Tag Archives: michael wincott

Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding

Somewhere out there in an anguished desert enclave along one of the many desolate stretches of American highway is Jim Dougherty (Gary Oldman), stranded in exile at a lonely rest stop cafe as Peter Medak’s brilliant, haunting neo-noir Romeo Is Bleeding opens.

Jim, as we learn through forlornly narration, was once a spectacularly corrupt NYC cop named Jack Grimaldi, a man who got too ambitious in the worst way and learnt every lesson the hardest possible fashion he could. Jack was a greedy, scheming piece of work who two timed his loyal wife (Annabella Sciorra, fantastic) with a ditzy cocktail waitress (Juliette Lewis) and did his best to upend everything the department works for by playing it against the mafia with increasingly disastrous results, stuck on a hollow treadmill chasing dollar signs. But his wife and mistress weren’t the only women in his life, as he soon meets Mona Demarkov, a seductive Russian contract killer played by Lena Olin in a performance that is to be applauded, feared and lusted after in equal measures. Mona is the wild card, the hurricane that upends an uneasy equilibrium Jack has toiled sweatily to set up like a house of cards, ready for her to blow down. Dumped in his lap by the Feds to babysit until mob operatives arrive to kill her, she manipulates, seduces and torments Jack within moments, but she’s only just begun. She escapes into New York and leads everyone on a terrifying goose chase of bloody mind games and gangland espionage, threatening to tear both organizations, not to mention Jack’s sanity, to pieces.

Oldman has never exuded the specific kind of sweaty desperation he showcases here, he’s got three women too many, nasty mafia Don Falcone (a quietly dangerous Roy Scheider) breathing over his shoulder and fellow cops inches away from sniffing out the rat in plain sight. Gary somehow comes across as likeable despite all this heinous behaviour, like a lost puppy who wandered into the wrong cave. Olin really lets loose with her work, she’s a villain not just for the noir hall of fame but for the ages, a murderous black velvet spider on a wanton spree of anarchic, sociopathic, psychosexual destruction and loving every minute of it. They’re supported by an epic roster of talent including Will Patton, David Proval, Larry Joshua, James Cromwell, Ron Perlman, Tony Sirico, Stephen Tobolowsky, Dennis Farina as a gregarious mafioso and the great Michael Wincott as Jack’s underworld pal Sal who turns on him like a jackal when things get out of control.

Many people seem to see this as an interesting yet ultimately flawed piece with uneven tone and what have you, but I couldn’t disagree more. For me this is pretty much as close to perfect as a film can get. Jim sits out there on the lonely byways of some forgotten region and recounts the tale of Jack, there’s such a beautifully mournful melancholy to his story, a true tragedy and cautionary tale laced with grit, jet black humour and an ever so subtle fairytale vibe. Writer Hilary Henkin spins a wild, surreal and slightly self aware screenplay here, while Mark Isham’s creepy, music box infused score gives off bushels of atmospheric portent. I feel like this is another one that was maybe ahead of its time, or perhaps just an acquired taste. I’m happy to see it has a budding cult following these days because it really deserves people’s time, it’s one of the very best crime films of the 1990’s and one of my all time favourite stories out there.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon is loosely based on a true story and does indeed have an attempt on the former president’s life woven into its narrative, but in no way is it a sensationalistic thriller and the main focus lies on Sean Penn’s journey as Samuel Bicke, the ultimate disgruntled American citizen. Sam is a hard working average joe who finds himself dealt a near constant shitty hand in life, and blames it on the one personification of the country’s entire problems: the president. He works under a two faced tyrant of a boss (Jack Thompson), is served divorce papers by his wife (Naomi Watts) who wants nothing to do with him anymore, and all attempts to get his own business underway with a partner (Don Cheadle) seems to fail when presented with the tumultuous economic and political climate of the times. The thing is, much of what makes you successful or not successful in any given time period is attitude and frame of mind. Not solely of course, some eras are just tougher to grind through and come out on top of then others, but internal perspective and outlook always play a big part, and Sam’s is one of self predicted defeat and jaded forlornness almost from the get go. He is a man who wants to do good and wishes prosperity for himself and others, but feels helpless against the obstacles in his way, begins to mentally deteriorate and lashes out. One scene in particular between him and his well spoken businessman brother Julius (Michael Wincott in a stern, savage, brutally honest and scene stealing cameo) lays it all out: Julius berates and shames him for breaking the law and stealing goods from his business for plans of his own, no matter how honourable or constructive his intentions were. Samuel responds not with an apology, but with a long winded, bitter rant about how everything and everyone in the country has it in for him, how hard it is as the little man to make your daily bread or come out a winner. His mental climate is fascinating as it ultimately leads to a reckless, dangerous act, but we can trace every moment along the way where his stability falters and see why he is the way he is. The actual attempt itself involves hijacking a plane and bombing tricky Dick himself in the White House, but once we see him try and go through with it it’s just sad, anticlimactic and almost irrelevant. The real power lies in what led him there, how he felt betrayed by his own country and how, in the end, he blamed one man who probably didn’t even have that much power over everything to begin with. Penn is raw and ragged in a performance that almost hurts to watch, in a story that isn’t cinematic, cathartic or pleasant in any way. But it is important, and makes for a great film.

-Nate Hill

Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock

I feel like a lot of people were expecting a vast, loosely paced biopic from Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, but what they really got was a tight, sardonic, laser focused and surprisingly emotional look at the relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), during the making of Psycho, and the monumental struggle it took in bringing the now iconic horror film to being. It’s about adjusting your expectations really, and keeping them in check, and you can enjoy what is one of the best films of that year. Meticulously casted with a galaxy of brilliant actors, royally mounted in terms of production design and costume (Oscar shamefully glossed over it in those categories) and written with brittle, whip-crack wit by John J. McLaughlin, it’s a treat for cinema lovers and Hitchcock junkies alike. Anthony Hopkins plays the old goat as a stubborn, eccentric, obtuse man, a filmmakers who is so fascinated by the universal revilement he’s met with upon pitching Psycho that he morbidly just has to see the production through, even if it means friction from all angles including Alma, the studio, the censorship board and everyone in between, not to mention mortgaging his snazzy mansion in the process. It’s an interesting look at one of the most important mile markers in the horror legacy, the dawn of the slasher film and Hollywood’s begrudging shift from camp to lurid exploits in the fright flick, which saw Alfred gleefully starting the snowball effect with Psycho. James D’arcy is uncannily perfect as Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins, Scarlett Johansson captures the virility and charisma of Janet Leigh magnetically, and Jessica Biel does great work as Vera Miles, looking almost unrecognizable. Hitchcock based the character of Norman Bates on famed serial killer Ed Gein, and as such the filmmakers have him appear to Hopkins in ghostly fashion, played grimly and excellently by character actor Michael Wincott, a supernatural stylistic flourish that some hated for its gimmickry but I found a neat, provocative touch. The cast gets deeper with work from Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlburg, Frank Collison and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith as a crusty chairman of the censorship board. Hopkins slithers expertly into the prosthetic makeup and opaque personality of the character, clearly having a mischievous blast and cutting loose from some of the more laconic roles he’s done, it’s one of his most engaging performances. Sure it’s not a grand old biopic of the guy, spanning years and leaping multiple story arcs, but I found the intimate focus on his marriage and Psycho to be deliberate, riveting and well deserving of any audience’s attention, especially for fans of that era of Hollywood. A winner.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory with Nate: Gunshy

  

Looking for a moody Atlantic City crime drama that isn’t Boardwalk Empire? Well you’re gonna get a review of one, anyway. Gunshy may not have all the bells and whistles of a studio produced film, and admittedly is a little tattered around the edges as a result, but it’s still a solid, quaint little fish out of water story about a man out of his depth and in deep water with some dangerous people. Jake (William L. Peterson) is a failing journalist who yearns to live on the edge, mired in the doldrums of a creative sinkhole. After his boss (R. Lee Ermey cameo) fires him, he heads to the one place that offers unconditional solace to us writers all over: the bar. After an altercation with a violent scumbag (Meat Loaf offering up ham to go with his edible moniker), he meets an event more violent individual in the form of Frankie (Michael Wincott) a volatile mob enforcer. Frankie takes a shine to Jake, and in particular is fascinated by his literacy and knowledge of the written word. Frankie offers a bargain: show him the world of books and intellectual fare, and he will navigate Jake through the seedy world of organized crime, teaching each other a thing or two along the way. The plot thickens when Frankie’s girlfriend Melissa (Diane Lane, stunning as ever) drives a wedge between them, effectively creating a romantic triangle. These three leads take subpar material and make it shine, especially Wincott who rarely gets a lead role, but steals every scene with his childlike curiosity contrasted with violent tendancy. The boardwalks do make an appearance here, and they just beg to be filmed, really. In a genre centralized mainly in L.A. or New York, I’d love to see more pieces set in the baleful, windswept oceanfront locales of Atlantic City. There’s numerous supporting turns including Musetta Vander, Kevin Gage as a cop who harassed Frankie on the daily, and intense Michael Byrne as his gruesome gangster boss. It’s silly in places and clunky in others, but when it works, it works, mainly thanks to the great turns from Wincott and Lane, who seem very naturalistic and unforced as a couple. Give it a go.

Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened is an unfairly overlooked little Hollywood satire, a little less bombastic than his excellent Wag The Dog, but no less biting. It’s like Entourage on Zanax, a surprisingly laid back entry into an oeuvre that is usually foaming at the mouth with frenzy. Robert De Niro plays Ben, a very stressed out movie producer who is dealing with a zillion different things at once, most of which are going wrong. The character is based partly on real life Hollywood producer Art Linson, and his book. Ben has a lead actor (Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis) who refuses to shave his bushy beard for a film. Anyone who remembers the film The Edge with Alec Baldwin and how big his beard was in that, well, that’s where the idea came from. That’s just a taste of how many weird things that both Hollywood and his personal life toss at Ben. He’s also in post production on a Sean Penn film (Penn also plays himself) with a very stubborn and flamboyant director named Jeremy (Michael Wincott) who refuses to cut the film in accordance with the studio’s wishes (here manifested by an icy Catherine Keener). Ben’s daughter (a weepy Kristen Stewart) is going through personal crisis, he’s also got a bitter rivalry with an obnoxious writer (Stanley Tucci) and has to babysit an anxiety ridden agent (John Turturro). It’s all a lot for him to handle and we begin to see the turmoil start to boil under Ben’s cool exterior. The cast is beyond ridiculous, with additional work from Moon Bloodgood, Peter Jacobson, Lily Rabe and Robin Wright as Ben’s estranged wife. Standouts include Michael Wincott who is a comic gem and gives the film it’s life with his pissy, enraged and altogether charming performance. Willis is also priceless as he ruthlessly parodies himself to the hilt. It’s slight, it’s never too much and is probably a bit too laid back for its own good, but I had a lot of fun with it, and it’s always cool to see meta movies about the inner workings of Hollywood. 

Metro: A Review by Nate Hill

image

The 80’s and 90’s saw the momentous rise of beloved funnyman Eddie Murphy within the action comedy genre, particularly the wise cracking cop niche. 48 Hrs kicked it off, the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy added to the snowball effect, and so it went. His manic charisma led to many a starring role, including the somewhat forgotten actioner Metro, one thats notable because it shows the actor in just as many serious situations as comedic ones. There’s a tether on his sense of humour here, which in other films has been set to roam and end up where it may, often halting entire scenes for his non stop antics to play out. Here he gets a few moments like that, but even more to get seriously angry and tough, most likely helped by the fact that he’s up against one of the most truly heinous villains he’s ever had to face. Here he’s Scott Roper, a fast talking, resourceful San Francisco hostage negotiator who flexes both brain and brawn in a tense opening confrontation with a loose-screw criminal (Donal Logue). We see right off the bat what an efficient dude he is, a nice precursor for the trying times ahead. He’s inhabits a world chock full of every necessary genre element: a cranky police captain (Denis Arndt), a sexy girlfriend (stunning British gal Carmen Ejogo), a fresh out of the academy rookie partner (Michael Rapaport, not given much to do) a recently deceased former partner (Art Evans) to avenge, slain by the obligatory arch criminal, in this case psychotic jewel thief Michael Korda (Michael Wincott). Wincott makes Korda a truly detestable guy. Vile, slithery and absent of any shred of remorse, killing his way through the city with Roper hot on his tail. And there you have it, every necessary element in place for a solid cop flick, and one that’s gotten very little attention over the years. There’s neat action set pieces including a showstopper set aboard a speeding trolley car, endearing bits of comedy now and then from Murphy and some savage violence that proclaims the film’s hard R rating proudly. Murphy and Wincott have a sizzling verbal dual, separated by prison glass that launches the scene into the stratosphere of intense profanity, with F bombs spewed off in rapid fire, tempers and talents of both actors in overdrive. Lukewarm reviews can be found all over for this one. Yeah its no 48 Hrs, but it earns it’s stripes and to me is one of Murphy’s very best, helped along quite a bit by Wincott’s snarling, evil presence. Great fun.

Forsaken: A Review by Nate Hill

image

It’s refreshing that in an age populated by revisionist westerns and snazzy new takes on the ancient genre, some filmmakers just want to play it straight and deliver a good old oater without any newfangled bells and whistles. Jon Cassar’s Forsaken does just that, arriving a few years late (turbulent post production issues) but in modest, simple form, here to tell the age old tale of one man who stands up to some evil frontier bankers with stoic heroism. Kiefer Sutherland is John Henry Clayton, a man who has been away from his quiet hometown for nearly a decade. Following a traumatic stint in the war, circumstance led him into the life of the gunfighter. His unannounced return home stirs up old wounds in his preacher father (Donald Sutherland) who cringes in the very presence of his violent aura. John has thrown down the guns and sworn never to pick them up again, but we all know that just ain’t true, and when he meets a certain group of unsavory dudes in town, he becomes a time bomb of righteous anger that’s liable to go off any time. He spends some time mourning his mother and reconnecting with a lost love (Demi Moore), until the inevitable conflict brews. Corrupt banker James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is buying up farms and forcing families who don’t want to sell off their land, using despicable methods carried out by his two goons, vicious Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) and mercurial ‘Gentleman’ Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Tensions arise and everyone finds themselves headed for an unavoidable and blistering conclusion. Kiefer always has a jagged rage simmering just below the surface, which is what made him so perfect as Jack Bauer, another time bomb. He’s downright implosive here, delivering the best work I’ve ever seen him give. He’s got a touching scene with his father in which he goes to places I didn’t know he was capable of in his work. Donald is quiet, resentful and compassionate, wrestling internally to keep his serenity in the face of injustice. Cox always puts on a good show as the villain, and he’s exactly what he needs to be here: beaurocratic menace with just a dash of swagger. It’s Wincott who steals the show though, with the best work in the film. He inhabits Dave (and his incredibly dapper costume) with a relaxed, lupine calm, punctuated by sudden bursts of danger and always presided over by the midnight black, raspy croon of a voice that makes him so special. He jaunts along the line between villain and sympathetic antihero so well, the only character in the film to shirk the archetypes, and I was please try reminded of Jason Robard’s Cheyenne from Once Upon A Time In The West. His best work in a while as well, but then he’s always perfect. The film is refreshingly violent in its gunplay, with an earned brutality that never feels gratuituous, and always satisfying. The production took place in wildest alberta, a trip worth the taking for the breathtaking scenery we get to feast on, especially in an opening credit sequence that is very reminiscent of Eastwood films of yesteryear. It’s a landmark in the sense that although both Kiefer and Donald have been in the same film before (Joel Schumacher’s underrated A Time To Kill) they never have shared the same frame until now. Trust me, it was worth the wait. They are both excellent, along with their peers in a simple, honest to goodness Western film that should please fervent fans of the genre and moviegoers alike.