Thursday, May 26, 2011

Yeah, I'm free Tuesday to drive Joe Mantegna around

LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL -- originally posted on Tumblr, 5/14/11

So I just finished watching the long version of Leon; I thought the long version was the director’s cut, but it turns out that the shorter version that came out back in ‘94 as The Professional is the director’s cut. I guess it was widely assumed that Luc Besson got raked over the coals by the Hollywood suits over bad test screenings, but that wasn’t the case, he only had to cut one scene and that was due to the audience’s nervous laughter during said scene — and I think that was his choice, he wasn’t even forced to cut it.

The scene involved Natalie Portman’s character straight out asking Jean Reno’s character to deflower her. She was like, 11 or 12, so yeah, I could see why most people in the audience couldn’t stop tittering and/or squirming. The sad thing is that I Just Fucking Know there were at least a few guys in that crowd who were probably trying to contain their erections.

What makes that scene even more uncomfortable to watch is that when Leon refuses, his explanation is that it’s because the last time he had a girlfriend he was 19 and he wouldn’t make “a good lover” for Mathilda. The fact that he’s an adult (Reno was 44-45 during production of Leon) and that it’s wrong to fuck 12-year-old girls never enters into this argument.

But I’m not going to judge Besson and I’m not going to cry Moral Outrage over that shit, instead I’m going to give him points for having the fuckin’ stinky French balls to write a scene like that, send it to producers and financiers, having those script pages sent out to casting directors, having those same script pages be sent to parents of potential Mathildas, and then shooting those script pages in a set full of mostly well-adjusted adults and one child. That’s balls, son.

And the balls get even bigger because based on what I’ve read up on the guy in the past, Besson evidently likes ‘em young enough to scream when they have their first period a la Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl. Again, I can’t really judge because over in France, the age of consent is 15 and I’m just being very much an American with our 18-year-old age of consent (in most states, anyway). You have to put into consideration our cultural differences; what we’ll accept over here, they wouldn’t accept over there and vice versa (starring Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage).

I mean, I’m sure one day I’ll be in the same room with Luc Besson and he’ll notice the firearm I have holstered at the small of my back (because I have a concealed carry permit, of course) and he’ll look at me all disgusted-like, declaring out loud “Theeez fuck-ing Amer-i-cans!” right before he turns to whatever 9-year-old piece of ass he’s currently dating and sticks his Roquefort-coated tongue down her bubble-gum-flavored throat. Then his Pequignet watch will beep and he’ll suddenly go “Sacre bleu! We’re late for your appointment at the pediatrician!” because Luc Besson speaks English like a horrible stereotype of a Frenchie.

Anyway, I saw The Professional twice back in November 1994 (opening weekend and then the following weekend), then I rented/dubbed the pan-and-scan VHS in May 1995, then I rented/dubbed the widescreen laserdisc sometime in 1996, and then never again until this version I finished watching a half-hour ago. I prefer this extended version and even though it’s something like 20 minutes longer, I think the pacing is improved, if that makes any sense. It’s a strange film, this Leon, and the longer version just adds more of that odd feel to it and that’s a plus for me.

Aside from the Please Fuck Me Jean Reno scene, there’s another fucked-up scene that takes place in a fancy restaurant, where our May-December couple is having a celebratory dinner (they just did some hits) and Mathilda is drinking champagne and I guess champagne isn’t considered alcohol in New York, either that or they paid enough to make the wait staff look the other way. Mathilda crawls over to Leon and tries to kiss him and he’s feeling all awkward (in the pants) about it and he makes her stop. Then she downs a whole flute of the bubbly and immediately goes into insane laughter for what felt like an entire minute. It’s like Natalie Portman was asked to personify the tone of the movie for this scene and that’s the result.

Speaking of Ms. Portman, I didn’t remember how fucking good she was in this movie. I mean, really! She’s really fucking good and she was 11 at the time! It’s scary how talented this kid was from the very beginning, I don’t think she ever had a shaky performance in her youth. I can only think of Jodie Foster as someone else who was that good from the beginning; they also both went on to graduate from Ivy League schools, so I guess it’s just a matter of time before Portman starts directing too-smart-for-their-own-good movies that nobody goes to see. You go, Natalie.

Shit, I just remember that the age of consent of my people in Mexico is like 12 in some areas. Fuck. I shouldn’t have talked so much shit about Besson, then. It’s too bad I’m not some disenfranchised White, otherwise I can just say something like “I knew it! That’s why we have to close the borders and keep those savages out of our beautiful county, where we can fuck 16-year-olds because we live in Alabama!” Because they all live in Alabama.

Then they’ll find out that the age of consent in Hawaii is 14 and connect that with President Obama being born in Hawaii, and that’s how the Birther movement will die: they’ll find a better way to motherfuck that Kenyan motherfucker, until that guy is no longer in office and they have a new motherfucker to cry foul over — unless it’s one of their guys, then they’ll cry foul over how their motherfucker is getting motherfucked by the motherfuckers on the other side. Politics is all motherfuckery and I won’t stand by it, and I won’t partake. I’d rather spend my time watching movies and eating Pretzel M&M’s because I’m a Pretzel M&M eating motherfucker.

UNDERWORLD (1996) -- originally posted on Tumblr, 5/14/11
Underworld is available on DVD, but I couldn’t find it on Netflix or any of my local video stores. Those who know about Underworld might scratch their heads in confusion as to WHY I’d want to see this movie, and that’s because they know that this movie was written by Larry Bishop and directed by Roger Christian. Bishop was famous for acting in a bunch of awesome biker movies in the 60’s and 70’s but is currently infamous for writing/directing the critically-trashed films Mad Dog Time and Hell Ride, while Roger Christian is currently in movie jail for directing Battlefield Earth (Christian was briefly released to direct a film called Bandido for writer/star Carlos Gallardo from El Mariachi but after screening the final product, he was promptly thrown back in for violating the conditions of his parole).

Anyway, I found the movie at a VHS sale, bought it, and put it away for eventual viewing. Then it suddenly popped up on Netflix Instant, meaning I wasted a dollar that could’ve gone to some lazy guy pretending to be homeless on the street, playing on my sympathy.

Like Mad Dog Time and Hell Ride, Underworld takes place in a weird alternate universe where cops don’t exist and people are trapped in the hell of constantly looking/acting/talking cool in between killing each other. Actually, Mad Dog Time is the only film in the Bishop trilogy that acknowledges this by having the narrator tell the audience that the movie takes place in a Bizarro Earth, I’m just assuming the other movies do as well.

Personally, I have my own pet theory that I just made up; I think this alternate universe, the Bishop universe, is actually some kind of purgatory where the characters who get killed in every gangster movie you ever saw ends up after they die. Shit man, maybe it’s even Hell, because even the ones who come out on top never seem to be enjoying themselves. Maybe they know it’s all going to start over again, the same ol’ talk-talk-talk, bang-bang-bang. Either that or they’re too cool to be having fun.

So Denis Leary stars as this gangster named Johnny Crown, and he’s driving around town in a limo, making stops at various gangster hideouts and fronts, and machine-gunning the shit out of any hood that happens to be there. It’s a Father’s Day massacre, because all the killing is taking place on Father’s Day and because Crown is on a revenge trip in the name of his currently brain-dead father (the guys getting got were responsible).

Along the way, he picks up this dude named Frank Gavilan (played by Joe Mantegna), and I guess they were childhood friends but Gavilan acts like he doesn’t know him, for some reason I can’t quite remember because I was dead tired and high. Everyone in this movie has really fakey-sounding names and everyone else comments on everyone else having really fakey-sounding names and it turns out it’s because everyone in this movie has a fake name, that’s why they’re so fakey-sounding.

Unlike the other two films, I wasn’t digging Underworld as much as I dug the other two. Maybe it was because of low expectations, but I genuinely liked Mad Dog Time and Hell Ride was OK; I got a kick out of Bishop’s overly-self-conscious cool theatrics and his weirdo sense-of-humor. But Underworld kind of wore out it’s welcome after about 30 minutes or so. It starts off well, with this cool soundtrack playing over shots of motherfuckers getting owned by machine gun fire intercut with hot chicks stripping. Plus, it’s pretty fuckin’ bloody and I hope whoever created the squibs for this movie got a nice bonus or something.

But then you find out that Leary’s character has a degree in psychotherapy (he was in prison for 7 years, and that’s what he did with his time), and you realize that he’s on this therapy kick in addition to his revenge kick. The rest of the movie is Leary psychobabbling Mantegna in a limo, occasionally making a quick stop to kill someone or to drop Mantegna off at a hotel so he can get some ass from Annabella Sciorra — and somehow that gets kind of dull after a while.

I think the problem is that the movie takes place during one night, in a period of a few hours, and yet Bishop couldn’t come up with enough stuff to fill up a feature-length screenplay, so instead he just has this shit get all Möbius strip on us, constantly repeating a never-ending cycle of Leary & Mantegna in the limo, Mantegna in the hotel with Sciorra, Leary kills someone or talks with someone, Leary & Mantegna in the limo, Mantegna in the hotel with Sciorra, Leary kills someone or talks with someone, etc, etc.

There is the occasional cutaway to a group of guys in a bar, and these guys don’t talk to each other, instead they just stare each other down and then shoot a glass or bottle with one of their guns. There’s a stripper doing her thing during all of this, she doesn’t seem fazed by it, and neither does the bartender, and neither did I, come to think of it. It was kinda cool that one of the shooters was James “Principal Strickland from Back to the Future” Tolkan, but even that WTF shit gets kind of old after a while.

Yeah, Roger Christian is the director but I still consider this a total Larry Bishop joint because in addition to writing it, he also acts in it (playing one of the guys Leary wants to take out — on occasion, the movie cuts to his character doing what I felt was a slow-motion version of what James Caan did near the end of Thief) and feels exactly like Bishop’s other films; the music, the performances, the lethargic-on-purpose pace, the otherworldly ambiance. The only thing that feels like Christian may have had something to do with is the look of the film; the guy won an Oscar for the art direction on Star Wars (Lucas then hired him as 2nd unit director on The Phantom Menace which makes sense in a sad way) and he worked on Alien as well, so that’s his specialty I guess, because even Battlefield Earth looked cool every once in a while.

Because I’m down with the Larry Bishop weirdness (an acquired taste, I’m sure), it wasn’t so much the dialogue and events of the story that I had issues with, it was that somewhere along the way I just started getting tired of it. This could’ve probably made an interesting 45-minute short film, but at 90 minutes you just want this guest to leave already, which I guess makes it the cinematic equivalent of me, because I’m a master of not knowing that I should leave already.

I don’t condone this practice, because I think movies should have your complete attention if you’re watching them, but Underworld is the kind of movie that you can have on and occasionally look at while you’re on the Internet or cleaning your place up or something, and you wouldn’t miss a fucking thing.