Yeah, the first week of March in Los Angeles saw some rain, which was strange and distracting, but apart from that things roll along comfortably. I saw Dave Rawlins and Gillian Welch kill it at this weird theater downtown which looked like a gothic cathedral inside, that was pretty fun. I ate some pretty killed ox-tail at an Indonesian joint in Pasadena. I read and saw the following.
Light by M. John Harrison – A serial killer/scientist in the present day, an amoral fighter ship captain, a ragtag ex-pilot, all bound together kind of loosely with a mystery that doesn't exactly come together but was pleasant to get through all the same. Harrison has some reasonable prose chops (though he leans too much to the William Gibson school of let-me-name-check-40-proper-nouns-a-sentence-to-give-you-some-color school of writing), and I totally enjoyed reading this, but it was cooler than it was profound. Which makes it sound like I didn't like it but I did, I totally liked it, it was creepy and a fun, quick read, and if this wasn't a Library book I'd keep it.
Dead Babies by Martin Amis – How can a satire be at once horrifyingly unpleasant and utterly toothless? Ask Martin Amis, I guess. About a bunch of really nasty, loosely drawn Anglo-American debauchees on a weekend long orgy/bender. Its disgusting, and disturbing, but it's not really much more than that. I guess this is supposed to be a critique of post 60's moral anarchy, but it doesn't bear the faintest resemblance to how society actually developed, just an endless stew of grotesqueries trotted on page in the presumable hope that shock will be mistaken for insight, which, judging by the reviews on the back of this book, I guess worked? I don't know why though, if you want to delve into the horrific moral collapse of modern Britain, just read Highrise. Awful, just awful. Drop, obviously.
The Crazy Kill by Chester Himes – Shit, Chester Himes Man. Shit. This..guy...damn. Like the rest of them, murder and the brutal aftermath which Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed bring in the aftermath, an investigation which propels pretty fabulous character studies of a selection of Harlem's citizens, a put-about gambler, a opium-addicted reverend. Writing is very strong, the construction of the plot is extremely tight, Jones and Ed are used with intriguing sparseness, the setting is vibrant, I mean, Himes, man, what are you going to say? This guy is top shelf noir. Library, but keep, obviously.
The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman – When I heard Pullman was going to write a prequel/sequel/whatever to the Golden Compass books, I was disappointed, because those are fabulous and don't need to be touched, and prequels are stupid as shit for the obvious reason that they tell a story which is not the main story and so who cares. Part of the reason this book isn't any good is just because of that – the crux of the narrative has to do with our new protagonists trying to save Lyra, heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy, from various threats she faces as a newborn – which, spoiler alert, they manage. But frankly the problems in this go beyond just the more general trouble with prequels, it just kinda sucks on its own merits. Malcolm is the blandest Y/A protagonist you'll find outside of pretty much every other Y/A book, the world itself is not nearly so fascinating the second time around (and stays fixed on Oxford and southern England, a less enthralling than the magical North which Pullman previously created), Pullman's philosophical/religious beliefs remain as dogmatic as ever, in short, this is not a very good book, and even if (especially if) you really loved the original trilogy I'd avoid it. Library, but drop.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – Like Proust, except 200 pages, and the Madeline is a tank driver, and there's some incest. It's good, it's the sort of well-written you could give to a clever person who doesn't read a lot of books and that person would still like it. That's meant as a compliment. Given how many books there are dealing with this sort of subject, that is to say memory and the impossibility of synthesizing an 'authentic' narrative from the endless fragments of existence, I maybe thought it suffered a bit by comparison? Or, maybe another way to frame it is that I thought this was a very well-executed iteration of a very specific though not particularly rare literary sub-genre, but I didn't think it was revolutionary or even enormously ambitious. That said I would totally keep it (if it wasn't from the library), it's a very good book, it's funny and the writing is very strong.
The Big Gold Dream by Chester Himes – As good as all the other books in the Harlem Cycle (as apparently they’re called) with a focus on the depravities of organized religion, and a bunch of hustlers trying to get over on a devotee.
Red Rock West (1993) – A western noir in which a suprisingly restrained Nick Cage gets hired to murder Laura Flynn Boyle. Later, a less restrained Dennis Hopper arrived. I liked this movie, I'd have like it if it was a lot meaner. Cage's hero is a little too heroic, but I did like the back of nowhere Wyoming setting.
Misfits (1961) – Maudlin and mediocre. There's a good short story hidden here, in the story of three men (Montgomery Cliff, Eli Wallach, Clark Gable) falling in with a woman (the incredibly ill-cast Marilyn Monroe), her ill-considered soppy optimism contrasting with the grim reality of their cowboy lives, but it's too long and it takes an easy ending rather than pushing through into grim misery. Grim misery for me, man, you know what I like!
Mona Lisa (1986) – There are some peculiar, shall we say, political undertones to this story of a two-bit London criminal who comes out of jail and ends up working as a driver for a high class prostitute, but Hoskin's peformance (as the aforementioned thug) is compelling, as is Michael Caine's virtual cameo as his mob boss/effective pimp, and the ending is violent and shocking and does a pretty fabulous job of subverting the expectations the rest of the film had you swallow. Dope.
Game Night (2018) – Better than it has any right to be. A lot of movies have struck upon doing a suburban noir, I think Jason Batemen himself was in a couple of them (something to do with bosses? Bad bosses? A Google search would sort this out) but mostly I feel like the ones I've seen do a shitty job of it. There's nothing revolutionary here and the ending is kinda nonsensical but the ratio of hits to misses joke wise is just much, much higher than most of these efforts—the throw away lines are better, in short. The cast is strong but mostly what you're talking about here is just a more than normally competent writing effort.
Night Moves (1975) – Weird. A neo-noir in which Gene Hackman playing a sensitive NFL-player turned detective (though the NFL bit doesn't really play into it) works a missing daughter case and tries to figure out who he is and what's up with his wife and the moral purpose of life and whatnot. It's structure is peculiar, it's largely and deliberately without tension, though a third act pivot ratchets it up a bit to no particular effect—but the meandering is mostly enjoyable. Young Gene Hackmen is a lot of fun to watch, and while there's rarely anything particularly compelling going on on-screen that's sort of balanced by the fact that lacking a conventional plot you don’t know what’s going to happen next so much.
The Mission (1999) – Ho, ho, ho! Ho! Loved this. About five Hong Kong gunmen brought in to serve as bodyguard for a high-ranking triad—obviously, I’m a sucker for these sorts of things, but I’ve also seen a ton of them and this one is really excellently put together. The little vignettes introducing each of the characters are fabulously on point, their growing camaraderie works well, the gun fights are dope, the plot itself is cleverer than it needs to be, and in a couple of critical places it zigs where you figure it’s going to zag. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but it’s got some nice, sterling silver rims all the same. Definitely going to check out another Johnny To film soon.
It Always Rain on Sundays – Really, really good, except for the kind of crap last two minutes. A slice of life noir about the East End of London in the post-war era. The life of a shrewish, unpleasant second wife of a day laborer is upended when an old lover escapes from prison and arrives, desperate, at her doorstep. Her attempts to keep him hidden drive the narrative and are fine in and of themselves, but much better are the various side-characters and misadventures which crop up around the main plot; a trio of thieves trying to sell of a gross ton of stolen roller skates, the clever police officer who pursues them, a fabulously sketched Jewish gambler/criminal. Excellent, well worth your trouble.