Tuesday, June 25, 2013

2013 in Crime Flicks: 4 More

The Counselor - d- Ridley Scott, w- Cormac McCarthy

Ain't Them Bodies Saints - w/d- David Lowery

A Single Shot - d- David M. Rosenthal, w- Matthew F. Jones

Only God Forgives - w/d- Nicolas Winding Refn

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Keep Austin Noir

Unfortunately I had zero time to explore Austin or Texas over my Father's Day N@B trip, but damn, I had some wonderful beer, and chicken and waffles late in the evening, and got to spend the best hours of the night with kick-ass locals. The night? Went something like this -

Jesse Sublett got us all in the mood with a few songs (murder tunes by Lefty Frizzell, Son House and The Velvet Underground) before Scott Montgomery stoked everybody's blood lust with a brief story about the short road to hell robbing (or working at) convenience stores. When the Fritos dust cleared and the plasma puddles congealed, I stepped in with a tale of other bodily fluids and the high cost of saving money from A F*ckload of Shorts (which is only 99 cents for Snubnose Press's second anniversary). Scott Phillips read selections from Rake and had people laughing at really, truly inappropriate things (yeah, among others, he read the mugging scene) and singer Sublett made way for author-hat-wearing Sublett to close out the evening with passages of bizzarre sex and violence from his latest book Grave Digger Blues - that's some weird-ass, hardboiled beat-stuff right there. (Read the MysteryPeople account and see more photos right here.) Also, BookPeople is a great independent store that you can purchase my book from! Really, they've got several in stock. Support the hell out of that place.

I got to chat a bit with Chris Mattix (Thuglit 5) and learned about his new project - a prose and audio fiction site called Slagdrop.com (give em a visit or a submission) - sounds like a great idea - and match flesh to a couple of FaceBook avatars, plus meet the lovely and beautiful Beth Broderick (who you may know from Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but I checked her IMDB page and she was in one of my favorite early '90s avenging vixen sexploitation flicks The Silencer with Lynette Walden - whom I had/have a thing for - or, for those non-Phillistines among you, you might know her from her regular Huffington Post pieces - so, that's really cool.)

Next up in St. Louis is the Books & Booze Live event at Cicero's just three blocks from where we have N@B, and it's featuring some damn fine talent we've welcomed at N@B in the past, and more. This pic is one book I plan on picking up at the event.

Do yourself a favor and show up. Then do me a favor and buy me a drink. 

Who Will Beat On Georgie Now?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Texas Strangers

Setting out for Austin this weekend where I'll rendezvous with world-touring author Scott Phillips (I hope you saw him, Oxford, MS. and I sure as shit hope you go see him, Houston, Fayetteville, Wichita and Lawrence!) where I understand that the locals have arranged something called a snipe-hunt in our honor. Shit, sounds like a good time, and I sure could use one. We'll be reading at N@B-Austin along with Jesse Sublett and the man himself, Scott Montgomery. It's gonna be wrong. All wrong. And YOU need to be there. To help get Austin stretched and lubed for the big event, Montgomery interviewed me'n Scott over at the Mystery People blog. Go read that shit.

You've also got another few days to stream the radio show Jason Braun conducted with me and David James Keaton on KDHX's Literature For the Halibut. Listen how silly we sound every time someone tries to say the name of one of my books over the FCC's airwaves. Click here and select stream episode - it's the June 3 show. BTW - Keaton kills with a reading of Shock Collar from Fish Bites Cop.

And hey, St. Louis, it's not a N@B event, but you should show the hell up for Books and Booze live at Cicero's on Saturday, June 22. The B&B podcast hosts Jessica Taylor, Dakota Taylor & Renee Pickup will be together for the first time ever (I'm pulling that fact out of my ass, I dunno if they've ever occupied the same space) along with readers you may know from previous N@B events - Gordon Highland, David James Keaton and Fred Venturini plus J. David Osborne, Salvatore Pane and Brandon Tietz.

Also, here's a piece I wrote for the Barnes & Noble blog about the dirty minds of children's authors like Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling and Daniel Handler. I just finished reading John Hornor Jacobs' The Twelve-Fingered Boy to my own kids and was thinking about stuff like that. BTW - my kids (and I) can't wait for the second installment of Jacobs' YA trilogy. They were pretty disappointed to learn they had to wait another year or so.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Father's Day For Bad Muthas

A few recently in print items I might suggest for the bad mutha you call pop, if you're looking for gifts this week. Don't pussy out this year. Get dad a motherfucking book.

All the Wild Children by Josh Stallings - Badass, big hearted, memnoir.

All the Young Warriors by Anthony Neil Smith - The thriller you won't fucking hate yourself for loving is now in print!
American Death Songs by Jordan Harper - Hardboiled, hardcore crime stories.

Bad Sex On Speed by Jerry Stahl - Hilarious hallucinatory hellscape.

Cold, Quiet Country by Clayton Lindemuth - Lyrical, laconic, lethality.

Donnybrook by Frank Bill - Bruiser heart-disease-land pulp.

Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick - Haunted, horny, holy crap fever dream.

Fish Bites Cop by David James Keaton - These transgressive, trans-genre transmissions from the immoral majority strike like lightening bolts out of the blue. A satirical miracle.

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson - If you're wondering where all the wise-cracking private detectives and sanctimonious psycho-hunters went - I'd check the trunk of Robinson's car for their remains. Big hurt illuminated by dim wit - that's a recommendation, asshole.

Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne - Cracked back of Oklahoma noir. Chapped, chipped, busted-ass and split-lip -sparse prose that spares none.

Matador by Ray Banks - Once again, Banks strips crime fiction of everything you thought you loved about it, and the result is - you love it more.

Paying For It by Tony Black - Gus Dury has finally arrived in the States - in paperback! - Get dad started on his new favorite PI series, 'cause Gutted is available now too.
Point & Shoot by Duane Swierczynski - The slickest, sickest, technicolor, electric kool-aid acid test of a thrillogy concludes. Sorry, Charlie, nobody can be kill-proof forever.
The Posthumous Man by Jake Hinkson - Somebody's robbed the grave of Jim Thompson, fished in an unsettlingly lucid stream of necromantic diction and slapped the name Hinkson on these books. I want more.

Rake by Scott Phillips - Phillips weaves through the congestion of crime-writing traffic heedless the laws of literary civility comfortable and unapologetic in the assurance that all others must yield him the wrong of way.

The Rapist by Les Edgerton - "reads like congress with the Devil himself - elegantly unsettling and with a hell of an after-taste." Somebody said that.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Presidents in Peril! Again!

Did you catch Antwoine Fuqua's Die Hard at the White House picture Olympus Has Fallen earlier this year? If you missed it, don't worry, you'll get the chance to see it this summer when it's re-released as...
White House Down - And did you notice that Roland Emmerich, the dude making this Casa Blanca carnage picture, is the guy responsible for blowing up the White House once before in Independence Day? WTF?

Man, when we put our presidents in peril, or generally monkey around with their well-being, we like to do it more than once, just to make sure we get it right.

Which is why -

John Carpenter's Escape From New York, which featured Donald Pleasence as the held for ransom commander in chief, may have sounded familiar in 1981. 'Cause the year before Kurt Russell had the job of saving the presidential bacon, it was...

William Shatner working on behalf of prez Hal Holbrook. in Kidnapping of the President directed by George Mendeluk.

Or sometimes it's a director who is given the Washington D.C. beat, and catches a hallowed halls of power bug. For instance, John Frankenheimer gave us two different paranoid thrillers about presidential coups  - The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 and

Seven Days in May only two years later.

Or maybe you're Wolfgang Peterson and you had a hit when you put aging action star Clint Eastwood between a bullet and its democratically elected target in In the Line of Fire, so next time out, you remove the body guard and go full retard with...
Harrison Ford as the man himself getting all badass (cause hey, everybody flipped for Bill Pullman putting on the presidential-sky-jockey rig in Independence Day, right?) in Air Force One, or, as I'm sure it was pitched, Die Hard on a plane. After all Executive Order and Passenger 57 could've been huger hits if they'd just added presidents. Or even better - Snakes On a Plane!

Maybe Clint Eastwood and Peterson were trying to Oval-office-out-do-each-other, cause after their In the Line of Fire collaboration, the same year Petes is giving us Air Force One, Easts is directing Absolute Power, in which the President is unknowingly witnessed committing a crime - which, when you take into account that it's Gene Hackman as the man, kinda sounds like Roger Donaldson's way more excellent No Way Out where Hackman plays the Defense Secretary who is unknowingly witnessed accidentally killing his mistress - but yeah, he's not the president, so it's really more like...

Murder at 1600, Dwight H. Little's who-dunnit at the White House featuring Wesley Snipes goin all, 'Hey, Peterson, it's 1997 and you're ripping off Passenger 57 with a presidential twist? Well two can play that game and I'm gonna poison the presidential well with this turkey.'

Yeah I'm sure that's how it went. Anyway, if there's going to be any more presidential pictures plummeting toward a playhouse near you, er, me, I'd like to formally request of the powers that be, that we stick to a little classic science-fauxion next time with an adaptation of this recently e-released Emerson LaSalle title There Are Aliens Behind Uranus, Mr. President, and if they need to do a two-fer Harry Truman Vs. The Aliens is all ready to go.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 in Flicks: May

The Americans Season 1-  Joseph Weisberg - No, you didn't know that lurking inside Felicity was such a cold-blooded, badass hardboiled bitch, but hey, Keri Russell brings it to her role as a KGB spy living in the DC 'burbs in 1981 with faux husband Matthew Ryhs - the sensitive one - and a couple of all-American kids (clueless about their parent's true identities and activities). The episodic quality of the show gave the creators a chance to explore different sides of the great culture divide which is really the substance here. Their neighbor and Ryhs closest friend is an FBI agent (a never-better Noah Emmerich) who has his own suspicions about the couple across the street, and all the parent-spies make incredible sacrifices for their countries (who chew em up and spit em out), while their spouses and children bear the brunt of their 'sacrifice'. Some neat-o spy craft, some jarringly inconsistent period detail (particularly in language - did middle-aged white guys in 1981 really refer to the projects as 'the hood'?), some terrific small moments with a mostly strong cast (hey there, Margo Martindale - glad to have you back in a major role) and a handful of out-of-nowhere  kicks to the heart. All in all, I was on board and I really hope a second season can mine the potential of this show and produce something really special. Best moment: Elizabeth and Claudia have words... and fists.

Hit & Run - Dax Shepard & David Palmer - I am so with this film in spirit. I really wanted it to hit its mark and land in that sweet spot between Smokey & the Bandit and Midnight Run. But here I am starting this review with the preceding sentence and I'm guessing you already know where I'm going. Yeah, I didn't dig it. I just didn't laugh where I was clearly supposed to and I didn't engage in the action when that was required either. Yul Perrkins, a former getaway driver leaves the bosom of the witness protection program to help his girlfriend move to Los Angeles. What follows is a rom-com/road movie/chase flick that, even as I'm writing this, sounds like it's got potential. The film makers throw some wrinkles into the standard good guys and bad guys formula, which I appreciate, but they also go out of their way to make everybody more or less likable, and in so doing, took off all the sharp edges on what could've been a decent comedic thriller. The hero is trying to be a better person to keep his girlfriend (at one point she threatens that she doesn't want to be with somebody who says 'gay' when he means 'lame,' and we really feel like they might break up over it. The antagonist can get a little violent, but  you're really not in much danger around him unless you're feeding your dog inferior, unhealthy food. Too soft to thrill and too bland to laugh - both my humors and my thrillers need significantly more edge. Best moment: When Shepard, as Yul, sees his father (Beau Bridges) for the first time in years.

In the Cut - Jane Campion - Caught this back when Meg Ryan's nude scenes were the extent of the film's reputation. Nevermind it was a Jane effing Campion flick. Nevermind it was based on a novel by Susanna Moore. Nevermind the other leads were Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Nope, Meg's tits were the only reason to see the movie. I re-watched this after catching Campion's latest, Top of the Lake (scroll down for thoughts on that one), and yeah, nothing really changed. It's still a minor work in Campion's canon with a plot that resembles countless other serial-killer/erotic-suspense flicks you've already seen, but what makes it worthwhile is the moody, broody, squishy, dream-like atmosphere and the performances of Ryan & Ruffalo. She's succeeding admirably at shedding her 'America's Sweetheart' image, and he's mixing an intriguing (ahem) cocktail of attributes including brash, confident, vulnerable and er, mustache. Never going to be reconsidered as a masterpiece, but deserves a better reputation than it has. Best moment: The terrible first date.

Jack Reacher - Chritstopher McQuarrie - After Way of the Gun, I owed McQuarrie this one. Now we're even. Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible movie, but it is a terribly silly one. A sniper shoots several strangers in a metropolitan area and is immediately arrested and put on the fast track for capital-J Justice. He isn't claiming innocence or conspiracy either. His one request it to find Jack Reacher - a former MP, now lone ranger wandering the once-free wilds of a range called America. The detective appears rather magically and proceeds to apply more fairy dust to the investigation, keeping the defense attorney frustrated, the prosecutor irritated and the police perpetually perplexed. Who was that masked man? Some nice surprises in the cast - especially Robert Duvall, Werner Herzog and Michael Raymond-James, a decent gunfight, car-chase and ruffntumble at the end, but it's still bogged down by a lot of who gives a shit? and unfortunately, the answer, more often than not, was 'not me.' Best moment: Herzog gives Raymond-James a chance to prove himself.

Lilyhammer Season 1 - Eilif Skodvin & Anne Bjornstad - New York wise guy Frank Tagliano survives a hit from a business associate and decides to end his life as a gangster and enter the witness relocation program. He begins a new life in the small mountain town of Lillehammer, Norway where his American can-do attitude and general 'fuck-it' outlook make him something of a community leader very quickly. He is admired by several of the low-level half-assed hoods and losers whom he quickly presses into eager service, but treated with suspicion and sometimes outright contempt by the town's (not-very) elite. Lilyhammer toes the line between comedy and drama - sometimes charmingly, sometimes clumsily - with slightly more than half its weight on the humorous side of the divide. Steven Van Zandt is an actor of very limited range, but in his role as Silvio on The Sopranos he was used to great effect. Here, he's in his sweet spot, but, as the lead, the schtick wears awfully thin, and the formula of introducing him to a quaint local custom that alternately pleases or irritates him out of proportion, and presenting him with a Norwegian obstacle that he can apply his American-criminal-chivalric sensibility to, loses steam after a few episodes. The series' strongest moments are the few times the danger and darkness come a little to the fore, and the unique sensibility of the writers and characters to find alternatives to ceaseless escalation of violence (tho, ceaselessly rising levels of corruption seem to be the thing) the way most crime-stories do. Best moment: Frank gets a baby carriage.

The Onion Field - Harold Becker - Two cops, two crooks, too bad. Based on the non-fiction book by Joseph Wambaugh, this film is terrific when James Woods is given free reign to do his thing. This is young, skinny, vulnerable and psychotic Woods reminding me that he's been a dangerous screen presence from the beginning of his career. The courtroom-heavy second half of the film lost a lot of steam, but it's worth it for the stuff leading up to the encounter. Best moment: Woods having to explain to his accomplices why he's so much smarter than they are.

The Place Beyond the Pines - Derek Cianfrance - This is exactly the kind of film I wanted it to be - a heartbreaker about the desperate things people will do to build a life and the ways they cope with the the life they've made (and the things they did to make it). It's got a wonderful and familiar blue-collar setting that could be cozy if you've got a loving family around you or terribly depressing if you feel trapped and limited by it. It has an ambitious structure that will hopefully keep you just a little off-balance and heighten the emotional stakes, a talented director with his feet set firmly in character and crime (how about that early tracking shot that follows Ryan Gosling through the fair and into the cage? Not too showy, but wow - like to see McG try and deliver something that technically sophisticated, but rooted in, and in support of, character and place, as opposed to simply calling attention to itself), and a cast eager to appear in a solid, small-scale drama. The end of the film asks for a level of 'just go with me here' that you may not be willing grant it, but I found the climax to be thematically compelling and a just heightened enough reality to deliver the big emotional pay-off. Will you accept the delivery? I'll be curious to hear what you think. And, for all the talent involved, the film was never more alive than when Ben Mendelsohn or Bruce Greenwood were onscreen. Best moment: Gosling waits on the front porch to be arrested after fucking up.

Shakedown - James Glickenhaus - Desperately wants to be Lethal Weapon, but never really comes close. The dynamic duo of this one are a vice-cop and a public defender fighting the good fight against systemic corruption in New York City. Sam Elliott is never less than watchable and Peter Weller is an actor I'm becoming retro-actively intrigued by after not caring for him the first twenty-five years of our relationship. Unfortunately, neither are given much to work with here, as every time a potentially solid dramatic element is introduced it is immediately overwhelmed by a needlessly showy action set piece or dialogue so corny you'll see it in your crap for a week. Best moment: Elliott dangling from the landing gear of an escaping jet and shooting his gun indiscriminately into the beast to take it down.

Southland Season 3 - Ann Biderman - In the wake of the recent cancellation of Southland, I watched the third season with an eye toward series arc and realized... I'm not really invested in anybody. But believe it or not, that's not as big a problem as you might think. I believe that the strength of the show is the 'beat goes on' quality the episodic format emphasizes - major shit happens to folks episode to episode, but y'know, a lot of that is forgotten, or more accurately - just moved on from. The world moves on and so do the characters. Do we need to spend half a season with Sammy and Tammi while they work through the particulars of their divorce? Nope, we just trust it kinda hurts like hell to get moving in the morning when your pregnant wife leaves you for a douche with a haircut. Soooo, I guess what I'm saying is, I know there's a lot of shit gonna happen to these cops in the next couple seasons and, for those who survive, I know it'll keep happening and I'm okay with that. There's been so wide a canvas used that I'm not too invested in any one character disproportionately to the rest of the cast, and maybe that's not a bad thing. Still wish they'd do away with the first few minutes of every episode though. Gah, I skip 'em now. Guess there's an advantage to waiting for DVD. Best moment: Cooper and the kid - episode 5.

Taken 2 - Olivier Megaton - Director Megaton can make an action movie. Colombiana had a lot of energy and style, and Transporter 3 redeemed the series after a terrible second film, but Taken 2, kids, I hate to break it to you, is the Transporter 2 of this comparison. Actually, that's not fair as the original Transporter was a really fun flick and Taken was... not. So why did I even try to watch this one? Easy. Beers. Many, many beers and a wife I knew would sleep through it. This flick was such a disaster on every level - the suck in the script completely overwhelmed the talent, the editing totally fucked up the action sequences - that I wondered if the wrong cut had accidentally been released. Actors and action, that's all I wanted. Best moment: The only fun I had watching it was imagining the rejected subtitles. Winner - Even Takener.

Top of the Lake - Jane Campion & Gerard Lee - Surely going to be one of my favorite viewing experiences of the year, though there is no getting around some its unwieldy attributes, if only in retrospect. Elisabeth Moss leaves Peggy behind, but finds herself taking on another aspect of mad men, as a cop, gone home to visit her ailing mother, whose arrival in the small New Zealand community of Lake Top coincides with the disappearance of a 12 year girl just discovered to be pregnant. Was she abducted? Has she run away? Who is the child's father? For reasons that are revealed later, Moss's officer Griffin is especially driven to answer these questions and, if possible, save Tui - the missing girl. The investigation, manhunt and pregnancy provide a certain ticking clock quality to this otherwise in-none-too-big-a-hurry exploration of the dynamics and secrets of the town (Twin Peaks anyone?) Peter Mullan is the stand-out on-screen presence here, infusing his father of the missing girl role with a ferocity that he applied to a myriad of purposes - grieving, avenging, loving, threatening - he looms large in the town and in every scene, even the ones he's not in, while Holly Hunter's GJ plays the non-sequitur prone lead mouthpiece to a collective of wounded women who provide a Greek chorus of sorts to the proceedings. Of course, this being Campion, sexual politics and philosophy are front, center, on every side, and permeating every frame, and that is not a bad thing at all. She doesn't always hit a home run, but even her strike outs are intriguing (keep swinging for the fences, Jane). When all was said and done, and only then, did I step back and wonder aloud whether every piece played an essential role to this shaggy-dog of a film. Was it an inflated and sorta flabby feature film or an oddly-cut mini-series? Was it perfect? Regardless, one of the best things I've seen this year. Best moment: fall off a mountain.

Vikings Season 1 - Michael Hirst - A lot better than you'd. the hell, think for a show with such a terrible title, and almost as good as you'd really hope it could be. I was skeptical - I mean The History Channel produces original dramatic content, really? - but c'mon, you think I'm not going to check out a show about vikings? Especially one that stars Gabriel Byrne and features Donal Logue. Plus, this Hirst fella wrote the Elizabeth movies and The Tudors (which I know only by reputation - should I watch The Tudors? I mean, if I dig it then I've got to watch The Borgias too, right? I like Neil Jordan after all). It is brutal and wonderfully twisted in content and spirit, but playing on basic cable it is handicapped severely against fare like Game of Thrones or Rome or even Spartacus. Still, I think you'll be surprised at just how much horror and depravity is depicted and really felt due to excellent tonal control. By the way, WTF with Clive Standen playing pretty much exactly the same role in this summer's Hammer of the Gods? Best moment: orgy island sacrifice.