Tag Archives: Bruce Greenwood

B Movie Glory: American Meltdown

If American Meltdown had a bigger budget, better director and wasn’t cursed with the stigma of being a telefilm, it could have been something cool, because as far as script and cast go, it’s got something. In terms of terrorist flicks it also does something that hasn’t really been explored and throws a curveball twist that might make some Americans squirm uncomfortably in their seats (denial is an ugly bitch). Too bad it got the cheap treatment though, aesthetically speaking it looks like a discarded 24 season test pilot and doesn’t have the dazzle dazzle to support its big ideas. When a ruthless foreign extremist (The Mummy’s Arnold Vosloo) holds a nuclear power plant hostage and threatens to cause chaos, FBI Agents Bruce Greenwood and Leslie Hope race against the clock to prevent the kind of impending doom only TV movies can supply, while a military tactical unit led by character actor James Remar menacingly waits on standby. The whole hijack is more complicated that it seems though and Vosloo’s antagonist proves to have more up his sleeve than a simplistic radical agenda, so the film does attempt to stand out from the crowd. But overall it’s lazily edited, haphazard trash, the kind of thing that will always be dumped onto cable. Cool cast though.

-Nate Hill

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“We’ve got some unique time constraints.” : Remembering Déjà Vu with Bill Marsilii by Kent Hill

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Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Both of the inaugural screenings I attended were sullied by external forces which greatly influenced my mood during the viewings and thus, my opinion of the films.

But time, it was once said, is the ultimate critic. Under different circumstances I watched both films again, and, this time around, my feelings toward both movies were drastically adjusted.

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In several books on the art of screenwriting it is often put about that, if you cannot sum up the film you are writing in a single sentence, then you may want to rethink the plot. There is a great moment on the commentary track of this film in which the late, great Tony Scott admits that even he struggled to distill Déjà Vu into the logline form.

It’s a science-fiction/action/thriller/time-travel/romance in which the hero, Denzel Washington, meets the girl he will eventually fall in love with on the slab – dead as disco. Unbeknownst to him, he will eventually join a team that will, along with the help of a device that can see into the past, aid him in bringing her killer to justice. And it was from this humble yet intriguing premise that my guest, Bill Marsilii and his co-writer Terry Rossio constructed this rich, multi-layered tale which deserves more applause than some would proffer for its inventiveness and compelling real-world take on the age old time machine story.

 

But what I uncovered as I spoke to Bill was far more than a series of behind the scenes anecdotes and your typical boy meets idea, boy turns idea into a screenplay, screenplay sells for big dollars, boy lives happily and successfully ever after in Hollywood kind of scenario.

And yes, while it is true that Déjà Vu is the highest earning spec script thus far, beating out other entries like Basic Instinct, Panic Room and The Last Boy Scout, the story of how Bill came to, not only the concept, but how the writing and selling of the script changed his life is just as compelling as anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Co. managed to get onto the screen.

 

This interview, at least for me, proved also to be somewhat of a masterclass in, not only screenwriting, but the ever painful and soul-crushing journey the writer must endure to actually sell the script. It’s about the luck, timing, persistence and internal fortitude that you must have sufficient quantities to survive the gauntlet that exists between the page and the screen.

Bill’s heart-warming, inspirational adventure to make it in the realm where dreams are brought to life with that strange blending of art, science and commerce – that ultimately no one can tell you how, when a film is successful, it all comes together in the perfect proportions to ensure success is on the menu – is a conversation that could have gone on and on.

I hope you’ll will enjoy some extended insights into Déjà Vu, but more than that, I hope you, if you are one of those dreamers still out there trying to write your own ticket to cinematic glory, that Bill’s wisdom you’ll take onboard and continue pounding away on those keys until fortune smiles and your efforts will be coming soon, to a theater near us…

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Bill Marsilii . . .

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“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” – A review of The Place Beyond The Pines by Josh Hains

As the opening title, “A film by Derek Cianfrance”, dissipates, a breath is drawn followed by the clinking of an angel knife as Ryan Gosling’s Luke Glanton menacingly opens and closes it, his abs glowing in the dimly lit room, his body battered with tattoos as the sounds of people, rides and games emit from outside his small trailer. He’s told it’s showtime by an outside authority, jamming the knife overhand into a wall before picking up his shirt and red jacket and slipping out the door, putting them both on as he traverses the crowd until he reaches a large tent boasting The Globe Of Death. He walks with the swagger of James Dean as he enters the tent to cheers and cries of excitement from fans alike as he and two fellow riders known only as The Heart Throbs gear up on their motorcycles and glide into the deadly spherical cage. Engines roar and fans scream as Handsome Luke and The Heart Throbs dizzyingly ride their motorcycles loop de loop until the screen fades to Luke signing autographs. And to think, that was all done in one take.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully brooding, tragic, heartbreakingly powerful, and ambitious genre film about fathers and sons, legacy, and consequences. Luke Glanton (Gosling), a daredevil carnival motorcycle rider finds out former fling Romina (Eva Mendes), a local waitress and fan of Luke’s skills, recently had their son, Jason after their last fling. Much to her surprise, he quits his job in the hopes that he can concoct a relationship with the infant and her too, even though she has a new, responsible man in her life by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali, in an understated role).

Luke is irresponsible, impulsive, tattooed all to hell and prone to outbursts of violence. Things only get complicated once he meets Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), a grubby mechanic who hires him after witnessing his outstanding skills on the motorcycle. He suggests that Luke rob banks, Robin himself having robbed banks years earlier, and Luke, in need of quick cash to support his son, opts to do just that. As time marches on the risks get higher and the cash comes thicker during riveting, manic heists and intense and stunningly realistic getaways; until Robin suddenly balks, leaving Luke to sloppily rob a bank and subsequently get chased across town on his motorcycle. The breathtaking chase leads Luke to a violent confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young police officer and son of a well respected judge.

After his confrontation with Luke, Avery begins to question his actions during the encounter as fellow officers headed by Pete Deluca (the always intimidating Ray Liotta, in full-on bad cop mode) engage in thuggish, corrupt behaviour which begins to take its toll on Avery and his family life as the father to a newborn son and husband to a fearful wife.

Skip ahead 15 years and Avery is running for public office, as his and Luke’s respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) begin a tumultuous and troubling friendship. I have to stop there, as any more details about the film will surely spoil what is undoubtedly a surprising film.

Luke’s story takes up the first 45-60 minutes, and is the best of the three stories in this triptych film; a deep, emotional roller-coaster that follows Luke as he struggles to provide for his newborn son. The heists are crisp, increasingly sloppy and volatile, brimming with an underlying intensity and fiery rawness. When he robs, he angrily squeals and shrieks his commands, grabbing the closest person to him as leverage until he has the money. When he rides, it’s as if you’re right there with him; the roar of the engine thundering through the air as he speeds down twisting roads into Robin’s cube truck.

Ryan Gosling as the violent, troubled Luke Glanton is mesmerizing, delivering his best performance since 2010’s Blue Valentine (which marked his first collaboration with this film’s director Derek Cianfrance), and surely one for the Oscar nomination list. He doesn’t say much which draws comparison to his eerie role as The Driver in 2011’s Drive, his eyes and facial expressions exuding Luke’s restrained and ominous personality in the same brooding manner as he did in Drive. He also has a vehicular skill, this time motorcycles and not cars, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Where Driver felt like a caricature, or a fantastical vigilante ripped from a ludicrous dream, Luke feels, and very much so is, a genuine, authentic and honest portrayal of a man struggling to leave a strong imprint in his son’s life while dealing with his own inner, violent demons. He holds honest intentions, but is far too explosive and violent for the life he quietly yearns for.

Eva Mendes is at her quiet best here as Romina, giving an heartfelt and touching portrayal of a mother trying to do what’s right for her son, which may or may not always be the best of decisions. Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly fame) yet again find a rhythm for playing the greasy, twitchy mechanic and Luke’s only friend Robin. His ability to slip into these scuzzy roles is fantastic, as he once again delivers a magnetic performance.

The second story that follows Avery post-Luke encounter runs for about the same length as the first section, as does the last section. The film seamlessly weaves between the sections, pausing only for a moment with a black screen as if to let us breathe before it catapults us into Avery’s battle for survival in the world of policing. The story presents itself much like a cop film from the ‘70’s, something the likes of William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola would have sunk their teeth deep into. Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this act, quickly taking the reins of the film as the torch gets passed along, proving once again that most audiences have underestimated his acting prowess in the past despite the complexity of his most recent roles. Ray Liotta as Pete Deluca, a corrupt veteran officer, is at his menacing best, and Rose Byrne (Jennifer, Avery’s wife), Harris Yulin (as Avery’s judge father Al) and Bruce Greenwood as slippery lawyer Bill Killcullen all deliver with quiet, small roles with actions that echo a lifetime.

I won’t go too deep into the final act, but I will say that Dane DeHaan is one to watch, one-upping his co-star Emory Cohen as Luke’s estranged son Jason, matching pound for pound the intensity delivered by the more seasoned actors in the film. Emory is convincing as the drug-addled interpretation of MTV styled behaviour infused into Avery’s son A.J.

The latter two stories following Avery post-confrontation, and later their respective sons, are thoroughly engaging, edgy and potent, but are intentionally not as electrifying as Luke’s daredevil lifestyle portion of the film. Luke’s story is one electric scene after another, each as haunting and memorable as the last until his story ends, when the film slows down to give us a deep insight into the lives of police officers and their family, and the ramifications of the violence and corrupt actions committed in the first story; each scene for the 140 minute running time never failing to captivate your eyes and mind. Despite how well acted the last two chapters of the film are, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed by them both after the volatile, quick paced first act.

This is a powerhouse, haunting, Shakespeare-esque cinematic experience of a lifetime. Derek Cianfrance, the director behind Blue Valentine and the largely unseen Brother Tied gives us his best film here, an honest tale of fathers and sons, violence and its impacts, actions and their consequences. He gets the absolute most of of his actors, no matter how big or small the role, with relative ease it seems. As stated in several dozen interviews, many of the scenes are genuine, featuring real actions from his actors during rehearsals, or spontaneous behaviours from them as filing was occurring, which helps push the realistic, honest and authentic nature of this film to greater heights. The violence is quick and bloody, but never stylized or gimmicky, instead remaining true to the speed and ferocity of real violence one would see in a Sunday night instalment of World’s Wildest Police Chases, which Derek himself said inspired the realism of this film. Mike Patton’s thrilling score greatly enhances each scene, never becoming overbearing or underused.

While Blue Valentine was a small scaled romantic tragedy, The Place Beyond The Pines is on a much larger playing field as it spans its 15 plus years, giving us a sweeping genre epic that stands an equal among similar father-son consequential films such as The Godfather. Derek Cianfrance once again shows us he’s a masterclass in filmmaking, delivering what will surely be the year’s best dramatic film. This is filmmaking from the pelvis by Cianfrance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go until the final, heartbreaking frames contrasted with Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’; this, is one hell of a film, and among the best of its year of release. As this epic tale of fathers, sons, and consequences rides off into the morning sunrise, its grip will loosen just enough to leave you breathless in its powerful wake.

 

Indie Gems with Nate: Wildlike

It’s random netflix time again, where I decided to take a look at Wildlike, a film I’ve never heard of before, and one that I will not be getting out of my head anytime soon. I have a certain affinity for films set in the wilds of the pacific northwest, films that use nature and scenery to accent themes relating to humans (eg. The Grey, Into The Wild). I also saw Bruce Greenwood on the poster, and that guy just seems to have a head on his shoulders when it comes to choosing scripts, so off on this journey I went. Newcomer Ella Purnell is astounding as 14 year old Mackenzie, sent off to live with her uncle (Brian Geraghty) after her mother has a breakdown following a family tragedy. The poor girl goes from the frying pan into the fire though, when it’s revealed that her is sexually abusing her, and may have in the past. The abuse shown in this film is not loud or violent, nor is it melodramatic or designed for shock value. It’s quiet, frank and subtle, the damage of it measured in a glance, a tear streaming down a cheek or a barely percievable shift of weight from Mackenzie when he looks at her. Geraghty is a handsome dude, nowhere near the bespectacled, paunchy clichéof abuser so often seen. He plays it straight, a pleasant and agreeable fellow who can’t even comprehend the kind of damage he’s doing. The scenes of abuse themselves are quick and fleeting, made all the more uncomfortable by how intimate they seem. This is the closest to what I’d imagine realism with this sort of thing looks like, and i had trouble not turning away. When she can’t bear it any longer, Kenzie makes a run for it into the nearby town, hiding out and eventually befriending lone hiker Greenwood, who is healing from wounds of his own. Kenzie is confused and broken from what has happened, and the filmmakers know that when this befalls someone whose brain and soul are not developed enough to understand it, they act in strange ways. Purnell is heartbreaking and should have been in contending for some sort of award. Going from almost no film work to lighting up the film with this brave, staggering turn was something I was honored to see unfold on my humble iPad screen. Much of the story unfolds in the breathtaking Alaskan wilderness, the camera capturing misty mountains, verdant landscapes and little coves that ferries weave in and out of. You just have to contrast this type of subject matter with beauty of some kind, and Kenzie’s journey takes her from darkness into the possibility of light, surrounded by the natural world and the companionship of her new friend and protector. Most of the time it’s just the two of them out in the desolation, aside from when they meet a kindly group of campers, including Ann Dowd, an incredible actress who seems to be riding some sort of comeback these days. Films about this sort of thing range all across the board, from hamfisted pulp revenge, to tender and inquisitive documentation. This one respectfully shows you the kind of irresponsible, selfish and sick behaviour humans are capable of, particularly towards the ones they are supposed to love and protect. It also looks at kindness and compassion that can come from a complete stranger and shelter those who have been broken. There’s both light and dark in this world of ours, and Kenzie meets them both face to face. Purnell owns the film, and I think we will see great things from her. Couldn’t recommend this film, and her performance, enough. 

Atom Egoyan’s The Captive: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Atom Egoyan’s The Captive didn’t do well with critics, audiences and hasn’t really grown on them since, effectively getting left behind from people’s memory. I was mesmerized the first time I saw it, even more drawn in the next, and still can’t get it out of my head. Egoyan made the unpopular choice to set these events completely out of order, and not in a way that ever seems to have a purpose. It’s disorientating and frustrating, but perpetuates the chilly, inaccessible atmosphere that is already laid over the story. Perhaps this was Egoyan’s intent, to further cloud over comprehension and cause uneasiness among viewers, or he was just tinkering around with his tools. You’d have to ask the guy. Either way, it’s the main reason the film wasn’t received well, and ironically enough, the main reason I love it so much. I tend to have this affinity for qualities in film that are hated by many and misunderstood no end (maybe I’m an unconscious contrarian, who knows). For me, this film works achingly well, a haunting story told with a near European style of acting from everyone across the board, and a fractured narrative that takes a few tries to fully grasp. It also contains one of the single most gut wrenching and emotionally gripping scenes of the last decade, which I’ll only briefly mention, as to not give anything away. The story is blindingly simple: a young girl disappears from her fathers car at a remote truck stop in rural Ontario, while he is gone for but a minute to pick up food. The father (Ryan Reynolds) and mother (Mireille Einos) a devastated, and never give up hope even years later. Two cops work the case: hothead Scott Speedman and more intuitive Rosario Dawson, unable to come up with answers or provide closure for the couple. The girl was in fact taken by an underground and very carefully sophisticated ring of serial pedophiles, and now years later, she is in her mid teens and being eerily watched over by Mika (Kevin Durand in a performance of bottled up malice), an operative in this sick circus, while her parents still brokenly search for any clues. Reynolds rattles with desperation and is excellent, Einos displays the cold heartbreak exceedingly well and no one can make your skin crawl like Durand, who is actually the most fascinating in a role that could have easily devolved into monstrous cliches. There’s something very disconcerting about the way Alexia Fast plays the older version of the daughter too. She’s no doubt been through horrors, but in her is a serene calm that is highly more disturbing than if she was in mental hysterics. That offset in mood is part of what makes the film so great too; there’s a constant snowy blanket over intentions and resolution, made all the more restless by the fact that the shards of this decade long tragedy are presented out of order. A sequence where Durand orchestrates a meeting between Reynolds and his daughter plays with our expectations and tightens the grip on our hearts along with that of our hands on our seats, a tension filled cathartic story beat acted to perfection by Reynolds and Fast, and the penultimate moment to showcase what a strange and bewitching film this is. You’re free to take the side of the masses on this one and see it from a negative perspective, and if it genuinely doesn’t work for you, then fair enough. But try to go in a blank slate so that it can at least have a chance to work its magic on you, because it’s got quite a spell to cast, one which I’m still under. Severely overlooked stuff. 

J.J. Abram’s Star Trek: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.  

Robert Zemeckis’s Flight: A Review by Nate Hill 

When I saw the marketing and trailer hype for Robert Zemeckis’s Flight, I was strongly under the impression that when I got around to seeing it I’d get a conspiracy style thriller. Some aviation intrigue, maybe a little government corruption, valiantly unveiled by Denzel Washington’s hotshot pilot protagonist. How very wrong I was. To my credit, it wasn’t my fault, but that of the severely misleading marketing. But then, how do you market a film like this? Hell, it’s a wonder it even made it past the pitching stage! The airplane related fiasco one sees in the previews is but a tiny segment that acts as at catalyst for one of the most searing and honest portraits of addiction I’ve ever seen. Washington is Whip Whittaker, senior pilot, ladies man, assured professional and severe drug and alcohol user. Whip snorts and guzzles day and night, including during the job. He’s functional and hides it well, but thats just another facet of his problem. When an onboard malfunction causes crisis on one of his flights, he takes a giant leap of faith, spectacularly landing the airplane upside down and essentially saving every passenger’s life. End of story? Not really. From there the film throws a curveball, as we dig deeper into Whip’s life, habits and history. An inquiry is launched into his mental state during the event, led by a stern and silky voiced Melissa Leo. His superiors do everything to defend him, but it becomes clear that he has been coming apart at the seams for sometime now, and the incident was one of the final rips. It’s a journey into one man’s refusal to admit his problems, and the often extreme ways in which life holds up a mirror in front of us and demands acceptance. Kelly Reilly is superb as a damaged girl he meets who tries to take his hand and lead down the way to fixing what is broken, but he’s pretty damn far off the path. John Goodman is his charismatic self as Whip’s groovy drug dealer, and Bruce Greenwood reliably steals scenes as an airline official determind to defend Whip to the bitter end. Washington is heartbreaking, especially in the scenes of alcohol abuse, which are tough to watch. He’s never had a character arc quite like this, and it’s one of the most special, vital gifts of acting he has ever given us. The look, feel and tone of the film is anything but gritty or depressing. It has a glossy, aesthetic sheen to it that barely hints at the commotion and strife which befalls it’s lead character. Perhaps this was Zemeckis’s intention: dazzle us out of the gate with crisp frames and bright cinematography and then blindside us with the darker elements, showing us in the process that such issues can befall any one of us in society, no matter how outwardly successful, confident or in control we seem. The film is as complex as it’s protagonist and begs the audience to empathize with him on his journey, despite the glaring shortcomings we observe. It’s one of the most human stories I’ve ever seen; two hours spent with a realistic person who is assured, broken, confused, scared, stubborn, strong willed, weak and deeply wounded all at the same time. Washington paints the picture for us momentously, and it’s the best work he’s ever done. You don’t get too many films like this released by the studio system, and this one is some kind of miracle.