It figures that a decent Canadian film, which lets face it, is a rare commodity, would me mishandled, neglected and not properly promoted, resulting in its exile into the inter zone of obscurity. Picture Claire is an original, stylish little crime thriller with two solid female leads and a story to tell, a story that has regretfully made its way to far too few audiences. Juliette Lewis plays Claire Beaucage, a confused and awkward French Canadian girl who finds herself in way over her head with dangerous, sexy jewel thief Lily Warden (Gina Gershon, in yet another physically demanding role that adds to my wish that she got a crack at playing Catwoman). Lily is on the run from Laramie (Callum Keith Rennie, the king of charisma) a mobster who wants something she stole, which through circumstance is now in the unwitting hands of Claire. The chase then starts, through the unmistakable streets of Toronto and from one violent encounter to the next. The film is a thriller, and a chase flick at heart, but in that heart it’s got an almost old world, European flavour. Claire has quaint, almost Amelie esque inner monologues which give us insight into her character. She doesn’t speak English, and everyone around her does, which somewhat alienates her. These interludes give us something to latch onto with this strange girl who is more in the dark about what’s going on than even we are, watching from behind our screens. Watch for a profane cameo from Mickey Rourke as Gershon’s lowlife partner in crime, a scene stealer as always. Thoroughly overlooked, and a true delight.
People rag on What’s The Worst That Could Happen all the time. Let em, and screw em while we’re at it. Implausible? Yes. Silly? Yup. Ridiculous? Oh yes. Funny? You bet your ass. It’s one of those lighthearted Martin Lawrence comedies like Blue Streak or National Security, tripping along an alleyway of lowbrow humour and bawdy antics that you just can’t stay mad at, like a friend who does something really dumb and follows up with something that cracks a grin on your face. Lawrence also has the luck to be paired with Danny Devito here, who is funny even when he isn’t trying to be. Lawrence plays Kevin, a cocky cat burglar who bungles the wrong dude when he breaks into the not so vacant summer home of sleazy billionaire Max Fairbanks (Devito). Max catches him red handed, holds him at gunpoint and convinces the cops that a family heirloom ring on Kevin’s finger is part of the stolen goods, adding insult to arrest. That dick move launches an ego fuelled battle of wills as these two morons find more and more elaborate ways to incite each other’s wrath. They each have a little armada who back them up when they aren’t questioning their every idiotic movie. Kevin has his gorgeous girlfriend (Carmen Ejogo has sadly made a career of being underused), his partner Berger (John Leguizamo plays around with accents like you ain’t never seen) who is the Dumber to his Dumb, and his sassy handler (Bernie Mac). Max is hounded by his witchy wife (Nora Dunn), shunned by his much abused attorney (a dry, delightful Richard Schiff), pawned over by his mistress (Glenne Headly) and secretly lusted for by his chief of security (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Larry Miller do his thang here). Max and Kevin are engaging arch enemies, with Lawrence mugging for face time a tad too much, and Devito perfectly settled into his shtick as always. I must make note of probably the best performance of the film, from William Fichtner as a flamboyantly gay police detective who hounds all parties involved. He’s one part frightening with a side of classy charm, subverting his usual weirdo tough guy image for something even weirder and totally out there. Watch for Lenny Clarke and Siobhan Hogan as as pair of squabbling fellow burglars, and work from Cam Neely, Kevin Chapman and Garry Shandling as well. It’s a screwball caper. I love it. Many don’t. They can suck it. Check ‘er out and make up your own mind.
William Friedkin’s Killer Joe. What, oh what can I say. Upon finishing it, my friend and I shared a single silent moment of heightened horror, looked at each other and chimed “What the fuck?!” in unison. Now, I don’t want our aghast reaction to deter you from seeing this wickedly funny black comedy, because it’s really something you’ve never seen before. Just bring a stomach strong enough to handle dark, depraved scenes and a whole lot of greasy fried chicken that’s put places where it definitely doesn’t belong. Matthew McConaughey is unhinged and off the hook as ‘Killer Joe’ Cooper, one of his best characters in years up until that point. Joe is a very, very bad dude, a Texas police detective who moonlights as a contract killer and is just a lunatic whenever he’s on either shift. Emile Hirsch plays an irresponsible young lad (a character trait that’s commonplace with the folks in this film, and something of an understatement) who is several thousand dollars in debt to a charmer of a loan shark (Marc Macauley). Joe offers to help when Hirsch comes up with the brilliant plan of murdering his skank of a mom (Gina Gershon in full on sleazy slut mode). The ‘plan’ backfires in so many different ways that it stalls what you think is the plot, becoming an increasingly perverted series of events that culminate in the single weirdest blow job I’ve ever seen put to film. Joe has eyes for Hirsch’s underage sister (Juno Temple, excellent as always), and worms his way into her life, as well as her bed. He claims her as collateral, and hovers over the family like some diseased arm of the law. Thomas Haden Church is hilarious as Hirsch’s ne’er do well country bumpkin of a father. Poor Gershon gets it the worst from Joe, in scenes that wander off the edges of the WTF map into John Waters territory. I was surprised to learn that this was a Friedkin film, but the man seems to be the king of genre hopping these days, and it’s always key to be adaptable in your work. A deep fried, thoroughly disgusting twilight zone episode of a flick that’ll give the gag reflex a good workout and keep your jaw rooted to the floor during its final sequence.
Across The Line: The Exodus Of Charlie Wright is the very definition of overlooked. It was probably underfunded and squeaked forth through meager marketing a few years ago, neither of which has prevented it from triumphing as a sharp little sleeper flick that of course nobody saw. The central theme is age and regret, each character finding themselves at some sad crossroads, placed there by the decisions they’ve made in the past and the ways in which they have conducted themselves up to the final act of their lives. To observe people at such a stage haunts you as much as it does them, and made for a film that took a while to get out of my head. Aiden Quinn plays Charlie Wright, a billionaire financial genius whose empire has been exposed as nothing more than a pitiful ponzi scheme, right under his unwitting nose. He is in self imposed exile in Mexico, and soon the consequences rain down on him in the form of several different pursuers. A Mexican gangster (Andy Garcia) wants him, as well as a Russian (Elya Baskin) and his dodgy American representitive (Raymond J. Barry). The FBI has their sights on him as well, in the form of a weary looking Mario Van Peebles, sanctioned by the Director (Corbin Bernson). There’s also a trio of merceneries headed up by a dogged Luke Goss, Bokeem Woodbine and Gary Daniels who have been deployed south of the border to hunt him. It sounds like a bunch of commotion, but I found it to be a very reserved meditation on just how far people are willing to stand by their life choices when they see what’s become of the goals they had in mind when they made said choices in the first place. Quinn is the most understated, yet speaks the loudest as a man on the run from the world. Gina Gershon makes an emotional impact as a woman involved with Garcia, who is also great. South of the border intrigue. Ponderous introspect. A winning recipe.
As silly, gaudy and drawn out the Ocean’s franchise had gotten by its third outing, I still somewhat enjoyed Ocean’s Thirteen, an overblown attempt to keep the magic alive that most of the time trips over its own bells and whistles. That being said, the gang is all there, and that alone is good for some laughs. This time around, Eliott Gould’s cranky charmer Reuben has been ousted from his Vegas property by Willie Bank (Al Pacino) a ruthless and ludicrously rich casino tycoon with big plans for the future. Reuben is left in a dazed depression, and the gang all drifts back together to try and rob the hell out of Pacino, using methods and cons so over the top they almost seem like a parody of the former films. Pacino is a bit more clownish than Andy Garcia’s grim Terry Benedict was in the first film, which adds to the cavalier absence of any sense of real danger. In fact, Benedict is now chummy with the gang himself, which is a cute turn of events but kind of seems to silly. Ellen Barkin adds a lot of class as Pacino’s head honcho, fitting into the Ocean world nicely. The gang I’d all back and more eccentric than ever, with Matt Damon scoring comedic points in one of the funniest prosthetic jobs I’ve ever seen. Newcomers to the show include Julian Sands, Oprah Winfrey and a reliably hapless David Paymer. It’s not that this one takes the formula too far, it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and there was really not much need for it. I won’t say no though, because the blue print of what made the first so fun is still there, it’s just been jazzed up and adorned with a few too many gilded sequins and fancy jib jab. Still enjoyable.
“This is gonna be a fucking nightmare day, I can just feel it.” These rather prophetic words are spoken by Stretch (Tim Roth) as he and his best friend, Spoon (Tupac Shakur) start the day trying to kick their drug habit in the film, Gridlock’d (1997). But it’s not going to be that easy as the duo run into bureaucratic red tape at every turn.
The film begins on New Year’s Eve as Spoon’s girlfriend, Cookie (Thandie Newton) overdoses on heroin. This intimate brush with death forces Spoon to face his own mortality. “Do you ever feel like your luck’s run out, man? Lately, I’ve been feeling like my luck’s been running out.” These lines take on a rather eerie significance when you realize that Shakur was killed shortly after this film finished shooting.
And so, the two struggling musicians make a New Year’s resolution: to go into rehab and get off drugs for good. The only problem is that not only are they constantly given the runaround, hassled, and turned away by government workers, but an evil and very persistent drug dealer (Vondie Curtis-Hall) and his henchman (Tom Towles) are also pursuing them.
Now, this may sound like the makings of a moralistic film but Gridlock’d refuses to fall into this trap. Instead, it comes across as a very stylish social satire — a strong indictment against the United States health care system and their welfare programs. The ultimate irony is that Stretch and Spoon want to do the right thing but their attempts are constantly thwarted at every turn by overburdened social workers that are too burnt out to care.
Gridlock’d marked the directorial debut of Vondie Curtis-Hall, an actor by trade who has appeared in such films as Die Hard 2 (1990), Broken Arrow (1996), and a regular spot on television’s Chicago Hope. Hall wrote the screenplay for Gridlock’d in 1993 and it was originally conceived of as his final film school project, based on his actual experiences with drug addiction in the 1970s in Detroit. “Heroin is the drug of the ’90s. But it was also the drug of the ’70s, when I was doing it,” he said in an interview. Much like the two main characters in his film, Hall and a friend sought treatment for their addiction only to be told that it would take weeks for them to get admitted into a program.
But Hall kicked the habit, paid his dues an actor, and cashed in some favors to get this personal project off the ground. Polygram agreed to finance the film with a modest $5 million budget. Hall sent the script for Gridlock’d to actor Tim Roth while he was working on Rob Roy (1995). Initially, Roth wasn’t interested in doing the film but Hall met and convinced him to do it. For Roth, it was the script that attracted him to the film. “Normally you’d work through a screenplay and say, ‘We’ll have to change that and that and somehow try to make it work’, but here the dialogue was always dead-on.”
Hall wrote the character of Spoon with Laurence Fishburne in mind but couldn’t afford the veteran actor. He had considered Tupac Shakur for the role but thought that the rapper was too young and was also just out of jail. However, someone gave Shakur the script and Hall ended up auditioning the rapper who really wanted to do the film. Shakur made the cut and Hall said that with this film, the rapper “wanted to prove that he was a good actor,” and felt that he was “actually a lot like I was at the time the film was set. He wanted to sort himself out and was looking for some help.”
Gridlock’d’s strength lies in its two leads. The interaction between Roth and Shakur is excellent. For example, there is a scene where the two men sit at the bedside of their unconscious friend and Shakur delivers a heartfelt speech where he decides to stop doing drugs. It is an emotional moment as Shakur looks over at Roth who says nothing — he gives Shakur a little smile. It is an action that says a lot more about their friendship than any words could. They also display crackerjack comic timing with Roth’s Stretch a manic goofball to the laidback cool of Shakur’s Spoon. They play well off each other which is crucial in a buddy film like this one.
The visuals in Gridlock’d are also worth mentioning. The film’s camerawork is very stylish but never overwhelms or obscures the story or its characters. Instead, the film’s imagery only enhances the mood of any given scene. There is a great shot early in on the film when Spoon and Stretch wait in the hospital to hear any word on Cookie’s condition. The two men are sitting on a bench with a huge mural of an idyllic setting: a peaceful cottage scene complete with lake and a sailboat. It is an ironic image when you consider where they are, what has happened, and how they feel. And yet, coupled with very soulful music on the soundtrack, it is an oddly peaceful image juxtaposed in a fast-paced film.
Gridlock’d is filled with many clever moments that elevate it above the usual drug movie. Without resorting to preachy sermons, it does an outstanding job of showing how bad the drug problem is the United States and how badly equipped they are in dealing with it. Gridlock’d is a smart film with plenty of humor and action to alleviate the rather serious subject matter. Best of all, it refuses to sentimentalize or romanticize its characters. And in an age of political correctness, this is a refreshing concept.
“Beowulf meets Predator” boasts the enthusiastic critic blurb on the poster of one of my favourite sci fi genre benders, Outlander. It’s pure outlandish fun, and better yet it knows it is and therfore doesn’t feel any need to spend a bunch of time on grasping exposition to convince you of any shred of authenticity. It simply hums along on a pure rush of unchecked adventure, always aiming to please and for the very most part, doing so wonderfully. Jim Caviesel stars, and he’s an unassuming Ken doll of an actor who has more intensity than anyone gives him credit for, which always makes me spring to attention when he’s in the driver’s seat. Here he plays Kainen, a voyager from a far away galaxy who has crash landed his spacecraft on earth way back in the time of the Vikings, stranded and in need of refuge. Only problem is, he’s been on the run for some time from a large, hideous and very dangerous creature from his home planet called Moorwen. Moorwen has a very personal and deadly vendetta against Kainen, one which threatens the Viking tribe who give him shelter, led by noble king Hrothgar (John Hurt). Kainen comes from a planet with technology and civilization far advanced from Earth at that time, which makes him a hit with the tribesmen and even more so with Hrothgar’s daughter (Sophia Myles). Moorwen threatens their way of life in its rampage against Kainen, causing tragic collateral damage to a rival clan led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman makes heartbreaking and stone tough work of what is essentially an extended cameo). It’s an awesome movie no matter what anyone says. Any film about an astronaut from a far off galaxy who bands together with friggin vikings to battle a fluorescent space dragon is just automatically a winner. In all seriousness though, this one really is something special,and almost seems like a Dennis Quaid vehicle if it were made in the 80’s. Fun, thrilling and never too serious, it knows it’s place and owns the genre shelf it sits on.