Fallen Angels was a super cool L.A. film noir television series that ran in the 90’s, only never to be heard from again, curiously. It attracted an incredible lineup of directors including Tom Hanks, Alfonso Cuaron, Steven Soderberg, Peter Bogdanovitch, Jonathan Kaplan, John Dahl, Keith Gprdon, Tom Cruise and more, with an even more unbelievable troupe of prolific actors. For whatever sad reason though, it was never really released or marketed well, and has never seen the light of day. Dead End For Delia is the first, and one of the best of the bunch, directed by Phil Joanou, with the lead roles taken by Gary Oldman and Gabrielle Anwar. I’ve always wanted to see the two of them do something together, and funnily enough they share almost no screen time, but having the two occupy space in any project is electric enough. Oldman plays Pat Keilly, a police sergeant who is summoned to the scene of a crime, only to find out that the murder victim is his wife Delia (Anwar). As he is led along a trail of clues as to who her killer might be, he discovers things about her and realizes that he may have never really known his wife, or the person she really was. Oldman does something interesting here; for most of the film his trademark intensity sits at a low boil, lulling us into a false sense of calm and seeming to be one of his more restrained exercises. Then, all of a sudden in the last act he downright explodes and goes on a tirade of fuming emotion that is quite something to see. Makes me wonder if he planned this with his performance, or if he surprised himself with the unexpected outburst. The whole series is solidly star studded, and in addition to Oldman and Anwar we get to see Meg Tilly, Wayne Knight, Paul Guilfoyle, Vondie Curtis Hall and the great Dan Hedaya who works overtime playing at least ten different characters all throughout the show. It’s filmed through a lacy lens, the windows on set always open, the gauzy curtains set unearthly adrift to let in that clammy, humid L.A. breeze that promises secrets you wish you never knew as soon as it brushes against you. Perhaps one day this forgotten show will get a lovely dvd box set. Until then you have to scavenge for fragments over in the scrap yard of youtube. Good luck.
The Caveman’s Valentine has always fascinated me. As someone who has a mental illness, I’ve always tried my best to seek out films that portray such conditions in a respectable, inquisitive and enlightening tone. While this one cushions it’s earnestness with a slightly lurid and generic murder mystery, much of its desire to explore its character’s inner mindset shine through superbly and with much more authenticity than other films that try the same. Unless you suffer through, or have some intimate experience with someone like this protagonist, it’s tough to artistically represent their state. This one manages very well, and Samuel L. Jackson gives one of the most memorable, affecting and curiously overlooked performances of his career so far. Jackson is an actor who almost always gets cast in assured, authoritative roles. Here he portrays exactly the opposite of that as Romulus, a severely schizophrenic man who lives in a cave in Central Park, New York City. Romulus was once a brilliant pianist and a student at Juilliard, before his illness cut his career and personal life painfully short. He spends his days in confusion, raving in delusion about an all powerful man named Stuyvesant who secretly manipulates everyone in the city. When a young man is found murdered near his cave door, he feels an internal compulsion to find out what happened to him. As you might imagine, a man with his affliction might not make the most reliable detective, but Romulus tries his best and in between bouts of paranoia he makes his way towards weirdo avant grade photographer David Leppenraub (always excellent Colm Feore) who may have had something to do with the homicide. He also has a daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) who is a policewoman and somewhat resents him through her ignorance, and a wife (Tamara Tunie) who no doubt left, but still speaks to him in segments of his visions. Because his perceptions can’t be trusted, even by himself, it makes it a touch and go plot-line that’s heavily accented by frequent visual detours into his own consciousness, where humanoid Moth Sarefs hauntingly play unearthly instruments. Director Kasi Lemmons is not only a woman, but an actress herself, both traits which I believe lead to a certain intuitive advantage in filmmaking. I absolutely love how she moulds the narrative to patiently linger with Romulus’s perception of events and never make them sensationalistic or rushed. Even though Romulus walks through a dangerous, real world story of murder and corruption, the film always sticks with his childlike, abstract and very intangible internal view of the world, a choice which most films either don’t possess the courage or aren’t allowed to do. Jackson is subtle, complex dynamite in what is for me the best work of his career, playing completely against type and most definitely the opposite of his usual instincts to give us something truly special, to any viewer who wishes to exhibit the same patience and understanding that the filmmakers have strived for in making this unique piece.
Ever wish there was a movie where Val Kilmer plays a dead corpse? Like…the whole movie? Well you’re in luck, because in Summer Love he does just that. It’s funny because there aren’t even any flashbacks, any death scene or any instances where he’s alive. He’s just a dead body for the whole. friggin. movie. Now you might think what an lazy, pay cheque collecting half ass move, but let me assure you that shit isn’t easy. I’ve played a corpse in films for maybe minutes at a time after I’ve bee killed, and that was bad enough. Thinking about having to lie still and do that for an entire film gives me hives. So kudos to Val who sticks through it like a champ, spending every frame all rigor mortis-ed up and dead as disco. The film was released in North America unde the dvd title ‘Dead Man’s Bounty’ a decidedly more genre title than Summer Love, which is all part of an effort to label it as a violent action western. It’s It’s a western, alright and it’s plenty violent. But action? No sir. It’s slower than the service I get at McDonald’s and very, very European. Most of the actors besides Kilmer are Polish, kind of like Eastwood waltzing around with a bunch of Italians in a spaghetti western. I guess the term for this one would be perogy western. The lead actor is actually Czech, the ever awesome Karel Roden, playing a perpetually wounded and apparantly mute gunslinger who arrives in a dinghole of a town with Kilmer’s body, looking to collect his bounty. The town is a sour, miserable, derelict place, populated by bad tempered, booze gulping men, and one much abused whore (Katarzyna Figura). The sheriff (Boguslaw Linda) is a stumbling, incapable drunkard whose first thought is to rob anyone who passes through his town. Roden silently navigates this cesspool outpost, keeping Kilmer near and his guns at the ready. Not much actually happens in the film, mostly everyone just sits around drinking and mumbling incoherently to themselves in tones that no doubt sound poetic to their heavily inebriated minds. The whore gets slapped around a whole lot which will no doubt put some viewers off, if they aren’t already asleep. The ‘Summer Love’ title comes from the chorus of a song which is played in an opening sequence that proves to be one of the few sparks of life in this fairly dead affair. Kilmer’s trademark peppiness is nowhere to be found because… well… he’s a dead guy, and the rest of the cast are basically drunk western zombies who have all lost their scripts. Morbidly fascinating, never enjoyable, startlingly bad.
Tony Scott’s Beat The Devil is one part of a multi episode series of promotional short films called The Hire, themed around, and sponsored by BMW. An unbelievable amount of acting heft and prolific directors were brought in to make these, including Scott, Joe Carnahan, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee and more. They’re all wonderful and different in their own way, but Scott’s is my favourite of the bunch hands down. From the eclectic cast, all having a blast, to the sheer kinetic momentum and adrenaline soaked velocity of the stylistic direction, it’s pure moviemaking. Tony Scott’s very distinct and polarizing visual aesthetic rears its beautiful head here for a literal crash course which would go on to emerge from the chrysalis and fully spread its wings in the director’s two best films, Man On Fire and Domino. This one is a delicious little treat and obvious precursor to those. The story is fable in nature, starring James Brown as himself (!), pining about his old age. He hires the 007 sequel Driver (Clive Owen, stars in every one of these films, drives a BMW all the time and ties them all together), who takes him to Las Vegas to see The Devil (Gary Oldman, who else), who he sold his soul to decades earlier for fame and fortune. Brown wants to renegotiate the terms of contract, or simply put. Wants to live as a youth longer. Oldman is a sight to see, adorned in crimson lipstick and all manner of kitschy wardrobe numbers, a flamboyant debutant who acts like a Dr. Seuss character in drag. He makes a deranged proposal: the two of them will race the Vegas strip at dawn, Owen against Devil’s driver Bob (a deadpan perfect Danny Trejo). If Brown wins, he gets an extension on life and youth. The race is pure Tony Scott, a commotion fuelled superstorm of breakneck editing, colours flying off the saturation charts proudly and auditory assault as only the guy can craft. It’s the most fun out of the Hire series, careening along on its own delirious and joyful reckless abandon. Watch for a priceless cameo from Marilyn Manson as well.
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.
The Last Rites of Joe May is Dennis Farina’s bittersweet swan song, his final exodus from a long, epic and beloved career, showcasing the actor in the role he was always meant to play, and a lead role no less. He did a few other films after this one and a priceless cameo on Family Guy, but this is the spiritual final entry, and when you look at the story of the film, it’s both eerie and fateful that the man would go on to pass away just a few years later. He plays Joe May here, a Chicago wiseguy and short money hustler who has been in the hospital with pneumonia for almost a year. Upon returning to his borough, he finds his apartment rented out to a woman (Jamie Anne Allman) and her daughter (Meredith Droeger), all his belongings sold, and his presence pretty much forgotten, with some even under the belief that he has died. The woman takes pity on him and let’s him stay in his apartment with them if he helps her out, and he goes back to the same hustling, or at least tries too. All his ventures have gone dry, his former boss (a splendid Gary Cole) giving the cold shoulder. Joe starts to realize that one must face the eventual consequences of a life lived in selfishness and foolhardy actions, as he finds himself alone in the world and shunned even by his own son. He gets a shot at redemption upon having the little girl in his life, and being there to help out her mother who has one lowlife monster of a boyfriend that just happens to be a cop. Farina is sensational in every scene, and it’s a shame the guy didn’t ever get more lead roles. He makes Joe a grim yet sympathetic being who serves as a sorrowful reminder of how we all will arrive at the end of our road someday, and how important it is to line said road with good deeds, kindness, respect and worthwhile ventures, even if they only show up in the last few miles of it. This is a Tribeca festival film so it’s tough to find, but anyone with a love for Farina or simple, well told and emotional stories should definitely check it out. The beautiful piano score adds to the loneliness of Joe and his state of mind, as does Farina’s performance which a a gift to filmgoers and contains see of the hardest work and piercing truth I’ve ever seen from the guy. RIP.
Chattahoochee tells the sad and disturbing tale of Emmett Foley (Gary Oldman) a Korean War veteran who has returned home with severe PTSD. In a tragic and scary sequence, he shoots up his neighborhood in confusion and fear, injuring himself in the process. He is then sent to a ‘maximum security’ mental facility, and anyone who has heard what places like that were like in the 1950’s cam imagine what he’s in for next. The place is an unkempt, filthy sinkhole where the inmates are abused, neglected and subjected to inhuman maltreatment. So now, in addition to dealing with his mental illness, Emmet must witness this miscarriage of medical treatment on a daily basis, and suffer through it himself. He is befriended by deceptively cavalier Walker Benson (a funny and touching Dennis Hopper), and the two of them try to seek out better treatment and conditions for their fellow inmates. Only problem is, the beauricratic faction doesn’t want to hear any of this, stone walling and throwing it in their faces with callous indifference. It becomes the struggle of Emmet’s lifetime to win the day against this rotten system, and he’s aided by his sister (Frances Mcdormand) in his efforts. Oldman is as intense as you’d imagine with subject matter like this, an implosive tsunami of dread and outrage as he both bears witness and cries out in protest. Ned Beatty plays a nasty doctor, and there’s also work from Matt Craven, Gary Bullock, M. Emmett Walsh, Richard Portnow and Pamela Reed. This one is tough to find, and a tad forgotten, but it’s worth the hunt. It’s also based on a true story about a real veteran named Christopher Calhoun, who later wrote a book detailing his experiences. Harrowing, but important stuff.