Paparazzi is one of those ones that probably sounded pretty silly on paper, but one of the studio execs had a good sense of humour on a morning after getting laid and said “aw hell, green light this just for kicks.” It doesn’t hurt to have Mel Gibson as a producer either, who also makes the teensiest cameo. The concept is simple: action film star Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser) is harassed by a sleazy hyena pack of determined celebrity photographers, until they take it one step too far, resulting in tragedy. Bo then plays the art imitating life card, goes all vigilante on them and quite literally hunts each one down and kills them. A synopsis like that has to illicit a dark chuckle from anyone who reads it, and you’d think the resulting film would be oodles of fun, but they’ve somewhat played it safe. A concept this ridiculous should be over the top, reach for the stars insane, a hard R black comedy Death Wish set in Hollywood, if you will. What we get is something more on the glossy side, the filmmakers dipping their toe into the pond of potential, yet never saying ‘fuck it’ and diving right in. The paparazzos are played to the heights of hilarity by a solid scumbag troupe: Tom Sizemore is so perfect as their a-hole ringleader, just a dime piece of a casting choice. Daniel Baldwin looks seriously haggard, while Tom Hollander and Kevin ‘Wainegro’ Gage round out this quartet. Dennis Farina is fun as a sharp, shrewd Detective who gets wise to Bo’s act as well. It’s all serviceable, and yet I wish it went that extra mile to give us something downright shocking and memorable. Perhaps they should have reworked the script, brought in a wild card director and gone the indie route. Oh well.
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.
The Hi-Lo Country is a very unique film, totally under the radar (where’s the Blu-ray?!), made with supreme skill and confidence by an eclectic group of collaborators, and anchored by two fantastic performances by Woody Harrelson and the eternally undervalued Billy Crudup. Set in post-WWII New Mexico, it’s a cowboy film, it’s a Western, it’s a family drama, it’s a romance, and there are more than a few grace notes contained in Walon Green’s poetic screenplay (based on the novel by Max Evans) which provides a lyrical sense of love and sweep for the time period and dusty locations. Directed with a classical sense of proportion and clear-eyed dramatics by the gifted British director Stephen Frears, the film also boasts Martin Scorsese as a “Presenter,” further adding to the name-brand quality of the filmmaking team. The stellar supporting cast includes Patricia Arquette as the woman who falls in love with both of the leads, a crusty Sam Elliot as the chief antagonist who feels right at home in this material, a baby-faced Penelope Cruz in one of her first English-language feature films, and the distinctive actor Cole Hauser in an early (and possibly best) performance as a sketchy acquaintance of both Harrelson and Crudup. Carter Burwell’s familiar orchestral notes lend an interesting aural texture to the film, with Oliver Stapleton’s honeyed and golden widescreen cinematography made excellent use of the vistas and endless desert and open-plain landscape. The film was barely released back in late 1998 (it grossed $166,000!), and curiously, critical reception was more mixed than might have been expected. But over the years, it’s been a film that’s always enticed me back for revisits; there’s just something so different and offbeat about this movie, which while trading off of expected conventions (both visually and narratively), feels like few other modern genre pieces that I can think of. This film is the very definition of a small gem, a work that’s begging to be re-discovered by a more appreciative audience.