Ever wish there was a movie where Val Kilmer plays a dead corpse? Like…the whole movie? Well you’re in luck, because in Summer Love he does just that. It’s funny because there aren’t even any flashbacks, any death scene or any instances where he’s alive. He’s just a dead body for the whole. friggin. movie. Now you might think what an lazy, pay cheque collecting half ass move, but let me assure you that shit isn’t easy. I’ve played a corpse in films for maybe minutes at a time after I’ve bee killed, and that was bad enough. Thinking about having to lie still and do that for an entire film gives me hives. So kudos to Val who sticks through it like a champ, spending every frame all rigor mortis-ed up and dead as disco. The film was released in North America unde the dvd title ‘Dead Man’s Bounty’ a decidedly more genre title than Summer Love, which is all part of an effort to label it as a violent action western. It’s It’s a western, alright and it’s plenty violent. But action? No sir. It’s slower than the service I get at McDonald’s and very, very European. Most of the actors besides Kilmer are Polish, kind of like Eastwood waltzing around with a bunch of Italians in a spaghetti western. I guess the term for this one would be perogy western. The lead actor is actually Czech, the ever awesome Karel Roden, playing a perpetually wounded and apparantly mute gunslinger who arrives in a dinghole of a town with Kilmer’s body, looking to collect his bounty. The town is a sour, miserable, derelict place, populated by bad tempered, booze gulping men, and one much abused whore (Katarzyna Figura). The sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) is a stumbling, incapable drunkard whose first thought is to rob anyone who passes through his town. Roden silently navigates this cesspool outpost, keeping Kilmer near and his guns at the ready. Not much actually happens in the film, mostly everyone just sits around drinking and mumbling incoherently to themselves in tones that no doubt sound poetic to their heavily inebriated minds. The whore gets slapped around a whole lot which will no doubt put some viewers off, if they aren’t already asleep. The ‘Summer Love’ title comes from the chorus of a song which is played in an opening sequence that proves to be one of the few sparks of life in this fairly dead affair. Kilmer’s trademark peppiness is nowhere to be found because… well… he’s a dead guy, and the rest of the cast are basically drunk western zombies who have all lost their scripts. Morbidly fascinating, never enjoyable, startlingly bad.
Tony Scott’s Beat The Devil is one part of a multi episode series of promotional short films called The Hire, themed around, and sponsored by BMW. An unbelievable amount of acting heft and prolific directors were brought in to make these, including Scott, Joe Carnahan, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee and more. They’re all wonderful and different in their own way, but Scott’s is my favourite of the bunch hands down. From the eclectic cast, all having a blast, to the sheer kinetic momentum and adrenaline soaked velocity of the stylistic direction, it’s pure moviemaking. Tony Scott’s very distinct and polarizing visual aesthetic rears its beautiful head here for a literal crash course which would go on to emerge from the chrysalis and fully spread its wings in the director’s two best films, Man On Fire and Domino. This one is a delicious little treat and obvious precursor to those. The story is fable in nature, starring James Brown as himself (!), pining about his old age. He hires the 007 sequel Driver (Clive Owen, stars in every one of these films, drives a BMW all the time and ties them all together), who takes him to Las Vegas to see The Devil (Gary Oldman, who else), who he sold his soul to decades earlier for fame and fortune. Brown wants to renegotiate the terms of contract, or simply put. Wants to live as a youth longer. Oldman is a sight to see, adorned in crimson lipstick and all manner of kitschy wardrobe numbers, a flamboyant debutant who acts like a Dr. Seuss character in drag. He makes a deranged proposal: the two of them will race the Vegas strip at dawn, Owen against Devil’s driver Bob (a deadpan perfect Danny Trejo). If Brown wins, he gets an extension on life and youth. The race is pure Tony Scott, a commotion fuelled superstorm of breakneck editing, colours flying off the saturation charts proudly and auditory assault as only the guy can craft. It’s the most fun out of the Hire series, careening along on its own delirious and joyful reckless abandon. Watch for a priceless cameo from Marilyn Manson as well.
I’ve been ragging a lot on Cuba Gooding Jr. The past few reviews, so I’ll go easy and speak about a good one instead. Wrong Turn At Tahoe has a script that should have been given the royal treatment; it’s wise, brutal, thought provoking and very violent, with many sets of morals clashing against each other in true crime genre style. It didn’t get a huge budget or a lot of marketing, but what it did get was a renakably good cast of actors who really give the written word it’s justice, telling a age old story dangerous people who inhabit the crime ridden frays of both society and cinema. Cuba plays Joshua, a low level mafia enforcer who works for Vincent (Miguel Ferrer), a ruthless mid level mobster who runs his operations with an OCD iron fist. He also rescued Joshua from a crack house when he was a young’in, forging a father son bond that runs deeper than terms of employment. When a weaselly informant tells them that local drug runner Frankie Tahoe (Noel Gugliemi, reliably scary) has it in for them, Vincent brashly retaliates first by viciously killing him. That’s where the shit starts to get deep. Frankie was an employee of Nino (Harvey Keitel) that most powerful crime boss on the west coast and not a man to cross. Nino Wants hefty payment for the loss of Frankie, who was a good operative. Vincent, being the proud and belligerent son of a bitch that he is, bluntly refuses. So begins a bloody, near Shakespearean gang war in which both sides rack up heavy losses and the phrase ‘crime doesn’t pay’ collects it’s due. All parties were inevitably headed to a bitter end whether or not the Tahoe incident occurred, and I think the writer simply used that inciting incident as an example of many ways in which a life like that will always end up at a dead end. The writing is superb, especially for Gooding, Keitel and Ferrer, a vicious triangle indeed, all at the top of their game and then some. Johnny Messner is great as Gooding’s cohort who can’t keep his mouth shit, and watch for Mike Starr, Leonor Varela, Paul Sampson and Louis Mandylor too. Dark deeds, unexpected betrayal, self destructive ego, combustible machismo and ironic twists of fate are explored here in a script the remains as one of my favourite of that year. Really excellent stuff.
The Last Rites of Joe May is Dennis Farina’s bittersweet swan song, his final exodus from a long, epic and beloved career, showcasing the actor in the role he was always meant to play, and a lead role no less. He did a few other films after this one and a priceless cameo on Family Guy, but this is the spiritual final entry, and when you look at the story of the film, it’s both eerie and fateful that the man would go on to pass away just a few years later. He plays Joe May here, a Chicago wiseguy and short money hustler who has been in the hospital with pneumonia for almost a year. Upon returning to his borough, he finds his apartment rented out to a woman (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter (Meredith Droeger), all his belongings sold, and his presence pretty much forgotten, with some even under the belief that he has died. The woman takes pity on him and let’s him stay in his apartment with them if he helps her out, and he goes back to the same hustling, or at least tries too. All his ventures have gone dry, his former boss (a splendid Gary Cole) giving the cold shoulder. Joe starts to realize that one must face the eventual consequences of a life lived in selfishness and foolhardy actions, as he finds himself alone in the world and shunned even by his own son. He gets a shot at redemption upon having the little girl in his life, and being there to help out her mother who has one lowlife monster of a boyfriend that just happens to be a cop. Farina is sensational in every scene, and it’s a shame the guy didn’t ever get more lead roles. He makes Joe a grim yet sympathetic being who serves as a sorrowful reminder of how we all will arrive at the end of our road someday, and how important it is to line said road with good deeds, kindness, respect and worthwhile ventures, even if they only show up in the last few miles of it. This is a Tribeca festival film so it’s tough to find, but anyone with a love for Farina or simple, well told and emotional stories should definitely check it out. The beautiful piano score adds to the loneliness of Joe and his state of mind, as does Farina’s performance which a a gift to filmgoers and contains see of the hardest work and piercing truth I’ve ever seen from the guy. RIP.
Chattahoochee tells the sad and disturbing tale of Emmett Foley (Gary Oldman) a Korean War veteran who has returned home with severe PTSD. In a tragic and scary sequence, he shoots up his neighborhood in confusion and fear, injuring himself in the process. He is then sent to a ‘maximum security’ mental facility, and anyone who has heard what places like that were like in the 1950’s cam imagine what he’s in for next. The place is an unkempt, filthy sinkhole where the inmates are abused, neglected and subjected to inhuman maltreatment. So now, in addition to dealing with his mental illness, Emmet must witness this miscarriage of medical treatment on a daily basis, and suffer through it himself. He is befriended by deceptively cavalier Walker Benson (a funny and touching Dennis Hopper), and the two of them try to seek out better treatment and conditions for their fellow inmates. Only problem is, the beauricratic faction doesn’t want to hear any of this, stone walling and throwing it in their faces with callous indifference. It becomes the struggle of Emmet’s lifetime to win the day against this rotten system, and he’s aided by his sister (Frances Mcdormand) in his efforts. Oldman is as intense as you’d imagine with subject matter like this, an implosive tsunami of dread and outrage as he both bears witness and cries out in protest. Ned Beatty plays a nasty doctor, and there’s also work from Matt Craven, Gary Bullock, M. Emmett Walsh, Richard Portnow and Pamela Reed. This one is tough to find, and a tad forgotten, but it’s worth the hunt. It’s also based on a true story about a real veteran named Christopher Calhoun, who later wrote a book detailing his experiences. Harrowing, but important stuff.
The first IMDB review to pop up when you look up Hardwired has the log line “wtf?”, which just about sums up the movie. It’s straight up cow dung, a stunningly bad attempt to emulate everything from Blade Runner to Minority Report, failing in all imaginable ways. It does, however, possess a few deranged qualities which are worth a look purely for your own mirth and amusement. Let’s start with Val Kilmer’s hairdo. He sports a getup that looks as if someone threw the head of a mop into a wheat thresher, put it on his head and tried to style it like an emo anime character. It’s baffling, shocking and the hairpiece gives a better performance than the former Bruce Wayne sitting beneath it. Now,here’s the curious thing: on the dvd cover, Kilmer has a garden variety haircut, with no trace of the horror to come once you hit play. This makes not a bit of sense to me; if I were the filmmaker and it was my movie and I’d chosen that epic Goku hairdo for Kilmer, let alone get him to agree to it, I’d advertise it loud and proud, and put his image like nine different times all over the cover art. It’s ironic that a film about excessive commercialism is guilty of false advertising, but there you have it. Anywho, Kilmer and the hair play Virgil Killiger, a whacky PR manager of a mega corporation whose main revenue comes from serial advertising, in a half assed future where society has reached the oft imagined 1984 dystopia. He’s tasked with harassing Luke Gibson (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a man who owes a heavy debt to the company due to their products saving his life following an accident. Only problem is, it doesn’t end there. The corporation gets greedy and tries to insinuate itself into every aspect of people’s lives. Gooding bands together with a group of cyberpunk hackers led by Michael Ironside, and together attempt to bring down the company once and for all. It’s al big dumb dumb of a flick that doesn’t even put a modicum of effort in most of the time. Lance Henriksen fans beware: despite a credit, he’s not even in the thing, except for a single recycled photograph which sets the film up for sequels that I will bet my left testicle will never get made.
Murder In The First examines courtroom intrigue in San Francisco, concerning an Alcatraz inmate (Kevin Bacon) who has been accused of killing a fellow prisoner upon being let out of a cruelly long stint in solitary. In fact, the word cruel seems to be the running theme of his incarceration, at the hands of sinister and sadistic Warden Milton Glen (Gary Oldman). A decade prior, Bacon almost succeeded in escaping the island, which seems to have given the correctional officers the idea that they can do whatever they want to him. His plight creates ripples in the D.A.’s office, and soon a young, inexperienced attorney (Christian Slater) is assigned to his case. His boss (Stephen Tobolowsky) seems to think, and I quote, that a monkey would be more suited for the job. The D.A. (William H. Macy) has hope. And so it happens, with Bacon arriving in an obvious shellshocked state, Slater trying to exploit his maltreatment at the Warden’s hands and win not only his innocence, but his freedom. Bacon can swing his internal compass from victim to villain at the drop of a hat, taking up the bruised martyr mantle here and proving to be quite affecting. Slater is… Slater, the guy doesn’t have endless range but can carry a scene decently enough. Oldman is sly and scary, covering up the true nature of Glen’s monstrosity underneath a beauricratic sheen. The cast is wonderful, with further standouts from Brad Dourif as Slater’s veteran lawman brother, Embeth Davidz as a key witness, R. Lee Ermey as the stern judge overseeing the trial and brief appearances from Mia Kirshner, Charles Cyphers and Kyra Sedgwick. The expert cast carries it along with innate talent and applied teamwork, with Bacon and Oldman taking front and center. Now I’m not entirely sure if this is based on a true story, but it’s very fascinating nonetheless and serves to show the rotten places in the penal system which definitely do exist in real life. Solid stuff.