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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

Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2

Rob Zombie was always going to make the jump from musician to filmmaker, you could just feel it in the air and it also felt apparent that he’d be a successful one too, unlike a few of his compadres (poor Dee Snider). The term shock rock has been applied to his work and that can be said of his films too; he’s always been about brash, crass stylistic choices and as such it shocks *me* when people are appalled at his films and their off putting nature, I mean this is Rob Zombie the heavy metal guy we’re talking about here, not someone innocuous like Barry Levinson. What consistently surprises me about his work in film is that along with all the appropriately trashy, nasty imagery and visual grotesquerie there is a strong drive to explore themes, cultivate mature, realistic characters and build worlds that feel like our our own to tell his scary stories in. This is all apparent in his Halloween 2 which I feel is an overlooked, misunderstood piece of horror madness and brilliance.

Being a huge fan of his original Halloween reboot I was surprised and curious at his decision to follow it up, because the first stands on its own and wraps up very nicely in the final moments, in its own way and as a calling card to Carpenter’s original. But he and the Myers name made Dimension Films a big pile of money and this film went ahead, which I’m grateful for. His vision of H2 is a spectacularly terrifying, relentlessly bleak and disarmingly psychological one, worlds away from his first outing and while it still bears the profane, yokel brand of his dialogue writing in spots, this is some of the most down to earth filmmaking he’s done. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor Compton) is a mess following events past, and understandably so. She lives with her friend Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, a perennial totem of the franchise) and Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif), barely coping with constant nightmares, waking dreams and hallucinations from her trauma and sees a psychiatrist (the great Margot Kidder) who doesn’t prove to be all that effective. Malcolm McDowell’s once helpful and compassionate Dr. Loomis has fought his own trauma by drinking hard and becoming a cynical, nasty media whore who cruelly makes it public that Laurie is in fact Michael’s baby sister, which doesn’t help her mental climate much. Add to this the fact that Michael did indeed survive that fateful Halloween night and is slowly making his way back to Haddonfield for round two and you have all the ingredients for a perfect storm.

This film is horror to its core but I also love how Zombie dutifully explores Post traumatic stress disorder in brutally realistic fashion, something that none of the other films in the series bothered to look at, seriously anyways. Compton is fantastic in a picture of hell as Laurie here, disheveled and dissociated to dangerous levels and damaged by Michael’s evil beyond repair. Michael (Tyler Mane) is different too, spending much of the film without his mask and followed by ethereal visions of his long dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and otherworldly, surreal demonic figures who spur him on in haunting dream sequences. Dourif is emotionally devastating as Brackett and people sometimes forget just what kind of dramatic heavy lifting this guy is capable of. He plays a nice, kind man who only ever tried to protect his daughter and Laurie both and when they collectively pass through the event horizon of being able to heal from the horror, the anguish and heartbreak in his performance shakes you to the bone. Zombie populated his supporting ranks with a trademark bunch of forgotten genre faces like Daniel Roebuck, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Richard Rhiele, Howard Hesseman, Mark Boone Jr, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Duane Whitaker and Sean Whalen and new talent like Brea Grant, Nancy Birdsong, Octavia Spencer, Angela Trimbur and, uh… Weird Al Yankovic too. Michael spends much of the film on his journey back to Haddonfield here after escaping a percussive ambulance crash (perhaps of his own elemental making) and as such many of the shots we get are him on the moors, farmlands and eerie fields of the neighbouring counties, haunting the land like some restless spirit until it comes time to kill once again. The atmosphere is one of dread and abstract mental unrest as we see each character, including Michael himself, begin to lose it. It all culminates in a horrifying, darkly poetic confrontation complete with a hectic police chopper and all the careening madness we can expect from Zombie’s vision of this world. Then he decides to give this legacy a disquieting send off that works sadly and beautifully by bringing back the song Love Hurts, this time crooned softly by Nan Vernon instead of a raucous strip bar sound system. Whether you’re attuned to Zombie’s aesthetic or not, there’s just no denying his artistic style, commitment to world building and brave openness in reinvention and experimentation within an established mythos. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood

One time Robert Rodriguez asked pal Quentin Tarantino for advice on his Mariachi films and Quentin told him that if he was going to go for a third one it should be big, loud and be called Once Upon A Time In Mexico. This to me represents a certain decision in the career of any filmmaker to make a ‘Once Upon A Time’ in the sense that it is to be big, loud, lengthy, personal and something of a milestone, and I always wondered what Quentin’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ might, if ever, manifest as. Well it’s here, and let me tell you that Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood is the real fucking deal. It’s Tarantino’s best film since Kill Bill (in my humble but stubborn opinion) and a magnum opus of poetic justice, cartoonish buffoonery, horrific suspense, painstakingly beautiful production design, dirty fuckin’ hippies, pitchers full of margarita mix, a pit bull you’ll fall in love with instantly and enough meta moviemaking fanfare to send one into a coma of cinematic bliss.

It’s a western, a period piece, a borderline documentary at times, a buddy comedy, a horror film and more but at the centre of it Tarantino stashes a deep love and reverence for an era long past. I didn’t grow up in the 60’s, I wasn’t born yet but watching these old cars careen through the Hollywood hills at dusk, hearing the the gorgeous soundtrack, various meticulously chosen commercials and radio plays gently warble out from stereos and televisions and seeing neon billboards flare up all over town somehow just put me right there as if I’d lived through those decades. There’s a sense of idyllic innocence in Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, a hopeful force of good as we see a woman in the first lap of both life and her career, the world open in front of her like a red carpet. There’s also menace in the land as the evil, twisted Manson cult hovers over the fringes of town like a flock of banshees. Tarantino clearly has no love for these people, portraying them as trashy dumpster diving lunatics who live in putrefied squalor and come across as inbred jackals waiting to pounce. There’s a clear cut hatred for the acts perpetrated in our timeline by Manson’s followers, and a deliciously cathartic sense of righteous retribution in how the filmmaker acts out his own version of an event that for him changed the face of the city.

Brad Pitt and Leonardo Dicaprio are two mega movie stars who share the screen for the first time here, and they also get to share a bromance thats poignant and perfectly pitched in terms of comedy and tragedy. Dicaprio is Rick Dalton, a once dapper TV star whose jump into film has faltered, or at least it has in his own perception of himself. Pitt is Cliff Booth, his trusty stuntman, confidante and drinking buddy, an ice cool cowboy with a dangerous edge and uncanny way of getting in more sensational real life shenanigans than Rick does behind a camera. Their relationship is the core of the film and while we get to spend quite a bit of time with both together, much of the film we see them off doing their own thing. Rick has landed the bad guy of the week guest spot in a western called Lancer, struggling to keep his cool, remember his lines and stay on top. Cliff picks up a spooky hitchhiking chick (Margaret Qualley makes a stark impression) and makes a visit to the sinister Spahn movie ranch where the Manson brood have taken up roost like vultures. They make a trip to Rome so Rick can do a few spaghetti westerns that his agent (Al Pacino) keeps talking up. It’s a hangout film for much of the languid two hour and forty five minute runtime, and despite the lulls and chill time not a moment feels wasted. Pitt may well have whipped Tarantino’s best character, a kooky badass who is clearly dysfunctional on film sets but has his own hard edged set of morals that cause him to dish out western style justice at the drop of a hat, when he isn’t eating kraft dinner, hamming beers or feeding his adorable dog Brandy. Leo is insecure, melodramatic and neurotic no end, there’s a frustration and hilariously relatable self loathing that’s tamed in a touching encounter with a child actress (Julia Butters- a breakout star here) who befriends him and puts things into perspective.

Tarantino amasses a monumental cast here from cameos to clever impersonations and more, watch for Bruce Dern, Timothy Olyphant, Luke Perry, Michael Madsen, James Remar, Lena Dunham, Damon Herriman, Emile Hirsch, Damien Lewis, Austin Butler, Mike Moh, Maya Hawke, Victoria Pedretti, Danielle Harris, Scoot Mcnairy, Clifton Collins Jr, Marco Rodriguez, Dreama Walker, Rumer Willis, Spencer Garrett, Clu Galagar, Rebecca Gayheart, Martin Kove, Perla Haney Jardine (The Bride’s daughter in Kill Bill, no less), Zoe Bell and Kurt Russell. One standout is Dakota Fanning as a terrifyingly dead eyed Manson chick who tries admirably but unsuccessfully to intimidate Cliff. This could well be Tarantino’s best film, but really it’s hard to pick and why argue. It’s certainly his most eclectic, most personal and most human. Rick and Cliff seem born out of LA, out of Hollywood and out of the dreams of a man who grew up in cinema and went on to craft some of the most treasured films of the last thirty years. I feel like it’s my new favourite, and it’s tough for me to say why. I suppose it hauntingly captures a portrait of a different era almost in a fashion akin to time travel. He uses the ‘if we could only go back on time’ sentiment on the infamous Sharon Tate event and refashions it to something that although is no less violent, is not the tragedy everyone remembers. It’s a brilliant narrative, anchored and spurred by the chemistry that Rick and Cliff have together, the humour and humanity that each bring and sense of time and place like no other. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood… Quentin Tarantino made a film about an actor, his stunt double and the girl who lived next door, and it was something a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Urban Legend

Urban Legend is pretty much like Scream, but a lot less meta and a bit more atmosphere, unfolding as you’d expect it to, with a group of college kids getting killed in bizarre circumstances that all relate to half whispered local myths. One of their professors is Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, and who better to lay down the tongue in cheek groundwork than such a familiar face and expressive, dynamic presence like him. Looking back on this it’s fairly shocking how terrific of a cast it has and how it’s been mostly forgotten in the annals of slasher archives. Jared Leto, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, Natasha Gregson Warner and Danielle Harris headline as the varied campus rats, with Harris a standout as the obnoxious bitchy goth stereotype, far from her timid Jamie Lloyd in the Halloween films. There’s a prologue cameo from horror vet Brad Dourif as well as appearances from Loretta Devine, Julian Richings, Michael Rosenbaum and a priceless John Neville, getting all the best lines as the college’s salty Dean. The kills are all done in high 90’s style, the story takes a Scream-esque twisty turn in the third act and as far as atmosphere goes, it pretty much outdoes the ol’ ghostface franchise. Spooky good time. 

-Nate Hill

Jim Mickle’s Stake Land: A Review by Nate Hill 

Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is one of my favourite vampire films of the last twenty years, ousted only by 30 Days Of Night, but that one is tough to compete with in anyone’s book. The vampire movie and all it’s trimmings has been done to death a million times over, under every stylistic filter and narrative tweak you could imagine, so this one can’t really break too much new ground simply by default, but what it does do is show us a bleak, lived in and worn out world, a world that has been under attack from vampires for a long time, and as such is starting to fray at the seams. These aren’t quiet, regal, brooding vamps either, they’re quick, feral nasties who actually pose a threat and cause a lot of damage, as our young hero Martin (Connor Paolo)  finds out in an arresting opening sequence set in a farmhouse. Left without a family in a world he not ready for, he’s taken under the wing of gruff and rugged Mister (Nick Damici, also the brilliantly talented writer behind Mickle’s films), and the two set off on an increasingly tragic, Cormac Mccarthy esque trek across a broken world, finding lost souls and ravenous monsters at every turn. One thing that seems to escape many vampire films is an emotional core, something to latch onto amidst the cold and clinical happenings, but this one finds that in several key places, including the father son dynamic between Mister and Martin, as well as an encounter with a wounded pregnant girl (Danielle Harris in what is probably her best work so far). It’s sad, downbeat stuff though, without much hope or solace for anyone involved. Kelly McGillis of all people has a brief appearance you can keep your eyes peeled for. Grungy, desolate, tragic, extremely well made, touching and unique in the vampire subgenre. Highly recommended. 

Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout: A Review by Nate Hill

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Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout is pure stylistic grime, an exercise in early 90’s action with the blackest of humour. The tone is set with a square jaw early on: a star quarterback for a hotshot NFL team is under a lot of underground pressure to make that perfect play and in turn please the loan sharks. He buckles under the heat, ends up pulling a gun on the field and murdering a score of opponents before turning the gun on himself. Now horrifying as that is, if you have a sick sense of humor like me it conjures a dark chuckle of the most guilty variety, because.. well, it’s funny! Albeit in the darkest way possible, which is the arena this one skates in, love it or leave it. Upon closer examination of the script we discover it’s penned by that wonderful man Shane Black, who gave us Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and the upcoming The Nice Guys. No one can produce such heinous mayhem with a cavalier attitude and actually get away with it as well as Black does. The guy is a prodigy of dark humour, and who better to embody his protagonist here than a sheepish Bruce Willis as Joe Hallenbeck, a jaded ex detective who is so sullen and cynical he’s almost comatose. He’s paired with equally slummy former quarterback Jimmy Six (Damon Wayons), lazily trying g to solve a case involving the murderous quarterback and some shady politicians. Along the way that’s paved with many a sarcastic, beleaguered exchange they cross seedy paths with shady villains (Taylor Negron, RIP, and a  youthful Kim Coates), a beautiful working girl with ties to the case (Halle Berry) and Willis’s spitfire of a dysfunctional daughter (Danielle Harris). There’s a wonderfully bloated supporting cast including Noble Willingham, Chelsea Field, Joe Santos, Bruce McGill and more. It’s got a bite that stings, mainly thanks to Black’s frighteningly stinging screenplay which give the film it’s sardonic, put – upon aesthetic. This meshes together nicely with Scott’s trademark sun soaked, pulpy, picturesque tone and provides one hell of an action movie rode.  Nasty in all the right places, funny when the story begs for it, and build to last.