Tag Archives: David Harbour

Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones

These days when a film with Liam Neeson comes down the pipeline you can generally have a good idea what it’ll be about in our post-Taken era. Revenge, chases, gunfights, he’s usually in his old dude action pic groove but there’s the odd one that strays from the flock. Scott Frank’s A Walk Among The Tombstones, although encasing a few quick, breathless action scenes in its narrative, is far from the kind of film we’re used to seeing from Neeson and as a result is one of my favourites he’s done since Joe Carnahan’s The Grey.

Chilly, brutal, bloody, realistically violent and unrelentingly dark are the energies this thing traffics in. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a shambling ex cop turned private eye with some demons in his past that don’t quite hold a candle to the outright malevolence he must face this time round. He’s contacted by a shady mid level drug baron (Dan Stevens) whose wife has gone missing, and who chooses him over the cops because of their collective unique business ventures. This leads our antihero down an increasingly dangerous and suffocatingly scary on the hunt for two serial killers (David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) who are the distilled definition of pure evil.

I’ll be frank and upfront here: this is not a pleasant viewing experience or an uplifting film, in fact it’s downright oppressive in tone and for the most part emotionally desolate. However, there’s a stark beauty to this tale and I wouldn’t let the darkness deter you from experiencing one of the best and most atmospheric and suspenseful crime thrillers in recent years. Neeson is grim, haunted and adept at doling out graphic bodily harm on anyone who prevents him from getting to the truth. The two killers, Harbour in particular, are unrepentant, sadistic monsters who you just pray will be stopped before committing another murder and making you sit through the specifics of it which the film does make you do in one instance. Stevens comes from a Downton Abbey background but there’s a fierce, implosive aura to him that works great in darker roles like this (check out his work in The Guest too). This is based on one in a series of books by Lawrence Block that all focus on Scudder’s character. Jeff Bridges played the role once back in the day in another adaptation too, but Neeson makes a fierce predator out of him, with a hidden humanity that comes forth in interactions with a street kid (Brian Bradley) who becomes his sidekick of sorts. A very overlooked film in Neeson’s filmography and just in general as well. Oh and how about those eerie, sinister opening credits for setting the tone ?

-Nate Hill

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Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road

Sam Mendes’s Revolutionary Road is a film set in the 1950’s and decidedly so, but that is just happenstance because the story it tells could happen anywhere, in any time period. The setting, though elaborately, meticulously and unobtrusively staged, is just the gilding on this suburban tragedy of restlessness, shaky ideals and marriage at levels of disintegration that prove combustible.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet join forces again as Frank and April Wheeler, a seemingly harmonious white picket fence family who have achieved the American Dream. Cute little house in a sunny neighbourhood, two adorable children, he has a rat race office job while she plays homemaker. Idyllic, right? Anything but. These two are monumentally unhappy in ways that prove complex enough to haunt the viewer later on. She’s unwilling to hammer down that last corner of settled life and give up on further dreams, he simultaneously hates and depends on his worker bee employment like a security blanket. They make plans. Life, and the both of them get in the way. It’s kind of a vague premise to just read about in a review or synopsis and you have to watch the thing to get its rhythm and timbre, but what it has to say is important, heartbreaking and timeless.

Leo and Kate follow up their sweet, innocent tragedy of Titanic with a love story eons removed, a bitter tale of two people who’d love each other if they didn’t hate each other so much, and hate each other if they didn’t love each other so much. It’s a tricky, multilayered pair of performances to nail in tandem but they’re there in synergistic equilibrium and both give what might be their finest work. Suburbia is populated by supporting characters who revolve around them cautiously but never get fully sucked in to their destructive orbit. They’re played by the sterling likes of Kathy Bates, David Harbour, Kathryn Hahn, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Max Baker and Michael Shannon in a fierce cameo as a sort of Greek Chorus type individual who comments on this couple’s plight with acidic abandon. Mendes chooses locations over a soundstage which is always tricky, but the level of authenticity you get once that is pulled off can’t be compared. 1050’s suburbia seems to come alive as we feel each breeze come in through an open window, see the tree lined street just beyond the borders of a real house they’re shooting in and watch the automobiles actually wind their way down a street. Thomas Newman provides a score that doesn’t cloy or manipulate but follows along dutifully while humming away in the wings to let Leo and Kate sing for themselves.

Not an easy film to watch, it’s essentially two people in a collective downward spiral observed in an intimate fly-on-the-wall fashion and that can become downright uncomfortable at its lowest points. But this is important stuff, a microcosm of two individuals that asks you to step outside what’s considered norm in society and examine exactly what exactly is expected of each man and woman and how that affects their actions throughout life. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer

If you compare Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer to the original tv series from back in the 80’s, it’s almost comical how little they have to do with each other, besides the vague theme of vigilantism. All good though because the film amps up the creaky old serial into a maniacally pulpy, hard R rated, ultraviolent, near B movie that’s given some real class by Denzel Washington, whose gravity makes all the wanton violence seem somehow rational. Fuqua is an intense filmmaker though and he firmly stamps his stylistic brand of kinetic mayhem onto this film so hard that by the time the bombastic warehouse set finale rolls around, it seems hella over the top. Denzel is Robert McCall, a quiet, cultured fellow who just happens to be a scary, highly skilled ex government spook with a heart of gold. When a troubled young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets in deep with the reliably psychotic Russian mob, he sees something in her that makes him step up to the occasion and quite literally lay waste to their entire organization with every means of his disposable. It’s kind of like what he did to get Dakota Fanning out of the crosshairs in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, except less fire and more Bourne-esque hand to hand combat and tactical ingenuity. He’s basically invincible to the point where even a terrifying Vor lieutenant (Marton Csokas knowingly dialing up the camp dial) can’t even put a stop to his righteous rampage. There’s a bond between him and Moretz that needs to be there to soften the blow of the extremes he goes to, and the two actors have a great chemistry in their scenes. David Harbour steals scenes as a sheepishly corrupt Boston cop who get amusingly exasperated when McCall puts the hurt on him and the whole operation. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have painfully brief cameos as government officials from his past, Justified’s Johnny Neumier is nasty as the abusive russkie pimp who is the first of many tough guys to fall under his hand, and Johnny Messner has a short lived cameo as a thug who grossly underestimates him. This is kind of a ridiculous film at its core, the earnest elements hilariously clashing with a hyper violent pulse that at times reaches Hobo With A Shotgun style heights. But Denzel is ever the actor’s actor and sells the flourish with his grim resolve. A fun ass flick for what it is, and I’m curious to check out the sequel this year. Oh, and there’s a cameo from that Insta-idiot Dan Bilzerian too that almost cements a tongue in cheek self aware vibe on the film’s part.

-Nate Hill

Suicide Squad: A Review by Nate Hill 

Suicide Squad has left me so torn. On the one hand I just want to belligerantly profess my love for certain key aspects which I have salivated for for a long time now, to blindly just say ‘nope. Fuck it, it’s great’, like that one stupid kid in class who just won’t back down from an argument he is clearly losing. On the other hand I do have to come to terms with the very real, very problematic aspects to the whole thing, weigh it out rationally (not something I’m great at) and make heavy mention of what didn’t work (not something I enjoy doing). I also have a massive bias towards DC as well, particularly all things Batman and foes, so that needed to be taken into account too. 
  Let’s get what didn’t work out of the way: everyone is hearing that the film is a mess, and I can indeed say that yes, it’s one huge jumbled mess, like twenty unmade beds tossed into a washing machine together. It’s heavily edited in places that could have used fluidity, and flatlines in other spots where a bit of frenzy would have worked better. It’s scant on character, frankly because there are too many, packed with a soundtrack that has it bursting at the hastily sewn seams, drastically and obviously cut in specific places that are noticeable holes in which you could drive the Batmobile through, and burdened with a lazily assembled antagonist who doesn’t deserve the heroes they rumble with. That’s just off the top of my head. 
  Now, what worked: There’s a silver lining to the inane madness of the film, because in it’s confusing symphony of random candy coated antics it almost finds a trace of a beat, a rhythm that’s almost decimated by the chorus. I’m not excusing the hackjob of editing or cuts, merely saying that with all taken into account, it kind of takes on a life of it’s own that while completely tone deaf, is never boring. Let’s talk about Harley Quinn and The Joker. When the Blu Ray comes out with all them deleted scenes, I’m going to make a personal fan edit that sheds the spotlight on all the nastier stuff we missed in the theatrical version. The stuff we do get to see with Harley is pure magic, and Robbie owns the film. Maddeningly sexy, sketchy, dangerous, cute, and gloriously insane, she nails it to the wall in terms of what makes the character so special. Jared Leto as The Joker is…. different. While I didn’t like the laugh (he sounded like a geriatric hyena), I really took a shine to the direction they went with the clown this time around. A pasty ghoul who is sick with weirdo ‘love’ for Harley, this is a Joker who is way more in tune with the comics version than Ledger was. There were a few off key mannerisms and questionable little things, but for the most part I’d say he rocked it, and I’m stoked to see him square off with Batman in a standalone flick. 
  So, the rest of the squad. They’re a random bunch of nut bars who are hastily and over enthusiastically hurrah-ed onto stage by stone cold suit Amanda Waller (a terrifying Viola Davis), who is far more villainous than any of them. Davis is the consummate amoral politician, fuelled by gnawing xenophobia and given the power to push her unholy agenda to scary heights. Will Smith is a hoot as Deadshot, he just needed a little less mirth and a tad more menace in the mix. A joke or three sits well with me, but I don’t like wading through quip stew with thoughts of serious threat on the other side, only to find a backbone replaced by pining for his young daughter. Nothing wrong with pathos, but remember guys, Deadshot is a villain, and too much mush takes away from the street cred. Killer Croc is great when he’s around, which isn’t much until the climax where he gets a nice action bit, but still overall underused. I’ve been an avid non fan of Jai Courtney thus far, he’s just reeked of blandness. Well crikey, the guy does a nice job here of being the rambunctious bad boy of the pack, even if the reason for his inclusion in the squad doesn’t extend much farther than ‘he robbed every bank in australia’. Like… what? Joel Kinnaman holds his own as special ops asset Rick Flagg, and Cara Delevingne much less so as the gyrating, Grudge inspired Enchantress. She’s just not a powerful villain in any way, but damn if she didn’t turn heads in that little outfit. Cara actually fared way better as Dr. June Moon in what little time we spent with her, of which I would have loved to see more. Jay Hernandez is on fire (sorry) as Diablo, a flammable ex gang banger who grew a conscience to go with his pyrotechnic prowess. As far as Slipknot  (Adam Beach) goes, there was literally no reason, no reason at all for him to be in the film. Introduced as ‘the man who can climb anything’, he climbs like… one wall that anyone with his tools could scale….and then dies. Poor Adam. Karen Fukuhara is cool as Katana, but we’ve seen the hot Asian samurai shtick done to death, so it’s nothing altogether new. 
  No, the film rests on Joker, Harley and to a lesser extant, Batman. Old Bats is in it for two crucial scenes, one of which had me give out a roaring cheer, as it’s the type of thing I signed up for when I shelled out 22 goddamn dollars to see this in VIP mode. I kept wishing the whole time that I could make my own edit with all of David Ayer’s footage, because there’s so much gold found onscreen, and I know there’s more to be mined on the floors of his editing room, left there by the prudish anxieties of studio heads that just don’t. Ever. Learn. I want to see Batman and his villains thunder out in this blooming DC franchise, and while the rest of the more obscure faces in the squad are fun, I was in it for the core villains. All the stuff with Joker and Harley is inspired, and the car chase where the Batmobile tears after Joker’s purple Hotwheels Lamborghini is pretty much the best part of the whole film. I want more Batman and Co., for shit sake. In any case, there’s a lot of fun to be had, an endless grab bag of stylistic tricks, fonts, gimmicks, colors, sounds and chaotic hullabaloo running around. Some of it works. Some of it doesn’t. Tough shit. It’s certainly not a terrible movie, and I feel many critics resorted to the oft employed ‘knee jerk’ reaction instead of internalizing it all before brandishing pen and keyboard. Critics are a spastic lot of baboons who have have a tendancy, especially these days, to jump the gun and hurl verbal feces at stuff before it’s had a chance to sink in. I’ll concede that there are huge issues, but huge amounts of fun can be found too. Or not. It’s up to you. I certainly had some fraction of a blast watching it, and the only way I can describe the thing as an whole is the Looney Toons having a food fight with a bunch of fluorescent Lucky Charms. If that abstract picture chimes with you, chances are you’ll at least get some kind of kick from the this baby, and probably be just as perplexed by certain areas as I was. Good luck.

Netflix’s Stranger Things: A Review by Nate Hill 

Netflix’s Stranger Things snuck up and floored me. You’d think that a long form mystery series concocted from the DNA of Amblin/ET/Goonies and retro, gooey Stephen King horror would have made a significant blip on my radar months in advance, but nope. That almost made watching it even more special; this wasnt something I’d spent oodles of time hyping up and thinking about (which often leads to expectations being dashed). It came out of the blue and knocked me sideways six ways to Sunday. I came home one night with the notion to check out the pilot before I went to bed. I fell deeply in love within the first ten minutes, and slashed my curfew to bits as I devoured about half the season in one go, hitting stop only because I would have been depressed to wake up the following morning and have no more to watch. I took the next day off work to finish up the remaining episodes, after which I sat there in a gaping stupor. I’ve since rewatced it all again. Yes, it’s that good. It’s not just the nostalgia bursting at the seams that suckered me in. This is is a show with a meticulous pace where you feel every beat naturally, some of the most fleshed out characters of recent times that you actually really CARE about, and a wondrous story relating to fear of the unknown, the bonds of friendships both new and old, redemption in the face of ages old trauma and grief, a reverence to all things creepy & crawly, an understanding of the importance fear holds in both our entertainment and collective psyches and above all, a sense of adventure. As soon as the retro opening credits flared up, I knew I was in for something special. They’re a flurry of neon letters that assemble in fashion and font achingly similar to King’s books, set to an ominous synth rhapsody that echoes everything from Refn to Sinoia Cave’s Beyond The Black Rainbow. Immediately we are transported to a setting drawn forth from the past and the nightmares of many other artists before it’s time, which is not to say it’s at all derivitive or lazy. That’s the issue with deliberatly nostalgic stuff: it can come across as forced or cheap novelty trying to play to our sentimental sides. This one uses it naturally and never feels like a gimmick for one second. What’s amazing is that despite the fact that nearly every element of story it uses has been done before multiple times throughout the years, it all somehow feels completely new, and never once leans on the crutch of inspiration any harder than it has to, which in this day and age deserves a goddamn medal. The story opens up in small town Hawkins, Indiana, sometime in the mid 80’s. Just outside of town, trouble brews deep within a mysterious CIA sanctioned research laboratory. A dangerous portal is opened, something from another dimension gets out, a girl with telepathic abilities named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) escapes into the town, and young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears without a trace from his home. All this happens in the first half hour, kicking off a well timed wind chime of inciting incidents to get the tale underway. The town is thrown into a panic as Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) frantically searches for him. The forlorn, sad sack police chief Hopper (David Harbour, beyond excellent in so many ways) tries to reign in the growing mania, but the situation only gets worse. Will’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) witnesses another disappearance, and Eleven finds herself hiding out with Will’s endearing gang of buddies (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb Mclaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo), who valiantly launch a quest to ensure his safe return from the netherworld. Meanwhile, the laboratory’s sinister, silver haired head Doctor Brenner (a chilling Matthew Modine) is an amoral prick who will stop at nothing to get Eleven back and continue his godawful experiments. It’s a hell of a lot crammed into eight hours, but not a second is wasted, not a scene or a line of dialogue misplaced. Everything glides smoothly and the whole thing is so joyously watchable that I had trouble even thinking about picking up my phone or reaching for the iPad (I’m easily distracted). There’s teen drama, heartbreaking tragedy, first love, palpable danger without being too gory or messed up, and damn if the Spielberg/King flavour isn’t just delactable. The monster is a gooey, walking Venus fly trap that instills real fear in the opening moments of the pilot. The ideas explored are presented in ways that would make both the X Files and Twilight Zone jealous. My favourite performance has to be Brown as Eleven. Of all the child roles hers is the most difficult to land and she’s a revelation. Seeing the world outside the facility with new eyes, falling for Wolfhard, protecting her newfound friends, it’s all handled impeccably and I think we can expect great things from this young actress. David Harbour has consistently shown versatility in anything he does, and when one looks at his role here contrasted against work in, say, A Walk Among The Tombstones, it’s uncanny. His arc goes from sheepish to badass to tragic and he positively soars. Modine channels the very essence of King style villains, over pronouncing every syllable with poised venom on the tongue and cloaked malice oozing from every pore. Ryder works herself up into a frenzy that any mother must feel in the situation, and it’s just great to see her in a central role in anything these days. The kids provide heart and levity, proving wise beyond their years to the point of Calvin & Hobbes esque insight, yet still maintaining their innocence in the face of peril. Not only does the soundtrack showcase a whole whack of 80’s treasures (that Joy Division tho♡), the score itself by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is a love letter to everything from Tangerine Dream to Cliff Martinez, evoking the setting beautifully and bringing forth atmosphere in scene after scene after scene. Stranger Things lovingly blows a trumpet of times past, wears it’s influences proudly and unobtrusively on its sleeve and brilliantly blazes it’s own trail. There are monsters out there, both human and otherwise. Never give up hope, not matter how bleak the prognosis. There’s still some wonder and unknown to be discovered in this world of ours (and beyond). Redemption is only a few daring acts around the bend. Kindness goes a long way, as does trust. Friends don’t lie. These are but a few things you’ll discover if you give this one a shot, which I hope you will. Bring on Season 2, man.