Kelly’s Heroes

Among the multitude of heavy, doom laden war films that Hollywood has produced, its always nice to find a more lighthearted one like Kelley’s Heroes, an old Clint Eastwood vehicle that plays like Ocean’s Eleven during the fog of WWII, a peppy heist flick that has always been an old favourite of mine and features a specifically chosen, idiosyncratic cast of perennial old school tough guys. Eastwood leads a ragtag platoon of renegade allies through torn up France, and as soon as they get wind of a potential stash of ample nazi bullion somewhere in the region, their course turns in favour of the biggest payday of their lives. That’s pretty much all there is in terms of plot, but with a group this charismatic there’s never any downtime or boredom. Telly Savalas fills in the second in command tough guy role, Don Rickles inhabits his uniform like a little gold hungry gremlin as their explosives expert, but it’s Donald Sutherland who really steals the show as Oddball, a hippie who lives up to his name and serves to personify the film’s reckless, cheerful anti-establishment persona. Eastwood has fun with the material, letting a knowing grin sneak through that stoic visage, it’s an awesome rebel leader role for him and he clearly has a blast. There’s battles, chases, shootouts and it all culminates with a spectacular showdown in a small French village, in whose bank the gold is stashed. Two German tiger tanks stand guard, Kelly & Co. slowly trundle through the village and up to the doorstep, an apprehensive silence fills the air and it’s the perfect calm before the storm setup for the warfare to follow, almost like something Sergio Leone dreamed up. This plays like The Dirty Dozen on a lazy Sunday, violent but not too gritty, fast paced but never too kinetic, funny but never outright parody, it’s one of the best in Eastwood’s canon and a solid war flick. I enjoyed the recurring song ‘Burning Bridges’ by Mike Curb Congregation, a breezy tune that serves to remind us that although this is set during wartime, we’re here to relax and have fun.

-Nate Hill

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For Your Ears Only: THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

Image result for the spy who loved me poster

Tom and Frank out back with PTS’ first podcast of 2019. We discuss Lewis Gilbert’s second to last entry into the Bond franchise, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. We speak about Roger Moore’s continuation of Bond, the wonderful Barbara Bach, and Stanley Kubrick’s involvement.

Dominic Sena’s Gone In 60 Seconds

I’ve always liked Gone In 60 Seconds, even if it is one of the more lukewarm notches in Jerry Bruckheimer’s belt. Helmed by Dominic Sena who comes from a music video background, you get what you’d expect from a craftsman like that in the way of a flashy, eye catching popcorn flick that sees an easygoing Nicolas Cage as Memphis Rhaines, a car thief guru culled out of retirement when his dipshit little brother (Giovanni Ribisi) gets in deep with a dangerous UK mobster (Doctor Who). It’s the perfect setup for one long night of auto boosting as the villain gives them a laundry list of sweet cars to steal and ship out of the port by sunup or they end up as fuel for his scary flame factory/junkyard thing that these guys always seem to own and live in. The real fun is in seeing Cage put together an eclectic team of fellow thieves to work their magic, including Will Patton’s slick veteran booster, Scott Caan playing yet another insufferable horn-dog, Robert Duvall as a sagely old fence, Vinnie Jones as the strong silent muscle and Angelina Jolie as the motor mouthed tomboy who inevitably ends up in the saddle with Cage. They’re all hunted by two detectives, one an intuitive veteran (Delroy Lindo) and the other a misguided rookie (Timothy Olyphant) who always are naturally one step behind them, and so the formula goes. The cars are indeed pretty cool, especially Eleanor, Rhaines’s fabled unicorn automobile that happens to be a gorgeous matte silver Shelby GT with a seriously sexy purr. The supporting cast is solid and includes William Lee Scott, James Duval, Chi McBride, Michael Pena, John Carroll Lynch, Master P ad Twin Peak’s Grace Zabriskie as Cages’s feisty mom. This isn’t a knock your socks off flick or anything revolutionary in the genre, but it cruises along with an easy swing, carefree urban vibe and the actors, as well as Sena’s sharp and snazzy visual editing make it fun enough. Oh and it doesn’t get much cooler than those wicked opening credits set to Moby’s Flower, that’s how you lay down a mood for the film to follow.

-Nate Hill

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is an odd one, a film that I enjoyed for the fact that it somewhat cuts ties to the biblical tale it bases itself on and does it’s own thing. The style and tone are so out of place and out of time that one could almost imagine this being set sometime far, far in the future instead of the distant past. Aronofsky introduced a very earthy, tactile and nature based aesthetic with his film The Fountain (which is my favourite film ever made), and he explores it further here, with time-lapse photography of plants growing, barren landscapes that suggest either a very young planet earth or a very old one and simple, elemental costumes that could be of both ancient ilk or post apocalyptic fashion. The story is quite literally as old as time, and given new life by a fantastic cast of actors starting with Russell Crowe as Noah, a man jaded by humanity and conflicted by forces beyond his own understanding. Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and others play his family, one of whom knocks up Emma Watson, causing quite the controversy when the almighty creator commands Noah to build that ark before the monsoons come. Anthony Hopkins is the prophet Methuselah, and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain a rough hewn archetype of all of our worst qualities as a race. Coolest of all might are Frank Langhella, Mark Margolis, Frank Oz and Nick Nolte as some ancient looking stone golems who are actually angels sent down by the creator to shepherd humans when needed. It’s funny because Nolte is so grizzled and rugged in his old age these days he probably could have just played the role in person instead of voiceover, but as it stands the special effects used to bring them to life are spectacular, a standard that holds throughout the film from landscapes, props, wildlife and general visual mood. Now, I can never get behind Christian films or take them seriously, so it’s a good thing that Aronofsky remains at arm’s length from the religious stuff and takes a more mythological approach to the story in the sense that this could be happening in any world or universe, and isn’t tied down to one theology. Not a perfect film, but the arresting visuals, fantastic cast and overarching message of love and reverence for life in all forms make it something special.

-Nate Hill

Simon West’s The General’s Daughter

The General’s Daughter is one of those films that’s well acted and staged enough from a technical standpoint that the excessive, overcooked script, self righteous snark and needlessly perverse plot could almost be forgiven. Almost. This is a lurid, sweaty southern gothic military murder mystery, and as amazing as that sounds, it’s actually quite an unpleasant piece to sit through. Based on a book by Nelson DeMille (crown prince of airport novel thrillers), and directed by Simon West (Con Air), it’s given the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the nuance of a rogue missile. At least the acting is decent, starting with jumped up John Travolta as a private investigator called to a military base after the daughter of a powerful General (James Cromwell) is found dead on the property in… a compromising way. The suspects are lined up neatly like ducklings and include the General’s faithful aide (Clarence Williams III), an arrogant high ranking officer (James Woods, practically assaulting the dialogue), another officer on base (Timothy Hutton) who went to Westpoint with her and naturally the General himself. Travolta is joined by another investigator (Madeleine Stowe) who he has a romantic history with, because of course he does. They’re threatened by unseen assailants here and there, and stalled by a local redneck Sheriff (the late Daniel Von Bargen) who has it in for him. The investigation gets so weird, convoluted and messed up that it’s a wonder the writers could even keep track of their own work when scotch taping the third act together. When the inevitable flashbacks show up to tell us just what happened to her, we wish we didn’t know. The poor girl, played by Leslie Stefanson, is humiliated, brutalized and murdered in a way that’s miles beyond bad taste, totally unnecessary to show in graphic detail other than for the film to reiterate what a miserable display of ‘too much’ it is in every category. The scene doesn’t even stand to serve her character arc either, as we’re informed she has a history in S&M type shit. The depravity is there simply to exist on its own and turns a relatively run of the mill thriller into something deranged. It’s a spectacle, you won’t be bored, it’s well mounted and acted by a solid cast, but is it a good film? Nowhere close.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Wind Chill

Emily Blunt is at well earned mega star status these days and gets handpicked for all the prolific projects, but early on in her career she could be found in cheapies like Wind Chill, a spooky little snowbound ghost story that teeters right on the average line. She plays an awkward college girl who catches a ride with a fellow student (Ashton Holmes) home for the holidays, and their route happens to pass along a desolate, snowed in section of highway where something eerie is watching, following and messing with them relentlessly. The interaction between the two is odd, strained and tense, accented by two performances that are just somehow uncomfortably pitched, particularly Blunt’s. Things flow a bit more naturally when the car inevitably breaks down and she finds herself alone against the elements and whatever else is out there. It’s like a twilight zone episode a bit, the rules of time start to bend and she has strange encounters with an ominous highway patrolman (Martin Donovan) and a lone snowplow driver (Ned Bellamy), both of whom may or may not even be real. It works here and there and strives to focus on atmosphere, Blunt always has a presence and keeps us occupied as the supernatural occurrences reveal a freaky tale dating back decades. Nothing more than a distracting TV movie level horror flick, but watchable enough. Gotta give Blunt credit for climbing a tall ass telephone pole wearing heels though, even in cheaper films like this she gives it her all. The locations are also fantastic, kicking off at UBC here in Vancouver for the intro and moving to the gorgeous mountains of Manning Park for the snowy bits.

-Nate Hill

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the most ambitious, resourceful filmmakers out there, and his version of King Kong isn’t so much a film as it is literally a three hour trip to another world. The 1930’s Kong was a marvel of its time, admittedly now very dated, but this film is really something else, and for me is the minted definitive version of the story, brought to howling, lush, terrifying and affecting life by Jackson and his army of F/X wizards. The main beef people take up is its way too long, and I’m not even going to try and argue. Of course it’s too long. Of course. But I love it anyways, and part of what makes it so immersive and captivating is the length. We spend almost two hours in a New York prologue leading to oceanic escapades before the ship even finds the island! You almost get so tied up in smoke n’ soot vaudeville and scenic intrigue that you forget that there’s a giant gorilla on the way, among many, many other things. Jackson reaches for the stars here, sails off the edge of the map past the borders of the known world and awakens something dark, primal and enthralling in the viewer: a genuine sense of wonder, like films were always meant to since the beginning, and these days don’t often achieve. He also films in a way that you really feel scope, size and the tactile, spacial dynamics of his world, from the gorgeously foreboding mega forests of skull island to the vast expanse of an open ocean to the titanic skyscrapers of old world NYC. Naomi Watts makes a perfect Ann Darrow, her striking femininity harbouring a deeply intuitive courage that ultimately spells her survival and acts as a magnet to Kong, who is a wonder in himself and played right out of the park by Andy Serkis. Jack Black and Adrien Brody embody the hustling filmmaker Carl Denham and the wiry playwright turned adventurer Jack Driscoll neatly. Jackson takes time in getting to know the supporting characters as well, and in a film with this much breathing room, who wouldn’t? Thomas Kretschmann steals every scene as the intense, heroic Captain Englehorn, Evan Parke is implosive as the first mate and Jamie Bell does terror to a turn as a crew member. Skull island itself is the real star of the show here; along with the living, breathing and feeling vision of Kong, the primordial rock is home to all manner of threatening, awe inspiring ecological splendour including vicious T-Rex’s, graceful herbivores, cunning raptors and more. Two sequences in particular test the boundaries of comfort in the viewer and push into almost outright horror as the crew falls victim to an insect pit home to the kinds of spiders, worms and other creepers you wouldn’t want to find in your worst nightmares, as well as the scariest bunch of indigenous tribes-people I’ve ever seen in a film. Nothing quite compares to the otherworldly atmosphere Jackson infuses in the island, we really feel like we’re in a place that time forgot and the attention to detail is remarkable. In a film full of human characters, Kong wins us over as the most emotionally relatable, a rampaging beast whose softer side is brought out by Ann, until the harsh realities of the human world catch up with them in a flat out spectacular aerial smack down set atop the Empire State Building where we see how savage behaviour begets the same back tenfold when you mess with a creature of his size, it’s a heartbreaking sequence. This is a testament to what can be done in film, from effects to world building to period authentic detail to music (the score by James Newton Howard is brilliant) and more, all combined in a piece of adventure cinema for the ages, and one that reminds us why movies are so fun in the first place.

-Nate Hill

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