<i>City of Ghosts</i>: A New Excerpt City of Ghosts: A New Excerpt Kelli Stanley From San Francisco to Reno, Miranda's journey includes murder, Nazis and her troubled past. <i>Death, Taxes, and Silver Spurs</i>: A New Excerpt Death, Taxes, and Silver Spurs: A New Excerpt Diane Kelly IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway is head over heels...in trouble. FM: <i>Well Read, Then Dead</i> by Terrie Farley Moran FM: Well Read, Then Dead by Terrie Farley Moran Laura K. Curtis Crime comes to life for this cozy Florida book club. <i>Boston Mob</i>: A New Excerpt Boston Mob: A New Excerpt Marc Songini A historical retelling of the reign of the ruthlessly violent Boston mafia.
From The Blog
July 28, 2014
Tourist Trap: Mexico's Super-Creepy Island of the Dolls
Crime HQ
July 27, 2014
The Movies of 1944: Laura
Jake Hinkson
July 25, 2014
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing: First Trailer for The Imitation Game
Joe Brosnan
July 24, 2014
Erotic, Gothic, Belgian Vampires: Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Brian Greene
July 24, 2014
Committing Word Crimes with Weird Al
Crime HQ
Showing posts by: Jake Hinkson click to see Jake Hinkson's profile
Jul 27 2014 12:00pm

The Movies of 1944: Laura

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of film noir’s landmark year, we’re looking at the six key films of 1944: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, When Strangers Marry, and The Woman In the Window. The first film we looked at Billy Wilder’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. Today we look at Otto Preminger’s film of Vera Caspary’s Laura.

[Let's go take a look...]

Jul 23 2014 1:00pm

The Movies of 1944: Double Indemnity

This year film noir turns 70. While there had been some intermittent films leading up to the birth of the classic noir, in 1944 the dahlia bloomed with six key films: Double Indemnity, Laura, Murder My Sweet, Phantom Lady, When Strangers Marry, and The Woman In the Window. In these films you have many of the key figures in noir making some of their first forays into the genre (directors Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Fritz Lang, and Robert Siodmak; writers Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Vera Caspary, Phillip Yordan; actors Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, Dana Andrews—just to name a few). This onslaught of darkness came in the wake of the bleakest days (from the American perspective, anyway) of WWII. The basis of many of these films were older properties but it is the way these films came out—physically darker, psychologically denser, and ultimately more pessimistic—that marks the real birth of film noir. This post kicks off a new series which will explore these six landmark films.

[Up first, Double Indemnity...]

Jul 19 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.13: Season Finale “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.”

Well, here we are at the end, my friends, and look how far we’ve come. Orange Is the New Black wraps up Season 2by tying up most of its major plot threads: the rise and reign of Vee Parker, the war between Vee and Red, Piper’s attempts to bring down Fig, the upheaval between Taystee and Poussey, the transformation of Crazy Eyes into Vee’s enforcer, and Healy’s attempts to turn Pennsatucky into his sidekick. And more. Much more. The show does some of this well, but I have to be honest and report that this is, in many ways, the weakest episode of the season.

[It was still good, it's just been that strong of a season...]

Jul 17 2014 11:00am

Orange Is the New Black 2.12: “It Was the Change”

Let’s talk about Red. When you think about it, the scarlet-haired Russian began this series as villain. Way back in the first episode of the show, Piper—unaware that Red ran the kitchen— accidently insulted her by pointing out, not incorrectly, that the food at Litchfield is atrocious crap. Red retaliated by nearly starving her to death. That was way back when. Now here we are in the penultimate episode of Season 2, and Red is the person we’re all counting on to destroy Vee.

This transformation owes a lot to the evolution of the character of Red, of course, but it also owes something to the fact that, of all the characters on Orange Is the New Black, Vee is the closest we’ve come to a full on bad guy. Even despicable characters like Pornstache and Fig have some admirable qualities.  Pornstache is ready to go to jail for (he thinks) knocking up Diaz, while Fig dreams of one day acquiring power to do great things. Now, these commendable traits don’t absolve Pornstache and Fig of their sins, but it does show that, at least in their own minds, they are operating from good intentions. Vee, though…Vee is a goddamn super villain. She has about as many good intentions as Professor Moriarty.

[It takes a special kind of evil to stand out in a prison...]

Jul 12 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.11: “Take a Break from Your Values”

Man, I do love me some radical left-wing nuns. I wasn’t raised Catholic, so I don’t have any of the strict, knuckle-rapping associations that have become the stuff of legend when it comes to women of the holy orders. I did teach at an all-girls Catholic school for a while, though, and I met some nuns there who were women with a serious bent toward social justice. And I do love me some radical left-wing nuns.

There’s something brilliant about including a nun among the inmates at Litchfield. When we first met Sister Jane (Beth Fowler), we were told that she was inside for protesting at a nuclear testing site. Now, in Episode 11, we learn her back story. We see her as a young woman (played by Aubrey Sinn), already committed to her life as Bride of Christ but also already straining against the confines of the church. She wants to get out in the world and make a difference, to serve, to turn faith into action. But this is, after all, Orange Is the New Black and in this world there is no such thing as a saint. (I don’t think there’s a saint to be found anywhere in the work of the show’s creator, Jenji Kohan.) As is so often the case, a character’s weakness grows out of her strength. Sister Jane is filled with righteous indignation, but it is so bound up in her own narcissism that it’s difficult to tell the difference. In the present day, we see her become a part of Soso’s hunger strike, but, before long, the whole affair becomes all about Sister Jane.  It’s difficult to have a leaderless movement when one member of your party is bound and determined to see herself as a martyr.

[Down with authority!]

Jul 10 2014 11:30am

Orange Is the New Black 2.10: “Little Mustachioed Shit”

After spending most of this season hopscotching between different characters, in Episode 10, Orange Is The New Black swings back around to Piper. She occupies both the flashback (which gives us some more details on her relationship with Alex) and the present day storyline (which concerns her relationship with Polly and Larry). These two storylines converge in a funny way, and “Little Mustachioed Shit” ends up illustrating something important about the character: Piper needs Alex.

Looking back on the season, you can pretty much chart the show’s interest in Piper in terms of Alex. The drama of the first episode came to a head when Alex betrayed Piper in court, but once she was back in Litchfield, Piper seemed to drift—and the show’s interest in her seemed to drift, as well. Even in Episode 9, which concerned her big furlough, the real focus was on Red and Vee. The reason for this, I think, is that Alex was missing. I’ve taken a number of shots at Larry in these recaps, but the truth of the matter is that the show sags whenever it focuses on the drama between Piper-Larry-Polly-Pete. Larry brings out Piper’s responsible side. Alex brings out Piper’s heedlessly romantic side. (In the universe of OITNB, romance and love and sex are always combustible emotions.) 

[And boy do they have a knack for exploding!]

Jul 7 2014 10:15am

Noir’s Goon Squad: Raymond Burr

I loved Perry Mason as a kid, and something that I always felt without ever quite being able to put my finger on it at the time was that Raymond Burr was kind of creepy. He was the hero of the show, sure, but was there ever a TV star who was less warm and cuddly? The man was intense. I grew up watching reruns of Perry Mason in the 80s, which meant that Matlock was also on the air at the same time. There’s a contrast for you. Compared to Andy Griffith’s warm country lawyer, Burr was like a wall of cold steel.  

What I didn’t know until sometime later was that Raymond Burr was pretty much THE face of evil in film noir. In the forties and fifties, he played masterminds, henchmen, and stone-cold psychos. The one element of all of them? That brooding stare which contained contempt for lesser beings. Everyone around him seemed to insult his intelligence.

[I get goosebumps just looking at him...]

Jul 5 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.09: “40 OZ of Furlough”

Piper is awake in bed, waiting for the day to start. This is probably the first time she’s looked forward to facing a day since she came to Litchfield. The reason for her anticipation is simple: she gets to leave Litchfield today. She gets 48 hours to go home and bury her grandmother. What do you do with a two day respite from hell?

She mostly does what we would expect. She sets out to connect with family and friends. She tries to get laid. She tries to get drunk. Nothing works quite works out, though.

More on that later. For the most part, Episode Nine, “40 OZ of Furlough,” is a bridge episode. It’s primarily concerned with taking us from Episode 8 to Episode 10, or—to put it another way—it’s setting up bigger, more important developments, to come. As a piece of comedy/drama by itself, it doesn’t actually accomplish very much. It’s a measure of the skill of everyone involved, however, that this is as entertaining as any episode this season.

[Let's go back to the earlier days of Litchfield...]

Jul 3 2014 11:00am

Orange Is the New Black 2.08: “Appropriately Sized Pots”

One of the true classics of the prison genre flick is the 1947 Jules Dassin noir Brute Force. The movie helped establish many of the archetypes and motifs (and, yes, clichés) that we’ve seen in so many of the prison movies of the subsequent sixty-seven years. Like Orange Is the New Black, Brute Force introduced us to a prison community and then, via flashback, showed us the choices which led specific inmates to their present incarceration.

Great as it is, I bring up Brute Force to point out one of its weaknesses. In telling us the back stories of its characters, it cheats a little. None of the inmates it looks at are really gangsters or hoodlums or bad guys. They all seemed to have been swell fellas before some twist of fate landed them inside.

If Orange Is the New Black hasn’t made the same mistake, it’s probably because the show’s mastermind, Jenji Kohan, doesn’t seem to believe in swell fellas. You can see this in her previous series, Weeds, where pretty much every character was deeply, irredeemably, flawed. This isn’t to suggest that the characters on Orange aren’t lovable or funny or capable of kindness. Many of them—maybe even most of them—are. But they all have their flaws. Some, like Janae, are in jail because they made a profound mistake. Others, like Morello, are in jail because of some deep-seated, unaddressed problem.

[But we haven't met a bonafide criminal yet, until now...]

Jun 28 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.07: “Comic Sans”

Up to this point in Orange Is The New Black, Cindy “Black Cindy” Hayes (Adrienne Moore) has primarily been a source of comic relief. She’s always mouthing off—“always clowning” as Vee observes. It’s a small stroke of genius that the episode that focuses on her, then, should be titled “Comic Sans.” Like the much maligned font itself—which is so maligned it has entire websites dedicated to its abolition–Cindy is seen as goofy and intrinsically unworthy of respect.

Like nearly every episode this season, however, “Comic Sans” burrows into the past, locating the instigating problem for Cindy. This is another episode where we don’t find out the inmate’s crime. As with Poussey in Episode 6, we don’t find out what landed her inside Litchfield. What we see, instead, is a callow young woman, working at the airport, smoking weed with ex-cons, swiping a pink iPad from a piece of luggage. We meet her mother and her adoring little sister, both of whom seem well-balanced and perplexed by this wayward young woman. There are revelations to come about Cindy—a hidden shame that explains some things about her—but it’s not as if we find “the answer.” Cindy is a mystery, and is a mystery to herself first and foremost.

[But not a mystery to Vee...]

Jun 26 2014 11:00am

Orange Is the New Black 2.06: “You Also Have a Pizza”

There’s a nice, tossed-off moment a few minutes into “You Also Have A Pizza” where the administrator Joe Caputo (Nick Sandow) is talking to the sweet prison guard, Susan Fischer (Lauren Lapkus) about the surveillance project she’s working on. Fischer’s job is to monitor phone calls made by prisoners. She plays him a particularly embarrassing recording and they share a laugh, but then Fischer gets serious and says, “It’s so interesting, all these lives. It’s like reading Dickens.”

A show that involves a sprawling cast of characters, each with her or his own hopes and fears, could do worse than to use the master of the novel as a guiding star. This season, in particular, has used the episodic nature of the series as a way to tell small stories within longer, more complex, plot arcs. (Lest we forget, Dickens originally published many of his works as serials that were structured to keep readers coming back.) We’ve seen the back stories of several characters this season, and for Episode 6 we get the story of Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley).

[Love is in the air...]

Jun 21 2014 12:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.05: “Low Self Esteem City”

As a writer, Jenji Kohan has a fascination with public and private faces. Again and again, we find her characters trying to navigate the uneasy space between what they show the world and what they fear and desire when they’re alone. Orange Is the New Black creates a uniquely volatile environment for these issues to play out because prison is a place where privacy—to the extent that it exists at all—is fleeting and easily compromised. The women of Litchfield are all attempting to present a face to the world—but that world is omnipresent and dangerous.

“Low Self Esteem City” sees this playing out in a few different ways. We have the ongoing story of Vee (Lorraine Toussaint). Although she’s a new character on the show, it’s interesting how much psychic space she takes up in the overarching drama. As we’ve seen already, she’s an old school gangster who’s been in Litchfield before. From the beginning, we’ve known that she’s building a base of support among the black inmates, more or less appointing herself as their leader. This is a gradual process, and it’s not one that is explicit. Hardcases like these inmates won’t simply follow whoever shows up and declares herself in charge. Vee has to win the girls over through manipulations tailored to each one—she gives maternal love to Crazy Eyes, for instance, while she drives a homophobic wedge between Poussey and Taystee.

[What is Vee up to?!]

Jun 19 2014 10:30am

Orange Is the New Black 2.04: “A Whole Other Hole”

Now here is a damn fine hour of television. Episode Four of Orange Is the New Black is pretty much a perfect distillation of what makes this show great. It features multiple storylines—some played for laughs, some played for pathos, and one that is downright disturbing—and all of them overlap or intersect in interesting ways. The episode was written by Sian Heder, with work by Lauren Morelli, Nick Jones and the show’s creator Jenji Kohan, and it was directed by Phil Abraham. After three strong episodes in which the show has been setting up the season, Orange Is the New Black achieves lift off with Episode 4.

The main storyline—the one that is the most powerful and unsettling—involves Lorna Morello (Yael Stone). Up to this point, Morello has been a lovable figure. Soft spoken, with a rare-for-prison attention to cosmetics, she’s naturally sweet and kind. She is, in a word, likable. As with pretty much every inmate on the show, however, we have to wonder: what is she in for? What did this gentle soul do to get herself put in prison?

[Have you been paying attention? It's been right in front of your face...]

Jun 14 2014 11:00am

Orange Is the New Black 2.03: “Hugs Can Be Deceiving”

After kicking off Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black with a pair of atypical episodes—one involving Piper outside of Litchfield, and another involving Litchfield sans Piper—Jenji Kohan and her creative team get back to business with episode three. “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” finds Piper back home, and Litchfield is happy to have her.

Not that everything is business as usual. There have already be some shakeups this season. Alex is gone—sprung from the big house after betraying Piper in court—and though we haven’t seen the last of her, her absence is already being felt. And there are a couple of new additions to Litchfield. (One of the built-in strengths of a prison show is the regularity of cast changes. The very nature of the penitentiary is that people come and people go, thus allowing a show like this to add or subtract characters in an organic way.) One new inmate is the weepy Brook Soso (Kimiko Glenn), who latches onto the recently returned Piper as her new best friend/mentor. Piper indulges this for a bit (mostly to keep Soso from crying), but eventually she snaps. By this point in her sentence, Piper is no longer a newbie. Having returned from her ordeal in Chicago, she’s back on familiar footing. Litchfield may be an awful place, but at least Piper knows her way around. She’s not going to coddle the new girl. She tells Soso to get it together. In a way, her advice harkens back to the key line of the greatest of all Women-In-Prison movies, Caged: “Get tough or die.”

[Piper has officially gotten tough...]

Jun 12 2014 10:15am

Orange Is the New Black 2.02: “Looks Blue, Tastes Red”

Season 2 of Orange Is the New Black opened with Piper and followed her outside the gates of Litchfield, to another prison in Chicago where she got involved in the trial of the drug lord she used to mule for. It was a great start to the season, but it involved only Piper and Alex. Happily, Episode 2 “Looks Blue, Tastes Red” finds us back inside Litchfield with the rest of the crew.

We open in the past, with a flashback to Taystee’s childhood. Raised in the child welfare system—shuffled from group home to group home—she’s still a kid when she first meets a drug dealer named Vee Parker. Right off the bat, Vee is a fascinating figure. Composed and subtly maternal, she has a businesswoman’s distance. She wants the kid to start working for her. Throughout the episode we get flashbacks of Taystee, and we watch as she rebuffs the drug dealer’s overtures until one by one all her options come down to Vee. I won’t tip how the episode ends except to say that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Vee. That’s good news, too, because the interplay between Danielle Brooks as Taystee and Lorraine Toussaint as Vee is terrific. Brooks has always been a highlight of the show—she’s one of those performers who seems to light up any scene she’s in—and her scenes with Toussaint take her into new, deeper waters.

[There's always more than meets the eye...]

Jun 9 2014 4:00pm

Orange Is the New Black 2.01: Season Premiere “Thirsty Bird”

The last time we saw Piper Chapman—in the closing moments of Season 1 of Orange Is The New Black—she was pounding the face of Pennastucky Doggett into sausage. Season 2 begins with Piper sitting in solitary. In the middle of the night, guards come in and whisk her away. She isn’t told were she’s going, and for the rest of the episode she’s finds herself pushed along in a headlong rush toward an unexpected decision. It is a hell of a way to start the season.

On June 6th, Netflix released all thirteen episodes of Orange Is the New Black’s second season. So quickly, for the uninitiated: The show revolves around Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), a soon-to-be-married yuppie who is sentenced to 15 months in prison after she’s convicted of  transporting drug money for her ex-girlfriend. Once inside, she has to learn to navigate a wide assortment of dangers: the aforementioned Pennastucky, a psychotic religious nut who’s inside for shooting up a women’s health clinic; Red (Kate Mulgrew) the inmate in charge of the kitchen; the lesbian-obsessed chief of the guards, Healy (Michael Harney); and the despicable guard “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber). And to top it all off, she’s stuck inside with her ex-girlfriend Alex (Laura Prepon) while her finance Larry (Jason Biggs) is on the outside getting progressively more jealous.

[Now that you're up to speed...]

Jun 6 2014 11:00am

Noir’s Hard Luck Ladies: Joan Crawford

In some ways, Joan Crawford might seem an odd choice for a hard luck lady of noir. Unlike many of the actors I’ve profiled in this series—people like Peggie Castle or Barbara Payton—who somehow missed popular success altogether and died penniless and forgotten, Crawford was a major success. In fact, as the silent era gave way to sound in the late 20s, Crawford supplanted Mary Pickford as the queen of Hollywood. For a while there in the early thirties, there was virtually no bigger star in the movies. Who ever had better luck?

Alas, Crawford’s luck ran out. By the end of the thirties, the public seemed not only to have moved on from her, it seemed to have rejected her, to cast her off. She was, the papers said, “box office poison.” In 1943, MGM, the studio she had helped power to success, let her go—something that would have been unthinkable just a few years before. By that time, however, Crawford was sick of the place and wanted to move on. She did, and arrived at Warner Brothers where she made most of her real contributions to the genre of film noir. She bounced back in this new format—winning an Oscar for Mildred Pierce and recapturing her box office luster for a while. But by the fifties, her fortunes had turned again. Fewer and fewer good roles came her way. Along with her old rival Bette Davis, she turned herself in a ghoul for horror films in the sixties. She hated the work, hated what had become of her career.

[Okay, so maybe there is some hard luck in there…]

May 22 2014 3:00pm

Build Your Book Case: Film Noir and the Books to Own

In recent years, film noir studies have exploded in popularity. For anyone just beginning their film noir obsession (or anyone who’s always ready to add to their home library) here’s a handy guide to some of the best books out there.

1. Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir; Dark City Dames: The Wicked Women of Film Noir; The Art of Noir by Eddie Muller. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I write for Noir City, the journal published by the Film Noir Foundation, which Eddie Muller runs. The reason I started working for the FNF, though, is because I was such a fan of these three books. Dark City is, for my money, the single best introduction to film noir you’ll find. Deeply researched, it’s structured as a “tour” through the cumulative  city of film noir with chapters like Vixenville (femme fatale plots), Shamus Flats (the private eye flick), and Knockover Square (heist movies). Packed full of great movie stills, the book is written with Muller’s trademark encyclopedic knowledge and infectious love of the genre. Dark City Dames examines the life stories of six noir goddesses—Evelyn Keyes, Marie Windsor, Ann Savage, Coleen Gray, Audrey Totter, and Jane Greer. In the first half of the book Muller recounts the noir careers of these indispensible stars, and then in the second half he catches up to them decades later and interviews them about their lives in and out of the movie business. The first half of the book is fascinating; the second half is heartbreakingly beautiful. The Art of Noir is a coffee table collection of the often gorgeous (as well as the sometimes ridiculous, and occasionally shocking) posters and graphics from the classic era of noir.

[See what other books are a must own...]

May 16 2014 11:00am

Adventures In Screenwriting: The Amazing Leigh Brackett

Pop quiz: What do The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, El Dorado, The Long Goodbye, and The Empire Strikes Back have in common?

Answer: They were all written or co-written by the same woman, the amazing Leigh Brackett.

How does one person knock down both the ultimate private eye movie and the ultimate deconstruction of the private eye movie? And how does that same person write what is considered by some fans to be the best western of all time and a remake of that same movie? And how does the person who pulled off those two neat tricks write, in her sixties no less, the ultimate pop sci-fi flick of all time? Well, the answer to all these questions is that Leigh Brackett was awesome. 

[No, really, she's the embodiment of awesome...]

May 11 2014 12:00pm

Pulp Nonfiction: A Guide to Studying Hardboiled Crime

You know you’re officially a mystery fanatic when you start reading books about books. Luckily, over the years many studies of hardboiled and noir crime fiction have been published to meet the needs of just these kind of fanatics. Here’s a short guide to some of the best.

1. “The Simple Art of Murder” by Raymond Chandler. A landmark essay by one of the genre’s titans, “The Simple Art of Murder” is still essential reading for anyone interested in the process of writing hardboiled crime stories. Chandler being Chandler, the essay is by turns insightful, witty, and infuriating. Curmudgeonly as ever, he casts a decidedly skeptical eye on the genre itself—at one point assuring the reader, “These are stern words, but be not alarmed. They are only words.” But his insights still hold up. Of Dashiell Hammett’s contribution to the creation of the hardboiled school of crime fiction, he wrote, “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse.” The essay originally appeared in an issue of The Atlantic Monthly but has since been collected along with some of Chandler’s short fiction in The Simple Art of Murder.

[Learn what else you need to add to your library...]