Posts Tagged ‘joe

02
Feb
13

Here’s Parker! He’s the best professional thief in hardboiled fiction, and he’s in a film under his real name for the first time. But is it really him?

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a review by Joe Sheer in Omaha
I love Richard Stark’s work.  If you like dark, intelligent crime fiction and a raw, stripped-down storytelling style, you will too.  Donald E. Westlake was a master of the crime story and of multiple styles, and his alias varied with his characters and approach.  I’ve enjoyed every guise of his I’ve read and the characters they created, but Stark and his perfectly amoral creation, Parker, are my clear favorites.  I like a redeemable protagonist with decent motives as much as the next guy, maybe more so.  But the cold, clinical, brilliant and animalistic crime machine that is Parker fills a very specific niche for me.  He’s not a hero.  He’s not even an anti-hero.  He’s a pure non-hero, a bad man that you find yourself rooting for because he gets what he wants and brooks no fuckery.  Also, among the lesser thieves and cutthroats who fill out his stories, at least he’s honest.

To date, nobody’s hit the Parker nail quite on the head.  The Brian Helgeland director’s cut “Payback – Straight Up” is probably the closest in tone (see it if you haven’t.  It’s one lean, mean piece of cinema).  I think a perfect Parker film is unlikely, but to my mind a solid recipe would be either “The Seventh”, “Firebreak” or “Breakout”, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Josh Brolin.  I always appreciated that Stark/Westlake allowed film adaptations, but never allowed any film to use the Parker name because nobody got the character right and didn’t intend to make a series.

So, when I saw that this new “Parker” picture was on its way, clearly based on “Flashfire”, my hackles went up right away.  How could the Westlake estate allow this?  The man’s not alive to approve it, so the Parker name should stay retired (except for Darwyn Cooke’s excellent graphic novellizations, which do Parker right and had the author’s blessing before he passed).  Even worse, Jason Statham says right in the trailer: “I don’t steal from people who can’t afford it, and I don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it.”  That’s not Parker.  Parker doesn’t care about people.  Okay, to be fair, he probably wouldn’t steal from people who can’t afford it, because they wouldn’t have enough money for it to be worth his time to steal.  And he was always careful to avoid killing during a heist if at all possible, but not because he had any respect for human life.  No, it was only because the law looks harder for a killer than for a thief.  So that one line in the trailer just smacked of a moralist streak so alien to the character that I was primed to cry foul.

 

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The casting of Jason Statham gave me pause as well, but only slightly.  I am a Statham fan, no question.  The man has charisma for days, and it is never, ever not fun to watch him kick the crap out of people.  I also think he’s a damn funny guy and his comic talents are woefully underused, but that’s neither here nor there, as that’s not the talent he should use as Parker.  My only hang-up with his involvement was the genuine skill as a martial artist he’s displayed in past action films.  I assumed that would be brought into play here, and that’s not Parker either.  Parker doesn’t win in a fight because he’s a trained martial artist — he wins because he is a strong man with a keen eye for weaknesses and absolutely no scruples.

And then there’s the problem of the title.  As a general rule, I hate titles that are just the main character’s name.  “Parker”.  To a general audience, it means nothing.  To fans of the series, it’s a source of irritation because we’re going in assuming that the character should NOT carry this name.  Even if he earns it,  “Parker” is not a good title.     You know what’s a good title? “Flashfire.”  Why can’t they just leave a good thing alone?
So, obviously I made a number of assumptions, and as we all know, doing that can make an “ass” out of “u” and “mption,” so I was determined to keep an open mind.  After all, even an abysmal take on Parker can still render a good escapist crime film, especially if they stick with the novel’s basic plot.  So I went alone to the theater, downed a shot of Wild Turkey, and settled in to see if I’d been wrong in pre-judging.
Had I been?
Yes.  Almost completely.  We open on the heist of the day’s take at the Ohio state fair.  It’s a very nicely put together sequence showing the nuts and bolts of a well-planned strongarm heist.  It’s old-school all the way, with no hacker needed and no unduly complicated maneuvers.  Parker is cold and efficient and professional, and this is the only time in the film he mentions the two “rules” listed above.  He does it in the context of keeping hostages calm, which is something Parker was always pretty good at.  He would always give a simple, logical explanation of why everyone will be better off if they don’t try to resist, and would even try to avoid unduly challenging the manhood of anyone who looked like they wanted to fight back, just to reduce the likelihood that they’d do something stupid and make him kill them.  In this sequence I feel he went a little soft, was a little too kind in talking down a hysterical security guard, but on the other hand it was effective, so I can see the logic.  In any case, the whole “I don’t steal from people who can’t afford it, and I don’t hurt people who don’t deserve it” thing was delivered in such a context that there’s no reason to believe the man means it.
The opening heist is quite a bit fleshed out from the quick pass it gets in the novel, and its venue has changed, but from that point on we get a pretty faithful adaptation.  Parker is crossed by his crew after the job when he declines to contribute his share of the loot as seed money for a bigger, riskier job, is shot and left for dead, and has to claw his way back to health, steal some operating capital (and a new car every few hours, it seems), and track these back-stabbing bastards down so he can wait out their risky second job, kill them all and take their new loot as compensation for his trouble.
There are a few deviations from the source material, of course.  Parker’s woman Claire is now the daughter of an invented mentor character, which isn’t at all needed but Nick Nolte grizzles and rasps his way through the performance with enough style that I was happy to see it.  Parker displays the odd social nicety or bit of humanity here and there (telling a sick old man in a wheelchair, who he just used to escape a hospital, to “get better”, giving Jennifer Lopez a lingering, regretful look at one point that makes us think he may have given a shit about her), but none of it ever affects his actions.  He kills those who cross him, without hesitation.  He’s quick to wound an innocent guard who doesn’t follow instructions.  And my assumption about the martial arts prowess was without merit.  Parker doesn’t come off as a trained special forces man, but simply as a fast, mean bone-breaker with an incredibly high pain tolerance.  My favorite scene from the book, a hilarious bit wherein Parker escapes assassination at the hands of a couple of syndicate hit men because a band of south Florida swamp-dwelling white supremacist survivalist yahoos happen by and lend a hand, is gone for the sake of economy, but it’s been replaced by an impressively brutal hotel room brawl to the death, so all is well.
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Jennifer Lopez, for her part, turns in a very good performance as a woman who’s been dealt a bad hand, is at the end of her rope, and has an ethical code barely more substantial than Parker’s, though without all the experience.  She’s depressed, insecure, and desperate for a change, and is more than willing to help a stranger rip off some jewels if she can get a cut.  She’s far sexier than the character was written, which is not a surprising change, but she still plays the insecurity very well, and it’s good fun watching her try to be a femme fatale and just fall flat, not because she’s unappealing but because she’s trying to seduce a man who simply can’t be manipulated into doing anything he wasn’t already planning on.
The movie wins no particular points for style.  It was well made but without much visual flair.  Parker should always exist in a dark, shadowy neo-noir world, and the presentation here was solid, if under-stylized.  For that reason, I fear it may go down in the annals of film history as a relatively forgettable bit of genre fare, memorable only to the Parker completists like myself.  This, I think, would be a shame, because it’s a competent action film and a refreshingly simple throwback of a heist picture.  The cast does very well all the way around, the story was right, and Parker deviated from his strictly amoral roots little enough to keep me happy.
Almost.  The last thirty seconds or so of this film were the only major exception.  The final scene feels like a tacked-on apology for how badass the protagonist was, and it was terrible.  It’s the sort of scene that makes you want to hit a guy twice, then bury him in the hole he dug in his basement.  Next time I watch this film, I know where to hit STOP, to keep my genuine admiration for it intact.  I have a feeling Mr. Stark would agree with me.
12
Jan
13

Killer Joe: White Trash Armageddon

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a Primal Root review

Hey Gang,

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing one of the most outrageously over the top, gratuitously violent, creepiest, high octane, no holds barred, psychotic and unstable films I’ve sat down to witness in a main stream googaplex since…well, since I can remember. The film is William Friedkin’s 2012 deep black crime flick ‘Killer Joe’. Adapted by Tracy Lett’s from a stage play of his, ‘Killer Joe’ is one sick, blood caked, homage to complete and utter white trash stupidity. The violence is abrupt and shocking, the sex is dirty and perverse, and the outlook is utterly bleak.

Killer Joe might be among the best and funniest movies I’ve seen in years.

But this isn’t your typical dark comedy. No, when you buy your ticket for this sucker you have no idea the depths of depravity and nastiness you are in for. I sure as Hell didn’t. But I also hadn’t prepared myself for how much I laughed through the whole damn thing. Sure I was aghast  at what I was seeing on screen, but the brilliant performances, the direction of Friedkin and Letts’ amazing, genre bending screenplay make this one exhilarating dive down to the bottom of the lives our nation’s dumpster dwellers.

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Alright, the set up is that dim witted dope dealer named Chris (Emil Hirsch, making the best of a thankless role) finds his life on the line when he falls into horrendous debt with his supplier. What’s the scheme Chris comes up with? Kill his Mother and collect the insurance money! He enlists the help of his father and his mother’s ex-husband, getter dweller and resident numbskull, Ansel (played to perfection by Thomas Haden Church), gains the approval of his attractive and mysterious sister Dottie (the always game Juno Temple) whose mental state and past are always in question and even his ultra skanky step mother, Sharla (Gina Gershon, who deserves a medal of valor for her performance). Of course, everyone demands a cut of the inheritance.

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Chris and Ansel decide to hire the services of the local Texas legend, contract killer “Killer Joe” who happens to be a police detective full time. Killer Joe is played with full on demented, murderous, calculated glee by that always underrated Mathew McConaughey, who in a perfect world would be getting an Oscar for his blistering, in your face performance here. The man brings Killer Joe’s calm, sociopath personality to life and it really is a sight to behold. Every time the man enters frame he manages to be likable. He comes off relatively nice (as far as far as killers for hire go) if a little bit quirky…but even in these early scenes we feel a sense of dread. There’s much more to this guy than meets the eye.  Once all the cards are out on the table, things get pretty goddamn crazy, pretty goddamn quickly.

Chris and Ansel meet with Killer Joe, and seeing as the two nimrods don;t have a dime between them, they cannot hire Killer Joe’s services. However, Killer Joe comes up with an alternative plan, a retainer. If they give Killer Joe Dottie until they can get the money to pay him off, he will carry out the family wish of killing of Mommy dearest. Being complete fuck stick, Chris and Ansel agree and over a dinner of tuna casserole, Killer Joe and Dottie get…formally acquainted.

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The LAST thing I want to do is spoil Killer Joe for you. But what I can say is that there is a proverbial buffet of loathsomeness on display here. From burned out trailer courts, to grease stained double wide interiors and bankrupt businesses boarded up and left for dead. Killer Joe inhabits middle America and the small towns crushed and left to rot on the side lines.  It’s a desperate world these characters inhabit and it’s a place we know all too well.

Still, these people seem to have really adapted to their trashy surroundings and have, in effect, become total trash themselves. Filthy, brain dead, greedy scum suckers willing to kill family and use them as collateral just so they can make some cash and survive. Is this what it’s come to  when we live in a land where there’s no one to turn to?

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Sure, the underlying concept of the surroundings in Killer Joe are disheartening and disturbing enough with what they insinuate. But the actions our cast of characters take against one another is on another level entirely. I’ve, honest to Cthulhu, never seen anything like Killer Joe’s last twenty minutes. Much has been made of the fried chicken moment, Hell, it’s even a centerpiece of the ad campaign, but there is much more going on here and so much more to be had as a viewer.

And yes, I laughed. I laughed out loud hard and frequently. But every time I did, I kept questioning myself. “Should I be laughing at this?” It’s so ridiculously depraved and dirty, I couldn’t help myself. I laughed at the character’s stupidity,  the grandiose skeeziness, the sudden violence, the allusions of incest…it’s a perfect concoction of pitch black humor. But I don’t expect everyone to have the same reaction I did.

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Now, keep in mind, the NC-17 rated crime film (now available unrated on DVD and Blu-Ray) will not be for everyone. This is not an easily digested, cookie cutter, vanilla puddin’ pop kind of movie. This is some heavily fucked up Trash Cinema and for those who know they can handle such things. Either you will really enjoy Killer Joe or you will end up turning it off and barfing across the commode. It seems to have very little middle ground.

Killer Joe is disturbing and exhilarating and unlike anything I have seen in American mainstream cinema in a very long time.Needless to say, I had a blast watching it and Killer Joe just might be my favorite movie of 2012.

Stay Trashy!

-Root

Heads up! Below trailer contains a ton of plot spoilers!

 

23
Dec
09

Gremlins: Norman Rockwell’s Dead

a Primal Root review

“It is truly, The Muppet Chain Saw Massacre.” – Harlan Ellison, Harlan Ellison’s Watching, Underwood-Miller, 1989 Page 198

It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, the list of classic, heart warming family friendly Christmas movies is an extensive one. Growing up as a child of the 80’s we were shown such images of Christmas miracles, happy families, the gigantic honey glazed ham dinner served to a smiling family sitting warm around the dinner table. Everyone within the film and the audiences watching safe in the knowledge that no matter how bad things get it will turn out all right in the end. But eventually the movie stops and we have to face the grim reality of the holiday season.

Only one film in my childhood recollection completely broke the image I had ingrained into my head of the perfect family Christmas. What happened to this image? Where did the American Dream go so completely awry? This is the question at the core of Joe Dante’s subversive, goopy, violent, nasty little horror film entitled Gremlins.

The film itself is a satire of mid-80’s consumer America. A time when the yuppies reigned supreme, those of us in the dwindling middle class were screwed as work became harder to find and a dark form of mischief finds its way into the homes of both the wealthy and underprivileged alike in the form of the scaly, razor fanged, red eyed Gremlins. A dark reminder of that our actions and carelessness can have the most dire of consequences.

Gremlins looks to almost take place in an updated version of a picturesque, old fashioned, Norman Rockwell town. An American town where values such as self reliance, independence, and personal responsibility have been completely twisted in our pursuit of easy money. It’s a world where the junior vice-president of the town bank dreams of becoming a millionaire by the time he’s 35 and only finds value in his new apartment (it even has Cable TV!). It’s a place where the nasty, self indulgent rich, preach responsibility but cannot be asked to help save a family about to be evicted on Christmas.

Here, everything is a commodity to be bought or sold. Every resource can be tapped for possible exploitation. Even the Mogwai of which Mr. Peltzer makes the observation, “I bet every kid in America would want to have one of these. This could really be the big one!” looks at little Gizmo in terms of economic value rather than a living being.

Lil' Gizmo. Cute? You bet. Just make sure to follow the rules.

Obviously this is the era of the “Get Rich Quick” scheme. Mr. Peltzer has given up gainful employment to be a full time inventor trying to dream up the next “big thing” that will provide for he and his family the rest of their days. It’s Western civilizations dream of making money without ever truly having to work for it. Only the wise Asian Grandfather, representing non-American values, seems to sadly understand the monetary obsessed culture he is living in.

“Sold?” he asks, after Mr. Peltzer makes an inquiry into how he originally obtained Gizmo. “That’s an interesting choice of words.” His meaning is apparent. That life is not something you can buy or sell and Gizmo, of course, is a living creature.

Gremlins is an incredibly thoughtful horror film in the guise of family entertainment. It even manages to poke fun and ridicule everything we hold dear in Western Civilization. Gizmo is forced to wave an American flag, and the Grandfather is horrified to learn Gizmo has been taught to watch television. After all, isn’t that what passes for culture these days?

Possibly my favorite moment in the movie, the one that altered my take on Christmas forever, is the scene in which there’s a lull in the action and Pheobe Cates character recalls the disturbing and tragic story of her father’s disappearance and demise many Christmas ago. He was found several days after Christmas lodged in the chimney, dead, having broken his neck. Dressed as Santa. In a deeply dark and satirical film this scene alone is hands down the darkest. No Gremlins, no mauling, no chain saw attacks…more to the point, I believe this scene mocks sentimentality itself. A trait Steven Spielberg is all too familiar with. However, to Spielberg’s credit, despite everyone else demanding this scene be excised from the film, he allowed Joe Dante to make the final decision. Thankfully, Joe Dante was able to keep this remarkably powerful and disturbing sequence.

Gremlins also works on the level of a message movie about the use of our natural resources. The Mogwai, Gizmo, is friendly, cute and unspoiled, but when we don’t follow the rules (getting them wet, exposing them to bright lights and most especially feeding them after midnight) you are left with something far more perverted, sinister and harmful. Grandfather tells Billy and the viewing audience that American people would do with Mogwai what “Society has done with all natural gifts.” What he’s talking about is an American ideal. We’d sell them, buy them and make a killing.

Stripe. The Gremlin you don't want to fuck with.

But above all this Gremlins is a hellishly good time! It’s dangerous, gruesome and overt he top. Another favorite scene is when Billy’s Mother must do battle with the recently hatched batch of Gremlins run amuck in her house using all the tools she has around the house including blenders, knives and microwave ovens spewing Gremlin guts all over the good china. This stuff is sick. I remember watching the film as a child and my mind simply reeling at this. People were being ripped, beaten, strangled, bitten and even killed by these malicious little Gremlins. But slowly a smile came across my face as I realized what a joke it all was. These idealized American Christmas traditions. The fact that the final battle between Stripe, Billy and Gizmo takes place inside a shopping center filled to the brim with hollow consumer goodies can’t be a coincidence.

Joe Dante’s Gremlins proudly takes those Christmas traditions so many hold dear and shove them right where the sun don’t shine. Gremlins, you ruined Christmas for a generation of 80’s kids. And I cannot thank you enough.

Yours truly,
-The Primal Root




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