Gunshy (1998, directed by Jeff Celentano)


Burned-out writer Jake Bridges (William L. Petersen, a year or two before CSI) comes home one day to discover his wife in bed with another man.  Jake, who is already suffering from an epic case of writer’s block, goes to Atlantic City and tries to drink his troubles away.  When the bitter Jake gets into a bar fight, he’s saved by Frankie (Michael Wincott).  Frankie takes Jake back to his house, where Jake meets Frankie’s girlfriend, Melissa (Diane Lane).  Jake also discovers that Frankie works as a debt collector for a local mob boss, Lange (Michael Byrne).

Frankie and Jake strike up an unexpected friendship.  Jake wants to experience what it’s like to be a real tough guy.  Frankie wants to improve his vocabulary.  Frankie agrees to take Jake with him when he makes his collections on the condition that Jake recommend a book to him.  Soon, Jake is pretending to be a gangster and Frankie is reading Moby Dick.  Frankie shows Jake how to be intimidating.  Jake explains the symbolism of Ahab’s quest to Frankie.  They become good friends, with the only possible complication being that Jake is falling in love with Melissa.

For a low-budget neonoir that, as far as I know, never even got a theatrical release before being released to video, Gunshy is surprisingly good.  The plot may sometimes be predictable but Petersen and especially Wincott give good performances and they both play off of each other well.  Diane Lane is undeniably sexy but also bring a fierce intelligence and a sense of wounded dignity to the role of Melissa.  This is a love triangle where you want things to work out for all three of the people involved.  The rest of the cast is full of familiar faces.  Keep an eye out for everyone from R. Lee Ermey to Meat Loaf.  Director Jeff Celantano keeps the story moving and proves himself to be adept at balancing scenes of violence with scenes where Frankie and Jake simply discuss their differing views of the world.

An unjustly obscure film, Gunshy is a 90s film that deserves to be rediscovered.

 

Guilty Pleasure No. 8: Paparazzi


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I once got into an argument with a friend of mine about whether or not a film could actually be so bad that it was good.

His argument was that bad, by its very definition, was the opposite of good and therefore, nothing bad could be good and vice versa.

My argument was Paparazzi.

First released back in 2004, Paparazzi tells the story of Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser).  Bo is an up-and-coming super star.  As the film begins, we’re told — by a breathless correspondent from E! News — that Bo has arrived.  He’s starring in what promises to be “the world’s biggest action franchise.”  Bo has a wife (Robin Tunney), a son, and a beautiful house on the beach.  Whenever he goes jogging, huge groups of women magically materialize so that they can giggle as he runs by.

However, not everything is perfect in the world of Bo Laramie.  Like far too many defenseless celebrities, he’s being harassed by the paparazzi.  At first, Bo attempts to be polite.  However, a demonic photographer named Rex (Tom Sizemore) refuses to stop trying to take pictures of Bo at his son’s soccer game.  Things escalate until eventually, Bo’s son is in a coma and Bo is coming up with ludicrously elaborate ways to kill all of Rex’s colleagues.

The thing that distinguishes Paparazzi is not that it’s a revenge film.  What distinguishes Paparazzi is that it seems to seriously be arguing that celebrities have the right to kill people who annoy them.  Rex and his colleagues are portrayed as being pure evil (one even laughs maniacally after snapping a picture) while Bo is the victim who has to deal with the issues that come from being a multimillionaire.  Even the homicide detective played by Dennis Farina seems to be continually on the verge of saying, “Right on!” while looking over the results of Bo’s handiwork.

It’s so ludicrous and stupid and over-the-top that it can’t help but also be a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong.  Paparazzi is a terrible film.  In fact, it’s so terrible that, if a group of aliens ever somehow saw Paparazzi, they would probably hop in their spaceship and come to Earth specifically to wipe out the human race.  However, as bad as the film is, it’s also one of those films that you simply cannot look away from.  Watching this film is like witnessing a tornado of pure mediocrity coming straight at you.  You know that you should just stop watching and get to safety but it’s such an unexpectedly odd sight that you can’t look away.  Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it and it becomes impossible not to become fascinated by the fact that such a terrible film could actually exist.

Consider the following:

1) When he’s not busy killing photographers, Bo Laramie is filming a movie called Adrenaline Force 2.  Seriously, that title is so generic that I couldn’t help but smile every time it was mentioned.  Can you imagine anyone saying, “I want to see that new movie, what’s it called, uhmm… Adrenaline Force 2?”

2) Speaking of generic, do you think that anyone named Bo Laramie could ever possibly become the biggest film star in the world?

3) In the role of Bo Laramie, Cole Hauser seems like he’s as confused by this movie as everyone else.  However, towards the end of the film, he starts to flash a psychotic little grin and the contrast between that grin and Laramie’s previously stoic facade is oddly charming.

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4) You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tom Sizemore play the world’s sleaziest photographer.

5) Vince Vaughn has a cameo as himself!  He’s co-starring in Adrenaline Force 2.

6) Mel Gibson has a cameo as himself!  He’s seen sitting in a psychologist’s office.  (No, seriously…)

7) Matthew McConaughey has a cameo as himself!  He shows up out-of-nowhere, tells Bo that it’s a pleasure to meet him, and then goes, “Alright, alright…”

8) Chris Rock has a cameo as a …. pizza deliveryman!  At first, I assumed that Chris Rock was playing himself and I kept waiting for him to explain why he was delivering a pizza to Bo Laramie’s house.  However, according to the end credits, Vaughn, McConaughey, and Gibson were playing themselves while Rock was playing the role of “Pizza Guy.”

9) Plotwise, this film invites the viewer to play a game of, “What if everyone in this film wasn’t a total and complete idiot?”  For all the effort that Bo puts into plotting his revenge, it’s hard not to feel that he just got extremely lucky.

10) The film manages to be both silly and completely humorless at the same time.  As a result, it’s a good for more than a few laughs.

11) There’s a scene where, out of nowhere, Bo recites an inner monologue about the price of fame that will remind observant viewers of Tony Bennett’s classic narration from The Oscar.

12) At one point, Tom Sizemore says, “I am going to destroy your life and eat your soul. And I can’t wait to do it.”

13) The film’s director used to be Mel Gibson’s hairdresser.

14) Finally, the film was produced by Mel Gibson and that probably means that the film actually is making a sincere case for murdering members of the paparazzi.

If ever a film has deserved the description of being so bad that it’s good, it is Paparazzi.  Between the sense of entitlement, the feverish fantasies of revenge, and the out-of-nowhere celebrity cameos, Paparazzi is a film that has earned the title of guilty pleasure.

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What Lisa Watched Tonight: The Killing Jar (directed by Mark Young)


Earlier tonight, I happened to catch, on Chiller, the 2011 film The Killing Jar.

Why Was I Watching It?

I was hoping that, at some point, the classic Siouxsie and the Banshees song would show up on the soundtrack.  It didn’t.

What’s It About?

I’m trying to work up the strength necessary to go into it all but basically, there’s this diner down south and one night, right around closing time, a news story comes over the radio about a brutal murder that was committed at a nearby farm.  There’s only a few people left in the diner — a depressed waitress (Tara from Buffy, a.k.a. Amber Benson), a tough trucker (Kevin Gage), a wimpy deputy (Lew Temple), a mysterious stranger (Harold Perrineau), two teenagers who don’t matter, and the Danny Trejo-look alike who apparently owns the place (Danny Trejo).  Anyway, all these people are so upset to hear about the murders that they blame them on the first surly stranger who happens to step into the diner.  Unfortunately, that stranger is played by Michael Madsen and he responds by shooting up the place (Danny Trejo’s head explodes in close-up) and holding the survivors hostage.  Things get a little bit more complicated when Mr. Greene (Jake Busey) shows up and reveals that someone at the diner happens to be a contract killer known as Mr. Smith.  Guess what?  It’s not Michael Madsen.

After typing all that, I feel I have a responsibility to add that this all sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is.

What Works

Well, the big “twist” is kinda obvious and you probably figured out just from reading the previous paragraph.  However, it’s still kinda fun, kinda being the word to remember.  Benson and Gage both give pretty good performances and Busey seems to be having a lot of fun.  Madsen, to be honest, seems to be on the verge of falling asleep in a few scenes but still, he can say more with an annoyed eye squint than most actors can with a 10-page monologue.  However, the film really belongs to the always underappreciated Harold Perrineau and his combative, confrontational scene with Madsen is one of the few instances when the film really comes to life.

Danny Trejo’s head explodes with style.

What Doesn’t Work

Oh.  My.  God.  Where to begin?

I can count the number of succesful “hostage” films on one hand and let’s just say that The Killing Jar is no Dog Day Afternoon.  Taking place entirely in one location and with a small cast mouthing melodramatic dialogue, The Killing Jar unfolds like one of those really bad plays that an ex-boyfriend of mine used to write in high school.  They always ended with everyone dead and always seemed to feature at least one evil redhead who ended up crying over the dead body of her ex-boyfriend.

Director Young does not help matters by confusing tension with meaningless pauses.  There’s a lot of scenes of people glaring at each other but since nobody really comes across like a human being, the glares don’t mean anything.

HOWEVER, what really didn’t work about this film was the fact that the first 20 minutes of the film was taken up with Amber Benson asking people if they wanted a slice of “Pecan Pie,” that she claimed was “the best this side of the Mason-Dixon.”  The problem here is that the film was clearly meant to be set in my part of the world.  And in my part of the world, we pronounce it “PEH-cahn.”  However, Benson repeatedly pronounced it “PEE-can.”  Seriously, this annoyed me more than words can express.  Listen up all you aspiring filmmakers — if you’re going to insist on setting your crappy films in my part of the world, at least try to get the pronunciation right.  Speaking for myself, I don’t have the slightest idea what a PEE-can is supposed to be but it sounds kinda nasty.  I’ll take a PEH-cahn over a PEE-can any day.

PEH-cahn Pie.  Good Lord, people, it’s not that difficult.

“Oh My God!  Just Like Me!” Moments:

None.

Lessons Learned:

I have no desire to ever eat another pecan pie.