Screening Room: ‘The Wild Goose Lake’

The latest movie from Yi’nan Diao (Black Coal, Thin Ice), The Wild Goose Lake is a spectacularly cinematic story that sets a massive manhunt for a gangster in a “lawless” part of China.

It opens this week. My review is at PopMatters:

Sometimes you just know within a few minutes. At the start of Yi’nan Diao’s rapturously beautiful and darkly entertaining The Wild Goose Lake (Nan Fang Che Zhan De Ju Hui) two lean and beautiful people with the look of the hunted in their eyes circle around each other at a train station. Cigarettes are lit in the glimmering darkness. The man, Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), has a large scar on his face and carries a bag that must contain cash…

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sea of Shadows’

The new documentary Sea of Shadows uses the incredible story of how environmental activists and the Mexican military are fighting cartels to save an endangered whale to highlight what the extinction of one species means for the future.

Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Richard Ladkani (The Ivory Game), Sea of Shadows opens this Friday. My review is at Slant:

The whale in question is the vaquita, a dolphin-like creature endemic to the Gulf of California. At the time of this film’s making, there were most likely less than 15 left alive. Not a target of hunting themselves, the vaquitas had the bad luck of swimming in the same waters as the heavily fished totoaba and dying in the nets meant to catch their more valuable neighbors. The vaquitas are ultimately collateral damage in an illegal fishing scheme driven by greed, economic insecurity, failing security apparatuses, interstate organized crime, and more…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, hosts of the true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder, are currently bringing their show to thousands of “Murderino” fans around the country. They also have a book publishing at the end of May.

My review of Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered was published in City Pages:

Stay Sexy is a two-handed memoir, with Kilgariff and Hardstark trading off anecdotes and threading them through a survivor’s approach to therapy and how to get by in a world seemingly designed to take advantage of women…

TV Room: Season 2 of ‘Ozark’

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in ‘Ozark’ (Netflix)

In the second season of Netflix’s Missouri noir Ozark, the Byrd family finds themselves being mired ever deeper in a cycle of moral compromise.

My review is at The Playlist:

Like almost every other show on Netflix, “Ozark” follows the “If Only BBC” rule. (Meaning things would have been a lot snappier if they’d lopped off two, three, even four episodes. Unless we’re talking about the new seasons of “Arrested Development,” in which case full cancellation is the only answer.) The first season started off with a hell of a setup. Early episodes were packed with grit and speed like some godsend of modern noir. Season 1 soon lost its way, not sure just how Southern Midwest gothic it wanted to go. That same schizoid attitude, a little from here and a little from there, prevails in Season 2…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Detroit’

A true-crime white-knuckler set in the chaos of the 1967 Detroit riots, Detroit is playing now in limited release and will be opening wider on Friday.

My review is at Film Journal International:

Set in the chaos of the 1967 Detroit riots, Mark Boal’s screenplay dramatizes and expands on a little-remembered episode of police brutality that crystalizes the violence of a country wrenching itself apart. In that crucible, Krauss (Will Poulter), a casually sadistic police officer who earlier in the riot shotgunned a man for running with looted groceries, ringleads a bloody interrogation whose methods fulfill all the worst fears of black Detroit residents…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: Jason Bateman’s new Missouri Noir ‘Ozark’

In the new Netflix family crime series Ozark, Jason Bateman plays a Chicago financial adviser forced to uproot his family’s entire life in order to save their lives.

Ozark premieres on July 21. My review is at The Playlist:

There are a few things guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of your average Chicagoan. High on that list would be having your family threatened with a cruel and slow death by a drug cartel, as happens to Jason Bateman in the first episode of his new Netflix culture-clash crime series “Ozark.” Nearly as frightening, and definitely more relatable, is the solution that Bateman’s character improvises to save his family: pack up and move to the Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri. Set against relocating to the shores of the artificial lake resort region that one character tartly terms “Redneck Riviera,” there would probably be at least a few Chicagoans who would look at the cartel gunmen and decide, nah, let’s play the odds…

Here’s the trailer:

Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: ‘St. Louis Noir’

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For over ten years now, the good folks at Akashic Books have been publishing a fantastic series of city-centric collections of noir fiction that cover dozens of locales, everywhere from Baltimore to Beirut.

This month sees the publication of their newest volume, St. Louis Noir. Edited by the inestimable Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest), it’s a crackerjack anthology of stories that cover the dark and seedy underbelly of the Gateway City.

There are some fantastic new pieces by Phillips, John Lutz, and Laura Benedict.

My short story “The Pillbox” is also included.

Buy it now wherever noir is sold, like here, here, or here.

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Reader’s Corner: ‘You Will Know Me’

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One of the finest American crime and noir novelists working today, Megan Abbott specializes in tales of domestic unease that stick with you long after the book is done. She’s been getting plaudits from the likes of Paula Hawkins and James Ellroy. Her latest, You Will Know Me, a suburban murder melodrama, was just released and looks like it might be the biggest hit of Abbott’s career.

My review is at PopMatters:

You Will Know Me is an emotionally grisly mystery story where the crime was committed long before the dead body appeared. Set in one of those suburbs where certain kinds of parents seem to do nothing but act as a shuttle service for their off-spring (school, activities, repeat), Megan Abbott’s novel starts at a party where everything just seems wrong no matter how much effort is put into making it right. Parents and teenagers mingle. There’s too much sweet-tasting alcohol, too many songs remembered from younger and more daring times, and too many limits tested. It’s as though everybody were rewarding themselves for abstaining from their true, dark desires for so long…

TV Room: ‘The Night Of’

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Riz Ahmed in ‘The Night Of’ (HBO)

night_of-posterA long-in-development, eight-episode miniseries, The Night Of has the heft and snap of that rare crime novel which seems to have been written by somebody who has actually talked to a few cops and crooks in their time. That’s because it’s written by Richard Price, whose gritty, funny novels from The Wanderers to The Whites provide a kind of alternate history of New York.

What’s it about? In short, a good kid from Queens (Riz Ahmed) goes out when he shouldn’t, hangs out with a girl who fairly screams bad news, and ends up in a police station. For murder. John Turturro plays his low-end lawyer with a heart of gold; in a role that James Gandolfini originated not long before his death.

The Night Of is on HBO Sunday nights; check it out. My review is at PopMatters:

The world of cops, judges, and lawyers is one that sorts the people who come within its grasp. That’s at least the case in crime fiction like HBO’s darkly sparkling new noir miniseries The Night Of. It’s generally a binary thing, without much shading…

Here’s the trailer:

TV Room: ‘O.J.: Made in America’

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ESPN’s “30 for 30” series has been responsible for some of the better sports-themed documentaries of recent years (Peter Berg’s King’s Ransom, on the trade of Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles; Ron Shelton’s Jordan Rides the Bus, in which Michael Jordan retires from the NBA to play minor-league baseball) by understanding a simple rule: Sports stories get more interesting the further afield they run from the sport in question.

Ezra Edelman’s sprawling five-part epic O.J.: Made in America follows that rule to a tee. It is not just a high point for the series, it’s one of the great long-form documentaries you will ever see.

It’s been shown on ESPN, had a brief theatrical run, and should be available on various streaming services soon. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

“I thought he was a has-been.” That’s Marcia Clark, no sports fan, in Ezra Edelman’s O.J.: Made in America. She’s describing her reaction to hearing about O.J. Simpson being wanted for double murder. Clark would spend an incredible-to-believe nine months in a courtroom trying to put him behind bars for those murders. But given the portrait of Simpson that emerges from Edelman’s masterfully dense, dramatic, and journalistic five-part documentary, it’s likely that the one-time sports star and permanent celebrity wannabe would be more offended by Clark thinking he was a has-been than a murderer…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Witness’

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When 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was raped and murdered while walking home in Kew Gardens, Queens one night in 1964, the story spread that many of her neighbors heard the assault take place but did nothing to stop it. 

Her case became a totemic story of the apparent moral lassitude spreading across the country. James Solomon’s documentary about Genovese opens the case back up, to see what really happened.

The Witness is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International.

Screening Room: ‘Triple 9’

In the latest star-packed teeth-gritter from John Hillcoat (LawlessThe Road), a gang of crooks and bad cops plot a heist that involves murdering a copy. Things go badly.

Triple 9 opens today. My review is at PopMatters:

Gruesomely violent and often idiotic, Triple 9 demonstrates the latest stage of decline for once promising director John Hillcoat. His previous films display a potent gothic sensibility: The Proposition and The Road, both explore the dark limits of human behavior, but even in showing extreme violence, they never acknowledge the complexities of loss. The focus of 2012’s Lawless is less clear, as a rote bootleggers’ story is enlivened only by the contrast between Guy Pearce’s flamboyant campiness and Tom Hardy’s rock-like stoicism.

With Triple 9, it’s hard to spy even a glimmer of Hillcoat’s earlier inclination. Just about any director could have shot this film…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Secret in Their Eyes’

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman in 'Secret in Their Eyes' (STX Entertainment)
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman in ‘Secret in Their Eyes’ (STX Entertainment)

Based on the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentinian film of the same name, Billy Ray’s Secret in Their Eyes follows what happens when a police woman’s daughter is murdered and neither she nor her fellow cops can quite let go of it.

Secret in Their Eyes opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

After making Shattered Glass, one of the modern era’s greatest journalism films, one would have hoped that writer-director Billy Ray would have absorbed the cardinal rule: Don’t bury the lead. Yet that is exactly what he keeps doing all throughout Secret in Their Eyes, his strained and surprisingly star-heavy remake of Juan JoséCampanella’s morally complicated potboiler that was also the 2010 Foreign-Language Oscar winner. Initially a procedural about a retired FBI agent who can’t let go of a cold case, Ray’s version sidles into a buried romance and a commentary on post-9/11 security-state excesses without ever quite getting a bead on any of the many elements it’s juggling…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Sicario’

'Nothing will make sense to your American ears'; Benicio Del Toro in 'Sicario' (Lionsgate)
‘Nothing will make sense to your American ears’; Benicio Del Toro in ‘Sicario’ (Lionsgate)

In Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario, an FBI agent played by Emily Blunt is roped into a murky mission targeting a Mexican drug cartel that’s been piling up bodies on the American side of the border. Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin play two of her suspiciously close-mouthed and rule-bending handlers.

Sicario-posterSicario is already playing in limited release and expands wider around the country this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Sicario is a hard-nosed procedural for the post-post 9/11 era. Relevance to the modern era of imploding certainties is etched in every scene. Lines are blurred as spies, soldiers, federal agents, and cops are thrown into hybridized hunter outfits and sent after their targets in a landscape where morality comes in shades of grey and convenience. The film flashes on a collapsing social order, mutilated naked bodies swing underneath overpasses in Ciudad Juarez and hints of the same to come on the American side…

Here’s the trailer: