Tag Archives: dash mihok

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

John McTiernan’s Basic

John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

Joel Schumacher used to be a household name amongst Hollywood directors, and then kind of sailed off the face of the map (Coppola seems to have done the same). He was one of the most prolific filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s and then it cooled off in recent years, but he still churns out a flick or three now and again, one of which is the high gloss home invasion thriller Trespass. It’s in the vein of Cimino’s Desperate Hours, not just for having an almost identical premise but also for the fact that it’s not a great movie, but one that services the genre nicely, gives the crowd just what they’d expect from this fare and even throws in a few earned surprises. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman play a wealthy couple who live in a fortress of a house that comes under siege from three rabid criminals who are after… something. Is it the alleged diamonds in Cage’s impenetrable safe? Is it the money he claims is all gone or stuck into his lavish home? Or is something darker at stake here? The guessing game that ensues is pretty well done, with perspective flashbacks and red herrings used nicely. The burglars are played by a quartet of the excellent Ben Mendelsohn who give yet another sketchy, terrifying villain portrait, fondly remembered TV actress Jordana Spiro, The always reliable Dash Mihok and Cam Gigandet, who sadly keeps getting casted in stuff way beyond his talent level. His psycho/pretty boy role here is one of the most demanding parts in the script and the guy just doesn’t have anything under the hood except for his looks (see Pandorum for another painful case of him ruining a well written role). Kidman is wistful and scared, doing the same thing she did in Dead Calm without the cold resilience, while Cage does crazy to a T, no surprise there. I heard that midway through filming he suddenly wanted to switch to one of the villain roles, and didn’t get his way. I laughed upon hearing him bellow out ‘shit-hole’ in that maniacally screechy, petulant way of his and I pictured him having a tantrum at the producers for not giving in. This is a humdrum flick that isn’t built to last or make huge impressions, but it serves as an energetic, well mounted domestic siege thriller with enough violence and commotion to keep eyelids from dropping.

-Nate Hill

Dark Blue: A Review by Nate Hill 

  

Dark Blue is the overlooked performance of Kurt Russsel’s career, and also the best. It’s also a film that brilliantly examines corruption, lies, brutality and abuse of power through a thoughtful narrative lens and via a powerfully moving story . So why then was it received with an unceremonious cold shoulder? Life is full of mysteries. I was too young to see it when it came out, or pay attention to the buzz surrounding it’s release, but I fell in love with it when I was older, and it remains one of my two favourite LA cop films, alongside Training Day. Kurt Russell throws himself headlong into one of the fiercest and most complex character arcs he has ever been in as Eldon Perry, an LAPD detective who comes from a long lineage of law enforcement. Eldon is a corrupt cop, but the important thing to realize about them is that they never consider themselves to be the bad guys which they are eventually labeled as. To him he’s on a righteous crusade, led by Captain Jack Van Meter (a purely evil Brendan Gleeson), a quest to clear the streets using any means necessary in his power. Eldon is blind to to the broken operative he has let himself become, questioned only by his wife (Lolita Davidvitch) and son, who are both thoroughly scared of him. The film takes place during the time of the Rodney King beating, with tensions on the rise following the acquittal of four LAPD officers. Ving Rhames is resilient as Holland, the one honcho in the department who isn’t rotten or on his way there, a knight for the force and a desperate loyalist trying to smoke out the corruption. Perry is assigned a rookie partner (Scott Speedman) and begins to show him the ropes, which include his patented brand of excessive force and intimidation. As crime ratchets up and a storm brews, Perry realizes that his blind trust in Van Meter and his agenda has been gravely misplaced, and could lead to his end. It’s a dream of an arc for any actor to take on, and Russell is seems is the perfect guy for the job. He fashions Perry into a reprehensible antihero whose actions have consequences, but not before a good long look in the mirror and the option to change the tides and find some redemption, before it’s far too late. It’s not so common anymore for crime films to cut through the fat of intrigue and action, reaching the gristle of human choices, morality and the grey areas that permeate every institution know to man, especially law enforcement. Working from a David Ayer screenplay based on a story by James Ellroy (hence the refreshing complexity), director Ron Shelton and everyone else onboard pull their weight heftily to bring this difficult, challenging, sure fire winner of a crime drama to life. Overlooked stuff.