Some Thoughts on Tony Scott (1944-2012)

If you haven’t heard, Tony Scott, the film director, passed away yesterday after committing suicide. Reports now indicate that he had inoperable brain cancer.

Author note: I’m not terribly good at this sort of thing. Just know that what I’m about to write isn’t intended to be crass, pandering, or insensitive. I sincerely mean what I say.

In my opinion, Tony Scott had a pretty unfair run with the critics. Sure his movies made lots of money and plenty of the general public loved his movies (myself included).

Of course Tony Scott’s movies were flashy, and “popcorn-y.” But he was the best at that sort of filmmaking. We tend to forget that one function of cinema is to offer entertainment. It’s to offer a ride. It’s a way to forget about the world around you and have a fun time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Scott was the best at making those sorts of movies.

These sorts of movies are what earned him the unfair reputation of being all style and no substance. But that’s not entirely correct. There’s a darkness, a seriousness, a grittiness underlying all of Scott’s best movies. If you peel back the style layer of movies like The Last Boy Scout, or True Romance, or Man on Fire, or Enemy of the State, you see that there is a purpose, there is meaning, there is a reason why, there is substance to these stories.

Ironically, the same critics who would blast Scott for having all style and nothing underneath, themselves would fall into a pattern of only relying that complaint to lodge against each of his movies. In other words, the argument of “all style and no substance” is itself an empty criticism. Because it was a lazy complaint to fall back on.

The point is, many of Scott’s films had more to say, and more substance than they were given credit for.

Two of the best examples of Scott firing on all cylinders are The Last Boy Scout and True Romance. The thing about both of these movies is that each had a writer who had the such a strong sense of style, it synced up with Scott.

For The Last Boy Scout, it was Shane Black.  I’ve written about The Last Boy Scout Before, but it bears repeating. The movie is an unsung masterpiece. It is at times both a critique and celebration of early 90s action cinema. Part of its genius comes from the fact that Scott and Black are two of the architects of late 80s/early 90s action movies. If you’re gonna make a statement about something, who better than the ones who helped create it? The movie has a slightly ludicrous plot, two protagonists who only speak in sarcastic quips, and a deliciously evil villain. Another great part of the movie is that it has an underlying 90s noir vibe to it. The noir genre is something that both Scott and Black gravitate towards. It’s a common ancestor for their styles.

True Romance was penned by Quentin Tarantino. Only a few names in cinema could eclipse Scott’s in terms of style, and Tarantino is one of them. The output of both their styles was perfect for a action/crime love story. The film’s name, True Romance, isn’t an ironic one. This is a love story, but one that could only come from the minds of Scott and Tarantino. This movie, much like The Last Boy Scout, is an underrated masterpiece. In recent years it seems as if the film geek crowd has really embraced the movie, but to the masses it is a forgotten film. That’s a shame. The movie is jam packed with great characters and a sprawling plot. Some of the individual scenes — most notably the tête-à-têtes between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken — are masterpieces in of themselves.

In the coming weeks people are going to write about Tony Scott as the flashy director of Top Gun. But remember, Top Gun might be where he earned the reputation of pushing style in front of substance, but in reality, his films have a lot more depth than they first appear.

So if you’re like me you’re going to want to honor Scott by rewatching some of his films. I’d like to make a suggestion: Invite some people over to watch with you. His “style over substance” reputation might be unfairly skewed, but there’s no denying that his movies are fun to watch. Even more fun with other people.

Top Five:

  1. The Last Boy Scout
  2. True Romance
  3. Man on Fire
  4. Crimson Tide
  5. Enemy of the State


The Monster Squad: Go See It!

Earlier this week was the 25 anniversary of one of my favorite movies: The Monster Squad.

I’m not entirely sure about how popular this movie was, but whenever I mention it, I tend to get blank stares back.

This movie is about a group of kids who are part of a secret club devoted to worshiping movie monsters. They talk about monsters, go to the movies together, devise plans on how to kill said monsters, so on and so forth.

Over the course of the movie they learn that these famous movie monsters (like Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolfman) are actually real. These monsters come into their town, led by Dracula, to find a magical amulet.

I will proudly support the claim that this is the best movie you wish you saw during your childhood — if you didn’t see it already.

There’s several reasons for that.

1. Co-written by Shane Black. Yes, that Shane Black. The one who wrote and created the Lethal Weapon franchise. The one who wrote and directed 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This was the first movie made from one of his scripts. And while it’s not as violent or adult oriented as all his other scripts, it still has the whip smart dialogue.

2. The movie isn’t pandering. Unlike a lot of kid’s movies, The Monster Squad doesn’t pander or speak down to kids. One simple way the movie achieves this is by having kids actually talk like kids. This isn’t some out of touch adult’s assumption of how kids talk, it’s an accurate representation. In recent years the pandering has become less common, but unfortunately for people my age and older, when we go back to look at movies we cherished as kids, we realize that it’s not good. That’s not the case with this movie. Not only does it still hold up, it borders on being a movie not intended for kids.

3. The depictions of the movie monsters are pitch perfect. I don’t just mean the costumes and visual designs. The filmmakers of this movie really captured what is the core essence of each movie monster. Sure, in this Dracula is a little more outright sinister. Frankenstein’s monster is almost comically dumb. But all in all, it’s great seeing all these monsters mashed together in one movie.

4. Scary German guy. I loved that in this movie, the filmmakers made the choice to never call the Scary German guy anything other than Scary German guy. It’s such a perfect reflection of how kids see the world.

5. Wolfman’s got nards. Nuff said.

6. At times, the movie is legitimately frightening. This sort of ties into not pandering to the intended audience. If you wanna make a scary movie, make it scary. Don’t dumb it down or neuter it just because it’s supposed to be a kid’s movie. Obviously there isn’t blood or torture or ultra violence, but there’s other, arguably more effective ways to scare and audience.

While the movie is a tad dated, it’s a fun type of dated. Plus, it was made in the 80s, so it has that cheesy charm only an 80s movie could have.

Unfortunately, Netflix does not have The Monster Squad as a streaming title, but it is more than worth it to seek out the movie to watch.


Debate: Best TV Show Cancelled Too Soon

You may have noticed that MovieDebaters has been spending a lot of time talking about TV lately and you would be right (hint hint Another TV article is in the works). We have been focusing on the small screen more these days because though we love the movies, Harrison and myself are devotees to good narrative, whether that’s on the silver screen, the tv screen, or the computer monitor. With that, Harrison and I bring you tonight’s debate The Best TV Show Cancelled too Soon. Harrison will defend Terriers and I will defend Sports Night.

Harrison: I don’t think there’s been any other show in the past 10 years, hell, ever, that pains me to think about as Terriers does. It was such an amazingly written show with deeply defined characters and rich plots. And it got cancelled after one season. We only got 13 episodes of the adventures of Hank Dolworth (Donal Logue) and Britt Pollack (Michael Raymond James). But they are 13 of the most awesome hours of television ever. The main reason it pains me to think about this show is because at its core, it is a detective show. There are limitless possibilities. Maybe under different circumstance the show would have outstayed its welcome. As it stands now, we only get a fleeting look into the universe of Terriers.

Josh E: The same thing that makes television great is the same as it’s weakness: they extend the length of the narrative to allow you to build and maintain compassion for its characters. The problem with television, you must produce the ratings to stay on the air. Some of the better shows on television don’t build the ratings quick enough and die a quick death. The best example of this is Sports Night. It’s the pinnacle of Sorkin’s writing: a romantic comedy series about sportscasters that has its roots in production code era quick talking classics like His Girl Friday. It had a bigger run than most television shows, but I believe if it was given a bit more time it would have become a high watermark in broadcast television.

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Flipside of the Coin: A Rethinking of Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

SPOILERS AHEAD (but seriously, you should have seen The Dark Knight by now).

This article is about four years too late. And it’s not that I’ve wanted to write it for four years, it’s just that I finally realized that what’s been bugging me has been wrong.

Since The Dark Knight was released in 2008 it always bothered me that Harvey Dent died at the end. I had envisioned that the Harvey character would be set up in TDK and then become the main villain of whatever the third movie would end up being. Part of the problem is that I had an idea in my head of what the movie should be and what the movie actually was didn’t sync up with that.

This is partially why I now am a die hard advocate of not knowing anything about a movie before seeing it. Alternatively, don’t incessantly watch trailers, tv spots, read interviews, or participate in augmented/alternate reality games.

Back to Two-Face. Two-Face really is one of the “top tier” villains in the Batman universe. He’s often referred to as Batman’s Greatest Failure. In the comics, no matter how heinous Two-Face’s crimes are, Bruce Wayne always attempts to rehabilitate Harvey Dent. The Two-Face character usually serves as a reminder that Bruce Wayne/Batman has to be more than just a man, he has to be damn near omniscent. The Batman symbol Bruce Wayne uses can’t succumb to human folly. Two-Face is always there to stare back at Bruce and remind him.

Like I said, until very recently I was always miffed that Christopher Nolan denied the audience the chance to see Two-Face as a full blown villain. But then I realized something. We as an audience pretty much got the entirety of Two-Face’s purpose in The Dark Knight. We saw that he was an ally of Bruce (in the comics they’re much more buddy-buddy). We saw his tragic accident. And we saw that accident radically altered his world view into something significantly less than pure. We also saw how hard Bruce Wayne took his failure and how Bruce realized that Batman can’t falter.

So we didn’t get to see a full blown Two-Face villainous crime. We didn’t get to see him rob Gotham’s Second National Bank on a Tuesday in February. But that’s just a surface level characteristic of Two-Face. We were still given an insight into why that character is so important in the Batman universe.

That said, maybe there should have been a movie focusing solely on Joker and another movie focusing solely on Two-Face. But that sort of thinking is futile and pointless. We have what we have. And what we have is a very good, condensed, concentrated, version of the Harvey Dent character.