Femme Fatale is a gong show, and not in a good way. I’m not talking about the De Palma film of the same name, which is a gong show in a good way. This thing is a sad, no budget little tv flick from back in the day starring Colin Firth, who has seen better days than he has here. It’s a strange psycho sexual ‘mystery’ in which none of the plot points really make sense and each scenario gets a little more ridiculous than the last. Firth plays a fairly meek dude who’s recently married a mysterious girl (Lisa Zane) that he doesn’t know much about, and she turns out to be someone different entirely, leading him on a dull goose chase across the country to find out just who he tied the knot with. Zane is Billy Zane’s sister by the way, and speaking of him he’s on this too as Firth’s eccentric friend, which is a hoot because you get to hear him refer to his sister as a ‘diesel dyke.’ The central mystery involves several identities she takes up and more than a few multiple personalities brought by by unconventional therapy from a shady psychiatrist (the great Scott Wilson in a hammy extended cameo), but ultimately its hard to care about a story this loosely threaded, far fetched and just plain silly. Watch for some gem cameos though from the likes of Danny Trejo as a worldly tattoo artist, Catherine Coulson (the beloved Log Lady on Twin Peaks) as a nun who delivers some exposition and then peaces out and character actor Pat Skipper as a rowdy henchman who steals scenes like nobody’s business. Overall it’s a fairly useless piece of fluff though, painfully average and inconsequential.
This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .
Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.
These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly, died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.
The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.
For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky(The man on the rise), Matthias Hues(The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman(the veteran screenwriter).
Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.
Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.
Fear of isolation has been a staple element in film since the beginning. A quiet, shrouded forest. A damp, derelict back alley. The endless waters of earth’s oceans, which is where Philip Noyce’s nightmarish psychosexual shocker Dead Calm takes place. The key is not in projecting fear of being isolated, which is bad enough, but instilling the unnerving notion that you’re not actually alone after all, and be it human, supernatural or the forces of nature, something is out there with you. This is what vacationing couple Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman discover, only in this case it’s no creature or ghost, but Billy Zane instead. I know what you’re thinking, that perennial goofball Zane is the farthest thing from fearsome you could find, but he’s actually one of the most memorable and shit-scary movie villains out there. Neill and Kidman are a couple with enough issues to begin with, sailing their schooner somewhere way out there trying to forget past tragedy, until Zane brings new trouble onto their horizon. After they rescue him half dead floating on the waves, he tells them of a capsized ocean liner, and claims to be it’s only survivor. Neill isn’t quite bought and sold on his story and ventured off to see for himself, unwisely leaving his wife behind with this strange dude, which is loose thriller plotting 101, but oh well, inciting incidents have to come from somewhere, don’t they. Zane turns out to be an unstable maniac of the highest order, and steers the schooner off on his own course with Kidman in tow, and Neill left in the wake, trying to find them out there and save her. The scary thing about this villain is that he has no plan, no goals, no endgame or reason for doin this, he’s simply certifiably out of his fucking head, and there’s an unpredictability to that which I found immensely freaky. The scenes aboard the boat with him and Nicole on their own are charged with a tangible danger and crazed frenzy, a canary in a cage circled by a thoroughly crazy cat. The acting sells it there, with Kidman’s raw terror and Zane’s oddball sociopathy walking a narrow, rigid tightrope that could snap any second, and does. When the action comes it’s fierce, R rated mayhem as Neill vengefully charges back into the picture, and although not as intimately scary as the horror bits, still holds our gaze. Zane also gets one of the coolest villain deaths ever seen, shot in full gory detail as well. A chamber piece at sea, a glowing example of effective filmmaking in the thriller genre, and scary in spades.
Before The Monuments Men, there was a dopey little WWII art heist flick called The Last Drop. Alright, it’s a tenuous connection but they’re centred around the same idea: what better time for a heist than the fog of war? Well, chaos is indeed the name of the game with this scrappy, obviously low budget barrel of fun, both in terms of setting and the film itself. The cast is the main draw, as is always the case with B movies.. without a few names, some veteran charisma, pieces like this would just be bereft of any value. Well they got Michael Madsen, because every movie needs a Michael Madsen, getting more screen-time than usual here as an American military honcho on the hunt for some priceless works of art that have gone missing from Berlin. It’s pretty much just a European wartime Rat Race, with various factions scrambling to find the loot and not get killed along the way. A platoon of Brits blunders across Holland, led by Sean Pertwee and including Tommy ‘Chibs’ Flanagan, Nick Moran, Rafe Spall, Alexander Skarsgard and more. A volatile German double agent (intense Karel Roden) pursues them all. Oh yeah, and Billy Zane calmly and deliberately poses for the camera as a Yankee operative with a fetish for wistful wartime romance, being as weird as Zane ever was. It all doesn’t make a ton of sense or add up to anything much at all, but it’s B movie bliss, and honestly I’d willingly watch this cast install drywall for ninety minutes, so one can’t complain about a silly little war flick that’s a bit rough around the edges. Good times.
There are two main film versions based on the life of infamous outlaw Wyatt Earp: a serious, sombre one with Kevin Costner (and a whole lot of others), and a rolkicking circus sideshow starring Kurt Russell, bedazzled with a jaw dropping supporting cast that doesn’t quit. Both films are great, but if you held a six shooter to my head and demanded a preference, I’d have to give Tombstone the edge. It’s just too much fun, one wild screamer from start to finish, filled with swashbuckling deeds, evil outlaws and bawdy gunfights galore. It should have been called It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World In The Wild West. Kurt Russell is in mustache mode again here, but looks younger and leaner than last year’s western double feature his mutton chops starred in. Along with his brothers Virgil (Sam Elliott) and Norman (Bill Paxton) he arrives in Tombstone with a life of law enforcement in his dust and designs on retirement and relaxation. He gets pretty much the opposite though, when every lowlife bandit and villain in the area comes crawling out of the woodwork to give him trouble. Michael Biehn is the worst of them as crazy eyed Johnny Ringo, a deadly smart and ruthless killer, and Powers Boothe hams it up terrifically as drunken scoundrel Curly Bill Brocius. They are the two main causes of grief for the Earps, backed up by all sorts of goons including Michael Rooker, Billy Bob Thornton and a petulant Stephen Lang as Ike Clanton. Russell is joined by an off the wall Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, the wheezy southern prince with a silver tongue that’s constantly fuelled by booze. He gives the best work of the film, and it’s fascinating to compare it to its counterpart, Dennis Quaid’s turn in the other version. Theres also great work from Billy Zane, Dana Delaney, Thomas Haden Church, Paula Malcomson, Tomas Arana, Johanna Pacula, Paul Ben Victor, Robert John Burke, John Corbett, Terry O Quinn, Robert Mitcham and even Charlton Heston good lawd what a cast. The standoffs, both verbal and physical, are a thing of beauty and the reason we go to the movies. Of all the westerns out there, this has just got to be the most fun. It’s constantly alive, there’s always something going on, a cheeky glint in its eye and a vitality in every corner of every frame, like a kid that won’t sit still. Russell is a champ as Earp, a no nonsense killer, plain and simple, but a man of both style and charisma, two weapons that are equally as important as his side arms. Kilmer gets all the best lines and goes to town with his portrayal, creating electric tension whenever he faces off with Biehn, who is equally mesmerizing in a more intense way. The three of them kill it, and along with the howling mess hall of a supporting cast, make this simply the liveliest western I’ve ever seen in the genre.
There’s a minefield of British gangster flicks out there, riding the colourful wake of Guy Ritchie’s output, and similar fare. Some are solid, and some blow up in your face with mediocrity when you come across them. Dead Fish falls somewhat in between those two reactions. On the one hand, it’s slick, visually adept, well casted and for the most part acted and knows how to set up a stylized scene. On the other hand, parts of it are silly, incongruent to the piece as a whole and kind of.. Shitty. It’s both a good bad movie and a bad good movie, and I know that doesn’t give much of a concise picture or really tell you whether to watch it or not, but too bad, that was my conflicted reaction. Gary Oldman, in one of his last loopy performances before he reigned it in, plays Lynch, a lively assassin with an unstable personality. He jumps from contract to contract, until a beautiful girl (Elena Anaya) catches his eye, and he’s struck with alarming and slightly creepy lovesickness for her. She’s got an American boyfriend (Andrew Lee Potts, who almost brings the film toppling down with his shoddy acting) who is on the run from violent loan shark Danny Devine (Robert Carlyle, frothing at the mouth like a pissy little windup toy). Lynch collides with them all including Pott’s stoner buddy (Jimi Mistry always looks like he needs to pee really bad and he’s waiting for them to say “cut”). It’s not super clear what Oldman’s character objective is besides going off on a freaky bi-polar tangent as he pursues his perceived dream girl and seems ready to forsake the high paying hitman job he seems so comfortable in. Nevertheless it’s fun to see him run around shooting people and being a mental head, and no one can do that like our Gary. The plot thickens, or rather becomes unintelligible, when two secret spy operatives are brought in by some agency to.. do…man I don’t even know. Billy Zane is a weird loony toons caricature as Virgil, a stuffy old spook with a plummy upper crust accent and some… wardrobe issues. He’s paired with Eastern European psycho Dragan (the always excellent Karel Roden) and the two literally spend their portion of the film bickering, cat fighting and squabbling, having actually no real interaction or function with the plot. Oh well, they’re amusing if nothing else. There’s also a brief appearance from Terence Stamp, who classes up the affair as Samuel Fish, a shady businessman with a vaguely coherent part to play in the madness. It’s all very strange and seems assured that it knows what it’s doing and where it’s going, even if at times the audience has not a clue. On the plus side, this is the only film I can think of where you can behold Gary Oldman break out into a musical number whilst tied down by a 250 pound S&M hooker. Yikes. Keep your ears peeled for a sonic little score from Groove Armada as well.