Thursday is one of the great forgotten neo-noir comedies of the 90’s, floating on the wake of everything from Tarantino to Verhoeven. It’s almost impossible to find these days (I watched an old youtube version years ago), but worth hunting down for its vehement hedonism, mean spirited dark humour and cast members who take a walk down the dark end of the street, and clearly have fun with the shamelessly disgusting material. There’s a spirited willingness to be nasty, a bottom feeding urban sleaziness that almost reminded me of Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, or Joe Carnahan’s Stretch. Thomas Jane, riding the wave of a supporting role in Face/Off, plays Casey, an ex drug dealer trying to go straight and adopt a child with his wife (Paula Mitchell). Suddenly his old buddy Nick (a ferocious Aaron Eckhart) blows back into his life with big ideas and an even bigger amount of heroin he stole from god knows where. This sets off a wild and exceedingly weird chain of events including convenience store robbery, murder, a psycho named Billy (James LeGros) with a penchant for elaborate torture, a kinky femme fatale (Paulina Porizkova) and a scary rogue cop (Mickey Rourke). It’s a big bloody hot mess, but a brilliant one that nails the feverish tone of stuff like Natural Born Killers, a complete disregard for discretion or moderation, tossing everyone and everything into the fire until the audience feels like they need a big collective shower. Eckhart is a treat to watch, taunting the laid back Jane with a knowing glee, waiting for that inevitable revert to bis old, crazy self. Rourke is relegated to what is essentially an extended cameo, but he makes the most of it with quiet tension and the menace of a junkyard dog. This film has what is probably the weirdest sex scene I’ve seen, which the youtube version won’t show (being the sicko that I am, I had to track it down elsewhere). Brutally reckless stuff, and a howl if this is your type of thing. Watch for a brief and hilarious cameo from Michael Jeter.
I forgot how much goddamn fun Shanghai Noon is. It’s pretty much the quintessential east meets west buddy flick (sorry Rush Hour, love you too bbz), and upon rewatching it I realized that it’s every bit as awesome, and more so, than I remember as a kid. You take Jackie Chan, a stoic, robotic Chinese fighting machine with the sense of humour god gave a sock, and pair him with Owen Wilson, a wishy washy surfer dude of a cowboy who can’t take one second out of the day to stop talking or cracking jokes, and you’ve got gold. Of course, they need a film to run about in that’s just as solid as they’re team up, and that’s just what we get. This is a bawdy, unapologetic roll in the hay, a genre bender that tosses the American western, the buddy cop flick and the Kung Fu picture into a big cauldron, fires a few bullets in and gives it a big old stir. It’s ridiculously fun for its entire duration, an achievement which the sequel just couldn’t keep up with. Chan is Chon Wang (say it fast), a Chinese imperial guard on the trail of runaway Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who has runoff to America. No sooner does he set foot on Yankee soil, he’s bumped into peace pipe smoking Natives, and clashed with a band of train robbers led by Roy O Bannon (Owen Wilson), a fast talking soldier of fortune who doesn’t seem to have much skill besides yapping his way out of a situation. The two are thrown into a mad dash across then west, Chon looking for the princess, and Roy after the missing gold from the train. It’s what movies were made to be, a pure rush of gunfighting and chop socky, kick ass action sequences, all given the boost of Chan’s insane talents. He’s like a rabid squirrel monkey, and Wilson a drunk sloth, constantly mismatched yet always coming out on top, like the best comic duos always do. They’re faced with taking dpwn a few baddies, including Walton Goggins as the dumbest outlaw this side of the Rockies, and a terrifying Xander Berkeley as a corrupt, homicidal marshal. The core of it rests on Chan and Wilson to entertain us though, and even in the down time between action, their energy is infectious, especially in a manic drinking game that just can’t be described in writing. Like I said, the sequel, Shanghai Knights, just doesn’t capture he magic quite like this one does, and seems to fall flat. You can’t go wrong with this original outing though, and it just gets better with age.
Bullet is a violent cautionary tale about what it means to live a life of crime in New York City’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, to live (and die) with all the baggage and tragedy that comes along with it. Mickey Rourke is excellent as Butch Stein, a pathetic yet somehow endearing Jewish American hoodlum locked in a personal war with local drug dealer and gangster Tank (Tupac Shakur). Butch still lives with his family, and spends his nights slumming about with slick wannabe wiseguy Lester (John Enos III) and his gangly brother Ruby (Adrien Brody). One gets the feeling that all of them are essentially still little kids who never learned to grow up or use their words, but the sandbox they’re squabbling in now is a dangerous area of town, and their toys are heavy artillery. Butch has another brother, a reclusive weirdo played phenomenally by Ted Levine. He’s distant and strange, but there’s breaks of clarity that shine through, and in those moments he’s pretty much the voice of reason amongst all the tomfoolery that adds to the mortality rate in their district. Levine is unique and shelters the gold in his work until right at the end, letting off an emotional stinger of a cap to his performance that is yet another testament to his skill. Rourke broods through his work with sombre self loathing and a grim resolve, dead set in his ways, perhaps unable to live his life differently, and feeling helpless at the road he’s taken, a dark one that has strayed far from what might have been. Tupac’s role is somewhat underwritten, which isn’t quite fair to the guy, because he has more acting talent than pretty much any other rapper I’ve seen in film. Reduced to a mostly a jive talk sterotype gangsta antagonist, I would have liked to see them allow him to level with Rourke in a way that made their locking horns seem a little bit more than just a petty turf war. Director Julien Temple comes from a music video background, and transitions nicely into the world of the urban crime drama, shooting the seedy NYC locales with glittery precision that suggests festering rot below. It’s an anti-crime film, and I’m always curious to see if such a sentiment is undone by the glorification of such a lifestyle, intentional or otherwise (it’s easy to get caught up in sensation and cinematics, losing sight of what you set out to say in the first place). This one stays true to its word, showing us characters who have irreparably lost their way, and assuring bullet by bullet, death by death, that this isn’t any kind of life for anyone. Searing stuff.
Animal Factory is a prison set film directed by actor Steve Buscemi and based on a novel and subsequent screenplay by Edward Bunker, a real life ex convict, who played Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs. If that sounds like an irresistible team up to make this type of thing work, you’re thinking right. And I haven’t even mentioned the epic cast yet. It’s a scrappy little film that almost takes stage play form, as we watch a plethora of raggedy and very diverse inmates navigate the difficult, tragic and often touching life of incarceration. Edward Furlong (before he ballooned out) plays a young man barely out of his teens, locked away for marijuana possession, essentially a victim of the extremely harsh system they got down there in ‘Murica. He’s a sitting duck on the inside, but receives kindness and mentorship from veteran con Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe, excellent). It’s all done in an almost Robert Altman style way; characters jump in and out, events trundle by in centrifugal motion with little regard for one solid narrative, instead choosing to arbitrarily shift focus from prisoner to prisoner, whilst periodically checking back in on Furlong, who is the closest thing to a main protagonist. The cast is wonderful: Danny Trejo shows up (another guy who has done time in real life), Tom Arnold plays a pervert sicko who preys on Furlong, and Mickey Rourke is an absolute standout as Jan The Actress, a transvestite cell mate with a peppy life lesson or two for young Furlong. Watch for Bunker himself, Seymour Cassel, Mark Boone Jr., Chris Bauer, Buscemi as a parole board member and John Heard as Furlong’s father. Bunker no doubt based much of the story on his actual prison experience, and the dedicated authenticity shines through in every aspect of the film. Buscemi is no doubt an actor’s director (being one himself), and he lets every player have their moment to shine, while always contributing to the story as a whole as well. Prison films don’t get much better than this. Not to be missed.
A Prayer For The Dying is a melodramatic romantic action thriller following IRA assassin Martin Fallon (Mickey Rourke), a man with a brutal path in life whose long buried conscience surfaces after an explosives mission goes awry, resulting in the death of schoolchildren aboard a bus. It’s a bold scene to start a film with, and in every instance after it Fallon has a haunted frenzy about him, clearly damaged by what he did and saw. As if that weren’t enough, he now finds himself compelled to murder a priest (Bob Hoskins) who witnessed one of his militant crimes. Fallon spends a lot of time hesitating, and in that hesitation he strikes up a romance with the Hoskins’s blind daughter (Sammi Davis), finding sanctuary and a modicum of redemption with the two of them. A lot of nasty people from his past are looking for him though, including his amoral former partner (Liam Neeson), an evil British crime kingpin (the great Alan Bates) and the kingpin’s murderous brat of a son (Christopher Fulford). Obligatory shootouts, personal and religious angst, sappy sentiment and dodgy accents, particularly from Rourke, ensue. He can blend into a lot of roles and pull off a lot of different characters, but it seems an Irish accent is a stretch, and it shows. As the character of Fallon himself, ethnicity aside, he does a bang up job though. Bates is razor focused in playing anyone, and his villain here is a spidery creepo. Neeson is young and doesn’t get much to do except hassle Rourke, but their confrontations are nicely done by both parties. Director Mike Hodges, whose other work I’ve never really seen, seems to like slow and deliberate action scenes, very old world and sometimes repetitive, but entertaining nonetheless. Not the best IRA thriller out there (most of the events here have little to do with the movement anyway, and focus more on Fallon), but a decent way to spend a couple hours.
13 Sins is a mean, mean movie, one that pushes it’s audience as far as the central premise does it’s characters. By push I mean it gleefully tries to figure out just how many acts of nasty human depravity it can parade before you before the laughs turn to “oh damn, that’s actually horrible.” Me being the sicko that I am, I laughed pretty much straight through til the bombastic finale, but I recognized the rotten nature in the story and felt the weight all the same. The idea is simple: One day a financially troubled man (Mark Webber, who just has one of those faces you want to punch) gets a mysterious phone call from a game show host sounding dude, telling him to swat a fly, after which one thousand dollars will be deposited into bis account. Easy enough, right? Yeah, sure. Now he’s had a taste of money, wants in on the game and has no clue what soul crushing horrors await. Each new task gets more violent, disgusting, risky, disturbing and (if you’ve got the right mind for it) increasingly hilarious. Make a child cry. Push an old woman down a flight of stairs. Set a church nativity scene on fire. Cheery stuff. Then shit gets real and he’s asked to do things right out of a horror movie, all in the name of green money. The aim, besides of course amusement, is to prove that anyone can be turned into a monster if the price is right. As funny as it is, it leaves a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, like you’ve been kicked in the nuts by every horrible news report of late, a gnawing reminder of what levels humans are capable of sinking too when they have too much time and money on their hands. Ron Perlman plays the obligatory baffled police detective, always one step behind the action, and watch for veteran Tom Bower too. The film kind of falls apart near the end, as what little believability it had evaporates alongside the forced plot twists, but had it remained lean and simple I think it would’ve fared better. All its forgiven when considering the impact it makes though, both as action social horror story, extremely black comedy and alluring thriller.
Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours, despite only really being a servicable home invasion/hostage thriller, still has a lot of fun with it’s two leads, brash sociopath Mickey Rourke and even brasher estranged family man Anthony Hopkins. Based on a creaky old Humphrey Bogart film, Cimino obviously vamps up the violence and eroticism that simmers beneath it quite a bit, and when you have Rourke as your antagonist you know it’s not going to be anywhere near a relaxed affair. He plays Michael Bosworth, a dangerous felon on the run with two other goons, his volatile brother (Elias Koteas) and another creepy lowlife (David Morse). He crashes into the home life of Tim Cornell (Anthony Hopkins) a boorish father visiting his wife (Mimi Rogers) and children. The film mainly takes place inside the house, as the creep factor rises along with the threat of blaring violence which we know will come, made all the more likely by the growing police presence outdoors, and the tensions of everyone involved, threatening to snap at any moment. Rourke walks a tightrope between amiable and unstable, a man sure of himself, who always gets his way, and is capable of bad, bad things if he feels he won’t. Hopkins plays Cornell as a man used to being in control, but his inability to hold his family together is made worse by the gang’s arrival, rubbing salt in an already festering wound. Cimino has a brawny style to his violence, a trademark that’s seemingly born of both De Palma and Peckinpah, rich bloody gun battles and accentuated slow motion death scenes. Most of the film is held back, but the flood gates do eventually open and action hounds will get what they came for. Watch for Lindsay Crouse, Kelly Lynch, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn and Dean Norris as well. Not groundbreaking in the least as far as thrillers are concerned, but still an entertaining little piece made memorable by Rourke and Cimino’s ever interesting pairing.