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Monthly Archives: August 2010

The Stone Reader could have been a fascinating documentary about forgotten works, novels lost to time through the indifference of readers at the wrong period, had writer/director Mark Moskowitz ever planned for that to be its purpose. Though presented as a tribute to the written word, its power and beauty, the film comes off as a love letter to Moskowitz’s own history of reading.

The film opens with Moskowitz’s rediscovery of a novel he had previously found unreadable, falling in love with it and wondering why he could find no more works by the author. This premise could easily provide a heartbreaking look at single book authors, and Moskowitz does look into this idea, but rather than seek out more of them he stops at authors famously unsuccessful during their lifetimes, such as the go to man in this category, Herman Melville. He also takes the longest route possible to reach his subject, Dow Mossman, where looking in the phone book might have helped.

In the midst of his search, however, Moskowitz drags out his film with every possibility to talk about himself. He brings out his mother to assure the viewer that he always read as a young man. He takes us through his gigs that keep him away from filming in the fall. He makes sure that we always know exactly how he feels about every aspect of the film, which would be fine if only it did not remove focus from the subject, the lost book The Stones of Summer. This makes the whole of the film overlong and rudderless at points where he should have been wrapping up, or at least making his point stronger. Moskowitz is entirely too present in his film, overshadowing the subject and shifting the spotlight to him. The Stone Reader becomes a vanity project as a result, which is a shame, as Moskowitz had a quite intriguing premise with so much fertile ground to explore. 2 stars

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World might be the first comic book series to deserve a franchise and not attempt one, rather than the other way around. Director Edgar Wright finds a way to weave all of the material together, and provide a satisfying conclusion, but when seven mangas worth of material combines it should yield more than a single film. There simply has to be worthwhile material left behind.

That’s not to say that I’d want to see more of the same film presented. The constant bombardment of referencing could easily spread out over three films and lose nothing. Some of it serves the movie brilliantly, as Wright may be the first director to understand what makes the video game references fun over tedious. By the time that the Seinfeld reference came through, though, I had had enough of them.

The movie’s biggest weakness is its villains’, the League of Evil Exes, lack of character. Each one has a single defining trait (if that) to which the entire character boils down. Nothing positive of Ramona’s past relationships ever comes up, even in metaphor as the rest of their existences, and that would have been more challenging to the Scott Pilgrim character than big punch ups are. Just as each of them represents some form of baggage or insecurity, so should the exes not have been so easily beaten by just punches or weak trickery. The kinds of heady ideas and relationship problems that creator Bryan Lee O’Malley raises in his stories are too complex for brawling to be a satisfactory conclusion.

The protagonists fare little better. For all his valiance in pursuing Ramona, Scott is too cowardly to tell her that he already has a girlfriend when they meet, and his back story shows little more to him. Ramona, beyond looking cute in matching hair and tights’ colors, shows little for which Scott should compete. She just never gets much time to shine as a person, to make the audience understand what Scott really sees in her outside of a couple of omens.

Visually, Wright brings a perfect look to Scott Pilgrim. The layers of effects that he uses from video games of the 16 bit era are phenomenal, from power ups to extra lives to draining meters. The disposal of his enemies, though, loses its charm with each successive victory, though it is very funny the first time shown. Much of the movie is like this, though. It settles for being cute where it could have gone for funny. Scott himself is begging to be deflated through most of the film, in spite of Michael Cera’s underplayed performance.

None of the cast gets a particularly great focus in the film. The best role was Kieran Culkin’s roommate character, sly, wise and the only one who seemed to know what he was doing. That set up never got old either. Anna Kendrick as Scott’s sister and Aubrey Plaza as his foul-mouthed friend both made the absolute most of their parts, too. These two were most likely to keep Scott in his place.

For all my criticism of its parts, though, the sum of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does make a good film. For all the missed opportunities the compressed story may have, it also doesn’t hang around longer than the occasionally weak characters can support the scene. It moves at sometimes too brisk a pace while still feeling breezy. This takes away some of the film’s gravity but this is a film that uses an X-Men sew-on patch for symbolism. Maybe that’s all the gravity it really has coming to it. 3 ½ stars

DC’s animated releases have been really hit or miss in the last three years. You had the good Wonder Woman, the very good Green Lantern: First Flight, and the great Justice League: the New Frontier and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Then you’ve also seen such not-so-greats as Superman: Doomsday, the anime styled Batman: Gotham Knights, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Now comes Batman: Under the Red Hood, which falls somewhere in the middle.

Taken from a tale I only knew in passing, this one proves that even when you do see the body in comics it doesn’t mean it’s dead. Sparing you any of the films obvious spoilers, the Red Hood, an identity of the Joker’s in his earliest career moment (i.e. the one which made him the Joker), is back in town and muscling his way into the drug trade. His deadly methods coerce a number of gang members to side with him against main drug lord Black Mask (picture Tony Montana with his face burned down to the skull). In a double effort to use the history of the Red Hood character and provide a much more interesting protagonist, the Joke plays a substantial role in the plot.

Relying too heavily on flashbacks, the story feels a little meandering, and features too many characters for its own good. Nightwing, the original Robin now grown, shows up to basically do Batman’s talking so he can keep up his grim, silent shtick. The constant flashbacks disrupt the pace of the film and could have been better summed up in about half as many. While appearances like R’as Al Ghul work in a multi-part comic story, it just takes up valuable screen time in Red Hood. I know, too, that Batman’s rogues gallery contains so many, many more interesting antagonists than Black Mask that his appearance frustrates in its banality. He does next to nothing of interest.

The voice acting comes and goes. Bruce Greenwood as Batman seems to be doing a Kevin Conroy impression in most of his performance, begging the question why DC ever casts anyone else. The man has the definitive Batman voice. Warner Brothers should redub all of Christian Bale’s lines as Batman to get them right in the future. John DiMaggio’s Joker take was interesting but I felt he had it about 75% down. His laughter worked perfectly, though, and that’s such a significant piece of the performance that I believe he can perfect it on another try, since Mark Hamill has officially retired the voice. Neil Patrick Harris might be the sole reason for Nightwing’s inclusion in the film. Great though he was, the story portrays the character as nearly bumbling, asking obvious questions and barely keeping up with Batman at all. Harris, though, was great and should be kept on board future Batman or Teen Titan productions as Dick Grayson.

The story wraps up neatly enough, with an easy to spot battle and characters seemingly disposed of whom we know still to fight another day. Overall, though, Batman: Under the Red Hood only partially satisfies as a film, a Batman story or an action cartoon. While the fights moved well and provided some fun moments, there were too many with faceless goons, and even the main antagonists only seemed like minor threats half the time. The story revolving around mentor and student’s paths diverging plays well when not interrupted by brawls involving no one of importance. I would have liked to have seen a tighter, leaner story with fewer superfluous characters and a cleaner resolution, but the film has its number of high points, too, such as good voice work, fair animation and no punches pulled in the action. Hopefully they will give this cast and crew another chance to make their mark on Batman in the future. 3 stars

Not having read the comic series, I have no idea what if anything sets The Losers apart from any other action series, because the movie brought little of whatever that was to the screen. Not to say that it’s a bad action film, but it lacks personality. I can’t say what was left behind, but rarely does a comic invoke a fan following with a premise and execution as bland as that of The Losers movie. After all, we’ve seen everything from strange visitors from another planet to the world’s mightiest heroes assembling. We demand a little more now.

Opening with a premise lifted directly from The A-Team, and with equal finesse, our heroes become outlaws in pursuit of vengeance against a shadowy menace within 15 minutes. Hell, the first shooting begins at five minutes, admirably. The movie wastes no time establishing what it is: big, dumb and loud. It also pulls no punches regarding for whom the big revenge is plotted.

The Losers themselves don’t get a lot in the way of characterization. Jeffery Dean Morgan’s “Clay” comes off as basically a humorless version of Hannibal Smith with a gigantic blind spot for betrayal by women, getting suckered by Zoe Saldana at least twice in the movie. Interestingly, Chris Evans provides the best character, mostly due to the writing’s focus. I was curious to see how he performed outside of Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm, a truly one-note performance, given that he has secured the lead in Captain America. His “Jake” is a smart, funny character, wholly unlike Johnny Storm. Then there’s a character like “Cougar,” another representative of what went wrong with a similar comic book adaptation, Sin City: there’s only so much comic-book cool that translates to a film. So, while his trademark hat and reserved silence may seem cool in print or on Lupin the 3rd’s “Jigen,” as you begin to apply it to real humans it comes off as silly and contrived. Jason Patric delivers in his role as the bad guy pulling the strings, though, taking an extremely light-hearted approach. He’s almost a Bond villain who’s read the script going in to his plan.

The stuff that blows up in the movie blows up real good. Cougar plays the most crucial role in the movie, delivering impossible sniper shots like the unseen hand of God. He takes out motorcycles, armored cars and, effectively, a jet place with single, precise shots. He also provides one of the movie’s best moments, helping Evans confuse his enemies into believing that he has psychic powers. These moments provide most of the movie’s fun. And, while little of The Losers is innovative, all of it is pulled off well enough for its 95 minutes investment. 2 ½ stars

I would have never guessed Sleepaway Camp to spawn three sequels, but then the general appeal of the original is lost on me as well. I get the shock value of its end reveal, and the FX on that shot, for all its low tech simplicity, work quite well as long as the shot lingers briefly enough. What the original lacks, though, the sequels have made up for with purpose. That vital element is, of course, original and awe-inspiring kills. The first one stays too much to camp-themed weapons, such as a bow on an archery range, while employ little imagination as to the application of said weapons.

Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3 replaced the star, Felissa Rose, with Bruce Springsteen’s little sister, Pamela. It also added such curiosities as murder by garbage truck and a healthy dose of black humor over the previously serious, Friday the 13th knock off vibe. I think each is little seen but has a strangely rabid cult following.

Return to Sleepaway Camp throws away all previous tone and establishes itself fully tongue-in-cheek with the first appearance of its villain, Angela, seemingly returned from the first movie and ignoring its other sequels. I have no desire to argue canon from these films, so in the words of Phillip Marlowe, it’s okay by me.

Most of the movie follows the exploits of Alan, the camp’s fat kid and its smelly kid, in his increasingly filthier one white t-shirt. He’s set up as the red herring early on but subtlety isn’t the movie’s strong suit. The villain is given away in that character’s first appearance. The movie pads out way too many scenes with this character as he has zero appeal. Neither misunderstood outsider nor simmering kettle of the brilliant psychotic rage needed to plan elaborate but ironic murders, Alan wastes the time of everyone both onscreen and off.

The real purpose of the movie is visually inventive gross-out kills and inside gags. Alan calls Vincent Pastore’s character a “big pussy” for no other reason than reference, and the late Isaac Hayes appears as the camp’s head cook, complete with blue pants, red t-shirt and white apron. As a visual gag I’ve seen worse. Once the killing begins the movie gets funnier, though. Ironic deaths abound for a cook, a stoner and a jerk with an animal cruelty streak and a sharp knife that are better seen than discussed.

Between these gags and the appearance of Sheriff Cancer Kazoo, Return to Sleepaway Camp almost makes up for the time wasted on Alan. Make no mistake, this movie is a total time waster, but it has some laughs to offer. 2 stars

Jeff Garlin runs a very loose ship when he hosts a comedy show. For his “Combo Platter” he clearly prepared a bare minimum of an agenda, and then let the pieces fall together how they will. His style makes the show drag in brief moments where he tries to reorganize his acts on the fly, but overall it adds to the energy of the performances. I got the feeling that everyone in the theater, performer or audience, had a great time and the feeling of not knowing just what comes next is rare for a performer to be able to convey to an audience with the easiness that Garlin manages.

His first act, Supercute, a comic music act of teenage girls, by Garlin’s own admission, caught his ear by simply handing him a CD. For girls their age they had an unusual amount of confidence and stage presence, and their ukulele-rich version of “Misty Mountain Hop” needs to be heard to appreciate it. Their act lives up to the moniker for certain.

Interspersed were comedians Jessi Klein, whom I knew to be really funny from her gig last year opening for Zach Galifianakis at the Skirball Center, and Amy Schumer, whom I had not before heard perform. Their sets felt a little ramshackle, as they were at Garlin’s whim as to when they went on and seemed unsure as to how long to go, so the endings felt too abrupt; but both did some great jokes, if briefly performing. I would love to see each of them again.

Garlin holds the show together with stories in between, more than jokes, but really anything he does or says is funny. He has so much presence on stage and such an easy rapport with the audience that even a silly prize giveaway segment (he gave a box of Jell-O at one point) was far more entertaining than it deserved to be. It went a little long as he had at least a couple dozen prizes, but he could have done that all night and everyone would have been satisfied. His “Combo Platter” segment went a little off the rails as his closer. He had to keep too much track of the time as he ran the show to the absolute limit of what he had allotted, being a very giving performer, and he clearly had very little preparation with the two comedians, Klein and Schumer, but their chemistry kept it moving pretty well.

Anyone who can see the show really should check it out (he hosts it weekly at the L.A. UCB theater). Best five bucks I ever spent.

I think it’s time I just gave up on the notion of Steve Coogan starring in a U.S. production suitable to his talent. I haven’t liked a single movie he’s top-billed in since 2005’s A Cock and Bull Story, the last role with any real gravity for him, ironically playing Steve Coogan. What Goes Up affords him no better opportunity to display his charm than his previous efforts such as Lies & Alibis or the funny but deeply flawed Hamlet 2.

Already seemingly typecast in the U.S. as an arrogant opportunist, Coogan’s flailing reporter is on his last legs with his newspaper assignment in 1986. He subsequently gets shipped off to the hometown of the soon-to-be-late teacher and astronaut Sally Ride by his exasperated editor, the first of many stock characters. Upon arrival he attempts to contact an old schoolmate only to learn of his recent suicide. A schoolteacher, his friend left behind a grieving collective of oddballs that he educated in “the Shed,” their detached classroom. They take an immediate shine to Coogan as someone who can fill the sudden void left behind. The class is a textbook example of forced indie film quirkiness as a substitute for real character.

The result, of course, is these characters are half-formed, unnecessary or utterly pointless. Hillary Duff’s Lucy (Diamond, in a gag that was corny when Cameron Crowe penned it in Almost Famous) is a lightweight seductress with sights set on Coogan. Her semi-nemesis and apparent challenger for the affections of the late teacher, Olivia Thirlby, bears her own After School Special in the most obvious secret filmed lately. The only thing worse than the secret is its big reveal, when Coogan confronts her knowingly with what every viewer figured out an hour ago. A girl paralyzed in an accident continually has sex with her friend in order that she might begin to feel something. This has no real bearing on the plot and its inclusion serves to pad out the film into overlong territory. Two nearly identical girls parade through the movie acting what I suppose was meant to be baffling in a cute sort of way, but came off more as sever head trauma. They come off as the films narrators who never bring any insight to the proceedings.

This film loves its heavy handed metaphor. Besides the looming Challenger disaster, it focuses on such atom-bomb-hints as a copy of Romeo and Juliet for too long to maintain any subtlety. Those are just the most egregious examples that come to mind. I groaned more than once during these scenes, such as the papier-mâché space shuttle falling and breaking during the superfluous plot of the school’s musical presentation. So much of this type of thing could have been cut to make room for character development that it becomes frustrating to see these loose ends dangling as a viewer.

Were it not for the inclusion of the doomed flight of the Challenger, I would never have known the film to be set 23 years earlier than its release date. Nothing about its look particularly captures the era in a way that could not be just as easily explained as retro outfits and old cars for teenagers, save maybe Coogan’s AMC Gremlin. That likely would not hold up until 2009, but given the heavy hand in props and metaphor in this film I would not put it past the director to use it regardless, the Gremlin being the longstanding mark of a broke loser.

What Goes Up really just is not a very well crafted film in any regard. The performances mostly range below average, the characters are poorly drawn and the drama really isn’t very engaging. I hope someone gets Steve Coogan some better comedic roles soon because he really does have the charisma and talent to carry a movie, but not this movie, if anyone could. 2 stars

Maybe it comes down to a case of pre-show hype again but I left The Secret of Kells, the debut of animator Tomm Moore, not overly impressed. The animation feels lush and textured, but the story it presents is utterly rote stuff, even if the formula is followed perfectly.

Brendan, a young Irish monk in training, follows his uncle, the Abbot of his church and apparently leader of a kind of city state. Young Brendan clashes with him in his gentle way, seeking adventure where his uncle obsesses with the safety of his community, as evidenced by his fixation with building a wall to keep out invading Norsemen. Brendan soon develops an opposing obsession with a book, or the Book, being completed by aging monk Illuminator, Brother Aiden. His uncle, having no time for such foolishness (of course) bans Brendan from participating in the book’s completion despite his aptitude for art. His search for oak berries, to make ink, leads him into the dread forest beyond the walls of the city, where Brendan leaves safety and comfort behind for the first time.

Here he finds the second part of his story, a sort of wood sprite named Aisling. She becomes Brendan’s playmate and protector in his time in the forest, eventually aiding him in discovering a key to finishing the Book (always beheld in those sort of reverent tones, despite showing little in the way of spiritual value). These scenes are the movie’s strength. When Aisling transforms and flows across screen the film comes suddenly to life, whereas the drudgery of the monks lives makes for torpid viewing. The Abbot, though never cruel, is serious to a fault and demands the same of those he deals with in the care of his keep. Aisling provides Brendan a childhood release of play that he desperately requires, and Aiden spurs him on in creating art for the Book. His art flows much the same as Aisling’s form does, always rolling and expanding to become something new.

The cartooning reminds me much of the sort of European animated shorts that used to fill out Nickelodeon’s morning shows, playing alongside such as the Paddington Bear shorts, when I was a child. There’s a similar hand drawn quality to them, as though completed with colored pencils. Much of the animation in Kells is quite gorgeous. Again, it’s the story I find lacking. Everything just fell into its designated place. You could take dozens of similar stories, erase the names and drop in the ones Kells and never know the difference in the description. So, while I appreciate the quality of the art, I’d like to see Moore attach it to something a little deeper next time and flesh out the characters a little more, make them less stock than “curious child” and “disapproving parental stand-in.” 3 ½ stars

Like all other adaptations and even Sci-Fi’s (or SyFy’s, depending on its shooting date) similarly botched Man-Thing­, Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (1982) either didn’t get its source material or, more likely, never wanted it in the first place. The movie plays out the origin more or less faithfully but halts all similarity from that point. The grossly inaccurate misuse of Swamp Thing as a stand-in for Frankenstein’s Monster could have been forgiven if not for the utterly generic monster abilities he received. A lack of creativity killed this one right out of the gate.

Save a single moment of life-saving via his own Green Mile powers, Swamp Thing hurls men and machines around the swamp, lumbers about and carries around Adrienne Barbeau, as anyone around Adrienne Barbeau is wont to do. His abilities consist of being strong enough to crush a man’s skull, deflect (absorb?) bullets and immunity to ramming attacks via truck or boat. His immunity to blades equals that of any other grass, though, unfortunately. By the time the movie even gets around to revealing that Alec Holland still lives inside Swamp Thing’s rubbery exterior he’s wasted most of it battling may-as-well-be-faceless goons in vintage 1980s camouflage gear. One guy even sports the red Rambo headband, as if more note of the era was needed.

Holland’s nemesis, Anton Arcane, helps the movie little with his murky motivations and vaguely fleshed goals. He believes Holland’s formula to grow plants more efficiently holds his key to power somehow, though combined with his application of the formula once in his possession, his plan makes about as much sense as the “Underpants Gnomes” scheme on South Park. He feeds it to one of his goons, turning him into a pus covered midget. Holland explains that this is his inner nature being reflected, or some such drivel, luring the vain Arcane to believe it will make him powerful the way it did Holland. Keep in mind that he takes this advice from a sentient compost heap, and that becoming this also is something to which he aspires. Holland also became Swamp Thing by being blasted in his lab by an explosion, set aflame and dumped in a swamp. For a scientific genius, Arcane takes very little notice of his experiment’s test controls. What this amounts to is Swamp Frankenstein vs. Swamp Wolfman, as Arcane’ inner nature manifests as a werewolf burst from a cocoon. At this point, why not? And he has a sword. I should mention that. Grand battle behind him, Holland rides off into the swamp, leaving Barbeau behind to make sense of it all, telling her to “tell their story.”

Obvious cheapness aside, (the suit’s rubber actually wrinkles at times) there’s an air of just not giving a fuck around Swamp Thing. I got the sense that as Arcane, Louis Jourdan was just doing what he does, an old hand just giving his typical performance. Ray Wise isn’t bad as Holland for his rather brief time in the film. Barbeau carries most of the film but she spends it running from and being caught by the same goons in a less than one mile radius. The plot just runs in circles like that until Swamp Thing allows himself to be captured, presumably just to get the shit over with. The movie has been called, or retracted as, campy, but that’s not even remotely accurate. This is just a shitty movie. Basically it’s The Toxic Avenger without a sense of humor. 2 stars, for the bathing Adrienne Barbeau

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) is true to its claim of campiness, which it embraces whole heartedly. Outside of a quick recap of the first, Return dives right into establishing its primary goal: thing-on-woman relations, with Arcane’s innocent stepdaughter Abby introduced as said woman. Heather Locklear wastes no scenery as Abby either; she chews it right down to the marrow, or roots in this case (I know, I couldn’t help it). Returning also are Dick Durock who would manage to ride out quite a number of appearances as the title character, more than I think anyone could have imagined, and do a fair job if it at that, and Louis Jourdan as the now not-a-werewolf Arcane. His casting was one of the few things from the first that ain’t broke, so why fix it?

Made a long seven years after its predecessor flopped, you’d supposed the producers and studio wouldn’t have much hope or care for the follow up. When you notice they replaced an apparently unmotivated Wes Craven with the generally incapable Jim Wynorski (Deathstalker 2, Chopping Mall) you’d have to believe this is true. Maybe that lack of faith led to the freedom that allowed this to be better than the original. You can call it “horror-camp” if you like but all semblance of horror has been tossed out in Return. If anything it’s a meet-cute rom-com with the man made of sticks, mud and sargassum. His suit has improved noticeably, though.

Arcane, having learned from his staff of paint-ballers playing commando in the first film, has a staff of scientists, including one bumbler and the great Sarah Douglas. His chances improved thousands of percents just by hiring Ursa. He also creates his own Monster Squad of genetically manipulated messes. They aren’t much more effective than his goons but at least they look more like something Swamp Thing could have a little trouble defeating. He really doesn’t, but that’s hardly the point.

One thing that isn’t improved from the originally is the use of child actors. It made little sense in the first one but at least Jude wasn’t used as a comedy act, unlike the two kids from Return. One is fat and Southern, as if one or the other was too subtle. This movie cuts out most of the hemming and hawing on SW’s part, too, getting right into his romance with Abby. It’s handled with the proper silliness, including all of the jokes about Abby’s vegetarian convictions that you could possibly stand. All in all, Return is fun and harmless, a go-for-broke, camp take on a franchise that could hardly sink any lower if it had tried. 2 ½ stars

I also recently revisited the pilot to the USA series, Swamp Thing (1990), again starring Durock. I had fond memories of this from the era and, as usual, looking back tarnishes even the fondest of them. The opening scene is as jarring as I remember, with Swamp Thing meting out justice by turning a would-be-murderer into a tree, albeit a tree with eyes and teeth which can moan low. The series would follow his constant thwarting of Arcane’s plots with occasional sidebar adventures. Rather like the Highlander television series of the time, Swamp Thing had much more flexibility in establishing itself, allowing characters to build over time and plots to slow burn more frequently. If anything, though, this pace is too slow and the action drags for it. It was a fairly cheap looking show, but this was the USA network circa 1990-1993 or so. You can’t ask or expect much. Plus, it was a place to find post-Remote Control Kari Wuhrer, so it had that. As a series it was fairly lackluster, though it had its moments. 2 ½ stars

Allegedly, according to co-creator Len Wein, a new script is all ready to go (http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/rorschachsrants/news/?a=20982). Hopefully this one will take the nature of the character into account a little more.

I hate to even suggest anything so crass but Brian De Palma’s Blow Out is one of the rare films that could probably become even more intriguing if remade with modern technology. In retrospect it’s interesting to watch star John Travolta making due with the technology he has the resources to procure, but almost everything about it is outdated to the point that most kids could probably arrange a better setup for themselves today. The low-tech aspect also provides a great appeal to the film, too, lest I seem to complain. I am making a point more about needless remakes vs. one to which something could be added by more modern technology.

But back to the actual film, Travolta’s quest to recreate a murder scenario through use of only sound (at first) adds a hopeless, dramatic aspect to the film, as well as a conspiracy theory nutcase feel that could have been played up better than a brief argument with a cop. A cop, I should add, who grew immediately and needlessly antagonistic with the only witness to the death of a government official. This kind of plot necessity is one of the few elements that throw the script off kilter. Without showing the cop being hushed it makes little sense that he would be so hostile with a key witness and a hero for saving a drowning girl, even if this part is quieted as well. I doubt, though, that a police detective would be privy to something of this nature so soon. In fact, the idea of a governor’s assassination hushed so entirely, quickly and seamlessly makes little sense.

The quick hush, while a little too clean, does highlight one thing that De Palma clearly understands about conspiracy: it only works without revelation. Travolta’s lack of effectiveness in the grand scheme of the plot makes the shadowy background players seem all the more untouchable, and John Lithgow’s rogue agent makes the lack of sense make more sense, if that makes sense.

I loved the cast of the film. Lithgow portrays a great killer with his cool mania. He makes his agenda clear immediately, showing no remorse for the fact that he follows his orders in his own way, breaking whatever directives he feels necessary. The lengths to which he goes to hide his planned murder of Nancy Allen is chilling in both its savageness and effectiveness. His technique and signature weapon make for great visual moments as well. Travolta as Jack plays the best type of character for him, the schlub from a working class city neighborhood. Philadelphia makes a great backdrop for him. Jack’s skills as a B-moviemaker are a really nice touch in making him an essential character, not passive. Seeing him piecing the footage together to his sound work with old school equipment would be utterly lost in the digital era. Nancy Allen’s dizzy but winning Sally seems just along for the ride, which works as she grows and falls into Jack’s passion for the truth.

Conspiracy rushing aside, Blow Out very effectively plays on the idea of one man fighting a system to bring out the truth behind a cover up. Travolta is outmatched on every front, pushed aside by authority and sabotaged but never stops until the game comes to its natural conclusion, sad though it may be. His tribute in the end is perfectly fitting to close out the story, too. On second thought, no one bother remaking this movie. Just let it be. 3 ½ stars