JJ ABRAMS’ SUPER 8 — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Out of all the movies directed by JJ Abrams, that I’ve seen, Super 8 is easily the best. It’s a spot-on and misty-eyed evocation of late 70’s/early 80’s BEARD POWER with nods to countless genre staples. It feels like the ultimate lost Amblin film. Terrific cinematography with an obscenely awesome amount of lens flare POWER, great production design, and energetic and at times exhilarating musical score, and engaging performances from all the kids. It’s not a perfect movie but it’s immediately engrossing, and by the end, completely satisfying. The father-son component was a huge reason for this film’s success as a piece of emotional storytelling; this is the sort of CGI/monster movie I want to see, a film where the need for special effects is born out of the story and the characters and not used as a crutch or for cheap gags. As always, Abrams directs in his awe-shucks style of intensity, making smart creative choices and allowing his innate understanding of entertainment to rule the day. The list of movies that are either visually or thematically referenced in Super 8 is totally wild: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Explorers, Poltergeist, The Goonies, The Monster Squad. Gremlins, and E.T., to name only a few and off the top of my head. And yet somehow, the movie feels all its own. And it must be mentioned again — there’s an astonishing amount of lens flares in this movie, which always makes me smile. Kyle Chandler totally owned all of his scenes, bring gravitas and sensitivity to his role as the beleaguered father figure, and as usual, Elle Fanning showed why she’s one of the best talents of her generation. This is an underrated blockbuster and one that’s worth revisiting or catching up with if you initially missed it.

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A chat with Actor Wayne Duvall: An interview by Nate Hill

Excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Wayne Duvall. Wayne has made awesome appearances in many films including O Brother Where Art Thou?, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Pride And Glory, Lincoln, Apollo 13, Edge Of Darkness, Duplicity, In The Valley Of Elah, Evolution, Hard Rain, Tony Scott’s The Fan, Baja, Disclosure, Falling Down and more. He’s also done stellar work in many TV shows including Fargo, Macguyver, Gotham, HBO’s The Leftovers, Elementary, He’ll On Wheels, Boardwalk Empire, Hawaii Five-0, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, The West Wing and done voice work for video games including Max Payne 3 and Hitman: Blood Money. Enjoy!

Nate:What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take you by surprise?
Wayne: When I was 5 years old I found out that I had a cousin who was a professional actor. I couldn’t believe that was a job. It just didn’t compute for me. My cousin’s mom used to call us when he was going to be on. We would gather around the TV and watch him. The shows were Combat!, The FBI, The Defenders. It was so cool. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Oh, my cousin, he did pretty well……Robert Duvall.
Nate: Some favourite actors/filmmakers/films who have inspired your work?

Wayne: The big influence was cousin Bobby. Others who inspire me for there truth are Sean Penn, Oscar Isaac, Gary Oldman, Kate Blanchett, Robin Wright. Directors Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Paul Haggis, George Clooney and most definitely The Coen Brothers. There are many others but these are the ones off the top of my head.
Nate: O Brother Where Art Thou: How Wayne experience for you working on that film, alongside the Coen Brothers, and creating that memorable Homer Stokes?

Wayne: That was a magical experience. My first day was the big scene where I get carried out on a rail. Every star was there that day and the main part was me! This was my biggest film part to date and I just remember thinking, “you can’t play it safe”. So I just jumped. I was so supported by everyone. The Coens were fantastic. I was very fortunate to have that as my first big gig.
Nate: Prisoners: Your experience on that film? Working with director Denis Villeneuve? Are you a fan of the film?

Wayne: I’m a huge fan of Prisoners! Denis was amazing as was Jake Gyllenhaal, who I definitely add to the list of influential actors. Denis let’s you improvise and it was so freeing. Jake is a master and will go down as one of the best we have. He’s so grounded in truth. He’s a master craftsman. Working with both Denis and Jake was such a wonderful experience
Nate: Some of your favourite characters you have played in your career so far?

Wayne: Homer Stokes was obviously a fav. I loved playing the Coach in Leatherheads. Lovably dim. That movie was a blast! Clooney is an amazing director. I just played a fun character in the movie Wolves coming out next year. It stars Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino. I played a basketball coach which was a dream role for me. The first 20 years of my life was more focused on playing basketball than anything else. It was so much fun taking that knowledge and using it in my current work. I been fortunate to have played some wonderful characters.
Nate: Do you enjoy doing voice work? How does it compare to live action film?

Wayne: The voice work I do is mostly for commercials. It’s fairly easy and is done mostly for the money. I’ve not done any animated films which I would love to get into. I’ve heard they are a blast.
Nate: Pride And Glory: A very underrated little cop thriller and one of my favourite films you have been in. How was that experience for you?

Wayne: Pride and Glory was great fun, but sadly a lot of my favorite stuff got cut. Gavin O’Connor is one of those uber talented artists who believes in collaboration. One of my favorite moments was when he felt a scene he wrote for Jon Voight and I wasn’t good enough and asked Jon and I to go off and see if we could come up with something. So there I am at about 2am on a Queens Street with the legendary Jon Voight, improv-ing a scene. It didn’t make it in. Jon and I had a whole story line of being good friends that was cut from the film. It was a good decision on Gavin’s part. It wasn’t needed. Loved that film.

Nate: I noticed your credits are all acting. Have you ever considered writing or directing your own material at all? Branching out?

Wayne: I’ve tried writing and it’s just too frustrating. I’m pretty good with characters and dialogue, but that whole plot thing keeps getting in the way. Directing is something I think I’d like to try. Thankfully, acting has been keeping me busy. Maybe one day. i wouldn’t want to direct and star in something that would be too much for me.

Nate: Thank you so much for chatting and for your time Wayne! Keep up the incredible work!

KIMBERLY PEIRCE’S STOP-LOSS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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With the exception of one effort, movies about the Iraq war have all faced an uphill battle with American audiences. Continually, it seems that ticket buyers are disinterested in seeing anything remotely resembling real life, featuring performances that are honest and true, and that look to illuminate on topical situations that are important to our societal landscape. For way too many people, it’s all about CGI trickery, franchises, and sequels, and they don’t want to know about anything else. I’ve grown increasingly disinterested in movies that resemble video games, and have been exploring older films and other titles that have slipped through the cracks. A few nights ago while on diaper duty with my infant son, I was surfing the movie channels, and I happened upon Kimberly Peirce’s searing and wildly underrated drama Stop-Loss, which is easily one of the finest contemporary war movies from the past decade, an ambitious work that might have bit off a tad more than it had time to chew (I’ve always wondered if a director’s cut was lurking somewhere…?), but a film that covers intense, hugely emotional material, all centering on a subject that is as enraging as it is frustratingly understandable. This blistering film died an undeserved death at the box office despite mostly positive critical notices, but too often, it seems as if people enjoy ignoring what’s going on around them when it comes to their choices in entertainment. This film simultaneously operates as a tribute to our men and women who put themselves in harm’s way on the battlefield, while also acting as a scathing critique of military policy. That Peirce is able to juggle multiple story strands within a very intimate framework is a further reminder of her excellent filmmaking and storytelling abilities. This was her first film in almost a decade since she burst on the indie scene with the uncompromisingly raw Boys Don’t Cry, and she’d follow up Stop-Loss with her updating of the classic horror entry Carrie; I hope she’s back with a new project very soon on the big screen.
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Stop-Loss begins with an intense battle sequence set in Tikrit. A unit of American soldiers led by Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe, never better) chase their enemy into an alley. His squad, made up of two friends from back home and a group of other young soldiers, are ambushed. A few men are killed, some are horribly injured, and all are deeply affected by what they see and what they have to do. This incredibly visceral sequence of action, shot vividly by the phenomenal cinematographer Chris Menges (The Killing Fields, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada) and expertly cut by editor Claire Simpson (The Constant Gardener), is scary and relentless. It’s also necessarily bloody and violent; by immediately thrusting the audience into battle without knowing anything about our characters, the viewer is catapulted into this world without warning. Brandon leads his men eventually to safety and we cut to their homecoming in Brazos, Texas where King and soldiers Tommy Burgess (the excellent Joseph-Gordon Levitt) and Steve Shriver (a brooding Channing Tatum) call home. Peirce and her co-writer Mark Richard effectively set the scene once the men arrive back home, with their narrative recalling some beats from Hal Ashby’s Oscar winning Vietnam war drama Coming Home. All of them are hard drinkers, and are not without their own sets of personal issues which stem from before they left for Iraq. Needless to say, the men all have trouble adjusting to life back in the states. Tommy is an alcoholic who can’t control his marriage and Steve is suffering from a serious case of post-traumatic stress syndrome (he’s seen digging fox holes in his front yard, in one of the film’s most harrowing moments, because that’s the only place he can comfortably fall asleep).

But Brandon has a bigger problem. Not home more than a few days, he gets the word that he’s been “stop-lossed” by the military. Considered an important and valuable soldier by his superiors, he’s ordered to go back to Iraq for another tour, despite having served two tours already. It’s in his standard issue military contract but the option isn’t executed for every soldier; this is an at-random thing. Naturally, Brandon objects, as he doesn’t feel it’s fair to send him back to fight, especially now that his opinion of the war has drastically changed. Peirce and Richard’s story stings of authenticity and I’m not surprised; her step-brother signed up to fight for America as a direct result of 9/11, so I’m assuming that some of this material had to have been culled from his experiences. The men in Stop-Loss come from military families and are all cut from the same patriotic cloth. Fighting for their country is as natural of a decision as brushing their teeth. But Brandon feels that enough is enough. He goes AWOL and hatches a plan to drive to Washington to confront a Senator that welcomed him upon his arrival home. Steve’s girlfriend Michelle, the Australian actress Abbie Cornish (gorgeous and extremely sympathetic), has been life-long friends with Brandon, and agrees to accompany him on his trip. Stop-Loss then takes the form of a road-movie for its middle section, where we’re shown what life is like for an AWOL soldier. Brandon runs into some other AWOL soldiers, who tell him of their life on the run from their superiors, and he’s told stories of a mysterious guy in Manhattan who for $1000 can arrange for safe passage to Canada. Only snag — you’re never able to come back to America.
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Peirce and her creative team also spike the film with cut-ins of the soldier’s experience. Taking the form of personal videos shot during combat and personal downtime, these interludes enrich the story with a sense of the personal and a sense of the dangerous. Peirce uses this technique to heighten the scenes set in Iraq, and as a way of bringing the war back into focus during the road-trip sequences. Cinematographer Menges and Peirce use multiple film stocks and a lot of hand-held camera to ratchet up the intensity all throughout the film. It’s a visually dynamic piece of filmmaking that constantly surprises on a formal level even during the simplest of scenes. During the opening fire-fight, Peirce and Menges‘ camera covers the action in interesting ways that you haven’t quite seen before. The performances are uniformly excellent. Phillippe was fantastic in the lead role, bring conviction and determination to the part of a man at odds with himself and pretty much everyone around him. Because of his good looks, he’s been an undervalued dramatic actor; see his work in Crash, Flags of Our Fathers, and Breach as more examples of his abilities. But his performance in Stop-Loss should be considered a revelation for him as an artist. Sure, he’s still buff and camera-ready, but there was a somber, soulful quality in his performance that’s hard to shake. One scene, in which he’s attacked by some local drunks outside of a bar, is unflinchingly intense; the battle scars he received in Iraq come back to haunt him in a major way. Tatum, who burst on the scene in the indie A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints before recently becoming a mega-star thanks to Magic Mike and the 21 Jump Street series, was also very effective in his role as Brandon’s best friend and severely traumatized soldier. Late in the film, Brandon and Steve get into a physical confrontation that was startling in its believability and sadness. And Gordon-Levitt, who at the time was hot off the success of the ultra-stylized indie Brick, struck all the proper notes as a deeply troubled young man who simply cannot get his personal life in order. This is a big, sprawling, purposefully messy, extraordinarily heartfelt film, one that did not deserve to wither on the vine at the box office. When a filmmaker like Peirce delivers an honest, smart, and entertaining film that’s important to our national conversation, what’s to be said about the lack of interest on the part of our fellow citizens?

GUY MADDIN & EVAN JOHNSON’S THE FORBIDDEN ROOM — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Uncompromising, hallucinatory, and certainly not for all tastes, The Forbidden Room, from directors Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson, is a stylistic tour de force for everyone involved, and a further reminder that there are cinematic artists out there who are pushing the limits and expectations of even the most seasoned and discriminating of viewers. The highly expressionistic/impressionistic cinematography by dual shooters Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron and Ben Kasulke is nothing short of spectacular, producing a phantasmagoria of images, all of which consumes the viewer with ferocious intensity that some might feel suffocated, if not continually startled. Similar in tone and spirit to something like Ben Wheatley’s bravura A Field in England but wholly original on its own terms, this is a work that’s best to be experienced rather than cajoled into seeing. Check out the trailer, and you’ll know within 20 seconds if this is something that you might enjoy or respond to. Starring some familiar faces including Charlotte Rampling, Mathieu Amalric, and Udo Kier (a frequent Maddin collaborator), this is as non-linear and esoteric as it’s likely going to get, a true piece of challenging art cinema that’s likely to frustrate and excite in equal measure. The rough “plot synopsis” sounds as if you are making it up as you go along; I’m not going to bother with a point by point, blow by blow summation of this film. Initially, this isn’t a movie to study on a micro level, but rather, The Forbidden Room is the true sum of all its wild and crazy parts, a nightmarish odyssey into cinematically strange territory, with a distinct point of view that elevates it from just being weird for weird’s sake. And if you’re a fan of it, The Forbidden Room will likely engender multiple viewings, so as to dissect all that’s being hurled at you, and all that’s being discussed within its dense, thoughtful, and metaphorical narrative. It’s also interesting to note that the film was shot in various public studios (interested parties could visit and attend the shoots) at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, France and the Centre PHI in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Guy Maddin has always been a provocative filmmaker, and with his latest project, he’s again conjured up something totally unique and oddly special.

RON SHELTON’S TIN CUP — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Ron Shelton’s Tin Cup is one of my absolute favorite romantic films ever made. But it’s more than a great romance – it’s a great sports movie, it’s a terrific buddy film, and most importantly, it’s a wonderful piece about human beings and all their persistent foibles and inconsistencies. Starring an amazingly relaxed and extra charming Kevin Costner as a should’ve-been/could-still-become golfing legend, he was paired up with the effortlessly sexy Rene Russo, and bam! Massive screen chemistry! They seriously smolder in this film, looking totally in love, and sharing such a great sense of old-school charm and rapport with each other that I’ve long considered this to be one of the most under the radar movie romances that I’ve ever seen. The golfing footage is remarkable on a technical level, there are more than a few major comedic set-pieces, and the final 20 minutes are lump-in-the-throat perfect. I’ve always been a big fan of Costner, and this is easily one of his best performances, if for no other reason that he just seemed so at ease in Roy McAvoy’s skin. And, if rumors are to be believed, Costner handled most of the golf action on his own, which is probably why the entire film feels so authentic when out on the course. An impressive supporting cast of colorful character actors were along for the ride, including Cheech Marin as Costner’s faithful caddy, and Don Johnson as the oily romantic and sporting rival. Shelton has long been an ace in the hole for me as a filmmaker, having crafted some of the A-1 best sports movies of all time – Bull Durham, Cobb, White Men Can’t Jump, and the hugely underrated Play it to the Bone are all directorial efforts, while he also mixed in some genre efforts with the cop sagas Dark Blue and Hollywood Homicide, while also contributing to the scripts for Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, the underrated actioner Under Fire, and William Friedkin’s college basketball expose Blue Chips. But it’s Tin Cup that I find myself continually revisiting; it’s a comfort blanket movie that feels just right.

 

Tony Scott’s Deja Vu: A review by Nate Hill

The late Tony Scott and Denzel Washington collaborated on five films, the second last of which is underrated sci fi thriller Deja Vu. It contains Scott’s trademark visual style, all skitchy sketchy frames, deliriously rapid editing and deep, gorgeously saturated colours that pisses a lot of people off in its garish, flippant aesthetic. I for one love his style, and here he is coming down off the high that was his masterpiece, Domino, exercising restraint that was no doubt mandated by the studio bigwigs. Nevertheless, the same unmistakably heightened forces of filmmaking that flow through the veins of this crackling thriller can be found in most of his work, just in smaller doses here. The film tackles a lot in its unassuming narrative, from terrorist bombing, an elliptical story that’s put in an otherworldly trance by a plot point involving a high tech time travel capability, and a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrant that somewhat sneaks up on you. During a captivating opening credit sequence, we see a horrific explosion onboard a navy transport ferry in the New Orleans harbour, killing over five hundred people including women and children. ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Washington) is called in to investigate, and before long his cunning intuition catches the eye of FBI Agent Pryzwara (an unusually calm Val Kilmer) who is spearheading a very hush hush investigative technique that’s being used to track the terrorist in the days leading up to the incident. What Kilmer doesn’t tell him is the mind-bending metaphysical implications of it, but keener Denzel gets wise to their act, and throws himself headlong into a quest to stop the bomber, save the mysterious Claire (Paula Patton, just phenomenal) who was murdered and has ties to the event, and reverse time. Denzel is an implosive wrecking ball of determination, his ingenuity and reserve made me wonder why Carlins career aspirations stopped short of the ATF. I don’t know why Patton isn’t in more films (she recently starred alongside Denzel again in the super fun 2 Guns), she brings a battered resilience to her work, and is a radiant beauty to boot. Peppy gerbil Adam Goldberg is the obligatory one liner spewing techie who’s got more going on than his exterior may read, and Bruce Greenwood is all stern bluster as the FBI honcho in charge. This film doesn’t often come up in discussions of either Denzel’s or Scott’s greatest hits, but it’s ripe for rediscovery and praise. Propulsive action, far fetched sci fi intrigue that’s hard to digest and follow, yet simultaneously wicked fun, and like I said before an emotional core that takes you by surprise. There’s a sentence that I internally intone to myself whenever I see a film, or aspects within a film that fire up my adrenal glands, tear ducts or simply rouse my soul. Be it a banger of an action sequence, a romance that hits all the right notes, a good old fashioned fantastical invention or visual flights of fantasy that stir wonder within me. That sentence is “This is why I watch movies”. I get no greater pleasure in my cinematic escapades than being able to say that to myself as my heart pumps to the tune of whatever grand spectacle I’m witnessing before me onscreen. I can tell you, the sentence was uttered while watching this one, and now that I think of it, pretty much every film in Scott’s portfolio. Highly recommended.

STAR WARS POWERCAST EPISODE I

STAR WARS POWERCAST

Tim and Frank sit down and gush about their love for STAR WARS.  Topics discussed are the STAR WARS prequels, but we mainly discuss the genesis of THE FORCE AWAKENS and what we think might be happening.  This is going to be the first of many STAR WARS themed podcasts from Tim and Frank.  Enjoy!

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We like to podcast them softly, from a distance.

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