Tag Archives: action

Director’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Tony Scott Films

There was no other artist on the planet like Tony Scott. Behind that epic cigar and under that iconic sun bleached pink cap there resided an intense desire to blast celluloid with a distinct visual aesthetic and brand cinema forever with pictures that exploded out of the mould, caught the projector on fire and often inspired quite divisive reactions. Why have one steadicam stationed at a traditional angle when you can have multiple cameras on all kinds of rigs panning, gliding and pirouetting all over the place? Why use generic colour timing templates when you can saturate the absolute fuck out of every frame, sprinkle in the grain and turn up the yellows until you scorch your irises? Why employ pedestrian editing when you can zip, zoom, use jagged swaths of movement, arbitrary subtitles and hurtling fast motion to tell your story? Tony has a huge bag of tricks that was constantly evolving over the course of his career, and for anybody who could both catch up to him and appreciate the aesthetic he left us a wealth of cinematic treasure behind after his tragic and untimely death. These are my top ten personal favourite of his films!

10. The Hire: Beat The Devil

This is one in many short films sponsored by BMW, all featuring Clive Owen as a 007-esque getaway driver for hire at the wheel of a Beamer. Scott’s entry definitely leads the pack though, get this: The legendary James Brown (James Brown playing himself) has made a deal with The Devil (Gary Oldman) for fame and fortune and now that old age has struck he wishes to renegotiate. How to settle matters? Brown and Owen in the Beamer race Devil and his trusty butler/driver (Danny freakin Trejo) along the Vegas strip at sunrise. Oh yeah and Marilyn Manson makes a hysterical cameo too. It’s a balls out fucking freaky wild ride with Oldman making scary, flamboyant work of ol’ scratch and Scott amping up the stylistics to near excess. Favourite scene: that Manson cameo, man. So funny.

9. Spy Game

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt headline this highly kinetic tale of espionage, mentorship, loyalty and resilience while Tony fires up what little action there is terrifically. It’s interesting because this isn’t an action film, it’s got depth and personality, the visual tone serving the affecting central relationship well. Favourite scene: Brad and Robert argue morality atop a Berlin apartment rooftop, Brad loses his cool and whips a chair off the edge as Scott’s cameras dutifully circle them like restless seagulls.

8. The Last Boy Scout

A tumultuous production ultimately led to the first in the ‘unofficial L.A. Noir buddy action comedy trilogy’ written Shane Black, to be followed up years later with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Tony lends his sun soaked grunge to this tale of an ex football pro (Damon Wayans) and a disgraced Secret service agent turned PI (Bruce Willis) navigating a dangerous underworld conspiracy while trying to put up with each other. This is one hilarious, high powered ride with super nasty villains, a terrific supporting turn from Danielle Harris as Willis’s rebellious daughter and a playfully sadistic streak to the intrigue. Favourite scene: the shocking opening sequence set during a rain soaked NFL game gives new meaning to going the extra mile for that touchdown and sets the gritty, sarcastic tone well.

7. Unstoppable

This exciting riff on the runaway train shtick sees railway workers Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try and prevent a renegade unmanned locomotive from crashing in a densely populated area, causing cataclysm. Tony keeps the pulses racing and the action almost literally nonstop in his final film before passing. Favourite scene: the hair raising climax.

6. Crimson Tide

Denzel again! He goes head to head with Gene Hackman in this explosive submarine picture with uncredited writing from Quentin Tarantino and fantastic supporting work from James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen and others. Tony loved wide, expansive settings to play in but he works just as terrifically in a confined space here, letting the energy reaching a boiling point. Favourite scene: a fierce verbal battle of wills between Hackman and Washington over a tense mess hall dinner.

5. Déjà Vu

Time travel gets a twist in this trippy, exciting and surprisingly emotional tale of one ATF agent (who else but Denzel??) using a state of the art SciFi technique to take down a dangerous terrorist (Jim Caviesel). Scott uses many elements played both backwards and forwards to keep interests locked and please the crowd. Favourite scene: When all is said and done Washington shares a final moment with a witness (Paula Patton) that calls back to earlier moments of the film and caps this story off nicely.

4. Enemy Of The State

Chase thriller, espionage intrigue, mob war-games, Gene Hackman basically reprising his role from Coppola’s The Conversation, a trademark Mexican stand-off shootout, this prophetic, endlessly exciting film has it all. Will Smith and Hackman team up awesomely in this fast paced, prescient, frequently scary and rousing thriller that has a cast you won’t believe, some showcase explosions and enough excitement to go round.

3. Man On Fire

Denzel Washington’s Creasy is the titular incendiary avenger in this south of the border tale of revenge, kidnapping, redemption, cruelty and corruption. It’s a startling film and the first one that felt like Scott’s specific calling card style had been fully formed and delivered to us in a package that many (including those pesky critics) weren’t ready for. Grainy, choppy, putting us right in the passenger seat with Creasy and his sketchy frame of mind, this one is a master stroke of filmmaking.

2. True Romance

This would be first on the list if it were a singularly ‘Tony’ film but it’s just as much Quentin Tarantino’s show and as such is kind of a two man dance, not to mention the legendary ensemble cast. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are an early 90’s Bonnie & Clyde on the run from just about every nasty villain you could think of in this cult classic that just gets better every time you watch it (I’m well over a hundred views myself).

1. Domino

This just has to be Tony’s masterpiece, and he crafts it without compromise or apology. With a framework loosely based on real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey, he boldly hurtles towards the asphalt horizon with this hyperactive, unique, mescaline soaked, badass adrenaline rush that is an experience like no other. Critics pissed on it but fuck them, it’s a gem, really, a visual and auditory juggernaut that doesn’t just light up your TV screen but pretty much makes a break for your circulatory system and bounces around your veins for two hours. This is the one I’ll always remember Scott for.

-Nate Hill

Dwight Little’s Murder At 1600

What if someone were murdered in the White House? Dwight Little’s Murder At 1600 explores this notion with considerably less flair that Clint Eastwood’s Absolute Power but is still a solid, enjoyable thriller that doesn’t break new ground but works mostly thanks to a terrific leading turn from Diane Lane and a good one from Wesley Snipes. He’s a DC homicide cop, she’s an ex Olympic sharpshooter turned Secret Service agent and together they’re tasked with finding out why a mystery girl turned up savagely killed in the wee hours. Of course any murder in such a high profile location is going to be one elaborate mystery filled with many agendas, that of the president himself (a surprisingly low key Ronny Cox), his kid (Tate Donovan), his top general (Harris Yulin), secretary of defence (a scheming Alan Alda), the shady head of secret service (Daniel Benzali) and others. Does it all add up and make sense once the final bullet has been fired? Well, technically yes but there’s a few cliche eye roll bits along the way, like that classic final beat where the bad guy, all but thwarted, makes a last minute dash for someone’s gun and causes one final ruckus. The story works well enough and although it kind of dips into hectic, run of the mill action later on it still holds interest enough. Honestly Diane Lane makes it worthwhile, I could watch her in anything, she’s that good, and the earnestly platonic chemistry she has with Snipes works big time. I enjoyed a nice cameo in the opener from SNL vet Charles Rocket too, who died under weird circumstances and I’ve always enjoyed as the sleazy bad guy in Dumb & Dumber. Decent flick.

-Nate Hill

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten original scores from Tangerine Dream

The 80’s are coming back in a big way within film and television and with them comes the always awesome sonic synth sounds of that era. One of the pioneering musical influences and inspirations in this movement is German electronic group Tangerine Dream, consisting of group members Edgar Froese, Paul Haslinger and a whole host of others who contributed over the years. They literally have hundreds of albums due to the simple fact that they loved to experiment with sound and release all sorts of eclectic material, first on tactile vinyl and these days strewn across the internet like hidden treasure. They also worked heavily in film, lending their pulsating, ethereal, gorgeous and incomparable aesthetic to many genre cult films throughout the 80’s. They are my favourite film composers of all time and it’s hard to pick but I narrowed their work down to ten of my favourite original compositions for film! Enjoy:

10. Rainbow Drive (1990)

This is admittedly an unspectacular film, an L.A. noir starring Robocop’s Peter Weller as one tough cop caught up in your garden variety political conspiracy complete with extortion and murder. The score here is driving, grungy while still airy with just the right hints of menace and murky danger. Favourite track: the moody, slow crawling opening theme.

9. Flashpoint (1984)

Another noirish conspiracy flick, this is set in the New Mexico desert and sees two opportunistic border guards (Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams) run afoul of dark forces headed by a cynically corrupt federal agent (Kurtwood Smith) and apparent ties to the Kennedy assassination. The work here is arid, dusty and atmospheric, accenting the remote, lonely locations well and swelling up portentously when danger looms over the sun n’ sand drenched horizon. Favourite track: Highway Patrol, a clap of rolling backroad thunder that suggests the danger to come.

8. Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985)

This old school fantasy is mostly remembered for a young Tom Cruise as the hero and Tim Curry as evil itself with a demon getup that puts the Devil from Tenacious D to shame. Dream composes a lyrical, melodic playlist here that holds the beautiful imagery and special effects onscreen nicely. Favourite track: ‘Loved By The Sun’, a particularly lovely passage of ambience.

7. William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)

This fierce, arresting adventure film sees several lowlifes and hard-cases from around the world transporting giant trucks loaded with volatile nitroglycerin through the South American jungle. You can imagine the fun that Dream would have composing this score and they don’t disappoint, their score doesn’t properly kick in until we first see the trucks nearly halfway through the film, but when it does you feel it like a sonic boom. Favourite track: ‘Betrayal’, an intensely affecting, dark hued composition.

6. Michael Mann’s Thief (1981)

The elemental group goes decidedly more urban in Mann’s early career crime masterpiece about an expert safecracker (James Caan) taking one one last heist. The music is moody, dark and nocturnal to suit Mann’s blooming aesthetic we know so well today. Favourite track: ‘Final Confrontation’, a sweeping piece that plays overtop a blisteringly cathartic slow motion shootout and carries over into the end credits with epic grit and grace.

5. Mark L. Lester’s Firestarter (1984)

Drew Barrymore and David Keith battle nefarious government forces in this thrilling Stephen King adaptation, made more so by Dream’s rhapsodic score, which suits the supernatural, trippy tone of this story so perfectly. Favourite track: ‘Charley The Kid’, a layered, star speckled composition that has a forceful edge appropriate for the character but also a playful curiosity that reflects her childlike mind.

4. Steve De Jarnatt’s Miracle Mile (1988)

A film about a potential nuclear attack on Los Angeles seems like it would have a traditional Hollywood-esque score but this is the brilliant, unconventional cult classic that is Miracle Mile and it greatly benefits from the talents of Dream to make it so. Their proverbial surname fits like a glove here because there is an overall dreamy aura to this nocturnal neon nightmare, I’ve had a few dreams myself about impending, inevitable nuclear or otherwise inflicted disaster, probably why I connect so well with this material. The score may seem counterintuitive but there’s a momentous drive to it and lighter, brisk areas to underscore the very sweet romance at its core. Favourite track: ‘Running Out Of Time, which sets the ‘anything can happen’, pins and needles apprehensive mood just amazingly.

3. Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)

Any hardcore GTA fan knows that the main musical component that everyone looks forward to and remembers are the car radio soundtrack choices, but there’s also original scores deftly layered into the action, missions and cutscenes. Everything from heists to shootouts to plane rides to car chases to boat derby’s and every spectacle in between is outlined here in a California-lite series of compositions that see Dream slightly evolve out of their 80’s synth sensibilities yet still retain the essential soul that says ‘this is our work.’ Favourite track: ‘North Yankton Memories’… because I couldn’t count the amount of times this brilliant piece kicks in the minute I do something naughty, that two star wanted level pops up and the LSPD come careening down the highway after me.

2. Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987)

Atmosphere haunts this cult vampire western about a young cowboy (Adrian Pasdar) seduced by a gorgeous waif (Jenny Wright) and swept you in the brutal nomadic lifestyle of her roving clan. Desert sunsets, blood on chrome, choking smoke, hurtling police vehicles and the occasional moment of nocturnal solitude, it’s a rigorous, ravishing aesthetic and Dream gives it their all with an intermittently droning and ariose work. Favourite track: ‘Mae’s Theme’, a low key, hovering piece that accents the tragic nature of her character.

1. Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983)

This film is something of an artifact, hacked to pieces in the editing process by the dipshits at Paramount, causing Mann to disown the film and yank any distribution rights. One day he’ll cool off and we’ll get a decent Blu Ray. It’s a stunning piece of pseudo Lovecraft WWII supernatural horror and one of my favourite films. Dream’s score echoes throughout the halls of this Romanian structure as German soldiers, metaphysical warriors and Jewish historians try and piece together the meaning behind this ancient place. Favourite track: ‘Gloria’, a synth laden piece with orchestral strains and beautiful vocal work, full of mystery and reverence.

-Nate Hill

Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey

My first thought after seeing Cathy Yan’s Birds Of Prey? There hasn’t been a more bloody, crazy or inventive action sequence set to ‘Black Betty’ since Ryan Reynolds used Home Depot tools to obliterate bad guys in The Hitman’s Bodyguard. After 2016’s Suicide Squad felt like it had that ‘almost’ factor that was viciously pruned by that pesky PG-13 rating it’s so refreshing and fun to see R rated DC comic book shenanigans launch across the screen.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn is by now not only an iconic character but a force of nature in itself and a stampeding cultural talisman that could go in the collective time capsule to burst out like a confetti adorned jack in the box for future generations. After being dumped by The Joker, she sets out into Gotham City’s underworld to make a name for herself and blow up all kinds of shit along the way. Eventually her path crosses with that of east end crime boss Roman ‘Black Mask’ Sionis (Ewan McGregor) and sadistic mass murderer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), who have their sights set on a diamond birthed from mob royalty that a sassy little pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) has gotten her hands on. Cue the involvement of hardcore GCPD Detective Renee Montoya, smoky voiced songstress Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and crossbow slangin’ vigilante Helena ‘Huntress’ Bertinelli (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

This works well mostly thanks to costume designer Erin Benach, the fight and stunt choreography, eclectic soundtrack, bubblegum gothic production design and a few key performances, namely McGregor and naturally Robbie. It isn’t the most, shall we say, densely plotted outing, but it doesn’t really need to be and the fun is in watching these badass chicks from various backgrounds and emotional states take down one of the sickest, most despicable villains in DC cinema lore. I’m used to a graver Sionis in the comics but McGregor turns this guy into a deadpan, nasty, angry pile of spoiled brat sadism and flamboyant, violent behaviour whether he’s brutally humiliating a poor female patron at his gaudy nightclub, peeling the faces of his victims like banana skins or prancing around in all manner or fancy suits like a loony toon. Robbie gets to go full tilt bonkers as Quinn and once again the R rated material just helps this vision along so nicely, I really hope we’re passed this tiresome thing of limiting comic book films to PG-13 and capping off the chaos just short of actual gritty, crowd pleasing mayhem. Snyder almost managed it in his director’s cut of Batman Vs. Superman, David Ayer came so close before being shit down hard and robbed of final cut on Suicide Squad (which I still love no matter what) but Yan has somehow gotten the green light here and makes the most of it. There are a ton of beautifully designed, bone n’ blood filled fight sequences including Harley’s epic one woman siege on a GCPD precinct complete with glitter guns and mass bodily harm inflicted by the beloved hammer, a rip snortin’ motorbike roller derby rolls royce chase and a crazy awesome climax set in Gotham’s super spooky Amusement Mile that looks like Coney Island’s worst nightmare. Interestingly the one performance that’s most down to earth is Bell as Canary, who is still a badass but feels the most human, the most weary and irked in the presence of evil, she really grounds the whole thing just the right amount it needs, which isn’t much but a welcome touch. I’m pumped to see what comes next for Robbie’s Harley and this deliriously colourful, creatively inspired vision of Gotham and its worst.

-Nate Hill

Bad Boys For Life

My first thought after seeing Bad Boys For Life: Will Smith beating the living piss out of that fat fucking potato DJ Khaled is the most cathartic, pleasing thing thing I’ve seen all month. The film overall? It’s complicated, but I thought it was solid. Here’s the trajectory thus far: the first Bad Boys film was a fairly conventional, hugely enjoyable Michael Bay action romp that neither stood out nor faded from memory. The second film, however, saw Bay lose his mind in the best way possible and make the most batshit insane, balls out, edgy, fucked up screaming unhinged roller coaster flick probably… ever. Not since Crank 2 had a sequel utterly and obnoxiously left its predecessor in the dust wondering what happened, and to this day it’s one of my favourite action films ever made. So the thing is, Bad Boys 3 was just never going to reach the levels of drugged up, casually racist, cheerfully homophobic, unapologetically tasteless, hugely entertaining chaos. That being said, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are older, the world has unfortunately changed and their adventures this third time around are a tad more laid back, a bit more introspective yet still filled with enough explosions, gunshot wounds, blood, profanity and the irresistible buddy comedy chemistry that makes their pairing such a winning dynamic.

Smith’s Mike Lowry never seemed to lose his daredevil, thrill seeking edge while Lawrence’s Marcus is now a grandfather with thoughts of retiring and putting all the chases, shootouts and violence in his rear view. That works for a time until dangerous people from Mike’s past roar back into both their lives to terrorize Miami and spur them both back into action for one last ride. They’re joined by AMMO, the obligatory millennial update to the climate of any given old school franchise that finds itself resurrected, with badass characterizations from Alexander Ludwig, Paola Nuñez and a smokin Vanessa Hudgens. Joe Pantoliano also returns, stressed out as ever as their captain, he gets one of the film’s moments of surprising gravity when he basically uses parable to tell Mike he’s gotta slow his roll or he’ll kick the bucket soon. There’s a hell of an antagonist in the wings stirring trouble, an intensely attractive, hellishly angry Mexican Bruja witch (Kate Del Castillo) with designs on obliterating Mike and everyone he knows. Cue a series of chases, stakeouts, firefights and impressive action sequences, my favourite of which has to be a highway pursuit with Mike on a motorbike and Marcus in sidecar messing about with a terrific arsenal of cartel weaponry (“that is God’s gun!!!”). It’s a rock solid sequel and one can’t really complain or find anything to gripe about here other than the fact that it’s just so much more relaxed and less certifiably loony than Bad Boys 2, but I’ve reconciled that. I miss that deliberately provocative, nihilistic aesthetic but I appreciate this slightly more mellowed out, plot based one too. A good time at the movies.

-Nate Hill

Ready Or Not

You ever have a game night with people who take that shit just a bit too seriously? Well for new bride Samara Weaving, such is most definitely the case. She’s marrying into an impossibly rich, pompous and slightly creepy family, and on the midnight stroke of her wedding night they want to play a game with her, an initiation rite of sorts. Could be Uno, could be checkers or crib, but god help them all if she pulls the hide and seek card. Ready Or Not is a brutal, breathless, hilarious and grisly horror comedy that plays like a big soup mix of Knives Out, The Evil Dead, The Most Dangerous Game, Meet The Parents, The Looney Toons and… well I shouldn’t compare it to all that much because it’s got its own thing going on too, and I fucking loved the dementedly high strung, black comedy saturated aesthetic.

Weaving is a phenomenal talent, who you’ll remember as the sinister but smokin hot Babysitter in the Netflix film of the same name. She bears such a striking resemblance to Margot Robbie that up until now it thought it *was* Margot in this flick, but she’s just as awesome. Basically she’s stuck in a grand old Clue-esque manor while her obnoxious, flippant, asshole in-laws hunt her down with antiquated weapons that look like they’re pilfered off that angry ass colonial hunter from Jumanji. There’s all kinds of hijinks, gory set pieces and an ending that is so off the map of WTF-ness and unexpected pandemonium I had to give it a the ol’ royal slow clap for effort and ingenuity. Scene stealers include the always deadpan Henry Czerny as the clan’s smarmy, perpetually cheesed off patriarch, Adam Brody as his very conflicted son and beloved Andie MacDowell as the two-faced dragon of a matriarch. This is tongue in cheek territory and then some, I mean the concept is right out of a darker version of Saturday Night Live or something. Weaving is just so great, turning white hot panic into exasperated anger and truly getting some exemplary, crowd pleasing moments of extreme violence, especially towards the family’s hapless butler (John Ralston). If you’re a fan of down n’ dirty, super gory and utterly hilarious horror mayhem, this is pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.

-Nate Hill

William Eubank’s Underwater

I’m pumped that I got to see William Eubank’s Underwater in theatres, because it’s the kind of giddy, delightful escapism that you don’t get on the big screen too often anymore. I love creature feature flicks, love SciFi, love films set underwater, there’s a feel akin to outer space that is just so immersive and enchanting. Throw in Kristen Stewart, who I love as an actress no matter how much hate y’all throw her way, and well this thing seems like it was made for me!

Seven miles down the Mariana Trench, a vast drilling expedition has made a bit to much of a racket and awoken something up on the ocean floor, something big, pissed off and scary as fuck. Stewart and her research team feel the repercussive effects about a mile further up on their rig, and in the first couple minutes of the film, all hell literally breaks loose. This is after a brief, moody and atmosphere setting introduction to Stewart’s Nora, a tough but damaged and fatalistic engineer whose survival instinct kicks in the minute things go haywire, evading extreme pressure, aquatic dementia, claustrophobia, panic and undersea monsters to stay alive along with her captain (Vincent Cassel) and crew that includes T.J. Miller as hysterical comic relief, John Gallagher Jr and Jessica Henwick as their research assistant who brings a sense of warmth and humanity in her excellent performance.

This is a tight, no nonsense B movie that hits the ground running, basically takes place in real time, has some very inventive biology for the creatures that I won’t spoil (there’s a WTF reveal in the third act that gave me chills) and feels like one long extended scene that somehow finds a few moments to actually make you feel for these people. Stewart rocks a blonde crew cut and sports bra, vaguely evoking Ripley from the Alien films but finding her own bleak, badass groove. Her final ‘fuck you’ to the aquatic beasts is a stand-up-and-fucking-cheer moment that solidifies her character as a capable, selfless and gritty heroine. This isn’t going to win any awards but it’s a shining example of the type of thing I want to go see at the multiplex: thrilling escapism, heroes to root for, nasty monsters from the deep places of the earth, a beautiful sense of style brought by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and wonderfully spooky, cathartic score composed by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. I couldn’t recommend this enough.

-Nate Hill