Tag Archives: brad dourif

Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

David Lynch’s Dune

David Lynch’s Dune is a great film despite what critics, moviegoers, the general consensus and Lynch himself would have you believe. It’s obvious that heavy editing turned it into something of a pacing quagmire, scenes are truncated, oddly conceived voiceovers are added, and yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. This is still an exquisitely crafted, beautifully atmospheric space opera that takes full advantage of production design, casting, special effects and music, I loved every damn minute of it. I’ve recently been reading Lynch’s semi autobiography and it seems clear that that money shark producer Dino De Laurentiis had final cut and just couldn’t reconcile letting the runtime go past two and a quarter hours. Shame, as there was no doubt way more that we could have seen, but what’s left is still magnificent. I haven’t read the books so I can’t speak for any lapses as far as that goes, but what we have here is a sweeping science fiction fantasy saga about warring royal families, shifting alliances and metaphysical forces all revolving around the desert planet Arrakis, where an invaluable spice is mined and fought over by all. Duke Leto Atreides (Jurgen Prochnow), his wife Lady Jessica (Francesca Annis) and their son Paul (Kyle Maclachlan) travel far across the universe from their home world of Caladan to oversee Spice harvesting and production. Buoyant, herpes afflicted fatso Baron Harkonnen (the inimitable Kenneth McMillan takes scenery chewing to a whole new level) seeks to usurp and steal the operation for his house. So begins a series of wars, betrayals and no end of staggeringly staged set pieces and baroque, abstractly conceived production design that Lynch & Co. slaved over for years to bring us. The sand worms are a visual marvel, as are the gold and silver spaceships, the interiors of which feel both lushly industrial and gleamingly regal. Maclachlan and Lynch had their first team up here, the first of many, and the young actor is a magnetic lead, handling the arc well from a naive prince to a desert outlaw who wins over the leader (Everett McGill) of the indigenous tribe of Arrakis and falls in love with their princess (Sean Young, somehow *even* sexier here than she was in Blade Runner). Lynch has amassed an unbelievable cast here, an epic laundry list of names including Patrick Stewart, Max Von Sydow, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt, Virginia Madsen, Alicia Witt, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance and more, all excellent. Sting is in it too and I have to say that his is the only performance that’s campy in a bad way instead of good, you should see him leering at the camera like he’s in a second grade play. One of the film’s greatest strengths is the original score by Toto, who dial back their trademark rock vibe and produce something atmospheric and elemental in the vein of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream. Their main theme is distinct and oddly melancholic and the rest is synthesis style, beautiful work. I don’t know what to tell you about the whole editing debacle, I mean I guess if De Laurentiis hadn’t have had to swing his dick around Lynch may have had his three plus hour cut, but would that really have been better, or would there have then been a complete lack of pacing and progression ? Who knows, but the way it is now, admittedly there’s a lack of complete coherency and one can tell certain scenes are missing while others languish and take up too much running time, but the issues are nowhere close to as disastrous as the swirling reputation around this film suggest. I’m just so stoked on it now because I avoided it for years thinking it was some giant cinematic mistake a lá Battlefield Earth. Not a chance, and I think many people are just being a bit dramatic, because this is a showstopper of a fantasy epic and I loved it to bits. Just bought the Blu Ray off Amazon a minute ago, excited for many revisits.

-Nate Hill

Irvin Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars

Irvin Kershner’s Eyes Of Laura Mars is one bizarre film. Overall it really does not work, like it stands obstinately in WTF territory with its arms crossed, refusing to let either it’s a talented cast, lavish production design or unusual premise spur it on to greatness, despite the fact that parts of it work in fits and starts. From a screenplay by none other than John Carpenter, Faye Dunaway stars as Laura Mars, a controversial fashion photographer whose work has attracted the attention of a serial killer that starts staging their crimes after the photos she takes. Stranger still, every time our murderer goes for a move, she is suddenly tuned in to what he’s doing via his eyes, as if a clairvoyant. What a concept, right? Well I bet Carpenter had a few things to say about how they butchered his idea, they should have just given him creative control over the thing. Dunaway is a fantastic actress, she has a stately Sigourney Weaver vibe and her eyes are soulful fissures that do lend themselves to a story this intense, but she can’t do much with her role, as Laura’s ultimate culminated worth is a glorified scream queen. Anywho, the murders get the attention of police detective Tommy Lee Jones, and let me tell you I didn’t think he was ever this young. I’m aware that this was 1978, but to me Jones is one of those sagely actors like Morgan Freeman or Sam Elliott who seems to have always been old and just sprung out of the ground already wise, weathered n’ weary. The horror elements clash with a ridiculously hokey romance subplot between him and Dunaway that barrels in from farthest left field, feels artificially paced and undeveloped, an insult to both the intelligence of the audience and the integrity of Dunaway’s character, but I spied notoriously loopy producer Jon Peter’s name in the credits so maybe he had something to do with that. They would have been better off spending more time developing the pleasant camaraderie between Laura and her lovable entourage, which is one aspect that really works. The supporting cast/list of suspects also includes an awkward Raul Julia as Laura’s ex husband, her flamboyant agent (Rene Auberjonois) and a fantastic, scene stealing Brad Dourif in an early career role as her scrappy limo driver assistant. It sucks because the film has beautiful production design; Laura’s photography has an elaborate, provocative edge, the New York fashion scene and street-side elements are captured neatly and her ornate bedroom looks like a spaceship that Kubrick designed, but all that verdant personality is wasted on a story that’s so silly it hurts. Nothing is satisfactorily wrapped up, and the final twist is so lame that I couldn’t figure out if it was because that outcome hadn’t really been done before 1978 all that much and I’m just too young or simply because it was laaaaaame in itself. There’s a jittery score by Artie Kane that works and echoes stuff like Bernard Hermann, so there’s that I guess, plus game performances by Dunaway, Auberjonois and Dourif, but their effort really deserved better. This goes nowhere, and what’s worse, takes its sweet time getting there.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Soulkeeper

Soulkeeper is a diamond in the rough, in the sense that it has all the trappings of a forgettable trashy B grade flick, and ends up being something way more fun and adventurous than it has any right to be. Dressed up like your average schlocky horror fling, it also carries a cheeky Indiana Jones vibe with it’s two treasure seeking bro-tagonists and all the right character actors showing up in all the right places. The two renegade brothers are after an ancient relic from the age of Simon Magus (he shows up briefly too) and all that hocus pocus, an artifact that is valuable beyond anything but also has the power to bring evil souls and demon spirits back from the underworld, which naturally causes all kinds of gory chaos for everyone later. It’s super duper fun, with evil curses bringing forth all kinds of gooey special effects, in the tradition of everyone from Joe Dante to Sam Raimi. Then there’s the eclectic genre cast: Brad Dourif does a hysterical Vincent Price pastiche as an eccentric archeologist, Robert Davi charms as the ghost of some Italian nobleman who guides our heroes here and there, Michael Ironside literally phones in a cameo a lá Charlie’s Angels as the mysterious employee of their mission, and watch for Tiny Lister as well as the late great Karen Black too. This won’t go down in history as one of the greats, but you can certainly do a lot worse in terms of this genre and budget range, it’s pure horror/fantasy/adventure escapism. Oh and if you can score a DVD somewhere it comes with a wicked cool retro cover slip with an awesome hologram 3D poster where one of the many gruesome monsters leers out at you. Cool stuff.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Humboldt County

There’s a ton weed comedies out there, stoner slapstick silliness at every turn, but it’s not often that someone takes a serious stab at cannabis culture and uses the phenomenon to tell a moving, character driven story. Humboldt County is a painfully unknown gem about a community of rural pot growers in a tucked away nook somewhere in California, and the fish out of water med student (Jeremy Strong) who stumbles into their midst. After meeting restless free spirit Bogart (the great Fairuza Balk), they meander back into her isolated hometown where the locals grow marijuana solely for their consumption, a place where it’s a way of life. He comes from an academic background, has a Doctor father (Peter Bogdanovich) who’s trying project his legacy onto him by supervising his path through school. This rigid curriculum is upended by the people he meets and the customs he adopts here, and is the very definitional finding oneself. Legendary Brad Dourif shows up in one of his best non horror roles as Bogart’s father Jack, a scatterbrained pothead whose airy nature is contrasted by a deep compassion and fierce love for his family, especially when tragedy strikes. It’s not all idyllic either, especially when coldhearted Feds target their land and threaten what they’ve built. It’s a wonderful little film that not only sheds light on a now thriving industry and lifestyle that was just beginning to bloom back in the mid 2000’s, but a cathartic character study, a life lesson in loosening up, master class in acting from Strong, Balk and particularly Dourif, and a story worth telling. Smoke up.

-Nate Hill

Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch 


It’s always curious to me when directors remake their own projects. Sometimes it seems redundant and risky, and one wonders what compels them to revisit already trodden territory. In Ole Bornedal’s case it’s a creepy murder mystery called Nightwatch, made once in his native language of Danish, and again as a slicked up Hollywood version featuring some heavy acting talent and a reworked script by none other than Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen the newer one, and despite some awkward, clunky moments in the narrative, it can get pretty squirmy and frightening when it wants to, especially any scene involving a young Ewan McGregor stuck alone on a morgue graveyard shift. Creepy concept, and in some scenes it’s really milked to full effect, but there’s also few really silly and unnecessary subplots, particularly one with McGregor’s daredevil buddy Josh Brolin, and his girlfriend (an underused Patrica Arquette. When the film focuses on its main horror storyline it works quite well though. There’s a killer loose in the city, one with a penchant for necrophilia, and no one wants to have the night shift at a mortuary with someone like that running about. Nick Nolte adds class and charisma to his role as a weary, grizzled police detective who’s searching for the killer. Nolte rarely sets foot in the horror/thriller side of things, but his looming presence and concrete scraper sounding voice fit into the atmosphere terrifically. There’s a couple cameos as well, one from John C. Reilly as an ill fated police officer and an amusing Brad Dourif as the morgue’s cranky duty doctor. If Borendal had trimmed the fat in places as far as subplots go, given a bit more edge to the script and overall just tweaked it more it could have been a cracking good thriller, but as is it’s only above average with a few spots that really shine. 

-Nate Hill

The Wizard Of Gore


The Wizard Of Gore is an inspired little oddball of a flick, based on an obscure oldie that I’ve never seen, but the absurdity of Crispin Glover as a psychotically evil pseudo Vegas showman is worth the price of admission alone. I’ve not a clue what the original film’s plot is, but here we find Kip Pardue as some private detective, trying to make heads or tails out of Montag The Magnificent (Glover), who uses a combination of dark magic and dodgy airborne pharmaceuticals to trick his audiences into thinking he’s dismembered assistants body’s onstage, for real. Tricks of the trade, right? Sure, only problem is there’s girls turning up dead for real, and the trail leads right back to this spindly, well dressed agent of evil in magician’s clothing. I thought it was pretty cool, especially the slick production design and actual effort put into a plot with more tricks up it’s sleeve than Criss Angel. Not too mention some jarring gore, which of course the title more than suggests. Brad Dourif, who you may have guessed by now is a favourite of mine, appears as an Asian man named Dr. Chong, with creepy ties to whatever magic is being used in the murders. That’s right. Brad Dourif. As an oriental man. I laughed hard, especially since nothing about his appearance or costume is remotely of the orient. Throw in appearances from various cutie pie pinup girls from the Suicide Girls troupe, and you’ve got something memorable indeed. Check er’ out. 
-Nate Hill