BONG JOON-HO’S SNOWPIERCER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho is extremely adept at juggling many different tones all throughout his diverse body of work (Barking Dogs Never Bite, The Host, Mother, Memories of Murder) and his latest, the ambitious sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer is no exception. Visually bold, gloriously alive in every frame, and filled with enough ideas and subtext to match the almost endless violent action, it’s a work almost expressly designed for film-buffs and people who are itching for a Terry Gilliam movie. Production designer Ondrej Nekvasil deserves an Oscar nomination for his stunningly realized work as each train car is its own unique character and it’s a blast to guess what’s coming next from scene to scene. The performances from a deep and eclectic cast are all uniformly excellent, with Tilda Swinton stealing the entire show every time she shows up, and Chris Evans doing his predictably strong and commanding hero routine.

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But here’s my one big beef that prohibits me from doing a full flip-out for this otherwise sensational piece of movie-making: every time the camera would cut to outside of the train I lost all involvement due to the dodgy (and sometimes horrendous) CGI. I know this wasn’t a $100 million production, and yes, I know, it’s always about the IDEAS, but a ton more work needed to be done to the exterior of the train and the snow-smashing shots, some of the vistas looked obscenely artificial, and the climactic action scene was very, very, very video-gamey. If you don’t have the budgetary means to get some of these bigger things accomplished, maybe it’s best to leave them out in favor of something else? Not a movie-crusher for me, but something that bothers me about this otherwise visually robust and exciting piece of cinema.

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Episode 44: THE VOID

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Frank and Kyle discuss the latest VOD horror sensation, THE VOID. They also discuss the latest footage from ALIEN: COVENANT. We’ll be back next week with an episode focused on Lawrence Kasdan’s SILVERADO and our top five performances from Danny Glover.

BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI’S 1900 — A REVIEW IN NOTES BY GUEST CRITIC & FILMMAKER DAMIAN K. LAHEY

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‘1900’ Director’s Cut (1976) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci

Two children are born on the same day in Italy in 1900. One belonging to the land owner class and one to the working class. This epic film chronicles their lives through decades of friendship amidst the rise and fall of fascism in their country. Here are 20 things I took away from it.

1. No small feat. This film is 5 hours and 17 minutes long and I never once found it boring or tedious. It moves along at a brisk pace. I watched it in one sitting.

2. There are moments where Bertolucci’s direction, Morricone’s score and Storaros’s photography come together in a way that is absolutely MAGICAL. Goose bumps just thinking about it. In many ways this film is a cinema lover’s dream come true.

3. While this film is painterly in its compositions and lush in its production value – it is at times extremely cold and obscenely graphic. VERY harsh.

4. I had never seen Gerard Depardieu NOT fat before. It blew my mind. Svelte, dashing and handsome…wow. He gives an extremely passionate performance worthy of the revolutionary spirit of his character.

5. Robert DeNiro is remarkably young and daft here and does a fine job as a man who knows the right thing to do but lacks the moral courage to act on it.

6. Dominique Sanda is all class as the tragic free spirit who finds her life suffocated by the dominating presence of the fascist guard.

7. As the chief fascist foot soldier, Donald Sutherland has never been more sinister. Super nasty!

8. The appearance of Burt Lancaster in this film is worth noting as he was a very outspoken anti-war Hollywood tough guy. His casting seems to be a strategic move by Bertolucci – signaling from the outset that Hollywood’s liberal war horses had signed off on the film’s message.

9. Surprisingly, Stefania Casini (‘Suspiria’, ‘The Blood Stained Shadow’, ‘Andy Warhol’s Dracula’) gives the film’s most tender and nuanced performance as the epileptic prostitute who comes into the picture at two very crucial points. The emotional warmth she gives to the material makes one wonder what more scenes like this could have done for the film.

10. The dubbing is pretty ruddy, folks. As someone not bothered by dubbing, it’s pretty noticeable here. You’ve been warned.

11. This film does a great job conveying that in times of extreme injustice and oppression, the WORST offenders are those in a position to do something about it but choose to do nothing.

12. The infamous scene where you get to see both DeNiro & Depardieu’s ding-a-lings is very awkward. I have tried to intellectualize it within the political context of the story and it just doesn’t work for me.

13. The history Bertolucci presents in this film is one convenient for the narrative. The fascists assumed power by appealing to the very people they came to oppress – the poor working class. Bertolucci skips over this for a more black and white version of the events by romanticizing the put upon communist peasants and demonizing the fascist coddling rich folk. Given this film is 5 hours and 17 minutes long I believe he had room for a more historically accurate and nuanced representation of the facts.

14. However, to speak to what I just wrote – this is a political piece first and a historical piece second so to quibble over historical accuracy is probably foolish. This is a take down of fascism from Point A to Point B. Belting you in the face with a frying pan would be more subtle than this film is.

15. I admire this film for showing the emotional as well as financial pettiness that often permeates the upper class thus further emphasizing their detachment from the rest of us.

16. There’s a scene where people pull loads of shit out of a horse’s ass with their bare hands.

17. The release of this film was mishandled so many different ways it’s impossible to keep track. Somebody lost A LOT of money on this one.

18. Given the fall of the United States to authoritarian fascism this past year, ‘1900’ is certainly an appropriate watch. I’ll stop there. Things could get ugly if I delved into that further.

19. Bertolucci paints a comical and touching picture of the ‘what do we do now?’ crowd that suddenly found themselves empowered after the fascsists were driven out. I felt exposing their naivety as well as the perils of hypocrisy they faced to be spot on.

20. Surreal closing of the film points out that the back and forth between the classes has always been and will always be.

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WALTER HILL’S STREETS OF FIRE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Walter Hill, sadly, has made so many films that have bombed with theatrical audiences, and one of his most underappreciated efforts is his 1984 “Rock & Roll Fable” Streets of Fire, which features Michael Pare and a blazing-hot Diane Lane as music-crossed lovers who have to contend with a lethal biker gang led by a wild and crazy Willem Dafoe, who had been suggested to Hill by filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, after he had starred for her in her 1982 debut The Loveless. Possibly inspired (intentionally or not) to a certain degree by Philip Kaufman’s equally underrated The Wanderers, this is a nearly unclassifiable genre-bender, with bold and vibrant cinematography from Andrew Laszlo that stressed the retro-50’s vibe that was then mixed with Hill’s signature 80’s aesthetic, resulting in something truly special and offbeat. Hill and co-writer Larry Gross clearly had a blast creating this striking cinematic universe, while Ry Cooder’s phenomenal musical score amplifies every single scene. Rick Moranis, E.G. Daily and Amy Madigan are all excellent in supporting roles; look for Bill Paxton tending bar. And, it should certainly be repeated that Lane was astoundingly sexy in this film. Lawrence Gordon and Joel Silver co-produced, with the film getting developed during the making of 48 Hrs. Available on German Blu-ray and via an upcoming Shout! Blu-ray release.

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Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne


Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne is as haunting as motion pictures get, and hasn’t left my thoughts since I saw it in a small independently run cinema some ten years ago. When a film is set in Australia, you know right of the bat it’s going to have an eerie, striking story to tell. It’s a vast, lonely place in areas, full of secrets and unexplored areas. Gabriel Byrne finds himself in a tricky situation of his own doing, playing an Irishman living in a small, isolated fishing village deep in the mountains. While on an expedition with his mates, he comes across something harrowing along a desolate stretch of river: the body of a murdered aboriginal girl. Here’s where he makes a fatal mistake.. instead of reporting it instantly, he continues over the weekend with his trip, waits until he’s back in town and then notifies the authorities, leaving her right there in the water. Once the details emerge, this causes a royal nightmare of controversy, racial tension and upset, including his wife (Laura Linney) who is horrified by the borderline inaction on his part. Was he wrong? Definitely. These snap decisions during times of great stress are common though, reactionary function not always falling into the place of logic, resulting in a mess such as this. Now as you can tell by my review, most of the film focuses on his actions and their repercussions, not so much on who killed the girl, or why. We see her in an unnerving prologue on some faraway highway, lured to a rest stop by a mysterious trucker, and then we see her alive no more. The trucker appears again throughout the film on the fringes of the main story, but never are we given clarification or catharsis to the murder side of the plot. That to me is an ultimate mood setter and thorn in the side of resolution. The cumulative result of her being found is simply an unrest hanging over the region like a blanket of uncertainty, matters only clouded further by Byrne and the storm he created by not acting right off the bat. Uncomfortable viewing, but beautifully made and not a film one soon forgets after viewing. 

-Nate Hill

JEFF NICHOLS’ LOVING — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Loving is a respectful, reverential piece of work from cool-as-a-cucumber budding auteur Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Take Shelter, Mud, Shotgun Stories). With a dramatic through line that remains on an even keel and quiet temperament for two hours, this is a somber and sad yet never overly sentimental true life story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who dared to challenge the state of Virginia over their right to get married. Sensitively portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, the actors were clearly directed by Nichols to behave in a very pragmatic and reserved fashion; there’s never a moment where one particular scene feels “bigger” than the previous, and this sense of dramatic neutrality helps to build a sense of grace to the entire portrait. Because that’s what this film is – a portrait of two people in a very specific time and place, and it’s beyond revolting to think that these people suffered in the way that they did, and not all that long ago in terms of America’s history.

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There’s nothing over the top during Loving, no emotional grandstanding or sociopolitical speechifying, subtle or hammerhead, because Nichols is too good for that. He’s interested in the audience finding these people while observing the story, and very similar to his other 2016 effort Midnight Special, there’s much to be said about what’s not shown on screen in order for the story to progress; Nichols is a “you fill the gaps in” storyteller, which can be annoying for viewers who need everything spelled out for them. Nichols based his film on the documentary The Loving Story, by acclaimed filmmaker Nancy Buirski (By Sidney Lumet). Chad Keith’s evocative production design, Julie Monroe’s extra-patient editing, Adam Stone’s dark-hued cinematography, and the minimalist musical score from David Wingo seal the crisp and clean aesthetic package, resulting in a movie that feels wrapped with care and yet still susceptible to fresh wounds. This is an excellent piece of work that speaks to the sense of humility and respect that select people have for others.

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Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire


How many shady, degenerate 70’s era Boston lowlifes does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Doesn’t matter, they’re too busy shooting at each other, the lightbulbs and everything that moves in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, the best film of the year so far. After an arms deal gone royally wrong, we get to spend a joyous, breezy hour and a half watching these halfwit scumbags blast each other to kingdom come in a not so abandoned warehouse, unfolding in real time and at a pace that has our pulses racing faster than the magazine clips can defecate shell casings. Wheatley’s output hasn’t been my cup of tea so far, but he’s won me over with this lighthearted, ballistic mini-masterpiece. It’s what I call a ‘low concept high concept’ flick, which I’m sure someone has said before, but suck it. A bunch of childish idiots in a roomful of heavy artillery, the bullets are bound to soon be flying as fast as the dry insults. The deal is simple: meet, sell a bunch of rifles to help the IRA cause, and be on their way. That’s not to be the case though, for as soon as one of them recognizes another party’s member from a violent scuffle prior, tensions mount until that first shot rings out. From there on in it’s a ‘childish game of paintball’ (to quote a friend) that escalates into a deafening fire fight filled with acidic humour and John Denver music, a hilariously counterintuitive soundtrack choice. Armie Hammer is priceless as Ord, cool as a cucumber and constantly lighting up joints mid-gunplay. Sharlto Cooley chews scenery as Vern, the preening peacock of the group, Brie Larson kicks ass and takes names, Cillian Murphy underplays the IRA consort while Michael Smiley, the butt of the geriatric jokes, gets in everyone’s face even before things go south. Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti and Jack Reynor also get their licks, but the performance of the film goes to Sam Riley, a criminally overlooked talent who’s been laying somewhat low recently. His character Stevo is indirectly the reason for all this mayhem, and he’s a walking disaster, the sleaziest little reprobate you can imagine. Riley plays him balls out and doesn’t hold back, I really wish we saw more of him in films these days. All of these bozos positively ventilate each other with bullets, no one not sustaining at least two or three gunshot wounds somewhere on their body, and once the Reservoir Dogs esque conclusion rolls around, we know that few will be left standing. Clocking in at a rapid fire ninety minutes, this is surefire entertainment for not only action fans, but anyone who loves movies, it’s a perfect example of the reason I go to the theatre. Cheerfully violent, casually profane and hysterically unapologetic. Just the way I like em’.

-Nate Hill

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