Sunday, November 29, 2015


Thanks to Turner Classic Movies, I had the chance recently to watch some Philip Marlowe movies. Marlowe of course is the savvy detective created by Raymond Chandler who plumbs the depths of L.A. crime to ferret out the secrets his clients seek to hide and to find. To say that Marlowe has been handled different ways by different directors and actors is a decided understatement.

The definitive Marlowe of course is Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep by Howard Hawks. This vintage Bogart vehicle features a clever, fast-talking Marlowe who reads people and leaps to conclusions and finds things which elude others. He's at once smarmy, frank, seductive, and dangerous. You know the threats are piling up around him as he tumbles a casino on his way to finding bodies in cottages. There's patter and there's gun play and the movie is always entertaining, for Bogart of course, and for Lauren Bacall who is vamping it up to eleven. Lots to love in this movie which I've seen many many times and will watch just about any time it hits the screen.

New to me was Marlowe as played and directed by Robert Montgomery in the 1947 production Lady in the Lake. This movie has the peculiar notion we want to see a detective movie from the specific perspective of the detective along and does a sturdy job of keeping us squarely inside the eye line of Marlowe himself for most of the movie. It's a cute gimmick but gets wears out its welcome fairly quickly as the limits of keeping the camera on one character for extended periods of time which becomes static and dull and unfortunately for all its bravura the technique cannot really supply the kind of perspective it promises since peripheral vision is all but eliminated and camera movement always seems too protracted and unduly sober.

On the acting side Montgomery gives us a downright nasty Marlowe, a mean-spirited bruiser who seems to like to take cheap shots at people who he reads correctly mostly except when it really counts. This Marlowe is more bluster and when he might just get the girl in the end, you really don't think he deserves her.

The story is typically complicated and has sufficient twists and turns and for the most part plays fair, though some things do pop up in the end we really didn't have a chance to glom as promised.

From 1969 we get a Marlowe I've seen before, but not in quite a while and it was nice to meet this one again. James Garner's charm is on par with Bogart's and so when he's behaving poorly you feel less bad about forgiving him. This movie titled Marlowe is based on the Chandler novel The Little Sister and takes us pretty quickly into some seamy territory. 

To say the filmmakers take advantage of relaxed standards is to understate things. This far and away the most blatantly sexual of the Marlowe movies in this review, dealing as it does with exotic dancers and hookers and whatnot. Some skins is exposed, but not as much as the poster above might suggest. Marlowe finds himself in a rather confusing yarn about an actress who gets into trouble after pictures of her and a mob boss make the scene. The characters here are not very likeable, even the ones I think the movie wants us to like and that lack of empathy undermines the outcome for me a bit.

This movie is probably most famous for some very brief but very memorable scenes with Bruce Lee who shows up at Marlowe's office and karate chops the crap out of it. Later Marlowe gets the better of the Lee character in a highly unlikely scenario, but which does offer up a gruesome laugh.

And finally we have 1973's The Long Goodbye. This Robert Altman movie gives us perhaps the most peculiar Marlowe yet, a mumbling Elliot Gould stumbles along as a parody of the noir detective in a California which seems to have long before passed him by.

I cannot figure if this was supposed to be a legit detective story with some humor or a complete send up, and I'm increasingly on the side of the latter. That's somewhat indicated by the really vivacious Jack Davis poster above which shows the helter-skelter nature of the events which unravel in front of Marlowe who looks on dully and smokes incessantly. Marlowe never seems to know any more than anyone else in the movie and often less.  As played by Gould, Marlowe comes across as a loyal but dull goofball who is capable of some surprisingly cruel things.

Almost to defang the movie and remove any sexual tension which might wander into the flick, there is an apartment full of naked girls next to Marlowe's who are on display off and on throughout the movie for no particular reason. It's all rather strange, weird, but rarely fascinating.

So Philip Marlowe is a detective who in film at least finds his way in different ways and manners. Beginning as the cool and even at times debonair Bogart, through the snide and brutal Montgomery, and by way of the charming but reluctant Garner, to the stumbling mumbling Gould, the character gets redefined as each director and /or actor imagines.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Point Blank!

Point Blank is the 1967 movie adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter, the first of the "Parker" novels by "Stark" (whose real name was Donald Westlake). I've never read the novel, but it's on the list.

The movie is strange and compelling experience. The plot is dead simple, a ruthless hold-up man Walker (Lee Marvin) is betrayed by his wife Lynn (Sharon Acker) and his friend Mal Reese (John Vernon) who leave him for dead at the recently abandoned Alacatraz island. He finds a man named Yost (Keenan Wynn) who clues him into the doings of "The Corporation" who Reese works for and our "hero" then begins to intimidate, beat, and shoot his way to fulfilling his revenge and getting his cut of the booty. Along the way he meets, beds, and uses Lynn's sister Chris (Angie Dickinson), who seems attracted and repelled by him at the same time.

Lee Marvin's portrayal of Walker is downright weird, and the director's decision to have all manner of flash-backs and such intercede in the timeline of the story makes many imagine this is all a weird dream or hallucination in which Walker is fantasizing about his desire for vengeance after being shot down at Alacatraz.  Another theory suggests Walker is death incarnate come to claim those who live in a world of corruption and violence. I'm not certain. I do know the story holds your attention because Walker' search is relentless as is the movie.

The movie was made again as Payback in the 90's with Mel Gibson in the lead role. No attempt is made to give this one a surreal feel, but the grim nature of Porter (Gibson's character) as he seeks his money and his vengeance is palpable. This one has a lot of weird touches such as an introduction of a criminal Tong society,  but the weirdness is offset by some great actors in small parts like James Coburn, William Devane, and David Paymer. The ending is "happy" which does undermine the theme a bit, but getting there is can be stylish. I like what Gibson did with the role.

Most recently I've seen Parker which for the first time uses Westlake's character's real name, but this adapts a different novel in the series, though the story arc feels very similar to the others I've mentioned. Jason Statham is his usual cool self in the lead, but Jennifer Lopez while pretty as always seems a bit outclassed in this one. There's lots and lots of violence, but rarely do I get a true noir feel to the proceedings. Likely this is because of the sunny Florida setting. I wanted to like this story, but it lost me in several places as the characters seem often to do what is necessary to make the story work and not what people might actually do in a given circumstance.

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Get Carter - The Movies!

Get Carter starring Michael Caine is one of those two-fisted gangster flicks I'd read about for years before I was at last able to see it for the first time a few years ago. It lived up to its billing and I was eager to see it again when it recently played on TCM again, which it does from time to time. The movie is based on a 1969 novel by Ted Lewis titled Jack Returns Home. I've not read this novel, but I certainly need to do so. The movie adaptation came quickly in 1971 giving the whole thing a very contemporaneous feel.

The story is at once simple and complicated. Jack Carter, a cold-blooded enforcer for some high-profile and influential gangsters returns to his Newcastle home when he learns of the sudden death of his estranged brother from a suspicious car accident. He does so despite his bosses distinct desire he not do it, but as is demonstrated repeatedly during the story, Carter doesn't seem to give a damn what anyone else thinks.

We are quickly introduced to an exceedingly seamy British society full of poverty and desperate crime and some few reaping benefit fro same. Using some strong locations and legit local extras, the atmosphere in this movie is lush and involving, allowing the cold-eyed Carter to slither about in his sharp-lookng suits like a shark hunting his prey, the men and women he imagines murdered his brother. He meets his niece, who the story suggests might be more than that, and in their relationship is the only glimmer of humanity we glimpse from the bloody gangster. Slowly he peels back the scheme, finding all manner of folks trying to get him off the case either by sexual distraction or by brutal violence. Often we don't really know what he's up to, but he seems ever to be on a track which he follows relentlessly throughout the movie to its rough and tough conclusion.

Michael Caine is magnificent in the role of "Jack Carter". He plays Carter with barely a glimmer of romanticism, presenting instead a brutal man who kills in an efficient and clinical manner. Fueled by a rage, that anger rarely leaks out, but remains contained in the urbane, even at times sarcastic facade the character lurks behind waiting for his moments to strike. When he does it is with a workmanlike nonchalance which makes the horrific deeds even more terrible.

The end of the movie is at once a great surprise, but also completely understandable given the nature of the story to that point.

Get Carter was remade in 2000 and this American version stars an aging Sly Stallone in the lead role. It's inferior to the original in almost every way imaginable. For starters, Stallone is not nearly strong enough as an actor to recreate the cold-hearted hitman of the original. He plays Carter as a brutal man, but there are many moments in the movie which give him opportunity to reveal his softer core.

This movie wants us to like its lead, where as the original never cared for that approach at all. Watching both versions in close proximity I found parallels I'd missed before, but despite the similar stories, the Stallone effort is deficient because it decides it likes being an action movie more than a tough-as-nails crime drama. The characters become parodies of types who show up in these kinds of stories and not vivid distinctive characters of their own.

The film-making is hyperbolic too, using oddball editing to suggest interior emotions since by and large the cast is not up to the task or are not allowed to display it. Michael Caine does show up in this movie in a supporting role and his brief time on screen only points up the weakness of the other performances.

There is apparently a third adaptation of the Lewis novel, a 1972 "blaxploitation" version called Hit Man. I've never seen it, but reports are not good. I'd like to get a look and make my own judgment, but suffice it to say it will likely not top the original, one of the most ruthless movies I've seen in many years.

I highly recommend the 1971 original with Caine, the 2000 rendition with Stallone you watch at your own peril.

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Get Carter - The Novel!

Get Carter (originally titled Jack's Return Home ) was written by Ted Lewis in 1969. It was made into a movie and released only a few years later. As a consequence Lewis wrote two more novels about his protagonist Jack Carter. I've not read those, but  I have just read the first one and it lives up to its reputation as a powerhouse tougher-than-nails crime drama.

The plot is fairly simple. Jack Carter hears his brother Frank has died as a result of drunken driving but, despite their estrangement, Jack knows that's not the way his buttoned-up brother operated. He knows he was murdered and returns home to his home in northern England despite his London bosses desire he not do so. It seems no one wants him to investigate, but he does anyway and its a brutal and tempestuous weekend which results in quite a bit of lethal mayhem all about.

The movie with Michael Caine is rough and unblinking, but if anything the novel is even more so. Though that said, the picture we get of Jack Carter is a more complete one since the story is told from his point of view. We learn a great deal more about his relationship with is brother, how close they were and how different they had been. In the movie you have to just assume those things, trust in Carter's pronouncements that he knew his brother, but in the novel you see the memories which justify his conviction that the mystery is far from solved.

There is quite a bit different narratively, especially in the denoument of the story, so reading the novel is satisfying in the way it recreates the movie adaptation's vivid impressions and also distinctive enough to offer up real surprises.

It's worth your time. 

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks!

The world according to the current crop of nabobs running for the president is a dangerous and frightening place. But it turns out that despite some scary headlines, it really isn't. We live in possibly the most peaceful time in world history. There are dangers for sure, and we have become incredibly adept, thanks to transformations in modern media, at detecting and monitoring even the most geographically and statistically remote threats, but by and large more people live lives of relative quiet. I for one am thankful for the relative peace in our times. I am grateful for a leader who refuses to be stampeded into yet one more short-sighted military incursion.

The economy continues to improve though sadly we still are subject to the naysayers who always speak of gloom and doom despite clear indicators that times continue to steadily get better, at least in the United States. Certainly too many still suffer from the outrageous events which years ago drove the world to the brink, and from policies which predate that dramatic downturn. But while I can properly feel sympathy for those adjusting to new circumstances, I don't want to forget to be grateful for what I have, though likely don't deserve. I've been lucky by and large, as has my family despite some real hardships in recent years. Gas prices are low and that's always good news during the holidays.

To listen to pundits, you might imagine we live in the apocalypse (not the zombie one either), a time of unprecedented suffering. We don't of course, that's all balderdash designed to scare and sway the unwary.  Technology continues to make medicine more and more a true miracle, which hopefully thanks to recent changes in public policy more folks have access to. The Affordable Care Act is working for many but has hit some snags and it will require some repair. But even if the worst develops and it fails on its own, it has forever changed the terms of the healthcare debate where no one defends the original system as the "best in the world" anymore, but realize that improvements must be made. You can no long "repeal" without "replacing" and that replacement has some specific requirements. We are better off regardless.

Today, of all days on my favorite holiday I want to be upbeat. Today I want to be thankful for what I have and for those around me in this land of plenty.

It could be worse. It really really could.

For your entertainment check out this vintage Blondie and Dagwood Thanksgiving sequence

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family Portrait!

Here's a vintage presentation by Walt Simonson from 1982 of Darkseid and his sons Orion and Kalibak. This father and sons team look menacing in this image which evokes the majesty of the classic Kirby look without aping it. Simonson has been the most successful in revisiting the Fourth World since the "King" can no longer visit.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

World Of Fear!

I have been aghast at the execrable debate about whether it is appropriate for this republic to offer refuge to individuals young, small and of sundry stripes driven out of the perpetual war zone which once was Syria. To see elected officials display wanton cowardice and heaping the accusation of same on their constituents in order to justify yet one more targeted attempt to humble the jumped-up president they resent with every fiber of their beings is woeful indeed. And to offer these criticisms at a time when our leader is overseas, a time not too many years ago when national unity was the norm is even less patriotic. When that president then has the temerity to call them out on their fear-mongering, he of course is deemed to be behaving in a manner beneath his station. It's a classic no-win for Mr. Obama, damned for lassitude when he demurs criticizing his rivals and with callow brazenness when he speaks to them directly.

In my opinion, the drive for U.S. "boots on the ground" in Syria is spurred more by a military machine which is feeling the pinch of automatic budget cuts over the last several years, and sees a chance to bypass the usual process by using the grease of fear to get its way. Obama all too often has often been his own worst enemy, saying what he truly thinks in the moment and then having those words thrown back at him years later as if two years ago had much to do with today. His critics always seem to begin or end their remarks by savaging his leadership and then proceed to describe what they'd do which is almost always is what is mostly already being done. Only since Paris has the troops on the ground idea gotten traction (with the forthright but wrongheaded example of Lindsay Graham notwithstanding).  Has Obama been reluctant to go to war? Yes, but that's a refreshing change from leaders who seem to want to " bomb the shit out of" whomever they consider a threat, even innocents.

But to the issue at hand, I was at first puzzled why anyone objected to refugees (often mislabeled "migrants" to avoid the political deficiencies in the argument) in a land which is mostly built to house them. We are all of us descended from those who came to the new world seeking refuge and have historically embraced those who likewise seek such solace, at least idealistically. But these swarthy types are a bit too much for a white conservative populace who already feel outnumbered in a country they imagine should be mostly white and mostly Christian in perpetuity, a notion frustrated by the demanding march of demographics. The idea that America would blatantly turn away families is embarrassing for this particular citizen, that we would even for a moment entertain such notions as admitting only those of certain religious beliefs is staggering. That this tripe gets bandied about and not called the rank racism and callow jingoism it is also bewilders me.

Too many on the stump and in the media too have allowed Americans to feel justified in luxuriating in their baseless fears. To demonstrate reasoned caution is one thing, but to fear the remotest possibility of an exotic attack is a waste of time and emotion. Like tidal waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes, the threat of terrorism is now a part of the world, a part we can pay proper attention to, prepare reasoned responses to, but over which we have exceedingly limited control as individuals. As much as the news media, in their constant desire to drive up ratings wanted to equate the Paris attacks to 9-11 status it clearly has not been the case as the story already fades in the face of other events. It might be a 9-11 event for France, but the status of France is not the United States and so the impact worldwide is muted. The attacks are horrific crimes committed by beastly people bent on savage murder who must be discovered and punished, but there's no need for all people everywhere to cave in to fear, nor to sacrifice their rights in yet another stampede for the illusion of perfect safety. When folks get hysterical they often get slapped in the face, not told their hysteria is a proper reaction to circumstances. America needs a slap in the face.


America is a refuge from a savage world filled with desperate innocent people. We should welcome refugees with open arms, not foul language and intimidation, especially at Thanksgiving.  We have nothing to fear but fear itself -- a wise man who himself was president once said that.

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