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Happy New Year, schmoes! If stealing a piece of someone's heart was an actual crime, you would all be doing hard time. So let's all agree that it's a good thing it isn't and have the best 2017 possible!
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movieman32 posted a BLOG item 8 days ago

Why It's a Classic : Grosse Pointe Blank

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……

Plot
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.
Background
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

Steve Pink
and

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


Mood: Chillin'

Frosty_86
Frosty_86 at 12:40 AM Feb 17

Great write-up man. I love this movie, it's such a quintessential 90s movie. It was probably the last time Dan Aykroyd was great on screen. The comedy is absolutely on point, I love the little oddities Cusack as throughout the movie. Him and Minnie Driver were fantastic on screen together. I know it's about a hitman but it is something people can relate to. The reunion scene is greatness, it's thoughtful and poignant. It's a perfect representation of every one who everybody knows from high school; what paths their lives take and the different points people are at ten years removed from their teenage years. The action is also surprisingly intense and quite brutal for a comedy. It is damn near a perfect movie.

timmyd
timmyd at 08:18 PM Feb 17

great read , my man . I absolutely love this film.

HTX0811
HTX0811 at 07:18 AM Feb 18

Great writeup. I always love putting this on whenever I catch it on cable.

Read all 4 comments >>

movieman32 updated his STATUS: about 1 month ago

Happy New Year, schmoes! If stealing a piece of someone's heart was an actual crime, you would all be doing hard time. So let's all agree that it's a good thing it isn't and have the best 2017 possible!
cobb
cobb at 12:10 PM Jan 01

aww happy new yr

Pat Hatfreet
Pat Hatfreet at 12:20 AM Jan 02

Happy new year!

HTX0811
HTX0811 at 06:50 AM Jan 02

Happy New Year!

movieman32 posted a BLOG item about 1 month ago

Five Favorite Films

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?


Mood: Chillin'

movieman32
movieman32 at 01:17 PM Dec 31

Trey, I can't disagree with you about M. I was surprised by how modern a movie released in 1931 can still feel.

XSsoCX
XSsoCX at 02:41 PM Dec 31

I absolutely adore "Sleepwalk with Me", so happy to see I'm not alone.

Glinda
Glinda at 03:05 PM Dec 31

Welcome back Movieman32! Great to see ya back, and just in time for the new and fabulous 2017. :)

Great list and I too love Sleepwalk With Me. Nice to see it on your list!

I adore JAWS (number one fav), and Sunset Blvd is just fantastic.

I've not seen Cheap Thrills yet, but had a blast with The World's End.

Read all 4 comments >>

movieman32 posted a BLOG item about 1 month ago

Some gifs from my favorite movie




















Mood: Chillin'

HAIL_TO_THE_KING
HAIL_TO_THE_KING at 02:36 PM Dec 31

i didn't care for this the first time i watched it but revisited it a few weeks back and really enjoyed it

movieman32 updated his STATUS: about 1 month ago

Well, schmoes, I have finally come across a computer and am all set to resume my blogging. I guess it's true good things come to those who wait ( even if the one doing the waiting doesn't want to and is doing so grudgingly lol ). I'm gonna finish a blog I was working on when my computer initially went out before starting anything new, but I'm stuck on what classic I should share my thoughts on first. I've narrowed it down to Grosse Point Blank and Unforgiven but honestly can't decide between the two. So which one do you guys think it should be? Btw, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday! :)
timmyd
timmyd at 08:03 PM Dec 29

Two excellent films , but I'd love to hear your thoughts on Grosse Point Blank . Hope your holidays are going well also.

sLaShEr84
sLaShEr84 at 09:11 PM Dec 29

Thats good.

cobb
cobb at 01:51 AM Dec 30

glad ure back have a happy new yr

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 3 months ago

Classic quote of the day : " You can't go home again, but apparently you can shop there. " - Grosse Point Blank
timmyd
timmyd at 08:20 PM Dec 02

love that film.

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 3 months ago

Well, schmoes, as of now a new computer hasn't fell in my lap. I'm currently leaving this status with my phone, which makes me really grateful for the wonders of mobile technology. I just wanted to let you guys know the bloggy goodness you guys have waiting on ya. I revisited Grosse Point Blank and Unforgiven, and had first time viewings of Patton and Ravenous. So that's given me some things to think about. And my hand is completely healed, which means that I should have no problems putting my thoughts into blog form once I'm able to. I can't deny the fact that I'm looking forward to it! :)
grelber37
grelber37 at 05:17 PM Dec 02

Not everyone catches Patton anymore. It used to be a well-known movie. I await your review.

timmyd
timmyd at 08:35 PM Dec 02

great films right there. looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 3 months ago

I just wanted to let you guys know that it will probably be about a month or so before I'm able to grace this site with any posts. My damn computer went out! It's not surprising considering how it's been on the family for about a dozen years, and wasn't a new model when we obtained it. So it was pretty inevitable it would burn out, especially given how much I used it. My brother knows how much I enjoyed my blogging, and guaranteed he would make sure I had a computer by Christmas, which is why I say it should be about a month or so. So remember the fact that, even though I'm not posting right now, I'm still here and still an otherwise active member of this wonderful site!
cobb
cobb at 10:43 AM Nov 16

hope u get a new one.merry cmas and happy new yr

Glinda
Glinda at 11:25 AM Nov 16

Ah man that stinks. Sorry you've got this to deal with now. Before long you'll be back and at it again and all the more healed up by then.

timmyd
timmyd at 08:16 PM Nov 16

sorry to hear that , my man . looking forward to hearing from you again.

Read all 4 comments >>

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 4 months ago

Well, schmoes, it looks like movieman is gonna have to take some forced time off from blogging for a while. I sliced my right hand pretty bad, which means that blogging is pretty much out of the question for the moment. It's taken me quite a while to type this simple status. But don't think I won't be back on here blogging up a storm once it heals. :)
Scotch
Scotch at 11:02 PM Oct 27

Just rub some dirt on it! Just kiddin, get better soon man, we'll be here when you get back.

Pat Hatfreet
Pat Hatfreet at 02:02 AM Oct 28

Sorry to hear about your injury. Get well soon!

HTX0811
HTX0811 at 03:50 PM Oct 28

Sorry to hear but get better soon!

Read all 10 comments >>

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 4 months ago

Thanks for the b-day wishes, schmoes. That's what I love about you guys!
Glinda
Glinda at 05:01 PM Oct 25

I hope you had a great day!

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 4 months ago

Random thought of the day : James Cameron is a visionary director who has been responsible for many iconic movies. There simply can't be any argument about that. However, it does make one wonder just why the guy feels that Avatar needs not one, not two, but THREE FREAKIN' SEQUELS!
Weapon X
Weapon X at 07:45 PM Oct 23

Not to mention it's getting to the point where he's talking about the Avatar sequels the same way Todd McFarlane talks about the next Spawn movie. "It's happening, I swear it's happening, just wait a little longer!"

movieman32 posted an IMAGE item: 4 months ago
Image_c4785f879
Carrie

timmyd
timmyd at 08:28 PM Oct 20

sweet

Horrorfan99
Horrorfan99 at 12:16 PM Oct 23

Scream Factory always delivers on its covers.

Horrorfan99
Horrorfan99 at 12:16 PM Oct 23

Oh and Happy Birthday as well

Read all 4 comments >>

movieman32 posted a POLL item: 4 months ago

Which The Hateful Eight character is your favorite?:

movieman32
movieman32 at 06:58 AM Oct 15

I would have to say Major Marquis Warren simply based on the moment where he confronts Bob in the final act. The intensity of how he delivered the line " And now, Senor Bob, I am calling you a liar " just sealed the deal for me.

OldKingClancy
OldKingClancy at 01:43 PM Oct 15

Daisy for me, I thought Leigh held her own as a truly despicable character but watching her against everyone else made for great viewing.

movieman32 updated his STATUS: 4 months ago

Those of you that have already read my Jaws blog might notice that I reposted it in a slightly different, two part format ( an idea I initially considered when I realized just how long it was gonna be ). The reason for that is the fact that it was the only way to keep this blog for posterity. You see, ladies and gentlemen, I broke the bank on this one. I actually posted a blog that stymied MFC's coding. It was simply too long to be accepted. So I had to do a little impromptu chopping. And something tells me that, as much as I enjoy blogging about movies, this probaly won't be the last multi part blog you schmoes will be seeing! :D
Moviefreak2010
Moviefreak2010 at 04:06 AM Oct 15

cool

Glinda
Glinda at 11:29 AM Oct 15

You did such a fantastic job with this blog (love all of your classic blogs!).

movieman32 posted a BLOG item 4 months ago

Why It's a Classic : Jaws pt. 1

Welcome, schmoes, to the latest installment of Why It’s a Classic, a series of blogs in which I’ll take movies I have deemed worthy of classic status and break down exactly why I feel that’s the case. The latest classic to be examined is a movie that I, one who considers himself quite the movie buff, had went way too long without seeing. The 1975 Steven Spielberg directed master class in suspense I’m referring to is none other than……

This mighty blockbuster’s humble origins
Jaws was based on a 1974 novel by this guy……

Author Peter Benchley
…...whose novel was discovered by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, who were producers at Universal.

Richard D. Zanuck

Spielberg ( l ) and David Brown ( r )
They both read it in one night and agreed the next morning that it was the most exciting thing either of them had read. They immediately sensed the novel’s cinematic potential, but were unsure exactly how it would be made. They purchased the movie rights in 1973, before the book was published, for $175, 000. Brown later claimed that had they read the book twice, they never would have tried to make a movie out of it, as the difficulty of bringing certain sequences to life would have been more evident. The duo first considered…..

John Sturges
…….. to direct based on his experience directing the Ernest Hemingway adaptation The Old Man and the Sea. They then ended up giving the job to Dick Richards, whose directorial debut The Culpepper Cattle Co. was released the previous year. That’s right, schmoes, for as much Spielberg will be forever linked to this classic, the original director was this guy……

What’s that, you say? You want to know what happened to Mr. Richards’ employment as director? Well, as it turns out, aquatic knowledge was apparently not his forte. You see, it was swiftly ( and hilariously ) discovered that he did not know the difference between a shark and a whale, which I imagine would be an issue when helming a killer shark movie. This happened during the meeting with the producers concerning the screenplay, during which he mentioned that an opening tracking shot would zoom in on a whale emerging from the water. The producers told him they weren’t making Moby Dick and had no desire to work with someone who didn’t know the difference between a whale and a shark. In the meantime Spielberg, who had made The Sugarland Express ( his debut as a theatrical director ) with Zanuck and Brown, noticed the duo had Benchley’s unpublished novel lying in their office during a meeting regarding that movie. Upon reading it he was captivated and was given the directorial duties in June 1973 upon Richards’ departure.

Writing
For the adaptation Spielberg chose to stick closely to the ending of the novel, telling Zanuck when he accepted the job, " I'd like to do the picture if I could change the first two acts and base them on original screenplay material, and then be very true to the book for the last third. " When Brown and Zanuck purchased the rights to the novel, they promised Benchley first go at the screenplay, with the intention being getting a working screenplay done despite the possibility of a Writer’s Guild strike, since Benchley was not unionized. Overall, he wrote three drafts before turning the screenplay over to other writers, and when he delivered the final draft to Spielberg, he stated, " I’m written out on this, and this is the best I can do. " He later described his contributions as “ the storyline and the ocean stuff - basically the mechanics “ while admitting he " didn’t know how to put the character detail in the screenplay. " Despite the efforts up until that point, Spielberg still found the characters unlikable so he offered screenwriter John Byrum the job of rewriting the screenplay but was turned down. Columbo creators William Link and Richard Levinson were then approached but likewise turned it down. Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Howard Sackler was in Los Angeles when the filmmakers began looking for another writer and offered to do an uncredited rewrite. Since Spielberg and the producers were unhappy with Benchley’s drafts they quickly agreed. One of the first changes Sackler made, at Spielberg’s request, was to characterize Brody as being afraid of the water.

Playwright and script doctor Howard Sackler
Spielberg then decided the screenplay needed some levity to keep it from becoming " a dark sea hunt ", so he turned to his friend Carl Gottlieb…...

…... a comedy writer-actor then working on the sitcom The Odd Couple. While the deal was initially for a one week dialogue polish, Gottlieb became the primary screenwriter and rewrote the entire screenplay during nine weeks of principal photography. The screenplay for each scene was typically completed the night before during a dinner Gottlieb had with the cast and crew to discuss what would go into the next day’s shooting, dinners at which several improvisations were offered that often made it into the screenplay. After Gottlieb’s contributions, dialogue polishes were provided by director/writer John Milius……

…….and Spielberg’s Sugarland Express writers Matthew Robbins and Hal Barwood also made some uncredited contributions.

Matthew Robbins

Hal Barwood
The source material had been written by Benchley after hearing about this sport fisherman…….

Frank Mundus
…...having caught an enormous shark in Montauk, New York in 1964. According to Gottlieb, Quint was loosely based on Mundus, whose book Sport Fishing for Sharks he read for research. Sackler came up with the backstory of Quint as a survivor of the World War II USS Indianapolis disaster. To this day, it’s still unclear who deserves the most credit for writing Quint’s Indianapolis speech. Spielberg described it as a collaboration between Sackler, Milius, and actor Robert Shaw, who was also a playwright. According to the director, Milius turned Sackler's three-quarters of a page speech into a monologue, and that was then rewritten by Shaw. However, Gottlieb gives primary credit to Shaw, downplaying Milius’ contributions. But no matter who was ultimately responsible for the speech, I think that all us cinephiles can agree that it made for one hell of a riveting scene!

Casting
Spielberg had no problem complying with the request of Zanuck and Brown to hire known stars, but he drew the line at hiring the biggest stars of the time. His reasoning was that somewhat anonymous performers would help audiences buy into the illusion that things were happening to ordinary, average people, while audiences carried certain baggage with them concerning big time stars, baggage which he felt could corrupt the integrity of the story. As far as he was concerned, the shark was the superstar of the ensemble. But one of the fun things about such an impeccably cast masterpiece such as Jaws is when one discovers who else was up for roles that went on to be iconic for the actors involved. For example, Spielberg offered the role of Brody to Robert Duvall, but Duvall was only interested in playing Quint, a part the director felt he was too young for. He briefly considered Gene Hackman for the role, and Charlton Heston expressed a strong interest in it. However, Spielberg felt that Heston’s screen persona was too epic in the minds of moviegoers to convincingly portray a small town sheriff.



Three " Coulda Been Brodys " : Duvall, Hackman, & Heston
And the way he finally came into contact with Roy Scheider about the role is proof of how even the most troubled set of circumstances can still have that totally game changing stroke of luck occur. But perhaps this part of the Jaws saga would be better told by the bearded maestro himself : And I went to several actors before Roy Scheider who I had just decided were not right for the part. I tested dozens of Brodys. But I was at a party at Andre Eastman’s house and I met Roy Scheider for the first time. He walked over to me and I was literally sitting on a couch with a Coca-Cola in my hand fretting over Jaws, that I wasn’t able to get this shark movie cast, and Roy sat down and introduced himself. Of course, I had loved him so much in The French Connection and then in The Seven Ups. Roy actually said to me, " You have such a glum look on your face. What’s the matter? " I said, " Aw, I’m having trouble casting my picture. " He actually said, " Who have you gone out to? " I named a few names and he looked at me and said, " What about me?!? " I looked at him and said, " You’re right! What about you? Will you make my movie?” Without even asking for a script he said, “Of course! If you want me, I’ll do it! " And we actually agreed at a party that he would play Brody that night at Andre Eastman’s house. And then he read the script and loved it, which was good because he could have read the script and thrown it back in my face. But he loved it. And the fact that Scheider loved the screenplay was a great win for the movie because of the everyman quality he brought to the proceedings. His introductory scene finds him engaging in a bantering back and forth with the missus, and his fear of being out on the water is conveyed sufficiently enough to where his actions in the last act come across as exceptionally heroic. Furthermore, he’s also responsible for one of the most iconic moments and lines in the whole movie…….


Although this is the line that everyone remembers, I think the even more desperate line that came right after when Quint walks onto the deck really sold the moment for me : " You’re gonna need a bigger boat, right? " That really sold the fact that Brody wasn’t a crusty veteran of the sea like Quint, nor was he knowledgeable about sharks like Hooper. He was simply an average guy with a fear of being on the water who was terrified of hunting the shark down but determined to do it anyways. Let us take a moment to reflect on these words from Spielberg on what he looks for in a movie as an audience member, words which go a long way towards explaining exactly why Scheider’s so iconic as Brody : Well, people who are touchstones to the human race, that anybody can identify with and say, “That could be me.” That’s all I look for in a movie that I go to see as an audience. Is there any character in the film that I can identify with; that I can experience these events through their eyes. That’s all I’m looking for, somebody I can believe in. And the remarkable thing about how Scheider makes Brody that character to believe in is how it’s in the little touches, such as how he was the first to take off running during Alex Kintner’s attack but finds himself unable to go in and can only run helplessly back and forth. Or the moment at the dinner table when he asks his son for a kiss because " I need it. "

Or how he embraces his wife for a few extra seconds before setting off and reminds her not to mess with the fireplace while he’s gone. Or how he takes a wistful look at his appendectomy scar during Quint and Hooper’s scar competition. It’s moments like these that make Brody such an iconic character, as well as perfect audience surrogate. Another reason Brody comes across so well is Lorraine Gary’s captivating work as his wife Ellen and the ease with which Scheider played off of it. The reason why Spielberg allowed Gary to audition was that she was married to Sid Sheinberg at the time, who was head of Universal and instrumental in helping Spielberg get The Sugarland Express off the ground.

Universal head Sid Sheinberg, who gave a young Spielberg these words of wisdom : " Hopefully you’re going to have a lot of success in your career. And a lot of people will stick with you in success; I’ll stick with you in failure. "
The type of nepotism on display with Gary getting an audition could potentially be enough to sink a movie, especially given the fact that she had never done a feature role, despite several t.v. appearances, such Night Gallery, Dragnet 1968, and the Kojak pilot The Marcus - Nelson Murders. It was the naturalism of the latter performance that won her the role, and it was that same naturalism that made her so compelling as Ellen Brody. Earlier I mentioned the ease with which Scheider played off of Gary’s charms, and that easy give and take resulted in one of those delightful instances where the audience is made to feel as if they’re peeking into the lives of real people, making their scenes together some of my favorite in the movie. There’s the aforementioned scene of bantering, as well as an early scene where Ellen brings Brody a drink as he’s poring over some shark books. I like how the scene is really layered and conveys the mind frame of both characters so efficiently. Things start off charmingly enough…..

…..but the moment is dispelled as soon as Brody realizes his son is out on the water in a boat and panics, even though the boat is tied to a pier. Ellen tries to calm him down, but ends up calling for her son even more urgently when she notices a picture of a shark attacking a similar boat. It’s a moment that could’ve been overwrought or histrionic, but instead comes off as really believable, thanks in no small part to Gary’s contributions. Then there’s a funny moment where’s she’s inquiring how long it will be before she’s considered an islander. ( " Never. If you weren’t born on the island, you’re not an islander. " ) But her absolute best moment came after Brody boarded the Orca, and the camera stays on her as she runs off crying. It’s an achingly vulnerable moment that helps raise the stakes of the final act, and just one of several moments in which Gary shines

Lorraine Gary ( You’d be surprised at how few pics and gifs there are of Ms. Gary in Jaws. However, the Internet is swarmed with ones from Jaws : The Revenge. Go figure ! )
The next actor up for discussion is Murray Hamilton, but before I discuss anything about his role in Jaws, I would like to relate a hilarious anecdote about Hamilton I came across. He and Jeffrey Kramer ( who played Deputy Hendricks ) were out one night during a break in shooting having dinner and ( several ) drinks. On their way back to their hotel, Hamilton bent down in total drunken innocence to pet what he thought was a cat, only to find out otherwise when he got doused from head to toe in skunk stench, resulting in an immediate, and thorough, tomato juice bath. And now on to his performance as Larry Vaughn, the venal, shortsighted mayor of Amity. Vaughn has been cited as the true villain of Jaws, and that’s an assessment I find hard to disagree with. It’s true he’s looking out for the welfare of the islanders, and I thought upon a first viewing that went a ways towards making him sympathetic. But a subsequent viewing changed my mind on that because, no matter what’s at stake for the island, " That’s no reason to serve the shark a smorgasbord! ", as Brody succinctly tells Vaughn.

He doesn’t think twice about keeping the beaches open, and even gets the medical examiner to go back on his original report. He ignores Brody and Hooper’s strenuous objections to keeping the beaches open to instead focus on the " sick vandalism " done to the welcoming billboard.

But perhaps the most craven act was when he casually says of the shark attacks “ a shark supposedly injured some bathers “ during an interview, only to reassure the reporter that the waters are shark free and open for business. After all…..

" Amity, as you know, means friendship. "
But what makes Jaws such a classic is that even such a smarmy character is granted a sympathetic moment, which occurs after the shark attacks on the pond, during the scene between him and Brody in the hospital. The anguish in his voice as he says, " My son was on that beach ! ", as well as the shell shocked manner in which he signed the voucher authorizing Quint’s hiring was enough to make one feel for the guy. And that’s an impressive feat when you consider just what he was responsible for. And on a related note, how crazy is it that people used to be able to smoke in hospitals ?! That blows my mind that the place cancerous people go to used to allow smoking. Anyways, onto the next performance, which is Richard Dreyfuss as this guy……

Marine biologist Matt Hooper
Hooper is one of my two favorite characters ( the other being Quint ), and what I like the most about the character is that even though there’s plenty of depth to him, enough so that he can’t simply be called the comic relief, he still often times bring a welcome levity to the proceedings, such as in the gif below, where he meets Quint’s macho showmanship with a rather sardonic display…..


Or in the scene where he interrupts Brody’s dinner and helps himself to his uneaten food. Or the scene where he reacts immaturely to being chided by Quint…..

But these moments are balanced by scenes like the autopsy of Chrissie Watkins…...




…...during which he so perfectly conveys the horror he feels at the pitiful remains of Ms. Watkins. This is shown by how he strides purposefully up to the autopsy table, uncovers the remains, and then just stands there for several seconds before beginning. The nervous, rapid fire manner in which he dictated his findings also sold just how much Hooper was rocked by the grisly display. But perhaps the most telling moment came when Hooper was reduced to splashing water on his face to regain his bearings. Sometimes as an audience member it can be the little details that sell a scene, and that just happened to be it for me. It was also nice how Dreyfuss perfectly modulated Hooper’s growing disgust at the medical examiner’s transparent attempt to alter the cause of death. Then there’s the scene of Brody and Hooper fruitlessly arguing with Vaughn about closing the beaches that ends with Hooper letting loose with a semi - hysterical burst of shocked laughter at the realization the beaches are gonna stay open that’s another nice character moment. There’s the aforementioned scar competition, a scene of one upmanship that ends rather humorously ( " Mary Ellen Moffat. She broke my heart. " ), but Dreyfuss” shining moment comes in the final act when Hooper’s about to be lowered down in the cage and tries to spit on his goggles to clean them, only to find that his mouth is completely dry. His delivery of the line " I have no spit " is so achingly vulnerable that it just sealed the deal for me as far as how much I enjoyed the character. After the steady stream of comedic and dramatic moments throughout the movie, it was during that simple moment that I felt for him the most. And do you schmoes remember how I mentioned at the beginning of this section how it’s cool to see who else was up for iconic roles? Well, there were quite a few alternate possibilities for the role of Hooper, beginning with Spielberg’s initial choice of Jon Voight. Timothy Bottoms, Joel Grey, and Jeff Bridges were also considered.




Four " Coulda Been Hoopers " : Voight, Bottoms, Grey, and Bridges
Dreyfuss was suggested to Spielberg by George Lucas, who had recently directed him in American Graffitti. However, Dreyfuss initially turned the role down, but changed his mind after seeing a pre release screening of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, in which he played the titular role. Although he grew to love the character years down the road, he absolutely despised playing him at the time and felt that his acting was so atrocious that it would end his career. He therefore wanted to have a sure thing underway as quickly as possible as insurance against what he felt was inevitable. Because the movie Spielberg envisioned was so different from Benchley’s novel, Dreyfuss was instructed not to read it, and the director instead decided to rewrite the character to better suit the actor. This resulted in a funny, layered performance, as well as the beginning of the Spielberg/Dreyfuss trilogy ( which also includes Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Always ). One thing I’ve noticed about this blog is that I’ve brought up " the little things " several times when talking about the performances, which is one of the reasons why Jaws remains a classic. None of the characters have been bitten by a radioactive spider or given a suit that enables them to change size at will. They’re simply human beings, with all of the hang ups and fears that implies, and are resolutely kept at ground level…...all except for this delightfully crusty ol’ chap……..

Yep, Quint was the only character given a mythological stature, which is fitting since Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab, an equally mythological character, served as a large inspiration. The most amazing and enjoyable thing about Quint is the fact that he’s genuinely eccentric, and it’s been my experience that true eccentricity is so difficult to pull off. It’s also been my experience that when eccentricity is attempted and failed it creates an insufferably quirky and unrealistic character. But that is happily not the case with Quint. Moments like these……


….or the scene where he recites the poem of Mary Lee to Ellen before setting off ( a moment for which I could find ZERO pics or gifs for…...womp womp ) really help to create an unique and oversized personality. And that’s remarkable because of how Shaw would improvise moments that weren’t in the screenplay. Take the Mary Lee poem, for example. All Spielberg instructed Shaw to do was give Ellen a hard time before setting off, and Shaw improvised the final results. When the scene was finished shooting, Spielberg asked him where he had heard the poem from in case he had to pay the original author. Shaw laughed and told him that wouldn’t be necessary, as he had gotten the quote off of a grave marker in Ireland. And it’s already been discussed how he helped shaped the Indianapolis speech. So, yeah, it’s safe to say he brought a whole lot to the table as Quint, which makes it all the more remarkable that he ended up with the role. You see, he wasn’t Spielberg’s first choice for the iconic role, nor was he his second. But perhaps I should take a moment to let the masterful movie maker himself explain : Casting sometimes is fate and destiny more than skill and talent, from a director’s point of view. First I went to Lee Marvin and he said no. Then I went to Sterling Hayden and he said no. Then finally David Brown, who had just worked with Robert Shaw on The Sting, said " What about Robert Shaw? " I said, “David, you’re a genius! " And Robert said yes. That was a simple story, although it took six months to cast Quint. And that’s even more remarkable when you consider the fact that Shaw turned down the role several times due to having read and intensely disliked Peter Benchley’s bestseller, saying of it, " Jaws was not a novel. It was a book written by committee, a piece of shit. " But he was persuaded otherwise by his wife, the actress Mary Ure, and his secretary when they wouldn’t leave him alone about accepting the role, saying of the experience, " The last time they were that enthusiastic was From Russia With Love. And they were right. " What I loved most about the role was how perfectly modulated his appearances were. I enjoyed the character so much upon first viewing that my only complaint was the fact that he had a significantly less amount of screen time than the other two leads. But a subsequent viewing made me realize just how effective that strategy was in keeping the character interesting. You had his iconic introductory scene where he silences a noisy town meeting by scraping his fingernails across the chalkboard.

And then you only see Quint briefly after that, as in the scene where the local fishermen are gearing up to catch the shark, and he sails through the pier with a " You’ll see " smile on his face. And that’s about it until the final stretch of the movie, which is a tactic that helps immeasurably in cultivating an aura of mystique around the character. Despite my initial impression, I now realize that any more exposure of the character would’ve diluted his impact, and that Spielberg and his writers knew exactly what they were doing when they parceled out his screen time. And how epic was his final scene?

This character was bookended by badassery. I mean, the shark might’ve gotten Quint in the end, but the salty ol’ seafarer didn’t go down without a fight. It was a final scene truly befitting such an amazing character, and the most impressive thing about it is how Shaw delivered it under some strenuous circumstances. For one thing, he was heavily in debt to the IRS due to tax evasion, to the point where he didn’t take home a dime for his efforts. He was so concerned about the money he owed that he flew to Bermuda or Canada on nearly all of his days off to limit his work hours in the US. And then there was the well known fact of Shaw’s insatiable appetite for drinking, an appetite which was indulged throughout the shoot so much that production assistants were assigned to keep him from disappearing into bars. It was also an indulgence that would often bring out a mean, competitive streak. And then there’s the fact that Quint’s Indianapolis speech had to be reshot due to Shaw’s unorthodox preparation methods. But perhaps it would once again behoove us to hear about it from the mouth of the extraordinary entertainer himself : We shot it twice. The first time we attempted to shoot it Robert came over to me and said, " You know, Steven, all three of these characters have been drinking and I think I could do a much better job in this speech if you let me actually have a few drinks before I do the speech. " And I unwisely gave him permission. He went into the Whitefoot, which was a big sort of support boat that we always took our lunch breaks on and all the bathrooms were on that boat, it was a big tug boat, and he went into the hold with my script girl Charlsie Bryant and I guess he had more than a few drinks because two crew members actually had to carry him onto the Orca and help him into his chair. I had two cameras on the scene and we never got through the scene, he was just too far gone. So, I wrapped the company at about 11 o’clock in the morning and Robert was taken back to his house on Martha’s Vineyard. At about 2 o’clock in the morning my phone rings and it’s Robert. He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day. He said, " Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you. " He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken. He said, " Steven, please tell me I didn’t embarrass you. What happened? Are you going to give me a chance to do it again? " I said, " Yes, the second you’re ready we’ll do it again. " The next morning he came to the set, he was ready at 7:30 out of make-up and it was like watching Olivier on stage. But if Shaw’s drinking was known to cause the occasional disruption in shooting, and if Scheider found it occasionally difficult to work with him, that was nothing compared to the animosity that existed between him and Dreyfuss, to whom he had taken an immediate ( and somewhat inexplicable ) dislike, and would often try to rattle him with a stream of verbal abuse, taunts, and dares. Scheider described a typical barbed comment Shaw would often make : " Shaw would say, 'Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you’re fat and you’re sloppy. At your age, it’s criminal. Why, you couldn’t even do ten good push-ups. '" The younger actor quickly realized he would have to develop a thick skin if he and Shaw were going to be able to work together, saying, " Shaw was a perfect gentleman whenever he was sober. All he needed was one drink and then he turned into a competitive son-of-a-bitch. He knew how to dish it out. So you had to learn how to dish it back. He could be vicious. " At one point, he called out Dreyfuss’ perceived lack of courage by offering him money to climb up on the mast of the Orca, which was about 75 feet in the air and jump into the water. The amount of money kept increasing with each dare, with the total finally topping out at 1000 bucks. This ended only when Spielberg took Dreyfuss aside and told him, " I don’t care how much money he offers you. You’re not jumping off the mast, not in my movie. " Dreyfuss would often respond in the most direct manner he knew of, by throwing Shaw’s liquor into the ocean. And this was despite the fact that Shaw was often kind to him in private, as on the occasion where he read him his play The Man in the Glass Booth while waiting on the hull of the Orca one day. But for some reason, it was always a different matter when the two were out in public. As it turns out, this " feud ", as Spielberg referred to it, was actually beneficial to the movie, as it made the tension between the two characters seem all the more natural, with moments like these benefitting greatly.



" You have city hands, Mr. Hooper. You’ve been counting money your whole life. "
So that’s why I feel Robert Shaw’s performance as Quint is one for the ages. Despite his problems with drinking and the IRS, despite his offscreen tension with Dreyfuss and his often times unpredictable nature, he was still able to dig deep and deliver a performance that is entertaining over 40 years later. In his Great Movies review of Jaws, Roger Ebert referred to Quint as a caricature, and even though that word usually has negative connotations, I think it’s totally appropriate here. There’s nothing small about this performance. It’s like Nigel Tufnel’s amp in This is Spinal Tap, in that it’s turned up to 11. And yet, even though Quint is definitely the most colorful character in the movie, there’s never a point where Shaw’s performance becomes overly broad or unbelievable. It’s a totally convincing, lived in performance, and my only problem with it is the fact that Shaw wasn’t nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. I’m not gonna say he should’ve WON the award, as I don’t know who was nominated that year ( and don’t particularly feel like looking it up at the moment ). But I definitely feel this uber talented thespian was robbed of a nomination for one of cinema’s greatest performances. And before I move on from the casting, I want to take a quick moment to give a shout out to actress Peggy Scott, who had one brief, but memorable, scene as Brody’s receptionist Polly. Even though her screen time was limited, she had very funny line where she complained about the karate students " karateing the picket fences. " It was a very funny and charming moment that showed how Spielberg took care to make even the peripheral characters memorable.


Mood: Chillin'

JohnLocke2342
JohnLocke2342 at 10:30 PM Oct 14

Bravo my man

Moviefreak2010
Moviefreak2010 at 04:06 AM Oct 15

awesome post. still need to see it

Frosty_86
Frosty_86 at 05:13 AM Oct 15

Great fucking write-up man, well done!

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