Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Be The Judge

James Franco's Cormac McCarthy adaptation Child Of God hit local theaters and barely left a grease spot before disappearing. After catching his so-slight-it-practically-evaporated-before-my-eyes (though not entirely a waste) adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, I'm in no particular hurry to catch up with it, though I remain curious. Are you curious? Skeptical? Appalled?

What about this test footage for his proposed treatment of Blood Meridian? The Judge might be the most iconic figure of recent American literature and a daunting proposition (I'd think) to any actor. So, whom to cast? I like Mark Pellegrino for sure. I think he's got something special and I'm... intrigued by the possibility of what he'd bring to the role, (and Luke Perry as Glanton?) Hmmm... I'm open-minded, I suppose, but jeez, if ever a tome were deserving an epic big-screen treatment, I'd say it might could be Meridian... I was a little more hopeful when it was in the hands of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe a few years ago.

Speaking of Big Mc, I just put my hands on an actual paper copy of Kevin Lynn Helmick's The Rain King, and good golly, I like this one as a physical object... It' holds very well. It's got a decidedly McCarthian vibe to the prose too, which God knows, I've been accused of employing myself - guess I like that stuff. Y'know... all that beauty and death...

Any others of you out there with a wry sense of the macabre will appreciate the article Today Me, Tomorrow You by Elizabeth Harper at Atlas Obscura about some expressive skeletal art in Rome.

And anybody with a complicated relationship with transcendent art made by morally objectionable humans could do worse than to consider The Bukowski Misogyny Thing  at Paragraph Line by Joseph Hirsch about Charles Bukowski (with nods at H.P. Lovecraft, Knut Hamsun and more). If you haven't jumped on the Hirsch wagon yet - lemme throw the cover for his forthcoming Kentucky Bestiary at you. I dig. You?

Y'know what else I'm anticipating? Scott Adlerberg's novella Jungle Horses, that's what. The good I hear about this one is guuuud. And Scott's got a helluva guest piece coming up soon at HBW. If you know anything about that cat it's probably that he knows his movie shit. And his crime shit. And shit, that's the shit I like. So, epic guest post about movie things relating to Patricia Highsmith - who was the proverbial shit.

Y'know what else is potential good news? Mark Rapacz and Jason Stuart, man. They hate numbers and money, but they love your book. This article about Blast Gun says as much. I'd take advantage of them if I was you. Plus, look how badass the cover for Mark's City Kaiju is. 

My fall schedule is filling up with events, too. N@B-NWA (don't get too excited, that's Northwest Arkansas), Noircon and other events await. Hope to see you somewheres.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Little Garnish

A week-late, but sincere and affectionate HBW happy birthday to Raymond Chandler and au revoir James Garner, both of whom played significant roles in the development of my sensibilities. The only overlap of their careers (that I'm aware of) was the... meh, good at moments and frankly embarrassing at others, adaptation of Chandler's novel The Little Sister, Marlowe. It attempted to update Chandler's iconic detective Philip Marlowe to a 1960's sensibility (something I believe Elliot Gould and Robert Altman did surprisingly much better -in the 70's- with The Long Goodbye, and you may argue Garner did himself with The Rockford Files a few years later) and is probably most notable for the early role of Bruce Lee. Still, who can't get behind Garner or Marlowe?

HBW talks Chandler a fair amount, but I don't think I've had a Garner-centric piece, so here are a couple other personally significant Garner vehicles.

36 Hours - directed by George Seaton and adapted from the Roald Dahl story Beware of the Dog it effectively induced paranoia in young Jed before he ever saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers or anything from Alfred Hitchcock.

Support Your Local Sheriff - The heel as hero was that thing Garner did so well and Sheriff as well as its sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter highlighted, but y'know what stuck with me most? The sequence where Garner breaks the unconscious gunman's trigger finger and Jack Elam points out to him that the shooter is left handed and Garner bends over to break the other finger... it made me squirm soooooo hard. That scene was perhaps my first and foremost primer on the mixology of violence and humor.

Twilight - I've spoken a fair amount about my affection for this film which I consider the unofficial third piece of Paul Newman's Lou Harper trilogy (the film was written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton who named Newman's detective character Harry Ross - a nod to Ross MacDonald author of the books The Moving Target and The Drowning Pool - source material for the Lew Harper flicks). The "trilogy" ages the detective in real time and the final chapter Twilight is just as bitter-barely-sweet as it should be, and frankly it just wouldn't work without Garner's contribution to the whole as another aging detective and good friend of Ross's. The final scene the two of them have together echoes the amazing climax of Harper - the first film in the "trilogy" - beautifully... mournfully.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Love Song For Grayson Capps by Kevin Lynn Helmick

I first met Kevin Lynn Helmick at a Noir at the Bar event where he read from his then latest novel Heartland Gothic. This week, Kevin's latest book The Rain King dropped and you, the hell, should pick it up.

I asked Kevin to contribute a piece to the Narrative Music series and this here... this is it.

A Love Song for Grayson Capps by Kevin Lynn Helmick

It was around 2005, I think when I was scanning the shelves at Blockbuster for a good movie. That was back when they actually had stores, with carpet, and people working, and you would drive there and pick out a few DVD’s and rent them, very similar to a library, only for movies. Most of you probably remember those days.

I found there, a film I’d never heard of called, A Love Song for Bobby Long, starring John Travolta, Scarlett Johansson and Gabriel Macht. I like all those actors, and I liked the description on the back so I took it home, threw a bag of popcorn in the micro and got settled in to take a chance on some film I knew nothing about. I also had no idea at the time that it would last a lot longer than the hour and a half or so that it took to view it.

Just real quick, because this column is not about the film but deserves a little mention. The setting is present day New Orleans, or close enough, where we meet an exiled literary professor from Alabama, Bobby Long (John Travolta) and his young writing protege, Lawson Pines, (Gabriel Macht) as they’ve transplanted themselves in a small run down house owned by an unseen friend/jazz singer named Loraine, and set upon a romantic quest in the tradition Capote and Fitzgerald (and many other classic writers) of drinking themselves and their haunted pasts to death.

Loraine dies at some point (not in the film) and leaves the house not only to these two educated drunkards but also her estranged daughter, Percy (In walks Scarlett Johansson.) Now they are forced to live together for a specific amount of time, (reasons for which are revealed at the end) and they don’t exactly get along, at first.

I love the film, think it’s great, one of Travolta’s best performances in my opinion and Johansson earned herself a Golden Globe Nomination. And as a lover of Southern writing it has remarkable dialogue with more than a few quotes from classic literature peppered in the conversations between Long and Pines as they constantly play the game of, name the author and book.

Now, that’s the film. But the soundtrack is just as good, and one artist in particular, (also in the film, there in the background as a house band) kept getting my attention. He sang several songs, including the one that bears the same title as the film. It plays during the end credits and I kept rewinding to hear it again and again. He sang the story, the somewhat tragic history of this man, Bobby Long, in this deep whisky soaked bluesy back alley growl and accompanied with some most interesting acoustic guitar chords and arrangements I’d ever heard.

MCE Photography, Chad Edwards
I like to think I know good writing when I see it, in this case, heard it. I knew this guy was and has the real deal, and I wanted more of it. So I ran to google and looked him up. His name is Grayson Capps and while I’d never heard of him before that, he’s is no stranger to the, New Orleans, or even the Nashville music scene.

Now if I’ve bored you enough, hang on, this is where it’s gets interesting, for me anyway. I discovered that this guy had been around more than a few blocks, at least in Deep South and has a devoted fan base there and other pockets around the country as well as, the Netherlands. Yes, the Netherlands, and Europe. I thought that was interesting too. Although, it would be great to see him get up to Chicago more, we do like our blues here.

But what’s even more interesting I learned, is that somewhere in his travels he’d taken up a conversation with writer and director Shainee Gabel, who was looking to do film set in New Orleans but had nothing solid. Turns out, not only is Grayson Capps an amazingly talented singer, songwriter, but his dad, Ronald Everett Capps is a novelist. So Grayson slaps down his fathers, then unpublished manuscript, Off Magazine Street, and says’ (I’m paraphrasing of course) “make a movie of this, and I’ll hook ya up with music.”

So she did. It’s a good book too. Not a lot like the film as adaptation go, but I’m not the type to compare film and book. I just don’t see it as the same. 1st cousins maybe, but that’s about it. And that’s one for another conversation altogether. Ronald Everett Capps’ Off Magazine Street, is a fine novel and worth checking out, but don’t expect to be reading the movie.

Anyway, I wanted to see Grayson Capps perform so I started scanning his tour dates and all was in the Deep South or far from Chicago, except 2, twenty miles from my house. Two different venues, way up here and that was all, my only shot without traveling a thousand miles deep into the heart of Dixie. So my wife and I marked the calendar and made it a mission.

It was fucking freezing that night, but we set out anyway for this place called Lovell’s in Lake Forest Illinois. Now, it had not occurred to me what an odd venue Lovell’s would be for a band like Grayson Capps and the, then, Stump Knockers. The place is upscale, way upscale, and not known for having bands at all. Lovell’s is owned by Jim Lovell, an astronaut, a guy who went to the moon and back, presumably. I’ve never met him, so I guess he’s back, he has a restaurant that caters to the very, very, rich.

So here we are, 20 below and we brave out to this place with its $12.00 watered down jack n cokes, where everybody talks like Thurston Howell the 3rd, (no, really, those people really do exist) and there he was, Capps tuning up on a stool, wearing a Canadian tuke kinda hat and a cowboy shirt with a ripped sleeve. I had ordered his CD, If You Knew My Mind, which includes the song, A Love Song for Bobby Long, but it didn’t come before the show, and still hasn’t.

I walked up and introduced myself, and told him how much my wife and I enjoyed his music and my frustration with not having his CD in hand to sign. He shook my hand, and apologized for the missing CD thing, although I’m sure he had nothing to do with it, and offered up a box of his own he brought. I gave him twenty bucks for one, he shoved it in his pocket, and looked up and said, “man, nobody here, knows who I am?” I put a question mark there because it sounded like a question.

“Well, I do,” I said and looked around at the leather and polished oak. “It is kinda weird,” I said, or at least, thought it, at the time.

Either way, there was a big fire roaring to the right of the band and Capps invited us to come up front in these big cushy couches that I’m sure cost more than my truck and we all settled in for what was probably a tamed down performance, but an amazing and memorable music experience just the same.

The guy can craft and sing a fucking song with the best of ‘em, and we were in a little bit of heaven there as they raunch n rolled through the set list.

Set break: Grayson, my wife and I, and few others all piled in a car in the parking lot (to partake in what most musicians might partake in on set break) and talked a bit about the music, books, the movie, and the man, Bobby Long, who is, or was, a real dude, and friend of his and his fathers, just like the song says. I told him, how visual his songs were to me. They’re like stories I could see and feel, stories with interesting characters, flawed characters, dealing with conflicts of life, love and pain, loss and redemption. The good shit.

He said, “yeah, good, that’s what I want.”

One of the last songs of his first set was a comical piece called, Big OlĂ© Woman, that I said reminded me a little of David Allen Coe, and I think he took offense to that and I’m still sorry I said it. I’ve bought all his records since then and Capps, music isn’t anything like Coe’s. It’s a beautiful blend of blues, jazz, rock and folk, and has not only become a favorite listening pastime for me, but my wife and my 14 year aspiring musician son, Sam, as well. Sam plays Grayson’s If You Knew My Mind, CD all the time. I hear it coming from his room often, and he loves the song, Graveyard.

Fast forward 2012: I had wrote a novella the year before, Driving Alone, a Southern Gothic and a tip of the hat to some of my favorite writing, that of the Southern writer, the Faulkner’s and O’Conner’s and Tennessee Williams’. My then publisher wanted to do a book trailer and had asked what music we might use. Well, I thought since the story was set in the Deep South and wreaked of Spanish moss and humidity it should be something swampy, bluesy, and dark. And I thought of Grayson’s music and sent some to that publisher, not even thinking really it was an option. They got a hold of Grayson’s management and through a very reasonable negotiation; one of his songs was put to images for my book trailer.

I sure never saw that coming back in 04.

I would share that book trailer with you, but don’t think I can, contractual shit. Lets’ just say it was best part of the whole experience for me.

Anyway, Capps and I have talked on social media about it a bit, where I’ve thanked him probably an annoying too many times.

But this column, in killing several birds with one stone, is about, a song about a poet/writer, a film, about that poet writer, adapted from a novel, about all the above, and delivered by an artist/poet/writer and troubadour fitting in his own right to bring these multiple vehicles and mediums together, all from a little 3 minutes or so song that I’m sure once you have a listen will be obvious why I’ve chosen this as the subject for this series.

We have music, lyric, literature, and book to film. And I’ve probably exhausted my word count so I won’t post the lyrics for A Love Song for Bobby Long.

I play it for you though. Have a listen at the musical brilliance of Grayson Capps. Buy, Off Magazine Street, by his dad, Ronald Everett Capps. It’s a damn good book. And watch the movie, A Love Song for Bobby Long. It’s a damn good movie too.

Thanks for stopping by.

Kevin Lynn Helmick is the novelist of, Clovis Point, Sebastian Cross, Heartland Gothic, and Driving Alone.  He was born in Fort Madison IA and now lives in the Chain O Lakes, near Chicago IL.
His writing has appeared in Noir at the Bar Volume 2, and The Booked Anthology, and been known to guest blog for emags like, Spintingler, Manarchy, Pornokitch, and Pulp Metal. His award nominated novella, Driving Alone, was re-released with a collection of short stories in the spring of 2014, and in July of the same year, Helmick released his fifth novel, a dark western tale of justice, The Rain King.

All are available anywhere books are sold.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

So Essited

You know what's right around the corner, cats 'n kittens? The Lonesome Go from Tim Lane. This... this is gonna be a big boost to your creative juice come release date. Nothing gets me going like Tim's haunted vision of America - the pictures and the prose are like inky Cialis for my muse. Very much looking forward to ripping into and ripping off more of Tim's work shortly.

And if that kind of thing gets you going too, check out the first offerings of the new Southwest Noir's first publication featuring a collection of illustrated short and very-short stories to be published in the fall 2014 - Volume 1, features texts by James Sallis, Larry Fondation, Barry Graham, Kurt Reichenbaugh, Steve Shadow, Mark Victor Moorhead, Scott McDonald, Jenna Duncan, Andrea Gibbons, Robrt Pela - with Illustrations by Vince Larue. Exactly how badass does this look?

Aaand if you need an introduction to the work of Barry Graham, may I suggest his excellent, The Wrong Way which has a beautiful print version from PM Press's Switchblade line ooooor a brannew ebook version with heeeey that blurb looks familiar!

And y'know what else is gonna be back in print real soon and for the first time in an electonic version? The classic revenge tale Ted Lewis's Get Carter with a forward from the director of the Michael Caine film version, Mike Hodges.

Another ebook reissue you need to know would be Joe Samuel Starnes's Calling from Seriously, if you're planning on attending Noir Con in Philadelphia this fall (which you should) you should make room for this one and be prepared to speak with Joe there.

One more you really gotta get on top of - Kevin Lynn Helmick's The Rain King just out this week. Look for a guest piece from Kevin later this week!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: June

Across 110th Street - Harry Shear - Dressed as cops, a trio of thieves rip off a mob operation and when the job goes bad, kill several gangsters and a couple of actual cops before hitting the streets wearing the $300,000 targets they'll have for the remainder of their short lives. The film follows the frustrated investigating cops led by racially-clashing Yaphet Kotto and Anthony Quinn as well as the pissed off mobsters who're also feeling friction along racial lines in Anthony Franciosa and Richard Ward, on their separate quests for justice and money and all factions trying to claim supremacy of the streets. But the heart of the film is in following the folks stuck in the middle between the gods and kings of the urban jungle, the people driven to the extreme measures of defying their overlords and upsetting the corrupt partnership between them that keep the status quo, by inviting death by deity when they steal all that money. The hapless trio are hunted down one by one bringing zero satisfaction to those who are looking for justice and small measures of restitution to the ones with damaged images. The scenes between Paul Benjamin and Norma Donaldson are all terrific, but for the Best moment: I'm going with Ward facing off with Quinn and Kotto in the middle.

Blood Ties - Guillaume Canut - A remake of the 2008 French film Le liens du sang (Rivals) based on the novel by Michel & Bruno Papet and directed by the original film's star, this is a family drama with James Caan as the dying (single father) patriarch with two sons - Clive Owen as the older, street criminal brother just out of prison and Billy Crudup as the younger, who is a cop. The brothers alternately look out for each other and ruin the other's lives with their actions, tying the family's fate together while ripping at the more organic fabric that they can't escape. Owen's Chris reconnects with his ex (Marion Cotillard), a prostitute whom he has two children with, setting her up as the madam of the brothel he's opening (funded through armed robbery), while concentrating his woos on a girl (Mila Kunis) guaranteed to put them in the running for awkward romantic screen-pairing of the year... maybe the decade. Meanwhile Crudup's Frank busts a blue-collar career criminal family man (Matthias Schoenaerts) back to prison and zeroes in on the attentions of the con's wife (Zoe Saldana) with his heat-seeking boner while taking shit from his cop buddies for letting his un-repentent criminal brother live with him, and feeling very much and very accurately like second favorite to dad. If this sounds like a great, tangled, messy family-drama (let alone crime story) plot - it is. If it sounds like an awful lot to make room for in a two-hour movie - it didn't have to be, but it was. Not sure what elements I would have sacrificed to focus on others, but somehow this felt like too much of a good thing. The cast is impressive (I haven't even mentioned the solid supporting work from Noah Emmerich, Domenick Lombardozzi, John Ventimiglia or the woefully under-used Lili Taylor), the look of the film and its soundtrack are small-scale Scorsese-esque and immense pleasures, and the crime elements are satisfying, but the material is so dense that what should have been a far-more emotionally-invested viewing experience turned out to be one that I was conscious of rooting for and holding out for it all to come together... which I think it did - I liked this movie - but it required me to hang on and hang in more than a masterful take on the material would have. Best moment: armored car heist.

Cheap Thrills - E.L. Katz - On the day that a new father, about to see his family evicted from their small, L.A. apartment, loses his auto-mechanic job, he stops by a bar for a quick, steeling drink before heading home to figure out his life. At the bar he runs into his dodgy high-school pal and agrees to commiserate for one more drink. The two are then drawn into the orbit of an obnoxiously rich couple who throw cash around indiscriminately for the pleasure of its affect on the two pals. Soon, one drink turns into a night of partying that rides the exhilarating/terrifying edge toward riches or doom for the hapless duo. This is one electrifying, sick picture that demands and collects everything from its cast. Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton and the revelatory David Koechner draw our empathy, admiration and repulsion one beat to the next in a razor-sharp allegory for global economic exploitation. Buuuut, don't let the myriad one-to-one metaphoric parallels distract you from the immediate pleasures of this aptly titled morality conundrum because they are many, sweet and tart. The control that first time feature director Katz demonstrates is some veteran-level shit. Watch him squeeze a single scene in three different emotional directions and tease the hell out of your expectations with a sly edit, an unexpected texture, a tonal shift unexpected - yet organic - you only realize later it was swelling beneath surface from the beginning. Fucking loved this movie. Best moment: Healy underbids Embry.

Devil's Knot - Atom Egoyan - As if the 1993 murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas weren't tragedy enough, the town compounded the horror by railroading three slightly older boys into life-sentences in prison and one death sentence. Over the last twenty years The West Memphis Three have been the subject of several documentaries and books, but this is, as far as I know, the first dramatic treatment. Who better to look at this semi-rural crime story involving school children than the director of The Sweet Herafter? I dunno, but... as loaded for emotional impact as the raw materials are, I was happy to have somebody like Egoyan, who never makes loud movies, at the helm. What'd I want? I wasn't looking for a trial procedural or a thriller, but something more interested in the impact that the events had on an entire community. Unfortunately, the film seems to fall somewhere between the two and undercuts the strengths of both types of film. There are some solid performances and the cast is mostly good including Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola and features some of my favorite character actors working today - Amy Ryan, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas and Mireille Enos - but right at the fore of this bunch is Colin Firth doing a mayonnaise flavor of dull acting, as a private investigator with a conscience. I can't lay this all on Firth - the script drove him into a bad neighborhood and then kicked him out of the car armed with nothing but an assortment of constipated looks to throw at the camera - but I will say that seeing him cast in the lead (of any movie) gave me great pause. Dunno how much is his presence and how much is his choice of pictures, but damn... I'm hoping he can take the William Hurt school for bland actors cure and start throwing some curves at us (and I hope Hurt does too - stick to the small, weird shit for a while - play against type). No more liberal crusader pictures more concerned with highlighting an injustice and what a modern day knight might look like than the on-the-ground day-to-day reality that this kind of event levels on the vulnerable, please. Best moment: discovery of the first body - sucks the air out of the room. Wish the rest of the picture had followed suit.

Easy Money: Hard to Kill - Babak Najafi - At the end of Easy Money, the disparate trio of criminals we'd been following had collided pretty spectacularly and with tragic results. The sequel picks up years later as JW (Joel Kinnaman) is being granted leave from his prison stretch to take an important business meeting with his legit partner on the outside, Jorge (Matias Varela) is prospering as an international drug-runner and Mrado (Dragomir Mrsic) has made some kind of peace with his life wheelchair bound and imprisoned, working toward an eventual release and reunion with his daughter. But all upward trajectories end right there. Where the first film was a sprawling several-months-long story of the slow intertwining of their destinies, the terribly-titled sequel (hey, let's make everybody think it's a Rodney Dangerfield, Stephen Seagal buddy cop flick!) takes place in a considerably compacted time line and delivers just holy shit an amazing second chapter to what will be a trilogy (look for Easy Money: Life Deluxe to hit English language outlets soon) based on the series of books by Swedish author Jens Lapidus. This is the kind of flick I just can't get enough of - complex circuses of criminality, character and consequence. Best moment: Jorge goes out the window.

Escape From Tomorrow - Randy Moore - A man undergoing the needlessly stressful rite of a family vacation to Disney Land gets a phone call on the last day of his trip informing him that he's been fired from his job. Keeping it a secret so as not to spoil the fun, his day goes wrong in a series of escalating and possibly connected ways. Is he losing his mind, or is there an underage prostitution being run under the noses of the tourists featuring the park's princess employees? Is he being followed by mysterious young women or is he magnetically attracted to them and ready to jettison his family for a fling? Is 'cat flu' something he should be concerned about? Is the picture a paranoid conspiracy thriller or a psychological unraveling set in the happiest place on earth? Whatever the answer, the main reason you'll want to watch this one is for the thrill of the story of its making. This one has such a legend that it overshadows any emotional impact the art achieves (that it was shot at the Disney theme parks without permission with the cast and crew posing as tourists, ducking security and shooting clandestinely - the fact that the film has been distributed at all is quite an achievement). Is that a bad thing? Not really. I love to watch daring flicks that can energize me with their ballsy moves and succeed by simply pulling off a watchable piece of cinema (see Mike Figgis's Time Code, Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi or -maybe- Lars Von Trier's Dogville). Best moment: the 'Small World' ride. Man, I didn't even notice that they weren't using the real song. The original music is just swell and spooky for the scene too.

Fargo: Season 1 - Matt Hawley - Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) begins his journey from hapless schmuck to alpha-male
when he vents to a stranger in the emergency room about wishing he could have a go at the life-long bully whose behavior had necessitated the hospital visit. The stranger turns out to be evil incarnate (Billy Bob Thornton), a killer for hire who works for an organized crime syndicate out of Fargo, North Dakota. The killer takes Lester at his word, tracks down Lester's tormentor and buries a hunting knife in the asshole's head. This is equal parts horrifying and exhilarating to Lester who begins to fumble forward along a path of self-actualization that goes to dark and evil places startlingly quickly. Not since Walter White's demon emerged from behind his mask of middle-class white-guy blandness, has a monster been created so convincingly out of more surprising raw materials. It helps of course that Freeman is playing against fifteen years of type-casting as guileless sweethearts who come through every once in a while with quiet moments of courage from Tim on The Office to Bilbo friggin Baggins in The Hobbit. It helps too that this is a TV event based on source material from The Coen Brothers and not just the namesake film. Yes, the show is set in the Northern Plains, features funny accents and contains some slight nods to the 1996 flick (including one super-awesome-sweet one involving the source of Oliver Platt's fortune), but it seems like the entire Coen oeuvre is being drawn from - ooh, ooh just like in Blood Simple! No Country For Old Men! Burn After Reading! Raising Arizona! and on and on. It might even be leveled as a critique against the show that there are so many nods and in-jokes here, but the world created for 10 episodes (will this be an on-going show like True Detective or American Horror Story with a completely separate second season, or will this simply be a kick-ass mini-series?) is one worth immersing yourself in. The characters go to surprising places and will unexpectedly please and horrify you - for instance, Bob Odenkirk's police chief I was sure would be a one-note joke, but damn if he didn't have a couple amazing character reveals - and the plot never follows the beat blueprints we've been conditioned to expect. Best thing I've seen on TV this year and best ensemble cast since... DeadwoodBest moment: so many... perhaps the blood shower, or the brothers shooting each other with crossbows, Key & Peele bickering through the massacre, ice-hole body disposal, Lester fucking the widow or lending his coat to his wife... or the African refugee story... I can't decide. Every episode has moment of sublime perfection and I can't wait to watch them all again.

Great Train Robbery - Chris Chibnall - A band of career criminals in a bit of a slump determine to turn things around with a ballsy move that pays off far greater than they imagined and will make history. This two-part miniseries was a great idea for true-crime drama - part one follows the criminals planning and executing the heist and part two follows the police investigation and manhunt. The whole thing is pulled off in a very no-frills fashion which is a mostly admirable approach, but I'll confess I ended up craving a bit more cinematic thrill-factor (like part one's opening moments - nice, stylish heist shit) instead of what felt more like a well above average dramatic re-enactment from inside a much longer documentary film. In the end, the most memorable and impressive thing from the whole venture were Jim Broadbent's dead, cold, cop eyes. Even as a villain, he's got a twinkle. Not here, boyo. Hard as granite.  Best moment: Train-driving practice.

The Rock - Michael Bay - The government has been doing bad things - specifically, to its own soldiers - and one life long GI Joe (Ed Harris) has had enough. He's had so much, in fact, that he's stolen some seriously awful naval biological weaponry and is holding the city of San Francisco hostage, from the nearby Alcatraz island, until the gubment forks over the pre-Iraq-invasion astronomical-sounding amount of $100 million - 83% of which is to be given to the families of soldiers whose deaths were covered up. Hyperbole flies - You know the president's stance on terrorism - I am not a terrorist, I'm a patriot - Gen. Hummel is an honorable man - and we're told in a dozen different grave tones that this is a fucking terrible day and the only way to stop the rogue soldiers is to send a SEAL team to the bowels of the former prison with an FBI chemist who can disarm the missiles. The final piece of the solution is a man the government erased from official existence thirty years earlier - the only man ever to successfully escape from Alcatraz to lead the aqua-team-hunger-force through the byzantine sewer system beneath the titular island. Long-defended as the 'good' movie Bay made before he became ridiculous, as well as one of the only good Nicolas Cage action flicks ever, I revisited this one for the first time since the last century and found that... holy shit, it has not aged well. From frame one it's a fire sale on Bay-cliches: the flag-porn and man of honor crap that may've caused an eye-roll or two pre-9-11, but quickly became a fucking frighteningly frequent montage of nationalism used to sell pick-ups and Toby Keith records is... especially hard to take now. And it's big and stupid. The movie, that is. Which I don't mind, but the coat of hard candy ick required to chomp through to get to the goofy chewy fun center was a little more than I was willing to any more. Best moment: Melty-face.

The Yards - James Gray - Leo (Mark Wahlberg) is just out of prison for stealing cars and hooked up by his best friend Willie (Joaquin Phoenix) with a job working for Frank (James Caan) who contracts with the city for repairs to the subway cars. Willie's certainly come up in the world while Leo was inside and tho he wants to get serious, grow up and stay straight, Leo also wants to be making some decent scratch and goes along with Willie on one of the illegal nocturnal drumming up of business runs that Willie's crew go out on wherein they vandalize subway cars in the shipping yards. There's anti-corruption hoo-ha happening due to the elections and the guard who usually looks the other way for a fee unexpectedly does his job and ends up dead, leading to police investigations into Frank's crew. Who will end up on the suspect short-list? Who will remain loyal to his friends? The chief pleasure of James Gray films is the atmosphere - the majestic decay of the city, the warmth of the character's relationships especially when expressed in community gatherings (the welcome home party here, the wedding in We Own the Night, the dinner in Two Lovers, the bath house in The Immigrant) and the somber daily working out of criminal pursuits including the very workmanlike executions of those jobs, and The Yards has all that, if not much else, going for it. Like a lot of my favorite film noirs, it's a flick that I enjoy getting lost in from time to time, but have only watched all the way through twice. His films are full of details I'll remember - almost none of them concerning plot. Best moment: the welcome home party. Tip for film making magic: make Ellen Burstyn and Faye Dunaway the family matrons and just step back.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Down the River: Guest Piece by Kent Gowran

Kent Gowran knows his shit. Pulp fiction, many musics, crime and horror film. Plus parking in Chicago. Knows his shit. So, I hit him up for another piece for the Narrative Music series. Kent hit back with this piece. Check out Kent's fiction in spots like this... Meanwhile, listen up when KG talks tunes.

Down The River

In the right hands, narrative songs are as powerful as any story, novel, or movie you’d care to name.  A major contender for consistently great narrative songwriting would have to be Tom Russell, and, at first, when Jed asked me if I’d be interested in writing something about a narrative song for his blog, I intended to write about a Russell song. And while Russell does have dozens of tunes worthy of writing about, that almost seemed like too obvious a choice. So I worked up a list of songs I’d like to yammer about (truth be told, I cold talk about music all day long and never run out of worthy tunes to keep my mouth running), and as I came up with the list, a dark horse came around the bend and my choice was made.

Chris Knight has been releasing good, sometimes great, albums for a number of years now.  For his second album, A Pretty Good Guy, he teamed with producer (a former Georgia Satellite and current Yayhoo) Dan Baird and delivered a batch of songs that far surpassed the Mellencamp meets Earle by way of Kentucky sound of his eponymous debut.  I remember the first time I listened to the album, I got to the end of the sixth track, “Down The River”, and had to go back to the beginning of the song to hear it again.

The nameless narrator of the song tells the story of the murder of his brother and his own brooding, and ultimately empty, path to revenge.  One thing which strikes me as so impressive about this song is how Knight manages to tell a story, a fully realized and pitch black tale, in just under seven minutes, a story that perhaps the sharpest of prose writers could tell in a long short story but most would feel the need to stretch into novel length.  We’re told that the narrator’s brother Walter has been in a fight with a man named Wilson.  And in a brilliant bit of songwriting, Knight tells us everything we need to know about this guy Wilson…

They said you don’t mess with Wilson unless you want a war…

Wilson kills Walter and the body is never found.  The death is declared a drowning, but Wilson, as you’d imagine a guy like him would, brags about what he’s done.  Our narrator then sets out to make things right.

The violence is quick and final.  Our narrator, his song an interior monologue, tells of disposing Wilson’s body and his own retreat into isolation.  Five years go by, and our narrator can’t seem to move on.  As the song winds down, he tells us he’s not done, Walter’s death is with him daily, blood still calling for blood, and Wilson’s cousin is living on borrowed time.

It’s a beautiful and haunting song, and the kind of story that sticks with you long after you’ve heard it.  Knight has named writers like Cormac McCarthy and William Gay as influences, and, listening to his albums, that’s not just a bit of hip name check action.  With the best of his songs, his got that same narrative punch of the best writers, the hit that you feel in your bones, it makes you react, makes you think, makes you listen to the song again.

I was eighteen
my brother was twenty-one
one Saturday evening
when all the work was done
we went down to the river,
had some trotlines to run

my brother Walter
had a fight the week before
knocked a boy named Wilson
through the pool hall door
they said you don't mess with Wilson
unless you want a war

we put the boat in the water,
I made the engine run
loaded the lantern
against the sinking sun
and my brother Walter
was loading his gun
and we went down the river

down past the coal docks
we were running our lines
heard some drunken boaters
racing up behind
it was Wilson and his cousin,
they had trouble on their minds

they passed on by us,
probably going to tend their pots
we headed up the river
with the fish we'd caught
but before we made the landing,
I thought I heard a shot
back down the river

my brother Walter fell over the side
I couldn't find him no matter how I tried
and looked along the bank
but I couldn't find where they'd hide

they drug the river,
they searched it up and down
couldn't find his body
so they decided that he'd drowned
but I knew better
and Wilson bragged around town

so one night I floated down
right above Wilson’s shack
I hid in the woods
'til I saw him walk out back
I put a bullet in his head
and dropped him in his tracks
and we went down the river

down below the trestle
where the water runs slow
I chained him to an anvil
and then I let him go
and five years later
I ain't told a soul

and I ain't done much fishing,
I hardly wet a line
the death of my brother
is still heavy on my mind
I’ve been thinking Wilson’s cousin
better find a place to hide
cause I’m going down the river
yeah I’m going down the river

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Falling Behind

Kill the Messenger - d: Michael Cuesta w: Peter Landesman, Gary Webb, Nick Schou

A Walk Among the Tombstones - d: Scott Frank w: Lawrence Block, Scott Frank

Foxcatcher - d: Bennett Miller w: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

The Kill Team - d: Dan Krauss