You would think that a film noir headlined by John Travolta and Morgan Freeman would be a surefire winner or at least something moderately stimulating, but The Poison Rose is just a lazy, watered down, lethargic, empty, nonsensical and just plain fucking boring film. The first five minutes show the faintest beam of promise as we see hard-luck ex football pro turned private investigator Carson Phillips (Travolta) running away from vicious loan sharks while carrying his cat in a carrier. It’s a fun bit, followed by a nice opening credits sequence where he hits the road and drives it from Cali to his hometown in Texas to take on the case of a missing woman and for a hot second the film feels like it could actually go somewhere… and then it just viciously, thoroughly and embarrassingly flatlines. Travolta narrates the proceedings as if he’s in his nightgown and favourite La-Z-Boy chair about to nod off and who can blame him with a narrative this thin and scattered. The search for this girl leads him to a few of his old high school pals including a shady businessman (Freeman, barely raising a pulse) who owns half the town, a slightly corrupt sheriff (Robert Patrick) an ageing hipster (Peter Stormare) and an old flame (Famke Janssen) now wedded to Freeman’s sinister magnate. Brendan Fraser shows up to give quite possibly the weirdest performance of his career as a psychiatric “doctor” who looks like he could use a stay in the institution himself, garbling out his lines in a syrupy lisp under a dying combover and really looking like he’d rather be anywhere else. Now, this is one serious lineup of actors, like if this thing were made in the 90’s with a better script, director and when all these wonderful actors had more energy it could have maybe been something good, but they’ve squandered a dream cast on toilet water material, dumpster diving level production value and a story that is so clearly, derivatively, unapologetically DULL that I can’t let this review go by without a serious verbal lashing. There’s just no excuse for this kind of mediocrity in any echelon of film or art, it just rests somewhere between being dimly engaging and outright terrible and they’ve just limply thrown in the towel, and added an wet blanket overtop of it. There’s a scene where Travolta says “everything in moderation, including moderation.” One thing I could use in moderation, or simply not at all, are these uninspired, flaccid dicked, direct to video embarrassments of once great stars/actors. Piss poor excuse for entertainment.
Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word is one of those slick Michael Douglas thrillers with a juicy cast, luxurious runtime and that classic ‘Hollywood thriller’ feel. It’s one of those scripts written with people like him or Harrison Ford in mind, the middle aged high profile professional whose family is menaced or kidnapped, forcing this straight laced Everyman to take action. This one is particularly strong and terrifically entertaining thanks mainly to the late Brittany Murphy in my favourite of her onscreen roles as a disturbed teenage girl whose broken, traumatized mind hold the secret to the film’s central mystery. When she was a young girl she witnessed the brutal murder of her father at the hands of a dangerous career criminal (Sean Bean) and his marauding gang of thieves. It’s now a decade or so later and he’s back to terrorize her again in hopes of unlocking a clue lodged deep in her head, information she’ll do anything to hide. Douglas is the hotshot psychologist who finds himself and his family targeted by Bean & Co., extorted into treating her and gaining the information so badly desired by all. Douglas and Murphy have terrific onscreen chemistry and she even upstages him in many scenes with her trademark raw, potent and very candid style of acting that seems almost out of place in such a glossy high profile thriller but really gives the thing its most valuable spark of life. Bean’s villain is admittedly kinda one dimensional in terms of script but he can take any character and give it something memorable with his talents, he’s utterly ruthless and despicable here, making the peril feel real and relentlessly threatening. The supporting cast is stacked to the nines with work from Famke Janssen as Douglas’s terrorized wife, the late Sky McCole Bartusiak as his cunning daughter, Oliver Platt as a shady colleague clearly hiding something, Jennifer Esposito as a shrewd homicide detective on everyone’s case, with additional support from Shawn Doyle, Guy Torry, Lance Reddick, David Warshofsky, Paul Schulze, Aiden Devine and a cameo from Victor Argo as a wily coroner. Fleder is an accomplished director (Runaway Jury, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, Kiss The Girls) and knows his way around a flashy big budget thriller without losing a palpable sense of character and setting. This is one of my favourite Michael Douglas thrillers, mainly because of Brittany Murphy’s super affecting, down to earth work, Bean’s cold, psychopathic baddie, the blue and grey hued NYC cinematography full of hustle, bustle and urgent incident and the overall orchestration which has a classic ensemble thriller mentality that you just don’t get from Hollywood anymore. Great film.
I first became aware of the work of William Malone when I saw his movie CREATURE. For most, all they see is just some cheap imitation of Scott’sALIEN – but there is much on offer if you give the flick more than a sideways glance. There exists the same thrilling, eerisome mood generated that marks all of his movies and which culminated in his remake of HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.
Growing up in Lansing, Michigan and going to the same high school as NBA legend Magic Johnson, it would be music and not sport that would eventually see the young Malone make his way west to Los Angeles. But the music soon died and William found himself looking for work. He took a job at Don Post Studios doing make-up and costume duties before attending film school at UCLA.
His first film would soon follow, the cult classic SCARED TO DEATH. This was the beginning of a storied career of other great features like FEARDOTCOM and PARASOMNIA as well as work on the small screen in series like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, MASTERS OF HORROR and FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES.
It was great talking with William about everything from directing Klaus Kinski, his non-existent role of TV’s THE INCREDIBLE HULK, having one of his scripts become a sequel toUNIVERSAL SOLDIER and the (I find it intriguing) story behind the making of the troubled SUPERNOVA, of which Francis Coppola mentioned to him that they should have stuck with Malone’s original script Dead Star.
Aside from being the world’s foremost collector of FORBIDDEN PLANET props and paraphernalia, William Malone is a fascinating movie-maker and a delight to chat with. I trust you’ll feel the same . . .
CITY OF INDUSTRY is that seedy noir where men treat their own gunshot wounds with whisky and cigarettes in a rundown bathroom of a motel, talk in short and blunt alpha male code, and live by a code of honor and revenge. The film has a fantastic cast led by Harvey Keitel giving his archetypal tough guy performance. Supporting Keitel is Timothy Hutton, Famke Janssen, Lucy Liu, Michael Jai White, Stephen Dorff, and Elliot Gould.
The film’s premise is the Richard Stark esque caper/revenge story of four men robbing a jewelry store, and then one of them (Dorff) kills off two (including Keitel’s younger brother played by Hutton) and then Harvey Keitel spends the rest of the film tracking him down and killing anyone in his way.
The film thrives on its minimalist approach. It knows exactly what it is, and it does not try to be anything more. Keitel commands the screen with his scowls and his pistol whipping anyone who stands between him and Dorff. Along the way, Keitel befriends the widow (the always great Janssen) of one of his slain crew members, and of course finds solace and redemption in helping her while tracking Dorff.
The film is what it is. For those who enjoy the heavy B movie revenge genre, this film was made for you. Keitel’s stoic performance is solid as ever, Dorff and his blonde highlights is sleazy as ever, and Elliot Gould makes a brief yet groovy turn as a sweaty and smooth crime boss. CITY OF INDUSTRY is one of those gems that stand out among the best of the 1990’s straight to VHS crime films.
Stephen Sommers’s Deep Rising is some of the most fun you’ll have watching an overblown action horror spectacle, if that’s your type of thing. It plays the slimy underwater alien formula to the hilt, an epic and very funny gory swashbuckler that is sadly very underrated and not too talked about these days. It’s ridiculously watchable, insanely gory and punctuated by one liners and quips that work so well in the flippant context of the script. The story concerns a band of nasty sea pirates who plan to hijack the world’s largest ocean liner cruise ship, and all the riches onboard. They arrive to find the vessel empty of any passengers, and full of something they’ll wish they never came across. A massive and very icky underwater predator has eaten everyone onboard and now has turned its attention to the newcomers. They are picked off one by one in deliciously grotesque kills that show director Sommers in his little seen R rated mode. Treat Williams is a hoot as John Finnegan, a sort of cross between Indiana Jones and Bruce Campbell, a soldier of fortune and adventurer with a vernacular chock full of wiseass quotes and idioms that tickle the funny bone no end. He’s got a sidekick named Joey Pantucci (Kevin J. O Connor slays it) and a girlfriend named Trillian St. James (isn’t that the best name ever?) played by Famke Janssen in a fierce, sexy and capable turn as the chick with the gun that everyone loves. The trio make the film dizzyingly entertaining and you find yourself wishing you could hang out with them longer once it’s over. There’s a snivelling villain played by the always smarmy Anthony Heald, and the ragtag group of pirates are brought to life by distinct personalities such as Jason Flemyng, Cliff Curtis, Clifton Powell, Djimon Hounsou and the great Wes Studi. Sommers is a seriously underrated director. He spins loving odes to the adventure films of Old Hollywood with passion, wonder and the spark of imagination in spades. And what does he get? Critically and commercially spat on, time and time again, with some of his films not even getting a proper release (don’t get me started on the masterpiece that is Odd Thomas). Hollywood and the masses don’t deserve him and his toiling, thankless work, and yet he soldiers on. What a guy, and what a stellar filmmaker. This ones a testament, a rollicking, bloody piece of creature feature bliss that never fails to knock my socks right the hell off.
GoldenEye is the very finest hour that Pierce Brosnan had as James Bond, both as a film and in terms of what he gets to do as the character. It’s my third favourite Bond film of all time and stands as one of the most exciting ventures the series has seen to this day. It definitely falls into a campy style, but one that’s removed from that of the original Bond films from way back when, one that’s all its own and decidedly 90’s. It’s also got one of the strongest and classiest villains of the series, a man who is in fact an ex agent himself which was a neat switch up. Brosnan is so photogenic it’s ridiculous, whether dolled up in the tux or careening through a valley in a fighter jet. He just looks so damn good as Bond, and I sometimes wish he’d gotten a fifth crack at the character. Here we join up with 007 on a mission gone wrong, where he is ambushed and his partner Agent Alec Trevelyan a.k.a. 006 (Sean Bean) is killed, or so he thinks. 006 is in fact alive and well, with a few gnarly facial scars and a new nasty attitude. He puts Bond through a wringer with a diabolical scheme to hijack a Russian nuclear space weapon and do all kinds of lovely things with it. Bond teams up with the survivor of a decimated Russian research centre, a beautiful scientist named Natalya (Isabella Scorupco) who inevitably ends up in his bed. It’s slick, it’s stylish, it’s sexy and everything a Bond flick needs to be. 006 has a dangerous asset in Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen), a lethal assassin whose weapon of choice are her thighs which she employs with the crushing power of two Amazonian pythons. Janssen plays the role with ferocious relish and the kind of enthusiasm that hadn’t been seen in a Bond villainess since Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again. Bean plays it ice cold, letting restraint and calculated malice steal the scenes as opposed to flagrant mustache twirling. I always thought he would have made a cracking good 007 as he has so much residual danger to his vibe from playing many heartless bastards in his career, but perhaps in another life. One of my favourite characters to ever hang out in a Bond flick shows up here, a cranky but lovable russian general named Valentin Zukofsky, played by the awesome Robbie Coltrane, an actor who really, really needs to be in more stuff. His few short scenes are the stuff that makes a piece timeless, and I wish we’d gotten to see more Valentin and more Hagrid elsewhere in the franchise. There’s the usual suspects like Judi Dench as M and Desmond Llewellyn as a crusty Q, and a host of other actors including Joe Don Baker, Tchecky Karyo, Minnie Driver and the irritating Alan Cumming who singlehandedly ruins scenes with his hammy preening. The film thunders along with furious energy and nicely paced action sequences, including a chaotic tank chase through the streets of Moscow and a stunner of a climax set atop a giant satellite dish. As Bond films go, you can never go wrong with this one.
The Taken series has been done to death, memed out to glory and mined for market value a million times over since the first film came out way back in 2008, which has somewhat dimmed the charm of that original vehicle, at least for some of us. Like, how many times can Liam Neeson or his relatives be Taken before even they as characters realize that it couldn’t be happening and that they’re in a movie? Eventually the material unwittingly spoofs it’s origin in its need to repeat itself time and again. That’s not to say the first isn’t enjoyable on it’s own, in fact it’s quite the streamlined little dose of adrenaline that essentially coasts on some great pacing, neat choreography and the endlessly watchable Liam Neeson, whose career took a shot of nitrous to the heart after gamely stepping into the well worn shoes of the grizzled action hero. This was him nimbly ducking through the genre boundaries that his career was in up til that point, and the action thing fit him like a glove. The film is at its best when it follows Bryan Mills (Neeson) in action, which thankfully is most of the time. Mills is an ex CIA spook with some tactics that will seriously put a hurtin’ on you if you cross him in any way. A gaggle of moronic Bosnian human traffickers come under the receiving end of these tactics when they kidnap his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace, looking suspiciously like she’s a decade older than her character is supposed to be) from Paris and auctioning her off to rich raghead perverts. This propels him into like an hour of non stop energetic ass kicking that is so fun to watch, as he shoots, stabs, sprains and splatters his way through hordes of eastern European cannon fodder, with not a second to spare for even the utterance of a any cheesy one liners. He’s assisted via Bluetooth by his three ex agency barbecue buddies (Jon Gries, Leland Orser and David Warshofsky) and has a few encounters with his jaded ex wife (Famke Janssen). And that’s about it, but Neeson sells the bare minimum as far as the genre goes with his effortless cool and stony, formidable stature that springs into startlingly spry motion every time he has to dispatch a new troupe of Slavic wise guys. If only they didn’t have to desecrate this little piece of lightning in a bottle with two sequels that dampen the momentum with cheap attempts at thrills, I may still feel strongly about this one as I did when it first came out. Hopefully they quit while they’re ahead, shirk the slimy dollar signs and let their first outing age in peace.