More like The Midnight Mess Train. Man this was a royal disaster. I get that there was a Clive Barker short behind it and yeah it’s probably a cool one as he’s a great storyteller but man if you’re going to adapt something that scant you at least have to give it more than just a vague blueprint and an endless, grinding parade of gratuitous, painfully CGI gore that serves no other purpose other than to perpetuate itself in scene after scene of disgusting, unsatisfying carnage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gore-hound and a horror nut but there’s something called pacing, context and artistic style and the violence in this has none of that, it’s as flat, drab and unpleasant as I’d imagine the meat slaughterhouse we see multiple times is.
Bradley Cooper used to do a ton of cool genre stuff before he went Oscar titan on us and he’s engaging enough as an NYC art world photographer who is searching for those perfect, edgy shots of the city’s underworld, a vocation that pushes him into nocturnal escapades where he inevitably sees something he shouldn’t. That something here is well dressed, mute, homicidal bulldozer Mahogany, a spectacularly violent serial killer who rides the late subway train and literally butchers people like cattle for some unseen, hidden purpose. Of course he starts to notice Cooper tailing him and isn’t too stoked. His life begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with finding out Mahogany’s deal to the point that it affects his relationship to his girlfriend, played by the lovely Leslie Bibb in one of the rare times they actually give her a role deserving of her untapped talent.
The problem with this is it makes not a goddamn lick of sense. Why is Mahogany killing people on the train? Does he have an employer or is he just a wild card loner? The film makes a half assed attempt to answer those questions but unfortunately it’s way too preoccupied with torture porn to tell it’s story clearly, succinctly or even remotely in a way that grabs us. There’s only so many shots of Jones bashing people’s heads in with a giant meat tenderizing hammer before our brains turn to the same mush it inflicts and we just. Don’t. Care. And the gore is often done in this really weird, closeup/slo-mo/lame way like the film was meant to be seen in 3D or something but they never bothered to even finish the process and we’re left with video game cutscene gore. It’s a shame because there are aspects that shine. Jones is incredibly menacing, he’s always had a terrific presence as an actor and the Mahogany character on his own terms is pretty frightening, until the film does his shtick to death. Bibb is terrific and I really felt for her as the poor girlfriend dragged into a nightmare, it’s also not one of those horror flicks where the significant other doesn’t believe the protagonist’s wild predicament to the point of abandoning them, she actually tries to help and I liked that character choice. I really liked Brooke Shields as an art world shark who talent scouts Cooper’s work, there’s a directness and genuine intelligence to her acting that turns a quick cameo into something very memorable. But holy shit man, most of the film is just ridiculous, poorly lit bloodshed and I get they’re on a dark subway train underground but even then dude… find your angles, set up your lighting, set aside time to colour grade… have some fucking pride in your craft. And for god’s sake know when enough gore is enough and your audience just wants to tap out and go watch Candyman again, another film based on Barker lore that knows when to use violence to shock or frighten, not to beat us over the head with it like Mahogany and his hammer until we’re in a vegetative state and just want to turn the tv off. A midnight meat train wreck if I ever saw one.
Tooth & Nail is part of After Dark Horror Fest’s 8 Films To Die For series that aired sometime around 2007, and concerns a post apocalyptic future where punk-esque cannibals roam the wasteland preying on people, but the film is a lot less interesting than that description, and is only really worth it for the presence of Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones as two of the nastiest scavengers of the whole bunch, who call themselves the Rovers. There’s a group of peaceful folk called the Foragers, who are being hunted by these Rovers in some near deserted, nondescript city like Cleveland, Philadelphia or Denver, and that’s pretty much all there is to it. Some adequate gore and decent cinematography here and there, but ultimately it’s underwhelming given the potential in premise. Vinnie Jones is fun, if a bit underused as the scythe wielding Mongrel, he mostly stalks around and glowers as he hunts his prey. Michael Madsen is a barrel of fun though as axe wielding psycho Jackal, there’s something about seeing him wearing an epic fur coat and growling out lines like “this isn’t your lucky day friend, and guess what? It ain’t gonna get any better” right before he buries said axe in some poor dude’s spine. Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t keep up with his inspired lunacy, but oh well.
I’m not too sure just how much of Kill The Irishman is based in actual truth, but if even half of what we see on screen did happen, that is some pretty impressive shit. The film focuses on the life of Danny Greene (a bulked, sturdy Ray Stevenson), who was an Irish American mobster working out of Cleveland back in the 70’s, a guy who seems to have caused quite a stir of chaos amongst organized crime back then. Getting a leg up from the longshoreman’s union, Danny quickly rose to power alongside several other key figures including numbers man John Nardi (Vincent D’Onofrio), enforcer Joe Manditski (Val Kilmer) and nasty kingpin Shondor Birns (Christopher Walken). It seems it all went south pretty quick though, because before he knew it he was at odds with Birns, and dodging multiple brash assassination attempts coming at him from all directions. What’s remarkable about Danny’s story is his sterling resilience: something like over a dozen attempts were made on his life and the darn mick just kept on going, even taunting the underworld between car bomb blasts and raucous shoot outs. Of course, such a life alienates him from his wife (Linda Cardellini) and puts him in perpetual crosshairs, but Stevenson plays it casually cavalier, a gentleman gangster who really cares not for the danger he’s wading into, and treads lightly amongst the mess, making me wonder if the real Greene had such an attitude and the sheer luck to back it up. Walken is quiet and dangerous in a somewhat underplayed role, but he is entertaining doing anything, so it’s all good. The cast is enormous, and includes the like of Vinnie Jones as a bruiser of an Irish street soldier, Robert Davi in an explosive third act cameo as a lethal specialist brought in to neutralize Danny, and your usual kennel of Italian American character actors like Mike Starr, Bob Gunton, Tony Lo Bianco, Steve Schirippa, Paul Sorvino and others. It’s loud, fast paced and ever so slightly tongue in cheek. As a crime drama it works great, could have been slightly longer, but Stevenson keeps things moving briskly with his affable, hyperactive performance and it goes with out saying that the rest of them provide excellent supporting work.
Fire With Fire is one in a long string of recent direct to video flicks that Bruce Wilis seems oddly intent on appearing in. Some are cool (Catch 44), some are halfassed (The Prince) and some are just plain poo (Set Up). This one falls in the first category. It’s an overblown and unbelievable little thriller but it has a great cast on it’s side, and when you score Vincent Donofrio for your villain role, you’ll always at least have some merit. The story is pure B movie: a studly firefighter (Josh Dumahel) ends up seeing something he shouldn’t and gets on the wrong side of a vicious neo nazi psychopath (Donofrio) and his crew. Just his luck though, as his foxy girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) happens to be an FBI agent working on a task force headed up by a gruff senior operative (Bruce Willis). Willis has been trying to nail Donofrio and his gang for years, and he finally has a handy little firefighter witness to testify. Donofrio won’t stop though, making their lives hell as he shakes their shit up right left and center. He’s a hell of an actor, especially when playing the baddie (his turns in The Cell, Daredevil, The Salton Sea and Men In Black are legendary), and this loose cannon weirdo white supremacist nut job is one more to add to the canon. Duhamel does his classic laid back pretty boy thing, Dawson is tough and oh so attractive as always, and Willis dials up the grumpy metre for a nice little jaded turn that i actually really enjoyed. Vinnie Jones lends his mug to the role of second in command, 50 Cent shows up (wherever Willis and Deniro go in B movie land, he unnervingly seems to tag along), and watch for more work from Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Julian McMahon, Richard Schiff, Arie Verveen and Kevin Dunn. I like the chaotic formula employed here: a bunch of characters running around, large cast, flashy violent spectacle, flamboyant villain. It almost seems like a 70’s genre piece, and I’d love to have seen a hand drawn, retro style poster with a bunch of stuff sprawled together in a mural like those old school flicks used to do. It sure would beat the generic, vanilla design they went with and I feel like the film deserves more. Great stuff.
Swordfish tries so hard to be cool, and save for a few moments of smirking silliness, it is pretty goddamned cool. The early 2000’s still carried lingering, reminiscent elements of the 90’s, the super cyber hacker archetype included. The cyber hacker is played by two types of people: basement dwelling, Mountain Dew drinking chatter boxes and virile, sexy supermodels. The latter is employed here, personified by Hugh Jackman as Stanley, a sly devil who can hack into almost anything effortlessly, but has been caught and never allowed to touch a computer again. Enter Gabriel (John Travolta), a silver tongued arch villain out to steal all the money and priceless artifacts he can hope to ever own. Although Travolta isn’t as truly off the rails as in some of his villain roles, the amiable charm he puts forth here is but a ruse to cloud the monster beneath. He’s a very bad man, putting Stanley’s loved ones in jeopardy and forcing him to work computer wizardry for ill gotten riches. Gabriel has a girlfriend named Ginger (Halle Berry, never sexier) who walks a moral tightrope between the two alpha males, torn between roguish indifference and and her conscience. Stanley is also hounded by an FBI Agent (Don Cheadle), with whom he has a tumultuous past. The film resists goin completely by the motions, lulling you just to the border of entropy and then throwing something surprising from a direction you didn’t look in. My favourite scene of the film shows Travolta giving a monologue on bank robbery etiquette, complete with a reference to Sydney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, confirming the fact that this flick has a strong script to go with its pyrotechnics. He flexes his sonic directorial muscles in an especially extraordinary action sequence involving a bus and a helicopter that will seriously make your finger hover over the replay button. Vinnie Jones is an ambassador of cool, in a lively turn as Gabriel’s head thug. Sam Shepherd has fun as a corrupt Senator. There’s also fine work from Zachary Grenier, Tim Dekay, William Mapother, Rudolph Martin and Drea De Matteo. Director Dominic Sena comes from music video land, having also helmed the priceless Nic Cage Bruckheimer-fest Gone in 60 Seconds, as well as the fallout brilliant psycho road thriller Kalifornia. Here he doses the flash and sizzle of 60 seconds with the hard hitting violence of Kalifornia, presented in a story guaranteed to raise a pulse. It’s also got pretty much the coolest poster of 2001. I dare you to find a cooler one, go ahead. Oh, and Travolta’s manscaping here deserves its own spinoff film.