Officer Downe is one of those hyper violent, weirdly sleazy, in your face trashy midnight madness flicks that although I couldn’t in good faith recommend to most people, it definitely leaves an impression on the nervous system, if not altogether frying it to a crisp. Based on a graphic novel, it tells of hotshot inner city cop Officer Downe (Kim Coates), a legendary crime fighter in a borough so ridden with filth and scum it’s amazing the infrastructure hasn’t just completely collapsed. Downe has one key skill in getting his job done: he can’t be killed. Well, he technically can, but each time he’s shot to shreds, eviscerated by explosives or mauled by careening vehicles he’s resurrected in the secret labs below the police precinct using bizarre necromancy and mad science only to fight, die and live all over again. This talent makes him the target of a whole galaxy of increasingly weirder criminal factions including animal mask wearing kingpins called the Fortune 500, a Kung fu supervillain called Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe) and a cabal of murderous, voodoo wielding, arms dealing nuns led by the always awesome Alison Lohman, who had prior been laying low for a while and chooses quite the random project in which to make her comeback. Downe is watched over by a team of beat cops hired to babysit and clean up after him, and so the broad, crazy, cacophonous story goes. Coates is a hell of an actor, he’s always been one of my favourites and he tears into this role with a campy ferocity and deadpan humour that’s a lot of fun, plus it’s nice to see a guy like him who has compiled an impressive career in supporting turns get a juicy comic book lead role. At some points it feels like the story is a bit too much about the human cops tailing him, none of whom are interesting characters, when it probably should have been more about him. The film feels like this furiously deranged mix of Sin City, Robocop, Maniac Cop and Hobo With A Shotgun all stuffed in a blender and served up on a shoestring budget, take it or leave it. Many will hate it, it’s wantonly trashy, so silly it’ll melt brains and so hyperkinetic in visual and editing techniques it’ll explode eyeballs, but there’s a feverish manic energy I appreciated, and Coates does give it his all and is clearly having a fuck load of fun in this role.
There are so many ideas, myths, motifs, vignettes, episodes, characters and ideas swirling around in Tim Burton’s Big Fish it almost feels like several movies collided together to make their own sweet, sunny mixture and I love that feeling. It’s like a postcard perfect funhouse where you never know what you might get and some people saw a pacing problem or lack of focus in that regard but for me it’s this wonderful wellspring of creativity, visual audacity and fairytale lyricism. It’s also told from the perspective of a rascal who is notorious for making up wild stories so the narratively kaleidoscopic nature of the film seems very appropriate. Edward Bloom is one of the strangest Tim Burton characters to ever grace the screen, a magnetic individual played as a young man by beaming, idealistic Ewan McGregor and as an old fellow by wisecracking, lovable Albert Finney. Edward loves to tell stories, larger than life anecdotal adventures that he regaled his young son with throughout childhood, stories that couldn’t possibly be true.. right? As Edward grows up he leaves a town that just wasn’t big enough for him and meets many wonderful and strange characters along the way including a giant (Matthew McGrory), a poet turned bank robber (Steve Buscemi), a mermaid (Bevin Kaye), a reclusive witch (Helena Bonham Carter) a circus ringmaster (Danny Devito, scene stealing like nobody’s business) with a supernatural secret and eventually the love of his life Sandra, played as a young woman by the excellent Alison Lohman (whatever happened to her?) and later by Jessica Lange. The story finds an emotional core in the relationship between Edward and his son Will (Billy Crudup), a realist who resents being brought up amidst a bunch of tall tales and just wants, along with his wife (Marion Cotillard, lovely), to finally get to know his father as he is passing of terminal illness. The stories are besides the point here and as one character notes, at some point a man becomes the legends he tells simply by embodying them, and when it comes time for the narrative to tell us whether or not these tales are even true it hardly matters because the film has been so honest with us in the human connections we see unfolding. This film sits apart in Burton’s career because of how emotionally affecting it is, not largely focused on effects and makeup like he often chooses but crafted with its heart firmly planted on a bedrock of believable humanity. There’s whimsy, style and special effects galore mind you, all excellently, wonderfully done.. but the core of what makes this film so special lies in the final twenty minutes or so where we see a rich, cathartic final act that always brings me to tears. Edward Bloom may have told wild tales his whole life and Will must reconcile that they were just a part of who his father was, and that the greatest story in his life was the family he raised. It’s a beautiful, oddball, postcard pretty, occasionally surreal yet ultimately down to earth and deeply felt piece of storytelling.
Snowbound location. Pitch black comedy. A corpse that’s central to the plot. The Big White was obviously influenced by Fargo, the Pulp Fiction of wintry crime comedies, but holds its own fairly well thanks to solid acting and writing. It’s nothing new or incredible, but it’ll get you your perversely humerous noir fix, and who can say no to Robin Williams, playing a pitiable travel agent who spies a risky way to end his financial problems. Discovering a frozen corpse, he has the brilliant idea to pass it off as his deceased brother and collect the insurance money. A few problems lie ahead: a dogged insurance investigator (Giovanni Ribisi), two moronic hitmen (Tim Blake Nelson & W. Earl Brown) and the small detail that his brother isn’t actually dead, and comes waltzing back into his life in the form of a rampaging, unstable Woody Harrelson. William’s spitfire wife (Holly Hunter) looks on in exasperation as her husband turns their lives into disaster, while everyone is somewhat clueless and misinformed, leading to great amounts of hilarity. Sound chaotic? It is, sort of. It’s also kinda laid back and deadpan enough to make the Coen brothers proud. Harrelson and Williams both bring their very different brands of manic, Williams I’m a forlorn desperate sense, and Harrelson just the unhinged wildcard. Alison Lohman is also running about, but it’s been so long since I saw it I can’t remember exactly who she plays. Fans of Fargo will be tickled, those with a weird sense of humour as well. Fun stuff.