All posts by nlclement

After spending close to a decade working in Hollywood, Nick Clement has taken his passion for film and transitioned into a blogger, critic, and entertainment reporter. His work has been published in Variety Magazine, and at numerous websites, including Hollywood-Elsewhere, MovieViral, Back to the Movies, Taste of Cinema, and Awards Daily. Some of Nick's favorite filmmakers include Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Billy Wilder, with favorite films including The Tree of Life, Goodfellas, Heat, Back to the Future, Fitzcarraldo, Zoolander, and Enter the Void. He's currently writing a book on Tony Scott's filmmaking career.

DARIO ARGENTO’S OPERA — A REVIEW BY FILMMAKER & GUEST CRITIC DAMIAN K. LAHEY

OperaPoster

 

‘Opera’ (1987) dir. Dario Argento

Dario Argento. I was such a dork for this guy back in high school. I even had t-shirts made from the posters of some of his films. I got the images from a big interview piece I read with him in a ‘Psychotronic Magazine’ I had picked up. Did lots of presentations on his work in high school and later in film school. I’m still a huge mark for this guy and he’s a huge influence on my own work. Definitely one of my filmmaking heroes.

Objective historical fact: Dario Argento revolutionized the horror genre at three different times with the films ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ (1970), ‘Profondo Rosso’ (1975) and ‘Suspiria’ (1977). Awe inspiring. Everything outside of that is subjective but undoubtedly he has left a serious cultural footprint on the cinematic landscape that cannot be ignored.

In my opinion, he has made three great films – ‘Suspiria’, ‘Opera’ and ‘Profound Rosso’ and three very good films – ‘Phenomena’ (1985), ‘Tenebre'(1982) and ‘The Bird with Crystal Plumage’. Love them! Then there’s the rest. Some would toss ‘Inferno'(1980) and ‘The Stendhal Syndrome’ (1996) in there. I hear ya. They contain some truly wonderful moments. Stuff I certainly couldn’t do. But I just don’t think they come together as well as those others.

‘Opera’ revolves around the troubled production of an avant-garde staging of ‘Macbeth’ and the understudy who must rise to the occasion after the original ingenue is injured. Naturally, there’s also a serial killer on the loose dispatching people in all sorts of imaginative and grizzly ways.

After this film, Argento would never again make something as accomplished or impressive from a production stand point. His camera would never move as confidently or innovatively. His pacing would never be as urgent. And his spellbinding blend of the macabre, the artistic and the banal would never work so well together. Cristina Marsillach would also never be equaled as the quintessential Argento heroine. She is visually and emotionally the perfect foil for Argento’s filmmaking. Supposedly they did not get along during filming. It’s a shame but the film is probably better for it.

The gag with the killer taping pins under our heroine’s eyes so she is forced to watch the murders is a gimmick that runs rather shallow, packing less and less a punch with each viewing though they definitely frame it up like it’s the hottest thing going and the marketing to this day still pushes it to the moon.

Legendary cinematographer Ronnie Taylor rocks the arena with this one, composing some of Argento’s finest shots. A bit where the killer shoots his gun through the apartment peephole is still one of the best sequences of its type ever lensed.

I want to go on record as saying I find this film unusually erotic. I’m a big horror film guy but I don’t normally find the films all that erotic. I don’t. Sure, there’s naked ladies and sex scenes scattered about but I don’t find the genre as intrinsically erotic as many would claim. But I find this movie sexually charged in a strange way even though there’s little to no superficial eroticism to be had. Make sense?

I’ll never forget the first time I watched this film (re-titled ‘Terror At The Opera’ for US consumption) and it came to its controversial existential conclusion. I ADORED IT. It cuts to the most ridiculous switcharoo committed in film history and then ends as an esoteric art film. It is silly yet endearing, poetic and, like the rest of the film, unlike anything I had seen in a horror film. It also brought a peaceful resolve to the hysterical madness that had proceeded it.

The psychology deployed in this film in regards to the mother/daughter/killer relationship gets the job done without being too trite. It’s not one note like in Hitchcock ‘Marnie’ (1964), for example. It is more along the lines of Mamet’s ‘House Of Games’ (1987) or Demme’s ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991) though it falls short of the latter two films’ cerebral panache and opts instead for flinging literal insanity up on the screen with gallons of blood and Heavy Metal music.

When I was younger I used to intellectualize Argento’s work a lot more. Now I feel silly doing it. Maybe it’s because the later work is a little hit and miss but I think mainly it’s because I believe the artistry is in the alchemy and not so much the content. When I see people over analyzing the content like I used to it makes me kind of uneasy. It’s his unique blending of cinematic elements – bravura camera work, complex yet contrived narratives, international casts, daring soundtracks and immense blood letting all with a signature style that is the secret sauce. Argento has a style but he also has a tone and when the two work together – everything else becomes irrelevant.

OperaStill1 (1)

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

HEADSHOT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

For the most part, and with only a few recent exceptions, the studio-funded American action picture is dead. The PG-13 rating, the homogenized superhero film, and an over-reliance on CGI have become the new norms, with films like Con Air, The Rock, Air Force One, Face/Off, and Bad Boys 2 never feeling like they could be made again; those films, and many others, used computerized visual effects to ENHANCE their set-pieces, not OVERTAKE them. In recent years, I’ve been looking to Asia for as many imports as I can find, and one of the nastiest I’ve discovered in recent memory is the absolute blood and guts festival Headshot, from the directing duo of Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. This hardcore ass-kicker was done in the vein of The Raid and The Raid 2, complete with that film’s enigmatic star Iko Uwais, who here slices and dices his way through an army of baddies with only one objective: Stay Alive. He’s suffering from amnesia after waking up from a coma, and lots of people are after him? But why? You’ll find out. There’s nothing deep or complicated here on a narrative level, with the brutally efficient script presenting archetypes and then letting the fisticuffs fly.

4

The martial arts choreography in this film is utterly stunning, mixing various fighting forms into the action in a smart way though the story, while the straight forward plotting is merely an excuse to showcase Uwais and all of the other fearless stunt performers, who went above and beyond the call of duty for our entertainment. Shooting in widescreen, Yunus Pasolang’s in-your-face cinematography gets the viewer extremely up close and personal to all the action, displaying each smack down with fresh and edgy camera angles, and a mix of shaky-cam and long-take shooting; it’s absolutely incredible on a technical level all throughout. Exceedingly violent and unrelenting almost to the point of madness, Headshot all but eviscerates the competition, and yet again shows how filmmakers from overseas are totally schooling everyone else when it comes to unadulterated and boundary-pushing action filmmaking. After premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, Headshot received an extremely limited theatrical release worldwide, and is now a streaming option on Netflix and Amazon, and also available on DVD for purchase. This film is only for total bad-asses who like their action cinema full-throttle, pulse-pounding, and exceptionally, nearly pornographically violent.

1

THEODORE MELFI’S HIDDEN FIGURES — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

I don’t get too hung up on poetic license and the reshaping of history when it comes to glossy and well-meaning Hollywood biographical tales, so in that regard, I enjoyed last year’s Oscar nominated drama Hidden Figures from director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent). This is the compelling story of three African-American women who led the scientific charge of helping to get John Glenn into outer space. But I don’t understand why Taraji P. Henson wasn’t the one to the acting nomination out of the main trio which included her, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Not that anyone was bad, but I thought Henson’s arc and character was easily the most affecting and effective. Melfi, who co-wrote the script with Allison Schroeder, took liberties with the facts and that’s his prerogative as a filmmaker; he crafted an engaging film about important subject matter, and injected warmth, humor, and some solid social critique. Kevin Costner can do no wrong, Cullen Moss gets some nice close-ups (The Heroes of Arvine Place POWER!), cinematographer Mandy Walker (Shattered Glass, Australia) gave the film some solid visual polish, Hans Zimmer’s score shoots for the stars with appropriate bombast, and the inherent “goodness” of the story is felt at all times. A massive theatrical success to the tune of $230 million world-wide on a $25 million budget (that’s REAL $$$ right there), Hidden Figures is now available on Blu-ray, and will likely entertain audiences for many years to come. 2

BLU-RAY REVIEW: HAL ASHBY’S 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE — BY NICK CLEMENT

4

It took me a few viewings to totally appreciate Hal Ashby’s barely released 1986 film 8 Million Ways To Die, which was the eclectic and troubled helmer’s unique spin on the crime film, and would serve as his final major motion picture. This was the first attempt to cinematically adapt the Matt Scudder detective character from author Lawrence Block (A Walk Among the Tombstones), with a gritty screenplay coming from future auteur Oliver Stone (JFK, Natural Born Killers) and R. Lance Hill (Road House, Out for Justice, The Evil that Men Do), who was credited under the pseudonym David Lee Henry, with uncredited rewrites courtesy of Robert Towne (Chinatown, Days of Thunder, Ask the Dust). Starring  a gruff and sweaty Jeff Bridges, Rosanna Arquette in one of her best and sexiest performances, and an extra-volatile Andy Garcia in one of his first leading roles and in total scene stealing mode, the movie died a very fast box office death, and was met with savage reviews from critics. But over time, it has become a bit more appreciated, most certainly by Ashby fans, but also as an example of the slick and dangerous neo-noir movie world that doesn’t very often get a chance to be seen in quite this fashion on screen. There’s a booze-soaked quality to this film that feels vivid in nearly every moment.

5

8 Million Ways To Die has a scattershot narrative involving cops, scum-bags, drug dealers, prostitutes, murders, and liquor, that’s both pulpy and energetic and certainly coherent, and yet still feels compromised in some instances (Ashby had final cut taken away from him by the producers). But there’s still something fascinating going on within the narrative and with certain aesthetic choices made by Ashby and his team. Stephen H. Burum’s sinewy and seedy cinematography stressed an alternatively shadowy and sometimes neon-inflected color palette, while the excellent music from James Newton Howard kept an appropriately shifty and dangerous sonic ambiance; the opening helicopter shot with Howard’s sleazy music blaring is 80’s-perfect. And considering that Ashby was reportedly fired from the movie before it was finished, that might explain why the film feels so choppy in spots, as he wasn’t allowed to collaborate on the final editorial process. It’s an odd yet entertaining film, with some cool moments, but exists as a curious “What if?” on Ashby’s legendary filmography. Another interesting tidbit is the involvement of the production/distribution entity Producers Sales Organization; check out their story and credits on Wikipedia for some extra-fun reading.

1

For a long time, 8 Million Ways To Die was a hard film to track down. It was never given an American DVD release, but was released by Second Sight in the UK on that format. Now, thanks to Kino Lorber, Ashby’s swan song has been given the Blu-ray treatment, and the results from a picture and audio standpoint are excellent, showcasing deep blacks and rich colors all throughout, with a very clean transfer which retains Burum and Ashby’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Howard’s spectacular musical score, especially that sax-heavy opening, sounds luscious to the ear, a further reminder of that composer’s stellar gifts with musical accompaniment. Special features include interviews with Garcia, Arquette, Block, Alexandra Paul, a trailer gallery, and an informative and entertaining audio commentary with Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. This film certainly had a helluva production, with various rewrites occurring much to the annoyance of key creatives and Ashby battling it out with producers over his unconventional filmmaking approach, and despite all of this, I really think it’s a lot of fun, and if it’s not everything it might’ve been under less hellish circumstances, it serves as a unique final offering from Ashby, who rarely repeated himself and was clearly interested in exploring various genres during his amazing career.

blu art

ANTONIO CAMPOS’ CHRISTINE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

2

The thoroughly unnerving and slow-burn psychological drama Christine will almost certainly send a shiver down your spine, especially if you have no clue about the real events that inspired this deeply unsettling motion picture, which was directed with a continued sense of cinematic implacability by the sharp and extremely talented filmmaker Antonio Campos (Afterschool, Simon Killer). Rebecca Hall, appearing in nearly every scene, delivered nothing short of a tour de force performance as Florida newscaster Christine Chubbuck, an awkward woman in a very outward profession, who never quite fit into the station family that surrounded her on a daily basis. The exacting cinematography by Joe Anderson is matched by Sofia Subercaseaux’s patient editing , while the creepy and ominous musical score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is shrewdly deployed in key moments, with the final sequence containing one of the more disturbing bits of on-screen violence that I’ve seen in a while. Not because it’s excessively gory, but rather, how personal and upsetting it all is. Campos is a fiercely talented filmmaker who is clearly choosy with his projects; I hope we see much more from him in the future. And make no mistake – Hall was totally robbed of an Oscar nomination, but I’d imagine the too-low-profile that this film received kept it out of last year’s awards race. Regardless, Christine is available on Netflix streaming and on DVD and is an expert piece of storytelling that never does anything you truly expect in any given moment, which has to be one of the ultimate compliments one could pay any particular film. Oh, and EXTREME Tracy Letts POWER.

1

GREGORY HOBLIT’S FREQUENCY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

3

This is a shamelessly entertaining film with lots of heart and a tone that bounces all over the place. Gregory Hoblit’s underrated 2000 genre-bender Frequency was a modest hit with critics and audiences at the time of its release, and while it’s hardly a great movie, it’s so much fun to watch, and it stands up on repeated viewings. This movie is so many things: A father-son drama, a sci-fi time travel piece, a serial killer thriller, a domestic drama, an action potboiler – screenwriter and future studio chief Toby Emmerich devised a true “kitchen-sink” film with a heady, complicated narrative that’s happy to fold back on itself repeatedly. Dennis Quaid was perfectly cast as the father impossibly communicating with his grown son, played by Jim Caviezel, years later via an old ham radio and some interesting celestial disturbances courtesy of a very active Aurora Borealis. And as in most time-travel narratives, the more you do to disturb the space-time continuum, the more likely it’ll be that things will have changed all around you, thus setting the butterfly effect in motion. This is a restless piece of work, a film that has tons on its active mind, and I can’t think of too many other efforts that resemble it in intent and execution. It certainly feels light years away from the types of films that are currently getting the greenlight at the studio level.

2

Hoblit, a dependable director who cut his teeth on various TV shows before making the leap to features with the excellent Primal Fear, has had a solid career as a helmer of underrated mid-budgeted thrillers (Fallen, Hart’s War, and Fracture are some other credits), and with Frequency, he took a project that had spent years in development under various other filmmakers and turned it into a film with a great sense of visual style, and wasn’t afraid to embrace the inherent silliness of its idea, and directed with a steely conviction that turned the entire piece into a slice of earnest entertainment. It’s certainly contrived to within an inch of its life but it’s no less enjoyable, and it’s admirable the way Frequency keeps piling it on all the way to its cornily effective finale, which will leave a lump in your throat unless you’re a true cynic. A big reason for this is the fantastic chemistry between Quaid and Caviezel, who despite not really looking like they come from the same family, exhibited a natural warmth and rapport with each other that went along way to making the film work as well as it does. For some reason, Frequency feels like a strange companion piece to Field of Dreams, and while that film is infinitely superior overall, I can’t help but feel that they share some of the same honest-at-the-core traits that always keep me coming back for more.

1

LUC BESSON’S THE FIFTH ELEMENT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

1

Luc Besson’s wild and wacky sci-fi action film The Fifth Element is one of the most insane pieces of eye-candy ever devised, with a cartwheeling sense of manic energy, absolutely stunning production values, an overstuffed screenplay, and performances that range all over the map in terms of tone. I can vividly remember seeing this film with my parents on opening day during the summer of 1997, and being a massive fan of Leon, I was totally jacked to see it. And while I was fully entertained and most definitely overwhelmed by the film upon first viewing, over the years I’ve revisited this distinctive piece of work numerous times, and the film simply gets better and better. There’s also an extended male-on-female oral sex joke sequence that goes on for an extended period of time, and I truly don’t get how the MPAA let that one slide, but I love it regardless! This film has a brazen sense of its own self, and I love how Besson seemingly didn’t care about anything except for his exploding imagination and letting everything rip and fly. And the blending of CGI with practical and in-camera effects is rather stunning to observe all throughout.

2

Everyone was off their ass in this film, most especially Chris Tucker, who took a role that was originally conceived for Prince, and blasted his way off the screen as one of the most obnoxiously over the top characters ever to enter a film at more than the half-way point. Thierry Arbogast’s ridiculously stylish cinematography was in perfect synch with the gaudy costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gauthier and the eye-filling production handled by the brilliant Dan Weil. Besson and co-writer Robert Mark Kamen’s script is a hodgepodge of ideas and tropes that is both silly and serious in equal measure. The flying cars and futuristic cityscapes still dazzle, and positively pop in the Blu-ray format. Gary Oldman went to the moon and back in this film, and Bruce Willis did a reliably great job as the hunkered down bad-ass who has to spring into action and handle business. I’ve enjoyed most of Besson’s directorial offerings, and this one is near the top of the list for me. But I don’t think anything will ever unseat Leon as his crowning cinematic achievement, as that film really means something special, especially the international director’s cut.

3