Michael Caton-Jones’s This Boy’s Life

Michael Caton-Jones’s This Boy’s Life is based on a true story of abuse, of which there are thousands every year, many heard and many unheard. This one doesn’t end up as bad as some or as good as others but I liked that it didn’t make the abuse a centrepiece for the film and rather used it to show a fascinating character dynamic between 50’s teenager Tobias (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his nasty stepfather Dwight (Robert DeNiro). Tobias and his mother (Ellen Barkin) come from a free spirited background, abandoned by his birth father and left to roam the States looking for a new provider. She meets and marries Dwight pretty quick, and Tobias also figures out what he’s made of real quick too. Dwight is a nasty, bitter, violent, pathetic piece of human garbage whose self esteem is so low he’s just gotta take it out on others around him, often in a cartoonish way. He’s the type of guy that if you fronted on him in a bar or he got in your grille, you’d just laugh and brush him off rather than fight because you just feel sorry for the guy. Tobias is a teenager though and can’t actually stand up to him in a brawl, making him a prime target for years of physical and psychological abuse which his mom refuses to be a referee. This isn’t a sad or depressing film because we realize that this can’t go on forever, the real life man it’s based on grew up to be a successful professor of literature and the film is never downbeat, just desperate. This is Leo’s debut lead role and he kills it, finding that anger and resilience that will go on to be building blocks in his now legendary career. DeNiro is very anti DeNiro here if you catch my drift. Used to playing extroverted alpha males, he switches it up for an extroverted weasel who thinks he’s hot shit. The only thing I would have eighty-sixed is the Fargo style Minnesota accent he tries on for size as it doesn’t suit him and he’s never been an accent savvy actor. Watch for an uncomfortable appearance from Chris Cooper as well as striking early career work from Carla Gugino, Tobey McGuire and Eliza Dushku who is so young here she’s unrecognizable. This film feels loose and episodic at times but remember these are someone’s memories here and those can be tricky, illusory beasts. I love the way it feels, like several slices of life during adolescence, a point where life can be at its most tempestuous and confusing, therefore making for excellent material. Set in the lush Pacific Northwest and attuned with production design that is studious to the 50’s aesthetic, this is a great film for any actor to find their debut in.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

Amazon Prime’s Goliath: Season One

Amazon Prime has sneakily started to put out some incredible original shows in the last few years, it’s really worth signing up (way cheaper than cluttered ass Netflix) to see the exciting directions they’re headed in. One such show is Goliath, which on the surface appears to be a slick, spotlight showcase for Billy Bob Thornton in another one of his now platinum alpha male loudmouth roles. It is that, to an extent, but it’s also a detailed, densely written mosaic of Los Angeles life viewed through a prism of classism, corruption, dishevelled family values and high powered corporate war games.

Thornton is Billy McBride, a disgraced lawyer who helped found the largest and most powerful mega-firm in LA only to be barred from it years later and left in exile. He mopes around in a cheap Santa Monica hotel, wanders the beach at night with bottle in hand and gives a local stray dog some love. This is until maybe the biggest lawsuit of his career yanks him out of bleary eyed entropy and pits him against not only his old firm but the largest high tech weapons manufacturing giant in the country. The show is aptly titled and works beautifully as an underdog story. Billy is low rent, works out of motel rooms and storage units, hires whoever will tolerate him and often prepares speeches and depositions over a high ball at the local dive. The firm is clean cut, ruthless, well researched and not afraid to get extremely dirty in protecting their powerful, scary client. Atop the skyscraper’s penthouse sits co founder Donald Cooperman, a bitter old Machiavellian lunatic played by William Hurt. Hurt embodies him like Harvey Dent crossed with a Bond villain, an eccentric asshole who coldly shunts his lawyers and clerks around the firm’s checker board and communicates with a paratrooper clicky thing, making every move he can to stonewall Billy’s case.

This is Thornton’s best role in years and he does get to do that patented snarky thing that every Bad Santa fan always cheers for, but McBride is also a well rounded, very human character rooted in backstory, fuelled by emotion and dynamic in his interaction and well guarded compassion for the people in his life. His law clerk is an escort girl (Tanya Raymonde), his ex wife (Maria Bello) works for Cooperman’s firm and his daughter (Diana Hopper) resents his wayward lifestyle but loves him unconditionally. There’s an eventual loyalty and tribal feel to his ragtag entourage that I picked up on and enjoyed a lot. They have casted this thing to the nines and picked unique actors for parts you wouldn’t have pictured them in too. Molly Parker is a right cunt as the firm’s lead shark, scene stealing like a pro and positively dripping acid in court. Olivia Thirlby nails the rookie just coming out of her shell, Nina Arianada is a sharp, foul mouthed go getter as a lawyer representing the family suing this firm, and watch for appearances from Jason Ritter, Brent Briscoe, Sarah Wynter, Dwight Yoakam, Damon Gupton and Harold Perrineau as a shrewd, no nonsense judge.

This is of course only a review of the first season, but on its own I can’t really think of anything wrong with it. It’s smartly written, emotionally relatable, super exciting and looks beautiful visually. It’s a story of redemption, one of the little guy standing up to essentially the biggest bully you can dream up and even has elements of family drama as well as thoughtful romance. Thornton and Hurt lead the herd like the pros they are, but everyone in their wake gives equally as powerful work. The locations feel authentic, lived in and detailed, considering they shot in the actual Santa Monica motel and bar that we see onscreen. This tale reaches seemingly mythic heights at times but never falters in catching the little moments, the gaps in between important plot establishing scenes that show characters simply interacting casually or chatting about their favourite movies. You don’t see that kind of care put in much, but damn it goes a long way. I’m somewhat apprehensive about season two after a reported writer switch up that garnered some nasty reviews across the board, but we’ll see. As it stands, season one is its own enclosed story, works spectacularly and I’m happy we got it. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Hidden Gems: Reto Salimbeni’s One Way

Reto Salimbeni’s One Way literally starts off one way and throws curve ball after left field turn after another until you really begin to appreciate a truly original script for once. Granted he produced his film in indie land where there’s considerably more creative freedom than the studio system but still, this is one unique film and I promise you it’s not the action thriller that the US market has tried to sell it as.

As the film opens, teenage Angelina is pursued and sexually assaulted by several boys alongside a riverbank. Suddenly a mysterious military general (the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan) appears out of nowhere and, after gaining her permission, positively ventilates them with a sub-machine gun. Jump cut to a decade or so later and we see hotshot advertising exec Eddie (Til Schweiger), married to the boss’s daughter (Stephanie Von Pfetten) but cheating on her every chance he gets with multiple women. Grown up Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith) works for the firm too, and they both get entangled up in a murder investigation involving the boss’s son (Sebastian Roberts), who is a sadistic rapist and very dangerous given his position of power.

I’ve done my best to somewhat describe the story so you have a vague idea of what this is all about but it’s tough to impart just how twisty and unexpected the thing gets, and that’s half the fun. Schweiger isn’t exactly an actor of dramatic heft, often appearing as stylized characters or posturing tough guys, but he does alright here as the sheepish philanderer who learns his lesson big time. Smith is fantastic as the most sympathetic character and the closest we come to a clear cut protagonist, dealing with the most tragic, yet ultimately heroic arc and nailing it beautifully. Duncan is the most striking character and is seen the least but always makes a huge impression, here in a small but incredibly key role. Watch for Art Hindle, Kenneth Welsh, Ned Bellamy and Eric Roberts in a brilliant extended cameo as a defense attorney who gets a few big dramatic moments of his own.

I can see why this film was tough to market as there is so much going on tonally, narratives weaving together at their own leisure and nothing really conventional about it at all. There’s corporate espionage, courtroom intrigue, emotional interpersonal drama and many more elements at play. Really though it’s about confronting your past, dealing with trauma particularly when it comes to sexual abuse and standing up to people who attack with impunity. Smith’s character takes front and center here, getting a gruesome revenge scene that rivals The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in it’s intensity. She has to face the horrors of her past full on here, whilst dealing with the legal problems Schweiger has thrown into the mix and it all makes for a unique, emotionally stirring and hypnotic hidden gem of a drama that I highly recommend.

-Nate Hill

Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road is a film set in the 1950’s and decidedly so, but that is just happenstance because the story it tells could happen anywhere, in any time period. The setting, though elaborately, meticulously and unobtrusively staged, is just the gilding on this suburban tragedy of restlessness, shaky ideals and marriage at levels of disintegration that prove combustible.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet join forces again as Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly harmonious white picket fence family who have achieved the American Dream. Cute little house in a sunny neighbourhood, two adorable children, he has a rat race office job while she plays homemaker. Idyllic, right? Anything but. These two are monumentally unhappy in ways that prove complex enough to haunt the viewer later on. She’s unwilling to hammer down that last corner of settled life and give up on further dreams, he simultaneously hates and depends on his worker bee employment like a security blanket. They make plans. Life, and the both of them get in the way. It’s kind of a vague premise to just read about in a review or synopsis and you have to watch the thing to get its rhythm and timbre, but what it has to say is important, heartbreaking and timeless.

Leo and Kate follow up their sweet, innocent tragedy of Titanic with a love story eons removed, a bitter tale of two people who’d love each other if they didn’t hate each other so much, and hate each other if they didn’t love each other so much. It’s a tricky, multilayered pair of performances to nail in tandem but they’re there in synergistic equilibrium and both give what might be their finest work. Suburbia is populated by supporting characters who revolve around them cautiously but never get fully sucked in to their destructive orbit. They’re played by the sterling likes of Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Max Baker and Michael Shannon in a fierce cameo as a sort of Greek Chorus type individual who comments on this couple’s plight with acidic abandon. Mendes chooses locations over a soundstage which is always tricky, but the level of authenticity you get once that is pulled off can’t be compared. 1050’s suburbia seems to come alive as we feel each breeze come in through an open window, see the tree lined street just beyond the borders of a real house they’re shooting in and watch the automobiles actually wind their way down a street. Thomas Newman provides a score that doesn’t cloy or manipulate but follows along dutifully while humming away in the wings to let Leo and Kate sing for themselves.

Not an easy film to watch, it’s essentially two people in a collective downward spiral observed in an intimate fly-on-the-wall fashion and that can become downright uncomfortable at its lowest points. But this is important stuff, a microcosm of two individuals that asks you to step outside what’s considered norm in society and examine exactly what exactly is expected of each man and woman and how that affects their actions throughout life. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes

It takes less than 88 Minutes into Jon Avnet’s aptly titled Al Pacino thriller vehicle to realize you’ve kind of waded into a mess, but the viciously bad reputation this one has is kind of overblown, at least for me. Yes it’s a big implausible house of mirrors but instead of mirrors there’s cliches and WTF plot turns, there’s absolutely way too many characters running about and the pace is all across the board, but I enjoyed it anyways, in a fun TV movie kind of way.

Pacino and his pacemaker play Jack Gramm, an FBI profiling guru who is forced to marathon run around Seattle (naturally Vancouver, cue eye roll) overturning stones, under which there may be murder suspects. There’s a nasty serial killer (the always awesome Neal McDonough) who is sitting on death row, days away from execution. He proclaims himself innocent and whaddya know, an hour or so after that some incredibly convenient copycat murders start happening, giving him the seeds of reprieve. It’s up to ol’ Al, his tough guy Bureau boss (William Forsythe, again always an awesome familiar face to see) and others to smoke out this co-conspiracy… or something like that.

Pacino is still trying to do the ladies man shtick here with a shock of grey hair and a leather coat hide, but if you ask me it never really worked for him anyways, at least not in the traditional sense. Take Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate for example, where he naturally plays The Devil. There’s a scary, untrustworthy glint in this actor’s eye that makes him most at home in arch villain and sort of renegade roles, but when he tries to play the straight arrow type thing, it feels off. He’s serviceable here though, doing a lot of running, shouting and gun waving and mugging for the camera like a curb-side mine. McDonough does most of his mugging from behind a newsroom camera as some network does a special on his last few days and he barks thinly veiled threats to the masses. Forsythe does his stalwart G-Man thing and the rest of the roster is actually pretty impressive and includes Benjamin Mackenzie, Amy Brenneman, Stephen Moyer, Alicia Witt, the great Deborah Kara Unger and eternally babyfaced Leelee Sobieski as one of Pacino’s students who, inexplicably, has the hots for him.

Speaking of all things inexplicable, the plot traffics in them like currency and by the end we wonder just how long the writers can manipulate these chess piece suspects around the board before we begin to call bullshit on this bonkers narrative. All silliness aside though I had fun with this one, it’s like Agatha Christie by way of Criminal Minds with so much extra gobbledygook thrown at the wall that I couldn’t help have fun despite not following the plot at any given minute. Give it a go on beer night.

-Nate Hill

It’s hard to know who to trust, isn’t it, Jack? : Remembering Cocoon with Tom Benedek by Kent Hill

49a3bfd8809e753dc238598fcb2bc258_1375120977_l

What’s strange is, for the longest time, I had only ever seen the final scenes of Cocoon. A sea covered in mist, a young boy in the water, a boat loaded with elderly people being chased. Then the sky above lights up. The clouds part majestically as James Horner takes over and the ship ascends into a gigantic spacecraft. Wow, I thought. Cool. Have to see that rest of that! It would be a few days later, but, at last, the whole story was mine to experience.

To talk about films like Cocoon, you need to go back to a different age in cinema. Before most of the popular films were adaptations of characters from the funny papers and franchises and cinematic universes were lined up, as far as the eye can see. It was a time of great risk and invention. When a person with a great idea was king, and the power of Hollywood could make such visions sing.

The era of high concept brought us many of the enduring classics which now appear, in many ways, to be timeless. A young Ron Howard would helm the picture, taking control after another icon of the times, Robert Zemeckis, decided to go off and romance a stone, before heading back in time. Howard had already delivered a fascinating modern day fairy-tale with his magical, romantic, comedy-adventure, Splash. In hindsight this was a fortuitous match, one which would propel Howard’s career to new heights, eventually seeing him become the ideal fit for another 80’s fantasy masterpiece, Willow.cocoon-54a0436aebccd

The men who had produced JAWS, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, brought together a group of impeccable professionals to join Howard behind the camera – at the same time they assembled an extraordinary group of acclaimed Hollywood veterans, cast to fill out the leading roles of the members of a retirement community on the verge of a close encounter of the third kind. Wilford Brimely, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, together with brilliant performances by Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver and Tahnee Welch are our guides through a story about youth, and how we find things in life that allow us to hold on to that vital part of our spirit – so that we may live richly, even as the years decline.

This phrase has become a cliché with me, but long have I waited to chat with someone connected with this movie – one of the fantastical cinematic staples of my youth. My guest Tom Benedek was the man tasked with taking an unpublished novel and turning it into a story for us all. A story of how sometimes it takes a stranger to show us what those we share our lives with fail to point out, a story about the wondrous mysteries and possibilities that dance in the sky so full of stars above our heads, and a story about our grandparents and the lessons, indeed the wisdom they try to send us . . . and how when their time comes, how hard it is to let them go.

So, as it has happened so many times for me while writing for PTS, my dreams have come true. I now have a glimpse, and not a mere EPK look behind the scenes. I have my story of the creation of a science fiction and fantasy film-making high water mark, from the man who brought it to life on the humble script page.

Chasing Tarantino: An Interview with Con Christopoulos by Kent Hill

54256710_2073572662724995_7625447068038856704_n

What price do you put on a dream? How much do you give, day after lonely day, on the steady climb toward that magical vision that no one else can see . . . but you? The truth is we all started that way. Then you learn that if you dream in one hand and crap in the other – one fills much quicker. The chances you are given dictate some of your rise, while luck, that iconic variable which many still refuse to acknowledge as an important player in their ensemble equaling in triumph, can also see you cross the finish line just as effectively. Being in the right place, at the right time.

Yet, the main forces that drive those with an obsession to see their dreams realized on film are hunger . . . and heart. So, I give to you the story of Con Christopoulos – a man whose relentless courage, determination and passion was at once inspiring, gravitating and above all, infectious. Con’s drive – the sheer pleasure that emotes from his lips while talking about the victories and defeats he has known along the path to unleashing his cinematic voice upon the world is simply staggering. I have seldom met others like myself – those faced with impossible odds and uncertain conditions in the seas before us as our voyage continues – that has exhibited so completely all of the pure exuberance and discipline required to see the journey through to that glorious moment, when the house lights dip, and the screen fills with all you have. The grand total of a life spent loving movies.

I first encountered Con when I saw a Facebook post and a video entitled Chasing Tarantino. I sat and watched in amazement as the man on the clip boldly declared, most convincingly I might add, that he had a truly captivating story and was desperately seeking passage into the halls of power, where the mighty QT might be sitting, idly waiting, for the next big thing. As intrigued as I was curious, I contacted Con and asked to read his opus. It was then he told me that he had pitched the idea to Australian genre-film legend Roger Ward. Ward had apparently warmed to the concept and said if the film ever materialized, he would be on board. After hearing this and reading the material I automatically thought of the great Ozploitation director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. I told Con I would attempt to reach out to Brian with the hopes he might at least have a glance at the treatment and offer some feedback.

To my delight he did just that. He was critical but constructive, as Brian always is, and it does one good to have notes from the masters. You move forward with a new sense of purpose and a rejuvenating feeling coursing through your body, fortified a little more before again breaking camp, trying once more to reach the summit.

It’s hard not be romantic about dreamers. They, after all, are responsible for some for the scintillating, sublime and stupendous visions and stories, music and magic – the stuff that keeps the cycle perpetuating. An inspired individual realizes his dream and shows it to the world. One or more members of the audience are so moved to action, ignited from within, that they then, in turn, devote their lives to such a pursuit.

This is the story of one such dreamer…

15726764_200539997017885_2344049784904000906_n

Advertisements