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Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Rourke’

One of the advantages of my DVD rental package is the ability to sign up to have the life’s work of any of the great film-makers of history sent to my garret one film at a time. All of Kurosawa! The complete Michael Powell! The greatest names of cinema!

Naturally I plumped for Jason Statham’s entire back catalogue. I am a unashamedly big fan of the Stath and have been so ever since seeing The Transporter nearly a decade ago. In the intervening period Mr Statham has appeared in an impressive number of movies, including quite a few I completely missed on their cinematic release, mainly due to my (ahem) international globetrotting lifestyle in the late 90s.

Amongst these is Gela Babluani’s 13, a – hmm – crime drama originally released in 2010. On paper this movie is an eyepopping prospect, with a remarkable cast, and the kudos attendant upon being a remake of an acclaimed French-language thriller. If you are getting the impression that there is an almighty ‘But’ rumbling in our direction, I commend you on your perspicacity.

Sam Riley plays Vince Ferro, a young blue-collar worker in desperate need of funds to help pay family medical bills (there’s something about the opening sequence suggesting this is going to be an implicit critique of the US healthcare system, but it doesn’t really go anywhere with this). When his employer dies, Vince remembers overhearing the man speaking of an opportunity to make a vast amount of money in a matter of days, doing something unspecified but risky.

Vince opts to take the dead man’s place, and after a circuitous journey discovers just what he has let himself in for – he has signed up to be a player in a highly illegal and incredibly dangerous game, basically a competitive version of Russian roulette, watched and betted upon by numerous wealthy gamblers. Also competing is a Texan convict (Mickey Rourke), overseen by a handler (Curtis ’31p at the current exchange rate’ Jackson) and a mentally ill British man (Ray Winstone), managed by his brother (The Stath) – this plotline is bizarrely reminiscent of Rain Man in a twisted sort of way.

Ferro is horrified to discover just what he’s got himself into, but the gamblers funding his appearance refuse to let him back out, promising they will honour their arrangement and make him rich if he wins. But even if he survives, the police are on his trail and there are vengeful other participants and their sponsors to consider – can he possibly make it out alive…?

I’m going to cut to the chase with uncharacteristic speed on this one – 13 is really, really not a very good movie. It just comes across as weird and repellent in a way it’s quite hard to define. I’m not sure whether this is a result of conscious artistic decisions which are fundamentally misconceived, or simple ineptness on the part of the director.

To begin with, with a cast like this one you would expect either a tough drama or possibly a serious action movie – or maybe something with elements of both. This is really neither; none of the characters are particularly engaging, even Ferro – and it’s mystifying why this should be given the strong motivation he possesses and Riley’s skill as an actor.

The main problem is that the game at the centre of the story is just not that cinematic to watch, being repetitive and at the same time quite random. The randomness is crucial – at no point can you thrill to the cleverness or skill of the protagonist as he survives from round to round. And, in terms of the plot, why would serious gamblers (as opposed to, say, vicious psychos with an interest in snuff entertainment) bet on an event with an almost totally random outcome? At one point someone announces that experience is a key factor in the closing stages of the event – given that all that’s required is to pull a trigger as fast as possible, this seems to me to be overstating the case a bit.

Possibly the randomness of the game is indeed central to the story of the film, and Babluani is making a point about the cruel caprices of fate and the randomness of existence. If so, he’s not doing it very well or with any clarity, and in the process he’s squandering the talents of a lot of great actors: Michael Shannon, for example, spends virtually the entire film up a stepladder shouting at people in a way that feels vaguely silly. Ray Winstone and Mickey Rourke really don’t get the material they deserve (and Rourke is more dependent than most actors on the quality of the script he’s working with), to say nothing of Jason Statham. There’s no real action in this movie and his character manages to be both unsympathetic and thinly-drawn. Virtually the entire extent of his characterisation is the hat he wears throughout the movie.

I am actually slightly curious to track down the original, much-lauded version of this film and see how it can be any better than this load of old tosh. 13 is strange and inaccessible, with no engaging characters and a plot that feels laboured and disjointed. A real disappointment considering how good Mr Statham’s quality control usually is.

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Direct from the (not especially) mean streets of Oxford City centre. Or not far from them, anyway – from the foyer of the nicer Odeon:

Awix: ‘One for Immortals, please.’

Ticketeer: ‘What time, please?’

Awix: ‘The one in about twenty minutes.’

Ticketeer: ‘That’s in 2D, sir.’

Awix: (grinning) ‘Yes, I know.’

Ticketeer: (clearly bemused) ‘…oh.’

(Protracted conversation concerning which of the numerous available seating and loyalty card options I wish to avail myself of ensues. Eventually…)

Ticketeer: ‘So there’s your ticket, sir. Do you prefer 2D or 3D?’

Awix: ‘2D.’

Ticketeer: (clearly straining to hide incredulity) ‘May I ask why?’

Awix: ‘Well… I just find it really distracting. The 3D shrinks everything… I don’t think it’s worth the money… and with the glasses you lose so much light, if the film’s dark to begin with you can’t see what’s happening…’

(The Ticketeer is staring at me with an expression as stony as the Greek economy. I had no idea these people were trained so thoroughly. )

Awix: ‘Anyway I’ll just go now…’

Ticketeer: (clearly doubtful that such a thing is even possible, but contractually obliged) ‘Enjoy your film, sir.’

Hmmm, well. Given that the film in question was Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s Immortals, I was pretty dubious myself – I had a pretty shrewd suspicion going in that even had I availed myself of the stereoscopic option, adding an extra D to this movie would only bump the plotting and characterisation up to the level of 2D anyway.

There’s probably a pretty good Immortals drinking game to be had – every time a terrible old fantasy cliche or plot device lurches into view, everyone has a shot of something bracing. This way you will all be unconscious well before the end, which is possibly the best way to partake of this movie.

Oh well – expository opening voiceover explaining backstory of ancient evil and lurking plot devices? Check! Rampaging dark warlord on the march, intent on vengeance for poorly-explained reasons? Check! Strapping young hero with a Big Destiny? Check! Besieged monastery and fleeing beautiful young woman? Check! Faux-period violin-y sounds all over the score? Check!

If you really must know: bad guy Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) has but one aim – to breach the walls of Tartarus, the ancient prison of the Titans, losers of a war in heaven. (Well, I say ‘one aim’ – he also seems quite keen on eating and putting it about a bit. Clearly the man has serious issues of all kinds.) To this end he and his army are sweeping across what’s obviously ancient Greece (though not named as such). Releasing the Titans will mean trouble for everyone, but especially for the Gods, who are nevertheless unable to intervene (although it’s never explained why).

In Hyperion’s path is the village of buff young atheist Theseus (Henry Cavill, to be seen next year in Zach Snyder’s increasingly ominous-looking Man of Steel), who is strong and determined and – judging for his ability to put up with a homily-spouting old coot who follows him about (John Hurt, really slumming it) – extremely tolerant. Theseus is only concerned with looking after his dear old mum, to the point of indulging in fisticuffs with the Greek army when they object to helping her flee from the looming war. ‘This is no time for violence!’ cries a Greek officer, an attitude which may explain why Hyperion is doing so well.

Anyway, Hyperion captures Theseus and slings him in the salt mines, where he meets Phaedra (Freida Pinto), not the Nancy Sinatra character but a seeress, and Stavros (Stephen Dorff), not the Harry Enfield character but a wisecracking thief and thus someone with ‘sidekick’ written all over him. Phaedra quickly twigs that Theseus has the potential to stop Hyperion and they all bust out, with what seemed to me to be excessive ease.

The rest of the movie is to do with the Epirus Bow, a plot-device magic weapon. To be fair to it, Immortals does break new ground in this area at least – normally you would expect a lengthy quest taking up most of the second act to take place, with great deeds required, etc etc. But Theseus basically just trips over the damn thing without even knowing what it is, let alone looking for it, which must have made the film shorter, so – hurrah! Well played, guys!

Yes, this is another clanging mess of a fantasy film, very much influenced by 300 on this occasion. Lord knows 300 isn’t a great movie (though I always find it rather enjoyable to watch), but compared to this one it’s a blazing classic of our time. Immortals is a brave movie in a number of ways – for one thing it goes down the full Jason and the Argonauts route of having the Gods of Olympus appear as characters – good-looking, woodenly-acted characters, admittedly (one of them, Luke Evans, was in The Three Musketeers, and another used to be in Home and Away, so this should not be a great surprise).

The film also has the most impressive collection of silly hats I can recall – Phaedra turns up at one point apparently with a lampshade on her head, while Hyperion has a large selection, of which my favourite is one which makes him look like he’s peering out of an earwig’s bottom. All in all, Immortals is so absurd and incoherent and garish and emotionally banal that it rather resembles a particularly lavish mounting of the Eurovision Song Contest with all the songs cut out and lashings of violence put in their place.

I have to say, folks, this is a seriously violent movie – it’s only a 15 in the UK (and I understand some key scenes have been snipped to secure this) but what’s there is still seriously at odds with the tone of the rest of it. It’s a silly CGI-heavy 3D piece of fantasy nonsense! Kids on the cusp of teenagerhood are probably the only ones who will be able to enjoy it unironically! So why bother to include all the graphic stabbings, eye-gougings, people being burned or roasted alive, and men hacking out their own tongues or being castrated with a sledgehammer? (The last two occur in the same, charming, scene.) It all comes across as simply nasty, which when added to the silliness of the rest of it results in a film which is just baffling: if you’ve ever wanted to see an extravagantly choreographed and CGI’d sequence of about six extras having their heads graphically smashed apart in slow motion by a man apparently dressed as a giant cockatoo, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.

There are lots of looong slooow zooms to showcase the 3D, intrusively flashy dissolves between scenes, and technically immaculate but utterly soulless effects sequences. For at least the third time this year Freida Pinto is treated solely as a decorative item. Mickey Rourke spends the entire film doing a hhhrrrhhhrhrhrhhrh voice which renders some of his dialogue actually unintelligible. Only Stephen Dorff – someone once described by the commentator and critic Mark Cousins as ‘a rotten actor’ – manages to show the slightest personality beyond the demands of the script.

Immortals only ever shows the barest signs of anything beyond simple technical efficiency. The rest of it is pretty much unmitigated nonsense, utterly cliched and frequently genuinely unpleasant. One to be avoided – stay at home with a DVD of 300 and marvel that that film turned out as well as it did.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 14th June 2005:

Hello again, everyone, and welcome to the column that believes it’s better to be adored by a few than read by anyone. This week we cruise the mean streets of Sin City, our helpful guides being Robert Rodriguez (whom you may recall as the director of the Mariachi and Spy Kids trilogies, not to mention From Dusk Till Dawn) and Frank Miller (who’s partly to blame for the script of Robocop 2 and got stabbed in the head with a pen by Colin Farrell in Daredevil).

However, the well-read amongst you will be aware that while Miller’s record at the cinema ain’t exactly gilt-edged, his track record when it comes writing and drawing comics is peerless – for one thing, the imminently blockbusterous Batman Begins owes a significant debt to Miller’s Year One, while he made Daredevil famous and actually created Elektra. Away from the spandex crowd, Miller is probably best known for his painfully stylish series of Sin City graphic novels – and its these that the new movie is based upon.

The film is set on the streets of Basin City (geddit), capital of the state of total moral collapse, where the police, the politicians, and the church seemingly strive to outdo each other when it comes to venality and decadence, and the blood flows like tippex every night. Locked in perpetual darkness, every single inhabitant seems to be either mad, bad, or sad, but at least this means they all have quite interesting stories to relate. And the film follows three of them – jaded cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) battles to protect an innocent young girl (Jessica Alba, an actress whose visibility is about to rocket – ho ho ho) from a gnome-like pervert (Nick Stahl). Enigmatic loner Dwight (Clive Owen) tries to help the hookers of Sin City (all of whom seem to be heavily-armed killing machines, obviously) maintain their truce with the police department in the face of interference by the mob. And borderline-superhuman nutcase Marv (Mickey Rourke) sets out to avenge a prostitute (Jaime King) who was kind to him before she was murdered by a kung-fu fighting cannibal serial killer (Elijah Wood. No, really).

This probably isn’t the best choice of movie to take your sweet old grandma to, unless she really gets off on dismemberment, torture, immorality, generally astounding levels of violence and ickiness, and a really special scene where Bruce Willis rips someone’s knob off with his bare hands. (Betcha that doesn’t get picked as a ‘highlight of the movie year’ come the December review shows.) As you may or may not recall, it normally takes a lot to convince me that this level of really extreme violence is justified, but in Sin City‘s case it probably is, given that the film does try to say things about morality and the gore isn’t actually played for laughs. And it has to be said that it does form part of one of the most distinctive visions to be brought to the cinema in some time – a virtually perfect recreation of the original Sin City strips, with individual panels being imitated. The central irony, that stories with a morality consisting solely of varying shades of grey are told largely in black and white, survives. It looks fantastic, luminous monochrome deep-focus cinematography creating a world both utterly fantastical yet grimily realistic.

But solid performances from an impressive ensemble cast keep your attention on the stories, for the most part. The common theme of the three stories is one of dodgy alpha-males finding a sort of redemption through their relationships with women they idealise. Their willingness to do anything for their girls borders on the masochistic, if we’re honest, but to be honest it’s all that separates them from the scum they do battle with. In a funny sort of way Sin City‘s thoroughly unreconstructed gender politics mark it out as one of the most romantic films of recent months – admittedly Bruce Willis shooting somebody in the nuts (yes, this happens too) isn’t everyone’s idea of romance but there you go.

Hang on a mo’ though! A hardboiled, pulpy noiry sort of thriller? With a sort of anthology structure? Where the internal chronology is a bit fishy? And a lot of violence? And Bruce Willis, giving a pretty good performance? Yes, you guessed it, Quentin Tarantino pops up as a ‘special guest director’ (though he thankfully resists the temptation to appear in front of the camera). To be honest I’m not sure why he bothered as the sequence he’s responsible for isn’t particularly long nor distinguished. Presumably Bob Rodriguez doesn’t like being pestered any more than anyone. This movie certainly shouldn’t need Tarantino’s name plastered on it in order to be successful. It’s skilfully put together, memorable in all sorts of ways, and combines arthouse aesthetics with a charnel house sensibility in a manner guaranteed to meet with the approval of a good many cinemagoers. Not one I’d recommend without serious qualifications, but still one of the outstanding movies of the year so far.

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