|Title:||Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang|
|12.31.08||DVD||Now that Robert Downey, Jr.'s a big star again, I thought it'd be interesting to revisit this movie where I think he really "came back" to acting. The chemistry between him and Val Kilmer's pretty great and it's a fairly constant battle between their performances and the showy writing for control of the movie. I still enjoy it as a fun jaunt through mystery stereotypes. i still don't get the beer commercial at the end but oh well - I barely cared about the plot in the first place.|
|10.20.05||Paramount||This Screening is part of event: Austin Film Festival 2005|
After Shopgirl, we all had to head back outside where lines had already formed for the next showing at the Paramount: Shane Black's Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Black, who has apparently been to AFF several times in the past (during the Q&A after the show he mentioned that he's finally good for more than drinks at the Driskill), was here tonight not just for panels and roundtables but also to show his new film which he wrote and directed.
Before the show, they played a nice little AFF intro where an announcer tries to pass off LA as Austin, calling the LA River the mighty Rio Grande and the Chinese Theater the Paramount. It drew chuckles the first time but I predict I will officially hate it by Monday.
The movie itself is really great. It's a "tough guy" movie that manages to be post-modern and self-referential but also true to the genre at the same time. Robert Downey Jr., who plays a New York petty thief wrangled into LA rising stardom, supplies some really great narration, speaking to those of us in the audience who have seen three hundred movies similar to this before. It's smart and quick and sharp, throwing out references, mea culpas, and non sequiturs left and right. My only complaint is that it goes away for about an hour. Yep, I found myself missing voice-over. Crazy, I know.
Val Kilmer also gives a great performance as Gay Perry, a private detective hired to coach Downey Jr. for a part. Michelle Monaghan fills out the leading cast, acting well and looking unbelievably hot in every shot. Black doesn't shy away from the casual nudity and hot chicks that make movies like these so enjoyable. This is very much an LA movie. It's set during the Holidays so you get that unique LA Christmas atmosphere of garish color, oddball excess and industry-fueled celebritydom. In the movie, it's like a big deal that Monaghan has done a commercial, and it actually IS a big deal because the commercial becomes very important in the last scene.
What's great about this movie is that, while simultaneously making fun of the late-80s/90s action stuff that made Black famous but also including authentic action sequences done very well, it’s really about this complex mystery tale very much in the vein of the classic noir pulp fiction of Chandler and Cain. A fictional series of dime store novels fuels the central plot and the film is even divided into chapters, each with a title taken from Chandler's work. The supporting characters all have classic crime story names like Harlan Dexter, Dabney Shaw, and Harmony Faith Lane. The plot is so complex and moves so quickly that I'm actually a bit unsure about a few of the twists and turns that it takes. It's a movie that definitely warrants repeat viewings to understand all of its layers (much like The Big Lebowski (no, I’m not joking)).
I'm convinced that there's a rather huge revelation in the last shot of the film, but I don't know what it means yet so I won't say anything.
Overall, I had a blast with this movie. It was really refreshing, consistently surprising, and thoroughly enjoyable. Even the beginning titles were in a grungy animated style, somewhat reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can's titles, that work with John Ottman's score to establish a neo-retro post-modern classicist tone that this movie somehow thrives in. A real treat.
Afterward, Shane Black came out for questions:
-The story originally started as a very dark romantic comedy. Black showed it to James L. Brooks at one point to get feedback and Brooks said it was trying awfully hard to NOT be an action movie; it was feeling more like Black was trying to be him. He then brought up a few movies like Chinatown which, while still a genre picture, was not really an action movie. At this, Black said that made complete sense and the invisible planes stuck in a holding pattern around his head now had the OK to land and the script went from there.
-It took him 21 months to write the script and then no one picked it up or had any interest at all. Some returned it with bizarre notes like "we're not looking for a period picture," clearly not even reading it. Then, luckily, Joel Silver read it, liked it, and really got behind it. Warner Brothers gave him 15 million and basically said "get back to us with the finished film" so there was no studio influence at all with this movie. Black stated that he really only had one man to please, and if both he and Silver liked something then it's in the movie. Black mentioned that having Joel Silver's ear was like a huge invisible club following him around, making sure things got done the way he wanted them to. He also stated that shooting digitally was never a question because Joel Silver does not shoot digital. He loves film and Black loves film and that was that.
-One of his main conscious goals with this movie was not to cater to the audience, but to make them have to stay alert and keep up. Also, while he references a lot of genre conventions and pokes a little fun at a few of them, he feels the movie, at its core, has a good heart so he didn't want to make the violence that graphic or let the tone get too serious. At one point he mentioned that action movies are all about ejaculation anyway, with all the machine guns spitting out fire and bullets and things exploding, so he said "Screw it. Why not make it literal? Have someone actually shoot with his dick." That drew more than a few laughs.
-On working with both Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, he said despite the ongoing rumors about their difficulty to work with, both actors were "angels." Both very professional, very courteous and ultimately gave really great performances. Black mentioned that there was real chemistry between the two and that they remain good friends after filming. He also said that Mel Gibson called up Joel Silver and personally vouched for Robert Downey Jr. to land him the gig. Shane Black originally kept seeing Downey around the office because he was dating one of Joel Silver's producers, but after Gibson's call he just sat him down and had him read a few lines and it was like hearing the perfect translation of his script coming out of Doney's mouth. I have to say that's true, Downey's dialogue, both in the film and the narration, is supremely natural and hilarious.
-When asked if Black was influenced at all from either the Coen Brothers or Charlie Kaufman for this movie, he responded that, to him, the Coens make movies about other movies and that they're very heady and intellectual. For him, he always takes from real life and real experiences and emotions and never from other films. As for Kaufman, he said that he's never seen a Kaufman film. That's not for any reason in particular, he hears great things about them, but he just hasn't caught any of his work yet.
-According to Black, doing the whole Robert Altman overlapping dialogue thing is easier than you'd think. It does create more work for the editor but it's not impossible and coverage wasn't a problem considering the naturalism and humor that you get from it.
-One person asked him "What were you like as a child?" the question was ultimately more enjoyable than the answer.
-Another person, clearly an aspiring writer, asked him how much of the script is on the screen since he directed this as well. Black answered by saying that this is the first time what he wrote is what we saw. In another question about whether he learned anything as a writer by directing the film, Black stated that he sort of didn't want to learn anything; he hoped he could still write without any of the logistical issues or limitations in mind when he sat down to write because that would edit his ideas and creativity.
So there you have it, a great movie followed by a pretty good Q&A. Thus ends night one of the Austin Film Festival. My ass is already sore from a double feature at the Paramount, with only seven more nights to go!