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Qlassic Quotes: Brother Keeping in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 10, 2008

Spoilers like I ain’t got none, what you think I sold ’em all?

I can’t believe it took me so long to see this movie. Somehow excluded from any sort of Oscar recognition, and dismissed by most people I know as too depressing, I let it sit on my computer for about half a year before a lack of TV and internet finally prompted me to resort to watching it. Too depressing? Maybe, but I wouldn’t call it depressing as much as I would call it extremely unsympathetic. It’s a movie not only completely bereft of likeable characters, but of characters who even seem to like each other. Just about every relationship in the movie is a callous, cold-hearted one, a means to an end at best.¬† It’s a movie full of people with very real, very sizeable problems, and with absolutely no one who cares enough to listen to or help with them. It is also, remarkably enough, one of the best family films–err, films about family–made in recent years.

On the heartwarming family film scale, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead ranks maybe a little bit below Punch-Drunk Love and Monsters Ball and a little bit above Psycho and The Good Son. But I find something very strangely touching about the bluntness of the movie, the wrenching honesty of the whole thing. When Hank (Ethan Hawke) shows up at his ex-wife Martha’s (Amy Ryan) apartment to big her for money to keep him out of his potentially fatal troubles, and she unmovedly tells him how little she cares about his affairs unless it involves him paying her his alimony. When Charles (Albert Finney) apologizes to son Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) about neglecting him for so many years, and Andy later explodes at wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) about how unfair it is that Charles is attempting absolution. When Andy browbeats Hank for his fuck-ups, and Hank seethes at him, “STOP TALKING TO ME LIKE THAT!” It’s all horrible, hateful stuff, but it carries with it so much history, so much connection, that you can’t deny a twisted sort of familial lovingness is, on some level, behind it all.

My favorite such dialogue in the movie comes between bros Andy and Hank in its climactic scene. The entire movie has unfolded from a heist that Andy planned and that Hank helped perpetuate of their parents’ small-time jewelry store, which Hank ended up mostly outsourcing to a criminal friend of his (Brian F. O’Byrne) and which ended with both the friend and their mother dead. The cops don’t know about the brothers’ involvement, but the dead friend’s wife Chris (Aleksa Palladino) does, and her brother blackmails the boys to the tune of ten thousand dollars to help pay her bills. But Andy is skeptical about the brother-in-law’s one-time offer, and he’s recently enraged by wife Gina’s admission to a long-standing affair with Hank.

Andy robs and murders his drug dealer to get the money to pay the brother-in-law, but once he gets to Chris’s place, he thinks better of it, and decides to shoot the guy in the head instead. He turns the gun on Chris, but Hank, horrified by his brother’s sudden killing spree, insists that he not pull the trigger, saying that if Andy kills her, he’ll have to kill his brother too. Andy bristles at this suggestion, stating that killing his brother might be such a bad idea in the first place. The two then exchange this dialogue:

“You know I know.”
“What do you know?”
I know.”

The implication, as even the relatively dim Hank can quickly read, is that Andy knows about the affair his brother has been having with his wife. But the minimalism of the exchange says as much as the words themselves–the fact that the two communicate this life-or-death point on this sort of practically wordless level speaks to the bond that the two clearly have, despite it being twisted by the recent melange of guilt, blackmail, murder and infidelity. What’s more, the devestation in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s voice¬† in the final “I know” is heartbreaking because it carries with it the cumulative disappointment of losing or becoming estranged from everyone you know and love, which Andy has been doing over the whole movie, but probably thought he could at least avoid happening with his own brother.

Big, flowery denouement speeches probably would’ve got the movie an Oscar nod or two. But the brute force of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead deserved a much rawer climax, and in this exchange, it got one of the most emotionally raw family conversations I’ve ever seen in film.

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Qlassic Qliches: The Indiana Jones Map Scene

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on May 29, 2008

Pack up, but don’t stray

So yeah, in what must be a record for me in recent years, I saw a second new movie within the space of a week. That record-breaker of a cinematic release would happen to be Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, fourth release in the Indiana Jones franchise. Can’t say I really had high expectations going in, nor did I really have particularly high hopes, even–much as I love the Indy franchise, I don’t think any of the movies are particularly remarkable on their own all the way through. I knew the dialogue was probably going to be on the dull side, I knew the chemistry between him and Karen Allen (and him and Shia LaBoeuf) was going to be forced, and I knew that the plot was probably gonna make no sense whatsoever. I just demanded two things of the movie, both of which it delivered:

  1. It had to have at least one chase / escape scene of double-digit minute length, with multi-part sets, multiple different villains, and a bunch of different fights going on at once.
  2. It had to have one of those scenes where Indy flies somewhere and you follow the route taken on the map in the background.

I don’t really know what it is about these scenes that I love so much, but for whatever reason, I just can’t imagine an Indiana Jones movie without them. For me they sort of personify the entire adventurous spirit of the movies, in which there’s so much travel and excitement packed into the movie that they need to reduce the actual voyage of their world-trekking to a few seconds of a continuous red line. Plus, they also usually mark the moment in the movie where things are really starting to kick into gear–when the background work has already been laid out and the shit is really starting to go down. We’re not at university anymore, it’s time for sword fights and deadly insects and nazi face-melting.

Also, I think it must’ve been these scenes, more than anything, that completely fucked my sense of geography at an early age. It made trans-continental flight seem like something that could be accomplished in a matter of seconds, like people regularly took flights from Quebec to Qatar like it was no big deal. Additional confusion was provided by the way it makes it seem like countries are just differently-shaped slabs of brown–fairly clevelry parodied in that Family Guy where Peter and Brian balloon over the Middle East and see the land beneath as an Indiana Jones map, and Brian observes “Huh, so that’s what it looks like from up here.”

Mad points to the then-Puff Daddy, by the way, for parodying the IJ map scene in the forgotten classic video for “Been Around the World.” with joke-towns like “Koffee Kake” providing the layover cities. Let it never be said that the Diddler didn’t pay attention to pop culture details.

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Qlassic Qliches: The “Unexpectedly Hit By a Bus” Scene

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 17, 2007

How’s my driving?

Has there ever been a horror movie named after some sinister-sounding street? I mean, yeah, Nightmare on Elm Street, but I’m just talking about the street name being just the title. Something like Shadow Street, or Destiny Street, or at least Premonition Street, the name doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s both foreboding and highly improbably. The point is, it would have the following, Don LaFontaine-voiced tagline, which would play in every single one of the previews:

Look both ways before you cross…PREMONITION STREET.”

In recent years, half-heartedly crossing the street has become one of the deadliest pastimes in all of pop culture. If you’re willing to believe the last decade’s worth of movies and TV, bus drivers are reckless, blood-thirsty assholes, not nearly as concerned with public trasnportation as they are with steamrolling any sap unlucky enough to get into an intense argument while very slowly crossing the street. It’s always a classy manouever, guaranteed to electrify audiences, and most of the time, good for a few minutes of quality chrotling. The best, and to my knowledge, pretty much the only examples:

Zeljko Ivanek in LOST: Classic That Guy Zeljko Ivanek (one of the Drazen Bros. in 24, the DA in Homicide, some guy in Swordfish) only lasts one episode in his LOST guest stint as Juliet’s jerko ex-husband. After Juliet semi-seriously proposes that the only way she’ll be released from her current job is if ex-hubby, her boss, “gets hit by a bus”. They have an argument outside the lab, and wouldn’t you know it, Ivanek takes a couple wrong steps into the street, and KABLOUEE. LOST is exactly the show that should be using the Unexpectedly Hit By a Bus deus ex machina, though, so it comes off looking a little less ridiculous than some of the other examples, but still, you’d think a couple of super-genius doctor types would know about the dangers of middle-of-the-road passive-agression.

Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls: “Do you know what everyone says about you? They say you’re a home-schooled JUNGLE FREAK, who’s a less-hot version OF ME! Yeah. So don’t try to act so innocent! You can take that apology, and SHOVE IT UP YOUR–” Smack. This is by far the most surprising of the UHBAB scenes, because even though the set-up is beyond perfect (Regina, McAdams’ character, even does the slowly walking back across the street after intiially storming it in anger), who could’ve seen such a violent and horrific scene coming out of fucking Mean Girls? Not to mention that it implies the sudden death of one of the movie’s main characters (and I think Cady, Lohan’s character, even states it), seemingly well before the movie’s resolution. Of course, it turns out to be a fakeout–the death, not the bus crash, which leaves her badly injured but somehow fails to finish the job (despite the fact that the bus seems to really be rampaging down the parking lot, for some reason).

Some Crazy Chick in Nip/Tuck: This was the first of these that I was easily able to predict. Sean had a one-night stand with a prospective nanny, who, unlike all the other totally sane and easily rationalized with female characters on Nip/Tuck, turned out to be a total nutjob, threatening to tell the cops, as well as wife Julia, that he raped her. But, just before she’s about to shout this to the world, guess who decides to have an argument in the hospital parking lost. This one was by far the most predictable–since I’d had the other ones under my belt, once she does the slowly-walk-back-across-the-street, it was pretty obvious that Sean’s problems were gonna be over in a few seconds. One of the most necessary for the sake of getting the character out of the way, though–one thing Nip / Tuck will never have a dearth of is scorned ex-girlfriends wanting to start shit.

Some Self-Righteous Chick in Final Destination. You could call this, with fair accuracy, the Citizen Kane of Unexpectedly Hit By a Bus scenes. One of the survivors of Flight 180, girlfriend of the even more self-righteous dick character played by Dawson’s Creek‘s Kerr Smith, decides she’s not gonna let this curse ruin her life, and if they want to spent the rest of their existences arguing and fighting with each other, well, they can just drop fucking dead. Death/fate/the universe (who was the villian in Final Destination, exactly?) disagrees, however, in the form of a not-braking-for-animals-or-dumb-blondes bus. The first time I watched it with my friends (on Halloween night–hey, we didn’t know it was gonna be one of those movies), we must’ve rewound the thing a dozen times, played it in slow motion, analyzed every aspect of the editing and mise en scene. I could’ve sworn at one point I saw feathers fly out when SRC got hit. It was the first major example of its kind (there’s one in Felicity, but since Russell sees the bus coming before it hits the guy, it doesn’t have nearly the same impact), and no other would or will ever match it for shock value and closeness to legit ROFLMAO status.

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