I’ve always loved the absolute hell out of Antoine Fuqua’s Shooter, a mean, violent, very broad and totally enjoyable action flick with a western flavour woven in and some jaw dropping set pieces along the way. The story is like, beyond over the top, Mark Wahlberg is a near invincible force of nature, the villains are so intense they feel like they’ve walked out of a Walter Hill flick and the overall tone is just this side of tongue in cheek territory while still feeling like a legitimate thriller. Marky Mark plays an ex marine sniping guru who lives alone in the Canadian wilderness with his doggo until he’s lured back to Vancouver by his conniving former boss (Danny Glover) for a high profile political assassination. Basically blackmailed into it, he finds himself set up by his own people to take the fall for the job, betrayed, left for dead, the works. Also, as we observed in John Wick, don’t kill the dog of someone who can take out literal armies of goons and will come gunning for you and everyone in your employ. On the run he’s assisted by a rookie cop (Michael Pena) who intuits his innocence and the girlfriend (a smokin hot Kate Mara) of a former army buddy who he seeks shelter with. The villains here are truly spectacular and I must spend a portion of my review on them: Glover is so arch and evil he literally gets to say “I win, you lose” *twice* and he somehow pulls off a ridiculous line like that just because he’s Danny Glover and he’s smirking like he knows damn well what kind of script he’s waded into. His top lieutenant is a despicable, sadistic piece of work played by the great Elias Koteas in high style, all leering stubble, violent urges towards Mara and creepy charisma in spades. They all work for the the most evil US Senator in the country, a tubby, southern fried, amoral, genocidal maniac Colonel Sanders wannabe played by Ned Beatty, who doesn’t just chew the scenery, but strangles it with his bare hands while he’s at it. The cast is off the hook and also includes Tate Donovan, Mackenzie Grey, Rhona Mitra, Lane Garrison, Rade Serbedzija and a cameo from The Band’s Levon Helm. They just don’t make actioners like this anymore and even for 2007 this felt like a dying breed. Classic, melodramatic, hyper violent, neo-western revenge stuff that was huge in the 80’s and 90’s and I miss greatly. There’s a brilliant exchange of dialogue where Beatty and Glover marvel in desperation at Wahlberg’s refusal to back down or stop hunting them. “I don’t think you understand,” he growls at them: “You killed my dog.” It’s a great line sold 100% by Wahlberg and the film is full of spot on moments like that as well as visually breathtaking action sequences (that mountaintop standoff tho), a playful yet deadly tone and villains that would be at home in the Looney Toons. Great film.
I’ve had graver, more memorable encounters in the horror genre than I did with The Vicious Brothers’ Grave Encounters, a film that’s much hyped up in the horror community but just sadly didn’t do much for me overall. I’m all for found footage horror if it’s done well and effectively and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the way this film is crafted, it’s just it spends way too much time building up to the scares that are few and far between when they finally do show up near the end. Like.. a cheapie, self aware faux ghost hunting comedy farce like this should be packed to the gills with scares from stem to stern and not try and attempt the slow burn buildup thing, that’s for horror that takes itself seriously. This is a silly film that should have pulled the ripcord of ridiculousness a way harder and way sooner and went full on nuts in the way stuff like The Evil Dead did, but it feels frustratingly restrained and reined in for much of the runtime, and by the time a few leering spectres and ghouls do show up, it’s a classic case of too little too late. The characters are a mixed bag and mostly bland except for Mackenzie Gray as a hilarious, charlatan dime-store psychic out of his depth. It’s shot in Coquitlam’s abandoned Riverview hospital (but what isn’t) and there’s a few eerie moments when the camera crew find themselves lost in never-ending corridors, but overall this just feels like a big missed opportunity. Perhaps the sequel goes for broke a bit more but if this one is any indication.. then perhaps not.
Terry Gilliam films almost always feel a bit slapdash and chaotic, it’s just the guy’s calling card to have a modicum of organized mayhem filling the fringes of whatever project he delivers. With The Imaginarum Of Dr. Parnassus, that is probably the case more so than any other film he’s made, and despite letting the clutter run away with itself a bit too much, it’s still a dazzling piece. Of course, your movie will always have a disjointed undercurrent when your lead actor passes away halfway through production, but that’s just the way it goes, and Gilliam finds a fascinating solution to that issue here. Imaginarium is in many ways a companion piece, in spirit, to The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, a film he made decades earlier, both containing a sort of baroque, Da Vinci-esque splendour and sense of fantastical wonder. Christopher Plummer hides behind a gigantic Dumbledore beard as Parnassus, a magician extraordinaire who travels the land with his daughter (Lily Cole, that bodacious Botticelli bimbo) and circus troupe, including Verne ‘Mini Me’ Troyer. Years earlier he made a pact with the devil (Tom Waits, an inspired choice) using his daughter as collateral, and now Old Nick has come to reap the debt, causing quite the situation. The story is a hot mess of phantasmagoria and kaleidoscope surrealism thanks to the Imaginarium itself, a multi layered dimension-in-a-box that accompanies them on their travels. Things get complicated when they rescue dying lad Tony (Heath Ledger) who somehow ties into the tale as well. Now, this was Ledger’s very last film, its future left uncertain after his passing, but help arrived in the form of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, swooping in to play doppelgänger versions of Tony as he bounced from one plane of the imaginarium to another with Cole in tow, always one step ahead of Waits, who is a rockin’ choice to play the devil, smarming and charming in equal doses. It’s kind of a huge melting pot of images and ideas hurled into creation, but it’s a lovable one, the fun you’ll have watching it reasonably eclipses lapses in logic, plotting and pacing.