Friday, March 31, 2017

Man Out of Prison: The Crossing Guard

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Sean Penn's The Crossing Guard.

The twist this time is that the focus is at least as much on the victim of the original crime as on the ex-con who committed it. Jack Nicholson is a man whose young daughter was killed by a drunk driver years earlier and has, in the meantime, lost his marriage, become a full-blown alcoholic and sustained himself on one idea - killing the man who killed his daughter. He has a plan, he has a date when the con will be released and he only has to keep himself alive long enough to execute it.

David Morse plays the ex-con who has lived the several years consumed with remorse and is released from prison a broken man very much sympathetic to his potential killer's cause. On vengeance night Nicholson is so drunk he screws it up, but Morse tells him no problem I'll wait for you. Come back in three days and do it then.

The next three days we spend examining the lives of both men, both broken by the same event, both unable to move on, unable to sustain their relationships with other people because of the tragedy and both angry that the world seems to have moved on and from the historical point theirs seem to have stopped at.

Solid supporting turns cast fronted by Robin Wright and Angelica Huston and featuring Piper Laurie, John Savage, Priscilla Barnes, Joe Viterelli, Ryo Ishibashi, Kari Wuhrer and, heh, Robbie Robertson.

Sad? Pretty fuckin emotionally brutal, but manages to be beautiful rather than depressing. Terrific examination of grief and guilt in the sophomore directorial outing from Penn (whose equally great debut, The Indian Runner, also starred Morse and was produced by Stephen K. Bannon - yeah, that Steve Bannon - go the fuck figure).

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Joint Body

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Brian Jun's Joint Body.

Mark Pellegrino plays Nick, a parolee trying to make a new life for himself when he's cut off from his wife and child. He's working a menial job and living in a shitty apartment (or hotel?) where he's just reached out to a possible kindred soul - a woman (Alicia Witt) stringing her life along night to night dancing in a sleazy joint and trying to retain her own soul by taking care of her infirm neighbors.

One night she's attacked by an unstable and fixated former acquaintance and Nick intervenes with tragic results. He wakes up in the hospital wounded and most likely heading back to prison unless she'll stick her neck out for him. The rest of the film is these two very damaged people circling each other warily deciding exactly how much weight they can lean on the other. Two people crossing a frozen lake metaphor together, gingerly, sometimes aggressively, obviously in need of the other, but heartbreakingly and convincingly unwilling to completely trust the other.

It's like a Tom Waits song on screen or maybe a Charles Bukowski story from the sweeter pole of his work. An under-exposed crime flick deserving of a larger audience. This is exactly the kind of adult fare I wish were more prevalent today.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Man Out of Prison: Coastlines

Counting down to the Netflix release of Evan Katz's adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes I'm looking at some of my favorite in the man-out-of-prison subgenre. Today it's Victor Nunez's Coastlines.

If you know Nunez's work you know what to expect - strong ensemble performances, thoughtful script and a measured pace that quietly ratchets those stakes. If you don't know Nunez's work and instead looked at the cast and plot - Timothy Olyphant is just out of prison and back in his small town where he has an affair with Sarah Wynter who is married to a local policeman, and his best friend, Josh Brolin. Meanwhile tragedy strikes his father (Scott Wilson) and he tries to collect on a debt owed by local gangsters William Forsythe and Josh Lucas - you might expect more fireworks. It's still a dead-end tightrope walk toward explosive confrontations on every front.

99% of the times this storyline is pitched it's gonna be a slam-bang, hardboiled, badass-a-thon peppered with tough-guy talk and deep-fried in testosterone, but that's not Nunez, man. Laconic and achy-breaky in all the best ways - this one proves the 70s never really died out in American cinema and considering the cast, it's hard to believe there isn't a huge cult around this one... yet.

Seek it out.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ample Samples

Small Crimes - d: Evan Katz w: Dave Zeltserman, Macon Blair, Evan Katz

Mean Dreams - d: Nathan Morlando w: Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby

Baby Driver - w/d: Edgar Wright

Atomic Blonde - d: David Leitch w: Kurt Johnstad, Antony Johnston, Sam Hart

Detour - w/d: Christopher Smith

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Thanks, Knucks

Hey - banner day at chez Ayres as a new review of Peckerwood dropped on the blog of a mighty fine writer of crime Charlie Stella. I know, I know, my head is huuuge. Sharing the spotlight with my tawdry tale of podunk criminality is Rubdown by Leigh Redhead, American Static by Tom Pitts, and Hunger by Knut Hamsun. So give that piece a gander right over here.

Gratifying to see people continue to find that four-year-old book and it hasn't gotten old reading new thoughts on it.

And I'm certainly not the only writer who appreciates it. Frankly, word of mouth amongst you Tweeters and FB faithful, you Goodreading Amazonian reviewers, you stalwart bloggers out there - it's what drives new readers to mine and, I suspect, most writers' work any more - hell, Dave Zeltserman said this week that it was Peter Dragovich's The Nerd of Noir blog that turned director E.L. Katz onto his novel Small Crimes and not the terrific NPR kudos it also holds.

So here's a proposal.

Post a new review on your blog, on Goodreads or Amazon of a book by any of the St. Louis N@B event participants and let me know about it on Twitter or Face Book or in comments on this blog by next Sunday - March 26 and I'll send (five of) you a book of your choosing straight off one of my overburdened home shelves (five of you in the continental U.S. - sorry).

Regardless your honest take on the book I'll post links to your blog or review site here at Hardboiled Wonderland. Here's a helpful list of the eligible authors to cover - and yeah, anthologies they're included in count - as long as you mention their contribution specifically.

Cameron Ashley             Jake Hinkson                 Tawny Pike
Jonathan Ashley             Joseph Hirsch                Robert J. Randisi
Jedidiah Ayres                John Hornor Jacobs     John Rector
Greg Barth                       Liam Jose                       Caleb J. Ross
Laura Benedict               Tasha Kaminsky             John Joseph Ryan
Pinckney Benedict        David James Keaton       Joe Schwartz
Frank Bill                        Byron Kerman                 Theresa Schwegel
William Boyle                 Matt Kindt                       Anthony Neil Smith
Jane Bradley                   Tim Lane                          Malachi Stone
Liam Cassidy                  Chris La Tray                   Jason Stuart
David Cirillo                   Clayton Lindemuth        Duane Swierczynski
S. L. Coney                       Erik Lundy                     John F. D. Taff
Hilary Davidson              John Lutz                       Dennis Tafoya
Sean Doolittle                Jason Makansi               Richard Thomas
Christopher J. Dupuy    Matthew McBride          Mark W. Tiedemann
Les Edgerton                   John McGoran                Fred Venturini
C. J. Edwards                  Cort McMeel                    Frank Wheeler Jr.
Matthew C. Funk            Kyle Minor                       Benjamin Whitmer
Jesus Angel Garcia     Aaron Michael Morales     Lavelle Wilkins-Chinn
Amanda Gowin               Derek Nikitas                  Tim L. Williams
Kent Gowran                   J. David Osborne            Calvin Wilson
Glenn Gray                      Dan O'Shea                       Jonathan Woods
Kevin Lynn Helmick      Ande Parks                       Josh Woods
Gordon Highland            Scott Phillips                   Nic Young

Exactly what kind of crap do I have to send you? I'm not gonna promise you a pristine copy, but I've got good shit to share including books by 

J. I. Baker                        Craig Holden                Walter Mosley
Josh Bazell                      Ryan David Jahn          Stuart Neville
Laura Benedict                Grant Jerkins                  Jim Nisbet
Lawrence Block               Craig Johnson             Joyce Carol Oates
Ken Bruen                       Denis Johnson               George Pelecanos
Reed Farrel Coleman      Owen Laukanen             Tom Piccirilli
James Crumley                 Dennis Lehane              John Rector
Hilary Davidson               Elmore Leonard            J. D. Rhoades
Garry Disher                     Laura Lippman            Sebastian Rotella
Allen Eskens                    Sophie Littlefield       John Joseph Ryan
Christa Faust                     John Lutz                     Theresa Schwegel
Victor Gischler                  Cormac McCarthy       Johnny Shaw
Denise Hamilton               Craig McDonald            Jason Starr
Libby Fischer Hellmann    John McFetridge           Andrew Vachss
Carl Hiaasen                      Adrian McKinty           Urban Waite

So if you do that kind of thing, or have thought about it... or if you just wanna get a book in the mail please participate.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Tried to watch Luther for the second time this week. And like the first time, I gave up after a single episode. Realized that as much as I like Idris Elba, I just don't give a shit about solving crimes. That's not what I want from crime fiction. I want above all else - criminals.

Not killers (necessarily). I want people desperate or broken enough to shuck the rules and explore the variety of outcomes that their actions invite (alternately sweet and sour). I'm looking also for moral explorations - as opposed to moralizing - and human characters - as opposed to hollow tropes or broadly drawn cartoons. These are ideals that don't have to rule out pulpy or made for maximum entertainment value offerings either.

For instance, I caught up with Hap & Leonard on Sundance TV. Fuckin-a. Dug it.

Solid cast - James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams have an easy chemistry and ground some of Joe Lansdale's more outrageous lines in human characters, less broadly drawn than some readings could suggest - you hear the punchlines coming (and they're funny), but they don't sound like jokes coming from the performers. Christina Hendricks too lends varying degrees of her steeliness and vulnerability to what could have been a two-note femme-fatale and frequent Jim Mickle project participant Bill Sage manages to make his hippy, both dippy and menacing - no easy feat.

Even the characters that veer hard into cartoonishness (particularly as portrayed by Jimmi Simpson and Pollyanna McIntosh) have offbeat cutaways that suggest different intentions, motivations or outcomes from the ones we're otherwise comfortable assuming.

So, looking forward to a second season in Lansdale land (first cycle was Savage Season... second is going to be Mucho Mojo I think). Big credit goes to producer/director/writers Mickle and E. L. Katz too for setting tone and table for maximum pleasure as both have done in their film efforts.

In 2014 both directors' efforts made my best of the year list - Mickle's first take on Lansdale material Cold in July and Katz's feature debut Cheap Thrills were expert manipulations of tone and exercises in expert timing.

Speaking of Katz - his next feature flick is one of my most anticipated of 2017 - an adaptation of Dave Zeltserman's daaaark opening chapter of his man-out-of-prison thematic trilogy Small Crimes. Holy crap does that sound exciting.

Source material I dig, exciting director, solid looking cast (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jackie Weaver, Pat Healey, Molly Parker, Robert Forster, Gary Cole). Need another reason to be intrigued? How about the other co-writing adaptor (and co-star) Macon Blair? Yeah, the dude from those super badass Jeremy Saulnier flicks thinks he can write.

Well, he can. As evidence I submit his own writing/directorial debut I Don't Belong in This World Anymore. It's a Netflix original crime film that does a bang-up job with hard shifts from humor to horror and suspense sequencing and I highly recommend checking it the fuck out fucking now. I'm sure I'll be talking about this one more throughout the year.

You know what else you're going to get fucking tired of me talking about real quick? Adam Smith's Trespass Against Us. Holy fuck, I love this movie. Michael Fassbender is a thief, less professional than born to it, belonging to a clan of nomadic "traveling" outlaws who follow a strict code of peculiar adherences to religious convictions, chief amongst them - fuck the police. Brendan Gleeson plays his father, the group's patriarch, and father and son clash over family loyalties and their solemn duty to fuck with the police.

I've seen it twice in as many days and I'm sure I will be revisiting it again soon. But what the actual fuck with the reviews? Once again the best work is marginalized while the marginal is lionized. Another one I'm looking forward to, but certainly not investigating reviews until afterward - Juanita Wilson's adaptation of Daniel Woodrell's Tomato Red.

What else is on my short-term radar? I'm so essited for season three of Fargo there's a flea circus tent permanently pitched in my cargo pants and I'm afeared to go outside for all the unwanted attention. And I'll be checking out the Cinemax serialization of Max Allan Collins' Quarry real soon.

Meantime I'm savoring Donald Ray Pollock's The Heavenly Table and Tony Knighton's not-yet-published Three Hours Past Midnight (look for it soon).

Friday, March 3, 2017

Brian Lindenmuth on Westerns

You may know the name Brian Lindenmuth as the publisher of Spinetingler Magazine and Snubnose Press or maybe for articles he's contributed to places like Mulholland Books, Crimespree, Noir Nation or any number of other quality outlets concerned with crime fiction and films.

Today he's announcing his latest project, a blog concerned with Westerns: Observations From the Slash Y. 

Like everything he tackles, he's obsessive, insightful and completely unable to stop once he gets going and I expect this blog will be the go-to resource for all your western questions in the future. I asked him for some thoughts on the Western as it bleeds easily into crime fiction and below are those same thoughts. Give it a read.

On Westerns
by Brian Lindenmuth

I've been tinkering with a new method to judge western films and, after watching three more recent westerns in quick succession, thought I'd kick it out to anyone interested. Really, its just the way that I judge westerns. It's an odd mix of subjective and objective that, in some cases can yield interesting results. Really, I suppose, I'm just trying to look at westerns a little differently, maybe scratch below the surface to see what makes them tick, and think about the film language of westerns. In short, the criteria boils down to how the movie showcases and utilizes faces, landscapes, and horses.


Westerns are great showcases for men's faces. Think about some of your favorite westerns over the years, think about some of the best westerns over the years. Now think about those faces. Weather beaten faces with crooks, crags, crevasses. Unshaven faces with scruff, mustaches, and beards. From John Wayne and Ben Johnson to Robert Ryan and Woody Strode. The western is so kind to the male face that it even does wonders for non-traditional faces like Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, Gabby Hayes, Dub Taylor, Strother Martin. When the studios were cranking out westerns these non-traditional looking actors had robust careers. Not everyone can be Randolph Scott and in westerns they don't have to be.

The squinty eyed stare of The Man With No Name wouldn't be as effective coming from a bland face.

The landscapes of the faces on display relate directly to the land itself. Hard travel and living, on hard land, is going to produce hard faces.


Westerns are as much about the land as the people that live on it. The two go hand in hand in a symbiotic way (which arguably became parasitic but that's a topic for another day). Landscapes are key to the film language of westerns. There should be wide shots, long shots, and medium long shots that show off the land (close ups are for the the great faces). The land is its own character and it should be featured accordingly. There should be more exterior shots than internal shots.


The greatest trick the genre ever pulled was convincing people that gunmanship was more important than horsemanship. Horses have a place of almost invisible importance in westerns. For something so ubiquitous, little thought is given to horses.

Jane Tompkins' book, West of Everything, is one of the few books that recognizes the importance of horses in westerns. Horses even get their own chapter. In my opinion the importance of her chapter on horses lies in the formal recognition of horses in westerns as being worthy of study but her exploration of the topic, while having some merit, eventually goes awry.

You expect the sage dotted plains, buttes, the town with its false fronts, sandy main street, saloon, livery stable, cowboys in jeans and ten gallon hats. And horses: in town tied to the hitching rail, being ridden by a single rider outlined against the sky, pulling covered wagons, free on the prairie. In the background, in the foreground, on the margins, at center, horses are the screen constantly, seen in every conceivable attitude. The presence of such beings has an extraordinary influence on our experience of Westerns. The sheer energy of the posse, chasing the bandits at breakneck speed, pulling up short, the horses' mouths foaming, bridles clanking, saddles creaking, hooves churning the sand; the fleeing villains stopping at a lookout point, wheeling around, pausing for a moment, then turning and galloping off again in a cloud of dust-these images are the heart and soul of a Western.

But though horses in Westerns are de rigueur, the characters who ride them don't pay them much attention, and as far as the critics are concerned they might as well not exist. The index to one of the most complete treatments of a corpus of Western ever written -- Tag Gallagher's excellent John Ford: The Man and His Films -- lists in boldface heroes, Indians, homosexuality, home, innocence, wilderness, rivers, good badmen, drunks, determinism, and destiny but it doesn't list horses, although Ford, who made more than sixty Westerns, was almost unique in recognizing their importance, that is, he seemed to really see horses in a way other directors didn't. Horses, in Westerns, are precisely what meets the eye; that is physically, visually, they are right there in front of you, but no one seems to notice them in the sense of paying them any attention. Because of this strange invisibility they are the place where everything in the genre is hidden. Besides doing all the work in a literal sense, getting the characters from place to place, pulling wagons, plowing fields, and such, they do double, triple, quadruple work in a symbolic sense. The more you look at them, the more indispensable they seem.

Larry McMurtry is more direct and practical in his essay, Take My Saddle from the Wall: A Valediction.

The master symbol for handling the cowboy is the symbol of the horseman. The gunman had his place in the mythology of the West, but the cowboy did not realize himself with a gun. Neither did he realize himself with a penis, nor with a bankroll. Movies fault the myth when they dramatize gunfighting, rather than horsemanship, as the dominant skill. The cowboy realized himself on a horse, and a man might be broke, impotent, and a poor shot and still hold up his head if he could ride.

Horses are an important part of westerns because they were important to life in the west. They were tools, a means of travel, a way to work, a way to achieve and accomplish most tasks. So westerns should have horses and actors riding them, and if the actors can't ride, they need to be at least able to sit a horse.

At one time, when western films ruled the land, actors were practically required to be able to ride a horse. If an actor excelled at riding horses (or a related skill) they were guaranteed work.

The first great western is Stagecoach. Andy Devine (look at the face!) got his part in the movie because he could handle a team of six horses, which was a requirement of director John Ford's.

"One day he got sore at me and said, "You big tub of lard, I don't know why the hell I'm using you in this picture." I answered him right back: "Because Ward Bond can't drive six horses."

The artist Frederic Remington understood the nature of the relationship between man and horse. Look at his statues and paintings, the two are one. Ben Johnson, one of the great western actors, got his start because of his great skill in riding a horse. John Wayne will always be one of the most iconic actors of all time (and rightly so) but Ben Johnson riding a horse is pure poetry.

The next time you are watching a western ask yourself a couple of questions. Was this movie a showcase for interesting faces? Did this movie showcase the land in such a way as to make it a character? Did this movie show the close relationship between the land and those who live on it? Did this movie have any horses? If so, how were they used? Did this film show actors mounting, riding, or dismounting a horse? How about just sitting on a horse? At the very least, are their stuntmen or body doubles riding horses?

The recent westerns that started me down this path were Bone Tomahawk,
The Magnificent Seven (2016), and Slow West.

Bone Tomahawk stars Kurt Russell, a western face if there ever was one, so the face grade is going to automatically skew higher. His facial hair alone could carry a movie. (side note: there needs to be a movie about an aging Wyatt Earp starring an aging Kurt Russell). The surprise of the movie was Richard Jenkins. I've liked his work for a long time but thought he practically stole the show here and his face is the best on display here.

Patrick Wilson has leading man looks but doesn't look out of place, back in the day he likely could have had a successful career as a cowboy hero.  Plus he looks comfortable in the clothes and the part. And in terms of faces, Matthew Fox didn't quite fit. It's not that he is handsome, but he just seems like to much of a dandy to be out there. When the group is traveling, out in the middle of nowhere he still maintains his well coiffed appearance. Did he wake up each morning and use product? Sounds silly but still was some of the shit I was thinking about while watching.

Bone Tomahawk has a curious lack of landscape and horses. There are a lot of interior shots and even the scenes of travel don't feature the landscape in any memorable way. Horses are noticeably absent (or were to me anyway). The quartet did ride some in the middle section of the movie, but even then, they lost their horses and traveled on foot.

Faces: B
Landscapes: C
Horses: C (at best)

The Magnificent Seven does pretty good in the face department, which it should given the ensemble nature of the story. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt both have leading man looks and charm (the former is a well established leading man, the latter is new to the part). Ethan Hawke was a surprise. He's been around for so long it was great to seem aged and grayer.

Vincent D'Onofrio however steals the damn show. I didn't even recognize him at first. Not only did he chew scenery in that way that only great actors can but yes, he looked the part of a trapper who is a little touched. Jonathan Joss deserves a special shout-out. He has a great face and should have had more screen time. His was the character I wanted to know more about and the final fight scene between Denali and Red Harvest deserved more time and attention.

The landscape is featured well in The Magnificent Seven. There are good wide shots that showcase the land and the people on it. Nothing really remarkable but Fuqua understands the film language of westerns and of epics and shows a sound, working knowledge of both. The Magnificent Seven features, throughout the duration of the movie,actors sitting on and riding horses. It also ups the ante by featuring stunt horse work, especially in the climatic battle.

Faces: B+
Landscapes: B-
Horses: B+

Before we get to the third western: Does utilizing this admittedly subjective criteria mean that one movie is better than the other? Specifically, in this case, do my grades mean that Bone Tomahawk is better than Magnificent Seven? Not necessarily. I enjoyed both of these movies in different ways and would recommend each of them but, I think The Magnificent Seven is the better western.

Let's talk Slow West. I loved this movie. The cinematography, the sly humor, the way it trusts the audience, and a near perfect final shot. How does Slow West fit in with the criteria?

Michael Fassbender is another actor who could have been a mega star in a Hollywood that produced more westerns, but the 60s & 70s when revisionist westerns were on the rise. His character is calm and confident but not arrogant or cocky. He's assured and understands his place in this harsh world. He has a rugged handsomeness, without being a pretty boy, that is on full display in Slow West. The biggest compliment that you can pay to him is that he looks comfortable, like he belongs, and that when he is on screen he holds your attention.

Another actor that holds your attention, and who has an interesting face, is Ben Mendelsohn. He doesn't have much screen time, but he makes great use of the time he does have. The camera loves his face. The director knows this and spends time on it.

The supporting cast is stocked with faces that reflect the ruggedness of the land and the lives being lived. Rory McCann, probably best known as The Hound in Game of Thrones, doesn't have traditional leading man looks but he has a face that tells a story and has a history. And if you are the kind of person who judges someone by the qualities of their face as it pertains to a certain genre, and clearly I am, you know that he was born to be in westerns.

Slow West is gorgeously shot. It spends most of it's running time outside, utilizing a wide array of western locations from deserts, to small towns, to wooded areas. It shows off both the harshness and the beauty of the land. This isn't yet a land civilized or populated and the characters are merely a part of the existing landscape.

Holy hell, a modern western that significantly features actors riding horses. It's a damn miracle I tell you. Slow West, in the horses department, is the opposite of Bone Tomahawk. Horses are necessary, they are prominent, they are ridden.

Faces: A
Landscapes: A+
Horses: A


About Brian Lindenmuth: These day I am my own audience and I wrote this mainly for myself. I wanted to explore the film language of westerns and highlight some of the qualities that are important to me in a western flick. I maintain a slow blog, devoted to westerns, where I share links and thoughts on the genre. It's really more of a notebook in public form, again mainly for my own use. This is the first time I'm making its existence known. Stop by if you like.