Category Archives: Film Review

Pride & Glory

Pride & Glory is a gritty police melodrama that grabs the audience, shakes them till the point of concussion and wrings the life out of them with it’s nonstop intensity and performances that could raise buildings to the ground. Think I’m exaggerating or overselling? Give it a go, it’s fucking nuts. NYC cop dramas are a common occurrence out there, and have been for a long while, but something about this one just rings eerily true, rattles your cage and lets both the violence and corruption seep into the marrow of one’s viewing experience. After a drug deal erupts into multiple murder, a family of cops is thrown in an uproar. Haggard straight arrow Edward Norton is on point of investigation by boozy patriarch Jon Voight, and ends up finding out way more than he bargained for not only in regards to the NYPD, but about his fellow cop brother (Colin Farrell) too. Their third brother (underrated Noah Emmerich) is too busy taking care of his sick wife (Jennifer Ehle) to notice the corruption, or maybe does and looks the other way. Every faction adds to the pressure cooker of an atmosphere, rooted in the familial relationships that can’t withstand dangerous secrets. They should call the guy Colin Feral, because he’s a right beast as a guy whose moral compass is so out of whack he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The actor is fervently complex in his work, and makes the guy way more human than other performers would, but he’s still terrifying, whether threatening a newborn baby with a hot iron or full on brawling with Norton in a fracas of a man to man bar-fight. Voight is one of those characters who is so corrupt he doesn’t even notice it anymore, which is a dangerous avenue to arrive at when you’re in such a position of power. The supporting cast is pockmarked with fiery work from terrific actors including super underrated Carmen Ejogo, Wayne Duvall, John Ortiz, Lake Bell and two arresting turns from reliable firebrands Frank Grillo and Shea Wigham. Built around a script by Joe Carnahan, who feeds off of authentic dialogue and realistic shaping of events, this is one that pulls you right into it’s suffocating world of beleaguered sentinels of law enforcement whose eyes have become dim to that thin blue line separating order and madness. Brilliant, heavy stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown

Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown is one hellcat of a thriller, a nitrous injected highway nightmare scenario that doesn’t quit until the tanks empty, quite a few people are dead and Kurt Russell has burned off umpteen carbs running about the southwest searching for his missing wife (Kathleen Quinlan). In the tradition of great road pictures like Steven Spielberg’s Duel and Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher, this one know ms to keep the speedometer revved for maximum effect, the best method for these types of films. Russell and Quinlan are your average American couple, driving from A to B along some forgotten stretch of freeway out there. After a brief stop, she vanished, he panics and so begins his breathless crusade for the truth. The local cops are useless, no one seems to have witnessed her vanish, and he’s pretty much on his own, not to mention hunted by some nefarious truck drivers who probably know more than they should. J.T. Walsh, king of businesslike scumbag roles, gives what may be his nastiest here as Red Barr, a long-haul semi driver who knows exactly where Russell’s wife has gone, and ain’t telling, no sir no how. Similarly, big old M.C. Gainey, another Hollywood thug, is in high evil gear as just one more backroad asshole Russell has to deal with, and the two have a crackling showcase of a high speed standoff, one in the driver’s and one in the passenger seat, playing close quarters mortal kombat to see who comes out on top, and who comes out dead. The Fast and The Furious has nothing on these types of films, for it’s less about bombarding an audience with a stunt a second, and more about rhythmic pacing, then knowing when to open up and let the ripcord fly. Taut, precise, unrelenting little flick.

-Nate Hill

Charles Bukowski’s Barfly

Charles Bukowski’s Barfly requires a specific thing of it’s audience: emphatically try to observe a very particular brand of life, that of the binge drinking drifter in 1970’s LA basin area. If you can do this, it’s a brilliant piece of work to enjoy, and if you can’t, it’ll be an abrasively off-putting slog to sit through. I fell smartly into the former category as the subject matter came.. vaguely close to hitting home, and because it’s just a fantastic movie in itself. Mickey Rourke was at the top of game during the 80’s, and this is one glowing gem of a role for him, one that shows a vulnerable, less macho dipped side of the man no less. Playing a restless, shambling gutter-snipe named Henry Chinaski, he careens through the film consuming any booze he can get his hands on, barely maintaining already dysfunctional relationships and haunting his derelict apartment, as well as that of a fellow rummy he meets in the form of excellent Faye Dunaway, looking equal parts haggard and angelic until we’re not sure what we’re looking at. Chinaski is of course supposed to be Bukowski himself, as the film and it’s fiery script are autobiographical in nature, based on the willfully misanthropic writer’s hazy adventures in backwoods Hollywood during that era. Approached by a publisher (beautiful, articulate Alice Krige, who replaced Helen Hunt) with stars in her eyes for the man and his work, Chinaski gets a taste of life on the other side of the tracks, albeit briefly, an interlude he describes as ‘a cage with golden bars.’ The dives along those strips are his home right to the core, and he’s proud of it. The film is episodic, elliptical and open ended, a glimpse through the window of what it must be like for these people for a time, as the camera lovingly follows them about their ways for a while like a fly on the wall, then loses interest, buzzes off and leaves them in peace without rhyme, reason or resolution, unless of course your sensibilities jive with the meandering, barely sculpted story structure, which I loved. The film has little interest in aesthetics or pleasantries either, showing ugly, mottled alcoholics and layabouts who fill the frames around Rourke and Dunaway like brittle garden gnomes adorning the bar, a far cry from the fresh, powdered faces we’re used to in Hollywood. “Don’t you hate people?” Dunaway laments to him in one scene. “No, but I seem to feel better when they’re not around..” he croons back. It’s that kind of stinging poetry that gives this film, and Bukowski’s career, such lasting weight. Not to be missed.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Do Not Disturb aka Silent Witness

Do Not Disturb, a cheaply drawn Euro-trash oddity, ironically does exactly what it’s title forbids by indeed disturbing the audience with very questionable scenes that paint Amsterdam in a way that I’m sure would infuriate locals. Also called ‘Silent Witness’ on DVD, it’s a wonder why such a weird, awful script would attract high pedigree actors like William Hurt, Jennifer Tilly and Denis Leary. Hurt and Tilly play a wealthy American couple on a business trip to Amsterdam with their little daughter (Francesca Brown), who happens to be a mute, wearing a magic marker around her neck as sole means of communication. After getting separated from her parents at the hotel, she inadvertently witnesses a murder by two nasty hitmen (Corey Johnson and some other random) and flees off into the night pursued by them, and subjected to all kinds of whacked out freaks. Seriously, this poor girl in terms of both the character and the actress, is put through an unnecessary wringer of ultra violence and sleaze. There’s this thread of implied child abuse running through the narrative, as if such proclivities are inherent in Dutch people in that city, and it’s really troubling to see a girl her age have to be ogled by perverts at every turn, an ill advised and shameful addition from some no name scriptwriter who probably never worked again. Then there’s Denis Leary, who should have sued the marketing team for misrepresentation. On the US DVD cover, he leers off the poster with an evil gaze, holding a gun and giving every impression that he’s the film’s villain. In the actual film, he an innocuous American homeless man who helps the poor girl navigate the dangerous streets throughout, the only sane individual she meets, really. It’s an alright role for the guy, but that stupid box art really sells his presence askew. It’s just a bizarre, uneven disaster for the most part, and I still wonder to this day why any of these fine actors participated. William Hurt especially is such a choosy performer, usually handpicking excellent scripts and being careful with his career, but here he jumps right into the abysmal script with some pseudo Southern accent that is way, way beneath him. Should not be used as a tourism video for Amsterdam, but rather forgotten permanently from the DTV landscape.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Second Nature

Second Nature is a low grade Bourne clone that benefits from two great actors in the lead roles. Slight, airy and inconsequential, it inhabits the clandestine corner reserved for middle-of-the-road espionage ventures neatly. Alec Baldwin plays a mysterious man who recovers from a plane crash that killed his family, left with heavy amnesia and confusion surrounding his past. When a shadowy agency bigwig (Powers Boothe) contacts him claiming he used to be an assassin for his outfit, he’s thrown back in the world of high profile contract killing, the world he came from, allegedly anyway. Nothing is as it seems though, and of course his boss turns out to be a bad dude, which gives Boothe a chance to ratchet up the intensity. The film is pretty much average throughout, until we find out Baldwin’s origins and arrive at a fairly thoughtful ending with some work put into storytelling, the first signs of a creative pulse in the film beyond garden variety plot twists. Baldwin is always great, whether on the protagonist’s or antagonist’s bench, and he sells the material well enough.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate Hill