Monday, February 20, 2023

24 Hours of Movies: Bruno

by Patrick Bromley
A marathon in honor of one of the best to ever do it.
The news just hit that Bruce Willis's health has taken a turn for the worse. His previously diagnosed aphasia had progressed to frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a horrible disease with no cure and no treatment. We are going to lose Bruce Willis, probably sooner than later, and I'm so sad about it. Even writing this piece was very difficult because it makes me sad. But in the spirit of celebrating the people we love while they are still with us rather than after they're gone, I wanted to program a movie marathon in his honor. This is for you, Bruno.

10 am - Blind Date (1987, dir. Blake Edwards)
Let's start at the beginning. Because Bruce Willis became a comedy star thanks to Moonlighting (still one of my five favorite TV shows of all time), it only made sense that he would make the jump to the big screen in a romantic comedy from Blake Edwards. Blind Date isn't the best, but it's fun to watch Bruno go from handsome and smug leading man to unhinged maniac over the course of a single night. He would become one of the world's biggest action stars just a year later, so it's easy to forget just how great his comedy chops are.

11:45 am - Striking Distance (1993, dir. Rowdy Herrington)
A Bruno programmer that's much more thriller than the action movie the marketing led us to believe. This one was supposedly changed a lot via editing and reshoots and Bruno wasn't great to work with, but the results are still super solid. Rowdy Harrington don't miss.

1:30 pm - Armageddon (1998, dir. Michael Bay)
I want to program this somewhere in the lineup because a) I like it and b) it really does represent Bruno at the absolute peak of his box office powers. It's bloated and stupid and could stand to lose close to an hour, but it still works in a way that modern blockbusters seldom do. Bruce Willis seems kind of unhappy here and I don't know if that's a character choice (Harry Stampler is something of a grouch) or if it's because he was clashing with director Michael Bay, but the bench of supporting players is so strong that they pick up the slack.

4:30 pm - Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dir. Wes Anderson)
Maybe not exactly what one would expect during a Bruce Willis marathon, but that's what make his participation and performance in this movie so perfect: it's not what anyone would have expected at this point in his career. He's quiet and sad and once again reminding us that he's a great actor in addition to being a great movie star. His is my favorite performance in this movie.

6:30 pm - Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan)
I had to split the primetime dinner slot between this and the next film because they're almost equally important in the career of Bruce Willis. This remains the Greatest Action Movie Ever Made and his John McClane the Greatest Action Hero of All Time. I love what an unconventional choice Bruno was in 1988 (even as a little kid I remember being like "David Addison shooting guns?") and how well it payed off, cementing Willis as a huge fucking movie star. Even a series of diminishing returns in the sequels can't take the shine off this one. It's one of the best movies ever made.

9 pm - Pulp Fiction (1994, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
I love that Bruce Willis regularly took chances on smaller movies (like Nobody's Fool and this one) and continued to be an actor and not just a movie star even after he hit it big. Quentin Tarantino was not a guaranteed commodity when Bruce signed on to Pulp Fiction in the early '90s, but he put his trust in a talented filmmaker and wound up giving one of the best performances of his career as a boxer who refuses to take a dive. That he would lend his talent and, more importantly, his celebrity to a director who was more or less just starting out is a testament to who he is.

Midnight - 12 Monkeys (1995, dir. Terry Gilliam)
Speaking of Bruce Willis' best performances, he gave another Top 5 turn in Terry Gilliam's sci-fi time travel mindbender just one year after Pulp Fiction. Shit, he kind of ran the '90s. Bruce didn't make many horror movies (save for one famous ghost story and a cameo in Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror), so we're going to need some other options as it gets late and we want to get a little weirder with out marathon. 12 Monkeys fits that bill perfectly. Brad Pitt got all the attention for his movie (including an Oscar nomination), but it's Bruce that carries the whole thing. If he was ever going to get serious Awards consideration, it should have been for this one.

2:15 am - Unbreakable (2000, dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
I know I should probably program The Sixth Sense in this slot, but I'm calling an audible and going with Bruce's second collaboration with M. Night, the super hero deconstruction Unbreakable. I love how quiet and broken Bruce is in this movie -- such a far cry from the wisecracking confidence of John McClane -- and the scene where he puts his finger to his lips to shush his son is one of the best moments of his entire career.  To think, we wouldn't have had this movie or The Sixth Sense if The Brooklyn Brawler had actually worked out. Once again, Bruce spotted talent in the relatively inexperienced Shyamalan and put his trust in him, launching one of the biggest careers of the last 30 years and giving Bruce's career another act.

4:15 am - Death Becomes Her (1993, dir. Robert Zemeckis)
Another oddball turn that best belongs in the overnight slot. Robert Zemeckis's effects-laden black comedy is one of the most underrated movies in his filmography, and Bruce Willis gives one of the best performances of his career in the least showy of the three main roles. He's playing totally against type and crushes every hilarious second he's on screen as a husband caught between two vain women (Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, both amazing) fighting over the secret to eternal youth. Sort of. Again, great comedian, great actor. His delivery of "She'll be furious!" will never not be funny.

6 am - The Last Boy Scout (1991, dir. Tony Scott)
This was a hard one to program because I'm realizing I'm running out of time and there are still so many movies I want to be able to squeeze in. As much as I think John McClane is the perfect role for Bruce Willis, disgraced Secret Service agent-turned-private detective Joe Hallenbeck is a close second. No one else could match the smirking cynicism of Shane Black's script as well as Willis can, and his begrudging partnership with co-star Damon Wayans is actually believable even if the pair didn't totally get along on set. This is a dark, mean-spirited, violent action movie. In short, it rules.

8 am - The Whole Nine Yards (2000, dir. Jonathan Lynn)
Look at this marathon. Fucking banger after fucking banger. I know he made a lot of bad movies, particularly in his recent DTV years (the reasons for which are well documented), but he also made more good-to-great movies than most stars of his stature. This one is slept on a little, but it's one of the great comedies of the 2000s even if that has more to do with the ensemble than it does Bruce's performance as Jimmy "The Tulip" Tedeski, a hitman who moves in next door to Matthew Perry. The movie has some fun with Willis' screen persona and he's certainly funny in it, but it's the kind of role that someone else might have played just as well. Still, credit to Bruno for being able to spot good material and always coming to play.

9:45 am - Hudson Hawk (1991, dir. Michael Lehmann)
There's really only one way to close things out, and it's to catch the excitement. To catch the adventure. To catch THE HAWK. This movie is the ultimate distillation of Bruno Phase 1: a vanity project he co-wrote, stars in, and appears on the soundtrack. It's purely an ode to his coolness, his sense of humor, his tastes, and while it was widely rejected at the time of its release (in the U.S., anyway; it performed well overseas), the years have been good to it. Bruce was a man ahead of his time. My only hope is that his remaining time, however long that may be, is peaceful and that he's surrounded by the people that he loves and that love him. He's given us so much.

Even if you're not going to do this marathon, watch a Bruce Willis movie tonight. You'll be glad you did.

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Patrick. I will admit I shed tears when I saw the latest news about Bruno. He's one of my favorites and it is hard to see this happen to him and his family. This marathon is such a celebration of his life & legacy. Thanks for putting it together!

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  2. Thanks from me as well - this is cool and has encouraged me I need to go back and watch some of his early comedy fare.

    I also just watched Striking Distance. Not bad and those first 12 mins or so were a 10/10!

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  3. I’m going to watch this marathon… and when I do, I’m going to drink… Seagram’s… Golden Wine Coolers… Seagrams…. Golden Wine Coolers…

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    1. cant not read this in singing-bruno voice. {golf clap}

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  4. It’s pretty amazing to think you can program a 24 hour Bruce Willis marathon and leave out: The Sixth Sense, The Fifth Element, the third and second Die Hards, Sin City, Look Who’s Talking and Looper and it’s not a problem because every movie you programmed is must-see Bruno. I’m watching Hudson Hawk tonight!

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    1. Yeah I might have to do a second one for that very reason.

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  5. LOVE this list. Its a great across-the-boards representation of the incredible output of Bruce. Even moreso when you take into account the other flicks Ceballos references!?

    I started with Pulp last nite. If you dabble in 4k, i HIGHLY suggest it. On deck is Last Boy Scout which is a movie ive only seen a few times, but recall thinking each time "holy sh@t this is good! i should watch it more!!" Will be working towards Hudson Hawk, a movie that i love beyond words.

    Thanks Patrick for curating and yall for commenting. Movie love from movie lovers for Bruce Willis.

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  6. Cheers to the life and career of Bruno. Tonight I want to revisit Looper, a movie which it has been too long since I last watched.

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  7. Just curious if you considered "Nobody's Fool" for the list? It's in my top 3 favorite comfort films and Bruce is amazing in it. It also makes me miss Paul Newman every time I watch it.

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    1. I gave it a shoutout in my PULP FICTION writeup but I think I need to program a second marathon so I can include that a bunch of others!

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    2. Great choices, regardless! As you know, Bruce is my favorite actor and Die Hard my favorite movie so needless to say, super bummed about this news.

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  8. I'm gonna watch Bandits and Death Becomes Her. I always appreciated that he made fun, quirky choices.

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