I mentioned in my post about Tommy Boy that I would’ve enjoyed it more if it had gone fully absurd more often – THIS is what I’m talking about! I’ve been intrigued by Team America for some time, if only for the marionette animation style, but while I often like South Park in small doses, I found South Park: Bigger & Longer uneven to say the least, and I was afraid Team America would strike me as being too crude. And it definitely has more than a few moments of vulgarity, but it is SO over the top that they largely work (the voluminous vomit scene comes to mind).
The film is a satire largely on America’s tendency to become involved in international peace-keeping, but it has plenty of barbs for the politicos of Hollywood, too, plus Middle Eastern terrorism, and totalitarianism in the form of North Korea. I’m not a particularly political person, so maybe it would be more offensive to someone who cared more about this stuff (especially from a conservative bent), but really, the absurdity level is so high and the satire so broad, it’s hard to take any of it seriously in anything more than most obvious of ways.
I predicted that this week I might have the first film of the challenge to drop below the halfway mark on my chart, and while I was right about that, I want to stress that I did enjoy Tommy Boy more than I actually expected to. 1990s buddy comedies have a tough row to hoe with me.
Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) has a tough row to hoe himself – he’s the none-too-bright son of a midwestern manufacturer whose big house and new money doesn’t help him get through college in less than seven years (he graduates after gleefully passing a history test with a D+). But that doesn’t get him down; he returns home celebrating and excited to join his father’s business. Not as excited is Richard Hadyen (David Spade), an old high school classmate who works for Big Tom Callahan and is bitter that Tommy gets all the praise without having any of the smarts. When Big Tom dies, Tommy and Richard are forced to go on the road together to get enough sales to keep the business afloat.
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.
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.
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.