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Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg

For a movie about a giant shark, given a giant budget, Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg is just kinda underwhelming. First off it’s PG-13, which is just not gonna do your shark attack flick any favours, I mean people wanna see sharks fucking people up and rating constraints will put a damper on that. Secondly, they just don’t do much with the infamous prehistoric megalodon other than have it jump around a bit, swallow a few people whole and arrive at a densely populated beach that looks like it was conceived by Wes Anderson’s production designer. What does work? Much of the interaction between some engaging human characters is funny, genuine and likeable. Jason Statham is great as a legendary deep sea diver who would rather just crush beers in his Thailand shanty. Robert ‘Longmire’ Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, stoic Cliff Curtis, unbelievably sexy Ruby Rose, Bingbing Li and a smarmy Rainn Wilson are fun. There’s a welcome tribal feel to the group dynamic and enthusiastic cheesiness that somehow reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising, a much more fun ocean set creature feature. But the shark action is lifeless and just not exciting, and if the lynchpin of your film doesn’t hold the thing together all you have is what works, in this case a fun group of folks played by varied actors running around impressive sets. The rest? Boring as hell dude. There’s one cool moment when a little girl sees The Meg slowly swim up to a giant glass window underwater and lunge for her but Netflix put that as the little teaser video on the film’s main menu so it’s spoiled before you even start the thing. I’ll still take Deep Blue Sea over this tide-pool detritus any day.

-Nate Hill

Ivan Reitman’s Six Days Seven Nights

Harrison Ford and Anne Heche are the last two people I would have expected to have romantic chemistry, but lord they do and it’s part of what makes Ivan Reitman’s Six Days Seven Nights such a charmer. It’s also interesting to note that Ford handpicked her for the role over more popular people like Meg Ryan. There’s something to be said for his intuition because the two of them take an averagely written, Romancing The Stone type shtick and turn it into something very watchable and believably endearing, mostly when they get to share the screen.

Heche is Robin, a mile-a-minute NYC publisher whose boyfriend (Ross from Friends) takes her on a south seas tropical vacation and proposes, which is kinda met with the most somehow enthusiastic yet lukewarm reaction I’ve seen. Ford is Quinn, the drunken bush pilot hired to fly them from island to island to their resort. When she has to dash mid vacation for work they wind up in a storm together, crashing in a remote area and you can imagine where it goes from there. Ross From Friends helplessly flounders around in a half assed rescue mission while they traverse the stunning tropical landscape (actually filmed in Hawaii), squabble a lot, eventually warm up to each other and are harassed by three South Seas pirates played by Temuerra Morrison, Cliff Curtis and Danny Trejo who, in typically obnoxious Hollywood casting fashion, are not remotely ethnically from that region.

This is fluff, there’s no way around it, but Ford and Heche elevate it far past what it can do on its own and are a delight. There’s something hilarious about him playing a short tempered, heavy drinking scoundrel who just chills out in the tropics and bangs the local exotic dancer when he isn’t flying his rust bucket plane around, his casual charm and cantankerous nature fits the role nicely. It’s really too bad Heche never became a bigger star (there’s a highly political reason for that which I won’t get into here) as she’s unconventionally attractive, full of charisma and never drops a beat when the camera is on her. These two actors are brilliant when onscreen together and make this worth watching, even if it is just a breezy time killer overall.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Hoblit’s Fracture

The judicial system has never been played so hard as it has by Anthony Hopkins in Gregory Hoblit’s Fracture, a thriller that’s written, acted and directed to high heavens but scored into oblivion. I’m not kidding, a hotshot courtroom gig of this caliber should sound great but the musical composition here by the Brothers Danna makes it sound like a TV movie and really doesn’t do it any favours. Odd, when you consider the fact that they are Oscar winners for previous scoring work. Hopkins is the murderous rich prick who shoots his wife (an underused Embeth Davidz) in the face when he finds out she’s having an affair with a cop (Billy Burke). Then in a spectacularly nasty move, he sets it up so the detective is first on scene to find her just so the old bastard can see the look on his face. After that, no one seems to be able to make the case stick to him, and it’s passed off to young hotshot prosecutor Ryan Gosling, who underestimates the sheer diabolical resolve of Hopkins and sails straight into his net. It’s pretty preposterous and overblown in terms of what’s allowed, not allowed and plausible in events surrounding such a high profile court case (why would they let him so close to his comatose wife right after such a suspicious acquittal?), but employ suspension of disbelief and this vicious little narrative is a lot of fun. Hopkins has a ball with this role, relishing the moment every time he royally fucks someone over and cooking up a stinging blend of laconic sociopathy and bubbling mirth. Hoblit gathers an impressive supporting cast including perennial silver-fox David Strathairn, Bob Gunton, Fiona Shaw, Cliff Curtis, Xander Berkeley, Zoe Kazan and slinky Rosamund Pike as a love interest from a rival firm. It’s a bit of a shame because the script, performances and story are all very well orchestrated, but the score and certain details just seem glossed over when there could have been more grit and depth. Those lacking elements give it an airy feeling of incompleteness where it should have been deeper and tighter drawn.

-Nate Hill

Steve, The MEG & I: 20 Years in the Making (Part 2) by Kent Hill

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I am a fan of Steve Alten’s writing and of shark, or sharksploitation cinema in general – so read these words with that in mind.

I first read MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror when it arrived on the scene in the late 90’s and believed then – just as a certain movie out at the moment  has confirmed for the world – that it was/is the basis for something cinematically awesome. But that was twenty years ago, when Alten was poised to become the next Peter Benchley and have his man vs big shark, or in MEG’s case, prehistoric bad-ass shark, optioned before it hit the shelves. All of the ingredients seemed to be there. A new JAWS, it appeared, was on the cards – then, it didn’t happen.

I followed the gestation throughout the years of this mighty megalodon movie that got away. Talented filmmakers crossed its wake, and I confess, I would have liked to have seen Jan de Bont’s take on the material – this talented director of photography  that came to the director’s chair and gave us SPEED and TWISTER. I think had his next picture been MEG, we might well be talking about Jan in a different way – and it might have saved us from SPEED 2?

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But they all saw MEG a different way. They didn’t see it the right way. Thus the production floundered and the seasons came and went. The MEG, all the while, lay silent in the depths of development hell.

CUT TO:

A YEAR AGO.

I contacted Steve (https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/08/02/20-years-in-the-making-an-interview-with-steve-alten-by-kent-hill/) to talk about the arduous journey his big shark book had taken to get to the screen. (A year before the worldwide press descended with the onset of the film’s success, I might add.) I was excited because, at long last, it seemed as though there was no stopping it now. A live action feature was in production and MEG, or The MEG, as it was soon to be titled, was rising and with or without the ‘The’, we who call ourselves ‘Megheads’ were about to have all we’ve ever wanted.

And it is the big shark summer blockbuster that I’ve longed for since reading that Novel of Deep Terror way back when. With an exceptional cast to lead us through a picture that is at once funny, moving and action-packed – there’s plenty for one to sink one’s teeth into. The filmmakers have given rise to the ‘Alten-verse’ which explodes spectacularly like the prehistoric leviathan that is it’s centerpiece.

Steve said we should catch up after the movie was out, so, I now present that chat and as for The MEG – I sign off by directly quoting the final line of one of the many splendid reviews for the picture previously published. In part because I share its sentiment exactly, and also because, whether by accident or design, it makes reference to that other big shark movie you may or may not be aware of…

“It will leave your inner 12 year old and your actual 12 year old, smiling like a son-of-a-bitch.”

VISIT:https://www.stevealten.com/

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20 years in the making: An Interview with Steve Alten by Kent Hill

 

 

Sometimes good things take time. Still, it is rare that Hollywood, being in possession of what it believes is such a ‘hot property’, would allow said property to languish in the depths of development hell. Especially for 20 years. But that is exactly where Steve Alten’s bestseller has been in residence. That, of course, is about to change.

Yes ladies and gentlemen (and in case you haven’t been following the story) next year Alten’s leviathan shall rise and finally arrive at a cinema near you. I have long been fascinated with the journeys  movies take on the road to the big screens on which we witness them. Some of these films never arrive, some appear in a confused and unfinished form. Others are the victims of too many cooks and most are a product of the machine.

For the films that don’t make it, (see great documentaries like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune (though Gilliam seems to have at last remedied this)) their journey is often as intriguing, if not more so, than what the final product might have been. But with MEG, the powers that be have what is a potentially massive franchise on their hands. So, why the wait?

The fates are strange and fickle. Steve Alten’s bestseller was optioned before it was complete, but it has taken the better part of two decades to arrive. I found this story intriguing, mainly because this was not some sort of artsy passion project or some grand tale of ridiculous hubris. No, what could have been, and what we may yet experience, might very well be the next JAWS? And while Spielberg’s film is by its nature a far more intimate piece; the shark menaces a small community and finally three men set out to kill the beast, MEG is something we are definitely going need a bigger boat for. A really BIG boat for!

Thus Steve Alten agreed to have a chat with me about the origins of his book’s long gestation toward its screen adaptation. What he relayed I found fascinating, and still believe it could become a great extra feature or a terrific stand-alone documentary of the ride this big shark movie as taken. But, like most fans, I am just grateful that with each passing day, we finally are at last drawing closer to the MEG movie’s premiere. Of course the real relief belongs to the creator. In many ways it has been worse for him, he having served on the front lines, he having been present for each false start and each heartbreaking hurdle. I have agreed to catch up with Steve before the film’s premiere next year. As the hype builds and teasers and trailers and all the ads  bombard our senses, what brings me pause and makes me smile is the thought of Steve Alten waking the red carpet, entering the theatre, taking his seat . . . and enjoying the movie…

…as I hope you will enjoy this.

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Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day: A Review by Nate Hill 

“To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” This questionable sentiment is how rogue LAPD detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) justifies a heavy laundry list of dirty deeds, scary volatility, sociopathic backstabbing and a complete disregard for the badge that he wears on a chain like dog tags. And indeed, inner city Los Angeles can seem like a war zone, but its like he’s in fact more part of the problem than the dark angel of justice he sees in himself. Antoine Fuqua’s combustible crime drama Training Day rightly won Washington an Oscar for his unsettling runaway train of a performance, and he owns it down to the last maniacal mannerism and manipulative tactic. The film takes place over one smoggy L.A. day (hence the title) that feels like an eternity for its two leads, as well as all the colorful and often terrifying people they meet along the yellow brick road that’s paved with used needles and shell casings. Harris is tasked with showing rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) the ropes in his neighborhood, in the hopes that he’ll pass the test and achieve Narc status. Jake is prepared for a run of the mill crash course, but as soon as he’s treated to a verbal beatdown from Harris in the diner they meet at, he has a feeling it ain’t gonna be anywhere close to a normal day. This is just another day for Harris though, as he drags Hoyt by the scruff through drug busts, gang warfare, the worst neighborhood in town and pulls him deeper into his very dangerous world. Fuqua has a knack for getting the atmosphere of his settings just pitch perfect, and the feverish nightmare of the inner city comes alive, seemingly possessing the characters themselves until the atrocities just seem like a way of life. The trouble really starts when they run across Harris’s old drug lord buddy Roger (a wicked Scott Glenn in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke), who proves a valuable asset later, though not in the way you might think. Harris introduces Jake to his equally crooked and scary team, including Peter Greene, Nick Chinlund and Dr. Dre who struggles in the acting department, especially in a room full of such heavy hitters. Jake is aghast at the horrors he sees and cannot believe the streets are like this. Harris devilishly assures him that this is the job, mutilating the symbol of his badge even more by justifying such behaviour as necessary. Tension reaches unbearable heights during a visit to a Latino gang household run by Cliff Curtis, Raymond Cruz and the eternally scary Noel Gugliemi. This is the heart of darkness fpr the film, a story beat from which there is seemingly no escape, until it becomes clear that Jake has somehow evolved a step up the food chain as far as LA goes, and is now ready to put down the dog who taught him, a dog who has long been  rabid. People complain that the final act degenerates into a routine action sequence. Couldn’t disagree more. With a setup so primed with explosive conflict, it can’t end up anywhere else but an all out man to man scrap, which when followed by no flat out action sequences earlier in the film, hits hard. Their inevitable confrontation is a powerhouse, especially from Washington, who finally loses his composure and yowls like a trapped coyote, his actions caught up to him. In a role originally intended for Tom Sizemore (who would have rocked it in his own way) I’m glad Denzel got a crack at it, for he’s absolute dynamite. Watch for Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry and Tom Berenger as the three senior LAPD dick heads, Eva Mendes as Alonzo’s girlfriend, Macy Gray as a screeching banshee of a ghetto whore and Snoop Dogg as your friendly neighborhood wheelchair bound crack dealer. Fuqua keeps attention rooted on the dynamic between Washington and Hawke, who is excellent in as role that could have easily been swallowed up by Washington’s monster of of a performance. Hawke holds his own, and the film is really about how two very different guys view a difficult area of town, how it changes them both, and ultimately how their moral compasses end up on a collision course. One of the best crime framas out there, and quickly becoming timeless.

Psychology Of Film Episode 2~Paramedic Fever Dreams: Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead

Recently myself and a good friend of mine, Mo Barrett, have begun to craft special ‘interactive’ video summaries of some of our favourite darker, more challenging films. This installmeant sees us look at Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, a terrific. Option picture which we both have a mutual love for. Please click the link below and enjoy!

Bringing Out The Dead
Created By Mo Barrett and Nate Hill, with thanks to the support of Frank Mengarelli and Nick Clement of Podcasting Them Softly.