Archive for the ‘The Mickey Rourke Archive’ Category

“How come he’s always got that weird smile on his face, like he’s got secrets that no one else knows?” — Dialogue from Bullet, 1996.

Understand that the above line of dialogue is not from Bullitt, with Steve McQueen.  No, we’re talking about Bullet, from 1996, starring Mickey Rourke.

 

tupac + mickey

Bullet.  This is one big question mark of a movie.  I mean, I know how it got on my Netflix queue.  It got on my Netflix queue because, like everyone else who saw The Wrestler, I’m interested in going back over Mickey Rourke’s filmography to rediscover the guy’s unusual talent.  So here’s how Netflix described it to me:

This stylish mix of brutality and revenge journeys into the dark underground world of two thugs (Mickey Rourke and Tupac Shakur) who struggle to come to terms with both their bitter, intense rivalry and their grudging respect for one another. A gritty urban thriller about what it takes to survive on the streets.

Worth a look, right?  Why not?  Sounds a lot like Juice, but even better, because this time Mickey Rourke is in it!

Of course, that’s not the movie I got sent.  That’s not the movie I watched.  I would like to genuinely complement the Netflix capsule writers on their consistent ability to distill uneasy description-busters into clear and sensible summaries.  But they must really have had to stretch to be able to wring the above logline out of BulletBullet is far more of a happily-headscratching curiosity than Netflix could ever have forecasted to me.

Bullet was directed by the same guy who made the great Sex Pistols documentary The Filth And The Fury, and it was written by two people.  One of them is named Bruce Rubenstein, who the IMDB reveals also goes by the name of “Butch Stein”, which, along with “Bullet”, is the name of the main character in Bullet.

The other writer is named “Sir Eddie Cook”, who also goes by the name of Mickey Rourke.  That’s right – you said you like Mickey Rourke again after The Wrestler and you want to watch more of what he used to do?  How about a movie written by Mickey Rourke?

Curiouser and curiouser…

Basically, Bullet is about three Jewish brothers still living in their parents’ house in Brooklyn.

‘Bullet’ Stein is the middle brother, a boxer and heroin addict who returns home from eight years in prison as the movie begins.  That’s the Mickey Rourke role.

 

Ruby Stein is the youngest brother, a graffiti artist of real promise who prefers to follow his brother Bullet around, at growing risk.  Ruby is played by a very young Adrien Brody.

 

Louis Stein is the oldest brother, an army veteran who barricades himself in his room in his underwear with his dogs and his flashing lights and his surveillance systems.  This role is portrayed by Ted Levine, the great character actor who is probably still best known as Buffalo Bill from The Silence Of The Lambs.

What I like about the dynamic between these three characters is that all three of them seem to have arrived from three completely different movies.  Yet there they are at the dinner table, all three tormenting their long-suffering Jewish parents.  Eventually the Brody and Levine characters are fully incorporated into the Rourke movie (which is the one that’s “the gritty urban thriller about what it takes to survive on the streets” as advertised above), and they all three get their chance to interact with Rourke’s one-eyed nemesis, Tank, played by Tupac Shakur in “Duke Of New York” mode. Tank takes his fashion cues from Slick Rick and who slips in and out of this film’s narrative structure much like the shark from Jaws.  Tupac has a lot of obvious fun with his role, even though it’s way smaller than promised.  It remains a shame that there wasn’t more to be seen of him in movies.

 

If you have read this far down the page, you will also want to know that Bullet sports early acting appearances from Game Of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage, Donnie Wahlberg (as an adversary called “Big Balls”), and Michael K. Williams, now a huge star from playing Omar on The Wire.  And I haven’t even found a way yet to explain THIS GUY to you.

Without question, Bullet has some kind of a cast.

I will also mention that the credits list Mickey Rourke as the music supervisor.  (Not a bad job at all, there.  Seriously! It’s got a lot of underrated mid-’90s hip hop artists on it.)  Apparently this is also a skill Rourke employed a decade later, to tremendous effect, on The Wrestler.

So there it is.

Bullet.

Obviously the thing is difficult to turn away from.  But I’m still not sure what it is exactly that I watched.  You will have to see it to know what I’m talking about – by now, you probably know whether or not you want to.

Holla at your boy:  @jonnyabomb

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Getting high with Barry White:

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Another picture that exists on the internet from the Bullet era:

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Originally posted on 6-15-2009, this is a column I hope to resurrect one day soon.

 
 
 

By the time The Wrestler was released last year, my Netflix queue became scattered with random Mickey Rourke films of yesteryear.  I’ve always liked Mickey Rourke, and his filmography is a pretty damn interesting place to wander around.  The early, critically acclaimed pretty-boy stage is not short on underrated films with great Rourke performances (The Pope Of Greenwich Village, etc.), and between you and me, the trainwreck years were frequently insanely entertaining as well (Double Team, Bullet*, etc.)  Then you get into Sin City, where Rourke made a huge impression, and Domino, where he was the best thing about a tough movie, which leads us to The Wrestler and the full-on critical redemption.

 

Before The Wrestler though, Rourke starred in a movie that surely at one point had critical raves in mind – a film adaptation of a 1989 novel by the legendary crime master Elmore Leonard, directed by John Madden, the man who bested (or robbed, depending on who you ask) Saving Private Ryan at the 1998 Oscars for Best Picture with Shakespeare In Love.

 

Killshot is the story of a career criminal (Rourke) looking to make one last score, aided by an unruly young apprentice (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), but through an unfortunate wrong-place/wrong-time scenario, he becomes fixated on killing a couple who are in the process of separation (Diane Lane & Thomas Jane.)  Killshot was shot and intended for release in 2006, but didn’t make it to daylight until this year, when it stealthily snuck onto the DVD shelves. Silent but deadly. What happened?

 

Killshot opens with a terrific song by the band Low and crystal cinematography by veteran DP Caleb Deschanel (yes, Zooey’s dad), both of which indicate more energy than the rest of the movie ultimately brings.  That’s really the problem – Killshot is just dour.  It’s the kind of movie that makes you appreciate what other movies do right, in this case the fellow Elmore Leonard adaptations Out Of Sight and Jackie Brown.  What Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino, respectively, brought to the table was an attention to character and a firmer grasp of tone than Killshot director John Madden ultimately achieves.  Killshot is hardly unwatchable, but it doesn’t have the spark that we look for when Elmore Leonard’s name is involved.

 

Killshot might get the stone-faced killer angle down, but maybe that’s also what sinks it.  The movie carries very little of Elmore Leonard’s sly sense of humor, and that filters down to the usually-great cast.  Mickey Rourke can do badass in his sleep; he’s good enough here that you wish he’d have a similar role in a more light-hearted movie.  He does, however, have to labor under the burden of playing both Native-American and Canadian, an acting demand which no one can probably do in their sleep.  Gordon-Levitt is a good actor, but he plays his part at such heightened energy that it doesn’t fit the rest of the movie – he comes off as more annoying than not, which makes his character’s fate not a question of IF but of WHEN, if you catch my drift.  Lane and Jane are solid actors who have been given very little to work with here:  Scared and angry, respectively.  Pretty thankless.  (Although “Lane & Jane: Scared & Angry” is a good tagline for the poster.)  Rosario Dawson, as a prison guard with a Graceland obsession, is the only actor in the cast who seems to be fully aware that she’s in an Elmore Leonard adaptation.  I like Rosario a lot – no matter what quality the movie she’s appearing in, she’s always canny enough to strike the right tone.  Unfortunately, she only gets about two scenes in Killshot.

 

I don’t really understand why Killshot was doomed to such an invisible release – I see worse movies released nationwide every other week.  It may be a somewhat disappointing viewing experience, because you can see how all of the elements could have added up to a much snappier movie, but still, it’s very far from awful.  It’s surely worth watching if you’re enough of a Mickey Rourke fan, and for one other reason at least:  This movie gives you the vision of Diane Lane reaching for a shotgun, wearing a white tank top and panties on a cold night, and that’s really all you need to know to decide whether it’s worth risking your time on.

 

 

 

 

Got thoughts?  Share ’em:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Well, you know… It’s an art film.” — Bill Murray, on The Late Show With David Letterman, May 6th, 2011.

Handy rule of thumb: When Dave Letterman asks you about the latest movie you’re promoting and the nicest you can say is “It’s an art film”, it’s not a great sign for the movie.  Even if you happen to be Bill Murray.  In which case, congratulations, since you’re quite literally a genius.  And it was nice of you to agree to appear in Passion Play.  Clearly I was on the right track when I theorized that you’re a great friend.  But apparently there are projects so eccentric that even the presence of the world’s greatest living screen comedian can’t salvage or make sensible.

When last I wrote about Passion Play, it was pre-release, and I could only guess at whether it would be a lost cult classic or a fascinating mistake.  Well, it ain’t the former.  Whatever happened here, David Lynch is probably to blame. Lynch’s films have been so influential on so many filmmakers that Passion Play‘s writer/director Mitch Glazer is sure to have been inspired by the work of Lynch, the undisputed king of oblique symbolism matched with retro kitsch and ominous atmosphere.  There’s only one David Lynch, however, and so should it ever be.

Passion Play isn’t without charms. There are several still frames here (courtesy of world-class cinematographer Chris Doyle) that might make uncommonly beautiful magazine cologne ads, but as a moving story it’s simultaneously nonsensical and astonishingly generic. There are cliches in play here that are as old as cinema itself.

Mickey Rourke plays a hard-luck saxophone player — is there another kind in movies? — who is in a very bad place. A fearsome gangster wants Mickey dead because Mickey fucked the guy’s wife. Allegedly. All that stuff (like plot and incident) happens before the movie starts. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of music Mickey’s character is supposed to play, since the film’s orchestral score plays loudly over all his performance scenes. Mickey does a decent sax-synch though. Hey, wouldn’t it be great if this movie were a Wrestler-style redemption tale about what became of that shirtless sax player from The Lost Boys?

It’s not, though. Instead, Passion Play is exactly what you think it is, if you know your film history. Let’s just say that I don’t need to write a review with spoiler warnings, seeing as how the movie’s title itself is a spoiler.

So in the first five minutes, Mickey’s character is knocked  out by a gangster henchman, played by UFC champion Chuck Liddell (one of the few people who could conceivably restrain Mickey Rourke.)  Chuck drives Mickey out to the desert and is about to shoot him in the head when a stampede of passing Native Americans intercedes. Really.

So Mickey wanders through the desert until he comes upon a traveling sideshow, dwarves and sword-swallowers and all. (There’s that old David Lynch feeling again.) He happens upon an angel in a box, a young woman with literal wings growing out of her back being kept in a glass cage.

She’s played by Megan Fox, which means that if she’s in a cage, it was Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg who put her there.  Perhaps recognizing a fellow ostracized iconoclast, or perhaps because “WOMAN”, Mickey breaks Megan free. While on the run, they fall in love.

Suspend some disbelief here, since as much as I adore Mickey Rourke, he’s looking particularly Frankensteinian here.
The costume designers have slapped a Boris Karloff hairpiece on his head and precariously balanced a hat several sizes too small on top. It’s like those scenes in plenty of ’80s movies where kids try to disguise their favorite monster from the authorities. By the time Mickey starts sharing kisses with Megan, who is shot  and lit by Chris Doyle to look particularly young-Liz-Taylor-esque, it’s like an interspecies relationship.

Somewhere in their brief courtship, somewhere after the meeting but before the kissing, Mickey sells Megan out to the gangster who’s after him, in a lame ploy to save his skin (such as it is). He tells the guy that he found a real genuine angel, and just imagine how much money there is in angels. The trips around the evangelical circuit alone could mean millions (my words, not his.) The gangster takes Mickey up on the trade, but then Mickey falls in love and has to save his girl.

The problem is the surprise is the casting. Bill Murray plays the gangster, whose name is ‘Happy’ Shannon, real name Michael Shannon — also, coincidentally, the name of a real actor who would have been much better casting. I’m one of the world’s biggest Bill Murray fans, but this wasn’t the role he was born to play.  He actually did play a role like this once before, in the very underrated 1993 flick Mad Dog And Glory, but there it worked because he was playing a gangster who moonlighted as a stand-up comic, and he was playing against a very restrained Robert DeNiro. Mickey Rourke doesn’t read on screen as “restrained.” Somehow when De Niro played like he was scared of Bill Murray, the joke worked, but it doesn’t here. Maybe because Ive seen it before. Maybe it’s because Murray looks so cartoonish in Passion Play — probably not for nothing is he made up to resemble a cross between Bob Evans and Swifty Lazar. Is this one of those inside- Hollywood movies in disguise?  Is it a Hollywood allegory?  (Because that would be even worse.)

At any rate, as welcome as Bill Murray forever is on any movie screen I’m watching, he just doesn’t come off as intended here. He really is meant to be the heavy. There’s some humanity there, as there always is with Murray, but in the end his character is meant to intimidate and interfere. He’s literally supposed to be a devilish figure, and Mickey and Megan are supposed to be running away, not towards.  Case in point: There’s a scene where Mickey slips into Murray’s lair to rescue his angel, and when he walks in on them he finds her sitting on a couch watching old Burt Lancaster movies. (Looks like Brute Force, which is an awesome choice.)  Brute Force.  With Bill Murray. That looks like fun! That’s not something to run from. If it were me, personally, I’d pull up a chair.

So the movie doesn’t make sense, in an essential way. If you’re working in broad strokes, as this movie is meant to, then your bad guys really need to be bad.  Mitch Glazer deserves credit for stacking the deck with fascinating peripheral players, such as Rhys Ifans, The Wire‘s Robert Wisdom, and soul legend Solomon Burke in what must have been one of his last prominent appearances (even though King Solomon is weirdly only filmed from a distance), but on a central level Glazer has miscast his movie. Maybe if Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke switched roles could this particular movie have worked, but unfortunately I really doubt it.

Passion Play is an indulgent mess of a movie that is funny in places it isn’t meant to be.  For me, it was worth watching, because I’m insane.  I would watch a shot-for-shot remake of The Color Purple if it starred Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray.  Also, no matter who you are, you’d probably laugh pretty hard at the last few shots of this movie.  Again, they’re not meant to be funny, but they really, really are.  I would explain more, but that would be giving away the ending.  Even though the film’s title already does.

I feel bad poking fun at a movie that obviously meant a lot to somebody (at least one person, anyway), but I can’t help myself.  Maybe I shouldn’t have written this piece.  I guess sometimes when I spend time watching these movies, I have to try to make sense out of the experience any way I can, which for me involves writing about it.  And hey, maybe you have read all of this and I somehow convinced you to check out the movie, in which case I provided free advertising.  To those people I say: it’s kind of worth it.  There aren’t two movies like it.  Beats the hell out of Transformers.  Just don’t expect it to be comprehensible and you’ll be fine.  And somebody, please, print me up a T-shirt of that final image.


Official Expendables sweat stains!

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The Expendables travel around in a flying boat that is marked with the words “Wildlife Conservancy,” which is kind of the key to the movie’s sense of humor right there.  Whenever these guys visit a foreign locale, they let loose with an inferno of gunfire and scorched earth that probably wipes out at least three entire species per landing.  Of course, The Expendables treat no species so harshly as they do Faceless Extras and Uniformed Stuntmen.  If you’re on the callsheet under those designations, you’re going to be outfitted with multiple squibs for sure.  The budget very clearly went right into set construction and the combustible effects used to blow them up, and you know I’m down with that.  But the explosions ring a little hollow in The Expendables, whereas I think I was expecting it all to make more of an impression and I know I’m not the only one.

Here’s the problem with The Expendables:  If you’re going to spend all that time and energy corralling most of the action stars of the past twenty or so years, you want to make for damn sure that the gathering is one you won’t forget.  The Expendables is like a party with the greatest Evite ever; the design is hilarious and the guest list is great and you’ve been waiting for it all year, but when you get there, it’s really just like any other party.  It’s just another Saturday night, rather than the Saturday night which will live in infamy.

Sylvester Stallone is the guy who organized the whole production.  He worked on the script with David Callaham, directed the movie (with some unusually erratic framing), and heads up the cast as Barney Ross, a beret-favoring mercenary who runs a team of similar-minded meatheads.  They call themselves The Expendables, and they have the team name stamped on their knife hilts and motorcycle frames.  They even have little Expendables stationery!  (I’m imagining.)  I’m being arch with this review, but I do like Stallone – it’s just that I prefer him in the more human mode, Rocky rather than Rambo.  (Although that most recent Rambo movie was a hilarious cartoon of ultra-violence.)  When Stallone is doing the hyper-masculine action-gorilla thing i.e. Marion Cobretti, his acting tends to take on this crooked-lipped stroke-victim aspect that makes him even less comprehensible than the people who he casts as his costars.  (More on them in a second.)  Stallone works hard to bring some light-hearted banter to The Expendables, but when the majority of the cast is struggling to work their way around the language, that male bonding stuff feels particularly forced.

Okay let’s shift structure here and just take the multi-tiered cast player by player, since it’s the only way I see to get through this.  The Expendables is an action-hero convention, and again I’m not saying it’s not mostly fun, but some of these guys come off way better than others, and that’s what accounts for the strange rhythm of the movie.

Jason Statham as the knife-throwing right-hand man, Lee Christmas:  I know this is an unpopular opinion, but from the start Statham’s presence in this movie to me has felt like Kevin James’s presence in Grown Ups.  It might bring in some extra box-office attention, but it just doesn’t ring true that these guys have been tried-and-true buddies for nearly as long as the movie insists.  Statham is a capable action lead, but just because he has the star power doesn’t mean he has a filmography remotely as worthy.  Maybe I’m just resentful that Statham got billing over Jet Li and Mickey Rourke, among others, the same way it bugged me when Kevin James got billing over Chris Rock.  The Grown Ups comparison is sadly apt, because here comes an ensemble flick that should all the world be boisterous and energetic, and instead generally operates at a mode best described as sluggish and slack.  It’s the explosions, more than the performances, that light the spark.  Statham is just fine in The Expendables, and he totally holds his own with the old pros in the cast, but then again maybe that isn’t enough.  He doesn’t exactly pop off the screen, and aside from a couple of neat knife-throwing stunts, it could have been anyone else playing Stallone’s bestest buddy (preferably Kurt Russell, who opted out) and it would’ve been the same movie, if not better.

Jet Li as the bored-looking martial artist, Ying Yang:  Holy shit, I didn’t realize until just now that his character was really named Ying Yang.  Vaguely racist, no?  I guess if Jet Li is okay with it, I should be, but that’s not how it’s happening in my mind.  Jet Li is another guy who has a couple cool moments in this movie, but not nearly enough.  There’s a scene where he and Stallone are being pursued by a bunch of bad guys, but who really needs to see Jet Li in a car chase?  When he gets to hop out and jump around, The Expendables flies, but again, you want more, and not in the best sense of the cliché.

Dolph Lundgren as the troubled “giant,” Gunnar Jensen:  I’ve never liked Lundgren all that much, and it wasn’t until The Expendables that I realized why.  When I was a kid, I watched Dolph Lundgren kill Apollo Creed.  Yeah I know, it was Rocky 4.  I maybe shouldn’t have held that against him, because Dolph Lundgren is really fun in The Expendables!  I mean, he crushes a mouthy henchman against a dashboard with his boot.  That’s a move that commands respect.  Seriously though, Lundgren is one of the guys in the cast who really figures out the appropriate tone and plays it perfectly.  If nothing else, I hope that The Expendables re-introduces him to big-screen opportunities.

Terry Crews as the big-gun-havin’ comic relief, Hale Caesar:  Best character name in the whole movie, right?  As is the case with just about every movie he’s been in to date, Terry Crews is funny and likable and convincingly badass in The Expendables.  He’s just strangely under-served by a script that isn’t all that busy with plot – I mean, would it really have been so tough to give this guy more screen time?

Randy Couture as the demolitions expert, Toll Road:  Well, all the press materials call him the demolitions expert.  Most of what Randy Couture does in this movie is body-slam bad guys.  I mean, he’s really good at it, but that’s most of the extent of his role.  He also gets a bit where he explains away his jacked-up ear, and makes a few references to the fact that he is in therapy, but that’s as deep as it goes.  Most tellingly, Randy Couture goes up against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin late in the movie, and if one were to read too much into it, one might suspect that the resolution of that battle indicates Stallone’s feelings about mixed-martial arts and pro-wrestling and which of the two are superior.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin as the villainous sidekick Paine:  Really just here to appear to be ten feet tall and to bark out orders in Spanish to the extras.  This dude gets extra credit for standing out as one of the more intimidating-looking members of a majorly intimidating-looking cast, but he doesn’t get much in the way of character.

Eric Roberts as main bad guy, evil profiteer James Munroe:  Yeah, I don’t know.  I like Eric Roberts, and the way he consistently walks the line between legitimate actor and total cornball.  He definitely is one of the more entertaining elements of this movie… But is his character a worthy enough villain?  Go watch the movie and tell me what you think.

Bruce Willis as the mysterious contractor, Mr. Church:  Bruce is in the movie for maybe four minutes, which at least is twice as much as Arnold is.  What can I say?  It was nice of him to poke his head in.  He looks happy enough – maybe he’s just glad to be in any movie other than Cop Out.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Arnold Schwarzenegger:  Because let’s face it, that’s who he’s playing.  There is literally no reason for Arnold to be in this movie, and the scene can’t help but underwhelm.  One reason is that if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve already seen the entire Stallone/Arnold/Bruce scene.  Another reason is that Arnold looks terrible.  If you’ve ever doubted that politics ages a person, just one  look at this withered old Cimmerian will cure you of that.  And when you take away Arnold’s physicality, you’re not exactly left with a nimble performer.  The goofy banter between Arnold and Stallone is Exhibit A in argument that this movie is sluggishly paced even by ‘80s standards.  It’s great in concept to unite two icons of equal stature, but this isn’t exactly the diner scene in Heat here, and the timing isn’t exactly right either.  This scene would have been a lot more fun twenty or fifteen or even ten years ago.  Still, it is a little bit of fun.  I can’t lie.

Mickey Rourke as the unfortunately-named retired Expendable, Tool:  Best part of the movie.  As a fan of the guy, with an occasional column examining his unusual filmography, I may be pro-Rourke biased, but Stallone knows as well as I do that no one else in this huge [literally] cast is equipped to deliver a dramatic monologue in the middle of a movie like this and make it mean something.  Mickey Rourke only gets a couple scenes, and the interaction he gets with Stallone brings things down to a human level [temporarily] and makes me wish that those two guys would go make a more character-based movie together.  That’s the funny thing about Mickey Rourke – he was never really an action lead, certainly not in the ’80s.  He was a real-deal actor first and foremost, and if you had told anyone back then that he’d be in this movie now, they probably wouldn’t have believed it.  The fact that he can play convincingly among the more cartoonish and less accomplished members of this cast just goes to show you how strange show business can be.  Mickey Rourke walks among them, yet he is not entirely of them.  Stallone cast him just right.

See that’s the bottom line:  There are a lot of things that Stallone did right here – indulging us action fans with a yen for this kind of a flick, stacking the badass deck, giving each guy at least one brief moment to register – but something feels lacking in a potent way.

In comic book terms, this is The Avengers of action flicks:  If you’re going to unite all these mean MF’ers, there ought to be a threat worth their sweat.  The Expendables gives us an incongruously-sympathetic David Zayas, a small army of anonymous gunmen, and Eric Roberts in a suit.  If you expect The Expendables to make short work of them, you may have seen an action movie once before.  There’s a very brief moment, when Bruce’s character is hiring Stallone’s team, where Bruce threatens what would happen if they cross him.  Now that’s a movie we’d want to see, isn’t it?  Just picture a movie where The Expendables had to face off against Bruce Willis, a guy with more mainstream cachet than any of them.  Would they make it out alive?   If so, they’d be defying action movie conventions, which no one does in this movie.  A single adversary on the level of an assembled team of past and present action stars – now that’s something to imagine.  Ultimately, The Expendables still registers best as a glorious, ridiculous idea, rather than a somewhat underwhelming reality.

 

Fight with me about this on Twitter: @jonnyabomb