If Raymond Chandler was writing for the Brothers Quay, it might feel like The Agitated, a fantastic new short film directed by Preston Maybank. The stop-motion animated film tells the dark, witty, and weird story of Guy, a creepy clown puppet who breaks free from the literal and figurative strings controlling his life and embarks on a nightmarish journey through his own tortured soul. This is cartoon noir at its finest. And if the voice of Foxy sounds familiar, that's because the character is played by John Billingsley, Doctor Phlox on Star Trek: Enterprise! The Agitated is making the film festival rounds or you can rent it for a couple bucks on Vimeo On Demand.
Vigilante superhero tales tend to revolve around seeking justice outside of a failed system, and the idea that one man or woman can cause real change within that system by punching people. In short, they are fantasies, and popular in part because they suggest impossibly simple solutions to complex problems. In Cape, an interactive fiction story created by Bruno Dias for the ongoing Interactive Fiction Competition, you become one of those shadowy figures trying right wrongs in a crime-ridden city. But since wealth inequality lies at the heart of all the problems you encounter, well... let's just say that it's an uphill battle.
You can choose your gender and your nationality, though your options for the latter are limited: Whether you're Kenyan, Vietnamese, Slovenian or Mexican, you're going to be an immigrant, you're going to be poor, and life is going to be hard. You begin your story in a moment of desperation, about to break into a townhouse in a recently gentrified neighborhood to find whatever valuables you can and survive another day.
The story opens with a newspaper clipping that signals the precise flavor of dystopia that awaits. The article details a "passing tax" that will be levied on buildings based on their number of entrances and exits; apparently, suspects trying to evade police drones have been ducking into "passing houses" to escape surveillance, and they'd like to discourage that.
Yes, the watchful digital eyes of a corrupt police state are all around you, co-mingling with the more traditional violence of thieves and gangsters. Read the rest
It's in Farsi, it's beautifully-shot film noir, it has a female lead, and you have to see it. Read the rest
I've read a number of Jim Thompson's excellent crime noir novels, but for some reason I'd never gotten around to reading The Grifters. I saw the movie when it came out (screenplay by Donald Westlake!) and enjoyed it, so when I found the book at a free book exchange in Rio Verde, Arizona a couple of weeks ago, I grabbed it. It's an extremely bleak story, but it's also enthralling.
The story focuses on Roy Dillon, a short con artist in Los Angeles. He's in his early 20s and maintains an impeccable appearance. People like him. He keeps a pair of loaded dice in his pocket to rip off drunk sailors, and he knows how to trick bartenders and shopkeepers into giving him $20 in change instead of the dime he's owed. He's amassed a small fortune this way, and he keeps a straight job as a door-to-door salesman so no one can get suspicious.
Roy's mother, Lilly, is only about 15 years older than her son, and she works for a creepy mobster who keeps her on a short leash. Roy hasn't seen his mother for years, because she was a rotten mother and Roy doesn't want anything to do with her. But when a dimestore clerk punches Roy in the gut with a sawed off baseball bat and sends him to the hospital, mother and son are reunited and the relationship takes a new turn.
That's just the beginning of this hardboiled, noir story. I was fascinated by Roy's life -- Thompson does a great job of following Roy around as he goes about his daily business, struggling with urges to drop the grifter life and become an honest man, but always falling back into his role as a short con artist. Read the rest