Romance And Cigarettes is the strangest musical you’ve never heard of. Strange as in awkward, because most of the songs are just too overdone and absurd to work, but I’ll concede that that very quality makes them unforgettable, if for not quite the same reasons the filmmakers intended. Going for a sort of pseudo Jersey Boys look, they set their cluster of stories in working class New York City, focusing on a number of hot blooded Italian American scamps and the mischief they get up to, all set to a raucous medley of musical numbers, some pleasant and others pretty darn tone deaf. James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a rowdy blue collar construction worker who finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his long suffering wife Kitty (an even rowdier Susan Sarandon) finds out about his secret mistress Tula (kinky Kate Winslet). This seems to be the last straw for Kitty as far as their marriage goes, and it all erupts into a series of volcanic confrontations and spats as only New Yorkers can spectacularly stage. In Kitty’s corner are her three handful daughter’s (Aida Turturro, Mary Louise Parker and adorable Mandy Moore) and her helpful Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken). Nick turns to a co worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), is scolded by his stern mother (Elaine Stritch) and receives advice from an ex military tough guy (Bobby Cannavle). The film sides with both parties for one long and often chaotic look at marriage, infedelity and extremely short tempers, peppered with songs that, like I said before, are hit and miss. Walken has the best bit (doesn’t he always?) when he gets to a rip roaring riff on Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ that jazzes up the film quite a bit. Not destined to go down in history as one of the best musicals ever made, but worth it for the spoofy fun had by the impressive cast.
The Last Outlaw is a revenge themed western written by Eric Red, and if you’re at all familiar with his other works (he also penned The Hitcher and Near Dark), you’ll have some idea of how bloody and intense it is. It’s a smile story populated by hard bitten, gruff sons of bitches, and the violence comes fast and hard from all directions as soon as a few backs are stabbed, and several ravenous tempers ignited. Often in westerns the violence is clipped and minimal, the damage which a six gun does to flesh oddly shirked in favour of theatricality. This one has no use for that, and messily displays exactly what such a weapon does to people, repeatedly and with no discretion. It’s rough, gritty, Walter Hill style stuff, with not a trace of levity, smash or buckle, and every character kicking up dirt and anger the whole time. The film opens with a daring bank robbery, executed by former civil war Colonel Graff (Mickey Rourke), and his brutal gang. Their victory turns sour when mutiny looms among them in the form of Graff’s second in command, Eustos (Dermot Mulroney). He can’t abide by Graff’s sadistic methods, and bitterly betrays him. The rest is a bullet ridden cat and mouse game in the dusty deserts and shanty towns of the southwest, as the bodies pile up and the blood spatters in the dirt time and time again. Rourke is an implosive, grade A dickhead as Graff, a man less concerned with the fruits of his labor and more driven by the desire to exact violent retribution. One wonders if that’s what he’s in the game for anyway, to bide his time until something goes amiss, and the revel in the carnage. The supporting cast is just epic, with work from Steve Buscemi, Ted Levine, Paul Ben Victor, Richard Fancy, John C. McGinley and Keith David. It’s essentially one big stylish bloodbath, a pulpy ride through the gutter of arrogant machismo. Terrific fun, if that’s your thing.
Animal Factory is a prison set film directed by actor Steve Buscemi and based on a novel and subsequent screenplay by Edward Bunker, a real life ex convict, who played Mr. Brown in Reservoir Dogs. If that sounds like an irresistible team up to make this type of thing work, you’re thinking right. And I haven’t even mentioned the epic cast yet. It’s a scrappy little film that almost takes stage play form, as we watch a plethora of raggedy and very diverse inmates navigate the difficult, tragic and often touching life of incarceration. Edward Furlong (before he ballooned out) plays a young man barely out of his teens, locked away for marijuana possession, essentially a victim of the extremely harsh system they got down there in ‘Murica. He’s a sitting duck on the inside, but receives kindness and mentorship from veteran con Earl Copen (Willem Dafoe, excellent). It’s all done in an almost Robert Altman style way; characters jump in and out, events trundle by in centrifugal motion with little regard for one solid narrative, instead choosing to arbitrarily shift focus from prisoner to prisoner, whilst periodically checking back in on Furlong, who is the closest thing to a main protagonist. The cast is wonderful: Danny Trejo shows up (another guy who has done time in real life), Tom Arnold plays a pervert sicko who preys on Furlong, and Mickey Rourke is an absolute standout as Jan The Actress, a transvestite cell mate with a peppy life lesson or two for young Furlong. Watch for Bunker himself, Seymour Cassel, Mark Boone Jr., Chris Bauer, Buscemi as a parole board member and John Heard as Furlong’s father. Bunker no doubt based much of the story on his actual prison experience, and the dedicated authenticity shines through in every aspect of the film. Buscemi is no doubt an actor’s director (being one himself), and he lets every player have their moment to shine, while always contributing to the story as a whole as well. Prison films don’t get much better than this. Not to be missed.
I’m not usually very stoked on Adam Sandler movies, I’ll say that right off the bat. I mean, there’s a lucky select few that are either geniunly funny or have nostalgic value (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and the absurdly fascinating Little Nicky come to mind), but he’s just such a ball of cancer onscreen it’s hard to actively see his stuff. The Wedding Singer, however, is a really sweet little movie, and works well thanks to an impressive 80’s soundtrack and the presence of Drew Barrymore, who frequently hangs around in Sandler’s stuff. He plays Robbie Hart here, a singer who belts out the hits of the 1980’s at weddings, parties, you name it. After being left at the alter by his fiance, he spots waitress Julia (Barrymore), who uncannily seems to be working every event she is. The two form a bond, but she is engaged to another dude (Matthew Glave), who quickly is revealed to be kind of a jerkoff, prompting Robbie to go to great lengths to prove, and win Julia’s heart. The film makes the absolute most of its setting, as any period piece should. The music is a delight, right down to the amusing dawn of the ‘CD’, and a great little cameo from a rock legend aboard an airline. Some of the usual troupe of Sandler disciples pop up here, including Christine Taylor, Allen Covert, Kevin Nealon, Peter Dante, Jon Lovitz and Steve Buscemi, who can be counted on to appear in pretty much any Adam flick you can think of. Sandler and Barrymore handle the comedic romance well and have decent chemistry (perhaps while theyre always paired). It’s light, sweet, carried on by the rockin soundtrack and detailed production design.
I love The Island, because it breaks ranks from Michael Bay’s mostly uniform career and gives us entertainment where story is as important as action, which can’t be said for most of his films. Don’t get me wrong, I love his destructive maelstrom of a career to bits (except Transformers and Pain & Gain. Those are shameful.), it’s just nice to get a movie from him with something to latch onto besides just… boom crash smash. His visual setups are like fire dancing on the retinas, but with The Island we get to see what’s behind those eyes and actually get a concept to explore along with our helping of razzle dazzle. Now this type of story has been done before, in stuff like Logan’s Run or the lesser known Clonus Horror, and obviously this time around the story is jazzed by a considerable amount of chromed up energy and adrenaline. In the far future, a group of people are kept inside a gargantuan facility and told that the world’s population has been nearly wiped out by a contamination. Only one untainted zone remains: The Island. It’s a place where some take off to, after winning a much touted ‘lottery’ that allows them access. Only, they aren’t going to any such place at all. They are selected based on the need for organs, spare biological matter and baby carriers for their human counterparts, the rich and affluent. They’re dormant cattle, so to speak, clones awaiting empty promises. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is one such individual, a curious fellow who first suspects something is wrong with their utopian existence, and once confirmed knows he needs to get out. Dragging along his friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) he makes a harebrained run for it, escaping the facility and venturing into the world outside, which is anything but contaminated. I like what Bay did with the production design; Things aren’t too wacky or space agey, and more or less that same as now, but accents like flying motorbikes or massive additions to existing skyscrapers let us know how brave of a new world it is. Lincoln and Jordan suffer considerable culture shock as they flee, and it’s amusing to see the childish way they react to simple things like a telephone, or ordering drinks at a bar. The facility’s Director, an arrogant son of a bitch named Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) sends a team of off the books ex special forces dudes after them, led by Laurent (Djimon Hounsou gets the best moments out of the film, the only actor who can stop the momentum dead in its tracks with his soulful performance). From there a lot of it is a deafening roar filled with chases, car crashes, fights and a spectacular highway chase that will wake up the tenants both above and below your apartment. Yes, Bay just can’t help throwing in colossal action scenes where they aren’t particularly needed, and complain if you must, but if it’s really that much of a wrench in your enjoyment of the actual story going on around it, then use such interludes for a bathroom break or to go apologize to the neighbors for the racket your speakers are kicking up. You can only hope for Bay to reign it in so much, the dude just loves his action. Ask him to direct a Jane Austen adaptation and you can bet your hat he’d throw in a fireball or two in just for good measure. It’s his passion, and I don’t resent people for what they love to do. In any case it’s a terrifically fun piece. McGregor and Johansson are pitch perfect, as they begin to clue in about the world around them, lashing out in anger over what’s being done to them and becoming quite resourceful. Bean resists the label of villain with his performance, branding Merrick as an idealist whose breakthrough blinded him into extremism, from which there is no turning back. Steve Buscemi shows up bearing kindly comic relief as a tech worker who assists in their escape. Michael Clarke Duncan is very affecting in one scene as a clone who finds out the truth the worst way possible. There’s also work from Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Max Baker, Glenn Morshower and an incredibly bizarre cameo from an uncredited Kim Coates. Steve Jablonsky composes what I believe to be his finest, most stirring work and the best score to date in a Bay flick, adding to the sweeping scope and pure cinematic current that this one soars on. One of my favourites, highly recommended.
Oren Moverman’s Time Out Of Mind is a film that’s set so decidedly against the grain when it comes to how a story is presented to audience, it’s no wonder that it has been such a divisive experience. It’s almost like the anti-film. I understand it may be quite shocking the way it’s made, or lack thereof. But to hear that people walked out of screenings in droves at TIFF really saddens me. For someone to just not jive with the loose, dreamy aesthetic that serves the subject matter achingly well makes me wonder. But I suppose this is the type of film that really separates those with the power of abstract thought and the will to immerse themselves from those… without. The story in question concerns a homeless man in New York City played to absolute perfection by a haggard, boozed up and ultimately lost Richard Gere. This is the performance of his career, an outing of pure bravery and dedication that glues your eyes to the screen even in the most mundane of moments. You see, Gere himself had no idea when the cameras were periodically filming him, and was actually left stranded in the jungle of NYC, deep in the mindset of a lost soul, creating a minimilist performance that burns through the haze of a life scattered by tragedy. Little is given by the script in terms of back story for Gere, subtle hints given towards a broken life, death in the family and a mysterious injury which has left both body and soul scarred, as well as leaving him with obvious brain damage. If their was an award given out for best film title of the year, this one has earned it. ‘Time Out Of Mind’. Isn’t that the perfect description for a shattered psyche that has been set adrift by life’s cruel tides and left to wander the years, alone.. distraught.. damaged. Gere is a portrait of hurt, confusion and lonliness, wandering the overbearing maze of the city, desperately clinging to any semblance of dignity, as well as the scattered shards of his past that he yearns for. He’s got a daughter (Jena Malone in a conflicted career best) who wants nothing to do with him, making us wonder more about the past. He encounters several people over the course of the film. An energetic fellow vagrant (Ben Vereen) helps bring out a bit of Gere’s dormant coherence via his own nonsensical mania. A shrewd building inspector (Steve Buscemi) gives him the boot from a condemned building. He has a chance romantic encounter with a fellow homeless woman (an unrecognizable Kyra Sedgwick). The film is shot, edited and presented to the audience in a form completely void of structure or narrative beats. Gere wanders aimlessly, his foggy mental state reflected in the way his perceives his world, and in turn the way we perceive his story. It’s both ironic and fitting that we find ourselves so drawn in to a story that is presented as a set of events that are each and every one astray from any sort of cohesion. That’s where the title is so brilliant and touching.. Gere is one step removed from reality via time and injury. He himself mentions at one point that he has forgotten how long it’s been, and that he’s lost the thread of his life via many instances of ‘lost time’. Gere sells it and then some, inhabiting the streets with a worn out, ghostly presence that begs you to place yourself in the shoes and mind of someone who truly has lost their way in life, and to see that for them, such a fork in the road can truly change the concept of time. Seeing this successfully done with film in every aspect was truly an experience for me. Gere is the heart of it, as the camera peers out on him from trash strewn alleys, broken window frames and desolate, uncaring streets that leave him all but invisible, an individual manifestation of a sad fact of life which sometimes sits on the fringes of our awareness. Not with this film.