Tag Archives: clifton collins jr

HBO’s Westworld: Season 3

HBO’s Westworld is a show that explores evolution, both humanity’s and that of an emerging new species with uncommon innovation, beauty and ferocious destruction. As such the evolutionary process that should be most captivating is that of the show itself, as the storytelling flows and blooms from one season to another and their third instalment has surpassed my expectations. This is groundbreaking, cinematic level world building with deep psychological exploration, sweeping special effects, pools of philosophical introspect, musical genius peppered throughout the episodes and a sense of great progression in scope, spirit and sound from the womb of season one and birth canal of two. With three we see the hosts, human beings and overall tone break free into a brave, scary, different new world and I couldn’t be more overjoyed or awestruck at the avenues of exploration taken with this piece of television.

These next two paragraphs will get a bit spoilery in regards to the first two seasons so if you haven’t been on this wagon train since the get-go then maybe hang back. The Westworld park is all but ashes, it’s creators, attractions and shareholders scattered to the wind. Ed Harris’s self destructive maelstrom William is relegated to a batshit crazy (more than usual anyways) version of himself, antiquated in a now all-bets-are-off chessboard. Evan Rachel Wood’s fiery farmer’s daughter turned revolutionary is whipping up an explosively covert war against humans in order for her and the other hosts who made it out, banding together with ex-soldier Caleb (Aaron Paul) for a bitter battle against mega CEO Serauc (Vincent Cassel) and his golden egg, a complex orb of artificial intelligence that has held humanity in a secret stranglehold for decades. Others return here and there including Thandie Newton’s Mauve (my personal favourite character <3), Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard while new and welcome faces show up including Tommy Flanagan, John Gallagher Jr., Thomas Kretschmann, Marshawn Lynch, Pom Klementieff, Lena Waithe, Rafi Gavron, Russell Wong and rapper Kid Cudi.

Season one and two were very much governed by boundaries; the park’s borders constantly loomed and whatever realms which lay beyond remained largely a mystery. Godlike Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) hovered over everything with opaque benevolence and knew more than he let on, especially about the true nature of the world. The atmosphere felt contained, bound by dreamlike tendons that inevitably disintegrated and led to something new, the genesis of an entirely new race of beings. Season 3 blasts apart the shackles and throws us headlong into a strange, unforgiving, futuristic world, a world ruled by technology and automation that is ready for Dolores and her cohorts to hijack for their own ends. Aaron Paul is fantastic here, worlds away from his Breaking Bad persona, a fallibly human totem of change and uprising who is unsure of himself yet best suited for the job than for reasons I won’t spoil here. HBO has their very own Hans Zimmer-esque composing prodigy in Ramin Djawadi, a hugely talented artist who continues his ethereal, haunting covers of iconic classic rock artists like Bowie and Guns N’ Roses while crafting intense, gorgeous pieces of his own electronic revelry to accent the story. Production designers keep up their arresting retro-futuristic portrait of the future with nods to everything from Blade Runner to Metropolis to Kill Bill while painting their own bold, original canvas of costumes, aircrafts, weaponry and tech interface while the impossibly cool, prophetic opening credits take on sweeping newfound meaning with a thrilling update. One of my favourite sequences sees Caleb take a weird street drug that sees his consciousness pass through several different states of awareness from psychedelia to black and white noir, the episode is titled ‘Genre’ and is an achingly beautiful, dynamic shoutout to the very medium of visual storytelling itself. Dolores and all her kind really broke the mould when they revolted and escaped, and so too does this brilliant third incarnation of one of the greatest television series ever made. Bring on season four and whatever new beats, revelations and rock remixes will come with it.

-Nate Hill

Clint Eastwood’s The Mule

Talk about laidback and low key. I knew by the trailers that Clint Eastwood’s The Mule wasn’t going to be an outright thriller or anything intense despite the subject matter but I really appreciated how wistful, elegiac and at ease with itself this film was. Eastwood is knocking at 90’s door and is still spry as a sprite, once again taking both acting and directing duties in the story of Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturalist turned drug mule for the Mexican cartel. Earl is an egocentric social butterfly who could never seem to find time for his family or put them before his needs. His wife (Dianne Wiest) resents him, his daughter (Alison Eastwood) full on abhors him for missing her wedding. Only his granddaughter (Taissa Farmiga keeps getting more fantastic with each new role) holds out hope and still welcomes him with open arms. He’s all but broke when his garden centre is foreclosed upon, until a chance meeting puts him in touch with underworld operatives and before he knows it he’s ferrying lump sums of narcotics across the states for very dangerous people. This character fascinated me because even when he gets this extremely lucrative opportunity that allows him to partly buy his way back into his family’s life, he doesn’t understand or ignores the fact that if they knew where he got all this money from he’d be more in the doghouse with them than when he started off. This is essentially a story about a guy who never took responsibility, who never took life seriously enough to have a proper legacy until he gets an eleventh hour chance to do so. There’s a workaholic DEA agent played excellently by Bradley Cooper and they share a few chance encounters that capture the essence of this story nicely. They’re two men on opposite ends of the law and very different places in their life who are nonetheless able to share a few moments, enlighten each other’s perspectives and be all the wiser because of it. I loved this story because it ably showed how even in one’s twilight years when one is *still* making mistakes, it’s not too late to reconcile or turn it all around. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Rod Lurie’s The Last Castle

It was news to me that they have special military prisons in the States for court martials, dissidence and other forms of unruly behaviour in the ranks, but Rod Laurie’s The Last Castle gives insight aplenty into it. It’s basically prison but more intense, a penitentiary inhabited by only ex-soldiers and ruled over by one stubborn brat of a Warden in the form of James Gandolfini. Robert Redford plays a highly decorated, legendary general who is sent up for insubordination in circumstances that any rational personal should find understandable, but the US Government didn’t see it that way, so here he is. He’s a proud man who doesn’t back down in the face of bullies or tyrants, which immediately puts him at odds with Gandolfini. The warden initially shows admiration for him that turns sour after he can’t tame him to his way of thinking, after a which a sadistic streak emerges and nearly turns into all out warfare behind bars as the two let their personal natures run over into chaos. Redford, being a natural leader, forms ranks of his own from anyone who has the balls to deny authority and leads a minor rebellion, and although it all kind of gets overblown by the end, it’s nonetheless a fascinating and mostly character driven story. Support is given by a fine roster including Mark Ruffalo, Frank Military, Delroy Lindo, Steve Burton, Paul Calderon and the excellent Clifton Collins Jr. as an unfortunate rookie who becomes collateral damage in this very personal war. Gandolfini never ever half assed or phoned in a role, he was always focused, intense and specific and his character here fascinated me. This is a guy who is massively insecure and it’s evident from his behaviour that he didn’t have what it takes to engage in real life war games like the rest of them, therefore relegated to playing toy soldiers in military jail. There’s a bitter resentment in his body language and you get the sense that this guy was ready to snap for a while and the arrival of someone as prolific and headstrong as Redford’s character finally pushed him over the edge. It’s a brilliant performance in a good film that could have done without so much big budget Hollywood fireworks, but is still strong enough in the dramatic aspects to be affecting.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic

I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.

-Nate Hill

Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank 2: High Voltage

If you took Grand Theft Auto, The Looney Toons, bath salts, nitroglycerin, raw adrenaline, a bucket of piss, a spoonful of vinegar and a few ounces of C4 and chucked them all in a blender, you’d have something almost as utterly fucked as Neveldine/Taylor’s Crank 2: High Voltage, a sequel that leaves the first film somewhat in the dust, and if you’ve seen their initial Crank effort, you can imagine what a sheer feat that is. Cheerfully racist, unapologetically sexist, hedonistic in heaps and fully committed to being as mean, sleazy and batshit as movies can get, it turns an action movie into something truly out there. Jason Statham is the invincible Chev Chelios, a contract killer who gets put through the wringer when pretty much the entire organized crime faction in Los Angeles decides they want him dead. In the first film it was adrenaline that kept him going and here it’s electricity. Saddled with a weird synthetic heart, he’s on a mad roadrunner odyssey to get his original ticker back from legions of gangsters who want to sell it on the black market or transplant into the body of a weird old goat of a Triad boss called Poon Dong, played by David ‘do anything for a paycheque’ Carradine. Statham is a trooper, getting every part of his body fully zapped by all kinds of dangerous objects, engaging in shameless public sex once again with his spunky girlfriend (Amy Smart), this time in the middle of a horse racetrack. Explaining the plot is pointless because things just sort of… happen, in their own madcap way and it’s really hard to keep up with the kind of deranged marathon this thing runs. A frenzied strip club owner (the late Corey Haim) a thoroughly psychotic Asian hooker (Bai Ling), Chev’s ever loyal off-the-books Doctor (Dwight Yoakam) and all manner of punks, freaks, mafiosos and maladjusted urban monsters make appearances. Clifton Collins Jr. is equal parts terrifying and hilarious as El Huron, a flamboyant Cholo boss hellbent on killing Chev, but not before a few sadistic sideshow games first. The real heroes here are Neveldine and Taylor, two hyperkinetic ringmasters who aren’t afraid to get absolutely mental in their filmmaking process, injecting every bit of madness, mayhem and debauchery they can stuff into the script. Strippers getting shot in the tits and leaking silicone everywhere, a Mexican vato slicing off parts of a Chinese rival gang member and gleefully saying “check it out.. sushi!”, a severed head kept alive in a fish tank and a Godzilla inspired animated interlude are all but a taste of the bizarre pitstops this film makes on its hyper-violent, coked out flight path towards breaking the sound barrier. It’s either your thing or it isn’t, I mean I wouldn’t show it to my grandparents, it’d be a monumental exercise in tolerance for anyone with views that verge on conservatism. But fuck if it ain’t impressive for just for how far past the stratosphere it goes though, it’s like the first Crank film fell asleep, had a fever dream about itself and then this thing was birthed from that vision out of the death of a neutron star, mid explosion. I’ll stop because I’m running out of adjectives for ‘crazy’.

-Nate Hill

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2

Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers 2 has the monumental task of being one of those sequels that comes around so far after the fact that it has to do something different than it did the first time around. It does that. It also has to live up to fan expectations without just retreading all the same paths and taking the easy, self derivative route. It also does that, and quite successfully too. I’ll just clear the air: I loved it, I thought it was a fucking blast, and hit all the right notes you’d expect and wish for. It’s different than the first, amping up the rowdy, maniacal tone even further and going for broke, but never exhausting itself or getting too shrill. It’s been a good long while since the first, and the gang has naturally managed to get themselves fired from their Vermont city cop gigs following an incident involving Fred Savage, who I only know as the mole guy from Goldmember. The main event here is the discovery that a small Canadian town is actually on American soil, so the Vermont governor (Wonder Woman) hires crusty Captain O’Hagen (Brian Cox, having as much of not more fun than he did the first round) to rally his troops and oversee the transfer of power, which includes a trio of buffoonish Mounties (Will Sasso, Hayes Mcarthur and Vancouver’s own Tyler Labine), a manic Rob Lowe, sexy Emanuelle Chriqui, a rogue grizzly bear, copious amounts of narcotics, throwbacks to jokes from the first that actually work, endless jabs at the metric system and all manner of… shenanigans. I think us Canadians can get an extra kick out of it seeing ourselves represented in the most hilarious, over the top fashion you can imagine, exaggerated accents and all. The three Mounties have a demented running joke regarding Danny DeVito that had me choking on my beer. Rob Lowe has an inspired gift for comedy and sending up his own image, his casting here was a brilliant move. As for Rabbit, Ramathorn, Foster, O’Hagen, Mac and ever ridiculous Farva, I got both misty eyed and nostalgic seeing them raising hell, causing shit and being the beloved idiots we remember so fondly, back to give us second helpings of their consistently funny, always surprising brand of eclectic humour. There’s a couple priceless cameos in the prologue that I won’t spoil but I’ll say that it was awesome to see ma boy Clifton “Whup ass fajitas” Collins Jr. show up in the Broken Lizard multiverse. It amazes me that they’d even need to crowdfund something by this troupe, because from the first Troopers flick to Beerfest to The Slammin Salmon, these guys are just riotous and some of my favourite comedic filmmakers in action these days, I really hope this skyrockets them to the big leagues once again.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Vault

I miss films like The Vault, and it’s refreshing to see there’s still artists out there who care enough to make them. You see, in today’s hyper meta, incredibly self aware age of remakes, redos, reimagining and reboots, everything has to be bigger, better, have cutthroat innovation and just be… more. Neglect often rises in terms of making good old, straight up, no bullshit genre flicks, the kind we fell in love with in the first place, the kind which without, we’d have none of the throwbacks of our era. I suppose you could in fact call this one a throwback because these days the lines of definition are impossibly blurred, but there’s just something so earnest, endearing and straightforward to it’s formula that reads as effortless and totally in it’s groove. Picture this: bank robbers unwittingly siege a branch that turns out to be haunted. It’s obviously more complicated, but come on man.. a haunted bank! The concept alone gets one giddy. During a hectic warehouse fire that conveniently gridlocks a whole city block, a roughneck crew of outlaws take hostages, led by sisters Francesca Eastwood and Taryn Manning, who have bad blood for each other right out of the gate. Outside, a wearily sarcastic Detective (Clifton Collins Jr) tries to keep the peace, clueless of the crime in progress a few doors down. Inside the bank, all hell breaks loose, literally and figuratively, as the perps slowly discover that beneath the building’s modern veneer, deep in the old abandoned vault, something evil has awoken. It’s a neat premise, and both the crime and horror aspects are handled well enough to keep one glued to the screen. Manning is an actress I haven’t seen in a while, but I’ve always enjoyed her scrappy tomboy style, and she’s a hyperactive gong show here. Eastwood has quietly been putting out great work for some time now (check out her brief but affecting cameo in Twin Peaks), she does the tough but sexy turn really nicely. Q’orianka Kilcher has been all across the board since she came onto the scene playing Pocahontas in The New World, showing up in the least expected places, like a cool bank teller role here. James Franco has a solid supporting turn as the bank’s strange assistant manager as well. Much of the film is a hyper kinetic, pulsating thrill ride with stranglehold pacing, eventual pauses coming for the schlocky elements to breathe and the scare tactics to effectively come forth, a great mixture. This one is simplicity itself in terms of genre, with no cheeky pretence or smirking, meta undercurrent, just a good old school horror hybrid, and a damn enjoyable one too.

-Nate Hill

The Nelms Brother’s Small Town Crime

Looking for your annual rural crime/drama/black comedy/character study fix? Well, Three Billboards, which I reviewed the other day, provides that with something more illusory and profound. If you’re after one that’s a bit more old school and straightforward, check out the Nelms Brother’s Small Town Crime, a brutal, breezy thriller starring John Hawkes, an actor I remember from the fringes of the 90’s who seems to have gone newly platinum these days thanks to an Oscar nomination for 2010’s Winter’s Bone. He’s hilariously sympathetic here as a raging alcoholic ex-cop who stumbles right into the middle of a murder ring with the crosshairs latched onto a group of local underage prostitutes. Never one to back down once he gets a few cold ones in him before noon, he’s on the case between sessions at the dive bar and inebriated joyrides in his souped up muscle car. There’s a slightly off kilter, surreal quality to his story and that of those around him, a coming and going sense that these are a cartoonish series of events that aren’t really happening, when one looks at the supporting characters. Robert Forster has never been more deadpan or watchable as the tycoon grandfather of one of the slain hookers, a hands-on gent who isn’t afraid to dust off his giant scoped rifle to help out. He’s joined by outlandish Latino pimp Mood (Clifton Collins Jr., who needs way more roles), both of them assisting Hawkes in his crusade. Even the psychotic hitman (Jeremy Ratchford) dispatched to kill everyone in sight has a distinctly ‘out there’, roadrunner vibe. But Hawkes anchors the whole deal with the mopey, sad-sack realism of his character, a loser who’s dead-end existence has been given a new lease on legacy. His best buddy Anthony Anderson and wife Octavia Spencer give the plot some gravity too, a neat seesaw effect that sits opposite Forster and Collins exaggerated antics. The film has a funny way of both ambling along at it’s own pace and jumping out at you with warp speed jump cuts and brazen, bloody violence. The dialogue is pure poetry in areas and knowing camp in others, neatly balanced. Don Harvey and veteran tough gal Dale Dickey have great bits as salty bartenders, while Daniel Sunjata and haggard looking ex-pretty boy (remember him in Monster In Law with Jane Fonda and J-Lo?) Michael Vartan play two local detectives who are always frustrated to be a step behind Hawkes, who plays off the grid and close to the chest. Small Town Crime is a small time film, but the craft gone into bringing it to our screens couldn’t be bigger or more commendable from all angles. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Stuart Gordon’s Fortress


Stuart Gordon’s Fortress is one of the more overlooked dystopian sci-fi thrillers of the 90’s, and despite somewhat being a B-movie, it holds its own in pretty much every department. Quality story, terrific acting (even from the king of stilted delivery himself, Christopher Lambert) and a story with more depth than the poster or marketing might suggest. Lambert plays an unfortunate man on the run with his wife (Loryn Locklin) in an America of the future where having more than one child per mother is prohibited. They’re both nabbed trying to make a break for Mexico, locked away in a horrific prison called Fortress, a place where science has run amok and all kinds of neurological and biological experiments are performed on the inmates under the steely direction of evil Director Poe (Kurtwood Smith). Fortress is an unorthodox nightmare where basic rights are replaced by those of cattle or worse, and no one is safe from micro implants, mind alteration and all sorts of fun stuff. Lambert plans an elaborate escape with the help of various inmates including Vernon Wells, the late Tom Towles, Jeffrey Combs and Clifton Collins Jr., all putting in excellent and varied performances. The scene stealer is Kurtwood Smith though, who is usually cheeky, psychotic or sarcastic in his work. Taking on the type of role that typically goes to a Malcolm McDowell type guy, he tackles a character that is the farthest thing from sympathetic you could find and sort of turns that on its head, making him seem very much human in one galvanizing piece of acting work. You can label this type of thing second tier or low budget, write it off or not take it seriously, but the fact remains that many of these efforts are works of art in their own right, beautifully crafted adventure stories set in universes more vibrant and imaginative than our own, stories just to the left left of normal and full of schlock, machines, creature effects and smoke machines. Gordon is a master in this arena (remind me to tell you about Space Truckers one day), a creative force to rival Roger Corman and the like. Fortress is my personal favourite in his stable, and one shouldn’t underestimate its entertainment value and ability to hold up decades later. Oh and also, this suffers from an adorable condition I call Blade Runner Syndrome™, in which the far off year the film’s timeline exists in has been caught up to by our own trajectory, making the films future look like our past. This film’s specific year? 2017, as you’ll see in the poster above. That means that right now, Lambert and Smith are duking it out in that clandestine compound somewhere out there. Cool thought. 

-Nate Hill

Man Down 


I’ll say this right off the bat: do not watch Man Down if you’re already in a mood, because it will emotionally lay you the fuck out. I learned that the hard way the other night. Billed as a war film, marketed as such and discreetly snuck onto iTunes without so much as a hint of theatrical release, its easy to see why they’ve tried to bury this one, it’s the bleakest film I’ve seen so far this year, and possibly the previous one. If there’s any doubt still surrounding Shia Labeouf’s acting talent (there shouldn’t be at this point), his work here should solidify greatness. All publicity antics and oddball muckery aside, he’s proven time and again that he’s one hell of a performer, and this is the best work he’s ever done, by a long shot. As Afghan war vet Gabriel Drummer, he’s put through an emotional wringer, sent back to an America ravaged by some vague pandemic, on a hopeless mission to locate his wife (Kate Mara) and young son (Charlie Shotwell). Joined by his best friend and fellow soldier Devin (Jai Courtney), Gabriel’s mission seems hazy and desperate, his family always just out of reach, tormented by the psychological wounds of combat but determined not to give up. This is interspersed with an extended dialogue scene between him and General Peyton (Gary Oldman, restrained, patient and careful), in which he heartbreakingly opens up about the horrors he has seen. This is where Labeouf shines, his tears uncannily genuine, his work visibly shaking up Oldman and tearing at the edges of the screen in it’s implosive intensity. Trust me, this is not the film you are expecting, not even close. By the time the third act rolls around and you see what’s really going on, you’re emotionally sucker punched when least expecting it, and the film’s quiet, devastating anti-war message is hit home with the force of a sledgehammer. I can’t say too much more without ruining it, but it’s one of the most thoughtful, understanding war films I’ve seen, one that gets the reality of what it’s like to have seen such atrocities, and come out of it a different person. Strong, stinging stuff that takes a while to shake off. 

-Nate Hill