Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

Who doesn’t love Love Actually? I know I do. It’s such a sentimental, goofy, overblown pile of mush and I love it even more for being so. It can be sappy, but a lot of the situations and character interactions it entails are blunt, awkward truths made even more hilarious by an even more awkward cast, and encapsulate the meaning of Christmas. Not all the couples work out, not all of the individual stories end well or in satisfaction for characters or audiences. But that’s life, and they make the best out of what they have at this time of year, which is what it’s really about. Some turn out splendidly for the characters, leaving them beaming. Some learn tough lessons that are necessary for growth, some find love in storybook fashion and others are simply there for comic relief. What comedy and tearful drama we get as too, delivered by an astoundingly massive cast of British legends, speckled with a few familiar Yankee faces just to garnish the giant British figgy pudding. Liam Neeson plays a grieving father whose son (Thomas Bodie Sangster) is sick with love. Neeson’s sister (Emma Watson, grounded, real, heartbreaking) deals with her irresponsible husband (Alan Rickman, incapable of a false note). The newly elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant in full flustered, fumbling glory) is attracted to his cute secretary (Martine Mcutcheon) and aloof writer Colin Firth feels pangs for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcià Moniz) who speaks not a word of English. Laura Linney has a steamy office romance with Rodrigo Santoro whilst dealing with an ill sibling, Bill Nighy is hysterical as a cynical Grinch of a pop star with a jaded facade, Keira Knightely, Chiwetel Efjor and Andrew Lincoln are involved in a subtle love triangle, and there’s all kinds of interwoven vignettes including Martin Freeman, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Claudia Schiffer, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Joanna Page, Sienna Guillory, Billy Bob Thornton as the sleazy US President and a priceless Rowan Atkinson as the world’s weirdest jewelry salesman who gives new maniacal meaning to holiday gift wrapping. It’s a big old circus of Christmas spirit with all kinds of different desires, motivations and relationships that reaches a festive fever pitch before erupting into a joyous finale of giddy Yuletide melodrama and cathartic good times that is impossible not to smile at. An annual watch for me.

-Nate Hill

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John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

I’ve always enjoyed John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, despite its chilly critical reputation. It’s a sleazy, nihilistic piece of ultra violent, stylized Christmas noir populated by mean, nasty characters who navigate deliciously convoluted plot turns, double crosses and backwoods criminal enterprise. Ben Affleck plays a hapless ex con having the worst Christmas of his life when his attempts to pose as a murdered cellmate (James Frain) and meet up with the guy’s sexy pen pal (Charlize Theron is next level hot in this) don’t quite go as smoothly as envisioned. He unwittingly gets caught up in a botched casino robbery orchestrated by her volatile career criminal brother (Gary Sinise) and his crew of murderous miscreants. This sets in motion an impossibly elaborate parade of shifting loyalties, multiple seductions on Theron’s part, inventive ways to murder people, Santas with guns, shootouts, chases and car explosions. Much of it is admittedly ridiculous and overblown but it’s never not fun, plus the Grinchy, misanthropic attitude and maladjusted vibe is somehow so infectious. Sinise’s merry little gang are brought to life by recognizable character faces like Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III and Danny Trejo, all charismatic and evil to the bone like a bunch of warped Christmas elves. The late great Dennis Farina plays an obstinate casino owner who makes the heist difficult for everyone, and Isaac Hayes has a bizarre cameo as an inmate who thinks there’s monsters in the prison food and causes an almighty ruckus. Affleck is a mopey guttersnipe here, a ‘wrong place wrong time’ sap who learns to cultivate a badass edge and deal with the kind of psychos he’s up against. Sinise is reliably violent and dangerous, but Theron really steals the show as a crafty, manipulative femme fatale whose true nature is cleverly hidden under a smokescreen of faux intentions. This isn’t an especially classy thriller, doesn’t set any new standards or anything, but what it does do is provide a nut punch of lowbrow thrills, lurid melodrama and bloody action to meet your masochistic Yuletide needs. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.

-Nate Hill

George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City

George Miller’s Babe Pig In The City is quite the underestimated film. Following on the heels of the sweet, good natured fable that was the first Babe, Miller delved into his creative well, pulled out all the stops and came up with a rip roaring, wondrously exciting sequel that outdoes the original in almost every way. The production design and sets alone are enough to make the film a winner, the titular city comprised from aspects of LA, New York, Sydney, Paris, Vegas and many more. It’s every rural village’s idea of what the city must be like, a gigantic metropolitan dream world of commotion, chaos and creativity. Miller starts, in a charming sequence, at Babe’s humble beginnings on the picturesque, old world farmland and hurtles him on a madcap adventure in this city of cities, joined by some of his farmland friends (Ferdinand the duck and those adorable singing Mice, whose musical numbers are hilarious), and sees him meet a whole host of new ones. This is where the magic of the film really takes hold, as we see hundreds of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, rodents and one hapless goldfish all come to amazingly realistic life courtesy of Miller and his team. Each animal is beautifully voiced and given his or her own dignity, grace and absolutely grounded story arc to the point where this becomes no longer just a children’s film, but a surrealist take on city life, moral hardships, individual personality and classist conflict as enacted by the national geographic channel. The sinister German shepherd (of course voiced by a German dude), the wise old orangutang Thelonius (James Cosmo) who heartbreakingly won’t leave a risky situation without putting his human clothes on (Miller sneaks in some thoughtful themes) the opera singing cats. Mazda Szubenski deserves a medal for her physical comedy and tart, spry turn as the farmers wife, diligently pursuing babe to the city where she is hilariously out of her element. James Chromwell briefly reprises his wonderful Farmer Hoggett, Mickey Rooney, looking so old and delirious I’d be surprised if he knew what film he was working on, let alone what planet, has a demented cameo as a sinister clown who is not quite right in the head. This film used to scare me as a kid, and looking back I’m both glad that it did and now realize the importance to infusing dark wonder and genuine menace into children’s films, for one day they will grow up and find out that the world is very much like the frightening fables and fairy tales from their youth. This film has sadness and harsh realities, like the Brooklyn voiced bull terrier who can’t control his violent behaviour because he knows it’s in his nature, the cruel and heartless actions of the animal control unit dispatched to round up all the stray puppers and kitties (this left me traumatized) or the terrifying accidental fire that rips through the children’s ward of a hospital. The film takes place in a hyper stylized version of our world but the truths we see and the suffering some of these animals endure couldn’t be closer to reality, and it’s important not to shy away or gloss over that. There’s also wonderful kindness and warm-hearted behaviour too, like the touching family dynamic between the family of chimpanzees, the pink poodle (Russi Taylor) who shelters and feeds tiny kittens who are scared and hungry, or the sympathetic airport custodian who takes pity on Babe and Mrs. Hoggett. It’s a weird, wild world of a film that Miller makes the most out of with every elaborately designed set piece, Dr. Seuss-esque spectacle and surreal flourish, but it’s also a serious minded tale with a brain in its head and a strong emotional centre, showing that ‘a kind and steady heart’ will always help in hard times. A masterpiece for all ages.

-Nate Hill

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway

Daniel Alfredson’s Blackway (aka Go With Me) is a bizarre disaster that would have made for a cool flick if… well if it didn’t turn out so darn shitty. I suppose you could blame editing, there’s elements that work, some decent performances and genuinely terrific photography but I’m not sure what they were going for in terms of tone and story because it’s an unholy mess. Anthony Hopkins is always a welcome presence, but he has a silly habit of sleepwalking through roles that he’s clearly only taken on to grab a buck (that twitter video of him spazzing out to music in his living room had more charisma than he musters up here), and although he never fully phones it in, there’s a somewhat listless lack of clarity in a lot of his later career work, this included. He plays an ex logger here with tragedy in his past, living the quiet life in the Pacific Northwest, until trouble brews in his small lumber town. Julia Stiles plays a new waitress in town who catches the eye of titular Blackway (Ray Liotta) an ex cop turned powerful crime lord with a hefty anger problem, violent tendencies and an overall scary reputation. He stalks, harasses and won’t leave the poor girl alone, and since he owns the pitiful excuse of a local police force there’s not much she can do but run and seek help elsewhere, supplied by Hopkins and a few of his pals including Alexander Ludwig and Hal Holbrook. If I was a powerful producer with the clout to green-light projects and you pitched me a noir-esque stalker thriller with Hopkins, Liotta and Stiles set in the Northwest I’d chuck my wallet at you and give my blessings. I’d later learn a hard lesson though, because as well as this looks on paper, or rather the alluring one sheet and exciting trailer, it really tanks and blows just about all of its potential. Stiles is always fantastic, she’s one of my favourites and can do no wrong in my book, she shines here. Liotta is a master actor and does a truly terrifying villain turn but he’s sort of in the wrong film. He has a big city gangster vibe that’s decidedly urban and bereft of the rustic trappings you need to pull off a mythic mountain man kingpin, and as such he feels out of place despite his great talents and considerable efforts. There’s a few decent set pieces like a face off at Blackway’s backroads whorehouse, but this thing is paced so oddly it’s hard to keep up or care. Alfredson is an accomplished filmmaker who gave us the original Lisbeth Salander trilogy, but I think he tried too hard to make this into something of an art film or really mean something when in reality there’s nothing more than a painfully average thriller. Worth it for the actors and the drop dead gorgeous scenery (I will forever be a sucker for films shot and set in this region), but other than that it’s a big swing and a bigger miss.

-Nate Hill

The Favourite

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With The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos offers less of an abrupt change from his previous films than a (Greek?) olive branch.  The staccato, exact line readings and bizarre scenarios of The Lobster and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer are ostensibly replaced with crisp but hardly dense period dialogue and a straightforward pitch black comedy set in the royal palace of England in the early 1700s.  Perhaps it’s a function of turning writing duties over to other hands (Debra Davis and Tom McNamara), perhaps it’s the conscious choice to let his stars relax and play the parts more naturalistically, but in any case he’s landed on something approaching broad appeal with this female centric examination of power, love and cruelty.  However, it’s not all that far off from Lanthimos’ usual examinations of people’s darker impulses, though; The Favourite is very much a natural continuation of what he’s been discussing with his films for years now.  With a fierce cast, lush production design and tight pace, The Favourite deserves not only awards seasons accolades but large audiences as well.

Which is not to indicate it’s a teaspoon of sugar by any measure.  As mentioned, the film is about power: The power dynamics of a society in which people can pass from the heights of royal luxury to being whipped like a dog in the blink of an eye.  Emma Stone’s Abigail is intimately familiar with this as we meet her, being molested and shoved into shit as she ventures to the Queen’s castle in search of a distant relative who may be able to return her to a decent level of status after her father’s fall from grace has left her penniless and, worse, low class.  Queen Ann, played with equal doses of sadness and mania by Olivia Coleman, is traumatized by loss and bears an almost Trumpian distaste for the details of her job.  Fortunately she has Lady Sarah, her top advisor, companion, and truth serum, brought to life by a delightfully arch Rachel Weisz.  Sarah gets to manage the political turmoil around a war with France while keeping up the appearance of the Queen’s supremacy, then her distant cousin arrives meekly seeking any employment available—which is of course to say Abigail is on a stealth mission to regain her lost stature.  With these three powerful personalities increasingly wrapped up in each other’s orbits, the tension and gamesmanship quickly take their toll, which is reflected throughout in the increasingly frayed faces of the women (keep an eye on those faces—their evolutions provide one of the many visual treats on display).

Whereas Lanthimos cleans up some of the eccentricities of his prior works here, he still carries a deeply held distrust of and disgust with man’s selfishness and general misanthropy—it feels no accident that there’s about as much vomiting as sex in The Favourite.  This satire of class  ends as most of his previous films have, in a place where no good deed’s been done without ulterior motive, every act of seeming kindness comes with a sharp dagger hidden under voluptuous finery.  I’m not sure if this is a new direction for the filmmaker or simply a refinement of his sardonic vision.  In any case, it’s a smart, entertaining and nasty little marvel of a movie, one that may not light the box office on fire but one that will only grow in esteem as more viewers discover it.

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The HAMMER and the DOOMSDAY DEVICE by Kent Hill

 

Eight versus eight hundred! Now at any other time of day you’d have to say, “those odds aren’t good.” Well of course they’re not – unless of course the leader of this fateful eight happens to be a walking charge of TNT.

That’s right folks; Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson explodes upon the screen as Stoker, the leader of a daring band of warriors out to uncover a Nazi doomsday weapon lost during World War 2. At Williamson’s side are The Fighter, The Samurai, The Texan, The Priest, The Sniper, The Blade and The Rookie.  An incredible cast bring these roles to life with a combination of on-the-rise-exciting-action-stars like Mike Moller, veterans like Wolfgang Riehm, new-comers like Josephine Hies – not forgetting an awesome appearance by the Snake Eater himself, Lorenzo ‘The Snake’ Lamas.

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With a mixture of razor-sharp intensity blended with blinding action Nazi Doomsday Device/Atomic Eden packs a massive entertainment punch which The Hammer himself says goes well with buddy’s and a brew. Nico Sentner has crafted, along with his collaborator and my former guest Dominik Starck, an engrossing action extravaganza which reminds one of the good old action movie days, while showcasing the best and brightest of the new breed – both in front of and behind the camera.

 

It was a privilege to talk with the man in the director’s chair, also known as the Godfather of Krautsploitation and his ever-cool leading man. Together they have made a ferocious little picture that not only swings for the fences, in spite of its size, but knocks it out of the park. NDD is an audacious step towards greatness for Sentner (in this man’s opinion). I eagerly wait to see where he takes it from here. Though I must admit, I’d have a tough time trying to follow a gig where I was directing Fred Williamson. So let’s keep fingers crossed…

…let’s hope for a sequel.

FRED ‘THE HAMMER’ WILLIAMSON

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Former Oakland Raiders/Kansas City Chiefs football star who rose to prominence as one of the first African-American male action stars of the “blaxploitation” genre of the early 1970s, who has since gone on to a long and illustrious career as an actor, director, writer, and producer! Burly, yet handsome 6′ 3″ Williamson first came to attention in the TV series Julia (1968) playing love interest, Steve Bruce. However, his rugged, athletic physique made him a natural for energetic roles and he quickly established himself as a street wise, tough guy in films including That Man Bolt (1973), Black Caesar (1973), and Mean Johnny Barrows (1975). Talented Williamson established his own production company “Po ‘Boy Productions” in 1974, which has produced over 40 movies to date. Like many young American stars of the 1960s and ’70s, Williamson was noticed by Italian producers who cast him in a slew of B-grade action movies that occupied a lot of his work in the 1980s. From the late ’80s onwards, much of his work has been of the “straight to video” fare (often playing police officers), but none could deny he has kept actively busy in movies and TV for over three decades, both in front of and behind the camera. More recently, indie director Robert Rodriguez cast him alongside FX guru Tom Savini as two vampire killing bikers, in his bloody action film From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), and he has most recently appeared on screen (displaying his wonderful comedy skills) playing grumpy Captain Dobey in Starsky & Hutch (2004).

NICO SENTNER

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The so-called Godfather of Krautploitation, Nico Sentner was born on November 25, 1982 in Quedlinburg, German Democratic Republic. He is a producer and actor, known for Atomic Eden (2015), Sin Reaper 3D (2012) and Dark Legacy (2005).

UK VIEWERS IF YOU WANT TO GET IN ON THE ACTION THIS IS THE LINK:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nazi-Doomsday-Device-Fred-Williamson/dp/B07KZDTMWC/ref=sr_1_1?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1544840285&sr=1-1&keywords=nazi+doomsday+device

 

 

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