Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Inexplicables--Old Man Sundays #2

Sorry I've been gone, folks. It's been so for a whole host of reasons, and since I'm not in the habit of treating this blog like a therapy session, let's just move on, shall we?

I watched Gymkata this week, for the first time in many years. Along with many other bad action movies, I watched this incessantly as a kid. At the time, it could not have been cooler. Unlike many other actioners of my childhood that don't hold up and are now mere bores, Gymkata is so stupefyingly inept, yet seemingly steadfast in earnestness, that it manages to be a bewilderingly charming 90 minutes. Having lately watched another movie of similar simultaneous earnestness and ineptitude (Thank God It's Friday), it gets me thinking that I'd like to see other movies like this. I'm dubbing them: The Inexplicables. I've already mentioned the criteria above: these movies must have earnest intentions, fail miserably in executing them, and precisely because of that ineptitude, impart upon the viewer an absurd glee in the viewing.

I want more examples, people. I've got the musical and martial arts examples par excellence. I don't think I've seen the heist example yet, but I'm guessing that Disorganized Crime is a solid candidate.

Eating at Hugo's Frog Bar and Fish House in Naperville, IL hit home a notion that I've been considering for some time. Namely, it is my experience that restaurants never really cater to the individual diner the way that they should. Whenever I eat out alone, I usually find that the servers are not as courteous as when I'm in a group, my wait is longer, and there are few to no check-ins from my servers after the meal is brought to me. A friend pointed out that the longer wait may simply feel longer, since I'm not conversing with anyone. This may be occasionally true, but certainly is not always so. I'm confused by the seeming lack of respect for the individual diner. Note to servers, mine is the only tip you'll be getting from my table. If you want a good one, show me a little courtesy, and bust your ass for me the way you would for the couple and their gaggle of youngsters next to me. Maybe it's just that I'm not the nicest-looking guy?

If you're wondering why I was in Naperville, it was to meet Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond series. I was surprised--and a little sad--that there weren't more people there, but it afforded me the opportunity to chat one-on-one for quite some time with one of the few people around who've written Bond. In disarmingly funny fashion, Higson elaborated on the challenges of working certain elements into the Young Bond series--specifically the smoking, the drinking, the sex, and the violence. I took notes, because if I ever write a YA novel, I expect I'll be facing similar challenges.

For those of you in Madison, only one more day of Brat Fest. Your Double Johnnies await! As does your race with the devil on your way home.

I've found myself, on more than one occasion of late, dreaming of a Texas sunset. I think I'll take in a few soon, though I have not endured a Texas summer since 2001. We'll see if I survive.

Now that I have followers, I will start posting stuff on Twitter forthwith. Witticisms abound, people!

Take note, good readers: combing through e-mails at 1 in the morning always leads to no good. Actually, combing through almost anything at 1 in the morning leads to no good.

Best quote I've ever heard about the movie Tombstone: "Man, you were just an asshole if you weren't in this movie."

Watching Justified has, among other things, made me: a) want to buy a new pair of boots, now that my old ones don't fit, and b) wonder about my ability to pull off a cowboy hat again.

Speaking of quotes, I wonder how many times a year George Will describes politics as a "transactional business." Clearly, a reminder we all need.

Watched the Lost finale, like a few of you out there. Enjoyed it, like fewer of you out there. The show is, in the end, my 2nd favorite of all time (between Homicide: Life on the Street in 3rd and The Sandbaggers in 1st). Don't care to discuss further at this time.

Right this second, all I want out of life is to get out of cocked hat and into hog's fat.

Finally, I began with the inexplicable. I shall end with the inexplicable. Watch these now. Thank me at your leisure.

Again, profuse apologies for the absence. More to come. Entries, that is. Not absences.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Boundless and the Bold--Wednesday Comics #2

As origin stories are often told and retold in as many series as publishers can muster, I remain struck by Grant Morrison's first issue of All-Star Superman. While Superman is a character that has existed in the popular consciousness for decades, all Morrison required to tell the character's origin was 1 page--on it, 4 wide panels with 4 succinct captions.

An even more impressive feat is to introduce us to the origins of the universe, the universe's largest threat, and the man who is out to stop that threat--and requiring only 1 more page to do so. Then, after the concise yet descriptive captions, the storytellers go one step further by telling us all we need to know about the book's sense of humor with the main character's first line: "Huh?"

The storytellers in question are Brian Churilla and Jeremy Shepherd, and the book is The Engineer: Konstrukt, a handsome hardcover collection from Archaia. The Engineer (a former cosmonaut) has been enlisted by three slithery, sinister cosmic harpies known as the "Witch Sisters." His mission: to retrieve the components that form the Konstrukt: a device that allows its bearer to shape reality as s/he sees fit. The stakes: it's the only thing in the universe that can stop the Lahar, an "immense sentient entity (that) feeds on the very fabric of space time" that will return the universe to the nothingness from which it sprang.

And yet, when dealing with such grand stakes, it does a story good to keep a strong sense of humor. With the aid of an anxious top-hat-wearing robot ally, mutant bats, gargantuan crab monsters, an angry village mob, an interdimensional pipe organ, and a positively inexplicable fetish for chickens, Churilla and Shepherd give us exactly the well executed absurdist humor that makes a story like this a sheer joy to read. The jokes are never out of place and are not born out of snark for snark's sake. Rather, they help forge our path through this strange, fantastic world.

As to the art (Churilla illustrates, Shepherd colors), I've seen others note stylistic similarities with Mignola, Oeming, and Powell, and these are all well-warranted comparisons. The panel construction creates well paced exposition, dramatic suspense, well staged action, and wry comedic timing, all with equal aplomb. There's also just the right amount of detail in every panel while maintaining a wonderfully expressive cartoony design. And the rich reds and vibrant blues rocket those panels right off each and every page.

But there's one more parallel I'd add to the list above, because when I read this book, I can't help but think of Kirby. I don't mean the artistic style here; instead, I'm referring to the book's overall sensibility. Even though this book has its roots in and references to many comics or sci-fi stories past, not for a second does it feel derivative or imitative. This is a book of bold, boundless fun, and that was Kirby's stock-in-trade. And, while there are a ton of fine comics in the marketplace, we can never have enough--and should never stop demanding--books of bold, boundless fun.

This is, on no uncertain terms, one of the best books you likely haven't read yet. This is the book that smart comic shops are recommending to their regulars. This is the book that deserves an even wider audience than that, and I sincerely hope it finds one.

Increasingly innovative publisher Archaia has certainly released this collection with that in mind. Coming in at over 130 pages, you'll find all three issues of the 1st volume, a hilarious backup story, bonus pinups (including one by Matt Wagner), a behind-the-scenes sketchbook section, all sandwiched in a lovely hardcover binding. All for a $9.95 cover price.

You now officially have no excuse not to purchase this book.

With any form of media--be it novels, comics, music, movies--the more you expose yourself to over time, the more you'll hunger for something to surprise you. The Engineer is one of those great surprises. I can't wait to see where these gents take us in the next volume, and I thank them for giving us this one.

Next time: A look at Jason Shiga's newest book, Meanwhile, which I believe is the first choose-your-own adventure comic, and is certainly one of the most formally elaborate comics ever created.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Of Pauses and Porn Stars--Monday Movies #2

I have what I consider to be a reasonable expectation--for narrative movies, anyway--that a film with as short a runtime as 77 minutes should proceed apace, and in even fashion. I also have the expectation that a Steven Soderbergh film should be narratively compelling (or at least 13 kinds of fun) and wonderful to look at.

With The Girlfriend Experience, Soderbergh fulfills only the last of my expectations. Serving once again as his own cinematographer, he uses scope to showcase his customarily great sense of composition, particularly in service of a script that doesn't necessarily warrant a 2.35 aspect ratio. However, the film plods, and the idea behind the movie--namely, an actual porn actress starring in a low-budget indie movie by an esteemed director--is far more fascinating than the story it produces.

In chronologically scattered fashion, TGE tells the story of a woman (played by Sasha Grey) who balances a relationship with her boyfriend of 1 1/2 years with her professional life as a high-end call girl. Through this 77-minute smattering of scenes, the film asks us to piece together the chronology of her interactions with her clients, her boyfriend, and other assorted characters along the way. That is, if we still care about the chronology once we've seen how everything plays out.

Deliberately fragmented storytelling is certainly not a new strategy for Soderbergh. Unfortunately, it feels here only like an extension of his earlier work, as opposed to an innovative step toward something more. The disjointed scenes merely bring on an intellectual itch to sequence events in chronological order; emotionally, they provide only cold distance from those events. Don't misunderstand; it's not that the distance was a surprise. It's that the distance slowly and steadfastly empties me of any interest or curiosity in the unfolding story. By the time the movie seems to be asking for some genuine emotional engagement, I have none to give.

Add to this characters quite bereft of character, delivering lines that are simultaneously over-mannered and under-acted, chock full of very noticeably fabricated pauses, stammers, and repetitions. I am uncertain at whose feet I should lay blame for this awkwardness in the dialogue (the writers, the director, the actors, or all three), but for a film similar in tone and low-budget experimental sensibilities, Soderbergh's Bubble had some of the most realistic dialogue I've ever heard in a fiction film. In this respect, TGE feels positively amateurish by comparison.

TGE also seems to want to focus more on what lies behind this woman's mask of professional sexuality, which is of far less interest to me than wanting to see how the relationship with her boyfriend works. In whatever way this film was designed to provoke, the fact that I actively want to see more of the dynamic between these two people, who are all but vacant emotionally, is singularly frustrating to me. It is the sole way in which the film succeeds in provoking me.

Again, I feel like the idea of this movie--perhaps even Soderbergh's notion of day-to-day direction on the cheap-and-quick--was and is way more interesting than the process of engaging with the finished product. I remember reading an interview with Soderbergh not too long ago, in which he speculated on his future in filmmaking, saying, "I'm looking at the landscape and I'm thinking, 'Hmmm, I don't know.' A few more years maybe...(a)nd then the stuff that I'm interested in is only going to be of interest to me." As his new projects are announced, and certainly in the wake of TGE, I grow increasingly worried that his statement has become more prophecy than musing.

However, for a man who was my favorite working director for almost a decade, it is my fervent hope that TGE is a more isolated case than that. To that end, I plan to catch up with Soderbergh's recent work by watching (and subsequently writing about) Che and The Informant! over the next couple of weeks, both of which will hopefully be much more memorable than this creative misfire.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Lunacy Royale--Monday Movies #1

I had hoped to start my new "Monday Movies" column with a review of a good ol' fashioned yakuza film. But then a friend of mine changed that plan.

Before I begin, in the interests of full disclosure, I am what one might call a huge fan of the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace--as previously discussed on this blog--as well as the Bond series in general. The only reason I offer this preface, is that I want to do my best not to come off as merely an angry fan with what I'm about to say.

So, as I mentioned, a friend changed my plans for this entry, specifically by forwarding me the link to Patrick Goldstein's blog for the L.A. Times, where he makes a claim that the Bond series should purposefully go on hiatus for a while, and then substantiates this claim with opinionated commentary regarding box office grosses, irony, and 3-D.

Allow me to counter this wrongheaded stump of an article (so much for civility, I guess), so seemingly ignorant of the Bond franchise's pedigree, and so horrifyingly unworthy of even a nickel's worth of income.

(Note: I am not engaging with the first paragraph about the MGM troubles, except to say that one wonders if Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson announced the suspension to perhaps drive MGM into some decision-making.) Responding to each of his points from the second paragraph onward, here we go.

I cannot imagine why this is the perfect time to suspend production on this series. After the two most lucratively and--for my money--narratively satisfying installments, the momentum of the series would dictate the exact reverse of suspended animation, and if the MGM troubles weren't a factor, EON would likely be pursuing the next installment with all the vigor and speed of the teaser sequence in QOS. I was one of the "unlucky" ones who saw the most excellently titled Quantum of Solace (Goldstein here writing with the impudent ardor of one who may not actually know what the phrase means), and while it's an imperfect film, it's certainly not flawed enough to warrant a franchise overhaul. Indeed, as he himself writes, $576.3 million is, in fact, nothing to sneeze at (and I count $568,090,727 for worldwide grosses--according to maybe an extra $12 mil is splitting hairs).

And the film earned that money precisely because it wasn't tired. The intense action, the break-neck cutting (while on the whole maintaining spatial orientation), the film's lightning progression through the series' shortest runtime: what is it about any of these that signals the film is tired?

Oh, wait. He said the franchise felt tired. Over a billion dollars in worldwide grosses since 2006 indicates to me that stunning numbers of audience members disagree. As far as the "aging hipster with a bad face lift" comment, all I can say is that vacuous cleverness has consequences. Granting a generic lineage between Bourne and Bond, Wanted and Iron Man are by no means the same kind of film, forcing me to wonder where in the cinematic soil these deep roots of his lie. And as for not updating the tone with more irony and updating the story with more technology, I wonder if Mr. Goldstein understands what it is the past two Bond films have actually set out to do with the series.

Indeed, while the Bond films are always, to some degree, representative of and responsive to trends in the Hollywood creative marketplace, one shouldn't underestimate the degree to which the Bond films are responses to their own immediate predecessors. One of the critical responses to Die Another Day was that it was overly gadget-laden (two words: invisible car).

Wouldn't it make sense in the reboot, then, to rid the series of the more unrealistic gadgets and base the technology in real world application--to mirror the realism the series is now trying to achieve both in characterization and aesthetic? And, since QOS picks up directly where CR left off narratively, doesn't it make sense that the same sensibilities would follow into QOS as well?

As for irony...there are SO many places to go with that claim, but I'll leave it at this. Since Mr. Goldstein makes it a point to say that QOS did worse than CR at the worldwide box office, is it at all logical to model future efforts upon the sensibilities of Wanted, Iron Man, or the Bourne series, when each of those films made less money in the worldwide marketplace than QOS?

And to call Hollywood's present relationship to 3-D a "torrid love affair" seems intellectually irresponsible. To further a juvenile metaphor, it might be more prudent to say that Hollywood is sliding safely into second base. Regardless, the films that have been expressly shot for or retooled for 3-D presentation are, on the whole, spectaculars teeming with visual effects. The Bond series certainly utilizes visual effects, but it is not so heavily reliant on them as to warrant even a 3-D experimentation with the gun-barrel sequence. In fact, I can think of no sequence in the past two films that would have aesthetically benefited from 3-D in a meaningful way--even the Parkour sequence in CR, because the pleasure of that sequence is not the kinetics of simulated multi-planar depth, but the visceral thrill in seeing an actual human being execute these actual physical feats.

Or perhaps that sequence is just enjoyable due to the hilarious irony of Bond catching a gun thrown at him, and then hurling it back at his attacker.

Rumors of the next installment's plot would have Rachel Weisz as the head of Quantum, and Bond discovering that he doesn't have to prevent the world from being taken over--it already has been. One can only hope that The Property of a Lady isn't as unbelievably awful a title as Quantum of Solace. (Note: It's not. It's every bit as smart, elegant, and narratively connected.) If the rumors end up being true, then it seems to me that Broccoli and Wilson will be doing exactly what should be done, once the MGM troubles are settled: 1) building further upon the new narrative framework they've so aptly put in place, 2) striving to make the series exciting while simultaneously realistic and relevant, and 3) driving onward, leaving Mr. Goldstein's "lunacy royale" in the empty desert to which it so ably maroons itself.

As the friend who originally pointed me to this article said, "No one in a Bond film has ever said that discretion is better than valor...because no one says that at all." If Mr. Goldstein isn't sure if Mr. Bond has ever uttered this non-aphorism in any of the films, then I begin to wonder if he's even seen them all.

I, on the other hand, will end my post with an actual aphorism, one that's found often in the end credits sequences.


P.S. Thanks to Brad and Colin for spurring on this entry.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Little Things--Old Man Sundays #1

You'd think "Old Man Sundays" would mostly be a jumble of grumbles; at least, that's what the title would imply.

However, the title refers to a propensity, however infrequent, to enjoy a few small pleasures on a Sunday morning that make me feel like an old man. Going out to breakfast by myself, reading a copy of Illustration Magazine while I eat, followed by a bit of pool. This is the program.

So while there are numerous things I could (and want to) gripe about, I'm not going to do that least not today. Instead, in no particular order, here's a brief list of the small pleasures in which I've recently indulged, or to which I always look forward.
  • an unbroken Butterfinger from a vending machine
  • fine book design (cover art, trade dress, the works)
  • discovering a bourbon that reminds me of scotch (Black Maple Hill)
  • discovering a rye that reminds me of all that's good in this world (Templeton)
  • merely knowing there's a film out there that's titled Man on the Spying Trapeze
  • Tina Fey making a reference to Tron
  • almost everything Christina Hendricks says here (particularly her 6th point, which seems like a rare quality)
  • sliding my fingers over well kept felt on a pool table, and likewise the feel of the Irish linen on my cues
  • my E.T. ad about drinking and driving, shown here.
  • the tactility of reading the Griffin & Sabine books
  • a sketch that an artist draws inside your hardcover comic, precisely because you bought the hardcover
  • tennis at sundown
  • using a wooden bat at a batting cage when everyone else is using aluminum bats
  • mail-order ribs (from Memphis, specifically)
  • that moment during a run when you tell your burgeoning shin splits to go fuck themselves
  • lip balm that tastes like Dr Pepper
  • this article
  • reading any Golden Age comic before I go to sleep
  • a superhero who, clearly without any logic or motivation, uses a gatling gun instead of his magical powers
  • having a theater to myself (and taking a call during the movie if I want to; it's plain sinful)
  • ekranoplans
  • watching the entire run of Homicide: Life on the Street in two months
  • listening to every Miles Davis Columbia album chronologically
  • great screenwriting
  • feedback on this blog

It's the little things in life, after all.

And thus I have completed 7 straight days of posting, which for someone who hasn't posted in as many months, feels like a something of a minor feat. I doubt I'll be posting daily this week, but definitely expect new posts for "Monday Movies," "Wednesday Comics," "Friday Night Heists," and "Saturday Swigs."

I hope you've liked what you've read here this week. If there's something I can improve or change--however large or small--tell me. And if you expected a grumpier "Old Man Sundays," well...all I can say is to check back tomorrow for my first installment of "Monday Movies."

And with that, I bid you all a good evening.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Get Up from Your Rocker--Saturday Swigs #1

Unlike my previous few columns, this one will be quite brief. As I mentioned, I'll be starting a whiskey blog soon for the express purpose of having a little fun with whiskey reviews. I have a strong (one might even say cask strength) preference for scotch and bourbon, but I'm sure I'll select some Irish, Canadian, and a smattering of other stuff along the way.

I'll go into greater detail later about my reviewing methodology (yes, I have one). If the subject interests you at all, let me give you a little taste of what to expect with these reviews.

Swig of the Day: Old Grand-Dad 114 Barrel Proof Bourbon
Bottling Info: Distilled and bottled by the Old Grand-Dad Distillery Company, Frankfort, KY (OGD owned by Jim Beam); bottle is marked Lot #1

Glass: Glencairn
Served: Neat. Always.
Pour: 1 oz.

Nose: Straightaway, the nose on this is gonna rouse your tired bones from the rocker. OGD comes on with a strong--but harmonious--mixture of vanilla, caramel, and citrus, as well as pronounced hints of tobacco.

Taste: It breaks out of the gate with a citrusy sweetness carried over from the nose, and then it bolts sharply around a peppery oak bend.

Finish: I hope you're settled in your saddle, because you're in for a lingering, leathery finish of tornadic proportions.

Overall: Put it this way: you'll eye your empty glass with yearning, the glass raised in front of you as though in tacit toast to the next dram. (Or, if you're looking for something more objective, 5 out of 5.)

So, concrete flavor descriptors deployed amongst mixed metaphors, witticisms abound. That's my style. After all, for a pursuit so pleasurably subjective, it's the only way for me to do this.

If you enjoyed this, check back soon (hopefully) for my new blog: "From the Sweet to the Peat."

Read: Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010, the single greatest book on whisky ever written, by the single greatest reviewer of whisky there ever was.
Watch: Big Bad Love (dir. Arliss Howard, 2001)
Listen to: Django, by Luis Bacalov (particularly the theme song, which is simply unforgettable)

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Split--Friday Night Heists #1

From October 14, 2009, through January 22, 2010, I watched a heist movie every day (that makes 101 days for the curious). I'm not entirely sure why I did it, but I know that my unemployment certainly enabled it. Perhaps I was training myself. Perhaps, feeling pretty wretched at the thought of being unemployed for some time, I just wanted something to look forward to each day. And heist movies--with their propensity for the precise, the logical, and the daring willful--always cheer me up.

Or perhaps it was the poster's fault.

You see, I have this beautiful re-release poster for Jacques Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi in my living room, and while I was spending way too much time thinking about what to watch on that day, I turned and stared at it for a while.

Gabin's old, crusty face. A stack of bills, sandwiched between a pistol and a pool of blood. I now needed to watch this movie again. Right away. The next day, I watched The Split, as I'd wanted to see it for a while, and it had finally fallen into my hands. I watched another, and another...until I just wanted to see how far I could go. Friends gave me suggestion after suggestion, and 101 days later, I felt a sense, however minor in the grand scheme, of accomplishment having watched that much heistacular cinema.

That said, I'm going to start posting my thoughts on some of these movies (hopefully every week), as well as new heist movies that I encounter along the way.

The Job: The Split
The Man with the Plan: Gordon Flemyng
The Year It Was Pulled: 1968
The Source: Adapted by Robert Sabaroff, from the Parker novel The Seventh, by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)
The Take: $548,000 from a Packers/Rams football game

In this rarely seen and more-than-moderately enjoyable caper, Jim Brown plays McClain (the Parker alias here, as Westlake never allowed the Parker name to be used in any adaptations of his books), a hard-as-nails thief who's come to town to find his ex-wife (Diahann Carroll). He locates her through his old friend, Gladys (Julie Harris, equally--and delightfully--tender and tough), who's incidentally got a potential job for him. Gladys & McClain do a walkthrough of the stadium where the Packers & the Rams will be playing to see who goes to the playoffs, and the plan is to walk away with all of the cash pouring into the stadium that day.

To that end, as is often the case in these good ol' heist films, McClain's gotta get a crew together. And what better crew to get than Ernest Borgnine (the heavy), Jack Klugman (the wheelman), Warren Oates (the safecracker), & Donald Sutherland (the sharpshooter). Together, the six of them look to take over half a million bucks from the game, but after they steal the money, of course, that's when things go wrong.

Part of what I wanted to do with this heist marathon was figure out what exactly constituted a heist movie. Was it the fact that there was merely a heist/robbery/burglary sequence in the movie? From the get-go, that really didn't work for me. Despite the fact that films like Bonnie & Clyde and Public Enemies have bank robberies in them, I'm hesitant to call them heist films.

The rule I set for myself was that the heist(s) had to be something which was an utterly integral component to the structure--regardless of whether the heist propelled the plot, the heist was at the center, or everything built to the heist. The Split certainly complies with that criterion. The Split also is a convenient starting place for talking about heist movies, as it conforms to the conventional wisdom about narrative structure for the heist sub-genre. For me, there are three stages: planning, execution, getaway. I'll talk about this more with subsequent entries (as the exceptions to the rule are always more interesting), but suffice it to say that The Split conforms quite cleanly to this structural pattern (planning is 33 minutes, execution is 23, and the getaway is 33). The movie also slides very stealthily from planning to execution, for there is no straightforward, "Men, here's the plan," scene. One minute, they're picking up the sub-machine guns. The next, they're breaking into the stadium, but it takes you a few minutes to realize that they're not preparing the job anymore. They're pulling it. It's usually much more satisfying to see an unknown plan unfold, rather than having it spoon fed to us before its later flawless execution.

The Split's major draw, and one of the major charms of this sub-genre, is the casting. I mean, we already have this group of hard-ass criminals, but I haven't even mentioned James Whitmore as the creepy landlord to McClain's girl, or the man of smiling rage, Gene Hackman, as a greedy hot-shot police detective. Seeing all of these guys interact with each other is a tremendous treat. I've seen some cite one the movie's flaws as the introduction of the crew, as Brown has a sequence with each one where he very literally tests their respective skills (a fight with Borgnine, a car chase with Klugman, and so on). For me, this seems like both a novel and narratively motivated way to go about introducing these men.

After all, these characters are little more than skillsets personified. The bulk of the characterization is in the casting. It's not necessarily a bad approach, or at least not with these actors. And from a narrative standpoint, if McClain doesn't know any of these guys, why should he trust what he might hear from some schnook he's never worked with? But if he can make sure they're as good as he's heard, then he'd have the certainty he needs to proceed.

Besides--teaser alert--who wouldn't want a scene where the only way Warren Oates can break out of a vault is with his pants? I'll say no more.

It was that novelty of the ensemble that sparked my initial enthusiasm for the movie (look for Sutherland in later columns here, who proves himself to be a regular heistmeister). I also walked away with the intense desire to listen to Quincy Jones's score over and over, which was an easy thing to do, seeing as how I already owned it. Listen to the track called "Kifka Car Caper," and you'll feel like the coolest person on earth, no matter what you're doing.

Upon second viewing, it's still an entertaining flick, but it has its problems. The romantic sequences feel less like story fuel and more like boring burglaries of screen time. Also, as talented as Whitmore is, his scenes are so far away on the spectrum from the relatively even tone throughout most of the picture, it's almost as though he's in another movie altogether. Gordon Flemyng and cinematographer Burnett Guffey provide us with visuals that are highly competent, though not especially awful. I have read comments here and there that indicate it's not at all a solid adaptation of the novel. My apologies, but I can't speak to that yet, as I've only read the first 6 Parker novels. I really must get to that, mustn't I?

All in all, because of the cast and the overall enjoyable structure of the movie, I do recommend The Split, particularly if you can find a copy in scope. MGM, why won't you release a copy of this movie? Oh, right, you've got...a few other things on your plate.

Next week, I'll be looking at a new film (i.e. one I didn't watch during the marathon) that's got a fantastic title: La Raison du plus faible (The Law of the Weakest).

Bonus Feature:

Here's the breakdown of the original heist marathon, for those of you who haven't seen it. You'll note some...interesting choices...and believe me, I can justify them all.

The Films:

10/14—Touchez pas au grisbi (dir. Jacques Becker, 1954)
10/15—The Split (dir. Gordon Flemyng, 1968)
10/16—Out of Sight (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1998)
10/17—The Thomas Crown Affair (dir. John McTiernan, 1999)
10/18—Topkapi (dir. Jules Dassin, 1964)
10/19—Heat (dir. Michael Mann, 1995)
10/20—Thief (dir. Michael Mann, 1981)
10/21—The Thomas Crown Affair (dir. Norman Jewison, 1968)
10/22—Ronin (dir. John Frankenheimer, 1998)
10/23—Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (dir. Michael Cimino, 1974)
10/24—The Good Thief (dir. Neil Jordan, 2002)
10/25—Bob le flambeur (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1955)
10/26—The Killing (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1956)
10/27—Heist (dir. David Mamet, 2001)
10/28—Bottle Rocket (dir. Wes Anderson, 1996)
10/29—The Italian Job (dir. Peter Collinson, 1969)
10/30—Quick Change (dir. Howard Franklin & Bill Murray, 1990)
10/31—The Anderson Tapes (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1971)
11/01—$ (dir. Richard Brooks, 1971)
11/02—The Hot Rock (dir. Peter Yates, 1972)
11/03—Ocean’s Eleven (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2001)
11/04—Ocean’s Twelve (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2004)
11/05—Ocean’s Thirteen (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2007)
11/06—Inside Man (dir. Spike Lee, 2006)
11/07—Sneakers (dir. Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)
11/08—Underneath (dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1995)
11/09—Dog Day Afternoon (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1975)
11/10—Die Hard (dir. John McTiernan, 1988)
11/11—The Asphalt Jungle (dir. John Huston, 1950)
11/12—The Lavender Hill Mob (dir. Charles Crichton, 1951)
11/13—Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1948)
11/14—Band of Outsiders (dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1964)
11/15—The Getaway (dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1972)
11/16—The Wild Bunch (dir. Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
11/17—Dead Presidents (dir. The Hughes Brothers, 1995)
11/18—The Great Muppet Caper (dir. Jim Henson, 1981)
11/19—Charley Varrick (dir. Don Siegel, 1973)
11/20—Straight Time (dir. Ulu Grosbard, 1978)
11/21—After the Sunset (dir. Brett Ratner, 2004)
11/22—The Italian Job (dir. F. Gary Gray, 2003)
11/23—Three Kings (dir. David O. Russell, 1999)
11/24—The Code (dir. Mimi Leder, 2009)
11/25—Blue Collar (dir. Paul Schrader, 1978)
11/26—Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson, 2009)
11/27—The Driver (dir. Walter Hill, 1978)
11/28—Family Business (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1989)
11/29—The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (dir. Philip Kaufman, 1972)
11/30—City of Industry (dir. John Irvin, 1997)
12/01—Classes tous risques (dir. Claude Sautet, 1960)
12/02—Le Cercle rouge (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970)
12/03—The Usual Suspects (dir. Bryan Singer, 1995)
12/04—Beverly Hills Cop II (dir. Tony Scott, 1987)
12/05—Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (dir. Guy Ritchie, 1998)
12/06—The Brink’s Job (dir. William Friedkin, 1978)
12/07—Kansas City Confidential (dir. Phil Karlson, 1952)
12/08—Blood and Wine (dir. Bob Rafelson, 1997)
12/09—City on Fire (dir. Ringo Lam, 1987)
12/10—Mannequin (dir. Michael Gottlieb, 1987)
12/11—Two-Way Stretch (dir. Robert Day, 1960)
12/12—A Man, a Woman and a Bank (dir. Noel Black, 1979)
12/13—Ocean’s Eleven (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1960)
12/14—Big Deal on Madonna Street (dir. Mario Monicelli, 1958)
12/15—Kelly’s Heroes (dir. Brian G. Hutton, 1970)
12/16—Once a Thief (dir. John Woo, 1991)
12/17—Point Break (dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)
12/18—The Silent Partner (dir. Daryl Duke, 1978)
12/19—A Fish Called Wanda (dir. Charles Crichton, 1988)
12/20—5 Against the House (dir. Phil Karlson, 1955)
12/21—To Catch a Thief (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1955)
12/22—Reservoir Dogs (dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
12/23—High Sierra (dir. Raoul Walsh, 1941)
12/24—Seven Thieves (dir. Henry Hathaway, 1960)
12/25—How to Steal a Million (dir. William Wyler, 1966)
12/26—The Aura (dir. Fabián Bielinsky, 2005)
12/27—Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (dir. Simon Wincer, 1991)
12/28—Full Contact (dir. Ringo Lam, 1993)
12/29—Cops and Robbers (dir. Aram Avakian, 1973)
12/30—The Bank Job (dir. Roger Donaldson, 2008)
12/31—Cruel Gun Story (dir. Takumi Furukawa, 1964)
01/01—The Ladykillers (dir. Alexander Mackendrick, 1955)
01/02—Die Hard with a Vengeance (dir. John McTiernan, 1995)
01/03—Going in Style (dir. Martin Brest, 1979)
01/04—The Bank Shot (dir. Gower Champion, 1974)
01/05—Odds Against Tomorrow (dir. Robert Wise, 1959)
01/06—The Hard Word (dir. Scott Roberts, 2002)
01/07—Grand Slam (dir. Guiliano Montaldo, 1967)
01/08—The Heist (dir. Stuart Orme, 1989)
01/09—Hudson Hawk (dir. Michael Lehmann, 1991)
01/10—Flawless (dir. Michael Radford, 2007)
01/11—The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (dir. Charles Guggenheim & John Stix, 1959)
01/12—The Hard Easy (dir. Ari Ryan, 2005)
01/13—Larceny, Inc. (dir. Lloyd Bacon, 1942)
01/14—Welcome to Collinwood (dir. Anthony & Joe Russo, 2002)
01/15—Gonin (dir. Takashi Ishii, 1995)
01/16—Set It Off (dir. F. Gary Gray, 1996)
01/17—The Real McCoy (dir. Russell Mulcahy, 1993)
01/18—Robbery (dir. Peter Yates, 1967)
01/19—The League of Gentlemen (dir. Basil Dearden, 1960)
01/20—Le Deuxieme soufflé (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1966)
01/21—Rififi (dir. Jules Dassin, 1955)
01/22—Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (dir. Leonard Nimoy, 1986)

The Breakdown:

101: Films

101: Days

51: Films Watched for the First Time

24: Most Films from One Decade (1990s)

13: Directors with Multiple Films in the Marathon

7: Most Films with One Actor (George Clooney)

6: Remakes

5: Most Films by One Director (Steven Soderbergh)

5: Most Films from One Year (1978)

3: Number of films it takes to inflate actor/director stats (not a complaint, merely an acknowledgement)

The Loot:

A few swirls of paint, a cuss-ton of food, a jeweled dagger, some jeweled eggs, a little black box, a device that can turn lead into gold, a case that should contain ice skates but probably doesn’t, 2 humpback whales, 1 whole bank, and eleventy gajillion dollars in cash, stones, and gold bars.

And Kim Cattrall.