Tag Archives: david cross

Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers

Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers. Fuck yeah. What a blast. I often refer to Dante as ‘The Toymaker’, as each and every one of his films (save for one political satire that only I saw anyways) has fantastical animatronic effects, plenty of creatures and no shortage of whimsy. The guy lives to make genre bliss, and you can always count on monsters, whacked out sci-fi or Tim Burton esque horror elements in his work. Here, it’s a bunch of action figures implanted with AI chips that make them fast, sentient, highly trained and very dangerous. The main story arc is something we’ve seen a zillion times: nerdy kid (Gregory Smith) looks for a way to win over girl of his dreams (Kirsten Dunst) and climb out of the beta pit. His cranky father (Kevin “lemme see that chainsaw for a second” Dunn, priceless here) owns a toy store, when he’s not terrorizing his insufferable neighbour (the late Phil Hartman) with power tools. Simultaneously, two super geeks (Jay Mohr and David Cross) over at a giant toy conglomerate ‘accidentally’ put military grade computer chips into two separate toy prototype lines which are, naturally, sent on over to small town suburbia, specifically Dunn’s store. This is all while the company’s arrogant CEO (Denis Leary) is too busy strutting around in a huff to watch his guys more closely. It’s a familiar series of events, until the toys come to life and start wreaking havoc, which is where the innovation really kicks in. The main threat is a deranged, pint sized band of commandos led by Chip Hazard (I can picture Tommy Lee Jones in the recording studio barking out lines in his pyjamas), who literally just want to blow shit up and cause widespread chaos. The voice talent they’ve amassed here is staggering, with the talents of old school tough guys Jim Brown, Bruce Dern, Clint Walker, Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy as Hazard’s gonzo unit. A much more sane band of mythical creatures also shows up, led by dog/elf thing Archer (Frank Langhella) as well as an eyeball on a stick (Jim Cummings) and a dopey Frankenstein hybrid (Michael McKean). They’re more peaceful, but immediately become the main target of Chip and Co., which causes enough of a skirmish to level city blocks. The real mad genius shows up when a group of pseudo Barbie dolls (the ‘Cindy Doll’) are reanimated by Chip’s team and start causing homicidal shenanigans, bald giggling lunatic chicks given the unsettling valley girl vocal talents of Christina Ricci and Sarah Michelle Gellar, both providing auditory nightmare fuel with their work. Roger Ebert thought this was too mean and violent to be a family film, and fair enough, but I really view it as a noisy, nihilistic black comedy that just happens to hide in the structure of a kids film. It’s no walk in the park, Chip’s boys see to it that it gets as shocking and messed up as one can without pushing that PG-13 rating, and that’s where the fun comes from. The special effects are really where it shines though, as they should in any film about a multitude of toys that come alive. The only thing missing is a cameo from The Indian In The Cupboard to lodge a Tomahawk in Tommy’s head and even the odds for Archer’s team. Perhaps in the sequel.

-Nate Hill

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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: A Review by Nate Hill 

Films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind come around once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky. I watched it when I was too young to fully grasp much, and it flew over my head. In the last few years I had a revisit and was knocked flat. Few stories out there have the power to mine deep within the human psyche and search for the complexities, contradictions and puzzling flaws that lie in the beautiful disasters we call human beings. A contemplative yet fast paced meditation on relationships, love, heartbreak and reconciliation doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of what you’re in for with this uniquely told and one in a million film. Sagely ragamuffin Michel Gondry, not one for the easy way out, has truly outdone himself, as has screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who is never short on wild ideas with emotional heft that sneaks up and blindsides you. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) ditches work on a whim one morning, and hops a train out to snowy Montauk. Through fate’s mysterious grasp, he meets free spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet), and the two hit it off immediately. He’s reserved, cautious and calculated, and she’s an impulsive wild card. They couldn’t be more different, but somehow they work. Until they don’t. Joel is devastated to learn one day of a radical brain alteration technique that effectively removes the memory of an ex from your mind, and Clementine has taken the plunge. Joel is confused and lost, and while the iron is still hot in his beating heart, he decides to undergo the procedure as well. Then the film really turns your world upside down. Whilst the staff of the Institute (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst) go to work on his mind in his sleep, he has a change of heart. With the memories of Clementine radidly disintegrating, he races through the internal landscape of his mind in order to find and save her, hiding her in obscure corners of his data log where she won’t be found. It’s a genius way to tell the story, taking a delightful turn for the surreal as both of them find themselves catapulted headlong into various moments of his life. On the outside, a tragic subplot unfolds involving Dunst and the the head doctor at the program (Tom Wilkinson). Kirsten and Tom have never been better, treating an often used trope with dignity and gentleness. For all its tricks and psychological whathaveya, the film is first and foremost about love. It isn’t interested in showing us any generic or clichéd depiction of it either, like most of the pandering fluff that gets passed off as romance these days. It strives to show love in all its brutal and painful glory, the fights, the hurt, the time spent alone, the resentment and the willingness to batter your way through all that, against better judgment and logic, if it’s worth it. Is love a force of its own, a measurable influence that can transcend a procedure like that? Is it it’s own element, or simply always a part of us? Carrey and Winslet (and, to a lesser extent, Wilkinson and Dunst) tenderly search for the answers to these difficult questions in what are the roles of a lifetime for both. Carrey has never been so vulnerable, so open, and despite his brilliant comedic work elsewhere, his performance here is a direct window into the soul, and his best work to date. Although the film is quite labyrinthine and jumps around quite a lot, it never, ever jumps the track or misses a beat. It’s always concise, deliberate and crystal clear, if you have the patience and dedication to watch it a few times in order to let all the beautiful images, words and ideas sink in. Movies are first and foremost for entertainment. You give the man your nickel, he fires up the projector and you watch the lone ranger chase down down a speeding locomotive. Every once in a while you get one like this, one that challenges and inspires deep thought, intangible feelings and teaches you something, maybe even about yourself. Every once in a while, you get one that alters your life, and that is what is so important about that little spinning machine that opens up worlds upon a simple flat white canvas where before there was nothing. A masterpiece.

Battle For Terra: A Review by Nate Hill

  
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.