Some independent films are just so amazing, heartfelt and original it pains me they’ve never found a larger audience or made a bigger splash. Dennis Brooks’ Goodnight Joseph Parker has the kind of script, acting and execution that would probably have attracted Oscar attention had it been done on a bigger budget or had more marketing, but this thing is a barebones indie despite having a fairly well known cast and remains to this day a long buried treasure. Somewhere in New Jersey is a run down, behind the times bar run by Charlie (Paul Sorvino), staffed by waitress Rita (Debi Mazar) and frequented by drunkard Frankie (Richard Edson). This is a humdrum, low income barfly existence in a part of town that never changes save to continue to its own beat, until estranged regular Joey Parker (Nick Chinlund) returns to town in a “900 dolla’ suit” with tales of making it big and going on Jay Leno soon. His return sparks many feelings and long repressed things from the past, in paternal Charlie, in Rita who has always loved him and local junkie Muriel (Kim Dickens) who he loves and foolishly plans to propose to with all his new flash and swagger to back him up. But flash and swagger is what barely masks the pain, sadness and regret in all these characters, that and the booze they constantly swill. This isn’t so much a story as it is a quick snapshot of collective lifestyles in the Jersey area, but even though it’s a ‘small’ story, the emotions and character dynamics couldn’t feel more immediate or affecting. Chinlund is one of the most underrated actors of his generation, mostly saddled with supporting villain roles in his career, but when he’s given a lead like this he really and truly shines. Joey is a man who lives in his ego and when he’s forced to shed it, to confront himself and where he stands in his old community, well Nick’s performance is something to see. Sorvino has always been one of the greats and he’s heartbreaking here as a man who constantly tried to do the right thing and is haunted by the consequences, it’s a manic, playful, compassionate and comedic bit of acting genius. Mazar is another one who constantly gets stuck the ‘snarky bitch’ character and for sure she’s great at that, but give her some breathing room, let her play a more sensitive type girl and just watch what she can do, her work is spellbinding here. As if all that talent isn’t enough we also get a recurring cameo from Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler as a sleazy, hyperactive ladies man who runs in and out of the plot like a tornado. In the credits it says this film is ‘inspired by the music of Tom Waits’ and indeed he can be heard rasping away on the soundtrack faintly from time to time. The film really captures the day in, day out nature of this part of town, and the human beings whose drink, laugh, fight and live within it. It takes place over the course of one night and the following day only, but in that window of time I felt all the joys, sorrows, triumphs, downfalls, regrets, passions and hopes in this group of scrappy individuals and cared for each one deeply. Brilliant piece of filmmaking.
If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?
Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.
Paul Verhoeven’s Hollow Man is one of the most scummy, awful, overblown ridiculous shit masquerading as a movie that I’ve ever had the misfortune to see. It’s also entertaining on a level that suffocates you with unpleasantness and knowing stupidity at every turn. Verhoeven has taken what could have been a fascinating and suspenseful premise and turned it into a one note, bottom feeding genre pile of piss that is pretty hard to sit through. Scientifically inaccurate (not that that matters in this terrain) relentlessly unpleasant, super awkward and an all round disaster, it’s still pretty compelling to witness, like a school bus on fire. It’s a wreck to be sure, but there’s plenty of glee to be found, if you’re feeling masochistic. Kevin Bacon has laid down a path of many asshole characters over the years, but Dr. Sebastian Caine just takes the cake. He’s an egotistical, psycho sexual maniac in charge of an underground research lab, working on a brand new cheeseball formula to make the invisible man. He’s creepy and possessive with his girlfriend (poor Elizabeth Shue) callous to his lab staff (Josh Brolin included, before his second coming, as well as Kim Dickens) and an all around jerk off. But that’s really nothing compared to what happens when the formula works, effectively turning him invisible, with a few nasty side effects. He goes from a nasty dude to an all out monster as he starts to arbitrarily prey and perv out on his co workers in their underground bunker, going full on Lon Chaney with a side of Ted Bundy in a grating performance that is a career sinkhole for Bacon. I read Ebert give golden praise to the special effects in a scene where he teansforms from visible to invisible, but i have no idea what he was smoking that day because they are an abysmal effort. Verhoeven always has a sort of knowing layer of hedonism blanketing his work, but this one takes it to a whole new level. Hey, at least there’s a cameo from the always welcome William Devane! The rest is just a vomitorium. There’s a sequel floating around out there with Christian Slater, I’m curious but have never have come across a copy.