Passengers is a low key supernatural drama that came and went with little fanfare or attention back in 2008. Part of the reason for that could have been that it was marketed as a thriller, which is not so much the case. There is an eerie vibe to it, and certainly a paranormal component, but it’s quieter and much closer to the chest than advertising might suggest. It wasn’t reviewed very well, branded as predictable and derivitive. Some of its plot devices have been used before in the past, to be sure, but I greatly enjoyed the film and loved the way in which it’s story unfolds, told very well by its sturdy cast. Like Mark Pellington says, fuck the people, that’s why there’s 31 flavors. Anne Hathaway is excellent as Claire, a grief counselor who is tasked with looking out for a handful of people who have survived a catastrophic plane crash. She’s new to her profession, her eagerness laced with self doubt, yet she remains hopeful. All of a sudden, the patients in her cate begin to disappear mysteriously, and she starts to question the situation, as well as her own reality. The survivors are damaged and not fully willing to open up to her, collectively scared of some unseen threat. Claire has repeated run ins with a unknown and very distressed man (Andrew Wheeler, local vancouver actor and former teacher of mine) who has ties to the accident. It’s all hush hush and quietly unsettling, until we slowly begin to realize what’s actually happening, and the it changes gears and becomes very touching and thoughtful. Clea Duvall is great as one of the skeptical survivors, Patrick Wilson solid as always, and there’s work from Dianne Wiest, William B. Davis, Andre Braugher and briefly David Morse. Sure, this type of story has been done to death time and time again, draining new efforts of some of their effect, but if one comes along that gets it right, tells it’s story in a way that holds both my emotion and interest in its spell, I’m all ears. This one did just that.
Agatha Christie takes a trip to the Pacific Northwest in The Last Stop, a chilly little indie B movie in which we have the pleasure of watching Adam Beach and Rose McGowan try to smoke out a killer amidst a group of people stranded in a remote motel during a blinding snowstorm. A welcome setup for intrigue indeed, if you’re into cozying up to these actors for a tense little 90 minute guessing game packed with just the right amounts of cheesiness and tension. Beach plays a local Sheriff who is stuck at the establishment while its Proprietor (the great Jurgen Prochnow, refreshingly cast against type) struggles with a guest overload as the storm gathers steam. Beach’s old flame (the ever alluring McGowan) has resurfaced in his life with little explanation. There’s also an obnoxious hustler (Callum Keith Rennie) a sleazy would be cowboy (Winston Reckert) and other disconcerting weirdos lurking about. Some are red herrings, some simply filler for the narrative, and all are entertaining, whether intentionally or not. The plot meanders in snowy, typically nonsensical b-movie form until it pulls itself together for a very grounded finale that seems misplaced given what came before, but welcome all the same. McGowan could dub a Korean pop song and still be riveting, and it kills me she isn’t in more stuff, but she’s made it clear that acting was never her first love. Nevertheless she’s great as both the most mysterious and fascinating character. Shades of The Hateful Eight, Eye See You with Stallone, and many a snowbound mystery. Fun stuff.
Anamorph is a loving ode to the wilfully nasty serial killer flicks of the 90’s, obviously borrowing heavily from a few specific ones, the clearest example being Fincher’s Sev7n. It’s got the same dank, dispirited tone of that one, a restless urban nightmare wherein one lone detective searches for a heinous murderer that seems to elude him every step of the way, leaving increasingly grisly crimes in his wake. The detective here is Stan Aubrey (Willem Dafoe), a troubled fellow suffering from OCD, as if he didn’t have enough to handle, with a killer on the loose. Dusky New York streets are the predator’s playground, and he kills using some very elaborate, and very u settling techniques. Anamorphosis is a method used during times such as the Renaissance, where a painter would create a seemingly nonsensical sprawl with neither shape nor form, but when looked at through a tiny window of exposure (camera obscure), or from a painstakingly meticulous angle, a new image comes to light, in this case providing Dafoe with clues. Now this isn’t any Renaissance painter we’re dealing with, and he doesn’t use oil base, if you catch my drift. The crime scenes in this film are very, very horrifying and hard to watch, almost on the level of Sev7n. Dafoe gets help from his art fanatic buddy Blair (Peter Stormare), and tries to look after the troubled Sandy (a moody Clea Duvall), the relative of a deceased friend. There’s also work from Yul Vasquez, Scott Speedman, Don Harvey and the late James Rebhorn. Nasty stuff, this one, but stylish and well worth a late night watch with the lights low and your nerves on edge.
Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls gets a bad rap in some circles for being boring and uneventful despite its charismatic cast and opulent setting that’s ripe for peppy action sequences. I think they are confusing boring with the concept of a paced and very slow burn, yet one with all the texture and richness of an action film, one that admirably decides to take the route of the old school noir, with loving care put into story and character, two elements which the action and violence live simply to serve, and not to take the driver’s seat against. Or it’s simply not some people’s cup of tea, which is totally okay too. Personally though, I love a good L.A. cop yarn that has a story to go with the toughness. This one bears striking similarity to 2013’s Gangster Squad, which also had Nick Nolte playing a 1940’s Los Angeles cop in charge of a squad that operates outside of the law. That film is pure cheese, all razzle dazzle and no plot. Mulholland Falls falls somewhere between Gangster Squad and L.A. Confidential; not quite up to delving into the serpentine intrigue of the latter, yet infinitely more interested in telling a worthwhile story than the former. And tell it does, in high flying style that only a crime film set in that time period can do. Nick Nolte plays Hoover, a whiskey voiced, take no prisoners LAPD badass who heads up an elite anti corruption task force that operates far outside the red tape and pretty much do what they want to stomp out corruption. His squad consists of Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and a scene stealing Chazz Palminteri as the oddball of the bunch, with serious impulse control issues. A straight up dream cast of tough guys, and although I’ll admit that Penn and Madsen are a tad underused, their presence alone boosts the film’s credentials into an epic pantheon. The film revs up with a kicker of an opening sequence in which the squad severely roughs up a troublesome mobster (an uncredited William L. Petersen). “This isn’t America, it’s Los Angeles” Nolte growls to him, stating the tone of perverse lawlessness which permeated the city back then. Soon he’s drawn into a tawdry scandal involving the murder of a young prostitute (Jennifer Connelly) who he previously had encounters with. The search leads him far and wide, crossing paths a sleazy photographer (Andrew Mcarthy), a dying air force tycoon (John Malkovich manages to ham it up even at his most laid back) and his stern lieutenant (Treat Williams). Nolte also has a poor jilted wife played nicely by Melanie Griffith in limited but effective screen time. The plot is hard boiled to the bone, with Nolte in one his most gruff mid career roles and loving every stressed out, rage fuelled second of it. The conclusion is his show, with a whacked out Palminteri in tow for a spectacular sequence set aboard a doomed military aircraft. The cast gets deeper, believe it or not, with Daniel Baldwin, Ed Lauter, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Louise Fletcher, Rob Lowe and Bruce Dern contributing gamely. This one’s got style on it’s side and then some, replicating a sense of time and place with the torque ramped up to near Sin City levels. Admittedly not perfect, but a pure and simple blast of a flick, in my opinion.
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.
Bone Dry is fantastic little piece of sun soaked, revenge fuelled melodrama that serves as a glowing showcase for its two leads, Luke Goss and a ferocious Lance Henriksen. Lean, mean, gritty and reminiscent of 1970’s revenge outings, it’s a bloody delight of a flick. Luke Goss, an actor who can give Henriksen a run for his money in the intensity department, plays Eddie, a well dressed dude with a suspiciously murky past, winding his way through the desolation of the Mojave Desert. After breezing through a lonely cafe run by a girl (always nice to see Dee Wallace) who clearly has eyes for him, he sets out through a particularly lonely stretch of the terrain, and that’s where he finds himself in serious trouble. He’s soon stalked by a menacing, mysterious man named Jimmy (Henriksen), who is intent on tormenting, taunting and fucking him up at every turn. Jimmy is an ex war monster a man whose taken it upon himself to put Eddie through every ring of hell that the Mojave has to offer, all in service of some deeply buried reasons that emerge from the sand late in the third act, shedding scorching light on the two men’s character arc, and giving the film quite the emotional boost. When I say hell, I mean it. Eddie suffers through some unspeakably horrific scenarios, including a scene involving a cactus that will induce mass cringing among audience members. Director Brett A. Hart has a heightened, almost Walter Hill-esque style to his film, with the intensity metre ratcheted up past the maximum, and editing trimmed down to whip smart strokes that put you right in the middle of Eddie’s clammy desperation and Jimmy’s enigmatic fury. Henriksen spends the first half of the film with his face shrouded, adding to the mystery of his character. He’s a master of the craft who slowly lets the breadcrumb trail fall with every portentous mannerism and glowering posture until we finally see what Jimmy is really about. One his best performances. Goss doesn’t let the energy sag for a single second, something he has always been great at. There’s further work from the legendary Tommy ‘Tiny Lister’ Jr. as well, filling in another subplot stranded out there in the sand. This one is genre bliss, brutal and blistering until it cools off for a conclusion that cuts the viewer some respiratory slack after the breathlessness of its juggernaut setup. Terrific stuff.
Wildflowers is a film that examines the aftermath of 1960’s counterculture and the hippie movement. The free love sentiment produced many children who were raised unconventionally, and in some cases outright abandoned by their flower power parents. Cally (Clea Duvall) is one such girl, a wild tomboy who lives with her sometimes employed father (Thomas Arana), and spends her days cavorting around with adolescents in similar situations. It’s rare that Duvall gets a starring role, and she’s absolutely wonderful here, steering Cally along with longing, resentment and just a bit of touching ‘lost girl’ emotion. She’s an actress who needs to be cast in more stuff to showcase her talent, and not just thrown into lesbian roles because she identifies as such (grrr!). She steals the show and proves what a magnetic presence she is. Cally never knew her mother, and hope arises with the arrival of mysterious Sabine (Daryl Hannah) a woman old enough to be her mother and seemingly connected to her somehow. Sabine is a free spirit with a turbulent mindset, a result of the fragmented lives that people led back in that time period, often leading to wayward souls with no sedimentary existence to slide into after the show finishes and they realize they aren’t as young as they used to be. Cally’s story plays out beautifully, a girl just coming into her own and realizing who she is, via experimentation and intuition. She meets a drug dealer named Jacob, played by Eric Roberts. He’s the friendly drug dealer, a cinematic archetype often sought after by filmmakers. Roberts could play an evil dictator and still come off like Prince Charming, he’s just that likeable, and as such is perfect for the role, a kindly rapscallion with lessons and advice for Cally which don’t quite play out as one might think. In the end, it’s Duvall’s show, one of the only lead roles she has that is even out there to hunt down, such is the rarity of many films in her career. It’s filled with terrific scenery, a whimsical yet real world aura and performances of emotional truth. Worth tracking down for Clea’s fans (I’m proudly a die hard) and a delight for the casual viewer.