Friday, December 19, 2014

Bloody Seconds

Peaky Blinders

Boardwalk Empire

The Wire

The Sopranos

The X Files

Twin Peaks

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Year of the Doggleganger

My year in Dogglegangers... First off, David James Keaton's trippy mindfuck The Last Projector gets a prize for coining my new favorite term, doggleganger, but looking back 2014 has had a theme. Here's what I mean.

Everybody Has a Plan - Ana Piterbarg's drama about identical twin brothers, one of whom murders the other to fake his own death and then takes his brother's life only to find he's escaped one tight spot only to end up in a worse one. 

Enemy - Denis Villeneuve's paranoia noirsicle will haunt your fucking dreams. That is, unless you're already an android. Easily one of the best movies of the year - elements of David Lynch, Brian DePalma, Jose Saramago, Franz Kafka and Jack Finney go in a blender and emerge a perfect nightmare.

The Double - Richard Ayoade's adaptation of Dostoevsky's tale of the you you'd like to be leaving the you you are behind and the lengths the you you are might go to to ruin it for the you you're not.

The One I Love - Charlie McDowell directs Elizabeth Moss and Mark Duplass in this oddly dramatic comedy about predators from another dimension. Or something. Once again Duplass finds himself in the offbeat comic version of the year's thematic trump suit as he did a couple years back with Safety Not Guaranteed appearing in the same year as memorable offbeat time travel flicks like Looper and The Sound of My Voice. Hmmm. What's he doing next?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Wages of Sin

CrimeWav podcast has had some terrific selections lately - PM Press heavy content from Kenneth Wishnia, Barry Graham and this month fuckin Sin Soracco. She's so great. If there's any justice in the world, the whole Orange is the New Black crowd will be seeking out her novel Low Bite for a more satisfying, non-safe-route-taking portrait of the incarcerated American female population. Soracco's got a new short story too in the the Joyce Carol Oates edited anthology Prison Noir which I'm keen to check out.

Here's a bit I wrote previously about Soracco's Low Bite at Ransom Notes:

Morgan is the central character of Sin Soracco's Low Bite (the most memorable ensemble cast I've read since last year's Late Rain by Lynn Kostoff). She works in the prison law library where she's incarcerated for breaking and entering. Her job is to help other cons explore their legal position, but mostly she brews dangerous jailhouse moonshine and finds other distracting ways to pass the time, including participating in a plot to embezzle funds from another inmate's murdered husband.

That's more or less the plot. But plot-schmlot. It's more a collection of anecdotes converging on repeating themes than a straight narrative, but it is such a great collection of low-rent, high-drama characters struggling to hold on to or create a small patch of dignity in an otherwise utterly oppressed and debased atmosphere that I'd have been happy to keep reading another hundred pages without a central story line. These are women pushed to the brink of human experience and rendered with such obvious affection (yet nothing is precious) - they're impossible not to get behind.

The dialogue alone drips with the effortless, affectationless authenticity of someone in the know, (Soracco does know of what she speaks), and it's a true pleasure to listen. In the interview with the former convict and inmate that is included in the re-issue of her novel, Soracco recalls conversations with editors and publishers and their questions about where the ideas for her characters came from, "These are bits and pieces of my friends. Even the villains."

They've got to be.

And, not that I don't enjoy a good exploitation flick or book, and not that my pulpy bases don't need covering often and generously, (in fact I'm chomping at the bit for Anthony Neil Smith's third Billy Laffitte book - yes, it's in the works), but I do need a good dose of the real thing now and then. And when was the last time I got a straight forward dose of women's prison?

Which is not to say it's humorless. Far from it. The humor and the horror go hand in hand here and the faster the reader and inmate understand that, the better their chance of survival and sanity. It's angry and fierce, but you'd better believe it's not humorless. The scams and angles played are as dumb, doomed, effective, brilliant and entertaining as any.

Combine the flavors of Jim Nisbet, Barry Gifford and Edward Bunker all you like, but Soracco's is a unique voice and one I'm going to listen for from here on out. Low Bite has also stoked my anticipation of Notes From the American Gulag from Prison Stories author Seth Ferranti.

How about Wentworth? Anybody checked that one out yet? I've only watched the first episode and intend to go further, but it's not at the top of my que. If you've an opinion, lemme know. Meantime, go pick up Low Bite and Edge City by Sin Soracco, or hell, I-5 and Nearly Nowhere by Summer Brenner, Pike by Benjamin Whitmer, The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham,  The Underbelly by Gary Phillips, Sensation by Nick Mamatas or the one I'm reading now - 23 Shades of Black by Kenneth Wishnia, 'cause everything from PM Press is 50% off now thru December 31st at the website!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Old Mike Hits Bottom - Mike Miner: CriMemoir

Getting on to the end of the year, kids. Office parties. Family gatherings. Police check points. Good time to share this cautionary, confessional CriMemoir from Mike Miner. If you don't know Mike's name, you haven't been paying attention. His latest novel, Prodigal Sons, is out now from All Due Respect Books and his short fiction has appeared in all the places you'd be looking.

Old Mike Hits Bottom - A CriMemoir by Mike Miner

I hit bottom in the Beverly Hills Police Department on January 28th, 2001. The morning after my last night on the town. My last hangover. It was a hell of a night. What I remember of it anyway. And it was a hell of a hangover.

This was Old Mike. He has since retired. My memories of that morning are vivid. That familiar sensation, fuzzy brained, but certain that I was in big trouble and in no particular hurry to find out exactly how much.

Jail. Again.

Snapshots of the night before. A blur of bars up and down Sunset Boulevard. The Skybar at the Mondrian, The House of Blues, the VIP Lounge at the Sunset Room. Velvet ropes, top shelf liquor. Old Mike knew how to have a good time.

Other memories, less pleasant.

My BMW bouncing over a curb. The street turning into lawn, then a wide staircase.
A cop's flashlight in my face.

Jail. Again.

I knew the drill by now. Forward and backward.

This was my third DUI. Second within the past year. I remember because my probation had just ended on the last one.

As the police cruiser pulled away, with me handcuffed in the back seat, I considered the likely consequences.

Fines. Lawyers. Probation. Suspended license. Court ordered rehab. Shit. Shit. SHIT.

And worst of all, the wrath of my lovely wife.

I did not realize yet that there was mandatory jail time for a man in my situation. Ten days in Twin Towers county jail downtown. My wife will be pregnant at the time. But that's another story.

This is about me hitting bottom. I hadn't yet, not quite.

First, I needed to get processed out. They gave me back my watch, my shoes, my wedding ring. For some reason they needed another thumb print even though they took all my prints the night before.

I made bail, apparently.

I knew who paid it. Again.

I was free to go, they told me. She was waiting in the lobby. I walked down a lonely hallway, up a staircase, kept company by the sound of my footsteps and my own guilty thoughts. The door to the lobby had a window in it and I saw my pathetic reflection and thought, how on earth could anyone be here, ready to pick me up and take me home again. I looked at myself and wondered, not for the first time, what the hell she possibly saw in me worth staying for.

This wasn't the first time. Or the second. Five years of this, give or take.

I was in rehab when we met, for an arrest up in Boston. Had to attend group therapy once a week up in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. I guess she knew what she was getting into.

A deep breath before I pushed open the door. In the glass, I could see the scar above my left eye where I sliced it open in a drunken car accident on an icy road. I spent the night getting stitched up in an emergency room. Guess who was there to take me home?

And here she was again.

In the movie version, no doubt Tammy Wynette's voice would sing in the background, “Stand By Your Man.”

That was rock bottom for me, dear friends. Later, she'd tell me how she spent all night calling hospitals and jails looking for me until she found me. Think about that, boys and girls. Does someone love you enough to do that? Would you do that for someone? I picture her on hold, waiting, braced for the worst.

In the lobby of the Beverly Hills Police Department, she said, “What am I gonna do with you?

I said, “I'm all done, babe.” And I was. I didn't ever want to see that look on her face again.

She had no reason to believe me. But so far, so good.

Do I miss it? The bright lights and the big city? Sometimes. When my kids are howling at each other like wolves or my wife's handing me another honey do list. Sure. I remember the soothing bite of an ice cold martini at Musso & Frank's. The burn of a Maker's Mark, neat, at Bar Marmont. The sting of rum in a mai tai from the Formosa Café. I could go on. But I've been there. Done that.

I don't miss waking up in jail. Don't miss the hangovers, the lawyers, the rehab.

Of course, I write a bit. Which allows me to visit with Old Mike once in a while. Imagine what he would have done if things turned out different. If his wife hadn't stood by her man, like mine did.

Mike Miner lives and writes in Connecticut. He is the author of Prodigal Sons (All Due Respect Books), The Immortal Game (Gutter Books) and Everything She Knows (SolsticeLit Books). His stories can be found in the anthologies, Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT and Pulp Ink 2 as well as in places like Thuglit, Beat To a Pulp, All Due Respect, Burnt Bridge, Narrative, PANK, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey and others.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: October

52 Pick-Up - John Frankenheimer - Harry, an L.A. businessman (Roy Scheider), is the target of a carefully calculated extortion plan. He's been stepping out on his wife (Ann-Margret) and there are pictures and such to prove it, but when Harry doesn't jump the direction his blackmailers expect him to, they step up their game, turning to kidnapping and murder to squeeze his philandering ass for everything he's got. Refreshing to go back to the pre-Get Shorty, very-serious take on Elmore Leonard material. Still there are the unusual angles genre beats are hit from, but gone are any self-aware smirky attitudes or irony-lacing to the dialogue. One of the chief pleasures of Leonard's thrillers is the non action-orientation of the climaxes (which appears to have frustrated the marketing department - check out that poster of Scheider with gun ready... that his character owns a gun is a pivotal plot point, but he never uses it and it's an itty bitty thing compared to that canon he's hoisting in the picture). Those climaxes, just as with every step on the way to them, they were tricky, slippy things that threw the reader off balance, surprising in turns by their directness or deft circumnavigation of genre expectations. The original score is, um... stuck in its time and does undercut some of the tension, but John Glover, Clarence Williams III and Robert Trebor are great as the trio of pornographers turned extortionists and their world full of terrific details that steal the show. Best moment: Williams, Trebor and Glover making plans.

American Mary - Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska - Life is hard for medical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle). She may be brilliant but she's broke. Got a promising future as a surgeon if only she can lay off buying such fancy underwear and scale down the huge apartment she lives in. Her school money is evaporating. Looking for work in a sleazy mobbed-up strip club, her interview is interrupted by a flunkie with some nasty wounds and she's told if she can make the guy not die, they'll give her more money than she'd make in months. Repulsed, but flush with cash, Mary's life as an underground surgeon is off the ground. Soon she's the go-to artist for extreme body-modification and a murder suspect (things happen), but money is no longer a problem. Skating the crime/horror line, this one is stylishly icky and sleekly fun, just don't think about it too hard. Best moment: The reveal of her teacher's fate.

Cold in July - Jim Mickle - Michael C. Hall is Richard, a family man, in 1989 Texas, who shoots an intruder in his home in the middle of the night and feels good about defending his home and family for about fiiiive minutes before the father of the man he killed, (Sam Shepard) a baaad man just out of prison with nothing to lose, begins to terrorize Richard and his cozy little life falls apart. The fact that the film is based on the novel by Joe R. Lansdale ought to give you some clue that the above plot description (and for once the trailer, thank God) do not ruin the myriad of surprises this one has in store and keep it from being a Tejas-set Cape Fear-exercise. For everything it's got going for it, including one of the best original scores I've heard in years (by Jeff Grace), low-key, but spot-on (and just the right amount of) period details for flavor and a very game cast, it's got a throwback sensibility to this vein of down and dirty thriller that skates the edges of exploitation, but retains enough real heart and brains (but mostly heart... or guts) to keep it out of the tough-guys with guns bargain bin rack quality-wise. The result is a lean, tough mystery thriller with a helluva climax. Strong contender for year's top honors around these parts. Best moment: father and son meet up.

Dom Hemingway - Richard Shepard - After a dozen years in prison safecracker Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) is out and ready to reap the rewards of his silence from those he didn't rat out while inside. He's also got a score or two to settle, some family matters to see to and a little general catching up to do. Dom's a force of nature: unpredictable, volatile self-aggrandizing and self-destructive and his time inside certainly has not mellowed him. We follow Dom as he checks off his list of things to do and people to confront, never knowing what outcome is even desired never mind probable. And that is a big part of the appeal to this film. Yeah, like Dom, it's big and brash and outrageous, but it's also unclear where it's headed and that, in the hands of a solid film maker, is a huge thrill. This one goes toe to toe with the best of Shepard's other films The Matador and The Hunting Party and even punches outside its weight some. In fact, I think this one would make a terrific double feature with Sexy Beast. Tonally the two films are quite different, but it's not hard to imagine Law's Dom becoming Ben Kingsly's Don a few years down the line. Will that happen? Will Dom survive time, his enemies, his friends, himself? Will Dom's demise live up to the legend of his life that he creates and perpetuates seemingly more out of duty than desire, or will Dom take some serious critical inventory and set for himself new goals and new direction? Regardless, it's a helluvan entertaining film and one of the best performances of the year from Law, plus Richard Grant is, as always, fantastic. Best moment: the 'my cock' monologue that opens the film really sets the tone nicely.

The Drop - Michael R. Roskam - Bob and Marv run Cousin Marv's, a local mob drop-bar and are under an intense microscope after the place is robbed on collection night. Meanwhile Bob (Tom Hardy) rescues a pitbull with the help of Nadia a neighborhood girl (Noomi Rapace) and ends up the target of her psycho ex-boyfriend Eric (Matthias Schoenaerts).
With this project Dennis Lehane goes into full Road to Perdition universe Max Allan Collins mode writing a novelization of his screenplay based on his own short story (Animal Rescue), but no matter the true origin of the source material, the film is fully-realized and fleshy draped on the sturdy skeletal structure provided by Hardy and James Gandolfini as Marv's performances. The two big lugs mope and scowl and bitch and wryly observe between themselves with an interpersonal dynamic not fully defined for the audience until the end of the film and it's pretty great to observe. Add to their chemistry the fine supporting cast including John Ortiz, James Frecheville plus the stellar-again Ann Dowd and you've got an atmosphere I love kicking around inside (if you see it and dig it too, do yourself a favor and check out Gravesend by William Boyle). The plot is pretty standard fare, but it doesn't need to be any more flashy because the band is hitting the beats like they mean it and I'm sold. Best moment: Gandolfini buys Schoenaerts a beer.

Easy Money: Life Deluxe - Jens Jonsson - If you're not up on the plot at this point in the series (this is the third and climactic chapter in a trilogy) then I'm not going to spoil it for you. Instead let me just say, holy crap, these films are all great and of a piece (they should be - they're based on a trilogy of books by Jens Lapidus) and they are collectively one of my absolute favorite discoveries of the year. These are future classics, kids and I hope they spawn some more serious-minded epic treatments of international criminal underground for the big screen. Best moment: the heist. Fantastic tension delivered via sticking with the thieves inside for visuals while hearing constant updates from the getaway driver about developments outside simultaneously. Fucking lovely.

God's Pocket - John Slattery - Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a semi-legit businessman and a low-level criminal whose stepson Leon (Caleb Landry Jones) is a royal fuckup. When Leon provokes an elderly and seemingly feeble black coworker to fight and ends up dead, nobody at the job site is too upset by the loss and they all follow the foreman's lead by sticking with the accident on the job story he comes up with in order to spare the poor, old-timer unnecessary grief from the white cops. Leon's mother (Christina Hendricks) however is convinced that there's a cover up of some kind and goads her husband and a local celebrity newsman (Richard Jenkins) to investigate the incident leading to tragi-comic results on every front. Can't for the life of me figure out why this one didn't get more play what with the great posthumous performance from Hoffman, the rest of the cast which includes Eddie Marsan, John Turturro, Domenick Lombardozzi and Glenn Fleshler, the feature directorial debut of Slattery and the revered source material by Pete Dexter. In a very strong year, it's one of my favorite films and should pick up the following it deserves in years to come. After The Paperboy, it's nice to see so much of the feel of Dexter's voice and tone come through in an adaptation. Best moment: the mob muscles the foreman.

Noise - Matthew Saville - An Australian community is rocked by tragedy in the form of a massacre on a commuter train, and tensions remain high while citizens search for the gunman who presumably resides among them. In the midst of the mess, local constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) is denied disability leave for his tinnitus and instead given light duty manning a temporary substation set up in a trailer outside a local bar. There he encounters locals - some with paranoid theories, some are drunks and some are community characters that alternately amuse him and try his patience with their peculiar behavior and/or obtuseness. As days pass without resolution, the tension in town escalates and Constable McGahan's tinnitus pushes his sanity further toward the brink. Noise was a recommendation out of left field - I'd never heard of it or Saville, - but after very much enjoying it, I'm anticipating his follow up Felony. Noise is a tense, measured and very human character study that deserves your attention. Best moment: Graham finds his hat.

Ocean's Eleven - Steven Soderbergh - Smooth criminal Daniel Ocean (George Clooney not Frank Sinatra) is paroled and goes to work immediately on his revenge/recovery of his lost love. He recruits a crack team of colorful crime tropes to help him pull off the heist of the century and has a hell of a good time doing it. Basically it's two hours of mugging. But honestly, the muggers are hella good at it. You probably already hate them. Or you love them before they're even introduced. No one will have their pre-loaded opinions changed by this film, but I'm behind Soderbergh and while it's no Out of Sight, I couldn't begrudge he and Clooney the chance to play again and make a whole lotta money. Best moment: it's all one moment.

Peaky Blinders Season 1 - Steven Knight - Soldiers from the frontlines of The Great War return to Birmingham, England and their titular criminal gang (named for the razorblades they keep in the brims of their soft caps for quick, dirty, street fighting) to re-establish their roles and set sights on new goals. The Peaky Blinders happen to be a family-based gang led by middle son Thomas (Cillian Murphy) of the gypsy Shelby clan and in the business of illegal off-track betting and has grand ambitions of achieving the goldest-ring of rackets, 'legit'. Over the course of six episodes the Blinders tackle rival gangs and dodge a brutal special investigator (Sam Neill) fresh from stand-out work crushing Irish dissidents and recruited by Winston Churchill (Andy Nyman) himself. Plot is chewed through at a good pace and attitude is game including the soundtrack which features Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds' Red Right Hand as the theme song, but doesn't stop there (as say Boardwalk Empire with the Brian Jonestown Massacre opening theme that gives way to period-appropriate music for the rest of the show). No, throughout each episode, we're treated to more modern songs (including several more from Cave) that add to the atmosphere and inform the context for the audience in audacious fashion that's... ballsy. It's a stylistic choice, and a bold one, 'cause you've got to be on your game all the time to keep folks in the scene with anachronistic music choices. But it worked really well for me. Bully for Knight and crew. And let's mention Knight 'cause he's the original attraction for me here. I love his London underground stuff (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises, Redemption) and Peaky Blinders seems the perfect vehicle for him to get his social history rocks off alongside some pretty stylish and badass genre shit. Sooo happy for this new addition to my must-watch TV especially as Boardwalk Empire takes its leave. Best moment: surprise wedding.

The Untouchables - Brian DePalma - In prohibition-era Chicago Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) rules the city by pleasing everybody who can be and killing everybody who can't. Y'know who can't be pleased? Fuckin' Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) that's who. Guy's a boy scout, incorruptible, unrealistic and dangerously naive. He's going to get a lot of people killed to enforce a silly law. Great historical atmosphere with about zero interest in telling what actually happened. Guess what? I don't fuckin care. It's tits. It's flashy. It's super glossy, ultra violence punctuated by dialogue self-consciously made to adorn iconic posters. So what sets it apart from similar smart-looking, violent junk food like Gangster Squad? For starters, David Mamet. For another, Ennio Morricone. Add conviction and commitment on the part of all involved and yeah, I'm gonna sit down and watch it every time I come across it. Best moment: Battleship Potemkin.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thankful For

Season's Greetings from HBW... Here're a few things I'm thankful for

New books like Angels of the North by Ray Banks!

and Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon by Cameron Pierce

plus reissues like Ted Lewis' Carter trilogy from Syndicate Books

and this here Malcolm Braly omnibus from Stark House Press

New seasons of Peaky Blinders 

and Lillyhammer on Netflix

New movies on the horizon like Son of a Gun

and Bad Turn Worse 

Old movies to re-discover such as Uptight 

and Hickey & Boggs.

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Say You?

Son of a Gun - d: Julius Avery w: Julius Avery, John Collee

Captive - d: Atom Egoyan, w: Atom Egoyan, David Fraser

A Most Violent Year - w/d: J.C. Chandor

The Gambler - d: Rupert Wyatt w: William Monahan

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Swollen, Red Peckerwood Does Not Grow Back

Where is the place to be Thusday, November 20? The Maplewood Public Library (7550 Lohmeyer Ave, Maplewood, Missouri 63143) at 6pm. I'll be there with Matthew McBride and Fred Venturini to come clean about dirty words. Expect red faces, blue content and purple nurples as well as false starts, awkward pauses and completely reactionary fuddled beef.
And speaking of non-sequiturs: Books! Three of the most... um, two of the best books of the last year will be at the event for defacing by the scribes and you can get copies. They make great passive aggressive gifts for your frenemies. What better way to say 'hey, you strike me as barely literate' than with books of this caliber? So, be there, huh?

What's that? You can't get out of Chicago for the event? Sit tight then, and let me suggest that you show up for N@B-Chicago's event at Quenchers on Tuesday, December 9. You can check out N@B favorites Kent Gowran, Kevin Lynn Helmick, Jake Hinkson, Frank Wheeler Jr. plus Sam Reaves beginning at 6pm. Skip your commute home and unwind with these degenerates. Rumor has it the Livius and the Robb from the Booked podcast will be onhand to make offhand remarks and pimp their shit... which deserves to be pimped. Have you been keeping up with the Booked? Here's a quick rundown of 'recent' highlights:

Guest and N@B irregular David James Keaton helps review his own book, The Last Projector.

The guys discuss what might've happened if Biggus Dickus' empire reached the new world in a rousing review of N@B's official horror scribe John Hornor Jacobs' The Incorruptibles.

The Rain King, a wild 'n wolly western of N@B cowboy Kevin Lynn Helmick gets an unruly lasso about it's slim waist and guess who gets the better of that situation. Here's a hint: the horse.

Methland, Missouri loves company and the guys hang out amongst the grim gangsters of Gasconade in A Swollen, Red Sun, alongside N@B's very own Virgil, Matthew McBride.

And N@B's man on fire, Richard Thomas has his co-edited collection Burnt Tongues given the Booked anthology treatment (they cherry pick stories and review them individually). N@B favorite son Fred Venturini also has a story in this collection and his novel The Heart Does Not Grow Back is the subject of the next episode of Booked, so stay the fuck tuned.