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Challenge Week 5: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

I’ve been meaning to see Grosse Pointe Blanke for like fifteen years, and never gotten around to it, so I’m very glad Ben suggested it for this challenge. I knew there was a crime-type element to it and that it was a black comedy, but that was about it – that’s enough to catch my interest, frankly.

John Cusack is Martin Blank, a hitman who goes back to his 10-year high school reunion – he wants to catch up with an old girlfriend plus there happens to be a job there. Meanwhile, he’s being hounded by his competitor Grocer (Dan Ackroyd), who wants him to join the new hitman union, and another hired assassin seeking retribution for a job Martin recently botched.

The dialogue here is really the winning element, as you can see by the sheer number of “favorite lines” I chose below. It’s very clever and delivered with a deadpan earnestness that’s right up my alley. Martin forthrightly tells everyone who asks what he’s doing these days that he kills people for money, and they all take it as a joke – but they WAY they respond is also very even-keeled, so at first I thought they just didn’t care! That kind of quick wit is something I love in movies and in real life.

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Challenge Week 5: Lone Star

I’m writing this a couple of days after watching the film, and I’m glad I let it settle a little bit before attempting to sum it up. I thought this was my first John Sayles film, but when I ranked it I discovered that I’ve actually seen one other one – The Secret of Roan Inish. Anyway, that one didn’t make a huge impression on me (and I don’t know that it’s really considered that much among his films, though someone could easily prove me wrong with my near total lack of John Sayles knowledge). My only knowledge of him at all really comes from his inclusion in one episode of Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film, from which I got the accurate, I think, impression that he’s a filmmaker who cares about the in-between bits of real life that most films skip. From that I guessed that Lone Star wouldn’t be a straightforward western, as the cover made it look like, nor a straight-forward crime thriller, as the tagline tried to indicate.

We do start with a probable crime – a long-dead skeleton unearthed in the desert near a Texas border town who happens to be wearing a sheriff’s badge. The current sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) figures it’s Charlie Wade (Kris Kristofferson in flashbacks), the predecessor of his own predecessor, who was his father Buddy Deeds (a super-young Matthew McConaughey). Wade had a reputation as a terrible sheriff and a terrible man – guilty of all kinds of graft and corruption, especially against the town’s Mexican and black populations, and unpredictable to boot. Not only would he take your money, he might well shoot you in the back if he felt like it. In comparison, Buddy Deeds was a legend and a hero to the marginalized.

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Challenge Week 4: Marty

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen as pure a cinematic expression of joy as the look on Marty’s face after he drops Clara off at her apartment and realizes he’s just had the best time of his life talking with this girl. Maybe Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain after he drops Debbie Reynolds off at her apartment…you get the idea. But let’s back up.

Marty is a 35-year-old bachelor whose friends and family are after him to get married, but he’s got Ernest Borgnine’s face, so he can’t seem to drum up much interest no matter how nice he is (and he is genuinely nice, not the “nice guy” type who isn’t really nice at all)…until he meets Clara, who’s also rather homely. It would be easy to write this off as “two ugly people finally find other ugly people and settle,” but it’s so much more than that. Granted, it is a bit on the simplistic side in terms of message, but it’s so charming and Borgnine and Betsy Blair are so charismatic that I didn’t care about that.

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Challenge Week 4: The Visitor

I firmly believe that every year is a good year for movies, but let’s be real – 2007 is a little more good than most, with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to great cinema. That judgement holds even more water now that I’ve added The Visitor to my list of favorite films from 2007, because yeah, it’s pretty great.

It’s a small film, just like the other Tom McCarthy film I’ve seen (and love) The Station Agent, but with some very big ideas and emotions. Main character Walter (Richard Jenkins) is an economics professor who’s basically checked out of everything – he’s been teaching the same class for twenty years and it doesn’t matter to him, the book he’s supposed to be writing doesn’t matter to him, nothing matters to him. He’s trying to take piano lessons when we first meet him, and he gives up on that almost immediately, too, unable to carry through his attempt to hold onto something of his late wife, who had been a pianist.

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Challenge Week 3: Grumpy Old Men

I’ve never been too motivated to see out the later Jack Lemmon-Walter Matthau vehicles, despite being a fan of both of them in their earlier years – unconscious ageism? Probably. Anyway, I should’ve expected these two to play well off each other, given their respective talent and proven chemistry back in the ’60s, and they do. In a way, watching this felt comfortable, because even as John (Lemmon) and Max (Matthau) feud and play tricks on each other, it’s clear the two actors are having a bunch of fun just hanging out together on screen again.

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It’s winter in Minnesota and they’re having a heat wave, or so the oft-repeated song keeps telling us, but John and Max spend their days bundled up ice fishing and chatting with bait store owner Chuck (an always-wonderful Ossie Davis) and their nights ogling new next-door neighbor Ariel (Ann-Margret). And if you thought these two grumpy old men were old and grumpy, wait until you meet John’s dad (Burgess Meredith), a 94-year-old firecracker whose frankness embarrasses John as if he were still a teenager.

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