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DaltonMaltz

Episode 148 - Point Break (w/ Andrew Barker)

Episode 148 - Point Break (w/ Andrew Barker)  

26 members have voted

  1. 1. Should Point Break enter The Canon?

    • Yes
      11
    • No
      15


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Writer Andrew Barker of Variety joins Amy to discuss the 1991 action thriller “Point Break.” They examine the film as an entrance to the 90s, the complex dynamic between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, and the greatness of character names like Johnny Utah before before getting into director Kathryn Bigelow’s strong understanding of male relationships.

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Soft no. It's a fun movie that I enjoy. I give tons of credit to Kathryn Bigelow for directing the living hell out of this movie. The action scenes are all great, and the atmosphere is engrossing and rich. She finds the most interesting aspects (the homoerotic tension between Reeves and Swayze) and plays them up as much as possible. This movie is so much better than it needs to be.

 

But that said, the script is terrible. Johnny Utah is literally the worst FBI agent (by which I mean, "F . . . B . . . I AGENT"). I get that with Bigelow's eye and Keanu's presence he becomes someone more likable, but on a basic story level it's a failure to have him as the central character. He's literally the only reason there are so many unnecessary deaths. I don't think the script ever resolves this issue; Johnny never seems to face any actual consequences for his constant screw-ups, and the argument that this was all "purposeful" reads to me like "Bonsai bullshit." Sometimes a bad plot is just a bad plot.

 

I get that this movie is iconic and influential in some ways (the original The Fast and the Furious is basically a remake), so there is an argument to be made for its Canonicity. For me it's a good but not great action movie, bad writing buoyed by great direction. Not great enough to get my vote.

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Full disclosure, I've been on vacation this week so I wasn't able to rewatch POINT BREAK in order to have it fresh in my mind, but I think that's ok because I've given it so many chances before. People tell me I should love this movie. That it's a perfect, campy action movie for the period. But I've just never fallen in love with it. I'm even a Keanu apologist, and listening to this episode made me remember just how much I miss seeing Lori Petty in every other movie in the 90's. But when it comes to the film itself, I just don't find it as much fun as I feel like I should. And so many of the plot developments are so very very dumb. Really? There's not one but TWO surfer criminal gangs on the same beach? And while I agree that most of the camp is intentional, I also think it's sincere to the point that it's just trying to match and imitate the other bad movie tropes that were experiencing success in that era. I know. This forum isn't about nitpicking every little thing. And I honestly really enjoyed this episode and loved hearing Andrew's passionate arguments and theories. It actually made me want to give it another watch. But I've seen the film enough that I'm confident that even with a new viewing it still won't win me over to the degree of getting my full support. If you love this movie, I'm happy for you. I envy you even. And The Canon doesn't necessarily have a movie of this specific genre represented. But when these kinds of movies usually come with the caveat of being lovably dumb, I don't know how often you'll get a group of people to agree that one particular film is good enough to be called one of the best. So I'm going to have to give this a NO vote, but applaud the entertaining discussion all the same.

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I really love this movie. If anything can be a guilty pleasure for me, it's this movie. Yeah that's a terrible term, but I just have always felt I'm not supposed to like a movie like this, yet it's something I always enjoyed watching. I saw it in the theater on it's initial release with my cousin, his wife and my sister. Maybe that memory makes it better for me. I watched this again a couple months ago so it is still fresh in my mind. When I told people I watched it, they could only ask why. Still, when I heard this would be an episode, my initial reaction was no, as I wasn't sure how I could convince anyone else to watch it. However, Barker makes a great point about this being the change in action films from bodybuilders to, well, beautiful people, if still not ordinary people. I'll go with a soft yes.

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However, Barker makes a great point about this being the change in action films from bodybuilders to, well, beautiful people, if still not ordinary people. I'll go with a soft yes.

 

I guess it is kind of a turning point in the dominant mode, though I will say that Harrison Ford already fit the bill and had been doing it for a decade before Point Break.

 

The discussion about what makes for a "good" actor in an action movie is an interesting one. It depends on what you mean by "good." Is Keanu Reeves a chameleon who can slide into any role? Certainly not. He ain't Gary Oldman. But he does have screen presence. I would say that Reeves is a great physical actor, but he is limited vocally because he can't do anything about that surfer-boy cadence he always carries. In this regard, he's not all that different from Arnold Schwarzenegger: both of them are at their best in action-heavy roles that don't require them to talk too much. For Keanu: Speed, The Matrix, John Wick. For Arnold: Terminator, Predator, Conan. The exception would be if they are playing comic roles that deliberately make fun of the actor's persona (Bill & Ted, Kindergarten Cop).

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Point Break is a definite yes for me. It's a classic and iconic action movie that is an essential bridge between two eras of action movies. It's also ambitious and emotional and a little bit timeless (aside from it's stars).

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First of all, I had to smile when Amy brought up Von Stroheim's Greed, which reminded me why I listen to this podcast. I thought I was going to be all in YES on this movie. I was in film school in the early nineties and this was a much beloved film among my peers - I watched the laserdisc over and over, poring over Katrhyn Bigelow's technique and I agree with much of what Andrew Barker points out: it's the first great nineties action film, it gives us "action Keanu", it is wonderfully devoid of clever "you're dead" quips (although I wish somebody had once said "pop goes the weasel" after blowing up a bad guy), and there is a lot of subtext here - but masterpiece? I don't know. I think it falls short of that. There is nothing I can point to specifically, other that I think the whole isn't greater than the sum of its very good parts. As far as early Kathryn Bigelow movies go, I prefer Blue Steel, and I think Strange Days is the more interesting film she did in the nineties.

 

Also, while listening to the discussion about directing actresses I was reminded of The Weight of Water, a movie that doesn't come together at all but which features one of the greatest unsung performances I've seen, by Sarah Polley, which speaks to Kathryn Bigelow's ability with actors even though she is known for being good with a camera.

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In terms of a fun action movie with great visuals, Point Break delivers in spades. It really did have a huge part to play in defining the action genre for the decade to come. However, there is one category that disqualifies it from the canon: performances. I'm not looking for earth-shattering acting in my action movies, but Keanu is dreadful in this. Directors had yet to realize that he works only for certain roles with very limited dialogue. We all love John Wick for this precision. John C. McGinley is also too over the top in this, putting way too much sauce on the asshole chief archetype.

 

As for Bigelow, like Amy I want to see her masterpiece. Post-Hurt Locker, I fear though that she's become the War on Terror's Leni Riefenstahl. Detroit was a messy and failed attempt at shedding this image, and I worry that its failure will have her return to the jingoistic well.

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Post-Hurt Locker, I fear though that she's become the War on Terror's Leni Riefenstahl. Detroit was a messy and failed attempt at shedding this image, and I worry that its failure will have her return to the jingoistic well.

 

 

I had a different read on the end of Zero Dark Thirty, where the woman who has been essentially the representative of "America" is alone, and with no sense of direction. She boards a military plane , representative of American military might, that is an empty vessel with no flight-plan or a clear destination...this is triumphalist propaganda?

 

In any case, even if my interpretation is completely wrong, calling her a Leni Riefenstahl seems hyperbolic to me.

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I had a different read on the end of Zero Dark Thirty, where the woman who has been essentially the representative of "America" is alone, and with no sense of direction. She boards a military plane , representative of American military might, that is an empty vessel with no flight-plan or a clear destination...this is triumphalist propaganda?

 

In any case, even if my interpretation is completely wrong, calling her a Leni Riefenstahl seems hyperbolic to me.

 

I know there's plenty of room for disagreement on Zero Dark Thirty, but I agree 100%. The end of the film depicts a "War on Terror" that has lost its way.

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As a die-hard "rockist", Barker's mere mention of "poptimism" made me want to vote against this. But since I don't actually have strong feelings about this film or how canonical it is, I restrained myself and will not vote one way or the other.

 

When Amy complains about chaotic camerawork she brings up "The Bourne Identity", but it should be noted that Doug Liman's film by that name was actually relatively visually coherent. It's Paul Greengrass who made the sequels with enough shaky cam to give the audience motion sickness.

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I had a different read on the end of Zero Dark Thirty, where the woman who has been essentially the representative of "America" is alone, and with no sense of direction. She boards a military plane , representative of American military might, that is an empty vessel with no flight-plan or a clear destination...this is triumphalist propaganda?

 

In any case, even if my interpretation is completely wrong, calling her a Leni Riefenstahl seems hyperbolic to me.

 

It's the torture providing results that made me make that, admittedly, hyperbolic statement.

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It's the torture providing results that made me make that, admittedly, hyperbolic statement.

 

It's been a while since I saw the film, but from what I remember a close reading actually reveals that the torture largely didn't provide the results they needed.

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It's been a while since I saw the film, but from what I remember a close reading actually reveals that the torture largely didn't provide the results they needed.

 

That could be. Been awhile here too. Regardless, I still think Bigelow would do best to try more things outside of the war/national security milleau.

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When Amy complains about chaotic camerawork she brings up "The Bourne Identity", but it should be noted that Doug Liman's film by that name was actually relatively visually coherent. It's Paul Greengrass who made the sequels with enough shaky cam to give the audience motion sickness.

 

Those Greengrass movies are the only time the shaky-cam action actually worked for me. Most of the time I hate it.

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I would say that Reeves is a great physical actor, but he is limited vocally because he can't do anything about that surfer-boy cadence he always carries.

 

I don't think the problem is his cadence, he's just terrible at delivering lines. Whenever I've seen him in interviews, he seems able to sound natural when he speaks. His line-delivery has just always been abysmal though.

 

Anyway, I am unswayed by arguments that this film features an idiotic plot carried out by characters acting in idiotic ways because "that's the point." It just smells like a bad movie to me, despite being shot well by Kathryn Bigelow.

 

I'm also unswayed by arguments that this film was a game-changer for the action drama. Please, someone tell me what films wouldn't have been made if not for Point Break? In terms of law-enforcement-centric action films, the game-changers in that era were Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. I mean, Point Break might be the reason that Keanu was cast in Speed, but Die Hard was the reason Speed got made. And as far as introducing the idea of taking beautiful people over bodybuilders as action stars... the James Bond franchise and the rest of the sexy-spy genre had that covered 25-30 years before Point Break. And finally, you're going to try to tell me that Point Break was definitively more of an inspiration for The Fast and the Furious than 1987's No Man's Land, which is even more similar to it in plot than Point Break is? I just don't see this movie's fingerprints on action movies to come, despite that being a relatively important argument people are making towards its inclusion in the Canon.

 

I'm partially swayed by the argument "Kathryn Bigelow is a Canon-worthy director, this is her most popular movie and it's not her fault that it sucks." I haven't seen that many of her films, but in each one I've seen, her direction elevated it to a better film than it had any right being. I feel like we're waiting for her absolute masterpiece, and her recent films have been on the cusp of that. The Hurt Locker probably should have made the Canon in its episode. I think Zero Dark Thirty was a fantastic film (and I never really saw how people argued that it was in favor of torture, although I suppose it could have gone farther in its depiction of torture as horrific and pointless?). I thought Detroit was generally a very well-directed film, and my biggest complaint was that it never felt like it was her story to tell. I look forward to what she does next. There's a decent chance it will be Canon-worthy. But Point Break is not.

 

Hard no for me.

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I'm also unswayed by arguments that this film was a game-changer for the action drama. Please, someone tell me what films wouldn't have been made if not for Point Break? In terms of law-enforcement-centric action films, the game-changers in that era were Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

Die Hard is also clearly an example of a super-popular action movie featuring non-bodybuilder as the star. The whole appeal of it was that Bruce Willis was playing an average guy. Excellent point.

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I have a soft spot for Keanu. I saw most of his movies pre Matrix. I like that he tried a variety of roles, even when some of them had unfortunate or laughable results. I was thrilled when he had the comeback re John Wick.

 

I think Point Break a bad movie. I didn't like it when it was released either. I'd love to get behind it as an action movie directed by a woman, etc. But there were so many better action movies. Even the comment that said something about it being a sort of pop music video action movie -- I'll take Bad Boys over Point Break in that category--it's stupid but more watchable. The only thing I truly like about Point Break is its influence on Hot Fuzz.

 

I was genuinely surprised at two articulate, knowledgeable people lauding Patrick Swayze's acting ability. By all accounts, he was a lovely man, so it seems mean to say, but I never enjoyed his acting in any movie, and I think I saw nearly all of them as for some reason my parents seemed to have all his movies on VHS tapes and watched them over and over.

 

I'm feeling a bit at sea with this podcast, and I fear that next week will be even worse for me. :(

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I was working at Columbia Pictures when we bought the original screenplay for what was then called "Johnny Utah." As Andrew recounts, Ridley Scott was going to direct it, with Charlie Sheen (!) as Johnny, Dennis Quaid as Bodhi, and James Garner as Pappas. Nevertheless, I'm with Amy -- and with sycasey 2.0 -- on this one. Despite Andrew's impassioned case for "Point Break," it's just a fun, dumb popcorn movie with a way-above-average director. This isn't Bigelow's masterpiece; so far, the film closest to deserving that status is "The Hurt Locker," which really should have made the Canon. And as for Keanu Reeves action movies, "Speed" -- which has all the wit and smarts this film only wishes it had -- is your Canon-worthy entry, not "Point Break."

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This isn't Bigelow's masterpiece; so far, the film closest to deserving that status is "The Hurt Locker," which really should have made the Canon. And as for Keanu Reeves action movies, "Speed" -- which has all the wit and smarts this film only wishes it had -- is your Canon-worthy entry, not "Point Break."

 

Agreed. This episode really should have been a Point Break / Speed versus episode and then it's Speed all the way.

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Die Hard is also clearly an example of a super-popular action movie featuring non-bodybuilder as the star. The whole appeal of it was that Bruce Willis was playing an average guy. Excellent point.

I think people forget because Willis immediately recast himself as an action star in the Stallone/Schwarzenegger mode. In the sequels he becomes increasingly invulnerable/action-star like, which is why they generally got worse and worse.

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I grew up in southern California, and though I would never identify as a surfer, I have surfed a fair amount, and even wrote a book concerning California surf culture. This is why I never watched Point Break when it came out. The idea of bank robbing surfers and an FBI agent that instantly learns to shred, etc, seemed too stupid for me to handle. Last night I watched it on behalf of the Canon. Well, my young assumptions proved right. Escape from LA makes better use of evil surfers than this film does. Metaphorically, satirically, hyperbolically, or realistically, this film fails to capture anything authentic about the culture it endeavors to represent. But that's not what it's trying to do, right?

 

Okay. Let's start with this. The acting is terrible. The dialog laughably bad. The plot so dumb it practically drools. The best argument I've heard on its behalf is that it is intentionally bad, but who cares what the intention is? Bad is bad.

 

On the plus side, that image of Ronald Reagan torching a car with a flaming gas pump is pure gangster. The foot chase where Swayze throws the dog at Reeves is genius. The naked woman in the raid kicking Reeves' ass is pretty great, though the entire scene was only so-so to my viewing.

 

Otherwise, I'm not overly impressed with the bromance aspect of this film. Every macho movie ever made is a homoerotic love story. As to the claim that this film is canonical because it turned Reeves into an action hero, I say this is nothing to brag about.

 

In the end, this is a bad film with a few touches of real brilliance. If the canon is the beach, then Point Break is stuck in traffic in the Inland Empire.

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