Tag Archives: David Morse

HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

So just what was it about season two of HBO’s True Detective that caused such a monumental ruckus of ruthless criticism? Well, who can say. I imagine it had something to do with the dark, difficult and byzantine way that creator Nic Pizzolatto presents the material. Maybe it’s the fact that it had to follow the lightning in a bottle, southern gothic, out of left field mastery of season one. Simply just the shift in tone and setting? I’m reaching for straws here because the hate and rejection that this brilliant piece of television has amassed always flew over my head. This is deep, dark LA noir at its finest, most gorgeously dangerous and I love every challenging, impenetrable episode to bits.

The setting shifts from bayous of Louisiana, the amount of lead characters multiplies significantly and where there was once eerie folk horror and occult conspiracy we now find decadence, corruption most high and a focused, implosive inwardness in exploring each individual the narrative focuses on. Colin Farrell is unbearably intense as LA cop Ray Velcoro, a haunted addict who has fallen from the grace of both the department and his family, but isn’t down for the count quite yet. Vince Vaughn is emblematic of every career criminal trying to go straight as Frank Semyon, a stubborn small time kingpin with dreams of scoring big in California real estate. Rachel McAdams is haunted as Ani Bezzerides, a cop with a tragic past and the deep set trauma to prove it. Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrough, a pent up special ops veteran turned state trooper who rounds out this quartet as they’re faced with the kind of miserable, insurmountable odds one always finds in the best kind of film noirs. There’s an unsettling, decades old conspiracy afoot in the fictional yet uneasily realistic county of Vinci, CA, a brooding, festering menace that seems rooted in the now booming transportation system that has taken the economy by storm. Our heroes struggle to fight treachery, debauchery and excess run mad everywhere they turn, for their souls and California’s itself alike as the slogan for promotional material “We get the world we deserve” seems stingingly apparent throughout.

Farrell is my favourite as Velcoro, the anxiety ridden badass who displays the horrors of his past in the manic whites of his eyes and drowns them out with enough booze and blow to feed a city’s collective habit. He’s an antihero type, moonlighting as an enforcer for Vaughn but maintaining a fierce moral compass when all else is naught. Vaughn feasts on the stylized dialogue here and produces verbal poetry so good it hurts and you hit the rewind button just to hear his delivery again. His Frank is a hard, jaded piece of work with a soul hiding beneath the layers of anger and distrust for the world around him. McAdams’s Ani comes from a place of childhood trauma so unthinkable that they barely show it in hushed flashback, and it’s apparent in her caged animal body language, by far the actress’s most affecting work. Kitsch makes the slightest impression of the four and his arc didn’t seem as immediate as the others but he still did a bang up job in intense physicality. After the success of season one a host of excellent actors were drawn to this project, standouts here include David Morse as Ani’s commune leader dad, Kelly Reilly as Frank’s intuitive wife and second in command, Rick Springfield (!) as a shady plastic surgeon, Ritchie Coster as Vinci’s terminally alcoholic mayor, W. Earl Brown, James Frain, Ronny Cox, C.S. Lee, Lolita Davidovitch and the legendary Fred Ward as Ray’s bitterly prophetic ex-cop father.

Pizzolatto spins a very different kind of story here, one composed of long glances, deep shadows, arresting establishing shots of Vinci’s sprawling highway system, as dense and tough to navigate as the season’s central mystery, which isn’t one you get a sense of in just one, two or even three viewings. Impatience and frustration are easy to understand with this narrative, but one shouldn’t write off this piece so easily and I’m sure that’s what happened. A few people don’t have the time to invest in it, get hostile and throw some negative reviews out there and before you know it it becomes cool to hate and there’s folks throwing around words like ‘flawed’ before they’ve attempted a single episode, but that’s the way the internet works I suppose. Balls to them though, this is a deliciously dark, highly stylized, very emotional ride through a world whose themes, intentions and true colours aren’t readily visible until you descend several layers deep alongside these compelling characters. It’s thoughtful, pessimistic yet just hopeful enough to keep a candle lit in all that darkness and has some of the most beautiful acting, camera, dialogue and music work I’ve seen from anything. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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Michael Bay’s The Rock

Who loves Michael Bay’s The Rock? I think a better question is who doesn’t. It was one of my first introductions to the action genre as a kid and I sat there in Saturday morning disbelief at just what was possible in the realms of cinema. Alcatraz Island, nuclear warheads filled with horrific poison gas, Nicolas Cage in charismatic goofball mode, Sean Connery basically reprising his 007 role one last time, a rogues gallery of gnarly character actors all hamming it up to high heaven, a score from Hans Zimmer that soars and invoked both emotion and adrenaline, what’s there not to fall in love with.

The plot here is besides the point: angry rogue military general Ed Harris takes Alcatraz hostage, threatens to launch warheads across harbour into crowded San Fran. Chemistry guru Nic Cage, ex MI6 super-spy Sean Connery and a team of Navy Seals covertly lead a siege on the rock to stop him. Many guns are fired, a lot of shit blows up and endless one liners are uttered. That’s the nutshell version though, the actual experience is something blissful and perfectly pitched in terms of the recipe for a great action film. Connery is intense yet somehow laid back and steals the show as the pissed off, blacklisted agent who really doesn’t care about the threat towards the city, or at least pretends not to. Cage, whether strumming his guitar, banging his super hot Italian American wife (Vanessa Marcel) or referencing Elton John right before killing a bad guy, is comic dynamite and a source of desperate, scenery chewing energy that somehow works despite how ridiculous his performance is (it’s like the antithesis of his work in Con Air, the sister film to this). What I love about Harris’s villain here is that, unlike many huge budget action flicks, you actually care about this guy and what he wants, despite the extreme measures he’s gone to get them. He’s calm, resolute and sorrowful and not much about his performance suggests an antagonist except for the situation the character is written into and it’s an interesting, thoughtful choice for the film’s baddie. The real nasty characters are the mercenaries he hires to carry out his mission, who include the more subdued likes of David Morse and John C. McGinley, the less subdued Bokeem Woodbine and Gregory Sorlader and the positively psychotic Tony Todd as Captain Darrow, the last guy you’d want on either side of the moral fence as his seems to be absent. On the other side of the action we get John Spencer as a cranky FBI bigwig, legendary Michael Biehn as the Seal commando, always awesome William Forsythe as the one FBI agent with a brain in his head and cameos from Pat Skipper, Claire Forlani, Danny Nucci, Tom Towles, Jim Caviesel, Stanley Anderson, Raymond Cruz, Xander Berkeley, Philip Baker Hall and Stuart Wilson.

From the moment Harris’s team steals the rockets to the explosive sequence where Cage flags down the military in a sly Platoon reference, this thing fires with everything it’s got. Connery’s escape and car chase through the streets of San Fran goes on needlessly long and exists only for the purpose of an action sequence, making it all the more awesome. Harris and Biehn’s utterly badass stare down and frantic chicken fight over who will order a stand-down first always gets me. It’s such a well made action film that even the Bay haters sound like ignoramuses when they bash it. Roger Ebert, who has routinely torn Bay new assholes over the years in his reviews, loved it. Zimmer’s theme is the perfect symphony for fighter jets, commandos, yellow hummers’ (“You shtole my humvee!”), trolley cars, assault weapons and high powered rockets to thunder across the harbour in spectacular fashion. The Rock rocks.

-Nate Hill

Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks

Bruce Willis is the type of action hero who is never idealistic, chipper, optimistic or overtly upbeat. There’s always a sarcastic reluctance whenever he gets pulled into a gunfight, hostage situation or standoff and I think that’s the quality that has made him such an endearing star presence. In Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks he plays an NYC Detective named Jack Mosley, who is a burnt out, sardonic alcoholic who couldn’t give a shit about his job anymore, let alone the motor mouthed convict (Mos Def) he’s assigned to escort the titular distance to testify against some mob bigwig. Jack can almost be seen as the same Willis character we’ve been watching our whole lives but after all the others, a progression that has lead to this one portrayal where the archetype has just reached the end of his rope. It’s a wonderful performance from him and a strong, solid suspense thriller. Def’s character is an annoying, fast talking hustler who we just want to deck right in the face, but I suppose that’s kind of the point of him here so we can see Jack’s tolerance boil over and eventually warm up to the guy. There are forces aligning against them though, factions on both sides of the law that have stock in Def not making it those 16 blocks with his pulse still going, and Jack must dust off his old reflexes to take on what appears to be the entire New York City police force, along with a fellow detective and old friend who has gone rogue, played with affable menace by the always awesome David Morse. This is a terrific thriller with well drawn, relatable characters stuck in one shit show of a situation, it’s minimalist without being too low key and fired up without being overblown or silly. The photography by Glen McPherson makes great use of looming NYC architecture, narrow streets and artifices that could get shattered by a rain of bullets any second, and the exciting score by Klaus Badelt sets a nervous mood of urban menace while introducing Willis with a melancholy twang. This was Donner’s last film before going on apparently permanent hiatus and I’m not sure why, I’ve always loved his work and would love to see a comeback. Willis gets a lot of hype for guys like John McClane and Butch Coolidge who are definitely legends, but Jack Mosley is one of his best creations, a hard bitten boozer with a compassionate lining under the scruff and a brutal resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, it’s his version of Eastwood’s Ben Shockley in The Gauntlet and an underrated character in his canon. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.

Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.

I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight

If you’re suffering from a deficiency of satisfying action in your action movies (a common ailment these days) then Renny Harlin’s The Long Kiss Goodnight is just the pill. Harlin loves his practical combat scenes, death defying stunt work and blunt, frank violence without frenetic movement or trickery, and what he pulls off here is what the genre should be. Working from a screenplay by Shane Black, the pairing is kind of a delirious match made in heaven for fans of either artistic maverick. All of Black’s favourite motifs run amok here: stingingly funny verbal beatdowns, sharp and culturally aware characters, a Christmas setting, children in extreme danger, you name it. Geena Davis pulls a Jason Bourne as amnesiac schoolteacher and loving mother Samantha Cain, whose violent past comes back to haunt her in several ways when she discovers she’s actually a maladjusted CIA assassin named Charley Baltimore. The bad guys come fast and heavy at her, including perky Craig Bierko as a terrifying yet somehow hilarious sociopathic freak, David Morse as a vengeful former target and lovable Brian Cox as her dodgy ex handler. She’s aided by a fast talking, slightly seedy private investigator played memorably by Samuel L. Jackson, and the whole pack of them prance through this terrifically entertaining spy yarn with enthusiasm and old school Hollywood charm. The action scenes are so brazen and willfully cinematic they’re almost comical, but that’s Harlin and I love the guy to bits, the genre just wouldn’t be the same without him. The very first encounter Sam has with massive thug One Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna) is showcase material, I’ve never seen a shotgun do to a wall what Renny stages here, but it works in fully charged, high comic book fashion. It’s popcorn bliss, a buddy flick, a mystery, a rollicking black comedy, a great spy flick and a treatise on what action films should be all about. Fucking great stuff. Chefs do that!

-Nate Hill

Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner

I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.

-Nate Hill