Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Last Night of the Panthers

Thanks to the strong critical and popular response to fare like the first seasons of True Detective and Fargo we've recently been blessed with a few more high-quality long-form single-narrative mini-crime-series (or maybe series w/mini self-contained narratives e.g. both seasons of Trudy Tective and Fargo), two of which I just caught up with.

First I caught Jack Thorne's Sundance TV original The Last Panthers - a Europe-spanning crime saga that starts with a Marseille diamond heist and follows the thieves (led by Goran Bogadan) as they try to unload the booty after the original buyers back out due to the heat on them after a child is accidentally killed during the robbery. Storylines 2 & 3 follow the dual investigations into the crime, the first by local French police (led by Tahar Rahim who blew me away in A Prophet), and the second by an insurance company (led by Samantha Morton whom it was nice to see in a prominent role after what feels like forever).

From gun-running, hijacking, drugs, prostitution, loan-sharking and extortion, along the way visits are paid to many corners of the global black market and we're given easily digestible examples of the ways illicit money becomes legitimate political power and the bedrock of respectable fortunes with government and establishment complicity.

It draws a direct line through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Balkan wars of the 1990s to the rise (and fall) of The Pink Panthers - the ring of diamond thieves who pulled off ballsy, brash robberies for years across Europe. Portrayed here as mostly dispossessed soldiers and mercenaries plying the skills they acquired and networks they developed during the civil strife in their new role as international gangsters with a nationalistic stripe, they are more terrifying than the typical hyper-capitalists of western popular lore - imagine bushwhacking remnants from the US Civil War (maybe The Outlaw Josey Wales, the James-Youngers and the fucking KKK rolled into a loose association) organized and ruthless enough to begin seizing political power on a state level.

The scope and scale is epic, but the story succeeds on an interpersonal level as well and that's no easy feat. Each major character is given the emotional grounding to make them relatable and conflicted enough to give some humanity to balance the grimness of the tone. Still, it's neither as sexy as fare like Suburra or the Easy Money trilogy, nor is it as bleak as Gomorrah which are the obvious comparisons that leap to mind. Damn good stuff.

For more historical context, look for the documentary Smash & Grab: the Story of the Pink Panthers it's a fun one with some pretty great security camera footage of some of the heists.

Next up is the highly anticipated HBO miniseries The Night Of from none other than Richard Price. It's the story of a young man improbably claiming innocence after waking from a drug-nap to find the pretty girl he'd just picked up has been murdered. Aside from being the last person to see her alive and having the likely murder weapon on him when he's arrested, the further complications include this all-American kid's middle-eastern descent and Muslim culture, and... actually that's about it.

But y'know... racism.

Plot-wise it's far less ambitious than The Last Panthers - essentially unpacking a single Law & Order episode's worth of story into a more character-centric eight hours - which... is not me doing a good job of selling it, so go back to the part where I said it was a Richard Price joint.

A Richard Price joint is going to mean two important things

1) Details. Certainly one of the keenest observers of the grinding wheels of justice, of crime, of urban social and economic machinery, Price has made a career of documenting these things and bringing out deeply human stories from between the cogs.

2) Action/dialogue. The cast here is uniformly strong and a pleasure to watch them say and do the things they do and say. We have Price to thank for that. Dude knows how to punch up an unexpected emotional response to the least likely gestures and routines.

Law & Order ain't got time to give us subplots like the kid's parents having to sell silverware to pay the lawyer, or his father's business partners having to make tough calls regarding their shared venture's future, or hell, about John Tuturro's extreme allergies and herbal explorations. Crisco and cellophane, dude. Crisco and cellophane.

Don't go into this one looking to be thrilled by legal fierworks and courtroom revelations - honestly, the mystery isn't particularly sexy or intriguing. Like the jury you're most likely going to form an opinion of the kid's guilt or innocence after an hour or so and nothing you see or hear after that is going to change your mind.

That's by design. But that's not even the point. The point, and it's a good and worthwhile one, is that this is life on the job - as a cop, a prosecutor, a defense attorney, a cabbie, a convict, a streetwalker - at our moment in space/time and this here is a slice of that life for your tasting pleasure (or displeasure) and if you don't relate to somebody somewhere here your empathy gauge is broke.

Also, kudos for making this shit about middle-aged fucking people. Not a story particularly about the young accused and victim at the center, this is about the ground and still grinding folks who've been swimming these channels for decades - and yeah it is objectively about the young and what youth means to each of these folks (very much so), but it's not really their story - and for that I applaud the adults in the room.

Leave the sexy crime to the sexy young folks who've got time for it. This is about the balding, the paunchy, the itchy, the erectile-dyfunctional, the wrinkling and gravity-challenged professionals who've realized less than they'd hoped, but keep it up in the face of all indignity, because fuck it they're still here and there's work to do.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Kill the Flame

Leonard Cohen died one week ago. Bigger influences on my literary sensibilities are ahead only by narrow margins. That man. That voice. That prophet. Who else could be as achingly beautiful, cynically insightful and searingly funny in the breadth of a verse? Sin, salvation, sex and the apocalypse - hypocrisy, fidelity, weakness and revolution - faith, devotion, hope and nihilism - he spoke to each in turn with full attention and without a hint of insincerity... unless that was his real point.


This sideshow armageddon of an election cycle already had me leaning into his comforting, bracing assurances of my worst fears and worse nature then he dropped his swan song album, You Want it Darker, just in time to make the title track the theme song of the whole fucking year.

This hole of a fucking year.

I moved to St. Louis when I was 20 years old - a sheltered kid striking out on my own for the first time. I had vague ideas about what I wanted out of life. I was a musician. I was mediocre, but I felt the hell out it with the help of recent discoveries Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Cohen whom I'd first, like so many my age, heard courtesy of Christian Slater's pirate dg Happy Harry Hard-On in the outsized influential flick Pump up the Volume (what can I say, that movie hit me at just the right moment to make a big impact).

Like more than a few of my friends I was disappointed after picking up the soundtrack to find Concrete Blond's cover of Everybody Knows in place of Cohen's unofficial theme song to the film on the cassette. It took me longer than it should have to track down the original recording, but I was inspired to after it popped up again in Atom Egoyan's Exotica - as the soundtrack for a striptease performed by Mia Kirshner (holy shit did that become the gold standard of erotic imagery for young Jed).

After purchasing I'm Your Man, I found myself either wholly entranced or repelled by each alternating track - how could First We Take Manhattan exist in the same universe, let alone the same album as Jazz Police? Fuck it. I kept at it, picking up more Cohen when I came across it cheap in used music stores. Everybody thinks of Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah as the one that maybe transcends the original, but for me it was John Cale's straightforward piano rendering on the almost entirely forgettable tribute album I'm Your Fan that helped set the hooks in me deeper. I discovered Cohen hadn't always been the gravel-voiced casio hipster of the 80s/90s, but had started as a folk musician with a penchant for bleak-ass love songs and beautiful renderings of relations between the sexes dissolving and disintegrating.

Oh man.

After graduating high school and vowing that I was finished with formal education I decided I could go back to reading books. I'd read an interview with Lou Reed in which he mentioned a novel written by Cohen - Beautiful Losers. Bought that shit (Nick Cave's And the Ass Saw the Angel about the same time) and read it - even the French language passages - quick. The fuck was going on in that book? I wasn't moved by it the same way I was by his songs, but it opened my head up to ideas about what literature could be.

I responded more to his (perhaps less ambitious) second novel The Favorite Game, but his book of lyrics, Stranger Music, kept me absolutely electrically bonerfied for years.

I don't read a lot of poetry any longer. It doesn't call to me the way it did once. Or perhaps I've become too consumed with practical things to give it the time I used to. But no one makes me pick it up again the way Cohen does. No one stops me in my tracks and causes me to hold words in my mouth and test their feel while kicking the tires between head and heart for truth and durability. No one reminds me that literature without an infusion of poetry (in its cadence, or heart or ideas) is a dull, flaccid tool in the reader's hand with such powerful immediacy as he did.

Does. Continues to.

So long and thanks for all the words, sir.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

There's Sometimes a Buggy... Elephino

Big thanks to Mike White and guest co-host Erik Marshall for the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite movies, David Lynch's Mulholland Dr., on The Projection Booth this week (not my first time on The Projection Booth either - I got to talk about Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows last year). If you've ever listened to the show you know Mike knows his shit and does exhaustive research for each and every episode and if you know me at all you can probably guess that my strategy is 'always wing it', so, hey, one of us (two really, Erik was great) had some swell insights to this bottomless pit of theory seeds and the other stuck his thumb up his butt and said it smelled funny.

Well, it did.

Still, I think we all had fun talking and I hope every single one of you have fun listening to every single moment of the 3-hour run time of the episode. Every. Damn. Minute. Don't worry it's not all me talking - Mike also interviews the always terrific Patrick Fischler and the unworldly Laura Elena Harring).

Are you back? You listened to everything? Then you know I announced the name of my own crime film podcast's cohost Peter Dragovich aka The Nerd of Noir.

This came about from my unfulfilled appetites for two things: a podcast specifically about the crime shit that gives me a boner and the dulcet tones of Nerd's words.

What's this podcast called? Same thing the rhinoceros/elephant splice produced. So help us out, eh? Help us name our ugly baby.

We're listening.

What kind of hijinks can you expect from Packing Heat with Jed & Pete? We've recorded a couple dry run episodes thus far including a Halloween episode where we picked our favorite crime films for the season and here are those.

Peter's Picks:

5. Snowtown Murders - d) Justin Kurzel w) Justin Kurzel, Shaun Grant, Debi Marshall, Andrew McGarry

4. Tony - w/d) Gerard Johnson

3. The Loved Ones - w/d) Sean Byrne

2. I Saw the Devil - d) Kim Jee-woon w) Kim Jee-woon, Park Hoon-jung

1. Deliverance - d) John Boorman w) James Dickey

Jed's Picks:

5. The Devil's Rejects - w/d) Rob Zombie

4. Kill List - d) Ben Wheatley w) Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump

3. Audition - d) Takashi Miike w) Ryu Murakami, Daisuke Tengan

2. Gotham - w/d) Lloyd Fonvielle

1. Angel Heart - d) Alan Parker w) William Hjortsberg

So c'mon, help me 'n Peter name our show. Leave us a comment here or on Twitter @JedidiahAyres
@nerdofnoir and we'll get back at you soon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Are you still there? Golly, it's been a busy month for me, apologies for not checking in more often. Just beginning the process of crawling out the back end of Noircon 2016 and, I gotta say, Lou Boxer and company put on a great party and I was happier 'n shit just to be there.

First off, Glenn Gray has my un-ending appreciation for accommodating my devo-ish particulars. His generosity of spirit is matched by his talent and magnanimous wallet - dude picked up way more than his share of bar tabs and bribes. Thanks, man. You rock.

And the crew? Sheeit, the best. Had a great time enhanced profoundly by the company of Glenn, Andrew Nette, Scott Adlerberg, Leigh Redhead, Thomas Wickersham, Stona Fitch, Wallace Stroby, Peter Rozovsky, Ed Pettit, Joe Samuel Starnes, Tony Knighton, Richie Narvaez, Jeff Wong, Aurelien Masson, Paul Oliver, Juliet Grames, Mike White, Cullen Gallagher, Ronald Koltnow, Suzanne Solomon, Jon McGoran, Erik Arneson, Jennifer Dean, Buffy Hastings, Melanie Dante, Jonathan Woods and Daniel Luft.

me and Barry Gifford, y'know... hanging
Too brief encounters, but always great to check in with Dennis Tafoya, Vicki Hendricks, Jason Starr, Kenneth Wishnia and Warren Moore. Also thrilled to have met Charlie Stella, Charles Ardai, Kent Harrington, Jay Gertzman, Woody Haut, Barry Gifford and some guy named Richard Price. Do you hate me now as much as I'd hate you for that sentence?

It was a great mix of stimulating panels, spirited conversation and classy-ass atmospherics compliments of The Hotel Brotherhood, Bob & Barbara's Lounge and the blue-lit, casio-troubadour stylings of Felix the Helix.

But time to snap back to reality, here comes gravity or something.

Actually my horizons look pretty good right now. Batteries charged by New Orleans, Philadelphia and recent brews with Fred Venturini and it's time to produce.

First up, listen for me and Erik Marshall joining Mike White on The Projection Booth podcast for a discussion of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (episode dropping next week). Mike's podcast is a long-running and running-long exploration of cinema without regard for class and Erik's got his own film podcast, That's A Wrap which means I was totally outclassed on that episode. So, I've got my own podcast coming soon with a co-host I know you'll be excited about.

Next, look for a new story, Clean Shot, in the Alcatraz-themed anthology Hard Sentences edited by David James Keaton and Joe Clifford. This one was a real pleasure to write and research and I can't wait to dig into the rest of the collection - it's gonna cover some wild territory.

Also soon: my story collection is coming back into print! Seems like I said this a year ago, but evidence to support my prediction this time around is a new cover from Matthew Revert. Look for Courtesy, Sympathy & Taste or: A Fuckload of Shorts in 2017. Is this just the same old shit? Pretty much. The title is slightly different and the content will be too. Since it was such a clusterfuck of styles and content to begin with I'm tossing in a couple extra (previously published, but un-collected) stories as well as excerpts from Shitbird and a written apology explaining myself.

After that. Fucking Shitbird, dude. Fucking getting on that shit. bird. I promise. Pants kicked in properly.