<i>Hell Bay</i>: New Excerpt Hell Bay: New Excerpt Will Thomas The 8th book in the Barker & Llewelyn series. <i>Night Watch</i>: New Excerpt Night Watch: New Excerpt Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen The 4th book in the Kendra Michaels series. <i>The Oslo Conspiracy</i>: New Excerpt The Oslo Conspiracy: New Excerpt Asle Skredderberget A twist on the thriller novel. Review: <i>A Terrible Beauty</i> by Tasha Alexander Review: A Terrible Beauty by Tasha Alexander Meghan Harker Read Meghan Harker's review!
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Showing posts by: Brian Greene click to see Brian Greene's profile
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It's All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives is a prose series of unpublished interviews with, and a visual retrospective of, the seminal mid-to-late 20th-century literary crime writer, Ross Macdonald.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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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.]

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...]

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!]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

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...]

Nov 30 2015 5:15pm

Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson by Juan F. Thompson

For anyone who has an impression of the kind of lifestyle Hunter S. Thompson led, the notion of him being somebody’s father can be disconcerting. The drugs, the guns…I don’t recall any Gonzo parenting sections in the guides I’ve read about best practices in raising children. Juan F. Thompson, who was born in 1964 and is the only child of HST, both confirms the suspicions most of us would have about his famous dad’s parenting ways, and shows us sides of HST that many will find surprising.

[Buy the ticket, take the ride...]

Oct 31 2015 12:00pm

Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories by Charles Beaumont

There are so many notable aspects of Charles Beaumont’s (1929-67) life and work, it’s hard to know where to being in naming them. He was a gifted writer of short stories and novels, one who showed easy mastery of various genres including horror, sci-fi, dark comedy, and socially conscious literary fiction. He was the first writer to have a short story published in Playboy. He often worked with two of the more influential pioneers of filmed media – B-movie king Roger Corman and TV’s leading light Rod Serling. He is probably best known for his work on Serling’s show The Twilight Zone. He penned 22 episodes of that groundbreaking program, including some of the more memorable installments. And then there’s the matter of Beaumont’s bizarre and saddening life story. He died at age 38 from a degenerative brain disease that couldn’t be diagnosed at the time and that had him looking, according to his son, like he was 95 when he passed away.

[Let's learn about the man and his writing...]

Oct 5 2015 2:00pm

Childhood’s Bittersweet Wonderment: The Spirit of the Beehive

Some of the most lasting works of art are those than can be appreciated on a variety of levels. Such is the case with Victor Erice’s 1973 film The Spirit of the Beehive. A masterpiece of Spanish cinema, the movie is set in 1940, a year after the Spanish Civil War ended with the authoritarian, right wing regime of Francisco Franco defeating the left-leaning Republicans and taking control of the country. The state of Spain in the aftermath of this outcome is a constant influence throughout Erice’s meditative film. And yet someone who doesn’t know a thing about that war or Franco’s government can enjoy the movie.

Co-written by director Erice, the story is also about the emotional estrangement within a family and, more centrally, the bittersweet wonders of childhood discoveries of life and its mysteries. The family (all the characters go by the first name of the actors who play them) is: Fernando, the eccentric father, who keeps odd hours, spends a lot time in beekeeping activities and then holing up in his study and writing reflective, poetic pieces about the bees; Teresa, Fernando’s much younger wife, a beautiful woman who plays moody tunes on the piano and writes romantic letters to a lost love who is elsewhere now, perhaps displaced by the war; Isabel, the oldest child, who is a precocious girl who has an easy laugh yet who gets off on torturing the family cat and playing mean tricks on her younger sister; and that sister, Ana, is the most important character in the tale – she is a wide-eyed, innocent child who gets taken on various coming-of-age experiences over the course of the story, which is in great part seen through her eyes and heart.

[On to the plot...]

Sep 29 2015 10:30am

A Huge Case of Teensploitation: 1965’s Village of the Giants

There could probably be some arguments made about just exactly when teenagers became a real force to be considered in American society, and anybody making the case for the mid-1960s being that time has a good chance of winning the debate. I’ll leave that matter for now and instead focus on what one savvy filmmaker did with the emergence of the mid-60s teen phenomenon. B-movie cult hero Bert I. Gordon did with that situation what a good exploitation film director should do: he exploited it. His 1965 teenage camp romp Village of the Giants is a low-budget gem that features great music, giggle-inducing goofy special effects, some big names for a small budget film, and an inventively fun way to see the emergence of the day’s adolescents.

Co-written by Gordon (who also produced, as well as directed) and based loosely on H.G Wells’s 1904 novel The Food of the Gods, this is a multi-genre romp that features elements of sci-fi,  zany comedy,  and ‘60s teen beach movie. But it’s all camp, all the time (well, maybe apart from the music scenes, which are just plain rockin’ – more on that in a few). The, um, story goes as such: Beau Bridges plays the leader of a group of beautiful, privileged-yet-rebellion-minded teens from L.A., who have their joyride shut down by a landslide when they are cruising near the humble (and fictional) town of Hainesville. Since they can’t make their car move them anywhere else for the time being, they decide to wander (well, I think they actually get there via the Watusi) into the small burg to see what kind of trouble they can stir up.

[And boy, do they find trouble...]

Aug 26 2015 5:00pm

From Page to Screen with Night and the City

In thinking about Jules Dassin’s 1950 work of film noir Night and the City in relation to the same-named 1938 novel by Gerald Kersh, one striking thing to consider is the fact that Dassin said he never read the book. He apparently fully relied on the screenplay of Jo Eisinger, and his own cinematic vision, to guide him as he took the story and adapted it to the big screen. Was Dassin just too busy to pore over Kersh’s novel, did he not want to get distracted from the tale as it read in the screenplay, or was there some other reason why he chose to not read the book? I don’t know, but the differences between book and film are interesting.

The first thing to establish – and not that many reading this likely need to be told as much – is that both Kersh’s novel and Dassin’s film are superb. Both are influential works of noir that take an unflinching look at a panorama of seedy characters in hardboiled situations. Any lover of edgy crime stories, and/or powerful works of social realism, needs to experience both versions of the tale. Ok, so that’s settled. Now let’s get on with a close look at how the two compare.

Both film and novel are set in London. And both concern a motley crew of hardened characters who are struggling in a joylessly desperate moneyed environment. Primarily occurring in nightclubs and professional wrestling environments, the tale depicts a host of hard-up men and women who are out to make a pound any way they can, within a seemingly hopeless (sewer) rat race. Nearly every person in the story seems to be in a constant state of looking at other people and wondering how many quid they might have on them, and what they might be able to do to get some of that dough. Things like morals and decency to your fellow man and woman get tossed in the gutter like yesterday’s betting sheet, and all in the name of the mighty pound.

[Now for the differences...]