Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright is the very definition of overlooked. It was probably underfunded and squeaked forth through meager marketing a few years ago, neither of which has prevented it from triumphing as a sharp little sleeper flick that of course nobody saw. The central theme is age and regret, each character finding themselves at some sad crossroads, placed there by the decisions they’ve made in the past and the ways in which they have conducted themselves up to the final act of their lives. To observe people at such a stage haunts you as much as it does them, and made for a film that took a while to get out of my head. Aiden Quinn plays Charlie Wright, a billionaire financial genius whose empire has been exposed as nothing more than a pitiful ponzi scheme, right under his unwitting nose. He is in self imposed exile in Mexico, and soon the consequences rain down on him in the form of several different pursuers. A Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia) wants him, as well as a Russian (Elya Baskin) and his dodgy American representitive (Raymond J. Barry). The FBI has their sights on him as well, in the form of a weary looking Mario Van Peebles, sanctioned by the Director (Corbin Bernson). There’s also a trio of merceneries headed up by a dogged Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine and Gary Daniels who have been deployed south of the border to hunt him. It sounds like a bunch of commotion, but I found it to be a very reserved meditation on just how far people are willing to stand by their life choices when they see what’s become of the goals they had in mind when they made said choices in the first place. Quinn is the most understated, yet speaks the loudest as a man on the run from the world. Gina Gershon makes an emotional impact as a woman involved with Garcia, who is also great. South of the border intrigue. Ponderous introspect. A winning recipe.
As silly, gaudy and drawn out the Ocean’s franchise had gotten by its third outing, I still somewhat enjoyed Ocean’s Thirteen, an overblown attempt to keep the magic alive that most of the time trips over its own bells and whistles. That being said, the gang is all there, and that alone is good for some laughs. This time around, Eliott Gould’s cranky charmer Reuben has been ousted from his Vegas property by Willie Bank (Al Pacino) a ruthless and ludicrously rich casino tycoon with big plans for the future. Reuben is left in a dazed depression, and the gang all drifts back together to try and rob the hell out of Pacino, using methods and cons so over the top they almost seem like a parody of the former films. Pacino is a bit more clownish than Andy Garcia’s grim Terry Benedict was in the first film, which adds to the cavalier absence of any sense of real danger. In fact, Benedict is now chummy with the gang himself, which is a cute turn of events but kind of seems to silly. Ellen Barkin adds a lot of class as Pacino’s head honcho, fitting into the Ocean world nicely. The gang I’d all back and more eccentric than ever, with Matt Damon scoring comedic points in one of the funniest prosthetic jobs I’ve ever seen. Newcomers to the show include Julian Sands, Oprah Winfrey and a reliably hapless David Paymer. It’s not that this one takes the formula too far, it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and there was really not much need for it. I won’t say no though, because the blue print of what made the first so fun is still there, it’s just been jazzed up and adorned with a few too many gilded sequins and fancy jib jab. Still enjoyable.
“Beowulf meets Predator” boasts the enthusiastic critic blurb on the poster of one of my favourite sci fi genre benders, Outlander. It’s pure outlandish fun, and better yet it knows it is and therfore doesn’t feel any need to spend a bunch of time on grasping exposition to convince you of any shred of authenticity. It simply hums along on a pure rush of unchecked adventure, always aiming to please and for the very most part, doing so wonderfully. Jim Caviesel stars, and he’s an unassuming Ken doll of an actor who has more intensity than anyone gives him credit for, which always makes me spring to attention when he’s in the driver’s seat. Here he plays Kainen, a voyager from a far away galaxy who has crash landed his spacecraft on earth way back in the time of the Vikings, stranded and in need of refuge. Only problem is, he’s been on the run for some time from a large, hideous and very dangerous creature from his home planet called Moorwen. Moorwen has a very personal and deadly vendetta against Kainen, one which threatens the Viking tribe who give him shelter, led by noble king Hrothgar (John Hurt). Kainen comes from a planet with technology and civilization far advanced from Earth at that time, which makes him a hit with the tribesmen and even more so with Hrothgar’s daughter (Sophia Myles). Moorwen threatens their way of life in its rampage against Kainen, causing tragic collateral damage to a rival clan led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman makes heartbreaking and stone tough work of what is essentially an extended cameo). It’s an awesome movie no matter what anyone says. Any film about an astronaut from a far off galaxy who bands together with friggin vikings to battle a fluorescent space dragon is just automatically a winner. In all seriousness though, this one really is something special,and almost seems like a Dennis Quaid vehicle if it were made in the 80’s. Fun, thrilling and never too serious, it knows it’s place and owns the genre shelf it sits on.
Dark Reel is severely damaged goods no matter how you look at it. It sucks because there’s some good ideas trying their best to flourish beneath a mountain of sludge, but nothing of any value can breech the surface of this purely shitty B movie with scant traces of a decent outing. It starts off with a black and white prologue that looks like the only part of the film that wasn’t shot with an etch-a-sketch. Scarlett, a young aspiring actress, is lured into a dark abandoned set warehouse under the pretence of an audition, and brutally murdered. Fast forward about six decades, where a young groupie (Edward Furlong, looking like a sack of shit warmed over) wins a walk on role in a sickeningly trashy B movie monstrosity, starring a legendary scream queen (Tiffany Shepis, also a legendary scream queen in real life). It’s not long before so,done with ties to the murder in the prologue starts skulking around the set after hours and hacking people to pieces in ways that are as tasteless as they are cheap looking. The film has one redeeming quality, if you are a fan: Lance Henriksen. He plays Connor Pritchett, schlock movie producer and general whacko. Lance seriously plays the part like he has no idea what the script is, making up verbal diarrhea on the fly, undergoing titanic mood swings and displaying the coherency of someone with serious issues. It’s fun to watch him crash and burn, and even in the most awful poop material like this, he still shines, as batshit crazy as he is. There’s also a cop played by Tony Todd who acts just as unstable as Lance, and Todd rides the wave of his awfully written dialogue and poor direction like a sheepish pro. This is literally one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, and the funny thing is that it didn’t have to be. The premise itself is great, and even on the couch change budget it was stuck with, they could have at least tried. But no, they threw in the bloody towel and instead of a gem or even an admirable failure we get this monumental piece of festering garbage instead. I had to keep myself occupied in any scenes without Henriksen by hitting half speed fast forward so the characters sound like chipmunks. It says a lot about a flick when you have to do that. Avoid at any cost.
You have to be in a very particular type of mood to properly tune into a Jim Jarmusch film. He populates his often black and white and always slightly mournful films with awkward, dazed individuals who more comfortable in the uncertain pauses between dialogue than the actual words themselves. When I feel like a Jarmusch film (other than Dead Man which is an all timer for me) it’s always during times when I feel the daydreamy grey matter coming on, an otherworldly, downbeat relaxation that his work is rife with. Down By Law is a signature example of this, and most likely the film I connect with most of his, after Dead Man. This one concerns three wayward and very different souls who by fate and unfortunate circumstance end up in jail together. Zach (Tom Waits) is a radio DJ who is hounded by his girlfriend (Ellen Barkin) to be more proactive and less relaxed. Jack (John Lurie) is a laid back pimp, and they both find themselves incarcerated in a Louisiana prison where they meet the eccentric Italian tourist Roberto (Roberto Benigni, hilarious). The trio are a puzzling gaggle of misfits, moments of startling pathos and stinging humour sprouting as their time together goes on. Soon they discover that Roberto may know of a way to escape, and see it as their chance. The characters in any given Jarmusch film never seem the same as usual film archetypes; they’re always quirky and completely their own person, which is no doubt a product of a very intuitive directorial process, and an excellent relationship with the actors. It can be disarming to spend time with such distinct people in film, but when you stop to realize just how weird everyone around you in real life is vs. what is common for movie scripts, it feels geniune. This one is lived in, authentic and funny in that intangible way where you can’t even say why it’s so hilarious. We all a-scream for ice a-scream!
Lulu On The Bridge is an odd one, and that’s a compliment. It subtly strains at the constrictions of genre until you realize just how unique it has gotten right under your nose. I’ve always thought of it as the Abel Ferrara fiom that he never made. Harvey Keitel delivers a home run of a lead performance as Izzy Maurer, a renowned jazz musician who loses his ability to play after he is shot by a lunatic gunman (Kevin Corrigan) while he is performing his music in a cafe. He sinks into a deep depression following the incident, and then something curious happens. One day he finds a mysterious stone, with a phone number attached to it and some seemingly mysterious qualities which alter the psyche, mood and perception of anyone in its vicinity. The phone number leads him to Celia Burns (the ever excellent and under estimated Mira Sorvino), an aspiring actress who’s fallen just south of the success line, and has a taste for Izzy’s music. The two seem destined to meet and as you might guess, begin a passionate love affair that begins to get a bit obsessive, with strong hints directed towards the stone that seems to govern will and volition. Their romance is hot, heavy and volatile, threatened when a mysterious man named Dr. Can Horn (a classy but dangerous Willem Dafoe) separately kidnaps them in attempt to retrieve the stone. The script deliberately shades over its true intentions until the very last minute, stopping to pick many dialogue and thematic flowers along the way, as well as leave a few red herrings behind. Gina Gershon is great as Izzy’s ex wife, and the monumantal supporting cast also includes Richard Edson, the great Victor Argo, Harold Perrineau, Mandy Patinkin, Vanessa Redgrave and a brief Lou Reed who is pricelessly credited as ‘Not Lou Reed’. If you snag a dvd you can also see deleted scenes work from Stockard Channing, Jared Harris, Josef Sommer and Giancarlo Esposito. The film attempts music, mystery, doomed love, urban mysticism, thriller and drama elements. I’m happy to report that it succeeds at all of them, a gem not unlike the mcguffin stone within the plot, and a haunting little modern fairy tale. Check it out.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. There’s a title, eh? The film lives up to it too, and is simply one of the most unique, bizarre and original sci fi flicks out there. It’s the very definition of cult to its abstract bones, filled to the brim with eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. For me it represents a certain genre niche that’s nestled squarely in goofball mode, splayed out across the borders of science fiction, comedy and farce, without a care in the world and not an iota of self consciousness or any fucks given. Call it Buck Rogers meets The Avengers meets Bonanza doesn’t even scratch the surface. Peter Weller, that eternally cool bastard, plays Buckaroo Banzai, who is somewhat of a renaissance man. He’s a neurosurgeon, a rock star, a scientist and above all a lover of adventure, always sporting Weller’s unmistakable deadpan charm. Buckaroo and his band are also a crime fighting team called The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and include roughneck but lovable cowboy Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and slick New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum). Buck has perfected a device called the oscillation overthruster, which allows him to travel through solid matter and on into the eighth dimension. Only problem is, the red lectroids, an alien race from planet 10, want to steal the device for their own. They are led by an unbelievably funny John Lithgow who gets the spirit of the film and then some. Buck also finds romance with the adorable Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), whisking her off into super sonic adventure with him and the Cavaliers. It’s beyond silly, super arbitrary and random, and I love every glorious unfiltered minute of it. This type of wantonly bizarre stuff is my cinematic bread and butter, especially when it’s done with such pep in its step, as well ass love and commitment to being an oddball venture. The cast is huge and all in that loopy sleep deprived state where everything is funny and strange organic creation comes from the abstract. Watch for Dan Hedaya, Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, John Ashton and Christopher Lloyd too. A wacky gem with a style all its own, constantly tapped into a well of creation, humour and fun.