Posts Tagged ‘ Bruce Willis ’

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty

The upshot of a slow weekend?

I get more work done than usual.

It’s still just a lot of running in place for a few hours (while simultaneously dicking around on Facebook), but I’d like to think I used the fact that I didn’t go anywhere or see anybody to pretty good ends. I probably could have gotten through the day just watching Batman cartoons and bothering people at random, but I probably wouldn’t have been as satisfied with the end-result.

I feel like I used to be a lot better about time management, but I don’t know if that’s really true. I wrote a journal entry, edited five pages of that second novel and wrote the below review. That strikes me as a pretty good output for work. I may even try to knock off a poem, and read some more of a book I’m planning to review for Unlikely Stories. I guess we’ll just see how the evening goes. I’d sure as hell rather be irresponsible, but then I remember that this is how I’m trying to make a living (it’d be awfully nice to sell that book, when the son-of-a-bitch is finally finished), so that keeps the motivation to actually do something my time running pretty high.

Being creatively pleased with what I do is iffy. There are fantastic days, and then there are many, many, many days when I wish I taken up that offer from Satan to sell my soul in exchange for a degree with some kind of theoretically useful potential behind it.

Yeah, I know, the economy is a fiendish orgy of despair, but I still wish sometimes I could go to college.

I’m fortunate. I get to concentrate on artistic gigs, but I don’t always derive any personal pleasure from them, and I rarely feel like I’m doing something useful with my life. When I do it’s magic, and I guess that’s one of the big things that keeps me alive.

Reckless misadventures keep me alive, too, but we already knew that.

You know, I don’t set out to write mournful, depressing introductions. I really don’t.

I’m just saving my knock-knock jokes for the next time I go out.

People love those.

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty: Movie With Your Favorite Actress:

Bandits (2001)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett

There’s nothing really remarkable about the 2001 movie Bandits. It’s immensely enjoyable (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton together can sustain even the weakest plot), but it’s not a classic by any means. Director Barry Levinson does have a few films under his career that many would consider classics. Diner might be one (I’m inclined to think so). A lot of people hold The Natural in pretty regard (I’ve honestly never seen it). His career is one that’s included films like Tin Men, Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Toys (I still think that movie is an underappreciated gem), Sleepers (the one movie I used to win every single Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon challenge, ever), Wag the Dog and several others. His last movie, the HBO original You Don’t Know Jack has one of Al Pacino’s best performances in a decade. All in all it’s an interesting, diverse filmography. You have some great films, some dreadful ones and a few that are solid, forgettable ways to deal with a couple of empty hours the easy way.

Bandits is a decent, little movie, and it’s not much more than that.

This isn’t about Barry though. He’s a talented filmmaker, but he wasn’t the reason why I watched this, and he certainly wasn’t the best thing I took away from it.

I don’t even think this is my favorite Cate Blanchett performance. I could probably make a case for any number of brilliant performances she’s given over the years. After all, she’s got a few Oscar nominations going for her, has already picked up one Oscar, and will probably win another, is enough of a star to carry a movie on her own, and never seems to settle into just one type of character.

Even so, I thought about it, and still chose Bandits over anything else.

Hear me out. I think there are two reasons behind this. At least, two reasons that I’m aware of.

This was the first movie I had ever seen her in, and I was struck by her performance more than anything else. It stood out. An actress of lesser talent wouldn’t have done anything significant with the role of kidnap victim-turned-accomplice. On paper it’s not the most exciting part in the world. Blanchett is the kind of actress who can take on any role and make some memorable of it. I figured this out after Bandits, and she’s reminded of this in roles since. She’s done this with difficult characters, weakly written ones and roughly everything else from one end of the character spectrum to the other. There’s little for her to do in Bandits beyond playing off Willis and Thornton. She does that, and it’s quite wonderful just how far she goes and how frequently she upstages them.

That’s not easy. Willis and Thornton are good actors, and they tend to dominate the scene when around. They’re also pretty good at taking some bland material, and making it several times more enjoyable and interesting. Both are fine in this. Willis is a badass, and Thornton is the eccentric with hypochondria and a host of other low-grade mental illnesses. They’ve made a good team before, and this is the most fun of their appearances. They break out of prison together, go on a series of clever (within the context of the movie) bank robberies, pick up Blanchett along the way, fall for her, fight over her and spiral on down towards one last, desperate job. It’s good, and they’re good, but none of it amounts to anything you absolutely must see.

I think Cate Blanchett is the exception to that, and that’s a huge reason why Bandits wins out.

And the other reason?

It’s purely cosmetic, and it’s as simple as that entire sequence where she’s lip-syncing to Bonnie Tyler, dancing and cooking dinner all at the same time. It’s not some great moment of intense, powerful acting (she’s got a lot of those). It’s a few moments in the movie, and it doesn’t mean much to the overall film. It was just a gorgeous woman in a nicely-shot sequence.

I also blame that red hair. After seeing Bandits, it finally made sense to me, why so many think she could double for Tori Amos. If you believe that, then this movie will probably help your argument.

Seriously, I actually rewound the movie, the first time I saw it. I might have been even lonelier than usual at the time, but it still made that kind of impression on me. Sexiness in movies is hard for me to find, so I tend to be mildly, briefly obsessive about the scenes, actresses and even characters, who send my jaw to the floor, and then pour cement in my mouth to keep it there for a while.

Other people are in this movie, apparently.

But gorgeous actresses are pretty common-place. Porn has a ton of them. The overall package for unbelievably sexy actresses isn’t complete, until you throw in the fact that they’re unbelievable at their craft. Cate Blanchett is that entire package. She makes even a relatively minor movie like Bandits better. Very few people can single-handedly enhance a movie like that for me.

Bandits is worth mentioning again, as a movie that is not going to be some kind of life-changing experience. But it’s good enough. A good cast can always go a long way with an average story, and Levinson knows how to wrangle a few surprises and nice touches (Dylan’s “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” over the opening credits being one of those nice touches) out of things. You’re probably going to feel like you had a pretty good time, but it’s also unlikely, you’ll be demanding Criterion give it a corner spot in their hall of fame. Everything in the movie is just fine, and nothing more involved than that. Except of course, Cate Blanchett. You could do a lot worse than watch this on a rainy afternoon. It probably should have been better with this much talent involved, but we won’t dwell on that.

And that red hair.

My goodness.

Thirty-Day Film Challenge: Day Five

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Five:  Favorite Action

Die Hard (1988)
Directed by: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
By Gabriel Ricard

I’m still pretty easy to please when it comes to a ridiculous, gleefully stupid action movie. The problem is that it’s a lot like my problem with horror films these days. It just takes a lot more to impress me and keep my attention than it used to. I should also keep in mind that they just don’t make action movies like they used to. That’s actually a good thing for the most part, but I do get annoyed by films released over the last few years claiming to be smarter, more sophisticated affairs for a more sophisticated, smarter audience. That’s a load of nonsense. A dumbass movie is a dumbass movie. No matter how prettier it gets, no matter how hard it tries to rip off the editing style from the Bourne films and no matter how aware of its own silliness it pretends to be. I can still embrace a stupid movie, but I would at least prefer the movie just admit it’s stupid. It’s okay. I won’t judge. I’m already watching the damn thing.

I actually think cinema junk food is pretty essential to the whole diet. I’d like to think I was able to express this when writing about 2012.  I can’t just watch Criterion titles, obscurities from the dustiest corners of an endless film vault. I have to be able to tune out once in a while. It’s the same thing with those broad comedies, and it’s why I’m never the kind of person who’s going to have blood shoot out of my eyes. Just because you happen to like a movie I can’t stand. That’s stupid. Like whatever the hell you want, but at least try to be honest about what you might want from a movie in a given moment.

This was another category with a lot of front-runners. Die Hard won out when I thought about for a second and realized how many times I had seen and enjoyed it as though I was watching it for the first time. I can’t remember when I saw it for the first time. It’s just one of those movies that feels like it’s playing in the background somewhere since I was four years old. I’m a good deal more conscious of when the three sequels came out. I’m guessing I saw the first one somewhere in that time period of whenever it came out on video. Some movies just seem to be permanent fixtures in my life. In my case it’s probably a couple films too many. It’s not my fault there’s such a wide range of things to choose from.

Waffle House takes all kinds. Not like those stuck-up bastards as Denny’s.

If you’ve never seen Die Hard and have no interest in seeing it, then there’s not a lot I can say. It’s one of the best pure-action movies I’ve ever seen. I think it’s held up better than most like it through the years. That’s probably because it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. The movie comes by its charm so easily that it never seems to drag, show its age or take itself too seriously. John McTiernan was pretty good sometimes at making films that could be unadulterated entertainment without making you feel stupid or in need of a spiritual cleansing of some kind (Michael Bay movies, for example). He hasn’t made one of those in quite a long time, but here he’s at his best with a great script from good source material (the novel isn’t bad at all), a memorable Michael Kamen score and some of the best editing and cinematography of its time. Most of all he has one of the best casts ever assembled for an action movie. It’s hard to imagine now that Bruce Willis was at the time considered an unlikely action star, and that Die Hard itself would be a surprise hit of 1988. As much as I like other elements and talents I can’t see this movie working with anyone else. I don’t think it’s an accident that Willis is still hanging around after twenty-three years later. He casts a presence that I never really saw in any of the other action stars of the 80’s and 90’s. I don’t even think there’s anyone today primarily known for that genre than can hold even the most painfully dumb movie together better than he can. I wouldn’t throw him in the same category as someone like Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s not that kind of actor. I do think he’s good though, and I’ll even go so far as to say he’s great as the certain types of characters he plays. I’m not directly comparing him to someone like John Wayne in terms of perceived greatness, but I think they both go about being great at those certain types of characters in the same way. Some actors simply cast a presence that can dominate a film and even make it tolerable if nothing else comes together. It keeps them working a lot longer than most of their contemporaries. Willis has had a knack with that for years, and he’s only gotten better as time goes on.

Alan Rickman getting the Wile E. Coyote moment every European actor in a U.S. action film dreams of.

Die Hard succeeds on Willis’ constantly overwhelmed, surprisingly durable hero, but it still owes a lot of its energy and humor to the rest of the cast. Alan Rickman almost got typecast after this, but he still set down one of the best movie villains of all time. He’s easily as much a pleasure to watch as Willis. He proves (as he still does this to this day) that a good actor can stretch even the most simplistic character into something memorable and engaging. It doesn’t have to be deep (but an actor like Rickman can do that, too). It just has to be the best within the context of that particular film and genre. He steals every single scene he’s in.

A lot of performances in Die Hard are like that. Bonnie Bedelia gets a lot out of a thankless role and proves to be a perfect match for Willis’ McClane. It’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to see how those two got married. Reginald VelJohnson will probably never be known for anything but playing cops, but he’s still great at playing those kinds of cops. The same can be said for William Atheron and the late, great Paul Gleason, and how well they could make you despise them within about two minutes of showing up on screen.  Everyone adds to that sense of fun Die Hard would struggle to repeat in its three sequels. All of them were all entertaining in their own ways, but they never quite captured the same battered, frantic magic of this one. McTiernan would never be better at carefully maneuvering us from one hectic moment to the next as he would be here. The movie drops us into the war zone pretty early on, and it rarely lets up until the end. Willis is a good companion for that. He never stops cracking jokes while looking exhausted from losing more blood than the human body generally contains. The movie never stops putting him through one circle of hell after another (while even inventing a couple), as we careen along the walls, causing explosions and destroying everything in sight over as McClane staggers closer to the moment when he finally gets his hands on those stupid, stupid bad guys. It’s a tired plot, but it can be a lot of fun under the right mindset and circumstances. Here it’s as fun now as it was twenty-three years ago. I don’t debate for a second that there’s probably something wrong with enjoying revenge movies. I don’t debate it, because I just don’t care. Sometimes it’s a relief to still be able to do that.