For Your Ears Only: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

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Returning for our next installment of our James Bond series, For Your Ears Only,  Frank and Podcasting Them Softly’s James Bond expert, Tom Zielinski, are joined with fellow Bond aficionado, Paul Sparrow-Clarke.

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Indie Gems: Brian Jun’s Steel City

Brian Jun’s Steel City is a fantastic, little heard of indie rust belt drama that deals in choices, consequences, regrets and what it takes to heal, if possible. In the heartlands, a young working class man (Tom Guiry) struggles with pretty much every aspect of his life. His father (an understated John Heard) has been recently incarcerated, and it’s tearing him apart, as well as his family. His older brother (Clayne Crawford) is a hotheaded mess. He finds solace when his uncle Vic (Raymond J. Barry, superb) offers him work and sobering life advice in equal doses. He meets a wonderful girl played by America Ferrera, and gradually, bit by bit, his story hits an upswing. This is a small story, revolving around a minuscule faction of the big picture, but that’s all it is anyways, thousands of lives unfolding on personal scale, adding up to this mosaic we call humanity. Life goes on for him, and the film is but a small window into one transitionary chapter of his life. Guiry is great, but Ferrera is magic as the kind of girl anyone could only hope to end up with. Barry gives one of the most soulful turns of his storied career as the kind of no nonsense mentor who cares a lot more than is visible behind all that gruff. The kind of life affirming story that finds hope in the oddest of places.

-Nate Hill

Jonas Ackerlund’s Spun

Jonas Ackerland’s Spun is a film you’ll be onboard with in seconds, or jumping ship before the credits even start. It’s unpleasant, epileptic, downbeat, hyperactive, fucked up, strung out, cartoonish, nonsensical, unstructured, and is a complete masterpiece for those willing to lend an empathetic ear towards lost souls mired in the doldrums we call drug addiction. Set on a particularly sweaty day in the suburbs of L.A., all the film really does is try to keep up with a sorry bunch of meth-heads as they meander through a hazy existence filled with confusion, mania and that ever present need to score. Jason Schwartzman’s Ross is the default protagonist, and he moves from locale to locale, encountering the denizens of each dwelling in all their warped glory. John Leguizamo’s trademark brand of crazy is right at home as Spider, a maniacal dealer who can’t sit still for a nanosecond, along with his haggard looking girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). Brittany Murphy is excellent as wayward Nikki, who leads Ross to her cook boyfriend, a strange fellow credited as literally The Cook, played in a brilliantly dark pitched, sad turn by Mickey Rourke. There’s others flitting about as well, including Patrick Fugit’s nutball Frisbee, a couple of frenzied narcs played by Alexis Arquette and Peter Stormare, plus cameos from a grab bag of figures like Debbie ‘Blondie’ Harry as a fearsome diesel dyke, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford as a porn shop clerk, Ron Jeremy, Larry Drake, Josh Peck and a surprise Eric Roberts who gets a reunion of sorts with former costar Rourke. Director Ackerland, also a music video whiz, employs every stylistic trick and balls out editing fuckery to his film, until we have some wild inkling of what it must be like for these deranged urban pixies and their ADHD addled misadventures. It isn’t all comedic though; Once in a while the crazy curtain lifts and we see the deep set sadness that lives in these characters, a melancholy self loathing in which the actors find truth amongst the raging din, especially Murphy and Rourke, who provide the best work of the film. Mickey has a final act monologue that encapsulates the weary trajectories inhabited by these folks. Much of the film is stylized sound and fury though, a cavalcade of noise, vulgarity, offbeat altercations and loosely strung together events that have no meaning to anyone outside this asylum’s inner circle of addicts. One of a kind experience, and the most blatantly honest film I’ve seen on the subject of drugs.

-Nate Hill

Pride & Glory

Pride & Glory is a gritty police melodrama that grabs the audience, shakes them till the point of concussion and wrings the life out of them with it’s nonstop intensity and performances that could raise buildings to the ground. Think I’m exaggerating or overselling? Give it a go, it’s fucking nuts. NYC cop dramas are a common occurrence out there, and have been for a long while, but something about this one just rings eerily true, rattles your cage and lets both the violence and corruption seep into the marrow of one’s viewing experience. After a drug deal erupts into multiple murder, a family of cops is thrown in an uproar. Haggard straight arrow Edward Norton is on point of investigation by boozy patriarch Jon Voight, and ends up finding out way more than he bargained for not only in regards to the NYPD, but about his fellow cop brother (Colin Farrell) too. Their third brother (underrated Noah Emmerich) is too busy taking care of his sick wife (Jennifer Ehle) to notice the corruption, or maybe does and looks the other way. Every faction adds to the pressure cooker of an atmosphere, rooted in the familial relationships that can’t withstand dangerous secrets. They should call the guy Colin Feral, because he’s a right beast as a guy whose moral compass is so out of whack he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The actor is fervently complex in his work, and makes the guy way more human than other performers would, but he’s still terrifying, whether threatening a newborn baby with a hot iron or full on brawling with Norton in a fracas of a man to man bar-fight. Voight is one of those characters who is so corrupt he doesn’t even notice it anymore, which is a dangerous avenue to arrive at when you’re in such a position of power. The supporting cast is pockmarked with fiery work from terrific actors including super underrated Carmen Ejogo, Wayne Duvall, John Ortiz, Lake Bell and two arresting turns from reliable firebrands Frank Grillo and Shea Wigham. Built around a script by Joe Carnahan, who feeds off of authentic dialogue and realistic shaping of events, this is one that pulls you right into it’s suffocating world of beleaguered sentinels of law enforcement whose eyes have become dim to that thin blue line separating order and madness. Brilliant, heavy stuff.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Charles Bukowski’s Barfly

Charles Bukowski’s Barfly requires a specific thing of it’s audience: emphatically try to observe a very particular brand of life, that of the binge drinking drifter in 1970’s LA basin area. If you can do this, it’s a brilliant piece of work to enjoy, and if you can’t, it’ll be an abrasively off-putting slog to sit through. I fell smartly into the former category as the subject matter came.. vaguely close to hitting home, and because it’s just a fantastic movie in itself. Mickey Rourke was at the top of game during the 80’s, and this is one glowing gem of a role for him, one that shows a vulnerable, less macho dipped side of the man no less. Playing a restless, shambling gutter-snipe named Henry Chinaski, he careens through the film consuming any booze he can get his hands on, barely maintaining already dysfunctional relationships and haunting his derelict apartment, as well as that of a fellow rummy he meets in the form of excellent Faye Dunaway, looking equal parts haggard and angelic until we’re not sure what we’re looking at. Chinaski is of course supposed to be Bukowski himself, as the film and it’s fiery script are autobiographical in nature, based on the willfully misanthropic writer’s hazy adventures in backwoods Hollywood during that era. Approached by a publisher (beautiful, articulate Alice Krige, who replaced Helen Hunt) with stars in her eyes for the man and his work, Chinaski gets a taste of life on the other side of the tracks, albeit briefly, an interlude he describes as ‘a cage with golden bars.’ The dives along those strips are his home right to the core, and he’s proud of it. The film is episodic, elliptical and open ended, a glimpse through the window of what it must be like for these people for a time, as the camera lovingly follows them about their ways for a while like a fly on the wall, then loses interest, buzzes off and leaves them in peace without rhyme, reason or resolution, unless of course your sensibilities jive with the meandering, barely sculpted story structure, which I loved. The film has little interest in aesthetics or pleasantries either, showing ugly, mottled alcoholics and layabouts who fill the frames around Rourke and Dunaway like brittle garden gnomes adorning the bar, a far cry from the fresh, powdered faces we’re used to in Hollywood. “Don’t you hate people?” Dunaway laments to him in one scene. “No, but I seem to feel better when they’re not around..” he croons back. It’s that kind of stinging poetry that gives this film, and Bukowski’s career, such lasting weight. Not to be missed.

-Nate Hill

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