Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 13 - Severance Package

I found myself at a comic convention this past weekend.  It was a small, regional, but excellent, show.  The guest list was small, so unlike the larger conventions, I didn't have to spend my entire day waiting in lines to meet people, which means I got to participate in one of my favorite activities...

Long Box Diving.

I wish I could remember the retailers name, but this guy knew how to clear out his unwanted books.  We're talking 10 issues for $1 boxes, and plenty of them.  Personally, I hit a jackpot, cleaning out his entire stock of Master of Kung Fu issues, netting 60 of them for, you guessed it, $6.

But I'm not here to talk about Shang Chi, for that, I was just bragging.

Instead, I'll talk about what I didn't find, Spider-man's Tangled Web, Issue #4, Severance Package.  And I only mention this, because I found just about every other issue in the bin.

Tangled Web was a series Marvel tried a few years back.  They'd let creators write whatever Spider-man story they wanted.  It didn't have to be in dreaded continuity, and the story length didn't seem to matter.  There were three-parters, one shots, etc.  It was a wonderful series, with stories and art by the likes of Garth Ennis, Brian Azzerello, Paul Pope, Jim Mahfood, Darwyn Cooke, and many others.  So of course, it didn't sell and was cancelled after twenty-something issues.

It did however give us perhaps, with my apologies to Frank Miler, the greatest Kingpin story ever.

Issue #4, Severance Package was written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Eduardo Risso.  I have enjoyed everything Rucka has ever written, from comics to novels, and Risso is the amazing artist behind every issue of 100 Bullets.  His talent is nearly unmatched when it comes to delievering on mood and characters.  This issue is no exception.

Tom Cochrane works for Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime.  He had a job go bad thanks to Spider-man, and now it's his job to make amends.   His wife and child might not understand, but he and Wilson, they always had a gentleman's agreement.  If he wants his family to stay safe, he must do one last thing.  Die.

I do not exaggerate when I say this might be one of my favorite single issues of any comic, so much that I went to a grocery store and bought a copy of Spider-man Universe (which reprinted Spider-man stories) just so I could have the issue with a cardstock cover. 

Maybe one day Rucka can write another Spidey tale, or better yet, a Kingpin series.  Until then, thanks to the sturdy cover, I can re-read this story for the 100th time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Out Today


Partner in Crime Duane Swierczynski has a new book out today, Experation Date

Feel free to visit your local bookstore, or use that handy little Amazon box I've placed so conveniently for you on the right of this page, to check it out.

And come back this Saturday, or hey, every day until then, to check out my new segment, In The Box, where I will ask Mr. Swierczynski 5 questions.  He may or may not answer them.

The Short Con Week 13 - 50 Greatest























The Bull Moose Music nearby just recently started selling books.  As a former bookstore employee, I would have found this horrifying.  Bull Moose is, and forgive the old guy lingo here, but "in" store for music.  All the cool kids, myself included, by their music and DVD's from their shelves.  It's a small chain store, with great employees, well deserving of my hard earned dollars.  And now they have books.

Lots of them.

Not only the newest bestsellers, but also comics (thanks Ian) and...used books.   Cheap used books.  Those who unfortunately work at Borders should be worried.  Myself, and I'm sure a few others, have no reason to shop in their giant box anymore.  (And honestly, the only reason I shopped at Borders once or twice a year was mere convenience of location.)

I will still shop at all the lovely bookstores downtown, but should I find myself mallside with a few sheckles in my pocket, I'm going to Bull Moose.

Case in point.

They just started carrying used books a few weeks ago.  I had yet to go check them out, and as luck would have it, I had $30 in my pocket.  I came out with a $30 graphic novel for $11 (complete Alan Moore WildC.A.T.S) and this little gem.

The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time.

This weighty, 565 page tome, was edited by uber-crime-editor Otto Penzler.  It includes stories by classic authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, A.C. Doyle, O. Henry, Ernest Hemingway and A.A. Milne and contemporaries like Stephen King, Lawrence Block,  James Ellroy, Harlan Ellison and Elmore Leonard.  You've got to hand it to an editor who can bring the creators of Sherlock Holmes, Winnie the Pooh, Cujo, and Karen Sisco under one cover.

This treasure trove of words cost me a mere $6.

Guess where the next few Tuesday reviews will be coming from?

Monday, March 29, 2010

45 Minutes Week 13 - Castle























Same sex marriage has been a hot button issue in this country, dividing many people.  And while I do believe that Nathan Fillion is this generation's Harrison Ford, I'm not about to propose to him.  Instead, I want to enter into lifelong nuptials with his newest show, Castle.

This show is my soul mate, combining two of my favorite things in the entire world, writing and crime.  I've had the show on my Netfix for months, with the first season arriving just the other day after the dreaded long wait.  It's only been a few episode, but I'm ready to go ring shopping.

Mr. Fillion is Richard Castle, a sucessful mystery writer who is brought in by the NYPD to offer help in a series of murders copycatting his books.  At first, Detective Kate Beckett is a bit star struck.  She's read and enjoyed his novels.  However, Castle's "charm" soon rubs her a bit the wrong way.  Don't get me wrong, it's the typical "will they or won't they" relationship, but both actors elevate the scenario beyond the typical acting.

While Fillion is pitch perfect, again the whole Harrison Ford thing going on, it's Stana Katic who really suprised me.  I'd never really noticed her before, despite her bit parts in quite a few things I've seen.  But she makes an impression here.  She's well reserved, holding back many of her character's traits until necessary, and easily stands up to Castle's ego.

In many shows where a writer is a main character, we don't really get to see their talent in action.  Castle doesn't repeat that mistake.  The writers give Castle real talent, using his ability to create plots to help solve crimes.  He's allowed to take logic leaps that the detectives just don't commit to.  And from time to time, when Castle narrates his writing to the detectives, it's damn convincing. 

Makes me wish Castle was a real writer. And thanks to the all mighty dollar, I can find out for myself.  Richard Castle's Heat Wave is available at bookstores.  Heat Wave stars Castle's newest character Nikki Heat, who is based on Detective Beckett.  Before watching the show, this was an easy "pass."  Post viewing, I've already ordered it from Amazon.

Castle airs on ABC, Mondays at 10pm Eastern.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

I Do What I Can

Yesterday I contributed a forgotten book review over at 

/http://pattinase.blogspot.com/

Feel free to check it out, as well as all the other reviews and the rest of the website.

To the Mattresses Week 12 - March Madness


The Big Movie Plan

So having a theme worked out pretty well for me for the month of March.  Narrowing down the films to Oscar winners made choosing a movie to view a little bit easier on my crime stimulated brain.  With that in mind, I'm going to do the same for the upcoming months.  Here is the plan Stan.

April - Blaxsploitation
May - Wacky Brits
June - Asian Gangters
July - Psychopaths
August - NeoNoir
September - Classic Noir
October - The 70's
November - Those Artsy French
December - Fast Cars and Getaways

I'm also going to do a few Director Spotlights
Martin Scorcese
The Coen Brothers
Guy Ritchie
David Fincher
and a few others, perhaps one a month.

Keep in mind, these categories are just guidelines, and odds are they are going to change and/or flip flop.  Any suggestions are welcome.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Night at the Oscars Week 12 - Fargo




































So it's the last week of Oscar month, and what a way to end it, but with one of the quirkiest crime films every made by two of the quirkiest brothers ever to point a camera.

Joel and Ethan Coen have made some amazing crime films.  From the noirish Blood Simple, the sparse and Oscar winning No Country for Old Men, the old style of Millers Crossing, to the strangeness of Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, each one has been unique, and in this reviewers opinion, brilliant.  (And yes, I know I'm leaving a few out.  Go to Imdb if you care.)  But it was Fargo that first brought them well deserved mainstream attention.

Jerry Lundegaard (played with perfection by William H. Macy) is a terrible criminal.  He has been swindling money away from the car dealership at which he works, and now that he's got to give it back without anyone noticing, he's at a loss.  His only hope is to have his wife kidnapped so his wealthy father-in-law can pay the ransom. Through a mutual friend, he has Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare grab her and take her away to a remote cabin until it's time to release her.  He will split the money with them once everything is settled.

Guess how well this plan goes?

Hot on their trail is the most unlikely police woman I've ever had the pleasure of watching.  Marge Gunderson, Oscar winning Frances McDormand, is pregnant.  Very pregnant.  But she's smart than she sounds, and she's onto Jerry Lundegaard. 

But the real treat of Fargo was the setting itself.  Instead of the Mean Streets of New York, or the Jaded Hills of Hollywood, this crime story takes place in the snowed in roads of Brainard, Minnesota.  The Coen's make the most of this unique local, often spotlighting the sparseness of the land in long, brilliant shots from cinematographer Roger Deakins.  It's easy to feal Jerry's desperation  as he chisels away the ice from his car's windshield when it's shot from 50 feet above.  Rarely will a man look more lonely.

It's a hard film to categorize.  It's damn funny looking, I mean funny, but it's also dark and full of desperation.  On the flip side, it's also quite charming.  Marge and her loon-painting husband are so cute they practically belong in a Norman Rockwell painting.  But every character is memorable, and odds are the film will stick with you, if only thanks to a well used woodchipper.




Fargo was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning two.
Best Picture
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Francis McDormand WIN
Best Supporting Actor - William H. Macy
Best Director - Joel Coen
Best Original Screenplay - Joel and Ethan Coen WIN
Best Editing - Joel and Ethan Coen
Best Cinematography - Roger Deakins


Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Long Con Week 12 - Walking the Perfect Square

I hold a picture up
everybody thinks it's me
I get a thrill out of tampering
with the atmostphere
Hey baby, I'm out of favor
You can't always be
the right flavor
Just seems that no matter
what you do
Someone somewhere
Someone's got to punish you

Nobody hurts you
harder than yourself
-Graham Parker







The secrets we keep do more damage than our actions sometimes.  They'll eat at us, affecting everything we do or say for as long as we keep it to ourselves.  No one understands this more than Moe Prager, the ex-cop turned possible PI at the heart of this novel.  He's been keeping a secret from the woman he loves for the past twenty years.  Should she find out, it could possibly destroy her, but whether he likes it or not, secrets have a way of coming out.

But first, we need to learn the secret he's been keeping.  A young man has gone missing.  Moe has been hired by the boys father, Francis Maloney.  He's a man of influence, and the promise of some favors, plus a paycheck, is enough to draw Moe out of retirement.  He was injured on the job, and the lack of anything to do hurts worse than the healed knee.  It seems Patrick Maloney, an upstanding young man, disappeared after a night in the city.  Gone without a trace, it's unknown whether he's alive or dead.

Moe knows nothing of Patrick, but with each interview, a different picture is painted than the one Francis gave.  Patrick was mysterious, even a little strange, and he had secrets of his own.  And someone wants to make sure Moe never finds those secrets out.

Walking the Perfect Square was not Reed Farrel Coleman's first novel, but it was the debut of Moe Prager, one of the more interesting PI's I've ever read.  Unlike Scudder or Spenser, Moe doesn't really speak with his fists.  Sure, he drinks, but he hardly finds solace at the bottom of a bottle.  And he's actually well liked by everyone he knows.He's got friends and family who appear to like him.  The strangers he meets during his investigation are treated nicely, and with the exception of a few key people, become his friends.  I'm pretty sure the only fight he gets into was brief and broken up by his girlfriend.

But what really impressed me about this novel was the structure.  Balancing the story between events in 1998 and 1978 could have been tough and tiresome for the reader.  (I'm one of those who hates the way the Godfather Part II bounces between the two Corleones.)  The secret that drove the story was kept until just the right moment, with neither timeline giving anything away.  Sure, we know Moe isn't going to die in 1978, but everything else from the "present" is kept reasonably vague.  Not once did I feel cheated by any omission of details, and when everything came together, it made perfect, emotionally devestating, sense.

Because of the way everything tied together, I'm not sure we were meant to see any more of Moe after this book.  On it's own, it was a very satisfying story.  But I must confess I'm happy to see Moe's story is not over, as there are at least four more novels. 

That's a hint Mr. Coleman.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 12 - Hitman 10,000 Bullets

Hitman
written by Garth Ennis
art mostly by John McCrea

Sometimes, over the top is a good thing.

I'm all for realism.  It's a big reason I enjoy crime fiction as a genre.  Science Fiction and Fantasy are quiet enjoyable as films, but I have a hard time finishing the books.  It took me years to put The Lord of the Rings into the "finished pile."

Crime fiction doesn't use all the imaginary words (with the exception of A Clockwork Orange) or lands of make believe like most fantasy novels do.  I can get behind that.  When the author describes someone getting mugged in a deserted, filthy back alley, I can see that in my head.  I've walked those streets, usually looking over my shoulder with each step.

I've never talked with a dwaf, elf, or tree.  Ask me if I've had coffee with men who have busted skulls open and I can tell you straight up sure. But yet I love comics, a medium chock full of aliens, demons, and men who can fly. 

Unfortunately, crime comics are sparse, and most of them are very, very serious.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)  However, every so often, a book comes along that combines the best of both worlds, the hard boiled gunplay of crime fiction and the sense of wonder and otherworldliness  that superhero comics offer.

Hitman is that book.

And I'm not sure if "over the top" is enough to describe the absolute lunacy that takes place between its pages.

We've got Tommy Monaghan, a typical Mob hitman from the worst parts of Gotham City, hence the title.  Only in his first appearance, Tommy gets "bitten" by some demon-thing and acquires himself some X-ray eyes.  Pretty cool, but also pretty freaky.  (In an issue of Justice League, he actual applies for membership just so he can get a look at Wonder Woman with thost magic peepers of his.)  He also can hear thoughts.  Again, these would be rather weak powers for a super hero, but Tommy's got no interest in the tights.  He's going to stay a hitman, and actually focus on the more lucrative superhuman contracts.

Over the first few issues we see him fight those demons again, a conjoined twin gangster named Moe and Joe Dubelz (one of which get killed, but the other one still walks around for a while attatched to a corpse) , demons, Zombie aquatic animals and Batman.  He doesn't fight Batman as much as pukes on his shoes.  Best reaction to meeting the Dark Knight ever.

From the previous paragraph, you can probably determine that Hitman never took itself too seriously.  But there were emotional moments that did ring true.  Tommy's friendship with his old war buddy Nat the Hat (Ennis always nails the male bonding) and Tommy's relationship problems always seem grounded in reality, despite the craziness that goes on around him.  He even once gave Superman a hell of a pep talk.

I'd love nothing more than to tell you the entire series is amazing.  Unfortunately, I discovered Hitman near the end of its run.  Instead of purchasing a boat load of back issues, I opted to buy a few of the trade paperbacks that were available.  Only problem with that plan was DC let them go out of print before finishing the series.  That's cold.  However DC has started to reprint the trades, with fanboys hopes high that they might actually get all 60 issues collected before quitting this time.

They damn well better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Short Con Week 12 - By the Dawn's Early Light


I read Lawrence Block, and particularly his Matthew Scudder series, because it reminds me of the first time I really "got" crime fiction.  His book A Dance at the Slaughterhouse made me realize the conclusion of crime novels doesn't always end well.  Slaughterhouse actually ended in a rather bloody and disturbing manner.

I liked that. 

Before Block, when I thought of crime fiction, I conjured up parlor scenes, cops flashing badges, and bad guys going quietly.   Butchers with guns going to an early morning mass never crossed my mind.

Discovering Scudder opened up "that whole new world" that people often talk about.  At that time, there were at least ten other Scudder novels, and each time I went to the used bookstore down the street I grabbed one more.  I didnt' read them in order, which would normally drive me insane, but it was fun piecing the history together in a Memento fashion.

It's been a while since I've read Block.  The whole point of this year was to discover as many new authors as I could.  Block would have to be moved to the back while I read the likes of Gischler, Swiercyznski, and about 43 Norwegian authors.  (What is it with that country and mystery writers?)

The point is, I kinda miss Matt Scudder.  I wanted to go and walk the streets of Manhatten with him again, visit those bars he is so familiar with.

Today, I found a loophole in my own rules.  I was digging through a copy of Brooklyn Noir 2, looking for a short to read for today when I happened to stumble across that familiar name.  It wouldn't be like a full visit or a meal with a friend, more like a cup of coffee, but it would be enough.

Of course, the story was excellent.  Matt takes a job for a friend, and it ends up biting him a bit.  Tommy Tillary's wife has been murdered, and knowing that he is going to be a suspect, he wants Matt to look into the two guys the police have brought in for questioning. In typical Scudder fashion, he uses his own code of honor to determine what exactly should be done, and who really needs to be punished.  The short reads just like a novel, only condensed and without the usual twists and turns.

A great cup of coffee though.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Thank You

This past week was the busiest week on the site to date, so I just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has stopped by and tolerated my ramblings.  Each view is appreciated, and I hope you have enjoyed what you read.  And by all means, if you are having a good time, tell your friends.

Again, thanks.

45 Minutes Week 12 - In Plain Sight


There is only one reason I decided to give this show a chance, and it's thanks to Aaron Sorkin.  Mr. Sorkin is that rare breed of television writer who has the ability to not just write the best dialogue ever spoken, but to create and maintain characters you give a damn about.  Anyone can create an engaging lead to revolve a show around, but in Sorkins hands even smaller roles become living, breathing people.

Having just finished a marathon session of The West Wing, I was left playing a giant game of "where did they go next?"  A person such as Rob Lowe gets tons of publicity when departing early (By the way, good choic Rob!), but many of the character actors such as Joshua Malina, Dule Hill, Richard Schiff, and Mary McCormack just go back to work, quietly.

Have I ever said how much I love Imdb?  What did people do before this came along?

Well, Dule Hill found his way onto a well deserving lead role on the show Pscyh.  I've caught a few episodes and they have always been pleasant.  Not great, but good.  I've spoken of this before but the USA network is doing a damn fine job of creating new shows worth watching.

One show in particular, and the subject of today's 45 minutes, is In Plain Sight.  It stars Mary McCormack, (you guessed it, from The West Wing) as Mary Shannon, a US Marshall  who's job it is to relocate people in the Federal Witness Protection Plan.

From the show's intro:
Since 1970, the Federal Witness Protection Program has relocated thousands of witnesses, some criminal, some not, to neighborhoods all across the country. Every one of those individuals shares a unique attribute, distinguishing them from the rest of the general population. And that is, somebody wants them dead.

I have only watched the pilot episode, but it was rock solid television.  The cast were introduced well, and the acting is strong.  Fred Weller is excellent as her partner Marshall Mann.  Yes, he's a male US Marshall with the name Marshall Mann.  I get a kick out of that, move on.  Her sister is played by Nichole Hiltz, and she's very believable as an undereducated , drug addled, young woman who is trying to get through life on her looks alone.  It's would be easy to hate her from the start, but Mary is so protective of her, I realize there must be a reason.

But the highlight of the family is Lesley Ann Warren as Mary's mother Jinx.  She steals every scene she's in.

Notice I haven't talked about the Witness Protecting yet? 

I get most of my witness protection knowledge from gangster movies, where its usually just hinted at as a way to get criminals to talk.  The only piece of entertainment I've ever watched where WP was dealt with as a reality was My Blue Heaven, that 80's movie with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.  Something tells me that wasn't an entirely accurate representation.

This show feels real.  And the detail that nailed it down for me was the young Russian woman who Mary is dealing with at the beginning of the episode.  Mary has just shown this poor woman, who was only a receptionist, not a criminal, the beat down room that she's going to call home.  Mary is on her way to go get her some groceries when the young woman reminds her that the US Government still owes her a new pair of breasts for her co-operation.

I firmly believe our government would offer boobs for testimony.

That is why I will watch the first season.

*I'm also lead to believe that other West Wing Alumni I mentioned way back at the beginning will be making appearances on this program.  Double bonus.

For a great trailer, one that really nails the humor of the show, click here. I would have loved to embed it, but apparently whoever TXCANY is, he doesn't believe in embedding code.

The new season of In Plain Sight premiers on the USA Network Wednesday, March 31st at 10pm.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 11 - 40 Things I Hate

...and they all involve this movie.























I'll start with the general, and graduate to the specifics.  Again, these are only my opinions, but I must seriously question the taste of anyone who doesn't at least find a bit of truth in this list.
1.  The Acting.  All around.  Seriously, no one was good.  Okay, maybe Billy Connolly

2.  The Script.  I'd swear this was written by five or six thirteen-year-olds who had found their dad's stash of booze, porn and Tarantino movies.

3.  The Accents.  Again, all of them, with the exception of Billy Connolly.  His is authentic.

4.  The Direction.  This film was all over the place.  Is it a comedy?  An action film?  A revenge drama?  Unfortunately, it doesn't pull off any of it.  It takes itself too seriously to be comedic, and it's too goofy to be a drama. 

5.  The hard rock shower/haircut scene.  For a movie that makes endless gay jokes, this scene would have felt right at home in any gay porn.

6.  The Keystone Cops, especially Bob Marley.  Nothing they do is humorous.  Nothing.

7.  Quote #1.  I'm so smart that I make smart people feel retarded. -FBI Special Agent Eunice Bloom

8.  Seriously, what is with all the ass sex jokes?

9.  Judd Nelson channelling Al Pacino on his worst night.

10.  Judd Nelson thinking he's Al Capone as he beats a man in the face with a salami.

11.  God Awful "homage" to 70's films.

12.  Quote #2 - A lot of it doesn't make sense, which is why it makes perfect sense. FBI Special Agent Eunice Bloom

13.  50's Flashback.  (Although the guy playing Young Noah was decent.)

14.  Gangster Headgear.

15.  Massage Parlor Spanking. 

16.  Any scene with Gorgeous George.

17.  Any flashback to the last film.

18.  The way Julie Benz chews gum.

19.  Do you really need a replay of a shootout that just occurred.  It literally just finished.  And why the Mariachi music?

20.  Techno music.

21.  The name Yakavetta.  The worst crime boss name ever. 

22.  Sexy music while looking at guns.  And I'm thinking the title of that song might have been "Balls Deep in Your Love."  I could have found out, but that would have required me watching the credits. 

23.  This movie took place in Boston?  A few more shots of the city would have been nice.

24.  Ignoring all rules of physics during shootouts.  Style can only get you so far, but first you need style.

25.  Ding Dong Motherfucker Ding Dong! was the "good" catch phrase.

26.  Clifton Collins Jr.  He's done good work.  This is not it.  His hair does not help him.

27.  When Billy Connolly is the best thing about your movie, don't keep him out of it for an hour and a half.

28.  The Rocco Dream Sequence/stand up routine. 

29.  The history of the vest.  Did anyone really care?

30.  Was not one actual italian available to play Peter Fonda's role?  I would have accepted Father Guido Sarducci over this.

31.  The Greenhouse shootout.  Wow.  That was bad. 

32.  Anytime there is "meaningful symbolism."

33.  Peter Fonda's big plan. 

34.  Billy Connolly dies, which removes any reason to watch...

35.  The possibility of a third movie.

36.  Why are the Saints the only people who actually hit what they shoot at?

37.  40 agents show up immediately after the gunfight.

38.  Willem Dafoe shows up just when I thought he had the good sense to stay away.

And technically, these two are from the bonus features.

39.  Clifton Collins Jr. compares Troy Duffy to Fellini.

40.  Troy Duffy appears to still be a giant douche bag who believes with all his heart that he is making the greatest movie ever made.  I figured after Overnight, the documentary about his unbelievable flame out during the filming of the first movie, he might have a bit more humility.  Wrong.

And to prove that a trailer can make any movie appear watchable...



Believe me when I say that was a thousand times better than the film.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Night at the Oscars Week 11 - In the Name of the Father


Far too often it's easy to forget that not all in jail are actual criminals.  Sometimes the wrong man does get arrested.  At least once a month a story enters the news cycle of a man who has sat in prison for years, even decades, only to be cleared of all charges.  I don't know about you, but I'd me mad as hell, and most definitely look to Hollywood to sell my story. 

Two of the greatest actors in recent memory have undertaken the task of playing someone who was unjustly  imprisoned.  And when it comes to Oscar bait, playing a wrongly imprisoned man is good shortcut to take to the ceremony. I was tempted to spotlight Denzel Washington, who lost a statue that was rightfully his for Hurricane, only to win in a few years later for his role as a crooked cop in Training Day.  Both films had merit, Training Day's merit being mostly Denzel and Ethan Hawkes performance, but I opted to go with In the Name of the Father, solely because it stars the man I consider to be the greatest actor period, Daniel Day Lewis.  He has won two best actor trophies, been nominated for a couple more, but his turn in this film was absolutely amazing and made me a fan for life.

Daniel Day Lewis stars as Gerry Conlon, a petty thief, who after being nearly hobbled by the IRA, escapes to London at his father's Giuseppe (Pete Postlethwaite) urging.  Once there, he falls in with some hippies (it's 1975) and spends his days in a drug/sex stupor.  Unfortunately for his free love, a few bombs targeting cops explode in nearby pubs.  Being an Irishman in London, Gerry and his friends get the blame.  Subjected to 7 days worth of beatings and mind-fuckery, Gerry confesses.  From there, the police round up his family in London, along with his father, who had come to get Gerry a lawyer.  Soon, they are all found guilty and sent to prison.

Once in prison, the real story begins.  Gerry shares a cell with his father, a man he has always had issues with.  With only time and each other, they slowly start to bond, at least until the man really responsible for the bombings comes to their fine prison.  Unlike his father, Gerry sees Joe McAndrew (Don Baker) as a man of strength, especially once he stands up to the head Englishman in jail.  (Interesting sidenote, Don Baker was making his acting debut in this film.  He is a well known harmonica player, and spent much of his youth in and out of prisons.)

So while Giuseppe labors along, working on appeals and "the cause" (their freedom), Gerry bonds with Joe, becoming a bit more hard.  He doesn't act up the role, mostly playing his hardness through his eyes.  That "thousand yard stare" becomes as apparent as his swagger.  His admiration for Joe only grows when he stages a riot, meant to gain publicity for Gerry and Giuseppe's cause.

That all changes when Joe burns a prison guard alive. 

Gerry begins to realize he is not the man is has been trying so hard to become.  He reconnects once again with his "Da," and the scenes between the two are really quite touching.  You see a man slowly grow to understand, respect, and love the father he's rebelled against his entire life.

So why the hell am I talking about this film?  It's not really a crime film, as no crimes other than robbing a hooker are actually committed.  It has scenes in prison, but it's not exactly OZ.

I'm not really sure if I even consider it a crime film, but I do find it an interesting study in what can happen to people when they are labelled criminals.  Upon conviction, the judge himself says he'd have no problem hanging Gerry if he could, despite the fact the evidence of his guilt was circumstantial and weak.  Once in prison, he is hated for simply being Irish.  I believe if his father had not gone to prison with him, Gerry would have become a hardened felon, and lost his sense of humanity.  He is brought back from the brink by his father's love, and once his father dies, takes up the cause with renewed vigor.

I have not even mentioned the other stellar acting in this film, that of Emma Thompson, as their lawyer Gareth Peirce.  It's her dedication that eventually wins their freedom, and her courtroom outburst still gives me the goosebumps.

In the Name of the Father was nominated for seven Oscars, winning none.
Best Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Supporting Actor - Pete Postlethwaite
Best Supporting Actress - Emma Thompson
Best Director - Jim Sheridan
Best Film Editing - Gerry Hambling
Best Adapted Screenplay - Jim Sheridan and Terry George
Best Picture


And now for a recommendation.  Daniel Day-Lewis and director Jim Sheridan re-teamed again in 1997 for The Boxer.  Again, DD-L plays an imprisoned man, only this time the movie picks up after his release.  I could have just as easily discussed this film today, and honestly, it's my favorite of the two films.  Unfortunately, the Academy ignored it completely.  For those of you who claim that DD-L only knows how to overact, watch this film and be proven wrong.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Long Con Week 11 - My Dead Body























I was beginning to really hate vampires.

Of late, they have become sparkling, dreamy eyed, messy haired, well...pussies.  I'm sorry, but the blood suckers I've come to know and love do not behave the way a certain series of books believes they do.  Even a vampire as prissy as Lestat would rip the throat out of these high school Teen Beat pinups.

Me, I like my vampires mean.  I would think that having your blood drained and being told you'd live forever in the dark (yeah, fuck your sunlight sparkles) would make one a bit jaded.  If all vampires behaved like Lee Marvin, the fiction world would be a better place.

Enter Charlie Huston and his Joe Pitt casebooks.  This guy knows how to write a vampire tale I can get behind.  I recently read the last book in the series, My Dead Body, and I'm sad to see it end.

From the beginning.

Joe Pitt is a vampyre. (Yes, it's spelled that way, get used to it.)  He's okay with that fact.  In life, he was kind of a loser, and having an extra long life sure beats giving handjobs in the bathroom of CBGB's.  Once "reborn" he sided with a group of vampyres called The Society, which can be best described as an activist clan of vamps.  Oh yeah, in this world, Manhatten is divided up into clans, each with their own agenda.  The aforementioned Society wants eventual Vampyre integration.  (Vampyres are not exactly public.)  Their main competition for the hearts and souls of the blood sucking community are The Coalition, a group that's almost corporate in their behavior.  They are more than happy with the secret, but powerful lives they live.  The other smaller factions include the biker gang The Dusters, the Hood, who make their territory north of 110th street, and the very mysterious Enclave

Each book finds Joe pissing off one or more of the factions while doing a job for someone else.  Joe, once Society, is done playing by everyone's rules.  He just wants to live his own life, and maybe settle down with his girlfriend Evie.  But like every good noir tale, nothing ever goes as planned.

I can say I enjoyed every one of the books from start to finish.  The dialogue, though difficult to become accustomed to without the use of quotations, is always snappy and quite often, more bitter than black coffee.  The plots are fast paced, quickly putting Joe through as many hells as possible. 

Most importantly, the series knew how come to a satisfying end.  There, that gives you something to look forward to as you start the first book.

In case you were wondering, The Joe Pitt Casebooks are:
Already Dead
No Dominion
Half the Blood of Brooklyn
Every Last Drop
My Dead Body

Along with those books, Charlie Huston has also written the Henry Thompson trilogy, which are soon on my list, The Shotgun Rule, and the recently Edgar-nominated The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.

His webiste is PulpNoir.com.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Short Con Week 11 - One Sentence

I got this idea after reading one of Duane Swierczynski's recents posts over at his Secret Dead Blog.  I realized that when buying a new book, that first sentence is pretty crucial to me purchasing it.  Here is the process when I come across an author or book I've never heard of.

1. Cover catches my eye.
2. Read the Jacket synopsis.
3. Do I like the people providing the cover blurbs?
4. Did the first sentence/paragraph get my attention?

That first sentence, and if it's short-the first paragraph, is usually what seals the deal.  I'm not expecting them all to be classic and quotable, but they better be damn good.  So here is a few that got me to hand over my hard earned dollars.

The first time I killed a someone, I was scared.  Not scared to be doing it- I did it because I was scared.  Shella told me it was like that for her the first time she had sex.  I was fifteen that first time.  Shella was nine.   Andrew Vachss, Shella

Marchenko and Parsons circled the bank for sixteen minutes, huffing Krlyon Royal Blue Metallic to regulate the crystal as they worked up their nut.  Robert Crais, The Two Minute Rule

Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.  Tom Rob Smith, Child 44

The night of my mother's funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband.  Declan Hughes, The Wrong Kind of Blood

It's almost impossible to be thrown out of the Garda Siochana.  You have to really put your mind to it.  Unless you become a public disgrace, they'll tolerate most anything.  Ken Bruen, The Guards

Few crimes make us fear for the evolution of our species.  I am watching one right now.  John Burdett, Bangkok Haunts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

45 Minutes Week 11- Justified
















With the exception of Lost, I usually wait for the full season DVD's before watching a show.  I find it more rewarding to watch a 10-20 hour "movie" instead of waiting between each episode.  Once in a while, a show will come along and tempt me to tune in to the first hour.  Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, and a few others have all gotten me within a simple button push of watching the first episode, but my Green Lantern-like willpower has helped me resist getting hooked on most weekly crack.  (Again, Lost is the exception.  Nothing short of nuclear holocaust will keep me from the island every 7 days.)

This show might break me.

Justified is based on the novella Fire in the Hole by Elmore Leonard (one hook), and stars Timothy Olyphant (second hook) and Walter Goggins (big third hook).  That's all I need to know. Goggins was one of my favorite characters on The Shield, and despite his lackluster movie career, I've always liked Olyphant because of Deadwood.

It doesn't hurt that the producers of this show have been behind (unfortunately) some one year wonders such as Boomtown, Kidnapped, Robbery Homicide Division, and the other Leonard TV project Karen Sisco, which I unfortunately never got to see.  (Might have to troll the internet for episodes of that, stupid lack of DVD release.)

But the thought of Olyphant as a U.S. Marshall and Goggins as his Redneck Nemesis might be too hard to resist.  Justified premiers tomorrow, Tuesday March 16th, at 10pm on FX.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cover of the Week 11


Also, check out writer Christopher Mills website DVD Late Show, where he reviews tons of movies you remember that were always on cable late at night when you probably shouldn't have still been up.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 10 - Music to Make Murder


I've been reading Walking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman this week, and was instantly struck by a line.

"It had never occurred to me that the older one gets, the less one's life is accompanied by music."

That kills me. I'd like to think the opposite was true.  When I was younger, I was often slave to whatever my parents had playing in the house.  My knowledge of Air Supply and Billy Joel is frightening.  Music was for car rides and quiet time.  That changed when I got my very first CD player for Christmas.  I still remember the look on my Mom's face when I bought the first CD, Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil.  I didn't buy it because it was the best CD available at Ames Department Store, but because it was my way of saying, this is my music now Mom, and you are going to hate it.  Quiet music time was over.

The rebellious nature has gone away, mostly, but I've still always got music playing in the background, whether I'm reading, cleaning the house or writing.  The thought of silence surrounding my day to day life is terrifying. Of course, this book was written before iPods became so prevalent, and carrying an entire catalog of music is less space consuming than a pack of smokes.

So I don't think I'll ever be entirely without music.  Which is good, because I absolutely NEED music in the background when writing.  Often when I'm stuck for words, just changing the song (love iTunes shuffle) will grease the mental wheels.  And if the music is really good, it can inspire brand new thoughts.

Case in point, The Black Keys.  Until three years ago, I'd never heard of this dynamic duo.  I've always considered myself pretty "with it" when it comes to music, but somehow these two snuck up on me and released a few albums without my awareness.

But within one song, their sound, at least on that first album I heard, Chulahoma, transported me to a place I'm not sure I belonged.  (To be fair, that album was all covers of Junior Kimbrough, but still, they played the hell out of them.) I envisioned dirty bars, with large tattooed men, waiting to kick my ass if I ordered anything other than a whiskey.   They planned drug deals and robberies, considered murder if necessary.  Basically, this album would have been on the jukebox in the Monkey House from Gun Monkeys.

Whenever I need to write something dark or sinister I just play those tracks, and hope I don't get frightened by what I think up. 

Here is some random Black Keys goodness.  And please, visit their official website.







Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Night at the Oscars Week 10 - The Usual Suspects























Remember last week when I touted the amazing cast of The Green Mile?  This weeks cast is even better.  Don't believe me?  How about this for a collection of scene chewers-

Kevin Spacey - Oscar Winner
Benicio del Toro - Oscar Winner
Pete Postlethwaite - Oscar nominee
Gabriel Byrne- Emmy nominee
Chazz Palminteri - Oscar nominee
and contestant on "I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!" - Stephen Baldwin.

But seriously, these guys won Best Acting by an Ensemble from the National Board of Review.



To start off, we've got Kevin Pollak, the guy mostly known for his Columbo and Shatner impressions.  He's got some skill, and holds his own in the movie. 

Stephen Baldwin, the mid-level Baldwin, could have been a train wreck.  Most films he is associated with I won't go near.  His job for this film is to be the "wild card" guy, and he does it well.  He seethes with anger when appropriate, and is suprisingly charming in scenes.

I'll give $1 to anyone who can tell me exactly what accent Benicio is speaking with.  When I first watched this movie it drove me nuts.   But it's a bold choice.  This was the first film that really got me to notice him, mostly because I was rewinding the movie to decode his dialogue.  For the short time he was on camera, he inhabited a very interesting character.

Gabriel Byrne was the actor I was most familiar with thanks to his excellent turn in the Coen Brothers underrated film Miller's Crossing.  In this film, he was the perfect mix of arrogance and frustration.  I had no trouble believing that behind his cold eyes could be Keyser Soze. 

And who is left, but Kevin Spacey, who won a well deserved Best Supporting Oscar for his role as Verbal Kint.  The runt of the group, it's hard to see why he was included in this merry band of hooligans because, criminally, he seems  out of his league.

However, as great as the acting is in this movie, that's not what it's known for.  It's claim to fame is "the twist," and it's as good as any dangling Crying Game or dead Bruce Willis Sixth Sense curveball.  For that, credit Oscar winning screenplay writer Christopher McQuarrie.  It's his tight script that keeps you glued, starting from the opening scene. 

What impressed me most about the script, was it was essentially a story about stories.  Everybody in this film has one, and they are constantly sharing with one another.  Past scores, criminal activities, even tales of the dreaded boogyman, "Keyser Soze" are told frequently.  The "action" of the movie is mostly limited to a few brief heists, the rest of the time is spent in conversations, yet it never feels slow.  Listening to Verbal squeal to Agent Kujan is just mesmerizing.

And unlike most films with that "twist," this film just gets better with each viewing.  Far too often, once you know the ending, a rest of this film suffers.  Not The Usual Suspects.  It's like looking at a large photograph of a crowd, filled with too many faces to take in at once.  Watching it again, so much more comes into view.

I'm still waiting for Bryan Singer to make another film worthy of his major debut.  I'm sure you have all seen this film, but how long has it been?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Long Con Week 10 - Gun Monkeys

Crime shouldn't be fun, it should be hard work.  If it was, far fewer people would actually commit to it.  But I must admit, there is a certain romance to the whole criminal lifestyle.  You live outside the law, beholden only to you own code of right and wrong, and of course, the man you kick up to.  You get the bad girls, and kick the snot out of the guys they used to hang on.  Days are spent planning capers, drinking, gambling and putting dollar bills into strippers G-strings.  You get yourself high enough up that food chain and live like a king.

Or you can stay a gun monkey.

These are the guys most criminals become.  The hoods, the hired muscle, the angry looking gents who wait at the bar for a phone to ring.  When they get that call, it's usually to do violence.

Such is the life of the Charlie Swift, the entertaining narrator of Victor Gischlers debut novel.  He works for Stan, the local Florida Crimeboss.  Like any good soldier, he does what is asked of him and lives a pretty good life because of it.  That changes when a rival outfit decides to muscle in and move Stan out of the way.  Charlie has a choice, stay with Stan and die, switch teams, or get the hell out of town.  Any choice could actually land him in jail thanks to the mysterious Feds that are suddenly hanging around.

But Charlie has a code.  He's loyal to a fault, and when Stan disappears and the Monkey House burns to the ground, Charlie decides to kill every man that gets in his way until things get set right.

Overall it was a very enjoyable book.  There was plenty of witty banter, gun play, girls, and everything else that makes these types of book so much fun.  Charlie was a very engaging character, with a unique point of view.  But what really struck me though was a theme that ran throughout its pages.

For me, Gun monkeys was all about life in middle management.

I've been there before, though I didn't get to carry a gun.  It's called retail hell for us straights, and while the pay is a little better than your average working stiff, you get much larger shit sandwiches on your plate to force down.  You become the messenger that everyone has been told not to shoot.  Pay raises?  Not getting them this year.  And oh yeah, even though you've been a perfectly good employee, your fired because of some technical bullshit.  Sound like fun?  I left that job. Or in more polite terms, was asked to leave that job.  See, if you question the upper management, they deem you just as replaceable as the drones working for the minimum wage.  They just send someone a tiny bit higher on the ladder to do it.

So I understood Charlie a little bit.  I got why, when his life was coming down all around him, he just wanted to get Stan and have everything return to normal.  He was comfortable being that middle management guy, until the organization was on the verge of new leadership.  He did what he thought was the answer, and the answer was a gun in his hand.

Wish I had that option, although it might have made getting unemployment a little harder.

So instead of leaving a bloody trail, I ended up taking a job where I am the lowest rung on the ladder.  I answer to those above me, knowing that any bad news they have to share stops with me.  Makes life a little more tolerable knowing that if you fuck up, it's only your life your cheating.

Made me happy anyway.  You'll have to read the book to find out about Charlie.  Then you'll be happy.

Victor Gischler can be found on his blog.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 10 - Crimeboss


I really hate the idea of just posting a link for the second day in a row.  I had a review of a book all set to go, and I had every intention of publishing it first thing this morning.

But I checked Facebook first, and one of my facebook friends had a link to this site.

http://www.crimeboss.com/index.shtml

Richard Wolfe, the gent who cobbled this fine site together has done us all a favor.  Not only has he gathered many of the amazing crime comic covers from the 40's and 50's, but he's also linked to some relevant articles about the histories and troubles of crime comics.

I felt compelled to pass along the news.   Now, if you will excuse me, I'm going to go back right now to look around some more.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Short Con Week 10 -

If you're looking for some short crime fiction on the web, spend a few minutes checking this site out.

http://thrillskillsnchills.blogspot.com/

Tons of stories.

Also, my friend Chris Beckett has been continuing to serialize a story of his over at http://www.warrior27.com/ .  Do me a solid and check that out as well.

Monday, March 8, 2010

45 Minutes Week 10 - The Boys of Summer vs. The Boys in Blue


It's early March, the sun is out, and the thermometer is slowly crawling it's way to 50 degrees.  A young man's thoughts turn to just one thing in this time of growth and renewal.

Baseball.

You were expecting something else?  Sorry, but our thoughts are always on that.  But spring training, it's been dreamt about for months.

You can tell a lot about a man by the team he cheers for.  Yankees fan, either he's a born winner, a complete know-nothing, or comes from a long line of Yankee fans.  My grandfather, been a fan since the days of Mantle and Dimaggio.  To him, the game has been broken by free agency, and will even admit that his beloved Bronx Bombers have bought themselves a championship or two.

Me, I'm a Cubs fan.  I'll wait for the laughing to die down.  Got it out of your system? 

It's heartbreaking to be on the side of a team that hasn't won a championship since the days of the American Revolution. Each year, spring in particular, offers such hope.  This will be the year.  I've said that at least five times since 1984, and sincerely meant it each time.  And boy we've come close, so very close, only to end up crying into our hats.

Perhaps that's why I such a big fan of crime fiction.  I've gotten used to gettting on the side of the losers, the lost causes, the hopeless.  It's easy to keep reading about some schlub constantly making bad choices when I watched the Cubs give up Greg Maddux,  twice.

The more I think about it, the more the two have in common.  Today, I'm going to bring up some similarities between baseball and Homicide.

1.  Your team is only as strong as the core foundation of the organization.  With baseball, that's the manager, the GM, even the owner.  Homicide started off with Tom Fontana, Paul Attanasio, Barry Levinson, and eventually the author of the book, David Simon.

2.  Stock your roster with some Veteren Leaders.  What would a baseball team be without the grizzled veteren who has faced every pitcher, seen every situation, been interviewed by every journalist.  If you are young and eager, you want the locker next to his.  Homicide had Yaphet Kotto and Ned Beatty, two guys who had been around the block for awhile.  And though Beatty "retired," Kotto stayed on longer than anyone thought he could, delivering with each episode.  In terms of baseball, he would be a player/manager like Pete Rose.  He did write three episodes you know.

3.  Let the superstars do their thing.  If you are buying a ticket, it's to see these guys.  A long ball waiting to happen, a possible no-hitter.  If they are on the field, great things are going to happen.  Is there a person who watched Homicide who wasn't waiting for Andre Braugher to get somebody in the box?

4.  Give the young upstarts their time in the sun.  These guys are not quite rookies, but just finding their purpose within the team dynamics.  They've got the flash and will have the superstar tag in a few years.  Kyle Secor started off a little shaky as Bayliss, but found his feet soon enough.  He was the perfect balance to Pembleton.  Add future director/actor Clarke Johnson to that list as Lewis.

5. Know when and how to replace people.  In baseball, you might ditch that guy who has been a constant .300 hitter, but last year he dropped to .265.  Maybe it was an off year or possibly a decline in skills.  Do you invest more in them, or give someone else a chance?  Homicide lost it's fair share of actors.  Baldwin, Beatty left after Season 3, John Polito after Season 2.  Future seasons would see the departures of Andrea Braugher, Melissa Leo, Isabella Hoffman and countless other lesser roles.  Each time fresh blood was brought on, it worked.  Reed Diamond, John Seda, Michelle Forbes all came on later in the game and performed admirably, becoming valued members of the cast.

6.  Work on your farm system.  You can't always buy the talent you need.  Sometimes you've got to give them some seasoning in the minors.  Tom Fontana was smart about this.  His next show, OZ, was littered with guest stars and bit players from Homicide.  Lee Tergesen, J. K Simmons, Dean Winters, Terry Kinney, Kristin Rohde, and Edie Falco all saw time on the streets of Baltimore.

7. Every once in awhile, you've got to bring in the high priced free agents.  You might not always like it when your team forks over the big bucks to someone who might or might not perform (and I'm looking at you Milton Bradley) but sometimes they are just what the team needs.  In the television world, that's the guest star.  Homicide brought in people such as Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Wilford Brimley, James Earle Jones, Marvin Van Peebles.

8.  There is no place like home.  Whether it's the streets of Baltimore or the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, where you play is just as important as who you play.  Sure, in Homicide's Baltimore you might get shot, but in Wrigley they curse you with goats.

I could keep going I'm sure, as there must be a comparison somewhere between Detective Munch and a Knuckleball, but I'm going to find my lucky Cubs hat, think about ordering a jersey, and look at the results of yesterdays games.

This will be the year.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cover of the Week 10

Biggest Pet Peave Ever, when amazing theatrical posters get turned to shit for the home video release. 

Example.


How does this even happen? Does anyone prefer the photoshopped heads poster?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 9 - Oscar Predictions *updated with winners

I'm usually pretty good at this, but for some reason this year I'm a bit apprehensive, possibly due to Avatar.  It was a visually amazing movie, but the amount of people calling for this to win Best Picture suprises me.  And sadly, very few crime movies to root for this year, though I do hear very good things about the Foreign Language film Un Prophete.  Supposedly, it's brilliant.  I wouldn't know, it will never play up here.  I'll catch it on DVD when I can.

Okay.  Here we go.

Best Picture- The Hurt Locker.  WINNER
Should it win, why not?  I had some problems with it, but it was a better film than Avatar.  Sadly, my favorite picture of the year, Where the Wild Things Are didn't even garner a nomination in the bloated ten movie race.  Overall, it was a weak year.



Best Actor- Jeff Bridges WINNER
Have yet to see the film, but the man is due.  Frankly he was robbed for not even receiving a nomination for The Big Lebowski.  Any other year I'd be hoping for Clooney.



Supporting Actor- Christoph Waltz WINNER
It's easy to sound cool when reciting Quentin Tarantino's words, but this man did it in FOUR languages.  He was scary and charming and made it look effortless.



Actress- Meryl Streep Sandra Bullock
I've got a feeling they are going to give it to Sandra Bullock, but I hope not.  The movie looked like a pap piece of shit, and I have no desire to be swallowed by the the whole "feel goodness" about it.  And while I wasn't all that impressed with Julie & Julia, there is no denying that Streep kicked ass as Julia Child.



Supporting Actress- Mo'Nique WINNER
Haven't seen the movie yet, but every clip I've seen of her absolutely terrifies me.  It breaks my heart to go against Maggie Gyllenhaal, but it's been over 20 years since a single named actress won a trophy.  I'm all about the whole brevity thing dude.



Best Director- Kathryn Bigelow WINNER
Again, tough call.  Cameron certainly put his balls out there for Avatar, and Jason Reitman's movies just keep getting better, but I think it's Bigelow's year.  Maybe now people will pay more attention to Point Break.

Best Original Screenplay- Inglourious Basterds The Hurt Locker
Sorry to the Coen Brothers, but I gotta give it to Q this year.  His scripts are always facinating, but it took some guts to re-write history and have so much fun doing it.

Best Adapted Screenplay- Up in the Air  Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009) - Geoffrey FletcherOnly because it's getting shut out of everything else.  I'd love to see District 9 take this.




Best Animated Feature - Up WINNER
Who is going to vote against Pixar?  Great all around category though.

Best Foreign Language Film- Un Prophete  El secreto de sus ojos
Gotta rally behind at least one crime film.



All the rest, or, the films that make the difference in all the Oscar pools.
Cinematography - The Hurt Locker Avatar
Visual Effects - Avatar WINNER
Sound Mixing - Avatar The Hurt Locker
Sound Editing - Avatar The Hurt Locker
Film Editing - The Hurt Locker WINNER
Makeup- Star Trek WINNER
Costume Design - Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus The Young Victoria
Art Direction - Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Avatar
Live Action Short - The New Tenants WINNER
Animated Short - Logorama (Thanks Shane) WINNER
Documentary Short - The Last Truck Music by Prudence
Documentary Feature Length - The Cove WINNER
Best Original Score - Up WINNER
Best Original Song - The Weary Kind, from Crazy Heart WINNER



Come Monday, we'll all see if I'm full of it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday Night at the Oscars Week 9 - The Green Mile

I dig prison stories. 

Before your mind wanders away, I'm not talking about Chained Heat or The Big Doll House, although those movies do have certain...attributes one can enjoy.  Throw a bunch of characters in cells and I'm riveted.  Something about the confined quarters and hatred leads to good storytelling.  Rely on tight scripting and actors performing at a high level , and in the case of OZ, lots of murder and wang, to hold our attention and you've got something good on your hands.  There is not much room for Whiz-Bang Michael Bay explosions when the story is set in a series of cells and at most a prison yard.

Case in point, The Green Mile.  Directed by Frank Darabont, adapted from the Stephen King novel.  And I'm sorry Mr. King, as good as your book was, the movie trumps it.  (I do, however, pay respect to your giant brass balls for publishing it as a serial.)  I loved the book as I read it, but after watching the movie, no amount of character description can get me to see anyone other than Michael Clark Duncan as John Coffey, like the drink, only not spelled the same.  I wish I had the movie in front of me as I wrote this, so I could give proper credit to the casting director, who filled this movie with amazing actors. 

For starters, you've got Tom Hanks as the lead prison guard, Paul Edgecomb.  At this point in his career, Hanks was nominated for everything.  Surprisingly, he wasn't nominated here, which is a shame, as I feel this was some of the strongest acting of his career.  I've never had a UTI as badly as he had, and based on his performance in the water closet, I hope I never do. 

Supporting Hanks on the Mile was character actor David Morse.  It's hard to think of the movies he's been in, but you'd surely recognize him.  He's one of "those" guys whose name you might not remember, but his performance stays with you.  He's "Brutal" Howell, the muscle on the row.  Most of the film he's a rather quiet guy, but the few times he becomes upset, you can see whre he got the nickname.

Barry Pepper is the new guy, Dean Stanton.  Pepper wasn't given as much as Hanks or Morse, but those haunting eyes of his do a lot for him.  Watch as he tries to hold it together during an execution, and wonder whatever the hell happened to him since then.  After this and Saving Private Ryan, I expected big things from this guy.  Did Battlefield Earth destroy his career along with those braincells I lost while watching it?

Not all the guards are saints and stand up guys.  One such person, the aptly named Percy Wetmore, perhaps belonged on the other side of the bars.  Played with the oily slickness of an environment disaster, Doug Hutchinson made the most of every scene he was in.  You couldn't help but hate the guy, and routed for him to get exactly what he deserved.

But nobody watches prison dramas for the guards.  It's all about the prisoners, and this film delivers with an incredibly eclectic cast.

I already mentioned him, but Michael Clarke Duncan stole the show as John Coffey. He'd had some bit parts before this, but he announced himself in a big big way with this role as the gentle giant/murderer and rapist of two girls.  His innocence would never have been doubted by me, as he was nothing but tender with every other person in the movie, except a few notable exceptions. 

One of those exceptions was "Wild Bill" Wharton, played buy another unbelievably underrated character actor Sam Rockwell.  He was the jailhouse wildcard, and he went aptly crazy with the role, being strangely likable, but downright nasty at the same time.

Add to these fellows a cast that included Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Bonnie Hunt, Patricia Clarkson, Jeffrey DeMunn, James Cromwell and the always amazing Harry Dean Stanton, and you can understand why this film was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.  (Which it lost to the cast of American Beauty.  They were a solid cast, but I'm sorry, Thora Birch's breasts were not as good as Michael Clark Duncan's.)

The Green Mile was nominated for four Academy Awards.
Best Supporting Actor - Michael Clarke Duncan
Best Sound
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Picture.