Tag Archives: christopher plummer

Indie Gems: Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic

Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic is a stunning independent drama that, despite a ridiculously prolific cast, ultimately slipped through the cracks into obscurity. It’s well worth hunting down to see four seasoned professionals as the top of their game in telling the story of various characters dealing with the lingering horrors of the Holocaust, both directly and indirectly. Susan Sarandon plays a Canadian woman sometime in the 80’s who survived a concentration camp at a very young age, and has invited two fellow survivors (Max Von Sydow & Gabriel Byrne) to a reunion at her house in the Quebec countryside where they will reconnect after decades of separation following a tragically abrupt parting from each other and will have the chance to meet her much older husband (Christopher Plummer) and their son (Roy Dupuis). It’s a pleasant, cathartic enough reunion but the collective scars they share from enduring such a horrific phase of their lives are apparent in each of them, in different ways. Byrne’s quiet, introspective character has buried his trauma under a cloak of calm, Von Sydow deliberately tried to forget using electroshock therapy, while Sarandon herself has obsessively documented, scrapbooked and reflected on their past very openly over the years to employ her own process. Plummer’s character is the outsider, having never gone through what they did and starts the film off in a sort of cavalier, borderline insensitive way until the grave reality of what his wife and her friends have suffered through hits home and he becomes more compassionate. All of the performances are absolutely magnificent and I really wish more people were able to see this moving film because each of these actors provide showcase work and should be very proud. If you are lucky enough to find a DVD, please ignore the misleading, stupid Hallmark style artwork and silly alternate title (Autumn Hearts, are you kidding me? Lol) because it’s as if the distribution company didn’t even watch the film and just did whatever the hell they wanted. This is not a sappy, syrupy film at all, it’s a deep, thoughtful, challenging interpersonal drama that stirs the soul in a realistic fashion without cheap manipulation. Highly recommended, wonderful hidden gem of a film.

-Nate Hill

Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner

If you think Billy Bob Thornton was a Bad Santa wait until you see Christopher Plummer in The Silent Partner, he gives him a run for his money and then some as a psychopathic, profoundly evil criminal who hits a Toronto bank for all its worth disguised as the local mall Santa. Only problem is, shrewd bank teller Elliot Gould realizes he’s going to do it while he’s still casing the joint, steals all the cash for himself minutes before the hit, and thinks he’s got away with it. Plummer is also a smart dude here and not the kind of fellow you want to pull a stunt like that on, soon he comes around looking for the money he believes to rightfully be his and so ensues a vicious game of cat, mouse and morally bankrupt working professional as these two individuals, one not particularly likeable and the other downright abhorrent, battle each other for the prize. Two girls are involved with both of them, confused fellow bank teller Susannah York and French Canadian femme fatale Céline Lolez but they end up being more collateral damage in the narrative than anything else. So… this film has a huge cult following, glowing reputation and overall hype surrounding it and I wish I could fully get onboard with that, but I just wasn’t as taken by it as many seem to have been. I liked it, I didn’t love it. Let’s start with the film’s strongest asset: Christopher goddamn Plummer. The man goes fully into bizarro world here to play this character, and the guy is a villain for the ages. Heinously violent, gruesomely misogynistic, volcanically volatile, decked out in super femme eyeshadow and heaps of mascara and decorated with bangles of silver bling on every limb, he’s a flamboyantly nasty piece of work and steals the film, whether he’s being an evil Santa or showing up in drag which he gets to do later on. Gould plays his bank teller as very intelligent but also very awkward and somehow stilted in expression and line delivery, I couldn’t really get a sense of his character beyond stoic idiosyncrasy and I feel like he’s an actor who perhaps didn’t find his groove until later in his career when he appeared in stuff like Ocean’s 11, where he’s far more engaging and charismatic than this younger incarnation. Roger Ebert raved about this one being a taut, clockwork tight narrative and I kind of feel different.. the first and third acts are terrifically suspenseful, exciting and ruthless but the film’s midsection wastes a lot of runtime on languid romantic subplots featuring the two girls that don’t add much overall, don’t feel believable with a guy as odd as Gould’s character having that much game with the ladies and bog the narrative momentum down quite a bit. Still, when the film is in its highest gear it’s quite a mean machine, especially when Plummer has anything to say or do about it, which he does. Careful with this one if you’re sensitive about violence towards women, there’s a couple sequences that push the envelope on that just about are far as you can go (even by 1978 standards) and are tough to watch. I found this to be a good if not great suspense thriller with some very well done set pieces and plot turns, and one truly despicable turn from Plummer, who is also playing very against type and loving it. Not as much of a gem for me as it was for a lot of others, but definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Remembering Christopher Plummer: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Classically trained, unbelievably versatile, unmatched in charisma, Christopher Plummer was an acting titan of the highest order and there will never be another like him after his passing on this week. He could play snarky politicians, compassionate fathers, romantic leads, Machiavellian arch-villains and real world figures with class, nobility and always a good dose of humour. His trademark half smile and gleaming eyes and impossibly capable line delivery made him one of my absolute treasured actors, and I’d like to share with you my personal top ten performances of his in cinema! Enjoy..

10. Abraham Van Helsing in Dracula 2000

I’ve always loved this modern reiteration of the Dracula myth with a very effective Gerard Butler in the title role. Christopher makes a stately, badass and solemn Van Helsing and looks damn good carrying around a crossbow too.

9. Mr. Massie in Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

This is essentially a bedridden, dementia addled cameo as some senile old bastard that Dennis Quaid goes to for information, but his work here always felt downright chilling to me. Between bouts of confusion and barking out for the “chocolate cherries” in his bedside drawer, we get a sense of the volcanically abusive, powerfully evil man Massie once must have been, and Christopher makes deft, diabolical work of a very quick appearance.

8. Bob Blair in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This visually delicious 80’s SciFi sees Plummer play a scheming, war mongering politician, a cold hearted, seditious prick and the last kind of person you’d want in a position of power. He relishes the role while staying restrained yet always vaguely threatening.

7. David Winters in Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic

This little seen yet star studded Canadian drama is a wonderful piece about Holocaust survivors, families joining up and time healing hurt, or at least doing its best. Christopher is the odd one out here as his younger wife (Susan Sarandon) rekindles bonds with two fellow prisoners (Max Von Sydow & Gabriel Byrne) who also escaped concentration camps. His character is blustery and initially impatient with these healing people as he’s never experienced anything like that but as time goes he softens, it’s a wonderful arc in a very underrated film.

6. Doctor Parnassus in Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

Gilliam delivers a reliably mind boggling visual experience with a troubled production and a boisterous, drunken yet commanding lead role from Plummer as a sort of travelling gypsy magician extraordinaire who regularly has conversations with the Devil himself (Tom Waits) and fights fiercely to protect his young daughter (Lily Cole).

5. Harlan Thrombey in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out

It’s ironic that his character here spends much of the film dead when Christopher actually gives the liveliest performance of a very large ensemble cast. Harlan is an aging horror novelist who suspects each and every one of his family of mutiny and trusts only his young nurse (Ana De Armas). His work here is utterly hilarious, injecting stinging, self aware gallows humour into the role and thoroughly stealing every damn scene.

4. Henrik Vanger in David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Henrik is the character who essentially sets the gears of the central mystery in motion here, a tortured patriarch haunted by the memory of a missing daughter he couldn’t save. He captures the hurt, desperation and refusal to give up the search excellently.

3. Hal in Mike Mills’ Beginners

Some people reach the most important decisions and realizations later on in life, as we see with Hal, a man who was married for four decades before coming out as gay to his son (Ewan McGregor) and subsequently finding out that he’s terminally ill. Christopher is loving, warm, playful and full of life in the role that earned him his Oscar.

2. Mike Wallace in Michael Mann’s The Insider

This is a towering portrayal of 60 Minutes producer and media mogul Wallace around the time his network hushed up an expose on big tobacco. His palpable outrage and righteous fury are truly something to behold, especially when he verbally debases a smug junior executive (Gina Gershon) who doesn’t show him proper respect.

1. Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music

This is the crown jewel performance for me. This was the first film I *ever* saw in cinema, and I was so young I knew Captain Von Trapp before I even knew he was played by an actor called Christopher Plummer. A harsh militaristic man, he has been turned somewhat cold and distant by the death of his wife and the ominous turn of the political tide in his country, until Julie Andrew’s Maria arrives to change all that and awaken in him the compassionate, romantic and morally steadfast man he always was but lost sight of. Christopher handles this arc with utmost class, charm and gravitas, and some of my earliest, fondest memories are of him singing Edelweiss, his fierce refusal to bend to Hitler’s incoming agenda and the tender moonlit scene where he and Maria catch their first real feels for each other. He will be missed by me more than I can say.

-Nate Hill

Atom Agoyan’s Remember

Atom Agoyan’s Remember is a totally uneven film that teeters dangerously on the line between earnest, emotional drama and lurid, shock value thriller. It yanks the rug out from under the audience violently and overall isn’t perfect.. but damn if I don’t admire the sheer balls in trying to pull off a story this unorthodox, a narrative so weird that I could almost picture it happening for real. Christopher Plummer gifts a tricky role with a brilliant performance here as Zev, a Holocaust survivor living in an Ontario retirement home who embarks on a personal journey to track down the Nazi commandant responsible for the murder of many of his community decades before. Only problem is, Zev suffers from pretty severe dementia and needs to be coached over phone correspondence by his pal Max (Martin Landau) who is back at the home. This is a risky endeavour for many reasons; his dementia and age make moving about and tracking down identities and records long lost to time very difficult, and plus he was never supposed to even leave the home unsupervised so his kid (Henry Czerny) is subsequently also trying to find him and bring him back. He meets many along his journey and there’s an excellent supporting cast including Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris and Jürgen Prochnow. Aside from all the hurdles I mentioned above that Zev must endure, there’s a dark secret hovering over the proceedings, a hidden bit of poison knowledge that literally upends the narrative and it is at this point some viewers will decide this isn’t what they’d call a good film and has shit the bed, which I find totally understandable and wouldn’t fault anyone for doing so. The film asks a *lot* of the viewer in accepting such a turn of events as plausible, concise and even in good taste and while I don’t want to get into the specifics of it or say whether I personally think it ruins or brightens up the film, I will say that it certainly provides a fascinating, horrifying and altogether chilling third act that, like the film’s title beckons you to do, I Remember to this day. Perhaps that’s better than going the generic dramatic route, unboxing the Kleenex and cloying for overdone emotional resonance, which this film certainly does not. You decide for yourself.

-Nate Hill

Terence Malick’s The New World

Terence Malick’s The New World is less a straightforward historical epic and more a lyrical tone poem, treatise on nature and introspection on love put to the rest that just happens to be based around the celebrated story of Pocahontas. This is a more honest, blunt version of that than Disney or anyone else has told, full of war, tension, the unease of separation and clashing of British Royal Navy and indigenous tribes in the early days of Virginia. But despite the heavy notes within this story, Malick and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use light, shadow, foliage and atmospheric tenderness to make this one of the most visually beautiful, romantically yearning pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever experienced. Colin Farrell is rough, uncultured and mutinous as Smith, far removed from the pretty boy Disney version, arriving in America basically in a cage for his troubles at the hands of no nonsense Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer). Q’orianka Kilcher is a radiant revelation as Pocahontas, no singing or animal sidekicks here, just a reverent, independent free spirit whose path crosses with that of Smith’s for a realistic, earnestly developed romance that shirks the standards of Hollywood and cuts right to what is essential. We see them teach each other language both verbal and body, explore each other’s hopes and beliefs and meander around the beautiful glades, meadows and rain hushed fields of a harmoniously untouched natural landscape. Trouble inevitably comes as harsh winters, famine and unrest between the settlers and natives escalates, and the film becomes intense and sorrowful but never sensationalistic or manipulative. Obviously us in this century know the sad trajectory that discovering this new land would send the indigenous tribes into and its no doubt terrible but this particular group of people have no idea. There are hints of atrocity on the horizon but everything is so new for both sides it proves a meditative process of discovery, conflict and great change for all. Malick amasses a typically stunning cast as usual with work from David Thewlis, a fleeting Christian Bale, Jonathan Pryce, August Schellenberg, Wes Studi, Yorick Van Wageningen, Raoul Trujillo, Michael Greyeyes, Ben Mendelsohn, Noah Taylor, Ben Chaplin, Eddie Marsan and a half mad John Savage. James Horner was known for sweeping orchestral work but his score here is light, ponderous, dreamy and joyously brings the film to life like a sunrise on the sea, it’s his ‘departure from signature style’ score like Zimmer’s work on Interstellar and it’s one of my favourite of his compositions. His work, Lubezki’s photography, Malick’s studious devotion to nature and humanity’s place within it are in full rapturous display for every sense to absorb, and the core of it rests with Farrell and Kilcher’s brilliant pair of performances and deeply heartfelt romance of few words spoken out loud but all the emotion in the universe in their glances, mannerisms and graceful symbiosis together. An incredibly personal, very special film for me and tied as my favourite Malick alongside Tree Of Life.

-Nate Hill

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out

The coolest thing about Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, besides the lavish production design and the fact that the lovely M. Emmett Walsh is *still working* at his age, is it’s epic takedown of wealth, status and the deep seated delusion that goes hand in hand with being born into a rich family. That is, of course, not readily apparent until the stinging but satisfying final shot of the film and I can’t say much because this is the last thing you’d want spoiled going in, but the message is there, delicately wrapped up in a package of intricate plotting, beautiful set artistry and a whole ton of deadpan humour from a dense, scene stealing cast.

Celebrated mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has been found dead, apparently by suicide. His raucous, dysfunctional family gathers to pay respects but it’s clear after a scene or two that this is a shady pack of wolves all out for the fortune he left behind. Southern gentleman investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) “suspects foul play “ and so begins a whirligig of a search for truth, secrets and an elusive alleged killer who is naturally closer to home than anyone might suspect, except those who already know a thing or two. Thrombey’s family is played by a well rounded, eclectic bunch including Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Katherine Langford, Chris Evans and a flat out hilarious Don Johnson. Rising star Ana De Armas is terrific as Harlan’s maid and confidante, a hard worker from some South American country that none of the family seem to be able to recall properly, highlighting their bemused selfishness and aloof nature further.

This is for sure a murder mystery and there is a serpentine narrative that does eventually arrive at a satisfactory conclusion but the whodunit aspect wasn’t as elaborate or lengthy as I was expecting. For me the enjoyment here came from these movie stars mugging for genuine laughs in a spoof of bickering families that is so dead on I felt like I was at Christmas dinner with my clan. These folks just can’t get it together or coexist and it provides come priceless exchanges of dialogue. There’s also a compassionate undercurrent between Armas and Plummer too, who between them give the two finest performances of the film, full of adorable camaraderie and flippant gallows humour. I can’t say much but the film serves to iterate and literally illustrate through circumstances that it doesn’t matter how many silver spoons you’re born with shoved up your ass or what kind of background you come from, you really only have claim to what you earn through hard work, be it laborious, interpersonal or other. I like that compassion and understanding woven into a film like this, it gives the Clue board a soul. Oh and I’ll also add that Daniel Craig has an absolute fucking one man party as Blanc who is an endlessly watchable, quaintly verbose delight and I love seeing him in eccentric roles that breach the surface of his cold, detached 007 persona. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Intruder Alert: Nate’s Top Ten Home Invasion Thrillers

Lock the doors, bolt the windows and load that shotgun, because someone’s out there and they want in. There’s something primal and terrifying about a good home invasion thriller, a certain violation felt in the act of unwanted visitors breaching the sacred perimeter of one’s homestead. Be it burglars, psychopaths, serial killers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, no one likes the sanctity of their dwelling encroached upon and the premise alone has made for some really fun, often scary and always exciting films, my top ten of which are as follows:

10. Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

These days there’s a new Nicolas Cage flick for every day of the week, and you have to tread carefully through the proverbial minefield of shit nuggets. This is a sleek, solid thriller in the tradition of 90’s Hollywood programmers and provides serviceable excitement. Cage and Nicole Kidman are an upper class couple whose lavish mansion is invaded by a trio of nasty, violent criminals played by Dash Mihok (always awesome), Cam Gigandet (I know he sucks so bad but he’s the only weak link here) and Ben Mendelsohn who rocks the house as always. Who are these guys? What do they want? The fun is in finding out and watching Cage and his family evade these dangerous loonies while trying to stay alive.

9. Joseph Ruben’s Penthouse North

Another 90’s genre throwback, this one sees blind artist Michelle Monaghan facing off against psychopathic jewel thief Michael Keaton, who hid a diamond in her spacious Manhattan loft apartment years ago and wants it back. Monaghan is always terrific and overlooked as an actress, whenever she scores a lead role I’m first in line for tickets. Keaton tends to nail the diabolical villain part because his upfront affability is so disarming that one feels true shock when he abruptly shifts to volatile nastiness. This was tied with Mike Flanagan’s Hush for a spot on the list and while that one is terrific too, I felt that due to the extreme obscurity and overlooked status of Penthouse North that it needed some love.

8. Michael Dunstan’s The Collector

A very unique horror film in which an ex con decides to rob the country estate of his wealthy employer, with a small crew. But someone else has also targeted the house on the same night, basically the last dude you want to be stuck alone with in a closed off environment. It’s a stylish, spooky mashup of Saw, Home Alone and Mouse Trap with a dark palette, some spectacularly gory sequences and a villain you won’t soon forget.

7. James DeMonaco’s The Purge

While the overall concept of the purge is better explored and elaborated on more in the sequels, this first one still works as a horror thriller and dishes out some great suspense, not to mention believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. It’s also fun watching Hawke’s reportedly foolproof home security system get slowly breached by the preppy psycho brats that have decided to target them.

6. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

This whacked out funhouse of a flick starts with one home invasion that’s a brash, routine burglary and evolves into another that is subtle, psychological and terrifying. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are the couple who receives help from Ray Liotta’s friendly cop following the burglary, but then he gets a bit *too* friendly. Taking a keen, perverse interest in Stowe, he latches himself onto their lives and eventually becomes violent and unstable in this harrowing tale of one officer of the law who forgot about protecting and serving.

5. Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

It’s kind of an unconventional choice for a home invasion flick, but the vibe is technically there and I’ve always really liked it and found it to be unfairly bashed. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move their kids (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) to a creaky old mansion in the countryside for some rest and readjusting. Scary local redneck Stephen Dorff grew up there though, and he isn’t quite ready to move on, let alone watch another family set up camp and start renovating. So begins a relentless series of stalker moves, creep out moments and serious violations of privacy that start to turn violent. It’s essentially a pretty predictable Hollywood thriller but the spooky rural atmosphere is something I’ve always liked and you get a cool Christopher Plummer cameo too.

4. Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours

One of Cimino’s less celebrated films is a remake of an oldie with Humphrey Bogart about three murderous burglars who take a suburban family hostage. Here the lead criminal is Mickey Rourke, the family patriarch Anthony Hopkins and the tone is very broad and melodramatic, but still a lot of fun. Any middle of the road film will get points for having a top notch cast and the players here are all terrific including Elias Koteas, David Morse, Lindsay Crouse, Dean Norris, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn, Mimi Rogers and Kelly Lynch.

3, Brian Bertino’s The Strangers

This sensational horror/shocker taps into everyone’s primal fear of being stalked by killers in their own home, and leaves a brutally nihilistic lasting impression. With an auburn, earthy visual tone, nods to 70’s horror films of the same style and a believable central performance from Liv Tyler, this one hits all the right notes and cultivates a terrifically hopeless sense of dread.

2. Florent Siri’s Hostage

This isn’t your garden variety Bruce Willis action picture. Buried cleverly in and around the tale of a hostage negotiator (Willis) trying to rescue an innocent family from three dangerous juvenile criminals is something almost noirish, expressionist in nature and akin to a horror movie in places. The house that these guys break into is a specifically designed labyrinth of shadows, walls and security traps that prove hard to navigate for all parties involved and makes an evocative setting while Willis gives one of his best, most haunted performances on record and Ben Foster makes chilling work of the lead antagonist who is a devilish psychopath.

1. David Fincher’s Panic Room

The bar is set here in terms of home invasion thrillers, and pretty damn high too. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (for the second time on this list!) retreat to the titular stronghold within their NYC home and fight for their lives against three evil professional thieves (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). The suspense here is just unreal, this should be in textbooks on how to craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing thriller that keeps you on edge the whole time.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

If you think about it, the source material for a story like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the perfect kind of thing for director David Fincher to have a whack at. It’s dark, kinky, and riddled with detailed clues, any of which could spell survival or a scary end for the two protagonists, and there’s an overall misanthropic edge as well. Not to say that Fincher deliberately picks dark, fucked up projects in his work, but there’s a definite gravitation towards the macabre, he has an eye for it. I love this film a lot, it’s among my favourites in his stable and I think he improved on not only the book by Stieg Larsson, but also made a better film version than the first adaptation. The original was serviceable but in a mystery like this I feel like atmosphere is key, and Fincher provides enough to get lost in. This is a story spanning decades, outlining years of dark deeds and unearthing secrets buried within secrets and as such it should feel eerie, ambient, be lit in ways that evoke the passage of time and have a soundscape that not only freaks you out but guides your focus and has you searching for clues right alongside the heroes. I feel like he definitely has those boxes solidly checked off.

Rooney Mara makes a more detached, colder Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace’s hot blooded take and you could argue all night who was better in the role, but I don’t think that’s really the point. What matters is Mara is a fantastic Lisbeth, emotionally complex, seemingly shut off yet injecting pockets of warmth in where you least expect it and losing none of the caged animal or ruthless survival instinct that is so important to the character. Daniel Craig has the perfect jaded half smirk to play a guy that enters the story disgraced and surrounded by scandal, I think he rocks his role too and the chemistry between both is as tangible as the spooky Swedish ambience that Fincher turns them loose in. There’s a killer out there, one who has been operating with relative impunity for many years and right under the nose of the spectacularly dysfunctional Vanger family, whose industrialist patriarch (Christopher Plummer, excellent) enlists Craig’s help in finding the truth. His daughter went missing from their secluded island home some thirty years before as we see in dreamy flashbacks where Julian Sands steps in for Plummer. Craig’s Mikael and Mara’s Lisbeth are a pair of introverted workaholics who both come from rocky pasts and understand the kind of risk involved with this type of work, but neither are prepared for the brand of sick horrors that revolve around this mystery. Fincher carefully casts the film with impressive talent including Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Embeth Davidzt, Alan Dale, Geraldine James and scene stealer Stellan Skarsgard as another key member of the Vanger family.

One of the most effective aspects of the film is the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a subtle atmospheric composition that brings on feelings of dread, unseen danger and anticipatory anxiety wonderfully. As Craig’s car snakes along the long driveway of Plummer’s extravagant yet isolated mansion, a strange warble of tubular bell style music fills the snowy air, giving off incredibly creepy vibes and in turn giving me chills every time. Fincher cranks up the dial on violence and sex about as far as one could in a Hollywood film and as such you get some deeply disturbing scenes to sit through, especially involving Lisbeth’s deranged legal guardian, who really made me question the foster system in Sweden. None of it is glorified though and all serves to tell this dark story in the most affecting way. There’s a shadowy blanket over the film, everything seems frosty and frigid thanks to the cinematography from Jeff Cronenworth, as if there’s some spell of dark magic laying over the land and protecting those hiding within it as Lisbeth and Mikael race to find them. This is a perfect tale to get transported away by, a nightmarish yet strangely picturesque mystery to get lost in like a snowy night, until you arrive at the wrong doorstep alongside our heroes and then the real thrills begin. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.

Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.

I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor is one of those lurid thrillers that got absolutely shit on by critics, but I’ve always enjoyed its steely, mean spirited edge and nasty central antagonist performance from Stephen Dorff. There’s also the atmospheric locales of rural Ontario that add to the vibe, as well as the high pedigree class of actors you wouldn’t normally see in something this knowingly low brow. Dennis Quaid plays Cooper Tillson, a family man forced to move to the sticks for work. He buys up an ancient house in the woods with a lot of history behind it and some psychological baggage that’s not forgotten so easily. Dorff is Dale Massie, previous inhabitant and local roughneck who hates the idea of big city boy Quaid and his clan taking up roost in his former digs, probably because it stirs up past trauma for him and induces the scary, pissed off state he spends most of the film in. Quaid’s wife (Sharon Stone) and kids including a very young Kristen Stewart, start to get routinely creeped out when Dorff shows up more and more, insinuating his way into their collective idyllic country lives, until he gets downright violent and Quaid is forced to unlock the secrets of the manor to protect his family. Christopher Plummer has a barely coherent appearance as Dorff’s bedridden, dementia addled father, a deeply unnerving cameo if I’ve ever seen one. Spunky Juliette Lewis plays the local hoe-bag who openly mocks Quaid & Clan too. Ultimately this is glossy trash and they marketed it with trailers that made it seem like a straight up horror or supernatural thing, when in reality it’s much more of a stalker thriller, which is alright too, if you have a villain as intense as glowering, seething Dorff. It certainly doesn’t warrant the shit storm of bad reviews it’s amassed though, there’s fun to be had if you approach it with a popcorn movie mindset, and with that cast alone at least you get to watch them do their thing. Hey, at least it’s light years better than that fucking Dream House thing with Daniel Craig.

-Nate Hill