Actor’s Spotlight with Stephanie Kurtzuba

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We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.

Bad Boys For Life

My first thought after seeing Bad Boys For Life: Will Smith beating the living piss out of that fat fucking potato DJ Khaled is the most cathartic, pleasing thing thing I’ve seen all month. The film overall? It’s complicated, but I thought it was solid. Here’s the trajectory thus far: the first Bad Boys film was a fairly conventional, hugely enjoyable Michael Bay action romp that neither stood out nor faded from memory. The second film, however, saw Bay lose his mind in the best way possible and make the most batshit insane, balls out, edgy, fucked up screaming unhinged roller coaster flick probably… ever. Not since Crank 2 had a sequel utterly and obnoxiously left its predecessor in the dust wondering what happened, and to this day it’s one of my favourite action films ever made. So the thing is, Bad Boys 3 was just never going to reach the levels of drugged up, casually racist, cheerfully homophobic, unapologetically tasteless, hugely entertaining chaos. That being said, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are older, the world has unfortunately changed and their adventures this third time around are a tad more laid back, a bit more introspective yet still filled with enough explosions, gunshot wounds, blood, profanity and the irresistible buddy comedy chemistry that makes their pairing such a winning dynamic.

Smith’s Mike Lowry never seemed to lose his daredevil, thrill seeking edge while Lawrence’s Marcus is now a grandfather with thoughts of retiring and putting all the chases, shootouts and violence in his rear view. That works for a time until dangerous people from Mike’s past roar back into both their lives to terrorize Miami and spur them both back into action for one last ride. They’re joined by AMMO, the obligatory millennial update to the climate of any given old school franchise that finds itself resurrected, with badass characterizations from Alexander Ludwig, Paola Nuñez and a smokin Vanessa Hudgens. Joe Pantoliano also returns, stressed out as ever as their captain, he gets one of the film’s moments of surprising gravity when he basically uses parable to tell Mike he’s gotta slow his roll or he’ll kick the bucket soon. There’s a hell of an antagonist in the wings stirring trouble, an intensely attractive, hellishly angry Mexican Bruja witch (Kate Del Castillo) with designs on obliterating Mike and everyone he knows. Cue a series of chases, stakeouts, firefights and impressive action sequences, my favourite of which has to be a highway pursuit with Mike on a motorbike and Marcus in sidecar messing about with a terrific arsenal of cartel weaponry (“that is God’s gun!!!”). It’s a rock solid sequel and one can’t really complain or find anything to gripe about here other than the fact that it’s just so much more relaxed and less certifiably loony than Bad Boys 2, but I’ve reconciled that. I miss that deliberately provocative, nihilistic aesthetic but I appreciate this slightly more mellowed out, plot based one too. A good time at the movies.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Gammon Performances

James Gammon May not have been a household name but as consummate Hollywood character actor and grizzled veteran of cowboy westerns his presence was near unparalleled. With a raspy drawl and an essence that was one part hunter killer, one part leathered frontiersman with a touch of endearing teddy bear (he actually did voice a bear in one film, though it didn’t make this list) he always made a terrific impression and became one of my favourite ‘that guy’ actors as I began to discover cinema in my youth. Here are my top ten performances from his varied and fascinating career:

10. Roger Wayne in Luiso Berdejo’s The New Daughter

I included this moody Kevin Costner horror thriller because it was Gammon’s final film appearance before passing a few years ago. Costner plays a rural father whose adopted daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero) begins to exhibit weird, possibly supernatural behaviour. He digs a little deeper into the mystery and comes across Roger, a man who dealt with the very same issue in his own children years ago and whose methods were… questionable. Gammon gives this homeless old dude a chilling edge in his curtain call appearance.

9. Ironbutt Garrett in Running Cool

This is the most lighthearted, benign biker flick you’ll probably ever see. Drifter Bone (Andrew Divoff) reunites with old pal Garrett to take down evil, prejudiced land developers threatening both their land and biker way of life. The camaraderie and friendship between the two is nicely illustrated with both, two epic cult actors sharing the screen. Plus, his name is fucking Ironbutt, how can you go wrong with that.

8. Sheriff Henderson in Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered

The creator of Blair Witch Project brought us this little seen alien horror flick combined with the classic cabin in the woods setting. Gammon plays a county Sheriff (one of many throughout his career) who comes knocking when weird sounds are heard and has what you’d call a ‘close encounter.’ His reaction upon being told that the thing that viciously attacked him is an extraterrestrial? “Shit. That’s fucked up.” He was capable of such wry, deadpan line delivery even in a tense, unnerving situation.

7. Esco Swanger in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain

A frontier family man before the civil war, Esco resents the rabble rousing in his town and brings a subtle antiwar perspective to the large and varied cast. When one of of his kids declares proudly that he’s going to fight for the south, his boisterous retort: “Last I heard, the south was a direction!” He steals any scene he’s in here from a huge roster of supporting characters and makes a vivid impression in this beautiful but uneven war epic.

6. Sam Parker in Outlaw Trail: The Treasure Of Butch Cassidy

This is a low budget made for TV kids flick about a group of youngsters searching for gold buried by the legendary bandit. Gammon plays the grandfather of one of them and their lineage can be traced right back to Butch, which he’s none too pleased about. He resents illegal activity and sees his legacy as childish and pointless, until his grandson makes good on the treasure hunt and brightens everyone’s day. Silly flick overall but he gives his scenes a stormy, melancholic aura and plus it’s one of the only appearances in his career where he’s not sporting that moustache, kinda like Sam Elliott.

5. Nick Bridges in Nash Bridges

A flashy Don Johnson cop show, James plays his lovable but troublesome father, a retired longshoreman with slight dementia, an affinity for get rich quick schemes and the kind of rebellious nature that gets passed from father to son.

4. The Texan in Tony Scott’s Revenge

Kevin Costner’s bloodied up antihero meets many people on his journey to recovery and retribution in this sweaty, seedy south of the border melodrama, one of which is Texan, a mysterious horse trainer who meanders across Mexico, dying of some undisclosed illness and acting as a kind of soldier of fortune in between breaking colts. He helps Costner out in that laconic, weathered fashion that’s just south of nice guy and just the this side of badass.

3. FBI Agent Teddy Lee in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

The hunt for elusive, spectral serial killer Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) has many procedural moving parts but Teddy essentially spies the clue that leads them right to his doorstep. The film is an austere, surreal and often heavy mood piece full of intense, hushed and introspective performances. It may seem counterintuitive of Singh to cast rambunctious, rowdy Gammon in a key supporting part but the offset works beautifully and he livens up an otherwise grim series of events in his brief screen time.

2. Lou Brown in Major League

Sassy coach to the dysfunctional Cleveland Indians, Lou is coaxed away from his apparently way more interesting job selling tires to put together a winning roster and kick the team out of a royal slump. He’s a take-no-shit, old school dude with enough grit and attitude to both get them into the winning streak and stir up all kinds of political trouble within the league while he’s at it.

1. California Joe in Walter Hill’s Wild Bill

A moody, fragmented look at the final few years in the life of Bill Hickock (played with sterling charm by Jeff Bridges), Gammon embodies Joe perfectly. He’s a hell-raiser, gunslinger, sidekick, friend and confidante to the legendary figure and provides many a memorable moment, in one of the most dynamic, front and centre roles he got in his career.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Clarke Duncan Performances

Michael Clarke Duncan was one of Hollywood’s gentle giants for decades, an instantly recognizable presence with intense physicality and a deep baritone voice full of expression. One might think that he’d get cast in a lot of tough guy villain roles but his career path found him often lending talent to comedic characters and lighthearted fare. That’s not to say he couldn’t embody a hulking bruiser when the opportunity came along, but he managed a terrific variety in his work before passing away far too soon in 2012. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Benjamin King in Saint’s Row

This is voiceover work in a series of video games but I had to include at least one VO performance because of the sheer power and unique energy he could project. A sprawling urban crime epic in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, King is a self made millionaire, organized crime arch-boss, philanthropist, mega businessman and all around badass who commands a vast army, exudes both class and street smarts and reigns supreme. It’s a devilishly enjoyable vocal performance full of witty barbs, dark humour and booming tough talk.

9. Murdoch in See Spot Run

This is a silly, silly film but I’ve got some childhood nostalgia for it. Murdoch is a federal agent who gets a bit too attached to his canine unit partner and just can’t handle it when the dog runs off to assist a young boy (the kid from Two & A Half Men) and his infantile father (David Arquette) in taking down a cartoonish mobster (Paul Sorvino). Duncan plays him as an unflappably alpha tough guy who’s banging a fellow agent (Kim Hawthorne) but is reduced to tears when he can’t find his dog. I think we could all relate.

8. Attar in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes

Add prosthetic makeup and fur to his already hulking frame and you’ve got one memorable, scary and conflicted turn as head general to a maniacal ape warlord (a scene stealing Tim Roth). Attar is an old school, militaristic individual who resents his boss’s extremism but isn’t above launching a lethal hunt for the human trespassers on their world.

7. Bear in Michael Bay’s Armageddon

Bruce Willis’s ragtag team of oil drillers turned astronauts are an eclectic, entertaining bunch but perhaps most adorable and endearing is Duncan’s Bear. He’s rowdy, lovable, rides a chopper, lends his pipes to Ben Affleck’s impromptu serenade of ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ and his first thought when asked to basically save the world is to request a stay at the White House.

6. Starkweather Two-Delta/Jamal Starkweather in Michael Bay’s The Island

Here he displays heart wrenching emotional range as a clone who wakes up mid surgery as an evil corporation harvests his organs for a rich client. It’s kind of an extended cameo but the outrage, hurt and desperate effort for survival is something haunting to see, and his work drives the film’s themes of ethics and morality home affectingly.

5. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil

Netflix’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s frightening Kingpin have taken up both the mantle and the critical acclaim these days, but I still have a lot of love for this version and Michael’s imposing, classy yet brutal portrayal of the biggest baddie in Hell’s Kitchen. He rocks the crisp pinstripe suit, massive cigar and has both the keen intellect and bruising physicality of Fisk, illustrated nicely in a bone crunching final showdown with Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock.

4. The General in Reto Salimbeni’s One Way

This curious, fascinating and overlooked indie drama sees him play a mysterious military general who serves as protector and metaphysical guardian angel to protagonist Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith). She’s a sexual abuse survivor with a tragic past whose trauma has likely manifested him, and at key moments in her life he appears to console and fight for her. He makes grave, compassionate work of such an esoteric character.

3. Manute in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

Another slightly esoteric character, Manute is a gigantic, nearly invincible mafia enforcer tasked with neutralizing the unruly hookers of Old Town in this arresting noir realm of murder and madness. Attired in a smart suit that’s half military and all business, sporting a giant golden eyeball (that’s another story) and annunciating in disarmingly well fashioned vernacular, he’s a striking, slightly surreal villain played with gentlemanly yet sinister relish by Duncan. He was recast for the sequel after his passing by Dennis Haysbert, who gave it his all but couldn’t quite capture the magic that Michael gifted this role with.

2. Cleon Salmon in Broken Lizard’s The Slammin Salmon

The funniest performance of his career in one of the best entries by Lizard, who are truly an underrated comedic creative team. The egotistical, boorish owner of a swanky Miami seafood hotspot, Cleon has lost a whole whack of money in a game of ‘Japanese Albino hunting’ (strictly catch and release) and is now making his restaurant staff earn it all back for him in one night under the pretence of a contest. Duncan plays this dude as a maniacal loudmouth who always has to be the centre of attention, get the last laugh and bellow out his running joke of a catchphrase “Whateva mothafucka!!!!” to anyone in earshot. A stroke of comic brilliance.

1. John Coffey in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile

His work as a death row inmate with a mysterious telepathic ability earned him a well deserved best supporting actor. Coffey is accused of child rape and murder, yet there’s more to the story we find as the block’s head guard (Tom Hanks) learns more about his his extraordinary power to absorb others pain both literally and figuratively. It’s a heartbreaking performance, the one that got him acclaim in Hollywood and the beautiful piece of acting that I’ll always remember him for.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s What Did Jack Do?

Not since Pirates Of The Caribbean has a monkey named Jack made such a hilarious, adorable and frequently unsettling impression. David Lynch is many things on top of my favourite filmmaker of all time, one being a master of the unexpected surprise, both within any given project he crafts and in the way he presents or markets them to his audience. It’s just like him to quietly sneak a seventeen minute short film onto Netflix on his 74th birthday with little fanfare, but here it is. What Did Jack Do is pure Lynch magic: a police detective (Lynch himself) interrogates a talking monkey (Jack Cruz) who is suspected of murdering farmyard birds, but keeps dodging the man’s questions with enigmatic idioms that have little to do with the overall flow of conversation, or lack thereof. That’s basically it, but the signature style and dreamlike sustained atmosphere makes it feel like so much more than just a short about a talking monkey. Lynch sits, stares, smokes cigarettes and annunciates in that clear, purposeful yet slyly elusive way that only he can. The monkey also sits but gazes around nervously as his mannerisms are animated in that unnerving way that those Annoying Orange videos are, yet somehow it seems not tacky like those were but more lifelike than if they’d used CGI, but that’s Lynch’s gift for unconventional practical effects. He shoots in the same ghostly, stark textured black and white employed in Twin Peaks: The Return and yet again crafts something haunting, mesmeric and subconsciously affecting. His wife makes a cameo playing a waitress who serves them, you guessed it, coffee. At one point Jack breaks out into the kind of otherworldly song routine that immediately reminds one of Lynch’s breakout film Eraserhead. It might sound like I’m detailing too much for a film so short but it doesn’t really matter; you can describe a Lynch film down to its buttons in every detail and the reader would still have no clue of its power until they take the plunge themselves. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some living room where the folks have no idea who Lynch is or what he’s about and just pick this from the Netflix lineup thinking it’s a cute little monkey documentary, heh.

-Nate Hill

The Glass House

The Glass House is one of those silly, sensationalist, bombastic pieces of melodramatic domestic turmoil branding itself as the slickest thriller on the block. It thinks it’s a lot smarter, more suspenseful and shocking than it actually is and despite the fact that it’s a total riot of bad movie cliches and overcooked hoo-hah, I still had a bit of fun with it. The main reason it kind of works is casting; Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard are just watchable in anything no matter the quality, and here you get to see them play the world’s worst foster parents to two wayward orphans (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan). They at first seem like nice, caring folks: they’re rich, well put together, hospitable and live in a big old house atop a hill that’s just secluded enough to come in handy later when things go wrong. Soon it becomes apparent these two are whackos though. Skarsgard’s Terry is a dangerous manipulator who is hellbent on nabbing the kid’s four million trust fund left by their parents, while Lane’s Erin is an unstable junkie prone to weird outbursts and scary behaviour. It’s tough since no one really believes these kids and the whole thing circles the drain to one of those hilariously over the top forgone thriller conclusions that has a chase, several implausible fights, some cat and mouse stuff and plenty of villainous posturing from the two leads. Sobieski is always solid (see Joyride for a much better thriller starring her), Skarsgard no stranger to playing unhinged psychos and Lane although cast against her sweetheart type rocks the batshit chick aesthetic well. They’re all just stuck in such a formulaic, dull ass, waterlogged script that doesn’t step an inch out of line or do anything different than we’ve seen loads of times before. The only thing that really stands out beyond being adequate is the lighting, which really cracks on blu Ray. Other than that and the game performances it’s a trip through mediocrity town.

-Nate Hill

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – Season 1

If you’re a fan of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials book series you’ll know what a complex, unique, mystical and demanding story it is, deserving of an adaptation that takes themes, character and pacing seriously. If you’ve seen the 2007 Golden Compass film you will know just how monumentally, how embarrassingly they failed at bringing this very special piece of storytelling to life and doing the source material justice. Second times the charm though, I’m happy to report that HBO’s long form crack at it is a gorgeously dense, adequately mature and living, breathing, convincingly built model of Pullman’s literary work.

Logan’s Dafne Keen is Lyra Belacqua, a mysterious child adopted by a collective scholarship in an alternate dimension where every human being has a ‘daemon,’ literal pieces of their soul manifested as animals in the physical realm, lifelong companions tethered by an intangible yet essential bond. Lyra is periodically watched over by her shrewdly ambitious uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy understands this guy far better than Daniel Craig did), but his interests ultimately lie north in the arctic where he researches elusive metaphysical phenomena deemed ‘heresy’ by the Majesterium, a fascist, omnipresent religious sect that makes the churches of our world seem like kindergarten playtime in comparison. Anyways, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are swept up in an epic quest northbound to discover where the missing children of the roaming Gyptian clans have gone, find answers to the secret of her own identity and even possibly unlock portals to other worlds, including our own.

In a way the film never stood a chance next to this simply by default; one book is just going to breathe better in eight hour length episodes rather than one two hour movie no matter how you spin it. However, where this truly eclipses the past effort is its attention to detail and proper care in bringing several complicated and difficult relationships to life, as well as an ever present and necessary tone of darkness. Lyra and the power mad Marissa Coulter (Ruth Wilson is terrifyingly conflicted) are such an important, vital dynamic to this story and both actresses soar in their scenes together. McAvoy finds the callous, tunnel vision mentality to Asriel nicely, this guy is no hero or proper father figure, just a desperate explorer hellbent on that horizon no matter the personal cost. James Cosmo gives a heartbreaking, Emmy worthy turn as Farder Coram, the Gyptian elder who once shared a great love with Northern Witch Serefina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas). The only somewhat weak link is Lin Manuel Miranda as gunslinging aeronaut Lee Scoresby, who is a bit less grizzled than the character demands (Sam Elliott played him far better in the film) and could use a brush up in the acting department, but he still makes an impression. There are armoured bears, battles on the ice, northern lights, trips into our world through secured doorways, voyages far into the arctic circle and more, but what makes this so successful is the human element, and the willingness to tackle themes that some young adult adaptations just don’t seem to want to address. Lyra struggles with trust, understanding the world and dealing with the adults in her life, two of which cause her great pain and suffering when they should be the two most supportive and loving ones. It’s a difficult, often harrowing and tragic journey for a child to make, but one worth taking for how seriously the show runners wish to take it. Bring on season 2.

-Nate Hill

Nickelodeon’s Snow Day

Lol anyone remember Nickelodeon’s Snow Day? It’s one of those early 2000’s kids comedies that now exists in a time bubble all its own. They’ve neither aged well nor poorly, they just simply… are (kind of like Max Keeble’s Big Move). I remember watching this on YTV on a legit actual Vancouver snow day when I was a kid and nothing beat the sheer delirious elation that there’s no school and you can run outside for all kinds of wintry hijinks and destruction.

This one is adrift with subplots and iconic adult celebrities in cameos, and unfortunately mostly revolves around one idiot lovesick teen (Mark Webber) trying to woo the most popular girl in the neighborhood (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who is newly single. It’s a lame, tired and kinda misinformed motif but thanks to the sheer pandemonium revolving around it, the film is still pretty fun. Chevy Chase has a bit as his dad, the local tv weatherman forced to endure intense degradation by wearing a different winter themed costume for every broadcast, but it’s no less humiliating than the actor’s entire career overall, to be honest. There’s a running gag involving the school principal (Damien Young) who just wants to get home but keeps getting peppered by snowballs from an armada of unseen kids who ambush him at every turn. Other welcome appearances come from Pam Grier, Jean Smart, John Schneider and, uh.. Iggy Pop as a weirdo radio DJ.

Probably the most memorable element of the film is perennial Hollywood simpleton and lowbrow comedic jackass Chris Elliott as Snowplow Man, the only one with the unholy power to clear the roads and get school back in session. This makes him target zero for the neighbourhood kids and their furious battle against him is where the film really cuts loose and he gets to chew more scenery than he did as that handicapped Amish dude who kept saying “pee pee vagina” in Scary Movie 4 (I still laugh like an immature kid at that to this day). He laugh like a maniac and calls his plow truck ‘Darling Clementine’, it’s an inspired piece of WTF arch-villain-ry. It’s all in good fun, but the romantic central thing is just so dumb. Sissy Spacek’s daughter plays the guy’s best friend who is clearly head over heels for him while he ogles the classic popular chick and it’s painful to watch. Nevertheless, I hold a nostalgia for this and I wish they’d release it streaming somewhere to put on when we get legit snow days like today.

-Nate Hill