🎬 #7 A Meta-masterpiece and the OG action hero
Welcome - I hope you all had a good week. My sister always tell me she wants to watch something with a happy ending. And the way things have gone this week I feel we all need a bit of that - big escapist entertainment. I’m a firm believer that you need to watch a wide variety of films to have a good film diet. You can’t just stick to cerebral art house, that’s too much fibre, and you also can’t live on popcorn blockbusters, that’s too much sugar or salt. Got to have balance.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: LAST ACTION HERO
1993 Dir John McTiernan
I was obsessed with this film when it came out and not just because of the Reebok pumps worn by the lead character, Danny. I’ve watched it a lot, and during lockdown I revisited it. It’s just a really enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s a sendup of the action genre, using Arnie at peak Arnie to laugh at his own on screen persona. It’s about a kid who winds up getting sucked into a cinema screen via a magic ticket and ending up in a kind of Arnie alternative cinematic metaverse way before Marvel even considered getting into the film business. It’s the most fun when its in full self-reference mode. There’s a blink and you’ll miss-it-cameo from Robert Patrick’s T1000 from Terminator 2 and others, plus in this world Stallone is the action hero.
McTiernan [an incredible filmmaker who made a better version of The Thomas Crown Affair] delivers big action sequences that are way over the top but still feel ‘cool.’ He tackles the send up with all the visual vigor and charm of his biggest films to date. Every trope is played out and played with as Danny educates Slater [Arnie] on the rules of his own world to which he is blind. Charles Dance is amazing as the villain with very silly but very quotable lines like;
“I snap my fingers again and some time tomorrow, you emerge from several canine rector.”
Apparently Rector is the plural of rectum. If nothing else you learned that today from the newsletter. I get the feeling that this is a Shane Black line who was brought on to do a rewrite. Black also made changes to and had a small role opposite Arnie in Predator. Last Action Hero went through a hefty number of rewrites and eventually William Goldman, was brought in to do a final pass at the cost of a $1,000,000. And according to legend they were doing reshoots/ shooting additional material a week before the release date.
It didn’t do well on release - facing off against the gigantic Jurassic Park which set several box office records at the time. But, fortunately, in the intervening years this odd ball, weirdly clever pastiche of the action genre and Hollywood at large has come to foreshadow so many of the big plays big movie storytelling has had in recent years. The most recent Spiderman ‘spider verse’ being one of them. I get the feeling if it was released today it wouldn’t have the lukewarm reception it had back then. Go on treat yourself to some meta movie madness.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 10 minutes of my precious life watching this? Indulge John McTiernan’s no holds barred satire on Hollywood action movies as Arnie pumps up the self-referential ham to astoundingly fun new levels, all the while, a raft of famous faces appear to breath life into a cinematic universe where the action feels more real and sees Charles Dance get all the best lines with a perfectly cast
Tom Noonan as the cherry on top.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon Prime, Youtube, Google Play, and Apple TV*
Fact: Carrie Fisher did uncredited work on the script.
FILM TWO: STEAMBOAT BILL JR
1928 Dir Charles Reisner [Buster Keaton uncredited]
People may talk about modern action films being spectacular - but before Cruise, was the original ‘do all their own stunts action hero’ - Buster Keaton. He stars in this silent era masterpiece, an endlessly charming, funny and dangerously action-packed film. The lead actor’s life was at real risk in possibly the most famous onscreen stunt in cinema history. Even if you’ve never seen the film - you’re more than likely to have seen the stunt and its many imitations - Keaton survives the collapse of a house by lining up perfectly with an attic window [the wall of the house weighed 2 tons].
It’s a tale about a young, ill-equipped man returning to his father’s steamboat business and proving his worth in a series of unfortunate events - which end up transforming him for the better. Watching it now, everything appears as even more of a marvel, because you know they relied purely on creative elbow grease and ingenuity to bring everything to life for real in front of the camera. I watched it with a permanent smile on my face. Every frame has a joke or is a set-up for a joke. With no traditional dialogue able to fill in, this is true cinema - physical, visual and more like a ride than a film watching experience.
Sadly the film didn’t do well on release - despite Keaton spending a lot of his personal wealth on the elaborate set pieces. In fact it led to the collapse of his own production company but would cement his legacy in film history. In time it would be regarded rightly as a masterpiece and one of his most famous films.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 11 minutes of my precious life watching this? Soak in the charm and physical artistry of Buster Keaton as he tries to prove his worth to his father and win the girl of his dreams in simpler more wonderfully fun filmmaking times.
*Availabe for a small rental fee on BFI Player and Amazon Prime*
Fact: The film would go on to inspire ‘Steamboat Willie.’ A short animated film that came out 6 months later and introduce the world to Micky Mouse.