Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Bruce Willis

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Bruce Willis: what kind of hero are you?

Movie: Die Hard (Own it)

Last time on Movie Web Monday I explained how Die Hard was a new type of action movie from the standard fare of the late 70s and 80s. Alan Rickman's new refined and competent take on the action mastermind helped to establish this, but it would've been for naught if it wasn't featured opposite Bruce Willis as John McClane. McClane is a new type of anti-hero, a reluctant jack-of-all-trades, that strictly contrasts the charismatic uber-men of previous installments in the genre. He's not a hulking, over-muscled GI Joe type, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or Jean Claude van Damme. Nor is he an especially handsome, debonair Kirk type, like Harrison Ford, Tom Selleck, or Sean Connery. He's not over-the-hill but just past his prime, as is indicated by his grappling with jet-lag at the beginning of the movie. Do you think Dutch makes fists with his toes? Hell no, but he can make fist with his testosterone-filled pectoral muscles. McClane is also somewhat emasculated at the beginning of the movie, lugging around an over-sized teddy bear and trying to smooth things over with his career-minded, maiden-name-using wife. Would Han Solo do that? Naw, he'd insult her and then make out with her in the hyperdrive core. But McClane does, because he's that guy. Die Hard on its own doesn't try to make McClane out to be the best at any particular thing--he just happens to be a guy who does the right thing the wrong way at the right time. And, unlike previous movies with similar characters, he calls out these moments in a way that hugs the fourth wall and gives it a creepy-uncle wet kiss on the cheek. Like when he's evading the bad guys by crawling through the air ducts, already very torn up but only about half-way to the walking hamburger he'll be at film's end:

Indiana Jones? He gets messed up, sure. He might even get sarcastic about it when he and Marion are relaxing by massaging his wounds. But he doesn't climb onto the parapet of a German castle, lash his whip to swing across a chasm, and intone 'How could the same s--- be happening to the same guy twice?' That's pure McClane, baby. And, even though John McClane isn't treated as a particularly charismatic guy in the Die Hard movies, Bruce Willis is. His perfect delivery of the posturing, machismo one-liners and the petulant, resentful soliloquies are both so impressive and endearing, that we can appreciate and esteem John McClane just as if he were the immaculate hero of previous movies.

And all the while, audiences overlook that Bruce is prematurely balding. You go, Willis. That's what I'm talking about.

Movie: Look Who's Talking (Own it)

Speaking of bald roles, we have Look Who's Talking. This is one of those movies, along with Star Wars and Kindergarten Cop, that I have no recollection of ever having not seen. And back in the day, man was I confused about the conception sequence in the beginning of the movie. I think at the time I thought it was some kind of sci-fi battle sequence, because I enjoyed it even in my ignorance, and that's what I associated Fantastic Voyage with, as well. Nowadays, this movie is a quaint little farce that totally glosses over the nasty reality of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a newborn. And I love it. Almost purely based on Bruce Willis' voice-over work for Mikey, the titular talking baby, this movie is ingrained into my mind. The sarcastic, blunt, and always cute scripting of how pre-natal and post-natal infants might identify and address the world is always fun for me. There are a lot of great lines, including when Mikey back-talks to his dead-beat dad, but the absolute best is when he is first born and immediately begins screaming:

Overall, the movie is pretty saccharine, despite the somewhat seedy elements of the plot. Kirstie Alley and John Travolta lend some solid support, too, but this is really Bruce Willis' movie. His voice work is youthful, innocent, and naive. Not bad for a thirty-four year-old, which makes me surprised he hasn't done more voice work.

Movie: The Sixth Sense (Rent it)

No spoilers here. Out of respect.

The Sixth Sense is the premier--and paragon--of M. Night Shyamalan's formulaic movie-making style. For some, it is the best of his films. And for a few, it is the only one of his movies that really succeeded--largely because no one was looking for his canned twist ending. But for me, it is a fairly underwhelming movie that never had a chance to wow me. All thanks to Tim, from my eighth grade class. Tim liked to mock and rehash movies--it was part of his way of enjoying the film--and he must have enjoyed the movie a lot. Within the first month of the movie, I'd heard him say 'I feel much better now' and mock-regurgitate at least a dozen times.

Needless to say, there was no twist ending for me when I finally saw The Sixth Sense.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. There's a solid artistic beauty to the film for which--if I didn't know better--I'd admire Shyamalan as a cinematic genius. The dramatic, inevitable camera angles, the vibrant colors that are used almost precisely enough to be painted contribute to making The Sixth Sense feel like a surreal dream experience. And Bruce Willis, with a sort of coldly detached confusion, really sells the hollow healer angle. In keeping with being a non-traditional hero, his character, Dr. Malcom Crowe, is characterized not only by his previous failure, but he's got a stalking vibe going on with his (really) estranged wife. It's this interesting dynamic that elicits my favorite The Sixth Sense line. Malcolm is in the basement when he sees one of his wife's co-workers on the street. After checking in with her, the younger hopeful debates whether to go back and ask her out. Passive-aggressive Malcolm's commentary:

Oh yeah, invoking the most holy incarnation of dairy and the male reproductive organ to insult someone. Malcolm Crowe is my kind of guy. It's a nice moment that highlights the dry humor that really strengthens Shyamalan's earlier movies--this isn't a thigh-slapping moment. You chuckle at the humor while recognizing that something is deeply wrong with the scene and the characters involved.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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