Tag Archives: johnny messner

The Sweetest Thing

I’ve always liked The Sweetest Thing, a deranged sex comedy from the female perspective that has the winningly bonkers personalities of Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair to make it something memorable, if not that original. This got royally shit upon by critics and while I’ll concede that it’s slight, airy stuff without much to say overall, there’s no denying it’s hysterical energy, lovable chemistry between the three leads and overall enjoyable lunacy.

Diaz, Applegate and Blair are three early thirties party girls in San Francisco, all looking for that special guy or at least one to have fun with for the night until he comes along. Diaz is the ruthless player of the bunch, and as the film opens we see a montage showing all the guys she’s dumped, one and done-d and left in the dust, until one night at a club she meets her match in Peter (Thomas Jane), a seemingly perfect guy who vanishes later that night, leaving her with a bunch of what-ifs in her head and the desire to track him down. With Applegate’s help she embarks on a mini road trip to find him, while Blair has some raunchy misadventures with her boyfriend (Johnny Messner) and his massive dong. Others show up along the way including Parker Posey, Frank Grillo, Lillian Adams, James Mangold, Johnathon Schaech and Jason Bateman as Jane’s goofball brother.

I think this wasn’t received well because most super crude sex comedies are done from the male perspective, and there’s this reluctance or uncomfortableness when it’s perceived the other way round, which is sort of unfortunate and not at all a fair or honest angle. These three chicks know how to have fun, love to party and are a blast to watch onscreen, especially seeing the insanity apparent in their group dynamic, which if seems excessively zany for a group of girlfriends, trust me.. it’s not. There’s some really raunchy stuff like a semen stained dress getting licked by an elderly dry cleaning owner and a dick piercing getting snagged down a girl’s throat during a blowjob, and don’t get me started on The Penis Song. It’s all in good fun though, and the guys get to have a blast too, as we see Jane and Bateman at a driving range whacking balls at the hapless groundskeeper who wears a confederate flag hat. Not a great film, but definitely a hilarious one and worth it to see Cameron, Christina and Selma clearly having about as much fun as you can in front of a camera.

-Nate Hill

Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared

On the DVD DVD cover of Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, Pete Hammond of Maxim raves that it “makes Kill Bill look like Sesame Street.” That’s one way to put it. I’m sure he didn’t mean to blunt the edge of Tarantino’s film, he was just trying to articulate what a balls out, terrifying, kick-in-the-nuts experience this is. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of crime filmmaking from recent years and one of my all time favourites, a dark, bloody urban fairytale that surges through a nocturnal ballad of explicit violence, mob war-games, monstrous characters and a performance from Paul Walker that has to be seen to be believed, and I mean that in the best way possible.

He plays Joey Gazelle here, a Jersey mob soldier who loses a very important gun left in his possession following a rigorous shootout with a gang of corrupt narcs who raided their drug deal. The kid next door (Cameron Bright) has snatched the pistol from his basement, used it to plug his heinously abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Roden) and disappeared into the night with it. This presents Joey and everyone else with no end of problems; if the surviving narcs, the Russian mafia or anyone else manage to get ahold of it, he and his colleagues are done for. It’s one of those hectic, delirious, ‘run all night through the city films’ where seemingly anything can, and does happen. It’s a mad dash through a town filled with freaks, monsters, corruption and the hum of barbaric nighttime activity. Poor Oleg, after stealing the gun, is launched from the frying pan into a city on fire with danger around every corner, the cops relentlessly on his tail headed up by Chazz Palminteri’s devilish Det. Rydell, plus both Joey and his wife Theresa (Vera Farmiga) looking for him too. Among the threatening figures he meets are a nasty, cartoonish pimp (David Warshofsky), feral crackheads, a sympathetic hooker (Idalis DeLeon) and two horrific child abusing kidnapper/murderers (Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell, forever in my head now as these characters) who are so messed up that the mid film sequence devoted to them is the ultimate barometer in discerning whether you can take what this film has to offer or wish to tap out of the chokehold it locks you in. One thing that’s always apparat: this isn’t just commotion flung at a wall, despite feeling that way some of the time. This is intricate, well spun storytelling that’s shot, edited and colour timed in ways that vividly bring all of this to life. One need only look as the unsettling, surreal animated credits to see that this isn’t just your average action crime film, but very well thought out, very specific and a piece that pushes the envelope to bring us something special.

Walker gives the best work of his sadly short career here, he’s energetic, in the moment and completely fired up to the edge of mania where he quite literally has to stop and take a breath at one point. Farmiga is the same, fearsome in the maternal instinct she has for Oleg, she reaches a level of scary when encountering the aforementioned pedophiles that will leave your adrenal glands in go mode. The film is chock full of outright dastardly motherfuckers, as if Kramer plumbed the depths of Hollywood hell for the worst of the worst villain stock in the stable, removed their leashes and muzzles and turned them loose in his film. Warshofsky is Joker material as the pimp, clad in an immaculate white suit and cheerful in threatening both women and children with a shiny switchblade. Johnny Messner is pure evil as Joey’s gangster boss Tommy, Arthur Nascarella channelling his inner Goodfellas as his dad and the Don of their operations. Roden is a sinister force of nature as Anzor, the nasty Russian stepfather with a meth habit and one unhealthy obsession with John Wayne, while Lord Of The Rings’s John Noble is impossibly sadistic as Ivan, head of the Russian syndicate. The women in the film are all an angelic and comforting presence, from Farmiga to the hooker (pay attention to the colour of her dress) to Ivana Milicivec as Oleg’s tragic mother, they serve as refuge from the night’s storm as best they can. It seems like I’ve described a lot here or spoiled some things but really I’ve only scratched the surface of this piece. It’s so fresh, potent and full of life that experiencing everything I’ve just laid out for yourself will feel absolutely new and invigorating, if daunting at the sheer titanic level of unpleasant human behaviour on display like a twisted circus trundling by, showcasing the dark underside of urban Americana.

Kramer has stated that he wanted to make the kind of gritty film you might have seen playing in the 70’s, and if anything he has fiercely committed to the adage ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’ This film is unique in excess, style and atmosphere, from the assured yet riotous direction to the pitch perfect, profanity laced performances to the eerie, pulp infused score by Mark Isham. I don’t think people were quite ready for this film when it came out because it earned itself some very hostile reviews. I think that comes with the territory in a story this extreme, it’s just not going to be everyone’s thing, but many confuse personal taste with quality, and this is in no way a bad film but perhaps just ahead of its time. For me it’s already a classic, a film I’ve probably seen over thirty times since being awed and slightly scared speechless after the first round in theatres. I think I didn’t know what I was in for based on marketing, and the experience I got both humbled and terrified me at what is possible through visual storytelling. I think that’s one of the best effects a film can have on you. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer

If you compare Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer to the original tv series from back in the 80’s, it’s almost comical how little they have to do with each other, besides the vague theme of vigilantism. All good though because the film amps up the creaky old serial into a maniacally pulpy, hard R rated, ultraviolent, near B movie that’s given some real class by Denzel Washington, whose gravity makes all the wanton violence seem somehow rational. Fuqua is an intense filmmaker though and he firmly stamps his stylistic brand of kinetic mayhem onto this film so hard that by the time the bombastic warehouse set finale rolls around, it seems hella over the top. Denzel is Robert McCall, a quiet, cultured fellow who just happens to be a scary, highly skilled ex government spook with a heart of gold. When a troubled young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets in deep with the reliably psychotic Russian mob, he sees something in her that makes him step up to the occasion and quite literally lay waste to their entire organization with every means of his disposable. It’s kind of like what he did to get Dakota Fanning out of the crosshairs in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, except less fire and more Bourne-esque hand to hand combat and tactical ingenuity. He’s basically invincible to the point where even a terrifying Vor lieutenant (Marton Csokas knowingly dialing up the camp dial) can’t even put a stop to his righteous rampage. There’s a bond between him and Moretz that needs to be there to soften the blow of the extremes he goes to, and the two actors have a great chemistry in their scenes. David Harbour steals scenes as a sheepishly corrupt Boston cop who get amusingly exasperated when McCall puts the hurt on him and the whole operation. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have painfully brief cameos as government officials from his past, Justified’s Johnny Neumier is nasty as the abusive russkie pimp who is the first of many tough guys to fall under his hand, and Johnny Messner has a short lived cameo as a thug who grossly underestimates him. This is kind of a ridiculous film at its core, the earnest elements hilariously clashing with a hyper violent pulse that at times reaches Hobo With A Shotgun style heights. But Denzel is ever the actor’s actor and sells the flourish with his grim resolve. A fun ass flick for what it is, and I’m curious to check out the sequel this year. Oh, and there’s a cameo from that Insta-idiot Dan Bilzerian too that almost cements a tongue in cheek self aware vibe on the film’s part.

-Nate Hill

Florent-Emil Siri’s Hostage

Hostage isn’t just another Bruce Willis action movie. It is that, but a lot more and told in a unique, frightening way that evokes both horror films, impressionistic art and a European style of filmmaking. It’s frequently more intense than your usual Willis shoot em up too, the violence has a much more horrific impact and happens on a smaller, more intimate scale while the explosions take a backseat. Willis plays hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, a man who is haunted by a hair raising incident with a situation he failed to diffuse, as we see in a bleak, visceral prologue that lets us know exactly how grim and bereft of one liners the rest of the film will be. Relocated to small town California with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s own daughter with Demi Moore), he seeks the quiet life, but naturally trouble begins to follow him in a spiralling set of dark turns and unfortunate events that lead to the case of his career and the night from hell. On a routine B&E call, Talley discovers that three white trash punks have taken over the home of businessman Kevin Pollak and his two children. Two of them are twitchy petty thieves (Marshall Allman and the reliably intense Jonathan Tucker) and are just out for valuables, but the third (Ben Foster, scary as fucking shit) is a sociopathic monster capable of terrible things, and the situation escalates from there. Little does anyone know, Pollak is involved in something far more dangerous than any of this, and soon a shadowy covert boogeyman called The Watchmen (Kim Coates, managing to still be terrifying behind a ski mask the whole time) has kidnaped Talley’s family as brutal leverage. It’s an intricate web of danger, heroics and violence that erupts like a flash-bang grenade and hits hard. Willis has never been better, you can see the open wounds in his soul bared through his eyes, and feel the weight of the situation crushing him as he races to find a solution. Pollak’s mansion feels like a labyrinthine death trap as the world’s most elaborate security system descends on those inside and shuts them in. Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett are terrific as Pollak’s resourceful kids, dealing with Foster’s unpredictable psychopath as best they can. The mood here is dour, savage and dark, with Willis’s fallen saint of a cop anchoring it all, it’s really some his finest work. There’s an austere score by Alexandre Desplat that accents the action with thumping passages in great sweeping master shots, and spikes the scenes of claustrophobia inside the house with uncomfortable rhythms. Director Florent-Emil Siri plays with an unconventional, surprisingly artistic palette and makes what could have been another routine action film seems somehow special, in all the right ways. One of my top Willis flicks, both in terms of his work and the overall film.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Arena

Arena is a rip snorting, bloody balls out sleaze-fest of a flick, admittedly a straight up terrible piece, but too off the wall and fucking out of its head to not deserve a look. It’s one of those high concept, low ethics extreme action things that you’d see Stallone or Schwarzenegger headlining in the 80’s (perhaps Ray Liotta or Chris Lambert on a lower budget) except here we get the ever wooden Kellan Lutz, a dude with adequate physical presence but the acting skills of a nail gun, which coincidentally is legit a thing used in a fight scene here. Lutz plays an ex-military tough guy who is kidnaped by raving lunatic computer tycoon Samuel L. Jackson into an elite, extremely illegal underground fighting syndicate, where players literally brawl to the death using anything they can get their hands on. If one guy wins ten fights (I think it’s ten), they win their freedom, or so Jackson eerily assures them with that evil, unnerving smirk. I admire the film for going all out with the fight sequences, this is truly a gruesome, fucked up piece of ultraviolet postmodern grindhouse garbage with the kind of carnage that would make Hobo With A Shotgun raise its whiskey glass and give the slow clap, especially in a montage sequence that showcases different themed fights in Virtual Reality space, the construction site one garnering the most cringes with maximum bodily harm. Jackson is truly in his final form here, he’s so far into the stratosphere of scenery chewing that you feel like running and hiding in another room to take a break from his bellowing intensity, all that’s missing is a literal moustache to twirl. Lutz forms a bond with a vixen (Katia Winter) who’s placed in his way by Sam to do just that, but her allegiance remains a mystery til later on, as does the involvement of a mysterious dude (James Remar) from his past. He also clashes with Jackson’s prized gladiator, played with sneering, rock voiced evil by Johnny Messner, who needs better roles. This flick screams by at a bulldozer’s pace and leaves you feeling like you got hit by one, it’s a thorough piece of shit if I’m being honest, but it sure kills ninety restless minutes if you’re looking for something silly to raise hell, never mind pulses.

-Nate Hill

Robot Cops, Giant Bugs and Big Snakes in the Jungle: An Interview with Ed Neumeier by Kent Hill

 

 

I remember vividly the first time a saw RoboCop. Watching it with the cousins in my bedroom and my mother walking past, hearing a flurry of coarse language, then sticking her head through the door to see what we were viewing. My cousin Rick, was good at putting spin on such incidents, so that we might avoid reprisal and be allowed to keep the movie going. Needless to say, that first time, I was pretty much doing what Rick told my mother I was doing – I was waiting for RoboCop to show up and not listening to the foul language at all. Well, maybe just a little.

Then we have Starship Troopers for which I blew off a lecture at university to go see. The prospect of this large-scale, B-movie flavored extravaganza was too good to pass up. I walked out of the picture exhilarated and so glad I skipped an hour long spiel on The Trojan Women to partake in this, the third time a director named Paul Verhoeven had blown my joyous, cinema-obsessive brains out.

 

But there’s another character responsible for this pair of uber-cool films and that is their scribe, Ed Neumeier, who as a young man wanted nothing more than to make movies. He, at that time his his life, had had his own mind blown when he learned that in his home town of Marin County a man named George Lucas was making movies. “It is possible,” he said to himself and thus took off for California. Once there, after finishing college, spending time as reader for the studios and a short time as an executive, he had an idea for a story that would eventually become a cinema classic. He joined forces with another filmmaker by the name of Michael Miner and together they got down to writing RoboCop.

 

The film would go on to become a phenomenon, spawning two sequels, a remake, and TV series and even an animated series (and a it-looks-really-cool documentary, RoboDoc). The film gave Ed the start he was looking for and introduced him to the director (Verhoeven) with whom he would mount his next assault at cinematic glory. It would take place beyond the stars on planets menaced by giant insects in their hundreds and thousands. Based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, Ed would bring his love of science fiction and personal blend of humor and action to Troopers, and, for the second time, he and Paul were on a winner which would have sequels, Troopers 3 which he himself would direct, as well as animated films, Traitor of Mars is set to be released, comics and games.

 

Yes folks, Ed Neumeier is indeed a world builder and he’s working in the movie business and living the dream. He is cooking up a new film, and we that have grown up watching and loving the movies he has thus far penned, (yes, I kinda like Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) look forward to see where this talented screenwriter is going to take us next. Whether it be alien bugs, cyborg cops or those oversized killer serpents you don’t want to have lunch with, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say, we’re in good hands.

Here he is folks, the man, the one and only . . . Ed Neumeier.

 

Wrong Turn At Tahoe: A Review By Nate Hill

  
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.