Tag Archives: Alec Baldwin

John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October

John McTiernan’s The Hunt For Red October is considered the big daddy of submarine films and up until today I’d never seen the whole thing front to back. I now get the hype. This would always be on AMC or TBS Superstation when I was a kid, and my dad would always tune in no matter what. What a fantastic, thrilling, well acted film and one that carries a life affirming antiwar message while still containing some hair raising scenes of aquatic combat.

Marko Raimius (Sean Connery) is a legendary Soviet sub commander who has disappeared with the covert nuclear boat the Red October, plotting a course for the US eastern sea board and ditching any orders from Russian command. Is he going to nuke the east coast? CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) believes he means to defect and disarm but that’s a tricky thing to prove based on a series of hunches during a time of such uncertainty as this. Jack has an uncanny intuition about this guy, who remains somewhat of a mystery, even to his own crew and country. A harrowing series of chases, near misses, standoffs, moral wrestling, betrayals and political posturing ensue but at its heart this is a film about one dude who has had enough of war and just wants out, a theme I greatly appreciated and enjoyed.

Connery is superb here and this might be my favourite of his performances. He’s both enigma and beacon of personal integrity whilst fiercely not letting anyone get in his way, including a pesky, short lived political officer (Peter Firth). He carries the film with a grizzled nobility and despite being an antagonist of sorts, is the most likeable and relatable character. Baldwin fares very well as Ryan too and although Harrison Ford is still my tops, he plays this guy to the hilt with spirit and determination. Other standouts include Scott Glenn as a badass American sub captain, Richard Jones as a wry US negotiator and Courtney B. Vance as a keen radio communicator. The cast is amazing with killer work from Stellan Skarsgård, Joss Ackland, Andrew Divoff, Tomas Arana, Sam Neill, Tim Curry, Jeffrey Jones, Timothy Cathhart, Ned Vaughn, Fred Dalton Thompson, Gates McFadden, Shane Black, Peter Jason and James Earl Jones. This is the very definition of a solid film in all arenas and in that of thematic material and character, it excels wonderfully. My two favourite scenes: Connery and first mate Sam Neill discussing how they’d live their lives in America when all is said and done, where they’d live and what vehicles they will drive. Later on Ryan and Raimius share a moment alone on the sub’s deck as River banks pass by, each remembering their grandfathers teaching them to fish in their respective countries. Amidst all the angst, political unease, torpedos and destruction it’s nice to find little oasis moments of character, serving to remind us that whatever side we’re on and no matter how bad the conflict is, we are all just people. We all need reminding of that once in a while, and both Connery and Baldwin do that exceptionally with their work here. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn

It’s always cool for two of my top ten films of the year to find their way to me inside a week. A few days ago it was The Lighthouse and yesterday it was Edward Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn, a brilliant, sprawling noir epic that sees this accomplished artist behind the camera for only the second time in his career and in front of it for the first time since I can remember… I think the last thing I saw him in was that fourth Bourne film that didn’t even have Jason Bourne in it. He roars back into action commendably here as both writer and director in a passioned period piece that has a lot to say and one of those old school two plus hour runtimes to say it in as well as the kind of jaw dropping, star studded ensemble casts they just don’t bother to assemble much anymore.

In adapting Jonathan Lethem’s novel, Norton rewinds a 90’s setting back into the 50’s and comes up a winner playing Lionel Essrog, a private detective whose friend, mentor and father figure Frank (Bruce Willis lingers in a cameo you wish was more) is murdered by shady thugs whilst investigating the kind of lead that can only end in bloodshed. Lionel suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome in an era where medication, compassions and science are sorely lacking and has thus sadly earned the moniker ‘freak show’ by his peers. That doesn’t stop him from using gut intuition to continue Frank’s work, leading him down the obligatory NYC noir rabbit hole of Harlem jazz clubs, red herrings, betrayals, corrupt government officials and bursts of sudden violence meant as warning but there to juice up the intrigue. It’s a fairly serpentine web of lies and decades old secrets involving many characters brought to life by one hell of a cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw scores soulful points as an activist whose involvement runs far deeper than even she knows. Alec Baldwin gives a terrifying turn as an impossibly evil, truly bigoted mega city planner whose agenda to bulldoze poorer communities shows little remorse in character and allows the seasoned actor to provide what might be the best villain portrayal of the year. I didn’t think I’d be raving about Willem Dafoe two times in one week (he crushed his role in The Lighthouse) but the guy is on fuckin fire, bringing cantankerous warmth to a vaguer role I won’t spoil. Also in the mix are Michael Kenneth Williams as a mercurial trumpet player, Bobby Cannavle, Dallas Roberts, Ethan Suplee, Fisher Stevens, Cherry Jones, Robert Wisdom, Josh Pais, Peter Gray Lewis and Leslie Mann.

Considering that Norton’s director debut was a Ben Stiller romcom, its fairly heavy lifting to pivot over towards a two and a half hour period piece adapted from a revered novel but he pulls it off and then some. He directs the actors with snap and ease so we get organic, underplayed yet lasting impressions from each performance including his own, a very tricky role that never comes across as a gimmick. His affliction is never conveniently absent when the scene requires it and he makes sure to find the frustration, humour and lived-in aspects of Lionel’s personality. Baldwin’s character serves to represent the callous nature of real estate development conglomerates these days and the tendency to gloss over less fortunate folk like invisible downtrodden, or downright see them as lesser people. Norton, as both actor and director, gently explores this world with a compassion for areas in which some have more than less and focuses on themes until we get to see a powerful morality play unfold within the already tantalizing central mystery. This film sort of came out of nowhere (I don’t remember any marketing outside like a month before release?!) and isn’t making huge waves yet but it’s a powerful, funny, touching, detailed, beautifully acted and directed piece, one of the best thus far of the year.

-Nate Hill

“But the ice is slippery”: Remembering THE SHADOW with Russell Mulcahy by Kent Hill

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What evil lurks in the hearts of men? . . . . The Shadow knows…!

Let’s go back to the heady days of Simon Wincer’s The Phantom, of Beatty’s Dick Tracy, Johnston’s Rocketeer, and my distinguished, returning guest’s The Shadow!

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Russell Mulcahy’s period stabilization, tour de force of film-making sees its time-honored source material come alive on the big screen…just as it exists on the panels on which it was born. Mulcahy’s Shadow predates the meticulous period recreations and universe building  of the modern era with its use of substance, flair, atmosphere and gorgeous little winks to the audience – or as it is more commonly known – fan service…

What makes a comic book film truly saw, is the fact that they shepherded  by master visualists, such as my honored guest. Russell’s fluid use of camera, lighting and mood-enhancing trip the light fantastic; working like the perfect partner in a duet with a phenomenal cast lead by Alec ‘in all his glory’ Baldwin, the breathlessly breathtaking Penelope Ann Miller and the most delightfully awesome assortment of some the finest character-actors ever to grace the silver screen such as, James Hong, Sir Ian McKellen and the sweetest transvestite of them all…the grand Tim Curry

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The sun is shining and the days are getting sweatier (here in the great southern land, at least), but we pause and are luxuriously seduced away on the musical carpet of Jerry Goldsmith, into a fantasy panel on a comic page crafted out of artistry and light. What evil lurks in the heart of men, come find out with your mate, my mate, our mate and legendary director Russell Mulcahy….

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Harold Becker’s Malice

Aaron Sorkin gets a lot of props for his writing and the guy has done some good stuff but I can’t let him off the hook for Malice, a backwards ass psychosexual melodrama that’s so bad it isn’t even good, it’s just hot fucking mess, twice baked roadkill in summer bad. I wanted to love this because I’m a huge fan of melodramatic 90’s potboilers and also it stars Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman and Nicole Kidman, three wicked sharp and always reliable stars. But man, this thing is just a fucking mess.

The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around three central characters: a college dean (Pullman), his wife (Nicole Kidman) and a hotshot surgeon (Baldwin) with a severely self proclaimed god complex and generally corrosive, unpleasant personality. After he’s sued big time for malpractice when he wrongfully removes her ovaries in an emergency procedure the plot just completely derails and descends into sleazy lifetime thriller territory. The twists contain zero logic, the characters are nondescript cardboard inserts save Baldwin who does his best to save it but eventually gets cornered by the silly narrative just like everyone else. Oh yeah and there’s a subplot about a serial rapist/killer on campus that’s thrown in there seemingly for the fuck of it as an afterthought, but you’ll guess who it is the moment he shows up just because he’s such a recognizably creepy dude. There’s supporting efforts from Josef Sommer, Bebe Neurith, Peter Gallagher, Tobin Bell, Anne Bancroft, an early Gwyneth Paltrow appearance and George C. Scott himself as a cantankerous old veteran doctor with a Santa beard. Wicked cast, right? Too bad they’re all mostly wasted.

I love a good deception/betrayal/psycho doctor potboiler but the gears all have to click together and come up with something that’s believable or you just end up in Eric Roberts two dollar bin material (sorry Eric but it’s true). This thing is ridiculously plotted right out the ass and what’s worse is we didn’t even care one ounce about these characters from the start so we don’t even get the masochistic rush of seeing people we’ve invested in get flushed down the drain of a bad script. This thing just flatlines, and even the scenes that provide some vague thrill seem episodic and detached from the story overall. The only halfway saving grace is Baldwin who really relishes the grade A asshole role enthusiastically, for the first half anyways until things really begin to disintegrate. I will say he gets one of the best lines of his whole career here though. When second guessed by one of his underlings in the OR, he later growls at them in in the locker room: “If you ever question me again in there I’ll take out your lungs with a fucking ice cream scoop” “I’m not gonna like you much, am I?” His colleague bemoans, to which he affably replies “What are you talkin’ about? Everybody likes me.” It’s a terrific moment and the only sign of life in an otherwise awful film.

-Nate Hill

Cats & Dogs

In my household the felines and canines seem to abide harmoniously, but in the hectic alternate reality of Warner Bros’ Cats & Dogs, such is not the case. This is one silly ass movie whose special effects time has not been kind to, but I still kind of partly dig it anyways. Jeff Goldblum plays one of his terminally awkward dudes, a scientist who is on the verge of curing dog allergies in humans, and the ruling body of the cat nation, spearheaded by Sean Hayes persnickety Mr. Tinkles, keeps sending in spies to steal the formula. The dog faction, lead by Charlton Heston’s grizzled General, send in operatives of their own to counter the attacks, including Alec Baldwin’s veteran Butch and an excitable Beagle rookie (Tobey Maguire). The filmmakers used a chaotic blend of real live animals, jerky animatronics and barely passable CGI to bring the whole spectacle to life, but they can be given somewhat of a pass as it was the early 2000’s. I did get a kick out of parachuting ninja Siamese cats, a Russian specialist sent in to infiltrate Goldblum’s household and the variety of voice actors including Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz and Susan Sarandon. Something has to be said for the borderline psychotic nursemaid (Miriam Margoyles) who preens over the villainous Mr. Tinkles like the matron from hell, these scenes do come alive and induce chuckles, but for the most part this is kind of a lame, dated flick.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is like being at a frat party where you slowly begin to realize that every other person there is an irredeemable asshole, but they’ve somehow strung you along with charm and charisma thus far. Like a nihilistic den of wolves where everyone involved is out to get each other, its quite simply one of the most hellbent, devil may care, narratively self destructive crime flicks out there. I admire that kind of reckless abandon in a huge budget Hollywood picture with a cast so full of pedigree it’s almost like The A list agencies just packed up all their talent in a clown car, drove it to South Boston and turned them loose on the neighbourhood. By now you know the fable: Two roughnecks, one a mobster (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the state police, the other a deep cover operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is posing as a crime figure. Both are are intrinsically connected to Boston’s most fearsome gangster Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance so balls to the wall one almost feels like his 89’ Joker ditched the makeup and left Gotham for Southie. He’s a calculating maniac who openly mocks the veteran sergeant (Martin Sheen) putting in every effort to take him down, and rules over his vicious soldiers (Ray Winstone is a homicidal bulldog and David O’ Hara gets all the best comic relief) like a medieval despot gone mad. At well over two hours, not a single scene feels rushed, drawn out or remotely dawdled, there’s a breathless tank of violent machismo and wicked deception that never runs out, as the artery slashing editing reminds you every time it cuts to a new scene before the soundtrack choice has made it past the intro. The supporting cast has work from the gorgeous Vera Farmiga as a sneaky cop shrink, Anthony Anderson, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and more. Mark Whalberg also shows up to do the bad cop routine in a role originally meant for Denis Leary, and as solid as he is I kind of wish old Denis took a crack at it because you can obviously see how perfect he would have been, and is the better actor. As much as Jack Nicholson eats up the spotlight and chews more scenery than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, my favourite performance of the film comes from Alec Baldwin as the head of the police tactical team. Spouting profanity like a fountain, slamming Budweiser as he swings his 9 iron and kicking the shit out of his employees, he’s a mean spirited, violently comical force of nature and I fucking love the guy. Scorsese has clearly set out to not deliver a heady message or lofty themes here as some do with crime epics; the characters all operate from the gut, use animal instinct and never pause to ponder or pontificate. The only message, if any, is the oft spouted ‘snitches get stitches’ as you can clearly see by the film’s final shot, also the only frame containing anything close to a metaphor. I admire a film like that, and certainly enjoyed the hell out of this one.

-Nate Hill

Mercury Rising

If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?

Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.

-Nate Hill