Tag Archives: anthony lapaglia

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea is a brilliant piece of filmmaking, a fascinating hybrid between go-for-broke, tweaked out drug cinema, bloody, violent crime revenge thriller and moody, jazz soaked neo-noir, with a central performance from a committed Val Kilmer that goes waist deep in all three. I would say that it was ahead of its time and for that reason didn’t quite fully find its audience, but upon years of reflection I think it’s just such a specific piece that one has to be tuned in just right, and invest enough attention to appreciate it, the first time anyways. Kilmer is washed out meth head snitch Danny Parker, playing both sides of the narcotics game in hazy LA. Or is he trumpet player Tom Van Allen, haunted by past tragedy? The first half of the film sees him awash in an endless cycle of drug fuelled debauchery, stuck in a tireless set of hijinks with his tweaked out ‘friends’ (Adam Goldberg, Peter Saarsgard and more), and habitually snitching out dealers to two very corrupt cops (Doug Hutchison and Anthony Lapaglia, both royally sleazy). The second half shows us why, what dark passage of events led him to the lifestyle and the cursed trajectory he finds himself on in the final act. Kilmer is a restless fallen angel in the role, a man with secrets that the film respects by taking its time unfolding and not revealing too much too soon (avoid any trailers). His Danny even begs the audience to stick around, promising us there’s more to his story than rampant substance abuse. The cast is thick with talent, including Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Chandra West, B.D. Wong, Shirley Knight, Luis Guzman, Meat Loaf, Deborah Kara Unger and a crazed, memorable Glenn Plummer. The scene stealer award has to go to thespian Vincent D’Onofrio though as one of the antagonists, a terrifying drug baron called Pooh Bear because he railed so much blow they had to cut off his nose and replace it with a disturbing prosthetic. His favourite pastimes include reenacting the Kennedy assassination with pigeons and an air rifle, smoking crack to yodel music CD’s and setting a rabid badger called ‘Captain Striving’ loose on the genitals of disloyal employees. The film finds a demented dark humour in him and many other characters, but the other side of that coin is the emotional turbulence and tragic resonance to Kilmer’s arc, two conflicting energies that seem to somehow coexist beautifully. The score by Thomas Newton is noirish and sad, with strains that sound almost like heavenly choirs too, giving the city of angels a half lit, otherworldly quality. The title is important; the Salton Sea represents three key elements to the film. The incident that spurs Kilmer down the rabbit hole takes place right near the picturesque titular place, but it also represents both the sea of excess and scum that Danny basks in, and the ocean of anguish, regret and sadness that engulfs Tom. A brilliant piece.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Danny Cannon’s Phoenix

Phoenix is a half forgotten, neat little Arizona neo-noir noir that isn’t about much altogether, but contains a hell of a lot of heated drama, character study and hard boiled charisma anyways, which in the land of the crime genre, often is an acceptable substitute for a strong plot. Plus, a cast like this could hang around the water cooler for two hours and the results would still be engaging. Ray Liotta is terrific here in a mid-career lead role as an a police detective with a nasty temper, huge gambling problem and just an all round penchant for trouble. He’s joined by his three partners in both crime and crime fighting, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven and Anthony Lapaglia. There’s no central conflict, no over arching murder subplot and no orchestrated twist or payoff, it’s simply these four sleazy cops just existing out their in the desert on their best, and it’s a lot of sunbaked, emotionally turbulent fun. Liotta vies for the attentions of a weary older woman (Anjelica Huston, excellent) while he’s pursued by her slutty wayward teen daughter (Brittany Murphy) at the same time. He’s also hounded by eccentric loan shark Chicago (Tom Noonan with a ray ally funny lisp) and trying to close countless open cases in his book. Piven and hothead Lapaglia fight over Piven’s foxy wife (Kari Wuhrur) too, and so the subplots go. The supporting cast is a petting zoo of distinctive character acting talent including Glenn Moreshower, Royce D. Applegate, Giovanni Ribisi, Xander Berkeley, Al Sapienza, Giancarlo Esposito and more. I like this constant and obnoxious energy the film has though, like there’s something in that Arizona sun that just drives peoples tempers off the map and causes wanton hostility, a great setting for any flick to belt out its story. Good fun.

-Nate Hill

Walter Hill’s Tomboy: A Revenger’s Tale


Walter Hill’s Tomboy: A Revenger’s tale went through a few different titles, first Tomboy, then (Re)assignment, and has been quietly released this week under the simple and bland ‘The Assignment’, which tells you nothing of how batshit crazy it is. It’s a film I’ve waited to see a long time, partly due to its controversial, bizarre premise (it’s been boycotted already), and partly because it marks the return of action guru of yesteryear, the great Walter Hill. I’m sad to say the final product is somewhat underwhelming, aside from a few key elements that shine through the dour mood, the best being star Michelle Rodriguez, in her first leading role since 2000’s Girlfight. Here she plays Frank Kitchen, a scumbag of an assassin who takes his orders from wiseguy mobster ‘Honest John’ (Anthony Lapaglia, quite fun in the film’s only other decent performance). Frank is a creature of brutal instinct, a street rat and cold blooded killer with a taste for bullets, booze and blonde bimbos, basically the finer things in life. So, Michelle Rodriguez as a man. This could have gone either way, and she herself, always having a somewhat masculine presence anyway, does fairly well. She can only do so much with the makeup and prosthetics she’s given though, and let me tell you, they are horrendous. Sporting a ponytail, goat’s pube beard and plastic looking Ken doll torso, she’s a shining beacon of amateur hour from the effects team, for the first third of the film, impossible to believe as a dude. Anywho, ‘Honest’ John proves to be anything but trustworthy, double-crossing our Frank and delivering him into the hands of a rogue plastic surgeon played laughably by Sigourney Weaver, who has quite the bone to pick with him. Here is where it gets nuts: Weaver forcibly performs a gender reassignment surgery on Frank, turning him into a woman to release him from his ‘macho prison’. Frank wakes up with brand new lady parts, the prosthetics all gone and Michelle in her final form, ready to dole out vengeance on both John and the surgeon. This is all told in retrospect of course, as Weaver sits in a padded cell and blathers on and on to a wormy psychiatrist (Tony Shaloub), about the philosophical nature, the lofty how’s and why’s that fuelled her actions, while the audience is sitting there going, “Nah bitch you just crazy.” It’s all the sleaziest fare, and doesn’t work as well as a premise like this should, but there’s something about the gritty sight of a post surgery Michelle wandering around in a hospital gown, tits loose and waving a gun around that has potential and may have done well in a better film. As far as the concept itself goes, anyone who arches their back or (lol) boycotts this film is expending unnecessary energy; it’s a down n’ dirty B movie throughout, never meant to be taken seriously one bit. It’s just a shame it wasn’t more fun. 
-Nate Hill