Sunday, July 30, 2017

Where's the Brief? When Susurrus Stirs

When Susurrus Stirs - d: Anthony Cousins w: Jeremy Robert Johnson Yeah, not exactly a crime short, but noirish? Maybe in its surrender. Horrific? Definitely. Some David Cronenberg-level body horror here. Some Glenn Gray shit.

Based on the short story of the same title by Jeremy Robert Johnson - you can read it in Entropy in Bloom. Watch the movie pictures here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ka-Boom

With Atomic Blonde dropping this weekend I think it's safe to call 2017 a standout year for high-gloss action flick fare that deserves art-house respect. Stuntmen turned producer/directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch brought John Wick to the world in 2014, but it was only a primer for this year's double-whammy of John Wick Chapter 2 (directed by Stahelski) and Atomic Blonde (directed by Leitch) both of which up the visuals beyond terrific stunt work with statuesque Charlize Theron strutting through Blonde's 80's neon grit-lit Berlin and chapter two of Wick's on-the-nose action finale set in an actual art house where Keanu Reeves turns the walls into his canvas and paints them red before moving on to possibly the greatest house of mirrors sequence since Orson Welles' Lady From Shanghai.

It gets psychedelic.

Knee caps and arm sockets aren't the only things popping in these flicks either. The editing, the fluidity of motion and sound is top-tier shit. The music - from the 1980s new wave pop of Atomic Blonde to the pulsing dance soundtrack of the John Wick flicks - is music to murder with a boner by (probably best used in the Red Circle sequence from JW chapter one).

John Wick Red Circle sequence
Imagine the demon dance club scene from Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, but with gun-fu. Fuuuuuuck yes.

Now imagine Winding Refn's Drive or Only God Forgives only determined to deliver on genre goods, rather than subvert tropes. We've got fucking amazing artists making action flicks right now.

Y'know what else gets mentioned here? Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. This time out Wright isn't sending up a genre either - he's out to make a shining example of an action/crime flick instead of a parody. Which doesn't mean he isn't having fun. Baby Driver is as effervescent as soda pop and sticky-sweet to boot.

John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Baby Driver go for different tones, but they are essentially the same thing - super hero movies dressed up as crime flicks. They're about people so good at their jobs (hitman, spy, getaway driver) there's never any suspense about their ability to beat the odds they're up against. They're all flash and sizzle, rhythm and attitude. They're deep as a puddle, but damn, if you work up enough speed you can have a lot of fun gliding across the frozen surface.

Yeah, if all the crime flicks coming out were in this vein I'd get sick of 'em pretty quick, but when they're operating on the level these are you're damn right I'm going to enjoy the shit out of them and I suggest you do too.

Here are the mirror sequences for your back to back appreciation and comparison.

Lady From Shanghai
John Wick Chapter 2

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Brief History of My Gun: CriMemoir by Earl Javorsky

Today Earl Javorsky delivers a helluva CriMemoir piece you'll wanna brace yourself for. Seriously, sometimes I write back to contributors to make sure they're cool with this getting out into the world and Earl? He's good.

Give it a read and then check out his books Down Solo and Trust Me. Trust me, this piece'll whet your appetite.

A Brief History of My Gun
by Earl Javorsky

Jennifer was a piece of work. She was my connection’s girlfriend. Jim was the guy that got the ergotamine tartrate from Czechoslovakia, found the chemist in Ann Arbor, and had the tabbing machine in Woodland Hills. Best damn LSD in the ’70s. I would buy it in crystal form—four thousand hits to the gram—and turn it into pyramid-shaped windowpanes. Green for Connecticut. Red for Australia. Blue for LA. We made a lot of money.
 
One night I was supposed to have dinner at their house on the beach in Malibu. I lived nearby, up in one of the canyons. Jim called me and said Jennifer was at the Topanga market, buying food. He said she was running late but come over anyway.
 
It was late dusk, August, and muggy out. Northbound traffic was still heavy, but I was going the other way. About a mile from the house, I noticed a car in the dirt lane between the northbound lane and the dirt cliff that looms above it. I wasn’t sure, but it looked like Jim’s El Camino. I hadn’t seen it more than a few times—it belonged to his gallery at the MGM Grand in Vegas—but it had a distinctive look with its flatbed and its two-tone paint job. I did a U-turn and doubled back.

The El Camino’s lights were on. There was movement in the cab when I pulled up behind it. Something didn’t check out, but there was no reason Jennifer would be here; the location was past her house if she was coming back from Topanga. I got out of my car.
 
The El Camino’s windows were fogged. A kid was in the driver’s seat; I knocked on the window and he rolled it down. I asked him what he was doing, and he said he and his girlfriend  were having “a little, uh, you know.” I said, “No, I don’t know, can you come out here for a moment?” And he did. Surfy looking kid, about nineteen, stocky, a bit sweaty, standing there between me and the door. I caught a glimpse of someone seemingly passed out on the bench seat.
 
I told him I was sorry to bother him, but the car looked like my friend’s car. He said, “No, I’ve had this car since I got my license.” I said, “Is your girlfriend okay?” and he said, “Yeah, she took a couple of reds, I gotta get her home.” Kept his cool, he did. I sensed something was off, but couldn’t pin it down.

I told him I lived right up the street and would be checking him out, then I got back in my car and went to Jim’s. When I told him what happened he shrugged and said, “There’s lots of cars like that.” I said, “Just check your registration.”
 
Jim went to a back room and a minute later came charging out with his car keys and a shotgun. We jammed up the PCH in his 450SL and skidded to a stop behind the El Camino. The door was open, the kid was gone, and Jennifer stumbled out, her face bruised and bleeding. She had been beaten and raped. Jim ran up the now-quiet highway in the dark with the shotgun, as if to catch the kid, or reverse time, or just rage at the universe.
 
Malibu Sheriff pulled up. They took my report and called an ambulance for Jennifer. Nobody asked about the shotgun, which later turned out to have been stolen from a Highway Patrol car.

Jim and I went back to his place and started drinking. Or resumed drinking, who knows? Wondering why the kid was in the driver’s seat. Why there were no groceries. Why there, on the Pacific Coast Highway, in late rush-hour traffic? And where was the kid from? Local? The Valley?
 
Later that night, while Jim ranted about hunting down the little fuck and killing him, it occurred to me that I had told the kid I lived nearby and that he had seen my car, an older Mercedes grey-market import with an odd plastic cover over the sunroof—you could spot it from a mile away. And I was the guy that could put him away for a few years.

So the next day I went to a gun shop. I didn’t take long deciding; I pretty much went straight for the Walther P38K, mainly for its don’t-fuck-with-me look and manageable size.
 
A basement ran the length of the house I was renting. One night, loaded, I took the gun down there and fired at a paper bull’s eye someone had left on the far wall. It was a concrete wall, and the bullet bounced off and zinged toward where I was standing next to the water heater. That was the only time I ever shot the damned thing. I did aim it at a few people, highly intoxicated. Talk about an idiot with a gun.
 
I didn’t know that Jim had a heroin problem. It was early in my career in the chemical entertainment industry, and I couldn’t recognize the signs. One time, we flew to Europe on business: New York, London, Paris, and then Geneva. From there, we drove to Bern. On the flight to London, I came back from the bathroom to find Jim unconscious. He stayed that way for most of the flight. He claimed that he had had trouble pulling off his Tony Lamas and that when his foot finally came out his knee jerked up, hit him in the forehead, and knocked him out.
 
A few days after I arrived home, I got a call from a hotel manager in Milan, asking me to wire money for Jim’s bill. Apparently, Jim had nodded out in the bath and caught pneumonia when the water turned cold. He had run out of cash and was too sick to travel.

Some months went by. One day Jennifer called, hysterical, and told me that Jim had put a bullet in his brain. About a week later, I got a call from the cops, asking me to come to the station. When I got there, they gave me a manila envelope. The Walther was in it, and at the bottom, wedged in the corner, was a misshapen slug with visible organic matter stuck to it. I asked the officer why they were giving that to me and he said, “Well, it’s your property, isn’t it?
 
Years later, when things had turned really ugly, I got popped in a coke bust. The cops said I was reaching for the gun when they blasted through the door, which was a serious crock of shit. This time, they didn’t give it back.

Earl Javorsky is a writer, editor, and proofreader in San Diego. His novels include Down Solo and Trust Me. A sequel to Down Solo is due for release in September. For more, go to www.earljavorsky.com.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Where's the Brief? Gun Monkeys

The Briefcase - d: Simon Brand w: Lee Goldberg, Victor Gischler Another week, another Brian Lindenmuth suggestion. This one is really test footage for an upcoming feature adaptation of Gischler's novel Gun Monkeys. Screenwriter Goldberg shared this on FB recently saying that the actors will not be the same as in the feature film and that he'd been tasked with writing voice over narration for this scene to give it context, but that the VO will not be in the finished product.

Still. Damn. Looks great and I'm a fan of the source material. Check out this conversation I had with Gischler in 2010 for the release of his novel The Deputy. Then check out Gun Monkeys on Vimeo here.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Where's the Brief?: The Robbery

The Robbery - d: Jim Cummings w: Jim Cummings, Dustin Hahn. A couple weeks back Brian Lindenmuth gave me the heads up on this crime short and watching it reminded me of reading Eryk Pruitt. Give it a looksee - Vimeo link here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Welcome to The Rock

I'm no the most prolific fictioneer so I'm perhaps overly excited every time I see a new story in print, but I think I can claim a certain amount of objectivity when I say that Hard Sentences is the best book of crime fiction inspired by Alcatraz ever published.

Edited by David James Keaton and Joe Clifford, it also features contributions by N@B alum Glenn Gray, Matthew McBride and Les Edgerton plus Johnny Shaw, Gabino Iglesias, Max Booth III, Nik Korpon, Nick Mamatas, Rory Costello, Rob Hart, Mark Rapacz, Joshua Chaplinsky, Amber Sparks, Nick Kolakowski, Leah Rhyne, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Carrie Laben and Dino Parenti.

My contribution, Clean Shot, is a fictionalized account of the first escape attempt by the hapless Joseph Bowers, an inmate who sotle $16 from the U.S. Mail. I had a lot of fun researching the story and Alcatraz in general - a rich vein to mine for inspiration - and from the stories I've read so far (about half) it looks like everybody else did too. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

CriMemoir by Tony Knighton

I got to hang out with Philadelphia fireman and hardboiled crime writer Tony Knighton at Noir Con last year and soak up a lot of local flavor and history over a few too many at a number of bars and restaurants in Center City. Great stories, terrific details... damn fine noodles.

His just released novel Three Hours Past Midnight is a corker too. Reading it I couldn't help but wish Michael Mann had used it for the basis of a one-crazy-night movie (rather than ever having made Collateral). If you dig the genre of professional criminals just doing their job and having to improvise when it all goes to hell, this one is right up your alley. (Kindle available now - paperback soon).

I asked Tony for a CriMemoir piece and he sent this.

Thanks, man...

Jed has generously invited me to post an essay about a true crime. While I intend to document a specific event, I think more interesting is the effect it had on me. I work as a firefighter in Philadelphia, Pa., and have responded to physical assaults and sometimes to assist police operations but the crimes that have influenced me most directly are arsons, especially this.

September 7th, 1987, was Labor Day – I could smell charcoal from cookouts as I drove to work – and was warm and breezy. I remember my lieutenant having difficulty lighting a cigarette as some of us stood in front of the station and talked while it got dark.

At about 10:30 that night, Philadelphia Police responded to a disturbance at 5001 Walnut Street – a loud argument in an unlicensed boarding house. This was a huge three and a half story Victorian row-style corner property, sixty feet deep with twelve-foot ceilings, an enclosed front porch, and bay windows. The police separated the arguing tenants, two middle-aged women with histories of mental illness, and left them with a warning.

According to the Fire Marshal’s report, one woman, still unhappy with her neighbor, set fire to the polyester curtains on the enclosed front porch windows. The fire quickly ran the main stairway, cutting off the resident’s primary route of escape, involving the dwelling throughout, and extending to the neighboring homes.

It’s important here for the reader to understand that most structure fires are routinely controlled. The typical house fire usually involves one or two rooms, and, even when more serious, is extinguished in a workmanlike manner. Occasionally, though, a fire has advanced well beyond the capabilities of the first arriving companies – far too much to do, for far too few guys.

That night I responded with the first-in ladder company. As we approached, we saw the fronts of two of these massive dwellings engulfed in flame. The fire in the front extended upward from the first floor windows to beyond the main roofline – over fifty feet. I had two years on the job and while I’d been to many fires, I’d never seen anything like this. I couldn’t fathom how the fire had so quickly advanced – it was as though someone had doused the buildings with gasoline. This was a busy intersection during a holiday weekend; there were people on the sidewalks and cars were still traveling past, the drivers gawking. I found the contrast between the completely abnormal and something asmundane as auto traffic surreal.

Our driver pulled the truck across the intersection, and I jumped off and stood there for a moment, transfixed.  The fire grew even as I watched, pushed up the street by the wind. I wouldn’t have believed what I was seeing if I hadn’t also felt the heat on my face. As I fumbled my way into my mask, I recall wanting to grab one of the older guys and ask, “This isn’t supposed to happen, is it?”

Then I saw people jumping. They were coming out of the side windows from the second and third floors. I heard a man hit the ground.

My memories of those next few minutes are confused – the sights and sounds of companies stretching line and raising ladders, firemen yelling to be heard over the din of screaming civilians and sirens as more companies arrived, and the blackness and heat inside the burning building are all less than clear to me now, thirty years later – but I remember how it felt. I was frightened, but oddly, also elated, in a way that went beyond the easy explanation of adrenaline.

Firefighters don’t really talk about these phenomena. We use a sort of shorthand. While describing a fire to another who wasn’t there, one of us might say it was a “good job.” Should someone get hurt, it’s a “bad job.” I once heard an old-timer refer to a fire like this as “a rip-shitter!” The man was beaming when he said it, as though recounting the best moments of his life. As I’ve noted, this feeling is more than simply the result of adrenaline. Sky-diving or rock climbing can give someone a rush, but neither activity is necessary – they’re recreational. Fires have to be fought. On Walnut Street that night, we intervened in an extreme event. We were useful.

A few years ago, I went with some civilian friends to hear a band at a club, a few doors away from the site of a different but similar fire in another part of the city. I pointed to the empty lot and began to tell the others about it but realized I was failing – I was giving them descriptions of what I’d seen and what had happened but my friends couldn’t glean any significance from the story – none had ever had this sort of experience. I faltered, a bit embarrassed, and gave up.

At 5001 Walnut Street in 1987, two of the residents were killed. Neither was the intended target of the fire. Another half dozen or so residents were injured, as well as two firemen. Most in the house escaped or were rescued. The woman who set the fire was arrested and later convicted on multiple charges stemming from the incident, including two counts of second-degree murder.

There was a small piece of good luck: within seconds of our arrival, a friend was pulling line and heard a plop behind him in the street. A woman on the third floor had panicked and thrown her eighteen-month old son out a window. The child was released from the hospital the next morning, unscathed.

Thanks, Jed.

Tony Knighton is a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, a thirty year veteran and the author of Three Hours Past Midnight as well as the novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties from Crime Wave Press. Follow him on Twitter @dinnertimedave

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Small Crimes July 2017

Half way through 2017 and I've got several picks I'm certain will end up on my best of the year list. But y'know I like to give due to the little guy at HBW so here're a few of the small crime flicks I've seen this year that you may not see coverage of otherwise....

Arsenal - Steven C. Miller - Not as sold on this one as I was last year's Marauders, but I am duly impressed by director Miller's skills to turn C-grade material into solid B-fare with proper attention to the little things that echo loudly. It's a good-looking film with a solid and or interesting cast. Nicolas Cage is dutifully off the leash while Johnathon Schaech is commendably restrained. John Cusack is alternately hilariously un-cast and daringly deadpan while Adrian Grenier holds the center firmly in place. In the end it's perhaps more aesthetically dude-bro than I'd usually care for, but I have to admit, the pick up trucks and baseball caps and suburban concerns of these blue-collar rooted characters ultimately ring true (truer even than some lauded material like last year's Hell or High Water - which can come off a tad patronizing). Ultimately I didn't give a shit, but for several sections there I almost did. High marks for the high gloss on the nasty violence. I think Miller may turn in a true masterpiece of gnarly crime shit one of these days.

Bastille Day (aka The Take) - 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.

Detour - Christopher Smith - I'm a fan of Smith's horror outings Severance and especially Black Death, so news that he was turning to a life of crime gave me big goose bumps. And while Detour is admirably content with B-grade aspirations, it lacks the stylistic and surprisingly emotionally potent innovations that endeared him to me in the first place. What we get is a pretty standard low-brow (not an insult at all - I fucking love my crime fare low-brow) crime flick about flawed characters making bad choices for (relatively) low pay offs competently delivered.

Deuces - Jamal Hill - Not coming up with anything to recommend this one for. Urban-western crime color by numbers exercise lacking both the style and flair that made Belly such a highly-watchable spectacle and the grounded immediacy that turned Snow On Da Bluff into an emotionally-potent and visceral experience. Softball down the middle, but

DrifterChris von Hoffmann - The hardscrabble post-hard-decline-of-civilization setting that could be the same world as The Rover or The Road - we're not sure which - isn't terribly interesting and neither are the characters. The star of the show is the eye behind the lens which finds a way to turn the micro budget into a few arresting sets and shots which unfortunately don't add up to enough to recommend the movie. The characters bouncing off each other take turns being victims of the callous indifference of fate or worse subjects of cruelty for the entertainment of the others and do little to illicit sympathy or empathy from the audience. The pacing which feels like it's shooting for a stately Leone-esque beat to best frame its scenarios for maximum chewiness finds itself at odds with the script and editors - the end result being a tension-less thriller that manages to be simultaneously overly-talky and a vacuum begging to be filled. A few gnarly moments of nastiness are sparks that fail to generate more than smoke amongst the soggy tinder, but leave me interested in seeing further efforts from Hoffman - maybe the next one will be better.

Handsome - Jeff Garlin - Director/star/co-writer Garlin's shaggy dog comedic mystery featuring his titular detective solving an overly-gruesome murder in Los Angeles is taking lazy, good-natured swipes at the cardboard network and cable procedurals that remain the unassailable source for an apparently unquenchable thirst for killer-catching since television's inception. The targets are so obvious the jokes announce themselves so far in advance that that becomes a joke in and of itself when, in a nod to many made-for-TV-movies of the week of yore, Steven Weber introduces himself to the camera as the killer in tonight's mystery thereby deflating any tension before it can arise. The biggest pleasure comes from watching Garlin and Natasha Lyonne together on screen. Honestly, Lyonne's charisma could drag this entire movie behind it and make it watchable, but she's helped out by Garlin and the rest of the cast, as well as the script which, while far from sharp, is tonally consistent and doggedly committed to its premise.

Heist - Scott Mann - Finally blinked in my two-year game of chicken with this high concept entry in the latter-career Robert De Niro gets ten minutes genre. And... not good, but not as bad as I feared it might be. The best takeaways are Dave Bautista and Gina Carano making compelling arguments for case their film careers. Both are highly watchable and do more than their share of the lifting. In the end they're responsible for three-quarters of the points, Jeffrey Dean Morgan not blowing layups are the others. Wants to be both clever and gritty, but can't split the difference and ends up silly, but not the fun kind.

The Hollow Point - Gonzalo L√≥pez-Gallego - Amongst the glut of border-sploitation fare flooding theaters, Redbox and streaming services this one is not a glossy, Oscar-bait message movie, nor near as schlocky as the majority of the rest. It's a mostly solid crime film with a handful of moments that make it a recommendation. On the heels of his hugely appealing performance in Fargo's second season Patrick Wilson is accumulating a portfolio of leading roles in small budget crime films that could re-invent his image and John Leguizamo turns in a, for once, quietly menacing performance while Ian McShane shows up, but is handily upstaged by a surprisingly good James Belushi. What really works here are a few un-foreshadowed escalations of violence that help sustain interest when the plot gets a little muddy and minor inconsistencies threaten to distract.

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore - Macon Blair - Melanie Lynsky holds the center of this slippery flick with such dexterity she directs the audience through each tonal shift and development so easily you'd be forgiven for missing how terrific she is. You'd know she was good, but that's not enough. She's really, really good. As is the script and deft directorial touch by Blair. Her apartment being robbed and the lack of motivation to do anything about it by the police are the last assaults her dignity can withstand before she's spurred to take action against the tide of rampant assholery she feels afloat in. She begins to recover some of her property and in the process runs afoul of the crew of scuzzy thieves that ripped her off. Things go from sad and funny to thrillingly dangerous to horrifically violent and right back around without ever misstepping and that is a miracle.

In a Valley of Violence - Ti West - Producing a western on a small budget means sacrificing horses for name actors, and a cast of actors for decent sets. As much as it seems the film was made on a whim  - hey, we got access to an old timey town and some costumes, anybody wanna make a western? - West manages to work a couple of surprises into the script and gets an unexpectedly engaged performance out of John Travolta. Ethan Hawke is solid and James Ransone is James Ransone. As much as it feels made on a whim, it has enough going for it not to feel like a shrug.

A Kind of Murder - Andy Goddard - The bones of the source material (Patricia Highsmith's novel The Blunderer) are barely discernible beneath the surface here, but it lacks any real emotional impact and is pretty dull. Not even the always-engaging Eddie Marsan can salvage it.

King Cobra - Justin Kelly - Pornography, murder, celebrity, money and next-level dumbfuckery are all part of the true story of under-age gay porn star Brent Corrigan (Garrett Clayton) and the contract dispute that led to the murder of film maker Bryan Kocis (called "Stephen" in the film and played by Christian Slater). The introduction of the killers, Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes as portrayed by Keegan Allen and James Franco respectively inject the proceedings with a welcome wild-card energy including the dream of producing a big budget gay porn and muscle cars series called The Fast & the Curious (haven't bothered googling that title to see if it's a thing or just a wonderful title made up for the film - I'd be just a touch heartbroken if that were a fictional flourish). Alternately creepy, funny and tragic. Solid work all around - here's hoping Kelly's J.T. Leroy project scores.

Let Me Make You a Martyr - John Swab, Corey Asraf - Atmospheric crime drama revolving around a backwood vice lord (Mark Boone Jr.) who hires a killer (Marilyn Manson) to dispose of his step children (Sam Quartin and Niko Nicotera) who are lovers and have ripped him off. For reasons I've been happy to report previously I wouldn't blame you for questioning my objectivity regarding this one, but kids I dug it. I dug the pungent feel, ethereal sound and serious approach to the material more commonly treated as pulp (and I'm fucking excited to have Asraf applying his sensibilities to Peckerwood), but don't take my word for it - check it out and lemme know what you thought.

Masterminds - Jared Hess - The 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery is a true event that undoubtedly will sometime have another film treatment, but however many it eventually gets, at least one of them being a broadly comic approach seems inevitable. I love Hess's affinity for weirdos and his treatment of them and this is a cast of characters he could sink his teeth in to. It's a cast of performers to die for too, but the assembled super team sometimes pull in directions at odds with Hess's singular voice. Small sacrifices in vision for laughs courtesy of a talented ensemble of improvisation pros is a call I'm happy enough to let go, but the place I think this film suffers is the score. Hess's identifiable musical choices are a through-line in his best and most personal films and for whatever reason all of his personality has been stripped from the soundscape of this film in favor of flavorless generic placeholding music (budgetary issues? studio overreach? or maybe it's just another layer of meta joke like the editing style of the Coen's Scott Brothers' style parody Burn After Reading? - I did laugh at it once or twice). Try and imagine a Wes Anderson movie with the score replaced by something lifted from an episode of Law & Order... Still, I laughed easily and often... I just wish we could get an alternate music cues cut of this one.

Mean Dreams - Nathan Morlando - The untimely death of Bill Paxton pushed this one high on my must get to list and as a final performance it's solid. He's menacing and nasty, yet still recognizably human and vulnerable when it comes to someone he loves. The film is a mostly solid small-scale crime tale about a kid who falls for the daughter of a dirty cop and rips off said potential father in law and hopes to use the funds to facilitate a new life with his young love far away from the oppressive dead-end situation he's grown up in. It's got a darker, more serious, less-stylized edge than some similar recent fare (like oh, say Bad Turn Worse) and for that I'm thankful. In the end what I thought elevated it above some other likewise straight-forward stuffs were a few transcendent moments of the original soundtrack from composer Ryan Lott.

Mercury PlainsCharles Burmeister - My very low expectations for this one were handily and delightfully surpassed about half way through the flick. Scott Eastwood plays a young man bereft of direction who hooks up with a band of thieves comprised of mostly white kids who march into the thick of the drug wars in Mexico and along the border posing as FBI agents under the leadership and influence of a murderous speechifying father figure called The Captain (Nick Chinlund). He feeds them nonsense about the justness of their fight, but nobody believes it - they're a straight up marauding band making big money through violent means. This premise is awesome. It's essentially a whole-cloth Blood Meridian rip-off/update with bits of All the Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men thrown in. This is some destitute man's Cormac McCarthy Redbox fare whose latent pleasures are numerous in the back half of the film. It's ridiculous and weird but straight-faced (seriously the balls on this thing) and never blinks. I laughed at it, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't really enjoy it.

Officer Downe - Shawn Crahan - Not having read the comics by Joe Casey and Chris Burnham and not knowing the music of (director Crahan's band) Slipknot I came to this material without any interests vested, but my time. The genre of undead policeman has Robocop resting comfortably at the pinnacle and is in no danger of being knocked off by this one. Kim Coates is game and gives the material and character a shot, but the concept's weirdness tastes canned. The intentional schlocky-ness undercuts the impact on every level. Some folks can pull that off. Not this time.

Shimmer Lake - Oren Uziel - The sheriff of a small town leads a manhunt for three bank robbers one of whom is his brother. Another Netflix original I went into blind and really enjoyed for three reasons. First, the tone. While it is dosed with plenty of humor, it isn't a comedy - the violent and tragic elements are given straightforward treatment and work just as well as the comedic bits. Second, the structure. The story is told in reverse over the course of three days and the decision to tell it that way pays off in numerous small ways without feeling like the ultimate revelation is gimmicky or a big let down - again, the tone is key here - it's a fairly unassuming picture unlike work by oh... Christopher Nolan or M. Night Shyamalan where you're looking hard for the key for the whole run time and the ultimate success of the film rests on the delivery of that final detail. Third, the cast. Solid ensemble, but holy shit I need Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston to make many, many more appearances as their B-team FBI agents.

Small Crimes - Evan Katz - Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a bent cop just out of prison for the attempted murder of a local prosecutor at the behest of the gangster in whose pocket he was quite comfortable before jail. Now out, he finds the world has moved on without him. His wife and kids have disappeared and want nothing to do with him, his parents let him sleep in their basement, but clearly do not trust him and keep civil faces stretched over deep wells of pain and resentment. The surviving victim of his attack is now horribly scarred and dead set on sending Joe back to prison for the rest of his life and there's no hiding in anonymity in the small community he's returned to - it seems everywhere he goes somebody openly hates him. Lastly, the gangster whose name he never spoke during his incarceration is on his deathbed and in sudden fear for the state of his immortal soul may be about to confess all of his sins including those that implicate Joe and another kept cop, the scene-stealing Gary Cole. To keep from going back to prison Joe's got to kill the gangster before he can confess while the hating eyes of the whole community are on him. If that sounds like a lot of plot to keep track of, don't worry, coming off his pitch perfect debut, Cheap Thrills, director Katz continues to demonstrate a deft touch with exposition, a knack for clearly defining character relationships and for maximizing the situational potential scene to scene. Of course the film is an adaptation of the excellent novel by Dave Zeltserman, so don't forget to check that one out too.

Take Me - Pat Healy - Director/star Healy plays an oddball entrepreneur with a bizarre specialty - providing simulated abduction experiences for his clients who get an emotional release, a psychological boost or sexual thrill from his services which include being snatched off the street, blindfolded and gagged in his van, tied to a chair in his basement and then... name your pleasure. Taylor Schilling plays Anna, a woman Healy believes is his next client who has paid for some extra special bonus features. Meanwhile Anna is reported missing and the police are looking for her and looking at Healy who is beginning to doubt the legitimacy of current gig. After a terrific opening fifteen minutes the tension begins to leak out of this one through some sizable gaps in logic and the premise runs out of steam well before the credits roll, but the onscreen appeal of Healy is enough to recommend spending some time with it when it's available on Netflix.

Young Offenders - Peter Foot - Two teenagers in Ireland steal bicycles to ride to the coast on a search for the kilos of cocaine that were washing up on the beaches in 2007. The film is pretty low-stakes as the pair figure they're not risking much - if they're caught they think they can't be sent to prison as they would fall into the category of juvenile offenders. The pair have crossed purposes with more serious criminals and their penchant for stealing bikes has them in the locked in the sites of a local policeman. Highly enjoyable, good natured light fare... for a change.