Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Borderlands: White/Black

If I've got the stamina for a late-nite flick, I'm thinking I may go catch Ridley Scott's The Counselor tonight. I dig Scott (and his late brother), but the real attraction here is Cormac McCarthy's script (yeah it may be an echo of his No Country For Old Men novel - which started as an original screenplay - but I don't mind). Man, I dig these stories that I like to call gringo-noir (or white-black if you will) that usually involve a white man high on his privilege and blind to his biggest vulnerabilities and self-destructive impulses who thinks he can mingle with the locals of some non-anglo locale and not only hang-tough, but thrive in dirty dealings. My novella Fierce Bitches (hey, go buy that shit) fits into this sub-genre, and I'm gonna name a few more (plus some simply-mostly-south-of-the-borderlands titles to dig in to for Dia de los Muertos).

Dia de los Muertos - Kent Harrington - This is a nasty slice of death set in Tijuana and concerning a DEA agent who moonlights as a coyote, smuggling those who can pay him to over the border. Shit goes south real quick, and the last third of this book is a fun-house nightmare of menace and moral rot.

Tijuana Straits - Kem Nunn - Brutal and unsparing, but with a social awareness that recalls the best of James Lee Burke, Nunn delivers a crime thriller that's hardcore with heart.

Dead Women of Juarez - Sam Hawken - This is the story of a gringo palooka whose standard of living is entirely dependent on his ability to absorb punishment in the ring. He makes his money being the American who gets pummeled to shit by up and coming locals looking to make a name for themselves. He's a professional loser with shady friends always in the sights of the local police and when he's framed for the murder of a social activist - he'll take a loooooooot more punishment than he's used to, while his frenemy - the honest cop - drowns in a tide of corruption trying to set things strait.

Power of the Dog - Don Winslow - Fictional history of the border drug trade - the war, the cartels, the DEA, the staggering brutality and stupid-thoroughness of corruption rendered in Winslow's day-glo, nitroglycerin-slick prose style. We'll see if Danish director Nikolaj Arcel can do it justice next year.

The Getaway - Jim Thompson - I love Sam Peckinpah's adaptation (hell, I even like Roger Donaldson's alright), but neither film version have even touched on the book's finale, in favor of more upbeat endings. What awaits the McCoys once they escape Texas is not exactly paradise.

Dove Season - Johnny Shaw - Jimmy Veeder's father has a dying request and once put into motion, Veeder is too pig-stubborn to quit his quest no matter how dangerous it gets or what unpleasant revelations it promises. Shaw is just fucking excellent with character and place and - pace, motherfucker. This ain't a break-neck speed thriller, it's more of a break-leg bruiser with real heart and shit-dipped humor. Can't wait for the next Jimmy Veeder fiasco, Plaster City in 2014.

Carrion Birds - Urban Waite - Ray Lamar's is a tired-out bad man who wants to retire after more than a decade as a professional thug and killer, but his last job takes him back to New Mexico and places him squarely in the crosshairs of a vicious drug cartel and not much room to hide. Shotgun tragedy, modern western, sun-bleached noir, whatever you want to call it, good shit.

Tequila Blue - Rolo Diez - You have any idea what the biggest pain in the dick of cops in Mexico is? White people getting killed - especially Americans. Carlito's already got his hands full providing for both his legit and illegitimate families - he's into many stripes of criminal activity to supplement his cop's salary - but when a whitey kicks off in a Mexico City hotel room, Carlito's life is going to go right the hell off the rails.

A Death in Mexico - Jonathan Woods - Another tale of less than snow-white Mexican policeman dealt the shit hand of handling a gringo-murder in his town. Only this time it's a pretty young woman. How do you say 'skewered with a shit-stick' in Spanish?

The Dog Fighter - Marc Bojanowski - Ugh, the title says (not quite all of it, but) so much. This is some dark, underground territory here. The nameless narrator tells the story of his life as a boom-town construction worker and interspecial gladiator in Baja running up against greater powers than his own, including money, corruption and love. Brueautiful.

Do They Know I'm Running? - David Corbett - A teenager in southern California must find his deported uncle in El Salvador and smuggle he and two more shifty characters through Guatemala and Mexico to arrive in the US where - everything's gonna be just fine. Yeah, Corbett is great at creating desperate situations for believable protagonists and great lengths for them to go.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia - Sam Peckinpah - My favorite gringo-noir stars Warren Oates as Benny, a white man with nowhere to go, but south (there's a metaphor in there too). He's burnt every bridge he ever crossed and is broke, lonely and drunk, playing piano in some shitshack cantina when salvation comes looking for him in the form of a large bounty offered on titular anatomical piece of a sexual rival. Tracking down the sunnavabitch and claiming his reward will cost him absolutely every final shred of his soul, and each new piece torn off and fed to avarice, hurts worse than the last. This is the masterpiece I will always be trying to equal.

Treasure of the Sierra Madre - John Huston - Based on the novel (which I really must read) by B. Traven, this is some classic nasty race to the bottom noir that everybody - everybody - has been ripping off as hard and fast as they could for decades (and that's a good thing). Don't go getting too optimistic about the human condition, now.

Revenge - Tony Scott - Based on the novella by Jim Harrison (again, which I really must read) this is Kevin Costner's first post-hot-shit flop, not to mention the first from the guy who'd just done Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2, so why is it on my list? What was it that I responded to here, that the movie-going public in general did not? It's simple, direct, brutal and generous with the blame. How cocky is American fighter pilot Cochran in Mexico? Uhmmm, cocky enough to think he can fuck around with the wife of his powerful benefactor Tibey (Anthony Quinn - who can be a helluva heavy) while living as a guest in his home, and die a natural death. On the other hand, how arrogant is Tibey that he thinks he can invite hot-shot, dream-boat, gringo-fighter pilot to stay in his house without getting his much younger wife (Madeline Stowe) a little damp? Do you need me to tell you what happens?

Rolling Thunder - John Flynn - When a man's been trained by his government to kill, captured by the enemy and tortured for seven years, suddenly reintroduced to banal civility, subjected to domestic savagery, had everything he stood to gain taken and given a shot at revenge, whatcha think? Yeah, there will be blood. Such an uneasy portrait of a royally fucked up hero(?) Such a dead-eyed, dead-pan delivery by William Devane, and such a blood-lusty trek thru Mexico make this picture one to savor and study.

Way of the Gun - Christopher McQuarrie - Bad men meeting bad ends in a deluge of cold-blooded badassery made for bad box office, but this one makes me kick like electrodes on my tits. Bully for McQuarrie's willingness to give us unsympathetic, unapologetic, un-quick-witted mercenaries and ask us to get behind them while they kidnap a pregnant woman and hold her for ransom way down Mexico way. Scrape the layers of ick outta your mouth by gargling gasoline.

Touch of Evil - Orson Welles - Virtue vs. vice cops on opposite sides of the border - sin and sweat, uh, fat and thin, neatly groomed mustache vs. greasy stubble, it's not subtle, but damn, ain't it great to look at. From that sweet-ass opening tracking shot to the die screaming you tub of shit finale, this is one fine film experience that I'm happy to have again and again.

Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada - Tommy Lee Jones - When a redneck border patrolman accidentally shoots an undocumented Mexican ranch hand, he digs a hasty ditch for the unfortunate lead magnet at the scene of the crime. The body is found and dumped in a second ignoble hole, this time in an unmarked gubment lawn. Enter titular victim's employer and friend, a crusty old coot with a crazy plan to illegally exhume his buddy and kidnap the shitbird who put him in a decomposition way, then force the gringo turd to haul his kill all the way back to his home village and bury him properly before joining him in wormland. What follows is a gruesome, funny trek of redemption by degradation, that is celluloid poetry worthy of comparison to Peckinpah and Malick.

Sorcerer - William Friedkin - Go waaaaay south of the border with this one. In fact, pass right through the entire digestive track of Mexico and find yourself somewhere in South America in a town populated with two types of people: impoverished natives who work shit jobs for the big gringo oil company extracting their natural resources as fast as they can, and a rag-tag group of criminals, terrorists and other undesirables from the rest of the world who've come to rot in the only toilet that will have them. When the oil company has an emergency, they need a few good (disposable) men to take on a suicide mission to rectify the money flow. What follows is an hour of absolutely excruciating tension.

Sin Nombre - Cary Fukunaga - Now start in Honduras where a trio of desperate youngsters hop a train top and ride it the length of Mexico toward their only chance to stay alive in the place where Bruce Springsteen sprang forth. Along the way, they are hard hunted by vicious gangs with long tentacles and the further north they go the more shit most definitely goes south for them.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

N@B Giveaway

In the spirit of sportsmanship (or whatever overweight, middle-aged fans get to call a self-serving gesture like this one) I will be giving away a copy of Noir at the Bar volumes 1 or 2 for every game that the Cardinals win during The World Series.

To enter to win a copy - go to THIS FACEBOOK LINK and LEAVE A COMMENT on said post. I'll draw a winner before Game 3 on Saturday.

In case you need help getting excited about this, I'll give you the lineups of authors whose badassery I'm offering you for free:

Cameron Ashley, Jedidiah Ayres, Laura Benedict, Pinckney Benedict, Frank Bill, Jane Bradley, David Cirillo, Sonia L. Coney, Hilary Davidson, Sean Doolittle, Les Edgerton, Nate Flexer, Matthew C. Funk, Jesus Angel Garcia, Glenn Gray, Kevin Lynn Helmick, Gordon Highland, John Hornor Jacobs, David James Keaton, Matt Kindt, Chris La Tray, Tim Lane, Erik Lundy, Jason Makansi, Christine Matthews, Matthew McBride, Jon McGoran, Cort McMeel, Kyle Minor, Aaron Michael Morales, Derek Nikitas, Dan O'Shea, Scott Phillips, Robert J. Randisi, John Rector, Caleb J. Ross, Anthony Neil Smith, Malachi Stone, Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Tafoya, Richard Thomas, Mark W. Tiedemann, Fred Venturini, Benjamin Whitmer, Jonathan Woods, Nic Young.

Go leave a comment. Go Cards!

Now, should you be a fan of Thuglit or, God help you, the Red Sox, Todd Robinson has got you covered. For the hypothetical games the Sox will win in this series, he's gonna give away THREE print copies of Thuglit. presumably with your choice of issues 1-7. Now, that's a lotta hardcore hardboiled sweets, so I'm not going to list all the authors that would involve, but I'd say there's about a hundred and fifty percent chance that at least one of the stories you'd get would be by Ed Kurtz or Joe Clifford. Again, tho - those Sox have to win a game first.

Good luck.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Small Press Pull

Great news for the world - David James Keaton's holy-shit-that's-a-hernia-waiting-to-happen 150k-word novel The Last Projector has been announced as a 2014 release from Broken River Books (as have titles by Adam Cesare and Chris Deal), adding to my general happiness (is this what punch feels like all the time?)

But Broken River ain't the only small crime press that I've been fortunate enough to work with who turning out exciting shit these days. I've got Pale Horses by Nate Southard from Snubnose Press in my sights. Snubnose cranks out more titles than a petty dictator, and chances are if Brian Lindenmuth has invested in it, that there is some worthy shit, but this one in particular caught my eye with some curiously strong word of mouth, and I'm looking forward to digging in.

Those Melbourne boys at Crime Factory sprinkle trouble on eggs for breakfast, but even they may have bitten off more of it than they could hope to chew as the next novella in their Single Shot line has just been announced - Saint Homicide by Jake Hinkson - that's some gimme-gimme-gimme now shit right there. Jake's been making the rounds of exciting small crime presses his own self. His novel The Posthumous Man was released earlier this year through David Cranmer's Beat to a Pulp press.

Cranmer and BTAP are rolling out the hardboiled pulp shit that we all crave, (like Garnett Elliott's The Drifter Detective) but lookee here, he's also publishing stuff like Celebrations in the Ossuary, a poetry collection and posthumous release from the gone-too-young talent Kyle J. Knapp (Pluvial Gardens).

And Hinkson's first novel Hell on Church Street was brought to the world through the wicked midwifery of Jon Bassoff's New Pulp Press whose brannew Last of the Smoking Bartenders by C.J. Howell is raising an alarming rigidity of wood among a lot of trusted crime writing sources, so yup, straight to the top of the pile it goes.

Another NPP title forthcoming that I already dug is Night of the Furies by J.M. Taylor - I believe I called it the dime novel Sophocles wrote over one hell of a lost weekend. It moves fast and is dime-novel sized, but shit is epic in scope. Large-scale, Greek-style tragedy as hardboiled crime pulp. (2014 is going to bring us

And let's not forget Bassoff himself whose novel Corrosion was just released by DarkFuse. Now that's some troubling shit. Right up my alley what with the religious mania and gothic overtones, this one effectively marries (then drives into the ground with a marital murder/suicide - because divorce is for wishy-washy pantywaists) the sensibilities of Old Testament blood and brimstone and the nastiest edge of Jim Thompson-esque pyscho-noir.

And if you need a laugh after the fire and grimstone of Corrosion, Johnny Shaw has just graduated his Blood & Tacos faux-men's-adventure electronic bi-annuals to a real live paper collection with sweet-ass original pulp art by Roxanne Patruznick. (And Thomas & Mercer is hardly small-press, but hot dog! I'm looking forward to Johnny's next Jimmy Veeder Fiasco Plaster City. It's gonna be hard to wait for April.)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Noirvember and Beyond

So, I'll be out in support of Peckerwood in November, and I've got a few dates to announce.

Saturday, November 2 at N@B-TC in Minneapolis

And I'll be there with Anthony Neil Smith, Tim Lane and John Kenyon. Looking forward to meeting Paul von Stoetzel, Pete Dragovich, Dan & Kate Malmon, Bridget Cronin, Chris Bueckers, Kristi Belcamino and Jess Lourey. Plus, I understand that the event will be emceed by  Rob Ivy and Scott Brault, or as the world will know them soon, Billy Lafitte and Steel God.

That's right, it's a special at the movies edition of N@B with screenings of Tim Lane's The Passenger, PvS's Viscosity and the world premier of the trailer for PvS's adaptation of Anthony Neil Smith's Hogdoggin'. Plus, y'know, readings and shit. Fistfights too.

Saturday, November 9 at Murder and Mayhem in Muskego

I'll be a guest and panelist alongside Megan Abbott, Frank Bill, Dana Cameron, Joelle Charbonneau, Howard Chaykin, Sean Chercover, Marcia Clark, Reed Farrel Coleman, Dan Conaway, Hilary Davidson, Sean Doolittle, Chris F. Holm, Libby Hellman, Harry Hunsicker, Gregg Hurwitz, Julie Hyzy, Michael Koryta, William Kent Krueger, Marcus Sakey, Alex Segura, Kieran Shea, Dan O'Shea, Tom Schreck, Duane Swierczynski and Frank Wheeler Jr.

Good golly, that's gonna be a party. Aside from the aforementioned names, I'm looking forward to kicking back with the Crimespree crew - Jon & Ruth, Jen, Jeremy, Tim and... oh, yeah, I don't think Dave can make it this year. Bummer. Anybody in Muskego or near Milwaukee, I expect to see you there. (For more information, click here)

Saturday, November 16 at N@B-Indianapolis

It's the christening of a brand new N@B chapter hosted by CJ Edwards and featuring a host of crusty ol' N@B vets including Scott Phillips, Les Edgerton, David James Keaton, Dan O'Shea, CJ himself and James Ward Kirk. Oughtta see Livius and Robb from Booked there too. Looking forward to that.

Saturday, December 7 it'll be N@B in St. Louis

And about damn time too. Since our last event, Scott's new book, Rake, came out and I'll have Peckerwood to celebrate, so we're opening up a giant can of, if not exactly whup-ass, not ass-creme either. A giant can of beer, perhaps. Joining the festivities and bringing the shock and awe will be...

Jake Hinkson, William Boyle and J. David Osborne.

There, I just committed them. It's gonna be a night that will live in infamy.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

2013 in Flicks: September

Breaking Bad season 6 - Vince Gilligan - Love to see a great show finish well, and the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad did everything they should have: they didn't pussy-foot about with the Hank vs. Walter thread (and it carried more weight for me than the Walt and Jesse conflict - so bully), most of the conflict was kept in-house and they saw to business admirably. Not a flinch, but a bit of a surprise, the combination of Walt's finale conclusions, reflections and actions - again, not a flinch exactly, but - the level of Walt's self-awareness was a surprise. I'd say the series finale falls short of The Shield's pitiless devastation, but trumps The Wire's poetic, if uncharacteristically neatly-wrapped, final chapter. Here's hoping that True Detective (or what about Low Winter Sun - anyone?) can fill a portion of the yawning void in crime-television excellence that Breaking Bad leaves behind. Best moment: Walter Jr. pulls a knife.
Bullitt - Peter Yates - Aside from the iconically cool Steve McQueen taking up center-screen and the big damn car chase, I'd forgotten how stylish this flick was. But it's there. Right from the opening credits, a cool so deep you'll hardly notice that you're not following the plot. I've seen this movie several times and I honestly couldn't tell you what's going on. Witness protection... set up... cop killed... car chase... Airport... But it's pretty damn cool. I remember that. And I recall digging how non-descript the hitter is. Yates had quite a little run there with this one, Robbery and The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Best moment: yeah, you think I'm gonna say the car chase, but just to make you re-watch this cool as shit movie I'm gonna say the foot chase through the airport at the end is better.

Charley Varrick - Don Siegel - One of the best Parker movies that isn't a Parker movie. Really, stack this one next to Point Blank and The Outfit and have yourself a terrific little triple feature of hardboiled workaday thievery vs. the slick money machine mafia. Like Parker, Charley is a smarter than the average professional thief and an independent operator, but unlike Parker, when he finds out that he and his crew knocked over a mobbed up bank, Charley wants to give the money back because it's not worth the hassle to have those assholes on your back the rest of your life. But, the mob has no sense of humor and call in a sadistic hit man (Joe Don Baker) to do his thing, and once the team start to get picked off, Charley changes his priorities (you can tell a bad guy is a reallllly bad guy, like fucked-in-the-head-bad in movies when they have a physical repulsion to prostitutes and loose women - there's a thesis paper in there people, you're welcome). Walter Matthau is an oddly compelling action hero. I'm just so geared to laugh while watching him in pictures that when he goes serious and dramatic, I'm completely disarmed. This one, like The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, gave me such an appetite for that side of Matthau's chops, made him such an appealing action hero, such a shlub, such a hard ass shlub... I just wish I knew of more titles to check out. Help me out if you know more. Best moment: Charley finds Joe Don Baker in his trailer. Something about this sequence reminded me so much of Kill Bill Vol. 2, I'd be curious to know if Tarantino's ever sited Charley Varrick as an influence.

Coastlines - Victor Nunez - Man, I dug this one so much, I had to write about it right away - so, to save time, I'm reprinting what I had to say here... Just watched Victor Nunez's terrific small-town crime drama Coastlines (check out this cast: Timothy Olyphant, Josh Brolin, Scott Wilson, William Forsythe, Josh Lucas, Angela Bettis, Robert Wisdom, Sarah Wynter, Daniel von Bargen), and realized that it was exactly the kind of movie I've been trying to wrangle into a screenplay for ten years now. Yes, it's a crime story - it's got criminals and cops, betrayal and revenge - but it is about lower-case 'c' crime (relational transgressions and other not-necessarily-prosecutable offenses) at least as much about the capital 'C' variety, and doesn't boil down to the biggest badass, the most clever or the most ruthless character coming out on top. It's about human-fucking-beings who live together in a small community, and no matter what they get up to when the sun goes down, have to get up again in the morning and see each other. People leave the community through two chief channels: they join the military or go to prison. Any relational bridge they burn, they will be confronted with every day for the rest of their lives - there's no disappearing into a different social scene or starting over with a clean slate on the other side of town. And that factors into their actions much more than in typical thriller fare. That also makes it more thrilling. Because these are recognizable people. They could be you or me much more easily than any stoic tough-guy, mustache-twirling mastermind or sexed-up femme fatale. Their decisions are not predetermined by trope and come with real consequences. They will surprise you and please you. And they will hurt you... I went on to name a few other flicks I'd name alongside it to help define the genre I think it belongs in, and you can read those picks right here (and I'd add one more to that list that I just caught streaming on Netflix, Brian Jun's Joint Body - which I'll discuss a bit more with the October batch). The plot concerns Sonny (Olyphant), and all the shit his unexpected early release from prison stirs up in his home town. His relationships are complex and dangerous for loves and enemies alike, and the tension in the atmosphere could tune a piano. It's a slow simmer of a thriller, but you'll feel the dramatic pull toward confrontation and decisive action from the opening moments tickling you deep in your private places. Best moment: Brolin finds survivors in his boat.

Cop Hater - William Berke - An early adaptation of one of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels starring Robert Loggia as a cop investigating the shootings of his buddies on the street. It's a street-level procedural with some terrific cop-talk and sense of place to help you get over the feeling that this is more standard TV rather than movie-fare. On the plus side, it's like a particularly hardboiled episode of Barney Miller, which sounds kinda awesome. Best moment: street hood Mumzer (a very young Jerry Orbach) gets dressed down in the station and then says his peace and blinks a lot.

Flesh & Bone - Steve Kloves - Saw this one when it came out twenty years ago and remembered liking it, but something must've happened to my taste in the last couple decades because I damn near loved it this time around. Dennis Quaid owns a shitload of vending machines that he spends his life driving around the long, lonely stretches of Texas highway on a route to restock them. I loved every detail of his life from the type of machines he has to the places he has them, the motels that he frequents and the people he sees every few weeks on his rounds. Drop a troubled young woman (Meg Ryan) in to his path and watch his whole tightly-wound existence/routine go to hell. It's another thriller that thrills with character and... acting. Takes its time, but never drags, gives us melodrama levels of shit to process without ever letting the acting go over the top, and creates an atmosphere of deep sadness and dread out of wide open spaces. Best moment: Ryan's entrance to the picture is wonderful.

The Hard Word - Scott Roberts - Nothing flashy here, no high concept, just good old fashioned criminality from the colony that became a continent. Three brothers, partners in armed robbery, are released from prison on a deal brokered by their lawyer in order to hit another payload for the folks pulling the strings - a bit like The Getaway - and like Jim Thompson's book, the wife (Rachel Griffiths) of lead brother (Guy Pearce), has been diligently applying herself to working the lawyer (pre-Longmire Robert Taylor) for her husband... or is it the other way around? Anyway, there're double-crosses and revenge plans on the way. Y'know what I like about fare like this? It's not about the best, the toughest or the most clever thieves, it's just daily-stakes and if those aren't high enough for you, you're not awake. Best moment: birthday in prison.

Harper - Jack Smight - This adaptation of Ross MacDonald's The Moving Target is so self-concsious about its place in the private investigator film tradition that it's become trapped in time, almost out Austin Powering Austin Powers in its absolute sixties-ish-ness. On some levels its unintentionally humorous, in others distracting, but ultimately Paul Newman's charm is irresistible and, by the end, the gravity of the story and the toll on the character is honestly moving (for more rambling thoughts on Harper's legacy click here). The plot is standard-issue PI stuff: Lew Harper is dealing with a missing person who's a cheating husband and a shady millionaire, who's got a vixen daughter, various hangers-on and a religious nut-job in his gravity field, plus the hero has an ex-wife stuck in his craw. I prefer the Harper films (this one, The Drowning Pool and Twilight - again, click here for my thoughts on why that belongs on the list) over MacDonald's books for Newman's willingness to be a dick as opposed to MacDonald's Archer's boy-scoutishness. Best moment: the final scene between Lew and his best friend is absolutely perfect. That ending frame is one of the best buttons a film's ever gone out on and it serves to cement the film's and character's proper and distinctive place in the PI-genre better than any of the more obvious and in-organic cues early on.

Hell on Wheels Season 2 - Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton - I'll say this for AMC's western-expansion/revenge drama: it's none-too-precious with sparing characters. By the end of its second season it had killed off several series main-stays (which is almost always a good thing) and gone into bleaker territory, but there was a considerable mid-season lag dealing with affairs of the heart that tried my patience a bit. The fact that some members of the romantic complications did not survive (and not necessarily the one's you'd have put money on) gives me hope for the future. Unfortunately my two most favoritest characters also appear to have perished (one for certain, another for most-likely) and that, obviously, gives me less reason to expect great things from the future run of the show. Still, I'll tune in and give it a go. Best moment: the striking workers brawl with the trainload of scabs.

The Iceman - Ariel Vromen - How difficult is it to deliver an effective two-hour biopic that gives a singular thrust to its subject's entire life? Very difficult. Simpler when the subject is best known for the dozens (if not over a hundred) people he killed (mostly for money) with an astounding variety of method and a signature titular quality of remorse. Still, this film provides some worthwhile juxtaposition to the chill in Richard Kuklinski's blood by giving him some scenes of real vulnerability and large-hearted tenderness with his family. The film can't quite hold together for singular impact, but does offer numerous very worthwhile scenes that survive as short-films unto themselves deserving preservation: Kuklinski's first ordered hit, Ray Liotta deals with David Schwimmer, Chris Evans sells murder and ice cream, James Franco says a prayer, Michael Shannon reads a poem. The horror, heartbreak and absolute real-world weirdness of the elements of the story make it a worthwhile film (certainly infinitely better than the awful Carl Panzram biopic Killer: A Journal of Murder) if not a great one. I'll be interested to revisit this one in a few years and see if and how my opinion will have shifted. Plus, the film deserves recognition for the greatest, bushiest collection of porno-mustaches ever assembled. Best moment: work interferes with a family birthday.

The Missing Person - Noah Buschel - Absolutely as self-aware as a genre picture as Jack Smight's Harper (reviewed above), but far less concerned with establishing a new paradigm for detective pictures. This one is an unassuming, low-key and deftly-handled transcendence of genre-tropes that is, at turns, humorous, odd and, in its most subversive move, less cynical than its heritage. Michael Shannon plays an alcoholic, ex-cop turned private-eye, hired by a law firm to tail a man, with a child in tow, across the country and into Mexico. He (and we) are given little by way of context and the film has fun teasing our sense of trope, and managing to please and surprise us in a completely disarming manner (you smile and be drawn in deeper rather than grimace and resist it as a sucker-punching flick). Lots of great small turns here by the supporting cast, including Amy Ryan, John Vintimiglia, Paul Sparks and Merritt Wever. Best moment: Shannon's blind-sided detective wakes up in the office of scary Mexican gangster Yul Vazquez.

On the Yard - Raphael D. Silver - Prison movies live and die less by the flavor of hell they offer than by the mix of characters they put through it (that said, I'm still looking forward to Escape Plan, and you are too, don't deny it).  Thankfully, this one's got character to spare. Chilly (Thomas G. Waites) is the white man to see for contraband inside. He runs his enterprise without much drama or competition, tho early on we're given reason enough not to fuck with him, but a new screw on the block is determined to shut him down and make an example of him. Suddenly Chilly is feeling heat from previously amicable relationships, and shrinking in the spotlight while rivals and upstarts take advantage of the shift in fortune's winds. To remain on top, he's got to avoid trouble with the guards while maintaining a healthy fear of his reach among the inmates. Enter newbie Juleson (John Heard) who purchases a carton of cigarettes from Chilly and finds himself unexpectedly short of funds to repay his debt. Complicate the situation with Juleson's ethics and resistance to doing favors and interest compounds at a frightening pace. But, that's making it sound like a thriller when it's really an ensemble drama about character in captivity, the cost of enforcing laws (federal or personal codes) and of course escape. The source novel by Malcolm Braly has been on my list since Peter Farris named it as an influence on his writing in an interview. Impossible to judge a book by its movie, but I'm more eager to read it after the film. So, there's that. Best moment: escape attempt by hot air balloon.

Outlaw Country - Randall Parker - Assuming this is an abandoned television pilot for numerous un-complimentary reasons. The most glaring of these is the trail of loose ends following the 'film' like a shaggy mop-head. Then there's TV-ish faults like the incessant soundtrack that grates in its insistence to inform your emotional engagement, undermining the acting and otherwise intruding as jarringly and unnecessarily as any commercial break. The plot concerns small-time thug/good ol' boy badass/sensitive country musician/gentleman/shy of 25 years-old heartthrob Eli Larkin (Luke Grimes) as he tries to live the dream of taking care of his much younger brother and sister, woo tender young poon, pour his passion into pretty, stripped-down ballads he's too young to sing, and support himself by any means other than a square job. Luckily, he's got a best friend Feron (Travis Fimmel) whose prone to pulling a pistol out of his pants to solve problems and who seems willing to follow Eli's lead for inexplicable reasons, enabling Eli to fancy himself a gentleman outlaw (because trade school is apparently beneath him). Trouble arises when other beneath-him things intruded into his life such as corporate country music (Mary Steenburgen and Haley Bennett) and organized crime (John Hawkes). Nah. Oh hell-nah, Eli may not wanna work a service job, but he's not gonna tarnish his soul with real-money options that mean playing by somebody else's rules either. Nope, he's gonna half-ass everything, dammit. In fairness, a long-form television show could have explored interesting territory only nodded at briefly here, but existing, as it does, as a complete work, it's terrible. Rather than seeing things through in the development of Eli's character we leave him half-baked and wildly inconsistent rather than complex. And I do weep for what we may have missed out on in giving Hawkes' Tarzen (yep, his name is Tarzen and that's admittedly bad ass), more room to grow into a real force of menace and evil. Best moment: Tarzen's act of generosity and altruism followed by the command "Give me a hug."

Plunkett & Macleane - Jake Scott - I remember this one being marketed along the lines of 'Trainspotting as a costume drama,' as its two stars Johnny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle made up half of the fierce foursome of Danny Boyle's break out hit from a couple years earlier, and the soundtrack choices reflected an England of the 1990s rather than the depicted 18th century, and it's not a terrible strategy, but the film deserves better than to live in the shadow of another. Plunkett and Macleane are unlikely compatriots who escalate their fugitive status to public enemies one and one and a half by increasingly bold and theatrical robberies of the rich and aristocratic. As the authorities employ escalating brutality to subdue them, their fame and folk-hero status grows exponentially to the point where even their victims claim personal victimhood as a status symbol. No Robin Hood shit going on here though - there's no giving back to the people (except possibly, accidentally as symbols and public figures of resistance) and the thrill of plunder and publicity is a major motivator for at least half the partnership. The camera, soundtrack and performances do add some blood to a notoriously stuffy tradition of period piece and make it fun enough even if, at the end of the day, it's just an otherwise by the numbers class warfare crime flick. Best moment: the public execution is really effective. The sheer height of the gallows, and violence of ascendency give the proceedings a proper sense of theatricality for corporeal punishment.

The Rundown - Peter Berg - The best of the PG-13 restriction placed on Dwayne Johnson's early post-WWF career is this wildly uneven mix of comedy and action captured by the frustratingly talented Peter Berg (couldn't this guy make a serious and personal crime flick, please?). At its best, it highlights Johnson's comic chops and delivers crisp action scenes, beautifully photographed and snappily cut. At its worst it strays (often) into slapstick too broad (including the action climax) and is a forgettable silly mess. Trying to be something like Midnight Run meets Romancing the Stone, it didn't hit the mark, but on DVD or streaming on Netflix there is plenty to skip around and enjoy, including the Best moment: a Rock walks into a bar.

A Single Shot - David M. Rosenthal - There is so much to root for in Sam Rockwell's protagonist John Moon, his earnestness and vulnerability, his self-reliance and personal integrity, but the movie being the movie and the world being the world, it's best not to get your hopes up too high for a happy ending. Moon is a man living in obscurity deep into the margins of society, surviving off the land and part time odd-jobs. The problem is, his wife can no longer handle the hand almost to mouth style of existence and has left him, taking their infant son with her. Moon is determined to win her back and is willing to make some compromises, even perhaps a steady soul-killing job, if she'll reconsider. Fortune intervenes in awful fashion by placing a young woman in the path of one of Moon's bullets intended for deer (which he poaches to survive). Among the young woman's personal affects he finds a shit load of cash money, and he makes the decision to choke down the guilt, hide the body in the woods and take the money. If you've ever seen a movie (or read the source novel by Matthew F. Jones - which you certainly should) than you're a half-mile ahead of Moon down the track. Other people are looking for that girl and for the money, and once he starts trying to funnel it to his estranged family, he's painted a big day-glo target on his ass. This is a beautifully shot, immersively atmospheric tragedy in a pond stocked with great characters and terrific performances (including highly watchable turns by William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly and Joe Anderson - plus appearances by Ted Levine, Jason Isaacs and W. Earl Brown are never a bad thing). Best moment: Moon checks on the babysitter.

Tomorrow You're Gone - David Jacobson - Falling securely in the middle of the pack of Matthew F. Jones adaptations (behind A Single Shot, but well in front of Deepwater - Tomorrow You're Gone is adapted from the Jones novel Boot Tracks) this is much better than your average straight to video Stephen Dorff vehicle (gotta give Dorff some credit for the material he's gone after tho). Charlie may have been released from prison, but he's still shackled to The Buddha (Willem Dafoe), a dangerous criminal whom he owes, and settling that account may save his life and cost his soul. Dorff's Charlie is confused and adrift in his person, morality and mind to the point where we question his perceptions of The Buddha as well as a woman (Michelle Monaghan) he takes up with. The result is a dream-like state that you're either going to go with or not, and it was mostly successful for me. Mostly. Best moment: Charlie gets a room by dropping The Buddha's name.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Letterboxd List Madness

I blame William Boyle and Anthony Moretta for this. They do (did? how long since the last update?) that killer crime film blog Goodbye Like a Bullet where they dug deep into crime flicks from the 1970s, and of course, I wished that I'd done it first. Then Boyle casually makes mention of this damn Letterboxd site the other day and I've been obsessively combing through the lists and mostly just looking at the purty purty poster art and compiling lists... just lists. That's all they are.

So consider these my hypothetical Goodbye Like a Bullet type blogs for different decades. Click on the links and just look at all the pretty pictures.

30 Crime Flick Picks From the 30s

40 Crime Flick Picks From the 40s

50 Crime Flick Picks From the 50s

60 Crime Flick Picks From the 60s

70 Crime Flick Picks From the 70s

80 Crime Flick Picks From the 80s

90 Crime Flick Picks From the 90s

100 Crime Flick Picks From the 00s

*These lists are subject to change.