Tag Archives: Christian Bale

Mind At War: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Mental Illness

The subject of mental illness is one that’s close and important to me as I myself am one of the afflicted, and it’s impossible to ignore that the treatment of it by Hollywood, particularly in formative years, hasn’t been so apt. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff like Me, Myself & Irene or Split as entertainment but in terms of accurately representing the conditions that beset human beings, they haven’t been so hot. There are those films and filmmakers out there that strive to educate and enlighten or even just to craft an effective thriller or comedy and still stay true to real life, doing important work for the collective awareness and making terrific art/entertainment in one shot. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Geoffrey Sax’s Frankie & Alice

Multiple personality disorders are popular in Hollywood but there’s a tendency to mock, sensationalize or tell a ‘real life’ story that’s later proved as fraud. This one showcases Halle Berry in a galvanizing dual performance as a go-go dancer afflicted by two very different internal identities and finding her life in splinters as a result. When a kind, compassionate psychiatrist (Stellan Skarsgard) makes it his mission to help her get back on track it becomes apparent just how challenging and horrific it must be to endure such a thing.

9. Dito Montiel’s Man Down

I heard this one sold one single theatrical ticket in the UK and didn’t fare much better here, getting squeaked into a quiet streaming release. It’s too bad because it is one haunting drama about PTSD featuring an implosive, incredibly intense performance from Shia LaBeouf as an ex marine who can’t psychologically reconcile his experience and is lost amongst his own trauma. Terrific work from Kate Mara as his wife and Gary Oldman as an army counsellor too.

8. James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

Likely the most accessible and mainstream story on this list, Mangold’s look at a mental care facility for girls in the 60’s gets a superficial rep in some circles but I find it to be every bit the rewarding drama, ensemble piece and explorative journey that those who champion it say. Winona Ryder plays a wayward girl whose self destructive behaviour lands her there but it’s Angelina Jolie as a fellow patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder that both anchors the film and provides it with a wildly unpredictable streak.

7. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

This is of course a big old elaborate mystery film with a gigantic cast, many red herrings, tons of subplots and all kinds of stylistic fanfare. But if you look past all that there’s a harrowing and very realistic portrait of minds irreparably damaged, between Leo Dicaprio’s PTSD afflicted ex soldier and Michelle Williams in a haunting turn as his deeply sick wife. The film overall is a tantalizing guessing game and broadly covers the thriller board but the final act brings it right down to earth for a grounded, grim finale showcasing the brutal honesty of these illnesses and the heart wrenching tragedy they beget.

6. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Robin Williams gives one of his best performances as Parry, a once successful professor of medieval history who lost his mind following the death of his wife and now wanders the streets of NYC, homeless. Jeff Bridges is the radio DJ who befriends and tries to understand him and their relationship carries the film. So to does Gilliam’s knack for surreal visual storytelling, letting these fantastical creations run wild and giving us a glimpse into Parry’s damaged but fascinating mind.

5. Brad Anderson’s The Machinist

Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year. Guilt, extreme weight loss and delusions are just the start of his problems. This is billed as and feels like a thriller but I think that’s deliberate on director Anderson’s part to put us in the hot seat next to Trevor, to make us feel the same paranoia and delusions of persecution he does. The atmosphere here is almost suffocating, the score a muted tangle of busted nerves and Bale’s performance something just this side of unearthly. When it all comes together and we see why he is the way he is it’s deeply sad but makes a kind of terrible sense and gives the film a final stab of emotional weight.

4. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

PTSD is only vaguely hinted at in this beautiful father daughter drama but it’s there in every frame, in every mannerism of Ben Fosters masterful performance. Him and newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie achingly display a family dynamic that has been set off balance by his illness, and the wedge it has driven both between them and between him and ever living a normal life again. This is a restrained yet heartbreaking film that gently unpacks its themes with kindness and compassion, letting a devastating final scene bring the whole point home heavily but somehow lightly in the same note.

3. David Cronenberg’s Spider

Ralph Fiennes give a focused, intense turn as the titular individual, a man released from a mental care facility and relegated to a London halfway house where all the scrambled and tumultuous memories of his past come tumbling down through the scattered web of his broken mind and into the present. Recollections of his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) are somehow shrouded from himself, by himself and as he tirelessly works to regain his sanity, he slips further away from it. Cronenberg uses shadows, dimly lit alleys and creaky, barren rooms to show how this character has been cast away from his own perception and wanders about like a lost soul.

2. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy

The life and times of Beach Boys pioneer Brian Wilson are explored here, namely at two important junctures in his life. Paul Dano plays him younger, at the height of fame and success but poised on the cusp of a psychotic breakdown after stress and an unhealthy relationship with his abusive father (Bill Camp) reach a fever pitch. Decades later John Cusack embodies a much older Wilson, stuck under the tyrannical yoke of an evil, manipulative psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) until he meets the love of his life (Elizabeth Banks) and a chance at a fresh start along with her. The scene of Dano putting recording headphones over his ears and closing his eyes in horror as he hears voices is one of the most brutally honest and realistic depictions of auditory hallucinations you can find in film. Wilson had a rough life and the film makes that very clear but it’s never ever sensationalist or exploitive and overall has a message about love, light and working endlessly to overcome any demons or struggles thrown into your path.

1. Kasi Lemmons’ The Caveman’s Valentine

Samuel L. Jackson gives a career best as schizophrenic former musician Romulus, a man afflicted by terrible hallucinations and delusions to the point that when he discovers a genuine murder conspiracy no one, including his police officer daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) believes him. This film is driven by a fascinating mystery narrative that takes Romulus from his cave in Central Park into the pretentious New York art world and beyond to find a killer. At heart though director Lemmons let’s it m be a serious minded exploration of what it must be like to live like that, to be constantly sabotaged by your own mind. Jackson’s brilliant performance and Lemmons effective use of surreal, mesmerizing imagery give us a compassionate, dynamic window into this man’s mind and in turn a unique, thought provoking piece of cinema.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

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Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

The Man behind The Dark Knight rises by Kent Hill

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How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.

I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’  by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.

But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.

Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.

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Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.

All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.

Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…

 

https://www.hulu.com/press/show/batman-and-bill/

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1360261187749/batman-and-bill (for Aussie viewers only)

https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Boy-Wonder-Secret-Co-Creator/dp/1580892892

 

David Ayer’s Harsh Times

David Ayer’s Harsh Times sees Christian Bale in a character study of extreme dysfunction and maladjusted anger, it’s a tough, bitter film to watch but one that leaves a firebrand in its wake, for better or worse. Bale plays Jim, an Iraqi war vet who has come back stateside so internally fucked up and damaged that he can barely hold down a job or keep up steady relationships with anyone that don’t teeter towards self destruction. He spends his days meandering around the outskirts of LA with Mike (Freddy Rodriguez), his partner in petty crime and apprentice in all things spiteful and misanthropic, much to the dismay of Mike’s much more successful girlfriend (Eva Longoria). Jim is both psychologically broken and emotionally untethered, a dangerous combination if left unchecked, and the downward spiral of violence, drugs and antisocial behaviour he slides into is a sad, pitiable thing to see. Did Jim have an affinity for criminal activities before the war, or did his experience change him into the man he is now? What and where is the causality, if any? Where do the lines blur? Ayer keeps it close to the chest, but the clues are all there in Bale’s measured, incendiary performance that may be his best so far. Sparks of vitality still shine through, as when he shows interest in a job with the Bureau (JK Simmons has a great cameo as the chief interviewer), but even with that he causes corrosive friction, perhaps unintentionally. It’s a blistering character study of a guy whose environment has turned him hard, until he goes against the grain almost by second nature and circles a drain that was a long time coming and from which there is probably no escape. Mixed up with a whole bunch of the wrong kind of people from gangbangers to prolific drug runners, this film sees Jim hit the end of his road,. Both Bale and Ayer make it something powerful to watch, if miserable too.

-Nate Hill

After the Apocalypse: A Conversation with Barry Hunt by Kent Hill

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There are too few films in this day and age that leave you with something to ponder in the wake of experiencing them. But, The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule in No-Man’s Land is, I’m pleased to report – does not fall into that category.

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As I remarked to its gentleman director – Barry Hunt – I found myself thinking to the influences which drove his artistic choices and compositions. I found traces of Herzog, Annaud, Jodorowsky – even Samuel Beckett.

For you see, this ain’t your typical day in the wake of the devastation of the world as we know it. Mr. Hunt has crafted here a sublime and visual feast that is as deep as it is vast. I found myself recalling films like Quest for Fire, Aguirre and Holy Mountain – even the lost children scenes from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

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One of the founders of the Sowelu Theatre in Portland , Oregon, Hunt has taken this intriguing, theatrical source material and constructed a film which is at once engaging and thought-provoking. And you can’t tell me there are too many films about which offer these sensations anymore. From the opening scene, to the world after the fall, Anse and Bhule also brought back to me the emotions evoked by McCarthy’s The Road. Both are absorbing journeys in which the characters we follow must shed, if you will, their emotional and even physical ties to all they have known. Then and only then can they truly become creatures of the new age, thrust upon them.

I urge you to seek this film out, and prepare yourself for a profound cinematic experience. The burgeoning cinema of Barry Hunt I eagerly anticipate. He has a new film in the spawning, and I have a feeling it will, just as Anse and Bhule did, exceed my expectations while completely stripping them away.

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https://vimeo.com/107316810

I present a fresh and brave new voice in the service of pure cinema. I give you, Barry Hunt.

 

THE RIDDLE OF STEEL with Matt Greenberg & Kent Hill

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Matt Greenberg returns, and after the most excellent first time round it was never a question of if, but when. Matt is, of course, not only a cool cat but a talented screenwriter (Reign of Fire, 1408). In our first interview (which you’ll find here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/01/13/writing-with-fire-an-interview-with-matthew-greenberg-by-kent-hill/) we discussed his career, the highs and lows – basically his adventures in the screen trade.

This time round I really had no plan, and I find that makes for the best interviews, cause, man, it can go anywhere. I love his unfiltered take on the epicenter of the film industry, his encounters with certain movie town luminaries, his hilarious CliffsNotes on the status of the latest cinema fodder, and his seeds of wisdom when we’re talking shop.

From possible titles for Meatloaf’s next album to O.J. Simpson, to the best idea I’ve ever heard for a reality TV series, Matt and I don’t just shoot the breeze, we gleefully fire and Uzi into the clear blue sky and I hope you’ll delight, as I do, with what hits the ground.

So for luck, for laughs, for the unknown, join us now, me and my mate Matt as we sit down again. And don’t worry – we also talk about movies…

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is beautifully shot, competently staged, well produced, acted and scored, but there’s a certain depth, development and complexity lacking, and I lay the blame on script, which seems a little south of the polished stage, with one foot still rooted in the blueprint phase. It’s a shame because the actors are game to give the film all they’ve got, but the script handed to them just isn’t on par with their efforts. Christian Bale is implosive as ever in one of his best performances as Blocker, a decorated civil war vet who has spent a great portion of his career heavily involved in the war and genocide against Native American tribes, and as such has become a hard, mean and brittle tempered creature. It’s fascinating to observe how someone like him, who does have a decent soul deep down, can be turned so backwards and hateful in circumstances like that, another theme the film doesn’t quite follow through with. Blocker is tasked with one last mission before semi-early retirement: Escort legendary Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi, excellent as ever) and his kin from Arizona back to his home in Montana to live out his remaining years. Blocker bristles at the thought, but when his salty superior officer (Stephen Lang) threatens his pension, he begrudgingly saddles up. The film then showcases their journey, several hardships and skirmishes they find themselves in, all to fertilize the eventual bond and understanding formed between the two groups and their decision to work as a unit, and even respect each other. Here’s the problem: the script isn’t deep or thoughtful enough to make any of these arcs believable. The Native characters are painfully underdeveloped, particularly Yellow Hawk’s son and his wife, played by Adam Beach and Qorianka Kilcher, two actors more than capable of handing in great work when the material comes their way. The one thing that does work and is probably the best quality that film has is a character played by Rosamund Pike, a frontier farmer whose entire family is slaughtered by vicious Comanches in the film’s arresting opening scene. She joins Bale’s company, and Pike plays her with harrowing sadness, terrifying vengeful poise and gives one of the most realistic, un-cinematic portraits of grief I’ve ever seen. Come awards season next year, she should be a front runner. The film almost doesn’t deserve her sterling subplot, but it does it’s best, and reaches some heights here and there. Bale’s company is played by a reliable troupe including upright Jesse Plemons, melancholic Rory Cochrane and grizzled Peter Mullan. Also appearing is western veteran Scott Wilson in a brutal last minute cameo, always nice to see him still in the game. There’s an unbalanced focus between the soldiers and the natives, who I wanted to learn more about but were left as mainly tagalong bystanders with scant dialogue. When Bale’s arc reaches it’s final stages, I felt slightly cheated by everything that came before: I didn’t quite believe that what he’d been through was enough to sway over two decades of hate and prejudice, and once again the fault lies with script. A little more care, preparation and editing could have turned this from a good film into one for the ages.

-Nate Hill