Category Archives: Crime film

Parker on the screen #5: Payback Straight Up (2006)

The idea to review every screen iteration of Donald Westlake’s crime character, Parker, originated much earlier in the year, when Melbourne was in deep in winter and the middle of hard Covid lockdown. Melbourne is out of that lockdown now and summer is here, and I am much busier, hence the delay since my last entry.

Anyway, back to it with the next Parker film, Brian Helgeland’s neo noir, Payback Straight Up (2006). This is retelling of the very first Parker novel, The Hunter, published in 1962 and, of course, first filmed by John Boorman as the immortal Point Blank (1967), starring Lee Marvin (and which I wrote about on this site here on the 50th anniversary of the film).

Helgeland, who started out in the movie business as a scriptwriter, is not someone whose work I am particularly across. He did the script for the adaptation of Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential (1997), which I really liked. The same year he also performed wordsmith duty on the script for the simply abysmal post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner vehicle, The Postman. The 1999 film adaptation of The Hunter, titled Payback, was his first outing as a director (he also wrote the script) and by all accounts it was an exceptionally troubled shoot.… Read more

The long, dark legacy of William Hjorstberg’s supernatural neo noirs

One of the great things in the not so great year that was 2020 has been writing regularly for the excellent American site, CrimeReads. My latest for them is live and looks at the the supernatural neo noirs of the late writer, William Hjorstberg.

Hjorstberg’s 1978 book Falling Angel was the basis for Alan Parker’s 1987 supernatural thriller, Angel Heart. Posthumously published for the first time in paperback by Britain’s No Exit Press, the sequel, Angel’s Inferno continues the story of the down at heel private detective, Harry Angel, who takes a routine missing person case and becomes ensnared in an occult nightmare.

Only Angel is now Favorite, the amoral crooner who sold his soul to the devil for fame, then stole Angel’s identity in an attempt to evade payment. And he’s in Paris, determined to hunt down and exact revenge on Lucifer’s earthly manifestation, Louis Cypher.

I was particularly fascinated by the differences between Falling Angel and Parker’s film version, one of several things I write about in my piece which you can read in full here on the crime reads site.

Enjoy.

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Projection Booth episode #495 :To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

I am thrilled to be co-hosting another episode of Mike White’s film podcast, The Projection Booth, this one on William Friedkin’s 1985 neo noir, To Live and Die in L.A. The film pits Treasury agent William Petersen as Richard Chance against Willem Dafoe as artist and forger Rick Masters, and is based on the novel of the same name by former US federal agent turned crime writer, Gerald Petievich. Along with my fellow co-host, Jedidiah Ayres, we were joined by the film’s editor, M. Scott Smith, and one of the its stars, Willem Dafoe.

We dive deep into this film, discussing the breathtaking work of To Love and Die in L.A.’s cinematography Robbie Muller and how the Friedkin demands complete suspension of disbelief from his audience in some many respects of the story and gets it.

We we also talk about the Wang Chung soundtrack, Los Angeles on the screen, how the film embodies the deregulated economic and political policies of the Reagan era, and how it relates to Friedkin’s broader ouvre and other America crime cinema, particularly the other film based on a Petievich book, Boiling Point (1993) and the Michael Cimino effort also released in 1985, Year of the Dragon.

The entire episode is online for your listening pleasure here.Read more

Wanda (1970): Barbara Loden’s film as a noir

The highlight of my Noirvember viewing so far has been Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970). Most of the writing about Loden’s sole directorial effort has understandably focused on the marginalisation of women in the American film industry and Loden’s role as an, until recently, unacknowledged pioneer in this regard. But I want to discuss another reading I think can be made of the film, Wanda as a noir.

When I ventured this opinion on social media several people questioned my characterisation. But it seems a pretty solid interpretation to me. It is not just that Wanda contains the strong elements of a heist thriller. Its central narrative, a woman dealing with a world in which she has little control and getting slowly sucked into committing a serious criminal act, seems like core noir territory. I wonder whether the reticence to see Wanda in this light comes from the perception that a film can’t simultaneously be feminist, a serious piece of art and a noir crime film.

Wanda first came to my attention while I was attending 2016 Noircon in Philadelphia. One of the panels was about little seen crime films of the 1970s that deserved to be better known. Among the panelists was a film maker called Jennifer Dean, who nominated two female directed crime films – the only two American crime films directed by women I am aware of from that era – Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky (1976) and Wanda.… Read more

The strange history of Mickey Spillane and New Zealand’s “Jukebox Killer”

The third in a loose series of pieces I’ve done this year for the Lithub site, CrimeReads, on the global impact on postwar American crime fiction is live. This one explores at the connections between the postwar campaign against pulp fiction, the international controversy around US author Mickey Spillane, the uniquely Antipodean youth subculture known as bodgies & widgies, & one of New Zealand’s most sensational murder cases in the 1950s, the ‘Jukebox Killer’.You can read the piece in full at the CrimeReads site via this link.Read more