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Tony Scott (#110 of 13)

Summer of ’90 Days of Thunder

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Summer of ’90: Days of Thunder

Paramount Pictures

Summer of ’90: Days of Thunder

I was just a little tyke when Days of Thunder opened in June of 1990, still vroom-vrooming toy cars on the beige carpet of my parents’ living room and in need of an occasional diaper change. That description also fits director Tony Scott’s film, which routinely resembles what would happen if a dozen dudes who like to slug cheap beer and talk about engine pistons were given $60 million to make a masturbatory fantasy about stock car racing. However, to say Days of Thunder is about anything more than ego tripping gives Scott and screenwriter Robert Towne too much credit. Towne frontloads the script with endless racing jargon and Scott’s got his trusty filter collection on his right hip, drawing monochromatic reds, blues, and greens as fast as thunder, er, lightning, which muffles and masks the film’s core, male melodrama.

The American flag. The Confederate flag. The Pepsi flag. All fly at full mast during the film’s opening credits through a succession of shots that would function as auto-critique of national-cum-corporate exploitation were they not part and parcel with producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s own, still freshly minted brand of hyper-capitalist blockbuster cinema. Bruckheimer’s corporate circle-jerking is even fluidly integrated into Towne’s script: When Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) explains his orientation to racing, he mentions how “the coverage on ESPN is excellent.” Cruise’s boyish bravado naturalizes the rep, another tacit formation of the Bruckheimer mold, where charisma compliments commerce and obfuscates insidious dealings in conglomerate mitosis.

Summer of ‘89: For Queen and Country

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Summer of ‘89: <em>For Queen and Country</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>For Queen and Country</em>

Early in his career, Denzel Washington played characters that often found themselves embedded within an environment of significant political import. In 1986’s Power, his Arnold Billing stood in the way of an ambitious media consultant played by Richard Gere; in 1987’s Cry Freedom, he received an Oscar nomination for portraying political activist Steve Biko; and 1989’s The Mighty Quinn suggested a more multi-faceted Washington, an actor capable of the charisma, humor, energy, and virility he would come to be best known for in the films of Spike Lee and Tony Scott. Thus, it’s unsurprising given such precedence that For Queen and Country found Washington inhabiting a role that requires a quieter, less fiery energy, often in service of a narrative that has little clue as to how such dynamism could be utilized. It would be a year later, in Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, before Washington’s talents would be fully actualized.

Perhaps it’s fortunate for Washington’s career, then, that For Queen and Country was both a commercial and financial failure. Critics generally praised Washington while denigrating the film, which makes sense because director Martin Stellman, perhaps previously best known as a credited screenwriter for 1979’s Quadrophenia, addresses the racism inherent to Britain’s 1981 Nationality Law, which denied citizenship to those born in the West Indies, as fodder for the most banal sort of, what film scholar James Naremore calls, “male melodrama.”

Summer of ’88: Dead Heat - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops
Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

Believe it or not, there’s an interesting idea lurking inside Dead Heat. It arrives too late to save the viewer, but it should have been the pitch that got this film made. Rather than focus on the one-sentence plot description (“It’s a buddy cop picture where one of the buddies is D-E-D-Dead!”), writer Terry Black should have lead with the reason the machine that reanimates corpses exists. During the climax, mad-scientist Vincent Price explains to his rich investors that his machine will reanimate them after death so they can live forever and screw their heirs out of their inheritance. The machine will also perform maintenance on them so they can look their best, while those greedy bastards they sired wither away and die. “That’s a great idea!” I thought. “This is Death Becomes Her before Death Becomes Her became Death Becomes Her!”

Unfortunately, this development comes out of left field and is quickly discarded in the ensuing climactic carnage. Until this point, the machine was being used to create an indestructible race of jewel thieves. Two of these creatures are seen in the opening of the film, appearing just as a snooty rich woman utters, “I was hoping for a little more suspense.” She’s talking about jewelry, but she’s also echoing the audience’s sentiment. Dead Heat bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s not gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds, and it isn’t intentionally funny at all. It keeps the sad promises offered by the familiar red New World Pictures logo that graced similar ’80s output: sober people with little time on their hands need not apply, as this one’s for bored drunks on lonely Saturday nights.

As the zombie robbers smash and grab, detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) appear on the scene…along with half the police department. The criminals are shot 40,000 times but will…not…die. Mortis, Bigelow, and their cop brethren respond to this far too calmly. “Maybe they’re on PCP,” says one cop. Nobody thinks to shoot them in the head, though one is blown up by a grenade. “You have the right to remain…disgusting!” says Bigelow to the exploded corpse.

15 Famous Detroit Movies

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15 Famous Detroit Movies
15 Famous Detroit Movies

This weekend’s hot doc is Detropia, the latest from Jesus Camp directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. A painterly ode to a recession-ravaged empire, the movie explores the rock-bottom state of Detroit, and questions whether or not it has the stuff to rebuild itself. A unique metropolis, Motor City is one offbeat cinematic setting, far from the glamor of New York and the commonness of Toronto, Hollywood’s go-to stand-in town. Only a handful of films have been set in Detroit (and even fewer have actually been filmed there), but we scrounged up an eclectic selection, boasting the likes of Clint Eastwood, Carl Weathers, Warren Beatty, and Eminem.

True/False Film Fest 2011: Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times, The Redemption of General Butt Naked, Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, and Life in a Day

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True/False Film Fest 2011: <em>Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times</em>, <em>The Redemption of General Butt Naked</em>, <em>Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure</em>, and <em>Life in a Day</em>
True/False Film Fest 2011: <em>Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times</em>, <em>The Redemption of General Butt Naked</em>, <em>Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure</em>, and <em>Life in a Day</em>

Slick, evenhanded, and absorbing, Andrew Rossi’s Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times explores the evolving dilemma of what happens when the paper of record is required to become a leading member of the web-driven 24-hour news cycle. Tracking a series of breaking news and meatier, investigative stories (including Sam Zell’s calamitous takeover of the Chicago Tribune and Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’s tenuous partnership with the paper), Rossi makes a fine case for the New York Times’s world-class coverage (not to mention the crippling costs of maintaining it) without shying away from the perhaps-unreasonable demands of an era of instant analysis. Focusing on the paper’s media department (home to intelligent, irrepressible personalities like David Carr, blogger-turned-journo Brian Stelter, and editor Bruce Headlam), Rossi forces his characters to confront the paper’s embattled future; their optimism, even when deluded (who oh who will pony up for the paywall?), is reassuring.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions Sound Editing

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Sound Editing

In the five years since this category, which was previous known as Best Sound Effects, was bumped up from three to five nominations, it has matched up with the Best Sound Mixing slate for four out of those five slots every year. Except this year. Only Inception and, somewhat more puzzlingly, True Grit managed nominations in both fields this year. Which either goes to show the ever-widening quality gulf between the sort of effects-laden blockbusters that get cited here and the more nuanced work that earns nominations in the other category. Yeah, yeah, Salt, which got nominated for Sound Mixing, is a dozen times worse—and noisier—than any movie nominated here this year. No one said the patterns were infallible. Especially not this year, in our confusing, post-The Hurt Locker era.