Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things That Are Good Lately

The Bad Batch on Netflix - Director Ana Lily Amirpour's debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was a fever dream feature length music video without a song (a genre I can certainly love - Nicolas Winding Refn's Valhalla Rising or Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man qualify) - so I was interested in her next project, but still unprepared for how hard I'd fall for her post-apocalyptic cannibalism revenge western. Like its predecessor The Bad Batch is pure style, but it's also got unexpected moments of emotional resonance. Suki Waterhouse is an outland wanderer falling victim to, coming to the aid of or exploring the kingdoms erected by Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves and Jayda Fink. Along the way our road warrior encounters more human detritus including Jim Carrey giving his best performance in many years. It's ugly, gorgeous, vulnerable, trippy and not a little badass.

Blade Runner 2049 in theaters - Frankly, so far surpassing the hopes I'd allowed myself to nurture for this 35 years later sequel to a classic and formative favorite. It's sensually breathtaking, satisfactorily thought provoking and most importantly an engaging narrative with a no-ambiguity replicant protagonist. Yeah, I've read your misogyny and white privilege think-pieces about this one and you have not dented or even scratched the wax job on my love for it.

Choke On Your Lies in print - After being available as an eBook only (I've got mine), crime fiction's curmudgeonly teddy bear Anthony Neil Smith's homage to Nero Wolf is finally in print thanks to Down & Out Books!

The Dog on Hulu - Pervert, activist, serial-husband, bank robber John Wojtowicz was immortalized in Sidney Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, but he's got at least as much on screen charisma as Al Pacino playing a more sympathetic version of himself. This documentary lets the man tell his own story that includes plenty of material on both ends of his disastrous attempt to raise money for his wife's sex change.

Donnybrook on film - The film version of Frank Bill's debut novel is set to go before cameras in October and casting announcements including Frank Grillo, Jamie Bell, James Badge Dale and Margaret Qualley have just landed. Nothing in writer/director Tim Sutton's previous Dark Night suggests latent badassery waiting to be unleashed, but the low-key lyrical quality to its midwestern suburbia do make me eager to see his treatment of hoosier brawl.

The Hard Word blog - Scott Montgomery's long been a vital voice in the crime community. He's got a lot to say about the authors and books you're interested in, but now that he's got his own site (as opposed to the Austin bookstore Book People's blog he's contributed to for years) he can open up the conversation to westerns, film, out of print material, politics and whatever the fuck he wants. Read it. 

Mindhunter season 1 on Netflix - I tend to think of David Fincher as a craftsman more than an auteur - that is a supremely talented professional with the chops to dress and cut his pictures with crisp and arresting visuals and rhythms, but whose choice of project makes all the difference in whether or not I'll be tuning in. That said, his fascination with killers and sociopaths has made up the bulk of his best products from the high pulp of Se7en to the procedural punch miracle that is Zodiac. Serial killers are not generally something I'm interested in, but I was on board for this angle on the subject matter and holy shit, Cameron Britton's turn as Ed Kemper is Emmy-worthy.

Narcos season 3 on Netflix - As much as I dug Wagner Moura's anchoring turn as Pablo Escobar in the first couple of seasons, his exit in a hail of bullets opened up the narrative to be more than 'the Pablo show' and season 3's focus on the Cali Cartel is tight and intense. The best season yet.

The Most Wonderful Wonder season 2 on iTunes  - A podcast out of Oklahoma chronicling the back roads, badlands and bad decisions of two hundred years of Americana. The hosts, Mr. & Mrs. Hall, also make up the folk duo Welcome Little Stranger and the podcast is a folknoir investigation of all the fascinations that fuel their songs. Bite-sized historical oddities and macabre spectacles for those whose mood is brightened by the misfortune of others. Second season is just starting and it's a great time to start listening. Check em out here.

The Nightly Disease back in print - Max Booth III's latest novel only had a handful of months in print before the implosion of the publishing house. I read that shit this summer and it was terrific, so I'm happy to say it's found a new home (and great new cover) at Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. My favorite hotel novel since Jim Thompson's A Swell Looking Babe and my favorite work novel since Charles Bukowski's Post Office. If you've worked in a service industry, this book will do you good.

Red Room magazine issue 1 - The first issue of this 'magazine of extreme horror and hardcore dark crime' features fiction from David James Keaton, Meg Elison, Tim Waggoner, some dude name Jack Ketchum and more, plus an interview with Gil Valle the NYPD's "Cannibal Cop". So, there's that. From Cheryl Mullenax, Randy Chandler and the crew at Comet Press - cool.

Tickled on HBO Now - The fact that I'm talking about this documentary about a journalist trying to cover the 'sport' of competitive endurance tickling on a crime blog is probably more spoiler than I'd want to give you, but holy crap, please watch this doc without Googling anything about it. Save that shit for afterward. You'll want to. Pretty twisted and twisty story.

Top of the Lake: China Girl on Hulu - Jane Campion's Top of the Lake was first screened at festivals as a long feature film and then released as a miniseries on Sundance which accounted for some of the awkward pacing/cutting into episodes, but the second season/sequel is more tailored for episodic TV. It features everything there was to dig about the original (minus, of course, some outstanding characters who didn't survive). The relentless parade of men demonstrating horrendous sexual behavior on the show might seem cartoonish were it not merely an echo of the daily headlines from the most 'respectable' levels of society today. Yeesh. Kudos to David Dencik for bringing the creep big this time around.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Document Matters

I had the pleasure of spending a fair amount of time with ABC Publishing Group publisher Jeremy Stabile at Bouchercon in New Orleans last year and got a feel for the vision for his fledgling venture. At the time he was bringing Grant Jerkins' Abnormal Man a proper publication (after a brief stint when a self-published version was available) and preparing to turn heads.

Abnormal Man is a hell of a statement as a first book to publish. It's dark, but not fun dark. If you laugh while reading it, you're probably a bad person. I hated myself. But I laughed. It's a book that you write to push yourself. It's a book you read to punish yourself. It's a book you publish because you hate money. It's pretty amazing.

In the last year two more titles have followed that give some more dimension to the house and solidifying it as a destination for readers and writers of literary crime and transgressive fiction.

Down on the Street by Pulp Modern publisher Alec Cizak arrived in the spring - a tale of skid row living and cheap seats dying - and Through the Ant Farm by Robert Leland Taylor this summer - a pseudo-psycho prison noir.

For my money, it's about as distinctive and strong a launch as the late great New Pulp Press in 2009 and (hate to blow my own horn) Broken River Books' 2013 arrival, (btw if you dug Jackson Meeks' NPP title While the Devil Waits - I think you'd dig Through the Ant Farm).

The rise of indie presses putting out good shit is exciting, but goodness gracious, how many of these quality houses have to burn down too soon? True, it's exciting to see other houses pick up and re-release some great titles, but it'd be swell to see somebody go the distance.

Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books has made a helluva run thus far and he's one of the folks snatching up titles from the ashes of other houses - would you the hell look at those gorgeous new covers for the Jon Bassoff books? I may have to purchase them all over again, just for those excellent new edition artwork. D&O are even building independent wings on their house - ABC Publishing Group being one.

Let's hope D&O and ABC are here for the long haul and can keep the quality up. The announcement of ABC's next title - A Scholar of Pain, collected short stories by Grant Jerkins - is a damn good sign that they may.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Take

The Take 1974 - Robert Hartford-Davis - Billy Dee Williams stars in this adaptation of G.F. Newman's novel Sir, You Bastard (first of the Bastard titles, followed by You Nice Bastard and You Flash Bastard) about a bent cop named Terry Sneed who sees business opportunities when he's brought in to turn back a crime wave. Changing the character's race and moving the locale from England to New Mexico probably amplified the cynically fun possibilities. Think blaxsploitation Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fist Full of Dollars with the handsome anit-hero taking on the the cops and the mob. Yes please.

The Take 1990 - Leon Ichaso - TV adaptation of the Eugene Izzi novel about a ex-con, ex-dirty cop running afoul of the mob in Chicago. Fucking solid premise. Haven't seen it though.

The Take 2007 - Brad Furman - The solid cast and a script from where'd-they-go? sibling film makers Joshua Pate and Jonas Pate, whose debut Deceiver tickled my fat fancy ten years earlier, drew me to this tale of an armored car driver injured during and suspected of engineering a heist who takes fate into his own hands when he sets out to find the thieves who wrecked his life, but man... I don't remember anything special here. Furman has since made The Lincoln Lawyer, Runner Runner and The Infiltrator and I can't decide how that makes me feel about revisiting this one for a fresh take - I certainly like his playground, but none have made any impression on me.

The Take 2009 - David Drury - This four-part television adaptation of Martina Cole's novel follows fresh outta prison Freddy (all-snarl and sneer Tom Hardy) on his violent ascent and subsequent fall from the top of the underground. Affairs of family, both blood and criminal, take center stage and every character loves and hates every other character with equal commitment leaving lines betwixt passion and savagery blurry at best. By the end everybody's been beaten, stabbed, screwed or shot by everybody else and if that doesn't sound like a recommendation you haven't been paying attention. Nasty fun.

The Take (aka Bastille Day) 2016 - James Watkins - A weird mix of Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street and TV's 24, squeezed through the sensibilities of the Taken franchise and Olympus/London Has Fallen. I'm beginning to think Idris Elba may be the black Clive Owen - a performer whose on-screen presence I'm always happy to see, but whose projects rarely come close to deserving them. Head and shoulders above Taken and the ...Has Fallens, but dear Lord well short of the charisma on hand. Please, let's get Elba a good vehicle.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Where's the Brief? Dawn

Dawn - d: Rose McGowan w: M.A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller - Tara Lynne Barr is the titular Dawn, a shy and sheltered girl determined to see a little more of the world.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton RIP

With the passing of Harry Dean Stanton we may have to permanently retire the phrase 'hang-dog expression' as no one else may ever fit it so well. Those soulful eyes set deep and resting atop oftten un-shaven jowls (jowls - on a skinny guy) could convey hardness and cynicism as effectively as bottomless wells of tender-hearted warmth and vulnerability.

His body of work includes too many important (to me) films to try and cover in a single piece, but I've assembled a very personal top-five Harry Dean Stanton moments.

Big Love - As Roman Grant, patriarch and prophet of a polygamous Mormon cult who travels everywhere in a well-armed caravan of white SUVs, he is a straight up gangster bringing physical as well as spiritual menace to the proceedings - especially in the first few seasons of the show. The first scene of him trying to muscle in on estranged son in law Bill Paxton's successful business via blackmail is some shiver-inducing shit. 

Paris, Texas - As the lonely figure wandering through the desert in Wim Wenders' adaptation of Sam Shepard's play he spends the first eternity of his performance almost entirely mute - confused, haunted, determined - but he drops the heavy anchor of the film's emotional core in a scene of dialogue with peep-show performer Nastassja Kinski. Separated by a one-way mirror and using a telephone, the barriers between the characters are slowly dissolved and the stage is set for a second similar encounter that packs a wallop. 

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid - A bit player in Sam Peckinpah's oft-maligned (and I've only seen the restored version - so maybe it really did suck for decades) meditation on betrayal, Harry Dean Stanton has a single show-stealing moment that nicely frames the whole film. When Kris Kristofferson's laconically charismatic Billy breaks out of jail and unexpectedly catches up to his gang bunked out in the middle of the night Stanton's Luke gives up his spot in the bed he's sharing with a woman Billy wants to sleep with. He's disappointed to, he's jealous, but he's also happy to see his friend alive and assumes beta-dog position without it a showdown. The look on his face and his body language in the scene pretty much sums up all the film's themes. Breaks my heart every time.

Repo Man - As Bud, mentor to Emilio Estevez's Otto in Alex Cox's weird masterpiece, Stanton has the lion's share of good lines, but it's hard to imagine another actor who could take the contempt the young punk throws his way and hand it back to him so expertly folded and origami'd that initial scorn becomes admiration and hero worship. The 'the life of a repo man is always intense' scene deserves iconic status.

Wild At Heart - As Johnnie Farragut, P.I. and whipped dog to Diane Ladd's Marietta Fortune in David Lynch's expanding adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, Stanton has many memorable moments - driving across the swampy south tapping his fingers on his way to New Orleans, yipping at a hyena on the hotel television and bemoaning the sexual possibilities he and Ladd are passing up by hitting the road instead of staying in that king-sized bed - but it's his final doomed moments being tormented by Grace Zabriski, Calvin Lockhart and David Patrick Kelly as a trio of hired voodoo killers that he looks at the camera, sighs 'oh Marietta' and conveys that he may be a sap and a cuck-hold, but he's no fool - he knew this end was a strong possibility, but he made his own choices  with his eyes open, and he'd probably make them again, for the love of a woman who doesn't return it. 

A few more films I love that he sometimes anchored, other times supported and occasionally made no more than a cameo-appearance in, but, held so much character in his face that he, enriched and sold the entire atmosphere of: Alien, Alpha Dog, Cockfighter, Cool Hand Luke, Dillinger, Escape From New York, In the Heat of the Night, 92 in the Shade, The Pledge, Ride in the Whirlwind, Seven Psychopaths, The Straight Story, Straight Time, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Two-Lane Blacktop.

I was already very much looking forward to John Carroll Lynch's Lucky, but oh man, now I bet it's going to land like an anvil on my heart. 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jonathan Ashley

Woke up to news this morning that my friend Jonathan Ashley died last night.

I only spent time with him once in person - it was last year when he came to St. Louis for a N@B event. He read from his novel The Cost of Doing Business and hearing him read it - his own words, in his own voice - gave some soul and world-weariness to the otherwise humorous passage that stuck with me.

Even though we only met the one time I call him a friend because we talked to each other that way. He used to call me on the phone and tell me how he was feeling  - excited, depressed, frustrated, concerned, inspired - and he frequently asked for advice, acknowledgement, consideration, prayer and forgiveness.

He pushed further in to me - asked more from me personally - than most casual friends I have had.

And because he asked I tried to give.

I don't think I gave him much. It wasn't enough. But I was happy to give what I could. It was an honor that he talked plainly to me about his needs and failures. We had those to bond over.

Weakness and moral failure are the cement of some of my closest friendships. I've got tons to share.

Jon was a talented, insightful artist. He was also a friend whose personal expressions sometimes had the charge of exposed wire and raw nerve. I will miss his work, but I will miss our talks more.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Frank Vincent RIP

Frank Vincent 1939-2017 

Raging Bull

The Pope of Greenwich Village

Do the Right Thing

Last Exit to Brooklyn


Mortal Thoughts

Jungle Fever


Cop Land

The Sopranos

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Deuce Drops

If you haven't been a slavering, sweaty mess waiting for The Deuce to drop on HBO this month I honestly don't know why we're even friends. First, it's a writing room dream team featuring creators David Simon and George Pelecanos alongside more of my favorite names like Richard Price and Megan Abbott.

Second, the time period and subject matter - 1970s New York City when Times Square was an open air vice bazaar - are a huge sweet spot for my interests.

If you, like me, are going to have a hard time waiting week to week or for DVD release in a year lemme suggest a few other items that might tickle your (funny) bone.

Across 110th Street - Barry Shear - Based on a novel by Wally Ferris and bolstered by the soundtrack by Bobby Womack this is probably the go-to crime film for getting into the time (1972) and place. Black and white cops have to work together to straddle the world where the only thing that is keeping black and white criminal organizations from killing each other is the love of money. When a trio of desperate characters rip off a mob joint, the under and over-worlds unite against them

The Forty-Two - Ed Kurtz - A love letter to the deuce circa 1979 disguised as a murder thriller, Kurtz packs more pop and poop culture references into this one than... y'know what? It's kind of the porn and horror version of Ready Player One (it's a lot better than that).

Hardcore - Paul Schrader - George C. Scott plays a religious man whose runaway daughter shows up in a stag film and he embarks on a rescue mission to save her. Of course his motives and her reality will require reckoning with before the movies' end. This is the decidedly non-groovy tour of the sex work underworld, but it's not square, daddy-o, it's shattering.

Inside Deep Throat - Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato - Very engaging documentary about the seminal film's impact on cinema, crime and culture in general.

Johnny Porno - Charlie Stella - The fictional version of the mob and porno industry. Stella knows the period, the characters and may have even seen a blue movie or two in his life. Good shit.

King Suckerman - Geore Pelecanos - The Deuce is not Pelecanos' first trip to the seventies. This 1997 novel set twenty some years earlier recreates the vibe of the film, literature and music of the era. It's super funky.

The Mack - Michael Campus - In the golden age of blaxsploitation flicks this one stands out by not setting out to be exploitation at all. It's a socially engaged picture about a pimp in Oakland, but that doesn't keep it from being groovy too.

Mr. Untouchable - Marc Levin - This documentary about 1970s Harlem dope king Nicky Barnes is a terrific portrait of guts, greed and hubris that will probably run parallel to The Deuce's storyline if the show lasts a few years.

Peepland by Christa Faust, Gary Phillips and Andrea Camerini - a murder mystery/corruption thriller set against the backdrop of the peepshows and porno houses and punk rock venues of the early eighties - brought to life by in the know writing and lovingly recreated in gorgeous artwork. First trade collection is out now.

Sick City by Tony O'Neill - okay, not the 70s or New York City, but man, if you wanna get grimy, dig the squalor of this book's world. It's all shootin up, popping pills, sucking dick and stealing shit. It's a real good time. (And if you've already read it, get on the sequel Black Neon - it's crazy good too).

Summer of Sam - Spike Lee - Lee's neighborhood portrait looks at the summer of 1977 when David Berkowitz aka The Son of Sam killer was shooting folks on orders from a demon inside the dog next door. Paranoia and excessive heat inflame the already tense atmosphere of the residents of the Bronx and the strong ensemble criss cross in Altman-esque fashion. Kinda hypnotic. Great soundtrack too.
Taxi Driver - Martin Scorsese - Do I really need to tell you to watch this one? The disgust of Travis Bickle reads like a love letter to a bygone era that probably deserves its own iconic stamp on the back of an I HEART NY t-shirt - Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit.  Indeed.