remake starring Bruce Willis.

The new take on the old stuff looks... not great. Looks like another Grindhouse fake trailer accidentally turned into a feature length run time ala Machete, but early reviews don't hint at anything as clever or fun as the Robert Rodriguez/Danny Trejo films have turned out to be (I'm even looking forward to Machete Kills Again in Space).

In fact this Diabolique piece claiming to name 17 Vigilante Films That Are Way Better Than Eli Roth's Bullshit 'Death Wish' Remake - an apparent lay-up piece offering the opportunity to highlight some other worthy work. The piece lists the 1974 version as well as parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 to take up a little space and perhaps stretch credulity (I mean, is this new one really gonna be less entertaining than the latter Death Wish installments? I never got through part 3 so I'm not willing to take the author's word for it), but where the piece loses me permanently is including a pair of excellent flicks - David Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner - that I can't wrap my head around being called vigilante fare. Then the inclusion of Boondock Saints just kinda clinches it (it's better than something?)

So, I'm not a fan of a lot of Roth's pictures, but every one I've seen had at least a scene or two that stood out and made it memorable - Keanu Reeves buried up to his neck and pleading (just emoting the shit out it more than I've ever seen Reeves even try to) in Knock, Knock, some of the gore shit in Green Inferno was pretty great, I laughed at several bits in the uneven Cabin Fever and I really dug the Hostel movies (first is a lot better than the second, but I thought the second had an interesting angle on the premise it didn't entirely squander). So that guy's making an uber violent vigilante movie? I don't really care what the name is, I'm going to check it out sometime even if the trailer doesn't do much for me. Add Carnahan's name as the screenwriter and it's double-duh I'll check it out eventually.

And speaking of wrongness in online lists: this one from Electric Lit ranking Elmore Leonard adaptations manages not to even mention 52 Pickup, Cat Chaser or Life of Crime in favor of talking about The Big Bounce and Be Cool? Um, nah.

Next can we talk about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? Yeah, it's one of my favorite flicks of the year, but I'm glad it didn't win Best picture at the Academy Awards last night. That's just a mantle I don't think it wants to wear. It's too prickly to embrace being that broadly embraced. Even having it nominated for best picture coats it in and all its glorious contradictions and the difficult relationships it insists on establishing between its audience and its characters in a sterile "generally accepted" bubble that doesn't serve its legacy. Lemme be clear - I think it's of a quality far beyond previous and recent "difficult persons" prestige picture Oscar darlings like As Good as it Gets, American Beauty, Crash... - but I think a best picture win would've potentially sterilized its legacy when it's closer in spirit to super punchy pulpy fare like... Killer Joe.

I've seen a lot of folks I respect making it clear that they did not like it. They hated it in fact. Which is a cool place to start a conversation and a couple of them have made me reconsider my instant embrace of it - they haven't made me change my mind, but they've made me think about what I responded to and what I could have missed.

Then there's stuff like this McSweeney's piece I've seen some folks sharing which pretty much exemplifies missing the point of the movie in an almost willfully obtuse way. I'm fine if you didn't like it - I'm fine if it pissed you off and you have no desire to subject yourself to the ugly bits of humanity paraded across the screen, but somewhere this idea that the movie is trying to be a redemption story has really got folks off-base in their approach to the film.

It's not a redemption story. And there are no heroes in it. Not even Frances McDormand's character. She's a bitter piece of human flotsam who takes center stage in this picture the way she takes center stage in any situation she's in. Through her attitude and actions she's maybe even more of a hindrance to her own stated goals than anybody else - solving the crime isn't the point of the film and neither is it 'look at the heroic measures taken by this grieving mother' - the point is that even this bitter bit of humanity and even the dumb, mean, racist cop and even the abusive, cheating ex-husband are more than single-dimensional. Are any of them excused because we can identify a bit of humanity in them?Of course not. We're just left a little uncomfortable because we can see in them something of ourselves.

Second - it's not supposed to be realistic. It's not really America or the South. It's a foreigner's impressionistic portrait of us and it's kinda fascinating. Martin McDonagh's been saying the same types of things for three pictures now and they're adding up to a picture of the U.S. and of U.S. global culture as this big, fat, mean-spirited fascist, racist, sexist, thing that delivers horrors when it tries to do good and also produces real beauty completely unconsciously.

Kent Gowran has said several times that the wrong McDonagh brother's movie got the love last year - that John Michael McDonagh's War On Everyone was the superior offering. I'm not willing to second the claim, but I really did love War On Everyone. Both films made my top 10 of the year and in retrospect they look like the siblings each trying to make the others' movie - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri feels closer to JMM's Calvary, while War On Everyone is perhaps closest to MM's In Bruges. All six feature films by the siblings deal with outrageous and sympathetically complex characters and caricatures who do and say inflammatory, self-destructive, un-apologetically violent and self-serving, anti-social things at every beat and who, in turn, say and do the occasional admirable thing or have a surprisingly humane reaction that catches the audience off-guard.

Back to the realism problem though - yes, natural consequences go right out the window in favor of unexpected and grand (usually rash and violent) actions and words to be committed and or spoken for maximum entertainment value. As film maker both brothers seek to first never bore a viewer. If you don't laugh, maybe you'll cry. If you aren't excited maybe you'll be angry. These are the best movies not Best Pictures.

Also read Danny Gardner's first piece Now May We Talk About Quentin? at Do Some Damage about Quentin Tarantino and race and misogyny. If you've ever spoken with Danny you'll not be surprised to learn he doesn't hold back. He rips hard into Tarantino and another one of my favorite artists, James Ellroy, in this piece. Again - hasn't changed my enjoyment and appreciation of the art, but his piece is anything but dull and a good conversation starter. Give it a look.

Finally, I watched John Farrow's Where Danger Lives and felt like I'd seen it before, but nope. Turns out it's just ridiculously similar in plot to Charles Willeford's book Wild Wives. The film is from 1950 and the original publication date of the book is 1956. A super quick google search led me to an article about the literary influences upon Donald Westlake's The Hunter - apparently some have suggested a book called The Desperado by Clifton Adams was an inspiration for the first Parker book, but this article claims not. The article does claim that Willeford more or less adapted it for himself as Hombre From Sonora and then says that Willeford did that kind of thing a lot

"... Willeford pretty directly copied Adams’ story, as he was sometimes known to do (if you have the time, compare his Wild Wives with the Robert Mitchum vehicle, Where Danger Lives, with a story by Leo Rosten). Do I know of a more original writer than Willeford? Not hardly. Did that mean he was above taking a story he liked and doing his own thing with it? I’m not sure any professional writer is above that. Vladimir Nabokov wasn’t above that."

Give the piece a read. It's called The Genealogy of a Hunter at a blog called The Westlake Review (which is worth a look if you haven't been there). Good stuff.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

2017 in the Teens pt. 2

The Factory - Morgan O'Neill - A nastier than expected final reveal can't quite pull a recommendation from my tired of procedurals and serial killers hands. I still like the idea of John Cusack doing crime flicks and dramas, but the good ones seem fewer and further between than Nicolas Cage's.

Fargo season 3 - Noah Hawley - The biggest turnaround from my initial 'oh, fuck you' reaction when I first heard the series announced to my desire to work an extra job if it'll keep Noah Hawley churning out these wonderful, self-contained (and expansive) seasons of weirdly specific regional awfulness. Awfully good. Slower, weirder build to season 3 than 2 or even 1, but good gracious me, by the time Mary Elizabeth Winstead is on that bus and David Thewlis is rotting his last tooth and Russell Harvard returns from season 1 well shit I'm as invested and riveted as ever.

Fate of the Furious - F. Gary Gray - What the actual fuck? How is this franchise still something I enjoy? When did it become something I enjoy? What else compare to it? Brilliantly dumb, but shot and edited and just gone the fuck for on a level beyond reproach. Parody-proof, post-faux-macho-posturing-ouroboros for our times. Count me in for number nine.

Godless - Scott Frank - Man, this was a disappointment that kept me hanging on thinking it was about to become something and never did. Never commits to gritty realism nor mythic cool, to feminine badassery nor macho silliness, to movie or TV-show or even mini-series structure. Instead it's a little bit of everything and a formless blob of good intentions and mixed signals. What a waste of a cast and seven hours of my life. Now that it's out of their system I'd really like Frank and Netflix to get around to reviving Hoke.

Hap & Leonard season 1 - Jim Mickles, Nick Damici - Thank fuck somebody finally made the medium  match the authorial voice rather than distorted what makes the books so appealing to make it fit what you can and can't do on television. The pace ebbs and flows episode to episode, the codas get their very own unhurried episodes, space is made for seasonal ensembles to get fleshed out rather than sticking always with the heroes. To think we almost got that Hoke show too. Solid cast - James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams have an easy chemistry and ground some of Joe Lansdale's more outrageous lines in human characters, less broadly drawn than some readings could suggest - you hear the punchlines coming (and they're funny), but they don't sound like jokes coming from the performers. Christina Hendricks too lends varying degrees of her steeliness and vulnerability to what could have been a two-note femme-fatale and frequent Jim Mickle project participant Bill Sage manages to make his hippy, both dippy and menacing - no easy feat. Even the characters that veer hard into cartoonishness (particularly as portrayed by Jimmi Simpson and Pollyanna McIntosh) have offbeat cutaways that suggest different intentions, motivations or outcomes from the ones we're otherwise comfortable assuming. So, looking forward to a second season in Lansdale land (first cycle was Savage Season... second is going to be Mucho Mojo I think). Big credit goes to producer/director/writers Mickle and E. L. Katz too for setting tone and table for maximum pleasure as both have done in their film efforts.

Hounds of Love Ben Young - A couple kidnap young women and sexually torture them to death in suburban Perth. Classic setup for a revenge thriller or uh torture porn, but eww, if the preceding sounds like a drag, it, the fuck, is. Yeah, between this one and Justin Kurzel's Snowtown Murders I don't think Australian film makers want us to have any fun with murder. Nothing to poke holes in craft-wise here, all the performances are solid and the direction is steady and sure, but, man, if we're just looking at ugly and saying that there is ugly... Can't imagine sitting through this one again.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - Edward Zwick - Hilarious.

Jason Bourne - Paul Greengrass - Not nearly as good as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.

Killer Elite - Gary McKendry - Dear Killer Elite: I think I said some unkind things about you back in 2011 and I'd like to take them back now... I don't know if it's because you share a name with one of Peckinpah's final embarrassing outings or that you're an occasionally awkward mix of tough guy fllck tones, but I just didn't appreciate you for what you are. You are a competent unblushing tough guy flick without much style, but with an above average eye for details and more importantly a great cast of tough ugly mugs from which to spout your macho mumbo jumbo (I mean aside from the trio of up front names, you have Ben Mendelsohn, Matt Nable and Aden Young driving up the property values). And While it's true, you're no Heat or Ronin it's clear De Niro was attracted to you for similar reasons and you can be called an ugly cousin perhaps pining for some shared glory from your room in Grey Gardens. It may also be true that I just don't expect as much from a De Niro or an Owen or even a Statham flick as I once did and you, yesterday's clear-eyed pass, are tonight's drunk-goggled booty call and you performed admirably. So, don't lose my number and feel free to use the front door... I'll even call you a cab. Don't go changing for nobody. See you again soon.

Live By Night Ben Affleck - Split awfully hard on this one. Good story - the Dennis Lehane roots are recognizable maybe too much of it though. For the run-time the various plot lines feel too streamlined to have much emotional impact and instead each distracts from the others competing for our attention rather than complimenting a theme. The strong ensemble cast is upstaged by a woefully miscast Affleck in the fore who can't even manage to just stand there and be handsome in the terrific costumes thanks to his overly inflated Bat-frame and apparent plastic surgeries (and, are those hair plugs?) playing tricks with a face that ought to feel familiar to us by now. But shit, there is some amazing set design and cinematography in wonderful locales and some of the violent bits are astonishingly good. I predict I will come back to this one repeatedly for the stronger elements - whether repeated viewings make the whole better or worse remains to be seen.

Logan Lucky - Steven Soderbergh - The idea of Soderbergh coming out of feature film retirement to make another heist picture is even a joke in the script - the local news stations covering the caper dub it Ocean's 7-11 - but hey, I'll take it. To call the film slight would be accurate, but to make that a knock would be a mistake. The seeming effortless quality to the film making, and the entire on-screen enterprise itself, requires a seasoned team of professionals, but to make it breezy and enjoyable takes a lot of skill. Yeah, I wondered at points if I should be insulted by the accents and mannerisms of its cast, but ultimately though the takes on southern culture and mindsets are broad, they seem good-natured - we're supposed to get behind the heroes and enjoy the come-uppance of the bad guys - this coloring box does not come with a gray crayon. The best bits belong to Dwight Yoakam and David Denman (whose wardrobe is so spot-on it deserves Oscar consideration). And Katherine Waterston manages to make an intriguing question mark of her brief time on screen - perhaps the one character with more to reveal after the credits role.

Mindhunter season 1 - David Fincher - I tend to think of Fincher as a craftsman more than an auteur - that is a supremely talented professional with the chops to dress and cut his pictures with crisp and arresting visuals and rhythms, but whose choice of project makes all the difference in whether or not I'll be tuning in. That said, his fascination with killers and sociopaths has made up the bulk of his best products from the high pulp of Se7en to the procedural punch miracle that is Zodiac. Serial killers are not generally something I'm interested in, but I was on board for this angle on the subject matter and holy shit, Cameron Britton's turn as Ed Kemper is Emmy-worthy.

Missionary - Anthony DiBlasi - Fatal Attraction with a Mormon mssionary. Um, yeah, it works. Surprisingly effective and creepy.
Mortdecai - David Koepp - Fuck me, I liked it. Just... just quit paying me any attention.

Narcos season 2 - Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro - Holy crap the body count on this show has got to be some kind of record.

Narcos season 3 - Carlo Bernard, Chris Brancato, Doug Miro - As much as I dug Wagner Moura's anchoring turn as Pablo Escobar in the first couple of seasons, his exit in a hail of bullets opened up the narrative to be more than 'the Pablo show' and season 3's focus on the Cali Cartel is tight and intense. The best season yet.

Nocturnal Animals - Tom Ford - A writer wrote this. It's the story of a writer whose marriage failed because his wife didn't believe in his writing enough... and many years later she reads his new book and realizes what a terrible mistake it was not to believe in his talent more. A writer wrote this. Great looking, competently acted bundle of nothing. Opening credit sequence is the best of the year though.

Ozark season 1 - Bill Dubuque, Mark Williams - one season in and I'm excited for what it could become. The opening episode I found excruciatingly intense and I don't expect (or want) any show to keep that level of intensity up all the time, but I'd say my interest dipped a bit in the middle before picking back up at the end of the season. Jury's out on the show's legacy, but I'd say despite the lopsidedness of the casts Ozark easily bests Bloodline for quality crime stuffs. (Not sure I can get it up to finish Bloodline with a single season to go - lemme know if you think it's worth it).

Quarry season 1 - Michael D. Fuller, Graham Gordy - Dug that hard. Why? Fucking loved the setting, Memphis, music and seventies social vibrations. The treatment of the material was top notch too. I've enjoyed the Quarry books by Max Allan Collins that I've read, but they're pulpy and could be handled and delivered as such without complaint. The choices made by series creators (both former writers on probably the most thoughtful show ever on and about the conditions and the people of the modern American South, Rectify) to roll slowly enough through the plot to develop informed emotional responses to each reveal and action are commendable and make all the difference between loving a show based on books I like and being annoyed by a show based on books I love (like Jack Taylor based on the books by Ken Bruen). Standouts in the cast include solid turns by the always great Peter Mullan and Ann Dowd as well as a revelatory Damon Herriman dumping the Dewey Crowe schtick (which is always great and I was plenty happy to see him trot out again in Son of a Gun) for perhaps the most complex character in the whole show. Bummed as hell to hear that the series got the axe, but I'm grateful we got what we did and pleased to say it had an ending that won't leave you hanging.

Ray Donovan season 2 - Ann Biderman - Aaaaand I'm tapping out on Ray Donovan. Bummer, waste of a good premise and talent.