Friday, May 8, 2020

Arky Fulla Malarky

Appreciated Jen Johans having me on her podcast Watch With Jen & Friends to talk about what we're watching and reading during quarantime. I took the opportunity to suggest an Eastern seaboard small town crime double feature of Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole's Blow the Man Down and Kevin McMullin's Low Tide. Both are feature directorial debuts with a lot of promise. No idea whether Krudy and Savage Cole's will be an ongoing partnership nor whether any of the parties will continue to focus on crime stores, but I was very pleased with each and you can tune in here to listen to my ramblings (and consider contributing to Jen's patreon).

On the episode I mentioned I was reading John Brandon's Arkansas in anticipation of the movie's imminent release. Happy to say, I dug both. I read and very much enjoyed Brandon's second novel Citrus County some ten years ago and snatched up a copy of Arkansas which then sat on my shelf until I saw the movie was coming and decided I really needed to read the book first.

Hoo-boy, I loved the book. Like really loved it. Even more so than I remember loving Citrus County (which I named one of my favorites of the year back when I wrote about books for that other site). It was funny and warm toward its characters without sparing them anything and as fun as the dialogue and actions were to imagine as onscreen antics it was most definitely a book - the structure was a little tricky with multiple POV characters and non-linear chapters. A successful film adaptation was going to be tricky.

Enter rookie feature writer/director Clark Duke, best known as an actor in connection with Rob Corddry in Hot Tub Time Machine (a movie I really love, btw) who also cast himself as Swin, opposite Liam Hemsworth's Kyle in an effort to break free from the type-casting rut he'd found himself in as a performer. Their odd-couple at the heart of the film are supported by Vince Vaughn, John Malkovich, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vivica A. Fox and Eden Brolin.

I really liked the film and loved the book and I'd encourage you to check out both.

Over at Daily Grindhouse I was the guest Stream Warrior this week and recommended a few overlooked, forgotten and small crime flicks currently available on Tubi, Netflix and Prime. You'll have to go on over there to see the picks, but I promise a mix of straight up trash, exploitation, innovation and A-list quality projects that completely missed with audiences.

Okay - I'll let you in on one of the picks, 'cause I really enjoyed rewatching it this week - Steve Kloves' Flesh & Bone starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan and Gwenyth Paltrow. Man, it didn't do shit when it came out, but it's a great little noir full of wonderful details that feels a lot like a Jim Thompson story to me... sure, I can see why it wasn't a blockbuster hit, but it was most definitely made for me.

And how cool was it to see S.A. Cosby's Blacktop Wasteland gracing the cover of Booklist magazine for just a minute. Turns out the cover upset some folks so much that Booklist decided to take it down and reprint the issue with a new cover. Fucking bummer man. Shawn's a real talent, a generous personality and a success story everybody can root for, right?  At least Booklist gave him a chance to respond publicly to the situation. You can read his response here and you can also read his twitter responses to the whole thing. Here's hoping Blacktop Wasteland is the breakthrough book for tomorrow's favorite new crime writer.

Shawn's contributed pieces to HBW several times in the last few years, if you're not familiar with him you can read those here, then if you can pre-order Blacktop Wasteland I heartily recommend that you do.

Another pal several hours into his fifteen minutes and not slowing down is William Boyle. His new book City of Margins is out and worth seeking out however you have access to books. He's guest edited byNWR's latest issue, the noir issue, Dark Brink of Love and he's brought along a host of contributors I'm a fan of... Scott Adlerberg, Ace Atkins, Marya E. Gates, Gabino Iglesias, Mary Miller, J. David Osbourne, Jack Pendarvis, Sarah Weinman and more. Check that shit out.

You can also get your fill of Bill on a previous episode of Watch With Jen & Friends and on a recent episode of Increment Vice with Travis Woods. (also check out Daily Grindhouse's Jon Abrams on the latest episode). In these times of isolation it's been nice to tune in and have the chance to hear pals chatting about the stuff I'm interested in. Good stuff.

Another N@B alum having a moment is Kansas City comic writer and artist Ande Parks whose graphic novel Ciudad (co-written by Joe and Anthony Russo) adapted into the fucking sweet action movie Extraction starring Chris Hemsworth. Ultra-violent and really great stunts and camera work, I loved it.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Towering Infernoir

Had a lot of fun going back to Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men preparing for an appearance on the All the President's Minutes podcast. Pakula was on fucking fire for a stretch in the seventies crafting stylistically bold, innovative and influential films that smoldered, simmered and blazed on their own, but became some kind of towering infernoir of thematically scathing, acid-baths scalding off any sheen left on the American experiment. If you were going to compile a list of paranoia/conspiracy thriller all-timers you'd surely have to include Klute, The Parallax View and All the President's Men. You'd have to. Have to. You would.

As much as I admire Pakula and All the President's Men, it's not one I'd watched in probably twenty years (Klute's the one I re-watch the most), so revisiting I was a little shocked by how quietly it had set the template for so much of what followed. I enjoyed revisiting Dick (and even said I identified much more with Will Ferrell and Bruce McCullough's Woodward & Bernstein than I did Redford and Hoffman's - can't believe I actually admitted that publicly) and watching The Final Days. even snuck Elvis & Nixon in there because why the hell not - (btw Michael Shannon's Elvis is a performance you really need to experience. I've very much enjoyed recent depictions of The King including his and Ron Livingston's from Shangri-La Suite - I like how Elvis -and Nixon- have become mythic, larger than life figures to have a take on rather than historic figures to portray as strictly accurately as possible). 




My teenaged son sat in with me for a viewing and I especially enjoyed getting his perspective as a first time viewer relatively unexposed to Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards, as well as fuzzy on the story of Woodward & Bernstein and Richard Nixon. All of that is discussed in the episode which you can listen to here.

The dogged pursuit of the the story in All the President's Men is complimented by the determination of All the President's Minutes' creator and host, Blake Howard. You may know his name from previous projects exploring his cinematic obsessions as the host of One Heat Minute, The Last (12 Minutes) of the Mohicans, The Take, Con(Ten)gen and as producer of Icrement Vice, Josie and the Podcasts and surely more to come including an examination of David Fincher's Zodiac and Michael Mann's Miami Vice.

Of fucking course.

Anyway, you should check out Blake's work including his essays and reviews. Most things Howard-centric can be found at the One Heat Minute Productions website.

Another one I recently revisited with my son was John McTiernan's The Hunt For Red October (talk about another on-fucking-fire-for-a-hot-minute guy: Predator, Die Hard, The Hunt For motherfucking Red October - fuck), I followed it up with my first viewing of Wolfgang Peterson's Das Boot which was yeah, great. Struck me that both films ask of American audiences that they ditch nationalism for humanity and sympathize with "the enemy," which is always a big ask for us, but maybe never more timely. Afterward I read Priscilla Page's terrific essay on Red October (knowing it was out there certainly contributed to my interest to revisit) and found she'd laid it out there even better than I just did.
Couple John McTiernan observations occurred to me though - the first is addressed in Page's piece, the similar framing device of Die Hard's John McClane and October's Jack Ryan being vulnerable heroes who have to deal with significant anxiety about flying. 
Compare McClane & Ryan's early scenes to our introduction to the mercs in McTiernan's Predator -all eager to outdo the other's macho posturing during the turbulent helicopter ride to the action - the mercs end up slaughtered when they encounter an adversary they can't understand. Seems like a clear understanding of your own vulnerability is a big key to surviving a McTiernan movie. 

Then there's that nationalism that both the antagonists of Red October and Die Hard's exceptional thieves count on the Americans being blinded by and unable to perceive what's really going on. The mercs in Predator are the "buckaroos" (Sean Connery's) Ramius knows will fuck it all up. Meanwhile McClane slips Hans Gruber's generalization of Americans who all want to be John Wayne by being more partial to Roy Rogers -the signing cowboy- actually.

I dunno, stood out. Maybe it's the pandemic.



Thanks to Jordan Harper's Letterboxd review I jumped on Golgo 13: The Professional and found the first anime feature I've ever enjoyed. It's on Prime now and I highly recommend checking it out. It's so stylish it's easy to see where folks from Michael Mann to John Woo and Christopher Nolan found inspiration for their visual storytelling. Based on the popular Manga, it's only one of several film and television adaptations including two 1970s live-action turns from Ken Takakura and Sonny Chiba. I watched a few and 1983's The Professional stands high above all of them.

During this pandemic I've been mining Ryan Jackson's Twitter feed for gold tracking his progress as he explores crime films of the 60s, 70s and 80s especially foreign imports. I've watched a lot of new to me titles based on his posts - sometimes just the poster and other times a review. I'd had Michael Apted's The Squeeze on my to-watch list for some time, but seeing Ryan's review made me finally get off my duff and watch it and ho-lee-shit it's the best new to me 70s crime picture I've seen in a while. Just fucking cold, hard, misanthropic nastiness. Really terrific. Stacy Keach is fantastic. Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanJackson.

A bunch of the stuff Ryan's been watching are Italian Poliziotteschis of the 70s, a category I only started exploring myself a few years ago when I stumbled on to the works of Fernando Di Leo (who remains my favorite, most consistently good, director in the genre (though I've seen a stinker from him too). Basically the Italians flooded the market with their knockoffs of iconic American cop and gangster films making many hundreds of these pictures in such quick succession that the novelty quickly wore off and the quality dropped fast. But holy shit, the good ones are among the best crime films I've ever seen.

If you're new to them I'd recommend Anne Billson's piece Italy, Armed to the Teeth, on her favorites as a starting place or check out Mike Malloy's documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s now available for free on Tubi (and I heard it's coming to Prime soon).

I've enjoyed a lot of film docs recently because sometimes I need to take a break from watching films and instead watch films about films. A few I've especially enjoyed?

All the Colors of Giallo - Federico Caddeo - Nice overview of the genre's roots and the Italian film makers who defined the movement. It's available on Prime.

American Grindhouse - Elija Drenner - All the drive-in and grindhouse genres covered in this one now available on Prime and Kanopy.

De Palma - Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow - A film by film examination of Brian De Palma's body of work including brand new input with the man himself. Now available on Netflix and Kanopy.

Easy Riders & Raging Bulls - Kenneth Bowser - A look at the end of the big-studio system and the rise of independent film movement and New Hollywood.

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - Mark Hartley - The unlikely rise, ridiculous run and inevitable fall of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the dudes behind Cannon Films who left its mark on the 1980s.

Inside Deep ThroatFenton Bailey, Randy Barbato - A look at the cultural event that was Deep Throat and how it changed popular culture's relationship with pornography as well as the big business of porn and organized crime. Now on DirecTV and Starz.

The Kid Stays in the Picture Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen - Based on the memoir of the same name by Robert Evans, the outsized ego behind a lot of your favorite pictures from New Hollywood era. Now on DirecTV and Starz.

Los Angeles Plays Itself - Thom Andersen - A look at the way the city has been represented in film for decades from iconic locales to the shifting demographics and identities of the natives and residents. Now on Kanopy and Mubi.

Machete Maidens Unleashed - Mark Hartley - A look at the Filipino film industry in the 70s with the explosion of western exposure with a lot of focus on Roger Corman (and, Cirio H. Santiago of course). Available on Hoopla.

Milius - Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson - A look behind the myth and rumors about John Milius. Always an entertaining subject. Now available on Tubi, Hoopla and Prime.

OvernightMark Brian Smith, Tony Montana - The story of Troy Duffy is a hilarious cautionary tale of the dangers having a drop of talent matched with an outsized ego. Find it on Hoopla.

Remake, Remix, Rip-Off - Cem Kaya - A fascinating look at the cultural evolution of Turkish cinema. The inspiration, innovation and hutzpah the performers, and directors needed to pull off these cheap and wild films is incredible.

The SarnosWiktor Ericsson - Story of sexploitation filmmaker Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. Dunno why I'm so fascinated by the dirty stuff, but there you go. Available on Popcornflix.

Survival of the Film FreaksKyle Kuchta, Bill Fulkerson - Fans, curators, film makers and distributors of the 21st century explore the idea, history and experience of 20th century cult films and speculate on the future. Now streaming on Prime.

Trumbo - Peter Askin - The story of Dalton Trumbo with special focus on his fight against HUAC and the blacklist with dramatic readings of his personal correspondence. Now on Kanopy and Prime.

Few more of my favorites films about films listed here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Ike, Mike & Mustard

Had an absolute blast hanging out on The Projection Booth podcast again, this time to discuss Shane Black's Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Man, I miss seeing people, but I tell you what, if you ever get the chance to chat with Mike White and Andrew Nette on the phone I highly recommend you take it.

I hope you'll listen and enjoy the conversation, but even if you have no interest in our discussion you should tune in for Mike's interview with Shane himself. That's right - Black and White in conversation. Listen here.
Of course along the way we also talk about other Shane Black movies, their common themes, tropes and obsessions as well as pulp detective books like the Michael Shayne series by Brett Halliday (KKBB is loosely based on his novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them),

Johnny Gossamer (screenwriter Black's stand-in for Michael Shayne whose non-existent books inspire the mindset and decision making of the KKBB's characters) and Raymond Chandler. (whose book titles are used as chapter titles in KKBB).

There's so much fucking yakkity-yak going on in this episode you can barely hear the talking monkey in the background.

Ficus!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Ghost Who Walks

Heads up on this year's future CrimesMas favorite, Cody Stokes' The Ghost Who Walks now available on Netflix. I've been anxious for folks to get a look at this one for a while now. It stars Garland Scott as a man just released from prison with a very specific goal: reunite with his girlfriend and daughter and split town to a new life before the old one can catch up.


He's out because he cut a deal and the former colleagues he informed on are scouring the streets for him while he tries to execute his hastily thrown together plan.

And it's Christmas.

That's it. Simple story, reasonable stakes and enough heart to make the resolution matter.

Personally I'm also here for it's St. Louis backdrop. It was shot in my town and, not living in L.A., New York, Chicago, Vancouver or Atlanta I don't often get the opportunity to recognize the shooting locales from my own day to day life. But objectively I also think it's a good-looking film with its Christmas decor and rustbelt grit - a great setting for a small-time crime oddyssey through the haunted looking alleyways, liquor stores, parking garages and brothels to the 'nice' neighborhoods literally across the street and the flimsy feeling West County white-gilt-edged shopping malls.

Scott is supported by Frank Mosley, Alexia Rasmussen, Dasha Nekrasova, Gil Darnell and Peter Mayer. The late St. Louis stage actor Linda Kennedy has a good turn too. Love to see more of this type of crime picture made locally. Already looking forward to Josh Guffey's All Gone Wrong soon.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Streaming Japanese

 After finally seeing and abso-fucking-lutely loving one of my most anticipated films of last year, First Love, my most recent streaming rabbit hole is catching up on some Takashi Miike, of whom I was already a fan, but an admittedly overwhelmed one (Letterboxd has his film count at 96 currently). Nearly a hundred feature films since 1991 is a ridiculous standard even for schlock, but when you consider the quality, style and variety of his stuff it's even more ridiculous.

Here's a quick break down of what's streaming now if you're looking for Miike titles.

Audition - (suspense/horror) is available on Shudder
Blade of the Immortal - (samurai fantasy) is available on Hoopla
Dead or Alive - (bizzaro yakuza movie) is available on Prime
Dead or Alive 2: Birds is available on Prime
Dead or Alive : Final is available on Prime
First Love - (dirty cop/yakuza cluster fuck comedy) is available on Hoopla
Gozu - (if David Lynch made yakuza movies) is available on Tubi and Prime
The Happiness of the Katakuris - (comedic, horror musical) is available on Tubi and Prime
Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai - (samurai) is available on Tubi and Prime
Ichi the Killer - is available on Hoopla and Shudder
Ley Lines - (street kids, youth crime) is available on Prime
Over Your Dead Body - (horror) is available on Tubi
Rainy Dog - (hitman with a kid and a prostitute in tow) is available on Tubi and Prime
Shinjuku Triad Society - (gang war, dirty cops, organ trade) is available on Prime
Sukiyaki Western Django - (western) is available on Tubi and Prime
13 Assassins - (samurai) is available on Hoopla
Yakuza Apocalypse - (yakuza vampire fantasy) is available on Hoopla

Sticking with Japanese crime filmmakers... Seijun Suzuki's

Born Under Crossed Stars is on Tubi
The Boy Who Came Back is on Prime
Branded to Kill is on Kanopy and Criterion
Kagero-za is on Prime
The Man With a Shotgun is on Prime
Smashing the O-Line is on Prime
Teenage Yakuza is on Prime
Tokyo Drifter is on Kanopy and Criterion
Tokyo Knights is on Prime
Voice Without a Shadow is on Prime
Youth of the Beast is on Criterion
Yumeji is on Prime

I basically think of Takeshi Kitano's yakuza movies like Clint Eastwood's westerns. If that sounds like your bag (stoic, funny, measured, bloody as hell, some he directs as well as stars in) look for these titles currently streaming.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is available on Prime
Boiling Point is available on Tubi, Hoopla and Kanopy
Hana-Bi is available on Tubi Hoopla and Prime
Outrage is available on Tubi, Hoopla and Prime
Beyond Outrage is available on Tubi and Hoopla
Outrage: Coda is available on Hoopla and Prime
Violent Cop is available on Tubi and Hoopla

The yakuza films of Kinji Fukasaku were essential to establishing as well as deconstructing the genre. Right now you can find

(from The Yakuza Papers series)
Battles Without Honor and Humanity on Mubi and Prime
Hiroshima Death Match on Tubi, Mubi and Prime
Proxy War is on Tubi, Mubi and Prime
Police Tactics on Mubi and Prime
Battles Without Honor or Humanity: Final Episode on Tubi, Mubi and Prime
New Battles Without Honor and Humanity on Tubi and Prime
The Boss's Head on Prime
Last Days of the Boss on Prime
also
Battle Royale is on Tubi and Hoopla
Battle Royale II: Requiem is on Tubi
Cops Vs. Thugs is on Kanopy and Prime
Legend of the 8 Samurai is on Tubi
Virus: Day of Resurrection is on Tubi

and Akira Kurosawa is best known for his samurai flicks (and the western adaptations like A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing and The Magnificent Seven - also let's not forget Star Wars), but his crime pictures like Drunken Angel, High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well and Stray Dog are well worth your time too.

The Bad Sleep Well is on Kanopy and Criterion
Drunken Angel is on Kanopy and Criterion
The Hidden Fortress is on Kanopy and Criterion
High and Low is on Kanopy and Criterion
Kagemusha is on DirecTV
Rashoman is on Kanopy and Criterion
Red Beard is on Kanopy and Criterion
Sanjuor is on Kanopy and Criterion
Scandal is on Criterion
The Seven Samurai is on Criterion
Stray Dog is on Kanopy and Criterion
Throne of Blood is on Kanopy and Criterion
Yojimbo is on Kanopy and Criterion

Plenty more of course - hope you're staying home and staying safe.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Hairy Canopy: Thomas Wickersham on Hop Alley and Scott Phillips

My first exposure to Scott Phillips was an unwitting one. I took my high school girlfriend to see the movie adaptation of Phillips’s novel The Ice Harvest. It has been fifteen years since that night, but I still remember the delight I felt in that theater as each gleefully amoral twist of strip club sleaze unfolded, all while I was working up the nerve to hold my girlfriend’s hand.

When I was asked a month ago to write something about Scott Phillips’s 2014 novel Hop Alley, high school kids could still go to the movies. Now the world feels scarier. My current girlfriend and I only leave our apartments to shop for groceries and see each other. We can’t go out to restaurants or the movies. But we read to each other: The Decameron, Irish Ghost Stories, The Wind in the Willows, Krazy Kat comic strips, and Hop Alley.

Like all of Scott Phillips’s books, Hop Alley is odd. Nominally a Western, it tells the story of Bill Ogden, a fellow of great education and lesser morals who operates a photography studio in 1870s Denver, Colorado. Hop Alley is not a sequel, nor a prequel, but a segment of Bill Ogden’s life, bookended on either side by Cottonwood, the novel in which Phillips introduced the character 10 years prior. There is plenty of action to be found in Hop Alley including fornication, multiple homicides, a riot, and a jailbreak. But none of these attractions are why one should read the book.

Scott Phillips’s books shouldn’t be read for their plots, but for the sensibilities of their author. Phillips makes misery feel jaunty. He makes corruption seem benign. His protagonists do dreadful deeds yet somehow never cross the line into cartoon villainy. His books are exceptionally readable, yet difficult to classify They are books that are as reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio as they are of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. Scott Phillips is a masterful perversion of Americana.

I told my girlfriend that the dirty parts of Hop Alley were particularly raunchy. I failed to find them on my initial scan, so I started reading the book to her from the beginning. She was enraptured by the storytelling long before I had the chance to scandalize her with the post-coital passage I was searching for,

…rolling slightly toward me to afford a better view of her lovely sex, its labia dark and glistening, a microscopically thin strand of semen suspended delicately across the hair canopy just above it.

This morning my girlfriend was half-asleep as I started reading to her from The Wind in the Willows. There is a description of a river, the river, with its “silvery shoulder and foamy tumble of a weir” that makes joining Rat and Mole on their picnic sound like paradise. When I finished the passage she turned to me and said, “Until you said ‘Mole’ I thought you were reading from Hop Alley.”

I want Scott Phillips to keep writing his wonderfully odd books. I want to read those books sitting by that river whose beauty makes Mole cry “Oh my!” I want my girlfriend to keep rolling slightly toward me in the mornings. I want to be able to take her to the movies again.

Scott Phillips' latest novel That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available now from Soho Books. Grab a copy at your favorite local bookstore through Indie Bound or from

Subterranean Books (they'll have signed editions)

Barnes & Noble

Thomas Wickersham is the manager of The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest mystery specialty bookstore in the world, located in New York City. He can be found on Twitter at @TomWickersham.