Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Elmore Leonard R.I.P.

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The height of irony was devouring Elmore Leonard novels in prison.

Mister Millimeter Will See You Now If prisons produce better criminals, I was lucky to come out merely more sarcastic than when I went in. Elmore Leonard helped me get there – and taught me that exclamation points are worse than all the plagues in the Bible.

My family was, and still is, rather incisive, so when it came to the discovery of certain writers, I found authenticity in those who trafficked in quick comebacks and smartass remarks. Under the noses of bitchy nuns, schoolmate Chuck Miller and I traded copies of Don Pendleton’s pulp war-on-the-Mafia series, The Executioner. Pendleton’s stories were blunt and read similarly to how movies like The French Connection, The Seven-Ups, and The Friends of Eddie Coyle felt.

We were just kids then, gaining access to all this stuff through older brothers and neighborhood teenagers. Little did I know what Elmore Leonard would have in store for me. Compared to him, Don Pendleton might as well have been script-writer for Dragnet. Still, though Leonard would be the author to show me a celebration of the criminal spirit, I didn’t discover his novels until I myself was behind bars.

Reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment just prior to being sentenced was a philosophical turning point, the likes of which I hadn’t previously experienced. Devouring Leonard’s Maximum Bob while trying to drown out the sounds of cellblock idiocy was an comparable epiphany. Leonard’s criminals were very similar to those with whom I was housed: sarcastic, daring, flamboyant, smart, haphazard, mean, self-sabotaging, and double-crossing. They spoke of pistol-whipping, bad lawyers, booze, payoffs to cops, drive-bys, finders-keepers, knife fights, knife fights with women, snitches (both living and “dealt with”), hustling cash like there’s no tomorrow, and detectives, detectives, detectives! They were giant, fat, tired, old, young, short, stupid, one-armed, covered in ink, loud, and witty.  (more…)

“Any bloody fool can pull a trigger”

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Give us another film like Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

Reservoir Dragons At one point, early in Bruce Lee’s 1972 karate classic-to-be, Enter the Dragon, British Intelligence recruiter “Braithwaite” offers Lee whiskey, which he refuses as though it contains all the weaknesses of Western culture. Braithwaite’s droopy shrug ‘n gulp response serves to confirm for the audience that one of these two knows some things the other doesn’t.

Enter the Dragon08As Braithwaite reveals more of Enter the Dragon’s cloak-and-dagger intrigue, Lee suggests someone just go in and shoot the bad guy. Initially, the question seems like a no-brainer, but Braithwaite assures Lee that possession of a gun on an island off of Hong Kong is a whopper of a British Colonial no-no: if firearms were suspected, he seems to say, the Queen herself would arrive to tidy things up. Moreover, this particular bad guy, “Han,” suspects he could be assassinated at any moment, so he’s particularly sensitive. “Can’t really blame him,” Braithwaite reasons. “Any bloody fool can pull a trigger.”

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A Prison Bitch by Another Name

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Who says jail tormentors must have dicks to be scary?

Kate del CastilloA long-haired blond was shoved onto the 9000 block of L.A.’s infamous Men’s Central Jail, a surfer-boy among the Latino gang veteranos, the gringo trash, the Crips, Bloods, old timers, and fresh fish. Resisting arrest and two counts of grand theft auto, we heard. No doubt the deputies had a laugh as they waved surfer-boy on, into the general population. The fellas thought he should’ve been sent to the soft tank with the “trannies and homos.” Too late now.

Like me, the guy clearly had no jail experience, but regardless of my fear and need for someone to talk to, I didn’t go near that fool. He was radioactive. I’d arrived just a few weeks prior, and already I’d seen enough to stay clear. The guy might have protested getting stuck with the “faggots, bitches, putas, and pussies,” but it would’ve been far better than what actually happened to him. (more…)

Peckinpah Would Approve

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

When I first heard about Django Unchained, I was overjoyed at Tarantino’s taboo choice of a slavery/revenge storyline ‘cause I remember what adults used to say about the movies that inspired it back when they were “new”. Those days – without the Internet – things didn’t move as quickly and movies stayed fresher longer, so “new” would be roughly the equivalent of 2008’s Iron Man or Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Catching a Shaft marathon five years after the release of Shaft in Africa was seeing Shaft when Shaft was “new.” 

In addition to the usual back ‘n forth about Tarantino movies’ racism, violence, denigration of women, and dialog-heavy scenes, Django has inspired talk of whether or not it’s okay for whites to laugh at certain jokes (Djokes?) or revel in a fictional, slavery-themed film. And people should hear themselves talk! The fact that they could be taking a Tarantino movie seriously enough to assign blame, find fault, claim victimhood, and make false conclusions is asinine. Some of these cabbage heads are actually saying they enjoyed Django while walking out of the theater in protest against it. So while that’s all very pious, Django Unchained made me want to give my mom a big hug.

On Saturdays, my mom would announce to my brother, me, and any other neighbor kid within earshot that we were all going to the movies. Every child that could fit in her car was headed for the Holiday Cinema, which we knew as the “The 49¢ Theater” because the top of the marquee read, “ANY SEAT 49¢.” If you got into the car, you knew you weren’t coming home until that evening.

“It isn’t so terrible,” our parents must’ve been thinking. The place was only blocks away; it was cheap as hell and supervised; and it was located in what then passed for a respectable shopping center — if you looked at it through a bad hangover. Some of our parents qualified, so the Holiday was aptly nicknamed. (more…)

Summed up in 60 Seconds

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Eugene Jarecki’s deconstruction of the War on Drugs in his documentary, The House I Live In, initially pissed off the white, dreadlocked pothead sitting in front of me at the theater. I think he and his friends expected to pump their fists with other persecuted weed smokers (a.k.a. privileged Caucasian stoners who got suspended from school once), so he was less than stoked to be hit with a message of personal responsibility instead.

It wasn’t long, though, before The House I Live In turned his grumbling to rapt attention: the movie was thoroughly compelling. And I DON’T LIKE PRISON GUARDS, ‘ya feel me? Yet I fell in love with the turnkey at the center of this story.

Racial hierarchies and the economics of incarceration are the two strongest arguments for seeing the film – and for recommending it to others. From fantastical sentencing to deplorable healthcare and the prison-for-proft lobby, we can no longer rely on local or state governments to know what to do with us if we break the law. At the same time, we live in an age where our laws are like tuna nets. Decisions about our criminal courts are driven by the needs of our jails, and our jails are being built to accommodate increasing desperation in our economy. Recidivism, it turns out, is highly profitable, and thus essential to the incarceration industry.  (more…)

Hey, I Got Your Avengers Right Here…

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Only if these two were hiding WMDs and the Avengers were sent to stop ’em would I pay $15 to see a movie about it.

Cinema attendance surges in times of economic insecurity and moral ambivalence, and with storm-troops of superheroes out to crush absurdly irrelevant bad guys, movie escapism isn’t so much offered as detonated. But I can’t help wondering, if the Avengers are so great, why can’t they stop the powdered baby pill smugglers?

I mean, wouldn’t you enjoy watching a superhero tackle just one goddamned oil spill? Ooh, or how about a flying goody-goody facing his or her own demons? Where’s our $200 million movie about a fight to the death with power-sapping civil litigation, or sneak-attacks from the evil Captain Vicodin? (more…)