All posts by natewatchescoolmovies

24 years old from Vancouver, Canada. Loved movies since I can remember. I do reviews on Instagram and Facebook as well, and after being harped at by my friends to start a blog as well... Here I am. I try to give obscure, overlooked films a day in court, ones I feel are hidden gems, that deserve to get some love.

Gaming with Nate: NARC for PlayStation 2

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.

-Nate Hill

Rob Bowman’s Elektra

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.

-Nate Hill

BBC’s The Missing

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.

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

Terence Malick has gone through a fascinating evolutionary path, from the hazy, formative Days Of Heaven and Badlands spanning out to the free flowing, elemental and incredibly lyrical aesthetic he owns these days. Most of his films I’ve tried since Tree Of Life have kind of been lost on me; they’ve struck me as Malick playing in the artistic sandbox with literal handfuls of A list cameos but in experimenting loosely he lost a sense of narrative that was necessary as well. I was pleased to find that his newest film A Hidden Life progresses away from that and shows the most considerable growth in him as an artist I’ve seen since the leap from The New World to Tree Of Life. A Hidden Life contains a carefully distilled symbiotic dance between Malick’s newfound, esoteric style of filmmaking and telling of a linear, structured story with dialogue and beats, the result is something wholly fulfilling and transcendent. This is a simple story one one Austrian farmer named Franz Jägerstetter (August Diehl, so evil and malicious in Inglorious Basterds it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor playing this gentle, compassionate soul) who refuses against all coercion, peer pressure and principle to go along with Hitler’s reich or anything it stands for. This naturally causes him and his family no end of trouble until he reaches a nexus of his own making and his choices lead him down a path from which there is no return. Now we all know that gorgeous, pristine widescreen cinematography is a given in any Malick film but I can say most assuredly that this one has the absolute best and most drop dead gorgeous photography of anything he’s ever done. His images sweep over the Austrian hills, craggy mountains and misty glens with a movement and life force independent of simple camera work, and the sense of place, time and feeling instilled deep within the viewer is unparalleled. Later scenes in Berlin have a sort of regal, magisterial reverence to them, with ornate chapels midway through being painted and an over elaborate courthouse where Franz meets his ultimate fate. Austrian actress Valerie Pachner is unbelievably striking as Franz’s wife Fani, a fiercely protective, strong spirited woman who doesn’t always understand her husband’s defiance (same goes for me) but stands with him nonetheless. The strongest aspects of the film are carefully shot, almost holy sequences of day to day farm life in the Austrian countryside, filled with the same impossible beauty and studious observance we remember from Tree Of Life. We never even see the atrocities of war that Franz defies, and there’s scarcely a violent moment in the film save for his mistreatments in military prison. But through the simple act of watching this small village, it’s children, elders, tradesman, see these souls live through routine and love one another we get the sense of exactly what is at stake and what Franz is fighting for, despite never observing actual conflict. With Tree Of Life Malick searched the heavens for the same patterns of life and kinship he saw within one 1950’s American family, and drew forth wonders of filmmaking. And now with A Hidden Life he shows us one tiny Austrian village observed with all the detail and resonance one might see in the cosmos and asks us decide for ourselves as just how valuable such a place is, and what an act like Franz’s does in the long run to preserve it. Phenomenal film.

-Nate Hill

Dax Shepard’s Hit & Run

Hit & Run was a huge blast, and the key ingredient that makes it work so well is the real life couple dynamic of Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell, who keep the relationship banter fresh, realistic and adorable. This is a passion project for Shepherd, he writes, directs and stars in the kind of scrappy, bawdy highway car chase crime caper that feels cut from the same cloth as stuff like Vanishing Point, Smokey & The Bandit, Cannonball Run and old McQueen/Reynolds muscle car fluff. They also pulled it off on a budget of two million and most of that went to securing music rights, so what we have onscreen is a barebones, character driven, practical effects based screwball action comedy that just hits the spot. Shepherd is Charles Bronson, (picked for the famous British delinquent inmate, not the tough guy movie star) his chosen name in the witness protection program after testifying against his former bank robbing crew whom he was getaway driver for. When his wife gets a hotshot job in LA he’s forced to rear his head, her asshole ex boyfriend (Lex Luthor from Smallville) stalks them along the highway, they’re also pursued by his clumsy dipshit federal marshal case worker (Tom Arnold) and soon his old partner (Bradley Cooper) catches wind and it’s all one ridiculously cluttered, madcap extended chase sequence that’s is somehow totally nuts yet follows a cohesive plot in the same breath. Dax and Kristen anchor it, you can tell they are together in real life because sparks literally fly in any dialogue scene scripted or improvised, and there’s a ton of the latter speckled throughout the film. Tom Arnold does his wacky klutz routine, sometimes to effect and sometimes seeming just like a prop that trips over other props. Bradley Cooper steals the fucking show with greasy dreadlocks, a volatile bitch of a girlfriend (Joy Bryant) and enough homicidal attitude to spare, whether violently berating a guy twice his size for buying cheap dog food or lamenting the fact that he got ‘butt fucked’ in jail, after which Dax and Kristen have a guessing marathon as to the ethnicity of his rapist in the films funniest sequence. There’s colourful supporting work from Kristen Chenowith, David Koechner, Ryan Hansen, Beau Bridges and a couple juicy last minute cameos from big names I won’t spoil. This is easy breezy R rated comedy fun at its best with a fast, loose and organic feel, it barrels by briskly, brings tons of laughs and even gets a few quick sweet moments in too. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend

There’s nothing quite like the sight of Will Smith armed with a high powered rifle, dog at his side, left completely and utterly alone in a deserted metropolis to scavenge, wander and roar down an empty main drag in abandoned super cars. This is an applicable film right now because that’s kind of how I’ve felt being downtown at work these days, minus the dog and super cars. Smith is Robert Neville, the last man alive on Manhattan Island, or so he thinks. By day he wanders around, searches for food and keeps himself occupied, by night he barricades himself inside a modest fortress while the rest of NYC comes crawling out, now turned into savage marauding zombies by a mysterious virus. Robert tried his best to contact anyone who might be out there by radio and tirelessly works in his lab searching for a cure. This is a strange rhythm that continues for the first half of the film or so until the inevitable progression of a Hollywood narrative interrupts it. I kind of have a love hate relationship with this film, in the sense that I love it for some aspects but not so much others. The first portion of the film is one of the most effective uses of immersive atmosphere and drawing the viewer in I’ve ever seen. Seeing this in iMax back in the day I really felt like I was there with Robert, felt that isolation, despair, restlessness end even blessed solitude at certain moments. It’s a sensational way to open your story, but then as soon as other human characters are added later on, the vacuum like aura is yanked away and it becomes kind of… I dunno, routine. You’ve gotta be a pretty special post apocalyptic film to trick your audience into not only believing the premise but imagining themselves in it, and at the outset they more than succeed. It’s just later on the illusion foibles and loses us a bit. That and the dodgy CGI used on the zombies who are scary no doubt but still a bit rough in the FX department, but hey this was 2007 and Weta was busy working on King Kong so what can you do. I nitpick here and that shouldn’t suggest I don’t love this film, because I do. I just believe a piece that leaps out of the gate so effectively, so convincingly should keep up that lightning in a bottle magic for the whole duration, but that’s just me. It does have one of the single most heartbreaking scenes cinema has to offer, acted flawlessly enough by Smith to leave any badass viewer bawling. Anyone reading this who’s seen the film will know. Oh, and there’s also a weird Batman Vs. Superman poster in Times Square, I’m not sure what the deal is with that but it seems odd for 2007 considering that film wasn’t even made until 2015, no? Maybe there’s some cool time travel trivia to the making of this one.

-Nate Hill

Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa

Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is a stunning film, an enigmatic jewel that doesn’t reveal any of its secrets or intent after the first five minutes, half hour or even mid point but rather let’s the passage of time, the sense of place, the richness of character and mesmeric atmosphere draw the viewer in. Bob Hoskins is George in another one of his ferocious bulldog performances, but this time around there’s a roughly sculpted emotional climate he’s cultivating too. George is an ex con who has drifted off his path in life, and after being released from prison has no idea where to turn. An old mob contact sets him up as driver and protector to high class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) and the two of them get on thunderously at first, until he gradually falls madly in love. She is a cipher, and Tyson plays her with a counterintuitive, flint-spark resilience. What’s she looking for as she scans the inky black London streets with an uncommonly focused gaze? I won’t spoil the surprise, but this narrative unfolds organically, at its own pace and with a deep feel for London as both a city and a primordial habitat. Michael Caine is deliciously vile as the horrid porn kingpin Mortwell, a selfish sociopath whose path George and Simone must cross on their own. You can’t quite pin this one down in any one genre and therein lies the magic that is a Jordan film. His work is always illusory yet somehow so specific but never tethered to any one thing you could describe in a few sentences. He makes films less from a genre perspective and more from a life perspective. There’s romance here to be sure, but not in the way one might think and the film’s violent conclusion set in seaside Brighton might leave you just as confused and heartbroken as some of its characters. There’s droll comedy too in episodic interactions between George and his chum Thomas, played by the great Robbie Coltrane in the kind of jovially cherubic turn that only he can pull off. There’s danger, loneliness, joy, monsters, corruption, redemption, love, hurt and more, all gilded by achingly beautiful cinematography drenched in West End neon, a Michael Kamen score that hits every note from jazz to a horror theme style jangle, of all things. I don’t know what else to say except experience this slice of life on celluloid for yourself, because it’s something truly special and not to really be put into words. Magnificent film.

-Nate Hill