Book Review: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock


The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock is a noir stew spanning over decades and consisting of many tough characters, thrown in a pot and put on boil.

This is Donald Ray Pollock’s first full length novel, published in 2011. He had a short story collection come out in 2008 called Knockemstiff. Knockemstiff  is the town in Ohio in which Pollock grew up. Knockemstiff  is also one of the locations in The Devil All the Time. Is there a better noir name for a town? Pollock worked as a laborer and truck driver until he turned 50. He then went to Ohio State University’s English program. I guess it is never to late to become a great writer.

The Devil All the Time has many story lines that criss cross each other until the final chapter. The best way to describe this book is by the characters.

Arvin starts out a young boy, growing up in the country. His father Willard is an ex-military religious nut. Arvin’s mother is dying and Willard is not taking it well. The local Sheriff is as corrupt and crooked as they come. The Sheriff’s sister is a prostitute/bartender and is married to a serial killer. They like to make road trips and find hitchhikers to take pictures of and kill. Arvin has a grandmother who has adopted a girl. The girl’s mother has been killed and her father is the main suspect. The father and his crippled friend travel with a circus. We later run into a Pastor who is married to a young women but likes even younger women. You throw all these ingredients in and see what happens.

This book has been described as Hick Lit, Ohio Gothic, Country Noir even Horror. whatever you call it, it is a dark journey worth taking. Lets hope Pollock has many more great stories to tell. If you are a fan of Jim Thompson you will probably fall in love with Donald Ray Pollock too.

Review: Cop Car

Cop Car is a recently released film on Blu-Ray after a limited run in theaters. Written by Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford and Jon Watts also directed. Watts’ career has included a few television projects and a horror film called Clown. I am not familiar with Watts’ work other than this film, but we will soon be hearing much more from this director as he is attached to direct the new Spider-Man film from Marvel. Marvel has been very good at finding great talent to put behind the camera and they may have found another one in Watts.

Cop Car will more than likely draw its audience from Kevin Bacon fans more than Marvel fan boys, and though Bacon has a great performance in this film, the story is what drives it. One of the interesting things about this film is we do not get the whole story for any of the characters involved, but the short time that they cross paths is a mesmerizing story line. The film starts out with two young boys, played by James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford, who have recently ran away from home and start walking through the country. They come upon a sheriff’s car in the middle of nowhere, seemingly abandon. After a few dares coming from both boys, they find the keys and decide to take it. Then there is a flashback to just before the kids found the car. Kevin Bacon is a Sheriff who is pulling a dead body out of the trunk of the car and is bringing it to an abandoned well. He dumps the body after some effort and when he walks back to where he parked his car, it is gone. The story continues from here as Bacon has to outsmart the dispatch as well as find his car before anybody finds that it has been stolen.

Even though this is a country-noir with vast landscapes, it has a very small cast to keep the story very tight and suspenseful. Camryn Manheim plays a witness to the kids driving the car and Shea Whigham shows up in an important role later in the film. Other than these 5, everybody else is pretty much background extras.

One aspect of this film that I loved is all the characters in this film are noir protagonists in different ways and all could be the main character of their own noir story. We just do not know that whole story and never find it out during this film. The two boys are running away from home at the beginning of the film, but we don’t know why. The Sheriff is getting rid of a dead body and again we don’t know why. Do to my policy of no spoilers I will not go into Whigham’s character, but lets just say he may have the most noir story line of them all.

This film is a must see for fans of Whigham or Bacon and I feel most noir fans will find it worth watching. All this adds up to wanting to see more work from Watts and hoping he gives the new Spider-Man a little noir flair.

Favorite Tidbit: Kevin Bacon’s wife Kyra Sedgwick is the voice of the Police Dispatch in this film.

Review: Book Vs. Film: Cold in July



Cold in July started out as a noir book written by Joe R. Lansdale. Lansdale is a genre writer that writes everything from horror to sci-fi, and of course some noir. Cold in July was first published in 1989.

The screenplay is written by Nick Damici and Jim Mickle who also directs. This team has brought us a few low-budget horror movies including the very good Stake Land. They are also working on a television show based on Hap and Leonard, two characters also created by Lansdale and has 10 books in the series so far. This will hopefully start airing on the Sundance Channel next year.

The Film stars Dexter himself Michael C. Hall in a role just as dark, but a totally different type character.  He plays a family man who is married to a lovely wife played by Vinessa Shaw and has a small boy.  They have a home invader, who Hall kills in self-defense.  He then learns that the man he killed has a father who just got out of prison, played by Sam Shepard.  The Father comes to town for revenge on his son’s killer and all hell breaks loose!  This might be enough for a complete film, but it is only the start, the direction this goes is far from predictable.

Don Johnson steals the show as Jim Bob, a detective that bleeds Texas and is called in to help on the case.  He raises pigs, wears an outfit out of the old west and drives a big Cadillac.  We want more Jim Bob! and we might just get it.  Jim Bob is a character that also appears in the Hap and Leonard books, so we may see him in the television series at some point.

So what is better, the film or the book.  I read the book and then watched the movie twice, and I would have to say I would go with both. Nick Damici and Jim Mickle stay true to the source material, even having the film take place in the late 1980’s when it was written.  I actually think watching the movie first may be the way to go.  The story is so fresh and original that you will not see what is coming in the film, leaving you with more shock and awe then if you read the book first.  Then read the book as soon as you can get your hands on a copy.

Review: Cut Bank


Cut Bank is a country noir written by Roberto Patino.  Patino has also worked on Sons of Anarchy and Prime Suspect so he has some good experience with crime and drama.  Patino looks to be also working on bringing The Carrion Birds by Urban Waite to the screen.  This book is on my to-read list and I hope to review it later on this blog.

Matt Shakman is the director, it is his first feature, but he is an accomplished television director.  Because he has worked on so many different kinds of television, he brings a little of everything to the film.  We have some black comedy, western, thriller and noir elements through out.

Liam Hemsworth and Teresa Palmer play our young couple that are desperate to leave the small town of Cut Bank, MT.  Even though they may be our lead characters, they may be the most boring ones of the film.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Palmer’s father and Hemsworth’s boss.  He doesn’t see much screen time but his interactions with Malkovich are great.

John Malkovich worked as a fire fighter in Glacier Park and actually lived in Cut Bank for a short time when he was in college.  He really wanted to do this film based on his love for the little town of Cut Bank and stayed attached to the project for over 2 years to be in it.  Malkovich plays the local sheriff, that is a fish out of water with this being his first murder case.

Michael Stuhlbarg may be the smallest name on the cast, but plays one of the most interesting parts.  He is a recluse in Cut Bank.  I don’t know if his character is based on real life serial killer Ed Gain, but if it is not, there are many similarities.  Ed Gain is also the basis for Norman Bates in Psycho, Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs and has also had his likeness appear in many other movies and documentaries.

Bruce Dern plays the mailman that everybody recognizes by sight, but not to many people really know.

Oliver Platt plays the post office official sent up from Washington D.C. to give a reward for the evidence of the crime.

I can not find who played the big mute Native American, but he was a cool character and I loved his non-verbal dialog.

So the story starts out with our lead couple in an open field, daydreaming about their future.  As Palmer practices her speech for an upcoming beauty pageant and Hemsworth films it, he notices a hooded man walk up to the mail man and shot him 2 times in the chest and gets the whole thing on film.  They take the evidence into town and turn it over to the Sheriff. The plot thickens and twists and turns as we try to figure out who’s on who’s side and who knows what.  By the way, what is in that lunch box?  This is a good story in a unique setting, worth watching for anybody looking for something new to watch in the genre.