Tag Archives: Christopher Walken

Peter Berg’s The Rundown

Dwayne Johnson is everywhere these days since his beautifully rendered CGI debut as the scorpion king way back when, but he’s just Dwayne Johnson now, without a Rock in sight in those above title credits. The Rundown, however, is an old enough film to to still feature his initial credit of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and has to be my favourite feature film he has ever headlined, giving him an unbelievably fun, quite likeable character to play in his very own Indiana Jones movie that while I sometimes wish would have lead to a franchise, I also concede that half the film’s irresistible appeal is in its singularity: it’s there for a blast of a ninety minute slot and then runs off into the jungle again without overstaying it’s welcome.

Dwayne The Rock is Beck here, an infamous Miami bounty hunter with the discretion and decorum to call himself a ‘retrieval expert’, which sounds more palatable. He’s no less ruthless and efficient than your garden variety street bounty hunter though, as we see in a brutal opening brawl where he kicks the absolute fuck out of the entire Miami Dolphins starting lineup in a nightclub. After this fitting introduction, Beck is sent to the jungles of South America by his asshole mobster handler (a scene stealing Bill Lucking) to ‘retrieve’ the man’s wayward son, played by Sean William Scott in a performance so energetic that squirrels would have a tough time catching up. The lush Hawaiian scenery where they chose to film is a huge plus as Beck navigates a sweaty, corruption laced frontier town under the iron fisted, maniacal rule of tyrannical despot Hatcher, played by Christopher Walken in a performance so ‘out there’ that… well I can’t even compare it to an animal like Scott’s because Chris’s brand of energy is something all it’s own. Rock, Scott and local bar owner Rosario Dawson are forced to band together with the locals and take down Hatcher plus his army of bad dudes in a race to find some mysterious artifact (gato!) worth untold fortunes.

This is helmed by Peter Berg who, especially these days, has quite a knack for making action films about as fun as they can be, even within the constraints of a PG-13 rating found here. Beck’s mantra is to not use guns and he keeps this up as long as reason allows, but when there’s a literal western showdown he’s forced to take up arms and when he does… man the camera can barely keep up with the fluid choreography as otherworldly Scottish bush pilot Ewen Bremner eerily recites Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that goodnight’ in the background with his indecipherable brogue like some demented Greek/Scottish chorus. Walken is an unbalanced, raving whack-job as Hatcher, it’s one of his most playful, exuberant villain turns in an extensive rogues gallery and he makes the most out of his screen time like a dog off the chain. This is just such a fun flick, not a serious bone in its body, a bawdy jungle romp with machete wielding mercenaries, horny baboons, indigenous Kung fu warriors, kinetically shot action set pieces, gorgeous scenery, buckets of deliciously lowbrow comedy, a blink and you’ll miss it Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo and more. Always a rocking great time.

-Nate Hill

Gaming with Nate: Activision’s True Crime: Streets Of LA & True Crime: New York City for PlayStation 2

Los Angeles and New York City get a sordid, hard boiled pair of rogue cop stories in True Crime: Streets Of LA and True Crime: NYC, two badass, star studded, knockout crime games that demonstrate these days how they really don’t make em’ like they used to. I’d review these two separately but they’re a pretty intrinsic pair that feel like sibling stories despite being made and released two years apart.

In Streets Of LA you play as volatile renegade LAPD detective Nick Kang (Russell Wong having an utter blast with the dialogue) who is suspended from the force under shady circumstances and goes severely rogue with an unofficial vigilante unit to stop a corrupt plot against the city perpetrated by Russian mob, triads and others. This ones cool because it’s a choose your own adventure game where the outcome and chain of events is different depending on what choices you make Nick pick. There’s endless shootouts, brutal chase sequences across the LA highway overpass and vicious hand to hand combat too. Christopher Walken narrates the whole thing in Greek chorus mode as wisened ex-cop George and voiceovers are also provided by Ron Perlman as a Russian hood, Mako and James Hong as Triad bosses, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriguez, CCH Pounder and Gary Oldman as a both a dodgy federal agent and a psycho Russian boss.

Over in New York City you’re Detective Marcus Reed (Avery Kidd Waddell), an ex gangster who chose the law over the ways of his crime kingpin father Isiah (Laurence Fishburne basically reprises his kingpin role from Assault On Precinct 13) and is mentored on the streets by tough veteran Sergeant Terence Higgins (Mickey Rourke) until he’s murdered under mysterious circumstances. Marcus now has to shoot his way past criminals and cops alike as he smokes out a deep web of corruption and avenges those he lost while leaving a path of bodies behind him. There’s work from Esai Morales as his precinct captain, Traci Lords, Lester ‘Beetlejuice’ Green and more. Walken is in this again in full bonkers mode as a Fed who can’t stop getting sidetracked by anecdotal monologues about his life long enough to brief Marcus and provides much comic relief.

These two games have a terrifically gritty late 90’s street feel, the actors add a lot, the gameplay is violent and profane to the maximum and while LA is bright, energetic and hyperactive, NYC is dark, austere and bleak and they feel like two sides of the same unlawful coin. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Joe Dirt

My expectations weren’t super high for Joe Dirt and they were not only met but surpassed. This is one charming, hilarious, comfortingly juvenile exercise in spoofing the Mountain Dew monster truck crowd and I loved it to bits. Usually when I see David Spade onscreen I ball up my fists and get ready to swing but here he makes sly work of a good natured simpleton with the world’s most epic mullet. Joe was left at the Grand Canyon when he was eight years old by his dummy parents, and has been wondering the States ever since, looking for them. He explains all this in flashbacks and regales an incredibly cynical radio DJ (Dennis Miller) with his adventures with all the strange people he meets, and let me tell you that strange is a fucking understatement. He befriends a mega hottie (Brittany Daniels) who is head over heels for him while he’s too oblivious to notice. He joins forces with a Native American entrepreneur (Adam Beach) who sells fireworks but not the kind that anyone wants to buy. He shacks up with a bubblegum blonde babe (Jaime Pressley) who may or may not be his long lost sister, which is an extra turn-on for him. Christopher Walken steals the goddamn show (as he always does) as Clem, a janitorial kingpin with serious dance moves and the absolute funniest line in the film, you’ll know the one I’m talking about. Other memorable and very hyperactive work is put forth by Erik Per Sullivan, Caroline Aaron, Fred Ward, Tyler Mane, Richard Rhiele, Eddie Money, Carson Daly, Kevin Nealon, Joe Don Baker, Rosanna Arquette and, uh, Kid Rock just for the hell of it. This is about as silly as comedies get and I laughed like a loon almost the whole way through. Spade makes a great underdog hero in a story that puts him through a ringer of alienation, loneliness and embarrassment but ultimately gives him the happy ending he deserves and the overall narrative is quite sweet. Great film.

-Nate Hill

For Your Ears Only: John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL

AVTAK

Frank and Tom are back to discuss Roger Moore’s final outing as James Bond in John Glen’s A VIEW TO A KILL which features one of the best Bond themes by Duran Duran, and an excellent supporting cast of Christopher Walken, Grace Jones, Tanya Robers, Allison Doody, and Patrick Macnee.

Artwork provided by the very talented Jeffrey Marshall.

Director’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Tony Scott Films

There was no other artist on the planet like Tony Scott. Behind that epic cigar and under that iconic sun bleached pink cap there resided an intense desire to blast celluloid with a distinct visual aesthetic and brand cinema forever with pictures that exploded out of the mould, caught the projector on fire and often inspired quite divisive reactions. Why have one steadicam stationed at a traditional angle when you can have multiple cameras on all kinds of rigs panning, gliding and pirouetting all over the place? Why use generic colour timing templates when you can saturate the absolute fuck out of every frame, sprinkle in the grain and turn up the yellows until you scorch your irises? Why employ pedestrian editing when you can zip, zoom, use jagged swaths of movement, arbitrary subtitles and hurtling fast motion to tell your story? Tony has a huge bag of tricks that was constantly evolving over the course of his career, and for anybody who could both catch up to him and appreciate the aesthetic he left us a wealth of cinematic treasure behind after his tragic and untimely death. These are my top ten personal favourite of his films!

10. The Hire: Beat The Devil

This is one in many short films sponsored by BMW, all featuring Clive Owen as a 007-esque getaway driver for hire at the wheel of a Beamer. Scott’s entry definitely leads the pack though, get this: The legendary James Brown (James Brown playing himself) has made a deal with The Devil (Gary Oldman) for fame and fortune and now that old age has struck he wishes to renegotiate. How to settle matters? Brown and Owen in the Beamer race Devil and his trusty butler/driver (Danny freakin Trejo) along the Vegas strip at sunrise. Oh yeah and Marilyn Manson makes a hysterical cameo too. It’s a balls out fucking freaky wild ride with Oldman making scary, flamboyant work of ol’ scratch and Scott amping up the stylistics to near excess. Favourite scene: that Manson cameo, man. So funny.

9. Spy Game

Robert Redford and Brad Pitt headline this highly kinetic tale of espionage, mentorship, loyalty and resilience while Tony fires up what little action there is terrifically. It’s interesting because this isn’t an action film, it’s got depth and personality, the visual tone serving the affecting central relationship well. Favourite scene: Brad and Robert argue morality atop a Berlin apartment rooftop, Brad loses his cool and whips a chair off the edge as Scott’s cameras dutifully circle them like restless seagulls.

8. The Last Boy Scout

A tumultuous production ultimately led to the first in the ‘unofficial L.A. Noir buddy action comedy trilogy’ written Shane Black, to be followed up years later with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. Tony lends his sun soaked grunge to this tale of an ex football pro (Damon Wayans) and a disgraced Secret service agent turned PI (Bruce Willis) navigating a dangerous underworld conspiracy while trying to put up with each other. This is one hilarious, high powered ride with super nasty villains, a terrific supporting turn from Danielle Harris as Willis’s rebellious daughter and a playfully sadistic streak to the intrigue. Favourite scene: the shocking opening sequence set during a rain soaked NFL game gives new meaning to going the extra mile for that touchdown and sets the gritty, sarcastic tone well.

7. Unstoppable

This exciting riff on the runaway train shtick sees railway workers Denzel Washington and Chris Pine try and prevent a renegade unmanned locomotive from crashing in a densely populated area, causing cataclysm. Tony keeps the pulses racing and the action almost literally nonstop in his final film before passing. Favourite scene: the hair raising climax.

6. Crimson Tide

Denzel again! He goes head to head with Gene Hackman in this explosive submarine picture with uncredited writing from Quentin Tarantino and fantastic supporting work from James Gandolfini, Viggo Mortensen and others. Tony loved wide, expansive settings to play in but he works just as terrifically in a confined space here, letting the energy reaching a boiling point. Favourite scene: a fierce verbal battle of wills between Hackman and Washington over a tense mess hall dinner.

5. Déjà Vu

Time travel gets a twist in this trippy, exciting and surprisingly emotional tale of one ATF agent (who else but Denzel??) using a state of the art SciFi technique to take down a dangerous terrorist (Jim Caviesel). Scott uses many elements played both backwards and forwards to keep interests locked and please the crowd. Favourite scene: When all is said and done Washington shares a final moment with a witness (Paula Patton) that calls back to earlier moments of the film and caps this story off nicely.

4. Enemy Of The State

Chase thriller, espionage intrigue, mob war-games, Gene Hackman basically reprising his role from Coppola’s The Conversation, a trademark Mexican stand-off shootout, this prophetic, endlessly exciting film has it all. Will Smith and Hackman team up awesomely in this fast paced, prescient, frequently scary and rousing thriller that has a cast you won’t believe, some showcase explosions and enough excitement to go round.

3. Man On Fire

Denzel Washington’s Creasy is the titular incendiary avenger in this south of the border tale of revenge, kidnapping, redemption, cruelty and corruption. It’s a startling film and the first one that felt like Scott’s specific calling card style had been fully formed and delivered to us in a package that many (including those pesky critics) weren’t ready for. Grainy, choppy, putting us right in the passenger seat with Creasy and his sketchy frame of mind, this one is a master stroke of filmmaking.

2. True Romance

This would be first on the list if it were a singularly ‘Tony’ film but it’s just as much Quentin Tarantino’s show and as such is kind of a two man dance, not to mention the legendary ensemble cast. Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are an early 90’s Bonnie & Clyde on the run from just about every nasty villain you could think of in this cult classic that just gets better every time you watch it (I’m well over a hundred views myself).

1. Domino

This just has to be Tony’s masterpiece, and he crafts it without compromise or apology. With a framework loosely based on real life bounty hunter Domino Harvey, he boldly hurtles towards the asphalt horizon with this hyperactive, unique, mescaline soaked, badass adrenaline rush that is an experience like no other. Critics pissed on it but fuck them, it’s a gem, really, a visual and auditory juggernaut that doesn’t just light up your TV screen but pretty much makes a break for your circulatory system and bounces around your veins for two hours. This is the one I’ll always remember Scott for.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Brittany Murphy Performances

Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless

A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.

9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys

Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.

8. Izzy in The Prophecy II

Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.

7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.

6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls

The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.

5. Veronica in Phoenix

A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.

4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway

When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.

3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.

2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun

Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.

1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word

Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Eternal aka Trance

What do Christopher Walken and Celtic druids have in common? Well something, according to this film but I’m still not sure what I watched or how to make heads or tails out of it. Sharing the alternate titles of ‘Trance’ and ‘The Eternal’ depending on which DVD or streaming version you find, this is a kind of inexplicably odd, low key B movie about a troubled American couple (Alison Elliot and Jared Harris) who travel to rural Ireland with their young son in order to quit the sauce. Why they picked a perennially pickled country like that to come down off of booze is their business, but anyways. They end up staying with her wacky uncle Bill (Walken) who apparently is Irish but Walken makes no effort to hide his trademark accent and idiosyncratic vernacular which actually gives this thing some ironic charm. He spends his time in the basement trying to resurrect some ancient druid mummy thing and needs her help because of their bloodline or something and they spend their days arguing, listlessly parenting the kid and making every effort not to get sloshed at every turn. I don’t know what to say other than this general summary, it’s a weird little flick. Walken has found himself in the UK in cinema before playing a kooky mortician (seek out Plots With A View if you can, it’s a gem) but here I’m not really sure what or who he is supposed to be because the film has no idea where it’s going and takes it’s time not getting there. He’s always watchable no matter what though so it has that going for it I guess. Just not much in the way of a clear vision.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Walken Performances

Whenever Christopher Walken shows up in a film you can practically feel the energy and interest go up in an audience, whether they know him by name and are studious of his massive career (raises hand) or they just remember that instantly recognizable face. Whether it’s a supporting role, cameo or star turn there’s something about his electric eyes, steady yet spooky voice and offhandedly eccentric mannerisms that make him something truly special. His career is an epic one that spans comedies, drama, musicals, stage plays, music videos (that Fatboy Slim dance marathon!!), a Bond movie, the odd horror flick and a good dose of obscure indies that I’ve always loved to hunt down. Here are my top ten personal favourites! Please share yours as well and enjoy:

10. Max Shreck in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns

With a shock of electric silver hair and a razor sharp pinstripe suit, Walken embodies monstrous corporate evil as Gotham’s most corrupt business tycoon. I’m not sure if Shreck was a villain that ever showed up in the comics or if he’s something Burton dreamed up for the film, but in any case he makes just as much of a morbid impression as Danny Devito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in the baddie department.

9. Gabriel in The Prophecy Trilogy

Walken takes a decidedly darker approach to the Angel Gabriel here, playing him as a rogue operative at war with god and his forces and engaged in casual genocide of the human race to both achieve his goal and simply prove a point. The cool thing about Walken as an actor is that most of his career finds him playing characters in crime dramas, comedies, real people in the real world, no matter how wacky they get. But he also has the deft versatility to pull off something otherworldly and supernatural too, as you can see by this moody, intense characterization that definitely suggests something out of this world.

8. The Headless Horseman in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

I had to. Roger Ebert wrote in his review of this film:

“ Note: No power on earth could drag from me the identity of the unbilled actor who plays the Horseman when he has a head. But you will agree he is the only logical choice. “

Is that not the perfect summation? He looks positively animalistic here as the big bad in Burtons best and most underrated film, sporting rock star hair, teeth whittled down to points and a thunderous roar which is the only actual dialogue he ever has in the role. Walken is a lot of things but one that you could boil his complex essence down to is ‘both scary and funny.’ If there’s one role that reinforces that it’s this, he’s somehow legitimately terrifying and ridiculously hilarious in the same note. That takes skill and charisma.

7. Caesar The Exterminator in Gore Verbinski’s Mouse Hunt

There’s something in the way one observes a crazed Walken crawling along the floor adorned in a headlamp and tactical gear, tasting dried mouse droppings to learn the gender of his quarry. Only he could take a ten minute exterminator role intended as comic relief and turn it into the kind of bizarre, deranged performance art that steals an entire film. I’ll also add that the film overall including his presence is one of the most overlooked of the 90’s and a misunderstood dark comedy/fairy tale that was unfairly billed as a kids film and lost on many dismissive viewers. Time for re-evaluation.

6. Frank Abagnale Sr. in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can

A family man whose reckless decisions lead to a radically different lifestyle and a diminished self image, Walken nails both the fierce pride and detrimental flaws of this character while infusing a deep love for his wife and son. It’s a complex portrayal that despite being a sideline supporting character, fills the film with humanity and humility. Don’t even get me started on the “two mice fell into a bucket of cream monologue.”

5. Paul Rayburn in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire

Another performance filled with subtly sorrowful regret, Rayburn is an ex military man who shares a past connection with Denzel Washington’s John Creasy, and the two share several central scenes of mutual remorse and guilt that land hard. Walken is good at masking deep set emotion with a joke, cloudy half smile or idiosyncratic anecdote, but the intention burns bright beneath whatever deflection tactic he employs, and his work here is no exception.

4. Vincenzo Coccotti in Tony Scott’s True Romance

Like many actors in this film, Chris only gets one scene or so to strut his stuff, but the nasty verbal showdown with Dennis Hopper here is not only one of the most memorable of the film but of cinema itself. He’s an apex predator here, a sociopathic mafia don who’s used to getting his way and accustomed to nobody standing up to him. His simultaneously bemused and aghast reaction at essentially being owned by Hopper’s wily ex cop is something for the ages and provides the film with some it’s best humour and scariest violence. “You’re a cantaloupe!”

3. Brad Whitewood Sr. in James Foley’s At Close Range

Walken has portrayed a lot of villains, scumbags and less than desirable dudes but Brad takes the fucking cake. Leader of a rural band of small time thieves, he re-enters the lives of his two sons (Sean and Chris Penn) he left years earlier and from the moment they become involved with him nothing good comes of it. He’s charming and affable at first but when the heat shows up it becomes very clear this guy will kill anyone, including his own sons, to keep himself afloat. This is a mean, sad and bleak spirited film with a cold, ruthless central performance from Walken. But it’s worth it to observe just how far human nature can go into extremes that all of us hope we don’t ever have to encounter.

2. Nick in Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter

One of several young men who go from life in a small industrial town in Pennsylvania to the horrors of the Viet Nam war, he brings all the subtleties of the world into his work here, showing how the darkness out there can smother someone’s soul to the point that they don’t even know who they are anymore. One of my favourite moments in Walken’s entire career is in this film, where a nurse in a military hospital asks him who he is and who to contact in this situation. The actor expertly but unobtrusively displays a quiet, confused and utterly devastating mental breakdown as the reality of what has happened to him sets in. It’s showcase Walken for how believable it is and one of the finest scenes he has ever crafted.

1. Frank White in Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York

The most introverted criminal kingpin ever to show up in cinema, Walken plays a recently paroled crime kingpin who’s ready to take back the territory he lost while in the slammer, with some help from his rambunctious crew headed up by a fearsomely unstable Laurence Fishburne. The performance I picked for top spot isn’t a weird one, a hyperactive comedic turn, a funny scary villain or anything that he’s outright known for. There’s something remarkably compelling and down to earth about Frank, something very ‘street.’ His name is fitting because that’s how he approaches both business and relationships: with a blunt, no nonsense and vaguely sadistic air. Ferrara directs one of the best NYC crime dramas ever made here, he and Walken make the moody final scene ring with unexpected, grim poetry.

-Nate Hill

John Badham’s Nick Of Time

What if someone kidnapped one of your loved ones and informed you that if you don’t assassinate a politician within ninety minutes, they’d kill them? Johnny Depp finds out exactly how a situation like that would play out in John Badham’s Nick Of Time, a stylish real time thriller with fantastic performances and a high powered premise that is milked yet never overdrawn.

Depp plays what might be his most down to earth, Everyman role here as an a humdrum accountant travelling by train with his six year old daughter (Courtney Chase), until he’s targeted by a mysterious pair of shady characters pretending to be cops, and then his nightmare begins. Christopher Walken is a force of evil nature as Smith, a menacing assassin who snatches up Depp’s daughter, puts a gun in his hand and tells him to go shoot a visiting Governor (Marsha Mason) before she’s to speak at an evening rally. Why? Because a patsy was needed and he looked like the poorest sap getting off that train, apparently.

Because the film is set in real time and doesn’t hop around to a zillion different plot threads like 24 does, we get to see the big moments and the small, the suspenseful hills and the mundane valleys in between them as Depp either tries to make harebrained escaped in order to save his daughter and avoid killing someone, and when he simply catches his breath for a moment or grabs some downtime. He’s good in the role and we’ll likely never see him in something as middle of the road as this again in terms of what he’s casted in, which is mostly garish theatrical gimmicks these days. He plays it somewhat Hitchcock and it works well that way, especially with the opening credits that seem directly lifted from one of his films. Walken is adorned in a porn moustache and slick suit, doing that thing only he can do where he’s somehow terrifying and hilarious all in the same note, it’s one of his hallmark 90’s baddie turns and I love it. Roma Maffia is slightly goofy as his second in command, and there’s work from Peter Strauss, Gloria Ruben, Yul Vasquez, Bill Smitrovitch, G.W. Spradlin and scene stealer Charles S. Dutton as a verbose shoeshine dude who helps Depp out in a tight spot. It ain’t a be all end all thriller or anything super amazing but it fires up a good time for ninety minutes, plus Depp and Walken are pretty much watchable in anything. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

You ever been to one of those house parties that turns out so well, is so full of awesome, entertaining people and so much fun that you kind of wish it wouldn’t end? Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is like that, for nearly three hours you wish would extend into three more. It’s one of those urban mosaic stories that chucks slices of life into a pan, fries them up and hurls the resulting delicious recipe right at your face. I’ve read a lot about how this revolutionized narrative structure in Hollywood or changed the way characters are written and that may be the case for the crime genre, but the mosaic motif was present in many areas before QT, namely in the films of Robert Altman, a filmmaker I’ve never seen compared to our Quentin before but the parallels are there. In any case everyone knows, loves and agrees that Pulp Fiction is a fucking badass flick, an enduring barnstormer of outlaw cinema that is every bit as potent, catchy and kinetic as it was when it blew the pants and panties off of Cannes in ‘94.

Tarantino gave us an appetizer with Reservoir Dogs, and with Pulp he produced a ten course meal that’s more polished, structured and assured than we had seen before. His mosaic concerns the lives of several LA individuals all directly or indirectly related to the criminal underworld. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are two hitmen who dressed like Men In Black before Men In Black was a thing, out to retrieve the ever mysterious briefcase for their omnipotent gangster overlord (Ving Rhames), whose sultry wife (Uma Thurman) Travolta is to entertain while the big man is out of town. Elsewhere a disloyal prizefighter (Bruce Willis) and his bubbly girlfriend (Maria De Medeiros) hide out from Rhames’s wrath too until Willis goes from the frying pan into one terrifying fire. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are two liquor store bandits who branch off into the diner scene and royally fuck up everyone’s day in the process. Christopher Walken gives arguably his greatest and definitely his most bizarre monologue in a scene out of place and time from the rest of the film but somehow right where it needs to be in the narrative. Harvey Keitel suaves it up as LA’s resident 007. Others make vivid impressions in the mosaic including Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Paul Calderon, Frank Whaley, Angela Jones, Duane Whitaker, Stephen Hibbert, Tarantino himself, Julia Sweeney and perennial bad guy Peter Greene.

By now the story is secondary to those iconic moments we all know and love. Zed’s dead. Samuel’s terrifying bible session. A wristwatch up Walken’s ass. Pride only hurts, it never helps. That needle to the heart. The dance competition. The Gimp. The exploding head. These are all now hallmarks of one of the greatest stories ever put to film. What makes it so great? Tarantino has the time for his characters, and wants to converse with them. The dialogue isn’t just about plot or characters intimidating each other. It’s about life, music, personal taste, culture and cheeseburgers. These are people who remind us of many others we know, and the relatability is what has turned this into a platinum classic. That and other factors, including a killer soundtrack, brilliant performances round the board and editing that brings LA out of the gloss, down to earth and just as dirty. It may not be my ultimate fave Tarantino film, but it is definitely his flagship outing so far, in its epic scope. We’ll see if this year’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood perhaps dethrones it as his magnum opus, who knows. Either way it’s a masterpiece and will remain so for all time.

-Nate Hill