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All Things Thriller

A celebration of thrillers, noire and black comedy in film and literature by Pamela Lowe Saldana

Fret

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/fret

 

I have a sense of responsibility to my hobby as a writer and more importantly to those fellow writers who indulge me as audience, and to whom I am audience as well. So while I’m taking a break from my interaction, please don’t fret. (I’m only using this word because it is part the daily post word exercise; it’s a bit dramatic for the circumstances.) Don’t worry, or wonder about me. I’m taking care of business and going to the gym again.

And just in case you are uproariously amused and appropriately chagrined by this post, please make note that I’m aware of the obvious. I will miss you much, much more than you will miss me.

I will be back. Lord willing.

Touch of Evil, a film directed by Orson Welles, 1958; Classic Film Noir

Attention film buffs and cinephiles: Do you have a film(s) that fits your criteria to a T and yet you continually pass up every opportunity to watch it? If you’re like me you do. (Currently Hell or High Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri are in my perpetual queue.)

Why do we (I) do that?

For years, Citizen Kane was that movie for me. (Yeah, I know…What can I say? I’m ashamed.) Perhaps it was because I knew that I should watch it, because I knew that any and every self respecting buff absolutely must watch it, that I just never did–until a few years ago.

Newsflash: It was great. Even revolutionary. But not as good as Touch of Evil. To me.

Yes Touch of Evil is a recognized masterpiece, recorded in The National Film Registry, Library of Congress; ranking #64 on American Film Institutes 100 Years, 100 Thrills; coming in at #26 and #57 respectively on Sight and Sound’s directors and critics Greatest Films of All Time list and the accolades go on. Any fanboy or fangirl should be pleased with this representation and I am, (not so much with the fangirl part, but it is what it is) it’s just that Citizen Kane ranks #1 on these directories.

Do I think that’s fair? Umm…Nooo.

Do I think Touch of Evil should be #1? No. I do not. But # 64 on American Film Institutes 100 Years, 100 Thrills? Come on.

Then what should be #1? I’d rather not go there. 

So then, where is this going? To an unspecified town on the Mexican border actually. And yes, it’s going to get messy…And complicated. (Duh. It’s a border town. And I’m interviewing myself.)

When critics talk about Touch of Evil they always talk about the opening scene. Let me see…How can I describe it? Well that’s hard because I haven’t got a clue as to the technical side of it. Of course I could brush up on the research but I’m going to skip the analysis since a lot of famous critics and directors admit they don’t know how Orson Welles pulled it off.

If you’ve seen the opening scene to La La Land, the spectacular choreography, to me that’s what’s going on here. Choreography. But in Touch of Evil, it’s even better (and that’s saying a lot since I love the La La Land opening scene) because instead of dancers, this choreography is with moving cars, pedestrians in crosswalks, vendors and peddlers pushing carts, a passel of goats, more pedestrians and cars intertwining at intersections, going through checkpoints and all the while, one particular car is intersecting at different points with one particular couple, walking. (Yes, there is a couple in the car of question. It is not driven by ghosts.)

Except for the opening establishing shot and the ones that are immediately subsequent, all of this is filmed moving toward the camera while the camera(s) is backing away in a beautiful collage of orchestrated chaos pulsing to a percussion heavy jazz intro. It is absolutely, unequivocally spectacular.

Oh, did I mention that it is suspenseful? And on the edge of your seat thrilling?

Well it is. That’s because that one particular car that is intersecting with that one particular couple (along with all the other people, cars and the passel of goats) has a ticking time bomb in its trunk. We know this because the ticking time bomb, in unidentifiable hands, is the opening establishing shot. And the fiend–whoever it is–is seen placing it in the trunk of the car in the immediate subsequent opening shots.

So this is what the movie’s about? Well…Yes and no. 

What this movie is about is Charlton Heston in all of his overacting glory. Believe me, there are plenty of Damn you…Damn youDAMN YOU…(Planet of the Apes) moments here.

What this movie is about is Janet Leigh, pre Psycho, giving a very nuanced and spunky, spirited performance.

What this movie is about is Denis Freaking Weaver executing one of the most bizarre, jittery, over-Kilimanjaro feats of acting in all of cinematic history. And it is wonderful.

But if you want to know about plot, you are just going to have to watch the movie. I’m not going to lay it out for you—it’s far too brilliant. I can’t give it justice. (Plus it’s really complicated and I’ve already taken up too much time and space interviewing myself.)

That said, I will delve into theme. (You didn’t think I’d let you off that easy did ya?)

At it’s core, Touch of Evil is about corruption. Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles) is a nefarious, aging police captain in a border town on the U.S. side. When I say aging, I’m being kind. A more accurate adjective would be decaying. He’s a mess. Obese. Obviously diabetic. Lumbering, with a cane. So riddled by booze and sugar that he cannot speak without slurring his words.

He is terminally prejudiced and dangerously criminal. Even so, as I write this, there are tears in my eyes for him. And I’m not kidding.

Quinlan has a partner, of course. His name is Pete (Joseph Calleia) and he would be a thoroughly decent man and honest cop, if not for Quinlan. Even with him he’s a nice guy.

Pete is completely devoted to Quinlan. He admires him. Reveres him even. Why?

And he’s not the only one. The police chief, the District Attorney, just about all the old guard of the town hold this ugly, contemptible man in high esteem. Are they all in cahoots with him in his corruption? Possibly. Probably. To some extent. But it’s more than that.

There is an aging prostitute, a madam in this border town. Yes, sadly, there always is at least one. But unlike Quinlan, she has retained vestiges of her charm. She is in fact, still, exotically beautiful–and mysterious. Her name is Tanya. (She is portrayed by the great and legendary Marlene Dietrich.)

Quinlan wanders into her brothel in a perpetual stupor and when he sees her, when he recognizes her, his disease ravaged face is transfixed and just barely, but still, it is transformed…With kindness. With awe…With, even, love.

Later when Tanya is questioned about what she thinks of  Quinlan, she talks about who he was before he completely disappeared into a fog of vile, “He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?”

This revelation is stunning as it hints at what has been lost not only in the character of Quinlan, but in Orson Welles himself. At the time Welles was suffering from chronic alcoholism, binge eating, drug dependency and numerous infidelities. For his old and much respected friend Marlene Dietrich to deliver these lines with such matter of fact poignancy is fitting and exploitatively sublime…Exactly the way Welles intended it to be.

 

Manhattan Beach, a novel by Jennifer Egan, 2017, Scribner; Historical Fiction

It takes a certain discipline to read literature. There is no standard template, no conspicuous signposts to reassure along the way. The unraveling is sporadic, often leisurely and that tends to frustrate the mere genre fiction reader; yes, even those of us who like our airplane reads robustly seasoned with character development, metaphor and symbolism. When we get a hold of the “real thing” we know it, if only because we are tempted to abandon it to a prominent position on our book shelves prematurely. One hundred pages in and we are growing increasingly restless for something…anything to happen…

This is so often the way it is with literary fiction and those of us who want to like it, but so often don’t.  Like with fine dining, we are compelled to savor when we really just want to dig in. Jennifer Egan’s historical novel, Manhattan Beach, provides a rich return for the investment of time and patience. Trust me. This one’s worth it. Here is that rare novel that nourishes our intellect and satiates our nagging appetite for something more. Oh yeah, the entertaining part? It is…if given the chance.

Anna Kerrigan has always been a daddy’s girl. She’s a lot like him: introverted, lithe in body and mind, pleasing to look at but not beautiful, occupying her skin and space contentedly. Precisely because of this and, more importantly, because she whispers to his conscience so affectingly that sometimes he even listens, she accompanies her father on journeys to the waterfront where he works as a bagman for a mid-level hood who is also a childhood friend. (Plus she’s flat out cute and the gangsters like her. It’s less likely that there will be any shenanigans while she is present.)

Eddie Kerrigan should do better– he could parlay his underworld connections into a real longshoreman’s job– if not for Anna and his wife, for his severely disabled daughter Lydia who needs expensive, specialized care. But dirt under the fingernails doesn’t appeal to Eddie (he had been a successful stockbroker) so he pines for something more befitting his pedigree. It doesn’t help that it is 1930s New York and the entire country, if not the world, is in the throes of the stock market crash.

Then one day Eddie takes twelve-year-old Anna on an unusual journey to an opulent home on the beach, ostensibly to play with a business associate’s children and actually, of course, to charm the associate, Dexter Styles, who is really a high powered racketeer. True to form Anna comes through on both fronts, especially excelling with the well-healed, handsome gangster when she shucks off her shoes and wades out into the ocean. It is cold. She is brave. And precocious. Styles is impressed. He has an affinity for intelligent women outside the confines of his bed. He wishes his own daughter was more like Anna.

In the car after the meeting with Styles, Eddie intimates that everything went swimmingly but Anna’s not so sure. She had observed Styles and her father from a distance and there was something about the former’s body language that didn’t set well with her. Sometime later her beloved father abruptly disappears.

Manhattan Beach has been roundly praised and lauded as exquisite, cinematic and viscerally stunning. It has been occasionally criticized, too, as conflated, compartmentalized and overwrought. I found it to be all those things at varying times and degrees with the good far outweighing the paradoxically overburdened.

Perhaps Egan’s follow up to the Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad would have benefited from more clearly defined genre-like boundaries. I float that out there as a mere possibility in response to some critics musings. Personally I think not. Anna’s character is simpatico with the novel’s nonconformist spirit and vice versa. And though Eddie Kerrigan and Dexter Styles are interesting, well represented characters, Manhattan Beach is all about Anna.

The novel leaps ahead some six years with America on the verge of entering World War II. Anna is now the dutiful head of household and sole provider for her mother and disadvantaged sister. But Anna is more than just dutiful, she is decent and she deeply loves Lydia.

Anna is also as adventurous as she in industrious. Like so many other intrepid protagonist, almost all of them male, she is drawn to the sea. In a wily, almost impossible for its time feat if not for the looming war, she finagles a job as a deep sea diver and repairer of ship hulls. This is where Egan’s prose, so skillful and elegant, becomes poetry mingled with science.

At last her shoes met the bottom of Wallabout Bay. Anna couldn’t see it: just the wisps of her legs disappearing into dark. She felt a rush of well-being whose source was not instantly clear. Then she realized: the pain of the dress had vanished. The air pressure from within it was just enough to balance the pressure from outside while maintaining negative buoyancy–i.e., holding her down. And the weight that had been so punishing on land now allowed her to stand and walk under thirty feet of water that otherwise would have spat her out like a seed. 

Though Anna is strong, shrewd and capable, destiny will have its way with her inevitably. It intrudes upon her in the form of Dexter Styles. They meet again in one of his nightclubs and even though she believes that he is in someway responsible for her father’s disappearance she is drawn to him. They plunge into a sexual tryst that it is dangerous for all the obvious reasons (yes, he is married) and then some.

Longing for something more than what they have been allowed, or what they have allowed themselves, binds Anna, Eddie and Dexter Styles together as does the sea. When Anna surveys it she sees an eternal expanse of gorgeous possibility. Eddie, on the other hand, takes solace in its tranquil, hypnotic effect and Dexter Styles is overwhelmed by its powerful mystery that evokes in him a sense of purpose and duty. This linkage bridges the “compartments” of noir, adventure, romance and history into a cohesive if not seamless narrative that, like the sea, is sometimes serene, sometimes tempestuous and always compelling.

But above all Manhattan Beach anchors itself in the father daughter dynamic. With this bond as catalyst, Jennifer Egan explores loyalty, sensuality, the aptitude of trait and the feasibility of redemption with uncommon pathos ensnared in hope.

 

Panic, a film directed by Henry Bromell, 2000; Crime Drama/Comedy, Independent

Back in the early days of the millennium when everybody was in love with quirk, Panic was the indie darling that all the critics were hot and bothered about. Since I consider myself a reasonably discerning moviegoer, I attempted to give it a go.

I had to bail out. I didn’t get it.

The other night I was searching for something to watch and there it was. I was in the mood for a comedy and it was billed as such. So I gave it another try. This time I made it through the whole film…

I still didn’t get it. And that bothers me. I pride myself on getting it. (Hey I got The Killing of a Sacred Deer so…)

By and large, late director Henry Bromell’s (award winning writer of Showtime’s Homeland) film, plays more like an off kilter family drama. Seriously, I would consider The Texas Chainsaw Massacre more of a comedy, but that’s just me.

In Panic head of household Alex (William H. Macy) is in a perpetual funk. His marriage has lost its spark. He has zero job satisfaction and, though he’s in his mid forties, he’s still under his parents thumb. That’s because he works for the family business and his dad (Donald Sutherland, playing the smart aleck as usual) is a genuine control freak. Plus the family business is kind of a mom & pop (and son) Murder, Inc. That’s right, they’re hitmen. (Not Alex’s mom. She’s dad’s support system, but she knows everything.)

There is one sunny exception to Alex’s emotionally spartan life: his son Sammy (David Dorfman). Sammy is a cute, precocious five to six-year-old. If this sounds a bit ho-hum, seen-it-about-a-hundred-times already, wait up a second…

In Panic David Dorfman gives one of the top ten, all time great, cinematic kid performances. I was awed and delighted by his interpretation, his quizzical expressions and, above all, his timing. The scenes where he and Alex lie in bed discussing the issues of the day, some quite philosophical, but always through the filter of innocence are life affirming and offer a simultaneous lifeline to Alex’s character and to the movie. Just about every parent will recognize the way Sammy touches Alex’s face when he asks him, “Dad are you alright? You look like there’s a lot on your mind.” It’s pure. And yes, it’s funny.

Alex seeks more joy. To that end he consults a psychotherapist (John Ritter). There’s just one problem. Alex’s dad finds out. He doesn’t like the idea of Alex giving up family business secrets to anyone. All things considered, I get his point. He’s still an asshole though. The part where he berates Sammy over spilled glue hammers this home.

Then one day Alex gets a manila folder with–dun dun dun– his psychotherapist’s picture in it. Therein lies the conflict.

Later, after Alex has stalled out on the hit, (he doesn’t want to do it) his dad takes Sammy on a squirrel shooting outing. This is the preliminary stages of hitman training. Alex is mortified. And so are we. Therein lies the heart of the conflict.

As I’ve intimated–even put it in the title–Panic is considered a comedy. That’s the thing I don’t get.

Now far be it from me to come across as a know it all…(pause for snickering)… but I understand the ins and outs of black comedy and I presume you do too, so I won’t explain…(pause for relief)…Panic just doesn’t come across as one to me. Yes the aim is to derive humor from the dire circumstances and family dynamic e.g., a condescending patriarchal grandpa, a depressed family man with a very unusual side job, and prim and trim matriarch with a heart of coal (they’re just like us, or people we know, except for the hitman part) but here, at it’s very core, it falls short.

If it was only just about acting, dialogue and cinematography–the opening scene, a homage to noir, with emphasis on geometrical design and forced perspective, is brilliant–Panic would be a sparkling little gem. As a comedy, black or otherwise, it comes across a little lackluster. But then again comedy is the most subjective of all genres. And admittedly with Bromell’s highly acclaimed indie I just don’t get it.

  • Neve Campbell as Sarah Cassidy, Alex’s love interest (Yeah, I know, I didn’t mention her. She’s solid but I found her character unnecessary.)
  • Tracey Ullman as Martha, Alex’s wife (She’s really good here; very natural.)
  • Barbara Bain as Deidre, Alex’s mother (Besides David Dorfman, hers is the best performance.)
  • Miguel Sandoval as Detective Larson (He’s always good; plus I find him very attractive. Just sayin’.)

The Long Haul

via Daily Prompt

Her back ached; the lower back, just above the hips. It was her kidneys. She knew it. It hurt to straighten up. It hurt to walk, to breathe.

The sound of the shower pattered over the low murmur of the TV. She longed to dip her smarting body into a warm shampoo bubble bath up to her chin and then drift into a doze. When he got out of the shower, that’s just what she would do. He always went first.

She threw back four Advil with just a tad bit of the tap water that tasted like rusty pipes. It was always the same in these dumps–water spot stained ceilings, an odd musty odor and dirty carpet. She had known better, much better, though he didn’t know it.

It wouldn’t be long now. Soon she would sleep in a comfortable bed again. Soon she would eat charred asparagus and prime rib with raw horseradish and pearl onions. She would treat herself to bottle of top shelf cabernet sauvignon. It would be nice to wear a dress again–and a bra.

She peered out the venetian blinds at the black pearl Harley sportster with intricate red trim and raised piping on the luxurious seat and bitch pad. Bitch pad. That thin little strip of leather that she rode hundreds of miles upon.

A rueful little smile parted her lips, just barely. Tomorrow they would deliver eight ounces of cocaine and pick up thirty-five thousand in Sheffield like they did every third Tuesday of the month. Then they would ride six hours to Barton where they would stay at the Knights Inn by the truck stop.

He would force himself on her of course. Then off to the shower he’d go. She would order two double cheese pepperoni pizzas and a two liter bottle of Pepsi like always. He would buy a twelve pack of Budweiser.

After gorging on pizza (and wiping his greasy hands on his t-shirt, the bedspread, her butt) when he was on about his eighth beer, she’d slip him five crushed Sominex and wait until he was snoring. Slobbering.

The two liter bottle and a couple of pillows would muffle the sound of the .32 Berreta enough, she hoped. In any case it was worth the risk. Better than more pizza, more groping and rough house humping. Better than more stinking armpits, sunburn and aching kidneys.

She could endure one more night. One more day. One more long haul.

Haul

Get Carter, a film directed by Mike Hodges, 1971; British; Mystery

Whew! Get Carter–director Mike Hodges’ cinematic film debut and undisputed king of the British gangster movie–is complicated. That’s just one of the many things I love about it.

It’s a righteous flick. It checks out.

Intricate plot twists, lots of dialogue and low volume sequences where you have to listen ever so carefully, or at least rewind it five or six times? √

Realistic action scenes with memorable but not over the top violence? 

A handsome gangster with narrow eyes and a razors edge streak of good? √√ & √

See what I mean? Righteous.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. The complicated plot.

Early in the film we see Michael Caine as lead character Jack Carter. He’s on a train bound from London to his hometown of Newcastle. Carter’s mob boss has warned him not to ruffle any feathers over his brother Frank’s untimely death. Stay in London where you belong, he’s been told. It was an accident. But Jack doesn’t believe it. Frank wasn’t the careless type. And besides that, he was a good bloke. Relatively straight, all things considered. Not like Carter at all.

On the train, Carter attempts to read the Raymond Chandler novel Farewell My Lovely. This detail is both amusing and key. Amusing because as time lapses on the train, Carter remains only ten or so pages into the book. (Obviously it’s too highbrow and complicated for him.) Key because the plot lines of Chandler’s novel traverse a similar twisting and turning trek as Carter’s journey, although you don’t have to be familiar with the book to understand the movie (but it doesn’t hurt.)

What is relative here is that we understand that Get Carter is your standard–though amazingly crafted–detective/mystery movie, albeit with a glaring twist: Carter, a London mob hit man, is the detective investigating the murder.

The are other classic plot devices too, such as the fish out of water mechanism. Like a lot of suit wearing criminals, Carter thinks of himself as a cosmopolitan rouge. He looks down his nose at his hometown and thinks that he’s better than the blue collar gangsters he’s forced to rub shoulders with. Case in point: upon ordering a beer, he demands that it be served to him in a thin glass. Makes a big show of it. This attitude hardly wins him any friends and the one young man who might be counted on as loyal, he readily and royally screws over.

Such ruthlessness is a reoccurring theme in Get Carter. Carter screws just about everybody over.

He does have a soft spot for his deceased brother, though. The scene where he carefully unscrews the lid of Frank’s coffin so that he can view his body is touching and unexpectedly tender.

Anyway, back to Farewell My Lovely. In it the plot involves a politically connected physician who is also a drug dealer. In Get Carter the plot hinges upon a vending machine supplier and the commodity in question is pornography. Keep in mind that pornography was illegal in the UK during the seventies and the laws regulating it are still much stricter than similar laws in the US.

The movie opens with Carter and his London mob associates sitting around a projector in a posh high-rise watching what was called a stag film back in the day. The mob boss runs his hand lasciviously up the thigh of young blonde woman who exchanges uncomfortable glances with Carter. This is where Carter is warned not to get involved with the Newcastle mob. The sound of rustling wind blowing through the hollows is present. It is an ominous, lonely sound. Where does it come from? The high-rise is as tight as a drum.

Later, in his hometown, Carter is in bed with the Newcastle mob boss’ woman. That’s just one of his peccadilloes–he doesn’t know his place and won’t take orders. He respects no boundaries. Predictably, Carter insults the woman and she storms off to the bathroom. There is a film projector on the nightstand. Carter lights a cigarette and turns on the projector. The film begins to roll. Once again there is the sound of wind blowing, seemingly, from nowhere.

This is just one of Mike Hodges’ many subtle, sophisticated flourishes that makes the intensely dark subject matter more palliative. And that’s a good thing considering nihilisms tendency to make short shrift of its welcome and the almost two hour duration of the film.

On the surface it is tempting to over romanticize Hodges’ cinematic directorial debut when, in fact, he was a well known veteran of British television where he wrote, directed and produced two gritty, celebrated small screen thrillers, 1969’s Suspect and 1970’s Rumour. It was the success of those TV movies and his reputation for making arresting documentaries that earned him the right to write and direct Get Carter; that and the fact that the European branch of MGM was closing up shop and the studio heads wanted to shoot Get Carter on the cheap. Most of the funds went to Michael Caine who had only recently become a bona fide star. So MGM rolled the dice with Hodges’, but he was no gonzo breakout director like Queintin Tarantino was with Reservoir Dogs.

Get Carter is a terrific movie, but it’s not perfect. As I have made clear before, the 70s are my favorite cinematic time period. There are, however, excesses of the period that diminish the power of the art form. The overemphasis of on screen sexuality is one of those excesses that bloats Hodges’ otherwise lean and mean machine. There’s just too much screen time dedicated to Carter gettin’ busy. I’ve heard it said that the phone sex scene where Carter titillates his fiance and his slutty land lady simultaneously is revolutionary. To me it’s an unnecessary ploy to cram as much sex into a mainstream film as possible. But hey, it was the 70s. Endurance was key.

All things considered, Get Carter is a must-see for gangster movie aficionados in particular and anyone else who enjoys a sound, well built movie. If that doesn’t do it for you, watch it for Michael Caine’s performance. It’s wicked.

 

Galveston, a novel by Nic Pizzolatto; Scribner, 2010; Noir

 

A long time ago, back in the 40s and the 50s, Jim Thompson eked out a living writing about psychopathic sheriffs, hit men, treacherous women and…more hit men. It was heady stuff.

You ever see the movie The Grifters? (If you haven’t you should. Great movie.) It’s adapted from the Jim Thompson novel of the same title. The Getaway? That’s Jim Thompson too. The Killer Inside Me? (Umm…I wouldn’t go there.) Yep. Jim Thompson.

Now I’m not claiming that Thompson created the genre–the origins of the phrase is cinematic–that was probably James M. Cain with his 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Then there’s Edward Anderson’s stunning novel Thieves Like Us (my personal favorite) published in 1937. Raw and beautiful it’s better than anything Thompson ever wrote.

But, I digress. Thompson was good. Very good. These days, he is probably the best known original gangsta noir writer. You have to have the stomach for him though. He’s brutal. Nihilistic. Sexist.

Nic Pzzolatto writes a lot like him. And a little like Anderson.

Roy Cady is a collector and a sometimes hit man for a mid level Dixie Mafia crew in New Orleans. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer things get even worse when he runs afoul of the crew by sleeping with his boss’ woman. The fact that she was Roy’s girlfriend first is of no consequence. Roy is small time, as expendable as a paper cup.

But Roy’s not exactly stupid either. And even though he considers his options, he’s not ready to cash in just yet. So when his boss tells him not to bring a gun to a collection–it’s just a little rough up job, if there’s no gun that’s the way it’ll stay–Roy disobeys. That turns out to be a good thing since it’s a set up. (Yeah, duh, but the boss underestimates. Criminals do that. For real.)

Predictably Roy escapes from the hit, but not without baggage. His baggage is filled with about three grand, some ammunition and some incriminating papers on his boss. Oh, and there’s a girl too–a prostitute, naturally, that was supposed to go down with Roy in the hit. Her name is Rocky. Rocky has a four-year-old sister, Tiffany, who comes along too. Where’re they goin’? Galveston, of course.

In Galveston (that’s a Texas gulf port, for those unacquainted) Roy, Rocky and Tiffany take up residence at a rundown motel, called The Emerald Shores, on the grungy, non-touristy side of town. Still it’s in walking distance of the beach, so there’s that.

Have you ever wondered about these places? About who stays in them? Well, Pizzolotto clues us in.

Let’s see…there’s Nancy, the manger of the place, an older sun cured, hard-ass with a soft spot for Tiffany. There are two elderly sisters, devout Catholics who are touring around the country and have stopped off at The Emerald Shores indefinitely. (Yeah, I know…but they’re on a fixed income so that makes sense–kind of.) There’s a transient family who’s schlubby head of household guzzles beer, starves his children and beats his woebegone wife. And then there’s the junkie burglar Tray, a younger, scrawnier version of Roy minus the Dixie Mafia who has eyes for Rocky–and Roy.

This is all pretty standard stuff. Pizzalotto keeps it straight in the genre’s lane. It’s well written enough. The plot makes sense. It’s fast paced and intense…But is it special?

Dennis Lehane–one of my favorite authors–writes of Galveston, “It’s filled with so much drop-dead-gorgeous writing that I felt authentic envy while reading it.” Umm…I wouldn’t go that far, at least not for the first one hundred fifty pages. (Keep in mind there’s only about another hundred to go.)

Then around page one fifty-five or so Pizzalotto writes this: A runaway. She wouldn’t be doing this long, between the pimps and psychos and cops. I pulled out my flask and took a hit, passed it to her. We watched the men moving around the pumps and the occasional woman step down from one of the parked rigs. A lot of times they run off and don’t understand where they are. Then they run back home, if they can. But it’s too late.

This is where it gets good. Where it gets Jim Thompson.

You see that’s the thing about noir fiction. It’s hardcore. It’s the underbelly, the stuff that the butcher lets fall on the floor. The stuff they make hot dogs out of.

Some of us just have a taste for it. That’s all.

It’s different with film noir. The extreme camera angles, the low lighting, the way the rain reflects off the street. A woman’s silhouette. The extended scratch and hiss of a match strike–it’s beautiful. It’s art. Noir adapts to cinema well. People like it.

Anyway, about forty pages later Pizzalotto writes: I felt a mutual recognition. Like he knew something about the big empty fields, the one-room apartments, coffee made on a hot plate, the voice that calls lights out. And for my part I was the only one who understood the terror of where he found himself at the end of everything, in that alley with me.

This is where it gets special. Where I began to care. And where Pizzalotto earns Lehane’s praise–almost.

It’s a rare thing in noir fiction for an author to scratch the surface of sentiment and stay legit. That’s why I admire Edward Anderson so much, his Thieves Like Us satisfied my proclivity and made me cry.

Let me make myself clear–Nic Pizzalotto is no Edward Anderson. He’s no James M. Cain or Dorthy B. Hughes either. He is a good writer. He wrote the screenplay for True Detective season one single handedly. It’s a masterpiece.

He also wrote season two. (Oh well, stuff happens.)

Galveston the movie–screenplay written by Nic Pizzalotto–has received mixed reviews at  Austin’s storied SXSW Film Festival. I’ll wait for it to show up on Netflix.

I’m lookin’ forward to it.

 

 

 

 

In Youth Alone…a Long Time Ago

 

Young people of today…I was once like you, in youth alone, a long time ago. I lived in the moment. I caroused in the day when my mother thought I was in school. I caroused in the night when my mother thought I was at the movies…or bowling…or playing putt putt.

Young people of today…I was never like you. It never crossed my mind that someone might bring a gun to school and shoot up the place. A knife? Maybe. A gun? Never. Incomprehensible.

Young people of today…I was never like you. I never had your courage. I was spoiled. I complained a lot…about how lame school was…about how bogus the weed was…that I didn’t have enough designer jeans.

Young people of today…I was never like you. I singled out people who weren’t like me. I harassed gay people because I thought it was fun. I wasn’t kind.

Young people of today…I am proud of you. My daughters are you. I am glad, relieved, that–if the Lord is willing–you are our future. Given the chance, I believe you will make things better.

Young people of today…I ask of you one thing: “Remember your Lord God in the days of your youth.”

Young people of today…think of these days and the changes you made. VOTE. 

March 2018 – Read the best of POETRY from around the world:

WILDsound Writing and Film Festival Review

Scroll through and read the best of new poetry from all corners of the world:

THANK GOD FOR PEARL, by Dennis De Rose
Read Poetry: Thank God for Pearl!, by Dennis De Rose

SUPER GEEZERS, by Bob Grant
Read Poetry: Super Geezers, by Bob Grant

PARENTAL LAMENT, by Mike Reed
Read Poetry: PARENTAL LAMENT, by Mike Reed

THE TUNNEL PERFORMANCE SOCIETY, by Bob Eager
Read Poetry: the Tunnel Performance Society!, by Bob Eager

STILL SHE RISES, by Deepika Janiyani
Read Poetry: Still, She Rises, by Deepika Janiyani

LEAVE ME WHOLE MOTHER, by Pat Ashinze
Read Poetry: LEAVE ME WHOLE MOTHER, by Pat Ashinze

FIGHT, by Young Deuces
Read Poetry: Fight!, by Young Deuces

WALDEN’S REBEL SOUTH, by Jarl K. Jackson
Read Poetry: Walden’s Rebel south…?, by Jarl K. Jackson

THE RIVER OF THE SOUL, by Mikho Mosulishvili
Read Poetry: The River of the Soul, by Mikho Mosulishvili

BACK SPEAKS, by Patricia Biela
Read Poetry: Back Speaks, by Patricia Biela

A…

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Drive, a film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011; Thriller; Neo-Noir. An homage to Ryan Gosling, an actor.

 

Ryan Gosling gives me hope. Maybe that’s because I’m a huge fan of 1970s cinema. Here’s what I mean:

To me the 70s were the apex of the art form, when we still had big time movie stars that acted in a representational style and collaborated with iconoclast directors. It was a collision of contrast and style that produced a decade of masterpieces. The Conversation. McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Apocalypse Now. The Last Picture Show. China Town. Badlands. The list goes on…And on.

I think Ryan Gosling is a throwback to that era because he has modus operandi. Again, here’s what I mean:

Take that little smile of his. It’s a bit of a smirk, actually, but he does it with soft eyes. And the way that he clenches his jaw in a rhythmic tick…tock. He takes his time. He thinks. You see his process. The way he walks upright, shoulders back and how he throws his arm over the back of a chair. There’s another word for what he has. It’s called style.

I think Ryan Gosling would have thrived working with Gene Hackman. Julie Christie. Marlon Brando. These actors had style, whether they performed in the method, classical or ultra-naturalistic discipline. When you watch them you are watching a performance and I mean that with the utmost respect. It’s captivating. (No, it’s not like being a fly on the break room wall watching Allison and Brandon discussing Mr. Robot over quinoa, avocado and feta salads.) It is realism, yes, but it is not real. They are ACTORS.

Actors–at least the old-school ones– love to be watched and that make us want to watch. Ryan Gosling does that. He makes me want to watch.

Drive, the 2011 film directed by Nicolas Winding Refn is also a throwback–to 1980s cinema and televison. Think Michael Mann and the Miami Vice series. Think Brian De Palma. David Lynch. Think Blade Runner.

If you are from the era–and I am–the opening night time cityscape scene, with it’s turquoise to aquamarine color palette and magenta script credits, transports you there. Your driver? Ryan Gosling, of course, perusing the grit and glam in a primer gray 73 Malibu.

But hold on…It get’s better. Tunes? Oh, yeah. Heavily synthesized pop from College and Electric Youth, Kavinsky and Lovefoxxx and a original background score composed by Cliff Martinez immerses us in bass and a very specific retro vibe.

Too cool. And very schooled.

Danish director Refn comes from a cinematic family. His mother is a cinematographer; his father, an editor and director. Though he says he grew up hating the French New Wave that his parents revered, their influences, i.e., the highly stylized low lighting and narrative ambiguity are all over Drive.

Tellingly Refn’s professed greatest cinematic influence, the one that he defiantly loved knowing it would piss his mother off, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is a film known for it’s disconcertingly beautiful cinematography among other things. With Drive the cinematography and “other things” are signatures that ignite the celluloidIt is a perfect example of synergy between lead actor and director.

Think Scorsese and De Niro. Yes, this film it is that good, though Refn’s catalog has fizzled since his 2011 breakout. Just as De Niro was ideally cast in Taxi Driver, so much so that he embodies the character, Gosling is quintessential here. He is the vehicle for Refn’s vision.

Gosling’s character doesn’t have a name. He is referred to as “the kid” or, aptly, “the driver.” As with other no name characters, the driver is a loner. He doesn’t even have a cat. Thus he is quiet. Aloof. He wears a peculiar quilted satin jacket with a scorpion on the back. It is the symbol for the astrological sign Scorpio. The Scorpio characteristics are: bravery, faithfulness, sensuality and ruthless resolve.

The driver is a stunt driver on the B movie circuit and a getaway driver for hire. He works for Shannon, his mentor of sorts, a garage owner and aging errand boy for some Jewish hoodlums with mafia ties, Bernie and Nino. The driver stays out of the politics of crime. He is an instrument of precision, nothing more nothing less. Treat him with the respect his pedigree deserves and there won’t be a problem. His end is always covered. Cross him…Well, it won’t be good.

A young mother with a little boy catches the driver’s eye. He observes her respectfully, from the distance of his character. Her name is Irene. She’s a good mom. There’s no man around. The three of them exchange gentle smiles in the elevator of their apartment building. That is all.

Then one day Irene has car trouble and the driver helps. But not before he calculates the odds; he knows he shouldn’t get involved. They have dinner. He plays Nintendo with the kid. They go for a drive. It’s sweet. One day bleeds into the next…And the next. They are happy.

Things get complicated (as they always do in film noir) when Irene’s husband shows up, after serving time in prison, expecting to pick up where he and his family left off. The kitchen gets even hotter when he–Standard is his name–is beaten within inches of his life by some thugs with connections to Bernie and Nino. Standard owes them forty thousand dollars. The thugs ominously give the little boy a bullet, who in turn gives it to the driver. The little boy is scared. He needn’t be.

The driver puts the bullet in his pocket. Then he takes the little boy’s hand into his own.

 

  • Irene…..Carey Mulligan
  • Shannon…..Bryan Cranston
  • Bernie…..Albert Brooks
  • Nino…..Ron Pearlman
  • Standard…..Oscar Isaac
  • Screenplay…..Hossein Amini
  • Cinematography…..Newton Thomas Sigel
  • Edited by…..Matt Newman

 

 

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