Movies »Bernie

bernie-poster1directed by Richard Linklater (2011)

Bernie came and went quietly in theaters but more and more people are discovering it on netflix as a hidden gem.

Fans of City Confidential (one of televisions unsung greats) will rejoice in this based on a true story crime flick. Linklater wisely uses colorful real people from the town of Carthage, TX as the talking heads and pulls excellent performances from them as well as his veteran actors.

Shirley McClaine is perfect as a cranky old woman, delivering lines that sound like overhead real conversations while Jack Black is remarkably subtle. Usually over the top and obnoxious, here he makes the character Bernie likable and dimensional while having fun with the role. In a quieter year, or had the film gained more attention, it could have even garnered him his first Oscar nomination.

It’s not big, loud oscar bait though (but Black did receive a Golden Globe nomination). It fits nicely along side other infinitely watchable true crime films like To Die For, Fargo, and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (do I see a potential marathon line up).

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Posted on January 29, 2013

Movies »Into the Abyss

directed by Werner Herzog (2011)

Into the Abyss takes an unsentimental (is Herzog ever any other way?) look at a particularly senseless murder and subsequent death sentence.

In most hands the subject and people could be treated with pointed, tear jerking emotions, but with Herzog’s frank discussions (at one point he tells a murderer he has no intention of liking him) the people involve are allowed to be more dimensional.

He asks questions and focuses on details other film makers would ignore.

The result is more than a knee jerk reaction to crime, poverty and the death penalty. It provokes you to actually think about it.

Herzog is an incredible documentarian who usually takes on nature more than human drama. In a way, this is a quieter film from him that lacks the interesting scenery of his more familiar works but it’s certainly not one to be missed.

It’s available on Netflix instant and beats an Investigative Reports any day.

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Posted on May 24, 2012

Spend a Couple Hours »Weegee: Murder Is My Business

at The ICP Museum, 1133 Ave of the Americas

I’ve been looking forward to the ICP Weegee show Murder is My Business for months and it didn’t disappoint.

The larger than life tabloid photographer, never squeamish, brought the bloody and violent truth of NYC crime to the front page with shots of recently killed gangsters (and innocents), taken sometimes before the police even arrived (his nickname came from the Ouija board because people joked he used it’s powers to know about crimes.)

His images, though gruesome, are rarely without a sense of humor though. He not only took photos of the gorey, but often captured he way New Yorkers accepted the violence around them, often convening around crime scenes with smiles on their faces.

His Coney Island images, reversely, always have an element of creepiness among the smiles and summer fun.

ICP has added a couple neat components to the show including a replica of his room and an interactive station that shows Weegee’s images next to the current locations in NYC. It’s hard to imagine people being shot in broad daylight on the steps of the chic stores in Soho and Little Italy.

Fans will be thrilled, but the salacious material should gather new fans too. Don’t forget the gift shop – I always like to get a little something from the best shows I see and they have mugs, totes, pins, and posters.

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Posted on February 12, 2012

Movies »Violette

directed by Claude Chabrol (1978)

Violette opens with Isabelle Huppert dressed in black with thick eyeliner, red lips looking every bit the femme fatale. In a bar, she teases young men with intense stares, long cigarettes and indecent proposals. Soon, however, we see young Violette at home, where she is clean faced, seemingly obedient, looking years younger, eye battingly sweet and a pathological lair. She suddenly, in the skillful hands of Huppert, becomes more complex; recognizable as one of those sociopath teenage girls who longs for something more than her common, strict home life – a 1930s echo of all the girls that walk out of their houses in modest clothes and a lie about spending the night with a friend only to have a stash of makeup, revealing tube tops and mini skirts in her backpack for a tour of the mall. Except, of course, that this one has murder on her mind.

Based on a true story, Violette is a conniving teen – deeply passionate underneath a shockingly emotionless exterior. The murder, once it is revealed, is as mundane as it is disturbing. Her life outside the home is daring and dangerous. She meets with many older men, is a blackmailer, and even keeps a hotel room for her many trysts. Her parents, a struggling but happy train conductor and a gorgeous woman with a secret past – played by Chabrol’s wife and muse Stephane Audran, are poor (but never has close quarter apartment living looked so cozily French – save for 400 Blows maybe). They try their best to assure better for their daughter and the relationship and dynamics are tackled with subtly and the artful patience Chabrol is known for. This is not a fast paced film but a quietly fascinating one – partially for the cinematic beauty and partially for Huppert’s captivating performance.

Director Claude Chabrol passed away last week and was one of the most important forerunners of the New Wave movement in France. His career is vast and sadly less known than many of his contemporaries. His last work, Bellamy, comes to theaters this Fall.

Click here for the rest of Violette

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Posted on September 26, 2010

Movies »The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom

Originally aired on HBO (1993)

Tongue in cheek humor, true crime, American absurdity and a spectacular cast – of course The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom made for TV movie is one of my all time favorites. Everyone seems to have forgotten how totally awesome Holly Hunter can me (seriously, why is she not cast in any of these hip quirky comedies of late – she’s the queen!!) and here she’s outstanding as the certifiably nuts true life criminal, Wanda Holloway, who attempted to pay her brother in law to kill her daughters cheerleading rival and rival’s mother. Beau Bridges and Swoosie Kurtz also stand out as the down on his luck brother in law and his insane wife.

It originally aired on HBO in the early nineties but is available on DVD and worth putting to the top of your netflix queue.

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Posted on July 18, 2010

TV Shows »Wicked Attraction

Wicked AttractionOn the Investigation Discovery channel

Visually, it definitely takes some getting used to (the first time Brittany and I watched an episode we found the overuse of kinetic video techniques incredibly overwhelming – and distracting), but the concept behind Wicked Attraction is undeniably intriguing: the show profiles couples (usually romantically involved, but not always) who have gone on (usually murderous) crime sprees.

The great Honeymoon Killers examines the bizarre, but not unique, relationship of a pair of crazies who probably would not have been killers if they hadn’t met each other but, through some crazy shared world view (usually founded upon the romance of the outlaw lifestyle), became serial killers. Badlands is a pretty wonderful portrait of this kind of relationship – so is Natural Born Killers, for that matter.

What’s great about Wicked Attraction is that it examines tons of similar cases – as a tease, a photo of Karla and her husband Paul flashes across the screen in the over-done intro – most of which are not nearly as infamous, though no less horrific, than the few high profile couple-killer cases we’re all familiar with. One particular episode, about two guys who met in prison and bonded over their mutual interest in abducting, assaulting and torturing women then, upon their respective releases, went out and bought a van and murdered an untold number of young girls, is truly chilling.

The production staff is always saddled with too few photos to work with (see below/after the jump), so I can almost understand the use of all the stylized digital fire, spazzy zooms and quick blurs; the over-saturated dramatic recreations (told almost entirely in close up) are an entirely different matter.

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Posted on December 6, 2009

TV Shows »Ann Rule’s Everything She Ever Wanted

20091123-IMG_0614Lifetime Movie Network Gold

Well, hello there sugar. You in the mood for the kind of scenery chewing actin’ that the lil’ old Lifetime Movie Network was made for? You just itchin’ for the kind of yarn that’s hotter than a junebug on Georgia asphalt? Well, then pull up a chair and grab yourself a glass of sweet tea (something that I’ve learned from both this miniseries and NBC’s To Catch a Predator is always a trap) and settle in for Ann Rule’s Everything She Ever Wanted – a series that begins with a genuine Gone With the Wind-themed weddin’.

Gina Gershon smacks her lips around the role of real life sociopathic southern belle Patricia Allanson (who in reality bears very little resemblance to Gershon) like some sexed up, large titted dog might around a badly written bone. It makes for a much better viewing experience than Ann Rule’s other recent Lifetime event, Too Late to Say Goodbye, where Rob Lowe plays a seemingly perfect husband, but is actually a wife killer.

So imagine my surprise and horror when, after watching for two hours (gathering as many screen shots as possible), the show ended with Gina injecting an old woman in the mouth with poison followed by a “To be continued…” message – and I didn’t record the second half! Lifetime, shame on you for not re-airing this glorious heap of camp and trash. What do we pay you for?! If you think it’s just for the Reba re-runs (now airing in the morning) and decades-old Tracey Gold amnesia dramas (The Perfect Daughter, aired Wed 25th at 2:00), you are sorely mistaken.

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Posted on November 29, 2009

Books »The Mercy Killers

mercy killers coverBy Lisa Reardon (2004)

Lisa Reardon is known as the queen of redneck noir and Mercy Killers is actually the second novel of her’s that I’ve read – Billy Dead being the first – and, like Billy Dead, it’s no cake walk. The world she creates is a grim one rife with abuse, death, drugs, poverty, alcoholism and hopelessness around every corner.

The time is the late sixties and the novel follows a group of trashy friends from early tragedy to the Vietnam years. Some of them go into combat, none come back the same. I won’t give too much of the plot away but, suffice to say, bad things happen to bad people.

What makes the book so readable (albeit depressing) is Reardon’s voice, which somehow makes the characters compelling and sympathetic or, if not exactly sympathetic, at least understandable in their rottenness. After doing some research on the author after finishing the book, I may have figured out why she’s so in tune with the sordid world she depicts!

Just a few months ago, Reardon was jailed for attempting to murder her father with a shotgun. He survived the attack, a fact that prompted her to say “I just cannot believe I missed. I will never get another chance.” Read the full article here.

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Posted on November 15, 2009

Places to Visit »Lizzie Borden House

Special thanks to Ashleigh, for writing this post!

Every one knows the “forty whacks” story of the Borden family murders.?Lizzie Borden was acquitted, but ask any vox pop, and you will be assured of her incontrovertible guilt.?Now, thanks to the Lizzie Borden LLC, you can visit the actual crime scene, look at photographic evidence, witness a live reenactment, and decide for yourself.

Located in Fall River, the tomb of what was once one of the leading textile producers in the world, the Borden family house has been restored to its Victorian-era splendor and is open to the public.?Tours are given daily from 11:00-3:00 and many special events such as crime and trial reenactments by the Pear Essential Players are scheduled throughout the year.?Red Hatters are welcome for “Tea & Murder”!

The museum also doubles as a bed & breakfast.?You can rest your head and test your nerve in the room where Abby Durfee Borden was hatcheted to death.?The rooms are beautifully appointed in antique Queen Anne furniture, though the pieces are not original to the Borden family.?In case you get too comfortable lounging on the feather duvet, there is a large photograph on the nightstand of Mrs. Borden lying prostrate on the carpet, skull caved-in, gore abounding, in the very spot where you left your slippers before climbing into bed.

If you are ever in the Boston or Providence area, this place is well worth the 20-40 min ride.?The all-female staff of docents are wonderfully cheerful, exceedingly knowledgeable, and always dressed in sunshine and springtime-colored track suits.?There is a well-stocked gift shop where one can purchase Lizzie bobble-heads, hatchet earrings, and other essential Goth accouterments.?(By the way, Fall River is amazing.?You have not seen the real New England until you've driven over the Braga Bridge at dusk.)

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Posted on October 5, 2009

TV Shows »Power Privilege and Justice

dominick dunne trutvI was noticing that the dapper Dominick Dunne was looking a bit ill in the latest episodes of Power Privilege and Justice and I was terribly saddened to hear that he passed away last week. The channel played a thirteen hour marathon of his true crime show and if you missed it, I highly recommend recording repeat episodes.

The show focuses on high profile crimes committed by or against the rich and or famous. Many of the cases made headlines and many of those headlines were written by Dunne. He was an insightful and entertaining correspondent for Vanity Fair and essayist on celebrity crime. He brings his wit and expertise to the show as well as a meticulous fashion sense and a collection of smart and unconventional ties.

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Posted on August 31, 2009

TV Shows »The Interrogators

As a connoisseur of true crime television shows, I can definitively state that actual footage of under-cover busts, taped conversations, and interrogations are often the best part of any program. Enter The Interrogators, a new show on the Biography channel. Of course it's awesome and of course I love it.? There's an episode On-Demand if you're an NYC-area Time Warner customer, just search it out in the guide.?

There's more on

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Posted on August 17, 2009

Movies »Star 80

In 1980 Playboy model Dorothy Stratten was brutally murdered by her husband who then shot himself. It is the kind of tragic and salacious story that has spawned recreations in the true crime television genre of today, but surprisingly, it was Bob Fosse, fresh off his fame of All That Jazz that originally took up the story for a feature film called Star 80.

I'd seen the Muriel Hemingway VHS cover in video stores for years but, perhaps like you, had never heard so much about the film itself and wondered if that boded poorly for it. While it is not a pleasant movie, it's actually quite an ugly little story, I have to say i was surprised that it was such a good one.

A few dated directing techniques get in the way, but the very unglamorized story is well told and two phenomenal performances that really make the film worth watching. Hemingway is excellent as a very naive and sweet girl who is taken advantage by an insane man.

I don't know what it was that got Eric Roberts so off the fast track to stardom he was on (I'm going to guess drugs?) but it certainly wasn't a lack of talent that derailed him. Here he is complex, brutal, weak, scary, and pathetic all at once. It's a terrifying and realistic portrayal that even Hugh Hefner, friend of Dorothy's who was adamantly against the fictionalizing of her story praised the performance.

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Posted on July 27, 2009

TV Shows »FBI Files

The FBI Files: Deadly Paradise While I'd love to give the folks over at FBI Files a full on series recommendation, I can only really recommend one episode (Deadly Paradise: season 1, episode 5), so memorable and great that it's been worked into my usual party conversations. Attempts to get as involved with other episodes have failed.

The one I speak of involves a remote island Pacific island in shark-infested waters, a thieving bad news dude with the name 'Buck' tattooed on his arm (though he denies that's his name) with an equally delinquent girlfriend, a pot growing scheme gone wrong, the cutting down of a coconut tree to get at the coconuts, shooting of fish with a handgun, and daring escapes in row boats and hiding in potted plants. Look for it!

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Posted on July 20, 2009

TV Shows »Female Forces

female forcesThe Female Forces recommendation came from a not always totally reliable source; while our good friends have impeccable taste in many things, they're also the ones that can quote from the two part Real Housewives of New York City season finale. Still, a hilarious clip on The Soup involving chicken wings made the decision to record the realty show an easy one.

Set in Naperville, Illinois, the show follows the women of the shield as they chase down stray dogs, escort drunkies to the tank, stop speeders, and visit the dermatologist. They're a charming bunch, often speaking with Fargo-like accents that make them even more lovable. It's also nice that this show is not like Cops in that you walk away from it feeling like a voyeur with a roman emperor's lust for blood and a sinking feeling that humans are truly animals. In fact, for a reality cop show, this is fairly light hearted and even a bit cheerful.

It's not the easiest show to find, but look for it on the HD Crime and Investigation channel (that also airs Twin Peaks).

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Posted on June 8, 2009

Books »The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective

The Suspicions of Mr. WhicherThe Suspicions of Mr Wicher is a true crime tale centered on the real life mysterious murder of a young boy. Like the JonBenet Ramsey case of its time, the crime mesmerized and rocked the nation. It was speculated about in the media and everyone within the home's walls was a suspect.

Mr. Wicher was a fairly renowned detective at a time when detectives were a new concept, seen as part supernatural genius, part shaman or – when the tides of popular sentiment turned against them – as voyeuristic intruders into the highly guarded personal lives of respected society.

The book is most interesting when it handles the crime itself and the suspicions, not only of Mr. Wicher, but the townsfolk and media. It's a bit less engaging in the latter bits that detail what happened to all the players. One son grows up to be a famous botanist, etc… I guess I'm living proof that the salacious intrigue of the evil men do is always most compelling, just as it was when this murder took place.

Unlike the similar crime in Boulder, this one has a conclusion and a confession, which is led up to with some suspense by Summerscale, whose short resume also includes a biography of an eccentric world-class speedboat racer and heiress (The Queen of Whale Cay).

This book is a perfect pair to this week's TV show, A Most Mysterious Murder.

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Posted on May 18, 2009

TV Shows »A Most Mysterious Murder

a most mysterious murderThings that make me happy: dramatic recreations, century old mysteries, historic costumes, family scandals, melodrama, and wry wit – all of which can be found in the surprisingly little known true crime series, A Most Mysterious Murder. From a well-to-do woman with a shocking past and a newly dead husband, to an entire family poisoned by a possible mad man, these are the real life stories that gripped the world, inspired headlines and have fostered speculation for decades.

Julian Fellowes (author of the charming novel Snobs and adored screenwriter of Gosford Park) is the perfect host to these ghastly and salacious stories, wandering in and out of scenes with smirky quips and modern asides. So often the narrative tone of documentary shows negatively impacts the entire program, but in this case the narration is spot on.

Also satisfying are the plausible solutions to the murders that Fellowes presents. Even though the findings cannot be conclusively confirmed, it's always great to feel like a mystery has been solved. This is a perfect pairing with this week's book, The Suspicions of Mr. Wicher.

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Posted on May 18, 2009

Movies »To Die For

to die forSometimes a rainy Sunday is perfect for revisiting favorite movies, and Gus Van Sant's black comedic true crime satire, To Die For is definitely a favorite of mine. The cast is at their peak. Matt Dillon is radiantly slovenly and Nicole Kidman still looks like a blooming real human being and, in a career of very few bright spots performance-wise, she's brutally excellent as a psychopath. She is the blond, perfectly coiffed personification of a certain fame seeking, ambitious, and broken part of our culture. Ileana Douglas also shines and look out for cameos by David Cronenberg and the films screenwriter, Buck Henry.

While the film satirizes the searing ambition that can lead people to kill, and points out our insatiable lust for the torrid tabloid tales that follow, it's also one of the best examples of true crime entertainment. Any fan of Joaquin Phoenix would also agree that it's one of the steamiest as well. (Which is a little creepy considering the story's of a teenager seduced into murder by a grown woman.)

Here, as the seduced teenage burnout, Phoenix is pretty much the embodiment of my teenage desires: he's off-kilteredly handsome, blindly lustful, denim and leather dirty, very dumb and a little bit sad. One can't help but feel a pang of sympathy for the kid as he sits in a junk yard looking off in the distance, walleyed and slack jawed and calls his polka dot and manicured mistress “clean” with longing.

The film is based on the novel To Die For, which was itself inspired by the true, sordid, tabloid sensation crime of one Pam Smart. Also a call in show called Metal Madness), Pamela also seduced a boy (Billy Flynn) and convinced he and his friends to kill her husband. She is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole and Flynn, having served more of his life in prison that outside, recently asked for (and was denied) a reduced sentence.

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Posted on May 4, 2009