Saturday, August 29, 2009

POINT BLANK and THE GENERAL: The Jack Sack Movie Review

There are two types of people in this world- those who consistently wait on lines and those who consistently cut them. I happen to like the cutters- they see through a lot of the nonsense caused by civilization.  Tonight's double-feature includes two of John Boorman's best movies featuring these "lone wolf" types.

The first is POINT BLANK (1967), starring Lee Marvin as Walker- a crook who was double-crossed by his pal and his wife and left for dead. Sound familiar? Mel Gibson's PAYBACK was based on the same source material- the novel "The Hunter" by Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald Westlake). Before getting to the movie in detail, just know that POINT BLANK makes PAYBACK look like an after school special.

Second is a much lesser-known Boorman film, THE GENERAL (1998) starring Brendon Gleeson as real life Irish crook Martin Cahill. Set in the early 1990s, THE GENERAL also reunited Boorman with his DELIVERANCE star Jon Voight, who many of you know as the irascible Jonas Hodges.

Boorman has made two films, nearly 30 years apart, which address characters with some form of societal dysfunction. They are intelligent, resourceful, charming, determined individuals who could each be successful, legitimate types. But there's something about being too smart- about seeing through the facade of society and knowing that being a crook is not the exclusive domain of burglars and pick-pockets. These are men who view the social contract as a joke, and they refuse to honor such a dishonorable deal. I like these guys probably too much.

In POINT BLANK, Walker is a professional, independent criminal who's looking to make that one big score so he can move on and enjoy the remainder of his years with his wife. His partner, Mal points them to an easy job-- holding up some other criminals and making off with a nice amount of money. What Walker doesn't know is that Mal is in serious debt with "The Organization" a major criminal outfit running the city's underworld and intends to use his and Walker's share to get himself off the hook. As mentioned earlier, Walker is double-crossed by Mal, who makes off with Walker's wife and the money. Shot and left for dead, Walker emerges from his ordeal as a force of nature- pure, unapologetic fury. Here's the actual scene where Walker begins his quest for revenge:

In THE GENERAL, Martin Cahill is a far less menacing figure. Instead, Cahill goes about his criminal work as a showman- making the news broadcasts regularly with his "alleged" antics. While childish at times, Cahill is not a buffoon. He is a creative, audacious type- taking scores that even the IRA finds too risky. And Cahill becomes a victim of his own success, making too many enemies and closing off his avenues of escape. Cahill was so prolific a criminal that he actually robbed director John Boorman's house in real life years before the film was made. Boorman includes this incident in a montage, which you can watch below:

One big takeaway I got from these movies is that the the powerful make rules to protect the status quo- be it the ones who write the laws or the ones who break them. Walker goes against "The Organization" which seeks to incorporate criminal activity under one mega entity. The Organization has no regard for a "small business owner" like Walker, much like how Walmart wouldn't think twice about putting a Mom & Pop shop out of business. And with Cahill, he has to look over his shoulder at the IRA and the Loyalists, both wishing to take a piece of his success for their own interests. People like Walker and Cahill want to keep what they've earned and be left alone. But as these films show, no one is truly free from the greed of others.

Both movies can be found here: POINT BLANK and THE GENERAL.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goodbye, NFL

Poor Stanley Wilson-- he was born 20 years too early.

Wilson was a tough, talented fullback for the Cincinnati Bengals during the late 1980s. He was less than 24 hours away from playing in the biggest game of his life, Super Bowl XXIII, when he got caught by one of his own coaches in the midst of a little cocaine binge. Wilson was benched by his head coach and subsequently banned from the NFL (three-strikes and you're out, this was Stanley's third strike). The Bengals needed him to win the game and coach Sam Wyche, decided that Wilson disqualified himself when he broke his word to keep clean. The Bengals went on to lose the game by the closest of margins. Coach Wyche never second-guessed his decision publicly. That was the NFL I grew up with- and it no longer exists.

Well, I'm banning the NFL until further notice. Why? I actively dislike so many of the players that watching them week in and week out has become a joyless experience. Just a glance at the top 3 headlines on's football section says it all: Dog-killer Michael Vick signs a 2-year, $6.8 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, human-killer Donte Stallworth, who committed a little vehicular manslaughter while drunk, is not allowed to play football in 2009 but can come back in 2010 if he likes, and wide receiver Brandon Marshall is set to go to trial for beating the shit out of his girlfriend because she received a text from a male friend. I expect Marshall to be given a $2 million bonus by the Broncos for not killing her. And as for Stallworth, even the court system loves the NFL because they only saw fit to give him 30 days jail time for drunkenly killing a man with his car. The jury must have been packed with Browns fans.

So, while Stanley Wilson was banned for life for a drug habit that arguably didn't hurt anyone but himself, today's players can abuse, maim and kill their way to a temporary suspension at worst. Stop and think about this for a second: why are these players, who you would no sooner befriend let alone admire in any other instance, being treated so well? As the poet Puff Daddy once wrote: it's all about the Benjamins.

The NFL has become 90% marketing and 10% other in its composition over the years. And with such a lucrative marketing position to maintain, the league is shameless in protecting its own. Banning players is bad marketing. Banning players makes people pay attention. So, the league has chosen to avoid such unpleasantness by keeping things light- suspending players is a less dire situation. Careers aren't ruined by a suspension- they're merely put on hold until the dust settles. Suspending players is a shot at redemption, and in our culture nothing makes a heart tingle more than a comeback story, right? And suspending players has a dulling effect on stories- there's no drama to a suspension, only a mild degree of tension. The only drama that comes out of suspensions nowadays is, from the fan perspective, being able to predict how many games a player will be suspended from for a given offense. Well, let's see, he was driving drunk but he only hit a tree, so... I predict 3 games! I think Vegas will take that bet if you ask.

Look, I'm not a moral compass for anyone, believe me. And I don't expect the NFL to be a moral beacon for the human race. But there has got to be a time when people look around and ask "What are we doing?" Things have gone out of control. And the NFL works very hard at making you think everything's cool. Well, I think the league may have been too successful in their efforts- last Winter, Plaxico Burress (a player I once-admired) carried a loaded gun into a public place (on purpose) and shot himself in the leg (by accident). And then another teammate, someone I also once-admired, tried to help cover up the whole thing by hiding the gun and obstructing justice. I listened to the sports radio guys and callers and a lot of people defended the teammate for "looking out for his own." Are you fucking kidding me? A majority of sports fans and commentators actually bought into that statement. If these were Congressmen we were talking about or Wall St. bankers, I doubt they would have been afforded the same amount of moral flexibility by the callers. So, why the double-standard? The NFL has made its fans dependent on its product. If fans reject the players, do they cease being fans? Ah, yes- welcome to my world.

If you still enjoy the NFL, more power to you. You're not on the "wrong side" of anything for finding pleasure in the game. I too will always love the game. But as I've gotten older, I've found myself thinking more about how I spend my time. And spending hours watching people I dislike makes me feel like an chump. The game I loved as a kid doesn't exist today. Change is inevitable and it's time I find other pursuits- it's time to put away childish things.