Sunday, December 18, 2016

Felix Navidad

Happy happy, everybody. It's that gift-givingest time of the year again and if you're very lucky you'll receive lots of books. It would be disingenuous of me not to admit that I hope some of you out there are giving and receiving my own titles as gifts.

Take, for instance, this little girl thrilled to finally have her own copy of Fierce Bitches after all her class mates talked it up. Warms my heart to know I'm contributing to literacy in America and that one there is going to have a lifelong love of reading and a penchant for bludgeoning deaths (in her reading material) I just know it.

Thank you and you're welcome, sweetheart.

Somebody special who's getting a book bundle that includes one of mine this year is Philadelphia's own Felix the Helix - the electronic troubadour of so many Noircon attendee's dreams is going to find six lumps of coal with pages in his p.o. box very soon and you too can score this bundle and be like Felix (and hey, go listen to Felix songs for free and decide if you want to join us in the official fan club).

Ghost Money by Andrew Nette
Jungle Horses by Scott Adlerberg
The Little Boy Inside and Other Stories by Glenn Gray
Peepshow by Leigh Redhead
The Throes of Crime by Erik Arneson
and Peckerwood by me.

Merry, merry, Felix from all of us.

If you're really hard-up links to purchase my books are on the right hand side of the your screen, but here are a few recent titles with links for completists out there.

St. Louis Noir - edited by Scott Phillips with contributions from N@B stars Laura Benedict, Jason Makansi, S.L. Coney, LaVelle Wilkins-Chinn, John Lutz and Calvin Wilson, plus Umar Lee, Michael Castro, Chris Barsanti, L.J. Smith, Paul D. Marks and Colleen J. McElroy.

The Year's Best Crime & Mystery Stories 2016 - edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch & John Helfers features my story Twisted Shikse alongside fellow Jewish Noir-ist R.S. Brenner and with contributions by Megan Abbott, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pluck, Mary Higgins Clark, Tendai Huchu, Genevieve Valentine, Amity Gaige, Kelly Washington, Tananarive Due, Annie Reed, Charles Todd, T. Jefferson Parker, Dan Duval, Thomas Pluck, Neil Schofield, Angela Penrose, Carrie Vaughn, SJ Rozan, Thomas H. Cook, René Appel, and Christina Milletti.

Jewish Noir - edited by Kenneth Wishnia is where my story Twisted Shikse first appeared and right now PM Press has it (and other amazing titles) 50% off. This one's got good shit from N@B alum Tasha Kaminsky plus Gary Phillips, Marge Piercy, Harlan Ellison, S. J. Rozan, Nancy Richler, Reed Farrel Coleman (writing as Moe Prager), Jason Starr, Dave Zeltserman, R. S. Brenner, M. Dante, Eddie Muller, Jonathan Santlofer, Travis Richardson, Suzanne Solomon, Wendy Hornsby, Charles Ardai, Stephen Jay Schwartz and more.

I've already received books I'm excited about this week. Shit howdy, I'm ready for Johnny Shaw's Imperial Valley and I already read and dug Bob Truluck's The Big Nothing. Great to have these on the shelf.

Here's hoping yours are filling up and you're returning the favor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Small Crimes

Plenty of high-profile, big-time crime flicks out that I haven't had a crack at yet, but y'know what - I've gobbled up some low-budget, small-profile crime flicks new to Netflix and Redbox and shit recently. Here's what I thought.

The American Side - Can't be a crime fan without loving with consistency the private-eye sub-genre and all of its tropes or at least going through a faze, but the whole thing seems to come out of a by-gone gilded age of mystery fiction and you've got some fucking hoops to jump through to engage me with it now. Co-writer/director Jenna Ricker and Co-writer/star Greg Stuhr tackle the medium-boiled American private detective genre with admirable choices in tone and look and scale for twenty to thirty minutes and get me all excited before letting the story go off the fucking rails into DaVinci Code territory for Tesla nerds and doing terrible tease-y things to my crime boner for the last hour plus. Fuuuuuuck. I watched the whole thing. I'm not sure why. The cast maybe? Jeez every time you look up there's a Harris Yulin, Robert Vaughn or Robert Forster on screen, or fucking Matthew Broderick or Janeane Garofalo and I'm distracted for about five minutes till it's time for the next cameo. Exactly how many actor friends' chits did they call in for this production?

Carnage Park - Writer/director Mickey Keating's crime/horror period piece makes the most of its meager budget in two crucial ways - the cast - which includes the indispensable Pat Healy, the next big that guy James Landry Hebert as well as Ashley Bell and motherfucking Alan Ruck - and it does not skimp on the quality gore. When a pair of bank robbers with a hostage in the trunk flee onto the private property of a sick motherfucker with a sniper rifle, a penchant for booby traps and an understanding with the local law enforcement pretty much everybody is going to die horribly. The humor works sometimes and the shock value runs out fifteen minutes before the climax, but again what keeps this thing worth watching - the onscreen talent and bloody disgustingness. It's special.

Cash Only - Writer Nickola Shreli is Elvis, a small time hustler/semi-legit businessman whose attempt at an arson score ends tragically and sends him into a tailspin he spends the rest of the economic running time trying to outrun for the sake of his little girl in Malik Bader's small time slice of nasty. Each dumb-fuck move Elvis makes is leavened by his ability to think on his feet and conjure cash from improvised scams. This one simmers until it boils over abruptly in the last act and leads to my nomination for Stabbing Scene of the Year. Fuck. Nasty. Gross. Nice.

The Frontier - First time feature writer/director Oren Shai has got a hell of an eye and uses it here to realize a timeless world populated with familiar desperadoes and criminal types chasing a dirty dollar. A drifter (Jocelin Donahue) gets on at a hotel/diner run by Kelly Lynch and serving regulars like Jim Beaver and everything and everybody seems connected by unseen threads and threats. Everybody's got a secret and nobody's got much of a functioning conscience. Double double toil and trouble, crosses multiply with every cast member out of central crime casting. Neither as sharp or nasty as similar fare enamored with mid-century Gold Medal books (stuff like Blood Simple or Red Rock West - but then what is as sharp/nasty as those?) it's still a worthwhile entry in small town drifter noir. Give it a go. Here' hoping Shai is the next John Dahl.

Marauders - Steven C. Miller, king of Redbox fare starring Bruce Willis for 10 minutes, has put together a hell of a good-looking picture, pulpy enough to overlook silliness inherent in the material, but polished enough not to completely embarrass itself when asking for an emotional response from its cast. The plot involving dirty cops, bank robberies and corruption and wartime shenanigans is twistier than it needs to be, but the pace is steady and it's full of attention grabbing sequences including a drone shot over Cincinnati that appears to drop through the roof of an SUV full of heavily-armed thieves as it's pulling up outside a bank - the camera then goes 360 degrees and out of the vehicle staying with the heist crew as they move in formation through the bank. Cool little touches to the heist scenes - pre-recorded instructions for tellers rather than speaking during the robberies and when it's time to get bloody, Miller doesn't hold back. Solid cast too. Christopher Meloni does his TV schtick, Dave Bautista gets to have fun as a hulking FBI agent with hand tattoos, Adrian Grenier stays out of his own way and the surprise is how effective Johnathon Schaech is (poor guy's had to prove himelf to me each time out since I first got to know him during the 90s in those Gregg Araki movies that I hated... I kept giving Araki another chance, but I'd written Schaech off. Sorry, John. Biggest thing to be excited about here - Miller's future as a director of low to mid-level violent genre stuffs who can deliver the goods and get shit done on a tight budget and deadline.

The River - Writer/director Jamie M. Dagg's story of a white man's inability to trust the justice system of countries where he is a minority is... kinda silly-sounding when you break down the plot. White dude vacationing in Laos gets in a drunk fight with another white guy and kills him, then shits himself and tries get out of the country any way he can while the police search for him on junks, bicycles, river crossings and buses. Not quite Midnight Express... or The Fugitive... or even Wish You Were Here - but an effective enough small-budget chase thriller about a dude legitimately concerned about the risk of turning himself in... the final payoff is I dunno - unearned? But Dagg and star Rossif Sutherland make commendable use of locale and portable technology for cheap thrills. Eyes open for next effort.

Too Late - Writer/director Dennis Hauck's debut feature is the pick of the bunch here, but not without its drawbacks. Let's stay positive up front though. I love the idea of this flick - 5 single-uncut*-shot scenes presented in non-chronological order tell the story of a private investigator looking into the murder of a young woman. The formal experiment is the real star here and the simplicity with which many of the scenes unfold mute some of the monumental orchestration achievements - one shot has a character placing a phone call which is answered by another character within the same shot by use of a telescopic camera zoom, said answering character then hangs up, exits his building and gets in his car which arrives at the scene of the placed phone call in time to conclude the vignette, another scene involves multiple locations and following a character through in and out of rooms, through crowds, up into a boxing ring where a fight is in progress and back and another involves multiple interiors including a strip club and a music venue (both featuring live performers) - it's audacious and bold and works very well and quietly... except when it doesn't. And oh boy, when it doesn't. The quality of the cast varies greatly - at the center is the ever-dependable and always compelling John Hawkes (the only character in every scene) who is joined by solid performers (Natalie Zea, Robert Forster, Vail Bloom and Dichen Lachman are particularly strong, while Jeff Fahey, David Yow and Joanna Cassidy are always welcome) and a handful of not-sos (Rider Strong and Dash Mihok are painful to listen to and Brett Jacobsen has either has uniquely unwieldy lines or is simply outmatched by the elevated writing - either way, I suppose that falls on Hauck's shoulders). The story too - like the speech - is, er, elevated (read - movie logic), the situation and characters within it are the things of fiction, not to be mistaken for actual people or believable behaviors - and that's okay - that's what we want from movies often. So hey, don't go looking for something particularly mindblowing here - when the final puzzle pieces are fit together, if it don't quite land like Chinatown, that's okay. I'm very much looking forward to revisiting this one for it's DePalma-ish camera and dream-like world - I loved the structure - the way the story unfolds and damn, I wish more films took the monster sized swings for the fences that this one does.

*I spotted a single cut within the final segment that I'm not sure about - can't tell if it was there to cover a mistake, drive home an emotion or what - but it's nearly seamless. It shouldn't have distracted me as badly as it did.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Henry Silva Motherfucker

I met Dave Wahlman at Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee in 2013 (when it was still in Muskego) and we bonded over a shared appreciation for the hardboiled dark shit. I already knew his name from Crimespree Magazine and other spots around the blogosphere, but since then I've had a new appreciation for his pieces because I've seen his eyes when he talks about shit he's interested in. They're a little intense. Guy's got laser focus.

So a few months ago I mentioned watching a bunch of 70s crime fare and he piped up with a ton of recommendations - most of them featuring that bad motherfucker Henry Silva.

I knew his face - it's a memorable face - from The Manchurian Candidate and Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai among other less notables where he played heavies and supplied background menace, but what I didn't know was how compelling a leading man he'd been when given the chance in the Italian film industry of the 70s.

Dave Wahlman set me strait.

I asked Dave to help me help you discover some Silva screen gems.

Henry Silva Motherfucker
by Dave Wahlman

Henry Silva is one of those guys you most likely will recognize even if you don't know his name. His face is something straight out of central casting if you were looking for a villain. It alternates between the insipid glee of potential mayhem and looking emotionless and dead as a stone. Not a big guy but long on swagger.

His early career from the start consisted of roles as the villain in some forgettable Hollywood made westerns. Silva's first real role of note was in the original version of Ocean's 11 as part of the casino robbing crew. In 1963 he got his first real starring role in 1963's Johnny Cool about a Sicilian born hitman sent to America to take out people that pissed off an exiled gangster boss. It did pretty well, released in October 1963 however certain events in November of that same year kinda knocked it off the radar. I do believe it's worth checking out.

Oh before I forget, Silva's fight with Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate is believed to be the first martial art ever filmed in American cinema.

Now by the mid 1960's American film was stagnant as fuck. Not much of note was going on. However there were things happening in Italy. Italian moviegoers dug westerns so many American actors went over and got their careers jump started including Silva. He made a couple like The Hills Run Red which was decent. Now most of these actors like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson did their thing and came back to America set to make a fortune and build legends.

Not Silva. He stuck around in Italy. Westerns were not his perfect fit. Kind of like an ill fitting suit for Silva. However the genre called Poliziotteschi was cut perfectly for him. Poliziotteschi in broad strokes is the pissed off rogue cop or gangster who does his own thing. Between 1966 and 1977, Silva made over 25 films of this type

I'm going to tell you about 3 of these particular films Henry Silva made.

First up we got 1974's Cry of a Prostitute. Two mob crews are fucking pissed over the bodies of dead children being used to smuggle drugs. Yes you read that right. Anyway one mafia boss wants to know who's causing business to be fucked up. He brings in Tony Anianti, a enforcer played by Silva to basically cause all the mayhem possible to end the problem. Think of A Fistful of Dollars but with decapitations. Actually it's pretty much a remake of A Fistful of Dollars but with extreme violence, a lot of sex, and a good dose of nihilism. I loved it, total grindhouse fun. One of the bright spots of the film and I'm using bright spot very loosely is Barbara Bouchet who plays a prostitute caught in the middle of all the fun. Her scene with the dead pig.......Yeah. This particular film is hard to find but is worth it.

Next up we got The Italian Connection from 1972. Henry Silva and the great Woody Strode are mafia enforcers sent from America to Italy to track down a missing heroin shipment. They have been told is was taken by a low level pimp named Luca Canali.

Supposedly Silva and Strode's characters were the basis of Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction. Canali the pimp at first is made to look like a weak pussy but that's not the case. You soon find out that he can handle himself. Silva. I loved this movie. Except for when they kill the cat. This one is available on DVD and I believe is streaming via Amazon Prime.

Lastly we got The Boss from 1973 and this one is probably my favorite. Silva plays Nick Lanzetta, a hitman, who in the opening of the film takes out several members of a rival mafia crew in a truly spectacular fashion. That crew in response kidnaps Silva's boss's daughter who turns out to be a slut. Not shaming here just stating a fact. As the film progresses you begin to see Silva's Lanzetta has some personal motivations to want everyone dead. It's interesting to see who's left standing at the end of this film/ Yes it's available on DVD and also via streaming on Amazon Prime as well.

There are many other movie's Silva made in the period and after that are worth mentioning. His role of Billy Score the drug addicted hitman in Burt Reynold's Sharky's Machine is fucking priceless. Best thing about that particular movie to be honest.

At times I've wondered why Henry Silva wasn't a bigger star than he actually was. I think it's basically because he couldn't play anything but the villain. Yes to a certain extent he was typecast but it fit him. It didn't ruin his life like it did to the actor Neville Brand who in real life was one of the highest decorated combat vets in WW2, That story is worth looking up. Neville Brand is another guy you'd recognize on sight.

Dave Wahlman writes about crime and crime fiction. Find his work in Crimespree Magazine.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Mercantile Appeal

Gah! It's the holy season of retail again and some of you need to stop whacking your heads against the fucking dull New York Times BS list looking for the perfect thing for that weirdo you know who reads. I am here to help.

First, your friend reads, huh? Must be edjumicated and shit - maybe they want some more smart-folk type fare. Check it out: smart people love translated merde - how about some foreigner fiction to make everybody feel superior? This year I finally read Jean-Patrick Manchette's The Prone Gunman and I feel so much better than you. Hey, not only was it originally published in French, it's a super fast read (one sitting for me - and that's saying something), and it's action-packed. By that I mean it's only action. There is not a single glimpse of the main character's interior life, if we want to know what he's thinking, we have to witness his actions cuz that's all we've got to go on. Don't worry though, he's kind of badass and demonstrates it often. Bonus - you can be one of those annoying pricks that says "the book is so much better than the movie" - which it is, I mean, fuck. Really, it is.

Another France-y book superior to its filmic adaptation? How about Caryl Ferey's Zulu? I also dug The High Life by Jean-Pierre Martinet and hey, the books of Pascal Garnier are now available if you want to gorge yourself on some truly bleak noir. You're welcome.

For the Italian persuaded on your list how's about Massimo Carlotto's Gang of Lovers? This one is a crossover between his two series - technically #7 in the Alligator books and #3 in the Pellegrini saga. That's a potent mix of amorality and violence. Or maybe Day of the Owl a good old fashioned black-hand book by Leonardo Sciascia.

Or maybe the romance tongue is not your thing. For you young Turks I can't recommend Perihan Magden's Escape highly enough. Formally intriguing and steeped in a paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere, it is ultimately an unsettling tale of the bond between a mother and daughter on the run.

Fuminori Nakamura writes some twisted tales from Japan and bi-lingual translator and poet Qiu Xiaolong's Shanghai-set inspector Chen series will give you the next best experience to being there, but if you want two languages in the same book I suggest the potently nasty spanglish stylings of Zero Saints by Gabino Iglesias. It's already short and you only have to read half of it. Points all around.

Oooh - another thing readers on your list may like - rare objects of quality like Zero Saints. Yeah, anybody can go to Barnes and Amazonia and pick up the latest big-push product from some faceless, multifocal publishing corporation, but sometimes what makes the thing special is well specificity of focus, clear identity, and passion-based publishing.

Check out and order from small presses like:
280 Steps
All Due Respect
Beat to a Pulp
Broken River Books
ChiZine Publications
Comet Press
Concord ePress (not just ebooks)
Dark House Press
Down & Out Books
Eraserhead Press
Gryphon Books
Gutter Books
Kingshot Press
Ladybox Books
Lazy Fascist Press
The Mysterious Press
New Pulp Press
One Eye Press
Perpetual Motion Machine
P.M. Press
Snubnose Press
Stark House Press
Swallowdown Press
Thrillville Press (home of Will Viharo)

Or my favorite idea - gift sets.

Dude - some terrific runs of magazines and journals of short fiction like the entire run of:
Murdaland (2 issues - oof - looks like the old website is now a porn domain - maybe you can find those issues on eBay)
Grift Magazine (2)
Out of the Gutter (7)
Needle Magazine (10)
Pulp Modern (10)
Crime Factory (now at 19)
print edition of Thuglit (23)
or the Thuglit anthologies from Kengsington (3)
Hardboiled Magazine (44)
maybe a grab-bag of Akashic Noir series (around 70 now).

And don't forget the cowboys out on the frontiers of self-publishing who are, against all odds, putting out quality fiction like Jack Clark, Barry Graham, Clayton Lindemuth, Iain Ryan, Josh Stallings,  Bob Truluck - aaaaand yep, they're all dudes, but hey, I've read and dig all these guys and think they're as worthy of an audience as any of folks pulling down big publishing deals. Get some and feel good about the much bigger slice of the money you pay going to the author.

One more idea already teased earlier - get em the books that the movie is based on. Some new and upcoming films to get out ahead of so's they can say the book was better...

Dog Eat Dog by Edward Bunker (film by Paul Schrader), Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman (film by E. L. Katz), Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger (film Desiree by Ross Clarke), Blood Father by Peter Craig (film by Jean-Francois Richet), Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell (film by Juanita Wilson), You Can't Win by Jack Black (film by Robinson Devor), Live by Night by Dennis Lehane (film by Ben Affleck), or how about - Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski (the film The Belko Experiment by Greg McLean looks awfully similar).

Go on, get something good for the reader in your life. God knows they need it. Everybody else can have the beep-bop-boop.