What’s in a name? It’s a question that plagued The Bard, and one with which we still wrestle on idle Thursday afternoons. If you scan the local multiplex listings this weekend, you may wonder what’s with the name Parker. It seems such an innocuous label for a studio actioner starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. In reality, Parker is a somewhat revelatory title. Though on the surface it merely refers to its titular character, the naming of this film Parker acknowledges its connection to an entire series, with entries dotting the cinematic landscape of the last several decades. Parker is a character created by author Donald Westlake (who sometimes wrote as Richard Stark). A master criminal who lives by his own code of ethics, Parker often works with crews, and is usually betrayed by a member of his own team... sending him out on the hunt for revenge.
Many of Westlake’s novels centering on Parker have been adapted for the screen. So why isn’t Parker billed as a sequel? Or a remake? The fact is that each of the previous films adapted from Westlake’s Parker novels has changed the name of its antihero protagonist. It is therefore entirely possible that you have actually seen Parker ply his criminal trade on screen multiple times in the past, and been totally unaware of it. We thought we’d help you navigate this strange name game with a complete guide to Parker in film.
Point Blank (1967) - Parker’s alias: "Walker"
The first, and arguably best, adaptation of one of Westlake’s Parker stories was John Boorman’s Point Blank. The movie is a trailblazer in the neo-noir movement. It centers on the same basic crime story content as previous film noir, but with even grittier characters, bleaker themes, and an amplification of violence. In Point Blank, Parker is called Walker, and is played by the incomparable Lee Marvin. One of Point Blank’s greatest strengths is Marvin’s raw, powerful screen presence. When he occupies a scene, it’s a military occupation. The story is based on Westlake’s The Hunter, in which Parker is double-crossed and left for dead after a heist, and goes on a brutal, ceaseless tear to retrieve his money and get revenge. John Vernon as the villain and Boorman’s seething, unflinching tone are also paramount to Point Blank’s legacy as one of the absolute best crime films.
The Split (1968) - Parker’s alias: "McClain"
Though most cinematic incarnations of Parker portrayed him as a Caucasian male, Gordon Flemyng’s The Split showed us that this need not be the case. This time around, Parker was dubbed McCain, and was played by former NFL running back Jim Brown. Though Brown became an icon of the blaxploitation movement, The Split was released a couple of years prior to the inception of that subgenre, making his casting in the lead an even greater nod to his undeniable talent. His charisma and intimidating physicality serve him well as the leader of a gang of thieves who execute a daylight heist during a football game. The success however does not curb the subsequent paranoia and fallout between the crooks… especially when the loot is stolen. The Split, based on the novel The Seventh, is a bit less focused than Point Blank, but its supporting cast more than makes up for its inconsistencies. Ernest Borgnine, Gene Hackman, Jack Klugman, and Donald Sutherland all appear.
The Outfit (1973) - Parker’s alias: "Macklin"
Robert Duvall would take up the mantle of Parker just a year after his Oscar-winning performance in The Godfather. In John Flynn’s The Outfit, based on Westlake’s novel of the same name, Parker takes the name Macklin. He finds out, after being released from prison, that his brother has been murdered by gangsters. The Outfit is interesting in that it’s the first iteration of a Parker story to touch upon the character’s family tree, the death of his brother offering new incentive for revenge. Though not quite as exciting as Point Blank or The Split, The Outfit is a glimpse into the bare-bones, pragmatic career-criminal grind. The relationship between Macklin and his friend Cody gives The Outfit much of its personality; Cody is played by southern-fried revenge film icon Joe Don Baker.
Payback (1999) - Parker’s alias: "Porter"
Most likely the filmic Parker with whom most people are best acquainted is Mel Gibson as Porter in Payback. Another adaptation of The Hunter, Brian Helgeland’s Payback is a stylistic throwback to the golden era of neo-noir. In fact, the cinematography casts a seemingly constant distinct blue hue over the entire film; almost a film navy more than a film noir. Payback is violent, funny, and irrepressibly cool. Gibson gives us an irrefutably bad guy, a thief and con man with no compunction toward taking lives, but one with so much swagger and charm that we can’t help but love him. Interesting to note with Payback is that Porter/Parker’s ultimate fate dramatically changes depending on whether you watch the theatrical or the director’s cut.
Those are the major entries into the nebulous Parker franchise, and all films well-worth delving into before watching Statham take on the role this weekend. For the sake of completionism, it should also be noted that Peter Coyote took on the role of Parker in the wholly underwhelming 1983 film Slayground. In that movie, Parker was called Stone. Also, Jean-Luc Goddard’s Made in USA is unofficially based on Westlake’s The Jugger; his Parker was a woman named Paula Nelson. [Photo Credit: Jack English/Film District]
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The term “burlesque ” for the uninitiated refers to a specific brand of female striptease that incorporates flamboyant costumes elaborate choreography kitschy songs and various other elements to which heterosexual men are largely indifferent. But it’s wildly popular in other circles -- so much so in fact that it has earned its very own film titled oddly enough Burlesque.
Written and directed by music video veteran Steven Antin Burlesque is fashioned loosely as a camp homage to the 2000 film Coyote Ugly. Stage and screen legend Cher brought to life by an innovative blend of animatronics and CGI stars as Tess the brash tough-as-nails proprietress of Hollywood's almost unbearably fabulous Burlesque Lounge. Despite the obvious popularity of its musical revue the club is plagued by money problems which makes it the target of acquisitive real estate developer Marcus Gerber (Eric Dane) a man whose name alone carries all sorts of ominous Teutonic implications. But Tess determined diva that she is refuses to sell. She's not about to let years of gross financial mismanagement kill her dream of providing a haven where scantily clad women can dance provocatively without fear of encountering men who’d like to sleep with them.
Potential salvation arrives in the luminous top-heavy form of Iowa-bred Ali (Christina Aguilera) a vision of wide-eyed innocence and vaulting ambition in soft focus. Immediately upon entering the Lounge she is struck by the sudden realization that her lifelong dream is to become a burlesque superstar. Unfortunately Tess doesn’t initially recognize Ali’s potential and the poor girl is forced to slum it as a cocktail waitress in the bar area where she’s embraced by the club’s straightgay bartender Jack (Cam Gigandet) a southern transplant whose own showbiz dream involves making it as a songwriter. (In accordance with songwriter tradition he takes pains to ensure that every inch of his chiseled frame is bronzed and waxed. Just like Bernie Taupin.) In her free time Ali devotes herself to the study of burlesque and when her opportunity arises she seizes it without hesitation.
Burlesque is principally the Cher and Christina Show and the film thrives when their respective talents are on display. (“Talents ” obviously gaining a dual meaning in regards to Aguilera.) Surrounding them are a smattering of stock characters pursuing forgettable story arcs the lone exception being the always excellent Stanley Tucci adding a pinkish hue to his incomparable wit in the role of Sean Tess’s long-suffering boa-clad second-in-command. He and co-star Alan Cumming are two sides of the same sassy coin but Cumming is little more than a bitchy bit player in Burlesque poking his head into the frame on occasion to deliver a biting one-liner. Then again that description could apply to any number of characters in the film.
It appears that Antin true to his music-video pedigree conceived of Burlesque with the song-and-dance pieces in mind first then set about building a story around them. (The opposite is generally preferred.) The musical set pieces are lavish sexy and at times truly dazzling especially when Aguilera takes the stage but they do little to advance the film’s plot. Consequently Burlesque’s running time swells to almost two hours to satisfy the demands of a story that frankly seem hardly worthy of such an effort.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.