Wednesday, May 28, 2014

N@B: Extra Sticky Edition

Lick your eyeballs and fill your earholes, it's N@B: Extra Sticky Edition with these here motherscooters:

Laura Benedict - in support of her latest novel Bliss House. Don't let this photo fool you. Laura goes dark. Monstrously so. She'll scare the hell out of you.

Pinckney Benedict - in support of, y'know what? Fuck you for asking. If you haven't read Dogs of God by now, you're fucking dead to me.

Clayton Lindemuth - in support of not one, not two, but three books out in the last six months. Bad. Ass. Shit. My Brother's Destroyer, Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her and its prequel to And Sometimes Bone followed 2012's excellent Cold, Quiet Country the way Ugly followed the Good and the Bad - um... relentlessly... punishingly. Read his shit.

Matthew McBride - in support of his latest novel A Swollen Red Sun. Hey, everybody loves the rollicking blood-slick, booze-sick, amphetamine-tick of Frank Sinatra in a Blender, but I guarandamntee you ain't begun to know this cat's potential till you've read this one.

Scott Phillips - in support of his latest novel Hop Alley. Shysters, socialites and sociopaths cross paths with all the varieties of heeled - well, round and shit. And lotsa straight-up heels. Holy crap, it's a gas.

Jack Ryan - in support of his own good name. This cat is up and coming and appearing in venues like Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey and MARGIN.

Jason Stuart - in support of his new novel 16 Tons. Jason is also the author of Raise a Holler and Screaming Woman Road. He's the publisher at Burn Bridge Books and the host of N@B-NOLA. This fucking guy is riding a motorcycle from Mississippi to rock your shit. You need to shut the fuck up and be there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Picture Books: Bret Easton Ellis

In today's installment of  Picture Books, Bryce Allen takes a look at film translations of the work of Bret Easton Ellis - not a name that gets tossed around much in crime circles (though, transgression and assholism - two of my favorite corners to cover - are kinda his thing, yeah?), but I think is a terrific choice for this series about the quality of the voice of a writer coming through the lenses and throats of a host of collaborators. Ellis's name is one that instantly divides every room it's uttered in and film adaptations divide fans and foes alike.

Hell, even after the critical crap-mat The Canyons became (directed by Paul Schrader from an original script by Ellis) I'm interested in it. And geez, I don't know what the state of the Ellis-produced television adaptation of Jason Starr's The Follower is, (been a while since I heard anything, so it may not be happening), but yeah, his name raises an extra eyebrow on a property I'd already be tuned in to.

Ellis - love him, loathe him (and either for the wrong reasons) he's a compelling choice for Picture Books... Bryce, the mic is yours.

Psychofrenetic Cool: Bret Easton Ellis’ Su-su-pseudo Film Trilogy

One of the most controversial and divisive writers of his generation, transgressive novelist Bret Easton Ellis also forged one of the most unique careers in recent literary history.

Seemingly lauded and derided in equal portions, Ellis’ prowess as an author is definitely a point of contention among fans, mainstream critics and esoteric scholars alike. While his artistic legacy remains up for debate, his status as an indelible part of Pop Culture Canon has been firmly established, with the film adaptions of his various works having played a major role in the dissemination of his creative/intellectual brand.

Wielding a style self-described as ‘affectless extremism’, Ellis’ work consistently deals with the concept of postmodern terror, blending morbid satire and hyperrealist sensibilities with quintessentially-American topics/settings to create works that are both captivating and disconcerting. The film versions of his novels have managed to maintain this basic framework, albeit with varying degrees of success and exactness.

While Ellis’ best/most ambitious novel (Glamorama) currently resides in the ninth ring of Development Hell and his entertainingly-haphazard short story collection The Informers was (justifiably) relegated to a limited theatrical run status a few years back, three of his major works have thus far made the proper transition to the silver screen. All three films – Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Rules of Attraction – are drastically different in terms of aesthetic, but the underlying tone of each is rife with the distinct voice of their source material’s architect, - by design, accident or otherwise.

Released only two years after Ellis’ famous/infamous debut, the film version of Less Than Zero suffers largely for being a byproduct of its era. With ‘teen flicks’ such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink enjoying success at the box office at the time, this dark, nihilistic take on American teenagedom in the mid/late-1980s is ultimately watered down in its transition to celluloid by poor casting (Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz) and unsubtle Hollywoodification of the plot/tone.

Despite the efforts of Robert Downey, Jr. as ill-fated party boy Julian and James Spader as the cruelly-engaging drug dealer Rip, Less Than Zero is simply unable to faithfully convey the noxious ambivalence of the novel. In addition to the book’s most notorious/shocking scenes being outright removed, various aspects of the characters/story are altered in a manner that dilutes the tale’s potency, a plastic veneer of morality being haphazardly applied to the malignant sentimentality conveyed in the book.

Ellis’ original vision does manage to permeate through the film’s flaws however. Cinematographer Edward Lachman is able to effectively give the setting (affluent L.A.) a noirish ambiance that belies the glossification of the teleplay while the vacant cynicism, grotesque selfishness and ethical ambiguity of the group of ostensible ‘friends’ presented in the book remains evident in small doses throughout.

Moreover, the film’s most glaring weaknesses actually serve to, unintentionally, echo the novel’s central theme (or lack thereof). The movie looks good and has a high budget but it’s ultimately an empty shell of itself, with darkly atmospheric undertones persistently imbuing a sense of foreboding dread in the viewer.

In the abstract, the wooden/vacant performances turned in by Less Than Zero’s lead actors in conjunction with the overall awkwardness propagated by the interference of the middle-aged film executives working on a multimillion dollar project makes the film almost a perfect conduit for the abject decadence Ellis’ prose evinces. So while the film fails as an adaptation, it somewhat succeeds in acting as a vehicle for the young author’s message of appearances and reality being horrifyingly interchangeable, thereby negating the value of both.

As such, the film version of Less Than Zero flourishes in a perverse realm beyond itself – a piece of art AS a piece of art, a distorted/demented recreation that both betrays and augments its origins.

Erroneously marketed as a horror movie and the predecessor to quite possibly the most illogical, misguided attempt at a franchise/sequel in cinematic history (AP2: All-American Girl… seriously, it exists), director Mary Harron’s version of American Psycho is nonetheless one of the best film adaptations ever made, period.

Deftly and economically taking the very best scenes from Ellis’ novel and placing them in a perfectly-sequenced manner that nails the outlandish machismo and sadistic Epicureanism of maybe-serial killer Patrick Bateman’s world, Harron creates a slick, sardonic feature that perfectly encapsulates the black humor and bombastic irony of the book. While (necessarily) excluding the book’s most graphic sections, she brilliantly navigates (instead of circumventing) the shock-factor elements of the text, ironing out a wrinkly masterpiece and making the nefarious story at once more profound and accessible. Just as the live versions of ‘I Want You To Want Me’, ‘Rock And Roll All Nite’ and… well, all of Frampton Comes Alive are more successful than their studio versions, so too is Mary Harron’s American Psycho an improvement upon Ellis’ novel, a point of contention among BEE purists but indisputable IMO.

Much like Less Than Zero, Roger Avary’s adaptation of Ellis’ second novel The Rules of Attraction falls victim to the timing of its release. Made in the early-naughts, shortly after the likes of Freddy Prinze, Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar had brought about a second ‘golden age’ of teeny bopper films, TROA was largely marketed as a party-at-college movie with a sexy young cast - anchored by a pair of prime time soap stars in James Van Der Beek (see: Andrew McCarthy/ miscasting) and Jessica Biel, who only actually appeared in a handful of scenes purely as eye candy.

Unlike previous efforts to adapt Ellis’ work for the big screen, Avary’s film embraces the unrepentant depravity of his characters and remains utterly faithful to the novel.  The frantic ennui of the multiple nontagonists are showcased in glorious fashion, with the jarringly uneven makeup of the narrative also adhered to, almost to a fault. The satirical elements are so subtle that they almost go unnoticed however, particularly for viewers not familiar with the source material.

Certain aspects of TROA didn’t particular transfer well from the 1980s novel to the early-21st century film either (a line of dialog pertaining to the writing of a letter is particularly glaring anachronism, forced into the screenplay most likely because it really is a great line)… Nonetheless, The Rules of Attraction remains the most faithful adaptation of a BEE novel and the one with which he has stated is his favorite.

Bret Easton Ellis’ three theatrically-released film adaptations are at seemingly odds with each other, their producers/marketers, and, to an extent, themselves. They each present a unique interpretation of their source material and their lack of collective cohesion and combative nature with one another as entities is, in a way, a microcosm of what Ellis’ schizophrenic marque has become – by design, accident or otherwise… Much like this rambling, overwritten/semi-coherent essay, Ellis’ pseudo-trilogy is essentially an elegant collection of tales brimming with sound and fury - signifying nothing.

Bryce Allen is a Canadian writer currently living in the United States. His debut novel The Spartak Trigger is presently available from Bedlam Press.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

In Case You Blinked...

...It's been a helluva year for N@B alum so far. I just read Kent Gowran's interview with XXX Shamus author Red Hammond (Anthony Neil Smith) over at Crimespree and realized, shit it's only six months old, but that isn't even Neil's latest book any longer. Check it out - Once a Warrior by Anthony Neil Smith...

and the rest of the N@B crew... they're kicking ass in 2014 too

Hop Alley by Scott Phillips

The Poor Boy's Game by Dennis Tafoya

Bliss House by Laura Benedict

Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

The Crow Pestilence by Frank Bill and Drew Moss

Mind MGMT 3 by Matt Kindt

History of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List by Duane Swierczynski

Upon My Soul by Robert J. Randisi

Greed by Dan O'Shea

The Good Life by Frank Wheeler Jr.

Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini

The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane

The Bitch (in paperback from NPP) by Les Edgerton

The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

Phone Call From Hell by Jonathan Woods

Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor

The Lone Ranger 7 by Ande Parks and Esteve Polls

And Sometimes Bone by Clayton Lindemuth

Dead Out by Jon McGoran

Black Gum Godless Heathen by J. David Osborne

The New Black (edited) Richard Thomas

and hell... that's just what I've got cover images for... I know Richard's got a novel due soon, plus David James Keaton's The Last Projector, Matthew C. Funk's City of NO and who knows how much more badassery can be represented by the folks N@B is proud to call graduates. You guys rock.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vapor Trailers

Calvary - w/d: John Michael McDonagh

Dermaphoria - d: Ross Clarke w: Craig Clevenger, Ross Clarke

Child of God - d: James Franco w: Cormac McCarthy, Cince Jolivette, James Franco

Life of Crime - d: Daniel Schechter w: Elmore Leonard, Daniel Schechter

Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 in Flicks: April

Archer Season 4 - Adam Reed - Between the Bob's Burgers/A History of Violence mashup season premiere, the Anthony Bourdain Bastard Chef episode, Krieger building Ray cyborg legs and Timothy Olyphant putting the moves on H. Jon Benjamin, it is just absolutely the best. Only drawback to this season- no more Burt Reynolds... Wow, that sounded weird.. Best moment: episodes 1-13. No seriously. Something something danger zone. Oh, shit, somebody make me an A History of Violence t-shirt featuring a still from episode 1 - preferably one with Archer smashing the guy's face with the coffee pot or stabbing the other one with the spatula, stat!

Bag Man - David Grovic - "John Cusack plays a bag man hired to deliver a, um, bag - whose contents he knows not - to a dirty ol' backroad, bumfuck motel for Robert De Niro wearing a weird hairdo and being all cryptic. The creepy location is populated by strange fucking people, ooh, like maybe Crispin Glover in a wheelchair (he's actually pretty good) and a sexed-up, very anglo-looking ethnic-type girl getting all bothered and clingy. What the hell is in the bag?" That's actually my pitch for Angel Heart the TV show, if anybody's interested. I wouldn't really call it an exercise in style, as that, to me, implies a little more effort, but it has style, just not much idea of what to do with it. A handful of nice moments and a plot that ticks along pretty good for a bout 25 minutes, but ultimately... It's based on a stage play by James Russo - didn't know he wrote - maybe it works better live? In all fairness, I'd probably have really enjoyed it 20 years ago and some young ones might stumble onto it now and get turned on to some better flicks through it... I approve of stepping stones, I just don't have time for them any more. Best moment: Martin Klebba being effectively intimidating.

Cellular - David R. Ellis - Trapped in a strange location, an abducted woman rigs a broken telephone to dial numbers at random and snags the ear of a stranger on a cellphone and convinces him to help her. The gimmick? He can't lose the connection or all is lost. I'm not down on gimmick movies. I rather like them when they're done well. Unfortunately, this one is a bad mix of awkward humor and poorly sustained suspense, that would've been served much better by a full commitment in either direction (I had the thought that the script actually had been written as a comedy and was produced by folks who didn't get it... which might warrant a second viewing sometime to be seen through that lens). Best moment: subway chase sequence - it's kinda nice to see Jason Statham as the heavy.

Cold Comes the Night - Tze Chun - The woman who runs a dive-motel has a big money problems and a fast-approaching deadline, so when there's a murder in one of her rooms and some very dirty money belonging to some very dangerous people from the crime scene ends up in police custody, she goes along with a plan hatched by the murdered dude's partner to retrieve the goods so's she can take a cut. Solid little crime picture featuring a half-dozen characters with (okay, maybe not entirely) plausible (but it's a movie fur-fucks-ache - go with it) and conflicting interests and motivations brought together without too much fuss and jerry-rigging. Bryan Cranston's accent is a little odd, but consistent and the danger he brings to every scene is welcome. I made a crappy-motel movie double feature outta this one and The Bag Man - guess which one I liked more. Best moment: oooooh shit, I can't believe she just got shot.

The Heat -  Paul Feig - Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are the mismatched pair forced to work together in this buddy-cop comedy that juuuuust misses the broad side of the barn. Did I laugh? Yeah, I did, a few times. My biggest problem? It wasn't usually at anything the stars were doing. When your comedy leads are consistently shown up by the (admittedly strong) supporting cast (including Jane Curtain, Tony Hale, Kaitlin Olson, Bill Burr, Demian Bichir and one of the New Kids on the Block) you have got a problem. I will say it was damn nice to see Michael McDonald just killing it in a sympathetic role. His hang-dog defeated police captain was the most consistently good thing in the picture. Best moment: Stopping by McCarthy's apartment. Yeah, she lives here.

Jug Face - Chad Crawford Crinkle - Deep in the wooded mountains of America - where we've been conditioned to equate natural beauty with hardship of life and fucking twisted barbaric shit - a not entirely benevolent deity dwells in a pit and watches over a small community of hill people. The deity provides for them, protects them and heals them and every once in a while demands a sacrifice. Jug Face is the story of Ada (Lauren Ashley Carter) who knows she is next in line to be sacrificed and the means she employs to avoid it. Hey, Jed, I thought this was a crime blog, why're you talking about a supernatural horror movie? I'm glad you asked. Because at its core, Jug Face is dealing with the same elements of my favorite crime fictions - doom, guilt, cowardice, transgression of the social contract, notions of duty and familial love - and dealing with them from some really fascinating angles. How so? The first important subversion going on here is the difference between this film and cult pictures (like say Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene) where there's a group of average folk who've subjugated their will and identities to the bizarre claims of a charismatic personality in turn for a place in the world and a home among other like-minded folks. This is no crazy cult - these people live in community around and in service to a (strange to us, but) demonstrably real deity. You serve it, it helps you, you cross it, it kills you. These folks aren't crazy, they're acting sanely in an insane situation. Second, our anti-heroine is not the plucky, empowered dystopian rebel of The Hunger Games, rising out of an unjust system and taking it the fuck down, in her own mind and heart she's a traitor to her people, trying to remain in and part of a community that she is actively destroying. Not once does the notion that 'maybe we all should leave this mountain and try our luck elsewhere' come up (and conspicuously so - point taken), but the true concern of the character (and the film) is how she attempts to live in the contradiction of saving her own ass and living with loved ones when her own ass is the only thing that can save her loved ones. The other great touch of this picture is allowing the warmth and attractiveness of the other people in the community to come front and center and give us a glimpse of exactly why she'd want to remain a part and emphasize the tragedy of her (and their collective) choices. One minute they might be slicing your throat open (gently), but the next they're rolling in the yard playing with their children whom they clearly love. So much more effective than populating the place with a bunch of ignorant, ugly, bloodthirsty backwood hillbillies. Deception, betrayal, sacrifice and bloody consequence - this is a terrific crime story. Best moment: the wrong sacrifice.

Nurse - Douglas Aarniokoski - A serial killer uses her skills and position as a nurse to aid in her true vocation in this silly, sleazy, amazingly psychologically inconsistent, exploitation flick. Paz de la Huerta throws herself into the role of Abby with abandon and enthusiasm that almost makes it all work. She's let down by a confusion of the script (or is the script supposed to be mirroring Abby's inner faulty logic?) and an inability of some of the cast to loose themselves as thoroughly as she does in the grindhouse spirit of it all (every time Katrina Bowden takes a shower - in her underwear... twice! - I was pulled out of the experience). It's probably best just to cut the half-assed stuff out of the final product when so much of the picture and its stars will go all the way. Best moment: the whole batshit hospital sequence at the end is fun and stupid and over the top - the way these things are at their best.

On the Job - Erik Matti - A Filipino crime flick about inmates clandestinely released onto the streets to carry out assassinations and then smuggled back into prison with iron-clad alibis, On the Job is the first film of the year that I can't imagine not being one of the year's very best when it's all said and done. Holy shit, this was fantastic. It's simple and brilliant, and brutal and complex, and human and tragic, and thrilling and haunting. I think that covers it. Tackled from multiple angles - from the inmate/assassins, the cops, the politicians who are usually involved on the hiring or the killing end of these operations - it's a multi-faceted portrait of modern corruption in the clothes of an action thriller and satisfies on many different levels. Just go watch this shit. Now. Best moment: the betrayal/assassination - manhunt - finishing the job sequence in the middle of the picture is masterful action and suspense film making, as well as a feat of screenwriting and editing. Holy crap.

Sabotage - David Ayer - The film opens with a DEA team raiding the mansion/compound of a drug cartel on US soil, killing a lot of people and blowing up tons of shit. What becomes apparent soon is that this is not an officially sanctioned action, or part of an investigation - it's straight up armed robbery. The team abscond with $10 million in cash and blow everything else up to cover up the crime, only when they go to retrieve their loot, they find that they've been ripped off. By whom? One of their own? A boogie man higher up in the government? The cartel they targeted? A rival organization? This is easily the darkest character Arnold Schwarzenegger has portrayed and it's interesting territory for an icon of action righteousness to be exploring even if it is a bit late in the game (I'll say this for the film - they use Arnold's age and time-fucked features to good effect). Also, Ayer makes so many small and crucial decisions well - the look of characters, locales, and shots - but Sabotage is a frustrating experience because for all the elements it's got the goods on, it pisses away so much potential on bad over-macho acting (I get it, that's part of what's being explored here - this hyper-masculine subculture - but I cringed just like I did at it in The Hurt Locker - it's hard to do well) and just awful lines these poor guys (and gals - you've never seen Olivia Williams like this, I guarantee) are given to say... shudder. Still, I believe Sabotage will surprise you, if you stick with it. The final scene especially is a haunting coda to the film that could have been and will probably demand a re-examination of the film you just sat through. I will definitely be re-watching this one. Curious whether I'll be doubly frustrated or like it more the second time. Or both. Best moment: the end invoking thoughts of Sam Peckinpah and Rolling Thunder.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Completely R-bitrary Information

First R-rated movie I ever saw - Beverly Hills Cop (11 years old at a friend's house on VHS)

First R-rated movie I saw at the theater - Young Guns (12 years old. A friend's dad took us)

First R-rated movie I got grounded for going to - The Last Boy Scout (15 years old - went with a friend and didn't lie when my parents asked what we'd gone to see. Grounding - 1 month. Worth it.)

First R-rated movie I saw theatrically with my parent's permission, but with another adult (my youth pastor) - The Commitments (15 years old)

First R-rated movie I saw theatrically with a parent - Backdraft (15 years old. I paid for my own ticket)

First R-rated movie I saw theatrically without an adult, but with my parents' permission - The Fisher King (15 years old - our parent's made us swear not to lie about our age, if asked)

R-rated movie I nearly got my youth pastor fired for watching with me - Black Rain (16 years old on VHS with several teenaged youth group kids at a non-official church group get-together. I picked out the movie. There was much fallout from unhappy parental types)

First R-rated movie I watched with my own kids - Army of Darkness (ages 7 & 8)