Paul Gleason

Miami Blues (1990, George Armitage)

Besides an absurd reliance on flip and pan transitions, director Armitage does an often excellent job directing Miami Blues. His script–adapting a novel, so who knows how much is his fault–is a different story. Blues is the story of a charismatic psychopath (Alec Baldwin) fresh from prison who wrecks havoc in the Miami area. The Blues in the title must be for Fred Ward, who plays the unlucky cop who’s trailing him.

Armitage, Baldwin and Ward all play Blues like half a comedy. Ward does the joke well, but Baldwin’s disastrous at it. His performance as a psychopath is so strong, it kills all the humor possibilities. Or maybe Armitage is just an incompetent director and didn’t mean to direct the scenes funny. Though that explanation seems unlikely, especially since the film opens and closes on a smile.

In this strange mix is Jennifer Jason Leigh. While Ward’s good and Baldwin’s problematic (but technically good), Leigh is astoundingly great as the dimwitted hooker who falls for Baldwin. Leigh’s so good, she makes Blues worth a viewing. Had Armitage followed Leigh (or Ward) instead of Baldwin, the film would have been a lot better.

The rest of the supporting cast–no one else has much screen time–is excellent. Nora Dunn and Charles Napier play Ward’s colleagues, Bobo Lewis is great as Baldwin’s landlord and Paul Gleason has a little part.

While Armitage’s best directorial moments come early–and lessen the disappointment of the middling script–Leigh never disappoints.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Armitage; screenplay by Armitage, based on the novel by Charles Willeford; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Craig McKay; music by Gary Chang; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Jonathan Demme and Gary Goetzman; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Alec Baldwin (Junior), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Pepper), Fred Ward (Sgt. Hoke Moseley), Nora Dunn (Ellita Sanchez), Charles Napier (Sgt. Bill Henderson), Shirley Stoler (Edie Wulgemuth), Bobo Lewis (Edna Damrosch), Obba Babatundé (Blink Willie), Gary Howard Klar (Head Bookie), José Pérez (Pablo) and Paul Gleason (Sgt. Frank Lackley).


Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan)

Talking about Die Hard is complicated for lots of reasons. Besides Aliens, I think it’s the best popular action film ever made and, given when it came out, it’s very familiar. It shouldn’t be full of surprises and, in many ways, is not (though Theo and Karl having a bet on Takagi is something new to me. So instead, when watching it, it’s an appreciatory experience, rather than a–it’s still critical, but since I’m not looking to assign a value, since I know the value, I’m trying to understand how it works.

Die Hard features brutal, terrible villains. Not at all likable, but there’s almost a Helsinki syndrome with them. Theo’s funny, Karl’s crazy, Hans is great to watch. The bad guys prove more entertaining than the “good guys,” with the standard exceptions of Willis and Reginald VelJohnson. That level is always in the film, regardless of what number viewing a person is having. The “Die Hard on a dot dot dot” action movie, which has almost become every action movie (except, oddly the last two Die Hard sequels), ignores the most interesting parts of the film. Villains who are fun to watch not because of their villainy, but because the characters are bad, but entertaining. There’s also the question of the short present action. The movie starts with Willis getting there and ends with him leaving. The situation (Willis visiting estranged wife) provides for a perfect exploration of the characters, without needless exposition.

But there’s also the developing relationships through the film. The dumb cop eventually becoming… friendly (only after the dumber FBI agents show up). McTiernan directs a confined story better than anyone I can think of–because he inserts the viewer in the building with the characters… But the viewer isn’t tied down to Willis, the viewer gets to move….

There’s an element of privilege to the film. Lots of the moments Willis gets–the quiet ones–are privileged moments (which makes the lack of respect for his acting at this point in his career a tad surprising), but they don’t compare to some of the other ones. Like when Bedelia sees her practically demolished husband at the end. Just her expression brings Die Hard to a level of reality, even with the jokes, even with explosions, very few films–none featuring off-duty cops with automatic weapons–ever reach. The film encompasses the viewer in a singular way, something none of the imitators (or sequels) could duplicate.

Obviously, Rickman is outstanding and Willis is great–the most interesting thing about the two is the lack of desperate struggle. By giving Willis Alexander Godunov as a nemesis, his relationship with Rickman becomes far more interesting. Godunov is, of course, a joy to watch.

I think the only acting surprise was De’voreaux White, who I never think about doing a great job, but does.

McTiernan’s never duplicated the quality, influence or depth of Die Hard–the understanding of people relating to one another–but then, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have never even come close… because another sterling aspect of the film is the conversations between the characters.

I didn’t do a particularly good job with this post but I don’t have to. Because Die Hard is, to quote a friend (on a different subject), undeniable. And because, once the experience is over… it’s hard to talk about.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, based on a novel by Roderick Thorp; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by John F. Link and Frank J. Urioste; music by Michael Kamen; production designer, Jackson De Govia; produced by Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), Reginald VelJohnson (Sgt. Al Powell), Alexander Godunov (Karl), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennero McClane), Paul Gleason (Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson), William Atherton (Richard Thornburg), De’voreaux White (Argyle), Hart Bochner (Harry Ellis), Dennis Hayden (Eddie), Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Theo), James Shigeta (Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi), Robert Davi (FBI Special Agent Johnson) and Grand L. Bush (FBI Agent Johnson).


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