Category Archives: James Ellroy

Melbourne International Film Festival progress report part 2: Rampart, Gangs of Wasseypur

This week I caught two of my must see crime films at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Rampart (2010) and Anupama Copra’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).

Rampart is latest in a long line of movies that combine two of crime cinema’s great thematic strands, bad cops and the idea that policing is little more than military occupation. Training Day (2001), Colors (1988), Q&A (1990), Copland (1997) Narc (2002), Cop (1988) and television series like The Shield are just a few examples of this genre. But if you thought Vic Mackey was bad, he’s got nothing on Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown (played Woody Harrelson).

Rampart was directed by Oren Moverman who did the 2009 movie, The Messenger, a hard hitting story about two US marines whose job is to deliver death notices to the loved ones of US service men and women killed in action. Moverman collaborated on the Rampart script with crime writer James Ellroy.

The late 1990s, the Rampart Division of the LAPD is already investigation for fabricating evidence, police brutality and a string of other offences. Into this shit storm walks Brown, a 24-year veteran of the force. While on patrol his car is involved a collision. Brown chases down the other driver and savagely beats him. It’s routine brutality on Brown’s part, except this time, unknown to him, someone has filmed it.… Read more

Crime time at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival

Last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival was the best I can remember in terms of bringing global crime cinema to Melbourne. And MIFF 2012 looks like it’s going to be every bit as good. I’m particularly pleased to have received media accreditation to this year’s festival (thank you MIFF), which means I’ll be aiming to see more than my usual quota of cinema.

Here’s what I’ll be catching in terms of crime during the Festival.

Foremost on the list is the 2011 Mexican film Miss Bala (that’s Miss Bullet in Spanish), the story of a 23-year old Tijuana woman who decides to enter a beauty contest in the hope of winning much needed money. Instead, she ends up becoming a drug mule and arms trafficker for a cartel boss called Lino.

Miss Bala is supposedly based on a real incident in 2008, in which the then Miss Sinaloa, Laura Zuniga, was arrested with suspected cartel members in a truck filled with munitions. The lead actress in Miss Bala, newcomer Stephanie Sigman, is reported to be excellent in the role.

I’ve been waiting for ages to see Rampart, directed by Oren Moverman who also did The Messenger in 2009, a hard hitting film about two US marines whose job is to deliver death notices to the loved ones of US service men and women killed in action.… Read more

Book review: City of Light

Years ago I read a book called Big Bad Blood by a Sydney crime writer called Dave Warner.

I can’t remember much about it now, except it was set in Sydney’s vice centre, Kings Cross, in the mid-sixties and involved police corruption, organised crime and a series of grisly murders of local prostitutes. It was a dark, gritty read, set in an era I was (and still am) interested in learning more about. I thought it was great.

I didn’t give Warner a second thought until recently, when I discovered his first novel, City of Light.

Turns out, Sydney’s not Warner’s original stomping ground. He moved there from Perth, West Australian in the late nineties, for reasons which perhaps become clear in City of Light.

City of Light came after a colourful career as a front man for a punk rock band (“Australia’s first punk band” according to his website), stand up comic and play write. It won the West Australian Premier’s Award for best fiction in 1996.

The main character of City of Light is Snowy Lane, a young police constable and amateur footballer, working in suburban Perth in the late- seventies, who gets swept up in the investigation into a string of murders of young women by a serial killer dubbed ‘Mr Gruesome’.… Read more

Crime fiction criminals

By definition, the majority of crime fiction characters are criminals or at least commit illegal and/or immoral acts. But books where the main character is a full-time professional criminal are surprisingly few and far between. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

It’s worth noting that when this post originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website, readers came up with several good additions, including Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thornton, Lawrence Block’s hitman character Keller and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I had originally thought of including the James Ellroy character Dudley Smith (“Knock, knock, who’s there, Dudley Smith, so reds beware”), but he’s a bent cop so not eligible. However, Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant would definitely make the cut.

Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.

Parker by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The 24 books written between 1962 and 2010 featuring the professional thief known as Parker remain some of the best crime fiction ever written. Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974. Westlake took a rest from the character until 1997, then wrote another eight Parker books.

Parker is a career criminal who steals things for a living. Get in his way on a job or try to double cross him afterwards and he’ll hurt you.… Read more

Cop: is it the best movie ever made of a James Ellroy novel?

CopI’m going to go way out on a limb here, and say that in my opinion the relatively unknown movie Cop may just be the best adaptation of a James Ellroy book to hit the screen.

When I opened my recent review of the 1988 film Cop for Back Alley Noir’s Film Noir of the Week with that statement the response was interesting.

Some disagreed with the merits of my choice. Others felt the need to refer back to what the man himself, Ellroy, had said about the merits of the movies made of his books.

I did a quick search on what Ellroy has said on the subject before submitting the review. There’s a lot of contradictory quotes out there. Whether this is because he’s changed his mind a lot or he’s out for a headline, well, I’ll let you all be the judge of that.

For me, the debate raised the interesting question of what value we should give to the opinion of an artist in one area (writing), when their work is translated into another (film).

I am a huge Ellroy fan and I think Cop works as a movie precisely because the book is not a dense, labyrinthine crime epic in the vein of LA Confidential and the Black Dahlia (both of which failed, Black Dahlia much more so, in the almost Herculean task of transposing Ellroy’s words onto the screen).… Read more