Ellen Greene

Pump Up the Volume (1990, Allan Moyle)

Everything director Moyle does in Pump Up the Volume builds the rest of the film. It’s not exactly he’s building good will, he’s shaping the possibilities of the film. It makes for a film where you can have a car chase, a comic relief moment, an inspirational message and a quiet character moment all in the same five minutes.

For example, while Christian Slater is definitely the film’s lead, it’s questionable whether or not he’s the protagonist in the traditional sense. He guides the viewer through the film far less than his romantic interest, Samantha Mathis. Moyle isn’t doing a character study or even an epical high school student story. It turns out he’s doing a story about a high school and finding the most interesting people in it, while focusing harder on a couple of them.

The film’s construction is brilliant, down to how to opening titles establish the ground situation and some of Slater’s character. In the first half of the film, Moyle gives Slater a bunch of monologues, which Slater nails, but these sequences are also extremely well-constructed by Moyle and editors Larry Bock and Janice Hampton. They’re transfixing. Volume succeeds because Moyle figures out a way to make Slater’s pirate radio DJ just as compelling to the viewer as the film’s characters.

Slater and Mathis are both fantastic. Lots of great supporting performances–Billy Morrissette, Ellen Greene, Scott Paulin and Annie Ross are standouts.

Moyle crafts Pump Up the Volume precisely and to great success.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Allan Moyle; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; edited by Larry Bock and Janice Hampton; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Robb Wilson King; produced by Rupert Harvey and Sandy Stern; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Christian Slater (Mark Hunter), Samantha Mathis (Nora Diniro), Ellen Greene (Jan Emerson), Scott Paulin (Brian Hunter), Mimi Kennedy (Marla Hunter), Cheryl Pollak (Paige Woodward), Billy Morrissette (Mazz Mazzilli), Andy Romano (Murdock), Anthony Lucero (Malcolm Kaiser), Robert Schenkkan (David Deaver) and Annie Ross (Loretta Creswood).


Léon (1994, Luc Besson), the long version

When he’s doing good work, Luc Besson makes these transcendent films, but even some of his lesser works often have some moments with that quality.

Léon does not.

Many of the elements are there–but something’s off. Maybe it’s something simple, like Jean Reno is supposed to be playing an Italian immigrant who, apparently, just acts really French. Maybe it’s Gary Oldman’s histrionics. But, while both those things are definitely contributors to the film’s general failure, it’s mostly because Besson doesn’t really know what he’s doing with Natalie Portman.

If the film worked, it’d be a brilliant metaphor about her character’s transition into puberty… it’d be the Iron John for girls, only with guns.

And it’s never clear if Besson even realizes he had a real opportunity. One of the major problem’s with Besson’s films are how simplistic he gets when it comes to human emotions. In Léon, he tries hard to talk about emotions as much as possible. But it’s just talk.

Portman’s performance is excellent–so excellent she gave nearly identical performances a couple more times (Beautiful Girls and Heat)–but it should have been clear she didn’t have anywhere else to go. Besson’s characters in Léon are some of his most shallow–quite an achievement since shallowly conceived characters are a Besson staple–but at least Reno and Oldman are somewhat supposed to be ciphers. Portman’s character isn’t, but all the exposition is ludicrous.

Léon‘s a really boring film without much value. But it is competently produced.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Luc Besson; director of photography, Thierry Arbogast; edited by Sylvie Landra; music by Eric Serra; production designer, Dan Weil; produced by Patrice Ledoux; released by Gaumont.

Starring Jean Reno (Léon), Gary Oldman (Stansfield), Natalie Portman (Mathilda), Danny Aiello (Tony), Peter Appel (Malky), Willi One Blood (1st Stansfield man), Don Creech (2nd Stansfield man), Keith A. Glascoe (3rd Stansfield man), Randolph Scott (4th Stansfield man), Michael Badalucco (Mathilda’s Father), Ellen Greene (Mathilda’s Mother), Elizabeth Regen (Mathilda’s Sister), Carl J. Matusovich (Mathilda’s Brother) and Frank Senger (Fatman).


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