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Passion Play

tn_passionplayYes, it’s true, this is a movie about Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray fighting over Megan Fox because she has wings. Mickey plays a jazz trumpeter (the serious type who always wears colorful suits, a fedora and pointy shoes) who gets in trouble because he accidentally slept with the wife of a gangster named Happy (Murray). So he gets beat up and left in the desert.

When he wakes up he wanders and finds a carnival with a sideshow. That’s where he sees this winged lady. Not riding a ferris wheel – she’s in the sideshow, because she has wings. Not sure if you got that.

Huh... that's weird. They forgot to mention that she has wings.
Huh… that’s weird. They forgot to mention that she has wings.

Later he comes to her in her trailer and convinces her to let him hang out a while. He’s really impressed by what he calls her angel wings, but she says “I’m not an angel, I’m a bird-woman.”

When the jealous ringmaster dude (Rhys Ifans) sees Mickey around he thinks this hep cat is trying to steal his bird-woman. He’s about to have Mickey killed via-snakebite when she drives a truck through his trailer and saves him “come with me if you want to live” TERMINATOR style. Next thing you know they’re on the run together.

Keep in mind, though, by “running” I mostly mean sitting around looking sad, or talking on gas station pay phones. This is not a very eventful movie. It’s low budget and minimalistic, like a weird indie arthouse movie from the ’80s or ’90s except with some phony looking greenscreening here and there. There’s even a greenscreen rooftop set but I don’t think it’s the same one from THE ROOM or the one from NINJA. There are just alot of these greenscreen rooftop sets around to rent out to low budget movies, I guess.

The whole thing is very dreamlike, but a little on the cheap side. I guess that guy Christopher Doyle shot it, so some of it looks nice, but it’s probly not his proudest achievement. One thing that bothered me is that they didn’t seem to try to make it seem like Rourke is really playing the trumpet. The sound mix just makes it seem like he’s pretending to play along with a record.

One random casting note before we move on: there’s a tough-looking enforcer that Mickey has to deal with, when I saw him I thought who is that, I know that guy. Kinda looks like Michael Rooker, but who is that? For some reason it didn’t connect that that was retired UFC badass Chuck Liddell.

still_passionplay
So that’s The Iceman working for Bill Murray. It’s weird to see Murray playing a cruel bastard crime lord that everybody’s afraid of. I guess he pretty much always plays an asshole, but usually he’s supposed to be lovable. Here he has people killed, including his wife. He’s supposed to be scary. But a little bit sad, despite the name. Murray brings his usual sarcasm and open bitterness to the role, but mostly I don’t think they’re going for laughs.

It’s a humorless movie, but when it reaches the inevitable poetic climax (she flies away to freedom [SPOILER]) the effects are so goofy that it does not have the same emotional impact I think they were looking for. They might as well have done a little stop motion doll or something, at least have some style with their laughs.

But I don’t wanna be too harsh on PASSION PLAY. It’s already been picked on and I don’t really think it’s for entirely fair reasons. Look at the cycle of Megan Fox: she’s this hot piece of ass with no character or acting in the TRANSFORMERS movies, but all the magazines and websights think she must be the next big thing so they do cover stories and interviews and she’s in all the gossip and they leak photos of her wearing skimpy outfits on the shitty movies she can get into with her beginning actor skills (this, JONAH HEX). But those movies don’t do well so the “next big thing” thing doesn’t really pan out and then those same media sources are over her and their attitude becomes who is this bitch, she thinks she can act just ’cause she has tits? Who told her she could do that, wasn’t me I don’t think I said anything like that when interviewing her for our cover story on her. I have no choice but to either write about someone more worthy or – and this is the one I’m leaning towards – to keep writing about her all the time but in an attempt to humiliate her!

I sense a little bit of that anyway. I’m not saying she’s that great in this, but she’s better than in the TRANSFORMERS movies. She gets to try at least. And Rourke has a pretty stupid character, but throws his soul into it like he always does. The few redeeming qualities the character has come from the passion in his performance. (That’s not a pun, by the way, it’s just a word I need to use that happens to also be in the title and I refuse to compromise my wording out of wordplayphobia.)

The biggest target, actually, is the wings. If this didn’t have this magical realism angle everybody would be fine. It would just be another worthless indie drama nobody ever heard of. But because there’s some weirdness in it people act like that makes it worse. They’ll focus on the wings as being the reason why it’s bad.

That’s not the reason. It’s bad because it’s not a well thought out story, the characters are not very interesting, nothing much happens and the visuals and timing are lifeless. The wings are a plus, I don’t think I could’ve finished it if she didn’t have wings. At least with this we can dream about these two lovebirds going off, building a nest, hatching some crazy eggs together.

But I guess normal people hate interesting stuff, so that’s the main thing they shit on. The marketing people realized this, so the posters and the screener cover don’t show the wings at all. In fact the screener has stills from the movie all over the back and the inside, but none of them show the wings, and the plot description doesn’t mention them. These things are always funny, they’re always stretching it in the ways they try to make any random shitty movie sound like a must-buy for your video store. That’s another thing that’ll go down with the mom and pop stores, the art of the ridiculous screener claim. For example this mathematical formula:

passionplay2

See? PASSION PLAY is a sure hit because it’s related to the combined box office totals of the TRANSFORMERS movies, IRON MAN 2, the GHOSTBUSTERS movies, the GARFIELD movies, and, you know, the one where he’s with the elephant.

Also, this is just my personal opinion but it seems to me like this claim here is hard to back up:

passionplay1

But I guess since as of this writing it hasn’t come out yet it could still be a surprise smash.

The director is Mitch Glazer, who not surprisingly hasn’t directed a movie before. But he grew up friends with Rourke and must know Murray from his days as writing partner to Michael O’Donoghue (they did MR. MIKE’S MONDO VIDEO, Saturday Night Live and SCROOGED together). And he’s married to Kelly ROAD HOUSE Lynch, who’s in there too.

Glazer should probly stick to the writing, but I can’t fault him for giving it a shot and calling in favors. Maybe some day somebody else will make the definitive Mickey Rourke/Megan Fox bird-woman love story. Until then we have this.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011 at 2:22 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

41 Responses to “Passion Play”

  1. This movie conceptually sounds like a bad idea all around. I wonder how anyone would think it would work.

    As for green screening, the question I have to ask is when exactly did it become a popular thing to do? It’s a little ridiculous to think it could ever replace real interiors or exteriors, not unless the technology goes far beyond what it is capable of now. Was it Sin City that started the trend? Because now it’s common enough that entire whole movies are filmed with green screen to varying success. I’m guessing the coming of the HD digital camera made it a lot easier to do green screen and you could look at Sin City as a successful way to do it. But it was in black and white which probably made it easier to merge the digital backgrounds and the actors.

    Sucker Punch did it to good effect as well in the fantasy scenes but they at least used sets for the rest of it. My beef with green screen comes from when low budget movies try to use green screen for everything. Bitch Slap had only one single exterior location where most of the action was set. Everything else was flashbacks and were all green screened. They were just as bad as you would expect them to look.

    Another recent movie that was entirely green screened was The Warrior’s Way. It had a great high concept even: Warrior from an unnamed Asian country flees to the American West in the 19th century with a baby in tow that he was supposed to kill. So basically the movie is cowboys and ninjas. How can you ruin something like that? By filming the entire thing indoors and greenscreening pretty much everything. It’s set in the old West! There’s just no way to realistically portray a desert town digitally at this point in time. The sad part is that this had a pretty good cast too: Jang Dong-gun (Taegukgi) as the warrior, together with Geoffery Rush, Kate Bosworth and Danny Huston. The action scenes were actually not badly done, but obviously almost all of it was done with computers and not with much practical stuntwork. The writing left a lot to be desired as well but it was probably the intention for the story to unfold in that stilted way.

    Is it really that much cheaper to green screen everything than to make physical sets? I would actually think the opposite to be honest.

  2. I just checked that The Warrior’s Way cost $42 million. If they had that kind of cash, I don’t know why they couldn’t film on location unless the action parts set outdoors really needed to be filmed on a green screen.

  3. This sounds just like one of those “erotic thrillers” Rourke used to do in the 90’s. Exit in Red, anyone? As for Murray, I remember that he was kinda scary in Mad Dog and Glory, but in my opinion he should stick to being the Murricane we know and love.

  4. Passion Play is a terrible title. They should have gone with THE BIRDWOMAN. The sequels would have written themself; SON OF THE BIRDWOMAN, THE CURSE OF THE BIRDWOMAN, THE FLIGHT OF THE BIRDWOMAN, BIRDWOMAN vs WOLFMAN, MECHA-BIRDWOMAN etc.

  5. Wild Orchid 2: Electric Bird Doodie

  6. Didn’t Mickey Rourke play the Bill Murray role in that Enrique Iglesias video? The one where Enrique sleeps w/ his arm candy (Jennifer Love Hewitt) and then Mickey has him beat up and left for dead in the desert? He’s come reverse-full circle now! (Considering Murray sounds like he’s playing the same guy from Mad Dog and Glory, maybe this movie is one big meta-joke)

    As for Megan Fox, I maintain that she’s fantastic in the scene where she’s about to get sacrificed in Jennifer’s Body. She’s not very good in the rest of the movie, but in that one scene there’s an almost snuff-film quality to her begging and pleading that’s miles away from her “performances” in the Transformers movies.

  7. I’m going to go ahead and defend the concept of this film. Sure, it sounds silly when you describe it in two or three sentences (Mickey Rourke steals a bird woman from a gangster Bill Murray). But most movies sound terrible when you try to describe them to someone who hasn’t seen the film before. Imagine trying to explain The Terminator or The Matrix to someone who had no idea what those movies were about. My guess is that in some parallel universe there is a much better version of Passion Play that has won best picture and is the highest grossing film of the year.

  8. “When the jealous ringmaster dude (Rhys Ifans) sees Mickey around he thinks this hep cat is trying to steal his bird-woman. He’s about to have Mickey killed via-snakebite.”

    I know that cider mixed with lager can be nasty, and it will fuck you up if you drink too much of it, but trying to kill someone with it is just not going to work imho.

  9. Jareth Cutestory

    April 29th, 2011 at 7:53 am

    RBatty024: In that parallel universe you mention, the story that PASSION PLAY was based on was written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the film was made by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

  10. On greenscreening etc.:
    I wonder if the popularization of this has to do mainly with the fact that the technology is now capable of fooling (if not the finished film’s audience) many a director looking at his digitally punched up footage. I read an interview with Joel Cohen where he said that seeing the dailies for their movies was the best part as far as him feeling like the film was going to be brilliant. And I wonder if there’s a similar effect on filmmakers as they watch Han Solo step on Jabba’s tail in its first rough version that unfortunately convinces them that the finished version will convince an audience with Cassidy in it that the effect fits seamlessly into the movie.

  11. Reminds me of Aerie from Baldur’s Gate 2.
    Or the movie Micheal.

    They should play up the wings. I’ll see a movie if its’ weird enough.

  12. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    April 29th, 2011 at 10:49 am

    DirkD13> I went down the snakebite route last night. It was mentioned as forgotten drink. By 2am its venom had taken its toll and I have spent the day suffering from its poison.

    I’m gonna have some more tonight.

  13. ANGEL HEART 2: WINGS OF DESIRE.

    I actually kinda dig the premise. Lots of potential for existential weirdness and Lynchian brutality. The dilemma is that just having a character with wings is not quite enough. You’ve gotta have something to say. The winged Fox has gotta have a reason for being and should be a catalyst for change in the other characters’ lives. She’s gotta be more than a simple Mcguffin which she appears to be here.

  14. I saw a blurb where Mickey Rourke trashed the movie and pretty much everything about it. Usually after something like this actors come out and backtrack on their statements and say they “misspoke” or whatever. Mickey owned it by admitting that it was a pretty dickish thing to say and he should have just kept his mouth shut. I can respect that.

  15. I remember liking MAD DOG & GLORY. I can’t be the only one.

  16. I have to cast my lot with Darryl and RBatty when I say that this movie sounds like exactly the sort of premise that would be awesome if executed well. Surreal, whimsical, bleak, with a cast full of interesting actors to make the human angle work. I guess bird-lady was never going to bring in that TRANSFORMERS cash, but if executed right it could have been sublime.

    Too bad.

  17. marlow is right, here is a link to a short AVClub article about what Rourke said about PASSION PLAY and a move he has coming out with 50 Cent. You have to love the guy’s honesty.

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/mickey-rourke-fully-aware-that-passion-play-is-ter,54545/

  18. Cassidy, I dont know much about movie making, but I do know how people think.

    Keep in mind most people in Hollywood don’t give a fuck about the movie. I mean, they care about what the set looks like, but not if it is real. They care if the set is done how they want it, but they don’t want to, you know, actually build it and/or fly there. That requires work, possible problems and not talking. And it seems like a lot of people in Hollywood like to talk and make money, and not work and make good/cool movies. This is solely based on my experiences of seeing all sorts of really good movie ideas ruined by crappy special effects and writing. And bad ideas passed. I am not pointing at directors, suits or anyone specific.

    To me, the question in a movie maker’s mind who uses green screen should be “Do I need to do this?”. Instead, I think its more like this “hmm…think everything through,design and build the set, deal with potential construction problems and constraints, risk it looking weird, and then possibly go to location, or, film at 1245 Paramount street at 9am and tell a computer jockey exactly what I want the set to look like. I can always change it later if it looks bad. It might look a little fake, but that’s the special effects team fault.”

    I think most people think the former.

  19. Knox Harrington

    April 29th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Flicks with hot chicks flying off into the sunset. I suddenly have fantasies of a young Jane Fonda and Megan Fox rubbing each other up.

    “An angel can not make love. An angel is love.”

    Shit, I think I just figured out how to save Megan Fox’s career. Barberella remake!

  20. Knox Harrington

    April 29th, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    I don’t mind if the whole film is shot on green screen. Done right, it can give a film a unique look and feel (Speed Racer is one of the best family films in years, as far as I’m concerned).

    What I do mind, however, is when a film is shot on location and suddenly a green screen shot just pops up out of nowhere. That inconsistency just pisses me the fuck off and takes me right out of the movie. It usually happens with scenes taking place inside a moving vehicle.

    Note to lazy filmmakers: Put in some effort, for fuck’s sakes! Sure, it’s more difficult to put a camera rig on a car and having to worry about background continuity and the extra hassle of sound recording, but filmmaking isn’t for people who simply look for the easiest way of doing things. Your movie’s gonna be around for generations to come. Make it look good, goddamnit.

  21. Mad Dog & Glory stars Uma Thurman’s glorious young perky lush breasts… I actually don’t remember anything else about it.

    Regarding greenscreen windows and such, they are greenscreened constantly and are usually seamless. I am still shocked by the amount of greenscreen views out windows that feature not in action or sci-fi films but in really mundane rom-coms too. You don’t even know they are added in until you suffer through the back-patting behind the scenes crap.

  22. Fuck that poster is awful. It’s actually hard to comprehend the film actually exists. It seems more like a joke film from the last action hero video shop.

  23. Killing people with a snake is really popular in movies but it almost never works. Does anyone ever try this shit in real life? Are there any instances in a movie where it actually DID work?

  24. Mad Dog and Glory is a great little film. A young naked Uma Thurman, a young David Caruso in one of his tough guy roles, Bill Murray as a tough/sarcastic/sad mobster, etc. De Niro does a good job playing a shy/meek crime scene photographer. When you think of De Niro, you think of all his mobster/tough guy roles but in this one he does a great job playing a kind of spineless coward (at least until the end). It also has one of the most disturbingly awkward sex scenes (next to The Cooler aka William H. Macy’s pasty white ass).

  25. “Killing people with a snake is really popular in movies but it almost never works. Does anyone ever try this shit in real life? Are there any instances in a movie where it actually DID work?”
    Kill Bill. And there was that movie set on a plane a few years ago. I forget the title…

  26. Knox Harrington

    April 29th, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Anaconda 4: Anaconda on a Honda?

  27. Oh, and HARD TARGET has a snake being used in a trap.

  28. “But I guess normal people hate interesting stuff”

    unfortunately I think this is true, it seems like movies that try to have unique or creative visuals get a really hard time these days

    take for example audiences turning their noses up at movies with really creative visuals over the last few years, Speed Racer, Scott Pilgrim, Sucker Punch

  29. and I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Megan Fox, it’s pretty obvious her career is bound for obscure-ville

    I remember when after Transformers she was really hot shit like it was yesterday

  30. Ace – I feel your pain bro. I feel it in my kidneys!

  31. RE: Cassidy

    Actually, creating backgrounds and sets is one of the things that CGI can do most seamlessly. For example, you have no idea how much of Zodiac just wasn’t there. Huge amounts of that film’s backgrounds are pure CGI or CGI enhanced. Sure, when you get all Prequel’ed out on the set design it doesn’t work too well. But for subtle enhancements and even wholesale recreations of realistic areas, CGI can expand the scope of a film far more than set dressing ever could.

  32. Sure, it’s easy to say, “people in Hollywood don’t care about movies.” But come on. That’s bullshit and you know it. If you want to make money, you don’t go to Hollywood. It’s tilting at windmills, pure at simple. You have to get involved because of some basic passion if only because the odds are so against you. You might lose some of that passion along the way, but it was there for pretty much everyone in the biz.

    There are also basic business concerns at play here. The reality of it all is pretty banal.

    You have a 12-on/12-off work schedule. You can’t work your crew for more than 12 hours at a time for safety reasons. A lot of below the lines were falling asleep at the wheel and dying. There are only X number of shooting days. If you film the scene without the green screen it will take a day and a half to film and they have to be location days, (meaning you have to drive more than 50 miles from LA, iirc), which means you have to put everyone on the ENTIRE CREW up in a hotel and give them 3 meals and probably a per diem for some of the higher ups. Plus, you lose time on matching lighting and fixing continuity.

    In addition to this, you have the opportunity cost of shooting it on location. If you have a 1 1/2 shoot, that gives you 1 1/2 fewer days to film the big, emotional, 5 page monologue. And you know what? You’re doing the movie because of that fucking monologue. Your lead actor is doing the movie because of that monologue. The script made the black list because of that monologue. So, do you take the extra day and a half to make the core of the movie the best it can possibly be and then squeeze in the green screen scene in half a day, or do you go to the location and hope that your actor can nail the key scene in the movie in less time than you think he needs?

    I think you say, “Fuck it. The green screen might be a bit distracting, but it works well enough.”

    It’s also results bias here. You’re assimilating the data of what is “lost” with the shitty green screens but not making note of what is GAINED in other parts of the movie because of them.

  33. Knox Harrington

    May 1st, 2011 at 4:23 am

    But surely that’s something you prepare for in pre-production. You decide whether or not green screen will be a factor way before you start shooting and you adjust the schedule accordingly. Production will go to great lengths to ensure the director gets the shots he wants.

    Also, shooting that monologue scene doesn’t take nearly as long as shooting that driving scene. It’s a basic scheduling rule: Dialogue usually takes less than half the amount of time any scene involving any kind of physical action does. I know, I’ve scheduled a few. A five line paragraph can take a day to shoot. Two pages of dialogue can take merely a few hours.

    I get what you’re saying, Hunter, but it all depends on the scene, and if proper preparation is taken, these things can be avoided (that’s if the filmmakers care to avoid them in the first place). The movie I was thinking of when I mentioned a green screen popping up out of the blue was Hotel Rwanda. Most of that film takes place on location. And yet there’s a daylight car driving scene where they used green screen in the background. Now, we don’t know what the hell happened there. They could have run out of daylight on the last day on that location (although they would still need a 2nd or 3rd unit to go back and shoot the backgrounds). Or they realized that they needed the shot way after shooting was done. Or something happened to the film stock (this happens). And let’s face it, the budget wasn’t that of a blockbuster. I get it. These things happen. Doesn’t mean we should be happy with it. Like Hitchcock said, preparation is everything (ironically, he was the king of fake-background driving scenes).

    All I’m saying is, these things can be avoided if you really go to the effort of avoiding them in the first place. There was no green screen in There Will Be Blood or The Assassination of Jesse James (that I know of), and those films did not cost much. But they were made by master filmmakers who knew eaxctly what they wanted. Any good production team will leave 10%-15% of their schedule and budget open for the unforseeable. Be prepared. Murphy happens.

    Anyway, it’s a minor annoyance and I’m probably the only one who gets annoyed with it. I still like Hotel Rwanda (even if that one scene completely takes me out of the movie for a while).

  34. Knox Harrington

    May 1st, 2011 at 4:30 am

    “eaxctly.”

    It’s french for egg.

  35. Knox Harrington

    I just picked a big monologue because I was thinking about how they spent 11 days shooting that opening scene in The Social Network. Also, I’d been reading stage plays on the bus all day so I was pretending that everyone on a film set would be really excited about words instead of tits and explosions. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally on team tits and explosions, but I’m the team secretary, so I still like words, you know?)

    And yes, you do figure it out during pre-production. You decided to do shoot the car scene in 1/2 a day, during preproduction. You prioritize scenes and sometimes you end up throwing one or two of them under the bus so that you can have a really cool looking scene where the villain is *literally* thrown under a bus.

    Also, Jesse James and TWBB were made by filmmakers who only make about 1 movie every 5 years. They’re obsessive perfections and don’t represent a realistic model to follow. Also, I think both of those films cost about 50 million to make. Which, when you consider how niche they actually are, is a massive budget indeed.

  36. Knox Harrington

    May 2nd, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I think There Will Be Blood cost $25 million and Jesse James cost $30 million.

    I do get your point, though. Guess I prefer the perfectionists.

  37. I see the point too, Hunter. But I think in the example I stated, it was a creative decision because the movie was extremely stylistic and had a very hard fantasy element to it so I “got it” on that level. However, all the CGI stuff didn’t really gel with the actors and was extremely distracting when it’s so obvious in the background.

    For those other movies where CGI is not very obvious or not noticable at all, those were relatively minor, not exactly on the scale of recreating an entire backdrop exterior background for a scene is clearly filmed on a stage.

  38. Has Ms. Fox EVER played an interesting character? Has she ever been given any kind of a role that allows her to shine? I ask that because I think the most interesting on paper would be “Jennifer’s Body” and I couldn’t sit through twenty minutes of that.

  39. Griff – who “turned their noses up” at “Scott Pilgrim”? I know it didn’t do great in America, but the cinema I saw it in was packed.

    Knox – c’mon, man, stop with the totally random references, or did I miss something? “French for egg”, what the FUCK? Dude, I know you like to quote the semi-relevant and slightly more esoteric stuff without all that much context, but sometimes you just gotta say that an oeuf is an oeuf.

  40. I’m late to the discussion, but in terms of “CGI/green screen enhanced backgrounds and stuff”, I got here a very interesting demo reel from a FX company. Some of that will blow your mind, especially the stuff that was made just for TV!

    http://vimeo.com/8337356

  41. Mobile phone, video game, HDtv

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