Stephen Sommers’s Deep Rising is some of the most fun you’ll have watching an overblown action horror spectacle, if that’s your type of thing. It plays the slimy underwater alien formula to the hilt, an epic and very funny gory swashbuckler that is sadly very underrated and not too talked about these days. It’s ridiculously watchable, insanely gory and punctuated by one liners and quips that work so well in the flippant context of the script. The story concerns a band of nasty sea pirates who plan to hijack the world’s largest ocean liner cruise ship, and all the riches onboard. They arrive to find the vessel empty of any passengers, and full of something they’ll wish they never came across. A massive and very icky underwater predator has eaten everyone onboard and now has turned its attention to the newcomers. They are picked off one by one in deliciously grotesque kills that show director Sommers in his little seen R rated mode. Treat Williams is a hoot as John Finnegan, a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and Bruce Campbell, a soldier of fortune and adventurer with a vernacular chock full of wiseass quotes and idioms that tickle the funny bone no end. He’s got a sidekick named Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O Connor slays it) and a girlfriend named Trillian St. James (isn’t that the best name ever?) played by Famke Janssen in a fierce, sexy and capable turn as the chick with the gun that everyone loves. The trio make the film dizzyingly entertaining and you find yourself wishing you could hang out with them longer once it’s over. There’s a snivelling villain played by the always smarmy Anthony Heald, and the ragtag group of pirates are brought to life by distinct personalities such as Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Djimon Hounsou and the great Wes Studi. Sommers is a seriously underrated director. He spins loving odes to the adventure films of Old Hollywood with passion, wonder and the spark of imagination in spades. And what does he get? Critically and commercially spat on, time and time again, with some of his films not even getting a proper release (don’t get me started on the masterpiece that is Odd Thomas). Hollywood and the masses don’t deserve him and his toiling, thankless work, and yet he soldiers on. What a guy, and what a stellar filmmaker. This ones a testament, a rollicking, bloody piece of creature feature bliss that never fails to knock my socks right the hell off.
Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder is a completely awesome little horror flick that has gathered copious amounts of dust since it’s mid 90’s release. Forgotten and forsaken, it should have spawned an epic frachise in the vein of stuff like Wishmaster, but oh well, we’ve still got the original beloved entry. Now, just exactly how much of what we see in the film is based on actual Bram Stoker work is up for debate and a little beyond the scant research that I have done, but it’s a tidy little concept that’s executed with B-movie earnestness and a love for the spooky corner of cinema. The plot concerns a priest named Father Vassey, played by genre titan Michael Rooker. Vassey is probing the rural Midwestern belt of the US looking for an ancient demon that’s something like a shapeshifter who deeds on both darkness and human souls, which resembles a cloud of dust reflected through hundreds of chrystal prisms, from what i remember. He’s not your garden variety preacher, sporting two laser sighted semi automatic handguns which come handy in tight shadowy corners, and the jaded will to kick some supernatural ass, not so much in the name of the Lord (he doesn’t believe in god anymore) but more for a dark and personal crusade against the Shadowbuilder. The demon hovers around a young boy, hungering for a soul within that has the potential to both become a saint and also open a doorway to hell in one stroke. Vassey is a determind and resourceful badass, relying on nearby townsfolk for help and support, and Rooker sells the schlocky tone with remarkable gravity that is his trademark. He almost always plays extreme characters in tense narratives and keeps up the energy like clockwork. There’s a hilarious turn from a dread lock adorned Tony Todd (Candyman) as Evert Covey, a backwoods eccentric with a penchent for rastafarian speech and a part to play in the drama once we realize he isn’t there solely for comic relief. This one is hard to find and almost no one has seen it, but I’m hoping my review will change that, because it’s it’s a little treasure and a fantasy horror classic for me.
Walter Hill’s Streets Of Fire is just too good to be true, and yet it exists. It’s like the type of dream concept for a movie that you and your coolest friend think up after a bunch of beers and wish you had the time, money and resources to make yourself. It’s just cool right down to the bone, a beautiful little opus of 1950’s style gang trouble set to a so-good-it-hurts rock n’ roll soundtrack devised by the legendary Ry Cooper, Hill’s go to music maestro. It’s so 80’s it’s bursting at the seams with the stylistic notes of that decade, and both Hill and the actors stitch up those seams with all the soda jerk, greaser yowls and musical mania of the 50’s. Anyone reading up to this point who isn’t salivating right now and logging onto amazon to order a copy, well there’s just no hope for you. I only say that because for sooommeee reason upon release this one was a financial and critical dud, floundering at the box office and erasing any hope for the sequels which Hill had planned to do. I guess some people just aren’t cool enough to get it (can you tell I’m bitter? Lol). Anywho, there’s nothing quite like it and it deserves a dig up, Blu Ray transfer and many a revisit. In a nocturnal, neon flared part of a nameless town that looks a little like New York, the streets are humming with excitement as everyone prepares for the nightly musical extravaganza. Darling songstress Ellen Aim (young Diane Lane♡♡) is about to belt out an epic rock ballad in a warehouse dance hall for droves of screaming fans. There’s one fan who has plans to do more than just watch, though. Evil biker gang leader Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe, looking like Satan crossed with Richard Ramirez) kidnaps her as the last notes of her song drift away, his gang terrorizes the streets and disappears off into the night with poor Ellen as their prisoner. The locals need a hero to go up against Raven and rescue Ellen, and so estranged badass Tom Cody (Michael Paré) is called back to town after leaving years before. He’s a strong and silent hotshot who takes no shit from no one, and is soon on the rampage to Raven’s part of town. He’s got two buddies as well: two fisted, beer guzzling brawler chick McCoy (Amy Madigan), and sniveling event planner Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). That’s as much plot as you get and it’s all you need, a delightful dime store yarn with shades of The Outsiders and a soundtrack that will have your jaw drop two floors down. The two songs which Ellen sings are heart thumping legends. ‘Nowhere Fast’ gives us a huge glam-rock welcome into the story, and ‘Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young’ ushers us out with a monumental bang before the credits roll, and damn if Hill doesn’t know how to stage the two songs with rousing and much welcomed auditory excess that’ll have you humming for days. Paré is great as the brooding hero, and you won’t find too many solid roles like this in his career. He’s a guy who somewhat strayed off the path into questionable waters (he’s in like every Uwe Boll movie) but he pops up now and again I’m some cool stuff, like his scene stealing cameo in The Lincoln Lawyer. Dafoe clocks in right on time for his shift at the creepshow factory, giving Raven a glowering, makeup frosted grimace that’s purely vampiric and altogether unnerving. Him and Paré are great in their street side sledgehammer smackdown in the last act. Bottom line, this is one for the books and it still saddens me how unfavorably it was received… like what were they thinking? A gem in Hill’s career, and a solid pulse punding rock opera fable. Oh, and watch for both an obnoxious turn from Bill Paxton and a bizarre cameo from a homeless looking Ed Begley Jr.
GoldenEye is the very finest hour that Pierce Brosnan had as James Bond, both as a film and in terms of what he gets to do as the character. It’s my third favourite Bond film of all time and stands as one of the most exciting ventures the series has seen to this day. It definitely falls into a campy style, but one that’s removed from that of the original Bond films from way back when, one that’s all its own and decidedly 90’s. It’s also got one of the strongest and classiest villains of the series, a man who is in fact an ex agent himself which was a neat switch up. Brosnan is so photogenic it’s ridiculous, whether dolled up in the tux or careening through a valley in a fighter jet. He just looks so damn good as Bond, and I sometimes wish he’d gotten a fifth crack at the character. Here we join up with 007 on a mission gone wrong, where he is ambushed and his partner Agent Alec Trevelyan a.k.a. 006 (Sean Bean) is killed, or so he thinks. 006 is in fact alive and well, with a few gnarly facial scars and a new nasty attitude. He puts Bond through a wringer with a diabolical scheme to hijack a Russian nuclear space weapon and do all kinds of lovely things with it. Bond teams up with the survivor of a decimated Russian research centre, a beautiful scientist named Natalya (Isabella Scorupco) who inevitably ends up in his bed. It’s slick, it’s stylish, it’s sexy and everything a Bond flick needs to be. 006 has a dangerous asset in Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a lethal assassin whose weapon of choice are her thighs which she employs with the crushing power of two Amazonian pythons. Janssen plays the role with ferocious relish and the kind of enthusiasm that hadn’t been seen in a Bond villainess since Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again. Bean plays it ice cold, letting restraint and calculated malice steal the scenes as opposed to flagrant mustache twirling. I always thought he would have made a cracking good 007 as he has so much residual danger to his vibe from playing many heartless bastards in his career, but perhaps in another life. One of my favourite characters to ever hang out in a Bond flick shows up here, a cranky but lovable russian general named Valentin Zukofsky, played by the awesome Robbie Coltrane, an actor who really, really needs to be in more stuff. His few short scenes are the stuff that makes a piece timeless, and I wish we’d gotten to see more Valentin and more Hagrid elsewhere in the franchise. There’s the usual suspects like Judi Dench as M and Desmond Llewellyn as a crusty Q, and a host of other actors including Joe Don Baker, Tchecky Karyo, Minnie Driver and the irritating Alan Cumming who singlehandedly ruins scenes with his hammy preening. The film thunders along with furious energy and nicely paced action sequences, including a chaotic tank chase through the streets of Moscow and a stunner of a climax set atop a giant satellite dish. As Bond films go, you can never go wrong with this one.
The Taken series has been done to death, memed out to glory and mined for market value a million times over since the first film came out way back in 2008, which has somewhat dimmed the charm of that original vehicle, at least for some of us. Like, how many times can Liam Neeson or his relatives be Taken before even they as characters realize that it couldn’t be happening and that they’re in a movie? Eventually the material unwittingly spoofs it’s origin in its need to repeat itself time and again. That’s not to say the first isn’t enjoyable on it’s own, in fact it’s quite the streamlined little dose of adrenaline that essentially coasts on some great pacing, neat choreography and the endlessly watchable Liam Neeson, whose career took a shot of nitrous to the heart after gamely stepping into the well worn shoes of the grizzled action hero. This was him nimbly ducking through the genre boundaries that his career was in up til that point, and the action thing fit him like a glove. The film is at its best when it follows Bryan Mills (Neeson) in action, which thankfully is most of the time. Mills is an ex CIA spook with some tactics that will seriously put a hurtin’ on you if you cross him in any way. A gaggle of moronic Bosnian human traffickers come under the receiving end of these tactics when they kidnap his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace, looking suspiciously like she’s a decade older than her character is supposed to be) from Paris and auctioning her off to rich raghead perverts. This propels him into like an hour of non stop energetic ass kicking that is so fun to watch, as he shoots, stabs, sprains and splatters his way through hordes of eastern European cannon fodder, with not a second to spare for even the utterance of a any cheesy one liners. He’s assisted via Bluetooth by his three ex agency barbecue buddies (Jon Gries, Leland Orser and David Warshofsky) and has a few encounters with his jaded ex wife (Famke Janssen). And that’s about it, but Neeson sells the bare minimum as far as the genre goes with his effortless cool and stony, formidable stature that springs into startlingly spry motion every time he has to dispatch a new troupe of Slavic wise guys. If only they didn’t have to desecrate this little piece of lightning in a bottle with two sequels that dampen the momentum with cheap attempts at thrills, I may still feel strongly about this one as I did when it first came out. Hopefully they quit while they’re ahead, shirk the slimy dollar signs and let their first outing age in peace.
Before Russell Crowe blew up big time in North America, he did a few peculiar little flicks in his homeland of Australia. A couple rowdy gang stories popped up, and then he appeared in a little seen film called The Silver Stallion, or The Silver Brumby, which means horse in down-under-talk. Horse flicks are a dime a dozen and can go either way, usually pinning their focus on a target audience of adolescent viewers. This one is more of a visual tone poem than any sort of grand planned narrative, letting the horses do most of the emoting and character work, with the humans showing up now and again to provide their side of the story. An Australian mother (Caroline Goodall) tells her daughter (Amiel Daemien) tales of the prince of the brumbies, a member of a feral tribe of horses who has been separated from his heard and must find a way back. A relentless outback Man (Crowe) is dead set on both capturing and taming the silver Brumby, a quest which leads him to the very precipice of desperation. The horse traverses mountains, plains and many acres of beautiful northern Australian countryside to reunite with his clan. The scenes with just horses are amazing when one considers just how tough it must have been to coherently get them all together and have them interact according to the shots which the filmmakers needed to get. Quite the achievment indeed. The cinematography is pure misty magic, with both animal and nature alike providing some truly unforgettable images onscreen. Crowe is excellent, with a wild glint in his eye, quite committed to the character. There’s an overarching and altogether mythic tone to this film that always left me in awe when I saw it as a youngster. One gets the sense of true lore unfolding in front of us, the camera and script creating a piece of celluloid that’s purely entrenched in Australian storytelling, bringing it alive in the most visually impressive way possible. Very much worth your time, if you can track down a copy.
John Dahl’s Rounders is the premier poker movie, an utterly charming, never too serious and surprisingly slight look at the lives of several very different individuals whose lives revolve around the game in New York City. The main focus lands on two young men who are fast friends, yet reside on somewhat opposite sides of the responsibility coin. Poker prodigy Mike (Matt Damon) has since given up his art after a soul crushing loss to local russian bigwig Teddy KGB (John Malkovich). He’s content to simmer in solitude with his perky girlfriend (Gretchen Mol, who never fails to convince me that she’s Samantha Mathis until I double check on imdb). Right in time to disrupt his quiet life is cocky street rat Worm (Edward Norton), fresh out of prison and looking for the type of trouble that landed him there in the first place. It’s to long before he’s racked up some serious debt to dangerous people with ties to Teddy KGB, and Mike is forced to come out of retirement and risk everything he has once again, this time for his friend. The poker scenes are staged with meticulous eye for detail and mannerisms in attempt to put you at the same table as the players, and it’s nifty to see each acting style played to the microscopic hilt as Dahl maintains patient focus on his work. Norton is appropriately scuzzy with just a dollop of endearing, scrappy charm and Damon fills the protagonist’s shoes very well. It’s Malkovich, however, who pulls the stops out and is my favourite character of the piece. With a muddy russian accent that rivals his french one from Johnny English, a lazily snarky streak with just a hint of intimidation and a bag of oreos at his side without fail, he’s a hoot, holler and a half as the life of the poker party. Sexy Famke Janssen has as great bit as as shady chick with eyes for Damon and connections with dodgy folks, expertly playing the half sweet and seductive, half menacing game. Watch for topnotch work from John Turturro, Josh Pais, Michael Rispoli, Josh Mostel, Adam Lefevre, David Zayas, Goran Visjnic, Lenny Clarke and Martin Landau in an earnest turn as a kindly professor who looks out for Mike. It’s short, sweet, concisely paced, tightly written, flawlessly acted and wonderfully entertaining stuff.