Film: No Country for Old Men

Any filmmaker seeking to adapt a Cormac McCarthy novel faces the significant problem that a large part of the strength of each is the pure poetry of McCarthy’s prose.  In No Country for Old Men the Coen brothers provide cinematography that serves as a suitable stand-in for the poetry of McCarthy’s prose.  They back that up with a sharp attention to detail.

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Fiction: City of Hate by Timothy S. Miller

A book like City of Hate might not have normally caught my eye, but author Timothy Miller offered to send me a copy.  I’m glad I jumped on the offer.  City of Hate is “city noir” that imports much of what I love about country noir.  The setting and the backdrop are inspired, even if the execution wasn’t perfectly to my liking.

I lived in Houston during my swing through Texas.  One of Houston’s nicknames is the “Big Heart,” earned by the open arms its residents met Hurricane Katrina victims.  You could still see “I ♥ Houston” bumper stickers around New Orleans when I was traveling there on a regular basis for work.  Dallas has a nickname of its own that highlights the inevitability of comparisons between the cities and their relative merits: City of Hate.  The moniker is inextricably tied to JFK’s Dallas assassination.  Which might seem a little unfair.  Lee Harvey Oswald only lived in Dallas for a year.  And, whatever conspiracy you might embrace, the bulk of the city certainly didn’t participate in the assassination.  But the stage was already set for the moniker to stick, not by the dull statistic that Nixon won Dallas by a bigger margin than any other city (as remarkable as the existence of such a stat is today) but by a made-for-TV moment where vicious, pearled Dallas society women frothed (read: spit) at Lyndon and Ladybird John in front of a national audience.

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SF: Comanche by Brett Riley

Raymond Turner has a problem.  The New Orleans-based private investigator crawled into a bottle when his wife died and has only crawled out with considerable effort and grace on the part of his partner.

The town of Comanche, Texas has a problem.  Over one hundred and thirty-five years ago several townspeople killed the Piney Woods Kid and desecrated his corpse.  Now the ghost of the Piney Woods Kid is exacting his revenge on the descendants of those townspeople, haunting the grounds of the historic depot where his body was dismembered—newly renovated and opened as a diner by the town mayor.

Fortunately, the mayor’s wife is Turner’s sister.  Turner’s chance for redemption is Comanche’s chance for salvation.

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Country Noir: Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke

“That was the thing about second changes—it was impossible to know what was real or what wasn’t; every act of forgiveness was a leap of faith.”

Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is finally starting to get his life together after the events of Bluebird, Bluebird.  He is back on the job.  If it at a desk, the time home is allowing him to repair his relationship with his wife, and he is doing important work on a federal-state task force building a case against the Aryan Brotherhood.  His drinking is under control.  The only hitch is his no-account mother blackmailing him, but everything really goes to shit when a boy goes missing on the Texas-Louisiana border.

Heaven, My Home is the second book in Locke’s Highway 59 Mystery series.

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Fiction: Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda

I had the intense pleasure of living in Houston for four years this past decade.  But my fondness for my time there did not prevent my pleasure reading this collection of noir tales exploring Houston’s fetid underbelly.

I loved it there, and Houston has a better crime rate than, say, Chicago or New Orleans, but this is still a place where the old-fashioned burglar bars on our house were a good idea, where a man was shot in an drive-by a block away from my house, where a body was found in nice, new apartments under construction that marked my neighborhood as “transitioning,” where bodies were occasionally fished out of the bayou that ran a block from our house (sometimes closer).

The copy and intro both include a wonderful, vicious Hunter S. Thompson quote describing Houston as a “cruel, crazy town on a filthy river in East Texas with no zoning laws and a culture of sex, money, and violence. It’s a shabby, sprawling metropolis ruled by brazen women, crooked cops, and super-rich pansexual cowboys who live by the code of the West—which can mean just about anything you need it to mean, in a pinch.”  It says something about Texas that the immediate response is to say “hell yeah!” and adopt the quote as a point of pride.

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Country Noir: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil’s Country is a popcorn book.  Enjoyable and easy to consume.  But not meaty or complex.  And not entirely satisfying.

Arlo Baines isn’t looking for trouble.  He is just looking for escape from the circumstances that led to the murder of his family.  But he isn’t exactly in the mood to run from trouble.  So, when the ex-Texas Ranger steps in between a woman on the run from a cult with her two small children and two gun thugs, he doesn’t step back.  It isn’t hard to go “tumbling down into the black canyon at the center of [Arlo’s] being.”

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Friday Night Lights Fridays: Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream

It has been a long time and a lot of miles since I last read Friday Night Lights.  At the time, I had lived in only one state in memory and had ventured beyond my small hometown just to the weird cocoon of college (and the even weirder cocoon of grad school).  Since then I’ve lived in six more states, worked in three professions, and started a family.  Notably, I did a swing through Texas itself, if there can be any comparison between Houston and Odessa (probably not, no).  I consumed the movie and TV series the book produced and gobs of movies and TV and fiction and nonfiction besides.

I almost put Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream down as soon as I picked it back up.  The book starts off displaying some of the worst pretensions, literary and otherwise, that I have come to despise.  Bissinger is a smug, elitist asshole.  But don’t let that fool you—he has written a phenomenal book.  By dint of luck and talent, if not good intent, he captured a magic, manic season in a place gutted by an oil bust and gone mad for football.  This is a book well worth reading whether or not you care about high school football or that big empty part of Texas.

(My review, by the way, is of the version featuring a new afterword written a year after the original edition was published, not the 25 year anniversary edition.)

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Friday Night Lights Friday: 30 for 30: What Carter Lost

“It was football season, but this wasn’t just a football story.  In Texas, it never is.”

Buzz Bissinger’s book left a sour taste in the mouths of Odessa Permian fans, who felt they were unfairly portrayed.  They felt vindicated by Peter Berg’s movie.  Peter Berg’s movie left a sour taste in the mouths of Dallas Carter fans, who felt they were unfairly portrayed.  Inaccurately portrayed?  Sure.  Unfairly portrayed?  Nah.

The depiction of Dallas Carter in Peter’s Berg movie wasn’t nearly as negative as the truth of a team that forfeited its state title because the principal changed a player’s grades to keep him eligible and that had several players arrested for multiple armed robberies.  30 for 30: What Carter Lost tells that story.

Dallas Carter was also, according to LaDainian Tomlinson, “the greatest high school team that has ever been assembled.  Ever.”

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Friday Night Lights Friday: The Movie

The Friday Night Lights book produced an all-time great family drama, a very good high school movie, and a very good sports movie.  That final game!  (More on Carter next week when I cover the 30 for 30: What Carter Lost.)

The movie hews much closer to the basic facts of the book than the show.  Maybe the TV show better captures its spirit, but the movie does benefit from the verisimilitude of reality.  Who would come up with a coin toss to get into the playoffs?

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Friday Night Lights Friday: Varsity Blues

American Pie made a hundred million dollars in 1999, but for those of us living in wide swathes of the country, there was another high school movie that was just as important: Varsity Blues.  I include it in Friday Night Lights Friday because (1) any chance to talk about Varsity Blues is a good one, and (2) Varsity Blues, like Friday Night Lights, was also based on the Permian Panthers.

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