Friday, August 31, 2018

Perdita, Perdita

This week on the 7 Minutes With (Do Some Damage) podcast I'm recommending a double bill of writer/director Ryan Prows' feature debut Lowlife and Álex de la Iglesia's Perdita Durango. Both are gonzo pulp crime flicks full of over the top awfulness and humor. Lowlife feels a bit like a multi-focal Robert Altman ensemble packed with weirdos criss-crossing on their way down the drain. Any of the characters could've supported their own feature, but instead we get a collection of stories that all end in the same spot.

When I talk about people who write interconnected stories one of my favorites is Barry Gifford whose Sailor & Lula chronicles are among my favorite fictional universes populated with characters as sweet and depraved as any you'd care to name. Said universe is probably most widely known through the David Lynch film Wild at Heart, based on the first novel in the series. The next volume, Sailor's Holiday, includes a chapter/novella called 59 Degrees and Raining: The Story of Perdita Durango (also released in paperback as Perdita Durango). If you've seen the Lynch film, Perdita Durango is the character played by Isabella Rossellini and as fucking cool and great as she is, she's a far cry from the heat and ferocity brought to the same character by Rosie Perez in the Álex de la Iglesia film adaptation, Perdita Durango (also released in a different cut as Dance With the Devil).
Perez is a force of nature in the role and she's only half of the screen. The other half belongs to Javier Bardem's Romeo - a psycho killer, bank robber, carny con-man and when the two of them get together it results in combustion.

Both Lowlife and Perdita Durango approach crime material with a good dose of gonzo energy and if you've seen other Iglesia pictures (like The Last Circus or Witching & Bitching... pretty much anything except The Oxford Murders - what was up with that?) then you know what I'm talking about. They're not going to be for everybody, but they're going to be delicious little discoveries for some of you.

Outside of say... Pulp Fiction or the Sin City flicks, I'm having difficulty thinking of other specifically crime movies that do the whole interwoven narratives ensemble thing, but I'd love suggestions if you've got any. I just love well-done fare like that. I like to watch it, I like to read it, I like to write it. You know who else does?  Steve Weddle. On the episode I didn't miss the opportunity to mention his own contribution to the field, Country Hardball, but he y'know edited it out... so it sounds like I'm making him the butt of a joke rather than making him the butt of a joke and actually plugging his book. You should all go read his book.

Another book you might consider reading?

The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong. It's the first English-language translation by the author who is a best seller in Korea - land of the kick-ass crime flick. It's the first Korean crime fiction I've read and thanks to Minsoo Kang and Steph Cha I got the opportunity to write about it for The Los Angeles Review of Books.

It was kind of perfect for me because it's about a weirdo without a social life who's obsessed with movies...and might be a matricidal psychopath. Anyway, it gave me the chance to talk about movies a lot in a book review.

Films like The Bucket List, American Ultra and especially City of God figure into the actual plot of The Good Son while I used the opportunity to talk about other flicks the book reminded me of like Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure and David Lynch's Lost Highway, but considering the subject matter and Korean setting, I think Bong Joon-Ho's Mother is the film begging to be talked about alongside The Good Son (which I've seen compared to Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley as well).

Lastly, be sure to mark October 20 on your calendars and make plans to attend N@B-Pumpkin Spice Ed. It'll be your chance to hear N@B favorites Shaw L. Coney, Fred Venturini and Josh Woods return as well as first timers Seth Ferranti, Sarah Jilek, Kenny Kinds, Jessica Leonard and Kea Wilson. See you then.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I Like Spike

On the latest episode of the Do Some Damage podcast I'm talking about Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. Have you seen it? You should, I think it's a minor miracle for several reasons. First, it's fueled by and focused on the stuff of Spike's best works: race, politics, love and justice. Second, it's not only righteously angry throughout, it's riotously funny at points. And third, it effectively subverts the intent of KKK National Director David Duke's mission to make White Nationalism mainstream by having the first real mainstream movie moment of characters inviting the audience to cheer along to chants of 'Black Power!'

And gawl dang if you don't want to. It doesn't feel subversive, or edgy or dangerous it feels fucking mainstream and like something we should all be happy to chant along with. All due respect to Get Out and Black Panther, but BlacKkKlansman clarifies the moment and makes it explicit and bold and an audience-pleaser all at once.

Of course after the rousing and satisfying climax of the movie's plot, Spike sends us out on a note of recognition that Ron Stallworth and the forces of good may have won a minor battle, but that the war is most definitely still churning on and though the film feels absolutely mainstream the country is in the grips of some ugly shit on every level. It's an effective call to arms without being an absolute bummer. Lemme say it again - it's a fun movie.

It's a movie of its time and it's not the first time Spike's made a popular entertainment that addressed a national moment head on. David Benioff's first novel was released on September 11, 2001 and was instantly eclipsed by the real events of the day. It was already in development as a film though and Spike delivered the first and probably best mainstream film to deal directly with the day's tragedy.

You can catch The 25th Hour to rent or buy on most streaming services now and if you've never seen it, I'd highly recommend doing so. The one signature aspect of Spike Lee's film making identity not on display in BlacKkKlansman is his identity as a New Yorker. With The 25th Hour he took the new century's New York-est moment and turned in the appropriately New Yorkiest movie about it. I'm not a NYC guy, but damn, I can get behind this flick.

Spike's on a roll. After the pleasingly odd Da Sweet Blood of Jesus I was especially excited by Chiraq (a kitchen sink blast funded by bounced checks written for fucks) and BlacKkKlansman proves he can deliver power and pleasure and not sacrifice popular.

If you've got a subscription to Filmstruck you can check out their Best of Blaxsploitation collection to play along with the conversation John David Washington and Laura Harrier have in BlacKkKlansman about films of the day - they specifically argue the Shaft vs. Super Fly dichotomy. Both of those films are included in the collection as well as The Mack, Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, Black Belt Jones, Cleopatra Jones and a Rudy Ray Moore double feature: Petey Wheatstraw and Dolemite.

Speaking of Rudy Ray Moore, I just heard that the Eddie Murphy as RRM flick, Dolemite is My Name is a Craig Brewer joint. That there is three very distinct layers of interest to put into one movie. Never mind the rest of that cast: Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Tituss Burgess, T.I., Mike Epps... Consider my ticket bought.

And shit, I meant to catch the SuperFly remake that was out this summer. I've heard good things. Did you see it?

While we're talking about pimps, the documentary Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp is free on Prime right now and it features one of my favorite talking heads, Gary Phillips. Get on that.

Finally, in the wake of Spike Lee's recent remakes, Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, Bill Gunn's Ganja & Hess (as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus) and his own She's Gotta Have It now being a Netflix original TV series, you'd be forgiven for any confusion as to BlacKkKlansman's origins. It's based on the memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth and is not a remake of Ted V. Mikels' The Black Klansman (aka I Crossed the Color Line) from 1966 which is currently available on Prime.

Also, I assume you're all tuning into the podcast for Steve Weddle, Chris Holm and Holly West. You should be, anyhow.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Gleeson For the Season

I watched a lot of Brendan Gleeson movies this week. But not enough. I don't think of myself as having a favorite actor, but some days... some days it's this guy. Fuck, he's good. Concentrated on crime flicks of course, which means he's playing gangsters and cops. I've included some links here so that you can play along at home.

First up I was so happy to find Paddy Breathnach's  I Went Down was on Prime. It's a film I've wanted to see for twenty years and somehow always eluded me. Now I have. And you can too. You'd be a right cunt not to seize this opportunity to catch it.

Followed that up with Adam Smith's Trespass Against Us. At least my third viewing and it still broke my heart and jacked my pulse and made me laugh. I fucking love this movie. More crime movies with this kind of heart, please. Fuck me, it's beautiful. It's on Prime now if you haven't caught it yet.

Only my second viewing of John Boorman's undersung The General about real criminal and folkhero Martin Cahill. It's so utterly charming and worth seeking out. Glad it beat Thaddeus O'Sullivan's Ordinary Decent Criminal with Kevin Spacey in the lead role (inspired by Cahill) into theaters by a few months as it's the clearly superior offering. Dudes, it's also on Prime.

Another first time viewing was Gillies MacKinnon's Trojan Eddie featuring Gleeson in a supporting role as an enforcer for small time gangster, Richard Harris, whose son, Stephen Rea, is just out of prison and resisting his influence. Also on Prime.

Didn't find John Michael McDonagh's The Guard on any major streaming service so I broke out my well-worn DVD for a fourth? Fifth? watch. I loved both McDonagh brothers' films last year, but was a little disturbed to realize neither had utilized Gleeson as they're so fond of doing.

John Michael McDonagh brought Gleeson back in his second feature, Calvary. This time, in an about-face on the gleefully compromised yet somehow uncorrupted copper of The Guard, Gleeson plays a good and straight-man priest trying to balance atoning for the church's sins with protecting his own life when it's threatened by a victim of sexual abuse from a priest.

And JMM's brother, Martin McDonagh, has also used him twice. Most notably as the conflicted hitman enjoying his holiday, and suffering his pouty partner, Colin Farrell, in In Bruges (available on Netflix)

as well as in the wonderful short film, Six Shooter, which really distills both McDonagh brothers' essence nicely. Equal measures profane and profoundly sad with outrageous dialogue and of course Gleeson being the key ingredient holding it all together. It's on fookin YouTube.

Another first time viewing and another short film this week: Noreen. Written and directed by Brendan's son Domhnall Gleeson and co-starring another son, Brian Gleeson. Father and son play police partners royally fucking up covering up their fuck up of a crime scene. Check it out on Prime or also on YouTube.

That does it for my week in Gleesonland. A magical place and a shithole.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Ready Reader One

 Bearskin - James A. McLaughlin - Dude trying to stay under the radar for fear of a death sentence from a Mexican drug cartel takes on a new identity and a position as a gamekeeper on a federal preserve. It's ideal in that it keeps him pretty isolated from humanity, but it's also the kind of job that makes him unpopular with the local good ol' boys who regard his anti-poaching stance as some hippy bullshit. Since his predecessor in the position was horribly assaulted in the line of duty the higher ups figured putting someone of his physical build and potentially prickly demeanor on the job might send a message to the ne'er do wells prone to ne'er doing well on the protected land. When it's not describing the flora and fauna like it's a lost volume of The Lord of the Rings, Bearskin sometimes reads like a lost Elmore Leonard novel in the way the characters don't simply follow behavioral blueprints through familiar thriller territory. The wildness in the character feeling the call of the wild makes for a couple outstanding and memorable passages while a few of the boilerplate thriller bits dull the edges.

Blood Standard - Laird Barron - Pretty straight-up hardboiled fare that hits all the beats with a satisfying crunch. It's high pulp fare tempered by tone that somehow makes it feel grounded in a reality we don't quite recognize, but suspect isn't too far fetched (we get a good return on our willful suspension of disbelief). If Stephen Hunter had criminal protagonists and spent only about a third of the time he does on firearms it might feel like this (that's a healthy recommendation).

Chicago - David Mamet - Plenty of good Mametian bits here for those of us that love what he does, but I get it if anybody feels let down by the book based on expectations built by the title and cover art. It's not exactly a thrilling prohibition era gangland tale. What it is is an occasionally thrilling, often humorous and sometimes tragic collection of essays and stories delivered as anecdotes over food and drinks between the archetypes of the time - newspaper men, vice operators, semi-legit gangsters, ex-soldiers. Mamet is fascinated by hustlers, con men and survivors and the ways we accept and or bargain with corruption as a fact of life. It's talky the way you'd expect from a play write, in the way you'd be disappointed not to get from as acute an ear as Mamet's, but the story doesn't move with the pace his pulpiest movies can. Where Heist, Spartan, Ronin and The Untouchables are chock-full of great lines in service of high-octane tales this one feels more like House of Cards, The Spanish Prisoner or American Buffalo in the pace of seduction. I don't think the characters are particularly memorable, but their insights, takeaways and attitudes offer some pretty great impressions of a specific place and time and the kind of people who flourished and perished therein.

Child of God - Cormac McCarthy - Am I a bad person for thinking it was mostly pretty funny or is thinking it was mostly pretty funny just evidence that I'm a bad person?

Cotton Comes to Harlem - Chester Himes - A con man ripping off the poor black population has his haul hijacked by a larger white con operation stoking racial tensions and piling bodies up on the streets of Harlem. When the chief gives detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones a free hand to deal with the situation they turn out the pockets of the whole neighborhood in a spectacularly blunt show of force and panache. My favorite thing about Himes' Harlem cycle is the loving attention he gives to all the neighborhood characters each with carving a hard-knock life out with a little innovation and hustle. He dips from a bottomless well of colorful characters.

Country Dark - Chris Offutt - Story of a straight shooter in a crooked game told with all the laconic confidence and charm we expect of our best southern writers. The particulars of the protagonists' plight are a standout for this type of hardboiled rural fare - he and his young wife continue to have child after child afflicted with developmental abnormalities and are continually harder pressed to make the money that may keep them a nuclear family unit. The big desperate play means taking a pinch that will mean prison time for a gangster that will pay handsomely. Guess what? Everything goes smoothly and no further complications arise and the gangster honors the spirit of the bargain and all the family problems are solved by money. Or you'll have to read the book for the rest of it. Offutt's return to fiction is a welcome and it's hard to believe it's only his second published novel (he is also the author of two terrific volumes of collected short stories). He remains one of a very few writers I'll read regardless of book type - essays, memoirs, long or short-form fiction. Just keep em coming.

Edge City - Sin Soracco - An ex con working at an exotic, almost other-worldly bar in San Francisco falls in with old friends, strange benefactors and more than a few who don't want her to go straight. Pretty soon she's roped into a scheme to rip off a dangerous underworld figure and she's pretty sure everyone thinks she's expendable as soon as the job is done. So she does what any reasonable person in her predicament would do; she makes her own plans. I loved Soracco's prison novel, Low Bite, for its wild characters and anecdotal structure. The stranger the story, the more immediate and reality-rooted the whole thing seemed to me. And Edge City too is full of interesting characters driven by odd compulsions toward mostly unseemly goals, but inhabits a distinctly 'other' space - an altered or augmented reality. The prose is slightly hypnotic and we experience the atmosphere of the club - a non-stop, insistent, surreal party - as a sort of limbo where glimpses of paradise intermittently intrude on the ebbing tide carrying the human flotsam off toward an eventual port in hades.

Fatale - Jean-Patrick Manchette - A mysterious woman moves to a new town and familiarizes herself to the local citizenry, probing the secrets of the upper class for what she knows will be a terrible secret that holds the power structure together, in order to disrupt and destroy it all and make off with a fortune. All small towns are the same, but the new one may afford her the opportunity to work out a personal demon or two. The first half of this brief novel is a grotesque comedy of manners and the second half is pure carnage. A comedic meditation on revenge with especially potent imagery in its closing segments.

The Force - Don Winslow - I love dirty cop stuff more than heroic cop stuff because it always feels closer to reality. I love Winslow as a storyteller of rare gifts to tell sweeping, epic stories with immediacy and through intimate lenses. His flare for scan-able prose has never been smoother. While the prose is propulsive, it's dignified - it's not near as flamboyantly showy as he can turn out, nor is it stodgy and formal like an 'important' book can feel. Nor, I might add, is The Force 'an important book' the way The Power of the Dog and The Cartel could be considered. This one is a portrait of a highly skilled cop, a predator of predators, forced into a personal reckoning. It's big and it's grand and tragic every bit as much as it is exciting and morally chewy, but it's a top-shelf work of popular entertainment in an already familiar genre that benefits from the immersive research with credible accuracy backing up the well established short-hand of similar fare. This one's less Michael Mann professionalism than it is Sidney Lumet moral culpability, less The Wire's social realism than The Shield's pulp operatics. I loved this book.

Rocket Ryder & Little Putt-Putt Go Down Swinging - Timothy Friend - When the stars of a forgotten but not gone children's TV show find out they're about to be pulled from broadcast the titular duo consider their options and take bold action. Super brief, but popping with energy. Not a page goes by without an act of violence or perversion and that's a lot of bang for your precious reading-time buck. 

A White Arrest - Ken Bruen - First in a proposed re-read of the Brant series which I used to consider third-tier Bruen behind the Jack Taylor titles and the stand-alones. I now think of Jack Taylor as the third-tier (at least after the first 2 or 3 books) and the Brants as delivering what I really want out of KB - fast, brutal action and zippy lines about drink, drugs, music, film, literature, sex, politics and sport. This is my comfort food

Friday, August 3, 2018

Outta Jail, Raisin Hell

Finally recovered from my N@B hangover and pleased to say the parts I remember were great. The first St. Louis N@B event in a couple trips around the sun kicked off with me reading from my contribution to the new anthology Blood & Gasoline (the Mario Acevedo edited collection that has me sharing space with Gary Phillips, Jon Bassoff, Gabino Iglesias, James R. Tuck and N@B alum Les Edgerton). Amanda Gowin followed that with a reading from her story Cellar's Dog which you can find in the anthology Gutted alongside horror nobodies like Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Coake, Paul Tremblay, Josh Malerman and N@B alum Richard Thomas.

Chris Orlet got into trouble picking up two just-sprung cons and abandoning them to the wilds of southern Illinois in an early chapter from his brand new novel A Taste of Shotgun. You can and should find out what happens next by purchasing that shit right here.

Tawny Pike slew the room with the sexiest and bloodiest reading of the night. You can read part of it in the flash piece Death Dance at Shotgun Honey. The bulk of the story will be available in an upcoming issue of Switchblade - watch the site.

Max Booth III added a Peckerwood reference to a passage from The Nightly Disease, Jen Egan hooked me on her unpublished novel with the opening chapter about a medium learning about the danger inherent in scamming her clientele - at least the ones who are violent criminal types and Scott Phillips gave us a drug deal gone bad and the aftermath from his upcoming novel.

Was great to see other alum there too - Clayton Lindenmuth, Shaw L. Coney and Tim Lane were onhand and holy crap, it'd been too long since I'd seen any of them. If you, like me, can't get enough of Tim's shit - check out his new story B-Girl available on the new free streaming culture site byNWR.

If the initials don't give it away, is the brainchild of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn and it features free content including 'lost' "bad taste movies"(two of which I watched this week Bert Williams's alternately hacky and innovative The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds and Joseph G. Prieto's amazingly titled Shanty Tramp).

I've been a Refn fan since the Pusher trilogy was released over here and was thrilled when his adaptation of James Sallis' Drive raised his profile astronomically. I was even more thrilled when, instead of being co-opted by a major studio franchise or high-profile remake, his next two films doubled and even tripled down on his weirdo fetishist-filmmaker identity. Shit, I'm still surprised Only God Forgives didn't land him in movie jail.

"Movie jail" is a place some of my favorite film makers have spent time or been threatened with after making career-killing films. It's also a place many cinematic offenders deserve to be. This week on the Do Some Damage podcast with Steve Weddle I talk about films by three directors who've been to movie jail.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is the sixth in the ever-innovating and occasionally improving franchise. It's also the first time a director has made a second entry in the series. Christopher McQuarrie has been Tom Cruise's go-to guy (Fallout being the third film he's directed Cruise in and the sixth he's written for the star) in the last ten years.

McQuarrie made his name as the Academy Award nominated screenwriter of 1995's The Usual Suspects. In 2000 his directorial debut Way of the Gun obliterated all of the good will that twist-ended cool criminal movie had built him in exactly half a weekend. Never mind the amazing cast, nor the return of the funny-talking dude from the other movie - where the first flick was clever and slick the new one was really, deeply nasty and cruel and went out of its way to put the audience off their appetite for cheaply held life. The movie tanked hard and nobody helped McQuarrie back up. It would be twelve years before Tom Cruise bailed him out of movie jail by hiring him to write and direct the Lee Child adaptation, Jack Reacher. Way of the Gun is streaming now on Netflix.

Jennifer Lynch's career was nearly over before it began after the debacle that was her directorial debut Boxing Helena quite possibly made more money from Kim Basinger than the rest of the world combined. Basinger was sued for breach of contract when she dropped out of the titular role (following in the footsteps of Madonna in abandoning the project) and ended up paying millions of dollars for the decision. She may still think it was a good deal.

Helena is a strange horror fable with some genuinely weird notions, plus Art Garfunkel, but... yeah, not great.

Fast forward fifteen years to 2008's Surveillance - Lynch's next time behind a feature film. And damn, this one works. Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond play Federal agents poking around some brutal crimes committed in the middle of nowhere. They tangle a bit with the local law types (including Michael Ironside and a surprisingly strong French Stewart) while trying to get a clear story from a young child who might have some important information.

Everybody involved has a different agenda and things get bloody by the end. It's a film made by a director with vision and the chops to realize it. Glad to have Jennifer out of movie jail and hope we get more like this one. Surveillance is available to rent or buy on multiple streaming platforms.

You know who's still in movie jail? Martin Brest that's who. He appears to be in solitary confinement too. There are zero writing, producing or directing credits or even rumors of projects in development that I've heard since 2003's Gigli which... yeah pay a fine or something, but everybody else has moved on from that debacle and I wish the director of Beverly Hill Cop and the absolutely perfect and indispensable Midnight Run had a chance to take another shot.

But Jed, you say, Gigli was fucking awful. To which I'd reply - so was Wise Guys, but Brian De Palma never stopped directing (his next film was The Untouchables) and George Gallo's next writing credit was Midnight Run. I'd sit through a dozen forgettable clunkers on the off-chance something as sublime as Midnight Run was next.

If you've never seen it, get on that shit. This buddy comedy action road movie is one of the very first non-prestige, light entertainments Robert De Niro made after stepping down from the throne of serious acting and were it to be blamed for turning his career into the schlock-fest it's become I'd say it was well worth it because it remains one of the purest movie watching pleasures of my life and only seems to get better with age. 

The cast's chemistry is magic - go ahead and pick your favorite duo from: De Niro and Charles Grodin's odd couple bickering to Dennis Farina and Philip Baker Hall's old married couple dynamic, Joe Pantoliano and Jack Kehoe's schlubby, sleazy charm or Richard Foronjy and Robert Miranda's knockaround idiots - plus Yaphet Kotto and John Ashton's appearances are frequent and not often enough. Even Danny Elfman's original score has personality and is nearly unrecognizable from the autopilot setting he's been locked into for the last twenty five years.

My generation's Butch & Sundance is available to rent or buy on multiple streaming platforms. Don't say a fuckin word, Sidney.