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Friday, August 25, 2006

Factotum 

How much you enjoy Factotum will depend on how much you enjoy watching drunk people. More than that, your enjoyment will depend on how much you enjoy watching drunk people speak poetically, or at least in a way that drunks would find poetic. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look for yourself. At my count, there are two scenes that do not in some way feature alcohol or the consumption thereof. Two, in ninety-four minutes.

Factotum is based on a novel of the same name by Charles Bukowski. If you know Bukowski, then you know what you’re getting into. It’s not inspiring stuff, nor does it aspire to be; it’s also without illumination, which is strange considering how often the main character, a Bukowski proxy named Henry Chinaski (Matt Dillon), speaks of secret knowledge and bitter truths.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Best Served Cold: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead 

There are a lot of similarities between Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. Both are, at least on the surface, about men who have attempted — unsuccessfully — to purge wicked thoughts and deeds from themselves. The men, both named Will, have exiled themselves into extreme humility. A petty, senseless crime brings them back. What was a delicate holding pattern — a stalemate of their true nature — now crumbles under the weight of inevitability. Men die, and any victory is plainly Pyrrhic. They’re classic themes explored by old masters.

Indeed, Eastwood and Hodges both know something about the revenge story. Hodges launched his feature film career with Get Carter, a grim and bleak exploration of the British underworld starring Michael Caine in one of his finest performances. Eastwood, well — he hardly needs introducing. Though he is a gifted director with a broad resumé, it’s safe to say he’s made a career in both directing and acting out of exploring the many themes of violence and vengeance. Hodges and Carter may well be responsible for the spate of British gangster films to follow, up to and including the career of Guy Ritchie.

But there’s nothing particularly glamorous about Carter, and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is even less glitzy. One could accurately call it anti-sexy. The only sex is a rape, and the only violence is a single gunshot. The rest is people: various threads of lives lived separately spun into decaying orbit around each other by one brutal act.

There’s a young man named Davey. He’s a small-time coke dealer to the rich and bored. He affects casual cool and deliberately tousled hair, even though his flat sports little more than a phone, a bathtub, and an unadorned mattress. He sleeps with his clients and lifts cash and trinkets from anyone who’s not looking. Davey, in short, lives a superfluous life. He apparently always has; throughout the film, anyone who speaks of him utters some variation on the line “he dabbles; you know how Davey is.”

But someone is paying attention. An older man, married, with children. He runs a successful upscale car dealership. And when he’s not attending to his personal or business life, he and some hired muscle troll the streets looking for superficial little shits. Little shits like Davey. And his men grab them off the streets. And he rapes them. Why? To teach them how small they are. How little they matter. How flimsy their affected cool is. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is the old man’s spite.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Boys #1, Manhunter #25 

The Boys #1:

Garth Ennis does not like superheroes.

This isn’t a revelatory statement to anyone familiar with his work. Chances are that if Ennis has written a title that in any way features superheroes, the caped boys and girls will get rough treatment. I’m all for it, personally. The amount of reverence given to these fictional characters just begs for someone to come along and knock them down a peg or two, and if it can be done in a clever and funny fashion, more power to him. Typically, Ennis only takes swipes on his way to other storytelling ambitions.

But The Boys is something like a perfect storm of Ennis contempt. The eponymous Boys are a five-man team of normal (if sadistic) people contracted by the CIA to keep superheroes in line. Violently, if necessary. In that one high concept is a perfect distillation of themes Ennis has been writing on for over a decade. Superheroes as overpowered bullies? Check The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe. Secret government organization designed to keep heroes distracted and tame? That’s in Hitman. Men driven to violent jobs out of dangerous, predatory hatred? I can think of half a dozen Ennis works that fit that bill, just off the top of my head.

But that perfect culmination could go either way. Is it horribly derivative, an obvious retread of old ideas Ennis just can’t let go? Or is he finally ready to deliver his master thesis?

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Manhunter #25:

Manhunter #25 ends big.

Manhunter has, until now, mostly sidestepped involvement in oversized company-wide crossovers. Yes, there was that OMAC bit, but by and large the world of Kate Spencer has been allowed to build on its own. A mythology was created. Indeed, by placing her in Los Angeles—magical, mythmaking L.A.—Spencer was as geographically removed from mainstream superheroes as she was philosophically.

Not anymore. A letter-writing campaign saved the life of this much-loved title, and now writer Marc Andreyko and artists Javier Pina and Fernando Blanco have had a big fat pile of Continuity dropped in their laps. For circulation numbers, at least, this could bring the title the number of readers it deserves. Kate Spencer, both as a person and as a character, has hit the Big Time. DC, it seems, will pull out all the stops to make sure their investment pays off.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Most Objective Personality Quiz Ever 

Too many personality quizzes are so general as to be useless. One might even say they're tools for those with weak egos to define bland, idealized versions of themselves. Not this quiz. This quiz is brutally honest. If you are truthful, it will reveal depths that you never knew you had.

Prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Best Served Cold: Unforgiven 

Unforgiven starts with a crime. In the grand scheme of things it’s a small crime: A whore is cut up by a drunken cowboy. She will live, albeit with a few scars on her face. The sheriff, Little Bill, levies a fine: the cowboys will turn seven ponies over to the man who runs the brothel. The madam Alice, made bitter by years of rough treatment at the hands of cowboys, doesn’t find this repayment adequate. She and the other prostitutes gather up their cash to set a bounty. To the law, the prostitute is property, and worth a clear and quantifiable sum. To Alice, she’s a person whose defacement is worth death. The cut prostitute herself has no desire to see anyone hurt further — but that hardly matters anymore. The wheels are now turning, and somewhere in the intersection of commerce and vengeance Unforgiven unfolds.

Elsewhere, there is a widower and his two children. The man is old, now. He faces obscurity and steady decline as well as he can, shoulders squared, feeling that this is what he must be now. In removing youthful pride he has gone too far, and stripped himself of dignity. He works the land, now, drawn to physical labor for its purity of purpose. It suits him. Complex work requires decisions and judgement, and he no longer trusts himself with those. The man holds on to the humble trappings of his new life with a desperate grip. Ending his life runs too contrary to his nature to contemplate, and allowing himself to be himself is — well, he can’t ever let that happen again. And so he has reached his diminished stalemate.

So is this simple, unobtrusive life penance or just proper living? Is it both?

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