\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Parker (2013)

I’ve had a fun time watching the many films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  I enjoyed the 2006 Director’s Cut of Payback (which was released theatrically in 1999), though wow, was it dark!  (Click here for my review.)  And now we’ve arrived at 2013’s Parker, starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez.

I remember seeing trailers for this film when it came out, but I ignored them because Parker looked like yet another generic Jason Statham action vehicle.  I actually quite like Mr. Statham as an actor!  I thought he was a hoot in Guy Ritchie’s early films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, and he is hilarious in Paul Feig’s 2015 film Spy.  But I haven’t been interested by the many bland-looking action films he’s been putting out for the past decade or so.  Similarly, I know Jennifer Lopez can be a terrific actor.  I think she’s spectacular in Out of Sight, for instance.  I just haven’t been interested in most of the films she’s been in lately.  So while I skipped Parker back in 2013, I was curious to give the film a chance now.  They actually let the filmmakers use the Parker name!  Did that give reason to hope the film had merit??

Parker is adapted from the novel Flashfire.  Jason Statham stars as Parker.  When the film opens, he’s working with a crew in a heist, robbing a state fair.  As usual in these Parker stories, he winds up double-crossed and left for dead.  But he survives, and sets to hunting down his former crew to get revenge.  He tracks them down to Palm Beach, Florida, where they’re working on their next big job.  While undercover, Parker’s path crosses with Leslie (Jennifer Lopez), a smart, capable real estate agent who is desperate to get out of her unfortunate situation.  (She’s heavily in-debt and stuck living with her mother.)  Leslie figures out that the under-cover Parker isn’t the wealthy Texan he claims to be, and the two work together to take down Parker’s former crew and get away with the loot.

Parker isn’t bad.  It’s better than I expected.  The cast is strong, and there are some well-executed sequences.  But it’s also not as good as it could have/should have been.  The … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Parker Films: Payback Director’s Cut (1999/2006)

November 4th, 2020
, ,

We’re in the home-stretch of my journey to watch the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  Sadly I thought 1983’s Slayground was a dud.  (Click here for my review.)  Now we’ve arrived at Payback, which was released theatrically in 1999.

The film has an interesting history.  It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland, who wrote the (fantastic) script for L.A. Confidential (which was directed by Curtis Hanson).  But the film released to theaters in 1999 was not really Mr. Helgeland’s film.  After the studio objected to his cut, Payback was significantly re-written (by Terry Hayes) and re-shot (by John Myhre).  I remember, vaguely, seeing the film in theaters.  I recall thinking it was mediocre.  Years later, in 2006, Mr. Helgeland was given the opportunity to restore his original vision, and his Director’s Cut was released to DVD in 2006.  I’ve heard for years that this Director’s Cut was a far superior version of the film, and I was excited for the opportunity to arrive at this stop in my journey through the Parker films.

To my surprise, it brought me full circle because Payback, like 1967’s Point Blank, is an adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter.  It’s fascinating to see that story depicted through Mr. Helgeland’s unique eye.  The Payback Director’s Cut bears a number of similarities to Point Blank, but it’s also a very different film, which I was pleased to see.

The basic plot is similar: after a successful heist, the Parker character (once again given a different name: this time it’s Porter) is betrayed by the woman he loves (Lynn) and his partner (Val).  They leave him for dead, but he survives and eventually returns to town, looking for payback and the money he’s owed.  But Val has used that money to repay a debt to the Outfit, the criminal enterprise in the city.  So Porter soon finds himself up not just against Val but the forces of the Outfit.

I quite enjoyed the Director’s Cut of Payback.  However, whoof, I can understand why the studios was reluctant to release this version of the film.  This is a DARK, tough, ugly film.  I was surprised by how violent and unlikable the early Parker films allowed the Parker character to be, but wowsers, this one has them all beat.  When Porter gets back into town and finds his … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Parker Films: Slayground (1983)

October 5th, 2020
,

I’m continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker Character.  I really enjoyed 1967’s Point Blank (click here for my review) and 1968’s The Split (click here for my review).  I thought 1973’s The Outfit was a step down, though I did still enjoy the film.  (Click here for my review.)  The next Parker film I watched was 1983’s Slayground, based on the 14th Parker novel with the same name.  Unfortunately, I thought this one was a major dud.

It’s fun seeing a young, virile Peter Coyote (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Sphere, Erin Brockovich, The 4400) in the leading role as the Parker character.  (As usual, the character has a different name: in this film, he’s called Stone.)  (That’s a lot better name than Earl Macklin given to Robert Duvall in The Outfit!)  Mr. Coyote’s glorious nineteen-eighties hair is a sight to behold.  Mr. Coyote does his best, and watching him at work in his prime was, for me, the most enjoyable aspect of this film.  Unfortunately, he can’t elevate the material out of B-movie-land.  It also doesn’t help that he’s given a bizarrely un-dangerous wardrobe, with lots of puffy sweaters.  This is a much gentler Parker character than we’ve seen in the three previous Parker films I watched.  He seems to care a lot more about the woman in his life than any of the other Parkers did.  (Though the film does a poor job of fleshing out her character.)

In most of the other Parker films, the story revolves around Parker getting betrayed or otherwise screwed over during a heist; and then Parker needs to get revenge.  In this film, what goes wrong during the crime is that the twitchy get-away driver accidentally crashes into a civilian’s car and kills a little girl.  The person looking for revenge is her angry father, who eventually sends a hit-man after Parker (Stone).  It’s an ugly plot-twist that Stone is complicit in the death of a child.  (It’s not Stone’s direct fault, but it happened during a crime he was committing.)  This has the effect of taking any fun this crime film might have had right out of the film.  The girl’s death casts an ugly pall over the entire story, in my opinion.  Now, a somber, elegiac story about a criminal whose life takes a terrible turn because of a tragedy like this might have been an interesting film.  But that’s not at all the type of film this is trying to be.  And so I think that is the biggest miscalculation in a film that seems to be filled with miscalculations.

Because … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Parker Films: The Outfit (1973)

September 14th, 2020
, ,

I’m continuing continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker character.  Click here for my review of 1967’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, an adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunted.  Click here for my review of 1968’s The Split, starring Jim Brown.  Now we come to 1973’s The Outfit, starring Robert Duvall!

The Outfit is based on the Westlake novel of the same name.  Robert Duvall plays the Parker role, though once again they don’t call the character Parker — in this film, he’s Earl Macklin.  After getting released from prison, Macklin discovers his brother has been killed, and he only narrowly escapes the hitman hired to kill him.  It seems the bank that the brothers robbed was an operation run by the Outfit, the nickname given to a large criminal organization.  (Back in Point Blank, they called it the Syndicate.)  So Macklin recruits his old comrade in crime Cody (Joe Don Baker) and starts hitting one Outfit operation after another in a quest for retribution, as well as the quarter million he feels he’s owed for his trouble.

I enjoyed The Outfit, mostly for the fun of seeing the young, virile Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker in their primes!  But the film is a step down in quality, in my opinion, from Point Blank and The Split.  It’s a little shaggier, a little less tense, a little less compelling.

The overwrought soundtrack hurts the film.  It’s too on the nose.  For example: right off the bat, the film opens with super-dramatic music playing over shots of a car driving.  The music makes it seem like a Big Dramatic Moment, but nothing is really happening.   It’s off-putting.  Only a few minutes later, we see Macklin getting out of prison and there’s extremely cliche harmonica music playing on the soundtrack, and I knew we were in trouble.

Robert Duvall is always great, and it’s fun to see him in a man-of-action leading roll.  I wish the script gave him more depth of character to play.  It worked for Lee Marvin (and also Jim Brown) to play mostly silent tough guys, but the Macklin character is less compelling.  Part of this is the fault of the weak script, but also I think Duvall is the wrong actor for this type of role.  I know he’s so good, that watching the film I kept wishing he had more meaty stuff to play.  But that being said, even in a mediocre film, Duvall elevates the material.  He’s magnetic on screen.

Also great: Joe Don Baker!  To be honest, I’ve often found his persona to be something of a joke to me in … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Parker Films: The Split (1968)

September 2nd, 2020
, ,

I’m continuing my look at the films based on Donald E. Westlake (written under the pseudonym Richard Stark)’s Parker character.  Click here for my review of 1967’s Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, an adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunted.  One year later, Jim Brown starred in The Split, adapted from the seventh Parker novel, called The Seventh.

At its core, the skeleton of The Split isn’t so different from Point Blank.  The Parker character (here called, somewhat inexplicably, McClain) plans and executes a clever score, only to get betrayed and forced to work hard to 1) survive 2) get revenge and 3) get back his cut of the money.  But despite those superficial similarities, I was pleased that The Split is actually quite different from Point Blank in tone and structure.  For example, in place of Point Blank’s flashback chronology, The Split unfolds in a very straightforward manner.  And the betrayal and its fallout don’t go down until the final 25-ish minutes of the film, thus representing a third-act twist rather than the inciting incident of the film.

Like Point Blank, The Split is a tight, taut thriller.  It’s lean and mean.  As I commented in my review of Point Blank, they don’t really make movies like this anymore: mean movies about mean people who are criminal professionals.  Unlike Point Blank, though, which is a revenge story right from the beginning, The Split unfolds more like a cool adventure.  There’s more of a sense of fun to the film.  We go on quite a ride as we follow McClaine & co. on their robbery of a football game, and it’s all enhanced by Quincy Jone’s hip music and Jim Brown’s calm, cool charm.

I love Jim Brown in the title role!  Mr. Brown was a football player who then became an actor.  The film is carefully structured in a way that doesn’t force him to stretch too much.  Casting him in the terse, mostly silent Parker role was a good choice.  But that’s not to take away from his strong performance!  Mr. Brown has a powerful natural charisma that shines through.  I thought he was an effective leading man, and I had no trouble rooting for him as the film unfolded.

They wisely surrounded Mr. Brown with a terrific ensemble.  I love the time the film spends developing the crew that Mclain pulls the heist with.  They’re each interesting, memorable characters.  Jack Klugman (The Odd Couple) plays the driver, Kifka.  ErnestBorgnine (From Here to Eternity, The Wild Bunch, McHale’s Navy) plays the tough-guy fighter, Clinger.  Donald Sutherland (The Dirty Dozen, Animal House, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, A Time to Kill, the Hunger Games films) … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

The Parker Films: Point Blank (1967)

August 26th, 2020
, ,

Recently I read Darwyn Cooke’s four magnificent graphic novel adaptations of the Parker novels written by Donald E. Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark.  The late, great Darwyn Cooke was a master of the comics form (his New Frontier miniseries, which retold the story of the DC universe as a period piece beginning in the nineteen thirties, is a masterpiece), and his beautiful, faithful adaptation of four Parker novels (The Hunter, The Score, The Outfit, and Slayground) are not to be missed.  Donald Westlake wrote 24 novels featuring his Parker character, and over the decades quite a few of them have been adapted into films.  Over the years, I have read a lot about many of these films.  (Primarily in the wonderful back-pages of the crime comics written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips, such as Criminal.)  I decided it was time to take a look at some of those films, so I decided to start with the first (and, having now seen many of them, what I think is the greatest) of the Parker adaptions: 1967’s Point Blank.

Point Blank is a (pretty faithful) adaptation of the Parker novel The Hunter.  Lee Marvin stars as the Parker character (renamed Walker here because apparently Mr. Westlake refused permission for these film adaptations to use the Parker name).  When the film opens, Walker is being released from prison.  Years earlier, Walker and another criminal named Mal Reese had pulled off a heist for a lot of money, but Reese betrayed and shot Walker, leaving him for dead.  Now Walker is back and out for revenge, as well as his $93,000 cut of the money.  But Reese used that money to pay back the debt he owed to a crime organization referred to as the Syndicate.  Reese is now an official in that Syndicate, meaning that Walker has to go up against not only Reese, but this entire criminal organization.

I really enjoyed this film!  Its reputation as a classic is well-earned.  This is a tightly-plotted, tense and taut noir story.  It’s very minimalist, with sparse dialogue and scenes that are short and to the point.  There’s no extraneous mucking about or time-wasting anywhere to be found.

Lee Marvin is great as Walker.  He plays this “tough silent-type” character so well.  His chiseled-from-granite face suits this character to a T.  It’s a very restrained, internal performance.  But, wow, Mr. Marvin is totally convincing and scary as this thief who should not be messed with.

The film sticks fairly closely to the structure of Mr. Westlake’s novel.  I love that they maintained the out of order chronology of the book.  It gives the film a very modern sensibility.  The two … [continued]