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Feb 24 2017 5:30pm

Carnage Count: Ranking 2017’s Best Picture Nominees

It’s hard to believe that this is my fourth time writing this article. What started out as merely a brainstorming joke has turned into my favorite singular piece of writing I do each year. On Sunday, February 26th, the Oscar’s return, and with it comes nine nominees for Best Picture. While I’m not necessarily worthy of judging these movies on the cinematic level that the Academy does (Spoiler: I’m going to do that anyway), I am definitely worthy of judging them on how they fare as a crime film.

For those not familiar with how this works, let me break it down for you. Here at Criminal Element, we put three things above all: murder, mystery, and mayhem. So in keeping with the site’s themes, I’m ranking all Best Picture nominees on these three categories.

Each movie will be judged on its three categories on a scale from 1 to 10, which will then be added together to give a final ranking. I’ll also be squeezing in some general predictions and opinions throughout the post, so when you inevitably disagree with me, take your pitchforks to the comments and let’s have at it.

[Let's get to it, shall we?]

Feb 20 2017 3:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.10: “New Best Friends”

This show is rapidly approaching a Game of Thrones level of characters, but not in a good way. We get that it’s building towards an epic showdown with the Saviors, but every week we get a new batch of “Who the hell are they?” We’ve got Fish People, Garbage People, Renaissance Faire People, a Jack-of-Many-Trades Jesus, and more—it’s almost like The Walking Dead took a look at what’s currently successful with television and movies (Marvel Universe, GoT, Mad Max, Hoarders?) and tried to mash it all up into one season. 

Here’s to hoping it’s worth it and the showdown with Negan justifies the hours we’ve invested to get there.

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Feb 13 2017 4:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.09: “Rock in the Road”

Last night's episode of The Walking Dead had more of a familiar feel to it, as a number of our (anti)heroes fell back into their comfort zones and began doing what they do best—in stark contrast to the relentless dread and misery they (and we, the viewers) experienced throughout the entire first half of the season. Rick is wheeling and dealing (hopefully in a more measured way than aggro-Alpha-Rick from last season), Maggie (and the Hilltop) has had enough of Gregory's shit, and the Alexandrians are ready to fight back.

Will this renewed sense of hope and winds of rebellion end up spelling disaster for our heroes? Probably. But until then...

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Dec 12 2016 5:30pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.08: “Hearts Still Beating”

Last night's midseason finale of The Walking Dead ended on a ... well, we can't quite call it a high note, but at least it was something in the treble clef. For perhaps the first time all season, storylines progressed at a speed beyond glacial, certain fundamental dynamics finally saw some change, and another annoying character found out he didn't quite have the stomach to survive the apocalypse.

On the downside, Negan remains incredibly two-dimensional, Rosita took over the idiocy mantle from Spencer, and Carl continued to mope around glaring impotently at Negan whilst not doing anything of note.


[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Dec 5 2016 4:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.07: “Sing Me a Song”

Finally an episode that remembered different storylines can be featured in the same hour and a half. While we thankfully returned to the world of competent storytelling, we were still met with a pretty weak episode. You'd think after introducing a brutal new villain and two new societies, we could get some sense of variety. Nope—Daryl's gonna Daryl, Negan's gonna Negan, Jesus's gonna ninja, and everything remains the same.

With shows that follow the weekly format, the audience usually forgets the filler episodes with time, remembering only the crazy scenes rather than the 8 hours of setup it took to get there. So, TWD ... I'ma let you finish—but you better bring your A-game next week or people just might not return after the break.

Ach, who are we kidding? What the hell else are we going to watch?

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Nov 28 2016 4:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.06: “Swear”

Clearly The Walking Dead felt America hadn't eaten enough this Thanksgiving weekend, as it gifted viewers with a turkey of its own last night, accompanied by a heaping side of who the fuck cares?

On last night's episode, Tara washed up on what appeared to be the island from Lost, met a band of survivors hiding from the Others the Saviors, jumped from timeline to timeline unnecessarily, and ... well, that was about it. The showrunners subjected their long-suffering audience to yet another hour-long plotline that would have been best served as a 5-minute C or D storyline in an episode containing actual substance. If it feels like we're repeating ourselves here, it's because being shallow on substance is pretty much the only overarching theme TWD has managed to establish thus far into the season.

At least the title of the episode felt spot on, as we found ourselves swearing a lot this week.

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Nov 21 2016 3:30pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.05: “Go Getters”

We used to wonder how they stretched The Hobbit into a trilogy of three full-length feature films—now all we can think about is how The Walking Dead has stretched what is essentially one episode into four. Every episode since “The Day Will Come When You Won't Be” could have been told between one of the show's constant commercial breaks. Instead, we get full-hour breakdowns of each camp that tend to induce a zombie-like state of boredom.

We get that a good amount of setup is necessary for a show with so many storylines and subplots, but for every forward-moving plot device, we get a sandwich montage and a roller-disco. Sunday night television has too many good options for The Walking Dead to continuously trot out these clunkers.

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Nov 14 2016 2:30pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.04: “Service”

Four episodes in, it's becoming apparent that The Walking Dead is starting to suffer either from significant content bloat or the lack of an actual editing team. It's absolutely inexcusable for an episode in which so little actually happened to be 90 minutes long. This is especially bad (and especially noticeable) coming in the wake of episode-long looks at the Kingdom and Daryl stewing in his own guilt.

Granted, this episode was at least a step in the right direction—it just took 90 minutes to make that step. Rick's broken, Negan's an asshole, Dwight desparately wants to be Daryl, and Carl needs a haircut. We get it. Now give us something new.

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's been “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Nov 7 2016 2:30pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.03: “The Cell”

After opening on a full 2-minute montage for a sandwich that would have made Liz Lemon proud, we're finally treated to the all-Daryl, all-grunting-and-brooding 1-hour extravaganza we were promised last week—though, to be fair, Norman Reedus did a great job portraying his suffering.

True, this episode was no “The Well,” but for the second straight week, The Walking Dead left something to be desired. We realize Negan can't bash someone's brains in every episode and Rick can't enact his revenge in Episode 3, but we've also watched enough television to know that it's hard to ask viewers to tune in for an hour every week when you keep giving them 20 minutes of skippable setup and 40 of commercials.

It's become almost formula for The Walking Dead to hook you with a great episode and then give you two or more forgettable ones in a row—like they want to stretch you to the brink of giving up, and then reel you back in from the edge at the very last moment.

Oh god ... they're creating they're own post-apocalyptic human drama and we're the stars!

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who's “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Oct 31 2016 2:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.02: “The Well”

Wait, seriously? We skipped watching Westworld for that? 

Last night, we checked back in with Carol and Morgan, the Saviors turn up in the most expected places, and ... okay. Wait. Holy shit. Did a goddamn post-apocalyptic Renaissance Faire just show up in my Walking Dead

Yes. Yes it did. 

If there's one thing this show has raised to an art form, it's the ability to destroy its own momentum almost entirely in the space of a single episode, and last night was no exception. Fresh off last week’s homerun derby, we were presented with a minor-league snooze-fest. 

Chris Hardwick—the Ryan Seacrest of nerd culture—tried to reason with us on The Talking Dead afterwards, saying that after the season premiere’s carnage, this slower episode was exactly what we needed. I’m not sure about you, but last we checked, the people willingly tuning their televisions to an apocalyptic zombie show understand what they’ve signed up for. 

There’s going to be chaos. And blood. And death. 

So, Chris Hardwick, I’m sorry, but just no. Don’t keep letting the middling writers get away with it—more episodes like this and they’re going to find out just how quickly the fans will throw up two fingers and say “deuces.”

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who gets “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Oct 24 2016 3:00pm

The Walking Dead Power Rankings 7.01: “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”

Well, between last night's soulcrushing Walking Dead season premiere and HBO's latest episode of Westworld, Sunday proved to be a field day for caved-in skulls on cable television.

Okay. We admit it. We were getting ready to tear the season premiere to shreds for once again copping out on a major character death after Negan initially chose Abraham. Between the Great Glenn Fakeout of Season 6 and its protracted, unwelcome cliffhanger, TWD spent much of last year cheapening its own brand.

Then that happened. And lo, credibility was instantly restored.

[See who's “Walking Tall” and who got “Eaten Alive” this week...]

Jul 27 2016 2:00pm

Curioddity by Paul Jenkins: A Visual Guide

GIFnotes: Giving you the basic plot summary of an upcoming book with the help of the Graphics Interchange Format.

This week, get a little weird with Paul Jenkins's uncanny debut novel, Curioddity.

[Like CliffsNotes, but more fun...]

Jun 27 2016 12:30pm

Game of Thrones 6.10: Season Finale “The Winds of Winter”

Game of Thrones

I don’t know if it’s possible to properly explain just how perfect and rewarding “The Winds of Winter” was. In today’s binge-able society, instant gratification is the new norm. We consume media like the Hound consumes chicken, and when we’re denied this right, we sincerely debate picking up an axe and bashing in some skulls. We are a world averse to cliffhangers, and even more so, we loathe being told to wait. All this is to say, that even with our current need for immediate fulfillment, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series has thrived despite the fact that he writes slower than a Lancel Lannister crawl. It’s a testament to Martin’s brilliant storytelling that we still care so much, and he has set up this tale for a chaotic and exhilarating conclusion.  But until last night, that was all it was – a setup. A Dance of Dragons published in 2011, and A Feast for Crows in 2005. Those two books covered the same amount of time, essentially splitting the characters in half. So for many fans of the series, they’ve been waiting more than a decade to see what happens when you put Cersei in a corner. Even more so, A Game of Thrones hit shelves in 1996, meaning the most die-hard fans have waited for 20 years to find out what actually happened in the Tower of Joy.

Now I haven’t been a fan for 20 years – I discovered the show after Season 2 and read all of the books before Season 3 – but I am most definitely a new-age die-hard. I have spent hours upon hours reading, theorizing, and submerging myself in the wonderful world of Westeros (and hours upon hours complaining about the mundane world of Meereen). And while it’s been an absolute blast to try and predict the inner workings of Martin’s labyrinthine mind, it pales in comparison to the 69-minute-long adrenaline rush that was “The Winds of Winter.” From the haunting musical score that stippled the episode and the lingering despair left in the wake of Davos’s anguish, to the goosebump-inducing KING IN DA NORF and the jaw-dropping scope of Daenerys’s army, this episode was as undoubtedly perfect.

But there’s a catch. You may have heard that The Great War is still to come, and with the exception of Jon Snow and company, no one seems to either know or care. So I urge you to savor this moment right now, because winter has arrived, and it’s going to be brutal.

[How do you only choose one riser…]

Jun 20 2016 12:00pm

Game of Thrones 6.09: “Battle of the Bastards” Episode Review

There are certain rules that will forever govern Game of Thrones: Tyrion will drink a lot of wine, Daenerys will burn slavers alive, the Lannisters will always pay their debts, and the 9th episode of each season will leave you scarred and unable to sleep. The aptly titled “Battle of the Bastards” was as brutal as it was promised, but it left us in unfamiliar waters. In short, THE GOOD GUYS WON! 

As we drew closer and closer to this inevitable battle, we grew ready for some sort of loss. After Ned’s beheading, Robb’s wedding, and Oberyn’s showboating, loss seemed like an ingrained element of Game of Thrones' penultimate episodes. So, even though we may have assumed that Jon Snow would be the victorious bastard, we still expected to lose a few dear friends along the way.

Sure, Rickon died, but he did so in the same way he lived: insignificantly. Other than that though, Team Stark came out relatively unscathed, with both Davos and Tormund surviving the fight. And, not only that, but we also saw Tormund channel his inner Rick Grimes and literally bite through a guy’s neck. Plus, Ramsay learned just how accurate the Nine Inch Nails can be when his hounds bit off the literal hands that fed them. 

All in all, “Battle of the Bastards” was a thrilling, unnerving, and ultimately rewarding episode, but it took quite a bit of gruesome time before we were able to hang the Stark banners. This episode marked the first time we saw a fully-planned medieval pitch battle on screen, and it’s one we certainly won’t forget soon. 

[Let’s get to the riser…]

Jun 13 2016 11:30am

Game of Thrones 6.08: “No One”

“No One” marked a rare misstep for the otherwise steady sixth season of Game of Thrones. Though there were a variety of reasons that ultimately led to the mediocre episode, there were a few good parts that deserve highlighting, so let’s start there. We saw Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) reunite, as well as old pals Bronn and Pod. And, there were also the vengeful antics of the Hound, who for the second straight week continued to be the best part of the entire show. Other than that, I just don’t have too much to praise (except, of course, that we were once again spared the pain of having to watch the Sand Snakes make brooding faces at the camera).

It’s no secret that Game of Thrones originates from a dense, chaotic series of books – books that seem impossible for George R.R. Martin to write. This year, the television show sped past the books faster than the bloodthirsty Waif, and for the first time since the television series began, both book-readers and show-watchers have been on the same mysterious side, never knowing what to expect next. We knew that major theories and cliffhangers would be resolved on the screen, and we had no choice but to be okay with that. We expected that. But we also expected good writing – something that was severely lacking in “No One.” When you have a series that makes its fame on shocks and gasps, it’s inevitable that fan-theorizing will run rampant, but you cannot allow for those fan-made theories to be infinitely better than the product you actually deliver on screen. For me, the single biggest deterrent to any story (whether in books, movies, or television) is when a character is being sold to us as intelligent, but their actions prove the opposite. This makes me question if the writers are fools, or if they think their audience are fools. Either way, I have no patience for fools, and as a result, I now have no patience for Arya, as she was a complete and utter idiot in these past two episodes.

This week, we’re starting with the faller.

[Unfortunately, it’s not no one…]

Jun 6 2016 12:00pm

Game of Thrones 6.07: “The Broken Man”

For a series with as wide of a scope as Game of Thrones, there are some weeks where it feels like we’re destined to rotate between three settings: Meereen, The Wall, and King’s Landing. That was not the case in “The Broken Man,” where we saw the homes of House Mormont and House Glover for the first time, as well as revisited Riverrun and the Bridge of Volantis.

Like Cersei’s favorite Arbor Red, Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s allowed to breathe, and these last two episodes have done just that. There are only three weeks remaining in Season 6, and there’s a plethora of storylines waiting to be resolved: The Tower of Joy, Loras Tyrell, The Riverrun siege, The battle at Winterfell, Daenerys’s return to Meereen, The Greyjoys arrival at Meereen, Jorah’s search for the cure, Arya’s (hopeful) return to Westeros, Cersei’s upcoming trial, and the White freakin’ Walkers. Needless to say, we’re in for three action-packed episodes, and probably a few cliffhangers. It’s going to be great.

[Onto this week’s riser…]

May 30 2016 11:45am

Game of Thrones 6.06: “Blood of My Blood”

Despite its title, “Blood of My Blood,” the sixth episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth season, was decisively unbloody. Instead, we were treated to a hearty dose of plot progression in an episode that began with ice and ended with fire.

I’ll get to the reveal that was 20 years in the making in a bit, but for the most part, we stuck to the south — the very green south, as Gilly (Hannah Murray) observed. We caught our first ever glimpse of Horn Hill, the Tarly family’s stronghold, where Sam and Gilly starred in the latest sequel of Meet the Parents. Elsewhere, we watched a girl revert back into Arya Stark, but not before sparing the life of an innocent woman. We reunited with our old pal Walder Frey as he sat incredulous that his inept kinfolk could somehow lose an entire castle. Edmure Tully was then dragged out to serve as a glaring reminder that the Frey’s have yet to play their trump card against the Blackfish. It’ll be interesting to see how the Blackfish responds next week. 

And finally, the episode ended with yet another middling Daenerys scene that must only have been shot because the producers stumbled upon some unused CGI money and figured we could always use some more dragon scenes. It’s either that, or the writers have a bet where they see how many seasons in a row they can end an episode with the same scene without anyone realizing. We get it, Daenerys has dragons. She conquered some people. She’s “going” to Westeros. I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. Wake me up when she gets there.

[Enough about Daenerys, let’s get to the riser…]

May 23 2016 1:00pm

Game of Thrones 6.05: “The Door”

“The Door” marked the official halfway point of Game of Thrones’ sixth season, and it did so with emphatic exclamation. We’ll get to the somber ending north of The Wall in a bit, but first, I want to give a standing ovation to the wonderful troupe of actors who perfectly summarized the entirety of Season 1. Give me them over the Sand Snakes any day of the week.

At the wall, we watched Sansa (Sophie Turner) first dismiss a submissive Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and then later channel his duplicitous ways in lying to Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) about where she found out about the Blackfish’s rebellion at Riverrun.

In the Dothraki Sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) offered Jorah (Iain Glen) a glimpse into a post-friend zone life, but only if he can figure out how to cure his incurable disease. Sounds about right for Jorah.

At the House of Black and White, Arya (Maisie Williams) and the Waif (Faye Marsay) dropped the gloves, much to Arya’s chagrin, and Jaqen H’ghar explains that the Faceless Men were once slaves in Valyria before going on to found the Free City of Braavos. He then sends Arya out with a vial of poison meant for Lady Crane, the actress playing Cersei in a reenactment of The War of the Five Kings. After watching the seemingly clever and decent actress, Arya grows unsure if the woman deserves the Many-Faced God’s gift.

In Meereen, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) hold court with Kinvara (Ania Bukstein), a High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis. Tyrion, forever a believer in the power of positive press, urges Kinvara to deliver to the commonfolk the powerful story of Daenerys: mother of dragons, breaker of chains, and all that. Varys, on the other hand, is doubtful of the priestess's first.

And finally, we dropped our anchors in Pyke to watch Yara (Gemma Whelan), with the help of Theon (Alfie Allen), attempt to take a seat on the Salt Throne. There’s only one problem, and he calls himself the storm.

[He’s definitely a hard and strong riser…]

May 16 2016 12:00pm

Game of Thrones 6.04: “Book of the Stranger”

“Book of the Stranger,” the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth season, solidifies that Westeros is, and will continue to be, a world led by women. And these aren’t just adequate women. These are resilient, intelligent, capable women, and their abilities were on full display last night.

Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), an Ironborn through and through, seems every bit the worthy heir to Pyke. Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) continued to stand tall in the face of captivity – something her broken brother, Loras (Finn Jones), hasn’t been able to do. Cersei (Lena Headey) gracefully convinced Kevan (Ian Gelder) and Olenna (Diana Rigg) to take up arms against the Faith Militant. Sansa (Sophie Turner) not only found safety, but also her voice. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) wasted little time in confessing to her execution of Stannis, and made it clear what little respect she has for Melisandre. And Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) saw her military strength dramatically increase by reminding everyone why one of her titles is “The Unburnt.”

[Who run the world? Girls…]

May 9 2016 11:30am

Game of Thrones 6.03: “Oathbreaker”

As Jaime Lannister would attest, in the world of Game of Thrones, there are very few things worse than an oathbreaker. And in last night’s aptly titled “Oathbreaker,” we saw a variety of that very act. First there was Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who knowingly spurned the Dosh Khaleen and the Heart Eater’s Club (dibs). Then, we traveled back in time to the Tower of Joy (more on that later) where a pair of Kingsguard knights ignored their vows to the Mad King. In Winterfell, we saw Smalljon Umber seemingly disregard his fealty to the Stark family by handing over the long-forgotten Rickon and Osha to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), along with the head of Rickon's direwolf, Shaggydog. And then, we ventured even further north to a foursome of treasonous men standing on the gallows. Their crime? A short-lived assassination. Then, mere moments after these men gasped their last collective breath, Jon Snow broke the sacred vows of the Night’s Watch. Or did he?

[No One rose this week…]