What is the worst death of all? Hint: It involves being thrown into a manhole

LITTLE MONSTERS: New Independent Film Features Child Murderers

Little_MonstersLITTLE MONSTERS has everything a successful independent film needs, a veteran director with a passion for his craft, a hungry production team who can eke out every resource from a shoestring budget, and a stable of actors from Las Vegas who take pride in their craft. David Schmoeller’s realization of his own script entices you with crime, drama, and suspense. The film explores bullying in America at its core by examining how the horrific crime of two ten-year-olds has shaken America. Everyone from the victim’s family, to the seedy tabloid market, to the vigilantes with a bone to pick has a hand in this story. But something happens about midway through the film. Schmoeller brings this twenty-thousand-foot view slowly and methodically down to the personal level of the characters. It’s subtle at first, but when you realize what happened, the film takes on new meaning. These two bullies (now 18 and recently released from Juvenile Detention) become human. We feel how these events have changed them, how the events have eaten away at their lives, and the lives of those around them. Scenes become engrossing, wrapping you up with complexity and providing you with a window into the souls of these characters. This is where the actors shine, playing off each other and bringing you with them into their emotional worlds. The scene where Carl (played by Charles Cantrell) meets his mother after being incarcerated for eight years is film masterpiece. Being a fan of Schmoeller’s early work (Puppetmaster (1989); Tourist Trap (1979)), it’s wonderful to see how his films have changed over the years with the rise of independent filmmaking, yet his works still hold true to his ability to scare you, to shock you, to play with your emotions. LITTLE MONSTERS is no different. If you get a chance to see this film, you must see it!

LITTLE MONSTERS will have its Las Vegas Premiere at the Vegas Independent Film Festival (VIFF) – it will be an “Encore Closing Night” Screening at Brenden Theaters at the Palms on Thursday, May 9th, at 7pm (Red Carpet at 6pm). Tickets are available for this screening from Fandango HERE.

Watch the trailer:

Like LITTLE MONSTERS’s Facebook page for updates.

Read Jonathan Sturak’s interview with David Schmoeller from November 2012.

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An Interview with Las Vegas Author Matthew O’Brien – Part 2

If you missed Part 1 from last week, read it here.

Matthew O’Brien, Author
Photo by Florian Buettner

6. My next question was the flipside: what was the most bizarre thing he has seen firsthand under the streets of Las Vegas? For months and months, Matt roamed the underground waterways of Las Vegas. He mentioned how he would be walking through a seemingly desolate underpass, when the sunlight found its way down and cast light onto beautiful art galleries of graffiti. Amazing sights like this kept him exploring, kept him stumbling upon creative creatures that Matt highlights in his book. Finding the pathways that people used to get in to the underground was also inspiring for him. He said that once you get in, you want to keep going until you find a way out. One time, he mentioned, a passageway brought him right out onto the tarmac of the North Las Vegas airport!

7. Many people living in this city say they can’t wait to move away, and some are even dying to move away. The years just seem to tick by for these people. I asked Matt if he liked living here or if he’d had enough. He said he has a love/hate relationship with Las Vegas. He loves the natural desert beauty of southern Nevada, the inspiration for writing, and the weather 9 months of the year (does anyone love the 110 degree summers who’s not cold-blooded? And I’m not just talking about reptiles!). Las Vegas is not known for its art scene. There’s a plethora of culture coming into this city every minute of the day in the planes arriving at McCarran airport, but then these people leave. Matt cites this lack of artistic culture as being a drag, but he also finds it inspiring to be part of the artistic movement, especially the movement happening right now in the downtown.

8. I asked Matt where he saw Las Vegas in twenty years. He laughed after I asked him that question. Some of his friends say that Vegas will be a ghost town, the desert taking back what we took from it. But Matt thinks it’ll be some sort of middle ground. He believes it still won’t be the same Vegas before the recession, the Vegas where buildings were being erected faster than they could mix cement and water to form concrete. He said that diversity is good and cites businesses like Zappos to be leading the effort to sustain Vegas’ economy.

9. I asked Matt what his creative influences were in literature and film. Since his father was an English professor, Matt quoted the classics of Hemingway and Steinbeck. And then there are the works of Raymond Carver, Charles Bukowski, and The New Yorker’s Joseph Mitchell to be inspiring in form. As far as Vegas writers, John O’Brien and Hunter S. Thompson were the first two authors he said. We discussed John O’Brien’s Leaving Las Vegas and how this masterpiece was the author’s own suicide note. In film, Matt admitted that he loves the Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, and Jason Reitman. I didn’t ask him who would win in a fight, but I’m sure some Vegas bookie would take that bet!

10. I asked Matt what projects he is working on. He mentioned the Shine a Light community project, which he is the founder. This program aims to assist those underprivileged people who are forced to use the underground as a place to escape. Creatively, Matt has an experimental novel in the works that he is excited about bringing to life. Matt has started in the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ world-renowned MFA in Creative Writing program where he is also teaching undergraduate courses. He plans to use his new novel as his thesis project.

          

Matthew O’Brien is the author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2007) and My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2010). He has won several first-place awards in the Nevada Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, including Journalist of Merit in 2002 and Outstanding Journalist in 2006. Matt can be found online at www.beneaththeneon.com and on twitter @beneaththeneon and Facebook.

An Interview with Las Vegas Author Matthew O’Brien – Part 1

Matthew O’Brien, Author  Photo by Florian Buettner

Matthew O’Brien’s debut book Beneath the Neon (Huntington Press, 2007) has taken the world by “storm.” Matt spent years exploring the mysteries of the underground storm drainage systems in Las Vegas. He eventually found his way out and penned the book.

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon in August, I invited Matt to sit down with me to discuss his books, his inspiration, and his view into the shadows of Las Vegas. When I arrived at the coffee shop in the downtown area, Matt was entertaining two fans by signing copies of his new book for them. I didn’t ask him whether he liked to be recognized, but by the smile on his face, I could tell the celebrity feel was welcomed.

And then my interview commenced as we found a table with the Stratosphere towering over us in the distance.

1. I asked Matt what inspired him to write about Las Vegas. He brought me back to December 1997 when he graduated college near Atlanta, Georgia. He wanted to pursue a writing career, and he needed a place to arouse his ambitions. He drove out to Sin City and slept on his friend’s apartment floor as he took on any and every freelance gig he could find, which included writing articles for the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas CityLife. After getting his own place, Matt didn’t even have a desk to write on, keeping his computer on the floor. Luckily, static electricity build-up from the lights in Las Vegas didn’t short out his PC!

2. I probed further and wondered what exactly had attracted Matt to venture underneath the city. He said it had been an article about suspected murder Timmy “T.J.” Webber in 2002. Webber had used the dank and dark underground storm drains to evade police. The fact that someone had escaped to the underground intrigued Matt beyond his wits. He had to find out what else was down there.

3. I asked Matt how Beneath the Neon and his newest work, My Week at the Blue Angel, have changed his life. He said his first book, Beneath the Neon, started out well in Las Vegas when it was released in 2007, but the recession in America that followed actually breathed new life into the book as the media grabbed ahold of it. The media loves using Las Vegas as a finger on America’s pulse with its volatile economy and upside down housing market. Matt’s work fit right in.

4. Noir stories often feature characters who are inherently good, but somehow lose their way. One of my very favorite novels is John O’Brien’s beautifully tragic Leaving Las Vegas (I asked Matt if there is any relation. He chuckled and said “no.”) Matt’s writings deal with this theme relative to Las Vegas. I asked him if he found a common reason why people lose their way in this city. His response included the pursuit of the American Dream. This city entices people from all over the world, from all walks of life (from veterans of war to starving writers!) with an opportunity to live the American Dream. But although there is opportunity everywhere, temptations also fill this city. Gambling, alcohol, drugs, and sex are habit forming and people often become victim to the demons in this city. They need an escape from the lights, and Matt found that the massive underground drainage system provides some of them with this escape. The only thing these individuals need to worry about is if it rains, and although it rarely rains in Las Vegas, when it does, it floods.

5. I asked Matt the most bizarre thing he has seen firsthand on the streets of Las Vegas? Mine would have to be one of the quick-handed street solicitors (accidentally?) handing some girly cards to a kid. It was devilishly funny and deeply disturbing. Matt named similar observations—the bizarre costume characters roaming Fremont Street, and the subtle and often-overlooked interactions between dealer and gambler. He notices the little things.

Stayed tuned for Part 2 of my interview next week where Matt talks about the bizarre things he has witnessed under the streets of Las Vegas.

Matthew O’Brien is the author of Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2007) and My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas (Huntington Press, 2010). He has won several first-place awards in the Nevada Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest, including Journalist of Merit in 2002 and Outstanding Journalist in 2006. Matt can be found online at www.beneaththeneon.com and on twitter @beneaththeneon and Facebook.

8 great noir films that revolve around life insurance

Hannah Peterson of LifeInsuranceQuotes.org sent us this fun list of noir films wherein the prospects of a huge life insurance payoff motivate their dark heroes to commit murder. We do hope that Hannah is indeed a real person and that Hannah is her real name. But the list is real and so is the highly literate PDF article that discusses the plots of several movies that show detailed knowledge of insurance industry practices. The following passage was especially engaging:

How to Commit Suicide

In this passage from James M. Cain’s novel Double Indemnity, claim investigator Barton Keyes refutes his boss’s theory that Phyllis Nirdlinger’s husband committed suicide by jumping from the back of a train. Keyes relies on actuarial tables for his argument.

Mr. Norton, here’s what the actuaries have to say about suicide. You study them, you might find out something about the insurance business…. Here’s suicide by race, by color, by occupation, by sex, by locality, by seasons of the year, by time of day when committed. Here’s suicide by method of accomplishment. Here’s method of accomplishment subdivided by poisons, by firearms, by gas, by drowning, by leaps. Here’s suicide by poisons subdivided by sex, by race, by age, by time of day. Here’s suicide by poisons subdivided by cyanide, by mercury, by strychnine, by 38 other poisons, 16 of them no longer procurable at prescription pharmacies. And here—here, Mr. Norton—are leaps subdivided by leaps from high places, under wheels of moving trains, under wheels of trucks, under the feet of horses, from steamboats. But there’s not one case out of all these millions of cases of a leap from the rear end of a moving train. That’s just one way they don’t do it!

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OK. Enough fun. Here’s Hannah’s article:

YOU PROBABLY CONSIDER life insurance, or any kind of insurance for that matter, a pretty dull topic and certainly not one worthy of a great suspense film. But consider the plots and characters that recur in several classic films, especially those from the era of film noir [The PDF]. In addition to a femme fatale and a dead body (usually the femme fatale’s schmuck of a husband), there’s almost always a clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) insurance agent among the cast, either trying to figure out who killed who or, just as often, scrambling to cover up a crime the femme fatale convinced him to commit. If the following films are any indication, crime doesn’t pay, unless the victim has an insurance policy.

  1. Double Indemnity (1944):

    In Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray stars as an auto insurance salesman who, after becoming involved with bored housewife Barbara Stanwyck, conspires to kill her drag of a husband, Mr. Dietrichson. The film’s title refers to a clause in a life insurance policy that doubles the payout if the death of the policy holder is caused by accidental means. We know MacMurray is screwed from the beginning, since the film opens with him confessing to his crimes into a dictaphone and delivering the immortal lines: “I killed Dietrichson! Me! Walter Neff! Insurance agent, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars … until a while ago that is. Yeah, I killed him. I killed him for money and a woman!”

  2. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946):

    Based on the book by Herman M. Cain, who spent a year trying to sell accident insurance before turning to journalism, screenwriting, and writing novels, The Postman Always Rings Twice features a stunning Lana Turner as a (you guessed it) unhappily married wife who seduces a drifter played by Frank Chambers and convinces him to (you guessed it again) kill her husband. Of course, in the process of making Turner’s husband’s death look like an accident, things get screwed up, and not one, not two, but a total of three insurance companies end up involved in the ensuing court case.

  3. The Killers (1946):

    Despite the fact that the short story by Ernest Hemingway that The Killers is based on makes no mention of insurance, the scriptwriters chose to make the lead a brave, no-nonsense insurance investigator (played by Edmond O’Brien), who is called upon to figure out why Burt Lancaster’s character, known as “the Swede,” passively allowed himself to be executed by two killers. The backstory of “the Swede,” told through a series of flashbacks, includes committing a robbery with the help of a gangster’s moll played by the lovely Ava Gardner. Thanks to films like The Killers, investigating insurance claims must have appeared as exciting to audiences as deep sea fishing or big game hunting, which Hemingway probably found somewhat laughable.

  4. Strange Bargain (1949):

    “Hey, how was your weekend?”
    “Pretty good, boss! Thanks for asking.”
    “That’s a nice suit.”
    “Thanks! It’s one of three cheap suits I own. They’re all identical!”
    “How do you like your job? Are you liking the company?”
    “Oh, it’s swell. I love working here.”
    “Great. By the way, you’re fired.”
    “What???”
    “Yep. I’ve run this company into the ground! Ruined everything. Everyone is getting fired. And I’m going to blow my brains out. However, the life insurance I have won’t pay out if I commit suicide. And I’m worried about my family. So can you come by my place, say after dinner, and make sure my suicide looks like a murder?”
    “But you have so much to live for!”
    “Whatever. I’ll give you $10,000 to do it. And by the way, you’re still fired.”
    “Oh! Well, okay. I’ll do it. Even though it’s a strange bargain, what could possibly go wrong??”

  5. Roadblock (1951):

    In the rarely seen noir classic Roadblock, a hard-boiled insurance investigator (played by Charles DeGraw) falls for a brunette bombshell played by Joan Dixon and conspires to commit a crime that, in an ironic turn of events, he’s later called upon to investigate. Dixon’s character is initially a vamp, but ends up actually falling for DeGraw, even though he believes she’ll dump him for someone with a lot more money. His romantic if somewhat self-pitying scene with Dixon after breaking into her place to decorate a Christmas tree is a classic.

  6. A Life At Stake (1954):

    Obscure classic or an unintentionally hilarious parade of bad acting and even worse dialogue? Even as a so-so example of film noir, A Life At Stake does manage to put a new spin on what was, by 1954, the thoroughly regurgitated tale of an unhappy wife (played by Angela Lansbury) convincing her not-too-sharp lover (played by Keith Andes) to bump off her no-fun husband. The twist here is that Andes character, an architect and builder hired by her and her husband as part of a three-way business venture, is named in a key person insurance policy that will pay the married couple $175,000 if he dies. Read before signing is the lesson here, folks.

  7. Sleuth (1972):

    Sleuth stars the iconic Sir Laurence Olivier as an upper-class mystery writer who invites a hairdresser with working-class roots, played by Michael Caine, to his theater prop-filled home. He tells Caine, who he knows is having an affair with his wife, he’s sick of his wife and wants his help staging a burglary in his home that would leave Caine with her jewelry and Olivier with a big, fat insurance payment. And yep, given the fact this is Laurence Olivier, one of the 20th century’s greatest stage and film actors, you might not be surprised when you discover he’s setting Caine up. However, Caine’s character turns the tables on Sir Lawrence in an unexpected way.

  8. The Last Seduction (1994):

    In the 1994 film The Last Seduction, the femme fatale, played by Linda Fiorentino, frames her small-town hick lover Mike (played by Peter Berg) for murder , sprays a can of insecticide into the mouth of her drug-dealing ex-lover, and ultimately, gets away with one or two murders and plenty of cash. From the very beginning Berg’s character, who works at a small insurance company (what is it with these guys?), ignores more than a few obvious red flags for the thrill of getting it on with the white-hot Fiorentino. Her character is the smartest and meanest person in the film.

From Australia: Taking crime writers bloody seriously

The ABC's book lover in chief Jennifer Byrne. Source: The Sunday Telegraph

As 2012 is the national year of reading, for the next six Tuesday nights ABC book lovers can devour a series of specials presented by Aunty’s champion of reading.

Jennifer Byrne is also one of the medium’s natural talkers, and knows how to find the best angles when it comes to conversing about literature, able to cut and paste her own conversation to maintain the flow.

Her ever-popular Book Club remains a staple on the first Tuesday of every month as she delves into genres that include crime, comedy and erotica, with writers and expert celebrity guests. No one loves a literary controversy more than the feisty Byrne, and no one else on television appreciates the way the book remains an enduring emblem of our fascination with how and why things happen, with beginnings and endings.

Tonight is the first in this series of specials and she presents a brilliant gang of writers to look at the world of contemporary crime fiction and the way it is scaling the once impregnable walls of high-brow literary taste.

More…