Jill Stein

Jill Stein
Go Green, Amici

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Interview with author Dana King … Half a Karamazov review … 9-11, Remember it, the why’s too … Terrific Netflix Series Review: The Get Down, by J.R. Jarrod

Amici: 
He’s one of my favorite people, favorite writers, and one-half the cause of my hockey addiction … he also turned me onto Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection. His wonderful novels have now been nominated for a Shamus back-to-back years, and the fucker’s team won the Stanley Cup this past year. Not bad. Here’s my interview with Dana King.

TK: You’re piling up well-deserved award nominations, so congratulations on those. Nick Forte turns a darker page in your last one, A Dangerous Lesson. Do you have plans for him to spiral further into darkness or does he find his way out in the next one?

DK: Thanks. Frankly, I was shocked both times, but I guess two Shamus nominations in three years implies I’m doing something right.

As for Forte, I’m not sure how thing are going to play out with him. A lot depends on what I choose for the next story idea and how I think that would logically affect him. I finished the fifth Forte novel in May, and his limits and frustrations get pushed pretty hard.

TK: You write some of the cleverest lines I’ve read in a long, long time. I was literally highlighting them and had to stop because much of the manuscript would’ve been in green, pink, blue, and yellow. Does it take you long to come up with those jewels or are they just there as you write them?

DK: Thanks again. My stories can get pretty dark and I make a conscious effort to leaven things a little. I’m glad you think it’s working.

You’re good at this, too, so you probably have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to say. When I’m lucky, good lines pop into my head as I’m at the keyboard, though they’re always subject to some tidying up as edits progress. What happens most often, though, is that scenes—or even bits of scenes—hang around in my head in the days before I actually sit down to write them and different lines come to mind. Try enough of them and discard the ones that don’t work and pretty soon there are some that work. I’m also a natural and unrepentant smart ass, so there’s that. I also have the luxury of a remarkable patient wife who lets me test drive lines around her all the time.

TK: You delved into a serial killer in this one. I know you outline, but was a serial killer something you wanted to pursue? Was that idea pre-planned before you sat down and started outlining? Was it someplace you wanted to go?

DK: I don’t like serial killer stories in general, and I never really planned to do one. To be perfectly honest, it’s been long enough since I wrote A Dangerous Lesson, I really don’t remember what inspired me to go with that idea. The original germ focused on the grandmother who wasn’t happy with her granddaughter’s boyfriend. I had a bit from an earlier unfinished novel I really liked and wanted to salvage and a serial killer seemed to be the best way to do it. Once I opened that plotline it played into Forte’s increasing darkness so I ran with it.

By the way, I’ll never write another serial killer story. I’m happy with how the book came out but I didn’t enjoy the experience of writing it as much as I usually do.

TK: Sonny Ng is a wonderful character and I want a book about him. Either his past or something just Ng. Do you think about spinning off the Forte series? I ask, because the accompanying characters are truly wonderful. Same question for Jan Rusiewicz. I think there’s some gold in her character as well.

DK: Sonny is one of the few characters I actually have backstory notes on, so at least a short story with him as the protagonist is not out of the question. What will probably hold me back is I don’t have time to write all the stories I’d like to, and I already have a series of cop stories going with Penns River, so my Chicago cops may need to get used to their subordinate positions.

I have toyed with the idea of Goose going to Penns River to ask Forte’s cousin Ben Dougherty to come to Chicago to help Nick, which could open the door to seeing all these characters through someone else’s eyes. That has some potential.

TK: Speaking of time. How much time, literally, a day to you dedicate to writing? And if you skip days, how many hours a week?

DK: An hour to an hour-and-a-half on workdays and two to three hours in weekends. It’s not the time spent I worry about. It’s the work done. I have a set goal each day and I can’t quit until that’s finished. For example, when working on a first draft, I have to write a single spaced page on workdays and two on Saturday and Sunday. I can write more, but no less. However long that takes is how long it takes. For edits I have a set task laid out before I start, often a week in advance, and that’s what has to get done.

That gets to be a grind, so I take from Memorial Day through Labor Day off as much as I can to recharge. Works great. I have energy pent up to start the next book in a couple of weeks, as opposed to trudging into it.

TK: Do you ever pen or type out the dialogue prior to the scene? Is there a pecking order to it?

DK: Because I outline, I know what’s coming before I sit down to write. Even a couple of days out I can see what’s coming, so it’s not unusual for bits of dialog to have formed in my head in advance. I think my best dialog comes when I have the first few lines ready when I sit at the keyboard and then the characters just start talking and it’s all I can do to type fast enough to keep up. First drafts sometimes have whole single spaced pages of nothing but dialog. No attributions, no beats, no stage business, just strings of dialog. I’ll go back later and make sense of it, but when it’s coming, everything else has to wait.

TK: What about at bedtime. I can’t attempt going to sleep without at least thinking (usually my last thought) about the next scene in whatever project I’m working on. Do you have that going on or can you shut it off and return without an issue the next day?

DK: I never write before bed. Well, okay, I always write before bed, but not immediately before. It’ll take me forever to get to sleep with things still churning away. I always read or watch a ballgame or something to get away from the book before I turn in.

TK: Once you’ve begun writing, assuming you’re following your outline, does an idea hit home partway through, and does that make you re-outline, so to speak? If so, which books has it happened with?

DK: Oh, sure. The next Penns River book, Resurrection Mall, was outlined to be a Forte story. I probably wrote 30,000 words and I still didn’t like it, wasn’t satisfied the ending I had in mind was worth the effort. One day it occurred to me the problem was that this was more of a Penns River story. I re-wrote the outline in a week or so and ripped right through it after that.

I sometimes throw away endings right at the end. A Dangerous Lesson is a good example. The ending of A Small Sacrifice is nothing like what’s in the outline.

TK: You’re a hot item in crime fiction these days. Do you ever play with non-crime material? Is there ever a desire or thought to try something outside of so-called genre fiction?

DK: I have the germ of an idea for a Western. Picked up some books in Deadwood and Dodge City on our trip out west in July. I’d like to get to that in a few years, even if it’s only a part time project between other things.

As for something outside of genre fiction, I think all fiction is genre. Literary is just another genre. Having said that, the answer is no. I like books where shit happens.

TK: I agree regarding all fiction being genre, and it’s something that bums me about MFA programs being so stuffy. I enjoyed the program I was with big time, but there was/is that bit of horseshit that goes on regarding looking down one’s nose. I know you were in writing groups. Were they strictly crime groups or was it an open atmosphere/learning experience?

DK: I’ve been very lucky with writing groups. Both have been open to anything, and the one that was more literary fiction focused was very welcoming to my genre stuff, which helped me to learn a lot from what they were doing, as well. This was a group made up of people who’d been in John McNally’s workshop at George Washington University in the spring of 2002. Before my first bit was passed out, John told them I wrote genre fiction and asked if anyone knew the difference between genre and literary. (One woman chirped out, “His will sell,” which everyone thought was pretty funny.) John’s explanation: in literary fiction the plot is driven by the characters. In genre the plot drives the characters. We spoke later and he mentioned to me that the mark of the best genre fiction is to make it not seem that way. I’ve always thought that distinction and caveat are good guides.

TK: I know you read a ton of crime fiction and are very helpful to writers with reviews and interviews. What are you reading habits? Do you take a break from crime and read other literature/genre fiction? Non-fiction?

DK: Aside from crime I read mostly non-fiction. How much of it depends on my mood and what’s going on at the time. I’m prepping for a moderator gig at Bouchercon right now, so I’m reading all crime fiction, getting to know the panelists. I’m also behind on new books by writers I make an effort to keep up with, so I’ll be crime fiction binging for a while. After that I expect non-fiction reading will pick up.

TK: I can’t thank you enough for those occasional Al Swearengen quotes. I often laugh out loud at them and always smile. He’s the essence of hardboiled, yet there’s a heart somewhere in his chest. Do you see yourself writing someone that dark? Might Forte wind up there?

DK: Forte could. He’s there now in some ways, though he’s not as overt about it as Al. That’s a big part of what the book I just finished is about, how he’s struggling with that, and will it be his darker side that wins?

TK: I know you post favorite movies, etc., on your blog. Do you have a top five all time? If so, what are they? I won’t ask the same about books. We all get that one way too often.

DK: Top Five is tough, but there are movies I come back to over and over, so let’s see how those fit. In no particular order, L.A. Confidential, The Big Lebowski, Get Shorty, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Next tier is probably Animal House, The Maltese Falcon, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The French Connection, and The Princess Bride.

TK: You’re a musician, even studied music. You’ve made some suggestions to me I’ve come to love (especially Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection). You’ve written that into the Forte character, plus your love of sports. I love that Forte has that Renaissance man mystique about him. Will there be prequels where we can observe his growth?

DK: I think it was Elmore Leonard who said, “Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible.” (If he didn’t, he should have.) The same is true of novels, and, I believe, of series. The Forte series started at the point where he was interesting enough and faced substantial enough conflict for him to be interesting. What might have happened to him before wouldn’t measure up.

TK: On top of the award nomination, your Pipsqueaks were a hurricane in the second half of the season, and then throughout the NHL playoffs. Can they repeat? Can they repeat without that Slue-foot-Motherf—I mean, Crosby?

DK: Why would they have to repeat without Crosby? He’s not going anywhere.

TK: I was referring to an injury. They have a ton of talent, although I do think he does a lot more than score goals for them. We made it to the conference finals without a lot of our players throughout the playoffs (Stamkos, Bishop, etc.) and some playing very hurt (Cally was forced to get a hip operation immediately after the series and will be missing until sometime in November). Do you think your guys would’ve/could’ve gone as far without Slu—Crosby?

DK: No one wins if their best player is out. Stamkos’s loss probably doomed the Bolts last year. They took Pittsburgh to seven games with him missing the first six. He had to be worth a game in that half-dozen somewhere. I don’t count Bishop’s injury. He’s overrated, and Vasilevskiy was at least as good as Bigfoot would have been.

TK: The Callahan-LeTang hit. Dirty dancing or academy performance?

DK: I was disappointed in Callahan. He’s better than that. It was a Flyers kind of hit.

TK: Oh, man, LeTang saw him coming and played it for all it was worth. I thought Palat’s hit later in the game was much worse. But even the refs said they saw LeTang knew it was coming.

DK: Everyone knew a hit was coming. The Bolts’ best chance was to keep Letang’s head on a swivel and get reluctant to go into the corners. That’s part of the game. Cally took the head. That’s what I object to. It’s like in baseball. I don’t mind pitchers sending the occasional message with a hit batter, but that’s what asses are for, not heads or hands.

Post-script … If Cally had gone for LeTang’s head, LeTang would be headless. He went for the back of LeTang’s shoulder. (To be fair, I didn't give Dana a comeback on this one.
 



 
 
Half The Brothers Karamazov … no, not 1.5 of the brothers, just the first half of the book reviewed. It’s one of my favorites all time and something I’d been reaching for on my bookshelf again for the past few months for inspiration. I finally grabbed it and began rereading (this is the 4th time I’ll read it cover to cover), and as soon as I started, I was re-hooked.

Look, I know I’m a lunatic about politics and sometimes religion … okay, a lot of shit, but Dostoevsky does it for me like few others can. You’re gonna devote a gazillion hours to one book, it’s Karamazov, Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (for me).

I’ve just come off editing one book, working on two others, and reading new novels from up and coming crime writers for reviews, etc. … so I wanted a break and I didn’t want to fuck around with something I might or might not like. Besides, I’ve gone back to working on my MFA thesis, adding new wrinkles and much more fiction to the fictional memoir I’ll probably re-title at some point. I’m also working on a crime novel called Joey Christmas but may also be called Ybor City Blues … who knows? Not me.
Okay, back to Karamazov … the names are too long to transcribe, so for those who aren’t familiar with the novel, I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. There’s Moe (Papa K, because Moe was the mean stooge) … there’s Larry (Dimitri—the oldest son, a bit too wild for his own good) … there’s Shemp (Ivan—like Bob Saginowski, you never see him coming) … and Curly (Alexie) because I’m fat and I’m making the fat guy the hero.

Moe is one greedy MF’er. He’s also as mean and cruel as the day is long, and like Donald Trump, a total buffoon. He’s fallen for the same girl his oldest son, Larry, is in love with, except Larry is off the rails about any number of things, but most of all his conscience (he’s clipped some rubles from a woman [Katarina] who loves him, and he needs to return the fazools to her before he loses his mind. So, Moe and Larry want Grushenka, but Grushenka wants neither of them (she thinks). Enter Shemp (actually he’s already on the scene), but he’s kind of got it for the woman, Katerina, who has it for Larry. Shemp is the intelligent son/brother. He’s got pretty damn good anti-religious arguments. A realist/nihilist who seems to have his shit together. Seems to, mind you. And then there’s Curly, the youngest brother, extremely religious and naïve. What happens next? What am I, Charlie Cliff Notes?

Read the book. It is well worth the effort, even with all the religious angles. I’m at the crucial ending to Part I (some 400+ pages into the nearly 800 pages) … something really bad happens and all the evidence is pointing to … wouldn’t yous like to know?

But talk about the ability to drop an end-of-chapter hook. Old Fyodor, the fucker, knew how to write.

 
NEVER FORGET … While the attacks on America 15 years ago remain a horrific moment in time to all of us, let’s not forget how and/or why those attacks came about.

Yeah, I’m stirring the shit again. American foreign policy since our inception has been based on self-interest, as are all nation state foreign policies. Nothing new there, but what brought about the attacks on 9-11-01 have much more to do with our mingling and/or interventions, covert or otherwise, in the affairs of other nation states. On 9-11-01, 19 men determined to strike a blow against whom they perceived to be the great Satan caught America asleep at the wheel. The carnage they inflicted was horrific. It was also the opportunity of a lifetime for those hell-bent on perpetual war, including war profiteers, defense contractors, and every other private interest that stood to profit.

Fifteen years later, we’re not only still fighting the same war we engaged in Afghanistan as retaliation for 9-11, we’ve managed to create six new wars (or one more full scale war [Iraq] and five other enemies [Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen] to bomb).

The problem, of course, is that all seven wars are illegal in the eyes of international law. All seven wars have killed, and continue to kill, far more innocents than bad guys. And, of course, all seven wars are giving justification to more attacks against the Great Satan, as opposed to winning hearts and minds.

So, yes, we should take the time to grieve the tragic events of 15 years ago. Nobody killed in those attacks deserved to die. It remains a horrific imprint on all our lives and memories. It is also important to realize that much of the mess in the Middle East, and the world for that matter, is a direct result of our reactions to those attacks, and the fact we continue to bomb away without a logical game plan moving forward. All of which does little to appease our worried minds.
Do not think for a second that this is placing blame on our military and/or those who died or suffered immeasurable loss because of the attacks on 9-11. If you think that, then I did a lousy job of making my point. Nobody deserves what happened that day … or for the last 13 years since we invaded Iraq in 2003.
 
Peace, it makes so much more sense than war.


 
THE GET DOWN … (NON-SPOILER) SERIES REVIEW by J.R. Jarrod. This review is for those who’ve seen the series, and for those who haven’t and may be considering whether or not to take the plunge. Either way, there isn’t enough room here to do justice to creator/director Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, which was released on NETFLIX in August. Best known for Strictly Ballroom (1992), his vivid reimagining of Romeo & Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) -- a satirical ode to and deconstruction of American musicals -- visual stylist Luhrmann directed The Get Down’s inaugural 93-minute episode and it indeed contains all the depth and flourishes of a feature film. Having established the tempo and template in his “pilot” episode, Luhrmann passes the reins of Episodes 2 through 6 to veteran TV directors Ed Bianchi, Michael Dinner and Andrew Bernstein (The Wonder Years, Mad Men, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) who neither miss nor skip a beat, literally and figuratively.

The Get Down is to hip-hop what Moulin Rouge! was to pop top 40. Whether mining, subverting or deconstructing urban cultural references, the series is a nested doll, if not an exhaustive panoply, of vintage callbacks, political throwbacks and love letters to a bygone era of straight talk which eschewed ‘political correctness.’ I’ve gorged on all 6 episodes twice now, to ensure I luxuriated, pondered and savored its hypermythological urban chrysalis-splitting splendor. To misquote the Nolan brothers’ The Dark Knight, this is the cinema we both need and deserve right now.

The series is rife with winks and nods to ‘70s cinema such as The Warriors, Saturday Night Fever, Cooley High, Sparkle, Enter The Dragon and even some of the tomfoolery of caper films like Uptown Saturday Night. There’s also subtle homages to ‘80s cinema spawned from hip-hop’s growing commercial viability; Krush Groove, Breakin’ and Beat Street come to mind. Though NETFLIX’s new limited series does little to eliminate the standard drug and crime-addled urban genre tropes, its creators and the magnificent cast do soar at crafting indelible 3-dimensional characters we can empathize with, cheer and cross our collective fingers for. For those of you wondering how explicit the series gets, there are frequent drug references and depictions, some mild sensuality (primarily limited to Fat Annie’s club Les Inferno and a brief montage (in episode 6) in a gay club in Chelsea), a bevy of R-rated language, and the use of the ‘N’ word like it’s going out of style. (I “get” that the writers want to contextualize the “N” word as part of the then-burgeoning lexicon of hip-hop, and they at least limit it to slang usage within the Black community, but honestly I don’t recall that word used that prevalently when I was growing up around that time, albeit in Southeast Washington, D.C.)

To their credit the writers and filmmakers imbue this 6-episode arc with all the street raw American dream cravin’ mystical lyricism those of us weaned on hip-hop have relished ever since “Rapper’s Delight” hit the airwaves in 1979. The Get Down succeeds as entertainment due in large part to the creators’ diligent efforts to textually decode hip-hop as yet another form of contemporary American mythbuilding (effortlessly epitomized in Shameik Moore’s inspired and charismatic performance as urban legend SHAOLIN FANTASTIC, a.k.a. graffiti artist ‘SHAO 007’). To this end the creators employed legendary hip-hop DJs Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc initially as consultants, but went one step further by making them actual characters within the storyline (played by Mamoudou Athie and Eric D. Hill Jr. respectively) in order to add a further sense of historicity to the fictional narrative. (The series contains characters known as the ‘Fantastic Four Plus One,’ which is a nod to the real-life ‘Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.’) They’ve indeed done their homework, as evidenced by allusions to real-life hip-hop firsts, such as the sampling of Chic’s hit “Good Times” by The Sugar Hill Gang for “Rapper’s Delight” -- a first of its kind merging of disco and rap, echoed in Episode 6 when The Get Down Brothers confiscate a certain starlet’s disco hit for their epic DJ rumble. The creators have also walked a delicate balance, never allowing the in-your-face mythic inferences to cross into satire. Lines like “In order to fly a DJ must first trust his wings, grasshopper” would seem laughable in the hands of lesser filmmakers and performers.

THE TALE
1996. The year Tupac was murdered. A bleak year for hip-hop. Madison Square Garden: ‘Mr. Books. The Repossession Tour.’ On stage: the adult version of series protagonist EZEKIEL “BOOKS” FIGUERO, an intellectually shrewd bi-racial (Black & Puerto Rican) son of the “burning” Bronx. FUTURE ZEKE (or ‘Adult Books’ as he’s listed in the imdb credits) is played with lyrical intensity by none other than Hamilton’s Tony Award winning Daveed Diggs. His omniscient narrative rap serves as our time machine roadmap through his younger days in the ‘70s. Although we get this glimpse of Future Zeke, himself now a rapper of mythic proportions, it never undermines the suspense regarding the perils of his younger misadventures. Yet in a series this presciently constructed, the viewer should have apt suspicion as to whether the past may come back to claim Future Zeke at some point. Flashback to 1977, courtesy of stock footage of the Son of Sam, etc. An elevated subway train creaks by and the journey begins. . .

THE CAST
The nearly 7-hour story successfully pulls off the rare feat of designing dual protagonists: the young EZEKIEL, as played with warmth, daring and quiet intensity by Justice Smith (no, not Jaden Smith (no relation)), and MYLENE CRUZ as played by Herizen F. Guardiola, each with wholly-complete fully satisfying story arcs, their characters being twin planets in a shared orbit of desperation around the glistening sun – a beacon reassuring them there is life beyond the “burning” Bronx. Justice and Guardiola brim with on-screen chemistry, charm, swagger and well-crafted naiveté. Guardiola’s stunning vocal range and haunting physical resemblance appear to be a deliberate homage to an unforgettable ingénue of the ‘70s/80s: Irene Cara which, along with many other ‘easter eggs’ embedded in the series, cements The Get Down as an adept intertextual and metadiegetic commentary. Certain moments of Zeke’s and Mylene’s interactions teased recollections of Irene Cara’s “Coco” and Lee Curreri’s “Mr. Bruno Martelli” from Fame (1980). (See minute 1:32 of the attached sizzle reel).

The producers seemed intent on evoking other Blaxploitation-era doppelgängers. Skylan Brooks, as Zeke’s ever-present relationship guru and business mastermind RA-RA evokes a young Robert Townsend; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the nimble, predatory CADILLAC recalls Teddy Pendergrass or even Georg Sanford Brown; Yolonda Ross as Zeke’s school teacher MS. GREEN channels veteran actress and former Freedom Rider Margaret Avery (The Color Purple), and the twitchy, volatile LITTLE WOLF, as played by Tory Devon Smith, feels like the angry space alien twin brother of Al Green.

The stellar cast boasts an impressive array of talent: Giancarlo Esposito and Zabryna Guevara as Mylene’s dutiful, conflicted and secretive parents PASTOR RAMON and MRS. LYDIA CRUZ; Kevin Corrigan in his scenery chewing turn as the weaselly yet put-upon record producer JACKIE MORENO (a fox who’d hustle you into subletting him your chicken coop and making you think it was your idea). And Jimmy Smits, a formidable presence as the suave yet deadly FRANCISCO ‘PAPA FUERTE’ CRUZ -- Mylene’s uncle -- a local Bronx civic leader with an undying vision to build a complex of homes for underprivileged families. Always celebrating life with food, we find it an apt metaphor for the emptiness of Papa Fuerte’s soul, once the narrative reveals what he’s sacrificed along the way.

Not to be outdone, other players include the often critically maligned Jaden Smith, who shines in the role of DIZZEE KIPLING, drawing viewers in with a subdued nuanced performance that reminds you what a savvy capable actor he has become. Rounding out the Brothers Kipling are the afore-mentioned Skylan Brooks, and Tremaine Brown Jr. as rough-and-tumble/ready-to-rumble little brother BOO-BOO, a born performer (who also goes by the stage name Boo Nasty -- revealed in a scene that is one of the comedic highlights of the series).

Girls just want to have fun too, and Mylene’s crew includes ‘right hand’ Stefanée Martin playing YOLANDA KIPLING, savvy, no-nonsense big sister to her devious brothers, and a standout performance by newcomer Shyrley Rodriguez as Mylene’s spirited ace and indispensable ‘left hand,’ REGINA. When onscreen together these 3 actresses display a cohesion, verisimilitude and synergy that transcends the scripted drama.

Evan Parke also brings his trademark unflappable intensity to the small yet pivotal role of WOLF, nephew of the infamous FAT ANNIE (played with devilish aplomb by 1997 Tony Award winner Lillias White) and lieutenant of her many criminal endeavors. (Whenever Annie talks, pay close attentions to Wolf’s eyes – Parke’s nuanced performance tells you more than the script ever will.)

TECHNICAL
Although I hoped the series would be shot on film, it was shot on the Red Epic Dragon, causing the high-def video footage to stand in sharp juxtaposition to the vintage stock film footage from the era. Although I will always vote for film, the high-def video does facilitate a quasi-contemporary immediacy that the artifice of celluloid perhaps could not. The lush production design pops and the mise-en-scene is replete with warm hues, dazzling light, candy-colored bric-a-brac and bodies in motion. Exquisite set pieces like the clandestine Christmas-lit salon party, the candlelit recording studio session, and the sunlit Get Down Brothers debut DJ battle are all examples of the series’ fabulous visual panache. Also of note are the ‘Set Me Free/Get Down Brothers’ flash-forward montage of Episode 5, and the ‘Power’ montage of Episode 6, both of which are worth the price of admission. Pay close attention to the use of the color red, used deftly in various frames, or worn by various characters (Shao and Jackie Moreno especially) to portend both Ezekiel’s and Mylene’s perilous journeys towards their idyllic futures.

The filmmaking is exquisite, and the framing is full of lush wide shots replete with period extras and sets, intimate heart-breaking close-ups, dollies, swooping crane shots, hand-held and Steadicam sashays, and hyper-visceral editing. Though there are a few uses of the era’s rear-projection techniques, make no mistake -- this is decidedly 21st-century filmmaking, eschewing the cinematic conventions of the ‘70s while referencing the genre playbooks of film noir, neo-realism, Blaxploitation, and musicals to capture the larger-than-life bravado of the times.

CONCLUSION
The Get Down could have very easily lost its way or spiraled into camp, yet it manages to keep its two young star-crossed lovers, Zeke and Mylene, front and center. Having first died a thousand deaths upon enduring Mylene’s rejection, Zeke comes to learn it is not heroic to deny his gifts, no matter what the code of the street says. He reinvents himself as the man with goals and a plan Mylene so desperately encourages him to be. Though their love arc feels a bit rushed at times, it fits the mold of precocious teens seeking safe haven as the world literally burns around them. There is a haunting refrain in the lyrics of Mylene’s breakout disco hit “Set Me Free” which says “And I will ascend above the highest clouds and make myself like the Most High.” Any student of the scriptures worth their salt knows this is high blasphemy, but given the care with which this series was crafted, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps in their quest for fame and liberation these young music pioneers and the loved ones they hold dear may soar too high and ultimately be undone. Perhaps. Nevertheless, one can only imagine what Season 2 has in store. If you haven’t watched it, it’s time to get down!

FAVORITE EPISODE
Episode 3. The recording studio session is one of the most beautifully photographed scenes in the entire series. Also in this episode certain revelations come to light which touch the soul and provide an excellent layer of subtext to certain character’s motivations within the narrative.

FAVORITE DIALOGUE
“If I f--- up my pants I’m gonna kill you twice.”

“So kill me all you want to. Stab your hate into my love.’

“I’m gonna knock you to Sunday wait for you on Tuesday.”

‘But we go together. . .like pancakes and syrup. / Pancakes don’t just get syrup whenever they want. Syrup’s got standards.’

‘Pure disco? Forget it. Go die.’

‘I’ve been a man of my word . . .I sleep alone . . . .Every night since 1960. . . .And I will close my eyes when my heart is crying’

“He should love me less and respect me more.’

‘You forget that you became a man of God in prison. / What did [he] just say? / He said sh*t’s about to get real.’

‘Diablo! / No that’s you. . . .But you forgot that right? You blacked out!’

‘You can’t be a rebel if you don’t rebel.’

ANACHRONISTIC SLANG
next-level

sh*t the bed

duckets

sucks


J. R. Jarrod
 
—Knucks

Yep, I’ve gone full blown hippie …

Interview with author Dana King … Half a Karamazov review … 9-11, Remember it, the why’s too … Terrific Movie Review: The Get Down, by J.R. Jarrod

Amici: 
He’s one of my favorite people, favorite writers, and one-half the cause of my hockey addiction … he also turned me onto Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection. His wonderful novels have now been nominated for a Shamus back-to-back years, and the fucker’s team won the Stanley Cup this past year. Not bad. Here’s my interview with Dana King.

TK: You’re piling up well-deserved award nominations, so congratulations on those. Nick Forte turns a darker page in your last one, A Dangerous Lesson. Do you have plans for him to spiral further into darkness or does he find his way out in the next one?

DK: Thanks. Frankly, I was shocked both times, but I guess two Shamus nominations in three years implies I’m doing something right.

As for Forte, I’m not sure how thing are going to play out with him. A lot depends on what I choose for the next story idea and how I think that would logically affect him. I finished the fifth Forte novel in May, and his limits and frustrations get pushed pretty hard.

TK: You write some of the cleverest lines I’ve read in a long, long time. I was literally highlighting them and had to stop because much of the manuscript would’ve been in green, pink, blue, and yellow. Does it take you long to come up with those jewels or are they just there as you write them?

DK: Thanks again. My stories can get pretty dark and I make a conscious effort to leaven things a little. I’m glad you think it’s working.

You’re good at this, too, so you probably have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to say. When I’m lucky, good lines pop into my head as I’m at the keyboard, though they’re always subject to some tidying up as edits progress. What happens most often, though, is that scenes—or even bits of scenes—hang around in my head in the days before I actually sit down to write them and different lines come to mind. Try enough of them and discard the ones that don’t work and pretty soon there are some that work. I’m also a natural and unrepentant smart ass, so there’s that. I also have the luxury of a remarkable patient wife who lets me test drive lines around her all the time.

TK: You delved into a serial killer in this one. I know you outline, but was a serial killer something you wanted to pursue? Was that idea pre-planned before you sat down and started outlining? Was it someplace you wanted to go?

DK: I don’t like serial killer stories in general, and I never really planned to do one. To be perfectly honest, it’s been long enough since I wrote A Dangerous Lesson, I really don’t remember what inspired me to go with that idea. The original germ focused on the grandmother who wasn’t happy with her granddaughter’s boyfriend. I had a bit from an earlier unfinished novel I really liked and wanted to salvage and a serial killer seemed to be the best way to do it. Once I opened that plotline it played into Forte’s increasing darkness so I ran with it.

By the way, I’ll never write another serial killer story. I’m happy with how the book came out but I didn’t enjoy the experience of writing it as much as I usually do.

TK: Sonny Ng is a wonderful character and I want a book about him. Either his past or something just Ng. Do you think about spinning off the Forte series? I ask, because the accompanying characters are truly wonderful. Same question for Jan Rusiewicz. I think there’s some gold in her character as well.

DK: Sonny is one of the few characters I actually have backstory notes on, so at least a short story with him as the protagonist is not out of the question. What will probably hold me back is I don’t have time to write all the stories I’d like to, and I already have a series of cop stories going with Penns River, so my Chicago cops may need to get used to their subordinate positions.

I have toyed with the idea of Goose going to Penns River to ask Forte’s cousin Ben Dougherty to come to Chicago to help Nick, which could open the door to seeing all these characters through someone else’s eyes. That has some potential.

TK: Speaking of time. How much time, literally, a day to you dedicate to writing? And if you skip days, how many hours a week?

DK: An hour to an hour-and-a-half on workdays and two to three hours in weekends. It’s not the time spent I worry about. It’s the work done. I have a set goal each day and I can’t quit until that’s finished. For example, when working on a first draft, I have to write a single spaced page on workdays and two on Saturday and Sunday. I can write more, but no less. However long that takes is how long it takes. For edits I have a set task laid out before I start, often a week in advance, and that’s what has to get done.

That gets to be a grind, so I take from Memorial Day through Labor Day off as much as I can to recharge. Works great. I have energy pent up to start the next book in a couple of weeks, as opposed to trudging into it.

TK: Do you ever pen or type out the dialogue prior to the scene? Is there a pecking order to it?

DK: Because I outline, I know what’s coming before I sit down to write. Even a couple of days out I can see what’s coming, so it’s not unusual for bits of dialog to have formed in my head in advance. I think my best dialog comes when I have the first few lines ready when I sit at the keyboard and then the characters just start talking and it’s all I can do to type fast enough to keep up. First drafts sometimes have whole single spaced pages of nothing but dialog. No attributions, no beats, no stage business, just strings of dialog. I’ll go back later and make sense of it, but when it’s coming, everything else has to wait.

TK: What about at bedtime. I can’t attempt going to sleep without at least thinking (usually my last thought) about the next scene in whatever project I’m working on. Do you have that going on or can you shut it off and return without an issue the next day?

DK: I never write before bed. Well, okay, I always write before bed, but not immediately before. It’ll take me forever to get to sleep with things still churning away. I always read or watch a ballgame or something to get away from the book before I turn in.

TK: Once you’ve begun writing, assuming you’re following your outline, does an idea hit home partway through, and does that make you re-outline, so to speak? If so, which books has it happened with?

DK: Oh, sure. The next Penns River book, Resurrection Mall, was outlined to be a Forte story. I probably wrote 30,000 words and I still didn’t like it, wasn’t satisfied the ending I had in mind was worth the effort. One day it occurred to me the problem was that this was more of a Penns River story. I re-wrote the outline in a week or so and ripped right through it after that.

I sometimes throw away endings right at the end. A Dangerous Lesson is a good example. The ending of A Small Sacrifice is nothing like what’s in the outline.

TK: You’re a hot item in crime fiction these days. Do you ever play with non-crime material? Is there ever a desire or thought to try something outside of so-called genre fiction?

DK: I have the germ of an idea for a Western. Picked up some books in Deadwood and Dodge City on our trip out west in July. I’d like to get to that in a few years, even if it’s only a part time project between other things.

As for something outside of genre fiction, I think all fiction is genre. Literary is just another genre. Having said that, the answer is no. I like books where shit happens.

TK: I agree regarding all fiction being genre, and it’s something that bums me about MFA programs being so stuffy. I enjoyed the program I was with big time, but there was/is that bit of horseshit that goes on regarding looking down one’s nose. I know you were in writing groups. Were they strictly crime groups or was it an open atmosphere/learning experience?

DK: I’ve been very lucky with writing groups. Both have been open to anything, and the one that was more literary fiction focused was very welcoming to my genre stuff, which helped me to learn a lot from what they were doing, as well. This was a group made up of people who’d been in John McNally’s workshop at George Washington University in the spring of 2002. Before my first bit was passed out, John told them I wrote genre fiction and asked if anyone knew the difference between genre and literary. (One woman chirped out, “His will sell,” which everyone thought was pretty funny.) John’s explanation: in literary fiction the plot is driven by the characters. In genre the plot drives the characters. We spoke later and he mentioned to me that the mark of the best genre fiction is to make it not seem that way. I’ve always thought that distinction and caveat are good guides.

TK: I know you read a ton of crime fiction and are very helpful to writers with reviews and interviews. What are you reading habits? Do you take a break from crime and read other literature/genre fiction? Non-fiction?

DK: Aside from crime I read mostly non-fiction. How much of it depends on my mood and what’s going on at the time. I’m prepping for a moderator gig at Bouchercon right now, so I’m reading all crime fiction, getting to know the panelists. I’m also behind on new books by writers I make an effort to keep up with, so I’ll be crime fiction binging for a while. After that I expect non-fiction reading will pick up.

TK: I can’t thank you enough for those occasional Al Swearengen quotes. I often laugh out loud at them and always smile. He’s the essence of hardboiled, yet there’s a heart somewhere in his chest. Do you see yourself writing someone that dark? Might Forte wind up there?

DK: Forte could. He’s there now in some ways, though he’s not as overt about it as Al. That’s a big part of what the book I just finished is about, how he’s struggling with that, and will it be his darker side that wins?

TK: I know you post favorite movies, etc., on your blog. Do you have a top five all time? If so, what are they? I won’t ask the same about books. We all get that one way too often.

DK: Top Five is tough, but there are movies I come back to over and over, so let’s see how those fit. In no particular order, L.A. Confidential, The Big Lebowski, Get Shorty, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Next tier is probably Animal House, The Maltese Falcon, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The French Connection, and The Princess Bride.

TK: You’re a musician, even studied music. You’ve made some suggestions to me I’ve come to love (especially Mahler’s 2nd, Resurrection). You’ve written that into the Forte character, plus your love of sports. I love that Forte has that Renaissance man mystique about him. Will there be prequels where we can observe his growth?

DK: I think it was Elmore Leonard who said, “Get into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible.” (If he didn’t, he should have.) The same is true of novels, and, I believe, of series. The Forte series started at the point where he was interesting enough and faced substantial enough conflict for him to be interesting. What might have happened to him before wouldn’t measure up.

TK: On top of the award nomination, your Pipsqueaks were a hurricane in the second half of the season, and then throughout the NHL playoffs. Can they repeat? Can they repeat without that Slue-foot-Motherf—I mean, Crosby?

DK: Why would they have to repeat without Crosby? He’s not going anywhere.

TK: I was referring to an injury. They have a ton of talent, although I do think he does a lot more than score goals for them. We made it to the conference finals without a lot of our players throughout the playoffs (Stamkos, Bishop, etc.) and some playing very hurt (Cally was forced to get a hip operation immediately after the series and will be missing until sometime in November). Do you think your guys would’ve/could’ve gone as far without Slu—Crosby?

DK: No one wins if their best player is out. Stamkos’s loss probably doomed the Bolts last year. They took Pittsburgh to seven games with him missing the first six. He had to be worth a game in that half-dozen somewhere. I don’t count Bishop’s injury. He’s overrated, and Vasilevskiy was at least as good as Bigfoot would have been.

TK: The Callahan-LeTang hit. Dirty dancing or academy performance?

DK: I was disappointed in Callahan. He’s better than that. It was a Flyers kind of hit.

TK: Oh, man, LeTang saw him coming and played it for all it was worth. I thought Palat’s hit later in the game was much worse. But even the refs said they saw LeTang knew it was coming.

DK: Everyone knew a hit was coming. The Bolts’ best chance was to keep Letang’s head on a swivel and get reluctant to go into the corners. That’s part of the game. Cally took the head. That’s what I object to. It’s like in baseball. I don’t mind pitchers sending the occasional message with a hit batter, but that’s what asses are for, not heads or hands.

Post-script … If Cally had gone for LeTang’s head, LeTang would be headless. He went for the back of LeTang’s shoulder. (To be fair, I didn't give Dana a comeback on this one.
 



 
 
Half The Brothers Karamazov … no, not 1.5 of the brothers, just the first half of the book reviewed. It’s one of my favorites all time and something I’d been reaching for on my bookshelf again for the past few months for inspiration. I finally grabbed it and began rereading (this is the 4th time I’ll read it cover to cover), and as soon as I started, I was re-hooked.

Look, I know I’m a lunatic about politics and sometimes religion … okay, a lot of shit, but Dostoevsky does it for me like few others can. You’re gonna devote a gazillion hours to one book, it’s Karamazov, Crime and Punishment or Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (for me).

I’ve just come off editing one book, working on two others, and reading new novels from up and coming crime writers for reviews, etc. … so I wanted a break and I didn’t want to fuck around with something I might or might not like. Besides, I’ve gone back to working on my MFA thesis, adding new wrinkles and much more fiction to the fictional memoir I’ll probably re-title at some point. I’m also working on a crime novel called Joey Christmas but may also be called Ybor City Blues … who knows? Not me.
Okay, back to Karamazov … the names are too long to transcribe, so for those who aren’t familiar with the novel, I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. There’s Moe (Papa K, because Moe was the mean stooge) … there’s Larry (Dimitri—the oldest son, a bit too wild for his own good) … there’s Shemp (Ivan—like Bob Saginowski, you never see him coming) … and Curly (Alexie) because I’m fat and I’m making the fat guy the hero.

Moe is one greedy MF’er. He’s also as mean and cruel as the day is long, and like Donald Trump, a total buffoon. He’s fallen for the same girl his oldest son, Larry, is in love with, except Larry is off the rails about any number of things, but most of all his conscience (he’s clipped some rubles from a woman [Katarina] who loves him, and he needs to return the fazools to her before he loses his mind. So, Moe and Larry want Grushenka, but Grushenka wants neither of them (she thinks). Enter Shemp (actually he’s already on the scene), but he’s kind of got it for the woman, Katerina, who has it for Larry. Shemp is the intelligent son/brother. He’s got pretty damn good anti-religious arguments. A realist/nihilist who seems to have his shit together. Seems to, mind you. And then there’s Curly, the youngest brother, extremely religious and naïve. What happens next? What am I, Charlie Cliff Notes?

Read the book. It is well worth the effort, even with all the religious angles. I’m at the crucial ending to Part I (some 400+ pages into the nearly 800 pages) … something really bad happens and all the evidence is pointing to … wouldn’t yous like to know?

But talk about the ability to drop an end-of-chapter hook. Old Fyodor, the fucker, knew how to write.

 
NEVER FORGET … While the attacks on America 15 years ago remain a horrific moment in time to all of us, let’s not forget how and/or why those attacks came about.

Yeah, I’m stirring the shit again. American foreign policy since our inception has been based on self-interest, as are all nation state foreign policies. Nothing new there, but what brought about the attacks on 9-11-01 have much more to do with our mingling and/or interventions, covert or otherwise, in the affairs of other nation states. On 9-11-01, 19 men determined to strike a blow against whom they perceived to be the great Satan caught America asleep at the wheel. The carnage they inflicted was horrific. It was also the opportunity of a lifetime for those hell-bent on perpetual war, including war profiteers, defense contractors, and every other private interest that stood to profit.

Fifteen years later, we’re not only still fighting the same war we engaged in Afghanistan as retaliation for 9-11, we’ve managed to create six new wars (or one more full scale war [Iraq] and five other enemies [Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen] to bomb).

The problem, of course, is that all seven wars are illegal in the eyes of international law. All seven wars have killed, and continue to kill, far more innocents than bad guys. And, of course, all seven wars are giving justification to more attacks against the Great Satan, as opposed to winning hearts and minds.

So, yes, we should take the time to grieve the tragic events of 15 years ago. Nobody killed in those attacks deserved to die. It remains a horrific imprint on all our lives and memories. It is also important to realize that much of the mess in the Middle East, and the world for that matter, is a direct result of our reactions to those attacks, and the fact we continue to bomb away without a logical game plan moving forward. All of which does little to appease our worried minds.
Do not think for a second that this is placing blame on our military and/or those who died or suffered immeasurable loss because of the attacks on 9-11. If you think that, then I did a lousy job of making my point. Nobody deserves what happened that day … or for the last 13 years since we invaded Iraq in 2003.
 
Peace, it makes so much more sense than war.


 
THE GET DOWN … (NON-SPOILER) SERIES REVIEW by J.R. Jarrod. This review is for those who’ve seen the series, and for those who haven’t and may be considering whether or not to take the plunge. Either way, there isn’t enough room here to do justice to creator/director Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, which was released on NETFLIX in August. Best known for Strictly Ballroom (1992), his vivid reimagining of Romeo & Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) -- a satirical ode to and deconstruction of American musicals -- visual stylist Luhrmann directed The Get Down’s inaugural 93-minute episode and it indeed contains all the depth and flourishes of a feature film. Having established the tempo and template in his “pilot” episode, Luhrmann passes the reins of Episodes 2 through 6 to veteran TV directors Ed Bianchi, Michael Dinner and Andrew Bernstein (The Wonder Years, Mad Men, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) who neither miss nor skip a beat, literally and figuratively.

The Get Down is to hip-hop what Moulin Rouge! was to pop top 40. Whether mining, subverting or deconstructing urban cultural references, the series is a nested doll, if not an exhaustive panoply, of vintage callbacks, political throwbacks and love letters to a bygone era of straight talk which eschewed ‘political correctness.’ I’ve gorged on all 6 episodes twice now, to ensure I luxuriated, pondered and savored its hypermythological urban chrysalis-splitting splendor. To misquote the Nolan brothers’ The Dark Knight, this is the cinema we both need and deserve right now.

The series is rife with winks and nods to ‘70s cinema such as The Warriors, Saturday Night Fever, Cooley High, Sparkle, Enter The Dragon and even some of the tomfoolery of caper films like Uptown Saturday Night. There’s also subtle homages to ‘80s cinema spawned from hip-hop’s growing commercial viability; Krush Groove, Breakin’ and Beat Street come to mind. Though NETFLIX’s new limited series does little to eliminate the standard drug and crime-addled urban genre tropes, its creators and the magnificent cast do soar at crafting indelible 3-dimensional characters we can empathize with, cheer and cross our collective fingers for. For those of you wondering how explicit the series gets, there are frequent drug references and depictions, some mild sensuality (primarily limited to Fat Annie’s club Les Inferno and a brief montage (in episode 6) in a gay club in Chelsea), a bevy of R-rated language, and the use of the ‘N’ word like it’s going out of style. (I “get” that the writers want to contextualize the “N” word as part of the then-burgeoning lexicon of hip-hop, and they at least limit it to slang usage within the Black community, but honestly I don’t recall that word used that prevalently when I was growing up around that time, albeit in Southeast Washington, D.C.)

To their credit the writers and filmmakers imbue this 6-episode arc with all the street raw American dream cravin’ mystical lyricism those of us weaned on hip-hop have relished ever since “Rapper’s Delight” hit the airwaves in 1979. The Get Down succeeds as entertainment due in large part to the creators’ diligent efforts to textually decode hip-hop as yet another form of contemporary American mythbuilding (effortlessly epitomized in Shameik Moore’s inspired and charismatic performance as urban legend SHAOLIN FANTASTIC, a.k.a. graffiti artist ‘SHAO 007’). To this end the creators employed legendary hip-hop DJs Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc initially as consultants, but went one step further by making them actual characters within the storyline (played by Mamoudou Athie and Eric D. Hill Jr. respectively) in order to add a further sense of historicity to the fictional narrative. (The series contains characters known as the ‘Fantastic Four Plus One,’ which is a nod to the real-life ‘Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five.’) They’ve indeed done their homework, as evidenced by allusions to real-life hip-hop firsts, such as the sampling of Chic’s hit “Good Times” by The Sugar Hill Gang for “Rapper’s Delight” -- a first of its kind merging of disco and rap, echoed in Episode 6 when The Get Down Brothers confiscate a certain starlet’s disco hit for their epic DJ rumble. The creators have also walked a delicate balance, never allowing the in-your-face mythic inferences to cross into satire. Lines like “In order to fly a DJ must first trust his wings, grasshopper” would seem laughable in the hands of lesser filmmakers and performers.

THE TALE
1996. The year Tupac was murdered. A bleak year for hip-hop. Madison Square Garden: ‘Mr. Books. The Repossession Tour.’ On stage: the adult version of series protagonist EZEKIEL “BOOKS” FIGUERO, an intellectually shrewd bi-racial (Black & Puerto Rican) son of the “burning” Bronx. FUTURE ZEKE (or ‘Adult Books’ as he’s listed in the imdb credits) is played with lyrical intensity by none other than Hamilton’s Tony Award winning Daveed Diggs. His omniscient narrative rap serves as our time machine roadmap through his younger days in the ‘70s. Although we get this glimpse of Future Zeke, himself now a rapper of mythic proportions, it never undermines the suspense regarding the perils of his younger misadventures. Yet in a series this presciently constructed, the viewer should have apt suspicion as to whether the past may come back to claim Future Zeke at some point. Flashback to 1977, courtesy of stock footage of the Son of Sam, etc. An elevated subway train creaks by and the journey begins. . .

THE CAST
The nearly 7-hour story successfully pulls off the rare feat of designing dual protagonists: the young EZEKIEL, as played with warmth, daring and quiet intensity by Justice Smith (no, not Jaden Smith (no relation)), and MYLENE CRUZ as played by Herizen F. Guardiola, each with wholly-complete fully satisfying story arcs, their characters being twin planets in a shared orbit of desperation around the glistening sun – a beacon reassuring them there is life beyond the “burning” Bronx. Justice and Guardiola brim with on-screen chemistry, charm, swagger and well-crafted naiveté. Guardiola’s stunning vocal range and haunting physical resemblance appear to be a deliberate homage to an unforgettable ingénue of the ‘70s/80s: Irene Cara which, along with many other ‘easter eggs’ embedded in the series, cements The Get Down as an adept intertextual and metadiegetic commentary. Certain moments of Zeke’s and Mylene’s interactions teased recollections of Irene Cara’s “Coco” and Lee Curreri’s “Mr. Bruno Martelli” from Fame (1980). (See minute 1:32 of the attached sizzle reel).

The producers seemed intent on evoking other Blaxploitation-era doppelgängers. Skylan Brooks, as Zeke’s ever-present relationship guru and business mastermind RA-RA evokes a young Robert Townsend; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as the nimble, predatory CADILLAC recalls Teddy Pendergrass or even Georg Sanford Brown; Yolonda Ross as Zeke’s school teacher MS. GREEN channels veteran actress and former Freedom Rider Margaret Avery (The Color Purple), and the twitchy, volatile LITTLE WOLF, as played by Tory Devon Smith, feels like the angry space alien twin brother of Al Green.

The stellar cast boasts an impressive array of talent: Giancarlo Esposito and Zabryna Guevara as Mylene’s dutiful, conflicted and secretive parents PASTOR RAMON and MRS. LYDIA CRUZ; Kevin Corrigan in his scenery chewing turn as the weaselly yet put-upon record producer JACKIE MORENO (a fox who’d hustle you into subletting him your chicken coop and making you think it was your idea). And Jimmy Smits, a formidable presence as the suave yet deadly FRANCISCO ‘PAPA FUERTE’ CRUZ -- Mylene’s uncle -- a local Bronx civic leader with an undying vision to build a complex of homes for underprivileged families. Always celebrating life with food, we find it an apt metaphor for the emptiness of Papa Fuerte’s soul, once the narrative reveals what he’s sacrificed along the way.

Not to be outdone, other players include the often critically maligned Jaden Smith, who shines in the role of DIZZEE KIPLING, drawing viewers in with a subdued nuanced performance that reminds you what a savvy capable actor he has become. Rounding out the Brothers Kipling are the afore-mentioned Skylan Brooks, and Tremaine Brown Jr. as rough-and-tumble/ready-to-rumble little brother BOO-BOO, a born performer (who also goes by the stage name Boo Nasty -- revealed in a scene that is one of the comedic highlights of the series).

Girls just want to have fun too, and Mylene’s crew includes ‘right hand’ Stefanée Martin playing YOLANDA KIPLING, savvy, no-nonsense big sister to her devious brothers, and a standout performance by newcomer Shyrley Rodriguez as Mylene’s spirited ace and indispensable ‘left hand,’ REGINA. When onscreen together these 3 actresses display a cohesion, verisimilitude and synergy that transcends the scripted drama.

Evan Parke also brings his trademark unflappable intensity to the small yet pivotal role of WOLF, nephew of the infamous FAT ANNIE (played with devilish aplomb by 1997 Tony Award winner Lillias White) and lieutenant of her many criminal endeavors. (Whenever Annie talks, pay close attentions to Wolf’s eyes – Parke’s nuanced performance tells you more than the script ever will.)

TECHNICAL
Although I hoped the series would be shot on film, it was shot on the Red Epic Dragon, causing the high-def video footage to stand in sharp juxtaposition to the vintage stock film footage from the era. Although I will always vote for film, the high-def video does facilitate a quasi-contemporary immediacy that the artifice of celluloid perhaps could not. The lush production design pops and the mise-en-scene is replete with warm hues, dazzling light, candy-colored bric-a-brac and bodies in motion. Exquisite set pieces like the clandestine Christmas-lit salon party, the candlelit recording studio session, and the sunlit Get Down Brothers debut DJ battle are all examples of the series’ fabulous visual panache. Also of note are the ‘Set Me Free/Get Down Brothers’ flash-forward montage of Episode 5, and the ‘Power’ montage of Episode 6, both of which are worth the price of admission. Pay close attention to the use of the color red, used deftly in various frames, or worn by various characters (Shao and Jackie Moreno especially) to portend both Ezekiel’s and Mylene’s perilous journeys towards their idyllic futures.

The filmmaking is exquisite, and the framing is full of lush wide shots replete with period extras and sets, intimate heart-breaking close-ups, dollies, swooping crane shots, hand-held and Steadicam sashays, and hyper-visceral editing. Though there are a few uses of the era’s rear-projection techniques, make no mistake -- this is decidedly 21st-century filmmaking, eschewing the cinematic conventions of the ‘70s while referencing the genre playbooks of film noir, neo-realism, Blaxploitation, and musicals to capture the larger-than-life bravado of the times.

CONCLUSION
The Get Down could have very easily lost its way or spiraled into camp, yet it manages to keep its two young star-crossed lovers, Zeke and Mylene, front and center. Having first died a thousand deaths upon enduring Mylene’s rejection, Zeke comes to learn it is not heroic to deny his gifts, no matter what the code of the street says. He reinvents himself as the man with goals and a plan Mylene so desperately encourages him to be. Though their love arc feels a bit rushed at times, it fits the mold of precocious teens seeking safe haven as the world literally burns around them. There is a haunting refrain in the lyrics of Mylene’s breakout disco hit “Set Me Free” which says “And I will ascend above the highest clouds and make myself like the Most High.” Any student of the scriptures worth their salt knows this is high blasphemy, but given the care with which this series was crafted, perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps in their quest for fame and liberation these young music pioneers and the loved ones they hold dear may soar too high and ultimately be undone. Perhaps. Nevertheless, one can only imagine what Season 2 has in store. If you haven’t watched it, it’s time to get down!

FAVORITE EPISODE
Episode 3. The recording studio session is one of the most beautifully photographed scenes in the entire series. Also in this episode certain revelations come to light which touch the soul and provide an excellent layer of subtext to certain character’s motivations within the narrative.

FAVORITE DIALOGUE
“If I f--- up my pants I’m gonna kill you twice.”

“So kill me all you want to. Stab your hate into my love.’

“I’m gonna knock you to Sunday wait for you on Tuesday.”

‘But we go together. . .like pancakes and syrup. / Pancakes don’t just get syrup whenever they want. Syrup’s got standards.’

‘Pure disco? Forget it. Go die.’

‘I’ve been a man of my word . . .I sleep alone . . . .Every night since 1960. . . .And I will close my eyes when my heart is crying’

“He should love me less and respect me more.’

‘You forget that you became a man of God in prison. / What did [he] just say? / He said sh*t’s about to get real.’

‘Diablo! / No that’s you. . . .But you forgot that right? You blacked out!’

‘You can’t be a rebel if you don’t rebel.’

ANACHRONISTIC SLANG
next-level

sh*t the bed

duckets

sucks


J. R. Jarrod
 
—Knucks

Yep, I’ve gone full blown hippie …

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Book reviews … A movie review from J.R. Jarrod … TK’s final verdict on Bernie Sanders …

Amici:
The American Girl by Kate Horsley … Quinn Perkins is a 17-year-old American girl living in France with the Blavette family (minus the father) as an exchange student. It is far from a peachy living arrangement. The Blavettes have issues, which are revealed in a blog, and later in video journals, made by Quinn before and after she’s found in a comatose state after being hit by a car. She’s been taken to a nearby hospital where her situation remains a mystery until Molly Swift, a journalist posing as Quinn’s aunt, tries to solve the mystery. Molly finds a friend in a local inspector, Valentin, just in time for the Blavette family disappearance.

What is going on in the small town of St. Roch?

The novel is told in short journal-like chapters that go back and forth in time and intertwine the dual protagonists, Quinn and Molly. While Quinn supplies a video blog, something suggested by the doctor treating her amnesia, Molly pursues the story like a good journalist, lying about being Quinn’s aunt and setting herself up for public condemnation. Quinn provides us screen shots of what’s going on in the hospital as she slowly recovers and remembers the bits and pieces of what happened to her and the Blavette family. Early on we know it involves the woods she felt she was being chased through, and some very weird messages and pictures sent to her iPhone just prior to the accident. There’s also the caves at Les Yeux. There are also men in her life: Freddie, the seemingly sadistic French boy and a close friend of the Blavette family, and Raphael Blavette, the stud-son home from college. The women are more complex, it seems. There’s Noémie Blavette (Ralphael’s sister) and Émilie (the mother) who appears to be much more than a woman scored by an ex-husband. (Poppa Blavette disappeared a few years back, leaving a once wealthy family in ruins—which is why the Blavettes take in exchange students, for the extra coin.) There’s a Blavette benefactor of sorts, a wealthy woman named Stella, who’s maybe had an affair or two with the Blavatte men. There’s also something strange about the police situation and some former exchange students, the Dutch Girl, the German Girl, the Russian Girl … leading to The American Girl.

It’s a terrific read, start to finish. Horsley is at the top of her game. A British author with an incredible ear for American dialogue and knowledge of our sometimes stunted culture. This is a truly professional and gifted author, with expert insight into a world beneath all the coziness we see and want to believe is real. Horsley takes us under the skin of postcard family life and behind the picturesque postcard towns. The American Girl reminded me of my all-time favorite movie, which also exposed the underbelly of a postcard life—David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Horsley’s novel, The American Girl, is simply that good.



Alfheim by Gary Nilsen … Timothy Brennan is an usual child, but not because he’s awkward or may suffer autistic tics at school, where he’s often the victim of bullies and their crude comments. He’s different because he’s the 7th son of a 7th son in a parallel world (I guess it might be called) where elf and fairy and the like exist, except they look just like you or I (but have lives as long as those in the Bible).

Normally mystical novels aren’t my preference, but this one had so many twists and turns and well-developed characters, it was a pleasure to read. Early on, Timothy is struggling to deal with the nasty uncle he lives with since his mother died, as well as his being bullied at school. He has a best friend who tries to steer him away from approaching a girl Tim has been secretly in love with for a few years. She’s one of the untouchables to boys like Tim, however, and a lot more style than substance. When things go terribly wrong, the first in a series of both interesting and dynamic plot twists occurs. Tim tries to kill himself but is saved by a special girl, Aenya, who had appeared to him just a few days earlier when he somehow healed a bird that had fallen to the ground apparently sick and about to die.

Lots more plot twists ensue, with Timothy having a Jason Bourne moment at an airport before leaving for Ireland, where a mystical clan lives in a constant state of near-war with the evil Cadwaladr (there’s a pronunciation index at the back of the novel). You’ll catch a major plot twist every few chapters and those will keep you focused and turning pages.

The treachery and war going on beneath the human world turns the politics of everyday life asunder as Timothy learns to grapple with his familial genetics. Like humans, the elves can be good or bad, and genetics aren’t always a predetermining factor.

Over time, and a few attempts on his life, Timothy learns about the Sword of Connleodh and how, in order to save his brethren elves, he must defeat the evil elf Cadwaladr. He’ll need the sword, but he must choose wisely or die. No spoilers here. Alfheim will keep you glued to the pages and anxious for the sequel.

A fun read start to finish, Alfheim will leave you wanting more.




Movie Review by JR JarrodSUICIDE SQUAD. As much as I differed with critics’ opinions on Batman v Superman, I just came from a screening of Suicide Squad, and I have to say it’s as bad as they say it is. But that’s mostly because the script never takes the time to develop the characters. To be fair, director David Ayer does manage to get some great visuals. And I do think the actors have managed to capture the essence of their comic book characters (Croc, Deadshot and Harley especially), but there’s just no ‘there’ there.

The first 15 minutes introduced a bit of style and visual flair, and I was hopeful for a neo-noir featuring metahumans, but it went downhill fast. The only bright spot was the Batman stuff. SPOILER: For those Batfans hoping for a mano a mano and a “Death in the Family” flashback -- save your money. It’s not here.

Jared Leto’s Joker amounted to high end cosplay. Will Smith made the most of what he had to work with and served as the film’s “spark of redemption.” Margot Robbie pretty much ripped Harley Quinn straight out of Batman TAS, and was a sole high point, but one dimensional nonetheless. Unfortunately this film can’t even get nihilism right. Plotwise there is also a lot of supernatural darkness that hasn’t been advertised.

And please save yourself the headache of 3D. A good hour of this film’s action takes place at night and would probably be intolerably incoherent and ultra-muddled in 3D.

Another miss for DC unfortunately. It’s NOT because DC is trying to emulate Marvel, it’s because DC doesn’t yet seem to know what makes DC work. There is a mid-credits scene that’s decent. But that’s all folks. If you were hoping for some meaty drama to be unpacked between those iconic moments you see in the trailer, unfortunately the film plays like an extended trailer -- wall to wall music, flashbacks instead of dramatic tension, etc. etc. Sigh. Once again story is key... and it ain’t here. Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times said it best: “Suicide Squad is a concept in search of a story worth telling.”

TK’s Final Verdict on Bernie Sanders With enough time and reflection on the 2016 sabotaged Democrat presidential primaries behind us, TK has come to a decision regarding Bernie Sanders. Fair warning, some Bernie loyalists aren’t going to like and/or agree.

Sanders sucker-punched us … When push comes to shove, no matter his intentions and/or his aspirations, Sanders sucker-punched his supporters. For one thing, his attempt to play a clean game of politics against arguably the all-time dirtiest politicians of our lifetime was either naivety on steroids, which his 36-year involvement in politics precludes, or it was intentional. Sanders never went after Hillary Clinton on her judgment regarding her emails, something she may well be impeached over after she wins the presidency. TK feels Sanders was clearly protecting both the Democrat brand and the person he knew the DNC would never permit him to eclipse, thereby sucker punching us into forking over money to a cause he never intended to pursue to possible fruition.

Our guess is that Sanders began his campaign with ZERO expectation he’d win and was quickly surprised by the response of so many who had either had enough of the Clinton brand or who opted for the more progressive policies Sanders was championing. For a while, we think Sanders started to believe he might pull an upset, but that’s something we’ll never know might’ve happened, because as WikiLeaks proved, he never had a chance. The game was rigged from the get-go and the sabotage was ongoing. Voter obstruction and fraud was rampant, and the elimination of exit polls prove the DNC feared an actual accounting of their primary results. Even before WikiLeaks exposed the DNC’s corruption, most Sanders supporters either hoped or expected he’d walk away from the dirty politics he claimed to have been fighting.

He didn’t. Instead, when the WikiLeaks emails proved there was collusion, corruption and sabotage, Sanders remained loyal to the DNC and its corruption. Sorry, Mr. Sanders, but no revolutionary leader capitulates as fully as you did. Frankly, it was a disgrace, and although you’ll have sycophantic supporters going forward, TK won’t be one of them. Endorsing the DNC-rigged nomination choice, Hillary Clinton, was nothing less than shitting the bed.

There was a brief moment of forgiveness when Sanders left the Democrat party immediately after the fiasco (the Gestapo-like) convention in Philadelphia. Some of us thought it was a gesture for his more militant supporters (i.e., Bernie or Busters, etc.). I know I felt a little better for a day or two, and then when Jill Stein and the Green Party again extended an invitation to join their ranks, Sanders ignored the gesture, and all forgiveness for him evaporated.

The fear of an ass-clown like Donald Trump will never satisfy progressives. At this point in the game, it is too weak an argument. Elections based on fear of the other party have allowed the Democrat Party to not only become fully corporatized, they have also become fully militarized and totally unaccountable to their electorate (or why do they have to cheat?). They have destroyed the middle class and ignored the poor no less than their counterparts in the pay-to-play world of American politics. Our government has become a bidder’s paradise: the Republicans have the Koch Brothers, et al, and the Democrats have Wall Street, et al. Having Democrats hiding behind social issues with lip service platitudes does nothing for those without and/or those struggling to survive.

How do public servants become so wealthy so fast? Ask the Clintons … they claim to have left the White House “dead broke” and are now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Does anyone really need to research why?

The facts of this 2016 election cycle are these: American Exceptionalism requires a makeover, and it can no longer come from either major political party.

The bottom line is this: Bernie Sanders could’ve either run as an independent after the WikiLeaks dump and/or joined the Green Party, something they’d been calling for him to do since 2011. Jill Stein went so far as to tell her supporters in California to vote for Sanders during that state’s primary. She then extended the invitation to take the top spot on the Green Party ticket, but Sanders not only didn’t accept, he ignored the offer. Sanders joining the Greens would’ve provided instant viability, a guaranteed spot on the presidential debate stage, and a progressive third party. He opted to endorse the party that sabotaged his election, and thus flushed many, if not most, of his supporters’ hard-earned contributions down the toilet.

In the end, Bernie Sanders proved he’s just another “good Democrat” and no longer deserves the undying loyalty and support we here at TK gave him both in passion and coin. We only wish the coin we gave up for his aborted revolution could be transferred to Jill Stein and the Green Party, because when all was said and done, Ms. Stein proved to be the one with the stones a political revolution requires.

So, sorry, Bernie, we won’t be voting for your congressional supporters come November, not if they’re part of the Democratic Party. If we want to vote for fascists in the future, then we’ll return to the Democratic or Republican Party, but don’t hold your breath. You’re a footnote to a year of exposed corruption in politics, and within that footnote cite it’ll read: In the end, even after the DNC was exposed sabotaging his campaign, Bernie Sanders capitulated and endorsed corruption.

—Knucks

The Greener pastures Sanders ignored … the Greener pastures we’ve move to … JILL STEIN FOR PRESIDENT. Notice how Progressives now have to turn to FOX News for coverage due to the DNC controlled media like CNN, MSNBC and the network channels (as proved in the WikiLeaks emails).