Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Night at the Moview Week 17 - Detroit 9000

" It's the murder capital of the world.  And the biggest black rip-off of the decade, and a white cop squeezed in the middle."

Good film to end the month on.  Directed by Arthur Marks, yeah, him again, Detroit 9000 stars Alex Rocco, better known as Moe Greene, as Lt. Danny Bassett and Hari Rhodes as Sgt. Jessie Williams.   In a nice role reversal, Bassett, the white guy, is the street smart cop while the black guy is the well educated by the books cop.  These two wouldn't normally have anything to do with one another, but after a near half-million is stolen from a political fundraiser, it's up to them to solve the crime.

There are obstacles along the way.  The press, with their constant meddling, are determined to turn this into a "black/white" thing.  Could the honkies have ripped off the black politician, hoping to keep him down, or could fellow brothers have pulled the job in hopes of blaming the honkies.  It's pretty damn tricky.  Especially when it's learned that the good politician might not be such a fine fellow after all.  I know, I know, crooked politicians are done to death, but it always makes for decent motive when crimes are involved.

Bassett and Williams are good cops.  Through decent detective work, they follow up the leads and go about actually solving the case, twisting through many dead bodies, prostitutes,  all leading to a rather lengthy shootout, and a smart twist at the end.  Only problem with the shootout was about 5000 bullets were fired, and maybe six or seven actually find the target.  I guess they don't train the rest of the force that well in Detroit.  But the twist, that was nice. 

Besides Rocco and Rhodes, there are some good roles for the supporting actors.  The actors hold their own, especially Scatman Crothers as Reverend Markham.  He's charasmatic as hell, and steals almost every scene he is in.  Vonetta McGee, Ella Edwards, Herb Jefferson Jr. and Rudy Challenger also make the most of the parts they have.

But what makes the movie worthwhile is the story.  Orville H. Hampton wrote a solid script, with very few moments that don't hold up under scrutiny.  Everything happens for a valid reason, leading to a very satisfactory viewing experience.  Detroit 9000 isn't as flashy as other films in the blaxsploitation drama, but as a police procedural it works quite well.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Long Con Week 17 - The Crime Writer

I'm a big fan of books on writing, the "how to" that promises to show you all the nuts and bolts needed to construct a novel like its a cheap bookshelf from Target.  I take them for what they are, realizing that there is no magic formula for writing, let alone writing a "blockbuster novel" that so many of them promise for your hard earned $14.95.  But it's always interesting to read advice on how to craft stories, from both professionals and academics, and the only way to separate the genius from the cash in is to actually read the damn things.  Luckily, good or bad, they usually entertain me.
The manuals are usually the ones that suck, and suck badly.  Those are often the books that promise you a great book in 30 days, or 15 steps, etc.  They deal primarily in formula, but what they usually lack in imagination, they often offer a solid baseline.  Get writing.  Whether or not I choose to follow your particular set of rules, at least you are encouraging me to actually get off my ass and write.

The good book will give you the basics of theme, character, and story construction.  The building blocks for writing the novel will be there in black in white, not quite a formula, but at least a road map.  They'll go a little more in depth into the craft than the simple "how to" book.  Books such as Story by Robert McKee are an example of these.

A great book, however, will give you that feeling that you've been told a great secret.  Often, these books are from writers telling you up front they might be full of shit.  There are tricks that have worked for them, and while they might not conjure magic for everyone, they are worth a shot.  Most of their word count might not even be on rules and regulations, but anecdotes and stories, which instead of offering guidance, might be more concerned with inspiration.  It's no coincidence that these gems are writen by writers at the top of their field.   Look no further than Stephen King's On Writing, or Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit for examples of excellence in entertainment, as well as education.

So what does Gregg Hurwitz's novel, The Crime Writer have to do with today's topic.  It's a piece of fiction, not likely to be shelved with the MLA manuals at Borders.  It probably won't even pop up as a suggestion as you search for Writers Digest guides on Amazon.    What it did do was teach me a hell of a lot more about writing than I ever expected.

Drew Danner, a celebrated crime writer, has recently committed murder.  His ex-girlfriend, brutally stabbed, was found underneath his seizure ridden body.  It should have been an easy open and shut case.  He was found on the dead body, murder weapon with his prints all over it.  Only problem for the DA, Mr. Danner had a brain tumor, which not only effected his memory of the incident, but his behavior leading up to it.  Drew is found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

But Drew doesn't think he actually did it, no matter what the evidence, or the Los Angeles media, have to say about it.

Since he is not an investigator, Drew goes about solving the case the only way he knows how, by writing it.  He brings his technical advisors into the case, willingly or not, and slowly pieces together what may have happened the night of the murder.

Hurwitz pulls out all the tricks in this captivating novel, including addition of the manuscript that Danner is writing, notes and all.  It's a sneak peak into the mind of a writer, and the inner editor that exits in our heads.  He follows through on leads, no matter how off-beat or far-fetched, because he knows that anything can be explained, and more importantly, that anyone is capable of anything.  It's a fantastic read, and a fascinating  look into the writing process, fictional or not.

"I believe in narrative.  But I don't believe there's a reason for everything and that matters work themselves out for the better."

Find out more about Gregg Hurwitz at his website,

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 17 - Bendis! Maleev! Icon!

Words can not even begin to express how excited I am for this.  The dream team behind THE best run on Daredevil EVER (sorry Miller) re-unite (I'm not counting HALO or the Spider-woman mini-series) for a creator owned Icon series.

From a Newsarama interview:
She is a young Portland girl who finds herself shocked to be the victim of a very corrupt society that pushes her down pretty hard out of nowhere and ruins her life. Instead of taking it, she kind of stands up, looks around and realizes that the entire world is broken, that everything is broke. And with that comes the strength to fight back.

The fight becomes a push and pull between her point of view of what's wrong with the world and the status quo of how the world works, and what sparks out of it over the course of the first arc is an actual modern American revolution.

If this book is even half as good as Daredevil was, it will be the top of the read pile every month.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Short Con Week 17 - Quitters Inc.

"When a romantic tries to do a good thing and fails they give him a medal.  When a pragmatist succeeds, they wish him hell."

I've spoken of my love for King before.  He was the reason I devoured books at an early age.  Perhaps a bit too early considering an eight year old shouldn't be thumbing through a copy of Cujo.  But I've always loved his work, short stories especially.

Despite the fact that crime does in fact happen in King's novels, I've never considered him a crime writer.  Not sure if anyone does.  He's THE horror writer, the boogyman who makes us fear clowns, cars, hotels, and even junk shops.  So his inclusion in The 50 Greatest Mysteries of All Time certainly suprised me.

I'd read Quitters Inc. long ago, when it was included in one of my favorite collections, Night Shift.  As a young child with many smoking relatives, it stuck with me.  I don't remember if any of them ever tried to quit when I was young, but I was awfully tempted to have them read the short story, or even watch it's film counterpart in  Cat's Eye.  Perhaps if they could at least catch a glimpse of what some people were willing to do to quit, they might be inspired to do so, without the added stimuli of electric shock.

To summarize the story, Richard Morrison is a smoker.  After a chance meeting with an old colleague, he is given a card, "Quitters Inc." and told it will change his life.  He will quit smoking, guaranteed.    How do the folks at QI guarantee their success?  Simple, through threats and violence.  Smoke and they'll give your wife and child a few electrical shocks.  Continue to do so, the shocks will worsen, and there will be beatings.  Fail ten times, and there is a bullet waiting for you. 

As a crime story, it certainly works.  Quitters Inc's methods are taken right from the Mafia's handbook of keeping people in line.  Threats and Intimidation is Chapter One.  Violence, Chapter Two.  You get the point.  The fact that it's principles were twisted for, well I won't say as a legitimate enterprise, an anti-smoking company is genius.  If you've ever been around anyone trying to quit, you might have been tempted to do the same. 

However, I'm not sure the book belongs in a "greatest mysteries" anthology.  What is the mystery?  If anything, QI's main man Vic Donatti spells it all out for you.  Smoke and we mess you and your family up.

"We may audit you every other month," Donatti said.  "Or every other day.  Or constantly for one week two years from now.  The point is, you won't know.  If you smoke, you'll be gambling with loaded dice.  Are they watching?  Are they picking up my wife or sending a man after my son right now?  Beautiful, isn't it?  and if you do sneak a smoke, it'll taste awful.  It will taste like your son's blood."

Pretty effective salesmanship if you ask me.  And for those of you worried about the after quitting weight gain, don't worry.  They have solutions for that as well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

45 Minutes Week 17 - Happy Town

Is this the new Twin Peaks?

Can you believe it's been twenty years since Twin Peaks debut on ABC?   Me either.  As a child, that show warped my small town identity.  I grew up in a place much like Twin Peaks.  Small community, everyone knows one another, hell, my father was even a logger, but where was my Log Lady?  Granted, we never found a girl, "wrapped in plastic," but after viewing the show, I wanted to live in a town created by David Lynch.

I've been waiting a long time for a show to make me feel that way again.  Every once in a while, when feeling nostalgiac, I pop in my Definitive Gold Box Edition, and remind myself why Twin Peaks was so fantastic;  Intriguing mystery, solid acting, AMAZING characters, and a damn good cup of coffee.  It's a show that, despite attempts, has never been duplicated.

ABC is trying again.  From

Haplin, Minnesota, "Happy Town," has enjoyed an uneasy peace for five years, but all that is about to change. Still haunted by a number of unsolved kidnappings, the small town now faces a dark new crime that brings all its unresolved fears to the surface. Has the elusive "Magic Man" - who many believe is responsible for the bizarre abductions -- returned to claim another victim? As Haplin's mysteries are revealed, many of its prominent citizens' motives come under scrutiny as their own secrets and personalities are peeled back one layer at a time.

Dragged away from his idyllic family life to investigate the new spate of crimes, Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), a small town deputy under the wing of his dad, long-time popular Sheriff Griffin Conroy (M.C. Gainey), has never had to take charge of Haplin's law enforcement. His comfortable lifestyle is suddenly turned upside down by a bizarre set of circumstances and he must learn to pool his smarts - without the necessary training and tools - to rally the residents, as well as to keep his wife, Rachel (Amy Acker), daughter Emma (Sophia Ewaniuk) and the rest of Haplin safe.

On the other side of town, the long shadow of the Haplin founding family, represented by mysterious matriarch Peggy Haplin (Frances Conroy) and her son, John (Steven Weber), who runs the local bread factory, "Our Daily" Bakery and Confectionery, try to maintain control. John's daughter was one of the "Magic Man's" victims, and he has not given up hope of finding her and seeing justice done. Little does he know that his son, Andrew (Ben Schnetzer), has been carrying on a hot, secret romance with the Conroys' babysitter, Georgia Bravin (Sarah Gadon), who is definitely from the other side of the tracks.

When Henley Boone (Lauren German) drops in on Haplin, she is struck by the purple mountain majesty of this sun-splashed town, tempered by a recurring bit of curious graffiti -- a halo with a question mark under it. Henley's mother used to spend time vacationing here, and while looking to uncover information about her family's past, Henley finds herself drawn into a web of romance and intrigue she never could have foreseen. What's she really here for, and can she be trusted?
But Henley isn't the only outsider to make a home in Haplin. From his charming but irrelevant film memorabilia shop, The House of Ushers, to his way with the lively widows residing at the Meadows Boarding House with him, the ever-dapper Merritt Grieves (Sam Neill) seems strangely sinister... or is he? What does he have to hide?

Haplin is full of colorful characters, including Big Dave Duncan (Abraham Benrubi) and the nefarious Stiviletto brothers, but many in this small town in middle America have skeletons in their closets. Who will step up and help unearth the secrets that have festered under Haplin's cheery exterior? How will its citizens deal with the revelations? And who is the "Magic Man"? Does he really exist, and can he be stopped?

Happy Town stars Geoff Stults as Tommy Conroy, Sam Neill as Merritt Grieves, Lauren German as Henley Boone, Steven Weber as John Haplin, Amy Acker as Rachel Conroy, Sarah Gadon as Georgia Bravin, Robert Wisdom as Roger Hobbs, Jay Paulson as Eli "Root Beer" Rogers and Ben Schnetzer as Andrew Haplin.

Josh Appelbaum (Life on Mars, Alias, October Road), André Nemec (Life on Mars, Alias, October Road) and Scott Rosenberg (Life on Mars, October Road) are executive producers. Happy Town is produced by ABC Studios.

I'm going to give it a chance.  It won't be Twin Peaks, but it has the potential, especially with that cast, to be something really interesting.  Hopefully ABC won't cancel it. has a sneak peak currently up, and it premiers Wednesday, April 28th at 10pm.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

To the Mattresses Week 16 - To Crown a King

If Pam Grier is the undisputed Queen of Blaxsploitation, which of course she is, who would be her King?  Here is a list of possible candidates.

Melvin van Peebles
Jim Brown

Richard Roundtree

Fred Williamson

Rudy Ray Moore

Yaphet Kotto

Isaac Hayes

Ron O'Neal

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 16 - Triple Play

Super Fly
While not as good as I would have hoped, it was still an enjoyable film.  Ron O'Neal is excellent as Priest, a coke dealing pimp who realizes he needs to get out of the game before he winds up dead.  He takes his entire savings, hoping to make one last purchase that will net him a cool million to retire with.  His speach to "The Man" at the films conclusion is enough to make anyone get up and cheer.  Also, Curtis Mayfield's music is as catchy as ever. I ended up singing "I'm your Pusher Man baby" to myself for the next hour.  And unlike most blaxploitation DVD's, Super Fly had some nice bonus features.

Foxy Brown
Man oh man, this film was way more violent than I ever remembered.  Perhaps because the first time I saw it, I was fifteen, and was more focused on Pam Griers other attributes, which are on display an awful lot in this film.  But we've got about a million shootings,  beatings, a propellor induced death, and a little bit of member removal.  Miss Foxy Browns got some nice kung-fu moves, and major props to the costume and hair designers, because Pam Grier must have changed clothes and hair styles every five minutes on her way to avenging her boyfriends death.  A major highlight of the film was Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas, playing Foxy's shady brother Link.  He's just awesome in everything.

Friday Foster
Have you ever wanted to see a Yaphet Kotto vs. Carl Weathers fist fight?  I know I have. 

Another gem from director Arthur Marks, Friday Foster stars Grier as the titular character, an ex-model photographer who photographs an assassination attempt on the richest black man in America and gets herself pulled into a vast conspiracy. 

This was an adaptation of the syndicated comic strip of the same name, though I doubt newspapers would have allowed this much sex, violence and Eartha Kitt

A fast paced film with some great performances, but a rather weak ending.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Long Con Week 16 - Drink the Tea

Thomas Kaufman was the first writer to approach me when I first started writing this blog.  He sent me a very nice email, notifying me that his debut novel, Drink the Tea, was coming out soon.  I gladly ran a spotlight for the day it came out, and he was nice enough to offer a future interview, for which I will soon take advantage of.

Now came the hard part, reading and reviewing the novel.  This would be the first book I'd be reviewing from someone I had previous contact with.  It was easy to have high hopes for it, as it did win a PWA competition for Best First Private Eye Novel , plus there was a quote from hightly esteemed writer George Pellecanos on the cover.  What could possibly go wrong?

Thankfully, nothing. 

From the author's website.

Willis Gidney is a born liar and rip-off artist, an expert at the scam. Growing up without parents or a home, by age twelve Gidney is a successful young man, running his own small empire, until he meets Shadrack Davies. That's Captain Shadrack Davies, of the DC Police. Davies wants to reform Gidney and becomes his foster father. Though he tries not to, Gidney learns a small amount of ethics from Shad - just enough to bother a kid from the streets for the rest of his life.

Now Gidney's a PI, walking those same streets. So it's no surprise that when Gidney's closest friend, jazz saxophonist Steps Jackson, asks him to find Jackson's missing daughter, Gidney is compelled to say yes -- even though she's been missing for 25 years. He finds a woman who may be the girl's mother -- and within hours she is killed by persons unknown. The police accuse Gidney of the murder and throw him in jail.

Maybe Gidney should quit while he's behind. But when his investigation puts him up against a ruthless multi-national corporation, a two-faced congressman, and a young woman desperate to conceal her past, Gidney has no time left for second thoughts. In fact, he may have no time left at all.

Gidney is a fine addtion to the PI genre.  He's been around the block for some time, never once a cop, but actually raised by one.  He's got the street smarts and the connections to get what he needs, and for the most part, doesn't piss off everyone he meets.  Unlike other noir lotharios, he's pretty akward around women, especially Jan and Janet, two new age lesbians who might be his best friends.  It's never made quite clear why they are friends, but I'm hoping that will be explored in future novels.

And speaking of future novels, I think Willis Gidney has a real good shot at catching on as a series character.  So much of his life was mentioned only in passing, such as his ex-wife Karla, that I was immediately interested in his back story. Which led to the part I enjoyed most about the novel, Gidney's past.  Every few chapters we'd be given a glimpse of how he grew up in the system; passed around as a foster child, forming cliques in the juvenile home, and a personal favorite of mine, using comic books as currency. It's not something we are normally treated to with PI fiction, a  portrait of an investigator as a young man.  Usually they are retired cops, or even reformed criminals, but it was nice to see one "growing up," if only for a little while.  (I cannot picture Matt Scudder, or Patrick Kenzie as teenage hooligans, nor I'm sure I'd want to.)

If I had one minor complaint about the novel, it's that there are too many characters to remember.  It's not necesarrily Mr. Kaufman's fault, as I usually have this problem with intricate conspiracy plots.  Many of the bad guys blend in together after a point, especially if you had to put the novel down for a few days, which I did. 

But that's not too say there were not some great minor characters.  Count me in if a follow up novel involves the homeless fellow Augustus.  He's got such great potential as a secondary character, with an unusual talent that is wonderfully used near the books conclusion.  And Jan and Janet, with their daughter, Emily, were charming each time they appeared.

Overall, I'd give this book a solid B+.  Drink the Tea is exactly what you want from a private eye novel. It's faced paced, with interesting characters, a unique local, great dialogue, political intrigue, and perhaps the best use of the EPA I'd yet to read.

More on Thomas Kaufman can be found on his website.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 16 - Grendel: Behold the Devil

Currently, comics writer Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) is drumming up a whole lot of interest in his new series, Nemesis, by saying it is essentially the story of "What if Batman was a total cunt?"  Hate to tell you this Mr. Millar, but that story has already been done, and done better than you can ever hope to pull off.  It's been published by Dark Horse for some years, and there are plenty of beautiful hardcovers in the bookstore waiting to be purchased.  If you were hoping on breaking some new ground with your "villain," you are about twenty years too late.  Hell, this guy even fought Batman some time ago.  And after reading the first issue of Nemesis (which wasn't bad, just didn't live up to the hype) I'm pretty sure your guy would get his pale white costumed ass handed to him by the Devil himself.

I give you Grendel.

For years, the life of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose, has been accessible only through his private journal, but torn out and forgotten is a secret too terrible even for its pages.  Behold the Devil follows Rose through this lost period early in his criminal career, under the scrutiny of not only the police and media, but also the prying eyes of an unseen--possibly supernatural--pursuer.  Uncharacteristically shaken, the criminal mastermind is forced to take steps that redefine the evil of the entity known only as Grendel!

Believe me when I say that you will be hard pressed to find a book this beautful, yet this violent, in the comic book world.  If I'd compare it to anything, it would be the films of Akira Kurosawa.  I'm torn, wanting to take the time to scan not one, nor two, but THREE double page spreads which start Chapter One, but not wanting to spoil it for you.  Nothing but words and blood, but ever so pretty.

Pure poetry.

Hunter Rose is a rich socialite, who happens to have taken in a ward.  (Sound familiar)  He is also a best selling author and hailed as a literary genius.  But at night, he is the fearsome Grendel, the masked devil who secretly controls all the organized crime in the city.  He is ruthless and feared, and as those opening pages show, deadly.

I'm relatively familiar with the character, having read random stories through the years.  But Matt Wagners Grendel stories do not begin and end with Hunter Rose.  There are stories of his "grand-daughter," futuristic stories with cyborg Grendel, and many in between.  The book, in an amazing well drawn sequence, allows Hunter to "see" all of these futures, when his legacy will be changed and expanded.  Honestly, I didn't know everything that was shown.  According to the back of the book, there are about twenty books, so far, in the Grendel series, this being the latest.

So would this book be the best place for a reader to start?  Possibly. It's a fairly straight forward, yet engaging, story.  Grendel puts a few rival gangs in their place, all while being pursued by the Wolf Argent (his arch enemy), a reporter, the police, and what appears to be some sort of demon.  Along the way he kills lots of people and has that aforementioned vision of the future.  It's easy enough to understand without all the backstory that most of us do not possess.

And again, there is the amazing art.  Simple lines, yet stylized, with inventive layouts.  Told in black, white and blistering red, each page is simply stunning.  Okay, I couldn't resist.  Here are those three pages. I apologize in advance for the center distortion, but these pages were scanned from a hardcover.  You want to see them in their full blown glory, buy the book.  You know you want to.

Beautiful in their wrath, aren't they?

Overall, the book did exactly what it should have done.  I enjoyed each and every turn of the page, and afterwards, dug through my shelves to reread the Grendel stories I do have.  Believe me, I will be purchasing more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Short Con Week 16 - Solid for a Solid

I recently got a shout out over at Spinetingler Magazine, so I'm going to do them a solid and point out their 2010 Spinetingler Award Nominations.

The nominees for the New Voice category are:

A Bad Day For Sorry by Sophie Littlefield (D); Balzac of the Badlands by Steve Finbow (D); Dope Thief by Dennis Tafoya (D); The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville (D); I-5 by Summer Brenner; In Their Blood by Sharon Potts (D); The Lost Sister by Russel D. McLean; Mixed Blood by Roger Smith (D); Ravens by George Dawes Green; The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf (D)

The nominees for the Rising Star category are:
50 Grand by Adrian McKinty; ; Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon; The Devil’s Staircase by Helen Fitzgerald; Finch by Jeff VanderMeer; Last Days by Brian Evenson; Safer by Sean Doolittle

The nominees for the Legend category are:
The Complaints by Ian Rankin; The Midnight Room by Ed Gorman; The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston; The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly; Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli; Tower by Reed Farrel Coleman & Ken Bruen

The nominees for the Best Short Story on the Web category are:
M-N-S (n) murder-necrophilia-suicide by Anonymous 9 from Plots with Guns
Flesh Rule by Frank Bill from Plots with Guns
Blurred Lines by Michael Moreci from A Twist of Noir
Survival Instincts by Sandra Seamans from Pulp Pusher
At Least I felt Something by Sophie Littlefield from The Drowning Machine
My Father’s Son by Alan Griffiths from A Twist of Noir
The Present by Mark Joseph Kiewlak from A Twist Of Noir
Insatiable by Hillary Davidson from Beat to a PulpA Wild and Crazy Night by John Kenyon from Beat to a Pulp
The Tut by Paul D Brazill from Beat to a Pulp

The nominees for the Best Mystery or Crime Comic/Graphic Novel category are:
Back to Brooklyn by Garth Ennis, Jimmy Palmiotti & Mihailo Vukelic from Image; Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry from Metropolitan Books; Chew by John Layman & Rob Guillory from Image; Leo Pulp by Claudo Nizzi & Massimo Bonfatti from IDW; Low Moon by Jason from Fantagraphics Books; Noir by Various authors by Dark Horse; Parker: The Hunter by Darwyn Cooke from IDW; Scalped by Jason Aaron & R. M. Guéra from Vertigo; West Coast Blues by Jacques Tardi & Jean-Patrick Manchette from Fantagraphic Books; You Have Killed Me by Jamie Rich & Joelle Jones from Oni Press

The nominees for the Best Mystery/Crime Fiction Press, Publisher or Imprint category are:
Bitter Lemon Press; Busted Flush Press; New Pulp Press; Serpent’s Tail; Soho; Switchblade

The nominees for the Special Services to the Industry & Community category are:
The Big Adios; Bookgasm; Crimeculture; Friday’s Forgotten Books; My Little Corner

The nominees for the Best Reviewer category are:
Jen Forbus; Lesa Holstine; The Nerd of Nor; Peter Rozovsky; Cory Wilde

To view the Best Cover nominees, as well as vote, go here.  They've got a fantastic website.  Do yourself a favor and dig around.

Monday, April 19, 2010

45 Minutes Week 16 - Wonders of Amazon

Not trying to be a corporate whore for Amazon, but sometimes deals just need to be promoted.  I happened to randomly come across The Commish Season One for $6.99 and thanks to Amazon's "recommendations" purchased three other boxed sets, each brand new and less than $7!  While none of these shows were top tier,  I remember enjoying each of them in my younger days.  Let's hope they hold up.

The Commish
Emmy® Winner Michael Chiklis stars as Tony Scali, a no-nonsense police commissioner revered by his officers and community for this unorthodox style and compassionate nature. As a former Brooklyn cop, Tony uses tough and at times controversial methods to bring perpetrators to justice in his small town, where solutions to difficult situations often require considerable creativity. From parenthood to politics, from sex crimes to murder cases, one man takes it day-to-day with offbeat humor and street- smart skill.

Often dubbed as television's answer to Dirty Harry, former football star Fred Dryer lights up the screen as Los Angeles Police Department detective Rick Hunter, a renegade cop who breaks the rules and takes justice into his own hands. Partnered with the equally stunning and rebellious Sgt. Dee Dee "The Brass Cupcake" McCall (Stepfanie Kramer), the tough-minded duo bring an edgy attitude, extreme action,sly humor and sexual chemistry while cracking down on L.A.'s slimiest criminals.

21 Jump Street
Officer Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) leads his band of agents in the special Jump Street division by going undercover to infiltrate local schools to put a stop to crime and keep students safe from corrupt influences. The 21 Jump Street team is a mixed group including the wise cracking Officer HT Loki (Dustin Nguyen), the brilliant Officer Judy Hoffs (Holly Robinson Peete), the streetwise Officer Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise) and the hard-nosed Captain Adam Fuller (Steven Williams).

Long before Donnie Brasco brought similar drama to the big screen, Ken Wahl brought charisma, credibility, and chutzpah to his small-screen role as Vincent Terranova, a handsome 30-year-old agent with the FBI s Organized Crime Bureau. As conceived by co-creators Stephen Cannell (of The Rockford Files and The A-Team fame) and Ken Lupo, Wiseguy followed an innovative story-arc structure, allowing Vinnie s deep-cover missions to last only as long as necessary to bring each case to a sensible conclusion. Since copied by countless TV shows, this unique approach to storytelling attracted a devoted following of viewers addicted to the self-contained plots that forced Vinnie, his sourpuss OCB handler Frank McPike (Jonathan Banks), and disabled covert liaison Dan Lifeguard Burroughs (played by double-amputee Jim Byrnes) to achieve their objectives.

Overall, I'd say it wasn't a bad take for $27.96.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

To the Mattresses week 15 - The Artists

So yeah, I've been disappointed for the most part with the choice of artists for the Vertigo Crime line.  It's not that the artists are bad, not by any means.  But none of them have knocked my socks off yet.  Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the brilliance of the artists that are usually attatched to my favorite crime comics.  Here are a Top 10, in no particular order, of my faves.

Sean Phillips, Criminal

Michael Lark, Gotham Central

Michael Gaydos, Alias

Eduardo Risso, 100 Bullets

J.H. Williams, Desolation Jones

Alex Maleev, Daredevil

Frank Miller, Sin City

R.M Guera, Scalped

Marcello Frusin, Hellblazer

and the newest addition to the gang
Matthew Southworth, Stumptown
Feel free to argue over any omissions, or which order they belong in.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Night at the Movies Week 15 - Bucktown

"Do you believe in God?"
"Sure.  Why not?"
"Then you're in the wrong place."

Duke Johnson is in town to bury his brother.  At the funeral he meets Aretha (Pam Grier).  Although he's new in town, she doesn't think to highly of him.  She was a friend of his brother, and is convinced Duke's going to skip town after the funeral.  Those were his exact plans, only he's got to stay in town for two months in order to inherit his brothers bar, Club Alabam.

Of course, there are stipulations.  In order to get that bar back open, he's got to pay the local police for a "city license" which is an extra $450.  They have their fingers in everybody's pie, and besides the one time fee, there will also be an extra $100 every Saturday or they'll close him down.  And if they close him down, he'll never be able to sell the bar and leave.  Duke had no problem paying for the license, but he'll be damned if he's going to be shaken down every week.  His answer to the protection money, one hell of a bar brawl.

So, the bar brawl wins Aretha over.  She pays a visit to Duke, beers in hand.  It's a typical evening.  Beer, anger, slaps, sex.  It's not a Pam Grier movie unless she gets naked once.  And immediately after the sex, the cops show up to shoot the house all to hell.

And that's not all.  It seems his brother, who did officially die of pneumonia, was actually beaten severely and left for dead.  Do you think Fred Williamson is going to stand for that?

Hell no.  He could run.  It's what Aretha wants him to do.  Instead, he gets on the phone and calls his friend Roy.  Roy comes to town with backup, including one Carl Weathers.  Do you really need more backup than Carl Weathers? In a suprising turn, they kill or capture every single crooked cop in a matter of minutes.  The movie isn't even halfway over, and already they've taken down "The Man."

Their reward from the mayor.  They get to be the law in Bucktown. I'd see this as a good thing, but not Pam Grier.  She's convinced Roy and his boys will be worse than the cracker lawmen ever were. 

Despite her rather unimpressive acting in this film, she was right. Roy and his crew shake everyone down even harder than before, drunk with all the new found power and money.  For the most part, they leave Duke alone, but it's only a matter of town before before hell comes to Bucktown.

The film wasn't without it's flaws.  The acting could have been better, the action was poorly staged, despite having a future film stunt co-ordinator playing pint-sized hustler Stevie. What made the film enjoyable was the previously discussed midplot twist.  Far too often, blaxsploitation films follow the same "stick it to the man" formula, and it was nice to see the briefly "heroic" characters quickly turn into what they were fighting.  .  In an interesting coincidence, director Arthur Marks also directed  The Monkey Hu$tle, a film that had a completely different tone.  Another of his films, Friday Foster, is on the docket for next week.  Perhaps I should have skipped Trouble Man, substituted J.D.'s Revenge, and had myself an Arthur Marks month. 

But the biggest reason to watch any Fred Williamson film will always be Fred Williamson.  You shouldn't need any more convincing than that.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Long Con Week 15 - Home is the Sailor

"I threw the empty bottle at the wall.  To hear it smash.  Then I rolled off the bed onto the deck and crawled into the head on my hands and knees, barely making seaway.  I was too drunk to stand under the shower.  I filled the tub with cold water and lay in it, letting the water run, rubbing the cold into my scalp and flesh.  I wanted desperately to get sober.  So I could walk up to the bar and tie on a real one this time."

I don't know much about sailors.  They like to curse, or else there would not be that old saying, "curse like a sailor."  From another idiom, I know they like to have sex.  Other than that, my knowledge of the sea comes from Popeye and an old district manager and his tales of torpedo juice.

And if sailors are anything like Swede Nelson, I'm not to sure I want to know them.

Swede has come ashore after a long time on the sea.  He's got $15,000 and the hopes of going back home, finding him a wife, and buying a farm.  Only he's got a love for booze, and with the booze comes fighting.  His first night on dry land and he nearly kills a man.  He wakes up later in a room at the Purple Parrot, still hung over and confused as hell. 

He knows one thing for sure, the proprietor of the Purple Parrot, Corliss Mason, he's in love with her.

And it's because of that love that he will ignore every rational pieces of advice he receives from the one character in the book that might be good for him.  He will go against his better judgement and help disappear a man that Corliss kills, a man she says raped her.  Every word out of her mouth is gospel, regardless of the trouble it pulls him into.

As a human being, I want to stay as far away from him as possible, but as a noir character, he's perfect.

Pretty soon, he learns that Corliss might not be the woman she says she is.  He gets a few visits from law enforcement, including the dreaded FBI.  He's in way deeper than he ever wanted to be, and as beautiful asd she is, perhaps Corliss isn't his dream come true.  I'd bet a boring farm life begins to look pretty good.

Day Keene writes a hell of a story.  It's face paced, well written, and while some pretty unbelievable events take place, the motivations behind every action are filled with truth.  His characters are mostly unlikeable, which for a story like this, is perfect.

After reading this book, I know a little more about sailors.  I think I'll avoid the sea.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Comics Wednesday Week 15 - The Bronx Kill

"We may be through with the past, but the past aint through with us."   - Bergen Evans

I'm a sucker for personal misery and decending spirals into hell. 

Yeah, I'm that kind of guy. 

Martin Keane hates his father.  He doesn't so much as come right out and say it, but the feelings are there with every word spoken between him.  His father comes from a long line of cops, and he's never been pleased with his son's choice to become a writer.

But it's his own fault.  Years ago, when Martin was just eight, his father brought him to the Bronx Kill, described as " the saddest, most miserable and forlorn stretch of water in the whole country."  It's in this fabulous location he tells his son of how his grandfather comes to an untimely end, and at that moment, he concludes he will never be the man his father is, nor does he want to be.

Fast forward two decades.  Martin, now languishing in self-loathing after the critical drubbing of his second novel, is at a bit of a crossroads.  His wife, after learning of his families history at the Bronx Kill, has become obsessed with it.  She's an artist, and for some odd reason she finds it almost beautiful.  An attempted mugging inspires her in a strange way. She needs to paint it.  Martin, also inspired by her hurtful words (she stood up to the assailant, not him) decides he needs to get away to write a new novel.  Off to Ireland he goes for four months, leaving Erin behind.

At this point, the graphic novel switches up styles a bit, leaving us to read Martins new novel, corrections and all.  It's a little disconnected at first, but as both stories progress, it's easy to see how they might eventually interesect.

Not long after, Martins life begins to unravel.  Soon after returning, his wife goes missing without a trace. Police blame him, mostly because he is the most viable suspect.  Ironically, if it were not for the influence of his father, he would be sitting in a jail, instead of free to search for answers.

Like most good mysteries, the answers he has been searching for might be the last words he wants to hear.

While the story is fantastic, it's the art I had some trouble with.  James Romberger has some great pages in him.  His page compositions and storytelling skills are fantastic.  The character designs were excellent, with each character looking unique.  Unfortunately, the consistency of the art is lacking.  Some pages feel like they were merely thumbnails, with sketched in shading.   They were few and far between, but each time I saw one it instantly took me out of the story.

Overall, the book was very good.  Milligan's story was engaging, and hit upon many of the themes that, as a reader, I can't get enough of.  His use of prose added to the story so much that I would consider reading the book within the book.  Perhaps Milligan has a novel or two in him.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Quarter Awards

So, I just passed my first 100 days on Saturday.  To celebrate, I'm going to name my favorites for the first quarter. 

Favorite Movie:  Black Dynamite

Favorite Television Episode: Three Men and Adena

Favorite Book:  Little Girl Lost

Favorite Comic: Severance Package

Favorite Cover: Out of Sight

The only category missing is Favorite Short Story.  I'm still thinking that one over, as all were good, but nothing really stuck out yet.  Maybe by the time the next quarter rolls around I'll have something.

Monday, April 12, 2010

45 Minutes Week 15 - The Corner

Episode One: Gary's Blues
"We ain't addicted to the drugs.  We addicted to the needle."

As I am just about finished watching Homicide, I thought about what long series I should watch next.  I didn't think on it too long.  Baltimore isn't done with me yet. 

Following up on Homicide (the novel) couldn't have been an easy task for David Simon.  He had followed the Baltimore Homicide division for a year, and I'm sure writing had been equally as time consuming.  What could he possibly do for an encore that could be as enlightening and hard hitting.

How about the flipside of Charm City?

Along with Edward Burns, Simon wrote The Corner, a hard hitting look at life on the streets from the junkie and corner boy perspective.  Equally as engrossing, and just as heartbreaking, The Corner saw life not just as a book, but also a mini-series from HBO.

Let me tell you something, you ever want to get depressed as hell in an hour, watch this show.  It's like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline songs type of heartbreaking.  I had every intention of at least watching the first disc, but one episode and I'd had enough for the day.

The Corner focuses on Gary McCullough (T.K. Carter, who looks like an older Cuba Gooding Jr.), a severely down on his luck dope fiend.  He does everything he can to secure a daily fix.  Stealing copper pipe, selling abandoned furniture, even robbery and shoplifting, anything just to score at least $10 for that vile.

Ordinarily, there wouldn't be much to separate Gary from the rest of the men on the street, but Gary once had a life.  He spends much of his days shooting up in a house he once owned with his ex-wife.  It's all but abandoned, nothing more than a shooting gallery, but still, the remnants of his old life remain.  He finds old photographs amongst the rubble on the floor, and it's hard to watch him look at them as someone else pisses in the corner of the room. 

He's a smart man.  It wasn't a surprise to see him listening to talk radio and reading a chemistry textbook in his parents basement.  There is good to him.  His mother trusts him with $10 to go to the store to buy some potatoes and Hamburger Helper, and surprisingly, he runs the street gauntlet and makes it back without slipping.  I expected him to fail, and from the look in his mothers eyes when she handed over the money, she didn't expect him to make it either.  But those hurting eyes of hers, they've seen plenty of disappointment.

And the flashbacks are just an extra kick to the groin.  Told with bright, sunny colors, with men singing on the street, we are idealistically shown what Gary's life once was.  He held a job at the local corner store, where he was well liked and well paid.  We see that he went to college, and watch his face light up when he learns he's going to be a father.

We also get to meet his son, DeAndre.  He's a rising corner boy, flush with money and girls.  He's an up and comer, but he still has a soft spot for his broken down father.  He'll give him a 10 spot, or even a few vials to tide him over.  There is a bond there, and it's apparent when Gary plays some basketball with his boy that they do like one another.  Only problem is, Gary likes the needle, and his woman Ronnie more.

And Ronnie, she isn't anything but trouble. She's the one who can score the dope anytime, but don't you dare hold out on her, a lesson Gary learns when she trumps up an assault charge.  He gets the opportunity to detox in a city lockup, and there is nothing pretty about it.  Problem is, he should hold a grudge.  But she holds the drugs, and past transgressions are quickly forgotten when that high is on the horizon.

Filmed with a cinema verite style and on location, it's hard not to get the feeling we are watching a documentary throughout the episode.  Everything feels authentic about this show, and sadly it is.  Each day blends into the next, and it's hard to even know how many days have past by, something I'm sure a junkie is familiar with.  It's painful, and hard to watch.  And as soon as I do something to cheer up, I'll be back for the next episode.