American Me

I watched this excellent movie the other night. Released in 1992, starring Edward J. Olmos, it is a daring portrayal of the inception of the Mexican Mafia from prison gang to street presence.

The movie begins with the ’40s Zoot Suit Riots, which to put simply, began with wartime racial hysteria and a hatred between soldiers and zoot suiters who flouted the rationing laws by tailoring flashy suits. Montoya Santana is literally a child of the riots, conceived during them after his parents are beaten and savaged by soldiers on leave in Los Angeles. The brutal beatdown turns his father bitter, and this poisons Montoya’s childhood. He runs with friends in a makeshift gang, and after a failed rumble, he and his pal J.D. break into a shop to hide, and are wounded by the owner.

Sent to juvie, Montoya is raped by a bigger prisoner on his first night, in a painful to watch scene. He immediately avenges himself, gaining a twenty year adult sentence, and an iron clad rep that brings him followers, and cements his presence as a gang leader when he is transferred to Folsom. Between the Aryan Brotherhood and the Black Guerillas, he builds his own gang, the Mexican Mafia, to protect other Latinos at first, then it becomes a full fledged criminal enterprise.

When he is released, he is faced with a world that has changed. He’s never been with a girl. He’s never driven a car. When he meets a beautiful neighborhood woman named Esperanza, he feels as innocent as the boy he was before prison, and she falls in love with that side of him, unaware that he commands La Eme, the Mexican Mafia. The Italian mafia runs drugs in their community; he moves to take it over, and in a brilliant and shocking scene, Olmos juxtaposes Montoya’s love scene with Esperanza with the rape and murder of a mafia don’s son in prison.  Montoya has never made love to a woman, and once he is excited, he flips her over to take her like a jock would a prison punk, until she slaps and pushes him away.

It is very hard to watch, and three consultants to the film were later murdered for disrespecting the machismo and ethics of the Mexican Mafia, by contributing to this film. By not shying from the foundation of brutality that creates a man who can lead a murderous gang, Olmos does what Scorcese, David Chase, and other directors who’ve portrayed crime bosses were afraid to do. Show the monsters they really are, instead of feeding the glorification we give them.

While the movie gets confusing in the third act, it follows fact and makes Montoya almost a tragic and symbolic figure for the rebellion against hatred of his people. While he can never be called a hero, when thrown in the “animal factory” of prison he did what he needed to survive, protected his friends, and attempted to move from gangster to liberator, only to die before his redemption could begin. This is one of the best gang movies of the ’90s, and is still powerful today.

 

The Arnold Schwarzenegger Project: True Lies

 

Have you ever killed anyone? Yes, but they were all bad!

True Lies remains one of my favorite Arnie films, because it perfectly balances humor and action; it’s his Die Hard. The funny thing there is that Bruce Willis’s breakthrough film that redefined action flicks was originally envisioned as a sequel to Arnie’s blockbuster Commando, which I feel is the most iconic action film of the ’80s. So, in essence, True Lies is Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron getting back together to show that they could out-Die Hard Die Hard. And mostly, they do. Them’s big words. Die Hard is also one of my favorite films, a Christmas tradition, and its effect on the genre is inescapable. How many movies can be described as “Die Hard on a plane/boat/Alcatraz/speeding bus”? The genre got so flood that the 3rd and 4th sequels avoided the trap entirely. True Lies on the other hand, loosely based on a French film called La Totale!, is an action movie with a simple and ingenious premise: what kind of home life does James Bond have? What does he tell his wife?

Of course Harry Tasker is not James Bond; he’s an American counter-terrorist spy who infiltrates a luxurious party in much the same way as Bond did in Goldfinger, with a white tuxedo under his wetsuit, to hammer the point home. Arnie and his groan-inducing one-liners are the perfect match, because Bond played that game first. We meet Tasker as he slips out of that wetsuit and slides into the ballroom party of an Arabian arms dealer; he’s communicating with partners in a surveillance van, Gib (Tom Arnold) and Faisil (Grant Heslov). He’s a natural, making small talk with the guests with that utter confidence Arnold exudes. He moves with a grace belying his size, from years of posing on stage, the overlooked physical aspect of his acting prowess blossoming once again under Cameron’s strict direction. After slipping upstairs to plug a hacking device onto the host’s PC, he makes his own distraction by dancing the tango with art dealer Juno, played by the exotic Tia Carrera.

Many reviewers were surprised at Arnold’s dancing, forgetting that this was Mr. Olympia, and bodybuilding at that level is not a clumsy endeavor. The comedy begins early, with Gib complaining about Harry dancing the tango when he should be leaving, and sets the tone for the spectacular escape sequence. Beginning with a classy Bond-like one-liner as he detonates the charges he set earlier as a distraction, soon he is running full blast through the snow, pursued by Dobermans, armed men on snowmobiles, and skiers with machine guns. In the film’s first 15 minutes, they throw the glove down for the Bond series, which would respond by upping the ante next year with Pierce Brosnan’s first and best entry, Goldeneye. Sadly that series would descend into idiocy until the recent reboot.

Harry makes it back to the van with a plethora of tricks- he knocks the dogs heads together, slides downhill on his back while shooting pursuers, and is cool as a cucumber as we hear bullets whip past our ears. Cameron has always paid great attention to the sound collage of an action soundtrack, and here to fit with the comic touches, the bullets are a bit quieter and almost cartoonish. We know Harry’s not going to get shot, and the final discharge of the battle is casual, “Excuse me,” as he reaches around his partners in the van to shoot one last bad guy. When they head home, Gib hands Harry his wedding ring- “Forgetting something?” and we immediately know that Gib is a closer partner than Harry’s wife will be, and when he walks through that door he’s going to his real job- pretending to be a normal guy, when he’d rather be out playing super spy with his buddies.

Harry works for Omega Sector- America’s Last Line of Defense, which is fittingly headed by Omega Man Charlton Heston. They outline their findings to their eye-patched leader at a meeting the next day, and he describes their noisy exit as a pooch-screwing of the highest order. It made me miss Mr. Heston and his fine oratory skills. I never got the hate for him, even after he worked for the NRA. This was a man who marched at Selma, but was vilified for not being a typical Hollywood hypocrite, glorifying guns in film and then saying us common folk shouldn’t be able to own them. He suffered like any man of principles, and I’m glad he got this memorable cameo in during his later years, before Alzheimer’s took him. At Omega, he’s the lone bad-ass among an office of goofs, who tango past Harry to mock him. It never flirts with late Roger Moore-era Bond silliness, and keeps things just above Our Man Flint. This was before Goldeneye briefly recharged the Bond franchise, and we were eager for a fun spy caper film.

The story is your typical “guy ignores family for his job” formula, and Harry hops into bed alongside his sleeping, mousy wife Helen (a hilarious Jamie Lee Curtis) and the next day resumes his façade of life as a boring salesman. The problem is, he’s so boring that his wife is considering cheating on him, with a sleazy car salesman named Simon, who pretends he’s a spy to get girls. While Harry is off following his lead on Juno Skinner, Helen’s having coffee with Simon, egged on by her co-workers who’re tired of hearing how Harry ignores her. And when Harry is getting attacked in a rest room by terrorists- led by the infamous “Sand Spider,” Salim Abu Aziz- Simon is taking credit for “the op,” and melting Helen’s butter.

The bathroom fight is one of the best fistfights you’ll see Arnie get into. Leave it to Cameron to make a classic set piece in a mall men’s room, having Arnie bash heads with an electric hand dryer, smash faces into urinals, and dodge AK-47 fire in toilet stalls. It’s an exciting and humorous battle that introduces us to the cold killer Aziz, played with relish by Art Malik (Ali from A Passage to India) and as expected, does not end there. Harry turns the tables on Aziz and chases him through the mall and out onto the streets, where they commandeer a motorcycle and a policeman’s horse. The chase leads across the and into a high rise hotel, through the kitchens and into the elevators to the rooftop, where Aziz makes a daring leap into a penthouse swimming pool. Harry gives chase, but his horse has more sense than he does.

Harry’s upset that he lost the bad guy, but he’s devastated the next day when he suspects Helen of infidelity. He walks out of the house in a trance. Cameron shocks us into laughter with Tom Arnold at his smart-ass best, who laughs it all off when Harry tells him the news. “I thought it was something serious!” And he goes on to tell us of his divorce woes. “She took the ice cube trays! What kind of sick bitch takes the ice cube trays?” Giving us a little hint that Gib’s home life is spent with a drink on the rocks. When Arnie balks at his nonchalant attitude, Gib tells him, “What did you expect, Harry? Helen’s a flesh and blood woman and you’re never there. It was only a matter of time.” But he still doesn’t get it; he puts a bug in her purse to find out what’s going on…

The next day Helen meets Simon and he takes credit for Harry’s chase through D.C.; Gib appreciates his audacity, saying “I’m beginning to like this guy. But we’re still gonna kill him!” The Arnolds here have great chemistry, and it’s really too bad that a sequel never made it. Tom Arnold still dreams of one, and was overheard dropping rumors about it recently, but it is very unlikely. Personally I’d love to see post-Gov Arnie and Jamie Lee return as retiree grandparents pulled back into the spy game as cranky old farts having to show the young’uns how it’s done, but Cameron seems too busy with his 3-D movies to come back to this. And we haven’t had a funny spy movie like this since. Mr. & Mrs. Smith? Yawn.

But I digress. Bill Paxton’s Simon practically steals the movie as the used car salesman sleazeball, and the scene where Harry test drives a ’58 Corvette ragtop with him is brilliant comedy. Because let’s face it, Arnold needs serious direction to be funny; with a weak director, like in many of the ’90s and ’00 entries in The Arnold Project, his family scenes never come off as real. He phones it in. With Cameron, the director who made him a mega action star, he gives his all. Paxton is great as usual, crafting an entirely new character with a porn ‘stache and oily hair falling into his eyes, without a hint of his trademark Chet or Hudson to be seen. He makes him slimy and pathetic, but when he says, “Okay, just ask yourself: What do women really want? You take these bored housewives, married to the same guy for years, they’re stuck in a rut, then need some release! Promise of adventure, a hint of danger.” Harry listens, and gets an idea…

In a hilarious waste of government resources- which Harry talks Gib into because he knows he “blew a mission because he was busy getting a plo chob*”- they get Omega Sector to pull a black op on Helen and Simon during their tryst at his love trailer. The classic humor of misunderstanding, as Harry thinks he sees her messing around, is priceless, as are Gib’s responses. Cameron’s one-line cameo as the chopper pilot, “Yup, she’s got her head in his lap. Yahoo.” and Gib trying to cool Harry off, “Maybe she’s sleepy?” are classic, and still make me laugh, a dozen viewings in. Jamie Lee Curtis is at the top of her comedy game as well, and when the special ops team captures her and “International Wanted Terrorist Carlos the Jackal” her reaction of frantic fear keeps us laughing and not wondering how scary this all is. Later, when Harry interrogates her through one-way glass with a voice mask, he realizes that she hasn’t cheated, and just wanted some excitement. So he plans on giving her some: she’ll have to pretend to be a hooker and plant a bug in a bad guy’s hotel room if she doesn’t want to be prosecuted as an accomplice.

So when Helen shows up at a swanky hotel room dressed to the nines in stiletto heels and a slinky black dress, she doesn’t know it’s hubby in the chair watching from the shadows, as she dances for him. She’s been assured he only “likes to watch,” and that she only has to plant the bug near the phone, and she certainly gets into it as she roleplays her little spy game. If you’ve read Cameron’s unused script for a Spider-Man movie, you know he has a penchant for writing creepy erotic scenes- probably left over from his assistant directing on Galaxy of Terror, with its freaky alien “surprise sex” scene- and while this is certainly sexy, it has an odd feel to it, since we know Harry put her up to it, and he’s a voyeur of sorts himself. It’s saved by a bit of accidental ad-lib by Curtis herself, when Helen slips and falls, she picks herself up like nothing happened, and our laughter breaks the tension. You can tell it’s an accident because if you watch Arnold, he instinctively begins to get up to help her, then stops to not ruin the shot. And it works perfectly, because as a husband, Harry would do the same.

The real action of the film begins when Aziz’s goons somehow track Harry to the hotel and take them both hostage, and Helen begins to see who her husband really is. They are put on a private jet and flown to the Florida Keys, and he tries to protect her by saying she’s a “crazy hooker,” but Juno figures out what’s up. On the island, we learn Crimson Jihad’s sinister plot, with nukes smuggled in fake archaeological finds, to take the city of Miami hostage to their demands. And Helen learns Harry’s secret life, when he’s forced to identify the warheads on videotape, so they can tell the authorities they mean business. The story takes this frightening turn, but the bad guys are never really that scary- Art Malik plays Aziz like a furious mastermind hitched with hapless henchmen, and when he records his message to the United States, he rants on and on after the battery on the camera has died.

However, Aziz does get to be cool and competent. He leaves Harry with a torturer to “find out what he knows” under truth serum, and Helen uses the opportunity to finally get some straight answers out of her husband. I always found this the funniest part of the film, and some of Arnold’s best comic acting.
“Ask me something I’d normally lie about.”
“Are we gonna die?”
“Yup!”
So of course Harry escapes, with the hero monologuing his plans for a change- how’s that for a little poke at the Bond films it apes?- and he and Helen begin wreaking havoc all over the compound with guns, grenades and makeshift flamethrowers. While his men scamper and scream, Aziz just kicks open a crate with a rocket launcher, picks it up, and blows Harry to smithereens. As far as he knows. Juno grabs Helen, and they head out in a limo along the Florida Keys highway while Aziz takes one of his nukes with a helicopter to cause more mayhem…

As with most Cameron films, the action is pretty much nonstop from here, with minor comic interludes. Gib tracks Harry & Helen to the island with a bug they planted when they were monitoring Helen’s infidelities, so he can pick Harry up before the A-bomb goes off. He calls in Marines in Harrier jets to take out the trucks with the nukes, and they actually blew up part of the old Key West highway with real Marines flying by in real Harriers! He infuses lots of slapstick in this sequence, from a truckful of terrorists foiled by a pelican, to the great catfight between Juno and Helen in the back of an out of control limo heading towards the blown up end of the bridge. Harry begins his marriage repair by hoisting Helen from the car via helicopter, the ultimate test of trust. They later seal it with a kiss before a mushroom cloud backdrop, which still kicks the ass out of Indy 4’s “nuke the fridge” moment.

The movie does have some flaws- Harry & Gib’s partner Faisil, despite being played perfectly by Grant Heslov, is rather obviously the token “good Arab” character. Even so, the movie was picketed by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee for its “depiction of Middle Easterners as homicidal, religious zealots.” I thought it was to the movie’s credit that Aziz and his terrorists come off more like the Three Stooges with an atom bomb; they’re just typical movie bad guys, and their bumbling makes them less terrifying than Bond villain henchmen. Another shortfall to me was Harry’s interrogation of Helen; it goes a little too far, and we’re sort of happy when she bashes him in the head with a phone during the phony spy game he makes her play, because it’s damn creepy to make your wife pose as a hooker for a sleazeball, even if you’re playing the sleazeball! We get stronger hints of the Cameron formula here. His films have slowly diluted since The Terminator‘s perfection, but this one is still strong and not as preachy and hackneyed as Avatar. It’s one of Arnold’s best, giving him some range, even if he looks positively maniacal during the “thumb war” with his family at the end.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00026ZG10&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

All the entries in The Arnold Project

* How Arnie pronounces “blow job.”

Dialer Turden

Sorry I’ve been scarce lately. Something to remember from a great, often misunderstood film.

“You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.”

-Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Like Starship Troopers, I see this movie largely as a satire meant to string along many of its fans and mock them. Do I think Chuck Palahniuk was suggesting bare-knuckle brawling and domestic consumer terrorism as the solution to the fatherless young male malaise that grips the navel-gazing, whiny office culture? No, it’s just as amusing as making soap out of liposucted fat and selling it back to the women it came from at $20 a bar. I certainly agree that our materialistic culture has made us identify with pre-fab furniture and posh vehicles as our spirit totems, but I don’t think that revelation is some sort of enlightenment.

This comes from someone who pays to get punched in the face twice a week at a mixed martial arts gym. Is that what makes a man? To paraphrase The Dude, that and a pair of testicles. Emptiness is as banal as evil; trying to be a modern caveman, the latest Fight Club-esque trend, is as ridiculous as donning medieval armor and championing knighthood as the natural state of man. There’s nothing noble or pure about hunter-gatherers, if you study anthropology. Belief in evolution doesn’t require that we adhere to its ruthless creed. Compassion for the weak is not weakness. We were all weak once.

Tyler isn’t an unattainable ideal, he’s a childhood daydream of the hard man the Walter Mitty in us wants to be, the lone killer Eastwood cowboy who solves our problems with a cold utterance and a gun. Or a clever quip and a few hundred pounds of explosive. We forget that in the end, “Jack” wins, sort of. Maybe Tyler’s plan wasn’t to blow up those buildings, but to get his other side to stop whining and stand up for himself. That’s what I like to think the movie’s final message is. Project Mayhem internalized. As much as I hate Starbucks, the wrecking ball should be aimed at the impatience that makes me a customer of theirs, ever again.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

Showdown in Little Tokyo

Showdown in Little Tokyo is one of my guilty pleasures.

It has Dolph Lundgren in the Arnie role, and Brandon Lee as his goofy partner. Before Brandon (son of Bruce, you know) became The Crow (full review) and then was tragically killed on set, he did a few chop socky flicks like this and the less effective Rapid Fire. In this one he plays an Asian Task Force Cop who’s a Valley boy and knows nothing of his culture. Part of what I liked about it was that he never sees the life and embraces Zen. He does however, want to eat sushi off of naked chicks, but who wouldn’t? I mean, hot chicks. Freshly scrubbed ones. Actually it’s probably one of those things that sounds more erotic than it really is, unless you’re an emasculated Japanese salaryman who can only get off by subjugating women.
But it’s that kind of movie. Japanese-scare flicks were big in the ’80s, such as Rising Sun, but by the 1991 it was a bit dated. The movie doesn’t let that bother it. Lundgren plays an L.A. cop with his own rules, whose parents were murdered in Japan by the Yakuza. This led him to love samurai culture so much that he becomes the big white super samurai who likes kicking Yakuza ass, waiting to avenge his parents. His beat seems to be driving around Little Tokyo and waiting for gangsters to threaten store owners, and then destroy their store in the process of kicking the shit out of said gangsters. It’s nice work if you can get it. He meets Brandon this way, as they pull guns on each other, and fight, and then of course get a begrudging, professional respect. And later, they comment on dick size.
You know, like straight guys do. The “unlikely partners” aspect is fun because Lee is, like his father, a totally ripped little psycho dude, and Lundgren is a musclebound man-mountain from Hitler’s most lurid wet dreams. It’s like Laurel and Hard-on with Karate. The fights are very good because Lundgren actually competed in Shotokan tournaments, and Brandon Lee is… Brandon Lee. If hadn’t been killed, he’d be transcending his father’s legacy. Here he’s not reaching for the artistic skies, but it was a start. He’s the clown to Lundgren’s stone-faced straight man. Now another “of course” is that the Yakuza thugs are led by… the guy who killed Dolph’s parents. We knew that was coming. Played by the dependable Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mortal Kombat, John Carpenter’s Vampires) he oozes with evil for evil’s sake. We meet him when he beheads a topless crack whore.
Yup. Tia Carrere plays one of his non-crack whores who sees the murder and goes to the cops. She also gets nude, but it’s a body double. Of course, she sleeps with Dolph; it’s a rare Hollywood film that lets an Asian male wet his chopstick. Now, I bet you’re saying Tommy likes this movie? I’d hate to hear what he has to say if he hated it! But really, the action and humor in Showdown in Little Tokyo absolve it of all its stupidities, including a guy getting impaled on a bent katana and thrown into a fireworks pinwheel that suddenly goes off for no reason except that it would be frickin’ awesome if it did that. You get to see Dolph Lundgren yank a man through a frickin’ door. You get awful jokes like Dolph telling Tia he’s so stealthy that she won’t hear him coming, and then later when she jumps on his Godzilla-size junk, she coyly whispers that she heard him come. Get it?
Brandon Lee makes the best of the ridiculous dialogue, somehow making lines such as “You have the biggest dick I’ve seen on a man” sound funny and not totally gay, after they fight yakuza in a bath house. He also gets to beat up the lead henchman while reading him his Miranda rights, only to throw him into a vat of meth-infected beer, and say “You have the right to be dead.” And he gets to say the line that inspired the title of this review, when they go on their last suicide mission into the bad guy’s lair: we’re gonna kill those guys, and then we’re gonna eat sushi off naked chicks! Because earlier, they saw rich Japanese businessmen doing that in one of those secret Japanese clubs where Japanese people go and do weird Japanese things, like eat sushi, and sing karaoke.
Although it wasn’t released until 1991, Showdown in Little Tokyo is an ’80s movie through and through. From the repetitive electronic soundtrack to the enormous body count of ethnic baddies, the mix of action and humor trying to riff off earlier hits like Commando and Die Hard, it missed the ’90s boat and didn’t realize it had to be more sensitive, and have some sort of message, maybe about the environment, or corporate malfeasance, or homelessness. That makes it a bit of a dinosaur, like the frat boy showing up in a pimp outfit at a costume party. But it made that ’90s concession where if you’re gonna kill a bunch of shady ethnic stereotypes, you have to have at least one of them be a good American. Like Fasil in True Lies, etc. Who was the good Latino in Commando? Exactly.
It’s a good dumb movie with plenty of boobs, guns, karate battles and explosions, and sometimes that’s just what you need. Dolph and Brandon made a good team, and I wish they’d had another chance to work together. Lundgren will return in Sly Stallone’s epic The Expendables, and I hope it jump-starts his career in America again.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 2
Could it be remade today? With Russian mobsters, sure.
Quotability Rating: Good
Cheese Factor: Easy cheesey, Japanesey
High Points: Brandon & dolph yukkin’ it up
Low Point: offensive Asian stereotypes
Gratuitous Boobies: Tia’s body double and a hot blonde (and the lead Yakuza guy’s tattooed man-boobies)

Showdown in Little Tokyo on Netflix

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Kathryn Bigelow: Kick-Ass Directoro

I bitch about the cinematic affectations of the early ’90s a lot, so when I get a chance to extol the virtues of a movie from that period, I take it. Point Break, directed by Kathryn Bigelow: Kick-Ass Directoro, is up there with the original Lethal Weapon for best cop buddy action movie. Before Keanu Reeves lost the ability to express emotion, before Gary Busey began talking to pigeons, and before Patrick Swayze wore drag, they came together in this near-paragon of action movies, where a young FBI agent has to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers who never make mistakes, and wear masks of Carter, Reagan, Nixon and LBJ. And they’re surfers.
So we get North Shore meets Heat, in a way. Johnny Utah- his real name, not a moniker for being some “young, dumb and full of cum” rookie from the Midwest joining the big leagues in L.A.- was a Rose Bowl quarterback who busted his knee, and joined the Feds. John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox from “Scrubs”) is his boss who pegs him with the “young dumb” tag and it fits, because it’s Keanu Reeves. It’s a part he was born to play, and he gets to be a smart-ass throughout. He gets partnered with Pappas, the grizzled old agent who no one believes, because he has a crazy theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers, and he’s Gary Busey. Would you believe Gary Busey? I wouldn’t.
But Keanu Reeves is just dumb enough to believe him, and we believe it, because he’s Keanu Reeves. He learns to surf, with the help of Lori Petty (Tank Girl) and a few montages. Lori Petty plays Tyler, an athletic surfer who shows him the ropes. In the end, she plays the damsel in distress, but she brings a lot of life and a dash of reality to this story of monolithic men. She introduces Utah to her ex, Bodhi (Swayze), a Zen surfer warrior who seeks the perfect wave, and the greatest thrill. Johnny gets his respect after whooping him in a game of beach football, and it slowly becomes clear that Utah’s new mentor just may be the ringleader of the ex-Presidents. Hmm…. could be!
The plot diverts attention to a bunch of white power douchebags and it’s believable enough. Swayze playsthe part of Bodhi with such energy and charisma that like Utah, we don’t want him to be a crook. We want to skydive with him, even when he might know we’re a cop. There is a sense of honor among them, which is what brought the comparison to Michael Mann’s Heat. The men respect each other, and after they know they are born enemies, they can’t shoot each other in the back. It’s like The Fox & the Hound in that respect, except you won’t cry. The scene was famously eulogized in Hot Fuzz, when Johnny Utah fires into the air in anger because he can’t shoot his friend. And as ridiculous as it looks, it works, in context.
The movie ends perfectly, with justice served but in a way that satisfies the story and its larger than life characters. Point Break works is an action thriller that plays to the formula of its genre, but transcends it, bringing the Zen mindset of the surfer to it. The FBI agent has to get his man, but he doesn’t have to let him die in a prison cell. It may not be as stylish as Mann’s thriller, but Bigelow paints her own canvas on the California shore with broad strokes, keeping us as exhilarated as if we were riding that perfect wave.

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000GUJZ4G&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B0016MOWP0&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.

My Chickapea!

What’s Wrong with the ’90s?

I just watched Nell, where Jodie Foster plays a “wild woman,” an almost feral child who was raised in Squalor, West Virginia. She gives an amazing performance, in and out of the nude. At times it is as smarmy as Gump, but I truly enjoyed this movie. Liam Neeson Plays a local doctor who discovers her when he goes to check on one of his elderly lady patients who lives out in the sticks, but she’s passed away and he finds Nell, her secret daughter.

Nell has never learned to speak properly because the old woman had palsy; I won’t tell more, because the story that unfolds is what will keep you gripped to the screen. Admittedly, I’ve always been fond of stories in Appalachia, and while this does have the ’90s taint of the feel-good movie, and an insipid soundtrack, it’s a rewarding film to view. Maybe a bit long, maybe a tad predictable, but Neeson and Foster give enjoyable performances that make it time well spent. And from a pervy point of view, if you think Jodie Foster is hot, you get to see her au naturel and in her prime here. If John Hinckley saw this film, he’d explode.

What’s Wrong with the ’90s: Chaplin

What’s Wrong With the ’90s?

And yes, one more feature is born: What’s Wrong with the ’90s. I started thinking about it when I popped in Men at Work, that somewhat enjoyable garbage man comedy with Keith David, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez for an ’80s Trash of the Week. It felt … off. And I realized why. And this minor feature came to be. There are plenty of great movies from the ’90s, but the early part of the decade embraced the smarminess born in the reaction to Reaganomics, and the movies all had to be mini Comic Relief-a-thons, where it was only okay to laugh if 10% of someone’s profits were going to help the homeless.
Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin starring Robert Downey Jr. made a big splash and then disappeared, perhaps because the media was more interested in Downey’s drug problems at the time. This review has been sitting around since June, waiting for me to be inspired to write more about this movie, but unfortunately it deserves to be remembered only for Downey’s performance. It really is a bit of a mess, and epitomizes that early ’90s fear of offending anybody, love of madcap nostalgia without understanding why we loved it, and so on.

It plays like a much older film, and I’m sure that’s the intention. The credits open over Downey removing the famous Tramp make-up slowly, to show us the legend of Charlie Chaplin being unmasked. The rest of the script is just as clumsy, and Downey’s performance is the real meat of the film. In the first few minutes we see young Charlie outshine his mother at a stage show, which breaks her spirit so she never sings again; this leads to eviction and the boys being sent to workhouses (England has always been rather barbaric) where Charlie evades the guards in a Keystone Kops style chase, and digs a boot out of the muck, foreshadowing the famous scene in The Gold Rush. All voiced over by George Hayden (Anthony Hopkins) as he works with Chaplin on his autobiography.

We don’t see Downey’s excellent performance until 18 minutes in, when his brother gets him a job doing slapstick in a burlesque show. And finally, the film draws us in. Most memorable is Kevin Kline as Douglas Fairbanks, falling from grace as former partner Mary Pickford becomes the richest woman in America; less appealing are sloppy subplots where Chaplin insults J. Edgar Hoover, inspiring the man’s vendetta against him, Charlie saying that talkies “will never catch on” while he and Fairbanks play on the Hollywood(land) sign, his first divorce inspiring his first hit The Kid with Jackie Cooper. The movie lingers on his young skirt-chasing habits, and Milla Jovovich plays one of them in an early role.
The film is really a big mess held together by Downey’s excellent performance and that of several supporting players. The bookends of Charlie dictating his biography, leaving out things he feels are uninteresting, is simply bad screenwriting. Attenborough repeatedly mimics Chaplin’s slapstick to add some liveliness to a dreary long film where he stumbles from one underage ingenue to another, while his brother continually warns him to be a good Jew and not anger the gentiles during America’s early flirtations with fascism before WW2. It’s very episodic and seems made by committee, and never captures the sentimentality of the man’s great films. Instead, it gives us brief snippets of moments in his life that supposedly inspired his films.
I expected to love this and write a huge glowing review of an underappreciated ’90s gem, but watching made me realize why it was forgotten. It fails as an epic, and Downey’s excellent performance would have been better served in a much smaller film that didn’t re-enact Chaplin’s classics, but tried to show us the man, or concentrated on just part of his life. His influence on film and popular culture is incalculable, and his courage in spitting in Hitler’s eye and that of the Red Scare witch hunts was heroic; sure he liked young tail, but that doesn’t make him a tragic hero. This is a movie best viewed with a stack of Chaplin DVDs afterward.


To give an idea of how popular Fairbanks and Chaplin were, this is a photo of them shilling for war bonds during the Great War.

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