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.

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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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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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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BARRY SONNENFELD’S GET SHORTY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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After an auspicious start as a hot-shot cinematographer on films such as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Three O’clock High, Big, When Harry Met Sally, Miller’s Crossing, and Misery, Barry Sonnenfeld switched to full-blown director, with a bunch of mixed-bag credits throughout the last 25 years. From where I sit, Get Shorty is easily his best film, and one of the finest Hollywood comedies ever crafted. The remarkable cast included a perfect John Travolta as a Miami mob-enforcer turned wannabe Los Angeles player, Gene Hackman in a wily and hilarious performance as a has-been B-movie producer scoundrel, the alluring Rene Russo as Hackman’s ex who falls for Travolta, Dennis Farina (“They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets”), David Paymer, James Gandolfini, Danny De Vito, Delroy Lindo, Jon Gries, and many more familiar faces and character actors. Released in 1995, this came hot on the heels of Pulp Fiction, and became a box office success and critical favorite. This is an endlessly re-watchable film with snappy dialogue courtesy of tremendous screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Lookout) who adapted Elmore Leonard’s novel, excellent visual design from shooter Donald Peterman, a jazzy soundtrack, and splendid acting from a top-flight ensemble. I wish there was a new movie like this one coming out this weekend.

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M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S SPLIT — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Split is creepy genre skewering from writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, and without spoiling the movie for those who haven’t yet had it spoiled, it’s the sort of picture that works as one thing for most of its running time, before morphing into something else by its conclusion; was this always the intention?  James McAvoy is totally wild and completely on fire in the leading role, or should I say, multiple leading roles as a guy battling intense multiple personality disorder, and possibly something else, while the trio of young actresses playing the captured girls are all excellent. There’s some great use of cramped-quarters camera placement by the inventive cinematographer Michael Gioulakis, and West Dylan Thordson’s unnerving music sets a hostile atmosphere that’s maintained all throughout the picture, despite it being a bit too long in the tooth; had this been a lean and mean 90-minuter I think it might’ve been more effective. But this is another low-budget success for Shyamalan, who seems to have recaptured his early-career groove.

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I’m also not sure how smart or classy it was of Shyamalan to use sexually/emotionally exploitive content within the parameters of a silly genre flick; aspects to this film are sort of icky and surprisingly crass and ultimately unnecessary when thought about in retrospect. At least for me. Because this is another trick-narrative from the king of modern trick narratives, there could have been multiple ways for the story to develop, and I’m sort of at a loss to understand why he felt that certain thematic elements were necessary, especially when there’s  very little emotional payoff in these instances. Still, it’s lots of mostly ridiculous fun (if not as enjoyable overall as Shyamalan’s previous picture, the superb and totally wicked black comedy/horror item The Visit), Haley Lu Richardson continues to be extremely photogenic, and the reveal during the final scene will certainly make lots of people giddy with excitement over the various possibilities of what’s in store for this particular cinematic universe…

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BEN WHEATLEY’S FREE FIRE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Thoroughly inconsequential and better off because of that, Ben Wheatley’s wickedly entertaining Free Fire is a film of no redeeming social value, and completely awesome fun during all of its extra-tight 85 minute run time. This film is EXACTLY as advertised: 15 minutes of set-up, and 70 minutes of violent, trigger-happy action with loads of black comedy thrown skillfully into the mix. Feeling like a Quentin Tarantino film stripped of his occasional pretension and bloat, this scuzzy, morally bankrupt little flick operates in guns-blazing mode with a massive smile on its face, with a bevy of colorful characters spouting off vulgarity-laced one-liners at each other. The premise is simple: an arms sale has gone awry due to a rather ridiculous but compelling off-screen incident, the two parties open fire on each other inside of an abandoned and derelict warehouse, and nobody is truly safe at any point during the raucous narrative.

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Wheatley co-scripted with his wife, Amy Jump, and it’s obvious that they are a terrific creative team. Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley steal the show, Brie Larson has fun kicking some ass, and everyone else clearly had a ball with the down and dirty material. Laurie Rose’s excellent widescreen cinematography opts for inventive camera placement with a sense of heightened reality, with Jump and Wheatley’s razor-sharp editing never wasting a moment. While not as thought provoking as Wheatley’s A Field in England, as downright twisted as Kill List, or as subversive as last year’s descent into societal hell High-Rise, the boisterous and purposefully obnoxious Free Fire exists simply because its creators wanted it to exist, and sometimes, cleverly made throwaway items like this can be both enjoyable for the audience and important for the filmmakers as a way of pushing towards something more substantial or groundbreaking.

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