Friday, 31 August 2012

Friday Night's A Great Night To Remember Tony Scott

RIP Tony. Image source

Every true movie fan across the planet was devastated to hear about the death of action auteur Tony Scott. His peers and fellow directors rushed to bring out their condolences and remember the good times. The old man used to mentor his younger colleagues, and gave a much needed crack at greatness or stardom with many collaborators, be they Tom Cruise or Quentin Tarantino. As sad it is, sometimes we recognize a great talent only when he's gone. So I'm certain Tony Scott's collaboration to particularly the action movie genre will be remembered years from now. Hell, he pushed the limit and brought out new things even in his most commercial work. The overall record of his filmography may be even better than his overrated brother's...

I'll take a look at three of my favorite Tony Scott films.

Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)

For a long time I held an inexplicable hatred for this blockbusting Eddie Murphy vehicle. I thought it was as bad as number III, or even worse, boring. Well, such misconceptions must have come from me falling asleep after the shooting range scene of this movie when I was a highschooler. Recently, I gave the movie another shot due to a friend's multiple year-long insistence. And as much as I hate to always admit it, I was wrong. Beverly Hills II is an uproaringly entertaining event movie, and holds up even when watched back-to-back with Beverly Hills Cop I. Indeed, it's everything that made the first one so good, but upped to the MAX. And with some extra Tony Scott craziness in between, especially in the grandiose and explosive action setpieces.

A hitman called "The Alphabet Killer" is on the loose in Los Angeles, and he severly wounds Captain Bogomil (Ronny Cox). Since Detroit cop Axel Foley became good friends with the Captain by the end of the first BHC, Axel F rushes from his job to another vacation in Malibu. Reunited with Detective Billy Rosewood (Judge Reinhold) and Sergeant John Taggart (John Ashton), Foley swears to capture the persons responsible for wounding Bogomil, and to protect his daughter Jan (Alice Adair). The investigation leads to weapons kingpin Maxwell Dent (Jürgen Prochonow), who is, of course, protected by the law. But that sort of thing hasn't stopped sneaky Axel before.

Smartly, even though Murphy had gone to be one of the biggest stars in the world since the first film, this isn't just his solo show. Quite the contrary, in fact, since Scott allows much of the supporting cast to shine this time. Reinhold's squeaky-clean Detective Billy Rosewood is seen to have some rather unsettling enthusiasms for plants and guns, and Gilbert R. Hill's pissed-off Police Chief's mad rant in the beginning goes up to be my very favorite. "Don't think, Foley! It makes my dick itch!"

That's not to say Murphy doesn't shine once again with his mad ad lib skills. Whether faking one's identity as a Caribbean psychic, cheating his way into Hugh Hefner's Playboy party, or getting info wrom a weasely accountant by threatening him with parking tickets, Murphy's o absolute roll here, at the top of his game and absolutely hilarious. I'm also long overdue a proper post to praise his talents anyway. Nudge me if you'd like to read it.

And I adore every scene with Foley hijacking a mansion that's supposedly renovated.

The film's casual misogynism is also endearing. This is a party strictly for the boys, not to scarily big bitches.

The Last Boy Scout (1991)

The late-80's to mid-90's were Scott's best time because he had the ability to pick just the right scripts to work with. With a good screenwriter on his side, Scott could rarely miss. And when he got the best action screenwriters of the game, he created classics. At that time, Shane Black, the talent behind the success of the first two Lethal Weapon movies, rose up in Hollywood's ranks and became more and more irresistible for any action movie director worth his salt. In their collaboration, Scott really understood Black's worth by not filtering out his words too much, nor ordering many rewrites. Thus, The Last Boy Scout is quite close to what Black managed to do while holding all the strings on Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang over a decade later. TLBS was said to be by Total Film Magazine "an endlessly rewatchable parade of good bits and great bits." And that pretty much nails on why I love this film so much.

Joe Hallenbeck is trying to save the life of the guy who ruined him to avenge the guy who screwed his wife.

Something fishy is going on in the world of pro league American football. A star quarterback takes a gun to the field and shoots his way to a touchdown, before offing himself by saying "Ain't life a bitch." A stripper named Cory (a very young Halle Berry) knows what's happening but fears for her life. She hires the private eye Mike Matthews (Bruce McGill) to investigate and to protect her. But this private eye is secretly having an affair with the wife of another private eye, Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis), and offers him the job in case he would get killed. The plan backfires as Joe catches on to Mike and his wife, and Mike gets blown to bits by a car bomb. But Joe is a former secret service agent, who's so down on his luck that he needs the cash, so he investigates further. Along the way, Cory's boyfriend and former star quarterback Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans) joins Joe as he also wants to get to the bottom of things.

Dix may be a great guy but he still can't spell worth shit.

So, from the plot synopsis the film's plot seems quite tangled, but actually it is a buddy cop movie much like Lethal Weapon. Again, we have a bum-like white asshole on the edge, who eventually redeems himself. His black partner's more down-to-earth and less violent, but when push comes to shove, does show he can handle things. Even the main villain's henchman is named formally, even though he only has a first name, Mr. Milo (as opposed to Mr. Joshua). But the rude and crude dialogue couldn't pass the mustard in a major studio film like LW. Thus, the film works almost like a parody of the films that put Shane Black on the map. Like in BHCII, everything is ramped up to be funnier, bigger, more violent, and considerably less comfrotable Hollywood-style corner-cutting.

"Awright, it's riddle time! Why did Mr. Milo cross the road? Because his dick was caught in the chicken!"

A good way to illustrate them is to look at the characters. Willis' Joe cracks jokes at every situation, and insults just about everyone he meets. He gets out of a tight jam TWICE by making dumb henchmen laugh at dick jokes, and uses the distraction to kill them. He doesn't seem like a very likeable character, but Willis' charm and comic timing do wonders. As does Black's ability to bring a dash of tragedy to his heroes. Willis' career has been ruined and his personality likewise. Even worse off is lovelorn Dix, whose story of his firstborn child is truly gut-wrenching and very unexpected at a film such as this.

But the real meat of the film is of course in the action, and boy does the film deliver. From trying to ward off bombs to many tight saves from flying bullets, Scott handles suspense well and at times it really does feel like Willis, Wayans, and Hallenbeck's 13-year-old daughter Darian (Danielle Harris) are in life-threatening jeopardy. But the bad guys get their bloody end, whether it's the inventors of Scrabble, or Mr. Milo, who gets a send-off so violent and crushing it could only happen in a 90's action movie.
In sum, the sky is blue, water is wet, this film is great. And then some.

★★★★ 1/2

True Romance (1993)

The most famous case of Scott supporting a fresh screenwriting talent is of course this film, based on the first script Quentin Tarantino ever sold. And it is undobtedly a Tarantino joint. The pop culture-obsession, the snazzy dialogue, the knack to write rather a collection of cool scsnes rather than a coherent story, it's all there. The main character is such an easily spottable alter ego to the screenwriter it is quite laughable how much of a badass Tarantino seems to think he is.

Clarence (Christian Slater) is a comic book shop employee, who has little luck with women. He tends to just blabber on about his love for Elvis which leaves any girl he meets in a bar cold. On his birthday, he's left alone to see a Sonny Chiba triple bill. But in the audience is also the beautiful but clumsy Alabama (Patricia Arquette), who finds his pop culture knowledge charming. After a night together, Alabama confesses she's really a call girl hired by Clarence's friends, but has really-real fallen in love with him. But she's scared since she fears her pimp, Drexl (Gary Oldman). Clarence has fallen for Alabama too, so he marches to Drexl's to demand Alabama's freedom. A shootout ensues that leaves only Clarence alive. He steals a suitcase full of drugs to fund a new life for Alabama and himself, in Hollywood, California!

The film does have a sort of a scattershot feeling to it, especially at the latter half. It seems originally True Romance's end half was to become Natural Born Killers. But the rights to that script had been purchased by Oliver Stone, who was about to rewrite it, much to the chagrin of Tarantino. So, the end half of TR had to be rewritten, and since at the time Tarantino only wrote about what he knew, he wrote about his experiences in Hollywood. It's quite easy to draw a parallel to coke-vacuuming Vietnam-movie directing has-been Lee Donowitz (Saul Rubinek) to Stone. Nevertheless, there's plenty of pure brilliance within the film and it's certainly never boring. For one, there's this scene which still ranks very high on the best scenes Tarantino has ever written.

Scott also deserves a lot of credit for the film, and even this scene to turn out so well. While the writer himself might have used an ironic 70's pop song on the soundtrack, Scott knows how to up the ante and to build tension in the way Tarantino really only learned recently. One important thing about this is that Scott shoots the film's violence as gut-wrenchingly brutal and painful. The scene where James Gandolfini's mobster beats Alabama is particularly hard to watch.

I bet Tarantino used to be more like this than Clarence.
Scott also has perfectly cast the film. the main couple are a little awkward and stiff, because Slater and Arquette usually are as actors. But it works great as two young people experiencing their first, great love. The casting of the bit parts is nothing short of brilliant. Scott must have seen that Brad Pitt would become the biggest star in the world in a few years so the joke concerning his non-role in the film would work. Almost as funny is Val Kilmer, whose face isn't once shown. Alongside that, we have the likes of Christopher Walken, Michael Rapaport, Bronson Pinchot, Tom Sizemore, all doing great to career-best work. And Dennis Hopper, man, I miss that guy. And Chris Penn, too. May the rest of the cast and crew of this film live long and prosper.


Much love and all the best to all of Scott's family, friends and fans. The world does seem a lot poorer without him. But the way I see it, the best way to remember him is to take a cold beer and pop a favorite film of his to the DVD player.

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