April 30th, 2011

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: MICHAEL MADSEN

Ever since I saw Reservoir Dogs, I’ve been a huge Michael Madsen fan.  His tough guy machismo harkens back to the golden era of Hollywood when men were men and smoked cigarettes, drank, and talked in husky voices.  But Madsen has a range about him that not many people talk about.  Not many actors can go from playing Mr. Blonde to starring alongside Free Willy (even though I prefer him playing his patented tough guy roles, thank you very much).  For that, and so many more reasons, Michael Madsen is a Legend of the Silver Screen.

 

Our first Madsen flick is…

 

VICE  (2008)  ** ½

 

Michael Madsen stars as a vice cop who isn’t above getting freaky with the hookers he’s supposed to arrest.  After a drug bust goes sour, several of his vice squad team members wind up dead.  It’s up to Madsen and his partner (Mykelti Williamson from Forrest Gump) to find out who’s picking off his team one by one and in the meantime, find 40 kilos of missing heroin from the police station’s evidence locker.

 

Vice has a been-there-done-that feeling to it, yet it’s done in a straightforward and matter of fact manner that I appreciated.  It’s appropriately tough and gritty (think a Law and Order episode except there’s titties and people dropping the N-Bomb) and while it may not be breaking any new ground, it gets the job done.  Some aspects of the story don’t quite gel (the twist ending doesn’t work at all) but the film’s lapses are for the most part forgivable.

 

The big reason Vice’s shortcomings are easy to overlook is because Michael Madsen is so great.  The plot maybe sorta standard issue, but it is nevertheless an excellent showcase for Madsen’s talents.  He’s essayed this kind of sleazy scumbag role before, but he’s able to tweak his performance just enough here to make it fresh.  (He gets a Bad Lieutenant-ish scene in a church near the end.)  It takes a Legendary kind of character actor to find new nuances in his standard stock character and fortunately for us, Madsen is that kind of guy.

 

Madsen’s Kill Bill co-star Daryl Hannah is also very good as one of his vice squad cronies.  She has a lot of strong scenes with him (most of which take place in a parked car) and disappears almost completely into her role (I didn’t recognize her at first under her Rhona Mitra haircut).  Both Madsen and Hannah acted as executive producers on this and probably advocated for their gritty characters to be as unlikable and realistic as humanly possible.

 

If Vice was more of a slice of life deal following around Madsen and his team, it would’ve been a bit more involving.  However, the “Who’s setting us up?” subplot adds to the overall generic feeling of the film.  Having said that, the flick has enough good scenes (like when a cop breaks down the door on an informant while he’s banging a chick and the dude takes off buck ass naked with a condom hanging off his dick) for me to give it a passing recommendation.

 

Naturally, Madsen gets all the best lines of the film.  Nearly all of them come from his hard-boiled narration.  Among my favorites:  “The meek will not inherit the earth.  The cunts of the world will see to that.  They swallow your dreams and suffocate you if you resist!” and “It’s easier to hide in the darkness than to be burnt in the light!”

 

Our next Madsen film is…

 

FALL:  THE PRICE OF SILENCE  (2001)  ** ½

 

The Feds want a mid-level mobster played by Michael Madsen to rat out his boss (Lawrence Dane).  Since Madsen isn’t the stoolie type, he goes to the Don and tells him his problem.  The crime boss then gets two knucklehead goons (Daniel Baldwin and Chad McQueen) to murder some random guy off the street that bears a passing resemblance to Madsen.  That way Mikey Boy can fake his death and not have to worry about testifying.  Umm… yeah, needless to say, it doesn’t go as planned. 

 

I think the first thing you will notice about Fall:  The Price of Silence from the outset is that it’s directed by Daniel Baldwin.  And, surprise… he isn’t a bad director.  He actually does some decent camera moves and crane shots and gives the film a bit more zest than your usual Straight-to-DVD flick.

 

I can’t fault Baldwin’s direction here.  The main problem is with the script.  You see, half the movie is spent with Madsen and the tight ass Fed while he’s in the Witness Protection Program.  The other half deals with Baldwin and McQueen’s comedic shenanigans.  They’re pretty funny and at times, the flick feels like a pilot of a potential series.  Their scenes are a lot more fun than the stuff with Madsen and the Fed hiding out in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, that’s for sure.  But because the flick has to keep shuffling back and forth between the parallel narratives, it loses a lot of precious momentum; particularly in the middle section of the film.

 

Another thing you may be surprised about is that the film is really low on action.  It’s more of a black Mob comedy more than anything.  Although the film is amusing, there isn’t a whole lot of laugh out loud moments and the flick is light on the gunplay until the very end.

 

The revelation of Fall:  The Price of Silence is Chad McQueen.  He’s pretty great in this and looks and acts like a mutant hybrid of Johnny Knoxville and Tom Sizemore.  He’s also listed as an executive producer too.  The funny thing about that is there’s an S.O.S. after his name.  I’m not sure why, but I’m guessing it stands for “Son of Steve”.

 

Baldwin is good here too.  He and McQueen have great chemistry together and it’s fun to watch them play off one another.  And Lawrence Dane does some fine work as the crime boss.  He’s a perennial That Guy who always turns up in movies and always delivers the goods in a way that never calls attention to itself.  I also enjoyed the Joe Mantegna cameo too.  He seems a bit too good of an actor for what’s mostly a “co-starring a movie star’s less famous brother and the son of a screen icon” movie, but I’m glad he’s here.

 

And the Legendary Michael Madsen gives us another memorable performance.  He’s particularly good in the early scenes and dishes out his usual brand of intensity.  Although he’s fairly underutilized during the middle section of the film, he finishes the film strong as his final scenes are quite funny.  (I particularly liked the bit where he wins the lottery but can’t collect it because he’s in the Witness Protection Program.)  And what made the flick even better for me was the fact that Madsen was wearing the same leather coat he had on in Vice!  How awesome is that?  Talk about a Legendary wardrobe choice.

 

AKA:  Fall.

 

And our final Madsen flick is another Madsen/Hannah pairing.  No, it’s not Kill Bill 1 or 2.  It’s…

 

THE LAST DAYS OF FRANKIE THE FLY  (1997)  ***

 

Frankie the Fly (Dennis Hopper) is a perpetually put-upon lackey for a crime boss named Sal (Michael Madsen).  Frankie has a crush on a porn star named Margaret (Daryl Hannah) who makes fuck flicks for a gambling addicted porn director (Kiefer Sutherland).  This guy has been cut off from betting by Sal because he can’t pay his debts, but Frankie is just stupid enough to place a bet for him.  Naturally, they both become deeper in debt to Sal, and he teaches them a lesson by violating Margaret and getting her hooked on smack.  Finally, Frankie says enough is enough and goes out for revenge.

 

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly came out during the glut of 90’s neo-noir flicks and kinda got lost in the shuffle somehow.  It’s a shame too because it’s a solidly entertaining character piece that features some great actors doing what they do best.  I can’t say enough good things about Dennis Hopper in this movie.  It’s hard to make a character who is so dim-witted seem believable and three-dimensional, but Hopper pulls it off.

 

Daryl Hannah is pretty great too.  Usually her character would be the “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” role, but since she plays a porn star you can see that they were trying to do something a little different (although she is reduced to hooking by the end of the flick).  Most times, actresses who take the Hooker with a Heart of Gold role forget about the “Heart” part of their character.  Not Hannah.

 

And the Legendary Michael Madsen is skeevy as all get out in this movie.  He does and says some pretty horrible things throughout the course of the film, but he always remains cool, suave, and badass while doing them.  Only a Legend of the Silver Screen could pull that kind of feat off.

 

Sutherland doesn’t quite fare as well.  He must’ve just seen Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss and tried to out-Cage the Cage Man.  He acts pretty over the top but he just doesn’t really have the chops necessary to make his character interesting.  As a result, he’s more than a tad annoying.  That’s okay I guess.  I mean he had to do SOMETHING in between Young Guns 2 and playing Jack Bauer on 24.

 

Sutherland’s performance is one of the few false notes in the movie.  Other than that, it’s solid all around.  (I particularly liked the Poe-ish ending.)  The script was by Dayton Callie, who also wrote the entertaining Madsen vehicle Executive Target.  He wrote us some pretty entertaining characters and director Peter (Youngblood) Markle knows well enough that sometimes it’s better to let the actors act than to get all flashy with the camera.  Ultimately, The Last Days of Frankie the Fly is a movie that’s less about story and more about its characters.  And when you have such great actors inhabiting the characters, you just can’t lose.

 

AKA:  Frankie the Fly.

 

Join us next time on Legends of the Silver Screen when we profile Michael Madsen’s Kill Bill co-star, the late, great David Carradine.

DEAD EYES OF LONDON (1966) ** ½

A fat, bald, blind killer in the Tor Johnson/Coleman Francis/Joe Besser mode is prowling the foggy London streets at night and murdering a bunch of people.  A stiff ass Scotland Yard inspector is on the case and discovers that each of the victims have large life insurance policies.  As it turns out, the pudgy psycho is nothing more than a pawn for a madman who uses him to do his dirty work.

 

If you’ve seen any of these low budget German thrillers based on Edgar Wallace mysteries, you should probably know what to expect from this flick.  Sure, like most of its ilk, Dead Eyes of London suffers from a slow pace as much of the police procedural stuff is rather dull.  What makes the film slightly better than its genre counterparts is a strong sense of atmosphere.  The scenes where the killer blindly searches for his prey are well done and there is an effective elevator murder as well.  And there has to be something said for a movie in which Klaus Kinski isn’t the weirdest dude in the cast.

 

I’m not saying that this flick is great or anything.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found myself nodding off here and there.  Still, for what it is, it’s not bad and it has a few moments of genuine coolness and bursts of surprising violence (for the time that is).  And although the ending isn’t wholly successful (there’s probably one too many villains who are in on the plot), it’s hard to completely hate any movie that ends with a priest brandishing a flamethrower.

 

AKA:  Dark Eyes of London.

PASSENGERS (2008) **

Anne Hathaway’s career takes a nose dive into Straight-to-DVD territory with this predictable and somber supernatural drama.  A plane crashes under mysterious circumstances, leaving the survivors bewildered and disturbed.  Hathaway stars as a grief counselor who holds a discussion group with some of the survivors.  Patrick Wilson is the stud of the group who’s too cool for school and doesn’t attend his sessions.  Because he’s all aloof and studly, Anne agrees to make house calls to his home and pretty soon, they’re knocking the boots.  Soon after, her patients start disappearing and she gets bugged by a strange man from the airline (David Morse) who seemingly wants to cover the whole thing up.  Then patients begin being stalked by mysterious strangers lurking in the dark.  Then Anne starts seeing them as well.  Then… well… 

 

Let me put it to you this way.  One character tells Anne, “It’s not the sort of thing you can be told.  You have to figure it out on your own.”  Well, if that’s the case I figured it out about a half hour into the movie.

 

If you’re like me and guessed the Carnival of Souls/Sixth Sense ending, you get a cookie.  To redeem your cookie, send a self addressed stamped envelope to: 

 

Passengers Cookie Redemption

c/o Some Unimaginative Hollywood Jackasses

Straight to DVD Boulevard

Hollywood, CA

 

Wilson is good and Hathaway ain’t too shabby either; both in the acting and looks department.  (She can be a Passenger on my Bologna Pony any day of the week and twice on Sunday if she wants to earn Frequent Flyer miles.)  Their scenes together are easily the best thing about the flick.  That’s about the only thing Passengers has going for it though. 

 

The whole thing is just slight.  It’s easy to tell why it went STD.  There’s not a whole lot here that hasn’t been done a hundred times before, and much better I might add.

 

Passengers is the epitome of a Two Star movie.  It's a competently made flick but the drama parts aren’t all that dramatic.  The central mystery surrounding the plot isn’t all that mysterious.  And the surprise twist isn’t all that surprising.  Luckily, Hathaway and Wilson are strong enough to keep you watching and hoping that something worthy of their talents will happen to justify their participation.