Let's Hear It For the Boy
In my hometown in Arkansas, the second most popular movie among the youth was Footloose. Star Wars was number one, but that was the same everywhere. Footloose, which was frighteningly close to our own no-dancing town, we turned into our own Rocky Horror Picture Show, with scripted heckles, shouted lines, and the wild girls showing up in red cowboy boots. Our favorite was not Kevin Bacon, but the character Willard, played by Chris Penn.
Footloose was the followup role to another movie that was very popular in my hometown, the Tom Cruise movie All the Right Moves. Chris Penn plays the high school football star who doesn't go to college after his girlfriend gets pregnant. Tom Cruise played the character he later played in Top Gun and Jerry Maguire, as well as a number of his other films: Self Righteous Rebel.
Several years later, while still a teenager but with my life growing increasingly chaotic and dark, I rented At Close Range from the video store down the street from my parents' house. The movie's box looked much like my outlook on life: stark, bleak, and without much hope. After everyone in the house was asleep, I put the movie on and watched while I sipped from a pint of Smirnoff that I kept hidden the sofa crack between drinks. The movie has Sean and Chris Penn as brothers and Christopher Walken as their father. I was captivated by the rural noir tractor-stealing story, and it had Willard in it.
I knew Chris but not Sean Penn. I hadn't yet seen Sean's Bad Boys, and had no frame of reference whatsoever for Jeff Spicoli, the pot smoking character from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I didn't get Spicoli at all. Honestly, I had no idea when I saw it on TV in 1983 what all the pot jokes were, I thought they were smoking cigarettes in his van, and I knew no surfers (Arkansas, remember?) and I had no idea why he was talking like that. But Chris Penn, I knew as "That Guy" from All the Right Moves, and of course, as Willard. Sean won me over with that role, and I was then fans of both brothers.
I saw every movie I could with the two, hoping for another pairing, but they never teamed up again. Sean did Colors. Chris did Reservoir Dogs. Sean did Carlito's Way. Chris did True Romance. Then Sean did Dead Man Walking, and transformed from The Guy Who Was Spicoli to Oscar Nominee. Chris...what happened to him from there? Chris went from substanstial roles in good films to small roles in major releases and slightly bigger roles in straight to video disasters. His most popular role of late was as a voice in the Citizen Kane of violent video games, Grand Theft Auto. There's no way I can pick between who I like better, especially after brilliant Sean Penn roles such as the lead in The Assassination of Richard Nixon, but I always wanted more out of Chris.
Chris was much more likely to play a character who was like someone I actually knew. His brilliance as an actor was only sometimes shown but played with all the fun that was the equal and opposite of his brother's Dead Man Walking seriousness. I gave Chris every chance I could, even when stinkers like Fist of the North Star showed up on cable.
Chris Penn was found dead on January 24. The cause of death is still to be determined. So long Willard, and thanks for giving us guys who can't dance a hero.
The Q 500 Week in Review
I had a great week with the DVD choices. My pick of the week is Rollerball, the Norman Jewison directed science fiction story starring James Caan. It's much more than guys in skates and motorcycles killing each other on national TV, although that should be enough. It's corporate conspiracy and '70s dystopia. It's all done pre CGI, with a wonderful classical music soundtrack behind all the drama and violence.
Season 3 of Titus came out sometime since the first of the year. Christopher Titus' one man show, Norman Rockwell is Bleeding, is my favorite one man show of all time. The comedy comes from a place of true darkness, not from a contrived "I'm edgy" persona that many comedians like to display. I saw him in December at Cobb's and he was as good as ever. His show, Titus, works much better on DVD than it did on TV. The commercial breaks ruin the pacing, as they do with most shows. Very few series, such as the Law & Order franchise and the CSI:Wherever, work well with breaks. I didn't catch more than a couple episodes the first time around, but I absolutely loved watching seasons one and two on DVD, most notably the episode in which Titus goes to his ex-girlfriend's funeral, just to make sure she's dead. As soon as disc 500 leaves my queue, this is going in.
The TV trash of the week is Lisa Loeb's #1 Single, on E!. It's stupid, cringe-inducing, and yet, totally compelling. At the first commercial break, I immediately hit my menu thingy to find out when it was going to be on again. Lisa is totally cute and endearing, and looks like a real person with just-like-us problems, but the show is cut to show her lowest love life points. Who would like his or her worst dates shown every week? It's a heart-wreck from which I can't turn away.