Sunday, May 31, 2015

2015 in Crime Flicks: April

The Anderson Tapes - Sidney Lumet - Sean Connery plays the titular character a safe-cracker just out of prison and looking to put together a caper. He wants to knock over his girlfriend's entire upscale NYC apartment building for the high-end art, collectibles, antiques and cash caches. It's ambitious, ballsy, brazen, really and it's gonna take planning and most of all big front end money. Anderson hits up the local organized crime syndicate, in whose employ he he was caught and spent the next 10 years in prison, goading them into financing his score. Seems they've become like any other boring money making corporation and Anderson's enthusiasm and hutzpah are contagious - are we criminals or accountants? Adapted from the best selling novel by Lawrence Sanders it's not one of Lumet's most memorable NYC-centric crime flicks, but when you're up against Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Prince of the City and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, jeez, that's hardly a knock. It's a modest picture that succeeds and fails scene by scene. A solid cast, including the big screen debut of Christopher Walken, help the rough spots go down easy and keeps the whole thing a positive experience. Best moment: the tapes of the title are those on which Anderson and his team show up stumbling across multi-agency ongoing extra-legal domestic spying operations, and when you consider that the movie dropped into theaters before the Watergate scandal it makes for probably the most interesting touch of the whole she-bang. The final fate of said tapes elevates the picture to a slightly higher plane.

Cold Weather - Aaron Katz - When Doug (Cris Lankenau) a bright, white twenty-something moves back to Portland to live with his equally bright and white sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), after dropping out of college, he lands a promising overnight job at an ice factory where he strikes up an acquaintance with a co-worker Carlos (Raul Castillo) and they bond over shitty work and Sherlock Holmes novels. After Doug's ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon) shows up unexpectedly and re-connects she just as abruptly drops off the map and the sibling and the co-worker look into her mysterious absence. I've heard this flick described as mumble-core noir which is pretty much right on the nose and a dis-service at the same time. It's a genre-deconstruction that addresses, among other things, the mindset needed to be a detective - you have to care a little bit and be tenacious and willing to look foolish - plus the fact that it helps if you've got nothing else really going on in your life and the economic freedom to pursue your whims. Doug is a bit like the anti- Bruce Wayne - not wealthy, per-se, but still privileged enough to not feel any particular urgency to generate income - which frees him up to abandon a job in order to play a hunch. The film doesn't take any stance on whether Doug's mindset or position are a strength or weakness, but acknowledges both view-points through other characters. The film meanders and takes a while to get to the investigation proper, but once there hits genre beats and delves into familiar tropes like stakeouts, pornographers, ridiculously complex coded messages and mysterious men in hats carrying briefcases, but Katz handles suspense and action sequences effectively bringing us into the heart of the scene and character's mindset regardless our opinion of or investment in the stakes of the big picture (it would make an interesting double feature with Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice which more or less does the exact same thing, but dissects the genre corpse from the other side)... begging the question - are mysteries as entertainment inherently silly or is there some root value in the act of and predilection for inquisition? Best moment: the final scene is pretty brilliant. I'd say divisive, but folks not on board with this flick's premise probably won't make it to the conclusion.

The Devil's Rejects - Rob Zombie - Remember that psycho redneck Firefly family who live in The House of 1,000 Corpses? They reminded you of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre clan only less pragmatically cannibalistic and merely single-mindedly sadistic? Well they're back engaging in more cruelty for pleasure and this time rather than being the monsters who ensnare a group of young travelers, they're the ones on the run from justice or at least the law - in the form of an equally sadistic police force headed up by Sheriff Wydell (the awesomely utilized William Forsythe). Zombie pulls off an insanely difficult stunt here by making the systematic dispatching of the worst human beings in imagination hurt just a little. You won't believe your feels when you choke up to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird climax or the way The Allman BrothersMidnight Rider puts you squarely in the corner of Otis and Baby (Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon Zombie respectively) as they make their escape. Set and costume design play a more important role in the characters' development than anything they say (some of the dialogue feels improvised in a detrimental way) and Zombie's southern hellscape is as fully realized, lived in and familiar yet exotic a setting as you could hope for. The sheer ugliness of the dudes and deeds presented here are the exquisitely rotten fruits of a lifetime's labor at tradecraft and meticulously cultivated taste and The Devil's Rejects will most likely be Zombie's masterpiece of exploitation cinema. As usual he's assembled a murderer's row of onscreen talent (many cameos) each one feeling like a statement (Sid Haig, Michael Berryman, Ginger Lynn Allen, Tom Towles, Kane Hodder, Steve Railsback, Diamond Dallas Page, Geoffrey Lewis, Priscilla Barnes, Danny Trejo, Brian Posehn, Ken Foree, Tyler Mane and the late Matthew McGory - to whom the movie is dedicated). Tough to watch, over the top with blood and nudity, occasionally funny, sometimes groovy, and often flat-out unpleasant, it doesn't get more ghastly than this. Best moment: the aforementioned Free Bird scored climax is better than it deserves to be.

The Fast & the Furious - Rob Cohen - An officer of the law goes undercover into an underworld of extreme-sports to infiltrate a tight band of thrill-seeking thieves loyal to a charismatic cult-leader. So, basically it's Point Break. Just substitute street-racing-hijackers headed by Vin Diesel for surfer-bank-robbers led by Patrick Swayze and it's the exact same thing. Of course the series has outgrown its (Tapping the) Source material and evolved into its own over the top action franchise that's a little bit The A-Team and a little bit James Bond... it's like Diesel and Cohen got their XXX franchise after all - though the franchise didn't come into its own until Justin Lin got his hands on it. Still, I'm a fan of what its become and don't begrudge it its meager roots. Best moment: failed heist.

The Homesman - Tommy Lee Jones - Hilary Swank plays Mary Bee Cuddy a tough and resourceful woman homesteader in the unforgiving west whose best qualities - those that allow her independence - are the same that keep her from finding a partner - her propositions of marriage to various men are repeatedly rebuffed on grounds that she is plain and bossy. In her small prairie community three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter) have succumbed to madness due to harshness of their environs (natural and relational) and  need to be transported to a home where they can be looked after. Mary Bee is the only citizen with enough sand to take on the job, but she is outmatched by her task and takes on the reluctant help of a claim-jumper (director Jones) whose life she spares on the condition of his aid. Based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, Jones's sophomore directorial effort has more than just a little in common with his debut The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (but that's a good thing) and points tantalizingly at the future and timbre of his directorial voice. Like Three Burials it is a western of harsh beauty, full of poetry, grace and grim humor, seasoned with tragedy and stark violence served up in unexpected order, maximizing the impact of each ingredient. It is also measured in pace and quiet (until it is not) and is most assuredly best appreciated in a single sitting, so I'd recommend not starting it until you've cleared enough space and summoned enough energy to take it in one go. Amazing cast too, including John Lithgow, William Fichtner, Barry Corbin, Meryl Streep, Jesse Plemons, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson and Hailey Steinfeld. Best moment: Jones sets a fire.

The Hunted - William Friedkin - Tommy Lee Jones plays another variation on his gruff, federal man-hunter this time charged with tracking a soldier (Benicio Del Toro as someone he trained - of course) who's taken up hunting hunters in the wooded Pacific Northwest as a passtime. The leaps in logic and swiss cheese plot are ultimately, (but just barely) forgiven for cutting tedious corners to arrive at the climactic knife fight, which is implausible and silly, but doesn't skimp on the pain (stabbed through the armpit - damn). Best moment: the um climactic knife fight.

Maps to the Stars - David Cronenberg - A mysterious woman (Mia Wasikowska) who connects the dots between a slew of nefarious Hollywood characters returns home bringing with her justice, vengeance and karmic completion to a series of interlocking narratives and overlapping realities. Not crime per se, but noir as fuck. I swear you watch this one and Mulholland Drive and last year's Enemy back to back to back and you've got a humdinger of a thesis paper ready to be plucked. Written by Bruce Wagner it blends familiar satiric fare with murky logic for a retread of a remake of an impression of a dream you read about. Cast is solid, but no one more so than Julianne Moore and special recognition to Evan Bird whose character I've heard described as the worst among the bad by many, but honestly I found the most empathy for. Best moment: Moore and Wasikowska dance.

A Most Violent Year - J.C. Chandor - Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) a business man in NYC 1981 is fighting to save his heating oil company and secure his family's future by taking on an ambitious expansion that would give him a leg up in a hotly competitive business. As he puts his fortune and future on the line he becomes the target of violent intimidation tactics and must scramble to keep ahead of his creditors, his competition and a sweeping corruption investigation into his industry. As his name rather heavy-handedly suggests, he is both an able and moral man and not going to take shortcuts or resort to violence to settle his problems. Terrific looking period production, a nicely measured pace and a solid supporting cast including Jessica Chastain, Albert Brooks, Allesandro Nivola, Glenn Fleshler, Ben Rosenfield and a stand out turn from David  Oyelowo make it not a bad way to pass a couple of hours, but ultimately can't elevate the picture to the next level. A lot of hand-wringing and built-up tension never explodes and instead dissipates gradually leaving little impression. Classy, just not instant classic. Best moment: the second hijacking sequence that ends in a shootout and chase is handled very well. I loved the stairway exchange between parties fleeing the police.

Natural Born Killers - Oliver Stone - Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) are thrill-killers tearing up the American southwest on a murder spree and enjoying an international spotlight, spinning their story while various elements attempt to use the deadly duo to promote their own legends - Robert Downy Jr.'s sleazy television journalist Wayne Gale, Tommy Lee Jones's prison warden Dwight McClusky and Tom Sizemore's hotshot cop Jack Scagnetti who wants to write a book about how he brought the Knox's down. Stone is still in his acid-editing phase and, compared to what's followed in the last couple of decades, the flick now looks like it was cut with a dull cleaver. That doesn't completely kill the impact of certain sequences - Micky & Mallory in their car as if on a private house of horrors ride, the mixing of animation is potent and the I Love Mallory sitcom bits are still pretty brilliant and effective. This is high-gloss, A-List grindhouse fare that gets a little confused when it takes aim at satire and social commentary, but rocks the hell out of a handful of key notes. It's fun at times, but the intended bite doesn't leave any marks. It's still a nod and a wink. Compare this to something like Rob ZombiesThe Devil's Rejects and it's easy to separate the real thing from the homage. Best moment: Wayne goes nuts during the prison riot.

Terriers - Ted Griffin - I've covered this one before, but this is probably the first time I've ever gone back and rewatched an entire season of television. It's that good. It's that missed. It's that unique that there wasn't anything else I could find to scratch my itch. That comes down to the writing and the chemistry between Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as the ex cop and ex con private investigations duo. And jeez lookit some of the directing talent here: John Dahl, Craig Brewer, Rian Johnson, Clark Johnson, Guy Ferland and Adam Arkin - great mix of feature auteurs and television craftsmen. I should also note that though it was serialized TV that left plenty of space for future seasons of story, it is a rather perfectly contained single storyline season with a terrific ending.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Stalking the Pond

Spending time lately reading some hardcore hardboiled stuff from the UK... Here's a quick list of recs...

The climax of Ted Lewis's GBH melted my face off. Best known in the U.S. as the guy upon whose book that Sylvester Stallone movie with the same name as that Michael Caine movie was based, the folks at Soho Press have brought his final novel into print in the U.S. for the first time and damn... Ted didn't hold back. Lewis died young and had slid from prominence since Get Carter, Mike Hodges's film version of Lewis's book Jack's Return Home (which, hey did you know was also adapted as a Bernie Casey/Pam Grier vehicle called Hit Man in 1972?), had prompted a couple of prequels. You know what you should do is go read Ray Banks' piece at The Rap Sheet about why GBH (stands for Grievous Bodily Harm) is the one Lewis really ought to be remembered for. Not that you shouldn't catch up with his other titles - Billy Rags and Plender have just climbed atop my teetering tbr pile and Syndicate Books has brought the Jack Carter books back into print recently. Also check out Andrew Nette's terrific piece about Lewis at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Aside from Lewis, the Soho gang also brought back Derek Raymond's Factory books a few years ago so, you know you're in for a sour-cored jawbreaker of a black novel when they're bringing it to you. Do yourself a favor and start with He Died With His Eyes Open and build up a few reading calluses 'cause if you start with I Was Dora Suarez you may just die bleeding out your eyeballs.

But back to Ray Banks. His latest Angels of the North is a monster and it growls at me from my bowed bookshelf every day - seriously, I've found alternate routes to the kitchen because I'm so intimidated. While steeling yourself for that one you can pop a little Vitamin Banks at The Big Click where a new short story Conduct Unbecoming just surfaced (hey, issue 20's also got Tony Black, so you can't go wrong there).

Currently, I'm ripping through Cathi Unsworth's Bad Penny Blues - it's shaping up to be an epic crush of souls in 1960s London and I can already feel the ghosts fighting over corners of my psyche to haunt. Dig that David Peace blurb on the cover, "The English Black Dahlia," - yeah, kinda feels like that.

Having loved Jon S. Baird's movie Filth so much last year I got some serious oh shit I should have read the book first vibes from all corners of the web and while I haven't ruled out going back to the source novel by Irvine Welsh, I did proceed immediately to pick up Crime which has a protagonist who's a supporting cast member in Filth. Here's the thing though - Crime takes place in Florida, not Scotland. Well, sure Florida is some fertile soil for fucked up crime stories (and hey, organized pedo rings are pretty fucked up), but I want to return to the original stomping grounds of the author, so I've picked up several options... thinking maybe Glue? Do you have a suggestion? Lemme know.

Another one I'm eager to dive into is Futures by John Barker - a cocaine 1980s London novel published last year by PM Press. Fucker looks serious and daaark and rich and I get a coooold shiver every time I fondle it (happens often - I should read this one next).

And of course movies...

If you've never seen John Mackenzie's The Long Good Friday, you sir or madam now have got your homework assignment. Reading GBH made me hungry for another viewing of this one. They deal with similar characters and material and make having it all feel like a nightmare so much more effectively than any other gangland romance I've ever encountered. Shit is morally terrifying.

How about something more recent and equally horrifying like Ben Wheatley's entire body of work. Yeah, Kill List is great and his shit gets weirder and weirder, but Down Terrace is the one that first freaked us the fuck out with its weird half-comic, pathetic, heartless tone. Is it a crime flick? A comedy? A horror movie? Do you laugh? Cry? Scream? Yes. Holy fuck, yes. Can't wait to see what Wheatley's J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise looks like.

Sticking with the gangster movie as horror, I don't think they get any sweeter, nastier, tastier or invigorating than Brian Glazer's Sexy Beast. Taps into the eternal fear of never being clear of what you did to get where you are. Stylish as hell and very much about it as well, if you dug Glazer's recent Under the Skin as much as you should have, go back and give this one a go.

One more about moving on, but not running away, from the past is Stephen Frears's The Hit. Terrence Stamp plays a gangster who grassed on his cohorts and knows he hasn't saved his own skin, only refrigerated it for slaughter later. So ten years after when John Hurt and Tim Roth show up to deliver him unto his destiny they find his coolness about fate philosophically off-putting. I won't spoil anything, but aside from several terrific set pieces in between, this film has as good an ending and memorable a beginning as you can reasonably hope to have in one career.

Finally, in anticipation of Brian Helgeland's Legend featuring Tom Hardy in dual roles as Ronald and Reginald Kray, London's infamous identical twin gangsters of the last mid century, I'm happy to see that Peter Medak's The Krays has popped up on Netflix streaming. This one came out when I was in high school and starred Gary and Martin Kemp (the identical twin brothers from Spandau Ballet) as the ruthless siblings. Haven't seen it since the early 90s, but it made a big impression on me and I'm curious whether it holds up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Last couple weeks have been a fun chance to debut some new material. First up, Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked & Loaded: Volume 3 was published by One Eye Press and edited by Ron Earl Phillips, Erik Arneson, Jen Conley & Christopher Irvin and features my short story The Plot, but don't let that stop you from picking it up. Another twenty-four contributions from the likes of Kent Gowran, Keith Rawson, Owen Laukkanen, Patricia Abbott, Chris Rhatigan, Nigel Bird, Angel Luis Colon plus Bracken MacLeod and Michael Bracken (considering making Bracken my legal middle name) and several others ought to more than make up for my puddle on the carpet.

Next, I was in Chicago for N@B a couple weeks ago. Stayed with Jake & Heather and entered into conversations on topics like Jello Biafra's bluegrass faze, promoting books in France, the melancholy of porno conventions, all the latest in current events, all the oldest in personal histories, fascinations with L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology's own pulp master/P.T. Barnum/Bernie Madoff and the pleasures of breakfast at midnight. The event was attended by favorite folks like the Gowrans, the Hennessys, Kevin Lynn Helmick and John Weagley, hosted by Jake Hinkson and emceed by Livius Nedin & Robb Olson who recorded the whole damn thing and released said audio as two episodes of their famed Booked Podcast.

So click here for episode one in which Robb tries to bequeath me my first nickname since grade school: The Stepfather of Noir, which, granted, is more flattering than Jedidiarrhea, but I have a feeling will not stick like the the explosive defecation moniker I've had the last thirty years. Also in that episode I read a story called Twisted Shikse which will published in the upcoming anthology Jewish Noir from PM Press and edited by Kenneth Wishnia. It's a mish-mash of Old Testament stories and recent happenings in Ferguson as well shitkicker tunes, Charlie Birger and the KKK... I'm sure it's exactly what you'd think of with the prompt - Jewish noir. Bet your sweet tuchas it's a thing.

After I stunk up the joint Libby Fischer Hellmann read a heart-warming prison story about how well things go between the races behind bars. After the event I picked up a copy of Libby's novel Nobody's Child and if it's as feel-good as her short story you'd best hide the sharp objects before endeavoring to finish.

Booked's second episode (which you can hear right here) kicks off with the one 'n only Heath Lowrance reading his short story Five Bucks Buys Some Goddamn Vodka from Needle Magazine's Spring 2014 issue. Was a huge pleasure to finally meet Heath face to face. I've been enjoying his stuff since The Bastard Hand and it turns out he's a handsome bastard... and not nearly as gaping an asshole as you might expect... I was surprised. Dan O'Shea finished the evening with his sick little story of tweakers knocking over a Girl Scout cookie sales champ, Thin Mints.

Hey, Jed, I've heard of O'Shea before and that story sounds wicked cool. I hate the sound of Dan's Kathleen Turner on two packs-a-day voice and don't want to listen to those smug douchebags at Booked, any suggestions on another way I can read  Thin Mints? Glad you asked. Dan's been part of the N@B community for many years and you can read Thin Mints in the very first Noir at the Bar anthology of fiction available exclusively at Subterranean Books in St. Louis. Have I ever mentioned that book before? Got excellent content from Cameron Ashley, Pinckney Benedict, Frank Bill, Sean Doolittle, Kyle Minor and Derek Nikitas among others. Get yours before they're all gone.

BTW - you know who else is in that first N@B antho? Chicago-native and non-N@B attendee because he had a fancy pants speaking engagement in Oklahoma, Richard Thomas. Richard's latest book Disintegration is not an entry in the 33 1/3 series about The Cure, but a noir-boiled crime mind fuck the Booked boys also spoke on. Go, read. Listen. Hope to cross paths again, soon, Richard. Damn handsome man on the cover of that there book, too.

And while we're talking damned handsome books - nothing so pretty (though some more good shit, no doubt) as the physical copy of Jake Hinkson's short story collection The Deepening Shade from All Due Respect Books. Seriously, this is a super classy paperback, that's almost as deep a pleasure to hold as it is to read. Good job, Chris Rhatigan, Mike Monson, JT Lindroos and everybody at ADR.

Last week I was in Mississippi for N@B-Oxford hosted by bearded ball-shiner and N@B-alum, William Boyle. Bill put together a ridiculously heavy-hitting lineup who deserve more attention than I can give them, but... a couple of highlights: Jack Pendarvis reading a short piece titled Joan Crawford: A Hot Looking Woman, Ace Atkins reading the monkey-killing passage from Larry Brown's Fathers & Sons, Derrick Harriell hanging some noirboiled poems out to dry and the outlaw narrative musical stylings of Tyler Keith, but my personal favorite moment was Melissa Ginsburg giving us a cut passage from her long-anticipated debut novel Sunset City (seriously, I've been excited for this one for years... like five). Anyhow, when that beast comes out next year from Ecco, you can betcher sweet bippy I'll be rapping to the beat.

Another highlight - the preview of Mary Miller's Mississippi Noir contribution... and coincidence? I gave a taste of my story Have You Seen Me? from the upcoming St. Louis Noir. Shit, I'm looking forward to those two Akashic city noir installments edited by Tom Franklin and Scott Phillips respectively. Get here soon, please. Meantime I'll have to catch up with Miller's novel Big World... I hear things. Big things.

Had the pleasure of staying with Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly and dig through their comic book collection as well as put my smudge marks all over the William Gay novel Little Sister Death coming soon from Dzanc (who will also be publishing The Final Country and have already put out there an e-book collection of stories and essays Time Done Been Won't Be No More - Guy Intoci and company are doing bang-up work).

Also in big Gay news... it appears my dreams of a big screen adaptation of Gay's novel The Long Home are coming true only... not as I had hoped. James Franco is producing, directing and starring as Dallas Hardin in a new film based on Gay's debut novel. Franco has a taste for southern gothic as demonstrated in his previous directorial efforts based on classic books: As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury from William Faulkner's famously unfilmable books and Child of God from Cormac McCarthy's creepiest cranial crannies. The Long Home has a cast of names recognizable and double-take inducing (Courtney Love? Ashton Kutcher?), but does not have a script written by me.


One of my favorite never to be realized film projects of the past few years is an adaptation of The Long Home Scott Phillips and I collaborated on. Good experience. But damn... thought that one might actually happen. End of the day - even if the movie sucks (it might - it might not. I mean one of the hacks they did get to write it wrote Spring Breakers) it should introduce a few more folk to the books of William Gay and that would be a good thing.

So there you go - three new stories. For me, that's huge output. Maybe I'm on a roll. Not sure what I'm going to read at N@B-Indianapolis on June 20 alongside Hinkson, O'Shea, CJ Edwards and Alec Cizak. Show up and find out.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Viewing

Looking for something to do with mom or a way to unwind after spending time with mom this weekend? I'm here to help. Here are my hand-picked Mother's Day crime flicks to celebrate motherhood with. I'm not going to spoil anything, but just the presence of some of the pictures on this list may give away more than you'd like

The Grifters - Supposedly when director Stephen Frears approached Donald Westlake about adapting Jim Thompson's novel about a con man and his meddling mother, Westlake initially turned him down sighting that the material was too dark, too bleak, too much. Reportedly Frears is the one who suggested shifting the focus away from the loser Roy (John Cusack) to his seasoned-pro mother Lily (Angelica Huston) and making it 'a survivor's story.' However it happened, the combination of all involved produced a slick, cynical thriller with just enough heart to make it hurt like hell when it's all said and done. Holy fuck. Can't imagine it being any darker or bleaker, and I guess since it worked so well once, Huston decided to double down on the neglectful con-mom role by starring in Clark Gregg's Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Choke as Sam Rockwell's curse.

The Sopranos - As the series progressed and outgrew the importance of Lorraine Bracco's Dr. Melfi (who was absolutely essential for the first two or three seasons), her presence was sometimes an awkward fit, and felt forced, but had Nancy Marchand not died between the filming of seasons two and three, Tony most certainly would have needed a lot more of Melfi's help to navigate his toxic family life. Shit, I missed Nancy, but Livia Soprano's ghost haunted her kids and viewers for many more seasons, and Livia's memorial remains one of the series' greatest episodes.

Justified - Another example of too little of a good thing has got to be Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett on season two (the best season) of Justified. The whole Bennett clan breathed a lot of life into the show and nobody more than Mags, the ruthless, yet still tender and motherly, gangster who ruled the Harlan hills with moonshine and firepower.

Psycho - Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Robert Bloch's novel inspired by the exploits of everybody's favorite momma's boy, Ed Gein may not feature much onscreen Mother, but her presence fills the space behind her son Norman's eyes just as surely as he once filled the void within her womb. Anthony Perkins's psycho stare preceded those of Alex, Jack Torrence, Private Pyle or any other from Stanley Kubrick's oeuvre and his remains the most memorable. Look at him, you can just hear him dedicating everything to 'dear old ma'.

The Manchurian Candidate - Before she was the sweetest little harbinger of death named Jessica Fletcher (seriously, if that woman shows up in your life, somebody's about to die and it's probably you), Angela Lansbury was a far nastier, colder-blooded, power-hungry manipulator named Eleanor Shaw Iselin in John Frankenheimer's adaptation of Richard Condon's novel. How cold? How ruthless? She sees her only son and second husband (two different people) as mere tools and vessels for her will. Her frightening, consuming will. Iconically evil screen presence, and the performance of a lifetime for Lansbury - all that plus first-rate direction make the original Candidate a serious contender any time for all time.

Animal Kingdom - Jacki Weaver shines brightest amongst the stellar ensemble that is David Michod's heart-rending, pulse-pounding debut about a family of criminals disintegrating into fratricide and... worse? And when I say she stands out, keep in mind the cast includes fucking Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton and a quietly powerful breakout from James Frecheville. The flick pits each of the cast, wielding different types of strength, against all others in a battle for dominance and survival. And it'll vindicate your love Air Supply forever.

Chinatown - Faye Dunaway's Evelyn Mulwray is one of the most complex and conflicted noir heroines to my mind. The implications of her actions hinge on your perspective, but she plays everything close too close to the vest for us to decipher until it's too late to help.

Fargo - For Marge (Frances McDormand) impending motherhood and the morning sickness that comes with it does not keep her off the case when she smells a connection between a slimy car salesman (William H. Macy) and a couple of dead bodies that have made her life as police chief of a small Minnesota county a whole lot more interesting and dangerous. Her pregnant waddle and Minnesota-nice demeanor invite everyone to underestimate how sharp and tough and formidable a foe she will be and McDormand is the calm center of the storm that is this film where high pressure violence and low pressure humor collide.

Gone Baby Gone - Ben Affleck's directorial debut, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's novel, moved his career focus toward director and little brother Casey Affleck's to leading man, but nobody was more important to the success of that film than Amy Ryan in her turn as Helene McCready, mother of a missing little girl. Her performance as a dangerously narcissistic and neglectful mother lays the groundwork for the film's greatest moral question: wherever else the girl may be, is it right to bring her home?

Mildred Pierce - But hey, sometimes mom is swell and the kids are just little shits anyway. Case in point - Joan Crawford as Mildred Pierce (adapted from James M. Cain's novel) is a hell of a woman: scorned, but not soured, resilient, strong and tough as hell, but nothing she does is good enough for that little bitch Veda (Ann Blyth). If you watched a Crawford-centric evil-family marathon following this one with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and coming full circle with Faye Dunaway as Crawford in Mommie Dearest you could enjoy Mother's Day to the fullest.

And hell, you don't have to be a or the biological mother to have a motherly instinct or role to play. I highly recommend catching Tilda Swinton's amazing turn as alcoholic kidnapper in Julia, Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes' Gloria, Lorraine Stanley in London to Brighton and Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone.

Happy Mother's Day, everybody.

Monday, May 4, 2015


At N@B-Chicago last week I read a story partially involving the Ferguson riots of 2014. It felt a sadly appropriate selection given the continued unrest and violence in the headlines coming out of Baltimore. Same shit, different city. Today Brian Lindenmuth has a timely piece over at Do Some Damage about the origins of one of Baltimore's many nicknames, Mobtown while Eryk Pruitt is giving us an account of the N@B event hosted in Baltimore a scant few days before the recent outbreak of passions in the streets. I figured these two pictures said a lot. The first is Eryk outside Mi Ranchito - the proverbial B in N@B - on April 16 and the second is of the same restaurant just a few days later all boarded up.

Noir at the Bar – Baltimore ... April 16, 2015 
- by Eryk Pruitt

Baltimore has a rough-and-tumble reputation, man. In the past ten years, some of the best stories have come out of there and I'm not just talking The Wire and Serial and anything written by John Waters. I'm talking some real-deal dark stuff and there was no better showcase than the second Charm City Noir at the Bar. The streets of West Baltimore were made that much more unsafe when seven gritty neo-noir writers arrived at Mi Ranchito on Hollins Street to read their shit.

Me, I drove up from Durham the night before. Spent the day checking the sound system, eating Pit Beef and scouring Leakin Park for dead bodies, as one does when visiting Baltimore. But when 7:00 rolled around, Mi Ranchito was packed with people filling up on pork papusas, fish tacos, Natty Boh and margaritas, all ready to hear some stories.

And man, were they in for a treat.

Baltimore's own Nik Korpon served as the Master of Ceremonies. Armed with a mess of giveaways and loads of Baltimore trivia, he kept things lively between readers.

I started off with my short piece Bedtime Story soon to be published in Out of the Gutter online.

Next, Damien Angelica Walters rocked the house with a selection from Sing Me Your Scars. Great, dark stuff.

After Korpon scattered the goods amongst the good people at Mi Ranchito, Phillip Thompson stepped up to read a passage from his novel Dark Blood. This is my second Noir at the Bar with Phillip and he can silence a room, man. His delivery of stark, Southern Gothic prose will mesmerize folks no matter where he stands and rumor has it he's putting together a show all his own over in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Nik Korpon was up next. After quizzing folks and passing out yet another armload of books (i.e. booty), he read from the first page of his upcoming novel due out from Dzanc books next year. The selection was about a "beat-down boxer and a torch singer who moonlights as an organ thief... so it's kind of a love story." Nik promised and, as expected, Nik delivered.

After a short break where folks hit the bar and the merch table, Michael Hughes took his turn with the microphone. Even if you've never read one of his many books or stories, you know him from the best write-up of True Detective, where he introduced us to the "King in Yellow" mythology. For those fortunate enough to witness him in person in Baltimore, he read first from an unpublished short that drew a collective gasp from the audience, then again from an outtake his editor thought was "a little too over the top" for his trilogy. Because it should be seen by everyone, I have included a video.

Next came J.R. Angelella, author of Zombie, who thrilled the audience with something new from a work in progress he's calling "his Gladiator Novel." I had the pleasure of kicking it with J.R. for a bit after the event and he's really a great guy. So great in fact, he got John Waters to pose for a picture holding his book, so...

There's a reason Jess McHugh went last... When drawing for order, she suggested her material was better served for when the sun went down, and she wasn't kidding. She read a selection from her latest novel The Green Kangaroo which is based in Baltimore in the year 2099 and features a new drug called Atlys which comes both as a powder and a liquid and our protagonist is a recent escapee from rehab who likes said drug injected straight into his ball sack. No, Jess did not disappoint when she said she had material best read after the kiddies have been sent to bed. And her delivery had the room in stitches.

When the evening ended, folks stuck around for a few more rounds of drinks before heading back to safety and we're both pleased and disappointed to announce very few casualties for the event. Phillip Thompson brought bleach just in case we needed to taint any DNA, but it wasn't necessary. I myself stayed the night two doors down with venue organizer Dan Morrison and woke up to a hole in the ceiling. Stayed the weekend and the day after I left, riots broke out. I do not claim responsibility for either.

I want to thank Jed, Dan, Mi Ranchito, Lana, Nik, Jess, Phillip, J.R., Michael, Damien, and my bartender Bianca. I also want to thank everybody who came out to hear us read and a big-time thank you to Faidley's Seafood and Chap's Pit Beef and the city of Baltimore.

That shit was fun.

Eryk didn't mention it in his piece, but if you read his novel Dirtbags last year, you're gonna wanna put yur mitts on his new one Hashtag when it comes out soon from 280 Steps. Keep up with Eryk and his twisted shit at your own peril.