Mickey Rourke

Bullet (1996, Julien Temple)

The tragedy of Mickey Rourke is not his failed mainstream career. Rather, it’s how he’s never been able to get any filmmakers of note involved in his vanity projects. Bullet‘s an incredibly ambitious, sensitive film… or, with the right production team, it would have been. What remains hints at what could have been–the film’s a character study, a comedy free American family drama (a rarity)–but Rourke’s inability to get notable filmmakers interested consigned it to direct-to-video status. Tupac Shakur’s name might have helped its commercial possibilities, but while Rourke is playing five years younger than his age, Shakur’s playing ten years older. It’s like Julien Temple forget to direct Shakur.

The film’s about three “families.” First and foremost is Rourke’s relationship with brothers Adrien Brody, Ted Levine and their parents. Someone coming home with Bullet, expecting a direct-to-video action shoot ’em up, would be bewildered by where the film goes in its first act, establishing this broken family unit. The film starts with Rourke’s release from prison, but Levine’s a Vietnam vet suffering from schizophrenia, while Brody’s a floundering painter. The film keeps returning to the family, showing these beautifully vulnerable moments–particularly Brody and Levine, but also parents Jerry Grayson and Suzanne Shepherd. Rourke and Shepherd have a wonderful scene together at the end of the second act. There’s a real attempt to take this potentially exploitative subject and give it agonizing depth. The film drowns the viewer in sadness.

There’s also Rourke’s friendship with John Enos III. Enos is a soap actor, but he’s kind of perfect in this film as a primping womanizer. (Enos also provides Bullet‘s only moments of comic relief). But as goofy as Enos gets–the scene listening to “I’m Too Sexy” would be perfect had Julien Temple not screwed up the end–Rourke approaches the friendship from this incredibly humanist perspective. Rourke’s character–the career drug addict who steals from family to score–occasionally reveals these startlingly beautiful moments of human regard. He and Enos have this one amazing scene.

The last relationship is the most problematic. Bullet is also supposed to be about childhood friends Shakur, Rourke and Matthew Powers all grown up, now competing in their respective criminal enterprises. Bullet only runs ninety-five minutes, so there really isn’t time for this subplot. It would work fine as character backstory, but it’s like no one told Shakur about it. His character makes absolutely no sense, which seems out of place for the film. So much of Bullet is about making the viewer understand why these people are they way they are (even if exact events aren’t described).

Besides Shakur, the big problem is Julien Temple. Bullet‘s highly stylized thanks to all Temple’s music video work and he can compose some fine shots. He just can’t string them together into a scene. His attempts at action scenes are awkward and painful to watch. The editor, Niven Howie, has to share some of the blame–there’s one particular scene when Brody runs into someone. The way Temple shot it and Howie edited it, it appears Brody aimed for the guy. Except… the script makes it clear he did not. So maybe Temple didn’t read the script either.

Rourke’s performance is outstanding, no shock, but Ted Levine’s better. His character could easily be too much, too cartoonish, but Levine makes him real. The scenes with Levine and Shepherd are just great.

I’ve seen Bullet a couple times before–and had the same reaction each time–but as time passes and American cinema abandons adult dramas… Rourke’s unfulfilled potential gets increasingly more tragic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Julien Temple; written by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Rubenstein; director of photography, Crescenzo Notarile; edited by Niven Howie; production designer, Christopher Nowak; produced by John Flock; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Mickey Rourke (Butch Stein), Adrien Brody (Ruby Stein), John Enos III (Lester), Ted Levine (Louis Stein), Jerry Grayson (Sol Stein), Suzanne Shepherd (Cookie Stein), Matthew Powers (Paddy), Jerry Dean (Fingers), Larry Romano (Frankie Eyelashes) and Tupac Shakur (Tank).


Sin City (2005, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez), the extended version

When Sin City came out in the theater, three people told me to go see it. One of them had an opinion of film I respect, one had an opinion of it I–at the time–had no argument with, and one had an opinion I most definitely did not respect. But I’d read interviews with Robert Rodriguez where he said he intended the films to be viewed as separate stories (much like Pulp Fiction, which is Sin City‘s obvious inspiration–at least in terms of casting). One of the Weinstein Brothers, I believe, convinced Rodriguez the film’s audience were essentially dumb and couldn’t handle the stories separate, so spliced together they went. So I waited for the special edition DVD, which has all three films in their entirety….

Unlike Pulp Fiction, which has three stories and shared characters, Sin City isn’t the same movie from part to part. Rodriguez was never a particularly intelligent filmmaker, something Tarantino always has been. In fact, reading on IMDb that it was Tarantino’s idea for Clive Owen to talk his monologue–truly the best moment in the film–makes a lot of sense now. I thought it was just a moment of the comic book that wasn’t tripe.

I actually have a bunch of notes on Sin City, because some of the acting was so awful I had to make a list. Here’s the list, with some comments.

Elijah Wood. He doesn’t have any lines, but he doesn’t have a bad-ass, or even psycho scare. His casting is a goofy, poor choice. All Sin City proved was that he shouldn’t have made it past child acting, which Ash Wednesday already did.

Rosario Dawson is AWFUL.

So is Rutger Hauer.

So is Jessica Alba (in the cameo during Marv’s story).

Benicio Del Toro was laughingly bad. So was Brittany Murphy, but she was irritating. Watching Del Toro in Sin City is like… try to imagine Robert DeNiro as Robin (as an eleven year-old). It’s embarrassing. The Del Toro/Murphy scene is actually painful. A lot of the acting in Sin City is like it–it’s unbelievable that Rodriguez expects it to be taken seriously and not as a bad imitation of a car commercial.

Alexis Bledel–awful. She might give the worst female performance.

Michael Madsen is astoundingly bad. I always used to–when I was a teenager–confuse him with Tom Sizemore. The difference is not that Sizemore is good (he’s better than good), but that he’s actually capable of acting. Madsen isn’t.

Now, on to the good performances. Anyone turning in a good performance in this film must be amazing. The dialogue is so piss poor, they have to be.

Both Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton are good in their little intro sequence (Hartnett probably has the easiest time with the narration, because his is the shortest and, therefore, the best).

Mickey Rourke is fantastic, but the makeup is a bad idea. The whole “translation” of the comic book idea is stupid (and certainly testifies to Rodriguez’s inherent limitations). The comic book is not perfect–the writing is occasionally all right, but most of the dialogue and narration is awful. Miller simply isn’t very good, on page or screen. Rourke manages to convey real emotion, even with his face in plastic.

Clive Owen is excellent.

Tommy Flanagan (the guy with the scar) or Nick Stahl give the best performances in the film.

Jaime King is actually all right. Maybe even good.

The Willis narration ruins the sequence, because it doesn’t give him a chance to act. Jessica Alba was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe, mostly because her character does absolutely nothing. Some of the Willis stuff looks real good, but that narration just kills it. Miller’s narration makes an attempt at Chandler, but it’s a poor one. He misses Chandler’s point. Its characterizations are from a B film noir–a bad one–not Chandler. Not even Hammett. It’s like he’s heard some hackneyed detective narration on a sitcom….

The special effects–the “sets” and “locations”–occasionally work, but they mimic reality, but don’t seem to intend to–so when something is incredibly unreal, it sticks out. Like cars. Amusingly, the visual design (from Miller’s comic) has cops out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with full body armor, driving old cop cars to fit in with the 1950s motif.

I actually didn’t dislike Sin City. It’s certainly the best comic book movie in the last few years (since Hellboy, I suppose, then all the way back to Batman Returns or something). It’s just not very good–it’s like Pulp Fiction, but with a bunch of actors from the WB. There’s rarely any real human emotion to it and there’s a constant attempt to be “cool.” Pulp Fiction had some similar aspirations, but it was also about wanting to screw your boss’s wife, which is a layer Sin City doesn’t have. All of its characters, for the “noirish” dialogue (out of the missing Don Knotts adaptation–sorry, translation–of The Big Sleep), all of them talk straight from id. There’s no nuance. But it’s hard to dislike just because it isn’t a real movie. It’s not a serious attempt at anything. American Pie 2 is a more serious study of the human heart in conflict with itself.

Sin City is a comic book movie and I’m using comic book as a pejorative there….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; special guest director, Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Frank Miller, based on his comic book; director of photography, Rodriguez; edited by Rodriguez; music by Rodriguez, John Debney and Graeme Revell; produced by Elizabeth Avellán, Rodriguez and Miller; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jessica Alba (Nancy), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark Jr./Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (Hartigan) and Elijah Wood (Kevin).


The Rainmaker (1997, Francis Ford Coppola)

The Rainmaker‘s got some beautiful stuff in it. My history with it is somewhat sorted… I discovered it on DVD, then abandoned it–and have now rediscovered it. I can’t remember what my last problem with it was–probably the same as my current one–but I was selling DVDs and needed cash.

It’s not perfect and has some noticeable flaws–the ever-present narration, for example. Just because Michael Herr and Coppola’s last collaboration was Apocalypse Now… well, the narration is Apocalypse Now was not its driving force. Coppola lets the narration run The Rainmaker, not trusting his material. The material is strong too. The only weak point is the love story, which is rather tame–I don’t think there’s even a real kiss–and Claire Danes does not ruin it. Coppola doesn’t let her do anything, hardly lets her talk, so she’s just scenery. So, instead of being some dark driving force–the son finally saving the abused mother–it’s just something to pass the time.

Otherwise, the film is perfectly cast (except Andrew Shue). Of particular note are Johnny Whitworth, Mickey Rourke, and Dannys Glover and DeVito. Matt Damon’s great. I forgot he was great (pre-Bourne), back when he was going to be a superstar. The film’s main failing is probably that it doesn’t have a solid foundation. It’d be indescribably beautiful if the film juxtaposed the young attorney with the various results of the legal profession. It doesn’t. It doesn’t even focus too much on the case. There’s that silly love story, instead of the solid story about the friendship between Damon and Whitworth, that only gets a montage.

Unfortunately, The Rainmaker is going to lead to me watching a bunch of other abandoned films. But it’s certainly a good indication I might have foolishly left some other good ones behind.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; screenplay by Coppola and Michael Herr, based on the novel by John Grisham; director of photography, John Toll; edited by Barry Malkin; music by Elmer Bernstein; production designer, Howard Cummings; produced by Michael Douglas, Steven Reuther and Fred Fuchs; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Rudy Baylor), Danny DeVito (Deck Schifflet), Claire Danes (Kelly Riker), Jon Voight (Leo F. Drummond), Mary Kay Place (Dot Black), Teresa Wright (Miss Birdie), Virginia Madsen (Jackie Lemancyzk), Mickey Rourke (Bruiser Stone), Roy Scheider (Wilfred Keeley), Randy Travis (Billy Porter), Johnny Whitworth (Donny Ray Black), Danny Glover (Judge Tyrone Kipler) and Andrew Shue (Cliff Riker).


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