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Classic Hollywood Movie Spotlight: Point Break

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Aug 24, 2010 | 5:17am EDT

Point BreakThere have been several articles written about why it is that The Expendables is beating Scott Pilgrim vs. the World at the box office. My buddy Ian pointed this out to me, wondering why it is that anyone would need to spend much thought on the matter. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a highly stylized romance set inside a world utterly opaque to anyone outside it. The Expendables is a kick-ass action movie starring a lot of the great action stars from the last few decades. Little demographic. Big demographic. Open-and-shut case.

A mystery to pierce would be why it is that Universal put down $85 million for a niche geek-satire director to helm a niche hip actor in an adaptation of an indie comic book. Don’t get me wrong, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World holds its place in my personal pantheon of great movies -- I braved bug-infested New York theaters to see it twice -- but anyone who thought it would make enough money to see profit on an $85 million budget needs to have his head examined. Even word of mouth from people who adore Scott Pilgrim won’t save it. As my friend Deb said, "I loved the movie but I’m not about to suggest my mom go see it.”

One notion that’s been brought up in the Scott Pilgrim vs. Expendables debate has something to do with masculinity or toughness. Simply put, it’s impossible for anyone to think of Michael Cera and a bunch of geek-directed hipsters as tough, and given that Scott Pilgrim’s an action movie, that creates some sort of cognitive dissonance that short circuits the brain.

Masculinity is one of the great subjects of film. Scott Pilgrim isn’t so much about masculinity as it is about growing up in general. Although masculinity was the very subject of Edgar Wright’s previous movie, Hot Fuzz. That film relentlessly, hilariously and lovingly satires the action movies of the '90s, with special attention paid to this week’s case in point:

1991’s Point Break.

There are few movies that hold onto masculinity as subject matter as intimately as Point Break. From start to finish, this movie is all about what it means to be a man: independence, freedom, violence, courage, sexuality, the metaphorical gaining and killing of the father, confronting and defeating death -- the whole nine yards. Point Break is an elegy to manliness on all levels, in a way far more savvy than The Expendables could ever be. The Expendables plays with masculinity using pop action movie icons, but Point Break does it with narrative.

Point BreakAll the more surprising, perhaps, is that Point Break was directed by a woman: Kathryn Bigelow. This was long before she won the Oscar for another one of her many meditations on male subculture, The Hurt Locker. In fact, nobody believed she could do it. The script had been meant for Ridley Scott, starring Matthew Broderick and Charlie Sheen. We can thank the movie gods that never happened. Ridley Scott’s a brilliant director, but his technique is far too clinical to render masculinity as a thematic, and Matthew Broderick’s image is still that of a boy who can’t grow up.

It may be, as well, that it took someone looking at masculinity from the outside to create the sensuous feast of testosterone frustration that is Point Break. However it shakes down, Point Break is and will always be an absolute classic and a testament to the fact that only a fool would think a movie can’t be tough because it’s directed by a woman. Bigelow directed Point Break; Garry Marshall directed Pretty Woman.

So right now, for movies in the theater, if you want to learn how to be a tough guy, go check out The Expendables. If you want to learn how to be a bit more of a grown-up, go see Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Next week: the scariest movie ever.

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