Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker


Despite being a fairly dull film overall, Mimi Leder’s The Peacemaker has a few redeeming qualities that almost put it up there with other far better efforts in the wartime espionage subgenre, namely a terrific score from Hans Zimmer and one of the most flat out badass George Clooney actions scenes you’ll find anywhere in his career. It’s a shame the film you find these qualities in is a heavy handed, by the motions anti-terrorism headbanger that says and does nothing we haven’t seen a million times over. Clooney is the seasoned military man, on a globetrotting mission with Nicole Kidman’s intuitive agency analyst, tracking down several Russian nukes that were lifted off a train somewhere in Europe during a painfully static opener. There’s a radical out there played by French actor Marcel Iures, hiding as a piano teacher of all things, biding his time till he gets to go kaboom somewhere stateside and get revenge for some horrendous misdeed against his family. He’s actually the most interesting character, thanks to Iure’s obvious talent and the near sympathetic light they’ve painted his character in. The film is so by the numbers it’ll put you to sleep though, and the positively supersonic score from Zimmer feels like it deserves a better film. Still, you can’t go wrong with the sequence just after a droning car chase where Clooney has T-boned the baddie’s ride and trapped him inside. George promptly steps out, walks over and empties an entire fucking clip into this guys face, it’s pretty much the coolest thing the he’s ever done onscreen. Too bad the film as a whole couldn’t keep up with the organic, intimate level of energy infused into this one moment, we could have gotten something memorable. 

-Nate Hill

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

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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

A Civil Action


A Civil Action is a quiet, sobering tale of gross corporate evils and one lawyer with the stones to stand up to it all. John Travolta can be the skeeviest slimeball, the most affable Everyman, terrifying arch villain or unwavering hero in his work, he’s just that adaptable. His character here is a small time lawyer in a four partner firm that can barely afford a collective pot to piss in, and are in dire need of a case. In a local county, there’s suspicion of a factory dumping lethal toxic waste into the nearby rivers, causing the death, illness and birth defects among many children. Problem is, it’s a ruthlessly expensive case that could bankrupt their entire firm, and the rival lawyer (Robert Duvall) is an Ivy League bigwig who could bury them. Travolta is steadfast though, calmly and methodically tackling one obstacle at a time with compassion for the victims, determination to smoke out the corruption and a reserved charm that puts the film in a relaxed yet pressing groove. The cast here is absolutely unreal as well. Standouts include James Gandolfini and David Thornton in heartbreaking turns as blue collar workers affected by these misdeeds, Dan Hedaya as a malicious perpetrator, William H. Macy and Tony Shaloub as Travolta’s firm partners, Daniel Von Bargen as a belligerent witness, as well as further work from John Lithgow, Harry Dean Stanton, Zelijko Ivanek, Mary Mara, Sydney Pollack, Stephen Fry, Paul Ben Victor, Michael P. Byrne, Josh Pais and more. It’s never too hectic though, despite having so many characters and being a courtroom drama, a sub genre usually steeped in fire and brimstone melodrama. There’s a sad, quiet aura to the proceedings here. The damage is done, and all these people are looking for is a little recognition, compassion and a settlement to ease the strife thrown at them by a very callous and uncaring bunch of people. Travolta is the harbinger of catharsis, a warmhearted man who gets invested in so deep that it isn’t about the money anymore for him, it’s about helping those in need. Powerful, understated stuff. 

-Nate Hill

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

1989.  Directed by Steven Spielberg.

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“You lost today kid, but it doesn’t mean you have to like it.”

The Indiana Jones films and their architect, Steven Spielberg are household names, stitched into the fabric of modern pop culture with two-fisted pulp icons battling the forces of evil with brains and brawn, and always in a larger than life fashion.  The first two films are considered to be some of the greatest action epics ever committed to film and Spielberg chose to return to his beloved world of whips and relics with a fantastical epic steeped in themes of fatherhood and the power of knowledge over hatred.

Indiana Jones sets off in pursuit of his father, who’s gone missing while questing for the Holy Grail.  Beset upon by wicked Nazis and greedy scholars, Jones and his father must overcome their differences and believe in the power of family and friendship to persevere over the forces of darkness.  Jeffrey Boam’s script begins with a childhood flashback to one of Indy’s first adventure, setting the tone for the familial morality tale at the center of Crusade’s larger than life story.    The intimate moments between the Jones’ and the action set pieces are perfectly balanced, never overtaking one another.  The dialogue is packed with endlessly quotable lines, allowing each of the cast to shine in their particular moments.  Harrison Ford’s solid embodiment of Indy is beyond reproach, but it is Sir Sean Connery’s brilliant turn as Indy’s father that is the highlight.  His wizened dedication to the Grail is only outdone by his emotional realizations of its cost on his life and still even these moments of depth pale in comparison to his legendary beachfront confrontation with a fighter plane and his pitch perfect, boyish charm in his scenes with Denholm Elliot’s hilarious sidekick.  His monologue about the importance of the quest for the Grail is one of the film’s best moments.

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Douglas Slocombe’s robust cinematography takes advantage of the lighting in sweaty close ups only to pull back into beautiful wide shots that encapsulate the wonders of nature and the incomprehensible malice of Nazi Germany.  John Williams brings his formidable harmonics to bear with the expected triumphs previously established and then surpasses them with unforgettable tones that clearly divide good and evil.  While there are betrayals and shifting motives, the heart of the franchise has always been about right and wrong, black and white, and Williams is perfectly in rhythm with this concept.

The final ingredient is the heart racing action that is the heart of the film.  Beginning with a dazzling chase sequence featuring the late River Phoenix and then transitioning into no holds barred rescue involving a tank, The Last Crusade takes its time getting to the next explosion and when it arrives, there is nothing but excellence to feast upon.  In a time of CGI saturation, action fans will always have classics such as this to return to, a powerful reminder of the power of practical effects and inspired creativity.

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Available now for streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is essential viewing for anyone who’s ever entered a theater.  Featuring a heartwarming story about fathers and son, hilarious exchanges amidst pulse pounding battles, and a golden age presentation, this is one of the all-time greats and a perfect example of how to do the blockbuster right.

Highly.  Highly Recommend.

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Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate


Olivier Assayas’s Boarding Gate is a fascinating and frustrating chamber piece that may have been more effective as a stage play. At any rate it certainly leaves an impression, thanks to two vivid, jagged edged performances from it’s leads, Asia Argento and Michael Madsen. Assayas is apparently known for patiently pacing his work, but this one takes the term ‘slow burn’ and gives it a whole new dimension of meaning. I won’t bother trying to outline the plot as it’s more mixed up than iPod headphones coming out of your pocket, except to say that Argento and Madsen are two former lovers who shared some extremely kinky sex before betrayal, greed and corporate espionage got in the way, and now play a psychosexual game of cat and mouse for most of the film. Madsen is the cruel bigwig with ice-water coursing through his amoral veins, Argento the manipulative, caged animal harlot and it’s fun seeing the two exchange smouldering looks and violent outbursts in between trying to ruin each other. This isn’t everyone’s thing, and many will give up on it purely because it ambles along on it’s own time, also for being quite the unpleasant affair through and through. I’ve never seen any of Assayas’s other work, but he certainly knows his way around a camera here, giving each shot gauzy, excessively focus pulled style and intimate close ups of our two stars. They are the best thing about the film, Madsen his usual gruff, enigmatic roughneck and Argento exuding exotic, danger tinted sex appeal. I can’t really say if it’s my thing either, to be honest, but it has it’s moments, and never slouches into something unoriginal. A true curiosity. 

-Nate Hill

Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN

WONDER WOMAN is a rather terrific film. Yes, it follows the template of an origin story, and it is somewhat uninspired at times following that formula (first reel death, sacrificial death at the end of the film, “surprise” villain), but regardless of the generic template used, the film and its star propel forward creating a very engaging, entertaining, and invigorating film.

The constant comparisons to CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER does have some slight merit, but it is a rather lazy comparison. Sure, both films revolve around a set piece pertaining to each World War, and sure it’s a ragtag crew of soldiers that support the hero in their take-down to essentially end the war; yet there is so much that separates the two.

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The craftsmanship of WONDER WOMAN stands superior.

The cast of this film may be one of the best ensembles constructed for a comic book movie. Supporting Gal Gadot is Chris Pine (in probably his best performance to date), Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Ewan Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, David Thewlis, and a scene-stealing Robin Wright. All of these characters, regardless of screen time and/or limited development are giving a substantial amount to do and say, and casting each specific actor to their respective role immediately creates authenticity for that character.

Hans Zimmer’s theme for Wonder Woman, which made its debut in BvS, is perhaps the best piece of music that he has ever composed. When it cues itself up to Gadot kicking German ass in the film, it creates even more excitement for the viewer. The action pieces in this film are incredible.

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Everyone deserves full credit for this picture. Gal Gadot completely owns the role while simultaneously propelling herself to a bonafide movie star. Director Patty Jenkins has become a rising star within Warner Brothers, and Zack Snyder deserves his due credit for discovering Gadot and creating the aesthetic that WW cultivates.

WONDER WOMAN didn’t save the DCEU, it was doing just fine before this film, but it certainly stopped a lot of the negative press. Though those who constantly fill their social media feeds with unapologetic bias and echo chamber nonsense will remain undisturbed. This film may not completely warrant the abundance of overwhelming and over the top accolades, it is a very fine picture, and don’t be surprised if this film has legs going into awards season.

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