Everybody working in culture’s got ‘em. Artists love to talk about ‘em. AllMusic even includes a standard (if sometimes suspect) list of influences and influencees in artist pages. And as a critic, I’ve got mine, too. I love A.O. Scott’s mordant tone (This line from his Star Trek review stands as one of my favorite all-time sentences in a critique: “Jim still manages to defy the continuity team and switch hair color from dirty blond to redhead and back again. Don’t worry, he’s still a natural dickhead underneath.”) if not always his conclusions and Manohla Dargis’s crusading spirit. But if I’m going to name someone who changed not just the way I write about movies but the way I watch them, credit has to go to a less famous source: Tony Palumbi.
Tony and I were buddies in high school. We were fellow debate nerds, he was on a better swim team than I was. For a long time, during the summer, he’d meet me after my job at the town swimming pool, we’d bike over to his house, and we’d watch a ton of action movies. I don’t know that I’d actually seen an action movie before Tony and I started hanging out. I was pretty freaked out by violent action sequences due to a tendency towards bad nightmares. He helped me get over that, and to appreciate the art of a good fight scene–and the unique sense of humor that often accompanies such fights. The movies we watched ranged from ridiculous to awesome, but a lot of them stuck with me, among them Hackers*, Plunkett & Macleane (the combination of which gave me a Jonny Lee Miller fixation for a while…ahh, youth.), Blade, and Starship Troopers. Maybe I would have gotten there on my own, but without Tony, I’m not sure I would be writing pieces like this one praising our transformation into a fanboy nation.
*Hackers may be dated as hell, but it is totally awesome, and informed a huge amount of my high school bravado. If only real-life hacking was so hilarious, and involved so much cross-dressing. And if only Jesse Bradford had gone on to have an actual career.