Monday, January 22, 2007

Lunchbox Heroes: Matthew Modine

I never had a cool lunchbox when I was a kid. My dad was a Southern Baptist minister, and I guess cool lunchboxes were evil plots from the Devil or the Eighth Deadly Sin or something. No Incredible Hulk Thermos for me. No Ponch & John motorcycling their way down some California Highway in hot pursuit. No Happy Days or Fangface. I vaguely remember a Leviticus lunchbox, but I definitely recall not being able to sit at the cool table because of it.

No longer. I’m all about the cool table now. All you dorks with your Xena: Warrior Princess sandwich bags and your Pokemon pails can sit on the other side of the cafeteria, please. I’m toting the official Matthew Modine licensed product. That’s right, Matthew Modine will keep my cold cuts cold, my hot soup hot, and my Fruit Roll-ups rolled up.

Matthew Modine, we all remember, was the star of the vastly underrated coming-of-age film Private School …For Girls. The film was about a group of hormonal youths from all-boys academy -- Modine’s Jim being the cute, sensitive one -- who spy on the hotties from around the way at Cherryvale Academy. Okay, so the movie is mostly hackneyed teen sex comedy shtick, but leave it to Modine to be surrounded by cliched Peeping Tom bits and buying-prophylactics-from-the-drugstore skits to deliver a solid performance. But frankly, the film is vastly underrated because Modine and Phoebe Cates romp around naked on the beach.

The guy’s name is Modine. Who wouldn’t want a buddy named Modine? I actually want to start calling one of friends “Modine.” It sounds kind of like Modell from Diner.

Leave it to Modine to follow up sexploitation like Private School, with an award-winning turn in Robert Altman’s anti-war ‘Nam flick Streamers. Altman, for the love of Mike! Modine possesses the rare versatility, flexibility and range to ping-pong back and forth between silly high school wrestler movies like Vision Quest and intense dramas like Birdy, the complex story of a mentally-scarred Vietnam vet who thinks he’s a bird.

With thirty some features under his belt, the forty-year-old Modine has worked with Hollywood’s greatest directors: John Sayles, Alan Parker, Alan Rudolph, Tony Richardson, Alan Pakula, Jonathan Demme, Mike Figgis, and, once again, Robert Altman in Short Cuts. With a resume like that, it’s easy to see why everyone has forgiven and forgotten Modine in Gross Anatomy and Wind.

It was Modine’s performance as Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket that really put Modine on the map. Released at the height of Born in the USmAnia, Full Metal Jacket unfortunately disappeared on the Ho Chi Minh Trail strewn with videocassettes of Hanoi Hilton, Hamburger Hill and Braddock: Missing in Action 2. The year prior, Platoon won the Best Picture Oscar. However, Full Metal Jacket received only an obligatory nod for Best Screenplay Adapted and a Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination for R. Lee Ermey’s portrayal of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman.

Modine, although dissed by the Academy, earned his full props from the community for Full Metal Jacket, doing consistent good work and working consistently thereafter. Moving deftly from drama to comedy, Modine was hilarious as Mike Downey in Married to the Mob and as Freddy Ace in Alan Rudolph’s quirky crime thriller Equinox. In 1993, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of researcher Don Francis in And The Band Played On, the HBO telefilm about the real-life discovery of the AIDS virus and the insidious and sometimes clumsy politicking that kept it from being contained.

Since Altman’s Short Cuts in 1994 -- in which Modine played one-half of a troubled couple opposite Julian Moore -- Modine has starred in half-a-dozen minor films. Most of them are decent, but no great shakes. Modine, however, always turns it out. And, he’s directing films and working in the theatre to boot. Modine’s the man, regardless of Cutthroat Island.

Now, I’ll trade you my apple for your Pudding Pack?

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