Category: Crime

Books – Best of 2006

Last year I read a number of exceptionally well-written books. Of course there were old favorites such as Andrew Vachss, Barry Eisler, Robert Crais, David Morrell, Stephen Hunter and others. Surprisingly, the list this year is dominated by authors that I read for the first time. And when I say dominated I mean it! Literally all of the authors in this year’s top five made it on my first exposure to their work.

5. Already Dead by Charlie Huston. Modern day vampire clans are at war and Joe Pitt has a missing girl to find. Huston’s next Joe Pitt novel, No Dominion, is available now.

4. Persuader by Lee Child. I’m coming to this series late in the game, but that doesn’t make me like it any less. Child has a winner with his Jack Reacher novels. In this outing, Reacher is working undercover with the FBI to catch an international gun-runner.

3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A father and young son journey south through a bleak post-apocalyptic world. Food is scarce and only what they can scavenge. They must make the journey to escape the brutal winter that is almost upon them. If they don’t starve odds are one of the roaming bands of cannibals will find them. Still they press on.

2. World War Z by Max Brooks. A haunting book that Chad Hunt also recommends!

1. Stealing Home / Six Bad Things / A Dangerous Man by Charlie Huston. Yeah, he’s the same Charlie Huston that wrote Already Dead. In this trilogy we meet Hank Thompson. When we first meet Hank he’s ten years out of high school and working as a bartender in New York City. Had it not been for a badly broken leg, he would have been a big league baseball player. Now he’s the nice guy who drinks too much and lacks real ambition. That is until the night two strangers yank him over the bar and beat him nearly to death. When he gets out of the hospital he gets more visitors and another beating. Soon he’s on the run from crooked cops, mobsters and hit men. If he lives maybe he’ll get a piece of the millions of dollars that they believe he has. Six Bad Things and A Dangerous Man complete Hank’s story. I loved every page and wish that it didn’t have to end.

2006 – My Top 5 Movies

Last year I watched over 200 films and less than a dozen were seen in a theater. I used to go to the movies on a weekly basis, but I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older and dvds hit the market sooner, I will quite often wait to watch a movie in the comfort of my home. This has both advantages and disadvantages, but instead of discussing them, I thought we’d instead look at five of my favorite movies from last year.

Running Scared  has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. The movie starts in the middle of a drug deal that suddenly goes bad. An insane shootout takes place and we’re off an running. Along the way we’re going to meet drug dealers, pimps, crooked cops, child molesters, Russian mobsters, and other upright citizens. The movie constantly maintains a forward momentum as Joey Gazelle [Paul Walker] first attempts to retrieve a stolen gun used in a mob killing and then finds himself on a mission to save a kid. The supporting cast is first rate and writer/director Wayne Kramer is a talent to keep an eye on. This movie is not for kids.
Running Scared  rates an A

4.  The Salton Sea  was actually released in 2002 but qualifies for my list since I saw it for the first time last year. Like Running Scared,   The Salton Sea  is full of crazy characters and plot twists abound. I hesitate to say anything about the movie, because the journey and discovery of who everyone is and what is going on is so much fun. Of course when I say “fun” I don’t mean as in comedy fun.  The Salton Sea  is not for kids. The people in the movie are the kind that you’d want to avoid in real life [drug dealers, thieves, crooked cops and killers] but adults who don’t mind gritty dramas won’t mind spending some reel life with them.
The Salton Sea  rates an A+

3.  A History of Violence  was first released in 2005, but again because I didn’t see it until 2006, qualifies for my “Best of” list. Here’s what I had to say after seeing it.
A History of Violence rates an A+.
2. I absolutely loved Casino Royale. In fact I saw it twice during it’s initial release and can’t wait to put the dvd in my movie collection. Tom Richmond, best known for his art, perfectly summarized my thoughts on Casino Royale so if you want to know what I thought about it, click HERE and see what Tom had to say. Casino Royale rates an A+

1. I’ve been a Stallone fan since before the original Rocky, but it was Rocky that sealed the deal and made me the Stallone mega-fan[atic] that I am today. When I heard that Rocky II  was going to be made, I can remember thinking, “there’s no way it can be as good.” I was right, but Rocky II  was a worthy continuation of the story. Rocky III  was even better, but still not on the level of the original. Then came Rocky IV  which was fun, and in turn was followed by Sly’s misstep with the character in Rocky V  and with each of these sequels we moved a bit farther from the original.

Rocky Balboa  is a return to the spirit, the feel, and the essence of Rocky.  Sly’s acting is some of his best work ever. The screenplay has the wit and charm of the original. Rocky Balboa was the perfect way to end the Rocky series.

Rocky Balboa rates an A+

Drive… Wheelman

There’s not much better than a good crime novel… unless it’s two good crime novels. Today I’m going to recommend two excellent ones which interestingly enough both feature a getaway driver as their main character!

Drive written by James Sallis opens with Driver [the main character] wounded and slouched against a cheap hotel room wall. Three dead bodies lay around him. From there the story takes us back showing us glimpses of how a violent childhood led to his current double-life where his talents behind the wheel have brought him to a potentially bloody end. Before his betrayal on a heist doomed from the start, Driver simply drove. He didn’t even carry weapons. Now, wounded and with a price on head, things are about to change…

The Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski opens in the middle of a bank robbery which has gone south. Still, with a little bit of luck Lennon [the driver] and the two robbers get away… briefly. What follows is a fast paced, violent, and at times humorous story of what happens when crooked cops, the Italian mob, the Russian mob, and other quirky characters take an interest in getting their hands on Lennon and the money. Swierczynski takes the story [which moves at a breakneck pace] and fills it with double-crosses, surprises and great prose.

Root for the Bad Guy… Again

“Payback” is one of my favorite Mel Gibson films. Based on the novel by Richard Stark, it’s a worthy adaptation of a crime classic. The story behind the making of the movie is almost as interesting.

Screenwriter, Brian Helgeland, hot of the success of “LA Confidential” wanted to direct. Pairing him with Mel Gibson on “Payback” seemed a natural. Things went well until late into filming when either Gibson, the studio or both decided that Gibson’s character needed to be more likeable and the film needed more action.

Helgeland disagreed. Guess who won out?

Yep, Gibson and the studio. So Mel went behind the camera and filmed some additional scenes and the tone of the movie changed.

As I said, “Payback” is one of my favorite Mel Gibson movies… but I always thought it would be cool to see Brian Helgeland’s vision. Perhaps, it too, would be one of my favorites.

According to Harry at Ain’t It Cool News, we’ll soon find out! “Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut” is comming out in a few months. And unlike some “director’s cuts” where a few minutes of footage [that wasn’t good enough to make the original release!] is added, this is going to be a complete overhaul. It will be Helgeland’s vision .

And I can’t wait to see it!

“A History of Violence” / Z-View

I finally got around to seeing “A History of Violence” and it totally lived up to my high expectations. If you haven’t seen it yet, and plan to, then by all means avoid the rest of today’s post since it will contain spoilers.I was impressed with all aspects of the film. In fact, “A History of Violence” now ties “The Dead Zone” as my all time favorite David Cronenberg film. The cast was equally impressive [Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bella and the always excellent Ed Harris].

I’d also like to give special mention to William Hurt. Hurt is not one of my favorite actors, and since “Body Heat” I can’t think of any of his roles that I’ve really liked… that is until now. He was perfect as Richie Cusack. Absolutely perfect! [And if you happened to catch Hurt‘s role as the hitman in TNT‘s recent adaptation of Stephen King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes, he was just as good, if not better!]

The thing that kept staying on my mind after watching “A History of Violence” was the dual nature in all of us. All of the major characters in the film displayed a duality that was interesting, but it was Viggo’s character that set everything in motion. So… was Viggo really Tom Stall or Joey Cusak? The things that Joey did made him a crazy killer, but the same actions made Tom Stall a hero.

Tom’s wife thought he was the greatest man in the world until she saw what he was capable of. Then she was repulsed and attracted to him. How does that work? And why?

“A History of Violence” works on so many levels. I guess even movies have a dual nature.

If you saw the movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts. “A History of Violence” rates an A+

Atomic Pulp and Other Meltdowns [2006]

Tonight I want to tell you about a blog run by Chris Mills. It’s called “Atomic Pulp and Other Meltdowns” and it’s definitely worth bookmarking. Chris writes about pop culture as well as occasional glimpses into his life as a struggling writer.

The fact that Chris is “struggling” speaks volumes about how hard it is to make it as a writer. You see, in 2004, Chris wrote a universally well-received one shot, Gravedigger: The Scavengers [which remains my favorite single issue comic of the last 2 years].

Chris was also the editorial director on Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger [where he worked with Spillane and Max Allan Collins]. Chris was also the editorial director on Neil Gaiman’s Lady Justice. Chris wrote a year-long run on Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals comic series.

Chris was also the creator and editor of Noir, an illustrated crime fiction magazine that featured art and stories from some of the biggest names in both the comic and mystery fields. I could continue to list Chris‘ credits, but you’d probably prefer me to shut up so you can check out his blog.

But one more thing before I close… if you ever get the opportunity to pick up a copy of Gravedigger: The Scavengers [with art by Rick Burchett], please do. I first wrote about the one shot here and then again here.

I love this comic and would love to see more Gravedigger stories by Mills and Burchett. If after reading it, you feel the same way, please let your local comic dealer know… and it wouldn’t hurt to drop Chris a line as well!

A Dangerous Man

Tomorrow, the third [and last] book in Charlie Huston‘s Hank Thompson trilogy [Caught Stealing; Six Bad Things; A Dangerous Man] becomes available. And while I can’t wait to read it, I am sad that the series will come to an end. I do applaud Huston for having the integrity to say, the story has been told and that’s that. Still, the fan in me hopes that if Hank’s still alive at the end of A Dangerous Man, there may be more story to tell.I’m also looking forward to the second book in Huston’s Joe Pitt series, No Dominion. It’ll be out this December.

The Shield: One Last Season

This is the best news I heard all day:

Variety reports that:

FX has greenlit The Shield for a final batch of 13 episodes, which will premiere in early 2008.

The sixth season is currently in production and will begin airing early next year.

At this point it looks like the episodes in 2008 will be it for the show. FX president-general manager John Landgraf has said, “Shawn (Ryan — creator of The Shield) and I have been discussing how it will end.. I know what the arc is of the final season, almost through the last episode, and this is definitely the end of it.”

I’ll be sad to see The Shield end, but I do like the idea of it following it’s course to a definite conclusion. [Hopefully Lost will do the same.]

Rumble in La Rambla

As I was going through my Previews order this week, I came across a new comic mini-series that you might want to check out.

It’s called Rumble in La Rambla from IDW Publishing. I wasn’t familiar with the writer [Felipe Ferreira] or the artist [Rafael Albuquerque] so I went to the Rumble in La Rambla website and learned enough to know that I’m pre-ordering it.

Check it out, you may want to order it too.

It’s Not Your Dad’s Running Scared

Up until a few minutes ago I don’t think I’d ever even heard of Running Scared. No,. it’s not that old Billy Crystal movie, this “Running Scared.” is being released on February 24th and stars Paul Walker.

It’s not that I’m a big Paul Walker fan [although I did like him in The Fast and the Furious].

It’s not that I’m a big Wayne Kramer fan [although The Cooler did get very good reviews].

What it is, is… I thought the trailer looked pretty interesting and the website even better. Let’s hope that the movie doesn’t let us down.

Who is Keyser Soze?

The February 10, 2006 issue of Entertainment Weekly is a special double-sized issue which looks at the Academy Awards. That’s not why I’m suggesting that you check it out though. The reason that I think that you might want to pick it up is for the article that tells the story behind the making of “The Usual Suspects.”

Chris Nashawaty‘s excellent article takes us back to the very origins of the screenplay and then sheds light on the process that brought it two Academy Awards. Part of the fun is Nashawaty provides us with little tidbits that fans of the movie will love. [Did you know that Keyser Soze‘s name was based on a real person? That Christopher Walken, Tommy Lee Jones, Jeff Bridges, Charlie Sheen, James Spader, Al Pacino and Johnny Cash [Johnny Cash!] turned down role offers?]

Reading Nashawaty‘s piece not only reminded me how much I enjoyed “The Usual Suspects” but makes me want to pull it off the shelf and watch it again. “The Usual Suspects” rates an A+.

Conscience is a Killer

The Shield returns for its fifth [5th!] season, this Tuesday at 10pm on FX. And I can’t wait. The tag line for The Shield this season is “Conscience is a killer.”

While The Shield isn’t for everyone, it’s definitely my cup of tea. It has characters that you care about [and not always in a good way], stories that have twists, and actors [and writers] that are at the top of their game.

Emmy award-winning actor, Forrest Whitaker joins the cast this season as a tough internal affiars agent out to bring down Mackey [Michael Chiklis].

You just know that the screen will sizzle when Chiklis and Whitaker collide. [Anyone remember the great acting in True Romance when Dennis Hopper verbally jousted with Christopher Walken? My guess is that Chiklis and Whitaker will take it to that level.]

Tune in on Tuesday at 10. You won’t be disappointed.

Mike Zeck’s Damned Graphic Novel

While we’re on the subject of Mike Zeck, have you seen his Damned graphic novel? No, I’m not cursing, that’s the name of it.

Written by Steven Grant and pencilled by Mike, it was originally going to be called Lawless. The hitch was that a new tv series starring Brian Bosworth [anyone remember him?] was in the works and they had dibs on the Lawless title. So Grant and Zeck decided to go with Damned.

Here’s what Mike said when asked about how it all came together. “DAMNED is probably as personal as a project can get. Grant and I got together and posed the question “What would we do if we could do just what we wanted, without any outside pressure or direction?” Damned was a result of that. We both prefer the crime genre, and without costumed characters populating it. I hand-picked Denis Rodier (inker) and Kurt Goldzung (colorist) and it became something of a labor of love for all of us.”

Damned is a great crime comic.  Give it a try and I’ll bet you agree.

I Love It, So I Don’t Want It

For those of you who may have tuned in late, I love Frank Miller’s Sin City stories. I thought the movie that he did with Robert Rodriguez was the BEST comic to film adaptation yet. The fact that Miller, Rodriguez and their perfectly chosen cast are returning for another Sin City movie excites me to no end.

So you’d probably think that talk of a weekly Sin City tv series would have me doing cartwheels.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Even though the discussion of a Sin City weekly tv series is just in the very first stages [and most tv show ideas never make it to the small screen]; my vote, unless Miller is going to be directly involved with a weekly series, is to pass. Even on HBO, FX or a channel that was willing to let Sin City be Sin City, a weekly series, by it’s very nature would water down the concept.

Obviously, Sin City is Miller‘s baby and if he decides that Sin CIty can work as a weekly series, then I’ll tune in. If the show works, I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. And if the show stinks, at least we’ll still have all those great comic stories and the Sin City movie to turn to when we need our Sin City fix.

Going Down in November

Five years ago, a narcotics cop was sent undercover, down into the criminal structure of the city. Henever came back. He went native. Five years later, he’s running the city’s prime drugs gang.

Today, a second cop – a woman in the midst of career flameout, having shot down the entirety of the main mob’s only rival gang – is sent undercover, with orders to pull the first one out. In a bodybag if necessary. “

If this sounds like your cup of tea — bitter with no sugar — then plan on checking out Down 1 in November. It’s the first of a four issue mini-series written by Warren Ellis. The art for issue one is by Tony Harris [who provides all 4 covers]. Cully Hamner provides art for issues 2-4.

And be advised, this comic ain’t for kids.