Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne is one of those ones I held off on watching for years, for whatever reason. It’s an absolute corker though, a well written horror story of the most human kind, finding the darkest corners of the psyche and blowing them up full scale for a morbid effect that’s altogether far more unsettling than any ghosts or supernatural stuff. Ominous grey clouds roll in over picturesque Maine (actually Nova Scotia, the sneaky bastards), as former housewife and in-home nurse Dolores (Kathy Bates in one show stopper) is accused of a heinous crime: murdering her sick and elderly employee, a rich old goat (Judy Parfitt) who’s put her through decades of hard labour. Dolores’s daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns home from a high profile journalist gig in the big Apple just in time for old wounds to be seared open. As a highly biased Detective (devilish Christopher Plummer) grills her on every aspect of the case, the narrative arcs back to Selena’s childhood years with Dolores and her monster of a father (David Strathairn, well out of his comfort zone and loving it), a tyrannical alcoholic whose ‘accidental’ death casts a heavy shadow on Bates, a pattern to be deciphered deliciously by both Leigh and the viewer. Things are not only not what they seem, but just about as far away from what we’re presented as possible, and when the final curtain lifts, it’s a wicked series of revelations to look back upon. King is undeniably the master of all things horror under the sun, but what he really excels at is how the lines blur between external demonization, the forces that exist out there in the night and the simple fact that humans are capable of despicable acts, whether by design or influence. It’s not a pretty tale, especially during the lurid, violent third act, but what a masterfully told tale it is, with expert director Taylor Hackford pulling at the reins, Danny Elfman undoing his mischievous aesthetic for a score that’s deep and dark, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain probing the inlets and harbours of eastern Canada with a surefire lens that creates atmosphere to spare, and every actor firing on all cylinders, including nice sideline work from Eric Bogosian, Ellen Muth, Bob Gunton, Wayne Robson and John C. Reilly. It’s interesting to observe the contrasts in visual style as well: For the most part, this is a moody, misty locale played dead straight, with no touches of the surreal or ‘out there’. Then in the third act there’s this crazy sequence during an eclipse (which bares uncanny similarities to this year’s gem of King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, I might add) that goes full on horror mode, dials down the realism and reminds us that this is after all a Stephen King story, and at some point things are liable to get weird. This one aims to please and prickle the senses of even the most stoic fan of deranged thrillers, and is a terrific funhouse to get lost in.

-Nate Hill

Mike Nichol’s Wolf


Mike Nichol’s Wolf cleverly combines comedic character study, spoofs the high profile business scene and whips it together with a far more literal lycanthropic horror story than I’d ever imagined before I watched it. It’s neat that dry metaphor went full on genuinely real monster flick, while losing none of it’s smarts along the way. Jack Nicholson, that old devil, plays an aging publisher whose livelihood is threatened by the arrival of a roguish young upstart (James Spader laying down that smarm) with designs on his job. It doesn’t help that he’s worn out, weary and not as sharp as he once was. Cue a werewolf mauling, which fixes those things right quick and turns him into a new man, in more ways than one. He’s fiercely competitive, virile and on the ball, but he also has to keep his hairy secret, well, a secret. Christopher Plummer is great as his fiery tempered boss, whose daughter (slinky Michelle Pfeiffer) begins to have eyes for the old dog, and the supporting cast has well coloured turns from Kate Nelligan, Ron Rifkin, Om Puri, David Hyde Pierce, Eileen Atkins, David Schwimmer and Richard Jenkins as a wily detective who begins to sniff the rat. The Wolf effects by Rick Baker and team are refreshingly old school, practical prosthetics and nice and gooey too. It’s also a tongue in cheek examination of male potency and territorial behaviour, so what better avenues of exploration than instinctual canine interaction and the politics of the workplace? Cool stuff, neat genre blending, a wicked cast and cool horror elements. 

-Nate Hill

The Man in the Director’s Chair: An Interview with Michael Schroeder by Kent Hill

It was owning a fast car that booked a young Michael Schroeder his first trip onto a film set. With Chief Dan George (The Outlaw Josey Wales) in the seat next to him, Michael was instructed to drive as fast as he could toward camera. He took this request literally.

While no one was injured, and though this early encounter did not go exactly according to plan, the crew assembled in cowboy hats and shorts seemed to be having a lot more fun than the group of aging lawyers with whom Schroeder had spent this previous evening. So he quit trying to be become a lawyer and ran of to join the movie business.

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He began his professional career as an assistant director working on such films as Revenge of the Ninja, Lambada, Highlander 2 and Guests of the Emperor. In 1988 he would take the director’s chair on Mortuary Academy. Fourteen features would follow, among them Dead On: Relentless 2, Angelina Jolie’s debut Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow, Cyborg 3 (apparently Schroeder’s most lamentable experience) and his career high and passion project, the wonderful Man in the Chair.

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He is a talented director who came to movies late – but he has since established himself as a consummate artiste of the motion picture. He was a font of great stories, optimism, on top of being an eloquent gentleman.

It is my privilege to present to you this interview.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Michael Schroeder.

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Hector & The Search For Happiness


I’ve read a lot of reviews for Hector & The Search For Happiness, and there’s a common, and fairly petty gripe that seems to be a theme throughout them, pissing me off no end. In the film, Simon Pegg plays a wealthy psychiatrist with a solid career and a beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike). Deep down though, he feels empty, unfulfilled and as if something is missing, and embarks on a spontaneous, unplanned global voyage to essentially search for the meaning of happiness, or at his own on the smaller scale. Now, a few critics have this whiny sentiment that because he’s well off, stable and lucky in life (I won’t even use the dreaded ‘P’ word), that it’s somehow offensive to see him search for more, or find himself unhappy. He ventures forth to places like Tokyo, L.A. and Africa in his travels and it seems to be some consensus that because he runs into people from third world areas who haven’t been dealt as lucky a hand as he has, materially speaking at least, that he has no right to complain or contest his position or mindset in life. Absolute butthurt. Everyone on this planet, be they billionaires, orphans, middle class mothers, movie stars or refugees, everyone is going through their own private set of problems and inner turmoil, and no one has the right to so blindly insist that some people’s problems, mental and/or material, matter more than others just because they have more money or resources than. The richest, most capable individuals could be going through hell on the inside, and they deserve to be acknowledged and sympathized with just as much as anyone else. Grow up. Now that my rant is over, on to the film, which is somewhat of an oddball and not easy to define, genre-wise. The posters and trailers make it out to be one of those quirky ‘find yourself’ comedy dramas where some plucky misfit goes on a journey, meets various archetypal characters and discovers a bunch about themselves, until the inevitable revelation that caps their story. Well, it is that, and it kind of isn’t as well. It’s certainly structured like that from beginning to end, but at times it gets quite dark, more than merely momentarily, and has far more of a brain in it’s head, both in terms of script and technical execution, than you would see coming. Pegg feels adrift in his profession, smothered by his doting but high maintenance wife and needs that leap into the unknown, which he takes. His first encounter is with a cynical hotshot businessman (Stellen Skarsgard), a man who lives in planes, airports, hotels and nightclubs, filling his time with life’s pleasures and the power of commerce, yet fully aware of what else he’s missing out on, perhaps the reason he is drawn to Pegg’s character. Over to Africa next, where he spends time with relief workers, to see if fulfillment can indeed be found in selflessly aiding others, but things turn intense when he’s captured by scary rebels and somewhat befriends a volatile arms dealer (nice to see Jean Reno, who’s been laying low these days) with a sad secret of his own. His trip takes him to the states, where he reconnects with an old flame (Toni Colette), no doubt allured by the sweet promise of nostalgia, a powerful force that doesn’t always yield happiness when adhered to. A loopy self help guru (Christopher Plummer), Skype sessions with Pike back in England and other encounters beset him, and in the end we wonder what the point of it all was, but this is his journey, not ours. I like that it doesn’t necessarily follow a blueprint that we’re used to, moves forward in fits and starts, meanders a bit, even veering into thriller territory briefly, his path truly an unforeseeable one that could lead anywhere based on chance, timing and the decisions he makes. That’s the mark of a good script, one that surprises and confounds in the best possible of ways, and shirks all labels applied to the final product, arriving on our screens as something just weird enough to be memorable and just this side of accessible in order to not be too much of an off-putting black sheep. Interesting stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Priest: A Review by Nate Hill 

Priest is one of those flashy missed opportunities, a visually stimulating comic book flick that just couldn’t amp the substance metre up enough til it’s flush with style, and ultimately feels somewhat hollow. It’s still a gorgeous Blu Ray that will give your system a workout though, with some neat vampires and a great cast. Sometime in a murky post apocalyptic future, humanity lives in a giant gloomy city on the edge of oblivion, walled in for fear of vampires who have preyed upon them in the past. An order of warrior priests protects citizens and keeps order, until one rogue from their sect (Paul Bettany) discovers that the creatures may be back when an outsider couple (Stephen Moyer and Madchen Amick) have their daughter (Lily Collins) kidnapped from their desert dwelling outside the city. They come to Bettany for help, but the leader of his priesthood (a smug Christopher Plummer) is an obstinate son of a bitch and refuses to act. Bettany goes renegade along with Priestess (Maggie Q) and ventures into the wasteland to rescue Collins and fight these baddies. It’s frustrating because the look and design of this world is brilliant, like a dark opulant jewel that clearly has some thought put into it. But then… the dialogue and story are so numbingly pedestrian, straying not a kilometer into uncharted narrative waters to give us something even a little bit exciting or unpredictable. Quality jumps with Karl Urban’s dapper villain Black Hat, a vampire cowboy outlaw who oddly resembles what I’d imagine Stephen King’s Roland Deschain would look like if the powers that be took their heads out of their ass and recasted Idris Elba. But I digress. Like I said, terrific cast; Brad Dourif has a great cameo as a snide hustler peddling trinkets to superstitious townsfolk, and watch for  the great Alan Dale too. Bettany always makes for a solid action hero, he just has a bit of trouble finding the right projects (have you seen that turd Legion? Good lord) that deserve bis talents. This one falls just short. It could have really used a few rounds of defibrillation from another screenwriter, and perhaps a hard R rating to take advantage of the horror aspects. Still, the vampires are creepy enough (echoes of Blade II are always welcome), the actors keep it going and there’s no shortage of style. 

Dracula 2000: A Review by Nate Hill

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Wes Craven’s Dracula 2000 is one of those horror flicks that proudly slaps his name over the title like he runs the show, when in fact he’s only participating under a vague executive producer credit. Now that we’ve got that little detail out of the way we can talk about what a thoroughly awesome movie it is, and how the haters can go suck it. It’s a high concept slice of bloody fun and has easily one of the best pairings of an actor with the Dracula mythos ever: Gerard Butler. He’s young and lean here, before he turned into a tank later in his career, and he makes one hell of a kick ass Dracula. The story is too good to be true: a team of arch criminals, led by Omar Epps and also including Hyde from That 70’s Show (lol) break into the European mansion of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) and steal the heavy duty coffin which he has stashed in his basement and used to contain Vladdy for over a hundred years. Helsing has always used a compound derived from his blood to keep himself alive all that time and ensure that he never gets loose. The burglars have no idea what they’re on for, and pretty soon Butler is loose and ready to get freaky, tearing apart their getaway plane and running off into the chaotic streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras. He’s searching for a girl (Justine Waddell) to have sex with her and fulfill some horrific prophecy (nice little nod to End Of Days there). Dracula, Mardi Gras, Gerard Butler, Christopher Plummer; four ingredients to pretty much ensure your movie is gonna rock. Plummer makes one of the best onscreen Van Helsings in my books, rivaled only perhaps  by Anthony Hopkins. Butler is a sleek, hip and sensual Dracula, playing the role to the bloody hilt and sedimenting a really cool rendition of the character, with a surprising twist ending that adds some depth to the guy. Watch for work from Jennifer Esposito, Sean Patrick Thomas, Shane West, Lochlyn Munro and Nathan Fillion as well.
Great retelling, or rather addition to the legend, held up by Butler.

Michael Mann’s The Insider: A Review by Nate Hill

There are some films that are so perfectly made in every way possible that
I sit there thinking ‘Every persons effort and every element of creative energy that went into making this movie has been implemented flawlessly, arriving here and now to give me the viewing experience I’m getting. A perfect movie’. Michael Mann’s The Insider is such a movie. I held off on reviewing it for a couple days after seeing it, partly to let it sink in but mostly to see if I’d feel any different about it once my synapses had cooled down and the frames had dimmed from my consciousness. Perhaps the fiery reaction it drew from me in the moment was cheaply earned, or I was just in the right mood to love it at that time. Not a chance. If anything I’ve become more enraptured by it as time has passed, already aching for a second viewing. Every performance and aspect of is just so rich, deep and rewarding that for its two and a half hour runtime I found myself externally distracted not once. Occasionally Mann deviates from his comfort zone in the nocturnal crime zone. The occult themed period piece, the colonial adventure, the psychological horror, and this, the blistering drama based on a true story. One might not think the subject matter deserves a two and a half hour film, let alone would make a great one, but Mann has the cinematic Midas touch, and never half asses it. His films always contain traces of a true master at work, telling little details that engrave the film with a sense of immaculate skill and unwavering dedication to telling the story in its finest, and most honest form. The Insider tells the story of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a chemist who turns whistleblower on the tobacco corporation he was once employed by, finding shelter under the wing of CBS News’s 60 minutes, and particularly hard nosed reporter Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). The network wants his take, in order to do an exposé on Big Tobacco, a plan with predictably disastrous and dangerous results, for both Wigand and CBS. The film shakes off any impending sensationalism or deliberately emotional stylistic cheats, instead keeping a microscope focus on the three lead performances and letting all the hurt, determination and emotion come forth naturally through their work, as opposed to smothering their story with an overbearing score and cheap cinematic manipulation. I’ve never been that won over by Russell Crowe until now. He always seems ‘halfway there’ in his work, like he’s missing something. This changed things for me. He’s like a raw nerve here, a family man pushed to the precipice of an impossible decision. One can almost see him wrestling with his conscience behind those haunted eyes, a storm with a lid barely kept on and anchored by Crowe in his finest hour. Pacino holds us captive with his work until we realize we’re not breathing. He’s the moral compass of the piece, and to see him explode at the injustices served up to him will give you goosebumps. The third leg of the table is Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, the 60 minutes anchor who also struggles morally with the situation they are in. Plummer is so good you forget you’re watching a film, giving Wallace buried gentleness and chiselled emotional intensity that you can scarce believe is even possible through the craft of acting. The supporting cast is peppered with bushels of talent. Colm Feore, Philip Baker Hall, Gina Gershon, Stephen Tobolowsky, Diane Venora, Nester Serrano, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon and an unusually sedated Debi Mazar are superb. It’s Bruce McGill, however, who almost steals the film in one blistering scene, playing a lawyer with enough righteous anger to shatter your tv screen. A career best for him. No one puts you into a story by forcing you to feel alongside the characters quite like Mann. Here he guides us through the trials that Crowe, Plummer and Pacino face with steady hand and heart until we are invested. Then he pulls the ripcord and let’s the sparks fly, making monumentally intense work of events that could seem pedestrian in lesser hands. We really feel for Crowe and clutch the seat with the same desperate intensity that he clings to his family, and sanity. We feel the same jilted fury alongside Pacino as he wades through sickening bureaucracy for a shot at retribution. We take pause with Plummer as he ponders his legacy and are incredulous with all three at the snowball effect the entire proceeding has had on them, devastating us as an audience the same as them, in turn making us feel closer to them. This is all laced with the incredibly heartfelt music from Lisa Gerrard, who sang alongside Crowe in Gladiator and was a favourite of Tony Scott as well. Mann is a ceaseless monster of storytelling, tone and pacing. The story has flair simply because he doesn’t wantonly throw it in the mix; the feeling and reaction come from story and character and not the razzle dazzle. Mann knows this, and let’s the fireworks naturally spring from the absence of deliberation, like music in the vacuum of space. This one will live on to stand the test of time far longer than the decade and a half its help for already. It’s a revelation.