Tag Archives: Christopher Nolan

Remembering Robin Williams: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Robin Williams left us five years ago this week, and out of all the celebrities, actors and entertainers who have passed on, his absence is still the one I feel most. So what made him so special? For me it was the way he could cut so deep in both serious and comic performances. When he showed up in the room the energy turned light and carefree as the zany, untethered forces of his improvisation and imagination took over like a gentle breeze. Then when it was time to rein it in for a more serious, introspective scene he would be less effervescent but the light in his eyes wouldn’t dim, the focus wouldn’t falter and he’d demonstrate his equally brilliant talent for heartbreaking drama as well. He could carry an entire film on his own, light up a supporting role and even make a cameo glimmer through to become memorable. In looking back I’d like to highlight the ten performances that are most personal, most memorable and mean the most to me as someone who grew up watching him on the TV all the time, idolized and loved him dearly. Enjoy!

10. Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Viet Nam

No other scenario requires a much needed sense of humour like the fog of war, but Williams’s rebellious spirit isn’t received well by the brass in Nam, yet he makes it clear that a good dose of verbal comedy is exactly what the airwaves need in this case. It’s a no holds barred performance with some touching emotional notes and plenty of slotted time to let loose behind a radio DJ’s mic.

9. Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia

Cast against type as the freaky villain of Nolan’s chilly murder mystery, he channels a Stephen King style energy in playing a slippery antagonist set against Alaska’s grey skies and at odds with Al Pacino’s sharp but distraught homicide cop. Williams is somehow constantly likeable yet creepy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on until the third act rolls around and he really lets it rip.

8. Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Mental illness gets a ballistic but tender portrayal in Gilliam’s urban fantasy that sees Robin as a former professor of medieval history who loses his mind following a tragedy. Surreal production design helps his work flow but the raw potency is all his in a performance that brings down the house, brings out the best in both Gilliam and Jeff Bridges and shows how a mind broken isn’t necessarily one lost forever.

7. The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

I’m pretty sure all of the Genie’s dialogue wasn’t even scripted off the bat, I think they just sat Williams down in front of a voiceover mic each morning, gave him a general outline and then slowly backed away out of the room to observe the magic happen. The result is a nostalgic blast of a vocal performance that so many hold dear and one of the most quotable Disney characters of all time.

6. Alan Parrish in Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Infusing childlike wonder is something he was always good at, and it served well here in playing a guy who has been trapped inside a deadly jungle themed board game since he was a kid. His chemistry with Bonnie Hunt is funny and touching, his feral mania upon being finally released from the game into 90’s suburbia is hilarious and the interaction with young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce makes for a dynamic character that I always love to revisit.

5. Philip Brainard in Disney’s Flubber

Williams plays an incarnation of the absent minded professor archetype in Disney’s unfairly dismissed comedy. In a film whose star is a rambunctious pile of ever morphing charismatic green goo, trust Williams to defy that description and upstage the Flubber itself with his own wild, inspired performance. But he also gets surprisingly deep when lamenting: “I’ve spent my whole life out there trying to figure how the world works when I should have been trying to figure out *why* it works..” it’s a disarming line to hear him intone in a heartfelt manner from a Disney film, but that’s why I love this one so much.

4. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting

Mentor, friend and advisor to Matt Damon’s prodigal kid, Williams imparts wisdom in clear eyed fashion here as an extremely down to earth fellow faced with an extraordinary situation. His mid film monologue to Damon won him a best supporting Oscar, but the moment that captures this character’s spirit most beautifully is when he wistfully remembers his wife who passed away, and injects some humour into the conversation that was purely Robin’s improvisation and as a result hits the scene home.

3. Rainbow Randolph in Danny Devito’s Death To Smoochy

Devito’s venomous farce of children’s media is a criminally undervalued and quite terrific film, and Williams goes into full on nut-bar mode as a disgraced kiddie show host who never should have been let on the air to begin with. Trying to kill Edward Norton’s beloved rhino Smoochy in between bouts of rage, flagrant insecurity and maniacal mood swings, it’s an incredibly ballsy, thoroughly R rated and absolutely hysterical piece of black comedy performance art not to be missed.

2. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire

The lengths that loving father Williams goes to in order to see the children he lost custody of here would be horror movie material in any other actor’s hands, but because Robin was so adept at both wacky innovation, disguises and genuine heartfelt explanations for such behaviour, the result is both magical and realistic. The restaurant scene alone is time capsule worthy, in which Hillard has to multitask and hop in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire suit rapid fire to both have a family dinner and entertain a scotch swilling TV exec (Robert Prosky).

1. Chris Nielsen in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

A gorgeous fantasy film showcases Robin in his most deeply felt and affecting performance as a man who has lost everything including his own life. He ventures out across the afterlife through heaven, hell and beyond to find his wife and soulmate (Annabella Sciorra) and save her. Williams portrays celestial determination like no other and a fierce, passionate love for her that shines like a beacon through realms of the astral plane and lights up the film in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy and hold Robin’s work as dear as I do, and have enjoyed my thoughts here.

-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

 

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar

Many films are ambitious enough to reach for the stars, but Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar reaches for them and then plunges headlong past them into the universe’s vast infinitude to grasp ideas and tell a story that challenges intellect, stirs emotion and dazzles in the way a thinking person’s SciFi film should. I suppose it’s impossible for me to pick a favourite Nolan film as they are all pretty much solidified classics for me, but if you asked me which one stood out without necessarily labelling it as my top pick, I’d point towards this one. There’s a few key areas in which the filmmaker tries to make a deliberate departure from the style he has become known for, chief among them being just how based in emotion this story is. From Rachel and Bruce in The Dark Knight to Cobb and Mal in Inception there’s always been something of a heartfelt element to his work, but here the relationship between intrepid astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his daughter Murphy, played throughout the years by Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn and the fantastic Mackenzie Foy who is the youngest actor in the film but gives the most soulful work, is really something that anchors the film every step of the way. The relationship between father and daughter here is a connection that transcends time, space, the stars and laws of the universe itself or at least in the way we comprehend them, and while many scoffed at these themes from Nolan and rolled their eyes, I found it to be one of the most powerful things in any film he’s done. Interstellar is bursting with ideas, glimmering special effects and dedicated performances, starting with Matt and Mackenzie and going on down through the ranks with supporting star power from Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, William Devane, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, David Oweleyo with standout work from Bill Irwin as the witty, loyal robot TARS and John Lithgow as Cooper’s salty earthbound stepfather. Nolan plumbs the inky vacuum of space for visual grandeur and vast, stunning set pieces including a planet with roaming tidal waves, a breathtaking ice world and a hair raising docking scene as their ship rotated furiously through space, his sense of scope is incredible and the blend of practical effects vs CGI is a seamless ballet amongst the stars, few films feel as tactile and spacious. As much as he is about the fireworks here, ultimately his focus lies on the intimate as well, with love being explored as more than just a biological function and more like a cosmic field of energy that has laws, boundaries and the same strengths as any other element. Cooper travels through a wormhole and to galaxies so far beyond our own that time seems to have no meaning, but that does nothing to shake the bond he has with his daughter, and this is where the film is so effective. He’s out there trying to find new worlds and sustain the human race, no doubt, but to him it’s Murphy, their connection and the forces which hold it together that ultimately keep him going and win the day. All the elements work to reinforce this throughout the film, with Hathaway’s yearning for the lost astronaut she loves and even Damon’s nefarious self love that leads him to acts that although are horrible, come from an emotional place. Hans Zimmer’s totally unique original score also has a heartfelt undercurrent, usually his work, and especially in Nolan’s films, has a heavily punctuated, thunderously orchestral style but here he’s traded that in for a softer, much more melodic piece that legitimately sounds like galaxies unfolding all around the viewer and has a deep longing behind every twinkling electronic tone. A blockbuster with brains, big ideas and plenty of action, but also with heart and feeling to back it up and fuel this voyage to the stars. One of Nolan’s absolute best, and one of the most brilliant science fiction films we will likely ever see on the big screen.

-Nate Hill

Best of 2017 Megacast!

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Frank, Tim, and Nate gather together to discuss this year’s Oscar nominations and then get into what they thought should have been nominated, running down their own top ten best pictures, and also giving their top five in each category. We will taking a week off and then we’ll be back with a vengeance with our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast!

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate Hill

One Bloody Good Actor: An Interview with Steve Le Marquand by Kent Hill

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Steve is a top bloke, he’s an Aussie, he’s a top Aussie bloke. He hails from Western Australia but after spending some years on the road and gathering valuable life experience, he found his way over to Sydney where he took up his apprenticeship studying performing arts – an apprenticeship, Steve will tell you, is still going on.

Early in an acting career, beggars can’t be choosers, so Steve took a stab at just about anything that came his way. One of his launching pads was a, determined after the fact, rather sacrilegious commercial in which The Last Supper had, or was depicted as having, a rather different outcome from that set down in the biblical text.

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It, though removed from television, got him some notice and a part in the Australian cult hit Two Hands in which Steve starred and began a friendship with fellow Perth-born actor, the late Heath Ledger. It was radically different from the films being made locally at the time and also launched the career of Rose Byrne (Troy, X-Men: First Class).

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He was disgruntled and ready to throw in the towel on his career when, unexpectedly, a big Hollywood movie came knocking at his door. The film was Vertical Limit, directed by Bond and Zorro director Martin Campbell and starring Scott Glenn and the late Bill Paxton among others. Steve was one half of a two man comedic relief package in the film alongside Ben Mendelsohn who would go on to international fame and appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and next year you’ll see him in Ernest Cline’s big screen version of Ready Player One, directed by Steven Spielberg.

From those high snowy mountains in New Zealand (where Vertical Limit was filmed), Steve has since enjoyed a long a fruitful career in film, television and his first stomping ground, the theatre. He remains a humble, salt-of -the-earth sort of fella who calls it like it is and won’t act in something that he himself wouldn’t be interesting in watching.

In an era when most of our country’s talent is swept across the pond with the promise of maximum exposure and ridiculous amounts of money, Steve has stayed, content to be an actor who is allowed the freedom to collaborate fully on the projects he chooses to be a part of.

He is a man of many parts, a teller of great and funny tales from a life and career spent being just what he is: A bloody good actor.

So, put your hands to together, for Steve Le Marquand…