Joshua Michael Stern’s Neverwas

It always amazes me when a first time writer/director scores an all out, diamond encrusted A-list cast that would make the top dog filmmakers in Hollywood jealous, but it often results in a scantly marketed film that no one really ends up seeing but just happens to have a huge star studded ensemble in a quiet, curious independent piece that few are aware of. Such is the case in Joshua Michael Stern’s NeverWas, a beautiful modern fairytale that slipped under the radar back in the mid 2000’s but is ripe for rediscovery. Aaron Eckhart plays a rookie psychiatrist who expresses interest in working at a troubled mental health facility in rural BC, Canada, an institution where his mentally ill father (Nick Nolte) lived at years before. He was once a great children’s author who wrote about a magical kingdom called NeverWas and built a considerable legacy around his books, before becoming sadly unstable and being committed. Eckhart’s character wishes to find out wheat happened years before and treat some of these people now attending the facility, while the somewhat skeptical director (a sly William Hurt) doesn’t have high hopes for the program overall. Things get interesting when delusional patient Gabriel (Ian McKellen) starts mentioning NeverWas in his group sessions and believes it to be real, and Eckhart to be somehow connected to the legacy. What is he on about, why does he express a desire to break out and return to a place he calls his ‘kingdom’, and what’s his connection to the long gone father? McKellen is wonderful in the role, fiercely passionate and charismatic while showing heartbreaking undertones of some past trauma he can’t articulate yet needs to work through with this fantastical delusions. Nolte gives a mini powerhouse performance in just flashbacks alone and is incredibly affecting, while the late great Brittany Murphy is cast refreshingly against type as a local naturalist who expresses interest in this unusual situation. The cast is so blinged out that even the smallest roles have been given to someone super recognizable and so we get to see people like Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Michael Moriarty, Bill Bellamy and Vera Farmiga show up and not necessarily have much to do character wise other than simply bless the production with their attendance. The lush Canadian setting provides a gorgeous atmosphere for this strange, quaint and very personal story to unfold, anchored by McKellen in a superb, emotionally rich portrayal that he sticks with and lands with a final beat to the arc that cuts right to the essential. The film also managed to score Philip Glass for its original score (Candyman, Tales From The Loop, The Hours) a man whose unmistakable compositions always provide an auditory heart and propellant momentum, his work adding a lot to the overall experience here. The very definition of a hidden gem and well worth seeking out for the unbelievable cast and unique, touching story.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Kay’s Get Carter

As far as the remaking of cult classics, Stephen Kay’s Get Carter is a piss poor effort, so much so that not even a positively stacked cast could do much of anything about it. The original saw fearsome bulldog Michael Caine getting shotgun fuelled revenge and has since become iconic, while this one switches up rainy Britain for rainy Seattle and a sedated Sylvester Stallone in a shiny suit takes over as Carter, a mob enforcer who hails from Vegas but has travelled north both to escape scandal and look into a shady family matter. There he finds all sorts of characters played by a troupe of big names, character actors and even Caine himself in an extended cameo as a bar owner, but it all feels lazy, listless and flung about like a ball of yarn full of loose plot threads and scenes that fizzle. It’s obvious that there were major editing problems here as the pacing is in conniptions and an entire subplot involving a love interest back in Vegas (Gretchen Mol) has been slashed to ribbons. So sloppy was the final product that my college acting teacher, who landed the role of Carter’s gangster boss back in Vegas, although mentioned brazenly in the opening credits, can only be seen briefly from the neck down and heard on the phone, except for whatever reason they decided to dub his voice over with an uncredited Tom Sizemore, which is just so bizarre. Anywho, Stallone sleepwalks his way through a local conspiracy involving his dead brother, the widow (Rachel Leigh Cook), a mysterious femme fatale (Rhona Mitra), a weaselly computer tycoon (Alan Cumming) a sleazy pimp/porn baron (Mickey Rourke) and more. It’s just all so terminally boring though, and none of the clues or twists spring to life or feel organic at all. Rourke provides some of the only life the film has to offer as the villain, a guttural scumbag who has two painful looking nightclub boxing beatdowns with Stallone which are fun. John C. McGinley raises the pulse somewhat as a lively Vegas thug dispatched by Sizemore’s voice to bring Stallone back to face the music. Others show up including Miranda Richardson, Mark Boone Jr., John Cassini, Johnny Strong, Frank Stallone, Tyler Labine and more. None of it amounts to much though and by the time the anticlimactic plot resolutions arrive and Carter jumps a red eye back to Vegas before the credits roll, you wonder what the point of it all was and want your hour and forty minutes back. A thorough bummer.

-Nate Hill