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Showing posts by: Brian Greene click to see Brian Greene's profile
Mon
Mar 13 2017 2:00pm

Review: The Love Witch (2016)

One sign of a worthwhile film is that it can be experienced on different levels. This is the case with The Love Witch, the sexy horror-thriller movie that was released in late 2016 and is still making its debut in theaters in parts of the globe now. 

One aspect of The Love Witch that a viewer can focus on is simply its story. A feminist study of relations between the sexes, the tale follows the romantic/sexual exploits of Elaine, an alluring and powerful youngish woman who practices witchcraft. Elaine’s heart was crushed when her former husband left her (he later died under suspicious circumstances), and now she’s looking for a new man. She leaves San Francisco and starts a new life in a Gothic apartment in a smaller California city.

Elaine has a forceful presence, you-can’t-stop-staring-at-her looks, and an enchantingly mysterious personality. She’s the kind of woman who makes most men salivate and puts most other women on their defenses. And yet, Elaine is mentally unbalanced and not in control of her emotions; when she uses potent witchy concoctions on the men she meets and goes for, things get out of control for both her and the guys.

[Read Brian Greene's review of The Love Witch...]

Tue
Feb 21 2017 4:30pm

Page to Screen: Mildred Pierce

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”

That oft-cited sentence from Shakespeare’s King Lear would have been well placed on an opening page of James M. Cain’s 1941 novel Mildred Pierce and just after the opening credits on Michael Curtiz’s 1945 same-named film adaptation of the story. Criterion Collection has just released a new Blu-Ray version of Curtiz’s movie, and that gives me an excuse to write about it—as well as the Cain book—and to think about the Shakespeare quote while considering both.

The book was the 3rd published novel from the hardboiled crime fiction leading light Cain, whose works The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1943)—among others—were also adapted for notable films noir. Curtiz’s career as a movie director was too lengthy for me to try and sum it up in a sentence or two, so I’ll just mention that he was also the auteur behind the camera on Casablanca (1943) and one of my personal favorite Elvis movies, King Creole (1958).

[Thank you, thank you very much...]

Mon
Jan 23 2017 3:30pm

Page to Screen: The Harder They Come

I’ve written many page-to-screen features for this site. In most of those cases, my pieces have been odes to particular films on which I think it’s worth shining a light, with some commentary on the novels upon which they are based. In a few instances, the heavier slants of such posts have been on the books, with some scattered attention sprinkled on the subsequent films.

This is the first book/movie article I’ve written for Criminal Element (or anybody) where the novel in question was based on the film. An unusual situation and a departure from the normal way of how these artistic relationships go. So, yeah, it’s screen-to-page this time around because Michael Thelwell’s 1980 novel The Harder They Come was inspired by, and based on, Perry Henzell’s 1972 movie of the same title.

[Read more about The Harder They Come...]

Thu
Dec 15 2016 1:00pm

Another Kind of Christmas Movie: Lady in the Lake (1947)

It’s a long stretch to call Lady in the Lake—the dark suspense film from 1947 that Robert Montgomery directed and starred in—a Christmas movie. But, you know, I’m not much of a holiday films buff, and I wanted to write a seasonal post for this site, so a film noir title that happens to be set around Christmastime was as close as I was going to come to getting in the yuletide spirit for this purpose.

There are some interesting aspects of Lady in the Lake that make it worthy of consideration in December—or any time of the year, really. Based on Raymond Chandler’s 4th Philip Marlowe novel, which was published in 1943, Montgomery’s film is mostly noted for its odd cinematic approach. All of the shots (except those where Marlowe—portrayed by Montgomery himself—speaks directly to the audience in asides) come via how the scenes and people are witnessed by the private eye. Marlowe is the camera. Apart from the asides, and when mirrors are part of the scenes, we hear Marlowe speak and see what he sees, but we don’t see him

[Can't see me...]

Tue
Dec 13 2016 5:00pm

Revisiting The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Criterion Collection’s new Blu-Ray edition of the 1950 film noir title The Asphalt Jungle gives me a prompt to write about what I (and many others) consider to be one of the greatest crime/suspense movies ever made. And yet, I feel a little at a loss as to how to approach this piece. I mean, where do I begin?

I guess I’ll just start by running through some of the most notable aspects of the movie. First, it was directed by one of the best to ever orchestrate a motion picture: John Huston. His 11th directorial effort, Huston is the creative mastermind behind other film noir works, notably The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Fat City (1972). While those two are classics of the genre, the case can be made that The Asphalt Jungle is Huston’s defining stroke within this style of movie-making.

[The Asphalt Jungle where dreams are maaade of...]

Tue
Oct 11 2016 3:00pm

Review: It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives

It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives is a prose series of unpublished interviews with, and a visual retrospective of, the seminal mid-to-late 20th-century literary crime writer, Ross Macdonald.

Lew Archer, the private investigator who was Ross Macdonald’s signature literary character, is a guy who a lot of the younger generation saw as the best kind of father figure. Archer, who appeared in the sensationally good novels Macdonald penned through the 1950s, ‘60s, and into the first part of the ‘70s, wasn’t a beatnik or hippie guru who led a flock of wide-eyed teens and young adults through coffeehouse poetry reading sessions or acid trips. But he was a straight man who was always prepared to be sympathetic to youthful people’s problems.

When Archer encountered a troubled young person in the course of working his way through a case, before he wrote the kid off as just another deadbeat or dope fiend, he took the time to look into their home life to see what kinds of experiences might be at the root of the person’s problems. He didn’t automatically take the side of the youngish person over the older adult when he came across a generation gap conflict, but he was more than willing to see what parents and relatives and other adults might have done to lead the young people astray.

[Read Brian Greene's review of It's All One Case...]

Tue
Sep 27 2016 4:00pm

Beyond Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: Revisiting a Wild 1970s Film

Criterion’s new Blu-Ray edition of Russ Meyer’s 1970 film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls gives me a prompt to write about a movie that I treasure. I could try to describe how much I like the film, but it might be easier and more telling if I just mention how many times I’ve watched it: I estimate 10-12 start-to-finish viewings, in addition to innumerable re-watches of individual scenes. I own the (glorious) soundtrack on vinyl, and it’s never but so far away from my turntable’s needle.

When people see BTVOTD for the first time, many of them (this was true of me, for sure) feel the need to start it back up and watch it again. There are so many dizzying cuts in the film, such a barrage of zinging one-liners, that on first viewing, it can be a sort of pleasurable assault on the your’s senses that leaves you feeling like you only really took in a portion of what happened and need to cue it back up to get what you missed.

[Be kind, rewind, and replay...]

Wed
Sep 14 2016 1:00pm

Review: The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier

The Eskimo Solution by Pascal Garnier is a crime novel that finds reality and fiction overlapping for an author's stay in Normandy.

Pascal Garnier (1949-2010) has become one of my favorite writers—not just of noir fiction, but among all scribes whose work I’ve read, regardless of genre or style. A few years back, a friend with similar reading tastes to mine alerted me to Gallic Books’ run of new translations of the Frenchman’s edgy crime stories. I’ve been hopelessly hooked since. When Gallic releases a new English version of one of the books, I devour it like it’s a favorite food item that I’ve managed to get my hands and mouth on after being starved for a stretch of time. As was the case with Gallic’s latest translation of Garnier’s noir work, The Eskimo Solution.

[Read Brian Greene's review of The Eskimo Solution...]

Tue
Aug 23 2016 4:00pm

Page to Screen: Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

When I read that Criterion Collection was releasing a new Blu-Ray edition of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 film Woman in the Dunes, I tracked down and read the 1962 novel by Kōbō Abe on which it is based. I thought I might write about the Criterion release, and I knew that if I did, I’d want to comment on the ways the screen version differs (or not) from the page version. I’d seen the film many years earlier, but had never read the novel, although I’d read some of Abe’s other books.

As it turns out, there’s not a whole lot to say in comparing and contrasting book to film here. Abe wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, and Teshigahara was extremely faithful to the written version of the story in adapting it for the big screen. The two men were close associates at the time. They were leading members of a circle of forward-thinking Japanese artists, and Teshigahara made three other movies from Abe’s books. This film is a true collaboration between the two men, rather than a case of a movie director taking an author’s novel and completely reshaping it through his or her own vision.

[Read Brian Green's review of Woman in the Dunes...]

Thu
Aug 11 2016 1:00pm

Review: A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto is a Japanese psychological thriller that dissects Japanese society (Available in English translation August 16, 2016).

Originally published in Japanese in 1975 and now being released in a new English translation, Seicho Matsumoto’s suspense novel follows the life of Tsuneo Asai, a 42-year-old middle-management civil servant who lives in Tokyo. Asai is a quietly efficient, unassuming man, who is good at his work and seems to have little need for passion and interest in things outside of the ministry department in which he is employed. 

At the beginning of the story, Asai is in his second marriage—both of his wedded unions childless. His current wife is in her mid-30s. Their marriage was set up by a matchmaker. There isn’t much romance or sexual fire between Asai and his wife, and she appears to him to be a shy, withdrawn kind of woman, but he is content with her and their relations. When she suffers a heart attack and tells him that their already unremarkable sex life will have to come to a near standstill so that she won’t have to risk another coronary, he accepts this.

[Read Brian Greene's review of A Quiet Place...]

Tue
Jul 26 2016 4:00pm

Carnival of Souls: The Unlikely Masterpiece

It’s hard to know where to begin in writing about Carnival of Souls, the eerie cult classic horror film from 1962, which has just been given the Criterion Collection treatment in a new Blu-Ray edition. There is so much intriguing back story to the movie. 

One aspect of the odd but memorable film that stands out to me is its un-likeliness. There’s every reason why the movie shouldn’t have been any good. Herk Harvey, its producer and director (who also played a significant acting role), never made another feature film besides Carnival. Its leading role was portrayed by actress Candace Hilligoss, who only has one other full-length motion picture role to her credit. Its inspiration and physical focal point—a rundown, disused resort complex in Salt Lake City—is a place that would have seemed, to most people at the time of the film’s making, more suitable for the scrap heap than as a location for key scenes in a motion picture. The movie was filmed in about three weeks and on a budget that would have been considered laughably small by any Hollywood production outfit.

[You cannot live in isolation from the human race, you know.]

Fri
Jul 22 2016 12:00pm

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch is a scientific thriller that explores the idea of multiple universes (Available July 26, 2016).

At some point, in most of our lives, we make a decision or two that shapes what becomes of us for a number of years or decades, if not forever. Many of us spend some time wondering what might have been had we made the choices other than the ones we made at those pivotal moments. Jason Dessen, the lead character and narrator of most of Blake Crouch’s novel Dark Matter, gets to experience the different versions of the life he might have led. 

Dessen is a guy in his mid-30s or thereabouts. At the outset of the story, he is married, the father of a teenage boy, and a physics professor at a small college in Chicago. Prior to family life, Dessen was a promising physicist, seemingly on the verge of making highly impactful research discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics. But, when his girlfriend—a visual artist who appeared destined for achievement in that area—got pregnant, he let his research program go and focused on family life, taking the more modest professional avenue of becoming a teacher to undergrad students. His wife also sacrificed her career and is now a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t do much artwork.

[Read Brian Greene's review of Dark Matter...]

Thu
Jul 21 2016 3:30pm

10 Essential Giallo Films

There are a few very general things in common between Italian giallo films and the pinky violence cinematic fare from Japan that I overviewed in a recent post.

See also: Pinky Violence

Both sets of movies were established in the 1960s and saw their finest releases come to the fore in the ‘70s. Both lines were created by experimental directors looking to break new ground in what can happen in a feature film. Sex and violence figure prominently in both, as does groovy music. The definitions for both genres are fairly loose and open to varied interpretations.

But that’s about where the likenesses stop. While the Japanese movies were exploitation fare looking to capture the ways of the country’s wild and reckless subversive youth (in particular tough bad girls), gialli are distinctly European crime thrillers that generally involve foul play among adults. Characters in pinky violence films get slapped, kicked, and knifed a lot, but relatively few of them die; in gialli, death (by savage murder, usually) is always coming just down the strada.

[See which films made the list!]

Wed
Jun 1 2016 11:30am

Page to Screen: In a Lonely Place

I am approaching this post on In a Lonely Place as a page-to-screen piece, where I’ll compare notes on the novel of that title and the movie that goes by the same name. But really, there’s little in common between Dorothy B. Hughes’s 1947 book and the 1950 film directed by Nicholas Ray. Let’s talk about the couple of things that make the two alike first, and then we’ll turn to the differences.

[One of Humphrey Bogart's finest performances...]

Thu
May 5 2016 4:30pm

Pinky Violence

Two disclaimers to open this post on the Pinky Violence film genre:

  1. I haven’t seen every movie that could be classified within the category. Depending on which list you’re looking at, I’ve watched between a half and two-thirds of the titles. I’ve also read several articles and one book on the subject, and have viewed trailers for most of the films I haven’t seen. So, while I’m not ready to call myself a Pinky Violence authority, I feel comfortable writing this rundown.
  2. In my Five Essential Pinky Violence films list below, I excluded relevant titles that star Meiko Kaji, since I have already written an appreciation of her acting that includes write-ups on some of the applicable movies in which she played. But, for the record, if I were considering those films, I would feel compelled to make the list a top 10, and among those singled out would certainly be Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (1970), Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (1970), and Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972). 

See also: Meiko Kaji: An Appreciation of a Female Badass

So what is a Pinky Violence film? I’m not sure who first dubbed the collection of movies as such, but I can tell you what unites the titles: softcore sexuality, hard-edged violence, tough girls, and Japan.

Think of Russ Meyer’s cinematic vision being mashed up with Quentin Tarantino’s and then channeled through the mindsets of Japanese filmmakers creating sexy and savage bad-girl celluloid stories and you’ll have an idea of what’s at hand here. Pinky Violence films have certainly been an influence on Tarantino’s work. I don’t know if Meyer ever watched these movies, but if he did, my guess is that he would have appreciated them.

[It's pink. It's violent. And it's definitely badass...]

Fri
Apr 1 2016 4:00pm

Fresh Meat: Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier, translated by Emily Boyce

Too Close to the Edge by Pascal Garnier is a tale of retirement and calm domesticity, with a hint of menace about to explode (Available in ebook format today, and in paperback on June 14, 2016).

I’ve written about Pascal Garnier here before, so I am going to skip right past any kind of overview of the Frenchman’s writings. If you care to read my general thoughts on his work and a breakdown of a handful of his novels, see this previous post:

See also: Bleak Existentialism Meets Grisly Crime: France’s Pascal Garnier

Instead, I’ll get right to the point in commenting on this latest in Gallic Books’ series of new English translations of Garnier’s novels. Published in its original French in 2010—the same year Garnier died at age 60—Too Close to the Edge is in keeping with the author’s m.o. of being set in a provincial area of France. Also like much of Garnier’s work, the story involves people who are having life-changing/personality-disintegrating experiences in the remote locale. 

[Read more of Brian Greene's review of Too Close to the Edge here...]

Fri
Mar 11 2016 5:00pm

Meiko Kaji: An Appreciation of a Female Badass

I have to preface the following appreciation of Meiko Kaji’s acting career with two disclaimers:

  1. This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive overview of the Japanese actress’s work in the movies.
  2. I am not going to use this space to write about her singing, although that body of work is definitely worthy of consideration (Tarantino fans reading this are likely familiar with her songs that appear on the Kill Bill soundtracks).

All I’m after here is to say a few things about Kaji’s acting in general, and then highlight a dozen of what I see as some of her most significant movie roles, including her performances in a few series of films that did much to establish her cinematic identity.

Meiko Kaji is a badass. She’s a strikingly beautiful woman, but she’s nobody’s pretty plaything. Call her Japan’s answer to Pam Grier. In the roles discussed below, sometimes she’s a member (always the leader) of a gang, sometimes she’s a lone-wolf vigilante, and other times she’s an assassin; but she’s always a hard-edged, fearless person who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

To a great extent, the force of her personality, as seen in these characters, is conveyed simply by her stare. In her acting, Kaji has a way of fixing a threatening, icy gaze on the characters who get on her bad side—this intense look much more of a clear and menacing warning than any words could convey.

So, onto those roles:

[Check out the badassness that is Meiko Kaji...]

Thu
Feb 11 2016 11:15am

False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons by Malcolm Braly

Previously, I wrote an appreciation of Malcolm Braly’s 1961 prison novel Felony Tank as part of my Lost Classics of Noir series for Criminal Element. I singled out the book for being a noteworthy and under-appreciated work of edgy crime fiction, as well as a standout tale about life behind bars. There’s a reason—besides his writing talent—that Braly (1925-1980) wrote so well about his prison life, via Felony Tank and his more celebrated correctional facility novel, On the Yard (1967): he spent the majority of his adult life in penal institutions.

Thanks to Stark House Press’s new reissue of Braly’s 1976 jailhouse memoirs, False Starts: A Memoir of San Quentin and Other Prisons, those of us with an interest in the author can now read his non-fiction account of the penitentiary existence.

False Starts is really more than a prison memoir, despite its subtitle. It’s more like a full autobiography up to that point in the writer’s life. In the first chapter, Braly describes his childhood and early teen years in the parts of California where he was raised, letting us see how, and perhaps why, he drifted into the life of crime that found him detained behind bars for so many of his adult years.

[See what lead him down this path...]

Mon
Jan 25 2016 3:00pm

Long Haul by A.I. Bezzerides

“I like to write about reality.”

A.I. Bezzerides (1908-2007) says that, among other things, in the 2005 documentary that was made about his life and work: The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides.  In the case of the first of Bezzerides’s three published novels, Long Haul (1938), the reality he wrote about was the life of truckers. This work of proletariat noir has just recently been reissued by 280 Steps, with an introduction by Criminal Element contributor Jake Hinkson.

In penning this first full-length work of fiction, Bezzerides wrote about that which he knew. Born to a Greek-Armenian family who moved from Turkey to California when he was a toddler, Bezzerides worked as a hauler of goods in his early adult years. Drawing on that experience, and with the aid of his talented writing hand, he clearly shows readers the grueling challenges faced by truckers in his day: how little sleep many of them got, and how dangerous it was to drive while exhausted; how they had  to battle it out with sleazy freight agents who hired them to haul beer, produce, and others goods from one site to the next, then tried to shortchange them when it came time to pay them for the work; and how these underpayments were most untimely, when there was always the next installment due on their truck payments, vehicle repairs to contend with, and the usual bills. By making us see the troubles these laborers faced, Bezzerides makes us care about them and the particular truckers on which Long Haul focuses. More on those fellas coming up.

[Learn more about “those fellas” here...]

Fri
Jan 15 2016 1:00pm

Page-to-Screen: Wim Wenders’s The American Friend and Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Novels

When writing about a film adaptation of a work of fiction, it can get a little tricky when the movie in question is actually based on two different novels. But in the case of the 1977 neo-noir title, The American Friend by Wim Wenders, it’s really not all that complicated. The movie’s characters and plot are (somewhat loosely) pulled from two books (Ripley’s Game (1974) and Ripley Under Ground (1970)) that were not only written by the same author (Patricia Highsmith), but involved the same central character (Tom Ripley).

I have to confess to not having read all five of Highsmith’s Ripley novels, but I just recently read the two involved here. And, for those unfamiliar with the literary character, I can say the following things about him based on how he is portrayed in this pair of novels:

Tom Ripley is a complicated guy.

[Ripley's read it or not...]