Category Archives: Film Review

Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry

I really love it when actors step outside their comfort zone and try something that they’re not traditionally known for, it’s a difficult and courageous thing to do. Harrison Ford is a square jawed, attractive, alpha type dude, from Han Solo to Rick Deckerd to Indiana Jones. Seeing him become utterly vulnerable for a film like Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry is something wonderful and let’s you observe a quieter, gentler side of this iconic actor.

Ford is Henry here, a brash, egotistical slick lawyer who cons innocent clients out of their settlements to line the pockets of his firm, cheats on his wife (Annette Bening) and when asked to apologize to his daughter (Kamien Allen, sad eyed and soulful) for an outburst, manipulates the conversation to further blame her. One night he pops over to the convenience store and interrupts a robbery, after which the twitchy burglar (a very young John Leguizamo) shoots him twice. The wounds leave him fighting for his life and with permanent brain damage, re-learning how to speak, walk, eat and piece together his fragmented memories with the help of a kindly physical therapist (the great Bill Nunn in possibly his greatest performance).

This is the ultimate case of ‘my dad went out for a pack of smokes and never came back’ because in a sense he doesn’t. For his daughter the cruel, unsympathetic father she watched him become is now gone forever and in his place a man she doesn’t recognize but now relates to, cares for and in return gets love she never experienced before instead. Henry has all the faculties of a child or adolescent at first, forced to forge a new moral compass and and patch over the damage that he and his amoral boss (Donald Moffat, smarmy as ever) have wrought. Ford makes low key yet deeply affecting work of Henry, his eyes have a meditative observance and his voice a shaky, emotive timbre, qualities I find to be often wasted on hero roles without a ton of depth (see The Age Of Adaline for another terrific example of him being used properly). He actually gets to play a human here, one who goes through one of the most taxing experiences anyone could live through, and the colours Ford paints this performance with are something to see. This film gets ragged on and sure it can come across as a bit gloss, a bit ‘Heartstring Hollywood.’ That may be so in instances but at the core it really cares, truly examines this man and what makes him who he is, then slaps him with a factory reset and reimagines who he is all over again, and how he must reconcile with what came before. Great film in my opinion.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Miguel Ferrer Performances

Miguel Ferrer was one of those instantly recognizable, charismatic, unconventional tough guys who could always brighten up a film, show or animated cartoon with his presence. Rocky voiced, sharp featured, incredibly intense when he wanted to be, he also had a gift for stinging deadpan comedy and the kind of line delivery that had you snap right up and pay attention, even if the project he was in wasn’t the most riveting thing. He’s no longer with us but his work will always be, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Charlie Pope in David Marconi’s The Harvest

A rare lead role sees him as a washed up screenwriter drifting through Mexico looking for a story until he gets more than he bargained for. A mysterious femme fatale (Leilani Sarelle) beds him for the night and when he wakes up he’s missing a kidney. This is one sweaty nightmare of a thriller with a panicked, intense and irritable turn from Miguel, sly supporting work from Hollywood veteran Harvey Fierstein and a wicked sharp twist ending. Oh yeah and it features Miguel’s cousin George Clooney in his first onscreen role as a ‘lip synching transvestite.’

9. Lloyd Henreid in Stephen King’s The Stand

A petty criminal psychopath recruited by supernatural being Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan) to assist him in the coming apocalypse, Miguel lends a shrewd, cruel edge to this character and ends up frequently stealing this miniseries over the course of its mammoth six hour runtime.

8. Bob Morton in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop

The quintessential corporate shark, Morton pioneers the cutting edge Robocop program that revolutionizes law enforcement and then goes haywire. He lives to regret his work… and then doesn’t live at all. This guy is a dangerously ambitious, coke fuelled little spitfire and Ferrer plays him to the hilt. He’s said in interviews that this was one of his favourite projects he’s ever worked on during one of the happiest times in his life, and it’s evident. He’s having a terrific time onscreen and makes a wonderful addition to a legendary cast of characters.

7. Dr. Garrett Macy in Crossing Jordan

His arc on this excellent medical drama is a long, rich one that I don’t remember every aspect of but he explores a flawed, self doubting chief examiner who has estranged family, a drinking problem and one big passion for jazz music. He’s also faced with frequently explaining the antics of feisty Jordan (Jill Hennessy), his most talented yet troubled staff member. Any network show is more than lucky to have him as a recurring character, and he lit this one up wonderfully with his presence.

6. Amador in Tony Scott’s Revenge

Ex Navy pilot Kevin Costner faces off against ruthless Mexican gangster Anthony Quinn in this melodrama full of blood, sweat, bullets, tears and tequila. Miguel is a roughneck private mercenary who along with his brother (a very young John Leguizamo) helps Kevin out in training, shooting and overall badassery. It’s a solid supporting turn that paved the way for many gritty action antiheroes to come.

5. Harbinger in Jim Abrahams’ Hot Shots: Part Deux

Most likely the silliest film ever made, Miguel plays a special ops soldier who loses his nerve for combat until Charlie Sheen’s Rambo-lite coaxes him out of anxiety and prompts the all timer line: “War… its fantastic!!” This is him blowing off steam playing a parody of not only his brand of tough guy but the archetype in general, alongside Sheen who parodies the ultimate action hero.

4. Vincent in Wrong Turn At Tahoe

This is one the multitude of direct to video Cuba Gooding Jr flicks, and is actually pretty damn good. Cuba plays enforcer to his vicious, volatile mob boss who finds himself at war with a much more powerful gangster kingpin (Harvey Keitel) over a brutal misunderstanding. The gunfights and tough talk are supported by terrific writing and a fierce sense of pride and morality in this grim, depressing tale. Miguel paints the themes wonderfully in his work and has palpable chemistry with Gooding.

3. Richard Dees in Stephen King’s The Night Flier

One of the more obscure King adaptations out there, this HBO production features him as a snarky tabloid journalist who goes searching for the Night Flier, an urban myth about some freaky vampire dude who pilots a mysterious Cessna around the states at night, killing people. This is a classic ‘curiosity killed the cat’ flick about being careful what you wish for. He plays Dees as a seen it all cynic who discovers that he in fact has not seen it all and what’s out there could spell the last story for him.

2. Owen Granger in NCIS: Los Angeles

This is the best of the NCIS volumes, thanks in no small part to his wonderful performance as Granger, a recurring senior operative in their ranks. Just to give you the kind of passion and commitment Miguel had in his work, here’s an excerpt of trivia regarding this role:

“Miguel Ferrer was so devoted to his role, he refused to take time off, even when diagnosed with cancer. When it started to affect his voice, his illness was written into the character as well. “

1. FBI Special Agent Albert Rosenfield in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Forensic genius, fierce pacifist and silver tongued devil, Albert is one of the most fascinating and magnetic characters in a near endless sea of cast members. Initially a belligerent, belittling asshole, he gradually warms up to the townsfolk and by the time his peculiar yet touching arc comes to a close he’s practically an honorary member of their community. A key part of the supernatural legacy, friend and confidante to Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MaClachlan) and one of the most treasured, ultimately lovable characters in television history.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero

If you’ve never seen Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, drop whatever plans you have this evening and get on it. This is a curious one to review because no description could adequately impart its exact timbre. A hangout film, a low key culture clash dramedy, but more than anything specific or definable it’s just about a few Americans, a few Scots and one hard drinking Russian chilling out together in a small coastal village somewhere in Scotland.

Director Forsyth doesn’t so much construct a thought out script to screen here as he does take an anthropologist’s eye in telling the tale of an American oil conglomerate who sends their top fixer (Peter Riegart) to a small beach community in Scotland with hopes of buying up much of the coastline for an incoming refinery project. This would of course make the townspeople very rich, yet on the other hand take away their homes that have been in the family for generations and leave the natural environment bleeding. This isn’t so much an ‘us vs. them’ thing or any kind of struggle in any way though. Riegart (who is a fascinating dude and who I can only recall in two other projects, the cop opposite Jim Carrey in The Mask and a tiny cameo in Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic) and his aloof assistant (Peter Capaldi) simply blend into the local scenery, chill out and get to know these folk on a naturalistic, believable scale of behaviour. Making friends with the local innkeeper (Dennis Lawson) who doubles as the town accountant and pretty much mayor too, singing songs, talking philosophy to the stars and basically unwinding. The oil company’s CEO (Burt Lancaster) has hilariously little interest in developing a refinery and would much rather sit on the beach with a telescope observing the heavens.

Films this subtly pleasant grow on you and are honestly a balm for the soul, an oasis for perception to vacation in for an hour or so when things can get rough, which for the past year has basically been the story of my life. Forsyth sees these people as not just characters in a script, there to serve story, but just that: people, human beings. Riegart’s oil man is nothing like the brash, cocky big city slicker that some filmmakers would have turned him into. He’s gentle, open to new experiences and ultimately in awe of the way of life he finds in this community. The townsfolk aren’t hostile, protective or scornful of him again like some films would paint them, they’re quaint, wrapped up in their elegiac daily rumination and see him simply as another dude they can have a pint with at the end of the day. I love and admire artists who have what they takes to make a film stocked with actual people instead of cardboard characters, and you don’t see that all the time. A wonderfully eccentric microcosm of two factions of society and not so much how they clash, but more how they cordially find themselves in the same place by circumstance and simply make the most out of it. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Alan Rickman Performances

Who didn’t love Alan Rickman? The guy was pure class, charisma and magnetism whether on camera, in voiceover or simply on the red carpet during an interview. He didn’t do a whole multitude of films in his career but instead chose to carefully pick scripts and take on characters that would challenge him as an artist and inspire us, the audience. His steady voice was like molasses over mahogany, his line delivery somehow swift yet infinitely measured. He was a consummate actor and genuinely mesmerizing human being and I miss him all the time! His excellent work work remains though and here are my top ten personal favourites performances:

10. Absolem The Blue Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass

Admittedly one of the only good things to come out of Burton’s startlingly misguided vision of Lewis Carroll’s books, but then Rickman could turn anything to spun gold. He’s the best choice for the role when you think about it and intones Absolem with a sleepy, stoned vernacular that’s hilarious and adorable. I’ll add that Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat was the only other addition I enjoyed from films, while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter left me cringing and shaking my head. Can’t go wrong with an Alan-pillar though.

9. Harry in Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

A droll business CEO and family man who finds himself in a sticky situation with both his loving wife (Emma Thompson) and skanky secretary (Heike Makatcsh), it’s fascinating to see him explore a character who is and wants to be a decent husband and just seems to let himself get off the track before he even realizes what he’s doing, and is forced to reconcile the notion that he’s hurt his wife as well as betrayed his own nature. This is a great film (I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) because there’s like twenty different stories about love, some that end happily and others that do not, because that’s life, actually. His does not and it’s a bittersweet entry in this goodie bag anthology treat.

8. Lieutenant General Frank Benson in Gavin Hood’s Eye In The Sky

This was his last role in cinema, and the final lines he gets are something really special. Benson is a high ranking British military general involved in high tech, extreme stakes drone warfare. When it comes down to whether or not to pull the trigger the final word is his, as is the guilt if there is civilian collateral damage. It’s a brilliant, complex morality play and he grounds it with gravity and resolute world weariness.

7. The Interrogator in Radha Bharadwaj’s Closet Land

This is a forgotten gem that explores the dynamic between a stern, terrifying interrogation officer (Alan) and a children’s author (Madeleine Stowe) accused of sedition in an unnamed fascist country. It’s a chamber piece featuring only these two characters for a full length feature and as such it’s intense and implosive. Rickman and Stowe make wonderful scene partners and are believable in their respective roles the whole time, turning this into one harrowing film.

6. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest

This beloved and slightly cult SciFi spoof sees him play a key crew member aboard a fictional exploratory starship that soon becomes… not so fictional. His intrepid admiral spends a lot of time playing second fiddle to Tim Allen’s Captain Kirk archetype and through cunning and courage comes out on top later in the story, after some hysterical bouts of fussy neurosis over the course of his arc.

5. Steven Spurrier in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock

Circa 1970’s, A slightly snooty UK wine connoisseur journeys across the pond to Napa valley and enters his treasured wines into a contest opposite an up an up and coming American vineyard owner (Bill Pullman). Rickman plays him as a skeptical curmudgeon who doesn’t believe in the merit of US wines compared to sacrosanct French history and is endearingly, adorably thrown off balance at the pleasant culture shock of it all.

4. The Metatron in Kevin Smith’s Dogma

Who better to play the voice of god than Alan, who had possibly the most distinct voice in Hollywood? Rickman embodies this cynical, stressed out angel perfectly in Smith’s royal rumble of a religious spoof, guiding the bewildered protagonist (Linda Fiorentino) through a series of madcap misadventures. Apparently Rickman agreed to do this under the condition that the script be left exactly the way he read it in the draft given to him by Smith. Good call, he makes pithy, attitude laced hilarity of the Metatron while still finding sympathetic notes.

3. The Sheriff Of Nottingham in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

His performance here is so over the top that it basically eclipses the rest of the film around it. This was another one he took on grounds that he’d get to do his own thing with it and… he certainly does something. Whether casting malicious rapey eyes towards Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), cheerfully impaling his cousin (Michael Wincott) with a broadsword or ruling over the serfdom with maniacal rage, this guy is a fucking hoot the whole way through.

2. Hans Gruber in John McTiernan’s Die Hard

This is the one that put him on the map and basically paved the way for scene stealing arch terrorist roles that would be the bread and butter of many a character actor for decades to come. Hans is ice cool, cold blooded and mercurial, until he’s faced with Bruce Willis’s super cop John McClane anyways. He’s terrifying without being hammy and altogether believable as this German mastermind who meets his match.

1. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter legacy

No appearance is more iconic than his oily manifestation of J.K. Rowling’s venomous, highly secretive and ultimately very tragic wizard. Originally Tim Roth was in place to play this role but I’m glad fate put Alan in the wig and robes because he turned written words on the page into a timeless, compelling and very human archetype.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Pete Postlethwaite Performances

Who remembers Pete Postlethwaite? I do and always will, for the creative mark he made on both my childhood, teenage years and older formative exploration of cinema is a huge one. This guy was a face you knew and remembered immediately, a slightly eccentric, wily looking dude who could command a scene like no other and had such a way with words, be they written by Shakespeare, Christopher Nolan or Christopher McQuarrie. Just to give you an idea of the character and spirit this guy had within the industry, here’s a direct quote from the man:

“My first agent wanted me to change my name. So I changed him instead. When I made a breakthrough as an actor, people started to say, ‘Who’s that bloke with the funny name?’ They advised me to change it, saying it would never be put up in lights outside theaters because they couldn’t afford the electricity. But I would never contemplate changing it. It’s who I am. It’s my mother and father, my whole family. It’s where everything I am comes from. I couldn’t imagine living my life with another name.”

Pete is no longer with us but his incredible career lives on and here are my top ten personal favourites from his body of work:

10. The Keeper in Aeon Flux

Okay so I feel a bit guilty for putting this on the list because it’s a godawful, stupid ass movie but Pete makes such a surreal impression basically playing the man in the moon. The whole film sees Charlize Theron’s Aeon doing all kinds of SciFi espionage garbage that culminates in a journey to some floating structure far above the city surface, where he waits for her in a tin foil poncho. It’s bizarre and off the wall but the guy could deliver lines like no other and the scene just somehow had a lasting impression on me.

9. Obadiah Hakeswill in BBC’s Sharpe

This adventurous period piece sees him do battle with Sean Bean’s titular Sharpe, a warrior and soldier of fortune who headlined a whole series of made for tv films in the early 90’s. Hakeswill was one of the most dastardly, hateful villains Sharpe ever faced, a rapist deserter with a mile wide mean streak and cunning nature that proved to be quite the adversary.

8. Dr. Lorbeer in Fernando Mereilles’ The Constant Gardener

He’s only onscreen for a brief few scenes in this stunning adaptation of John Le Carré’s political mystery, but as usual he makes a vivid impression. Lorbeer is a mysterious physician embroiled in a deep pharmaceutical conspiracy within the heart of Africa, and his quiet few words of cryptic advice to Ralph Fiennes’ Justin Quayle linger eerily long after the camera has left him out there on the desolate savanna.

7. Father Lawrence in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

Some actors just have a way with Shakespeare. This is probably the quintessential film version of Romeo & Juliet and he makes the most out of his role as the botany inclined friar, relishing every over elaborate line and closeup adorned gesture.

6. Giuseppe Conlan in Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father

Pete and Daniel Day Lewis finds themselves in a harrowing situation here as father and son, one of whom is wrongfully accused of a nasty IRA bombing that puts both in prison for like a decade. This causes a horrific, prolonged experience for both as attorneys fight to clear their name, the years wear on and the performances of both Lewis and Pete cut more than deep in their desperation and haunting tragedy.

5. Gilbert Of Glockenspur in Rob Cohen’s Dragonheart

This classic fantasy sees Dennis Quaid’s rogue warrior team up with Sean Connery’s dragon to do battle with an evil sorcerer (David Thewlis). Pete is the intrepid, travelling outcast monk who gets swept up in the adventure and provides both gravitas and comic relief to this tale. One of the most affecting moments of the film is when he takes up bow and arrow during an intense battle and in captivating closeup makes the split second decision to abandon his vow not to take a life. Brilliant work here.

4. Fergie Colm in Ben Affleck’s The Town

One of his final roles and one of his scariest too. Fergie is a Boston flower shop owner who moonlights as a fence and crime boss and is none too happy when Affleck and his gang deviate from the specific heist plans he’s laid out. No one barks out heinous threats with a sidelong glance quite like he could, and he steals his few scenes as an all out psychopath.

3. Roland Tembo in Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2

One of the most memorable big game hunters in cinema, Tembo is a brittle badass who accompanies a research team as security and with the fierce personal agenda of bringing down a T-Rex. Postlethwaite plays him not as a sadistic or cruel hunter but with a cunning determination that’s respectful of his quarry, disdainful of military idiots around him and possessive of a keen intuitive nature in the field, or in this case the long grass.

2. The Old Man in Henry Selick’s James & The Giant Peach

I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s classic tale and to see Pete embody such a key character in the film version was pure magic. He only has like one and a half quick scenes but imparts such mysterious wisdom and magnetism he makes a huge impression as essentially the catalyst for the fantastical events on display.

1. Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects

There’s a ton of exposition delivered by many different characters in this serpentine crime saga but he makes his portion the most menacing, impactful and memorable. As a devilish lawyer and confidante to the boogeyman of the international criminal underworld, he calmly intimidates the collective protagonists with his even tone, barely veiled threats and promises of woe to come without batting an eyelash, it’s a master class in restrained scenery chewing that always holds the screen.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Farina Performances

Who knew that a Chicago ex-cop would go on to become one of the most recognizable and talented presences in Hollywood? Michael Mann did when he cast buddy Dennis Farina in Thief way back in the day, after which the actor went on to give us an absolutely captivating, scene stealing body of work in cinema and a career particularly in crime and comedy genres that is now legend. He could be funny as all hell and then turn downright dangerous at the drop of a hat, your affable best friend or grim worst enemy in any given scene and often simultaneously. Dennis is no longer with us but his epic career lives on every day, and here are my personal top ten characters he crafted!

10. Maurice Cantavale in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock

If you haven’t seen this lovely little film then get on that right away, because it’s an absolute charmer through and through. So basically Alan Rickman is a British wine connoisseur who travels across the pond to Napa valley for a competition to enter his wines. Farina is his neighbour, a travel guide entrepreneur who accompanies him for camaraderie, companionship and moral support. He’s a lovable teddy bear here who has adorable chemistry with Rickman and adds to an already terrific ensemble cast.

9. Henry DeSalvo in Barry Sonnenfield’s Big Trouble

In an ensemble cast that’s just about as packed as one 90 minute comedy can handle, he stands out as a super cranky hitman called into Miami to kill a asshole corrupt business exec (Stanley Tucci). He finds every obstacle possible thrown in his path though from rambunctious football fans (“we got gator fans!”) to overzealous security guards and everything else the city has to offer. His mounting exasperation and deadpan frustration is one of the highlights of this hilarious, underrated screwball comedy.

8. Lt. Mike Torello in Michael Mann’s Crime Story

Here he gets to channel his real life roots in playing a tough Chicago police detective trying to prevent an up and coming wiseguy (Ray Luca) from ascending to power in the city’s dangerous criminal underworld. A companion piece of sorts to Mann’s more popular Miami Vice, this is a fantastically produced crime epic that’s packed with guest stars, many of which went on to A-list fame. Dennis is grounded, angry, violent when he needs to be but imbues the character with compassionate hues as well, it’s a beautiful lead role in a career that’s mostly stocked with supporting turns.

7. Joe May in Joe Maggio’s The Last Rites Of Joe May

Another lead role yay! This is a fantastic little seen indie drama about ex Chicago hustler Joe May who is released from prison in his twilight years and discovers the streets, along with his capabilities, aren’t what they used to be. Farina sadly passed away a few years after this was released and as such it kind of stands as a swan song of sorts. It’s about age, the passage of time and ultimately redemption in the face of one’s own mortality, and he nails every aspect of theme/character flawlessly, and should have been nominated for all the awards.

6. Dick Muller in Jon Bokenkamp’s Preston Tylk aka Bad Seed

This little seen indie drama sees widower Luke Wilson in a disquieting game of cat and mouse with his deceased wife’s lover (Norman Reedus), both blaming each other for her untimely death. Dennis is the world weary private investigator Wilson hires to help him through the whole mess and it’s in their dynamic that a touching interaction is formed. This is a depressing, sad story that can only end messily overall but he finds the humour, pathos and uplifting notes to his performance and it’s one of my favourite of the lesser known ones.

5. Jimmy Serrano in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run

This guy is a piece of work, but a hilarious one. The grumpiest Chicago mobster you could ever find, he’s a violent, corrupt, short tempered prick who spends most of his scenes threatening his poor lawyer (Phillip Baker Hall) with extreme bodily harm and trying to track down Robert De Niro’s elusive bounty hunter with whom he has a decades old grudge with. It’s a flashy, really funny and engaging bad guy turn that manages to scare and I still laughs in equal measures.

4. Gus Demitriou in HBO’s Luck

This was a sadly short lived but magnificent series set in and around an LA horse racetrack and focusing on all sorts of individuals whose lives revolve around it. Dustin Hoffman is Chester, a parolee who walks a fine line between businessman and mobster, while Farina’s Gus is his driver, assistant, sounding board, business partner and overall good friend. The dynamic between these two is communicated brilliantly by the two actors and we get a real sense of Gus’s moral standpoint, goals and outlook on life.

3. Jack Crawford in Michael Mann’s Manhunter

A few guys have played the FBI’s head of behavioural science and while Scott Glenn’s turn will always be my favourite, Dennis made a fascinating version. In a career filled with intense and exuberant work he made his Crawford into an understated guy who works well with William Petersen’s equally inward Will Graham.

2. Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni in Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty

One pissed off Miami gangster who is none too happy to get called to LA on business, he gets the film’s best line when he begrudgingly proclaims to a taxi driver: “They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.” Dennis was a staple in film adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work and this is one of the pithiest, funniest in both his and the author’s rogues gallery.

1. Cousin Avi in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch

In an ensemble cast full of eclectic underground whackadoos, he *really* steals the show as a supremely sassy NYC gangster reluctantly dragged to London (which he hates) to track down a stolen diamond. Dennis’s energetic Chicago twang and Ritchie’s stylized flair for dialogue make this character sing, he gets many of the film’s funniest bits and is clearly having a ton of fun.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill