Tag Archives: Charlize Theron

Yuletide Yarns: Nate’s Top Ten Christmas Films

Tis the season to check out Christmas in cinema! There’s a whole ton of festive films out there revolving around this time of year, ten of which I’ve picked out here as my cherished favourites! Oh and keep one thing in mind: A Christmas movie is a subjective thing and each individual is allowed to have whatever the hell they want in their Yuletide canon without a bunch of blockheads screaming “That’s not a Christmas movie” to the winds. Home Alone is a Christmas movie to many and perhaps to some The Mummy or Top Gun are also Christmas movies too for whatever personal reason or memory they hold dear. Anything you damn well please can be your “Christmas movie” and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Got it? Good! Enjoy my list 😉

10. John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

An underrated one, to say the least. Pulpy, nihilistic and packed with ironically nasty energy substituting for holiday cheer, I love this ultra violent heist/revenge flick to bits. Ben Affleck, Charlize Theron and an off-the-chain Gary Sinise are various degenerate characters involved in a casino robbery and the ensuing aftermath, murder, betrayal and tough talk. They’re all having a blast and there’s great supporting work from Danny Trejo, Donal Logue, Isaac Hayes, James Frain, a scene stealing Clarence Williams III plus the late great Fennis Farina.

9. Bob Clark’s Black Christmas

A Christmas slasher yay!! This predates John Carpenter’s Halloween as the original genre prototype and is just such a fun, spooky old stalker flick with healthy doses of camp, plenty of creaky atmospheric portent and one of the freakiest villains the genre has to offer based on his voice alone. It’s Christmas break for a house of sorority girls in small town Ontario, which should mean rest, relaxation and good times. A deeply disturbed prank calling serial killer has other ideas though, tormenting them with perverse phone-calls and eventually outright hunting them through the drafty halls of the manor. Starring the beautiful, classy Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Margot Kidder and Nick Mancuso as the killer’s terrifying phone voice, this is a holiday classic for me, it practically fills up your living room with atmosphere when you put it on.

8. Joe Dante’s Gremlins

This is one of those ones that kind of works at Halloween too because it’s so gooey and horror-centric, but the quaint small town Christmas vibe is so pleasant and wonderful, right from the joyous opening titles set to Phil Spector’s ‘Christmas.’ One young man’s Christmas present goes haywire when cryptozoological Mogwai Gizmo and his clan get right out of control and cause a bigger holiday riot than Boxing Day at the mall. It’s like a Christmas party gone ballistic in the best, most mischievous ways and the fun lies in seeing these little green monsters terrorize, blow off steam and run around town destroying everything in their wake.

7. Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

I know what you’re thinking, but I actually prefer this rambunctious sequel over the iconic first Die Hard film. Switching up the action from a skyscraper to hectic, bustling and heavily snowed in LAX on Christmas Eve is just such a cozier, more festive setting, not to mention ripe for so much action, villainy and comedic bits. Way more characters, tons of cool cameos, a blinding snowstorm to create atmosphere and so many gorgeous explosions.

6. Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express

What a majestic film. People rip on this for being way too elaborate and hectic when compared to the simple, direct timbre of its source children’s book, but I love how far they took it. It’s a thrillingly cinematic, highly immersive rollercoaster ride to the North Pole packed with Carols, stunning motion capture animation, Tom Hanks in like four different roles *including* Santa, breathtaking swoops over northern landscapes and a genuine sense of wonder.

5. Ted Demme’s The Ref

Christmas ain’t always a loving, cherished time of year as you’ll see in this acidic, cynical and jet black comedy of family dysfunction, misanthropy and petty crime. Denis Leary is one pissed off cat burglar who hides out from the law with a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis who are basically the most unhappily married, hateful pair of grinches you could find in white suburbia. It’s a brilliantly satirical sendup of Christmas in the Midwest with terrific, off the wall performances from the three leads, a wicked sharp script and hilarious supporting work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, BD Wong and Raymond J. Barry.

4. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

Christmas goes Gothic in my favourite of the initial four Burton/Schumacher Batman films. This is a seriously gorgeous gem of a film with Keaton at his moody best as Batman, Danny Devito creeping’ it up tons as the freaky weirdo Penguin, Christopher Walken embodying corporate evil like no other and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most absolutely sexy, dangerous, funny and commanding take on Catwoman ever. The film takes place over the holiday season in a Gotham highly reminiscent of bustling New York, all austere wintry edifices and decked out super malls.

3. Tim Burton/Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

A double edged sword that works wonders as both Christmas and Halloween film, this is just a classic, iconic festive singalong with the OG beautiful Burton/Selick stop-motion animation and a wonderful host of vocal/singing performances from Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Glen Shadix, Paul Reubens and Danny Elfman.

2. Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest

Another counterintuitive one, this is an icy, sardonic black crime comedy about a mob lawyer (John Cusack), his untrustworthy associate (Billy Bob Thornton), a slinky stripper (Connie Nielsen) and a big city gangster (Randy Quaid). They’re all neck deep in an underworld embezzlement scheme on Christmas Eve, out to kill, deceive, screw over and get rich by the time midnight rolls around. I love this film, it’s a Yuletide noir with healthy doses of deadpan comedy, a mournful rumination on what it means to be a family member around this time of year and how morality plays into a life of crime. Plus positively everyone steals the show including the lovable Oliver Platt as Cusack’s drunken buddy.

1. Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol

The number of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carols film adaptations is near infinity but for me this one tops them all. Dazzling motion capture animation gives larger than life vitality to the classic story of Scrooge, his three ghosts and Victorian London. Jim Carrey outdoes himself playing the old dude and *all three* spectres while the cast is filled with beloved performers like Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, Colin Firth, Fionnula Flanagan, Cary Elwes and the late great Bob Hoskins in multiple roles. Zemeckis’s sure hand with this dynamic style of animation gives the film an impressive aura of sweeping visual movement and immersion, the performances capturing the essence of each actor in various modes while the colour, carols and rousing action make this the best produced version of this story I’ve ever seen, I watch it once a year without fail.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Pete Postlethwaite Performances

Who remembers Pete Postlethwaite? I do and always will, for the creative mark he made on both my childhood, teenage years and older formative exploration of cinema is a huge one. This guy was a face you knew and remembered immediately, a slightly eccentric, wily looking dude who could command a scene like no other and had such a way with words, be they written by Shakespeare, Christopher Nolan or Christopher McQuarrie. Just to give you an idea of the character and spirit this guy had within the industry, here’s a direct quote from the man:

“My first agent wanted me to change my name. So I changed him instead. When I made a breakthrough as an actor, people started to say, ‘Who’s that bloke with the funny name?’ They advised me to change it, saying it would never be put up in lights outside theaters because they couldn’t afford the electricity. But I would never contemplate changing it. It’s who I am. It’s my mother and father, my whole family. It’s where everything I am comes from. I couldn’t imagine living my life with another name.”

Pete is no longer with us but his incredible career lives on and here are my top ten personal favourites from his body of work:

10. The Keeper in Aeon Flux

Okay so I feel a bit guilty for putting this on the list because it’s a godawful, stupid ass movie but Pete makes such a surreal impression basically playing the man in the moon. The whole film sees Charlize Theron’s Aeon doing all kinds of SciFi espionage garbage that culminates in a journey to some floating structure far above the city surface, where he waits for her in a tin foil poncho. It’s bizarre and off the wall but the guy could deliver lines like no other and the scene just somehow had a lasting impression on me.

9. Obadiah Hakeswill in BBC’s Sharpe

This adventurous period piece sees him do battle with Sean Bean’s titular Sharpe, a warrior and soldier of fortune who headlined a whole series of made for tv films in the early 90’s. Hakeswill was one of the most dastardly, hateful villains Sharpe ever faced, a rapist deserter with a mile wide mean streak and cunning nature that proved to be quite the adversary.

8. Dr. Lorbeer in Fernando Mereilles’ The Constant Gardener

He’s only onscreen for a brief few scenes in this stunning adaptation of John Le Carré’s political mystery, but as usual he makes a vivid impression. Lorbeer is a mysterious physician embroiled in a deep pharmaceutical conspiracy within the heart of Africa, and his quiet few words of cryptic advice to Ralph Fiennes’ Justin Quayle linger eerily long after the camera has left him out there on the desolate savanna.

7. Father Lawrence in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet

Some actors just have a way with Shakespeare. This is probably the quintessential film version of Romeo & Juliet and he makes the most out of his role as the botany inclined friar, relishing every over elaborate line and closeup adorned gesture.

6. Giuseppe Conlan in Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father

Pete and Daniel Day Lewis finds themselves in a harrowing situation here as father and son, one of whom is wrongfully accused of a nasty IRA bombing that puts both in prison for like a decade. This causes a horrific, prolonged experience for both as attorneys fight to clear their name, the years wear on and the performances of both Lewis and Pete cut more than deep in their desperation and haunting tragedy.

5. Gilbert Of Glockenspur in Rob Cohen’s Dragonheart

This classic fantasy sees Dennis Quaid’s rogue warrior team up with Sean Connery’s dragon to do battle with an evil sorcerer (David Thewlis). Pete is the intrepid, travelling outcast monk who gets swept up in the adventure and provides both gravitas and comic relief to this tale. One of the most affecting moments of the film is when he takes up bow and arrow during an intense battle and in captivating closeup makes the split second decision to abandon his vow not to take a life. Brilliant work here.

4. Fergie Colm in Ben Affleck’s The Town

One of his final roles and one of his scariest too. Fergie is a Boston flower shop owner who moonlights as a fence and crime boss and is none too happy when Affleck and his gang deviate from the specific heist plans he’s laid out. No one barks out heinous threats with a sidelong glance quite like he could, and he steals his few scenes as an all out psychopath.

3. Roland Tembo in Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2

One of the most memorable big game hunters in cinema, Tembo is a brittle badass who accompanies a research team as security and with the fierce personal agenda of bringing down a T-Rex. Postlethwaite plays him not as a sadistic or cruel hunter but with a cunning determination that’s respectful of his quarry, disdainful of military idiots around him and possessive of a keen intuitive nature in the field, or in this case the long grass.

2. The Old Man in Henry Selick’s James & The Giant Peach

I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s classic tale and to see Pete embody such a key character in the film version was pure magic. He only has like one and a half quick scenes but imparts such mysterious wisdom and magnetism he makes a huge impression as essentially the catalyst for the fantastical events on display.

1. Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects

There’s a ton of exposition delivered by many different characters in this serpentine crime saga but he makes his portion the most menacing, impactful and memorable. As a devilish lawyer and confidante to the boogeyman of the international criminal underworld, he calmly intimidates the collective protagonists with his even tone, barely veiled threats and promises of woe to come without batting an eyelash, it’s a master class in restrained scenery chewing that always holds the screen.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Lunch with Immortan Joe by Kent Hill

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Dolly Parton once said, “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.” I like to muse that this was going through the mind of my distinguished guest and Ozploitation luminary, Hugh Keays-Byrne. And my reason behind this thinking – even though, for all intents and purposes, the characters he has brought to our screens for decades have been seen as pure, cold-hearted villains – turns out, we’ve all been wrong.

Toad (Stone), William Whopper (Secret Valley), Toecutter (Mad Max), and the divine one, all shiny and chrome, Immortan Joe (Mad Max: Fury Road) are not the boogeymen society would have you believe. No folks, they are progressives, forward-thinkers. They see the big picture, they are thinking about future generations, not the pesky problems of the current cloud of mayhem.

But let’s face it people – bad dudes are more fun. And our Hugh is one of cinema history’s ultimate bad (though secretly underappreciated visionary with people’s best interests in mind) dude. Born the same year, in fact two days before my Dad, in India, Hugh returned the homeland of his parents, England, where he not only completed his education but also found his way into The Royal Shakespeare Company, and it was in one of their productions that he found his way here, to the great southern land – and here he stayed.

Continuing as he had also been in Britain, prior to his Shakespearean exodus, he appeared on local television productions till along came the ultimate auteur-ozploitation picture in the form of Sandy Harbutt’s STONE. Keays-Byrne would transform into the iconic Toad. But ladies and boys, this filmography is a little bit like a classic rock radio station, because the hits, just keep on coming. He shared a cab ride and a request for narcotics with the Easy Rider, he’s tasted THE BLOOD OF HEROES (while saluting the Juggers), he’s shared the landscape with FARSCAPE and very nearly was the Martian Manhunter for Dr. George’s Justice League. Sure, sure. It might have been groovy. But he will be remembered in the halls of Valhalla as the electrifying good guy of Miller’s indelible imprint on the art of the motion picture when he became the Toecutter in a little movie headlined by a guy named Mel.

Recently, Mad Max: Fury Road has back in popular discussion. It is topping lists as one, if not the penultimate action film OF ALL TIME! That’s right, I said ALL TIME. Now – these may be mere lists on the internet – no shortage of those right – but truth be told, Miller literally, all these years after THE ROAD WARRIOR  (or Mad Max 2, as we like to call it), has reignited the same fire that he started way back when. Fury Road is as much a cultural monolith as it is action-film opus.

It has been a long time between lunches here in my little corner of cinematic nirvana. Last time I had lunch it was with The Equalizer himself, (and another Aussie cinema legend) Richard Norton. So, it is with great pride that I get to enjoy another lunch break with you dear PTS listeners – lunch with the merciful and compassionate Immortan Joe…

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OH WHAT A DAY, WHAT A LOVELY DAY!!!

 

 

 

Niki Caro’s North Country

Charlize Theron can pretty much play any role when she sets her mind to it, and when it comes to embodying the collective injustice and abuse inflicted towards female mine workers in late 80’s Minnesota, she is heartbreaking. Of course many other brilliant actors work hard to bring Niki Caro’s North Country to life, but it’s Theron who gives it the wounded centre and makes us care, not just about the issues at had but her character as well.

She plays a semi fictional character named Josey Aimes, who is loosely based on a real life woman that launched a milestone lawsuit against the corporate mining giant. Josey has escaped her abusive husband and come home to seek refuge with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) while trying to provide for her two children. The highest paying wage in the region is at the mines but from the moment she joins up she’s faced with hostility, scorn and rampant sexual harassment from the vast male work force there, and the few other female employees fare the same, unless they keep their head low. Josey and her young coworker Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) have it the worst because they’re, shall we say, easiest on the eyes, while their childhood friend Glory (Frances McDormand) keeps up a tough exterior, but in truth they are all of them fed up. As their treatment gets worse, Josey does the unthinkable and launches a high profile lawsuit against Big Mining for mistreatment and neglect, causing a shit-storm of controversy for both herself and the entire town whose survival depends on that industry. Not only that, but the case dredges up painful events from her past that involve supervisor Jeremy Renner, whose special interest in tormenting her dates back to then and explains why he radiates with guilt.

This is a brave, difficult choice for a woman to make especially when it seems like everyone is against her, but Josey is determined and Theron makes her wounded, charismatic and captivating. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as the lawyer hired to represent her, an idealistic man who isn’t afraid to unleash some hell when delivering statements or interrogating a witness because he believes it will lead to change. Jenkins is always brilliant, the arc he carries out here goes from cynically intoning that his daughter must have cheated on her husband to illicit violence like that to later openly defending his her with his own violence in court when he finds out what she has gone through. The old pro handles it gracefully and I can’t remember if he was nominated for this but he should have been. McDormand is her usual salty self and is excellent, while Sean Bean, an actor who often plays gruff, alpha male badasses is laid back and sensitive as her introvert boyfriend. Watch for great work from Xander Berkeley, Rusty Schwimmer, Corey Stoll, Brad William Henke, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard and Chris Mulkey too.

Director Caro drew huge acclaim for her film Whale Rider a few years before, another story that dealt with a girl trying to find her place in the world and defying the men in her life. Once again this is a fantastic piece that shows her talent for filmmaking, never coming across as too much of a dramatization or too slack when it needs to cut deep. Theron is a force of nature and you can see the hurt, frustration and will to not back down burning in her eyes. This is a tough film to watch in many instances, but an extremely important one to sit through and the type that Hollywood doesn’t usually jump to green-light, at least back then anyways. Something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games

I’ve always enjoyed John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, despite its chilly critical reputation. It’s a sleazy, nihilistic piece of ultra violent, stylized Christmas noir populated by mean, nasty characters who navigate deliciously convoluted plot turns, double crosses and backwoods criminal enterprise. Ben Affleck plays a hapless ex con having the worst Christmas of his life when his attempts to pose as a murdered cellmate (James Frain) and meet up with the guy’s sexy pen pal (Charlize Theron is next level hot in this) don’t quite go as smoothly as envisioned. He unwittingly gets caught up in a botched casino robbery orchestrated by her volatile career criminal brother (Gary Sinise) and his crew of murderous miscreants. This sets in motion an impossibly elaborate parade of shifting loyalties, multiple seductions on Theron’s part, inventive ways to murder people, Santas with guns, shootouts, chases and car explosions. Much of it is admittedly ridiculous and overblown but it’s never not fun, plus the Grinchy, misanthropic attitude and maladjusted vibe is somehow so infectious. Sinise’s merry little gang are brought to life by recognizable character faces like Donal Logue, Clarence Williams III and Danny Trejo, all charismatic and evil to the bone like a bunch of warped Christmas elves. The late great Dennis Farina plays an obstinate casino owner who makes the heist difficult for everyone, and Isaac Hayes has a bizarre cameo as an inmate who thinks there’s monsters in the prison food and causes an almighty ruckus. Affleck is a mopey guttersnipe here, a ‘wrong place wrong time’ sap who learns to cultivate a badass edge and deal with the kind of psychos he’s up against. Sinise is reliably violent and dangerous, but Theron really steals the show as a crafty, manipulative femme fatale whose true nature is cleverly hidden under a smokescreen of faux intentions. This isn’t an especially classy thriller, doesn’t set any new standards or anything, but what it does do is provide a nut punch of lowbrow thrills, lurid melodrama and bloody action to meet your masochistic Yuletide needs. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

John Herzfeld’s 15 Minutes

John Herzfeld’s 15 Minutes is a mean, fucked up movie and I love it’s sketched out, darkly satirical edge, its a ruthless sendup of the media that plays like Network by way of Natural Born Killers. America is the land of opportunity, especially for those with sinister intentions, as two nasty Eastern European criminals (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) find out when they step off the boat in New York and almost immediately begin committing heinous acts of wanton violence and murder, filming it with a cheap camcorder and selling the footage to a tabloid news station run by sleazy anchorman Kelsey Grammar. Robert DeNiro angers it up as an alcoholic, loose cannon homicide cop on the trail of these two lunatics and chasing a bit of limelight for himself. It’s a hopped up, very stylized premise that gets the down n’ dirty, highly lurid treatment and doesn’t have much to put in a positive light, but as a farcical thriller it really works. DeNiro gets reasonable facetime and kills it but isn’t in the showcase arc you’d usually see, while Ed Burns plays an arson investigator (“you’re just a fireman with a badge”) who works alongside him. The real star here is Roden though as the chief baddie, a breakout performance as the worst kind of villain, one who isn’t necessarily after anything but just wants to fuck your shit up real bad for fun and then exploit the joke of a legal system and walk scott free. “I love America, nobody is responsible for what they do” he purrs at Burns, and there’s a stinging grain of truth to that. The cast is killer here with work from Vera Farmiga, Martha Plimpton, Melinda Kanakaredes, David Alan Grier, Anton Yelchin, Avery Brooks, Kim Cattrall, Paul Herman, Ritchie Coster and a cool cameo from Charlize Theron. Don’t expect much of an uplift or positive note anywhere here, it’s a thoroughly ill spirited, maladjusted story, but like the messed up crime scenes these two antagonists drum up simply for exposure, it’s kind of hard not to look away or enjoy yourself through pure morbid fascination alone.

-Nate Hill

Our Lady of Lethal: An Interview with Cynthia Rothrock by Kent Hill

Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock, is an American martial artist and actress who I first encountered in a little movie called Raging Thunder or No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (part of my beloved Seasonal Films Library). From there I followed her through the China O’Brian and Martial Law movies. It is fortuitous that she shares this triple martial arts action extravaganza with Don “The Dragon” Wilson; the pair having shared the screen in a number of Cynthia credits, including The Martial Arts Kid and its forthcoming sequel.

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Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.

It was in her hometown in Northern California in 1983 where she was on the Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Martial Arts Demonstration Team. A Leading Asian Film production company, Golden Harvest, was searching, at this time, in Los Angeles for the next Bruce Lee. Rothrock’s forms and manoeuvres were observed at a demonstration by Golden Harvest and they signed a contract with Cynthia there and then. It was two years (1985) later that she made her first martial arts movie, Yes, Madam (or Police Assassins / In the Line of Duty Part 2) which also starred Michelle Yeoh. Proving to be a box office hit, Cynthia ended up staying in Hong Kong until 1988 doing seven films there.

Rothrock would go on to be one of a handful of western performers who achieved stardom in the Hong Kong film industry, before even achieving success in their own country. Producer Pierre David initiated Rothrock’s move to back to America, offering her a co-starring role with Chad McQueen in Martial Law, Rothrock’s first U.S. production. A ten year successful career in B-grade action movies would follow in movies such as: China O’Brien and China O’Brien 2, Guardian Angel, Honour & Glory, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 and Prince of the Sun amongst a roster of thirty films

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Rothrock appeared in the television film The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion. She was also the inspiration for the video game character Sonya Blade from the game Mortal Kombat, though was given neither credit nor compensation. After the film Sci-Fighter, she retired from acting to teach martial arts at her studio in California. She made her comeback in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and in 2014, she starred in the action movie Mercenaries, (the all-female Expendables) alongside Kristanna Loken, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox and Zoë Bell directed by Chris Olen Ray.

Like her contemporaries of the genre, Cynthia is still going strong, busy with slate of movies either in the works or beginning production. She is dynamic, fearsome and as I’m sure Cynthia will tell you herself . . . she isn’t too old to quit kicking ass yet.

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