I know that Uwe Boll has this terrible reputation both behind the camera as a director and in real life and to be fair he has made some ten-ton duds while adapting various video games, but he has also made some films that I have to say are really damn good genre exercises with impassioned sociopolitical undercurrents that he very clearly cares about. He did one about the Sudanese genocide in Darfur which was excellent but so fucking raw and intense in its depictions of those atrocities it gave me a panic attack and I couldn’t finish it, but I’ll review that one day. His more recent film Assault On Wall Street, however, couldn’t be a more timely, relevant or infuriatingly emblazoned piece when you consider how the tides of economic inequality have reached the breaching point on the shores of civility and infrastructural disproportion. Dominic Purcell plays a working class guy in NYC (very recognizably shot in VanCity tho) who has a titanic run of bad luck: his wife (Erin Karpluk) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he’s laid off from his armoured truck job and the looming financial collapse causes him to lose everything (and I mean *everything*) in the space of a few weeks. He fights desperately, using first the system as best he can and when every avenue of established order fails him, he goes rogue and quite literally takes up arms and holds a bunch of wealthy Wall Street pricks hostage in their building with a gun after killing the corrupt hedge fund advisor (Barclay Hope) who betrayed him. It’s a very startling turn of events and it comes across in several ways simultaneously: a tragic, genuinely heartbreaking downward spiral that feels immediate, a lurid, stylistically heightened tale of pulpy vigilantism and a straightforward siege thriller. Boll doesn’t always juggle all these elements together in a way that feels cohesive or believable, but just enough to have them coexist in the same narrative and work for me as a viewer. Purcell is terrific, he often gets thrown these stoic tough guys after his star making turn on Prison Break but they trust him with an albeit equally tough but strikingly vulnerable and sad individual here who you can relate to and root for later on, if you can reconcile his extreme actions (I definitely could) in the face of utter negligence from his fellow human beings in greater positions of power. The cast is exceptional and includes the late John Heard as an abrasive, morally deficient Wall Street kingpin, Keith David, Edward Furlong and Michael Paré as Purcell’s compassionate coworkers and Eric Roberts himself as a slimy lawyer he hires who doesn’t help anyone much at all. This isn’t a perfect film and at times feels over the top and ‘arch’, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a believable, cathartic and rousing experience; all of us middle class peeps at one time have most likely felt as betrayed, slighted or mistreated by the system as Purcell’s character does here, and his violent call to arms might not necessarily be something to aspire to or even condone, but it’s as scathing an indictment and act of defiance against the strong arm of corrupt, anarchic capitalism as can be expected. Very effective film.
There are religious films that are faith based preachy garbage (anything Kirk Cameron makes) and there are religious films that are fiction based and just happen to be structured around theology like that (The Omen, End Of Days). I can’t stand the former, but the latter has made for an interesting sub-genre in Hollywood, mostly horror centric but sometimes otherwise. Carl Schultz’s The Seventh Sign is one that carefully and delicately walks the line between these two types, but because it’s so atmospheric, well made and acted it works on any level including the religious themes.
Demi Moore and Michael Biehn play a young couple who rent their laneway house out to a mysterious stranger (Jurgen Prochnow) who isn’t who or what he says he is. Moore is expecting her first child, but there seems to be complications with the pregnancy and Prochnow shows a suspicious amount of interest in the child. Coincidentally, scary apocalyptic signs start showing up around the world like storms, dead fish in the sea and a blood moon, heralding some sort of widespread cataclysm. There’s also a sinister Vatican priest (Peter Friedman) wandering around getting in people’s business too.
The plot itself is essentially just your standard end of days gobbledygook, but that’s not what matters anyways. Moore is fantastic here, soulfully embodying a mother’s love coupled with mounting depression and making you feel for her character strongly. Biehn shows the same fierce charisma he did in The Terminator and this time brings on even more emotion to his role, particularly in the final minutes of the film that could be his best work. Prochnow has had a long and consistent career playing all kinds of nasty terrorists, crime bosses, nazis, poachers, pimps and any other kind of asshole you could imagine. It’s really rare to see him in a non villain role let alone one where he gets to show such grace and subtlety, he nails it and I won’t say much about the character except that it’s a tricky balancing act of shadowy portent and compassion that he deals with wonderfully. Watch for a quick, lively cameo from John Heard as well.
The atmosphere here is so well done that you often forget about story and get lost in the dreamy scenes that flow into each other in an almost subconscious way. The way the ambience lingers in the filmmaking reminds me, of all things, of A Nightmare On Elm Street. Odd comparison and this is by no means a horror movie but the two share the same sort of elongated, off kilter aesthetic that seems removed from reality, helped a lot here by journeyman composer Jack Nitzsche and his score. The third act brings the narrative to an affecting close and lets the three leads land their arcs on a quiet, sorrowful note, it’s the key sequence in making this a great film.
I love those films that revolve around a feverish, high profile celebrity boxing match, whether the stakes are placed on the fight itself or on the characters spectating. There’s a sense of intrigue and danger to that kind of sporting event that makes for great mood setting and story establishment. In Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes, Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise find themselves pulled into a shadowy assignation attempt on the life of the Secretary of Defense as a fight rages just past ringside in Atlantic City (Vegas Lite).
The character dynamic between the two actors here is superb; Cage is Santoro, a cheerfully corrupt detective who dresses like a pimp, ruthlessly schmoozes his way into profitable exchanges and has hopes of one day being the mayor simply due to the fact that he’s well connected. Sinise is Commander Dunne and couldn’t be cut from a more different cloth, he’s a buttoned down, modest, even toned military man who resents Santoro for being such a merciless showboat but has reconciled that with the fact that they grew up together. After the chaotic assignation, they’re tasked with interviewing any and all witnesses and let me tell you in an arena that crowded and fired up, this is no easy task. Stan Shaw (remember him from Fried Green Tomatoes?) is terrific as Lincoln Tyler, the hulking prizefighter who clearly knows something based on the dark, sheepish looks he casts around when being interrogated. Others involved include Carla Gugino as a mysterious operative, John Heard as a fast talking politician, Kevin Dunn, Michael Rispoli, Luis Guzman, Mike Starr, Peter McRobbie, Tamara Tunie and more.
I’ve heard claims that this film builds into a third act that’s bombastic and ridiculous, but hello people, this is a Brian De Palma film and the guy is in love with overblown sensationalism. That’s not to say he doesn’t have tact or skill in building slow suspense either. He has a way with long, uneasy tracking shots (I’ve always thought he’d be a great helmer for a Michael Myers Halloween film) as characters pursue each other through detailed, densely populated environments. There’s an extended sequence set in a hotel here where a baddie searches for a witness with cold resolve that’s among the best thriller set pieces I’ve seen anywhere. Of course it gets kind of WTF in the third act but I love that turn of events just as much, it adds a level of political paranoia that rises above simply a few people conspiring to take out a leader they don’t like, and the fun is in watching each hilarious new piece of the puzzle land with a boom n’ crash. I’ll tell you one thing, although I could have guessed early on who the mastermind behind all this hubbub is, I would have *never* in a million years guessed why or how it plays out or the reasons behind the whole thing, and you have to give De Palma and screenwriter David Koepp mad props for pulling that off. Plus the thing just has energy, adrenaline, personality and fucking awesome visual panache to spare. Great film.
Brian Jun’s Steel City is a fantastic, little heard of indie rust belt drama that deals in choices, consequences, regrets and what it takes to heal, if possible. In the heartlands, a young working class man (Tom Guiry) struggles with pretty much every aspect of his life. His father (an understated John Heard) has been recently incarcerated, and it’s tearing him apart, as well as his family. His older brother (Clayne Crawford) is a hotheaded mess. He finds solace when his uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry, superb) offers him work and sobering life advice in equal doses. He meets a wonderful girl played by America Ferrera, and gradually, bit by bit, his story hits an upswing. This is a small story, revolving around a minuscule faction of the big picture, but that’s all it is anyways, thousands of lives unfolding on personal scale, adding up to this mosaic we call humanity. Life goes on for him, and the film is but a small window into one transitionary chapter of his life. Guiry is great, but Ferrera is magic as the kind of girl anyone could only hope to end up with. Barry gives one of the most soulful turns of his storied career as the kind of no nonsense mentor who cares a lot more than is visible behind all that gruff. The kind of life affirming story that finds hope in the oddest of places.
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.