That’s right, the Onion News Network made a movie, back in 2008, and it’s every bit as irreverent, satirical and wantonly bizarre as you would imagine. They have been comically killing it for years with their online platform, and the film is a nice extension of that. It’s episodic, meandering and devoid of plot, made up of many little sketches and vignettes, some gut bustingly funny, others just plain odd. I have three favourites which pretty much sum up their inane, Monty Python type shtick: An out of work actor named Bryce Brand (Nick Chinlund is priceless I just a few minutes of screen time) arrives back home from drug rehab and is hounded by his agent to nab new scripts. He promptly falls into a weird new addiction that gets slapped sillily onto the headlines, thus ending his arc with deranged efficiancy. Steven Seagal shows up as a fat slob of an action hero aptly named ‘The Cock Puncher’, a lumbering buffoon who punches people in the cock, naturally. The third, and funniest sequence features a riff on the celebrity roasts of the 60’s, with some kind of amazing group of crusty old crooners hurling stinging and incredibly raunchy insults at each other with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It’s tough explain just how funny that bit is in a review, but suffice to say it had me roaring as loud as the obscene bunch of wrinkled baboons in the in the skit. There’s a plethora of other sequences which I’ve since gotten hazy about, but I remember many other instances of pure hilarity to be had. Watch for further celebrity appearances including Eric Stolhanske, Michael Bolton, Richard Fancy, Daniel Dae Kim, Brendan Fletcher, Rodney Dangerfield, Joel McHale and more. Side splitting stuff, if you’re into this type of humour.
Mickey Rourke has been called the Hollywood outlaw by some, a difficult outsider by others, a master of his craft by anyone with sense, and has never not been a completely surprising thespian who refuses to reside within one box for long. He’s an outspoken, candid guy who has never been afraid of speaking his mind or laying down the verbal hammer. For me, Mickey is an undisputed genius of his craft and has shined like a brilliant nebula of talent, intuition and brilliance in each and every role he has brought to our screens. Here are my personal top ten performances from one of my all time favourite actors:
10. Billy Chambers in Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Director Robert Rodriguez allowed Mickey to carry around his own personal chihuahua (something that he has walked off of a set in a huff over in the past), and encouraged him to wear his personal shiny purple suit to play Chambers, a gruff cowboy hiding out in Mexico and working for a ruthless cartel boss (Willem Dafoe, a frequent Rourke collaborator). Chambers seems like a sly amalgamation of several early characters he played, world weary from too many skirmishes and events gone wrong, marinating in the Mexican sun and wishing for an exodus from criminal life. Billy has trouble with the sadistic tasks which the cartel orders him to carry out, showing a delineation between a life of crime and an evil path. Regretful, posturing and laconic, the first team up between Rourke and Rodriguez turns out to be a delight.
9. Captain Stanley White in Year Of The Dragon
Rourke first did a bit part for manic maestro Michael Cimino in the notorious Heaven’s Gate, a precursor to his turn in this blistering cop film as a belligerent, hard nosed and uncompromising cop who will do anything in his power, and even a few things outside it, to bring down a Chinese crime syndicate. White has tunnel vision, a Viet Nam war veteran whose internal battery is set on search and destroy mode regardless of any collateral damage, of which there is a considerable amount. Rourke takes a blow torch to the character until the edges flare and fray, never letting the heat lower for a second, be it an introspective moment that smoulders or one of many thunderous outbursts of self righteous, racist fury.
8. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson
Some see this role as Rourke’s comeback, but similar to Randy ascending the ranks of his former glory only to take a hazardous dive off the ring and back down again, such was the case for Rourke, who is back to smaller films. For a single piercing couple hours, he brought us legendary work in an Oscar nominated turn that burns deep, encased in Darren Aronofsky’s intrepid direction. Randy is a fallen Titan who is looking for another shot in both his professional and personal life, and Rourke gives him the presence to hit home.
7. The Motorcycle Boy in Rumble Fish
Returning from a mysterious motorbike odyssey, speaking in cryptically poetic fashion and filling out the restless bad boy archetype like no other, this is one of Rourke’s most fascinating turns, in a surreal black & white tumble town that evokes the 1950’s beautifully. He’s relaxed yet uneasy, friendly yet vaguely portentous and obtains an intangible state of heightened awareness with his work that you can never quite pin down or explain properly in words. His character’s resolution seem fittingly oblique, matched by his performance that simultaneously cries out and holds back, often mirroring each other eerily.
6. Jim Olstadt in The Pledge
Sean Penn cast Rourke for an appearance that lasts for less than a minute, and he manages to quietly devastate and then some within that time. He plays a grieving father who is questioned by Jack Nicholson’s obsessed detective about his young daughter, who disappeared several years before. Unshaven, chain smoking and hiding behind a vacant expression, Nicholson’s queries trigger a well of raw anguish which spill out unforced into the certain and seem remarkably genuine. It’s uncomfortable, despairing and you just want to walk right into the screen and give poor Olstadt a hug. His work is that good, a gem of an appearance in probably the best film on this list.
5. Marv in Sin City
When Robert Rodriguez told Frank Miller of his notion to cast Rourke as the hulking bruiser Marv, Miller’s response was “What, that skinny guy from Body Heat?”. Rodriguez had a vision though, which Rourke followed through with in legendary fashion. Marv has to be played by a performer with the right presence (Ron Perlman and Clancy Brown could have taken a decent crack), someone with somber grit and just the right shot of blackest humour. Rourke sets the role on fire, filling every gorgeously composed frame with his Boulder tough, terrifying and surprisingly touching take on the character.
4. Ed Moseby in Domino
The title of most legendary bounty hunter in Los Angeles is a pretty steep hill for any actor to start out on in at the beginning of their performance. Mentor to Domino Harvey, street smart professional, world weary badass and all around character, Ed is one third of the film’s psychedelic soul and Rourke charges full guns ahead with the work, pausing at penultimate crossroads to show us the seething regret and sadness that Ed harbours beneath the violence and tough guy shell. There’s one scene with co star Edgar Ramirez that seems pulled straight from Rourke’s own history, where the camera sits still long enough to allow him to show piercing truth.
3. Charlie in The Pope Of Greenwich Village
Charlie is a small time thug who does his absolute best to not be a screw up. Only problem, he’s saddled with best friend Paulie (Eric Roberts) who happens to be the biggest screw up this planet has ever seen. The pair are comic dynamite, Rourke setting off on exasperated tirades whenever Roberts gets them in hot water, and then using his brand of cunning and survival instinct to bail them out. Rourke shows a fox-like resourcefulness, a hurricane of anxious energy that cools over when evasive action is required. Charlie is Rourke in his youth and loving the game, firing synaptic bursts of energy at Roberts and receiving them back in synergy, showing off what a great onscreen duo they make.
2. The Cook in SPUN
A cowboy hat wearing, meth cooking oddball hardly seems like the type of character to land an emotional punch, and for the most part you’d be right to think that. Rourke is like Jim Carrey in the mask here, inhabiting an overblown and dizzyingly stylistic aesthetic that exists to show us the unhinged lifestyle of meth addicts. He jumps from serious to scary to funny to sad so quick it’s hard to put the puzzle of his character together, until a n emotional wipeout of a monologue that’s delivered late in the last act, bringing his sad arc full circle. Be it a seminar on the political qualities of Pussy, a whopper of a tiff with girlfriend Brittany Murphy or a brief tongue in cheek encounter with Eric Roberts, it’s glitzy grungy playtime all the way, until we get to that one extended speech, which halts the mayhem and sobers the viewer up post-delirium. It’s tearful in a film where you’d last expect it, and Rourke handles the 180 degree turn like the master he is.
1. Harry Angel in Angel Heart
In one of the finest and most flat out unnerving southern gothic horror films ever made, Rourke throws himself at the role of a down and out private detective who is hired by a sinister Robert De Niro to find a missing singer who doesn’t even seem to exist at all. Harry starts off in control, assured, well travelled. His nerves begin to shake when a trail of hideously murdered bodies pile up behind him, seemingly connected to his search. Rourke slowly unscrews the lid of Harry’s sanity in a sweaty frenzy of fractured machismo and blossoming terror, his fear riling up the audience with each new grisly discovery. There’s plot revelations, shocking violence, the mother of all graphic sex scenes, steeped melodrama and a near constant state of primeval fear, all infused into his performance with skill and tact. For me, Rourke has never been more ‘Rourke’, in all facets, than he was as Angel.
Unspeakable revels in its southern fried trashiness, pulling forth a lurid and grotesque pseudo mindfuck serial killer story that I don’t recall making a whole lot of sense, yet is still barrels of fun to behold the seasoned cast play out. The film’s writer, Pavan Grover, also stars as Jesse Mowatt, a mysterious serial killer with ties to the occult who frames an innocent Mexican migrant (Marco Rodriguez) in several horrific murders. When a scientist (Dina Meyer) uses an experimental mind mapping and truth seeking method on the wrongfully accused man, she is led to Mowatt via some dodgy telepathy. To be sure that Mowatt is guilty, she tries the same method on him and comes across readings that suggest he may be not only inhuman, but altogether unspeakably evil. The gung ho, sadistic prison warden Earl Blakely (a hopped up Dennis Hopper) is ready to pull the switch, but Meyer wants more time to examine Mowatt. Her colleague and mentor Jack Pitchford (Lance Henriksen) advises her against it, sensing the evil. She appeals to the state Governor (a brief Jeff Fahey) who happens to be her former lover, but he is unyielding. Her curiosity towards Mowatt puts her in grave supernatural danger, as Mowatt leers from the shadows of his cell and causes all sorts of unexplainable havoc. It’s a B movie thrill ride through and through, the plot barely registering to the viewer beyond the shock value tactics it employs, mainly giving Grover and Hopper scenery to voraciously gnaw on. In fact, Hopper is so rabid in one particular sequence it makes the viewer question whether the director just told him to ‘go full retard’. I enjoyed it for the actors, all of which I greatly admire. It’s schlock, of the marginally nonsensical variety. As long as you go in with that pre-notion, you can’t blame me for the reccomendation. At least the startling instances of gore are guaranteed a spike in our pulses.
Felon is a bitter,and tragic prison drama that’s packed with wrenching injustice, simmering anger and caged animal violence. Loaded with the kind of tough guy elements which make prison films exciting (check out Lock Up with Stallone), it’s also has a tender side brought forth by its extremely thoughtful and well written script, which explores ideas that are both hard to swallow and very sad. Stephen Dorff, a guy who already has the gritty look as soon as he walks into a frame, plays Wade Porter, a simple family man who is just starting out at life along with his wife (Marisol Nichols). Their hopes and dreams turn into a nightmare, however, when a violent intruder breaks into their home one night. Wade strikes out in defence of himself and his wife, accidentally killing the criminal. Because of the backwards ass way the States run things, he is accused of manslaughter and sentenced to serve out jail time. He is then thrown into the dog pit, literally and figuratively. The penitentiary he is sent to is run by sadistic and corrupt Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) along with his brutal enforcer Sgt. Roberts (Nick Chinlund). Jackson organizes vicious fight club style matches between the inmates, totally off the books and beyond any correctional legislations. Wade is forced to adapt, adjust and bring out monstrous aspects within himself to survive, and make it through his sentence with both his life and humanity intact. It’s not an easy turn of events to watch unfold onscreen, but necessary in the sense that this probably happens quite frequently to people in real life, and should be seen. The only solace Wade finds is with his gruff, veteran cell mate John Smith (Val Kilmer) a lifer who once went on a massacre of revenge against individuals who murdered his family. Smith is his guiding light, steering him through the hellish carnage of what he’s forced to do and helping him to keep the candle of compassion alive within him, never losing sight of what is essential in his fight to claim his life once more. Kilmer is a force that will knock you flat in this role, an old bull with dimming fury in his eyes, a man with a bloody history that has forged the weary dog we see in the film. Late in the film he has an extended monologue to Wade, giving him both blessing and advice with some of the most truthful and affecting gravity Kilmer has showed in his career. The writer/director, who appears to be primarily a stuntman, should be commended for such a script, that could have easily been a straight up prison flick without the pathos that drips off its heartstrings. We as an audience view this painfully and prey nothing like this ever happens to us or anyone we know, hoping to see a light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel for Wade. I won’t spoil it, but it’s worth the hit that your emotions will take while watching, and there is hard earned catharsis to be had, and penance for the characters you want to shoot in the face along the way. The extends to brilliant work from Chris Browning, Anne Archer, Nate Parker, Johnny Lewis and a fantastic Sam Shepherd as another seasoned convict. This was correct to video as I recall, which is a crime. It’s up there as my favourite prison set film that I’ve ever seen, a soul bearing piece.
Dead Awake is like Memento meets The Machinist via a quirky undercover B movie gem with a hectic plot, offbeat elements that put you into the confused mindset of an amnesiac and a neat little mystery that socks you with plot turn after plot turn until you’re just as weary-boned as the protagonist, here played by Stephen Baldwin in one of the few appearances that didn’t piss me off. Let’s face it, the guy is plain mediocre, yet here manages to carry his end not too shabbily as Desmond Caine, a high profile corporate executive who suffers from extreme insomnia, spending his nights wandering about the dense urban inner city where he lives. One night he witnesses a murder, setting off an odd chain of events which pave the way to more murders, dark humour, kooky nocturnal weirdos and a general ‘After Hours’ esque vibe of strangeness. There’s an all night diner he frequents, populated by an eclectic bunch. The waitress (gorgeous Macha Grenon) hides several secrets and the lazy beat cop does nothing for his borough. It’s manic homeless drifter Skay (Michael Ironside) who provides the excitement. Ironside is always terrific, and he breaks out of his usual reserved and stern shell for a wind up toy performance that rivals anything in Jim Carrey or Robin Williams’s legacy. There’s also a squirrelly homicide detective (Edward Yankie) who does little to help Caine solve the mystery besides provide puzzling idle chatter. Caine’s girlfriend, secretary and associate may all be involved, if only he could coherently gather his thoughts, get a little sleep and figure it all out. The film does a nice job of making an uncomfortable yet darkly amusing atmosphere for the viewer, where everything appears arbitrary and nothing fits together, as it must for an individual who never sleeps. Overlooked stuff.
Antoine Fuqua’s Tears Of The Sun is a brutal, tough war machine of a flick in the tradition of the old 70’s war films, kind of like a brooding Dirty Dozen. Bruce Willis stoically heads up a team of special ops soldiers who are sent into a war torn region of Africa to rescue a doctor (Monica Belucci) from a missionary camp. Genocidal maniacs are encroaching into the area and it’s no longer safe for locals or relief workers. His orders are simple: locate and extract the doctor, and no one else. However, when he comes face to face with the refugees, and their situation, he simply can’t find it in himself to turn his back on them when he can do something to help. He then disobeys his orders, collects both his team, Bellucci and the Africans and makes a run through the jungle for diplomatic protected soil. His team are a grizzled band of warriors, each with their own unique qualities and opinion on his decision. Kelly (a badass, mohawk adorned Johnny Messner) believes it’s too much of a risk, and not their concern). Michael ‘Slo’ Slowenski (Nick Chinlund, excellent and understated) takes a compasionate standpoint. Second in command Red Atkins (Cole Hauser) trusts Willis is making the right call. Soon they are pursued by the extremists, led by a hulking Peter Mensah, before King Leonidas kicked him into the Sarlak pit. The combat scenes are hard hitting, seemingly very well rehearsed and researched. The only problem for me was the overbearing and extended sequences of genocide, which are harrowing and quite tough to watch. When it’s combat based it’s a damn fine piece, with a rugged, thoughtful band of heroes who are an absolute joy to see in action. Rounding out the team are Eamonn Walker, Charles Ingram, Paul Francis, Chad Smith and a briefly seen Tom Skerritt as Willis’s commanding officer. Tough, muscular and no nonsense, with burgeoning compassion that gives that soldiers purpouse beyond the cold lethality of the mission. Fuqua has a terrific collection of lean and mean action flicks under his belt, and this is one of the best.
Perrier’s Bounty tries hard to be as pithy and witily profound as In Bruges, but doesn’t quite manage the task. To be fair, Bruges is a masterpiece and a Goliath of a script to aspire too, but this one has its own brand of scrappy crime fun, full of enough beans to keep the viewer jumping for its slight running time. Few films can boast narration provided by the Grim Reaper, and fewer still can say that said Reaper is voiced by Gabriel Byrne. But indeed, Byrne beckons us into this violent fable with his patented tone, both baleful and quaint. The fable in question concerns Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy) an irresponsible young Irish lad who is seriously bereft of both luck and common sense. He lives in a small town in northern Ireland and owes a hefty loan to local crime lord Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson). Because of how tiny the town is, it’s pretty easy for Perrier’s goons to find and engage him in a road runner goose chase all about the area, forcing him to scoop up his on and off girlfriend (Jodie Whittaker), and head for the hills. He’s also joined by his uber eccentric father (Jim Broadbent) who believes that the Grim Reaper has visited him at night and given him the alarming prognosis that he will die the next time he falls asleep. Broadbent is a solid gold asset to any film he’s in, and practically spews perfectly timed comic banter non stop. Michael thinks he has a way out of trouble with local petty thief The Mutt (Liam Cunningham, aka Ser Davos Seaworth, also a comedic treasure here), which turns out to be another notch in the belt of bad judgment. Meanwhile, Perrier’s crew reels after one of their slain thugs (at Michael’s hand) turns out to have been involved in a love affair with another, who now has the wrath of vengeance in his eyes. There’s a scene where Gleeson comforts the bereaved hoodlum and seems deeply wounded at the couple’s reluctance to tell him of their love. Gleeson assures them he has no issue with homosexuality and wishes they would have shared with him. In the context of hardened criminals out for blood, this kind of exchange is priceless and brings rigid archetypes right down to earth, for maximum hilarity and well earned pathos. The film meanders a bit, but never out ran my attention span, following through with it’s story in ways both welcomingly bloody and predictably quirky. It doesn’t add up to anything life altering when all is said and done, but damn if the things which are said and are done along the way aren’t just pure genre entertainment, inducing chuckles, thrills and nostalgia for other films withing the niche. In the troupe of writers who look up to Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonough, this scribe is on to something. Keep an eye out for Lord Varys, Roose Bolton and a young Domhall Gleeson too.