Category Archives: Film Review

Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart

I love films that show human beings close to nature, eccentric conservationists and bold, idiosyncratic individuals who value the lives of animals and the wilderness above other humans, industry or infrastructure. Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart is a fantastic example of this, of one reclusive army veteran with severe PTSD and a tragic past named Jim Malden (the late great Rutger Hauer) who lives alone on remote Cherokee island off the coast of North Carolina, devoting his life to the care, companionship and protection of birds and any other creatures he finds. He awkwardly flirts with the local general store owner (Kathleen Turner, switching up her smoky voiced socialite persona for something more casual and earthy) and bonds with her kid. He is fiercely protective of his land and the animals that dwell there to the point of inflicting mortal wounds with a crossbow onto two idiotic, nasty hunters (Brion James and John Dennis Johnston) who shoot birds illegally. Trouble arrives in the form of rock climbing adventurer Mike Walker (Powers Boothe) who has been hired by a weird, rich collector of rare bird eggs (Donald Pleasance channeling the Penguin from Batman) to pilfer the nest of rare bald eagles on Jim’s island, rendering that species extinct. Mike isn’t a malicious or cruel man and admits that the prospect bothers him but he’s been promised two hundred grand for his troubles that will go to funding an expedition in China that is very important to him. We then have this extreme battle of wills governed by moral principles, with both actors doing phenomenal jobs. Hauer is rugged and intense as ever, hinting at a mournful past and winning us over with his compassion for animals, whether washing oil spills off of a bird’s coat or playing with cute black bear cubs in his epic tree fort. Boothe is cavalier and brash at first but we get a sense of moral centre in him as his arc goes on, this could almost be considered ‘the other environmental protection film’ he did in the 80’s and played a good guy in alongside John Boorman’s masterful The Emerald Forest. It’s a a joy to see the two actors onscreen together and a neat precursor to Sin City two decades later, where they don’t share any scenes but play brothers. Now this film had a rough time in post production, many of the reels being lost, what they’ve done to piece it together works for the most part but there are a few pacing issues that aren’t easy to brush off, as well as some really cheesy sex romp stuff but I guess it was the 80’s after all. Still, it’s a beautiful film overall, looks terrific on the Shout Factory Blu Ray, has a wonderful electronic score by Maurice Gibb and is about something that I’m very passionate towards: the care and conservation of natural habitats at all costs, and the dire consequences befalling any greedy piece of shit person who tries to exploit them. Very good film.

-Nate Hill

Johnny English Strikes Again

I never got why the Johnny English films didn’t get out there more or endure as classics because they’re pure gold. I mean if we’re talking franchises that spoof James Bond then Austin Powers kind of just reigns supreme as a given, but English is next up in line for my money, thanks to the sheer unfiltered cyclone of comedic star-power that is Rowan Atkinson. The first film is an all timer for me, minted platinum I’ve seen it so many times. The second is admittedly not as strong but the third outing, titled Johnny English Strikes Again, finds its way back to the magic of the first and is an absolute howling joy. He’s just so friggin perfect, stupid by way of being suave as perennial fuck up English, the type of guy that no one ever in real life would trust with a mission but in the satirical world of cinema espionage he constantly finds himself somehow employed. This one steps up his level of idiocy to near biblical heights in the very first scene: in hysterical collective cameos we see Charles Dance, Edward Fox and Michael Gambon as three legendary MI6 agents hauled out of retirement to assess a cyber attack that blew the cover of agents in the field. Naturally Johnny is also somewhere in the office and naturally he causes some colossal mishap that kills all three in the first ten minutes of the film. Three seasoned veterans of cinema, dispatched before the opening credits, that cracked me up so hard lol. Emma Thompson is great as the loopy section chief tasked with babysitting Johnny on his hectic escapades, Ben Miller returns as trusty, long suffering sidekick Bough and Olga Kurylenko is fun as a slinky Russian double agent who finds Johnny’s lack of self awareness charmingly quaint. The antics in this one are especially fun, with two distinct highlights: Johnny tries out a cutting edge VR room meant to help with surveillance, gets so disoriented that he runs about in a mad dash of confused violence all over London that culminates in the beatdown of a cafe owner with two baguettes. In the film’s funniest bit he accidentally swallows some secret pill that I’m pretty sure was just raw amphetamines and comes blasting out of his hotel room like a speed freak while Darude sandstorm plays loudly and he dances in a club literally all night until they turn the lights on and kick him out. These films might be too silly or whatever for some but there’s just something so winning about Atkinson’s presence, his mannerisms, constant fuck ups and the pure, self assured swagger he adopts that becomes hysterically ironic when we see what an actual moron he really is. Good times and a terrific cap to the trilogy.

-Nate Hill

Amazon’s Homecoming: Season 2

I did not expect the creators of Amazon Prime’s Homecoming to craft something as compelling for their second season as they did the first time around but here we are. Season one is a brilliant, tense, meticulously mounted piece of suspense drama storytelling and is one of those perfectly bookended items that never even needed a continuation, which is why I am so surprised at how much I loved this second iteration, which is just close enough to the heels of its predecessor to be considered a new chapter of the same story and just independent enough to be kind of anthology as well.

From this point forward it gets a bit spoiler heavy for season one, so there that is. As we open a young woman (Janelle Monáe) awakens in a canoe on the middle of a lake with complete amnesia, her mind wiped clean. This keeps up the paranoid Bourne and Hitchcock stylistics that have been a staple since season one. When we left this story it was becoming clear that the shadowy Geist corporation is doing some shady pharmaceutical research on unknowing veterans with PTSD, and as we enter into this new chapter we see that this is even unbeknownst to their own CEO, a salt of the earth entrepreneur played by the great Chris Cooper, who I haven’t seen in a while. Monaé’s character along with others must get to the bottom of what Geist is up to while dealing with season one’s disgruntled vet Walter Cruz (Stephan James, an extraordinary talent), crafty Geist fixer Audrey Temple (Hong Chau, always excellent) and a spectacularly corrupt Department of Defence bitch played by Joan Cusack in a towering pillar of ham fisted lunacy.

This season is quite the departure from the first, mainly for the fact that Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman is no longer around, she was the rock, moral centre and sympathy bank for that chapter and the others who absorb that position here are considerably less innocuous. That provides lots of terrain for moral ambiguities, complexities and psychological rifts especially with Monáe’s character who is played wonderfully. Chris Cooper was the highlight of this one for me though, as the aging founder of Geist, a profane horticultural guru who feels ill matched to the tide of corrupt bureaucracy and mutinied against by his own employees. He lives in a rusticated farmhouse on the edge of vast crops of mysterious foliage while the Geist headquarters loom clandestine on the horizon, built of hard metals, stark angles and gloom. He’s an earthy element amongst all this new age Pharma innovation and I loved his cranky, compassionate performance, an obstinate old salt who watches Airwolf on a tiny analog tv to get him ‘fired up’ and rebels haughtily at the malevolent forced trying to privateer his inventions. One way this differs from the first season is in use of music, there are no more direct lifts from classic film scores but rather beautiful new compositions from Emile Mosseri. The themes are all still intact though, probing the same moral ground and complicated character profiles using terrific camera work and burnished colour timing to bring this story to life, a scintillating tale that takes a while to get to the heart of, kind of like the frequent images of spiralled architecture we see that serves as visual cue for what this story wants to explore in structure and content. A bit shorter and less dense than season one but no less mesmerizing, well written, flawlessly acted and beautifully produced.

-Nate Hill

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten Original Scores by James Horner

James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!

10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs

He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.

9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.

8. James Cameron’s Aliens

His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.

7. Ron Howard’s Willow

Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.

6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall

Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.

5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.

4. James Cameron’s Titanic

This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.

3. James Cameron’s Avatar

Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.

2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.

1. Ron Howard’s The Missing

This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.

The Circle Closes: Béla Tarr’s Satantango

Bells echo from a tower that doesn’t exist. The bellowing and snorting of cattle reverberates from the inside of a factory. It starts with one of many dirty, consumerist livestock, as they begin to pour from the opened gates of the dilapidated, crumbling building like blood seeping from a wound. They mingle with the outside world in the way that same wound’s blood might wisp about and spread after dripping into a glass of milk. Moaning, searching, the cattle skitter about slowly but surely, some attempting to graze, some mounting one another in excitement. Around them is a barren, sodden environment of muddy, wet road. There doesn’t seem to be a blade of grass in sight. The piercing cold, grey skies have eliminated any and all greenery. The trees are bare, coated only in wet, freezing rain. The cattle continue to roam, further and further away, until finally they turn a corner and disappear. The circle closes. 

Satantango was shot in the anemic fields of Hortobágy directly after János Kádár, the longtime communist leader of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, had finally stepped down. Béla Tarr returned to his homeland to begin working on the film, which he had been planning for years prior. The quickly crumbling infrastructure of Eastern European communism sets the stage for an otherwise languid, slow-paced affair.

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This is a film, first and foremost, about time and its relation to humanity. Whether it’s about how time slowly chips away at us, or how we slowly chip away at it, I’m not sure, but Tarr meticulously pieces together this constricting, plodding experience with the confidence and expertise only a cynically depraved Hungarian of his stature can. Scenes play out in full, tinged with harsh, bleak environs, creating a completely realized atmosphere of existential disquietude. The camera is always lingering, always present, roaming about the lives of the villagers at the heart of the narrative, coercing the audience into a similar struggle of existence. We are constantly both moving and staying stagnant, all at the behest of our coercive god-like auteur. We end up much like the characters, facing an indifferent, harsh reality, merely trying to scrape out a meaningful existence amidst an ever-shifting matrix of influence.

Watching a movie at this length, a monolithic 432 minutes, both exhausts and exhilarates. It promotes a feeling of invincibility, as if you’ll never need to watch another movie again, or that you can watch literally any movie ever now… which is extra ironic, given the lack of invincibility embedded within the subtext. Either way, Béla Tarr has made me stronger.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.

Irwin Winkler’s The Net

Anyone who has ever experienced identity theft will relate to Sandra Bullock’s desperate situation in The Net, one of those lynchpin 90’s thrillers that captures the dawning internet culture in ways both silly as well as frightening. I mean this is kind of an off the wall film but it’s an old favourite of mine and always works as perfect escapist entertainment. Plus Sandra Bullock just makes the perfect protagonist, she’s so down to earth, humble and sweet that I always find myself right there in the passenger seat, sympathetically along for the ride in whatever crazy scenario she finds herself in. Here she plays Angela Bennett, a garden variety computer programmer who unwittingly stumbles into a deep set conspiracy that’s not only out of her pay grade but way beyond her level of comprehension or ability to dodge. Soon whatever forces out there have noticed and scary shit starts to befall her: her credit cards decline, law enforcement is hijacked into believing she’s a fugitive, a mysterious operative (Jeremy Northam) first appears attractive and friendly before becoming despicable and malevolent and her life begins to spiral out of control. I further sympathize with Angela because she’s virtually alone and has no one to really turn to, no boyfriend, no obligatory supportive coworker, no kindly boss, even her mother (the great Diane Baker) suffers from Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes her. She’s sort of a loner anyways but in that characteristic she finds the necessary resilience, defence mechanisms and edge to fight back against the nefarious net that’s closing in around her. This gets ragged on a lot and sure you can write it off as just another creaky 90’s cyber-tech thriller but it’s Bullock who wins the day with sheer star power and believable work the whole way through. Love this one to bits.

-Nate Hill

On Andrzej Zulawski’s On the Silver Globe: The Greatest Film Never Made

“Don’t forget what we escaped, just to repeat with impunity what we believe in.” 

The life of man in nature, as Hobbes tells us, is brutish, poor, and short. Cruelty seems to be our only virtue. Violence is inherent. Built into our being is the all-pervasive need to tribalize, to colonize, and to kill. The principle of human exceptionalism holds humanity in the highest regard and, of course, human exceptionalism is a concept created by… you guessed it… humans. Selfishness emanates from us; our species is forcibly meant to be the galaxy’s shining hill. With On the Silver Globe, Zulawski crucifies any remaining notion of human exceptionalism that may remain within your naive soul.

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Notoriously difficult in production and known for being, unfortunately, an unfinished product due to Poland’s government shutting down the film’s creation mid-stroke, Zulawski’s sci-fi sand punk philosophical scribe is a daunting, exhausting experience. About 1/5 of the film was unfilmed as the Vice Minister of Poland’s Cultural Affairs forced production to a halt and had the sets and props destroyed. Ten years later, Zulawski would return to The Silver Globe and finish it, inserting into the missing sections a narration of what otherwise would have taken place in the narrative. Where it suffers from being unfinished, it benefits in acting as an enigmatical, broken transmission from the cosmos beyond.

The film is split between a deeply subjective, POV-oriented narrative of a new Eden and an omniscient, wandering grotesquerie of the dark ages in a newfound world. This new world is founded by a group of astronauts who have left Earth, presumably to escape man’s political constraints and form a colony of freedom. These astronauts postulate philosophies about freedom for the majority of their young time on this new planet, which drives home even further the restrictions of humanity’s abilities, the fact that we, collectively, are trapped in this hellscape because of ourselves. Zulawski posits the question at the beginning — can humanity be successfully restarted without our very worst qualities hindering the species from further development and evolution? With the rest of the film, from the entrance of Marek, our new world’s fated messiah, Zulawski answers his own question with a resounding, haunting display of war, organized religion, death, and destruction. You already know the answer. So does he.

You can watch On the Silver Globe as part of Exmilitary’s current Eastern European Apocalypse series here.


Tyler Harris is a film critic, English teacher, and former theater manager from Louisville, Kentucky. His passionate love for cinema keeps him in tune with his writing.