What can I say about Kangaroo Jack. It’s… a movie. Someone was on something at the board meeting where this thing was greenlit, and it somehow got made. It’s one of the most oddly conceived, shit-tastic, bizarre comedies to have ever been produced, and it’s a wonder some of the actors held it together with a modicum of a straight face. I expect this kind of thing from silly people like Anthony Anderson and Jerry O’Connell, but…. Michael Shannon? Christopher Walken? Really?! Weirder still is that this wanton pile of dung topped the box office charts for a few weeks. I guess moviegoers were on the same stuff as the guy in that board meeting. O’Connell and Anderson play two childish idiots who travel to Australia to deliver some mob cash after a run in with freaky gangster Walken and his freakier henchman Shannon, both looking like they’d rather eat tide pods than have their names in the credits. En route, the film takes a nosedive into Wtf-ville as a terribly CGI’d kangaroo steals their money (coz that’s what kangaroos do) and starts fucking with them and holds up their task at every turn. What a random idea for a movie. The script has the attention span of a Looney Toons yarn, the special effects are so bad they’d make 90’s era Crash Bandicoot cringe, and the humour is… well, you get the idea. There’s usually some morbid merit to films as bad as this, like watching someone get hit by a car and being unable to look away through sheer fascination, but this one can’t even muster up a self aware thrill or two of that ilk. Oh, and it suffers from Snow Dogs syndrome too: trailers showed a sentient kangaroo talking, but that only happens in one brief, super lame dream sequence. If Steve Irwin’s ghost had a kid with Mel Brooks and that kid had a nightmare, it might look something like this, but a lot less awesome than that would have you think. This kangaroo should be put down.
The 90’s was a heyday of hard boiled, ultraviolent film noir, a ripple effect that can undeniably be traced back to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, however it’s silly to say that they all are derived from that film, because plenty of them have their own distinct groove and flavour. One such flick is Gary Fleder’s Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, a mouthful of a title that serves as harbinger to one of the most idiosyncratic, verbally flamboyant scripts Hollywood ever produced, penned by Scott Rosenberg. They scored the cast to back it up too, for a beautifully melodramatic neo-noir pulp opus that should be as legendary as any of the household name films to come out of that era. Andy Garcia is the definition of slick as Jimmy The Saint, an ex mobster on the straight and narrow who’s pulled back into the game by The Man With The Plan (Christopher Walken) his former employer and the most dangerous crime boss in all the land. Hired to scare the piss-ant boyfriend who stole Walken’s son’s girl, Jimmy rounds up a crew that shouldn’t be trusted to watch a junkyard. Pieces (Christopher Lloyd, brilliant) is a diseased old porn shop owner, Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), tough guy with a heart of gold Big Bear Franchise (William Forsythe) and Critical Bill (Treat Williams) the psychopathic wild card who uses his day job at a mortuary as an anger outlet by pummelling the corpses like punching bags. Of course they royally fuck up the job, and Walken places scary, symbolic ‘hits’ on each of them. The clock ticks as they all try to either leave town or face the music, but Jimmy is the one with something to lose as he’s fallen in love with elegant, posh rich girl Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar). The script could have easily gone for just colourful carnage and glib posturing, but there’s real, palpable gravitas to the character relations, especially between Jimmy and Walken, who’s history is hinted at and brought to complex life by the two pros. This is Walken at his weirdest and wildest, confined to a spooky wheelchair and locked up in a guarded, dimly lit estate like Count Dracula. There’s a touching subplot involving wayward hooker Lucinda (Fairuza Balk, always terrific) that brings out the dormant humanity in hardened Jimmy. The cast here really is a marvel, and includes Don Cheadle and Glenn Plummer as a couple of loudmouth criminals, Jack Warden, Jenny McCarthy, Tiny Lister, Marshall Bell, Bill Cobbs, Michael Nicolosi, and Steve Buscemi as a freaky hitman named Mr. Shhhh, because he shoots first and doesn’t ask any questions at all. The dialogue is unique and flows from the actors like urban Shakespeare, it’s one of the coolest scripts ever written, and serves not just to be slick for the sake of it, but use jive and jargon to bring forth character naturally, and effortlessly provide buoyancy to the story. One of the great hidden gems out there. Boat Drinks.
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.
Philippe was born in Paris, but after a long journey his parents ended up in Australia. With his multicultural background, surrounded by a cosmopolitan locale, as a young man I can image Philippe surrounded by inspiration.
As a man destined to make some truly wonderful films, he like us all who aspire to it, started by making short films and documentaries. Then he went and made a classic. He convinced the Easy Rider himself, the late, great Dennis Hopper, to go bush and take on the guise of one of Australia’s most colorful outlaws, Mad Dog Morgan.
What would permeate from that thrilling debut is an extraordinary, eclectic list of credits that has action, aliens, werewolves, and even Pterodactyl women.
Of late, Philippe has returned to the documentary scene, bringing us stories both powerful and confronting. He also, being a talented artist, has turned his hand to graphic novels like The ABC of the Holocaust and Monsieur Mayonnaise which you can check out here:
He is a gentleman and a scholar, as well as the maker of some great movies. He has rubbed shoulders with the top echelons in the both the arenas of art and cinema. And, he has what I consider the best spin on a Merchant/Ivory title for a comedic-horror film.
Here he is, my guest (again), the fun and the fascinating . . . Philippe Mora.
Blast From The Past is an apt title indeed, since not a lot of folks seem to remember this brilliant, high concept farce from the late 90’s that should be basking in notoriety to this day. It’s so forgotten these days it could almost be considered a cult classic, but either way it’s pure cinema bliss. In the early 60’s,
an eccentric scientist (Christopher Walken, because who else) builds himself a swanky underground bomb shelter for himself and his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacey) to hide in, should the missile crisis become a reality. They head down there during a false alarm, a plane crashes into their property confirming his fears and they pretty much stay hunkered in for over 30 years, raising their baby into a full grown man (Brendan Fraser, the life of the party). Then they head back up, or at least Fraser does anyway, to a bustling San Fernando valley in the midst of the late 90’s, which is a culture shock and a half for his sunny 50’s mindset and impossibly naive outlook. It’s a terrific concept that’s milked for a full on laugh riot as he makes his way around the city with not a clue how to interact or carry himself. Falling in love with a classic valley girl (Alicia Silverstone, excellent) in a sweet romantic subplot that soon becomes the backbone of the story, seeing the ocean for the first time, and a few hilarious cultural misunderstandings (“A negro!” He exclaims, having never seen variety in colour beyond his two parents) are just a few of the well written, thought out jokes and set pieces he rambles to and fro in. Fraser makes it a performance of physical comedy, deadpan cheekiness and puts genuine sweetness into an arc that some actors may have interpreted just slick shtick. Walken is his kooky self, while there’s work from Dave Foley, Bruce Slotnick and a jarring cameo from young Nathan Fillion. Filled to the brim with laughs, heart and the kind of humour birthed organically from story, it’s a gem.
Scam is a breezy, Miami Vice-esque TV movie that no one saw. Nothing remarkable, but the cast has fun with the seedy crime thriller plot, and no doubt got to vacation in the Caribbean locale where this was filmed between takes. Christopher Walken never misses a beat, even in inconsequential fluff like this, and he’s fun here as shady FBI agent Jack Shanks, who is stalking a couple scam artists working the local beat. Gorgeous Maggie (Lorraine Bracco) lures men out of bars, spikes their drinks real good and then her and her violent boyfriend (Miguel Ferrer) rob the poor fuckers blind. Walken is wise to their act and entraps her for his own agenda, which involves lifting sensitive floppy disks from the clutches of a nasty crime lord (Daniel Von Bargen). Seamy, sweaty and oh so sleazy, it’s pure early 90’s cheese that has aged not too shabbily. Bracco and Walken have sexy chemistry, while Ferrer’s rabid dog thug livens things up, as does a wonderfully over elaborate, sun baked plot. Good times.
I’m not too sure just how much of Kill The Irishman is based in actual truth, but if even half of what we see on screen did happen, that is some pretty impressive shit. The film focuses on the life of Danny Greene (a bulked, sturdy Ray Stevenson), who was an Irish American mobster working out of Cleveland back in the 70’s, a guy who seems to have caused quite a stir of chaos amongst organized crime back then. Getting a leg up from the longshoreman’s union, Danny quickly rose to power alongside several other key figures including numbers man John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), enforcer Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer) and nasty kingpin Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken). It seems it all went south pretty quick though, because before he knew it he was at odds with Birns, and dodging multiple brash assassination attempts coming at him from all directions. What’s remarkable about Danny’s story is his sterling resilience: something like over a dozen attempts were made on his life and the darn mick just kept on going, even taunting the underworld between car bomb blasts and raucous shoot outs. Of course, such a life alienates him from his wife (Linda Cardellini) and puts him in perpetual crosshairs, but Stevenson plays it casually cavalier, a gentleman gangster who really cares not for the danger he’s wading into, and treads lightly amongst the mess, making me wonder if the real Greene had such an attitude and the sheer luck to back it up. Walken is quiet and dangerous in a somewhat underplayed role, but he is entertaining doing anything, so it’s all good. The cast is enormous, and includes the like of Vinnie Jones as a bruiser of an Irish street soldier, Robert Davi in an explosive third act cameo as a lethal specialist brought in to neutralize Danny, and your usual kennel of Italian American character actors like Mike Starr, Bob Gunton, Tony Lo Bianco, Steve Schirippa, Paul Sorvino and others. It’s loud, fast paced and ever so slightly tongue in cheek. As a crime drama it works great, could have been slightly longer, but Stevenson keeps things moving briskly with his affable, hyperactive performance and it goes with out saying that the rest of them provide excellent supporting work.