The Many Faces of Parker

I watched the latest Parker movie last night. 

It wasn’t terrible.

It wasn’t much Parker, either. But I’m not sure any of the adaptations are. Now now, before the Lee Marvin fans get their dander up, I do like POINT BLANK, the adaptation of The Hunter. And it is quite close, but almost too clever. Have you heard the theory that Marvin’s character is a ghost? 

Then there’s Payback, with Mel Gibson. I liked some of that too, and the director’s cut even more, but no one seems to want to play Parker straight. Statham’s Parker has a “code” to only steal from “people who can afford it,” as if we need to be told. He’s not robbing wallets in a supermarket, it’s a big heist at a huge carnival. Filmmakers feel like they have to make him likable, funnier, with a “code.” I’m sure they have all sorts of reasons. Probably hashed out in a boardroom.

But it’s silly. Did we stop watching Dirty Harry that time he pulled the trigger, not knowing whether he would kill the crook or not? Did we say “Indiana Jones, that was a jerk move when you let the propellers kill that boxer. Or when you shot the guy with the sword.” 

We like Parker because he is a consummate outlaw. Westlake even jokes with this. Parker becomes a monk during a job. He won’t have a woman, like a superstitious boxer before a fight. Parker almost always knows what to do. He keeps moving like a shark, he operates on instinct. And that is why we like him.

He’s the bad guy. 

Not a slavering psycho, just a businessman on the opposite side of the law. He’s not here to fix the sink, he’s here for the diamonds, and he will do that job without fuss or needless cruelty. But the job will get done, so don’t get in his way. He appeals in a backwards way to our work ethic. He does what he says, he doesn’t double cross. His only religion is revenge. 

Just a working stiff who wants to do a job. 

What’s not to like?

Get with it, Hollywood. Or don’t. Parker is still perfect, in our head movies.

If you don’t know Parker, begin with THE HUNTER and you’ll be hooked.

Les Expendables

It took 33 years, but Sylvester Stallone once again has a sense of humor about himself. And that’s what makes The Expendables, the balls to the wall ’80s style action flick that we’ve been anticipating for over a year now, so awesome. I’ll admit it, when I saw his low rider pickup truck that hearkens back to his ’50 chopped Merc in Cobra, I was a little bit concerned that the kickassitude of Rambo went to his head. But no, he is definitely the star of this one, yet plays well with others. He gives plenty of screen time to all the big names he got together to make this throwback extravaganza, and we can’t ask for anything more. Well, except maybe for Kurt Russell and Jean-Claude Van Damme to show up in the sequel.

Testosterone Level Causes Impregnation Within 50 Yards

I’m not going to bore you with the plot except for this single line: a group of bad-ass mercenaries take a suicide mission to assassinate a South American dictator. We first meet them as they rescue a cargo ship held hostage by Somali pirates, scaling it like Navy SEALs and blasting them to pieces with laser sighted machine guns and shotguns loaded with shells that will blow a man in half. But they’re reasonable people; Sly isn’t playing Rambo here, he’s more of a tired old guy who wants you to surrender, but will blast six holes in you with his revolver the second he realizes you won’t. He has a buddy rivalry with Jason Statham, the knife master of the group, over who can take someone out quicker. As in many of Sly’s previous films, he equips his men with custom knives, from a Gil Hibben Bowie blade with a brass parry strip, ring-pommelled throwing daggers, switchblades and huge, fast draw folding knives.

If I wasn’t getting married, I’d buy this $1850 Gil Hibben Bowie…

Sly and Statham are the biggest roles, but Jet Li gets some good fights in, and gets to show some comic chops as he complains he should have a bigger share, because everything is harder for him because he’s the short one. He has to take more steps when they run someplace. Randy Couture “used to wrestle in high school” and that explains his cauliflower ears, which he is very sensitive about. Terry Crews gets to have some fun with a Sledgehammer shotgun, but this is a long way from his hilarious role as President Camacho in Idiocracy.Pity, he can be really funny. Dolph Lundgren gets the thankless job of being the guy who’s a little too psycho for a band of psychos, and Mickey Rourke has retired from mercenaryin’ to be a tattoo artist. He gets to give the “I’ll cry when I’m done killin'” speech.

The movie showcases the strengths of our favorite bad boys but peppers humor in between, a wise choice that has worked since classics of the genre like Commando. I was a little disappointed that the fictional country they invade isn’t named Val Verde, but that should be saved for an Arnie movie, I suppose. Speaking of which, Arnie and Bruce Willis’s cameos are hilarious. Sure, they only get five minutes, but Arnie lets himself be the butt of the jokes, with Sly poking fun at the weight he put on as Governor, and that he “wants to be President.” He’s a rival merc leader, and doesn’t ham it up. Maybe after he’s done governating, Sly will give him a big role in the sequel. I sure hope so.

If he dies… he dies

The bad guys are played by a psycho Eric Roberts and David Zayas, best known as Angel from “Dexter.” The girl is Giselle Itié, a beauty from Mexican television, who will likely appear in Hollywood again. She has good chops, though Sly isn’t the best at getting realistic performances out of women (see Julie Benz in Rambo, who we know can act like a champ). But that’s not what we’re looking for in an action funfest like The Expendables. It was great seeing so many of them together. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but I don’t think it’s as good as Rambo– which is damn hard to top. The best I can say about it is: IT DELIVERS. And I damn well hope they make a sequel, and keep it rated R. And I will agree with Milky, my movie buddy, that they better bring back that shotgun, too. It should get its name in the credits.

4 out of 5 exploding human heads

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Crank it up!

A man admits when he’s wrong. I didn’t like Crank. It was hyped up too much for me. I also had problems with Shoot ‘Em Up (full review), mostly the political subplot. But Crank: High Voltage was great! Sure, it’s the same as the first movie, but … different.
I revisited the first Crank film with Milky last night to see if I’d judge it less harshly, after enjoying its amped-up, even more offensive sequel. And you know what? I like the original better now. It starts off a tad slow, while the sequel slams hard into passing gear, because it doesn’t have to set things up as much. We know Chev Chelios is a bad-ass with a lot of enemies, who’d inject him with a poison requiring adrenaline rush to survive, or replace his heart with an artificial one that can be charged with jumper cables to his nippy nips.

Chelios opts to ground the cable on his tongue, actually. These movies are the ultimate in cartoonish action, surpassing the first Transporter. I originally bristled at the cartoon moniker these over-the-top action movies were given. It felt like an excuse to eschew any sort of realism, to apologize in advance for badly conceived stunts and jittery editing. But I just didn’t get it. These movies are comedies, spoofs of a sort. In Crank, when Chelios is learning just how shitty his predicament is, while on the phone with his pal Doc Miles (a perfectly cast Dwight Yoakam) he drives through a shopping mall and crashes his car onto an escalator. At first I sneered because The Blues Brothers did this already, but writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor don’t play it as anything insane. Chev does it nonchalantly, and that’s what’s funny about it.

The movies are full of stereotypes, ethnic and whatnot; Statham himself is barely a character, he’s the tough Brit mobster who hops the puddles to clean American clocks; we’ve seen him before. It doesn’t help that the movie is entirely embedded in the underworld, so everyone’s a tattooed gangster. A fellow blogger was disgusted at the stereotypes, but I didn’t find them any more hateful than Fat Tony the Italian mobster on The Simpsons. When Chev is banging his girlfriend against a mailbox in Chinatown and old ladies are gasping, and a busload of Japanese tourist schoolgirls in sailor outfits crashes and starts taking pictures, I can’t see it as disparaging Asian-Americans, and that is something rampant in film today (and one reason I didn’t go see The Goods). If anything, the Crank movies are video games- they have the premise of one, the structure, and the characters. If The Hidden (full review) inspired Vice City, Crank was inspired by it. And they are a whole lot of fun.

Giant beer!! That’s a 46″ Sony XBR Bravia baby.

So on second glance, I like these movies. As much as I appreciated Shoot ‘Em Up for pitting Paul Giamatti vs. Clive Owen in a Bugs Bunny cartoon with guns, I found the political subplot almost insulting. Crank and High Voltage deliver the goods without a tacked on, hypocritical message- the most smarmy since Lethal Weapon 3 and 4 decided to be anti-gun- and are doubly hilarious because they make the same movie twice and we don’t even care.

The Expendables – Semper Fight and sausage being made

I try not to get too hyped up about upcoming movies, because sometimes nothing can really live up to it. Rambo was one exception. I sort of gave up on Sly after Cliffhanger. So the fourth Rambo movie knocked me for a loop, even though I’d been impressed with Rocky Balboa. So when I heard that Stallone’s next would include Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren as mercenaries sent to depose a brutal dictactor I knew I’d be there opening day.
They are filming it now, and you can follow some of the day-to-day happenings on twitter. I’m not sure if I want to. It’s kind of cool, but I tend to think of movies like a sausage factory, in the Upton Sinclair sense. It’s best not to see how they are made and what goes into them. That’s a photo from shooting, above. And this here’s Dolph and Sly shooting the shit and not trying to break each other.
For example, if you follow the hype machine and read all the movie blogs, so far Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Forrest Whitaker, 50-Cent, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandra Bullock have been signed on and then signed off being in the movie. Right now Arnie is iffy- they want him to play himself as the Governor- which would be awesome. Terry Crews may be on board. I think I’m excited enough at this ’70s style commando raid flick and I’m going to stop reading about it.
Supposedly almost all the crew Sly used for Rambo are returning for The Expendables, so that makes me confident enough. I know this may be blasphemy in the movie blog world, but maybe it’s best not to know every little detail. Sure, hearing that Sly rolled through a rough stunt scene, said “That’s how you teach the kids,” and was directing while medics plucked stones and road rash from his skin makes you admire the 63-year old action star who’s pulling an Eastwood and reaching the top of his game when most folks are retiring. But this is the kind of movie that sells itself. So I’m gonna try to lay off any further hype on this one. Even though I submitted some Q’s for Sly on ethelmae’s blog.

The Bank Job

A fine British caper film with gorgeous knockers in the first frame, great suspense and political scandal, brutal mobsters and a solid cast? Sign me up. The Bank Job ain’t a Guy Ritchie film but it could have been; it’s apparently based on events that no one will verify, so if the guy who gave us Bullet Tooth Tony did it, we’d scorn him for coming up with it. The filmmakers claim this is close to the real story, which was put on D-Notice (a gag order) by the government until recently.
The movie begins in the Caribbean, where a beautiful young lady is clandestinely photographed in an orgy with several local gentlemen of a darker complexion. Shortly thereafter, MI5 is in a quandary- they want to prosecute drug kingpin and militant Michael X, but the photos are of a member of the Royal family, and he threatens to release them. What a spot of bother. What’s there to do? Well, we know he’s got them in Lloyd’s of London… but who’d be mad enough to rob it?
Enter Martine (Saffron Burrows), who’s been nicked for smuggling heroin; MI5 makes her a deal, to use her connections to get the contents of one Safety Deposit Box No.118, and all is forgiven. She just happens to have a ruggedly handsome ex-boyfriend named Terry (Jason Statham) who runs a shady used car dealership, but before his car salesman days he knew his way around a heist, and had a little black book in his head full of contacts of an unsavory nature. Or savory nature, if you need a bank knocked over. Terry’s got mob thugs smashing his Jaguar XKE’s because he can’t pay a heavy vig- so like Martine, he’s desperate, and takes the job.

They put together a team of petty criminals ranging from Eddie the mechanic as lookout, to Bambas and Guy, who’ve talents such as rigging infernal lances to cut through steel and tunnelling. They begin work in a building next to the bank, and the heist is on. Directed by Roger Donaldson, whose hit-or-miss career includes turds like Cadillac Man and gems like No Way Out, the film is perfectly serviceable in the manner of classic heist films like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, or even Rififi. There’s even a bit of dry British humor that reminded me of The Lavender Hill Mob and The Italian Job (1969). The tension is high, a bobby keeps getting nosy, and their radio transmissions are picked up by a local ham radio operator. They’re into the vault, and faced with piles of wealth. And then it all goes pear-shaped.

Lloyd’s of London was really robbed in 1971, and the criminals’ radios were picked up by a ham radio anorak who notified the police. But the crooks were never caught, and from hereon in, the story tries to tell us why. Martine nabs the contents of Box 118, and they split up the rest of the cash, bonds and jewelry, but not before her compatriots get suspicious. And it’s not just the Royal girl in flagrante delicto that’s in the photographs they find: Politicians at a pricey brothel getting whipped with their naughty bits showing. And more dangerously, the local mob kingpin’s little black book of payoffs to high-ranking officials in law enforcement.

When the mob realizes they’ve been hit, all hell breaks loose. If you’ve seen The Krays and Gangster No.1, you’ll be prepared for the brutality of Vogel the mob boss. He has uses for a sandblaster that will leave you chills for long after the film is over. Can Martine and Terry find an angle to play and keep themselves alive? The ending is a bit too convenient, but it’s exciting enough that I was satisfied. The film manages to take a distasteful premise and keep it discreet enough that we’re tantalized without feeling titillated. And since they claim the photos are of Princess Margaret, all she can do is spin in her grave, if one more rumor of a liaison would upset her.

The Bank Job is a solid thriller and reminds us that Jason Statham can perform just fine outside of over-the-top stuff like Crank and The Transporter. As much as I enjoy great trash like The Transporter, he’ll always be Turkish to me, and seeing him run a heist was satisfying. The rest of the cast is excellent, from the arrogant Michael X to the brutal Vogel. Perhaps it needed a showier title, as if Guy Ritchie had directed it, to get the attention it deserved. Catch it on a rental, it’s satisfying entertainment.

4 naughty pictures out of 5

Death Race vs. Death Race 2000

I remember hunting down Death Race 2000 on VHS in high school with friend Pita-San. We were nerds who played “Car Wars” and this was on the required viewing list for players of that old game; we were not prepared for its dark satire, or the crazy camp. It amazed us. We did not think such movies were made. We loved it. So I was sort of excited about a remake, which could be a lot of fun- cars exploding, over the top villains, and a dark satirical future. I was sorely disappointed.

Frankenstein’s monster car

Let’s begin with the original. In a post-apocalyptic future, America is led by a brown-shirt President who blames all our problems on the French (some things never change). The populace is kept distracted by a violent cross-country road race in which drivers gain points by running down pedestrians in their suped-up, blade-festooned vehicles. Frankenstein (David Carradine) is the favorite driver- so called because he’s been in so many wrecks that most of him has been replaced. He drives a Godzilla-inspired Corvette with razor spines from nose to tail. His biggest rival is Machine Gun Joe (Sylvester Stallone), a gangster Guido with sadly inoperable tommy-guns and a huge Bowie knife mounted on his car; others include the Nazis Mathilda the Hun and Herman the German in their V-2 rocket-propelled Buzzbomb (complete with Prussian spike nosecone), Calamity Jane (Mary Woronov, Rock ‘n Roll High School) a cowgirl with longhorns on her hood, and Nero the pretty-boy, who thankfully gets killed first.

I hate Illinois Nazis.

It’s an utter campfest, as they plow through construction crews, guys playing chicken with them, and Rebels trying to sabotage the race. Frankenstein is saddled with a new navigator that he thinks is a government spy; he wants to win this last race so he can meet the President, and give him a handshake… with a “hand grenade!” Yeah, his metallic hand has a grenade built into it. There’s fake red blood galore, but it’s all well directed- the cars are sped up a little on camera, but they seem to be going pretty fast, and the stunts are decent. Whenever they aren’t racing and things get a little slow, director Paul Bartel wisely makes the girls (even his wife Mary W.!) show off their boobies. So all in all, it’s a slice of ’70s delight.

Carradine was fresh out of “Kung Fu” on TV and needed to break away from his Kwai Chang Cane character; Sly was probably raising money for Rocky, and they both chew into the roles with relish. The newscasters who follow the race are a mockery of TV talking heads, with a Howard Cosell talk-alike and others who drip with insincerity as government stooges. The budget is all spent on the goofy cars, but everyone involved goes at it with gusto. The Arnie movie The Running Man has more in common with this than the Stephen King story it’s based on, and while it’s pacing is slow for modern audiences, there’s nothing else quite like Death Race 2000. Name another movie where the doctors would roll out the elderly patients for “Euthanasia Day” only to be run over themselves. Paul Bartel knew how to make good trash, but this and Eating Raoul are his best. If you must see the “re-imagining” in theaters now, find a way to see the original.

Machine Gun Joe’s murdermobile

Death Race is a another video game movie from that master of mediocrity, who should be banned from having a name similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Wes Anderson’s. Like a dog wiping his ass across the white carpet of cinema, he’s left a brown streak across the movie rack that cannot be ignored. I’ve seen Alien vs. Predator (the most boring of all the Alien films), Resident Evil (the worst of the trilogy), Event Horizon (probably the most overrated nerd-beloved film of all time, Hellraiser in space) and now Death Race, which mixes NASCAR, machine guns, and pinball in a prison movie. I’m told Soldier is saved somewhat by Kurt Russell, so I’ll rent that the next time I’ve watched too many enjoyable movies and need a letdown.

Driving my career into the toilet

There’s nothing surprising about Death Race. Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” Sitting Target) and his gravelly voice manage to uplift his scenes, but Jason Statham coasts by, having cast off any emoting ability sometime after Cellular. I loved him in Guy Ritchie’s movies, and as The Transporter, but he’s really become Vin Diesel’s grittier brother. Joan Allen (Manhunter, the Bourne Trilogy) must owe someone a favor; she’s horrible as the steely warden Hennessy, who runs the private prison with a cool and ruthless demeanor. The problem is she only has one note. Angie Dickinson in Payback: Straight Up was believable; Hennessy is not. Hearing her say nonsensical vulgarities like “Okay you, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk!” is hilarious; you’d think McShane of the legendary Al Swearingen would have coached her on how to cuss!

Mad tite whip, yo

Crowd favorite Frankenstein died in his last race, so Hennessy frames ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames (Statham) for murder to get him to replace the masked marauder. Carradine voices Frankenstein in the opener, which was a nice touch (there are a few forgettable nods to the first movie). The rest of the drivers are all tokens- Machine Gun Joe is now a twofer, a gay black musclehead played by Tyrese Gibson (Four Brothers); 14k is the Asian nod to the ricer Fast and the Furious crowd, there’s Pachenko the Russian, a nondescript Latino dude whose job is to yell vulgarities in Spanish, and an Aryan Brotherhood guy who’ll be the bad guy among bad guys. I was hoping there’d be an obnoxious Guido driver so I could point up at the screen and say, “hurr! he’s like me! I can now relate to this story!” They also bus in women prisoners so the gals have someone to cheer, but they are only allowed to serve as navigators- McCain must be president in 2012. The lithe ladies all have boomboxes in their cooches, which play riffs if they sway their hips in slow motion while they walk on screen. I must get Firecracker one of those. Natalie Martinez plays Frankenstein’s navigator Case, so maybe it’s just something hot Latinas are born with.

We need more uniforms like this in women’s prison

This movie is all about the action, but it’s mostly boring. Armored cars with machine-guns, flamethrowers and rocket launchers hammer at each other as they lap the track, which has Power Ups (they’re actually called this) scattered around it, like Mario Kart meets Twisted Metal. The guns barely seem to hurt the cars’ armor, and most kills are of the crash & explode variety. PWSA tries to up the gore factor now and then, but it’s bad CG the few times we see a pedestrian get plowed. We actually see a guy explode as soon as a car touches him, for example; I’d rather have fake red blood on an actual stunt man, thanks. During the final lap, Hennessy releases “the Dreadnought,” a tricked out semi with a tank gun, and its wheels have those spinning blades we’ve seen a dozen times- the token Asian’s navigator gets chewed up by it, which involves her jiggling in her seat with her tongue hanging out. The driver doesn’t even get blood on him. It would have been funnier if we just heard her scream and see him get splattered with her innards, but you can’t expect clever from this Anderson.

The infamous hand grenade!

The ending seems like an afterthought and I think PWSA (pronounced Pwissa) wrote it on toilet paper in between grunts. It’s as if they ran out of time, needed a prison break, and then forgot that they didn’t kill the evil warden. When they do escape in their death cars, try not to roll your eyes when the guards chase them in regular old police cars, as if escape never crossed their minds; the cars are all rigged with kill switches on the weapons, but Hennessy never imagined they could be bypassed. They chase them with helicopters across the only bridge off the prison island, which is protected by … a chain link fence. Even prisons that don’t hold death races have better security than this. But we ran out of time, so they need to escape easily. So much for finales.

How the remake feels!

Jason Statham, what’s gotten into you? It’s an easy paycheck, I know. I really liked The Transporter. If you can’t tell what made that more fun than the latest string of movies you’ve made, fire your agent before you lose any remaining cred. We’ll always have Turkish.

And as a bonus here are two photos from Death Race 2000 that look like they’re from an S&M movie, or a Batman porno.