30 More Days of Noir #5: The Criminal (dir by Joseph Losey)

From 1960, it’s British noir!

Johnny Bannion (Stanley Baker) is a career criminal, one who divides his time between long stretches in prison and short visits to the real world.  He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s clever, and he’s totally trapped.  Baker moves through the film like a natural-born predator, waiting for the moment to strike.  When he’s in prison, he’s as defiant as a caged tiger.  When he’s out of prison, he’s always stalking the next prize.

Johnny has a hard time staying out of prison.  When we first meet him, he’s in prison and it quickly becomes clear that he’s quite a respected figure behind bars.  When he gets out, the first thing that he does is team up with his old associate, Mike Carter (Sam Wanamaker), and make plans to rob a racetrack.  Mike and Johnny have an interesting relationship.  On the one hand, Mike kept Johnny’s apartment for him while he was locked away and Johnny obviously has enough faith in Mike to work him.  On the other hand, neither man seems to truly trust the other.  That’s the world of criminals, I suppose.  Never trust anyone.

Of course, it quickly turns out that there’s actually a good reason to never trust anyone when you’re living a life of crime.  As soon as Johnny, Mike, and the gang pull of the racetrack robbery, Johnny’s betrayed.  Johnny ends up locked away once again, all thanks to Mike.  However, it turns out that Mike may have acted too soon because Johnny hid all the money before he was sent back to prison.  Now, Mike has to figure out a way to pressure Johnny into revealing where the money’s buried while Johnny has to try to survive in a world of ruthless prisoners and guards who are ineffectual at best and crooked at worst.  Mike’s not the only one who is interested in where Johnny put all that cash….

I have to admit that I’m probably a bit biased when it come to The Criminal because it’s a British crime film that I actually saw while in the UK.  It’s one thing to watch a tough British crime film from the safety of Texas.  It’s another thing to watch it at 2 in the morning while in a hotel room with a nice view of the Thames.  As opposed to the watered down British-American co-productions that we tend to get used to here in the United States, The Criminal was British through-and-through, from the tough working class accents to the harsh urban landscape to the stylish suits that were worn even inside the prison.

It’s a dense movie.  Though Stanley Baker is undoubtedly the star, director Joseph Losey is just as interested in the other people who come within Johnny’s orbit and, as a result, we get to know not just Mike but also the guards and the other prisoners.  Partrick Magee, who was a favorite of Kubrick’s, makes a strong impression as Barrows, the prison guard who may be a manipulative sadist or who may just be a man who is doing what he has to do to maintain some sort of order in the prison.  The film’s portrayal of Barrows is ambiguous but the same can be said for almost everyone in the movie.  In classic noir fashion, there are no traditional heroes.  Johnny’s bad but he’s a little bit less bad than the men who betrayed him and who are willing to go to extreme lengths to discover where Johnny hid that money.

Directed by Joseph Losey, The Criminal alternates between scenes of hard-edged reality and scenes that feel as if they could have been lifted from some sort of Boschian nightmare.  The scenes outside the prison are harshly realistic while the inside of the prison feels almost like some sort of surrealistic dreamscape where demons take human form.  The Criminal is an effective and violent British noir, one that will encourage you to keep your eyes on the shadows.

Porky’s Revenge (1985, directed by James Komack)

The senior class of Angel Beach High finally graduate in Porky’s Revenge, the last official Porky’s film.  It’s a good thing, too.  Most of the members of the Porky’s cast were already in their late 20s when they were cast in the first Porky’s.  By the time Porky’s Revenge was made, most of them looked more like they should be planning for their retirement than for college.

Director Bob Clark did not return for Porky’s Revenge and it really shows.  The third film doesn’t have any messages about tolerance or fighting bigotry.  Instead, it’s just a typical teen sex comedy with a subplot about Brian Schwartz (Scott Colomby) trying to help Coach Goodenough (Bill Hindman) pay back his gambling debt to Porky (Chuck Mitchell).  Otherwise, the gang plays basketball, tries to arrange an orgy with the cheerleaders, and even helps Ms. Balbircker (Ellen Parsons) find love.  I guess everyone forgot about Ms. Balbricker allying herself with the Klan during the previous film.

Porky’s Revenge doesn’t really have enough ambition to be terrible though.  It’s just bland.  Just as it doesn’t have the social conscience of the first two film, it’s also not as raunchy.  There’s considerably less nudity and the occasionally rough edges of the first two films have been removed.  That makes Porky’s Revenge less problematic but it also makes it less interesting.  The first two films may have been imperfect but they did capture the feel of high school.  This one doesn’t do that because the actors are too old and suddenly their characters are too nice.  If not for the title, you would think this was just another dumb comedy that played for a week at the drive-in as opposed to being the second sequel to the most commercially-successful Canadian film of the 80s.

I did laugh when the gang went to the ruins of Porky’s to make sure that it hadn’t been rebuilt, just to discover that Porky now owned his own steamboat.  I’m also glad that everyone finally graduated and gave the Porky’s saga a fitting close.

There was a direct-to-video sequel to Porky’s Revenge.  It came out in 2009 and was called Porky’s Pimpin’ Pee Wee.  I think I can live without watching it.

A Tale Of Two Comics, Part Two : Brian Canini’s “Two More Stories”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Flipping to the other metaphorical side of the equally metaphorical coin we again metaphorically tossed into the air with our last review here, we land (last metaphor, I promise) on Brian Canini’s Two More Stories (published, as ever, under his own Drunkent Cat Comics imprint) — and if Three Stories represented everything that’s wrong with his career-spanning “throw some ideas at the wall and see which of ’em sticks” approach to cartooning, this superb mini represents everything that’s right with just following your muse wherever it leads you, come hell or high water. It’s an inherently high-risk/high-reward way of making comics, and this one falls squarely into the “reward” column.

Canini’s titular two stories function as both mirror images to, and thematic extensions of, one another, with the first, “Empty Rivers,” telling the tale of a “prodigal son” type who returns home for his mother’s funeral and is then forced…

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A Tale Of Two Comics, Part One : Brian Canini’s “Three Stories”

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Here at Four Color Apocalypse HQ (it sounds more impressive than it is, trust me — and it doesn’t even sound impressive), we’re always happy to get the latest from Columbus-based cartoonist Brian Canini. He’s one of the more versatile talents around these days, and someone who’s not afraid to try his hand on a little bit of everything, from gag strips to autobio to long-form crime stories to funny animals to science fiction — and everything in between. Lately, he’s been delving into the venerable single-creator anthology format with a series of minis, and while the results have been a mixed bag, there’s no harm in that — anthologies almost always are, and I’d rather see a cartoonist push themselves out of their comfort zones a bit and not be afraid to fail rather than going the safe and easy “give the fans what they want” route. Canini has…

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Music Video of the Day: The Call by Backstreet Boys (2000, dir. by Francis Lawrence)

In this video, a man cheats on his girlfriend after he meets another girl at the club.  He gives his girlfriend a call where he lies about why he’s going to be late getting home.  Each Backstreet Boy takes a turn playing the cheater.

What the Hell, Backstreet Boys?  You’re all cheating on the same girl?  That’s not cool!

Check out that phone that AJ’s using at the start of the video.  Feel old, yet?  According to AJ, it was during the filming of this video that he tried cocaine for the first time.  Don’t worry, though, AJ’s been sober for a year now.