Grosse Pointe Blank: A Perfect Dark Comedy – Amazon Review (Day 22)

The final audience selection happens to be one of my favorite movies. 

SUMMARY

Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a professional hitman whose latest job was botched by a rival killer named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who wishes to form a hitman’s union. Martin’s assistant, Marcella (Joan Cusack), lets him know that he’s been invited to his 10 year high school reunion, which he rejects. Martin finds out that his next job is going to be in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, at the same time as the reunion. Martin sees his therapist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who convinces him to go as a way of dealing with his growing apathy towards contract killing. 

Two stone-cold killers.

In Grosse Pointe, Martin meets his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) and his ex-girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver), who is now the local DJ. Martin had left Debi at the Prom their Senior Year because he freaked out and joined the Army. He goes to visit his mother (Barbara Harris), who is suffering from dementia, and finds that his former home has been bulldozed and replaced by a mini-mart. Grocer discovers that his clients have given the Grosse Pointe job to Martin, so Grocer leaks Martin’s whereabouts to two NSA agents (K. Todd Freeman and Hank Azaria). Also, due to Martin accidentally killing a dog during a previous job, a hitman named LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez) arrives in town to try and kill Blank. Despite all of this, Martin repeatedly postpones the hit, or even opening the folder to learn his target’s identity. Whenever anyone asks what happened to Martin, he tells them that he’s a hitman. They always believe him to be joking.

The old flame still burns hot.

Martin meets up with Debi again and asks her to go with him to the reunion. When he picks her up, he meets with her father, Bart (Mitchell Ryan), who mostly ignores Martin. At the reunion, Martin and Debi meet with some old classmates and exchange fun moments. After the pair have sex in a private room at the school, Martin is attacked by LaPoubelle, whom he kills in self-defense. Debi finds Martin with the body and leaves, but Paul helps Martin dispose of the corpse. Debi later confronts Martin, who reveals that when he joined the Army, they said he had a special “moral flexibility” which made him attractive to the CIA. The CIA then made Martin an assassin until he left. Martin’s attempts to rationalize his work only drive her away.

“I swear, it’s not what it looks like. I just killed him.”

Martin has an emotional breakthrough after talking to Debi and decides to quit, having Marcella destroy the office. He finally opens the target information and is shocked to find that it’s Debi’s father, Bart, who was set to testify against some of Martin’s clients. Grocer tries to kill Martin along with his union assassins, but Martin kills them all, as well as the NSA agents. Martin proposes to Debi, who doesn’t respond. Later, it’s revealed that the two are leaving Grosse Pointe together, trying to give their relationship one last shot.

END SUMMARY

This was narrowly the most nominated film of the final audience poll, which was also the poll with the most nominations (totalling 140, including duplicates). Unfortunately, Grosse Pointe Blank was also, originally, going to be my choice for Best Soundtrack, so I had to replace that day with Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, which worked out fine. This way I got to do two of my favorite films and support democracy in the process. 

Democracy and guns. The American way.

I consider this film to be one of the pinnacles of dark comedy and it sets that tone immediately. The film opens with the song “I Can See Clearly Now” playing while Martin is having a casual conversation with Marcella, only for him to reveal a sniper rifle. It appears that Martin is supposed to kill a person leaving the building, only for him to actually be protecting that person, having him kill another assassin when the song crescendos to “Bright, Bright Sunshine-y Day.” Immediately after this, Martin, confident that the job is done, turns away from the window, only for Dan Aykroyd to come out and murder the target anyway. It’s a series of humorous, albeit dark, subversions that are only elevated by the soundtrack choice. That’s pretty much the entire movie wrapped up in a nutshell, and it works amazingly well. Later, you get the same feeling from a shootout to “Ace of Spades” by Motörhead.

Because of the tone, this film constantly had to walk a fine line. You had to make Martin Blank simultaneously likable enough that we want to root for him, but also the kind of person that would become a contract killer in the first place. That’s what makes Doctor Oatman such a great element to this movie (aside from giving us an excuse to see Alan Arkin), because it allows Blank to try and speak honestly about how he justifies his career to himself. He tries to constantly talk his way around it, including cliches like “what a person does for a living is not a reflection of who he is,” but Oatman always treats Martin’s job like what it is: Killing people. The fact that Martin keeps going back to him shows that Martin is actually trying to force the reality of what he does onto himself in an attempt to quit. With anyone less charming or less able to deliver the lines with sincerity than John Cusack, this movie would fail completely, but Cusack constantly represents both a cold and calculating murderer and also a sad human being who is wracked with regrets that he covers up with quips.

Including this masterpiece.

Minnie Driver’s performance as Debi is almost equally nuanced. She’s the person who has never quite gotten over the one that got away. She’s been hurt, and we find out that she’s even tried to get past it, even being married briefly, but that she never had the connection with anyone else that she had with Martin. When he comes back, she is conflicted between her desire to give him another shot and her undeniable attraction to him. If it weren’t for Driver’s ability to look like she’s always trying to restrain herself throughout the film, it wouldn’t work. Instead, we understand when she gives in and kisses Martin, but also when she’s trying to keep herself from doing so. 

Plus she has great taste in music.

The supporting cast is also amazing. Joan Cusack, whose banter with John is colored just a little in just the right way by their real-life familial relationship, plays the perfect assistant, never judging her boss, but always wanting to help him as both a hitman and a person. Dan Aykroyd brings a comic flair to an antagonist, so much that you almost can’t hate him for what he does. The concept of a hitman who wants to unionize the profession seems laughable, but Aykroyd’s off-kilter performance makes you believe that if there was a person who would try it, it’s him. Jeremy Piven’s character almost seems like a predecessor to his role as Ari Gold on Entourage. He’s always trying to make himself seem bigger and more interesting than he is, but when you need someone to help you move a body, he’s there. Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman are great as a pair of Federal agents with differing opinions about how the justice system works, and who also just enjoy messing with Blank. Alan Arkin is a treasure as always.

I wouldn’t have thought Aykroyd had it in him if I hadn’t seen this.

The script is amazing. Just like with Cusack’s performance, it has to walk a thin line, but it does it beautifully. It’s filled with great lines that reveal more about our characters while also deepening the portrayal. Most of Blank’s lines are dark jokes referencing his past or present, including making quick threats against Doctor Oatman or trying to tell everyone he meets about the truth of his circumstances. The movie trusts its audience to follow along at a fairly rapid pace, but it gives you just enough time to breathe before the gunfights to catch up.

Such a great source of fun lines.

Then there’s the soundtrack. The soundtrack was composed by Joe Strummer from the Clash and includes a great mix of 1980s and 1990s hits. Pretty much the entire movie has some contemporary song playing either in the background or over the scene, resulting in so many songs being featured that there are two soundtrack albums with a full baker’s dozen left unreleased. Throughout much of the film, the music complements the scene, including an amazing use of “99 Red Balloons” during an almost slapstick-esque body disposal. It both evokes the same nostalgia that the characters are feeling throughout the events and also heightens the ironic tone of many of the scenes.

Overall, this film is just brilliant. I recommend seeing it if you haven’t. It’s worth the $3 rental. Or wait for it to come back on Netflix.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Rocketeer: An Underappreciated Superhero Story – Disney+ Review (Day 13)

I take a look at a movie I loved from my childhood that wasn’t quite right for its time period.

SUMMARY

Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a pilot in 1938. While testing a new plane, he accidentally encounters a car chase between the FBI and the mobsters of Eddie Valentine’s (Paul Sorvino) gang, resulting in the plane being hit by gunfire and crashing. When he and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) return to their hangar, they discover that one of the mobsters hid their loot there: A prototype jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). It turns out that the mobsters had been hired by swashbuckling film star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) who sends his giant henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor) to find the missing rocket. By coincidence, Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) is set to be a bit part in Sinclair’s next film. When Cliff, apologizing for a recent fight, comes to talk to her, Sinclair overhears him mention the rocket. 

It was a bad crash.

At a local air show, Cliff uses the rocket pack and a finned helmet designed by Peevy to rescue another pilot, leading the press to dub him “The Rocketeer.” However, this alerts Sinclair, the FBI, Hughes, and the Mob that the rocket has been found. Lothar kills Cliff’s employer Otis Bigelow (Jon Polito) and attacks Cliff and Peevy. The FBI arrives and drives Lothar off, but Lothar steals Peevy’s schematics for the rocket. Cliff and Peevy try to hide at a diner, but the mobsters find the pair. They discover that Sinclair is taking Jenny to dinner and leave to attack the pair, with Cliff following by rocket. However, the rocket was damaged, so Peevy patches it with a piece of Cliff’s lucky gum. 

Lothar is one of the most ridiculous and awesome parts of this film.

Cliff tries to get Jenny away from Sinclair, but the Mob arrives and Sinclair kidnaps her. At his home, Jenny discovers that Sinclair is actually a Nazi sleeper agent. The FBI pick up Cliff and Peevy and introduce them to Hughes, who informs the pair that the Nazis have plans to build an army of jetpacks, but have so far been unable to develop a successful prototype. Hughes demands the rocket back, but Cliff escapes and confronts Sinclair and the Mob. However, Sinclair is surprised when Valentine and his goons immediately switch sides due to their patriotism. German forces surround the group, but the FBI arrives and the combined forces of the mafia and the Feds drive Sinclair onto a Nazi blimp. Cliff flies to the blimp and fights the Nazis. Ultimately, he rigs the rocket to explode by removing the gum after handing it over to Sinclair. Sinclair explodes, destroying the LAND from the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, and Jenny and Cliff are saved by Peevy and Hughes. Later, Peevy finds his blueprints and decides that he could build another rocket pack. 

END SUMMARY

This one was picked by one of my cousins (the one I’m closest to), because my brother could not be trusted to give a suggestion that wasn’t “Debbie Does Dallas” (which he suggested 3 times). I could have asked my sister, but as she was slightly older than me, we didn’t watch a lot of movies together. Also, I already did Dirty Dancing. When we were little, my cousin and I would watch this film all the time and it’s still one of my favorite memories, so I think this was appropriate for the category. The only movie that was more appropriate was already selected for later this week. 

I always wanted to see the movie Dalton was making in this.

This film is the pinnacle of “should have worked.” When I rewatched it for this challenge and tried to be a little more objective, I realized that there were definitely flaws in the movie, but not enough that it should have been the “flop” that Disney seemed to judge it to be. I think it’s less to do with the movie and more to do with when it was released. See, this movie came out in 1991, shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze came out and the week after Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This means that the little kids had a movie they’d rather see (this was the height of Turtlemania) and the older kids had a movie they’d rather see. This movie was not quite as lighthearted as the former, nor as dark as the latter, and not attached to an existing property like either one of those. 

The movie didn’t have enough Rocket Car.

The strange thing is that the tone of this film is very similar to the tone of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It has a number of legitimately dark moments, usually involving Lothar and his tendency to mangle people, but largely has a hefty dose of quippy comedy lines combined with some slapstick to keep it light. Add in the 1930s setting and the Nazi enemies and the film actually feels pretty similar to Captain America: The First Avenger mixed with the classic Pulp Serials of the 1930s. Given that The First Avenger was directed by the same person that made this movie, that really is understandable. It’s definitely a popcorn movie, even compared to the MCU, but it’s still a fun film if you’re willing to just enjoy the camp.

The “this is my new symbol” moment.

Cliff is a likable protagonist, although he tends to suffer a bit due to his blandness. While I know people probably blame Billy Campbell for that, it’s more the fact that his character is a little too good at times. Yes, he’s a little selfish and forgettable, but he always has an “aw, shucks” aspect that keeps him pretty monotone. Jennifer Connelly’s role is similar, and she suffers a little bit of damsel syndrome, lacking almost any active control over her story arc. Alan Arkin’s Peevy is a memorable part of the movie and he’s such a good actor that he manages to perfectly blend the comic relief, tech genius, and elderly mentor roles into one solid character. However, I think the most notable part of the film is Timothy Dalton. Dalton absolutely chews the scenery in the best way possible as a pastiche of Errol Flynn, but then, when his actual allegiances are present, he starts being the over-the-top mustache-twirling Nazi you want in a movie. 

He threatens Paul Sorvino with a sword, which is a baller move.

The special effects in the film haven’t aged great, but they don’t take you out of the movie. Some of the uses of the rocket are pretty clever and they make for great sight gags. The backgrounds and sets in the movie all seem a little intentionally cheap as a tribute to old-school films, but they’re still stylistically appropriate.  

Has a great “rah-rah, America” moment. Cuz Nazis suck.

There are a few flaws in the movie, though. First, some of the jokes or the killings are a little more “adult” than the rest of the movie. Not that they’d be out of place in most modern superhero films, but for this time period they were not typical. Second, the film is a bit too long. It’s 108 minutes and, honestly, has a bit too much exposition. It should really be cut down to around 90 minutes. 

Overall, though, this movie was really solid and maybe even a little ahead of its time. If you didn’t watch it when you were a kid, you should watch it now.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.