Wednesday, April 11, 2012

And now, something interesting someone else wrote about a work that's represented in my "Ask for Babs" mix: Midnight Run

There was this weirdo Southern-accented Internet film critic in San Jose named Steve Rhodes who always wore brown Cosby sweaters and looked like the guy whose head blew up at the beginning of Scanners. He was always seen at press screenings talking into pay phones. So whenever I see an old-timey pay phone, I'm reminded of Steve Rhodes, who would make for a great Halloween costume someday.
Why did I put together a 67-minute DJ mix about Universal, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary (the official anniversary date is April 30)? Because Universal was the studio that Spike Lee turned to when Paramount wanted him to change the ending of Do the Right Thing, and Universal simply said, "Don't change it." And when Martin Brest wanted to make Midnight Run with difficult-to-work-with, not-exactly-a-box-office-draw-anymore Charles Grodin as The Duke because he saw in Grodin a certain something he couldn't see in other stars if they played The Duke, Paramount kept insisting to Brest that he hire Cher (WTF?) or Robin Williams instead. But not Universal. They said yes to the casting of Grodin.

Do the Right Thing and Midnight Run are two of my favorite movies, and I know my "Ask for Babs" mix makes it look like I'm fawning over a corporation, but Universal is a major reason why those movies are two of my favorites. They didn't interfere with what Lee and Brest wanted to accomplish with their respective works.

And why am I doing so many posts about the Universal movies that are referenced in my "Ask for Babs" mix? I want some more people to listen to the mix. It's not attracting as many people as say, HitFix TV critic Alan Sepinwall's blog posts do.

Sepinwall, whom I once had the honor of running into at a very small line at Comic-Con while waiting to get a graphic novel purchase signed (I had forgotten what Sepinwall looked like, so I didn't realize it was him until he introduced himself to the novel's author), does many of the best recaps of Mad Men and Community, and long before Mad Men, his weekly analysis of The Wire was the best. There's a Sepinwallism I've picked up from reading so many of his recaps. It's this.(*) It sometimes irritates me if he does it more than once in a recap, and I hate that I picked it up from him for a while. It's a habit I recently got rid of.

(*) Putting asterisked footnotes between paragraphs instead of placing them where they belong: at the very bottom of the article. I've started putting all footnotes at the bottom again.

This Sepinwallism can make his posts have a bizarre and choppy flow(**) to them. The placement of footnotes between grafs makes it feel like Pop-Up Video, the show that turned viewers into experts on important sociopolitical concerns like the making of Lionel Richie's 1983 "Hello" video, is invading my reading.

(**) Like Das EFX's "diggity-diggity" flow, which every other rapper started biting in 1992 before finding it to be passé in 1993.

Sepinwall is an excellent writer, but if a post of his is interrupted by five of these asides--hello!(***)--instead of just one or two, it can be a little frustrating. However, I've learned to live with it. To borrow a memorable line from a drama Sepinwall used to cover, I've learned to let Sepinwall be Sepinwall.

(***) The not-so-blind actress who played Laura, Lionel Richie's blind object of desire, was always mistaken for being blind by people on the street.

I especially like how Sepinwall is a Midnight Run fan. He's blogged at length about the 1988 movie twice.

An AFOS listener once whined on my Facebook wall about having to hear so many selections from Danny Elfman's Midnight Run score get shuffled by AFOS in one day. The reason why there are so many selections from Midnight Run in rotation is because I adore Midnight Run and its score, moron #1. The dismissal by some people of Midnight Run as just another lousy buddy movie (it isn't, moron #2, moron #3 and moron #4), as well as the fact that film and TV score album labels like La-La Land or Intrada haven't reissued the film's out-of-print score, which, for a couple of years, was ubiquitous in movie trailers, are examples of how underappreciated the film has been since its release (even though home video made it popular enough to spawn a series of '90s TV-movies starring Christopher McDonald as Jack Walsh).

When I discovered this delightfully foul-mouthed, mostly improvised road movie and its score in 1989, a few months after the movie had to compete with the likes of Die Hard and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in theaters and ended up getting lost in the summer shuffle, I felt like the only kid in the world who loved Midnight Run (I even read the novelization, which must have been adapted from a really early version of George Gallo's script because the book depicted Jack as a total racist, a trait that was eliminated from the movie). It's fantastic to see I wasn't alone in 1989:
Here's the thing: if "Midnight Run" was just an action comedy about an odd couple joined at the wrist while dodging bullets across the country, it would still be a fun, memorable movie. But what's always elevated it above that, to me, are a pair of scenes, with the first and most important being Jack's visit to his ex-wife Gail's house in Chicago. It starts out funny, with The Duke telling Gail's young son that he's a white collar criminal, then turns ugly as Jack and Gail relive the same old arguments for the 5000th time, then goes heartbreaking when the daughter Jack hasn't seen in nine years appears in the door and, like flipping a switch, stops the argument in an instant…

In that moment, you feel the weight of every single thing Jack has lost and how far he's fallen, and then once you connect Serrano to Jack, it becomes a redemption story. You don't want Jack to bring The Duke to jail and set him up to be killed, but you do want Jack to get a win, badly.

And not only does that scene give much greater heft to Jack's character, but to the relationship between the two men. From that moment on, while they still fight and curse and claw and argue, it's different. The Duke saw a part of Jack Walsh that very few people have ever seen, and he was quiet and respectful in that moment (and never once brings her up again, even though it would be so easy to push Jack's buttons that way), and Jack respects and appreciates him in turn for that…

And here's the other big dramatic moment, as Serrano finally comes face to face with the man who embezzled millions from him and gave it to charity. To this point, it's not like the stakes of the movie have been low - Jack and The Duke have been shot at and beaten up many, many times over - but the violence was all on some level cartoonish (again, see Jack and the helicopter) and Serrano was mostly used as comic relief, showing up for 30 seconds at a time to threaten to hurt someone in an amusing way. But when he gets into the back of that car with The Duke, there's nothing funny happening. This is stone-cold, sincere menace (the added promise to kill The Duke's wife is a nice touch), it is a man who will do anything to hurt the characters we've grown to like, and it makes the tension of the airport scene that follows so much more palpable than if Serrano was always played for comedy…

And this post is now at least one week later and a thousand words longer than I had planned. (And that's without even going into other parts of the movie, like Danny Elfman's marvelous blues-y score, which I will listen to if the writer's block is really hitting me hard.) There's really no point to writing 3000+ words about a two-week-old screening of a 23-year-old movie. But it's the movie I love watching most in all the world. And every now and then it's nice to be able to articulate the many reasons why.

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