Monday, September 30, 2013

Parallel Parker

We mainly watched Parker (2013) on the principle that you should watch anything with Jason Statham in it (yes, that includes In the Name of the King). But I'm also a great lover of Richard Stark's iconic Parker crime novels. They are deadpan and realistic, with Parker meticulously planning and carrying out modest, workable crimes that go horribly wrong. Parker is a great character, serious, detail oriented, principled (although crooked), and resourceful enough to get out of the scrapes he always winds up in - and lucky, I guess.

This is Statham's Parker as well, although with a touch more ass-kicking.

It starts with a heist at the Ohio State Fair involving clowns and fake firemen, and Parker's promise to the scared security guard: He never steals from people who can't afford it, never hurts people who don't deserve it, and if someone lies to him, he will make him suffer. The job goes over pretty well, except for an unplanned fatal fire. Where it really goes wrong is at the split. The gang wants to pool the take for another, bigger job. Parker wants to take his share and leave. They compromise by trying to kill him and toss his body in a ditch (not for the last time).

To fulfill his third rule (Lies -> Suffering), Parker sets out for revenge (and his cut). He tracks the gang down to Palm Beach, and gets failing real-estate agent Jennifer Lopez to show him around. She seems very comfortable in this role - a glam front with desperation just underneath. She also adds a bit of sunshine to this dark story. Too bad she has to meet Parker's angle Claire, Emma Booth.

Note that the clever heist schemes don't really make much sense. Richard Stark sometimes throws in a scene where the robbers are fighting and someone says, "This is a five person job, we can't do it with four" to break it up. But the job looks like it could be done with three or even fewer. Nonetheless, the gang is great, led by always fabulous and menacing Michael Chiklis. The black driver, greasy-haired psycho and spoiled brat mafia-connected punk round out the band.

In a lot of ways, this is just another Transporter - criminal with principles is crossed, gets revenge. I'm perfectly happy with it on those terms. Interrogating the Parker myth through the filter of the Statham persona is just a bonus.

In conclusion: Nick Nolte as Claire's father?!? The guy who introduces Parker to the Chiklis gang? What was that about?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Howard's End

I hear that little Ron Howard is doing a race car movie, and I'm all behind that. In his honor, we watched Eat My Dust! (1976).

Howard plays a small town rebel, who steals a hot Mustang from a racetrack to impress a spoiled rich girl and takes her joyriding with their pals. His dad, the sheriff, doesn't exactly chase him, just sort of locks up the people who come in to complain.

Not really much of a plot - more of a romp. Just lots of driving fast around back country California with a bunch of teens piled in the back of a stolen car, plus police cars flipping over or crashing through Chinese restaurants. There's an occasional touch of hippy surrealism, like when the chase stops at a railroad crossing to let three longhairs to go by on a handcar. That's just the way it was in 1976.

It seems that Howard made this for Roger Corman in exchange for the the opportunity to direct his own car chase movie, Grand Theft Auto. This one is just as much fun. Written and directed by Charles B. Griffith,  who wrote Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood, Death Race 2000 and such like for Corman, really seems to know how to write drive-in flicks for teenagers. So does Corman, obviously. Since Howard pretty much is a teenager, this all works out great. I look forward to seeing Rush.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

All You Zombies

Hey, I forgot to blog Zombieland (2009). We watched it over Labor Day weekend - I prepared for the long weekend by getting a huge stack of DVDs from the library. In the end, we did social things, and only got a chance to watch one of the stack, and this is the one we chose.

Jesse Eisenberg is a lonely nerd who has survived the zombie apocalypse by following a few rules. The first is "Cardio", so you can outrun the zombies. He runs into Woodie Harrelson, and they tentatively team up. Harrelson plays a kind of macho yahoo, so they've got a little odd couple thing going on. They meet up with a hot girl and her cute sister and - but perhaps I've said too much.

I'm not a big fan of zombie movies. I haven't really seen any - Resident Evil if that counts. But I did love Shaun of the Dead, and this movie is the same thing: a goofy comedy with zombies. Eisenberg is nicely low-key while Harrelson is over the top. The girls are a bit typical - Emma Stone pretty much just a sex bomb and little Abigail Breslin the wise beyond her years kid.

But it all ends pretty happily, except for the undeath and degradation of almost all humanity. Oh well, omelet, eggs.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

West Pointless Story

A friend who is getting into tap dancing was in town, so of course we wanted to see some James Cagney. People who think of him as a movie gangster don't always realize what a great dancer he was. The problem is, we've seen all his best stuff (I particularly like Footlight Parade) over and over. Solution: The West Point Story (1950) directed byRoy Del Ruth, which none of us had ever heard of.

It goes something like this: Cagney is an irascible director, reduced to doing nightclub shows. His assistant, Virginia Mayo, wants him to do something better, and an old partner and enemy, Roland Winters, wants him to direct a show at West Point. The idea is to lure Winters' nephew, Gordon MacRae, away from the service and onto Broadway. In the end, they bring in Doris Day as a ringer for the traditionally all-male show.

Now, most of the story doesn't make any sense. Cagney hates the army, but agrees to live as a cadet while putting on the show - does West Point really work like that? And if they could get a woman into the show, why didn't they think of that before? But never mind.

The best thing about West Point Story is Cagney, of course. He doesn't dance much, but he does some great jumping up and down when he gets angry. He has a number at the end for reasons that don't really hold up, but we appreciate it.

The second best part is the pervading sense of homoeroticism, with the cadets in drag playing female roles (Alan Hale, Jr!), and the rest of the young men standing "proudly erect". I know these kinds of jokes are juvenile, but I dare you to resist.

All in all, not very well known and for good reason.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jingle All the Way

While Ms. Spenser was in FL, I watched a lot of movies that I plan to re-watch with her. But she was watching movies down there, and wants to share with me. One of these was Reindeer Games (2000). Since this is John Frankenheimer's last movie, and I'm beginning to like Frankenheimer, it was an easy sell. Also, the How Did This Get Made podcast crew did an episode that I couldn't listen to until I'd seen the movie.

It starts with Ben Affleck in prison. He is a car thief just finishing a 6-year stretch, with a cellmate, Nick, who has a penpal girlfriend waiting to meet him when he gets out. But cellmate gets killed and when Affleck sees that the penpal is Charlize Theron, he decides to pretend to be Nick.

He regrets this when Theron's brother, Gary Sinise shows up. He looks like Steve Buscemi playing Charles Manson, and has a gang consisting of Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III and Danny freaking Trejo. They have a plan to rob the Indian casino that Nick (but not fake Nick, Ben Affleck) worked at. And if they think Nick isn't Nick, they'll just kill him.

That is the first or second plot twist. There will be more. They do not always make sense, but you were expecting that, right? Also, you didn't believe Charlize Theron is who she said she was for a minute, did you? Well, maybe for a minute.

We liked this movie a lot. I enjoyed the whole low-rent look - it all takes place in Northern Michigan, like an Elmore Leonard story, and the Indian casino they were robbing could hardly be more ratty. Sinise does a great menacing psycho, although Affleck is a bit of a blank here. I liked all the twists, and didn't even worry much about how much sense each one made.

Now, the How Did This Get Made gang thought this movie was ridiculous garbage - I can respect that. I liked it a lot, though. It might have been better if Frankenheimer's last movie was Ronin, but I can see this. As I have mentioned before, I used to think of Frankenheimer as a "square" director, making prestige, pretty, stodgy movies (like Grand Prix). But he also made the oddball Seconds (which we haven't seen). So it's nice that he went out on a weird comedy heist thriller.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Have I mention the podcast How Did This Get Made? They not only recommended Punisher: War Zone(2008), but interviewed Lexi Alexander, the director. She's a great storyteller, with a cute German accent. The basic story is that the crew from the original Punisher movie wanted the sequel to be more realistic and gritty. Alexander took it way in the other direction, comic-book ultra-violence.

You might know Frank Castle, the Punisher, from the previous movie (we liked it OK) or the comic book, or maybe just from the skull logo (which Alexander thought was cheesy, and tried to leave out, but the fans wouldn't allow it). If you don't, tough, because this movie doesn't re-do the origin story - but it does establish the Punisher as a guy who metes out savage violence against criminals. But on one mission, he kills an undercover agent, and worse, lets the boss live after sending him through a glass crusher.

The boss (Dominic West) needs so much plastic surgery after this that he takes the name Jigsaw. And he gets so mad, he decides to get his brother, Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison), out of the loony bin to help get revenge.

Jigsaw and Jim are both scary and goofy. The whole movie is bloody, scary and goofy (if you have a hard-hearted sense of humor). I recommend watching it, then listening to the interview.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Wolf Pact

When Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) came out, I saw previews - I thought it looked like a brainless gore-fest. Which is not what I like, although I know tastes differ. But some film bloggers (I forget just who) started talking about it, and I got the idea that it was a superior sort of cult movie.

The story takes place in France, after the Enlightenment but before the Revolution. Our heroes are Samuel Le Bihan, a royal naturalist and rake, and Marc Dacascos, his Mohawk companion and blood brother. We meet them arriving in a backwater of France, in the rain. A gang of men in dresses are beating up an old man and young woman. They come to the rescue, but it is already apparent that nothing is what it seems.

The naturalist has come to find the truth about the Wolf of Gevaudan, a creature that has been terrorizing the countryside - and to capture it, if possible. In the process he will meet the local nobility, priests, whores, soldiers and gypsies. But will he capture the beast?

In some ways, this is a classic costume swashbuckler. I savored phrases like "les crimes de la bĂȘte" - we watched the French version with subtitles. Sometimes, it seemed like a costume comedy of manners - a Ridicule with wolves or Liaisons Dangereuses - tres dangereuses. Then again, there were grisly horror scenes and martial-arts-style action  scenes. The direction style that ties this all together slides in and out of a dreamy trance state.

Finally, the question of the reality behind the wolf - monster, hoax, demonic presence, something else? This is handled adroitly; at least it kept me guessing for longer than I would have thought.

So, loved it. It looks like the director and Dacascos, the Mohawk, made a version Crying Freeman, from the Japanese comic strip - we used to read this when we lived there, and it was just a naked man floating in a void, so it should be interesting.