We are completely honored to bring you our chat with actress Stephanie Kurtzuba. Stef recently stars alongside Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese’s THE IRISHMAN which is currently streaming on Netflix. Her other credits include THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, ANNIE, and the upcomig film BAD EDUCATION with Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include CHICAGO PD, BLUE BLOODS, THE LEFTOVERS, and THE GOOD WIFE. Stef speaks about her early beginnings in Nebraska to attending NYU, working on stage, and meeting Martin Scorsese and working on one of the best films of the new century, THE IRISHMAN.
Any fans of the classic 80’s slasher aesthetic will appreciate Until Dawn, a complex yet simplistic mystery horror game with some very unique twists on the medium. A group of young friends are in for quite the weekend when they decide to reunite one year after two of their friends disappeared mysteriously on remote, snowy Mount Washington. Ringleader Joshua (Rami Malek before he blew up big time) has a family chalet lodge up there, which is in rough shape with no power, and as they settle in for the night, bicker, hook up and deal with the kind of petty drama you only get at that age, someone else on the mountain starts to stalk and murder them, someone connected to their friends disappearing a year ago. The cool thing here is you don’t play as just one single character, but all of them and there’s at least like six from what I recall. As you rotate through their ranks you make many psychological choices as each character that affect not only your relationship to others, but your shelf life as a member of the team and even how your immediate environment changes over the course of the night. There’s curious talismans to pick up, each associated with a quick audio visual ‘clue clip’ that can be accessed in the menu anytime to decipher the mystery and find out what’s going on. Elsewhere in dreamy vignettes you’re sitting POV style as a mystery character while a very odd psychiatrist (Peter Stormare in full on kooky Peter Stormare mode) probes you for answers, his methods becoming increasingly bizarre with each new cutscene until it becomes apparent he’s probably not anything close to a licensed professional. The game is written and created by horror veteran Larry Fessenden (Wendigo, The Last Winter) so the wintry atmosphere is excellently, eerily done, plus he also plays a character called Flamethrower Guy who factors into the story in ways you might not expect. The visuals are breathtakingly gorgeous, from a stunning, dead quiet gondola ride up the mountain that sets a mood of desolation nicely to almost photorealistic motion capture work on the actors that is impressively lifelike. The technique allows each character to look identical to their respective actors so aside from spitting image versions of Malek and Stormare we get scene stealer Hayden Panetierre too as the tomboy of the group. Evocative setting, strong horror elements in terms of both gore and suspense, intricate innovation in design and gameplay that allows you to play through the game nearly a hundred different ways based on choice and consequence, a haunting rendition of Ralph Stanley’s O Death by Amy Van Roekel over the opening credits, this has a lot going for it and is one of the coolest horror games you can find out there.
Today’s video game is RLH: Run Like Hell, a spectacular SciFi horror survival story whose main influence is most noticeably the Alien franchise, right down to the involvement of some of the same actors. So basically there’s a station somewhere way out there in deep space, where a bunch of individuals both human and alien must survive against a terrifying extraterrestrial menace who basically decimate anything they come across and are constantly mutating, learning from the trial and error ways of their prey and always, always hunting up and down those classic dimly lit, eerie space station corridors. You play as seasoned badass marine Nick Connor (the great Lance Henriksen, Bishop from Aliens), who thinks he’s seen it all until he’s up against this marauding race of monsters. He forms a shaky alliance with alien mercenary Dag’Rek (Clancy Brown, always awesome) and there’s other work from Michael Ironside as a hard bitten commander, Star Trek’s Kate Mulgrew and Brad Dourif as a kooky little Doctor which is basically the same role he had in Alien Resurrection. This is a very cinematic game not just for the inclusion of genre seasoned actors or oh so subtle film references but because the cutscenes evoke a true feeling of cosmic isolation and dread, and the gameplay demands a lot of both your reflexes and adrenal glands. There’s countless close quarters battles, chases, near misses and quick escapes that take full advantage of very narrow hallways littered with dangerous obstacles for these creatures to use against you and hunt you down if you’re literally a second too late hitting those buttons. There’s gorgeous galactic visuals in the numerous sweeping cutscenes, detailed creature design, gruesome gore and a real sense of style too. It feels like the Alien films but swaps out the green and black palette for a grey/purple mashup of hard, cold surfaces splattered with blood and organic swirling nebulas of starry colour outside the space station windows to marvel at in between blasting monsters and running like hell for your fucking life. Terrific game.
Here’s something fun (I hope). I’m going to expand the focus of my reviews to include video games, which should be interesting because my knowledge and expertise on them is nowhere close to what I know about film and your average dedicated gamer would probably refer to me as a ‘fucking casual,’ and hey they wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s a handful of games that mean a lot to me and I’ve enjoyed playing over the years, mainly ones with a deep, rich sense of story and cinematic atmosphere and lots of cool niche character actors providing voiceover work!
First up is NARC, a hectic, rambunctious shooter based on some old arcade game from even further back in the day as it was already released like ten years ago for PlayStation 2. This one creates a seedy urban environment where two cops, a go-getter rookie (Bill Bellamy) and an arrogant renegade (Michael Madsen) work to take down a ruthless international drug syndicate that takes them from stateside streets all the way over to Asia. It’s a scrappy game with very unrealistic physics and fighting but that kind of calls back to its arcade roots I guess. Madsen is fun as the asshole rogue cop who is addicted to both drugs and beating the shit out of perps, while Ron Perlman blusters his way through the obligatory Greek chorus role of their hard nosed precinct captain. Best of all is underrated Michael Wincott as the big bad, whose name is literally Mr. Big. He’s this weirdo paraplegic mega-villain who sits in a giant mechanized swivelling chair adorned in 50 caliber cannons that make quite the epic and goddamn frustrating final boss fight.
The coolest thing about this game is that you can actually do a bunch of drugs when you find them; coke makes you run super fast, ludes do something strange to your perception of time, LSD makes people’s heads get all funny and huge while weed (my favourite) puts you in this hazy dreamscape as Rasta music warbles out gently all around you. Speaking of music this has one amazing soundtrack too, sampling the likes of Peter Tosh, Cypress Hill, Curtis Mayfield, Lynrd Skynrd, The Stranglers (whose hit song Golden Brown dreamily plays whenever you shoot up heroin), The Toyes, Happy Monday’s, DMX and more. This is a cheeky, nihilistic, extremely violent, morally bankrupt, hilariously over the top piece of urban exploitation gaming and one of my absolute favourites from back in the PS2 era which, let’s face it, will probably be the main focus on these gaming reviews considering I’m all about the old school when it comes to any area of media entertainment.
70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.
With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.
Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.
A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.
Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.
The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.
NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.
Okay I know I always say that guilty pleasures don’t exist for me and I wholeheartedly own my tastes in film without a shred of winking irony and for the most part that’s true… but there *are* a few that kinda fall into the ‘sheepish enjoyment’ realm despite me being well aware that they’re dumb as shit, the Jennifer Garner Elektra film being one of them. I know one is a mess but it just somehow keeps me glued every time and I don’t even know why, but it might start with Garner, who I loved in the Daredevil movie and is just as hot and engaging here reprising the role sometime after, or before Daredevil.. I’m not sure which because she totally died in that one but this also doesn’t really have a ‘prequel feel so who tf knows, really. She’s in exile or something in a remote location, a location that just happens to really be the Sea-to-Sky/Salish coast area of BC where I’m from and all that lush PNW cinematography is probably an atmospheric contributor to why I enjoy this. So what’s the story? She’s in exile sort of, but uses her badass pseudo supernatural warrior skills to protect a father and daughter (Goran Visnjic and Kirsten Zien) from a horde of X-Men type assassins dispatched to kill them by.. I don’t even remember. They’re a weird bunch, one can morph into animals, another dude has tattoos that kinda come to life and help him fight, that type of shit. And that’s basically the story but honestly you could watch this on mute and just appreciate the scenery and strange, colourful CGI visuals with your own choice of music and you’d probably get more out of it. Terence Stamp shows up as blind martial arts guru Stick, a character played far more satisfyingly by Scott Glenn in Netflix’s Daredevil effort but Stamp is cool just for showing up so why not. Honestly my favourite part is a moody prologue where Elektra storms the well guarded mansion stronghold of some Bond villain type dude named DeMarco played by Jason Isaacs, and takes him out, it has a cool video game cutscene feel. Isaacs inexplicably does a lot of random two second cameos in huge budget Hollywood stuff (Resident Evil, Grindhouse, Abduction, Fury etc), it’s become an aesthetic in itself just to see him show up briefly and either get shot or walk out of the scene again randomly, so that’s always fun. I can’t really explain my fondness for this one other than the loose jumble of attributes I’ve listed above, but I’ve seen it a bunch of times, I remember every set piece and Canadian wilderness shot, yet I couldn’t begin to tell you what it’s specifically about in comic book lore terms. Still a fun one though.
There was a time in the early 90s when a series of nihilistic neo-noirs were made, in which they examined the pitfalls of masculinity, the male ego, and what it is to be an alpha male. RED ROCK WEST, AFTER DARK, MY SWEET, GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, and Peter Medak’s ROMEO IS BLEEDING belong in the upper echelon of that sub-genre from that time and place.
The film is a conventional rogue cop film, made in a rather unconventional way. The film sticks to the guide, with the dirty cop endangering the lives of beautiful women through his series of bad mistakes, the ultimate femme fatale, and the powerful evil man. Yet, within the framework of what a noir is, lies bizarre and aloof humor that allows all the darkness to be stomached, creating captivating moments that are as surreal as they are deadly.
The film’s cast is paramount. Gary Oldman leads the ensemble in what is one of his finest performances. Oldman is an actor who never, ever disappoints, and regardless of how worn out, or tired a genre character he plays – he always brings something new and something fresh to the role that makes it uniquely his. His character of Jack Grimaldi is in fact, grim – hit the nail on the head with the not-so-subtle character name. A man consumed by the lifestyle he swore to bring to justice, he starts informing for the mob, and that’s when everything goes to shit.
Oldman is anchored by a remarkable gallery of talent; Lena Olin as quite possibly the best femme fatale depicted on screen, a vulnerable and damned Juliette Lewis, a sweet and very perceptive wife in Annabella Sciorra, Will Patton, David Proval and Gene Canfield as Oldman’s cop buddies, CRIME STORY’S Paul Butler and James Cromwell as FBI agents, Tony Sirico, Michael Wincott, and Dennis Farina as mobsters, with all roads leading to the big bad, Roy Scheider in the role of the perfectly heavy-handed named Don Falcone – the ruthless mobster who wants Olin dead.
While Oldman does his worst by trying his absolute best to play all sides against the middle and somehow end up with all the money, the women, and getting away with it; director Peter Medak and screenwriter Hilary Henkin build a world filled with fast and dangerous people, showstopping set pieces, memorable dialogue, and eccentric without being too much costume design. Not to mention an elegant and dangerous score by Mark Isham. The world-building within the film is terrific, and truly accentuates the dusty and grim neo-noirs of the early 90s.
For anybody who’s a fan of mysteries centred on missing people, cold cases, decades-old secrets, multiple timelines, meticulous police procedural intrigue and deeply affecting human drama, I’d highly recommend BBC’s The Missing, Europe’s answer of sorts to HBO’s True Detective. This series not only contains everything I just listed above, but it executes each one of those elements pretty much flawlessly, and is one of those shows that compels you to put your phone down to track every detail, absorb every frame and immerse oneself completely, a seldom attained state of storytelling nirvana. So there are two seasons, done in anthology form, the only connective tissue between them besides thematic material being Tchéky Karyo’s deeply pragmatic, selfless freelance investigator Julien Baptiste, a sort of St. Francis of ex-cop PI’s who goes where he is needed, compelled on an elemental level to help out families whose children have disappeared.
Season one sees Baptiste assist a couple from the UK (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor) whose young son disappeared into thin air one night while they are vacationing in a small French village. The police work tirelessly, it becomes a media sensation and two separate timelines eight years apart from one another unfold in symbiotic parallels. This case not only affects the parents, Baptiste and the local police force but also has a ripple effect into the nearby towns and eventually all over the continent as it becomes a notorious mystery akin to that of Maddy McCann. It’s a taut, emotional, incredibly complex series of events that isn’t too sensationalist but feels organic, momentous and immediate. The second season, which I loved even more than the first, takes place over in Germany where a challenging mystery plays out with the backdrop of a military garrison and all the families involved. Baptiste is here investigating the reappearance of a girl named Alice Webster who vanished nearly a decade before and may have connections to yet another girl that he failed to find many years ago. Her parents (David Morrisey and Keeley Hawes) are just glad to have their baby back until bit by bit doubt creeps in and it seems like something about her is.. off. So begins a series of revelations, callbacks to an older mystery years before in the Iraqi war and the ever present yet unseen presence of a monster who has been kidnapping girls for a long time.
This is peak long form television and taken as a pair of dual stories glued together by Karyo’s Baptiste, it’s a near perfect achievement in storytelling, a collective sixteen episodes that feel as if literal years of content has been presented in real time. I prefer the second season because it feels more well rounded and cohesive as a cinematic story, also it’s a lot less bleak than the first. These girls have been through hell and it has bled out into every other character around them, which is part of this show’s genius; this isn’t just about the victims, the perpetrators and the authorities who try to make sense of it all. This affects everyone who touches it or even hears about it, detail and careful attention is paid right down to the second, third and fourth tier characters until we feel immersed in a tangible world of human beings and every complicated, contradictory, evil, compassionate, inexplicable and every other act under the sun that they’re capable of. The acting is absolutely 100% top quality all around, not a false note or weak performance in sight and wonderful work provided by folks like Jason Flemyng, Roger Allam, Laura Fraser, Anastasia Hille, Olafur Darri Olaffsson, Abigail Hardingham, Saïd Taghmoui, Titus De Voogt, Eric Godon, Ken Stott and many more. Simply put: if you’re looking for a binge-worthy, addictive, intellectually stimulating, emotionally nourishing, all-bases-covered piece of programming, look no further because this is about as top shelf as anything gets. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now, too.