“Deadbeat” in Down & Out Magazine, hate everywhere.

The crew at Down & Out Books keeps on bringing great crime fiction. Their latest is Down & Out Magazine, and Rick Ollerman edited issue number one. I’m proud that my story “Deadbeat” is among the stories chosen for the inaugural issue, along with tales by Eric Beetner, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Jen Conley among others. My story is a short about ironworkers high in the sky and how the past shapes you.

Links to all retailers carrying the print and ebook versions are available at Down & Out Magazine page.

This week at Do Some Damage, I talk about writing the nature of hate and evil, the dangers of too much sympathy, and when some mystery is better.

And in light of recent events, I’d like to share this photo I took during my visit to Germany. This is the site of Hitler’s bunker. It’s not a memorial, it’s a parking lot. That’s me giving the finger to him. Not quite as dramatic as Groucho Marx dancing on his grave, but let me make my feelings clear, if you haven’t figured it out from Jay Desmarteaux calling the white supremacists in prison “Hitler Bitches” … if the “14 words” have meaning to you, if you believe the U.S. is undergoing “white genocide” … head over to Life After Hate and begin your journey from embracing evil to joining humanity. And if you’re on the fence, or think “both sides” are guilty… watch this Vice ridealong with the hate groups. Watch with care, you can see when terrorist James Alex Fields Jr murdered activist Heather Heyer with his car.

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My work in progress explores hatred in the New Jersey suburbs. We have a history of Klan and Nazi activity, and were the HQ of the German-American Bund prior to the war. Those people all just disappeared after the joint FBI-KKK raid on the Bund camp, I am sure.

Review: The Beasts of Valhalla

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0967450330&ref=qf_sp_asin_til&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

An enjoyable novel that goes from murder mystery to James Bond film. The lead character is interesting, an ex-circus dwarf turned criminologist, karate expert, and private investigator. He has little trouble with anything a dwarf deals with on a daily basis. I can suspend my disbelief for mad scientist shenanigans, but can a dwarf drive an unmodified car? Petty, I know, but this is the main character we’re talking about. I forgot he was a dwarf, and it felt like the author did, too. It’s a good rollicking story, but left me feeling rushed and like much had been forgotten. The first act is excellent, but once the huge conspiracy unfolds, it becomes a very different story, more plot driven than character driven, and while we meet some very interesting characters, they are mere kindling for to keep the steam boiler running. One major helper simply disappears.

I’ll admit, I read this as I am tying my own novel together and digging out problems at the root, so I was quite critical with this one. For a quick fun read, it works. I was expecting a lot more, and left disappointed. I am told this book was a turning point for the series, and I will go back to see if it had a more emotional foundation in the earlier books.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern in the Waste Land of WW2

Saw Inglourious Basterds the other night with Firecracker. We both enjoyed it. There, done.

Actually it is quite entertaining for a 2 1/2 hour movie filled with long stretches of dialogue, and that in itself is an accomplishment these days. It’s not an action movie; it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie. Like his idols Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock and Sergio Leone, he’s learned that we glean more suspense from the measured anticipation of violence than from the explosive act itself. The movie opens on the French countryside, as SS Colonel Hans Landa speaks with a farmer he suspects of hiding Jews. For fifteen minutes, we are rapt listening to the two men quietly converse over smoked pipes, and a glass of milk. No music. Much like the beginning to Once Upon a Time in the West, he forgoes the assistance of the soundtrack. You can hear the creaking of the floorboards, the soft wind outside. It’s a brilliant introduction and showcase for actor Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of the film’s psychopathic villain, the cold-eyed, relentless Jew Hunter, drained of all colorful excess. The final solution, was after all, enacted by bean counters. Landa is more of an Inspector Javert, all the more terrifying because he lacks the insane zeal of the Nazis, but has all the compassion of a laser-guided missile.
One girl does escape his clutches in this scene, Shoshanna. As she flees, he calls to her, “au revoir.” See you again. From this scene onward, I felt that the characters knew they were in a movie; it’s a Tarantino trait, and it isn’t meant as a slight or dismissal. One of my favorite films, Casablanca, has its characters practically winking at the camera in every scene. In the next chapter, we meet the Bastards, the infamous Nazi hunting squad of Jews recruited by Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine, a Tennessee moonshiner’s son with a hanging scar, that the Germans have nicknamed The Apache. In a shot recalling George C. Scott’s opening speech in Patton, he tells his men they owe him a debt of 100 Nazi scalps. Sure, it’s fantastical, and recalls classics as The Dirty Dozen. But there were real groups like The Filthy Thirteen, and psy-ops meant to break enemy resolve. The story has only the flimsiest grip on reality, and lives in the mythology built upon the foundation of hundreds of movies and television shows about the Second World War. And it rewrites history, like many of those films do- but in the biggest way imaginable.
Much has been said about whether Eli Roth’s cameo role as Donny Donnowitz, “the Bear Jew,” who likes to club Nazis to death with a Louisville Slugger, and how horrible his acting was. Personally, I thought he was fine as the ubiquitous “Brooklyn” character every WW2 movie has. And for a director, he acted quite well. No, he’s no Cronenberg or even Scorsese directing himself in Taxi Driver, but I’ll take him over another Tarantino cameo (though admittedly, his line ‘because he’s a stuntman’ was one of the funnier bits of Death Proof). The other standout Bastard is Hugo Stiglitz, a German deserter who killed a bunch of Nazi officers. Named after a Mexican grindhouse star and played by Til Schweiger- who was hilarious in SLC Punk!– he gets a lot of mileage out of playing the strong, silent type and gets as nearly as many laughs as Pitt’s ridiculous hillbilly accent. “I want mah Gnatzi scalps!”
And so does Shoshanna. Now running a cinema in occupied Paris, she’s met by Franz Zoller, a war hero starring in a propaganda film that Goebbels wants to premiere at the Ritz. She doesn’t know this when she meets him, just as he has no idea she’s anything but an alluring, smart cinephile. Played by Mélanie Laurent and Daniel Brühl (Goodbye Lenin!) this odd romance is captivating, as Tarantino gives us the romance of Paris with the backdrop of the terror of occupation. Shoshanna just wants to survive, but through Zoller’s romantic inclinations, she has her revenge plunked into her lap- the film will premiere at her theater, with the Nazi high command attending. She intends to burn down the house, not knowing that Allied saboteurs have the same idea. The saboteurs are led by a British infiltrator named Hickox played perfectly by Michael Fassbender of “Band of Brothers.” He’s stepped right out of a Pressburger & Powell picture, with the energy of a young Kevin Kline and the wit of a young David Niven. He and a few Bastards are meeting with the German actress Bridget von Hammersmark in a rathskeller to synchronize plans, when they unexpectedly find themselves in a Quentin Tarantino film.
This is the longest dialogue-driven scene in the story and the only one that feels a bit overlong, and too familiar. Hammersmark (played by Diane Kruger of National Treasure) isn’t a caricature of Marlene Dietrich, who recorded propaganda records for the OSS and entertained troops in France, Algeria and marched with Patton into Germany. The Germans hated Marlene for it, but as she said, it was “aus Anstand”- the decent thing to do. Bridget is one better, by contriving to have the Nazi high command blown to bits in a daring suicide mission. She and the Bastards decide to keep their rendezvous in the basement pub even though a soldier is celebrating fatherhood there, and it ends up in one of Quentin’s Mexican standoffs. Instead of feeling like a trademark, it felt overused; much like the standoff over the pregnancy tests in Kill Bill Vol.2.

However, this leads to its one reference to the movie it gets its title from, The Inglorious Bastards (full review) where a group of bad boys have to take over a suicide mission, and that’s what happens here. The Bear Jew will get to massacre Nazis and their wives with burp guns while Shoshanna’s face is projected on the firestorm of the burning theater like the visage of a vengeful Old Testament God, as we’re delivered a brutal, fiery finale unlike any ending Tarantino’s written before. Their uppance has cometh, and it’s wonderful to watch, as gruesome as it may be.
Most of the criticisms seem unfair. Sure, it knows it’s a movie. So did Casablanca. Like most of QT’s films it is a palimpsest of his influences that came before it, and the characters are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern discussing philosophy behind the curtains. That’s my description of Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction, and those seem to be the kind of characters Tarantino is most interested in. Like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and James Joyce’s Ulysses, it certainly references and pastiches the works that he considers influences; he may not have the sense of humor with it that Joyce does, nor is it meant as an encapsulation of all that came before, as Eliot, but being a construct of references doesn’t dilute its artistry. He does play with the very concept of cinema changing history, as the accelerant that ignites Shoshanna’s vengeance is the nitrate film stock collected in the theater. The very films Hitler would burn as affronts to Aryan supremacy are the instrument of the Reich’s undoing. Now that’s all very clever, but coupled with his talent, it makes for quite an enjoyable film for cinephiles and moviegoers alike.

Armond White, that gadfly of film criticism, made the valid point that the Nazis are dehumanized de facto in this story, and Tarantino isn’t interested in telling us of the horrors of war. But I’ll take a wild fantasy like this one, which wears its heart on its sleeve, than one that buys into the mythology that America strutted in, made the biggest sacrifices, and blew Hitler away once our Allies failed. That’s essentially what happens here, a parody of so many American WW2 stories that ignore or belittle the great sacrifices of the British (namby pamby as in Patton) , the French (cheese-eating surrender monkeys, in practically everything) and Russians, who we were ordered to forget as allies, because they were dirty commie pinkos. I love that this movie pokes fun at that without moralizing to us about it. Because really, what war film truly shows us the horrors of war? Even Saving Private Ryan, after its bloody opening, falls into the same cliches. Night and Fog, and perhaps Army of Shadows show the pure dread of actually living through such a nightmare. Grave of the Fireflies, Gallipoli, Paths of Glory, A Midnight Clear. Does that mean every film has to deconstruct the war film, like Les Carabiniers? I should hope not.

I’ve enjoyed Tarantino’s films since I first saw Reservoir Dogs at the Angelika Film Center with my friend Jack Chan. I didn’t know what the hell we saw, but I loved it. The ironic soundtrack recalling my beloved Harold and Maude; how it was set in the present, but felt distilled from the ’70s crime films I loved. The long stretches of dialogue out of a Pinter play or the French new wave. But most of all, the bloody sense of humor that pervaded throughout. Then Pulp Fiction came and changed everything. Sure, we had to tolerate a lot of copycats, but it was like À bout de souffle (Breathless) all over again. Nothing was the same. I don’t think Tarantino can ever top that, and I’m not sure he should try too hard. To go back to Leone, if Dogs is Fistful of Dollars and Fiction is The Good, the Bad & the Ugly– has he made Once Upon a Time in the West yet? I’m not sure, but I’ll be eager to watch his movies until he does.

this way, boys…


To Only the Cinema, to discuss this month’s movie of The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club: Black Book by Paul Verhoeven.

Movies to Watch with Zombie Hitler on his Birthday

Cap’n America punching Adolf in the kisser. America, FUCK YEAH! 4/20 is Hitler’s birthday- guess he was a stoner, man! And here are our picks to watch with Zombie Hitler, if he should ever arise. What would Zombie Hitler be like? Well, just look at this photo and imagine this watermelon is your brain:

They Saved Hitler’s Brain

Mein Gott! Zis is Charlie Chaplin!

From IMDb: “Nazi madmen preserve Hitler’s brain on a small tropical island until the time is right to resurrect him and, along with him, the Third Reich.” Okay, I have to see this. It’s not on DVD, but I found it through some rarity site. You’ll get a full review sometime soon. The whole concept is hilarious. And it’s not like his brain conquered Europe. And they saved his HEAD! Wouldn’t it be funnier if it was a floating brain with a little mustache?

Downfall

Who vants zee first happy pill?

Zombie Hitler might cry if he watched this. Bruno Ganz plays Hitler during the last days of his failed Reich, when he has children fighting the Allies in the streets of Berlin, fanatical soldiers committing suicide rather than see their own defeat, and psychotic Nazi leaders poisoning their own children. Ganz is one of Germany’s great actors, best remembered as an angel in Wings of Desire, and he encapsulates Hitler’s terrible charisma and self-loathing with perfection. Besides, there’s wonderful schadenfreude watching these monsters suffer and consign their genes to the dunghill of history.

Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS
It’s a lot harder to find work safe images of this, lemme tell ya.

This is a lot more fun. Dyanne Thorne- last seen in a cameo in one of the Grindhouse fake trailers- plays Ilsa, fleshpot dominatrix of the SS. Pure, classic trash. That’s one of the few scenes where she has her clothes on. To my shame, I’m almost embarrassed to watch this one. I’ll get over it, and a review will be forthcoming. How can you NOT watch a movie like this?

Marathon Man

Nazi + Dentist = pure genius.

William Goldman wrote the book, which is about a Nazi Dentist living off the diamonds he stole from the Jews he slaughtered in the camps. When his source- who sells them in the NYC Diamond district, how’s that for irony- is killed, he comes to figure out what happened. He ends up killing CIA Agent Roy Scheider, whose little brother Dustin Hoffman- a sad sack long distance runner- ends up mixed up in it. Lawrence Olivier plays the “white angel” Dr. Szell, famous for stuffing a power drill in Hoffman’s mouth and asking “Is it safe?” He also has a huge switchblade up his sleeve. He’s one of the great cinematic villains, and this is one of the best thrillers of the ’70s.

The Boys from Brazil

Nein! I am not your weiner schnitzel!

To make up for playing a Nazi, Olivier plays a Nazi hunter here, and Gregory Peck gets to play Zee German. He has a diabolical plan to use DNA harvested from Hitler to make clones of der Fuhrer, in the hope that he’ll lead a new Reich. It doesn’t make any more sense than saving Hitler’s brain, but it sure is fun! They try to raise the Little Hitlers in households similar to Adolf’s, and one kid has a pack of bloodthirsty dobermans.

Dead Snow
aka Død snø, where a møøse once bit my sister, this is a zombie flick where skiers in Norway are beset by a horde of Nazi zombies! It was only a matter of time before someone made a Nazi zombie movie. It’s not on Netflix yet, sadly. When will Hollywood get around to making a Castle Wolfenstein movie? It would be most incredibly awesome. For now, this is the closest we get. Zombie Hitler would approve.

Miracle at St. Anna

I don’t understand all the hate for this film. It’s a little sloppy in places, and takes a while to start, but once we flash back to World War 2, I was gripped. It helps that I watched The Inglorious Bastards (full review) recently; this is not Saving Private Ryan, it’s an old-school World War 2 film, injected with hokiness, but also with a modern level of gruesomeness and brutality. Lee begins by showing an old black man watching John Wayne in The Longest Day as a hint to not expect a modern gritty tale. The first thing he says is, “we fought that war, too.” Miracle at St. Anna doesn’t always work, but I enjoyed it. It is more cluttered than deep, but there is plenty to enjoy here.
An elderly postal worker shoots another old man; cops find a priceless relic in his apartment. We learn its story, with the “experimental” all-black Buffalo Soldiers regiment in Italy in ’44. We get Spike Lee black soldier stereotypes in place of the classic motley crew- there’s the white commander’s lackey, there’s the man trying to uplift his race, there’s the idiot manchild, there’s the guy with the gold tooth and luck with women, who “sets the race back a hundred years.” It’s part commentary on WW2 film conventions and movie expectations of black characters as you’d expect from Spike Lee, but has a solid, old-fashioned heart of a war story, as gritty as The Story of G.I. Joe.
The Italian campaign of World War 2 was some of the most brutal combat of the war, and its tale is the least told. The black regiments, such as those with Patton who broke through the lines, liberated the camps- rarely get mention, and especially in film. Here we get a story of 4 men trapped behind enemy lines. The artifact, the head of a statue, hangs in a net from a huge man’s belt. He’s Train, a towering baby-faced soldier with a gentle manner. He’s been carrying the artifact because he thinks rubbing it for luck has saved his bacon many times. We see his luck or its power in the first battle, as his regiment stalks across a heavily guarded river, and calls for artillery support. Their white commander- who feels slighted for being forced to lead the experimentary all-black force- refuses to believe they’ve made it so far ahead, and corrects the coordinates, bombing his own men.
As they’re cut down between friendly and German fire, only four manage to escape across enemy lines and into a small Italian village. When Train searches a barn as a possible hideout, he saves a young boy from under a collapsed beam; he feels responsible for him afterward. The boy seems touched, like Train; they give the story a fantasy quality. Stamps is the cool & collected leader of the group, and once he gathers his remaining men he gets them holed up with friendly Italians, including the mysterious and sexy Renata (Valentina Cervi, who does get topless) and her fascist-leaning father. Eventually they team with Italian partisans, including the Butterfly, who has a huge price on his head.
When they finally make contact with their regiment, they’re told to grab a German prisoner to interrogate about the enemy positions. As you can see, there’s a hell of a lot going on- and not all of it gets the detail we’d like. We see what Spike Lee is interested in, which isn’t always the plot. There are Nazi atrocities, such as the slaughter of villages to root out partisans; the detectives in the present trying to make sense of the murder in the post office; the Butterfly wondering if rebellion is worth the heavy price they pay in blood; Train and the boy, who may have “the sight,” and dealing with their bigoted superior.
This all happens in the shadow of The Sleeping Man, the mountain that resembles a man’s face, who the locals think will awaken and wipe the country clean of enemies. There’s a lot going on, and it takes a long time for us to get back to the beginning. Don’t expect too much from it, and you’ll be rewarded. It reminded me a lot of Inglorious Bastards (full review), where the journey was more important than where it took you. At 160 minutes, it’s best classified as what we used to call a Sunday movie- maybe not an epic, but a long, busy story that improves with multiple viewings.

Rating: Worthy

The Reader

This is a fine drama but I’m not sure it deserves a best picture nomination. Like Frost/Nixon it is held together by performances, like Rachel Getting Married it has some flaws. Kate Winslet is 99% fantastic, channeling Marlene Dietrich as a German woman named Hannah nearing 40, and still working as a ticket taker on a tram. One day a young man named Michael (David Kross) is sick on her trolley and she helps him; later his mother urges him to go thank her, and a spontaneous affair begins when he peeks at her putting on her stockings.
The first act of the movie is Summer of ’42 and the lovers spent a great deal of time naked. Some complain, but this feels and looks natural. It doesn’t stand out as gratuitous, but shows how prudish most movies actually are these days. As the physical relationship softens and becomes an emotional one, young Michael begins to read to her. It becomes obvious to us watching that Hannah cannot read, but the movie treats this as a surprise later. Perhaps if the movie wasn’t called “The Reader,” and I didn’t immediately think “who’d need a reader? a blind person, or an illiterate?” it could have been a surprise. But it is not, and the movie feels clumsy when it tries to make it so. As Michael ignores the beautiful young girls flowering around him at school, Hannah one day disappears, breaking his heart but freeing him to live a normal life.
We see Michael go to university, years later, where he is studying law. His ethics teacher wants his students to know the difference between law and morality; he takes them to the trial of SS guards charged with the murder of Jews. And Michael sees Hannah again, and she’s not a member of the jury. The “secret” of her illiteracy becomes the linchpin of who is the guiltiest person on trial, and she is too ashamed to admit it. And it becomes obvious that her shame of illiteracy led her to become a guard during the war, and “sign” a statement she could not know the contents of. At first this seems like a clever construct- what if someone ended up a monster through no motive of their own? But it is not. Does redemption exist for ordinary people who followed the rules and abetted atrocities? Or are they just scapegoats for the entire country?
Soon it is Michael’s turn to stand up to the unstoppable engines of the government, justice, and the country’s demand for absolution. Like Hannah, he has a shameful secret he is loathe to reveal, and makes a decision that will haunt him for the rest of his life. For every whistleblower, for every man who stands up to the tanks at Tienanmen Square, for every Oskar Schindler there were a million people who just went along. The Reader is about those people.
Michael’s shame weighs down on him throughout his life and makes him distant from his nonexistent wife and neglected daughter. Played by Ralph Fiennes, he manages to be quiet yet expressive, a shadow of the passionate young man he once was. The third act is his attempt at redemption with Hannah, his daughter, and a survivor, and the weakest part of the film. There are plenty of good scenes, but the pacing is languid and the editing awkward. Like The Return of the King, it doesn’t know when it’s ending, and we get several denouements. We get a clumsy and unnecessary flashback structure with bookends, and it weakens the film.


I think it is still worth seeing, and the performances of Winslet, Kross and Fiennes hold together the director’s clumsy web. If you want to see Kate’s nipples, they’re like the double crimson sunsets on Tatooine in Star Wars on the big screen. Her make-up is excellent and while not as creepy as Benjamin Button’s, she ages convincingly. With her accent and severe expressions, Winslet proves that she can transform into a character- even if that character is eerily reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich in A Foreign Affair. Only once, when she smiles up at us, did she remind me who she was. It wouldn’t be an outrage if she got the Oscar for it.
4 big red Nazi nipples out of 5