Tag Archives: Brian Cox

Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

What’s the first R rated film you ever saw in theatres? For me it was Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, a gorgeous piece that has since stuck with me not just for the fact that it left a vivid, bloody impression on my young psyche but also because it’s quality filmmaking, no matter what anyone might tell you. Never mind the fact that Brad Pitt doesn’t quite fit the old world aesthetic or is out-acted by almost everyone in the film including the host of classically trained professionals he’s surrounded by. There is a lot to love here, starting with a narrative that is kind of not so common in big budget Hollywood; there are no real good guys or bad guys here, just people making decisions that lead to war. We witness compassion on both sides of the army, and cruelty too, but there are no clear cut heroes or tyrants, it’s all politics or emotion. This makes it pesky choosing who to root for but so much more fascinating once the swords start swinging and you have stock on either side.

Pitt may not have the accent down as mythical warrior Achilles but he sure gets a striking look going, streamlined physicality, epic spear throws and concise, satisfying sword fight choreography that he obviously put a lot of work into. Eric Bana is just as impressive as Trojan prince Hector, a rational, anti-war guy who resents his younger brother Paris (Orlando Bloom, wooden as ever) for basically screwing things up as badly as you possibly could. The romance between him and Helen (Diane Kruger, radiant) never feels authentic and definitely is not developed enough to start a war of this magnitude, but their relationships aren’t where we place out investment here anyways. It’s Hector, his princess (Saffron Burrows will break your heart) and their infant son as well as Achilles’s protectiveness over his cousin Patrocles (Garett Hedlund) that win over our emotions and make us care.

The siege on the beach of Troy is a nervous spectacle set up with anticipation in the air as a single bell rings out, signalling ships on the horizon. As spectacular as the war is cinematically I found myself wishing it wasn’t happening just because of the suffering inflicted on either side. It’s not a pleasant or glorious set of battles and no one really wins but rather comes to a collective bitter end, which is another unique factor here. Look at this cast they’ve assembled too, with bold turns from Sean Bean as Odysseus, Peter O’Toole as King Priam of Troy, Brendan Gleeson as the petulant king of Sparta and a loathsome, fantastic Brian Cox as the greedy warlord Agamemnon. Rose Byrne is soulful as the young Trojan priestess who serves as concubine to Achilles until he actually catches feels, and watch for James Cosmo, Tyler Mane, Julian Glover, Nigel Terry, Vincent Reagan and a quick cameo from the great Julie Christie, still beautiful as ever.

Petersen mounts an impressive production here, full of horses, ships, elaborate sets and gorgeous costumes, brought alive by James Horner’s restless, melancholy score. The set pieces are fantastic too, the best of which involves Pitt and Bana in a ruthless one on one fight to the death, each angry and lunging with sword and spear while their people look on, its well staged and genuinely suspenseful thanks to the hour plus of character building before. I couldn’t give a shit whether this is either historically accurate or follows the literature closely at all, that’s not the point for me in going into something like this. I want to see immersive, brutal battle scenes that thrill and I want an overarching story that makes me care about said battle, so every spear throw and image of carnage holds some weight beyond itself. Actors like Pitt, Bana, O’Toole, Reagan and especially Burrows sold me on it and had me legit worrying what will happen to them so that when the dust settles and the very tragic, depressing outcome is apparent, you are haunted by it after. It sure had that effect on me at age eleven or whenever. Great film.

-Nate Hill

André Øvredal’s The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

It’s always a good barometer to use Stephen King’s praise when it comes to horror films, and he had nothing but great things to say about André Øvredal’s The Autopsy Of Jane Doe, a gruesome and very scary little chamber piece with quite the unnerving story to tell. Set in a spooky underground morgue, a father son duo of coroners (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) get one last corpse sent their way by the county sheriff (Roose Bolton from Game Of Thrones) just as they’re about to shut down for the night. Labelled a Jane Doe due to lack of any identification, she’s one in a series of bodies found at a boarded up house, but cause of death is eerily unclear. These two toil away looking for clues as the night wears on and her corpse gets steadily weirder with every layer of skin, bone and tendon peeled back, but something isn’t right with her and soon our heroes hear creepy sounds, see bizarre things in the hallways and realize that the last place they want to be is stuck down there with her, especially while a raging storm prevents them from leaving. It’s a terrific setup for a nightmarish horror story, and all the elements make it work quite well. Cox and Hirsch are two great actors who sell both the father son drama and the burgeoning fear as each moment gets scarier than the last. Jane Doe isn’t a dummy or CGI but played by real actress Olwen Catherine Kelly mostly the whole time, adding an uncomfortable depth and realism to their predicament as we search her body for signs of movement or remaining sentience and squirm in our seats. The photography here is crisp and concise, the scenes lit to effect and the score drives them neatly too. There’s plenty of gore and look-away moments involving the autopsy (unless that’s your thing, ya sick fuck) but the real fear lies in story and suspense as we gradually learn who Jane Doe was and what is now happening around her, while poor Brian and Emile are stalked by all kinds of freaky shit and their apparently haunted radio starts to spaz out on them. I can see why King liked this so much as it greatly reminded me of his work, it’s smart and not too predictable with perverse attention to detail in the body horror and a slick, immersive premise. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight

If you’re suffering from a deficiency of satisfying action in your action movies (a common ailment these days) then Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight is just the pill. Harlin loves his practical combat scenes, death defying stunt work and blunt, frank violence without frenetic movement or trickery, and what he pulls off here is what the genre should be. Working from a screenplay by Shane Black, the pairing is kind of a delirious match made in heaven for fans of either artistic maverick. All of Black’s favourite motifs run amok here: stingingly funny verbal beatdowns, sharp and culturally aware characters, a Christmas setting, children in extreme danger, you name it. Geena Davis pulls a Jason Bourne as amnesiac schoolteacher and loving mother Samantha Cain, whose violent past comes back to haunt her in several ways when she discovers she’s actually a maladjusted CIA assassin named Charley Baltimore. The bad guys come fast and heavy at her, including perky Craig Bierko as a terrifying yet somehow hilarious sociopathic freak, David Morse as a vengeful former target and lovable Brian Cox as her dodgy ex handler. She’s aided by a fast talking, slightly seedy private investigator played memorably by Samuel L. Jackson, and the whole pack of them prance through this terrifically entertaining spy yarn with enthusiasm and old school Hollywood charm. The action scenes are so brazen and willfully cinematic they’re almost comical, but that’s Harlin and I love the guy to bits, the genre just wouldn’t be the same without him. The very first encounter Sam has with massive thug One Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna) is showcase material, I’ve never seen a shotgun do to a wall what Renny stages here, but it works in fully charged, high comic book fashion. It’s popcorn bliss, a buddy flick, a mystery, a rollicking black comedy, a great spy flick and a treatise on what action films should be all about. Fucking great stuff. Chefs do that!

-Nate Hill

The Glimmer Man

Steven Seagal, eh. The guy has had one rocky road of a career ranging from great stuff to wilful self parody to full on lazy garbage, but The Glimmer Man has to be one of my favourites, and one that doesn’t get mentioned too often. A spooky urban buddy cop flick, it sees Seagal as an esoteric NYC detective and Keenan Ivory Wayans as his more traditionalist partner, the two of them hunting down a ruthless serial killer nicknamed The Family Man. After they arrest and gun down a disturbed suspect (Stephen Tobolowsky is creepy as fuck) who seems like a surefire culprit, the case goes deeper and they uncover a net of corruption, cover ups and further villains including Johnny Strong, Bob Gunton and a smarmy Brian Cox, naturally named Mr. Smith. The dynamic between Seagal and Wayans works well enough, but what I really like is that this is less centred on constant action as with many Seagal flicks, and rather has a slower, sort of horror/thriller pace instead, with a neat ‘big city thriller meets big time killer’ vibe like Seven. The atmosphere is dark, hellish and free of any heavy camp too, just focused on producing a twisted, gory tale. Love Seagal’s jacket by the way, looks like he stole drapes from an old age home and stitched them up for new threads.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Ring

I remember the first time I saw Gore Verbinski’s The Ring back when I was eleven; broad daylight, started it at like ten in the morning, and got so scared I almost refused leave the house to go to the beach later with my family. Some films just stay with you if you see them at an impressionable age, and no matter how desensitized and thick skinned you get as your life goes on, you never lose at least a modicum of the raw terror you felt back then (don’t even get me started on The Grudge). Couple that with how beautifully dark the mood and aura of this film is thanks to nocturnally themed cinematography by Bojan Bazelli that turns Seattle and the surrounding rural areas into an eerie ghost playground, and you get something wholly memorable. By now the story is iconic; Naomi Watts plays a forlorn investigative journalist scoping out an urban legend in which people die seven days after they view a videotape apparently showing an experimental student film, which is tied to the backstory of the mysterious Samara (Daveigh Chase) a young girl with unholy supernatural tendencies. Edited together with a grainy VHS aesthetic contrasted by clearly lit, distinct nature and skyline shots, Verbinski gives the film an unmistakable visual element. co-starring talent is also provided by Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Rachael Bella, Amber Tamblyn, Jane Alexander, Adam Brody and a haunting Brian Cox as Samara’s disconcerted father. I’m not sure how the plot mechanics of the original Japanese film play out, but here they make a wise choice by never divulging exactly *what* is wrong with Samara, just that there is something severely off about her, and it’s that ambiguity combined with Chase’s eerie waif performance that make the character so memorable. Everyone shits their pants at the infamous television scene, but for me the ultimate scare resides in the almost unbearably suspenseful opening prologue, and the quick, blood freezing scene of the aftermath, I’ll never quite be the same after seeing a certain expression on a certain girl’s face. A dime-piece of a fright flick, a fine piece of filmmaking and a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2 has the monumental task of being one of those sequels that comes around so far after the fact that it has to do something different than it did the first time around. It does that. It also has to live up to fan expectations without just retreading all the same paths and taking the easy, self derivative route. It also does that, and quite successfully too. I’ll just clear the air: I loved it, I thought it was a fucking blast, and hit all the right notes you’d expect and wish for. It’s different than the first, amping up the rowdy, maniacal tone even further and going for broke, but never exhausting itself or getting too shrill. It’s been a good long while since the first, and the gang has naturally managed to get themselves fired from their Vermont city cop gigs following an incident involving Fred Savage, who I only know as the mole guy from Goldmember. The main event here is the discovery that a small Canadian town is actually on American soil, so the Vermont governor (Wonder Woman) hires crusty Captain O’Hagen (Brian Cox, having as much of not more fun than he did the first round) to rally his troops and oversee the transfer of power, which includes a trio of buffoonish Mounties (Will Sasso, Hayes Mcarthur and Vancouver’s own Tyler Labine), a manic Rob Lowe, sexy Emanuelle Chriqui, a rogue grizzly bear, copious amounts of narcotics, throwbacks to jokes from the first that actually work, endless jabs at the metric system and all manner of… shenanigans. I think us Canadians can get an extra kick out of it seeing ourselves represented in the most hilarious, over the top fashion you can imagine, exaggerated accents and all. The three Mounties have a demented running joke regarding Danny DeVito that had me choking on my beer. Rob Lowe has an inspired gift for comedy and sending up his own image, his casting here was a brilliant move. As for Rabbit, Ramathorn, Foster, O’Hagen, Mac and ever ridiculous Farva, I got both misty eyed and nostalgic seeing them raising hell, causing shit and being the beloved idiots we remember so fondly, back to give us second helpings of their consistently funny, always surprising brand of eclectic humour. There’s a couple priceless cameos in the prologue that I won’t spoil but I’ll say that it was awesome to see ma boy Clifton “Whup ass fajitas” Collins Jr. show up in the Broken Lizard multiverse. It amazes me that they’d even need to crowdfund something by this troupe, because from the first Troopers flick to Beerfest to The Slammin Salmon, these guys are just riotous and some of my favourite comedic filmmakers in action these days, I really hope this skyrockets them to the big leagues once again.

-Nate Hill

Encore’s The Take 


If you’re like me and were a fan of Tom Hardy before he blew up on the front page of Hollywood (I’ll willingly don the hipster mantle for certain areas of film), you’ll know about The Take, a brutal British produced miniseries chronicling the fall from grace of a severely dysfunctional London crime family. Hardy is Freddie, a sociopathic freak fresh out of the joint and ready to wreck havoc whilst the clan’s nasty patriarch (Brian Cox, never not a scene stealer) remains locked up. Freddie’s younger, more timid brother Jimmy (Shaun Evans) gears up to seize the reins of the ol’ family business, but the biggest obstacle in his path is Freddie, who seems intent on soaring down a violent path of self destructive, damaging behaviour, lashing out at friends, enemies and even family until the whole deal resembles some Macbeth-esque family showdown. Their two respective wives (Charlotte Riley and Kiersten Wareing are pure dynamite) get caught up on this unholy mess and it soon becomes clear that no one will make it out on top. It’s a nihilistic piece that exists seemingly as a dark, misanthropic soap opera or an instruction manual on how to fuck up everything in one’s life, and in that luridness it succeeds brilliantly. Hardy showed continuous sparks of budding talent early in his career, and his work here rivals even that of his heralded turns these days, his Freddie is truly a rotten bastard and a sadistic no good monster who brings death to all around him. A beatdown and a half of a watch, but worth it for lovers of tough, thoroughly downbeat crime television. 

-Nate Hill

Mindscape: Anna 


Mindscape, given the less tantalizing title ‘Anna’ upon release, is a thinking person’s thriller, and perhaps a little bit too much so. In the near future, or perhaps some alternate reality, some humans have evolved into pseudo clairvoyants who can enter the memories of other people and interact with their subjects within them. This talent has been trademarked by law enforcement, who employ ‘memory detectives’ to psychologically resolve conflict or retrieve otherwise out of reach information. Mark Strong is one such man, but his talents have dimmed a bit following the deaths of his family and a crippling stroke. Hauled out of retirement by his former boss (Brian Cox, sly as ever), he finds himself tasked with navigating the labyrinthine mind of Anna (Taissa Farmiga) a girl accused of murder and deemed a potential sociopath pending diagnosis. The film is deliberately dense and elliptical, not standard Hollywood fare at all, which is nice to see, but it also trips just a little bit on its own cognitive aspirations, especially in the third act. It’s one of those pieces that’s less like The Cell, and more like Vanilla Sky or Danny Boyle’s Trance (two absolute favourites of mine) where so much of the story wades through muddy mindgames that at a certain point we think to ourselves ‘well who’s to say if any of this is actually real if it’s gotten so complex’, and indeed it’s very difficult to piece together what has transpired here, especially with a conclusion that would require multiple viewings to even get an inkling. It’s stylish as all hell though, given a clinical, steely grey palette punctuated by flourishes of startling red to show the capacity for violence lurking just out of sight within the opaque and enigmatic human psyche. The acting is top tier as well; Strong is reliably committed and intense, Farmiga is deeply disconcerting as the most fascinating and ambiguous character, showing blossoming talent that I look forward to seeing more of, while Cox steals his scenes as per usual. The film trips over itself a few times and like I said, overly convoluted, but it’s one mesmerizing effort for the most part, albeit after a second or third viewing. 

-Nate Hill

“I am very sure that’s the man who shot me.”: Zodiac 10 years later – by Josh Hains

The idea of offering up a defence for David Fincher’s Zodiac seems rather silly given that ten years later it’s widely regarded as perhaps Fincher’s greatest film, often revered as one of the finer films released over the past decade. We all know it’s great, though admittedly, I didn’t know that for several years.

I avoided Zodiac like it was coated in radioactive slime until 2014. I had heard a great deal of positive things about the movie, and had been greatly intrigued by the marketing behind it, but the knowledge that not only was it was a long, slow paced movie, but also a rather unsettling one too kept me away for so long. When I did finally give it a chance late September 2014, my mind immediately gravitated toward Google, scouring through page after page of information about the investigation in an attempt to better understand the finer details of the case, and come to my own conclusions about who the Zodiac killer may have been. My gut however, felt like I’d eaten a bad take out meal, disturbed, shaken, and stupidly hungry for more. I felt like how I imagined Robert Graysmith felt all those years ago, minus the fear, paranoia, and impending danger of course.

That David Fincher populated Zodiac with such a great cast is a marking of a great director who knows how to compile actors who will treat the characters as individuals and not just caricatures. I find it intriguing and perhaps even ironic, or merely coincidental, that Jake Gyllenhaal starred in last year’s underrated thriller Nocturnal Animals, given that in Zodiac he is essentially one. His Robert Graysmith is a nocturnal animal, an increasingly gaunt, wide eyed mouse sniffing around for a piece of cheese, in this case the next tangible clue or lead worth obsessively investigating. And it’s all thanks to his unshakeable love for puzzles, a factor that helps decode the first Zodiac letter. As he digs deeper into the case, we come to fear for his safety, in particular during a genuinely white knuckling scene in which the unarmed and unimposing Graysmith ventures into the basement of someone we begin to assume might put an abrupt end to Graysmith’s life.

Before the blockbuster splash that was Iron Man in 2008 thundered into the film scene, one could have argued that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery was the best he’d ever given. An argument can be made that while he was seemingly born to play the billionaire tycoon and saviour of the planet Tony Stark, his best work still resides in the fractured Avery. The deeper the investigation gets the further Avery seems to slip from cool as a cucumber journalist to a paranoid, spineless slob.

Prior to his self induced exile on a houseboat, I got a kick out of the scene where he joins Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for drinks at a populated watering hole, chugging back those luminous bright blue Aqua Velvas while rambling about the case and their personal lives. There’s a great sense of both humour and humanity in that scene, as Avery lets his guard down and actually engages with someone beyond a superficial relationship, while Graysmith sheds his mouse-like internalized mannerisms in favour of energetic, loud behaviour, though briefly. From this point forward however, Graysmith has a spine, albeit a rather loosely fitting one, and Avery has seemingly lost his, donning “I am not Paul Avery” buttons in the hopes of fending off potential threats. He’d have made a wonderful Doc Sportello.

And of course, there’s San Francisco detective Dave Toschi played with a real sense of respectable authority by Mark Ruffalo. Toschi, an Animal Cracker snacking family man, and the inspiration behind both Steve McQueen’s preferred method of wearing his service revolver in Bullitt, and Dirty Harry’s iconic law breaking detective Harry Callahan, can’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces together in the Zodiac case, understandable in light of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information at hand. Under Fincher’s direction, Ruffalo portrays Toschi as a driven yet logically minded detective. He remains dedicated for years to catching the Zodiac, but lacks the desperation and paranoia Graysmith possesses. Instead, Toschi approaches every aspect of the case with the kind of logical thinking and reasoning every detective should be in possession of, following procedure by the book, and generally doing everything he can to crack the case until the psychological burden becomes far to heavy to bear. You can see how heavy sits in his mind by Ruffalo’s subtle body language in later parts of the movie, and you soon feel sorry for the guy.

Near the end of the film, Graysmith declares “I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”, desperate to prove that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch; perfectly unnerving and subtle) is indeed the cold blooded killer. He gets his wish a short time later when he encounters Allen at an Ace Hardware store in Vallejo where Allen works as a clerk. Allen offers his assistance to Graysmith with a polite “Can I help you?”, Graysmith responds with a “No.”, the two men simply staring at one another until Graysmith leaves, Allen thrown off by Graysmith, and Graysmith appearing much more certain that Allens is the man they’re after. The movie moves forward eight years to when Mike Mageau, survivor of the Zodiac killer at the start of the film, meets with authorities to potentially identify the Zodiac killer, positively identifying Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who shot him and killed Darlene Ferrin. While many had their suspicions and some evidence pointed in his direction, Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned. Not that he would have confessed anyway.

Admittedly, I have intentionally left out many details and characters, with no disrespect intended, and it should be said that every actor involved in this film, from the leading performances to the smallest of cameos (for exmaple, Ione Skye of Say Anything as Kathleen Johns, a woman who was threatened in her car by the Zodiac killer), give world class performances, some even the best of their careers to date. And the script by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith, is an achievement of impeccable research and respect for the case. And the cinematography  by the late Harris Savides is bar none the greatest work the man had ever crafted, richly capturing everything with immaculate detail, from the lush valleys of California and its busy, inviting cities and streets, to the Aqua Vera drinks, to beams of red light emanating from police cars. He painted a gorgeous picture for us to gawk at for years to come.

Ten years later, I find it astonishing that Zodiac never truly ends like other movies do. Most movies tie up every loose thread with a ribbon to go with it, others leave room for potential sequels. You can’t end a movie when their is no resolution in reality, forcing a tacked on Hollywood ending wouldn’t sit right with anyone in possession of a brain. You can only leave the audience with the next best thing, the assurance of a living Zodiac victim that the man in the picture they’re pointing to is indeed the man who shot him. That Fincher was bold enough to choose this manner of ending his film shows us he’s a director capable of unsettling viewers long after the film ends, without needing to manipulate his audience or present alternative facts. Zodiac is a bona fide masterpiece, the crime film equivalent to All The President’s Men, and just as good too.

11415612_862880327137375_6688093266983067936_o

Morgan: A Review by Nate Hill


Morgan is one of the slickest genre flicks I’ve seen in recent years, finely tuned like a barbed wire tightrope, full of nasty surprises, throat ripping action and that ever present ethical turmoil that hangs about in any films that deal with artificial humanoid beings. It’s only weakness is exactly that stylistic strength: it’s so tight and streamlined that one occasionally feels like the scales tip in the favour of style over substance, but it’s a minor quibble when you take a step back and look at just how entertaining and fired up this piece is. The filmmakers are minimally concerned with the moral grey areas that cloning wades into, and subsequent philosophical pondering, but more than anything they just want to pull the ripcord and blast full throttle into an adrenaline soaked, R-rated sci-if tale with vague aspects of a character study. The title refers to Morgan (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy in a performance both terrifying and heartbreaking), a genetically engineered humanoid girl held at a secluded facility alongside researchers, one of which she has just had a violent incident with. The corporate honcho (Brian Cox in a sly, all too brief honcho) dispatches a cold, clinical asset in the form of Kate Mara, sent to assess the situation and implement any measures necessary. She is an outsider, a callous bicep who flexes at the whims of the company. The researchers and handlers, however, are not. They have grown up around Morgan, invested time and, somewhat unwisely, emotion into her and will stop at nothing to ensure her survival. Paternal Toby Jones, opinionated Jennifer Jason Leigh and compassionate Rose Leslie prove to be a formidable armada against Mara’s evaluation, and tensions arise. Morgan has her own cloudy agenda though, and whether by flawed design, ghost in the shell syndrome or pure survival instinct, proves to be the greatest danger of all. She experiences people at their best, worst and most enigmatic, and her startling behaviour is a reflection of all of it, and a sobering example of humanity’s pitiful inability to perfect the creation of artificial life, at least in this film’s universe anyway. From Mara’s threatening presence, to an intense evaluation from a particularly nasty psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti overacting so hard he almost sucks the set dec up into his orbit), it’s no wonder Morgan snaps. Now when she snaps, the film more or less whips all its chips on the table, flips said table and hulk slams it two floors down. All subtlety and thought provocation kind of get left in the dust as everything careens towards an especially visceral climax, and that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t leave you feeling underwhelmed. I kind of had the intuition it was going to take the rambunctious root overall, and took comfort in the fact that it at least somewhat focused on the delicate aspects earlier on. It’s a well oiled machine, impeccably casted, given just enough pathos to keep our sentimental sides invested, and more than enough visceral hullabaloo to get our pulses dancing, all set to a score both thundering and graceful. Great stuff.