Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from Mexico

The Big Nowhere #4: Naked Alibi

Naked Alibi poster 2The Big Nowhere is a series of columns I’ve been doing for the 4:3 site, in which I look at the best film noir you’ve never heard of. Number 4 in the series is Jerry Hopper’s 1954 B-noir, Naked Alibi. A tale of desperate men, a femme fatale, jealously, obsession, set in a seedy small town, just your average film noir cocktail. What makes this otherwise average film worth seeing is the presence of Sterling Hayden as the disgraced cop and Gloria Grahame as the singer, two of the most interesting actors who worked in film noir in the late ’40s and ’50s.

You can read the piece in full here on the 4:3 site.

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Sicario, the myth of American innocence & the war on drugs

SicarioIn the mid-nineties, my brother and I drove all the way down the west coast of Mexico, stopped in Guatemala for a couple of weeks, then drove up Mexico’s eastern coast to Texas and onto Florida. Our time in Mexico was pretty much problem free (with the exception of the time we were pulled over by narcotics police at a check point on a remote stretch of road outside Cancun and my brother dissed one of the cops – but that’s another story). Indeed, the only instance in which we were threatened with genuine violence occurred not in Mexico but when gun was pulled on us in a bar in Miami. I struggled to reconcile my memories of Mexico as I watched Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario.

Sicario (warning, spoilers follow) opens with a group of police, led by Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) busting into a house in the outer suburbs of Phoenix, suspected of having links to one of the Mexican drug cartels. There they make a gruesome discover. Entombed in the plasterboard walls are numerous corpses, wrapped in plastic, the victims of cartel kidnapping and murder. No sooner have forensics arrived to start cataloguing the bodies, then a bomb goes off in the backyard, killing two of the officers.

Kate is called into a meeting with her superiors and a mysterious man called Graver (Josh Brolin) and asked whether she wants to volunteer for a new assignment.… Read more

Miff report back #4: Cartel Land

CartelCartel Land, Matthew Heinemann’s gripping third documentary examines vigilantism, the so-called war on drugs and the break down of state authority on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Unintentionally or otherwise, it is also a powerful depiction of the nature of masculinity in conflict zones.

The story focuses on two men on either side of the border. Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley has been a survivor of child abuse, a drug addict and a hard working family man, in that order, before the 2008 recession capsized his economic hopes and eventually led him to the US side of the Arizona border with Mexico. There he began a one-man effort to prevent the spread of human and drug trafficking onto America soil, which has slowly attracted other followers, largely men, but also a few women, who share his concerns.

Charismatic surgeon Dr. Jose Mireles leads a vigilante movement known as Autodefensa in a fight against a vicious drug cartel known as Knights Templar that has infected every aspect of the poor central Mexican province of Michoacan. What started off as Mireles and a few of his neighbours deciding it is better to risk death fighting than passively accept the slow motion annihilation promised by the cartel, has snow balled into a major movement.… Read more

My top crime reads of 2012

What’s the end of a year without a best of post?

Recently, I was asked by UK site Crime Fiction Lover to list my top crime reads for 2012. They would only let me pick five, but obviously I’ve read a lot more books worthy of mention than that. Here’s the long list.

He Died with his Eyes Open, Derek Raymond

A police procedural like no other, it starts, like so many other crime novels, with the discovery of a body. The unnamed cop (the story’s narrator) who catches the case is a tough talking sergeant from the Department of Unexplained Deaths, also known as A14, at the Factory police station. There’s no apparent motive and all the cop has to go on are a series of old cassette tapes in the dead man’s property that contain the deeply unhappy ramblings of a deeply unhappy man. Most police procedurals deal with crime from the point of view of the police. What’s unusual about this book is that the cop concerned is more like his victim.

Raymond was the pen name of English writer Robert William Arthur Cook, who eschewed his upper middle class family for a life of odd jobs, bohemian travel and frequent brushes with the law. Although he wrote for years, success eluded until with the publication of He Died with His Eyes Open in 1984, the first of five Factory books.… Read more

Melbourne International Film Festival: progress report

A couple of weeks ago I posted on the crime movies I was going to catch at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Nearly half way through, here’s my progress report.

First, the bad news. Killer Joe, which I checked out last night. I’m very partial to cinematic tales of money, lust and murder set in the underbelly of rural small town life. Throw in a corrupt lawman who moonlights as a pimp/pusher/contract killer, whatever, and as far as I’m concerned you’re on a winning formula. No matter how many turkeys he’s made, I’ve also got a major reserve of goodwill towards the director, William Friedkin for To Live and Die in LA (1985) and The French Connection (1971).

Killer Joes has all the signposts associated with this sort of movie, down at heel locations, sleazy sex and a criminal plot that quickly spirals out of control. But none of this makes up for the poor performances and a scarcely believable story line.

A small town cop cum contract killer (Matthew McConaughey) is hired by a white trash Texan family to murder their mother for the insurance money. The key conspirator, Chis (Emile Hirsch), scarcely has the brains to tie his own shoelaces let alone instigate a murder plot. When he can’t pay his would be assassin up front as expected, Joe takes Chris’s sister, Dottie (Juno Temple) as collateral and seduces her.… Read more