All Crime, All the Time

Posted by Chris

Lately almost all the media I’m consuming spins around the axis of crime, noir, or mystery. Most of the books, movies, television, and comics I’m immersed in, are invariably about solving murders or committing unsolvable murders. I’ve always loved crime fiction. As a grade schooler, I remember being obsessed with the ongoing adventures of The Three Investigators. In contrast to more popular kid-detectives like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators were compelling because they weren’t just precocious do-gooders; the Three were defined as much by their individual shortcomings as much as by their talents. The fact that as adolescents, the Three struggled as much with the given mystery as they did with their own sense of self 1.

Conversely, Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) perfect criminal, Parker is a man without doubt and in complete calculated control of his every move. I’ve burned through six of Stark’s  Parker novels in the past two months, and am hooked. If all I had to read for the rest of my life were Westlake novels, I would be content (Westlake was also prolific enough for this to be a viable option). There’s a clarity to Westlake’s prose, plot, and characters that heightens the catastrophic plot twists, when disaster strikes and everything starts going pear-shaped. The Parker books are paradoxically about a master criminal and methodical workman who plans for every circumstance, who finds himself regularly dealing with intractable problems and impossible situations his planning and professionalism is meant to avoid. This is because Parker lives in a world that lacks his ruthless efficiency and logic, so despite himself, Parker continually finds himself running from a cascade of dominoes that propel him headlong into Clusterfuck City (pop. everyone).

On TV, I’ve been following Nathan Fillion’s new show Castle, about a caddish mystery author named Rick Castle (played by Fillion, natch), who assists the NYPD in solving homicides. He is paired with the attractive and flinty Detective Kate Beckett 2, in a Moonlighting-esque pairing that is self-aware and playful, without being too manipulative with the will-they/won’t-they hookup tension that can kill the momentum of similar shows. I’ve been enjoying this series a lot, because its aware of its own limits as a mystery procedural, and like all great stories in the crime genre, does its storytelling in an extremely efficient manner. The main cast is small, only about 6-7 regularly recurring characters with Castle/Beckett getting the lions share of onscreen banter time 3. There’s certainly a formula to it, and again, one that applies as much to the genre and type of show that is 4, as much as to its own particular character as a series– but the show itself is a lot of fun, and it seems like the cast and crew are having a good time making it, an intangible/unknowable quality that can actually add a lot to any performance-based show.

A regular topic of conversation on this blog (and many others for that matter) is the greatness of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s Criminal. Suffice it to say that along with titles like Jason Aaron’s Scalped, there’s a renaissance in comic book noir; a fact that’s especially notable for comics’ deep ties to the pulps and the crime genre as a whole. (And in terms of the noir films I’ve been watching, I’m hoping to look at them more in-depth individually in subsequent posts.)

What’s compelling to me about crime as a genre are the essential themes and conflicts built into its fabric and fundamentals. Characters marginalized by society at large. A cruel and indifferent world. Injustice is as ingrained as the government’s bureaucracy (and often the self-same thing). Cynical worlds where the hopeful have the most to lose. I love stories about flawed individuals stubbornly try to carve out their own bit of happiness, despite the brutality inflicted upon them by the world around them. Parker is a great example of how crime stories are about assigning logic and order to a chaotic world; as often as the stories are about resigning yourself to the unpredictable, unknowable and capricious nature of the world we all live in.

1 Former child star Jupiter Jones (Detective #1) is brilliant but vain and egotistical; Pete Crenshaw (Detective #2) is athletic but cowardly; Bob Andrews (Detective #3) was methodical and would rather stay at home than stakeout; all have faults which are mitigated by each others’ strengths and their teamwork. Their adventures were formulaic, but also perfectly pitched for adolescent audiences. Plus, they’re pals with Alfred Hitchcock and would debrief him on their adventures– a random but funny hook for a series aimed at kids.

2 Who has suffered from some unfortunate hair styles or stylists, playing awkwardly with the length and look of her hair. A lot of police shows seem to have a problem balancing the idea of tough female leads having shorter and butcher haircuts to show how “no nonsense” they are while keeping them marketable as attractive and feminine objects of desire. Since these two aesthetics are generally at cross-purposes (generally, I’m not trying to get into a deep 3rd wave feminism read of relative masculinity/femininity of hair-styles right now) it usually results in a style that is mostly unfortunate for the actress wearing it. I know this is a weird thing to bring up, but watch the show and try not to notice.

3 Sometimes I feel like one can estimate how much screentime the supporting cast will get, based upon how high-profile the guest star (or guest murderer, more often) is, and how those salaries and costs factor into the production budget. It’s a well produced show, but it’s clear the crew has an eye on the budget line and that they do a very good job of doing the most they can with the resources they have.

4 I also like the show Psych for similar reasons. On its face, its central storytelling conceit conceit could be limiting:  a pair of amateur detectives fake psychic abilities in order to help the Santa Barbara PD solve a variety of crimes. In execution, the show’s sharp casting, quick pace of its pop-culture references and the self-aware absurdity of its protagonists all add to its charm.

More Craftiness…”Stitch Wars”

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This exhibit looks wonderful. I want to own one of everything.

I think my favorites are the little ewoks…or the enormous Chewy…and some of the crochet and felt work is pretty mind-blowing.

From the Flickr Set:

This artwork is part of Bear and Bird Gallery’s “Stitch Wars” exhibition in Lauderhill, Florida. Exhibition runs July 18 – August 29, 2009, for more information visit our website www.bearandbird.com

Discovered on Twitter, via @craftster…

- Jenn

New Fave of the Week…

Chris and I took a BBQ prep detour to the comic shop this weekend and he picked up Batwoman Detective Comics for me. He said it was excellent, and I wholeheartedly agree. I agree so much, I read the thing three times in a row.

Greg Rucka’s dialogue and story is just as engaging and sharp as his Gotham Central work, and J.H. Williams III brings a really beautiful, whimsical (but incredibly clean-lined) art-nouveau feeling to the whole thing. His work on this reminds me of a perfect middle ground between Tony Harris’s super-precise photographic work on Ex Machina and David Mack’s watercolors on Kabuki. And the panel work is INCREDIBLE.

I apologize profusely for my lack of a scanner, but I had to give some sort of example of the awesome:

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This comic is like candy for your eyes and brain. Pick it up. Read it. Do it now!

- Jenn

Watchm–dear god, this thing is over three hours long!

My Watchmen Director’s Cut arrived in the mail yesterday. I watched it. Here are my thoughts…

Liked:

*Dr. Manhattan disappearing all the reporters and cameras, the way he did in the comic, instead of jetting right up to Mars.

*More Rorschach. His character gets more time, and he’s truer to the comic. The psych-evaluation is more detailed, and you get to see more of his weird attitude toward Laurie, and women in general.

*Hollis Mason’s death and Dan’s reaction. This scene was my favorite. Despite the terrible un-scariness of the knot-tops (they look like a bunch of pudgy middle-aged grips and dollies and best boys and whatever other sorts of people work on movie lots), the scene itself was great. When it is switching in and out of Hollis Mason’s perspective and you see that he’s fighting all his old-timey nemeses…it’s quite touching. And very beautifully put together.

*The tiny bit of extra interaction between the Comedian and Laurie in her flashback.

*Sweet holographic cover, dudes!!

*Extra blue wang…j/k guys. I don’t even know if there is more. I have some sort of a blue wang filter on my life goggles that prevents me from noticing it until someone blatantly points it out to me.

*The general feeling that the whole movie makes a lot more sense.

Did not like:

*The extra Laurie. I felt just fine about her performance in the theatrical cut because she was every bit as lame as the Laurie in the comic. The director’s cut adds some long and unnecessary scenes that try to make her out to be some sort of tough no-nonsense badass. It’s in no way true to the original character, only serves to highlight her subpar acting skills and plays like something out of a completely different movie. That said, I DID like that they focused more on her relationship with Jon as a military imperative.

*Not specifically a gripe with the director’s cut, but now that Chris mentioned it, I cannot help but notice the glaring lack of saxophone on the soundtrack.

*Also not a director’s cut gripe, but the old people makeup is still really distracting.

And finally…

Had me going, “WTF??!!”:

*”Mommy, that man in the ship, that man….IS HE JESUS?”

…IS….THAT MAN….JESUS??

I will bet anyone $10 that Zach Snyder LOVED that line. I bet he was like, “YES! YES THIS IS IT!” and everyone else was like, “Man, actually that’s kind of lame. I think we might have to leave that out.” and Zach Snyder was like, “Screw you guys, I’M THE DIRECTOR! It’s goin’ in the director’s cut!”

In closing:

lolowl

-Jenn

Knitting for nerds…

Sometimes, my two favorite things come together and make beautiful babies…

Hellboy (look at his teensy little six-pack!!)

Little Endless Amigurumi

The Most Beautiful Sweater in the World

And of course… the HAT.

-Jenn

Fun with Fallacies…Volume 1: Garth Ennis

To celebrate my recently completing Preacher and being excited about The Boys, I bring you…Fun with Fallacies!…inspired by the things that I am sick to death of hearing when I bring Garth Ennis up in polite company.

FALLACY:

“Garth Ennis is a misogynist pig who HATES and OBJECTIFIES WOMEN!”

TRUTH:

Garth Ennis hates people.  Garth Ennis hates everything. As Jamie says, he’s an equal-opportunity hater. He even hates inappropriate quotation marks:

Garth Ennis writes complex, three-dimensional characters, some of whom (like Herr Starr, above) happen to be misogynists, either knowingly or unconsciously. The reason you might feel uncomfortable is because he’s really good at making sympathetic characters out of the worst people in the world. Some people like their antagonists all-bad and their protagonists nothing less than fine upstanding individuals. Garth Ennis has a habit of mixing it up.

Ennis writes plenty of realistic, strong, sympathetic female characters, and he also writes characters who are parodies of misogynist female stereotypes. He writes horrible, perverted, violent people who somehow manage to inspire some–extremely uncomfortable–sort of sympathy in the reader. He also writes plenty of sympathetic male characters who have serious, potentially deal-breaking character flaws. Ennis may fill his comics with repugnant individuals, but how are you supposed to recognize the good in characters without some real horribleness to provide contrast? If you want your comics black and white, go read some Golden Age Superman.

FALLACY:

“The Boys is unnecessarily crude and homophobic!”

TRUTH:

The Boys is using extremely crude imagery and storylines to shove your own feelings about homo and heterosexuality in your face. Garth Ennis is trying to make a point about homosexuality and sexual deviancy being two very different things. He’s acknowledging that homophobia has many faces, and sexual deviancy comes in all forms. He’s not dumbing it down for you. He’s also not afraid to make his protagonists huge jerks, and he’s not afraid to use disgusting imagery and behavior to provoke a visceral reaction in his readers…reactions that he often uses to flip some shit over on you when you least expect it.  Which brings me to…

FALLACY:

“If you love Cassidy as a character, YOU are a failure as a woman and you are perpetuating fucked up mysogbleah bleah bleah…”

TRUTH:

cassidy

Cassidy is a wonderful character. He is wonderful because he is seriously flawed and completely lets you down…REPEATEDLY. Anything else would be totally disingenuous. You know that book Twilight? That’s what Cassidy would be if Garth Ennis was a misogynist pig. Unlike Stefanie Meyer and her spank-bank-born sparkly vampire, Garth Ennis is not endorsing or justifying Cassidy’s behavior. He’s simply putting it out there for you to process, just like Jesse Custer is asked to process it.

As the story progresses, you as the reader expend an enormous amount of energy hoping Cassidy will DO THE RIGHT THING and you are repeatedly disappointed. You come out of the story either satisfied or angry, depending on whether you decided you could still see the good in this seriously fucked up dude. When it’s all said and done, you aren’t really sure the characters in Preacher deserve to come out on top. But you can’t help feeling happy that they do.

FALLACY:

“Garth Ennis swears too much!”

TRUTH:

Garth Ennis swears just enough.


Next Week…Fun with Fallacies: Bruce Springsteen…

FALLACY:

“Bruce Springsteen sings about cars and ladies and has nothing worthwhile to say!!. . . . .”

-Jenn

My Hormones Were Just Taken to Warp Speed.

I am back from the dead to say one thing:

Star Trek was awesome.

Star Trek was so awesome it is almost gross.

Star Trek ended and I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and frustration that I couldn’t just sit back down and watch it again.

I came this close to seeing Star Trek twice yesterday, but I backed down at the last minute, which is cool because it was sold out anyway.

I am not a Star Trek expert, by any means. I know what a Tribble is, and I’m relatively up on who was sleeping with whom on TNG, but in general, I am a Star Trek novice. Luckily, this movie manages to give a huge nod to the old-timey Trekkies while accomplishing a complete reboot of the whole freaking franchise. My mother–who used to record all of the original re-runs and episodes of the Next Generation, who took us to see multiple Star Trek films in the theater and who possesses a much more encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek in general–loved it, so it must be pretty great.

The performances were extremely well-done. The actors managed to play their characters convincingly, but without resorting to cartoonish imitations of the original cast. No stilted, melodramatic Captain Kirk voice. Scotty was just a loud Scottish dude. No funny Leonard Nimoy sing-songy deadpan. And I thought Abram’s vision of Chekov as a 17 year old with a heavy “v’s are w’s” drawl was pretty brilliant.

The story was well-written and well-executed and managed to turn the entire Star Trek world on its head while staying true to 40-some years of history and tradition. Yes, I just referenced “Star Trek history and tradition”. I’m dealing.

But of course, the most important factor catapulting this film from “pretty awesome” to deserving its own seat in the HISTORIC HALLS OF CINEMATIC GREATNESS is this:

Sexy Star Trek

Almost everyone in this film is HIGHLY BEDDABLE. The people they got for this movie are so disgustingly attractive it makes me feel like puking. In all seriousness, I am not a person who watches movies just so I can drool over the bodies on screen, but DAMN. DAMN IT, INTERNET. I’M A HUMAN BEING, NOT A FILM CRITIC. You can’t expect me to sit through two hours of attractive people in skin-tight jumpsuits alternately trading witty insults and kicking the crap out of each other without having my mind (and loins) completely boggled.

You know what? I can’t even review this movie right now because my brain is filled with images of sexy sexy Captain Kirk and **SPOILER ALERT** angsty Spock with hotass Lt. Uhura all up in his grill. It is clouding my judgment! I’m not sure if I just saw the greatest Star Trek movie ever made, or if I am having my hormones shamelessly manipulated by JJ Abrams and Co.

Chris, please review this movie soon so I can make sense of my feelings. If you need me I’ll be over at Oaktree Cinemas, watching it for the second time and taking secret camera phone footage for use in the Spock/Kirk/Uhura fan videos I intend to post all over YouTube. If you go with Jane and she tells you she has no idea what I’m talking about, please know that she is a LIAR (a considerate girlfriend, but a LIAR nonetheless).

Please send help soon. Thank you.

-Jenn