Thursday, August 28, 2014

Three For the Road


Nightcrawler - w/d: Dan Gilroy

Starred Up - d: David Mackenzie w: Jonathan Asser

The Connection - d: Cedric Jimenez

Monday, August 25, 2014

No One Goes Quietly, Not Pablo Escobar or David Cronenberg... And You're Next


Boardwalk Empire: The final season - Terence Winter
Paradise Lost - w/d: Andrea Di Stefano

Maps to the Stars - d: David Cronenberg w: Bruce Wagner


The Guest - d: Adam Wingard w: Simon Barrett

Friday, August 22, 2014

2014 in Crime Flicks: July

The Detective - Gordon Douglas - Frank Sinatra plays Joe Leland, the titular policeman investigating the savage murder of the son of a powerful citizen in the 1960s. Said fortunate son was a homosexual and likely killed by a lover which makes the case sensational enough to illicit giggles and blanching from the most seasoned of NYC's finest. Except Leland. Leland is the man without a country here - generally respected, but an aggravation as often as an asset to the department interested in quoing the precious status 24-7, and in his personal life, loved, but rarely understood, by Karen (Lee Remick) the educated, conscientious lefty whom Leland has set his affections on. And to be fair, Leland can be kind of a prick. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Roderick Thorp, it's a bit of a time-capsule piece of shifting social mores and anxieties, but doesn't offer much for those looking for a ripping mystery... which is okay, because its intentions are pretty clearly favoring social drama and character study. Does it succeed on either intention? With mixed results. Leland is occasionally compelling when juxtaposed with other cops (Robert Duvall among them) or Karen's alarmed friends who can't understand why she'd be interested in a fascist, but it never quite cracks his shell either and I dunno how interested I was in the end in getting beneath. It's a little strange to think of this one as a precursor to Die Hard (which is based on the Thorp novel Nothing Lasts Forever and featuring Leland - John McClane in the movie) too, tho that flick also serves as something of a time capsule examination of masculinity and subverted the very tropes the franchise has gone on to perpetuate. Hmmm. Best moment: Sinatra breaks down a suspect with a little understanding. The mix of empathy and manipulation was not as harshly funny as a similar scene featuring Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, but in the same sport.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - Wes Anderson - Story within a story, within a story, within a... but mostly concerned with Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) the concierge of the grand hotel and Zero (Tony Revolori) his lobby boy and protege. The film follows the duo as they allude police and a killer thug (Willem Dafoe is so perfect) after Gustave is framed for the murder of one of his wealthy clients (Tilda Swinton - add this one to Snowpiercer in Swinton's recent trend of hilariously grotesque plays on her image). The cast is impressive, the performances specific and of a piece, and the music combined with the mind-boggling level of attention to detail, synonymous with Anderson's name, create an alternate reality so appealing, I frankly never wanted the picture to end. And yes, it's a fucking crime movie. Shut up. There's lots of crimes the film is concerned with - murders and thievery and prison escapes - so shut your smug face. Fiennes positively sparkles (shut the fuck up) as Gustave, and he and Zero are typical Anderson characters: master and mentor enamored of formality and the proper way things are done - including (and perhaps most especially) resistance to and rebellion against tyranny. I know it's not particularly cool to be a fan of Anderson's - twee being the derogatory adjective most often flung at his sensibility, but I don't think that charge sticks here. As his characters are, Anderson is a student of and believer in form and formal mentor ship, and his padowan relationship to past masters has never been more plainly on display, but just as his characters find freedom for self-discovery and expression rather than restriction within the bounds of social contracts and formalities, Anderson seems peculiarly free and unfettered by the rigors of propriety within his discipline and has wrought perhaps his most potent and personally revealing work to date. No emotion or human current is untapped or unworthy here - rather everything has its clearly defined place - and tell me you don't respond to notions of love and nobility here or that the violence in this one isn't more visceral than your average serial killer movie. And I'll be damned if Anderson didn't out-De Palma anything Brian De Palma's done lately for one particular murder sequence. Fucking-A plus. Best moment: F. Murray Abraham's epilogue rings such a true note that doesn't exactly re-contextualize the story, but re-enforces and grounds the dramatic stakes.

The Immigrant - James Gray - Ewa, a polish immigrant (Marion Cotillard), is detained at Ellis Island with her sick sister, who is quarantined, and slated for deportation when a mysterious benefactor, Bruno (Joaquine Phoenix), steps in and offers the woman a shot at a life in the new world and a chance to save her sister from being shipped across the ocean. Suspicious, but desperate, Ewa chooses to accept a post as a housekeeper which leads to dance hall performer and prostitute where best money is. Ewa's story is not a victim's, but a survivor's and whether it's ultimately despairing or hopeful is the audience's litmus test. Along the way she experiences betrayal and devotion, exploitation and benevolence, but nothing alters her course or deters her intent to liberate her sister. Gray is a film maker I've always found compelling - his aesthetic sense is hugely appealing, and his interest in the small details and decisions create intriguing tensions for his characters to exist within. This one's probably as close to sweeping as he'll get (what with the ambitious and excellently executed historic setting and themes), but the feel remains close, intimate and immediate and the ultimate resolution of the central relationship between Cotillard and Phoenix is as thorny and imprecise as it should be. Ewa is the steadfast character here, whose purpose is always clear regardless of circumstance or means, but it's Bruno, whose intent is always suspect, who is most compelling. Ever torn (or is he?) between self-service and more noble impulses, every layer revealed adds complexity if not to who he is than at least to our perspective on him and we get the sense that he's at least as genuinely confused about his own identity (the character, not the performer - an important distinction) as the viewer is. And by the time the cops brutally shake Bruno down, his response surprises him as much as it does Ewa without clearly defining his motive to anyone. Looking forward to watching this one again sometime. It should be said that the supporting cast, especially Dagmara Dominczyk, Jicky Schnee and Elena Solovey are uniformly excellent, providing more dimension and production value to the flick than any (necessary) trick of lighting or CGI. Best moment: a family meal at the pub. Everything is on display here, Bruno's complexity, Ewa's consciousness and complicity, and the community of women among the wolves.

Joe - David Gordon Green - Joe (Nicolas Cage), an ex-con just trying to live and let live encounters a host of obstacles along the straight and narrow. Joe has his own small business and employs a youngster named Gary (Ty Sheridan) who supports his family as best he can until his abusive, shit-for-worth father (Gary Poulter) eventually fucks things up so bad they have to leave yet another small town and move on. Arrrrrgh, this pisses Joe off. Gary's a good kid and his old man is real bad news. Joe's known very few Garys in his time and all too many alcoholic assholes bent on snuffing out the Garys of the world. Hell, he's maybe been one himself. Joe's tryin to stay upright, but he tilts haaaard at self-destruction... perhaps... maybe... just maybe he can make his imminent personal downfall count for something worthwhile. I think I just reduced a swell flick to a cliche-ridden sound bite. So, don't read this. See the movie. Or, if you've gotta read something, read the source material by Larry Brown. Either of those options are swell. Some folks have called this a return to form for Green, the director of George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow and Snow Angels, (tho, I'll argue the virtues of Your Highness any day, friend), but it is certainly a reminder how how damn good Cage can be when he's got a script and a director. He stands placid and anchored at the center of a vortex of violence and dead-end living until his own suicidal energy spills over. Splish, splash, here comes Tazmanian Nicolas Cage! Except... there's a glint in his eyes, but this is the furthest thing from Drive Angry Cagian havoc. What are these, these... feelings? Flick will make you feel shit. And Cage will too. Not to mention Sheridan and Poulter (in his sole screen credit - he died before he had the chance to make any more celluloid impressions, and judging from his presence in this picture, that's a notable loss - dammit). Best moment: the opening sequence of Joe's day to day with his crew, on the job, in his pickup, coffee, alcohol, shootin the shit with the convenience store guy - just first class world building. You know this guy afterward.

McCanick - Josh C. Waller - Detective Eugene McCanick (David Morse) is having a bad day. It's his birthday, which for him is just another reminder that he's growing old alone. He's trying to reach his slightly estranged son on the phone and plan a birthday dinner through the course of the single-day's span that the film covers, meanwhile as is want in cop flicks, bad shit is going on with his partner and worst of all a punk street hustler he once put away is unexpectedly back on the street and this is commanding his attention. Morse has been a favorite of mine since The Indian Runner and I've wondered for twenty years why the guy didn't have a leading man career. This guy should be huge. There's more character in his left eye than in the Ryan Reynolds' entire six pack. Well, the launch of Morse's leading man career is here finally, and it's a gritty little crime flick utilizing the guy in all the right ways. We've seen him play salt of and scum of the earth often enough, we're not sure which camp his detective McCanick belongs to. He's a grizzled veteran Philadelphia cop whose body is scar tissue over creaky bones with a thousand life-times of pain stored up in those soulful eyes of his. I'm not sure if the pay off worked for me - I'll have to revisit it - but I had a good time getting there. Best moment: the opening sequence is marvelous character building with Morse's physicality and the costume and set designer's eye for detail - that glued together #1 Dad coffee mug just says so much.

The Raid 2: Berandal - Gareth Evans - Not gonna bother with a single plot description except to say that this one differs from The Raid: Redemption in that it's not set in a single locale or in a limited time - it's more of a sprawler. That said, it is very much the same kind of kick to your brain balls the first one was. Just HO-LEE-SHIT action with amazing visual style. So much in fact that it might be best experienced in several short visits, 'cause you may become desensitized and unable to absorb another single mind-blowing sequence. Best moment: I dug the preparation scene in the prison toilet as Rama (Iko Uwais) focuses and prepares to take on the mob of psychos beating down the stall door.

Robocop - Jose Padilha - The recent Paul Verhoeven remakes succeed on the basic level of watchable sci-fi action flicks, but both suffer from comparison to the original pictures (though I'm sure Len Wiseman and the folks behind Total Recall would say they were adapting a Philip K. Dick story and not the Verhoeven movie) for the important reason that the originals were the work of a balls-out cinematic artist whose blockbusters were satires of the very genres the were succeeding in and whose flops were such gigantic turds people can't stop critically reconsidering them certain they'd missed something. Verhoeven's career fixation with fascism, as well as other thematic through-lines, are distinctive artistic thumbprints that bolster his work - elevating the lesser attempts by inclusion in the body, and for that reason at least his versions/visions are more resonant and memorable than their contemporary cash ins... Buuut hold on. While I don't see much to recommend Wiseman's career trajectory beyond slick action pulp (and there's nothing wrong with that), Padilha's history is another matter entirely. Consider that his Robocop follows three pictures also concerned with rampant crime, corruption, violence and fascist solutions (only in his home of Rio de Janero) Bus 174, Elite Squad and Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within (and I recommend checking all of them out). Now Robocop seems like a far more interesting choice for a foreign film maker with something to say (like Verehoeven was) when given his chance to make a big American franchise movie. There are some bold stylistic choices made here too: the first-person shooter action scenes work on several levels, the disassembled Roboman looked like a nightmare out of a David Cronenberg classic, the open-faced robo-suit is a questionable call but as Michael Keaton's corporate bad guy says straight through the fourth wall, "People don't know what they want until you show them." Strong supporting cast here (including Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Michael K. Williams and Jay Baruchel), but nobody steals the movie quite like Jackie Earle Haley who just walks away with the damn thing every time he's on screen. Really terrific work, guy. In fact he gets the Best Moment: the warehouse combat testing scene.

We Are What We Are - Jim Mickle - The Parkers are a close knit family in a small rural community who are about to have their bond tested by the death of their wife/mother and a particularly soggy, rainy week during which they practice a secret religious ritual that their neighbors know nothing about. With her mother's passing, the brunt of the preparation duties fall to the oldest daughter Iris (Ambyr Childers) while father Frank (Bill Sage) deals with his grief and some irritating questions from the local doctor (Michael Parks). It probably won't take you long to piece together the mystery of the missing town folk, and the Parker's ritual, but I won't spoil anything here as Mickle sets such a pleasing atmosphere to hang out in. Of course the best trick up Mickle's sleeve is fantastic work by his actors, specifically Sage and Parks, (but everybody is good) and hats off to Kelly McGillis for showing up in several good dark indy flicks lately). I confess I didn't know this one was a remake of a Mexican import from Jorge Michel Grau a couple years earlier till after watching it. Having seen this one, I'm not sure I'm interested in going back to the original, but it probably deserves a shout out. Best moment: the finale did actually make me feel physically ill and that's an achievement, kids.

Welcome to the Punch - Eran Creevy - Super thief Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) is forced to come out of hiding/retirement and return to London to spring his criminal son who's fallen into the clutches of the cops. When the kid's identity is discovered, former supercop Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) who has a history with Sternwood senses a shot at redeeming his career or maybe exacting revenge. A decent enough setup for what is ultimately a frustrating film, caught as it is between the sensibilities of gritty, character-driven crime flick and slick, cool, action-driven crime flick. That said, it's got a few good moments for each type of picture. Best moment: Andrea Riseborough in the punch.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What a Week

What a fucking week. My home town of St. Louis has been in the national and even international spotlight since the Saturday shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, by an unidentified police officer. Fuck. Shit's gone sideways folks. Praying for a better outcome to the escalation of violence and lopsided disbursement of constitutional protections than we've seen historically. It's been a little strange seeing folks that I know and interact with regularly on national news programs and being quoted in major media outlets, but I'd like to publicly thank a few of them for their up front and behind the scenes work for peace and justice in this tragic situation, especially Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Umar Lee. Thank you.

And it has me thinking... could it all be some rogue publicist tackling his job promoting David James Keaton's Fish Bites Cop: Stories to Bash Authorities with a bit too much psychotic enthusiasm? I had the privilege of penning an introduction for that sucker and got a bit carried away (as one is bound to reading Keaton) saying things like "... in a world where Keaton wins: Chaos reigns. Authority crumbles. The emperor's clothing is publicly proclaimed to be, and is demonstrably, non-existent. But that's not the end of it. Not by a long shot. Then the fat fuck is forced to grind his ass on a brass pole for his supper. And, of course, you have to watch. Further, after the ghastly, lewd performance you will fork over his due. And the farce continues." So if this has been some kind of publicity stunt dreamed up to sell a few more copies of a satirical collection of fiction, I shudder at the thought of what we can expect to happen when The Last Projector drops this fall (pre-order that shit right here).

The place I'll be, along with Keaton, when that happens? Philadelphia - Noircon. I'll be there with some fellow Broken River Books brethren like Anthony Neil Smith, J. David Osborne and Michael Kazepis. But this information should not deter you from attending. Lou Boxer puts on a helluva party for folks of our ilk and it's all ilk and folk and hell for three days. See you there.

Know where else I'll be? Second Story in Indianapolis September 13th alongside Kyle Minor and Adam Fleming Petty as we join Eric Shonkwiler's big-ass book tour in support of Above All Men. Check out the other dates for Shonkwiler's tour here and see the other great talent who'll be showing up to be part of it. Also, keep checking Hardboiled Wonderland for more details on the upcoming N@B-NWA hosted by Nightbird Books in Fayetteville, Arkansas on October 2nd. Nightbird is a great store (you can even purchase Peckerwood right off their shelves!) and they're putting on a terrific event with myself, Scott Phillips, Jake Hinkson and John Hornor Jacobs. Stay tuned for more on that, then come on by and say 'hi'.


But back to the week we've just had, this fucking week, man. We lost the company of the woman with more sultry sex-power in her gaze than is legal in 48 states. Let's put it this way, if looks could kill, there'd be a buncha paunchy, pasty white folk open-carrying her likeness at Target stores and Chipotle restaurants across the country scaring the hell out of the rest of us. Lauren Bacall, star of HBW favorites Key Largo, Dark Passage, To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, died on Tuesday. Married to her frequent co-star Humphrey Bogart, I can't think of a better presence to bounce his ugly mug off of and she held her own against his screen presence, the two of them bolstering the other's performance and command of our attentions, affections and admiration. Not a lot of work in the last decade, but she showed up in Paul Schrader's The Walker and she stole a great episode of The Sopranos as herself getting mugged and punched in the face by Michael Imperioli. Classy lady.


Sunday we lost a funny man, and though he'll be remembered most for his unhinged comedic persona, the stillness in Robin Williams' subdued performance in One Hour Photo was chilling enough to earn an HBW fond farewell. There was a darkness lurking under the surface of many of his funnier film appearances too (Cadillac Man, The Fisher King, World's Greatest Dad, Death to Smoochy - not to mention the creepiest -tho probably unintentionally- Toys - come to mind). Sorry to see you go, sir. I don't want to pretend that I know what was going on in the man's heart and mind, but I'd like to say that if you have never objectively considered the option of suicide... I'm just not sure I can ever fully understand you. Pain, man. It gets painful. If you have, I'm glad you rejected it, but if you're present enough in your own life, I'm guessing it's come up for you. It has for me.

Since backward is the direction for a happy ending to this week's recap, Saturday I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon with Paul von Stoetzel (director of Snuff, Viscosity, and someday soon Hogdoggin') at local breweries talking about films and books and a whole lotta you good guys and gals. We talked too about Your Blind Spot, his new short film from an original screenplay by Frank Wheeler Jr. Pretty friggin excited to see it. The timing ought to be good for cross-promoting the film and Frank's terrific new book The Good Life. Get it. And keep a lookout for the film, you know I'll be all over it when it's viewable somewheres.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

2014 in Books: The First Half


Beautiful Naked & Dead - Josh Stallings - Moses McGuire is a burnt-out strip-club bouncer contemplating offing himself when one of the girls whose protection he takes as a serious vocation is murdered. Suddenly suicide can wait. Hey kids, it's a missing girl in LA, PI novel and I'm recommending it. How can that be? Well, it's by Josh Stallings, that's how. Dude breathes gravity into every word. His stories are familiar from decades of crime story consumption, but his characters walk, talk and bleed with an authority earned God knows how, but it must've been unpleasant. Fiction sun-fried hard on a death-valley stone.


City of Glass - Paul Auster, Paul Karasik, David Mazzucchelli -
A funny book adaptation of an intellectual detective novel by Auster. Why'd I pick it up? Uh... um... Curiosity and the added attraction of being able to ingest it in a couple hours rather than the days, weeks, months it would've taken me to finish the original novel. Dude's smart, I get it. He's read and can deconstruct genre fiction as well as many tomes of history, philosophy, religion, poetry and linguistics. Can he impress all of this upon me subliminally while entertaining me with an engrossing story? I don't know. It didn't happen here. Aside from the occasional, reluctant nod of ascent to the depth and breadth of his cleverness, I just didn't give a shit. Not the first Auster I've read. Maybe not the last, but I've yet to be converted to the cult.


Criminal: Bad Night - Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips - If you haven't read the Brubaker/Phillips Criminal series, you're only depriving yourself of the sublime. For crime fans like myself, these books provide a state approaching sexual excitement. They are a full immersion in an alternate and timeless universe where the tropes still seem fresh and immediate as well as inevitable. The Criminal series stands alongside the canon of films and books that inspired it at once fan and peer, encompassing all the lurid thrills the casual consumer looks for as well as the heartbreak and human tragedy that the truly hooked crave.

Cry Father - Benjamin Whitmer - Not as easily pegged as a crime novel, but certainly of a piece with Whitmer's debut Pike in its chronicling (as opposed to an inspection) of a broken and particularly American strand of masculinity spinning its sad, unnoticed wheels on the outskirts of a civilization that wants it to just go away quietly. Patterson Wells is dutifully running away from everything left that he loves (an ex-wife and home), as if he could make enough psychic distance to protect anything worth protecting when his inevitable self-destruction comes. While he waits out his terminus he does dangerous work with a chainsaw, interferes with the wrong tweaker's plans, goes on drunks, gets in fights, writes letters to his dead son, listens to bizarre pirate radio and digs a shallow grave. Themes man, themes are what drives this one as Patterson meets his equal and opposite, Junior - a drug runner with a short shelf-life of his own - and the two begin to orbit each other drawing their circle tighter slowly and surely leading up to the collision each has understood was waiting for them at the end of their respective roads. It's regally sad. It's too bad it wasn't around forty or fifty years ago to be made into a fucking amazing flick starring folks like Harry Dean Stanton and Bruce Dern or Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, Lee Marvin and Lee Van Cleef, Burt Kennedy... even Paul Newman in handsome bastard mode (ala Hud or Sometimes a Great Notion) at the fore. Shit, maybe even Clint Eastwood... Not to suggest a movie would ever be better or equal to Whitmer's prose, but just to y'know give you an idea of the flavor. Got it?

Dove Season - Johnny Shaw - Revisit! Jimmy Veeder goes home to see his terminally ill father before he dies. Dad asks him a single favor - bring him a hooker. A particular hooker who hails from across the border and shares a connection to the old man in a way Jimmy's not ready for. As much a family saga as a badass crime misadventure, it reads like Elmore Leonard on laudanum - which is to say the pace is easy and you don't mind at all. When the fit shans all the hell over, you'll catch the rotation of each spec and appreciate its trajectory. Shaw taps a wellspring of character, makes you laugh, cry, cringe and occasionally fist-pump in enthusiasm and I can't think of a stronger recommendation.

Flight: All Crime Comics #2 - Paul Grimshaw, Erik Warfield, Steven E. Gordon, Vince Musacchia - Very quick, bloody and beautifully stylized book. Hijacking... soccer... cons... It's quick. It's stylish. There is much murder. Happy.

The Good Life - Frank Wheeler Jr. - Earl Haack Jr. learned early the awful things that have to be done to establish order (the precursor to peace) as sheriff of a small Nebraska town that rests at a pivotal point along a major drug trafficking highway, and once his private dark places have grown some full-sized demons, he just might be the man to step into the power vacuum and establish that order. Meanwhile, he fantasizes about murdering his wife, he may have to off his own brother and dispose of the bodies of about half the residents of the area before the last page. All in a day's work for this good old boy. This is damnedest, most revoltingly violent small-town nightmare of crime novel since... I dunno, but it made my hair stand up, sit down again, roll over and puke up breakfast. That is to say, I loved it. Get some. 

Hop Alley - Scott Phillips - Bill Ogden is a learned man and a professional photographer who takes pride in the finer points of his craftsmanship. He's doing his best to maintain some dignity and self-respect on the frontier - having been forced to flee his studio and position as a prominent citizen of Cottonwood, Kansas all wanted for murder and shit. But it's hard out here for a pimp, and he's reduced to some flim-flam gigs and paying for the non-exclusive affections of an unstable woman in the plenty volatile frontier town of Denver, Colorado. Set against the Denver anti-Chinese riot of 1880, this slim volume packs punch and pie and plenty of memorable mayhem. I fucking love the Bill Ogden stories and hope there are more to come.

Koko Takes a Holiday - Kieran Shea - It's landed, it's here, it's amazing. Shea's short story of the same name first appeared in Plots With Guns in 2009 and just blew me away. The language, the carnage, the wit. Well, he's fleshed out Koko's world and even added characters with as much to offer as the badass, ex-merc, current pimp running boywhores on the Sixty Islands (not to mention amazing names). The short story in which Koko's easy semi-retirement is upset by a squad of mercenaries hired to kill her functions more or less as the opening chapter and things just get crazier from there (I loved, loved, loved the suicide cult especially). All action, all the time, plus the aforementioned wit and wiseacre wordslinging of a wry-smiling writer make this the most fun you'll have reading a book this summer.

My Brother's Destroyer - Clayton Lindemuth - Baer Creighton's dog disappeared. Didn't run away. Was kidnapped. Baer knows by whom and for what purpose - to be grist for the dog fights run by the most dangerous man in town - or as Baer will prove by the book's end, the 2nd most dangerous man in town. Dog fights are something of a theme for Lindemuth who read a particularly bloody passage from Nothing Save the Bones Inside Her featuring one at N@B this summer, and if you can stomach the gnarliness, I highly recommend diving in to his elegantly rough oeuvre. Dude's on a tear too. This is one of a half-dozen books Lindemuth's seen released in just a couple of years and from what I can tell, he's not slowing down any time soon. Blood's not the only thing on tap in this one either, Creighton is a bootlegger and the loving attentions shown by both character and creator to the process will create a deep thirst in the reader. Seriously. I want some of that shine, I could taste it on the page. Helped the other fluids spilled go down smooth.

Praying Drunk - Kyle Minor - When your heart breaks it may scab over as a hardened lump of granite or it could grow back larger and packing even more potential as a pain-radiating organ. Minor follows up his open-heart surgical debut collection In the Devil's Territory with an even more laser-precise display of throbbing, compassionate literary cry-making. It could perhaps even penetrate your callous nub of a heart and make you feel again. You've been warned. This guy. This guy.

Rolling Country - Joseph HirschRolling Country opens with Aaron Neblett, a long distance trucker with a finger in many pies, conducting a criminal transaction that ends with him killing the other party and disposing of the evidence with professional remove and efficiency. As we follow Neblett from page to page, layers peel away uncovering a character portrait in full demonic color and human depth. Alternately we follow the measured, steady, plodding progress of a private investigator named James Arklow who is looking for a missing girl. A former policeman and current community college instructor, Arklow wants, more than anything, the validation that would come by having a piece published in an online detective trade publication. As the two story lines drifted toward each other the assured pacing, fascinating detail and masterful characterization employed by the author made me take an envious green shit in my pants (cause I damn near read the whole thing in a single sitting). The most exciting discovery of my year - I see more Hirsch books in my future (and not just the Arklow titles like Ohio at Dusk and the forthcoming Flash Blood - I just got his latest Kentucky Bestiary and it looks like a winner).

Silent City - Alex Segura - Pete Fernandez is a journalist and a drunk and about five years past his 'best by' date when half-heartedly agrees to make a couple of inquiries for an acquaintance whose daughter is missing. History, mystery and... blistery meet up in the big sleazy -Miami! Vice! Heat! Sound Machine! It's all here, plus music, murder and mafia. Segura's Pete Fernandez series saga (three books - did I read somewhere that there'll be three Fernandez books?) is off to a swell, sweaty start.

Sixth Gun: Winter Wolves - Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt, Bill Crabtree - The weapons, they're... remaking the world. It's getting... apocalyptic in here, so take off all your clothes (I am getting so hot, I'm gonna take my clothes off). When this whole run is over, it's gonna be one of my favorites ever.

A Swollen, Red Sun - Matthew McBride - When Gasconade County Sheriff's Deputy Dale Banks stumbles upon a bag of money belonging to wild-asshole-with-a-(few)-gun(s)-#1, Jerry Dean Skaggs he sets in motion a chain of events that will rock the region to its foundation. I enjoyed Frank Sinatra in a Blender like everybody else, but damn, with A Swollen Red Sun, McBride has upped his game by 100%. On display are all the wild drugs and crazy violence of Sinatra but this time around there is a tangible dread at the center and emotional stakes high enough to hang yourself from. Read his stories Big Darlene the Sex Machine and The Tar Hole for an approximation of the scope and impact of this novel. It's a game-changer.

The Tilted World - Tom Franklin, Beth Ann Fennelly - As Armageddon descends upon Mississippi in the form of the biblical-scale flood of 1927 a moonshiner, a mother and two prohibition agents are set at cross purposes with deadly results. What do you get when you cross the lyrical prose of Franklin (that mad motherfucker who also gave us Smonk, lest ye forget) and the narrative sensibilities of a poet (Fennelly)? Something epic and beautiful and profane and profound. A yarn steeped in mud and blood and biblical imagery with more heart and soul than your typical western and more guts and grit than your average literary praise magnet. Worth your damn time.

Turn Down the Lights - edited by Richard Chizmar - A collection of horror and transgressive stories from authors Stephen King, Norman Partridge, Jack Ketchum, Brian James Freeman, Bentley Little, Ed Gorman, Ronald Kelly, Steve Rasnic Tem, Clive Barker, and Peter Straub to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Cemetery Dance publications. Slim and brimming with dark delights as I appear to be with fucking hackish alliteration.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

You Be The Judge


James Franco's Cormac McCarthy adaptation Child Of God hit local theaters and barely left a grease spot before disappearing. After catching his so-slight-it-practically-evaporated-before-my-eyes (though not entirely a waste) adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, I'm in no particular hurry to catch up with it, though I remain curious. Are you curious? Skeptical? Appalled?

What about this test footage for his proposed treatment of Blood Meridian? The Judge might be the most iconic figure of recent American literature and a daunting proposition (I'd think) to any actor. So, whom to cast? I like Mark Pellegrino for sure. I think he's got something special and I'm... intrigued by the possibility of what he'd bring to the role, (and Luke Perry as Glanton?) Hmmm... I'm open-minded, I suppose, but jeez, if ever a tome were deserving an epic big-screen treatment, I'd say it might could be Meridian... I was a little more hopeful when it was in the hands of Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe a few years ago.

Speaking of Big Mc, I just put my hands on an actual paper copy of Kevin Lynn Helmick's The Rain King, and good golly, I like this one as a physical object... It' holds very well. It's got a decidedly McCarthian vibe to the prose too, which God knows, I've been accused of employing myself - guess I like that stuff. Y'know... all that beauty and death...

Any others of you out there with a wry sense of the macabre will appreciate the article Today Me, Tomorrow You by Elizabeth Harper at Atlas Obscura about some expressive skeletal art in Rome.




And anybody with a complicated relationship with transcendent art made by morally objectionable humans could do worse than to consider The Bukowski Misogyny Thing  at Paragraph Line by Joseph Hirsch about Charles Bukowski (with nods at H.P. Lovecraft, Knut Hamsun and more). If you haven't jumped on the Hirsch wagon yet - lemme throw the cover for his forthcoming Kentucky Bestiary at you. I dig. You?

Y'know what else I'm anticipating? Scott Adlerberg's novella Jungle Horses, that's what. The good I hear about this one is guuuud. And Scott's got a helluva guest piece coming up soon at HBW. If you know anything about that cat it's probably that he knows his movie shit. And his crime shit. And shit, that's the shit I like. So, epic guest post about movie things relating to Patricia Highsmith - who was the proverbial shit.

Y'know what else is potential good news? Mark Rapacz and Jason Stuart, man. They hate numbers and money, but they love your book. This article about Blast Gun says as much. I'd take advantage of them if I was you. Plus, look how badass the cover for Mark's City Kaiju is. 

My fall schedule is filling up with events, too. N@B-NWA (don't get too excited, that's Northwest Arkansas), Noircon and other events await. Hope to see you somewheres.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Little Garnish

A week-late, but sincere and affectionate HBW happy birthday to Raymond Chandler and au revoir James Garner, both of whom played significant roles in the development of my sensibilities. The only overlap of their careers (that I'm aware of) was the... meh, good at moments and frankly embarrassing at others, adaptation of Chandler's novel The Little Sister, Marlowe. It attempted to update Chandler's iconic detective Philip Marlowe to a 1960's sensibility (something I believe Elliot Gould and Robert Altman did surprisingly much better -in the 70's- with The Long Goodbye, and you may argue Garner did himself with The Rockford Files a few years later) and is probably most notable for the early role of Bruce Lee. Still, who can't get behind Garner or Marlowe?

HBW talks Chandler a fair amount, but I don't think I've had a Garner-centric piece, so here are a couple other personally significant Garner vehicles.

36 Hours - directed by George Seaton and adapted from the Roald Dahl story Beware of the Dog it effectively induced paranoia in young Jed before he ever saw Invasion of the Body Snatchers or anything from Alfred Hitchcock.

Support Your Local Sheriff - The heel as hero was that thing Garner did so well and Sheriff as well as its sequel Support Your Local Gunfighter highlighted, but y'know what stuck with me most? The sequence where Garner breaks the unconscious gunman's trigger finger and Jack Elam points out to him that the shooter is left handed and Garner bends over to break the other finger... it made me squirm soooooo hard. That scene was perhaps my first and foremost primer on the mixology of violence and humor.

Twilight - I've spoken a fair amount about my affection for this film which I consider the unofficial third piece of Paul Newman's Lou Harper trilogy (the film was written by Richard Russo and Robert Benton who named Newman's detective character Harry Ross - a nod to Ross MacDonald author of the books The Moving Target and The Drowning Pool - source material for the Lew Harper flicks). The "trilogy" ages the detective in real time and the final chapter Twilight is just as bitter-barely-sweet as it should be, and frankly it just wouldn't work without Garner's contribution to the whole as another aging detective and good friend of Ross's. The final scene the two of them have together echoes the amazing climax of Harper - the first film in the "trilogy" - beautifully... mournfully.