Tuesday, 28 August 2012



How could it fail? They got the director of the hit TOP GUN, the mega-in-the-moment screenwriter Shane Black, and superstar Bruce Willis to all come together to star in an R-RATED cynical take on the Hollywood action film! Did you see DIE HARD? People LOVED the shit out of that stuff.

It’s a shame THE LAST BOYSCOUT is a depressing mess.

The story is simple: Bruce Willis is a down and out private detective who is hired to protect a woman, fails to do so, and then finds himself caught up with a disgraced football player Damon Wayans in a head scratching plot to…Legalize gambling? There’s an evil southern millionaire in there somewhere. Hm. Well, I thought it was simple, but it really seems needlessly convoluted and thematically unconnected. Okay. We don’t come here for the complex emotional story. We just come here for the visceral excitement. We get some of that right?

The character of Bruce Willis should be likeable in a sleaze ball sort of way, but he just comes off like a bullying prick. Damon Wayans can be a charming guy, but the little he’s given to do here (versus a LOT of useless back-story that involve dead girlfriend, a dead wife/child AND a drug addition!) adds up to nothing of value. The two leads aren’t helped by the fact that their chemistry is never allowed to rise above a low simmer. I’ve never read the original draft of the script, but I’d be highly surprised if Black meant things to play out at such a charisma free level. I lay the blame at the feet of Director Tony Scott. His stylistic tricks here are all on auto-pilot. For a director that prides himself on visual invention, this film is a slow paced chore to get through. He bathes the film in ever present smoke, the sun is setting/rising in a purgatorial loop and the (very few) action scenes translate to “SHOOT IT IN SLOW MOTION!” For a renowned action director Scott has little to no interest in geography or choreography. His action scenes are quickly cut messes of guns going off, people being brutally blown away, and a few lame one liners. For a film that advertises itself as a comedy, it’s painfully unfunny, with every one liner falling to the floor like lead weights – the opposite of the man that gave us the fun LETHAL WEAPON and KISS KISS BANG BANG.

If anything, THE LAST BOYSCOUT is a testament of its time.  If you can distill the worst of eighties action film in the (highly enjoyable) Stallone vehicle COBRA then you can summarize the nineties cynical gloom shrouded post-modern action films with the grueling THE LAST BOYSCOUT.

Friday, 24 August 2012


 First Part: Why I’m obsessed with things ‘working’

Second Part: I love HIGH FIDELITY. No one is surprised.

Third Part: Judge you by your stuff.

One of the things I like babbling about the most is what makes a film WORK or NOT WORK. I realize that many may balk at such reductive claims, but at the end of the day a film exists to perform certain functions that are born out of its creation: To entertain, sadden, enrage and so on and so forth. If goals (conscious or subconscious) are set out to be reached in the final product then I can judge the film based on its ability to meet those goals. This is not an iron clad system, because quite a bit of comes down to the creator’s intent, or lack therefore, so a lot of my musings are made up of trying to puzzle out exactly what was going down in their mind when they made it (Not enough support, not enough money, not enough time, they just really love bunnies) and trying to figure out if they succeeded. It may be blasphemy to equate WORKS OF ART under such seemingly restrictive terms, but this is one person’s opinion (THAT’S ME!), and I can only speak from my personal world perspective. At the same time something WORKING and NOT WORKING can fall under about a million different sub-categories so it’s not as limiting as you think. I have films that I wholeheartedly love, some I respect but don’t like, some I’m fascinated with but can’t recommend, and others that I LOVE LOVE LOVE, but for all the wrong reasons. Criticism for film is often boiled down to the question of IS IT GOOD OR NOT!? and I’d say that word ‘Good’ is even more restricting then ‘Yes, it works for what it sets out to do.’ You may find something bad, but feel that it works in it intent, and at the end of the day, that’s one of the things that makes film discussion interesting for me.

Top 3 Zombie movies – Without counting any of the EVIL DEAD FILMS which really aren’t ‘zombies’ at all but should be classified under the category of demonic procession/monsters.

  1. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) - Often cited as my favorite film EVER
  2. DEAD ALIVE/ BRAIN DEAD (If you want to show off) – No one has ever done splatter comedy as successful (or in such a mass quantity)
  3. THE BEYOND – Barely a Zombie film, but this always sneaks on to people’s list and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more hypnotic collection of horror set pieces with that Italian Exploitation shine that just can’t be recreated.

Last night my girlfriend put on HIGH FIDELITY before bed, so I sat down and watched a film that I whole heartedly love from top to bottom. John Cusak is charming in it, Director Stephen Frears translates the book with ease into cinematic form without losing any of its playfulness, and Jack Black gives one of his most rock solid character performances. It’s the kind of movie that almost everyone that loves music/movies/statues can relate too, so it’s easy fodder for someone like me to talk about.

For all its pop-culture savvy and cinematic stylistic tricks, one the most interesting part of HIGH FIDELITY is that it makes no bones about making its main character a self-absorbed nitwit with zero interest in anyone but himself…so it’s exactly like me/you/that person that’s sitting beside you on the bus! The trick of having someone that’s a terrible person be the centre of attention in a film is to get the audience to sympathize with their plight by getting an actor with an affable screen presence – and there’s no more suited to that role then the rumpled charm of John Cusak. As I talked about in the last article I wrote about GROSSE POINT BLANK Cusak works because the audience brings its own baggage to the table in their perception of him. Sure, he’s flawed, but he’s kind of a FUN GUY, he’s self-aware, and he’s actively looking to figure out where his spot in life is. It would have been easy to make him more ‘likable’ or ‘friendly’, but by sticking him in a mindset that allows him to react realistically dour to the situations we can more easily say “Hey! That’s what I would have done too.

At one point John Cusak/Nick Hornby/The Projection of Every Self Centered Pop Culture Obsessed Person Ever say something along the lines of “I know it’s shallow, but you have to judge people by the stuff they own” It’s interesting to reach your mid-twenties, because that’s a period in people’s lives where the STUFF THEY LIKE and the STUFF THEY HATE have pretty much solidified. Sure, new elements and obsessions can be discovered, but there are a certain number of walls that rise up to narrow interests into what you TRULY love.  In my personal experience, if someone loves movies, then they will continue to love movies (unless someone mentally stamps it out), and if it’s been nothing but a mere trifling distraction for the first twenty some years of someone’s life, and then it will continue to be something they put on in the background to drown out the dullness of life. People CAN still fall in love with new things, but these new things will often fall into broad categories of things they already do love.  You can have things fall into your field of vision, but you rarely go out and hunt them down.

Which begs the classic question (which I really haven’t built up to at all, but SO WHAT!?) - Can you date someone that doesn’t like the same things as you? Some would respond with a resound NO, but I don’t think it can be summed up that easily. Music,as well as film, reflect your personality in certain specific aspects. The classic episodes of THE SIMPSONS trades on a very specific brand of comedy that I feel defines about 85% of what I do and say, so it’s hard to imagine dating someone that does not respect it as a comedy milestone (and I have). I believe that the person you are dating needs to RESPECT the things that you enjoy. They don’t have to love them, or even particularly enjoy them, but they need to open to your passion for them. This openness can translate into a number of ways: Listening to you rant about it without rolling their eyes, going to events with you related to the things, or dressing up as a character and participating in lewd sexual acts. (Oh. Maybe not that last one.) This openness and respect is the most important part of all when you are OBSESSED with something that doesn’t particular interest the other person. If an accord, one that isn’t born out of forced bitterness, can be reached, then a relationship can blossom if personalities are compatible.

Enough of that! Let’s talk about MONKEYS next time! Hilarious Monkeys who run their own complex steam train based economy. THEY LOVE BANANAS AND DELIVERING THE MAIL ON TIME!

Thursday, 23 August 2012


 The following dry desert trek through my thoughts will not be about GROSSE POINT BLANK until later. If you want the junk about the movie, skip a few paragraphs down and save yourself from the moanings of someone who should know better.

I hated writing about film in school. It was an arduous process of checks, balance and iron clad scripture. I was passionate about the pictures that would flickered before my eyes in class, but my essays would come back stamped with harsh red words along the lines “THIS WOULD WORK BETTER IN A FAN ZINE” and “THIS SHOULD BE SCREAMED ON A STREET CORNER.  Look, I’m not going to pretend that I’ll ever be anything other then an enthusiastic fan doing back flips down the hall as I babble the joys of a swooshing camera move. I have no problems with my lot in life. I’m happy to churn out reams of work about the things I love.  It’s just that every time I sit down to put pen to paper, a sickening realization hits me…

I have nothing new to say about anything that was ever been made in the history of the universe.  Those people over in the corner of the internet already said it better then me. AND THEY HAD NIFTY PICTURES!

Sure, it’s EASY to write about myself and insignificant existential angst, but diving into critical analysis has the baggage of FACTS and TRUTHS.  I’m scared of those things. If you want to talk about something, and you get it wrong, it’s human nature to jump onto your mistake and gleefully torture the poor sap that was stupid enough to speak up in an uninformed fashion. I’ve been guilty of it before.

I need to stop being a sensitive baby.

These articles are just here to get me to write. They won’t all have a clear cut point, or mind breaking thematic links, but I’ll try my darndest to make them kinda fun to read. The whole point of this experiment is to talk about film, but at the same time, let the conversation veer off into whatever direction I feel like. These articles are not critical dissertations. They are simply personal musings on a particular picture with many diversions before the final word. I will get things wrong, and I will reiterate points that have undoubtedly been shared by a multitude of people in much more eloquent (and grammar perfect) ways, but at the end of the day, those things weren’t written by me. This is written by me. It’s a completely selfish exercise.  

Oh shit. Didn’t I have a movie I was supposed to talk about here? RIGHT!

The “Hitman goes to his Tenth High School reunion to confront his abandoned love” movie GROSSE POINT BLANK was a TBS cable stable. If you tuned in on a lazy Sunday afternoon there’s a good chance you’d catch it squished between a screening of RUSH HOUR and RUSH HOUR 2 right before RUSH HOUR started again. This would lead a viewer to believe that GROSSE POINT BLANK could be considered to be disposable entertainment. The viewer would be wrong.  It’s a perfectly tuned example of genre mash-up magic.

GROSSE POINT works because it plays all of its genre elements on the same level. The romance/existential searching gets more screen time then the hit man stuff, but they are all on the same level. The film never makes excuses for John Cusak being a professional hit man. He just is. All the elements mesh well with themselves because it never has to stick out and scream LOOK AT ME! The three action scenes that happen in the film – a gunfight, a fistfight, and a group gunfight, happen with zero build up. They just happen. It’s the key to making these elements organic. All the action scenes could have been carefully set-up, hinted at and finally delivered, but they would have felt at odds with everything going on around them. They would have forced the viewer to evaluate them separately from the relatable story line. Once you accept the basic premise that John Cusak is a hit man, and this is part of his life, you can accept anything else that pops up. It helps that Cusak can portray a morally ungrounded person, who kill people because “They probably did something wrong”, and still have an audience happily follow all of his lovable underdog emotional beats.  It’s inherent in his screen persona. People will always associate Cusak with Lloyd Dobler even when he’s blowing people away begging for their life.

For a goofy romantic comedy I was impressed to see how gleeful the director is in making Cusak suffer.   The violence on screen isn’t very visually gory, but it’s visceral. Cusak is burned, punched in the eye (suffering a bruise that stays around for the last third of the picture) and gets a nasty cut on his hand (which bleeds profusely) not at the service of any big gag, but because they are all interesting details that allows the audience to empathize with his character.  It’s this empathy that allows the relationship between Minnie Driver and Cusak to be charmingly engaging. The ground work has already been laid in both character’s pasts, so all the viewer needs to know are clues and elements (“Give me the airplane!”) that hint to that past to make it feel real and well rounded. It’s tough to build up a believable relationship from the ground up, but if you tell the audience it already existed, and have the characters talk about it in concrete terms, then the audience is much more likely to buy it.  It’s the same way that the hit man elements work – they simply already exist in this universe – they are nothing new – and you should just take them as day to day occurrences.

This is most evident in the scenes between Dan Akroyd and John Cusak. Both of them are hit man with a past behind them. Their dialogue is composed of rapid fire allusions to previous job, other assassins, and a unionized future.  . In effect, all the plot elements (except for the one that ties them all together for the final scene) exist fairly independently from one another and don’t have that much of a big impact in the grand scheme of things. They are simply backbones to let the characters wander through and react too.

My one beef it just doesn’t end satisfyingly. The final action scene works great, perfectly encapsulating violence and emotional outpouring, but the culmination of the journey that Cusak is going through is decidedly cut short. His constant insistence after every murder that “It’s not me.” is never addressed nor is the complications of his hit man past with Minnie Driver. They just drive off in the sunset with a smile on their face

I love the fact that Benny ‘The Jet’ Urquidez is the hit man after Cusak - only because I love seeing the guy on screen in all his goblin faced glory.  He helped popularize the sport of full contact karate! He’s worked mostly as a stunt choreographer and trainer on films, but you can catch him every now and then in the background of pictures he’s worked on. His most famous on-screen appearance will always be his epic fights with Jackie Chan (some may arguue some of Chan’s best) in WHEELS ON MEALS and DRAGONS FOREVER. He can also be seen in SPIDER-MAN and ROADHOUSE!

The genre mash up is a tough gamble – especially when you’re dealing with something that’s predominantly a romantic comedy running hand in hand with violent unrepetennt action movie trappings. Director George Armitage succeeds because he knows exactly how to present the material – which is often the most crucial step – and get the audience to buy into it completely.