Tag Archives: David Paymer

Brian Helgeland’s Payback

Isn’t it always kind of more fun when the protagonist of a film is an utter scumbag? I think so, and Brian Helgeland did too when writing Payback, my favourite Mel Gibson film (outside Mad Max of course, but that’s a high pedestal to breach). There’s something so engaging about Mel’s Porter, a street rat career criminal who’s betrayed by his treacherous partner (Gregg Henry) and junkie wife (Deborah Kara Unger), left for dead in an alley. After a rocky recovery he comes back with vengeance on the mind, hunting down those who fucked him over and anyone who profited from it. The first thing he does to set tone for his character is steal cash from a panhandling hobo, which is just about the starkest way to inform your audience of what’s to come. What does Porter want? He wants his 24k from the job he got shafted on, not a penny less and, hysterically, not a penny more either, which becomes the beloved running joke of the film as he prowls streets, poker rooms, titty bars and all kinds of lowlife establishments to get what’s his. Henry is off the rails as his former partner in crime, taking his usual brand of scenery chewing to new heights and picking fights with anyone who makes eye contact with him. He isn’t even the main villain either, that honour goes to a stone-faced Kris Kristofferson as the sadistic head of a shadowy mega crime syndicate who are soon alerted of Porter’s ongoing rampage. There’s uber corrupt cops (Bill Duke, Jack Conley), a weaselly bookie (David Paymer), a bureaucrat desk jockey villain (William Devane), a high class escort with a heart of gold (Maria Bello) who brings out the faintest of softer sides in Porter, a sneering assassin (the great John Glover) and others who all get caught up in the commotion this guy causes just to get his modest 24 grand. A young Lucy Liu also shows up as a sexy S&M hooker with ties to the Triads and enough scary attitude to either turn me on or freak me out, I’m still not sure. My favourite has to be James Coburn as another organized crime hotshot who seems more interested in his elaborate accessories than putting a step to Porter’s nonsense. “That’s just mean, man” he bawls after Mel puts a bullet in one of his designer alligator skin suitcases. So damn funny. This is the epitome of jet black humour, one of the meanest, gnarliest, bloodiest and most entertaining neo-noirs that Hollywood has ever produced. Mel has played so many heroes and upstanding family men that it’s refreshing to see him go for the contemptible asshole shtick, and I’ll be honest I’ve never rooted for one of his characters harder than I do for Porter and his deranged urban crusade every time I rewatch this, which is a lot. Fucking brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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Jim Kouf’s Gang Related

Jim Belushi and Tupac Shakur are an odd pairing on paper to star in a cop flick together, but they’re extremely effective in Jim Kouf’s Gang Related, a twisty neo-noir with a great cast and a few tricks up its sleeve. They play two inner city detectives who are corrupt, but the script doesn’t treat them with the same jaded judgment and moustache twirling villainy that some dirty cops get in Hollywood, there’s a surprising empathy towards them especially in Tupac’s performance. After they accidentally murder an undercover DEA agent, they try to frame a nearby homeless man (Dennis Quaid), coach a few witnesses and make it seem like they were never involved. Things get spectacularly messy when they discover that Quaid’s disheveled hobo isn’t just a nobody and there are people in high places, not to mention both the DEA and gang factions coming after their morally duplicitous asses. It’s kind of like a reap what you sow tale, these two guys aren’t especially nasty characters, but they did commit a really shady act and now the proverbial karmic dildo has come back to royally fuck them. Belushi is the tougher, more unflappable veteran who is more willing to compromise his soul with the cover up, while Tupac is the younger, more impressionable cop and fears the road he’s being led down, and well he should. They both put in fantastic performances, while Quaid does well against type and the three of them are supported by Tiny Lister, David Paymer, Lela Rochon, Wendy Crewson, Gary Cole and James Earl Jones. A solid urban crime thriller, fairly overlooked as well.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt

How to even approach Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. For a guy whose career has spanned decades from golden age Hollywood to contemporary and etched out a few mile markers that have practically defined the medium, this is definitely both the odd duck and black sheep of the man’s career. There’s no way around it either so I’ll be blunt: it’s kind of a mess. But it’s an intermittently breathtaking mess, like someone spilt a can of turgid motor oil in their garage, but a few gold and silver flakes of airbrush paint snuck into the oozing puddle. There’s a noticeable Stephen King vibe here, with flippant Val Kilmer as horror novelist Hall Baltimore, struck with writer’s block and hiding out in a creepy Midwest town to try and get the creative juices flowing. There’s murder afoot there, in more ways than one, and soon he’s visited by the ghost of a girl (Elle Fanning, darkly ethereal) who guides him along a chain of memories that recall missing children from the past. The town’s gruff, obnoxious Sheriff (Bruce Dern) doesn’t appreciate Hall nosing around his neck of the woods and harasses him at every turn. There’s Skype seasons with his wife (Joanne Whalley, Killer’s real life ex) that feel suspiciously improvised, an appearance by Edgar Allen Poe himself (Ben Chaplin) and creaky narration from none other than Tom Waits. Ultimately it doesn’t really connect, and feels so fascinated by itself that it fails to coherently tell us the tale in a way that sticks. What does take hold, however, are some truly gorgeous and striking visuals, lit by stark silver moonlight, accented by crimson blood and brought to unholy life by tactile, riveting slow motion, like a dream sequence in which Kilmer observes a group of ghost children frolicking on an eerie riverbank. Much of it feels subconscious and free form or lifted out of an Evanescence music video, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It just needs the focus of the script to properly come across as a whole story, which, sadly, it mostly doesn’t have. Fanning makes the biggest impression as the ghostly waif, peering off the film’s poster and promising a poetic spook show, which… we kind of get. This has been seen as a shrill blast of emptiness by many critics, but there’s some fun to be had, and plenty of gothic eye candy to feast on, even if the brain goes hungry.

-Nate Hill

Ron Underwood’s Heart & Souls

Ron Underwood’s Heart & Souls is a lovely forgotten gem from the early 90’s, a metaphysical comedy drama with an all star cast and a heartwarming storyline with just the right amount of tear jerking moments, one of which is really affecting. They say that some people become civil servants in the afterlife, but in this movies case they are social workers, or rather guardian angels. Young boy Thomas thinks he has four imaginary friends who accompany him everywhere, but they’re really the ghosts of four wayward souls whose unfinished business on earth has caused them to linger and provide their service to the living. Shy would be singer Harrison (Charles Grodin), grieving mother Penny (Alfre Woodward), regret filled waitress Julia (Kyra Sedgwick) and guilt ridden petty thief Milo (Tom Sizemore) hang out with young Thomas for years until he grows a bit older, their debt to heavenly society is apparently paid and they move on from him, which is truly a heart wrenching scene to watch the poor kid go through. They seem to have forgotten the most important thing though: resolving their own unfinished issues in this plane, and return some thirty years later to find a now grown up Thomas (Robert Downey Jr.) and get his help in putting their troubles to rest. Seeing very grounded, down to earth Downey as a stern businessman in the midst of stormy issues with his girlfriend (Elizabeth Shue) suddenly be faced with the four childhood chums he thought were figments is hysterical and played for all the laughs one would hope. It’s also played for emotional resonance too though, as he learns about the childlike nature he left behind and regains his dormant sense of wonder, and humour. Each of the four of his friends is played brilliantly by these actors, all with their own important story and part to play in the lives of each other, as well as Downey’s. Director Underwood gives it the lighthearted, cloudy sentiment and humour it needs, but still let’s the moments of sorrow land effectively too, finding that balance between joy and heartache nicely. This one is lost a bit to the ages, but always holds up as a timeless romantic fable, well acted and perfect to brighten up the mood of any TV room.

-Nate Hill

John Dahl’s Unforgettable: A Review by Nate Hill

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John Dahl’s Unforgettable plays around with a trippy high concept premise in which people’s memories can be accessed by using an experimental, controversial drug. Ray Liotta plays the troubled Doctor whose wife has been recently murdered. He desperately reaches out to the scientist (Linda Fiorentino) who synthesized the compound, and the two set out to use it unofficially, in order to retain his wife’s dying moments, see them for himself and establish who her killer is. The serum takes its toll on his already stressed mind though, and soon he’s questioning his own reality, his trust levels towards those around him dropping considerably. Director Dahl is beyond proficient when it comes to thrillers, usually taking on crime pieces with a noirish vibe. Here he tries his hand at science fiction, coexisting with a classic whodunit narrative, and the result is quite good. Liotta relies on the information that his detective friend (Peter Coyote) gives him, and combined with the knowledge he absorbs from his deceased wife’s brain, begins to piece the puzzle together. There’s also a troublesome detective played by Christopher Mcdonald he must deal with, and a violent thug (Kim Coates) involved as well. Liotta is usually tough, capable and would normally be found playing one of the two cops, but the doctor on the run without a lot of tactical skill suits him and allows the guy some work other than just cops or psychos. Watch for work from David Paymer, Kim Cattrall, William B. Davis, Callum Keith Rennie and Garwin Sanford as well. The premise may be too farfetched for some folks, but for others with imagination it’ll be a blast. It’s also fairly violent and graphic, which may seem gratuitous for such a cerebral outing, but I find it gives it a stylistic edge and raises the stakes, just like Total Recall. Great flick. Not Total Recall, I mean this one. Well Total Recall too, obviously. Yeesh.