Walter Hill’s Tomboy: A Revenger’s tale went through a few different titles, first Tomboy, then (Re)assignment, and has been quietly released this week under the simple and bland ‘The Assignment’, which tells you nothing of how batshit crazy it is. It’s a film I’ve waited to see a long time, partly due to its controversial, bizarre premise (it’s been boycotted already), and partly because it marks the return of action guru of yesteryear, the great Walter Hill. I’m sad to say the final product is somewhat underwhelming, aside from a few key elements that shine through the dour mood, the best being star Michelle Rodriguez, in her first leading role since 2000’s Girlfight. Here she plays Frank Kitchen, a scumbag of an assassin who takes his orders from wiseguy mobster ‘Honest John’ (Anthony Lapaglia, quite fun in the film’s only other decent performance). Frank is a creature of brutal instinct, a street rat and cold blooded killer with a taste for bullets, booze and blonde bimbos, basically the finer things in life. So, Michelle Rodriguez as a man. This could have gone either way, and she herself, always having a somewhat masculine presence anyway, does fairly well. She can only do so much with the makeup and prosthetics she’s given though, and let me tell you, they are horrendous. Sporting a ponytail, goat’s pube beard and plastic looking Ken doll torso, she’s a shining beacon of amateur hour from the effects team, for the first third of the film, impossible to believe as a dude. Anywho, ‘Honest’ John proves to be anything but trustworthy, double-crossing our Frank and delivering him into the hands of a rogue plastic surgeon played laughably by Sigourney Weaver, who has quite the bone to pick with him. Here is where it gets nuts: Weaver forcibly performs a gender reassignment surgery on Frank, turning him into a woman to release him from his ‘macho prison’. Frank wakes up with brand new lady parts, the prosthetics all gone and Michelle in her final form, ready to dole out vengeance on both John and the surgeon. This is all told in retrospect of course, as Weaver sits in a padded cell and blathers on and on to a wormy psychiatrist (Tony Shaloub), about the philosophical nature, the lofty how’s and why’s that fuelled her actions, while the audience is sitting there going, “Nah bitch you just crazy.” It’s all the sleaziest fare, and doesn’t work as well as a premise like this should, but there’s something about the gritty sight of a post surgery Michelle wandering around in a hospital gown, tits loose and waving a gun around that has potential and may have done well in a better film. As far as the concept itself goes, anyone who arches their back or (lol) boycotts this film is expending unnecessary energy; it’s a down n’ dirty B movie throughout, never meant to be taken seriously one bit. It’s just a shame it wasn’t more fun.
Each of the four Alien films has their own distinct and noticeable personalities. Ridley Scott’s original creeping horror show is a tense, streamlined, gracefully vicious film that slinks along at its own pace, not unlike the resident feline Jonesy who wondered about on the spaceship Nostromo back then. If Alien has the qualities of a cat, James Cameron’s Aliens has those of a rambunctious puppy dog, a rip snortin, go get em action backyard barbecue knockout that runs up and gives the audience a big wet slimy kiss. All animal metaphors aside (I’m running out of oh-so-clever ways to open my reviews, ok? Been at this shit for two years now), Cameron’s film is an undisputed classic, still jaw dropping to this day, even after what feels like hundreds of viewings, nostalgic yet fresh in different ways every time, and simply one of the best films ever made. It’s the gold standard for creature feature sci fi too, and while many argue whether or not it in fact outdid Scott’s original white knuckler, I can’t bring myself to be petty and pick favourites out of the quadrilogy, I love them all for a whole bunch of reasons. Aliens picks up quite a while after the catastrophic events of the first, with Ripley floating around in that cryo-pod for way too long, until she happens to cruise past earth, crossing the vision of the Weyland/Yutani corporation once again. Because they always make astute, well thought out choices, they decide to send a research team, accompanied by a very reluctant Ripley and a group of hoo-rah, bull in a China shop colonial marines to far off industrial exomoon LV-426, where they have lost communication with the settlers. After a brief, clammy build up, all hell breaks loose, and we get to see the full impressive extent of Cameron’s skill as a visual storyteller, as well as the oh-so-gooey, inspire practical effects work that brings those gorgeous Xenomorph beauties to snarling life. The cast is the epitome of badass, as we are constantly reminded of by Bill Paxton’s Hudson, the film’s resident squirrel who gets hilariously skittish when things get dicey (“game over, man!” Will never not out a big, Paxton sized grin on my face), but who heroically holds his own once he gets his sillies out. The other side of that coin is Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn, never slicker), cool as ice, shaken by nothing, including an atmosphere entry landing that would make Alfonso Cuaron pee himself, but doesn’t come close to disturbing Hick’s afternoon nap. Every Alien team must have an artificial human, some of which are trustworthy, and some not. Lance Henriksen’s Bishop is as solid as they come, never losing his head (despite being reduced to a puddle of spilt dairy product) and sticking by Ripley’s side until the bitter, hectic end. Ripley herself is a little older, a little wiser and a lot tougher, her intensity calcified into grit after losing her daughter, and given somewhat of a surrogate in the form of Newt (Carrie Henn) an orphaned child who has survived months living like a rodent in the air ducts. “They mostly come at night… mostly” she eerily warns Ripley. Oh boy, do they ever. LV-426 is positively teeming with them, and they show up to provide speaker shattering, pixel scattering action like only Cameron can do. The facehugger in the room sequence is still one of the most terrifying sequences in any film, and serves to make you hate Weyland weasel Burke (Paul Reiser) with that deep loathing reserved for the scummiest traitors in film. The final thirty minutes of the film are a showcase of action cinema, and it’s amazing to think they pulled off the Queen fight without any cgi back then, a slam-bang marvel of a climax that fires on a thousand cylinders, and to this day has never been topped. That goes for the film too. It’s *the* action sci-fi film, and as close to perfection as you can get.
Many of us love Quentin Tarantino films for a multitude of reasons; the story, his use of popular music, his dialogue, and especially his casting. He resurrected the careers of John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Jamie Foxx, David Carradine and introduced Michael Fassebender, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman into the mainstream of cinema. Along the way he has also brilliantly used Kurt Russell, Michael Parks, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Madsen, and many other great actors that have given some of their best performances in a Tarantino film. There are so many actors that Tarantino should work with, so making a list of just ten is nearly impossible. But this is my dream list. Some are more realistic than others.
Most recently, Bisset gave a show-stopping performance in Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK. Not only was it great to see her work with such compelling material, but it was also incredible to see her work with Abel Ferrara, a director that’s transgressive works wouldn’t normally attract an actress of that clout and cinematic reputation. She gives a fierce performance in the film, and I could only imagine what she would be capable of in a Tarantino film.
Russell Crowe is in prime career transition. His days of the young, muscular cinematic asskicker are long gone. He’s currently floating between the mentor, the heavy, and the middle-aged leading man. His performance in THE NICE GUYS is one of his best in recent memory, and his turn in LES MISERABLE is one of the most underrated performances within the last ten years. He’s more than suited to headline or sidestep back into a Max Cherry-esque role.
Daniel Day- Lewis
It’s widely noted that one of the only roles that Day-Lewis has ever sought out was the role of Vincent Vega in PULP FICTION. First of all, I can’t imagine what DDL would have done with that role, and secondly, I can’t imagine Tarantino, hot off his indie hit of RESERVOIR DOGS telling the studio and DDL no, I’m going with John Travolta. Day-Lewis can take a role, even in some of his more mediocre films, and knock that role out of the park. He’s showy when he needs to be, and knows when to reign in a performance to make it so slight and subtle. Imagine what he could do with the colorfulness of Tarantino’s dialogue.
Whatever is left of cinematic royalty, it’s Jane Fonda. Throughout the years, she has continued to stay relevant in both film and not television with Netflix’s GRACE AND FRANKIE. Recently, she gave a briefly pulverizing performance in Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH. Casing Fonda would not only be a callback to some her earlier performances, but she would also bring an air of golden movie star cache that we rarely see on film anymore.
Let’s face it, Harrison Ford is one of the biggest movie stars of all time. He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Jack Ryan – yet for the past twenty years or so, he hasn’t been as compelling as he used to be. Yet, his return as Han Solo in THE FORCE AWAKENS is one of the best things he’s ever done. The return was phenomenal, thrilling, and heartfelt. His performance was organic, and there wasn’t one moment in the film where it felt as if he were phoning in the performance. Ford has had quite the ride as a movie star, and his persona would go a hell of a long way inside of a Tarantino film.
If there is any actor at this moment in time who is due to make a cinematic resurrection, it is Mel Gibson. His most recent leading turn in BLOOD FATHER shows, without a doubt, that his screen presence is still an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. His smaller roles in MACHETE KILLS and THE EXPENDABLES 3 further prove that he and Tarantino are a perfect match. Regardless of how outlandish or low key that theoretical role would be, Gibson would absolutely kill it.
Stephen Lang is much like Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s a cinematic chameleon. Decade after decade the guy has disappeared into so many memorable roles in so many memorable films. Most recently, Lang has taken a career transition as a muscular badass in James Cameron’s AVATAR and this year his gives a tour de force performance in Fede Alvarez’s DON’T BREATHE. He owns Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, outshining both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Mann knew exactly what he was doing casting Lang, bringing in a skilled actor to bring the film to an absolute stop during the final moments of his epic gangster saga. The merging of Tarantino and Lang is a cinematic match made in heaven.
I can’t think of many current actors who has been in so many great films in such a short time span. KILLING THEM SOFTLY, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, ANIMAL KINGDOM, SLOW WEST, and his next two films are polar opposites: UNA based off of the transgressive and acclaimed Broadway play, BLACKBIRD and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY where he is cast as the evil Imperial Director Orson Krenick, the man in charge of the Empire’s military. A lot of Tarantino’s work is cast in moral ambiguity, and there isn’t anyone better at playing that, than Ben Mendelsohn.
Thankfully, Vince Vaughn has successfully shaken off his prolific comedic career and has heavily vested himself back into dramatic works. The amazing second season of TRUE DETECTIVE reset Vaughn’s path as an actor. His next film is Mel Gibson’s long anticipated World War II film, HACKSAW RIDGE where Vaughn plays a rough and tough commanding officer. After that, Vaughn is going to be in BONE TOMAHAWK director S. Craig Zahler’s BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 that sounds as dark and gruesome as BONE TOMAHAWK did. Vaughn, who can play both humor and drama would be an excellent mesh with Tarantino’s words and look of his films.
Whether she’s killing aliens or emotionally breaking Kevin Kline, or romancing Bill Murray; Weaver has always had a unique and powerful presence on screen. Her work is always solid, regardless of the end result of whatever project she is working on. She belongs to the same class of actresses like Pam Grier, Daryl Hannah, and Jennifer Jason Leigh – those actors who had at one point were A list actors due to not only their sex appeal, but also their carefully crafted performances. Whether she’d be a femme fatal, or a badass hero – she would fit perfectly into Tarantino film.
To this day it still amazes me how under appreciated and misunderstood Alien Resurrection is. The four films in the series are a quartet of vastly different stories, due to the fact that the torch was passed to four very diverse directors over the course of the legacy. Ridley Scott crafted a tense, claustrophobic catalyst. James Cameron made a rootin, tootin Wild Bunch set in a galaxy far far away where no one can hear you scream. David Fincher gave us an odd, inaccessibly disturbing thriller where the real monsters lurked inside the humans, literally. French Maestro Jean-Pierre Jeunet, best known for his own charmingly surreal quartet of distinctly European wonders Amelie, A Very Long Engagement, City Of Lost Children and Delicatessen, made the final film in the franchise. I once saw a post on IMDB which prompted users to describe each of the Alien films in one word. The one response that stuck with me was: Alien-suspense, Aliens-action, Alien3-unpleasant and Alien Resurrection-weird. Is this accurate? Depends on your opinion of the series. Resurrection is my second favourite, after Aliens. To some it was weird, to many a failure, but to me it’s a bona fide, rip roaring odyssey of gorgeous, gory design and offbeat ideas fleshed out by an absolutely legendary cast, headed up by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Two hundred years after she died, she is cloned using parts of the Xenomorph’s DNA, and kept sequestered on a titanic pseudo military ship run by whackos who have never heard of a certain expression involving curiosity and a cat. She awakens, the alien genes giving her a decidedly heightened awareness which Weaver plays with giddy, sinister glee. This ain’t the stalwart Ripley we are used to. Her eyes dance with an unearthly fire that pronounces ‘here be dragons’, in the spaces beyond science that humans foolishly venture into. The station is run by creepy, power hungry Dr. Mason Wren (underrated J.E. Freeman is almost ickier than the monsters themselves), and his sidekick Gediman, played by Brad Dourif in his final form, resembling a demented Pokemon who also raises more goosebumps than the aliens. The good doctor has commissioned a ragtag troupe of space pirates to bring him kidnapped humans in cryogenic sleep to be forcefully impregnated with alien fetuses. Lovely, right? This is where it gets interesting. Joss Whedon penned the script, and the crew of intergalactic badasses in this film are in fact the prototype for his endlessly successful TV series Firefly. Now, he claims that everything about the tone, delivery and execution of this film is wrong, and that the end result butchered his work. Here’s my take: I’ve seen Firefly. It’s good. But the team of space pirates in this movie are eternally more fascinating and worth spending time with. I feel that he really abandoned part of a great premise here, opting for a chipper, watered down version of a vision which presented itself to him and begged for further exploration. Firefly is fun, and it’s characters are a veritable Partridge Family of interplanetary characters to chill with, but it lacks the steel edged nastiness and grit that he began with here. Michael Wincott is a blast as the captain, Frank Elgyn, in a role that’s cut entirely too short but is aces while it lasts. Ron Perlman is a primate on earth and proves the same in space as Johner, the lovable lug of the crew. Gary Dourdan, the only black dude I know with blue eyes is Christie, with more than a few high powered tricks up his sleeves. Jeunet disciple Dominique Pinon plays wheelchair bound Riess, a tougher cookie than one might imagine. Lastly, Winona Ryder is Call, a doll with a pixie cut who takes an immediate shine to Ripley, leading them both to dark and dangerous places. Dan Hedaya makes lively work of Perez, the military honcho in charge, with Raymond Cruz, Kim Flowers and a shrieking Leland Orser rounding out the dream cast. As one might expect, all hell breaks loose in outer space as the creatures breed and hunt anything in their proximity. This provides loose cannon Jeunet with reason to fire off many a special effect that will give your gag reflex a workout and your pulse a solid pounding. There’s seriously gnarly stuff here, especially near the end with a certain fucking monster of an alien hybrid that acts as pure nightmare fuel while also being a bucket of fun at the same time. One of Whedon’s complaints was that his lighthearted script was given the heavy treatment, which obviously clashed with the vision he had. Fair enough. It was his baby after all. But for me though, it works bettering he ever planned. The characters maintain a sense of gallows humour laced with very real danger, garnished with cheeky levity in the face of unimaginable horror. That’s a good recipe to follow in any book I can think of. This one is ripe for redemption, certainly in the eyes of many who panned it upon release, and always ready for a revisit from myself.