Tag Archives: cinema

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: The Trust

Finally a solid Nic Cage B flick!! I needed one and The Trust provides a great time as Nic and Elijah Wood play two sad-sack Vegas cops who decide to rob a mob safe house that’s several zeros above their pay grade. This is such a quirky little recipe, super casually paced yet efficient when it needs to speed things along, darkly comic, dangerous, loopy and easy breezy where it counts despite fizzling out a teensy bit in the last act when it should have turned the dial up to full spicy but we can’t have it all. Cage is the cavalier veteran cop who somehow doesn’t see the impending danger in their plan and does a fairly effective job of luring super nervous Wood into it, and yes it all goes violently wrong at one point but probably not as spectacularly as you’re hoping. They bust into an adjacent apartment, hold a girl (Sky Ferreira, almost unrecognizable and doing a great job with little dialogue) hostage and begin to drill below into the mysterious safe, all the while cracking weird jokes, chomping fast food and bickering like sixth grade buddies. That’s basically it, and while the thing is a brisk ninety minutes it still manages to feel laidback and laconic, probably thanks to a hilarious Cage who seems not to have a care in the world in one of his freewheeling, casually weird turns. Wood is a good choice for a nervous guy but he always freaks me out a bit, he’s 39 now and still somehow just comes across as a teenager in physical appearance and essence but he does a fine job that aside. Ethan Suplee shows up as a bored, shady detective with a penchant for Russian roulette and, curiously, the late great comedian Jerry Lewis randomly makes his final film appearance in a quick cameo as Cage’s father. This isn’t anything explosive or super unique and like I said, much of the film is eccentric buildup to a less than earth shattering resolution but there’s tons of welcome sarcastic humour, a nice jazzy original score and Cage subtly hams it to effect playing Vegas’s laziest and craftiest beat cop. Good times.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Pay The Ghost

Today’s dose of Nic Cage is called Pay The Ghost and it’s not half bad, provided you have an affinity for moody low budget horror that doesn’t demand too much of its viewers and in turn isn’t expected to reinvent the genre wheel by those observing from their couches. It’s a neat title isn’t it, ‘Pay The Ghost’? My first thought is some scary loan shark nicknamed ‘Ghost’ that Nic has to do fork over his cheque’s to from movies like this. Jokes aside I can’t say it properly lives up to that name but it does it’s late 90’s SyFy Channel reminiscent best and works as a low key spooker with Cage in super relaxed concerned father/husband mode, a gear he always cruises well in. Nic plays a kindly college professor whose young son goes missing one halloween night at an NYC carnival. He and his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies, quite effective) are understandably devastated and while she mixes distraught with the desire to move on, he suspects some supernatural foul play and launches an investigation of his own. It turns out that many children have been going missing for years on Hallow’s Eve in this specific area and it isn’t just some coincidence, there’s a nasty pagan force dating back to colonial times that’s responsible. Now this is pretty standard horror stuff with a few decent jump scares, a cool esoteric showdown set in another realm that kinda reminded me of the “you shall not pass” Gandalf sequence and some nice stabs at mythology but I’ll also be honest and say that if I wasn’t working on this Cage treatise I probably never would have bothered. It’s ok though, I mean awesome character actor Stephen McHattie shows up as some bling homeless dude with dreadlocks and he’s always a plus. This is humdrum horror time killer but it’s not terrible, I’ll give it two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Maria Pulera’s Between Worlds

It pains me to kick off this Nic Cage thing with an absolute hunk of coal in the stocking but I gotta call ‘em like I see ‘em and Between Worlds (2019) is an unrepentant fucking knob of a film and a scourging blight on everyone’s career involved. If you can imagine a sort of wonky, low budget swirling mix of Lolita, a daytime soap, a Eurotrash X Files episode, soft core porno, really badly done David Lynch homage and indie horror you might approximate this ill advised supernatural wannabe gothic pseudo erotic melodrama mess but it has to be seen to be believed. I read a review the other day stating that Nic Cage is in one of two modes these days, work and play. In work mode he’s a restrained, world weary hero and in play mode we get to see those famous bug eyed manic meltdowns. Well he’s here to play and then some in this one, playing dishevelled, homeless looking trucker Joe, a mess of a dude with a tragic past, a shabby baseball cap and a mullet that looks like it’s been through a microwave. He meets single mom Julie (Franka Potente) whose daughter (Penelope Mitchell) is inches away from death after a motorbike accident, so she needs his help (I won’t say how because it’s too ridiculous) in bringing her back from the spirit world. The plot kinda stops dead in its tracks here and meanders around as Cage and Potente get it on, then Cage and the daughter get it on, then they all just shuffle around mumbling, smoking weed and squabbling about nothing in particular. There’s an original score that is so ripped off from Twin Peaks that the filmmakers (hopefully out of guilt) decided to somehow convince Angelo Badalamenti to perform it, it’s neatly atmospheric and kind of hovers in the background but never feels like it belongs to this film. I can’t forgive this thing because as much as there’s a a solid idea behind it, first time director Maria Pulera squanders any quality on needless, gratuitous, trashy and completely unnecessary sex scenes that come one after another at a Caligula level of relentlessness and absolutely stifle any chance the film has at even being a serviceable thriller. Franka Potente is one of my favourite actresses and I’ve always felt she deserves bigger roles but if she’s going to be demeaned in bullshit like this then I’d say don’t even bother. It sucks because Cage and her actually have some half decent chemistry in the first act before it all turns to shit. Nic himself spends the first two thirds wandering about in a daze looking like he just crawled out of a dumpster and then the last third going completely mental, stammering like an invalid and making an embarrassment out of himself. I can’t even berate this thing enough because I could see it on everyone’s faces and feel it in the treacherous, sleazy direction that they all knew better and could have made this at least halfway interesting but they decided to knowingly crank out a gross, sexist, incomprehensible, worthless, unpleasant, excessively sordid waste of celluloid. Half a Cage out of five Cages and that’s being generous.

-Nate Hill

Exploring the Nic Cage B-Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Seeking Justice aka Hungry Rabbit Jumps

Here’s a fun idea for a running project I’ll do in the next few weeks: Lord knows I pay attention to B movies and that whole low budget world but when Nicolas Cage does them I sit up straight for some reason and am totally present. It’s funny because these days you have formerly high pedigree actors like Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino all doing these second tier flicks simply because of the narrowing gap between what’s released theatrically and what goes directly to VOD or streaming (also they probably have grandchildren to shunt through Yale). That provides galaxies of weird, off the wall content for big league, once A List tough guys to sandbox in and I think it’s wonderful and always have a laugh when people wail and gnash their teeth and go “what happened to my boy’s career” well guess what bubs, they adapted and evolved to the ever shifting landscape of media entertainment and it’s natural. But for some reason Cage fits this B world like a glove and I was aghast to find that looking at his IMDb I’m woefully behind on the recent output, which I plan to fix in these coming weeks and do a series on the wild and wacky stuff he’s been up to, which I’ll dub the “Nic Cage B-Grade Cinematic Universe.”

First up is a slick flick called Hungry Rabbit Jumps from back in 2011, and the American distribution system just has to dumb down innovative titles like that into patronizing nonsense like ‘Seeking Justice’ which they re-titled this as for stateside release and it doesn’t help its case. It’s a fairly straightforward revenge/conspiracy/crime thriller that benefits a lot from the presence of Guy Pearce as the mysterious pseudo-antagonist. Cage plays a regular dude whose wife (January Jones, way younger than Nic in a sneaky trend in people casted as his spouses) is assaulted, and soon after they are approached by Pearce and his fancy suit, who offers to find and kill the assailant for them in return for a small ‘favour,’ collected somewhere down the line one day. They accept but when it comes time for that favour things get sticky and Pearce expects Cage to murder a man who he tells him is a no-good pedophile but really might be someone else. This all leads to the uncovering of a vast secret organization of well placed vigilantes who use the coded phrase ‘hungry rabbit jumps’ to make themselves known and Cage finds himself now intrinsically linked to their operation whether he likes it or not. It’s an interesting premise given the fairly pedestrian treatment but Nic and Guy get some nice tense moments to spar in and there’s enough action to keep pulses above flatline. I still wish they kept that title ‘Hungry Rabbit Jumps’ instead of fucking lame ass ‘Seeking Justice’ though like… come on man, learn how to read a room and support original flourishes like that instead of slapping it with a latter day Seagal level moniker. Three Cages out of five for this one.

-Nate Hill

Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The first time I saw Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (when it first came out) it was lost on me, I felt detached from it, unable to connect and, dare I say, bored. That’s what revisits are for though and the second time I found rich psychological detail, achingly beautiful character relationships, beautifully burnished cinematography and one tantalizing Rubik’s cube of a narrative that, yes, is still tough for me to comprehensively understand but is rich in treasures of emotional depth, poetic tragedy and minuscule splashes of darkest humour amongst the sardonic helpings of dry espionage. Gary Oldman is sly and terrific in a study of low key tenacity as George Smiley, a veteran MI6 bigwig tasked by twitchy Mission Control (John Hurt, brilliant as ever) to find a decades long Soviet mole amidst their ranks. It could be one of a few higher ups, played by the prolific likes of Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, David Dencik and others. It proves to be quite the hurdle as this traitor has burrowed himself so deeply within their ranks that he himself is perhaps confused what side he belongs to anymore. Smiley uses a rookie field operative (Benedict Cumberbatch, excellent) to sniff around and is carefully watched by a regional honcho played by Simon McBurney, a very unsettling little fellow who can turn the simple act of buttering dry toast into a devilish interrogation tactic and is the last dude you want to be ‘carefully watched’ by. The great Mark Strong has a wonderful extended bit as a long burned out former operative with deep ties to MI6 and a haunted past, his arc is very special here. My favourite aspect of the film has to be Tom Hardy as a double agent who falls hard for a mysterious Russian girl (Svetlana Khodvhenkova) he’s surveilling. He’s the perfectly tragic example of a hopeless romantic who discovers he’s gravely in the wrong line of work and wants out before it’s too late. All of these characters move about greyest London and other parts of Europe like chess pieces, and indeed the metaphor becomes literal when Hurt’s Control uses an actual chessboard to illustrate to Smiley just who he’s dealing with and how formidable each potential opponent might just be. The film is grey, drab, washed out, lived in and wearily opaque to evoke a paranoid, sad postwar setting but despite the inherent gloom drenching everything I found the aesthetic to be quite strikingly beautiful. Same goes for the themes and emotional content: these opaque characters hold their emotions close to the chest and as such appear icy, ambiguous and heartless yet it’s beneath that the we see their humanity, not in dialogue or direct action but in glances, quiet moments, slow revelations and half noticed interactions between words. Oldman, Strong, Firth and Hardy are the four standouts in an impossibly well tailored cast of deep cut talents, they’re the four legs of the table to watch for in order to ascertain the strange elixir of this film’s essence and get the most of it. Just don’t expect to absorb everything the first time round, this is a deeply layered, multifaceted, strange beast of a film that likely takes many viewings (this was only my second) to fully settle in. See if you can catch references to everything from John Carpenter’s The Thing to 007 to the Coen Brothers to even the bible while also soaking up the pure class and originality it possesses all its own. Great film.

-Nate Hill

“I was just on my way out!” Remembering Voyage of the Rock Aliens with Michael Berryman by Kent Hill

Voyage of the Rock Aliens German DVD

For those who were there…we can all remember a time when cynicism was nowhere to be found regarding our cinematic adventuring. Even during the age which saw the birth of the event picture; there were still fertile grounds from which material, attempting to ride the coattails of popular genre could grow into something that was more an mere homage. Indeed, it may very well have been just another amalgam of concepts, already witnessed by inquisitive travelers on the beaten track; the low-budget, video store self-fillers that are now, in some cases lost to history. Still, these movies were crafted with charm, professionalism and good intentions. No one sets out to make a bad movie, and the giants of the industry, no matter their field of expertise, all played in the same sandbox at one time or another – a pit rich with invention, ripe with interpretation and deep with heart.

eac3337120e392acf8c971d05b6bf858

So we come to the splendid curiosity which is: Voyage of the Rock Aliens – which is at once a musical, comedy, adventure, romance which doesn’t scrimp on the flavors you know and love when it blitzes together, forming a cocktail of joyous absurdity.

In brief: A group of music loving aliens are traveling through the galaxy, exploring and researching different forms of life and rock ‘n’ roll. After their on-board A.I. robot companion, 1359 (voiced by none other than Peter Cullin) chills out to a music video, featuring one of the film’s main theme songs featuring star Pia Zadora and a character named Rain, played by Jermaine Jackson, who take on a band of biker-nun looking cats, only to end with Zadora leaving Jackson in the dust as she takes off on the horse she rode in on. (This completely bizarre segue almost gives the entire plot of the film away, but, since you probably haven’t seen it…you’re safe.)

The aliens decide to focus their attention on the planet Earth. Soon after entering our world they meet Dee Dee (Zadora) and her boyfriend Frankie (Nightbreed’s Craig Sheffer) and his band, The Pack. These cats are gang-bangers from the eighties trapped stylistically in the fifties, and there is no shortage of that era’s nostalgia which seems to blend easily with the techno-pop styling of the Rock Aliens…?

Mysteriously it all turns out well. Frankie doesn’t want his band singing without him, so it is odd that we never get to see how devastating a musical talent Frankie actually is “with” the band. He does however manage to snag  himself a solo, show-stopping number which shows us how much Frankie identifies with big cats (specifically a panther) – but I won’t spoil that one.

unnamed

It is a wild old tale, with all the talent and experience you could want both in front and behind the camera. For a film buried so deep in the 80’s VHS jungle, VOTRA had some impressive people working on it, for instance Director James Fargo had directed everyone from Chuck Norris (Forced Vengeance) to Clint Eastwood (Every which way but Loose); Gilbert Taylor was the director of photography on Star Wars and the film’s editor Malcolm Campbell worked with John Landis at the height of his powers. Yes everyone from Oscar winners (Ruth Gordon)  to horror film icons. That’s right, horror icons. The film stars the man who knows that the hills have eyes, Michael Berryman, as an escaping inmate from the Speelburgh State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Simply known as Chainsaw, Berryman is an amazing screen presence with comedy, terror and a beautiful moment of tenderness at his command.

OKAY! So, if I haven’t tantalized your taste buds sufficiently to want to go and check this baby out, we have Chainsaw himself, Michael Berryman, who kindly offered me a fistful of remembrances of a movie I believe should be a cinematic audience sing-along spectacular of Rocky Horror proportions.

Some will look upon Rock Aliens as everything that was wrong with the eighties. But, instead of counting cinema sins why not, I challenge you, to embrace the warmth by the vintage hearth in which burns this vibrant flame, the quintessence of what our innocent youth saw as an excellent adventure…well before the music of Wyld Stallyns aligned the planets in universal harmony.

images (3)

KH: First allow me to thank you sir. It is gracious indeed for such an iconic performer of your calibre to grant us your time.

MB: A pleasure…

KH: So, you were once an inmate at the SPEELBERGH STATE HOSPITAL FOR THE CRIMINALLY INSANE?

MB: Yes, I was a patient at Speelbergh State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  I had been a wood-cutter and chainsaw expert for many years before this film. Nobody knew this until I spoke up when I am to saw around one of the aliens. There was a 4×8 sheet of sheetrock between me and the other actor. He was to stand still while a real chainsaw cut around him.  I was asked to perform this feet. I refused. I told my director that if the actor moved, he could be fatally harmed. I asked that we use a green screen. The actor was ok with a chainsaw cutting around him through plasterboard. No way was I going to do this. So, they had a grip/prop manager do the sawing. Now I watched as he assembled a 4 cubic inch chainsaw and as he prepared to start the engine, I told him: ‘Do not pull the lanyard. If you do, the chain will jump from the bar, wrap around your wrist and sever your hand…you have put the chain on backwards!’ He then asked me to fix this mess. I secured the chain and wished him good luck as I walked over to the camera to witness an amazingly dangerous stunt. It was successful and we moved on.

KH: If you can recall, what did you think of Edward Gold’s script when you first read it?

MB: Edward Gold wrote a script that was, in my observation, a straight forward comedy/musical. I read it and found the references to E.T. and such to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ humor. This film was designed to entertain, help you laugh, and the entire family could enjoy a great experience.

KH: You were just on your way out. I have had the privilege of having a former co-star of yours as a guest, Vernon Wells. When I spoke to Vernon, we talked about how (for a time) he hated the fact that he was type-cast. When Voyage of the Rock Aliens came along and you were tapped for the role of Chainsaw, were you content to play the part knowing you were perhaps cast as Vernon had been to be merely an incarnation of former characters?

MB: I was unaware of Vernon’s type casting…however, since I was in ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’, it seemed to fit that I play Chainsaw. I found it to be fun.

KH: You pass beneath the window of Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon after a Schwarzenegger Commando-style shopping spree for guns and grenades and such with Wallace Merck’s Breather, did you get to meet or chill out with Ms. Gordon or any other members of the eclectic cast?

Voyage of the Rock Aliens Ruth Gordon 02

MB: I found Ruth Gordon to be an honest and total professional actor. She had the moxy that she was known for. It was sweet to watch her as our sheriff.

KH: Tell us about your battle with the Lake Creature?

MB: The battle with the Lake creature was simple, as I had to cut his tip off and then bubbles emerged…sweet and child-like.

KH: In the midst of the music and mayhem, you have a rather poignant and touching scene with Alison La Placa’s Diane in which she helps you fix your beloved chainsaw. It is capped with a moment of smouldering intensity on your behalf when you say, “For me,” allowing her to be the one to fire up the chainsaw following her service?

MB: Alison was a delight to work with during that scene…we had a sweet time with it. Chainsaw moved on and he leaves his ‘Excalibur’ behind! The passage through the portal expressed a positive exchange with her character and mine. We both made the decision to have her fire up the saw and discover a new beginning for us both. She was joy to work with.

KH: Do you think Diane and Chainsaw lived happily ever after, there relationship evolved after the two of you went for that walk?

MB: Of course, Chainsaw and Diane lived happily…forever!!       

KH: If you have any fond remembrances of tales from production, what would they be?

MB: One day we were at Stone Mountain. Pia’s husband arrived in a Bentley and had her try on 2 different mink stoles…some people mumbled about this but I saw her and him to be in an honest exchange…it was no one’s business but their’s. I found Pia to be a true professional and hard worker. She had no attitude or ego to complicate the day’s work. I was pleased to watch her performance. The shoot was a delight in every way.

KH: Thank you Mr. Berryman. From this fan of yours and the gloriously, toe-tapping, insane splendour that is Voyage of the Rock Aliens…I thank you again.

MB: Kent…Great memories! …Stay safe.

MV5BYTEzOGE2MzMtMjY5Yy00M2M4LTkwNDctMzU2N2FjNGFkYThlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTQxNzMzNDI@._V1_

Voyage of the Rock Aliens Patrick Byrnes Rhema Urinal

 

Adam McKay’s The Other Guys

I don’t know what it is about Adam McKay’s The Other Guys but it’s one of those comedies I’ve seen literally over fifty times and it’s never not funny, in fact it gets even more fucking hilarious with each new viewing. It’s essentially a sendup of the buddy cop genre starring a perpetually cranky Mark Wahlberg and a half mad Will Ferrell, but it’s also so much more than that in ways you don’t initially see coming. I think it’s the lack of script and encouragement from everyone involved to rely on loopy improvisation that works so well for me here.. it’s like for every scene they tossed away all the scripted takes, kept all the ‘end of the shooting day giggles’ material and deranged bloopers and just loaded that shit up into the final cut, which is a stroke of mad scientist genius. Wahlberg and Ferrell are Allen and Terry, two hapless NYPD detectives constantly living under the shadow of a couple hotshot alpha badasses played briefly by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson until.. well let’s just say they get their moment to shine, as Ice-T dryly narrates the action when he feels the need to pipe in. They get involved in an impossibly intricate conspiracy involving diamond heists, a corrupt hedge fund guru (Steve Coogan almost walks off with the film), an Aussie private security prick (Ray Stevenson, priceless), the power-ball lottery and so much convolution that it’s taken me this many viewings to get that yes, it indeed does have a plot that makes sense when you work it all out but that’s besides the point anyways. It’s almost like Naked Gun level shenanigans where it doesn’t quite take place in the real world but an almost surreal comedic version of it. Just beholding Allen and Terry play ‘Bad Cop Bad Cop,’ get their car hijacked by a coven of perverted homeless dudes called ‘Dirty Mike & The Boys,’ recount Allen’s life as a college pimp, the precinct goons convincing Allen to do a ‘Desk Pop’ and so much more is enough to realize that you’re not in Buddy Comedy Kansas anymore and you’re gonna see some shit that defies genre expectations. I love when Steve Coogan is like “I’ll give you each a million dollars to let me go, and it’s not a bribe.” Ferrell retorts: “Of course it’s a bribe, you’re offering us money to not do our jobs”. Coogan looks him dead in the eye and sincerely reiterates: “It’s not a bribe.” Fucking gets me every time man. The cast is peppered with so many effective oddball performances I couldn’t mention them all here but be on the lookout for Eva Mandes, Rob Riggle, Josef Sommer, Brett Gelman, Derek Jeter, Damon Wayans, Bobby Cannavale, Anne Heche, Andy Buckley, Natalie Zea, Brooke Shields, Rosie Perez and more. Best of all has to be Michael Keaton as their police captain, a loopy fellow who also works at Bed, Bath & Beyond for some reason and quotes TLC songs multiple times throughout the film but pretends he has no idea who they are, it’s a brilliant bit of knowingly subtle supporting work that also gets me every time, as does the film overall. This one just exists outside the box and does it’s own thing, getting abstract, bizarre and frequently ‘WTF’ to the point it feels like something by SNL at their absolute weirdest or… I don’t even know what to compare McKay’s aesthetic to, but I’ll say that this is likely in the top ten funniest comedies I’ve ever seen. Aim for the bushes!

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Big Fish

There are so many ideas, myths, motifs, vignettes, episodes, characters and ideas swirling around in Tim Burton’s Big Fish it almost feels like several movies collided together to make their own sweet, sunny mixture and I love that feeling. It’s like a postcard perfect funhouse where you never know what you might get and some people saw a pacing problem or lack of focus in that regard but for me it’s this wonderful wellspring of creativity, visual audacity and fairytale lyricism. It’s also told from the perspective of a rascal who is notorious for making up wild stories so the narratively kaleidoscopic nature of the film seems very appropriate. Edward Bloom is one of the strangest Tim Burton characters to ever grace the screen, a magnetic individual played as a young man by beaming, idealistic Ewan McGregor and as an old fellow by wisecracking, lovable Albert Finney. Edward loves to tell stories, larger than life anecdotal adventures that he regaled his young son with throughout childhood, stories that couldn’t possibly be true.. right? As Edward grows up he leaves a town that just wasn’t big enough for him and meets many wonderful and strange characters along the way including a giant (Matthew McGrory), a poet turned bank robber (Steve Buscemi), a mermaid (Bevin Kaye), a reclusive witch (Helena Bonham Carter) a circus ringmaster (Danny Devito, scene stealing like nobody’s business) with a supernatural secret and eventually the love of his life Sandra, played as a young woman by the excellent Alison Lohman (whatever happened to her?) and later by Jessica Lange. The story finds an emotional core in the relationship between Edward and his son Will (Billy Crudup), a realist who resents being brought up amidst a bunch of tall tales and just wants, along with his wife (Marion Cotillard, lovely), to finally get to know his father as he is passing of terminal illness. The stories are besides the point here and as one character notes, at some point a man becomes the legends he tells simply by embodying them, and when it comes time for the narrative to tell us whether or not these tales are even true it hardly matters because the film has been so honest with us in the human connections we see unfolding. This film sits apart in Burton’s career because of how emotionally affecting it is, not largely focused on effects and makeup like he often chooses but crafted with its heart firmly planted on a bedrock of believable humanity. There’s whimsy, style and special effects galore mind you, all excellently, wonderfully done.. but the core of what makes this film so special lies in the final twenty minutes or so where we see a rich, cathartic final act that always brings me to tears. Edward Bloom may have told wild tales his whole life and Will must reconcile that they were just a part of who his father was, and that the greatest story in his life was the family he raised. It’s a beautiful, oddball, postcard pretty, occasionally surreal yet ultimately down to earth and deeply felt piece of storytelling.

-Nate Hill

Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller

In Robert Altman‘s stunning, dreamily haunting piece of anti western melancholia McCabe & Mrs. Miller, two lost souls wander out from unseen former lives into the rugged, barely tamed Canadian Pacific Northwest and attempt to carve out their slice of enterprise from a vast, unforgiving environment. Warren Beatty’s John McCabe is a shrewd yet caustic entrepreneur whose sense of romanticism is dwindling like the stars at dawn, a man who plans to capitalize on the wants and desires of the townsfolk of frontier settlement Presbyterian Church by tent-poling a successful local whorehouse. Julie Christie’s Constance Miller is a forlorn, sharp tongued opportunist bereft of any wistful innocence, her piercing, deep set blue eyes peering out from a thicket of gingerbread curls, scanning the horizon for lucrative endeavours. Both of them seem to arrive in the Northwest as if from another dimension; no backstory save for unfounded rumours, no goals except for capitalist monopoly and no sense of wonder or lyricism save for the few shiny flecks that haven’t been rinded down by the harshness of their lives, like mountains plundered for precious gold until not but scant flakes remain amongst weathered, weary crags. They team up as any person with a good head for business will concede to do, and before they know it they’re making a pretty penny… until big money mining interests try to muscle them out. Altman shows here how capitalism was a precursor to violence and corruption even in the early days of this continent and is successful in getting across his themes but for me the real treasures of this film lie in cinematography, tangible sense of character and mood. Christie and Beatty probably give career best performances as two hardened pioneers of commerce who collectively arrive at the end of each of their respective journeys in the saddest, mournfully poetic fashions imaginable. I wish I knew these two individuals before the world made them the way they are and the snowdrifts settled into the final acts of their arc because they’re two wonderful, well rounded and unique characters. Filling out a solid supporting cast are the likes of the late Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, William Devane, John Schlick, Michael Murphy, a very young Shelley Duvall and more. Altman uses unbelievably evocative wilderness photography to tell story and several aching, poignant songs by Leonard Cohen to bookend his film. It’s tough to capture the essence of this thing in a review, one has to let it wash over you, let it murmur in your ear for two hours as wood doors slam, horse drawn carriages trundle through muddy streets, wind whispers through tree lines, characters move in and out with organic disorganization like moths to and from firelight and McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s sad, introspective, beautifully ponderous story plays out. Sensational film.

-Nate Hill

Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart

I love films that show human beings close to nature, eccentric conservationists and bold, idiosyncratic individuals who value the lives of animals and the wilderness above other humans, industry or infrastructure. Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart is a fantastic example of this, of one reclusive army veteran with severe PTSD and a tragic past named Jim Malden (the late great Rutger Hauer) who lives alone on remote Cherokee island off the coast of North Carolina, devoting his life to the care, companionship and protection of birds and any other creatures he finds. He awkwardly flirts with the local general store owner (Kathleen Turner, switching up her smoky voiced socialite persona for something more casual and earthy) and bonds with her kid. He is fiercely protective of his land and the animals that dwell there to the point of inflicting mortal wounds with a crossbow onto two idiotic, nasty hunters (Brion James and John Dennis Johnston) who shoot birds illegally. Trouble arrives in the form of rock climbing adventurer Mike Walker (Powers Boothe) who has been hired by a weird, rich collector of rare bird eggs (Donald Pleasance channeling the Penguin from Batman) to pilfer the nest of rare bald eagles on Jim’s island, rendering that species extinct. Mike isn’t a malicious or cruel man and admits that the prospect bothers him but he’s been promised two hundred grand for his troubles that will go to funding an expedition in China that is very important to him. We then have this extreme battle of wills governed by moral principles, with both actors doing phenomenal jobs. Hauer is rugged and intense as ever, hinting at a mournful past and winning us over with his compassion for animals, whether washing oil spills off of a bird’s coat or playing with cute black bear cubs in his epic tree fort. Boothe is cavalier and brash at first but we get a sense of moral centre in him as his arc goes on, this could almost be considered ‘the other environmental protection film’ he did in the 80’s and played a good guy in alongside John Boorman’s masterful The Emerald Forest. It’s a a joy to see the two actors onscreen together and a neat precursor to Sin City two decades later, where they don’t share any scenes but play brothers. Now this film had a rough time in post production, many of the reels being lost, what they’ve done to piece it together works for the most part but there are a few pacing issues that aren’t easy to brush off, as well as some really cheesy sex romp stuff but I guess it was the 80’s after all. Still, it’s a beautiful film overall, looks terrific on the Shout Factory Blu Ray, has a wonderful electronic score by Maurice Gibb and is about something that I’m very passionate towards: the care and conservation of natural habitats at all costs, and the dire consequences befalling any greedy piece of shit person who tries to exploit them. Very good film.

-Nate Hill