Hard Eight (1996)

HARD1

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Before Paul Thomas Anderson dared to adapt Pynchon novels he made a lovely sparse seedy neo-noir movie called ‘Hard Eight’ in the mid nineties. The film has a stellar cast including Samuel L. Jackson before he became a parody of himself, Gwyneth Paltrow before Coldplay, John C. Reilly and a cameo from the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Such a cast is overshadowed by a perfect performance from Philip Baker Hall who plays wily fixer Sydney.

Sydney reminds me a lot of Harvey Keitel’s character from those Telly adverts, Winston something-or-other. He’s a problem solver, cool in the face of crisis. The film begins when Sydney comes across a beaten and bedraggled John (C. Reilly). John has lost money gambling. He was trying to win money to pay for his Mother’s funeral. Sydney buys John coffee, listens to his tale and then offers to teach him how to make some serious dollar.

Sydney takes John to Vegas and shows him how to hustle the casinos. The film then fast forwards to the next chapter. Two years later John is making good money. John and Sydney come across Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) who runs security and Clementine, a wayward cocktail waitress slash prostitute (Paltrow). Like with John, Sydney tries to help out Clementine, at first she misinterprets his acts of kindness. Thinking, like most men that he wants her body.

That’s the set-up, the film ramps up the tension levels with blackmail, hostage situations and stand offs. Paul Thomas Anderson loads his films with talented charismatic actors, unusual off beat dialogue, and we know that this has become a mark of his work, but it’s fascinating to see how minimal the film is. Café-Casino-Motel Room. There’s no need to present the glitz and glamour of Vegas, this is the other reality, the lives in the shadows.

A word or two must go towards the Philip Seymour Hoffman scene, it’s brief, but brilliant, a hint of things to come. Hoffman is at his blustering obnoxious best. A gambler who goes up against Sydney. He taunts Sydney, calling him “old man” and tries to get under his skin. The scene is reminder to any actor who get gifted s a couple of minutes of screen time and a handful of lines early in their career. Give it everything, snatch the opportunity. It could launch a career. You could become an icon. Hoffman would go on to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, and it’s fair to say this scene probably convinced Anderson  about what Hoffman was all about.

– RJW

8/10

 

Hard Eight on IMDB

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My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)



Directed by: Bob Balaban

The only reason I watched ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ because I thought about doing a bit on the early work of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman, credited in this movie minus the ‘Seymour’, plays a jock stooge. He gets a handful of lines and ends up receiving a fireman’s axe through his head. There aren’t many glimpses of the greatness to come; in fact, his performance is part of a film that I would describe as a mediocre disappointment.

‘My Boyfriend’s Back’, likely named after the popular sixties song from The Angels, is not appropriately titled because technically speaking, Missy McCloud, the love interest in this movie, is not actually in a relationship with the film’s undead hero Johnny when he is alive. So really the title really makes no sense.

Knowingly bad, ‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ doesn’t take itself seriously; it’s almost like one of those campy Elvira films, minus the sassy innuendos. The film’s story goes something like this – Johnny is a senior in High School, he’s been pining over Missy McCloud for twelve years and one day dreams of getting with her, his main ambition is to take her to the prom. Blocking his path is Buck, Missy’s ex-boyfriend, played by ‘Lost’ star Matthew Fox. The second obstacle comes when Johnny and his friend decide to win over Missy by setting up a situation where Johnny stops a fake robbery at the convenience store where Missy works, proving himself to be a hero, who is willing to put his life on the line for her. Unfortunately for Johnny a real criminal decides to hold up the convenience store. Johnny takes a bullet during the robbery that was intended for Missy.

Johnny dies and comes back as a zombie. In most films there’d be this whole adjustment period where Johnny takes a while to come to terms with his undead state, but nobody really bats an eyelid, and life pretty much goes back to normal for him. The only familiar zombie trope is that he is susceptible to losing body parts. There are a few funny lines around these scenes, including one from Johnny’s Mom, who says “Are you hungry? There’s a lot of food leftover from your funeral”.

The films turns into a sweetish love story, as Missy, seemingly turned on by dead men falls head over heels for Johnny. The film meanders quite a bit from here, and becomes rather boring, ending with a predictable happy ever after finale.

‘My Boyfriend’s Back’ knows it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it is a fun little afternoon time killer that doesn’t enrage the viewer. Andrew Lowery, who plays the lead Johnny, acted in a trilogy of teen movies in the early nineties. As well as this movie he also had roles in ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and ‘School Ties’, he didn’t go on to much after that, which is a shame because he’s a charming presence. The trouble is the supporting cast are patchy, and underwritten. Buck the jock is not a constant thorn in Johnny’s side, the best friend character exists on the periphery and all the best lines come from Johnny’s unconditionally loving parents.

– RJW
4/10

My Boyfriend’s Back on IMDB