[Movie Review] The Salton Sea

00190_001Starring: Val Kilmer, Vincent D’Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, Luis Guzmán, Anthony LaPaglia, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: D.J. Caruso
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 2002

I’ve never heard of director, D.J. Caruso. I’m often weary of people who use initials as their name. You don’t catch me calling myself G.D.. Actually, it sounds pretty cool. From now on, or certainly for the duration of this review, you can call me G.D.

D.J. is no beginner but “The Salton Sea” could probably be his most ambitious and well known project. The panned “Taking Lives” in 2004 was his other big-screen effort but his TV movies “Black Cat Run” (Jake Busey, Patrick Muldoon) and “Mind Prey” (Luis Guzmán) were reasonably well received. The reason I build up all this is because Caruso has quite simply directed one of the stand-out movies of the last few years. You know me (good old G.D.), I’m moderately impressed by plenty but much impressed by little.

Val reflects on "The Island of Dr Moreau" and "The Real McCoy"The movie opens up with a trumpet-playing character (Kilmer – “The Ghost and the Darkness”, “The Doors”, “Batman Forever”) about to be engulfed by fire in a burning building, telling us that he’s a bit of a bad guy but urging us to listen to his story first before we judge him. He is Danny Thomas, a drifter who spends his days and nights doing speed with the likes of Kujo (Goldberg – “A Beautiful Mind”, “Saving Private Ryan”, Eddie in TVs “Friends”) and his best friend, Jimmy the Finn (Sarsgaard – “K-19”, “Boys Don’t Cry”, “Garden State”). To beat a felony rap, he snitches dealers out to police officers, Garcetti (LaPaglia – “Lantana”, “So I Married an Axe Murderer”) and Morgan (Hutchinson – “The Green Mile”, “I Am Sam”, “Batman & Robin”, “Con Air”). They treat him like crap and refuse to protect him when it turns out that a dealer he put away has put a contract out on him.

But behind the tattoos and the drug abuse, Danny seems a nice lad. He shows concern for his new neighbour, Collette (Deborah Kara Unger – “White Noise”, “The Hurricane”, “The Game”), who is being beaten by her abusive boyfriend (the ever brilliant Luis Guzmán – “Magnolia”, “Traffic”, “Boogie Nights”, “Punch-Drunk Love”). He also shows reluctant regret when he sees the distraught wife of a dealer he has shopped (Glenn Plummer – “Speed”, “The Day After Tomorrow”), even though she was abused by him. But Danny’s background is not one of crime and cruelty. He is reflective and mourns the loss of the love of his life, haunted by the thought that he could have done something to save her.

With Garcetti and Morgan no longer protecting him, Danny decides that he has to make some money and ‘go away’. He tries to set up a deal as a middle-man to buy from ruthless drug-baron Pooh-Bear (D’Onofrio – “Ed Wood”, “The Player”, “JFK”, “Full Metal Jacket”, “Malcolm X”) but his buyer (B.D. Wong – “Executive Decision”, “The Substitute 2”, “Jurassic Park”) is moving the goalposts and irritating Pooh-Bear. His life is seemingly falling apart but Danny is determined to get through it and try to find out who he is exactly. He warns you at the start – nothing is as it seems.

There are so many elements to “The Salton Sea” that elevate it right up there in to my all time top ten. I rented this originally because my top man, Anthony LaPaglia, was in it. And while he plays his police officer role with his usual, entertaining intensity (although it’s quite a shock to find that he doesn’t like dolphins), the quirky characters that pop up throughout are one of the main drivers.

The movie is set apart during moments like when dealer, Bobby, whacked out of his head on meths, starts aiming a Vincent actually put on 3 stone for this role. Nutter.spear gun at Danny and Jimmy asking them if they brought the ‘plastic men’ and then introducing himself as ‘the ocean’. Surreal characters like Pooh-Bear who has no nose, hasn’t slept in a year and recreates the Kennedy assassination using pigeons in a remote-control car or Asian cowboy, Bubba, who likes to call Danny ‘Hoss’, bring a unique slant to the film.

There are numerous laugh-out-loud moments like when Danny comes-to and wonders to himself if he has died. The first thing he spots is linoleum – “This must be hell”. When foul-mouthed Quincy (Guzmán), who is in the middle of aggressively banging down Collette’s door, asks him what he’s looking at, Danny casually replies “I was just admiring your boots. Did you purchase them locally?”.

And there are twists and turns along the way. Not all of them are completely logical or likely, but as plot devices they work perfectly and there is not that much suspension of belief required.

As I say the characters are terrific, backed by a sharp script (Tony Gayton – “Murder by Numbers”) and some spot-on direction from Caruso. Stylish close-ups, slow-motion and occasionally abstract scenes make this seem like it came straight out of Tarantino’s hot period in the early-mid nineties.

Thankfully no mistakes were made in casting, and while the cast is quite well known there are no names here for the sake of it. Kilmer is not someone I’ve ever warmed to on the screen but he’s outstanding as Danny whether he is being humorous or overwrought. D’Onofrio is just about the MVP, putting on about 50lbs for his role as mega-psycho dealer, Pooh-Bear. His appearance, the “nose” back story and his hilarious and ill-fitting accent make him one of cinema’s weirdest characters in a long time. Plummer is brilliant in his small role as Bobby, Guzmán is class as usual and Unger, who I only recalled from 1992s “Whispers in the Dark”, does a more than solid job.

“The Salton Sea” is a top-notch movie which inexplicably seemed to disappear off the radar, only having a limited release and picking up just one Prism award for best actor (Kilmer). G.D. don’t fawn over too many films but this is one that gets just about everything right.



Life is hard

Had a strange thought the other day. Got off the tram in the center of Dublin at about 7.30am and spotted a duvet in a doorway. On closer inspection I saw that it was not one homeless person, but two. And from the shape of the bodies and legs that were sticking out I could tell that it was two guys. How embarrassing. Sharing a bed with another man is one thing – but doing it in the middle of a city of 1.5m people? Imagine later that day sitting in a popular Dublin coffee shop and seeing people leaning over and whispering in each others ears ‘hey that’s the guys who share a duvet outside Benetton’.

Ok, so it’s probably the least of their worries.

It’s amazing how blasé and flippant we get when it comes to social problems like homelessness. It surrounds us so much that we get very desensitised by it all. If our only experience of a homeless person was a bearded, middle-aged drunk once or twice a month, then we might actually have a bit more sympathy for his plight. How did he get here? Where did it all go wrong? I mean, he wasn’t born in the street (well, it’s unlikely) and he had to have family somewhere.

But it’s the teenagers who sit on the street day after day which offer the most poignant, thought-provoking moments. Many of them get through life by smoking or drinking or using drugs. Of course this lifestyle is funded by begging and stealing which is what turns people off the homeless anyway.

I remember meeting a friend of my brothers about ten years ago now. Apparently his family were loaded but he didn’t get on with his dad and either left, or got kicked out of, the house. Now he slept rough and was probably only ever sixty seconds away from making one life-changing decision, using drugs or drinking or whatever. I often wondered what became of him but I don’t think my brother knows. And that’s what happens. The homeless disappear and don’t even become a statistic. It’s not like there’s a register for these things, like these people get votes or whatever.

And when I sit in my beautiful new home I often take for granted what I have. I moan a bit about the fact that some of the paintwork didn’t come out how I would have liked or there’s a mark in my thousand Euro floor that’s pissed me off. Well maybe I should think about the road warriors who only ever find cold, wet concrete under their feet and perhaps a doorway to shelter them – if they’re lucky.

But really these are just words. What am I doing to be part of the solution? Is it my job? Well it seems that it’s nobody’s job – and that’s the problem. Meanwhile I can touch up the floor or the ceiling and then find something new to moan about.

[Movie Review] AVP: Alien vs Predator

Alien vs. PredatorStarring: Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova, Sanaa Lathan, Ewen Bremner, Tommy Flanagan
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Genre: Horror
Cert: 15
Released: 2004

Charles Weyland (Henriksen), a rich industrialist, has spotted peculiar thermal activity in Antartica via one of his satellite systems. He believes that an ancient pyramid lies thousands of feet under the ice and puts together a team of archaeologists to investigate. Alexa Woods (Lathan) leads the team that includes historian Sebastian (Bova), scientist Graeme (Bremner) and rough-and-ready thermal miner Verheiden (Flanagan). Basically it’s your standard collection of movie stereotypes (c.f. “The Core”, “Event Horizon”, um, “Predator” and “Alien”!).

Predator was always my favourite - the ultimate Rastafarian Alien.When they get there they find an abandoned whaling station from which all occupiers went missing in 1904. Even more bizarrely they find a newly-drilled underground route – a route that, according to satellite technology, didn’t exist 24 hours earlier. When the team go down they discover that Weyland was right – it is a pyramid. But what they don’t know is that it is home of an ancient alien species.

To be frank, it didn’t work. They had years to get this right, and it didn’t work. Director Paul Anderson was not a name that filled you with much hope for the outcome. Outside of the occasionally excellent “Resident Evil” his handling of big-screen movies has been moderate to say the least. In “Alien vs Preadtor” he struggles to elevate the action to anything resembling the brilliance of the first couple of Alien films or “Predator”.

The effects haven’t moved on all that much from the original “Predator” nearly twenty years ago. Now maybe that’s a conscious decision, to make the movie in the same spirit as the much loved 1987 version. To me it was a little disappointing not to have the Predator doing some cool new stuff or to enhance his presence in some way. The jungle, and even the city setting of the second movie, were far more exciting than the ancient pyramid that this one is set in.

Overall this movie is hard to talk-up. Worth a watch but more out of interest and for completist reasons than anything else. A sequel might happen but it’s time to wake up, Hollywood!

[Movie Review] The Forgotten

The ForgottenStarring: Julianne Moore, Anthony Edwards, Linus Roache, Gary Sinise, Dominic West, Alfre Woodard
Director: Joseph Ruben
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2004

Julianne Moore, one of my guilty Hollywood pleasures. Her name on a movie promo poster is normally all the encouragement I need to have a peek. She’s got talent and beauty. That’s pretty much my checklist taken care of. We’re gonna kick straight in to this review because this one is going to be difficult to review without giving too much away.

Telly (Moore – “Magnolia”, “The Hours”, “Assassins”) is mourning the loss of her son Sam in a plane crash 14 months earlier. When pictures of herself, Sam and her husband, Jim (Edwards – “Thunderbirds”, TVs “ER”), are overnight replaced with a picture of just herself and Jim, and photo books of Sam are emptied, she accuses him of trying to erase Sam from her life. Her psyhotherapist, Jack Munce (Sinise – “Ransom”, “Forrest Gump”, “The Green Mile”) thinks she is delusional. There was no son, no plane crash. They explain that she had a miscarriage and subsequently invented a fictitious life with a nine-year old child.

Failing to understand exactly what is happening, she goes to the apartment of a local man, Ash (West – “Chicago”, “Mona Lisa Smile”, “28 Days”) whom she claims also lost a child on the same flight. He tells her she has got him mixed up with someone else and calls the police. After they take her away, something clicks, and he starts to recall deep rooted memories that he never knew he had. When he gets outside to tell Telly that he remembers something, the National Security Agency have turned up to question her. What does the NSA want with Telly? When Jim reports her missing to Detective Anne Pope (Woodard – “K-Pax”, “The Core”, “Primal Fear”, “Radio”), she asks the same question. Ash and Telly are running out of time to find out the truth about their forgotten lives – and they’re being watched all the time.

“The Forgotten” is an enthralling attempt to bring a story to the screen that seems so non-sensical, it can’t possibly work. And while there are pitfalls and holes along the way there is plenty to enjoy throughout.

The central performances make things believable. As you know I’m a big fan of Moore but solid turns from Dominic West, Alfre Woodard and Linus Roache keep things moving along well. I think the biggest crimes are the rather bit-part roles of Anthony Edwards and Gary Sinise – good actors with little to do.

Joseph Ruben is one of my favourite directors on the basis of the brilliant “The Stepfather” (ignoring the irksome “Money Train” and “Sleeping with the Enemy”). I personally think he does a damn good job here. The early minutes of the storyline seem to make sense but they look somewhat muddled as the story progresses. Best thing to do is ignore the plot holes and indulge yourself in the mystery.

And it’s a good mystery. A character’s memory is different to everyone elses – so just who can be right, and what can it all mean regardless? The last twenty minutes might make the same mistake that “Vanilla Sky” did, slipping in to a pseudo-science fiction style ending. But thanks to the story, the solid direction and good performances, it keeps you hanging in there.