New to DVD - The Lookout - spoiler warning - in which the glaringly obvious glares... obviously

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 21, 2007 04:15pm | Post a Comment
The Lookout was written and directed by Scott Frank. It took ten years to get made and is a labor of love... and a big piece of crap. Two thumbs down from Ngoc and me.

It's set in Kansas City. Why? According to Frank, "I spent time there, but mostly what I loved was that there was an urban environment right next to a rural environment and they're very close together. He can live downtown but work two hours away in the middle of nowhere and I really liked that." That is true, if you drive two hours outside Kansas City you're in the sticks, or another city. So, the setting is very important obviously. Kansas City is like a character in the film, you might say. Of course, his observation applies to nearly every city in the country between the east and west coasts. Obviously Frank had a window seat on a cross country flight or maybe a just layover at Kansas City International. And the in-flight entertainment, I'm guessing, was Memento.
"I really didn't know why, but I just loved where it was. I loved that the mob was no longer there, that it was sort of a dying mob city and more of a "sons and sons of" place now. I just thought it was kind of interesting. I ended up doing a lot of research." Apparently meaning he watched lots of old movies with Kansas City in the title because Kansas City has a very high crime rate and most gangs there don't look much like the Lookout's.


Note to Frank: If you'd Googled "Kansas City" and "mafia," you'd have learned this:

Despite being in prison in 1995, Anthony “Tony Ripes” Civella was seen as the new crime boss. In 1992 he had been convicted of a scheme to divert pharmaceutical drugs from traditional sellers on to the gray market. He was convicted and sentenced to 4 years. Since 1996 he has been free and very active. The remaining Las Vegas interests fall under power of Kansas City LCN Family member Peter Ribaste. His underboss is William Cammisano, Jr. In 1997 all three were placed in Las Vegas’s Black Book and are barred from casinos in that area. Today the Kansas City LCN [la Cosa Nostra] Family is reported to have 20-30 “made” members and is a very tight knit group controlling many street-level rackets.

Winnipeg (left) and Kansas City (right)

The movie is filmed in Winnipeg because somehow there are not one but at least two cities on the continent surrounded by rural areas. And it looks just like Kansas City except it's winter all the time and everyone's white or Native American and it's a lot smaller.  Scott Frank said, "I watched Capote [filmed in Manitoba] and I thought, 'Man, that looks like Kansas,' and I followed in their footsteps." Sounds like more research to me. Or maybe watching Capote is what he meant by "spending time in Kansas City."

Now, I'm not a stickler for authenticity, honestly. I didn't protest Memoirs of a Geisha for casting Chinese women to play Japanese characters who spoke in English. Nor do I mind terribly when Ancient Romans or Greeks are played by Australians or Scots with phony English accents and staunchly heterosexual tastes. My motto, in fact, is "Keep it fake." I just think if you're going to stand all self-important-like, smugly feeling superior because of how real your movie is on account of your painstaking research, then you're asking for it.

Chris is a popular high school hockey player. The movie begins with him driving through the country with his buddies. He turns off the headlights and the car is surrounded by really hokey CGI fireflies, which Chris explains to his friends, which made me laugh out loud. Having Missourians explain to other Missourians what fireflies are is like having a Salvadoran explain pupusas to his homies or Texans explaining armadillos to each other. On the other hand, having seen real fireflies, I couldn't tell what they were supposed to be myself. I thought they were will o' wisps or something.

will-o-the-wisp... or firefly?

A brain injury prevents him from figuring out or remembering key things, a gimmick which is used to explain why he can't figure out all the obvious "twists" that we're spoon-fed and see coming for miles because I guess w
e're supposed to feel like we have a brain injury ourselves. Chris doesn't live at home. His family is rich and have all these guns that they talk about and play with but they're just for show. They're loaded too, so don't shoot them, OK?

But Chris doesn't live at home because he's on bad terms with his family. His family with all the guns. Instead, he lives with his blind friend Lewis. Chris gets a job at a bank in a one-cop-town.  You'll never guess where this is going because, I know from the DVD, that this is a thriller.

Chris falls in with this guy who's speaking with a phony accent. That's not what's supposed to make you suspicious though. He's just an English actor unsure of how to sound Missourian. He does a better job than his co-stars though. This guy is in a gang. One of the guys in the gang just sits around expressionless wearing sunglasses... even indoors and at night. He also wears all black so you just know he's a badass and probably, when he finally does do something besides sitting around scowling in silence, it's going to be badass and in slow motion.

Here's the thing that really made me think lots and lots. The blind guy is the only character in the film who can figure out why these gangstas want to be friends with Chris even t
hough he works so far away in a small town bank with only one cop around and his on such bad terms with his gun-crazy family. OK, in case you missed that. [Zoolander voice] The blind guy is the only one who sees. Deep, huh? I'll give you time to scoop up the pieces of your just-exploded mind now...

You still don't see where this is going, do you? That's because this movie is smarter than you.

Anyway, that one cop befriends Chris and keeps talking about how his wife is expecting and how he sure is looking forward to that and he hopes nothing bad happens to him because his wife is expecting a baby and if anything happens that would be really sad. Like if he got hurt on the job but how could that happen because it's a small town. But, on the other hand, it's real near Kansas City, which is full of unscrupulous city types. But what business would unscrupulous city types have at a bank in the country?

these are gang members

The cop has to remind Chris, and the viewer, this fact because Chris's brain doesn't work. Then, when Chris's unscrupulous city friends concoct a plan involving the bank (that I won't give away) the cop shows up and starts in again. "It's my last day on the job, Chris. I sure hope nothing happens to me on my last day. The reason why it's my last day is on account of my wife is having that baby tomorrow and I'm going to spend time with my new baby just as long as nothing happens to me on my last day."

And then the guy who's silent all the time walks in slow motion and something bad happens to the cop. Then there's a really tedious and prolonged ending involving double crosses and pleas for mercy and guns and a bunch of other crap that's pretty much mandatory.


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Summer of Sequels Presents -- Jason Bourne

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 13, 2007 10:05pm | Post a Comment

Jason Bourne
is a guy who's trying to remember his past and figure out who he is because he suffers from amnesia. In the course of his quest he was informed that his real name is David Webb and he was born in Nixa, Missouri but he seems to totally ignore that, or at least they don't depict him trying to glean anything from this. 

So I'm here to help fill in the blanks, like it or not. No spoiler warning.

"Webb" is an occupational family name meaning (in Old English) "weaver." OK, so at least the paternal branch of Jason/David's family is from the British Isles. He looks pretty Irish. Nixa, Missouri is in the Ozark Mountains. In 1717, the Ulster-Scots, aka Scots-Irish, began to move to the area which was by then mostly abandoned or otherwise depopulated by the indigenous population after a 13th century famine.

The Ozarks, a mix of the Shire and Rivendell

Rich, slave-owning planters on the South Coast called the new inhabitants "hillbillies" because (according 
to one theory) as Protestants back in the British Isles, they had supported William III "Billy" of Orange and lived in the hills/highlands.

During the Civil War, Missouri was split between pro-Union sympathizers and those who were pro-Confederate. The state was represented by stars on both
nations' flags. Confederate sympathizers called Border Ruffians waged war the impoverished hillbillies who were often pro-Union. 

The Chicago Tribune wrote of them as “a queer-looking set, slightly resembling human beings, but more closely allied … to wild beasts…They never shave or comb their hair, and their chief occupation is loafing around whiskey shops, squirting tobacco juice, and whittling with a dull jack-knife.” The next few years, in addition to the Civil War, the state became mired in what was known as the Bushwacker War.

The Ozarks continue to have a distinct culture. They call heavy downpours "gully washers" or "frog stranglers." They say "yins" instead of "y'all." Ozarkians frequently complain about characterizations of them as poor, crazy, sleazy, gun-toting, moonshine-making, backwards folk and then they go and sell stuff like a corncob as "Hillbilly toilet paper" in every gas station. And then there is a mountain in the Ozarks called "Knob Lick mountain." And every truck has a gun-rack in the window.

And they have both Branson...


...and the Precious Moments Chapel, founded by born-again Christian and family man Sam Butler, who was famously always accompanied by adolescent Filipino boys.

Ozarkians held the interest of film-goers and tv watchers, radio-listeners and comic-readers throughout the 20th century but particularly in the second,  which gave us:

Lum & Abner (1932)

Lil' Abner (1934)

Beverly Hillbillies (1962)

                                                         Snuffy Smith (1934)                                                                 Ma & Pa Kettle (1947)


Real Ozark Hillbillies

The slogan of Nixa, Missouri is "The Progressive Choice of the Ozarks." It has a Motel 8, a McDonald's, a Taco Bell, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Sonic Drive In, Otts Pasta, Smitty's Supermarket and Restaurant and five strip malls.

So, despite Nixa's wealth of riches, Jason/David gave it up and left. He must've learned to code-switch and eliminate aspects of his idiolect that would betray his hillbilly origins. He got involved with the government and the rest is detailed in the films.

The lastest Bourne film, the Bourne Ultimatum is a lot like the previous installments. It met my expectations. Jason goes to France, New York City, London, Russia, Spain and Tangier. He runs and chases and frequently metes out Krav Maga, a cool-looking fighting style developed by Jews first to protect themselves from Nazis in the 1930s, and perfected in Israel in the 1940s. 

After the Bourne Supremacy, Bourne fans' most common complaint was director Paul "shakycam" Greengrass' heavy reliance on that early 90s fad which is used, I guess, to make us feel like we're really there... like we're invisible and shaking whilst we watch the action from behind potted plants, writhing and convulsing completely unseen by the film's characters. Or maybe it's supposed to be the distracting Brechtian technique that it is, calling attention to itself, reminding us that this is a film, not real life, so remain detached and reflective. Whatever the reason, he uses it less, which still annoyed me because it doesn't need to be there at all. When my friend Hien saw it, he had to excuse himself to throw-up.

One other thing that totally confused me, and I am admittedly a bit slow, was Albert Finney as Albert Hirsh.

In the previous Bourne movies Ward Abbot was played by Brian Cox.

I spent the duration of the latest film thinking they were one in the same, whilst scratching my head trying to remember events of the previous two films. Blackbriar. Treadstone. Names and details don't seem that important but all of the sudden, Albert Finney comes in doing what seems like a Brian Cox impression with slobbery mumbles and looking over his glasses. Maybe I'm the only person that confuses them (although Brian Cox has a bit of Marlon Brando in him too).

Anyway, despite what I felt were relatively minor but annoying flaws, I came out of the theatre really wanting to get into a fight that involves whatever's in reach and to drive recklessly through the streets and alleys, and I think that's the real point.

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