Friday, December 15, 2017


Today Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens and the world has something more than it probably realizes. There's no over-estimating the influence the original trilogy had on my formative years and I'm pleased as hell to be going to see new and good chapters as they're added (man, did I dig Rogue One - a lot better than The Force Awakens for my money), but what the world probably doesn't realize it has today - a much more finite resource has just been spent - a new Rian Johnson movie. The dude who gave us Looper and Brick (and yeah, The Brothers Bloom) has spent years of his creative juice on this flick, as well as a rumored entire spin-off trilogy and that's... a little frightening.

While I'm hoping and guessing it means we get an extra-good Star Wars entry, I'm afraid that we get one less uniquely Johnson-esque picture or three or more in the future.

I enjoy a lot of the big franchise pictures, but man when I ask myself which I'd rather have happen - a Brett Ratner Star Wars and a Rian Johnson original or the other way around - sheeeeit, I'll take it the other way please.

It's happened before... I mean George Lucas did me a huge solid with creating the thing in the first place, but when I look back at his filmography and ask myself would I rather have had him spend decades on tinkering with special editions of the trilogy and the prequel trilogy or maybe work on another THX-1138 or even American Graffiti... it's no contest.

And now there's talk (maybe it's a joke... it's a joke, right?) about Quentin Tarantino doing a Star Trek movie, and Martin Scorsese making a Joker origin picture for the DCU? Things that as a franchise fan might sound fun at first quickly turn to nervous chuckles when you consider the pace of their output and their mortality.

I mean, did we dodge a bullet with David Lynch not doing Return of the Jedi (something I'd actually love to have seen - as much as I enjoy Dune I'd love to have seen his Jabba the Hutt sequence)? Or Darren Aronofsky's Batman? Edgar Wright's Ant Man?

I do think James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy is possibly his best work as well as something special and personalized injected into the MCU and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok sounds like it may be as well, but I hope these are launchpads for funding of their future projects rather than their permanent residence for the next decade.

I was hoping Sam Raimi's turn doing Spider-Man was going to infuse a huge franchise with a weird sensibility, but... not so much. I do think it worked for Tim Burton's Batman and especially Batman Returns, which incidentally is one of my favorite Christmas movies.

Anyway, happy happy, everybody.

We'll always have Looper.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Beautiful Trash

Just picked up my own copy of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats, the latest lingering, loving look at 'the pulps,' edited by Ian McIntyre and Andrew Nette. I love this kind of thing - in depth looks at the lurid, mass-market yet still underground, arts of yesteryear, presented as scholarly social study, but in place of a dry monotone it's clearly a labor of love and an endeavor of enthusiasm.

Because... all the thoughtfulness is appreciated and engaging, but the real value of these type of books is in collecting all the great artwork (poster art - cover art) in one place. If you don't have your own library of pulp novels or VHS/16mm grindhouse movies, you can still lose yourself in the garish garbage of the artwork and re-live your first awakening and attraction to working out anxieties via engaging narrative.

For me these books recall my favorite part of weekly trips to the grocery store with my mom - I'd get a nickel and walk by the newsstand taking in the western, fantasy, romance, crime and science fiction paperbacks with my tiny peepers on the way to the gumball machine, or visits to out of town cousins discovering the closet full of Robert E. Howard books, or countless hours spent wandering the aisles of video stores imagining the stories the pictures represented (because I was not going to be allowed to watch them).

And that's... an important thing to note.

Often the jacket art is more important in the long run than the books/films themselves. It's the cover design that sells us, grabs our attention and infects us with an itch, or rather enflames the itch we didn't know was already within... Regardless of how satisfying said book or film actually turned out to be, the awakening, the realization that we have an appetite is what inspires us to become active agents in our own evolution.

If we have a hunger... there must be a satisfaction out there somewhere.

If you visit my home you'll be able to browse my physical media - books, films, albums - but these types of books - these collections of artworks are among the most valuable objects I own.

A few favorites from my shelves...

The Art of Noir by Eddie Muller

Cult Magazines A to Z by Earl Kemp, Luis Ortiz

Dames, Dolls and Delinquents by Gary Lovisi

Dope Menace by Stephen J. Gertz

Film Posters: Exploitation by Tony Nourmand, Graham Marsh

Men's Adventure Magazines by Max Allan Collins, George Hagenauer

Pulp Art by Robert Lesser

Science Fiction of the 20th Century by Frank M. Robinson, Ann G. Bennett

Teenage Confidential by Michael Barson, Steven Heller

Trash by Jacques Boyreau

Furthering the argument that the advertising's importance often trumps the actual product's check out Stephen Romano's Shock Festival - a collection of poster art, lobby cards and memorabilia for non-existent horror films. Beautiful.

Scott Adlerberg has a nice piece on Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats at Lithub and if you're inclined to digitally ingest pulp art you'd do well to follow Christa Faust's or Will Viharo's social media platforms.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bad Hombres

Have I fucking shown you this picture of fucking Ron Hansen holding a fucking copy of fucking Peckerwood? Have I? Fucking, Ron-The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford-Hansen? That fucking guy?

Yeah, he was just being nice, but still... kinda made my day.

This picture of me holding a copy of his far superior Desperadoes probably doesn't make us square, but that's as close as it'll get.

Recently Brian Lindenmuth posted on FB about an interview in The Nation with Hernan Diaz, author of In the Distance, in which Diaz talks about the state of the western genre and why/how he chose to write one now. I don't think I know anybody who knows as much or thinks as much about westerns than Brian, so I'll not weigh in on the issues that alternately intrigued and irked him there. I'll just say, I was reading Robert Olmstead's latest, Savage Country, at the time the FB post was made and was thinking about westerns myself and wondering why I didn't read more of them.

It occurs to me you might not read westerns as often as you ought either. I think the mythic American West is fertile ground for crime fiction and the range cowboy is the probably the closest ancestor of the hardboiled private detective in the evolution of popular fable. As a fan of crime fiction I (and probably you) would most likely enjoy reading more westerns.

So... here's a few recentish ones I've enjoyed. Apologies if you're tired of me trotting out the same few titles every couple years (I'm not including titles by Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry as those are the two authors cited in the Diaz interview, but I've read and enjoyed westerns by both and hope you have too).

Close Range/Bad Dirt - Annie Proulx - Also known as Wyoming Stories 1&2 - I dig short story collections and I dig Proulx's prose and characters - hardworn people in a hardscrabble country. She's got heart and an authorially admirable absence of pity.

Coal Black Horse/Far Bright Star - Robert Olmstead - As I mentioned earlier, I'm reading his latest now and I really fucking dig his shit. Read Far Bright Star before Casey Affleck's film adaptation lands and you too can be as cool as me.

Cottonwood/Hop Alley - Scott Phillips - These two tell parts of the story of Bill Ogden - grandfather to The Walkaway/The Adjustment's Wayne Ogden - as he makes and loses monies and loves by means legitimate and crooked, and by just fates and by cosmic fuckery. For a hint at what other Bill tales there may be yet to come read the short story Bill in Wyoming in Rum, Sodomy & False Eyelashes.

Deadwood - Pete Dexter - David Milch better watch his back.

Desperadoes/The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford/The Kid - Ron Hansen - Based on the exploits of The Dalton Gang, The James Gang and Billy the Kid respectively these novels are the goods.

The Dove and the Crow - Joseph Hirsh - Super slim and packed full of blood and weird.

Drop Edge of Yonder - Rudolph Wurlitzer - Wild shit, mon frère.

The Heavenly Table - Donald Ray Pollock - More savagery and perversion than you've laughed at this year. Pollock's a must read every time.

Hell at the Breech/Smonk - Tom Franklin - Hell at the Breech is a damn good book and sturdy as hell, but friends, Smonk is a bad seed of a book, just shot through with gleeful malevolence and rabidly entertaining. Whatever penance Franklin's subsequently paid to the deities of 'respected literary figure careers' they are/will all be worth it because Smonk exists.

Pig Iron - David James Keaton - I keep saying such and such is a strange one, then I arrive at Pig Iron. Sheeeit.

Woe to Live On - Daniel Woodrell - I've mentioned this one before, right? Just fuckin read it already. As much as I like Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil (particularly the director's cut), the source novel is more savage, more heartbroken and more stirring page by page.

And shit, I still haven't got to Court Merrigan's Broken Country - but look at that shit - that's gonna be dope.