Officer Downe is one of those hyper violent, weirdly sleazy, in your face trashy midnight madness flicks that although I couldn’t in good faith recommend to most people, it definitely leaves an impression on the nervous system, if not altogether frying it to a crisp. Based on a graphic novel, it tells of hotshot inner city cop Officer Downe (Kim Coates), a legendary crime fighter in a borough so ridden with filth and scum it’s amazing the infrastructure hasn’t just completely collapsed. Downe has one key skill in getting his job done: he can’t be killed. Well, he technically can, but each time he’s shot to shreds, eviscerated by explosives or mauled by careening vehicles he’s resurrected in the secret labs below the police precinct using bizarre necromancy and mad science only to fight, die and live all over again. This talent makes him the target of a whole galaxy of increasingly weirder criminal factions including animal mask wearing kingpins called the Fortune 500, a Kung fu supervillain called Zen Master Flash (Sona Eyambe) and a cabal of murderous, voodoo wielding, arms dealing nuns led by the always awesome Alison Lohman, who had prior been laying low for a while and chooses quite the random project in which to make her comeback. Downe is watched over by a team of beat cops hired to babysit and clean up after him, and so the broad, crazy, cacophonous story goes. Coates is a hell of an actor, he’s always been one of my favourites and he tears into this role with a campy ferocity and deadpan humour that’s a lot of fun, plus it’s nice to see a guy like him who has compiled an impressive career in supporting turns get a juicy comic book lead role. At some points it feels like the story is a bit too much about the human cops tailing him, none of whom are interesting characters, when it probably should have been more about him. The film feels like this furiously deranged mix of Sin City, Robocop, Maniac Cop and Hobo With A Shotgun all stuffed in a blender and served up on a shoestring budget, take it or leave it. Many will hate it, it’s wantonly trashy, so silly it’ll melt brains and so hyperkinetic in visual and editing techniques it’ll explode eyeballs, but there’s a feverish manic energy I appreciated, and Coates does give it his all and is clearly having a fuck load of fun in this role.
Not since LOST has a sentient tropical island caused a bunch of people this much trouble in this weird ass, misguided stab at a nostalgia reboot of content that it’s target audience is too young to even remember, let alone have been into. They shouldn’t be compared at all because LOST is overall a masterpiece and Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is a short circuited fusebox of loose wire subplots, mish-mashed attempts at torture porn and overall anemic bunch of nothing stretched painfully over a feature length runtime. In the original 70’s show, each episode saw a bunch of vacuous, shallow individuals brought to fantasy island where polished Latin debonair Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) made their deepest wishes come true, with a little help from the island’s powers. In this version Roarke is played by a markedly disinterested Michael Pena and his agenda gets decidedly morbid as the fantasies of each guest on the island get a gnarly horror twist. That should be fun, right? Well not really, because they literally and figuratively missed the boat to making this island remotely fun, scary or memorable. There’s various visitors including the always lovely Maggie Q, whose fantasy involves a former fiancée she spurned, Lucy Hale who wants revenge on a high school bully and others, all of whose fantasies mingle like paint thrown violently at a wall without any sense of cohesion or logic. Michael Rooker shows up to skulk around the jungle swinging a machete and apparently the costume department misread his role on the call sheet as ‘flamboyant river pirate’ because that’s the only way I can describe what he’s dressed in here. There’s an evil musclebound doctor who runs around trying to slice and dice people, mostly ineffectively. The always awesome Kim Coates briefly brings a bit of much needed energy as a random Russian henchman (whose? The plot barely addresses it). A lot of bad films can be considered a swing and a miss but fuck man, this thing doesn’t even seem to want to swing in the first place. It’s lazy, written so thinly it makes the numerous anorexic bikini models look huge and it’s just not a scary, remotely engaging film.
I remember the summer of 2005 so clearly: I had just gotten back from a month of summer camp, I had seasons tickets to PlayLand and the big movie event of the summer for me was Michael Bay’s The Island, which was released this week of that year and will always hold a special place in my heart as a formative, nostalgic and utterly ‘summer’ filmgoing experience of my childhood. Reworking a classic ‘clones on the run’ motif and injecting it with his trademark dose of spectacular visual effects and action filmmaking, Bay tells an exciting, thought provoking, rousing and propulsive science fiction saga of clones Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johannsson) on the run from the only life they’ve ever known inside a giant utopian society where they are told their one purpose is to go to the fabled ‘Island,’ when in reality the truth is of course far more sinister and morally egregious. They are pursued by conflicted Black Ops mercenary Laurent (Djimon Hounsou, haunted, badass charisma on a terrific low burn) at the behest of pseudoscience guru Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean with quiet malevolence on full blast), an amoral bastard with a bad case of God Complex. Their journey takes them from this holographic underground hive out into the California desert and eventually to a stunning, stylized Los Angeles of the future where they learn the truth about themselves, the state of the world and make attempts to rescue the multitude of clones still stuck in the facility daw away. Bay has his troupe of actors and we see wonderful supporting work from a scrappy Steve Buscemi, Kim Coates, Ethan Phillips, Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Max Baker, Glenn Morshower, Tom Everett and heartbreaking Michael Clarke Duncan as an ill fated clone. One of my favourite aspects is a thundering, soul stirring original score composed by Steve Jablonsky that crescendos in a finale suite reaching heights of emotional overflow and adrenal stimulation I didn’t think possible in the medium of film fused with music until then. I couldn’t care less what you think of Bay or his work, he’s one of the most influential and treasured filmmakers for me, for growing up watching films with my family and exploring what could be done in the realms of action/science fiction storytelling. The Island is an extraordinary piece, one of my most cherished ‘summer at the movies’ memories and one hell of a damn fine film.
Oh hey another top ten of the year film for me. I love a good passion project, especially when the two artistic forces behind it are a couple beloved character actors who have spent much of their career in Hollywood playing villains, criminals, weirdos, bikers, aliens and all kinds of heavy stuff. William Fichtner’s Cold Brook sees the consistently brilliant actor team up with equally fantastic buddy Kim Coates for a charming, wonderfully simplistic tale of two small town dudes who make an incredible discovery.
Fichtner and Coates are Ted and Hilde, two lifelong pals who work as maintenance men for the college museum in their sleepy upstate NY town of Cold Brook. They each have a loving wife (played by Robin ‘Calamity Jane’ Weigart and Mary Lynn ‘Chloe O Brien’ Rajskub), kids and pretty much as cozy a life as anyone can hope for, complete with the kind of bromance that makes it obvious these two actors are tight in real life. Then one day a mysterious and deeply confused stranger (Harold Perrineau) shows up in the museum exhibit after hours and seems to follow them around after that like he has some purpose that even he doesn’t understand, and only our two boys can see him. It’s up to them to find out why this restless spirit has chosen them, what he wants and how to put him to rest while juggling the curious eyes of their wives, bosses and one campus security guard (Brad Henke) who takes his job just a bit too seriously.
This is low key, whimsical indie fare through and through and I downright fell in love. I’ve been following William and Kim’s career since I was a kid, they are two endlessly talented scene stealers and I can’t tell you how lovely and cathartic it was to see them just play a couple bros living and loving the small town life. They both shine brightly in their work here and Fichtner shows a steady hand in writing and direction here too, telling a story that clearly means a lot to him in broad, loving strokes. Perrineau is really effective as Gil the wandering spirit, seeming somehow perpetually lost but also pointedly soulful in each appearance. If you’re at all a fan of these two artists then I’d very strongly recommend this as you get to see them do the kind of work that Big Hollywood just doesn’t usually ever hire them for, something very personal to each and something that allows them the kind of freedom in expression that we as artists always dream of. Even if you’re not a huge fan it’s a beautiful little indie to watch on a cold rainy morning to warm the heart. Brilliant film.
In the realm of Cuba Gooding Jr straight to DVD stuff, Brian Smrz’s Hero Wanted is probably my favourite. Many of them are absolute paycheque collecting trash, some are half assed efforts but a couple are scrappy, unique little gems worth seeking out. Gooding explores the dark side of human nature here as Liam Case, a simple inner city garbageman who uses the underworld ties of his colleague Swain (Norman Reedus) to stage a bank robbery for… unorthodox purposes, to say the least. Only problem is that the gang they hire is led by unstable maniac Skinner McGraw (Kim Coates) and his cop hating second in command Derek (Tommy Flanagan). The robbery ends up in disastrous bloodshed thanks to Liam’s plans and he then launches a personal crusade of vigilante justice against Skinner’s gang. All this commotion also attracts the attention of a tough homicide detective (Ray Liotta) who comes gunning for him as well. That’s only the main story arc, there’s all kinds of swervy subplots including a young girl (Sammi Hanratty) who Liam saved from a burning car years ago, the mother (Jean Smart) of one of the bank tellers injured in the botched robbery and the great Ben Cross as Liam’s ex special forces adoptive father.
It’s a lot to take in and it doesn’t all work together in the pot it’s thrown into, but it’s never not interesting, has a gritty 70’s crime aesthetic to it, plus both the writing and performances are organic and inspired. Gooding is terrific, his character essentially a perpetual fuckup whose schemes have lead him down a dark path, one he’s fighting brutally to find his way off of. Liotta brings heart and humour, not just another thankless cop role but someone who seems like an individual. Reedus gives my favourite performance as a dude who walks the line between good and bad finely, and pays dearly for it in an intense, poetic cap to his arc. Coates and Flanagan chew the scenery like there’s no fucking tomorrow, relishing the villain roles and creating two reprehensible street scumbags for the ages. The film skips all over the place and jumps around in time on a whim, so characters who died a few scenes ago are back again, a plot thread resolves itself before its even begun and it takes some getting used to. It’s a low budget effort at heart, but a huge and very creative one at that. A lot of the dialogue seems improvised and very candid, my two favourite exchanges being: Liotta and enters a crime scene, sees his partner visibly shook up and dryly intones: “What’s the matter? You look like Oedipus after they told him he just fucked his mother.” Elsewhere, Gooding and Reedus have a beer on their lunch break and shoot the shit: “You know America was founded on labour?” Reedus absentmindedly observes. “My uncle used to work in that factory over there,” replies Cuba, “Now that niggas on crack.” It’s that kind of deliberately offbeat energy that makes this one for the books and not just another B grade write off. Fun stuff.
An attempt was made with Damien Lee’s Sacrifice, but the efforts result in a weird, tonally bonkers slog through low rent noir that has you wondering what just happened. It’s one in a long series of Cuba Gooding Jr. cheapies and although definitely not the worst (Hardwired with him and Val Kilmer proudly holds that title) it falls short of being something coherent or memorable.
Gooding plays a tough but damaged undercover Narc in Toronto’s criminal netherworld, a good man with a dark past who seems to attract danger and bad luck. When a young defector (Devon Bostick) of the city’s nastiest heroin smuggling rig leaves his five year old sister in his care while he tries to put things right with dangerous employers, Gooding’s reflexes and morality are put to the test, and old memories of his own wife and kid are dredged up. Christian Slater plays a priest buddy, one of those men of the cloth who isn’t above picking up heavy artillery and capping a few bad guys when needs must, which is about all the actor gets to do here, but it’s a good scene worth sticking it through some muck for. Kim Coates eases into well travelled villain waters as the kingpin of the drug ring, who has a curiously well developed romantic subplot with the madam of a whorehouse (Laura Daans) he owns. Coates and Daans show up together markedly often if you follow such patterns (nerd alert on my part) and the two have chemistry but their scenes here, although good, are out of place and seem to be blueprints for a sequel to another Damien Lee film they both starred in, which I’ll get to in my next review.
Lee does mostly indie dramas and low key art house stuff, sensibilities which show up here in abundance. But when you’re hired to direct a cop/crime flick with Cuba Gooding Jr and Slater it may be pertinent to stick to well worn tropes and an appropriate tone, the dramatic aspects sort of slow the whole thing down and make it feel weirdly paced. Still, the performances are there, the story is clear and it’s entertaining enough. Oh, and it’s nice to see a film that’s not only shot but *legit set* in a Canadian city for once.
Michael Bay’s Bad Boys is his Bad Boys II before college or like a drug problem, still a raging good time and a great action film but not quite the certifiably deranged mega production that he whipped out of his pants with that sequel. Nevertheless, it’s the warm up round, the pre-drink session and I love it to bits as well. I’ve read reviews comparing it to or accusing it of directly aping Beverly Hills Cop, and while it’s easy to see the thematic connection, I disagree and feel like it’s a separate aesthetic entirely. 90’s Miami, the simultaneous fast talking tornados that are Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, large scale action mayhem, constant improvised bickering, Joe Pantoliano perpetually on the verge of several strokes, it’s a vibe all its own and although this one is considerably more dialled back than II, it’s no less of a blast. Smith’s hotshot rich boy Mike LOWRY and Lawrence’s persnickety family man Marcus Burnett are live wire vice cops investigating a violent, elaborate drug smuggling ring lead by Tchecky Karyo’s Fouchet, a psychopath written as one note but the Turkish badass breathes life into him anyways. Tea Leoni is Julie, material witness to one of his murders and therefore tagging along with Marcus and Mike throughout the films chases, shootouts, verbal confrontations and what have you. Bottom line: In these roles, Smith and Lawrence are either your thing or they’re not, no middle ground. They’re loud, crass, politically incorrect goofballs who can’t sit still to save their lives and I love spending every minute with them. Also an acquired taste (and quite a cause of controversy in film discussions across the land) is Bay’s slick, noisy aesthetic, which may sometimes land with a hollow thud, but there is just no denying in one’s rational mind that the guy can’t stage absolute motherfuckers in the way of action set pieces, his films have a diamond crisp quality to the visuals, and his explosions are always shock and awe glory. The final car chase here across a giant airport tarmac is something else, feels real and dangerous, the eventual crash n’ burn a terrific payoff. The supporting ranks here are populated by the likes of Theresa Randle, Marc Macauley, Michael Imperioli, Marg Helgenberger, Kevin Corrigan, Anna Levine, Nestor Serrano, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Karen Alexander, Shaun Toub and briefly Kim Coates, hilariously credited as ‘White Carjacker.’ If you like your action movies funny, and your comedies full of action, this is the ticket. But you also have to be tuned in to Smith and Lawrence’s particular brand of lunacy, which understandably isn’t for everyone. Bring on the third film as soon as possible.
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.
I’ve always had issues with Auggie Rose, a creepy, bizarre Jeff Goldblum vehicle released under the far less ambiguous title ‘Beyond Suspicion’ on DVD. Misguided is kind of the word for the script they’ve taken on here, it’s a story that tries to say something about self identity and loneliness but just sort of makes you feel mounting uneasiness and not in the good way. The actions of Goldblum’s protagonist are pretty uncomfortable and unconscionable, which probably isn’t what they were going for, but there you go. He plays a boring insurance salesman who lives the kind of bland, grey life you’d expect someone in that profession to live, until recently paroled ex-con Auggie Rose (a short lived Kim Coates) happens to die in his arms. The man had been keeping up long and intimate pen pal communication via letters with a girl (Anne Heche), who he’s never met, and Goldblum finds one of these letters on him. So what does he do? Instead of finding her and telling her the sad news like a normal guy would, he assumes Auggie’s identity and picks up with her where the letters left off, which is so wrong in so many different ways, man. Worse, he’s got a girlfriend of his own (Nancy Travis) who he hides all this from, until it goes so far that the police get involved and the whole thing snowballs into an unhealthy, self destructive, damaging turn of events. Even *worse* is the ending, which I won’t spoil except to say it’s the biggest cop out this side of War Of The Worlds and is a story beat that is as forced and artificial as Phil Hartman’s million dollar smile. If you’re going to make a movie as terminally dark as this, don’t try and cloak it in a would be ‘happy resolution’ because ‘audiences won’t like it’. Don’t worry, they’re not going to like it anyways, because it’s just bad, but at least go the mile it takes to end the story in a place as warped as it’s inciting incident suggests. It’s far better to see how choices and actions like this lead to grim consequences, not to give the impression that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel after being so selfish and creepy towards others. Gah. It’s a shame that Goldblum agreed to do this because he’s an inherently likeable guy onscreen and comes off as weird, this kind of borderline sociopath character needs an actor like Kevin Spacey, who just carries a vague creep factor with him by default, (especially these days). There’s a collection of supporting talent including Timothy Olyphant, Richard T. Jones, Max Perlich, Jack Kehler, J.E. Freeman and Nick Chinlund, but they’re mostly given humdrum, not especially noteworthy roles. Coupled with the troubling story arc, it’s just a pretty drably mounted production anyways, and doesn’t serve to excite or provoke reactions other than to disturb the audience, and like I said before, not in any kind of good way. Yuck.
Imagine Face/Off, but cheaper and the ‘face off’ concept replaced by actual body/soul teleportation and you have Xchange, a fairly decent, pretty silly little low grade, high concept SciFi piece with some decent actors (barring Stephen Baldwin, that hamface) and a story that makes you think, albeit not too strenuously. Somewhere in the nearish future, a company called Xchange has patented a weird body mind swapping doohickey that allows instantaneous teleportation via swapping my out with another person’s body over at your destination. Of course a method like this attracts trouble, in the form of terrorist Kyle MacLachlan, who wants to do all sorts of mean things with the technology. A counter agent (Kim Coates) hunts him down, and a random blue collar worker (Baldwin) unwittingly gets caught up in the espionage, finds himself trapped in a clone’s body whilst the terrorist and agent switch places, and… yeah. Something like that. I’m sure the movie makes more sense than this review, but I may have been under the influence of certain things when I watched it. MacLachlan and Coates are a funny pairing, as one is obviously suited as the villain (Kim), while the other always seems to play upright types (shades of Agent Cooper here). Kyle gets to be mean for about five minutes right in the opening, before the ol’ switcharoo goes down and then Kim flexes his all too familiar, and always entertaining villain muscles, which seems to be a calculated casting choice by the powers that be. I remember this being not half bad, but any film with Baldwin (exception for The Usual Suspects) just sinks a bit simply by having him around to stink it up with his presence, although the other two do just fine with their roles. Definite late night cable background noise when everyone else is passed out.