Tag Archives: david proval

Simon Wincer’s The Phantom

I love big, bold, colourful feature film updates of vintage 1930’s pulp comic books or radio plays and Simon Wincer’s The Phantom is just an absolute blast of escapism that’ll put a smile on your face no matter what. These days Billy Zane has become kind of a forgotten comedic totem but people forget what genuine charisma and star power he once had, and he rocks it here as Kit Walker aka The Phantom, a jungle born superhero descended from a long line of Phantoms before him, thus creating the reputation of being immortal, at least in his enemy’s eyes. Clad in a swanky purple suit with dual colt pistols and joined by a horse and a trusty wolf named ‘Devil’ at his side, he’s probably one of the most aesthetic superheroes I’ve ever seen in a film and I wish this led to sequels. Here he must protect three sacred skulls with supernatural power from power mad, psychopathic NYC tycoon Xander Drax (Treat Williams), fighting side by side with intrepid reporter Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) through a series of exciting adventure set pieces in incredibly exotic, gorgeous locations around the world. Zane is terrific and gives The Phantom just the right mixture of cavalier attitude, genuine empathy and swashbuckling magnetism, plus he rocks that suit solidly, which given this suit, not all actors could do and be taken seriously at it. Williams is a hammy hoot as Drax but his thunder is ever so slightly stolen by two terrific secondary villains: James Remar as Quill, a sort of evil doppelgänger version of Indiana Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones as Sala, an impossibly bad tempered femme fatale who has the hots for the Phantom and goes through a hilariously conflicted meltdown mid-film. The supporting roster is excellent and includes Bill Smitrovitch, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Leon Russom, Jon Tenney, David Proval, John Capodice and the great Patrick McGoohan as the ghost of Phantom’s father who appears to him as voice of counsel and occasionally wingman. I thought this was just a brilliant good time, a solid, beautifully retro old school adventure flick and I was disappointed to read that it was a box office flop. It’s like the Lone Rangers, the Indiana Joenses, The Rocketeers, the Sky Captains, just this rollicking old world American pulp hero aesthetic that translates so well into action adventure in cinema. Oh and watch for a sly reference to William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING

Romeo is Bleeding

 

There was a time in the early 90s when a series of nihilistic neo-noirs were made, in which they examined the pitfalls of masculinity, the male ego, and what it is to be an alpha male. RED ROCK WEST, AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING belong in the upper echelon of that sub-genre from that time and place.

Romeo is Bleeding Gary Oldman

The film is a conventional rogue cop film, made in a rather unconventional way. The film sticks to the guide, with the dirty cop endangering the lives of beautiful women through his series of bad mistakes, the ultimate femme fatale, and the powerful evil man. Yet, within the framework of what a noir is, lies bizarre and aloof humor that allows all the darkness to be stomached, creating captivating moments that are as surreal as they are deadly.

Romeo is Bleeding Lena Olin

The film’s cast is paramount. Gary Oldman leads the ensemble in what is one of his finest performances. Oldman is an actor who never, ever disappoints, and regardless of how worn out, or tired a genre character he plays – he always brings something new and something fresh to the role that makes it uniquely his. His character of Jack Grimaldi is in fact, grim – hit the nail on the head with the not-so-subtle character name. A man consumed by the lifestyle he swore to bring to justice, he starts informing for the mob, and that’s when everything goes to shit.

Oldman is anchored by a remarkable gallery of talent; Lena Olin as quite possibly the best femme fatale depicted on screen, a vulnerable and damned Juliette Lewis, a sweet and very perceptive wife in Annabella Sciorra, Will Patton, David Proval and Gene Canfield as Oldman’s cop buddies, CRIME STORY’S Paul Butler and James Cromwell as FBI agents, Tony Sirico, Michael Wincott, and Dennis Farina as mobsters, with all roads leading to the big bad, Roy Scheider in the role of the perfectly heavy-handed named Don Falcone – the ruthless mobster who wants Olin dead.

Romeo is Bleeding Roy Scheider

While Oldman does his worst by trying his absolute best to play all sides against the middle and somehow end up with all the money, the women, and getting away with it; director Peter Medak and screenwriter Hilary Henkin build a world filled with fast and dangerous people, showstopping set pieces, memorable dialogue, and eccentric without being too much costume design. Not to mention an elegant and dangerous score by Mark Isham. The world-building within the film is terrific, and truly accentuates the dusty and grim neo-noirs of the early 90s.

 

Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding

Somewhere out there in an anguished desert enclave along one of the many desolate stretches of American highway is Jim Dougherty (Gary Oldman), stranded in exile at a lonely rest stop cafe as Peter Medak’s brilliant, haunting neo-noir Romeo Is Bleeding opens.

Jim, as we learn through forlornly narration, was once a spectacularly corrupt NYC cop named Jack Grimaldi, a man who got too ambitious in the worst way and learnt every lesson the hardest possible fashion he could. Jack was a greedy, scheming piece of work who two timed his loyal wife (Annabella Sciorra, fantastic) with a ditzy cocktail waitress (Juliette Lewis) and did his best to upend everything the department works for by playing it against the mafia with increasingly disastrous results, stuck on a hollow treadmill chasing dollar signs. But his wife and mistress weren’t the only women in his life, as he soon meets Mona Demarkov, a seductive Russian contract killer played by Lena Olin in a performance that is to be applauded, feared and lusted after in equal measures. Mona is the wild card, the hurricane that upends an uneasy equilibrium Jack has toiled sweatily to set up like a house of cards, ready for her to blow down. Dumped in his lap by the Feds to babysit until mob operatives arrive to kill her, she manipulates, seduces and torments Jack within moments, but she’s only just begun. She escapes into New York and leads everyone on a terrifying goose chase of bloody mind games and gangland espionage, threatening to tear both organizations, not to mention Jack’s sanity, to pieces.

Oldman has never exuded the specific kind of sweaty desperation he showcases here, he’s got three women too many, nasty mafia Don Falcone (a quietly dangerous Roy Scheider) breathing over his shoulder and fellow cops inches away from sniffing out the rat in plain sight. Gary somehow comes across as likeable despite all this heinous behaviour, like a lost puppy who wandered into the wrong cave. Olin really lets loose with her work, she’s a villain not just for the noir hall of fame but for the ages, a murderous black velvet spider on a wanton spree of anarchic, sociopathic, psychosexual destruction and loving every minute of it. They’re supported by an epic roster of talent including Will Patton, David Proval, Larry Joshua, James Cromwell, Ron Perlman, Tony Sirico, Stephen Tobolowsky, Dennis Farina as a gregarious mafioso and the great Michael Wincott as Jack’s underworld pal Sal who turns on him like a jackal when things get out of control.

Many people seem to see this as an interesting yet ultimately flawed piece with uneven tone and what have you, but I couldn’t disagree more. For me this is pretty much as close to perfect as a film can get. Jim sits out there on the lonely byways of some forgotten region and recounts the tale of Jack, there’s such a beautifully mournful melancholy to his story, a true tragedy and cautionary tale laced with grit, jet black humour and an ever so subtle fairytale vibe. Writer Hilary Henkin spins a wild, surreal and slightly self aware screenplay here, while Mark Isham’s creepy, music box infused score gives off bushels of atmospheric portent. I feel like this is another one that was maybe ahead of its time, or perhaps just an acquired taste. I’m happy to see it has a budding cult following these days because it really deserves people’s time, it’s one of the very best crime films of the 1990’s and one of my all time favourite stories out there.

-Nate Hill

Four Rooms


Four Rooms is an anthology film of sorts, segmented into four episodes, two of which are pretty inspired as they just happened to be helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The other two outings… well, let’s just say they kind of bring the whole film down. As solid as Robert and Quentin’s efforts are, they’re two quarters of a whole that needs to be engaging all the time to work as a cohesive package, and sadly that’s not the case. These four tales all take place in one hectic and seedy L.A. hotel, in various rooms that showcase a host of troubled weirdos just trying to get through the night. This quartet of nocturnal misadventures is tied together by one central character, Ted The Bellhop (a peppy Tim Roth). In the first, which is also the weakest, a goofy coven of witches carry out some asinine ritual. This is a well casted bit as we see the likes of Madonna, Ioan Skye, Valeria Golino, Lilli Taylor and Alicia Witt, but the tone comes off as grade school level shenanigans and there’s many a cringe to be had. The second is an oddly placed noirish bit that finds Ted caught between an unhinged gun wielding whacko (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, David Proval is criminally underrated) and his femme fatale wife (Jennifer Beals). This one isn’t as awful as the first, yet feels a little off putting and claustrophobic. The third sees Robert Rodriguez step up to bat with ‘The Misbehavers’ a riotous black comedy concerning an upper class couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) who leave Ted in charge of their troublemaker kids for the night as they go out dancing. Anything can and does go wrong here, as the youngsters get into all kinds of shit including finding a half decomposed hooker (Patricia Vonne) stuffed in a mattress. Rodriguez shows comedic flair in fits and starts in the pulpy action side of his oeuvre, but here he’s purely having fun and the result is a sleazy hoot of a good time. The fourth and best is by Tarantino, and as such is mostly talking. But what talking it is; Ted stumbles into the penthouse suite which is home to a string out Hollywood film crew, and they’ve decided to place a dangerous bet that involves bodily dismemberment. Quentin is usually a fairly awful actor, but he’s not bad here as the motor mouthed ringleader of this insane posse, while Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei and a very stressed out Bruce Willis chime in as well. This segment is pure gold, with an abrupt, trademark Tarantino payoff that leaves you chuckling darkly. All kinds of folks have cameos, so watch for the recently disgraced, supremely ugly Kathy Griffin, Lawrence Bender, Salma Hayek and others. There’s always stronger and weaker entries in an anthology film, competition is par for the course. This one has quite the ups and downs though, and would have been far better off being just a Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, but oh well. 

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: 13 Moons


It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package. 

-Nate Hill