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#1 Movie of All-Time
#1 Romantic Comedy
#1 Movie Character
Spoiler Warning : Wait a minute. Did I hear you correctly? Are you actually gonna read this blog without seeing the movie first?
Author’s Note : The author feels it’s necessary, in conjunction with the spoiler warning, to let you schmoes know Netflix is currently streaming this classic.
Welcome, schmoes, to my latest edition of Why It’s a Classic, a series of blogs in which I’ll take a movie I’ve deemed a classic and examine just why that’s so. The latest classic to be examined is George Armitage’s 1997 comedic hitman thriller romance……
Professional hitman Martin Blank is feeling a sense of dissatisfaction with the job at the same time his receptionist Marcella begins pressuring him to attend his ten year high school reunion in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Although his psychiatrist Dr. Oatman encourages him to attend the reunion and get back in touch with Debi, his high school flame he stood up at prom and still has feelings for, he initially proves resistant to the idea. But when a botched hit leads to an assignment in Grosse Pointe at the same time as his reunion, he heads off to take care of business on both the personal and professional front. Throw in a vengeful, rival assassin who’s upset because Martin won’t join his newly formed hitman’s union, two duplicitous government agents, and a cleaner sent in to take care of him, and this becomes one trip back home might Martin might not walk away from.
Tom Jankiewicz was working as a cashier at a Big Lots discount store in Upland California and substitute teaching at Upland High School while also attending Cal State Fullerton when the inspiration to get serious about what would become Grosse Point Blank came to him……...in the form of an invitation to his 10 year high school reunion at Bishop Foley Catholic High in Madison Heights, Michigan ( which was said to be nearly verbatim to the one Marcella reads to Martin ). Jankiewicz, who had aspirations to break into Hollywood as a screenwriter, was stunned by the passage of time and the difference between where he wanted to be at that point in his life and where he actually was. According to his brother Pat, " When the letter came, he wasn’t actually where he wanted to be yet. But give him credit. It freaked him out, but it also made him productive. It made him get serious about Grosse Pointe Blank. " He picked the title while substituting for an English class by writing it on a chalkboard to see how it would look on a theater marquee. He chose Grosse Pointe, an upscale Michigan suburb, rather than his working class hometown of Sterling Heights due to the contrast between the two. And although he got the idea through receiving his high school reunion invitation, he didn’t attend as, according to Pat, " The reunion of his imagination was better than the one he would’ve attended. That was his theory anyways. " Although Jankiewicz didn’t attend his reunion, he did base several of the characters on his old classmates, as well as naming Joan Cusack’s character Marcella after his manager at Big Lots. He shopped the screenplay around to several production companies, with Kiefer Sutherland showing interest at one point, but the mix of violence and comedy proved to be a tough sell. Then John Cusack got his hands on it and agreed to co-produce it through his production company New Crimes Productions, a production company he formed with his actor friends
James Franco lookalike D.V. DeVincentis.
The duo also helped him rewrite portions of the screenplay to better suit his sensibilities, and they also had parts in the movie. Another contributor to the screenplay ( although uncredited ) was this guy……
Director George Armitage
…...who has stated, " The script, when I met with John and the writers, was 132 pages. I said: "Look, I’m not doing anything over 100 pages. " They said, " Okay, " and they did a re-write, and it came back 150 pages. So I said " Okay, you guys are fired, " and I spent most of pre-production re-writing the screenplay, getting it down to 102 pages. Then we would improvise, and I noticed that some of the stuff I’d cut out was in the improvs, they were bringing back stuff that I’d cut out, but we had a good time with it. " The reason Armitage decided to go uncredited was because he feared, due to what he felt was the oftentimes arbitrary rules of the Writer’s Guild, that adding another credited writer to the list would lower the amount the others got paid.
Screenwriter Tom Jankiewicz ( 9/8/63 - 1/23/13 ) Jankiewicz died from a sudden heart attack at a Q & A session after a screening of Grosse Pointe Blank at Cal State University, and was almost painfully shy and turned down most requests for interviews, which is why this section depended on quotes from his brother.
Why It’s a Classic
The reasons why Grosse Pointe Blank is a classic are numerous. You could point to the highly quotable and character building dialogue as a reason. Or the expert craftsmanship George Armitage brought to the table as director. Or the amazingly entertaining and inventive action set pieces. And all of those are indeed valid reasons. But to me this movie obtains classic status on the strength of the performances of its impeccably cast ensemble of actors. And even though there’s quite a few performances that will be touched upon, I want to start this section with two I believe are career best for the actors giving them. As for the first actor being discussed, well, anyone who’s seen Grosse Pointe Blank probably already knows it’s……..
John Cusack as Martin Blank
I’ve seen John Cusack in quite a few roles over the years and, after recently giving this classic a couple of viewings, Martin Blank has taken the number one spot in the favorite character category. Over the years Cusack has cornered the market on moody, reflective characters, and Martin fits right in with the rest of the lovable neurotics. What I love most about Cusack’s performance is how he bounces off of the rest of the cast, and the resulting chemistry. And I’m not just talking about his chemistry with the leads, which is expectedly stellar. He has a good rapport with the bit players as well. For example, there’s a one off scene with Belita Moreno ( of later George Lopez fame ) as one of Martin’s old teachers that crackles with a delightful comedic back and forth. There’s a scene of Martin interacting with his mom Mary ( played by Barbara Harris in her final movie role before retiring from acting ) in a nursing home where the chemistry is tinged with a sadness and poignancy. It’s also a scene of impact because of the preceding scene in which Martin discovers some shocking news and orders Marcella to locate his mother because " I want my mom. " There’s something pretty humanizing about a sociopathic killer clinging to his mother. It, as well as a scene where he visits his apparently alcoholic father’s grave…..
…….adds a welcome sense of vulnerability to him. Then there’s the fact that his chemistry with Minnie Driver is sizzling, which is of the utmost importance since the love story between the two is the engine driving the movie’s narrative. You can really believe they had a passionate history together and that Martin had spent the last decade pining for her. From the very first second the characters reunite, the give and take between the two is on point. The sweet nature of their burgeoning relationship also makes later developments much more affecting. Another thing I like about Cusack’s characterization of Martin is how he portrays him as someone who thinks of his hits as nothing more than a job, and is able to keep himself at arm’s length about the reality of the situation, as evidenced by the fact that he tells several people throughout the movie this…..
The neat thing about that is that OF COURSE IT’S HIM! I mean, who else is committing the acts? But the self deception concerning what he does for a living adds another layer to an already awesome character. And the final thing I love about this performance is that when the screenplay calls for it, Cusack can be very convincing as a man of action, as evidenced by a handful of action set pieces which will be discussed in greater detail later. And the second performance that I think was a career best was……
Dan Aykroyd as Grocer, the aforementioned vengeful, rival assassin
Nostalgia can play a big part in what performances we enjoy most by an actor, and it was largely for that reason that Ray Stantz was my favorite Aykroyd performance for many years. It left an indelible impression on me as a youngster, and it’s still a pretty enjoyable performance. But what has bumped that performance down to the number two spot is that a recent rewatch of Ghostbusters has made me realize that Aykroyd was a lot more subdued in that role than I remembered, almost to the point of playing the straight man at times. A recent rewatch of Grosse Pointe Blank, however, has proven the exact opposite, with Aykroyd bringing a demented glee and manic energy to his acting that is quite entertaining, as is evidenced by his twisted rendition of She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain during a climactic moment ( " I’ll be blowing your fuckin’ head off when I come. " ), or by the way he keeps on taunting Martin about a millionaire’s hunting dog named Budro that Martin was thought to have blown up. There’s three scenes of the two having some kind of face to face moment, and in each one, Grocer says something different ( and equally hilarious ) about the incident. I really dig how he uses cutting wit to toy with Martin and undermine his confidence. But the best thing about the performance is how Aykroyd sells the menace of Grocer as well as the eccentricity. The movie’s opening scene shows Grocer smoothly executing a man and his bodyguards the audience had just seen Martin successfully protecting.
That feeling of menace is amplified in the scene of Martin and Grocer’s first face to face meeting, in which the two circle each other warily before getting down to business.
Up until this point, the audience has only been treated to scenes of Martin exhibiting the utmost professionalism and remaining cool, calm, and collected under the most unexpected circumstances. So it really paints a convincing picture of Grocer as a nemesis to see Martin approach him so cautiously. And while we’re on this subject of this scene, I would like to point out a favorite moment of mine that really makes Grocer come alive as a character. As he’s getting into his car, he dismisses Martin by fluttering a hand at him and shouting, " Popcorn! " After watching this movie several times recently, I still have no idea what that line means. But the wonderful thing about it is that it doesn’t matter if I understand the line or not. It means something to Grocer, and it’s such moments that really sell the character and give him an eccentric edge. ( and the moment’s mirrored nicely in the movie’s climax when Martin throws his saying back at him. Another layer to Grocer that’s pretty entertaining is the fact that the characters of corrupt NSA agents Steven Lardner and Kenneth McCullers first getting tipped off to Martin’s Grosse Pointe contract by him is done out of sheer petulant spite over losing out on the contract. There’s something awesomely unique about a sociopathic assassin shown having the equivalent of a temper tantrum. It’s not something you see all that often in assassin portrayals, and the fact that a portion of the movie’s plot is kicked off by such childish behavior is a cool angle to approach things from. And before I move on from how awesome Cusack and Aykroyd are, I would like to highlight one more excellent scene of a meeting in a diner between them.
You schmoes remember how I mentioned the quotable dialogue as one of the movie’s assets? Well, what makes this scene so awesome is how the dialogue isn’t just entertaining ( although it’s certainly that ), but able to provide good characterization as well, as evidenced in this exchange when Grocer offers Martin a sedative :
Grocer : Here's the new stuff, kid. Durazac 15. Makes Prozac seem like a decaf latte. Want a couple? I've got jars.
Martin : I don't do that stuff anymore.
Grocer : No wonder you got the shakes. And don't say " do it, " because I don't " do it." I ingest it, on orders from my neurophysiologist. It's legal. In five years they'll be putting it in the water for the citizens, like fluoride. This is a great bit of characterization because as lethal as Grocer is at his line of work, he has still gotten edgy enough ( presumably from the job ) to require doctor prescribed sedatives. And it’s hilarious because of how sensitive a professional killer is about how he’s perceived because of that. And then you have Cusack’s moment of characterization, in which Grocer once again screws with him about Budro : " Poodle pumper. Hound hitter. Pooch puncher. " The thing that makes this such a hilarious moment of incisive characterization is how furious Martin gets over the assumption that he blew up the poor dog : " Budro was never a target. Budro was acting on instinct. I would never hurt an animal, and I’m offended at the accusation. " Just as with Grocer getting upset at how his pill consumption is perceived, there’s something highly amusing about someone with such a detached attitude about killing getting so upset about the assumption that he would harm an animal. This also led to a moment I like where Grocer derisively refers to Martin as Chatty Cathy, and tells him to clip his string. And although this section isn’t about her, I’d like to give a quick shout out to Wendy Thorlakson, who played Melanie the waitress
" Nothing in the omelet. Nothing at all. "
The above scene was a moment that took me out of the movie just a bit upon first viewing, since it was the only moment in the movie where Martin acted somewhat like a dick. But the reason I say it was actually a great moment of characterization is that a rewatch made me realize the rudeness was most likely due to his taut nerves, seeing as how he was sitting across from someone who matched his lethal skills in killing. So kudos to Ms. Thorlakson for being part of that scene. But her shining moment came when Melanie approached the table just as Grocer told Martin " I'm gonna put a bullet hole in your fuckin' forehead, and I'm gonna fuck the brain hole ! " Her reaction in that moment was absolutely priceless, and goes to show the care that went into even the smallest roles. And before I move on from this scene, I just wanna throw out a couple more lines I love, the first of which occurs when Grocer is sitting down and tells Martin, " Easy there, chief. I don’t see hollow point wound care on the menu. " The other one is when Martin angrily shoots down Grocer’s repeated offer to join his union by snapping , " Loner. Lone gunman. Get it? That’s the whole point. I like the lifestyle, the image. Look at the way I dress. " Classic ! And now for the last main performance, which is…….
Minnie Driver as Debi
Now the weird thing about this performance is just how many people had issues with it. And I don’t mean professional critics, who seemed to be on board with what Driver brought to the table ( as am I ). But a lot of the average schmoes out there who posted reviews on this movie absolutely loathed this performance, with one person even posting that the movie had to be turned off due to Debi’s " apparent mental problems ". WTF?!! I don’t know what performance these people were watching, but I thought Driver gave an absolutely charming performance that perfectly encapsulates the confused feelings a jilted high school senior might feel ten years down the road when meeting up with her former beau. But the thing I really enjoy about Debi is the fact that she’s not just a jilted person pining hopelessly for her long lost love. She has backbone and a steely resolve,as evidenced by the scene where Martin goes to the radio station where she works and gets put on the air…….
And, as previously noted when talking about John Cusack, the chemistry between the two is on point, resulting in an easy give and take such as the following exchange…...
Debi : So is there a Mrs. Mysterio?
Martin : No, but I have a cat.
Debi : Not the same.
Martin : Well, you don’t know my cat. It’s very demanding.
Debi : It’s? You don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl?
Martin : I respect its privacy
Then there’s the scene where Debi accepts Martin’s offer to go to the reunion with him while getting an impromptu airplane ride…..
" What if your dad comes in ? " " You can give him one too. "
The sweetness between makes the inevitable scene where the dime drops all the more impactful…
I’ve always felt this moment of devastation was played so believably vulnerable by Driver.
What makes this scene the bee’s knees is the fact that the viewer has had time to really get to know these characters and care about them. Although one could be forgiven for thinking that’s the filmmaker’s first goal, that so often isn’t accomplished. But when it is, most of the battle has been won, as it most definitely was here. And now on to some stellar supporting performances, beginning with……
Joan Cusack as Maecella AKA Sargent Pepper
This is one of my all time favorite performances, and what I love about it is how she says some really hilarious lines in such a deadpan manner, which only makes them funnier. One such example is when Marcella’s reading Martin’s high school reunion invitation to him ( in the middle of an assignment, mind you ).....
" As a graduate of the class of 1986, you are someone special. Remember, there's nowhere you can go that you haven't learned how to go in time. Whatever the hell that means. "
Other memorable moments include a scene where she’s destroying the office…..
…...which is a delight because, unlike her performance up until that point, this is a funny bit of physical comedy. You can kinda see that in the above gif, but she’s really funny when Marcella pounds the hell out of her hard drive with a sledgehammer and then chunks it across the office. And then there’s the triumphant " ALRIGHT! " when she discovers the pension Martin left for her. So that was a nice moment that was nearly slapstick, and a great exit for the character. But one final thing I must mention is a phone call between Marcella and Martin after she’s found out there’s two government spooks and a cleaner on his tail. I can’t remember it verbatim at the moment, but the gist of it is that Martin needs to get the hell out of Dodge. The concern and fear for Martin is extremely well conveyed, and is a nice bit of pathos for the character. So there you have it, folks. You take two parts deadpan delivery, one part pathos, mix it all together, and you’ve got an iconic character for the ages. And now on to the next supporting performance, which is……
Alan Arkin as Dr. Oatman
Dr. Oatman is quite simply one of cinema’s great supporting performances in cinema, imo. The character is funny for a couple of reasons, the first being Oatman’s ongoing terror at finding out he has an assassin for a client, as evidenced in the following exchange in which Martin jokingly reminds Oatman he knows where he lives :
Dr. Oatman : Oh, now see? That wasn't a nice thing to say; that wasn't designed to make me feel good. That's a... kind of a... not too subtle intimidation, and I, uh, get filled with anxiety when you talk about something like that. This is such good writing because who wouldn’t freak out in a similar situation? It’s a realistic, relatable detail that has the added benefit of being funny, and one that enables Arkin to steal scenes with the ease of a master thief. Another way in which his character is a classic is the fact that he doesn’t care about putting an effort into Martin’s therapy, a fact which is evidenced by the scene in which he instructs Martin to realize " This is me breathing " without taking a break from the meal he’s eating at the time, or even trying to cover the fact he’s talking through a mouthful of food. Or the scene where he’s about to answer a ringing phone, only to stop dead in his tracks when he realizes it’s Martin calling. It’s the accumulation of moments like these that result in one hell of an entertaining character who, despite limited screen time, really contributes mightily to the movie’s entertainment factor. And now on to the next two great supporting performances, which is…..
Hank Azaria as NSA agent Steven Lardner…...pseudonym : Steve
K. Todd Freeman as NSA agent Kenneth McCullers…….no pseudonym
The success of of Lardner and McCullers as characters is remarkable because they’re two government agents abusing their power to not only ensure Martin meets his demise, but that he eliminates his target before doing so. These are the type of characters that could’ve easily tipped the scales into cliched villainy, but their amorality is instead brought to life with an eccentric wit that has the effect of making them quirky and likable. The main reason for that is they’re given a few scenes of just the two of them talking about subjects ranging from McCullers’ incorrigible romanticism……
McCullers : You got any ideas how you want to wax this guy?
Lardner : Can’t you just say kill? You always gotta romanticize it.
…...to what exactly sets them apart from the bad guys…….
McCullers : Man, why don't we just do his job, so we can do our job and get the fuck out of here?
Lardner : What do you mean, " do his job? " What am I, a cold-blooded killer? I'm not a cold-blooded killer.
McCullers : Now, wait a minute.
Lardner : No, you wait a minute. You want to kill the good guy but not be the bad guy. Doesn't work like that. You have to wait until the bad guy kills the good guy, then when you kill the bad guy, you're the good guy.
MCCullers : So - just to clarify - if we do his job we're the bad guys, and if we do our job we're the good guys.
Lardner : Yes.
McCullers : That’s….great. ( They both start laughing ).
This is such a great moment with these characters because of how the dialogue efficiently and entertainingly establishes their amorality without becoming overly expository, and it’s another example of how the writing was rich with subtle characterization. And the fact that it’s strictly the dialogue that sells these characters is what I find the most impressive. Think about it. You never see these two doing anything other than talking. They don’t become characters of action until the very end of the movie and, well, it’s an effort that’s swiftly truncated, to say the least. And before I move on, I want to give a shout out to K. Todd Freeman, who was born and raised in Houston, Texas…….THE PLACE I CURRENTLY CALL MY HOME! H-TOWN REPRESENTIN’, BOYEEE! WOOP, WOOP! *ahem* Now that I’ve gotten that bit of hometown pride out of the way, let me move on to the next supporting performance, which is the most poignant and resonant one in the movie. Surprisingly enough, it’s from this guy right here…….
Jeremy Piven as real estate agent Paul Spericki, Martin’s high school BFF
The reason I say surprisingly is I’ve just never been a fan of Piven. I haven’t seen him in too much, but in the few movies I have seen him in, he always seems to be trying way too hard to be the charming, motor mouthed wheeler dealer. The last Piven movie I attempted to watch was The Goods : Live Hard, Sell Hard. And I didn’t walk away from it all that impressed. Hell, the best role I had seen him prior to Grosse Pointe Blank was as Dean Pritchard in Old School, and that required him to be the straight man. So go figure. And the remarkable thing about his role is that the same elements were present throughout the movie. So why did that approach work like gangbusters this time when it failed so many others? I think it comes down to two reasons. Throughout the movie, Martin openly admits his occupation to three people : Debi, Paul, And Debi’s dad. And as you can see from the below gifs, each person thought Martin was joking…….
…….until they all find out otherwise by the movie’s end. But whereas Debi and her dad’s situation resulted in a happy ending, Paul’s ended on a much more somber note as he ends up helping his old friend dispose of a body.
The guy who started off unable to contain his joy at being reunited with his old buddy ended their reunion shell shocked beyond belief. It was a complete character arc that Piven managed to sell in only a few scenes, which is pretty impressive. I mean, the audience is being asked to accept that this guy would remain so loyal to Martin after ten years that he would unthinkingly make himself an accessory to murder. And you know what? You never end up doubting it for a second. So that’s definitely one of the reasons this role works. And I think the other reason is simply the fact that he was acting opposite John Cusack in all of his scenes. The two both grew up in Evanston, Illinois and went to highschool together, as well as Cusack attending the Piven Theater Workshop, an acting school founded by Piven’s parents. And I really feel that acting opposite his old buddy helped him elevate his acting game. There’s a ton of history between the two that adds immeasurably to the chemistry on display, making this the most entertaining I’ve ever seen Piven. And even though this section would never end if I went into detail on every good supporting performance, here’s a quick roll call of the periphery characters who gave Grosse Pointe Blank the feeling of being set in a tangible, lived in world : Mitchell Ryan as Debi’s dad Bart Newberry, Jenna Elfman as injured, ditzy classmate Tanya, co-writer Steve Pink as former classmate and current neighborhood security guard Terry, future The Walking Dead star Michael Cudlitz as the bully Bob Destepello ( " Wanna do some blow? " ), and John’s sister Ann in a scene stealing bit part as a drunken former classmate. It’s quite the cast of characters, both major and minor, that is acted to perfection by this talented ensemble. So, let’s see, we’ve discussed the writing and acting. Now it’s time to move on to the action, which is on display during the opening credits. We see Martin gearing up to snipe someone as a well guarded fellow exits a hotel. The first thing I like about this scene is the fact the audience is led to believe this is the individual Martin’s about to take out. But in a neat twist he takes out a potential bicyclist assassin instead. So far, so good, but it gets even better with the introduction of Grocer, who enters the scene with guns blazing to eliminate the target Martin just finished protecting. I like how the scene starts off on a low key as we see Martin do his thang and then swells to a crescendo of violence by the end. And the best part? Why, that would be the scene being set to " I Can See Clearly Now " by Johnny Nash. I really dig the ironic juxtaposition of the upbeat lyrics serving as a backdrop for a scene of carnage. Then there’s one of my favorite shootouts of all time between Lapoubelle, the cleaner sent in by the pissed off millionaire, and Martin in the Ultimart while Carl the cashier is obliviously lost in Doom and loud heavy metal music.
One thing I’ve grown weary of as an audience member is a lockstep approach to a shootout, in which one character pops out from behind a corner and fires and then ducks while his opponent does the same, rinse and repeat until one of them gets it. I think any cinephile has seen their share of such routine scenes to the point where a shootout really has to bring something different to the table to set it apart, and what the Ultimart shootout accomplishes is to crank up the velocity to nearly breakneck levels. This is a veritable ballet of bullets, with Martin and Lapoubelle ducking, dodging, bobbing, and weaving throughout the store’s aisles with a sinewy grace that is really cool. Add to that the inspired silliness of Duffy Taylor as the zoned out Carl, and you’ve definitely got a shootout that sets itself apart from the crowd. Plus, I love it when Martin and Carl escape the explosion, and Martin tries to comfort him by asking if he’s alright, only to be angrily told, " No, I’m not alright! I’m hurt…..pissed off…….I gotta find another job. " That’s such a delightful skewering of the typical scene in which the stock answer is usually something along the lines of " Yeah, yeah, I’m okay ", and is yet another example of the screenplay’s subversiveness and subtle wit. Now do you schmoes remember the aforementioned dead body Paul helped Martin dispose of? That came about because of the next great set piece of the movie, which was when Lapoubelle and Martin get into a fight in the high school hallway.
This is one of my favorite fight scenes ever because it has such a raw, gritty, unchoreographed feel to it that really sells the desperation of the situation, with Martin taking a wild swing and missing at one point. Another nice detail is the resigned look on Martin’s face as he plunges the pen into Lapoubelle’s neck, as if he’s realizing how his chosen profession, and one mistake in particular, will most likely haunt him for the rest of his life. It’s a moment that fits in with the whole Martin bottoming out part of the plot, and is much more effective than if the moment had been played angrily. And, once again, the song serving as the scene’s backbeat, in this case Mirror in the Bathroom by The English Beat, fits perfectly with the proceedings and expertly complements the driving momentum on display. But that’s not it. Anyone who has seen their share of movies have undoubtedly seen their share of body disposal scenes, and I’m no exception. That’s why it means something when I say this is one of the cooler ones, with the soundtrack selection once again aiding in the effectiveness of the scene. This time it’s 99 Luftballons by Nena, and the melancholy nature of the opening verse meshes perfectly with the moment Debi walks into the aftermath of the fight, and the moment where the tempo picks up is used astonishingly well during the moment when Martin and Paul are scrambling through the hallway with Lapoubelle’s body and use the stairway railing to speed up the process. Another great detail that sells the moment is how both Martin and Paul burn themselves on the boiler that was Lapoubelle’s final destination. And it gave Cusack an opportunity to deliver one of my favorite lines : " A thousand innocent people die every day. But detonate a millionaire’s dog, and you’re marked for life. " An interesting bit of trivia is that Lapoubelle was played by Benny " The Jet " Urquidez, a professional kickboxer who trained Cusack for Say Anything and has remained his personal trainer since then. And then the movie ends with an extended action scene, which takes place in Debi’s house after Martin finds her dad is his latest target and narrowly saves him from Grocer and his men. They then hole up in the house while Martin takes care of things. The late Roger Ebert was one of my favorite critics, and it was a rare occasion when I found myself disagreeing with him. But this final shootout was one of those occasions, with Ebert hating it and commenting that the people getting killed were treated no differently than the pop up targets in video games. I noticed throughout the years that he seemed to have a problem with movies that resolved their problems with a third act scene of violence, and I’m not gonna say that isn’t a valid point. The 1990 crime thriller State of Grace is an example of such a movie, with its fascinating psychological elements nearly being undone by the final scene’s descent into a cliched, slow motion, bottle shattering moment of violence. But I think this movie’s ending is totally appropriate to what came before it. You can’t expect a bunch of sociopathic murderers to settle their differences with a civilized discussion over tea and crumpets, ya know? Those that live by the gun would most likely settle their differences with the gun, resulting in the hail of bullets Ebert found so unsatisfying. One of the specific complaints was that the ending could’ve been more clever and wittier. And that’s the main point of contention I have with that point of view. The finale IS witty and clever, beginning with the moment Martin has Bart in his car racing towards safety and tells him about the contract on his life, as well as why he decided not to accept it……
…….while Grocer, who’s in close pursuit, makes this astute observation……
C’MON! That right there is already a funny moment, and it gets better from there due to the finale’s ability to mix the brutality of the moment with Martin’s romanticism, as seen in the following gif…….
This scene was already pretty cool because of the fluid way Martin kicks the fridge and delivers the fatal frying pan blow. But it proves my point about the finale’s expert way of combining tones when he turns to Debi and says " I love you, Debi. And I know we can make this relationship work. " Or take the following moment :
Martin : " …….but if you can look past that, I think you’ll find a man worth loving. " Awww! Then you have Grocer screwing with Martin’s head, such as when he says : " Smells like a wedding. You’re breaking my heart down here, Blank. I can’t aim through the tears. " *barking* " Budro’s coming for you! " I also love the moment when he interrupts a close range shootout to make one last plea with Martin to join his union, resulting in the following exchange:
Grocer : Comrade! Comrade!
Martin : What?
Grocer : Why don’t you just join the union, we’ll go upstairs and cap daddy!
Martin : This union, there gonna be meetings?
Grocer : Of course!
Martin : No meetings.
( The shooting continues. )
What Aykroyd’s contributions during this stretch mean is that the viewer is treated to a perfectly executed trifecta of action, pathos, and comedy. And that’s why I don’t see how anyone who’s seen this movie can say the ending is anything but clever. Plus, it sends the movie off with what I believe is its funniest line : " You got my blessing. " LMAO! So now that we’ve covered the insanity of the action scenes, we come to the last reason why Grosse Pointe Blank is a classic, and that’s the craftsmanship on display by director George Armitage. Why this guy never broke into the mainstream is a mystery, as he was able in this instance to flawlessly combine several different tones and genres into a cohesive, massively entertaining whole. This is especially impressive when you consider these words from the director himself : With Grosse Pointe Blank I shot three movies simultaneously. We shot the script as written, we shot a mildly understated version, and we shot a completely over-the-top version, which usually was what was used. We cast that movie—and I’ve cast most movies—by having the actors come in and read, then throwing the script out and saying: " Okay, let’s improvise. " That’s what I was comfortable with. I say to the actors: " You are creating the character. This is written, these are the parameters, this is the outline. Now you take this, make it your own, and bring me, bring me, bring me. "... I’m very fond of Grosse Pointe Blank because of that, the insanity of it was trying to keep things working with three different registers to choose from. The fact that he gave his actors the freedom he did and was able to pick the best elements out of three different approaches speaks volumes about the man’s talent ( and also raises the intriguing notion of alternate versions of nearly every scene floating around somewhere ). And even though I was itching to make this section a little bit longer, as I really loved Armitage’s work here, I guess there really isn’t much more that needs to be said. I mean, the movie speaks for itself, wouldn’t you say? And it’s a movie that has truly earned the classic status with its expert blending of many different genres and tones, impeccable performances in service of characters you come to care about, highly entertaining, quotable dialogue, awesome soundtrack, and insane action. In short, there’s something for damn near every cinematic preference stuffed into one amazing movie that deserves to be seen by any schmoe that thinks of themselves as a fan of movies.
Cusack and Armitage
Fun facts : Cusack saw the movie as a metaphor for the Reagan/Bush years : I grew up fascinated by people in the Reagan administration, their ethics, their mercenary values. People who plan wars and then go home to their wives and kids…..how do they live? To me, Grosse Pointe Blank was a metaphor for the people in the Bush White House. Jenna Elfman and Mitchell would go on to costar in Dharma and Greg. Elfman wearing the body brace was a tribute to Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles. Marcella can be heard talking on the phone to someone named Amelia. Amelia is Minnie Driver’s real first name. When Quentin Tarantino was working as a cashier at Video Archives, George Armitage was a frequent customer and became good friends with the future auteur. The director decided to give his friend a shout out during the Ultimart shootout : I called him and said " Could I use your lobby card of the Pulp Fiction cast? So we wired it with squibs and shot it up too. " He said Tarantino wanted to make a cameo - " he wanted to get shot or blown up or something " - but it never materialized. Blank's line " meet the new boss " in the diner breakfast scene is taken from The Who song " Won't Get Fooled Again ". John Cusack is a big fan of The Who
Rotten Tomatoes, which is a site I frequent with some regularity, has a segment entitled Five Favorite Films, in which different entertainers discuss their five favorite films and why they feel that way about each one. It’s easily my favorite part of RT, which is why I decided to present my own Five Favorite Films list.
5. Sleepwalk With Me ( 2012 )
Mike Birbiglia was a name I became aware of when this movie was released, as I would come across the occasional article about him. But it wasn’t until his role in Orange is the New Black as Danny Pearson that I became a fan…...and a rather huge one at that. That is when I decided to give this movie a chance, having passed it up several times on Netflix. And it turned out to be really good. The story is one that’s been taken for a spin more than a few times ( to put it mildly ). A struggling artist tries to find his purpose in life amidst his personal and professional problems. Does that sound familiar to anyone yet? But the movie still works incredibly well due to Birbiglia’s winning perspective and screen presence. I like the frequent fourth wall breaking, and the movie had me from the beginning with the entreaty to turn off cell phones. You’ve got veteran actors James Rebhorn and Carol Kane painting a realistic and entertaining look at long time marriage as Mike’s parents, with Rebhorn’s gruff patriarch often times barking out at Kane’s ditzy and determinedly cheerful matriarch. Cristin Milioti is another winning presence as Mike’s sister Janet, who gives him some rather fateful advice regarding his relationship with his girlfriend Abby, played by Lauren Ambrose, with whom Birbiglia has excellent chemistry. But the most fascinating element of the movie is the condition the character suffers from, REM behavior disorder, which Birbiglia himself suffers from. It can be summarized as sleepwalking on crack, and is a condition in which the afflicted act out their dreams in their sleep. This leads to several dream/sleepwalking sequences that are pretty insane. There’s one such sequence in particular that leads to such an outrageous situation I felt positive that specific scene had to be fabricated for the movie. ( I’m sure you schmoes will know the scene in question when you see it. ) But, nope, the scene happened to Birbiglia exactly as depicted. It’s a very fascinating, funny, and surreal element that adds immeasurably to an already exemplary movie.
4. Cheap Thrills (2013)
Cheap Thrills is a darkly comic masterpiece about what happens when down on his luck Craig ( Pat Healy ) and his equally down on his luck high school buddy Vince ( Ethan Embry ) get drawn into the orbit of wealthy couple Colin ( David Koechner ) and Violet ( Sara Paxton ). The couple, who are celebrating Violet’s birthday, draw the duo in with initially harmless bets, such as fifty dollars for whoever can drink a shot first. But as the intensity and payouts of the bets increase, Craig and Vince find themselves increasingly at odds with each other as they struggle with just how far they’ll go to escape their dire situations. This is such an enjoyable movie filled with a simple, yet well thought out, premise, great dialogue, and amazing performances ( Paxton’s is the slowest to get going, and even it takes off after about a half hour in. ) And on that latter note, I have to say that Koechner is the movie’s MVP, and the main reason I picked up the movie on blu-ray. I came across several reviews that mentioned how he managed to portray a menacing alpha male without changing his comedic stylings, of which I’m a huge fan. And that ended up being the main ( but by no means only ) reason I love this movie. Ethan Embry was also stellar as the rough and tumble Vince, although I should go ahead and admit that the only movie I’ve ever seen him in is Vegas Vacation, and that was some time ago. But I seem to remember him coming across very much like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and, well, he definitely doesn’t play that type of character here. And then there’s the fact that this was my introduction to Pat Healy, in a performance that was highly entertaining and has me looking forward to many more movies from this talented thespian. Craig’s actions may get more extreme and questionable as the movie goes on, but the seriousness of his situation ( he loses his job on the same day he receives an eviction notice ) is laid out with such clarity in the opening scenes that the viewer ends up, if not exactly rooting for him, then at least understanding what drives his actions. Another reason it’s so enjoyable is the fact that it’s often hilarious without resorting to a hackneyed joke/punchline setup, instead letting the absurdity of the situation provide the laughs. And on a final note, let me point out the fact that before seeing Cheap Thrills, this spot would have been filled with the timeless Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Why is this a relevant detail? It’s simply because both films deal with characters whose greed causes them to give in to their baser instincts and turn on each other, which is a fact I thought was too interesting not to mention.
3. Sunset Boulevard ( 1950 )
Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors from the Golden Age of cinema, and Sunset Boulevard is easily my favorite movie of his. It’s a darkly comic look at happens when faded silent movie star Norma Desmond, played brilliantly by the incomparable Gloria Swanson, lures broke screenwriter Joe Gilles, played equally brilliantly by the equally incomparable William Holden, into the macabre orbit of her and her loyal servant, played hauntingly by Erich von Stroheim. And that’s all I really want to say about Sunset Boulevard at this point because it will soon be the recipient of its own Why It’s a Classic blog. However, anyone who considers themselves a fan of movies should check this masterpiece out at least once. The acting, writing, directing, insights into Hollywood ( some of which are still accurate today ), and meta nature of the screenplay all combine to make this one of hell of a movie and one of my favorites.
2. Jaws ( 1975 )
The thing I find most impressive about this often times nail bitingly tense classic is that over four decades had passed between the time of its release and the time I got around to seeing it. And yet, the movie had me enthralled through a combination of stellar acting, understated terror ( which was admittedly understated mainly because of the technical difficulties of the mechanical sharks ), and amazing direction from the then novice director Steven Spielberg. I was in love with this movie from the start, but it took watching Jaws 2 and part of 3 to really appreciate just what kind of cinematic magic the viewing audience had been given. Another pretty cool thing about this movie is that it not only managed to be an amazing viewing experience, it also revolutionized the way movies were marketed and distributed. And any time a movie that ended up coming in WAAAYYYY over budget and over schedule ( and was once thought of as a career ender for Spielberg ) can accomplish something like that, the classic accolade is well deserved.
1. The World’s End ( 2013 )
It had been a while since I had last seen The World’s End, and the thought occurred to me that it may not have held up as well as I remembered. I also found myself wondering if I perhaps shouldn’t switch rankings with it and Jaws. But a rewatch quickly put those doubts to rest, as The World’s end holds up incredibly well, and is the perfect capper to the Cornetto trilogy. And what makes it so enjoyable is the interaction between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who are the rock stars of this ensemble just as they were in the previous two Cornetto outings. But this time the relationship depicted runs a bit deeper in that they start off the movie with Frost’s Andy Knightley being at severe odds with Pegg’s Gary King ( which is especially effective given the prologue depicting their rock solid friendship ). That’s why it pays to see all three movies in the trilogy, even though each one is a standalone movie. When Andy’s secretary tells him he has a friend there to see him, and he looks up and sees Gary and responds, " No, I don’t ", it promised this long time fan things would be taken to another level. And why was that? It’s because this is the first time the duo had portrayed a set of characters with such acrimony between them. In Shaun of the Dead, they played such strong besties that even zombiehood couldn’t come between them. And in Hot Fuzz, the worse you could say about the relationship between Nicholas and Danny was that it was strained at times. But in The World’s End, Danny’s animosity towards Gary really gives Frost a chance to show his range, as well as deepening Pegg’s remarkably nuanced turn as Gary. And that’s not to mention the rest of the cast, which includes Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and the absolutely ethereal Rosamund Pike giving performances that are by turn funny, dramatic, and touching. Another thing that was expected by this point in the trilogy, but no less awesome because of it, was Wright’s superlative skill at foreshadowing, with the entire prologue foreshadowing events from later in the movie. And the final feather in The World’s End cap was the amazingly entertaining fight sequences strewn throughout the movie, with the above gif coming from my favorite one, in which Gary attempts to throw down while keeping from spilling his pint. And the fact of the matter is that Wright is such a consummate pro that he made juggling such a variety of tones look like easy, which is ultimately what gives The World’s End the number one spot.
So there goes five favorite films list, schmoes. What favorite films would be on yours?