Tag Archives: Shane Black

The Monster Squad (1987, Fred Dekker)

Fred Dekker can definitely compose a shot. For whatever its faults, The Monster Squad is one good looking film. Some of that credit belongs to the production designer and the cinematographer and the special effects people, but most of it belongs to Dekker. Dekker composes beautiful Panavision shots and he directs actors really well too–well, some of them, but more on that aspect later.

The Monster Squad is a mix between The Goonies and Ghostbusters and maybe even a little E.T. It’s developed a cult following for whatever reasons a film develops cult followings, but it’s a dramatic train wreck. There’s an infamous missing thirteen minutes (the film’s producers told Dekker to cut it to under ninety), but unless those thirteen minutes are all bridging scenes… The film takes place over three days and the leaps in logic are astounding (my favorite was the kids all being out at midnight with parents completely unaware) and it’s so smug, it’s not even well-meaning in its “message.” Still, there’s a lot of good stuff in Monster Squad.

First, there’s Stephen Macht. The guy’s fantastic–and not all of Monster Squad‘s script is bad. The family stuff is all excellent–it might be stereotypical cop too busy for his family, but it’s being performed by good actors–and some of the humorous stuff with the kids, the one-liners, are good. There’s a cute dog. It’s just so unbelievable… Anyway, besides Macht’s wonderful performance, there’s Duncan Regehr as Dracula. Regehr doesn’t actually have much to do, but he does a great job. The kids are… well, they’re all the kids who guest-starred on 1980s TV shows, pretty much. Only Robby Kiger is good in the scenes with the other kids and with the ludicrous elements, Andre Gower is good at the family stuff with Macht, but not the other stuff. Brent Chalem is terrible.

Even though its special effects are still excellent, The Monster Squad is incredibly dated by its dialogue. Watching it–as I near thirty (and I was vindicated by this widescreen copy, since it clearly shows something I’ve been saying for twenty years was in the film was simply pan and scanned out)–I can’t imagine ever showing it to one of my (prospective) children. The conversation about the rampant homophobic slurs coming out of the kids’ mouths weighed against the film’s content just isn’t worth it–and Monster Squad gets nasty, using terms I didn’t even understand until now. Just really mean-hearted stuff. It might be a fairly accurate representation of how boys talk, but it’s not a documentary about kids being stupid shitheads and its presence is somewhat odd (though, maybe not, given how fanatically Dekker defended it in a recent interview). There’s also a really weird aspect about the two main kids, Gower and Kiger, hugging all the time….

The film definitely suffers from a lack of wonderment or even a comprehension of it. When these kids, who are obsessed with monsters, discover this pretend passion is actual, there’s no moment of recognition. It’s an absurd fantasy and it doesn’t recognize that condition and it suffers greatly for it. However, I can’t believe, how good-looking a film it is in its original aspect ratio. Whatever its significant faults, Monster Squad is a beautifully produced film. It’s like the Olympia of kids movies. No, that one’s a little far, but Dekker’s interview really pissed me off (I mean, seriously, I don’t know if he’d mind the comparison of ideologies).

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fred Dekker; written by Dekker and Shane Black; director of photography, Bradford May; edited by James Mitchell; music by Bruce Broughton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by Jonathan A. Zimbert; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andre Gower (Sean), Robby Kiger (Patrick), Stephen Macht (Del), Duncan Regehr (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein), Brent Chalem (Horace), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Michael Faustino (Eugene), Mary Ellen Trainor (Emily), Carl Thibault (Wolfman), Tom Woodruff Jr. (Gill-Man), Michael MacKay (Mummy), Leonard Cimino (Scary German Guy), Jon Gries (Desperate Man), Stan Shaw (Detective Sapir) and Jason Hervey (E.J.).


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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005, Shane Black)

It’s nice to have Robert Downey Jr. back. Val Kilmer is hardly doing anything, so I always looked at Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as a Kilmer film, but then, watching, I realized that I hadn’t seen Downey in anything since… Wonder Boys? Probably Wonder Boys. But he’s the lead in Kiss Kiss and it reminds you just how great he is an actor. Didn’t want to end with an “it” there.

Kilmer’s great too, but the show’s all Downey’s. Downey’s and Shane Black’s. Kiss Kiss isn’t perfect–it gets way too serious when it doesn’t have to–but it’s an impressively constructed film. It’s like if Adaptation had worked. Black “reinvents the buddy film again!” No, I’m just kidding–lots of people are bringing up that Shane Black wrote Lethal Weapon. But there’s a difference between the two films… Kiss Kiss takes some responsibility for itself. It might actually take too much responsibility, but there’s actual weight to the characters’ violent acts. That’s something new.

Either some or a lot of notice has been given to Kilmer playing an openly gay character. This notice falls under my observation a few years ago: GLAAD has an award for best portrayal–in an amusement–of gay characters as… human beings. When I first read that, I checked the calendar and, yes, I was living in 2004, so I decided that the human species just needed to be firebombed. Or something. The character’s gayness probably started–for Black–as a way to comment on the genre and the character relationships, but Kilmer and Downey just made it part of the film. And their relationship is great. So good I used an “and” to start a sentence.

I guess I should pay some attention to the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. She’s really good in the film–playing Downey’s high school dream girl no less–one of the further ways Black plays with the medium–and she needs to be in other films I want to see.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is probably the best time I’ve had in the theater in a long time. I’m glad I went (instead of just waiting three months for the DVD).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Black, based in part on a novel by Brett Halliday; director of photography, Michael Barrett; edited by Jim Page; music by John Ottman; production designer, Aaron Osborne; produced by Joel Silver; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Harry Lockhart), Val Kilmer (Gay Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony Faith Lane), Corbin Bernsen (Harlan Dexter), Dash Mihok (Mr. Frying Pan), Larry Miller (Dabney Shaw), Rockmond Dunbar (Mr. Fire), Shannyn Sossamon (Pink Hair Girl) and Angela Lindvall (Flicka).