Tag Archives: debi mazar

SyFy’s Happy!

You hear the expression ‘like nothing else out there’ used a lot these days, but I promise you there *really* is nothing else on TV like SyFy’s Happy!, an hysterically haywire slice of hyper stylized pandemonium that doesn’t so much genre bend as it does take out each genre with a firing squad and gleefully blast a trail wholly it’s own.

Now a disclaimer must be made: this is one fucked up, nightmarish, excessively disturbing, deliberately transgressive piece of madness that marches right into zones that are thoroughly taboo and isn’t afraid to get its hands uncomfortably dirty. However, none of it feels doom, gloom or weighty with the subject matter, this story is set around Christmas and for all the horrific, heinous trappings, there’s a deliriously joyous, madcap feel to it and if you are a fan of extremely dark humour, it’s one of the funniest things to come down the pipeline in a while.

Brought to life by original comic book artist Grant Morrison and filmmaker Brian Taylor (Crank, Gamer, Mom & Dad), this is the oddball tale of NYC ex-cop turned mob hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), a sad-sack, hedonistic screwball who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime when the daughter he never knew he had is kidnapped by a meth smoking Yuletide freak show named Very Bad Santa (Joseph Reitman). The girl’s imaginary friend, a animated flying unicorn named Happy (Patton Oswalt) hijacks him into finding her and tackling the deep, scary web of corruption and crime in the city laced with twists, spectacularly violent action sequences, a bang on parody of the Italian American mafia, surprisingly touching character beats, countless film and literary references, sharp, succinct writing and more. Meloni and his rodentia masculinity were born for this role, he’s a cyclone of priceless facial expressions, maniacal physical comedy, growling one liners, cheerful self deprecation and at times is even more animated than the actual cartoon itself, who is gamely voiced by Oswalt as a naive sidekick who eventually finds his footing. Then there’s the villains. Ohhh fuck are there ever some evil bitch ass bottom feeding psychos running about this story. Reitman’s Very Bad Santa is well… bad enough, but then there’s crotchety, old school crime boss ‘Blue’ Scaramucci, played to the grimacing hilt by character actor Ritchie Coster, who has been taking the supporting role digs by storm for years now and really needs his own lead role. Or Patrick Fischler’s Smoothie (you don’t even want to know how he got that name), a deranged mass murdering madman who monologues like there’s no tomorrow and gets sick thrills from inflicting acts I dare not outline here. The eventual main villain is so nasty and perverse I won’t spoil the surprise but what a piece of work. Other brazenly bracing performances come from an unusually subdued Debi Mazar in a cheeky send up of mob divas, Lilli Mirojnick as the intrepid NYPD detective who hassles and helps Nick, Bryce Lorenzo as kidnapped Hailey who proves quite resourceful, Medina Senghore as her dogged mother and Nick’s seething ex wife and uh… Jerry Springer too.

Any review that describes this show won’t do it justice, it’s the kind of thing you just have to see because it doesn’t even sound like it would work on paper. I can’t compare it to anything else as it feels so organic. There’s darkness and horror, but it’s presented in such a way that doesn’t feel overbearing, the vibe is always whip smart, mile a minute jokes and laughter and the relationship between Nick and Happy, one that should feel ludicrous and cartoonish, actually has emotional heft to it and a discernible arc. There’s copious amounts of graphic violence, stabbings, shootings, dismemberment, giant black dildos, menstrual blood used in a marinara sauce (yeccchh), excessive substance abuse, deep seated corruption in law enforcement, children in extreme peril almost every episode and more. Despite all that, it never feels self indulgent or nihilistic; it cares about its characters, the suffering we see in the world and the injustice that goes along with it. Like any all encompassing social commentary, it also sees the bleak, ironic humour that goes hand in hand with all of that. It’s playful, risky, original, stylized to the point of being abstract art at times, gross, terrifying, sad, bizarre, Christmassy, punishingly violent, unique and nothing short of brilliant. Bring on season 2, please.

-Nate Hill

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Michael Mann’s Collateral

I love Michael Mann’s Collateral so much. Few other films evoke the detached, hypnotic atmosphere of a metropolitan city, the thrum of a single night passing by, the hard bitten nature of a city whose main brand of social interaction is usually crime. Mann has a way with restless urban nocturnes and the weary, resolute characters who drift through them, personified here by Jamie Foxx’s shy, plucky cab driver Max and Tom Cruise’s lupine, charismatic hitman Vincent. They’re on odd pair to spend a murky, digitally shot Los Angeles night with, but the two actors make it a clash, confrontation and ironic companionship for the ages. Max is veering close to being a career cabbie, his dreams of entrepreneur enterprising fading fast in the rear view. He’s meek and soft spoken but we get the sense that somewhere in there is the capacity for violence and unpredictability, if prompted by the right catalyst. Speak of the devil with Vincent, a whip smart apex predator who hijacks Max into helping him make several high profile stops before a 6am flight out of LAX, each one leaving a cadaver in its wake, all related to an interwoven criminal syndicate that DA is trying to bring down. It’s high concept done on slow burn, with action taking a backseat beside Vincent, while story, character and brilliant dialogue command the forefront, a technique rarely employed in the big budget Hollywood blockbuster, but always a surefire way to success. Mann captures the pulse of LA almost better than he did with Heat, albeit to a smaller scale and constricted to one night, a nervous time-sensitive mood-scape that gives the proceedings a haunted aura. Cruise has never been better, sporting a silver fox get-up and enough scary micro-mannerisms to more than make us believe he’s an expert at his profession, until jaggedly unravelled by Foxx’s presence, who goes from unassuming hostage to razor sharp thorn in the side real quick. Jada Pinkett Smith is brilliant as a lawyer who Max picks up in the opening scene, their extended conversation set against the dreamy LA backdrop serving as a neat, Elmore Leonard-esque way to set up shop. The supporting cast are like easter eggs hidden throughout, they’re never obvious or given key monologues, but exist in harmonious flow to the chamber piece unfolding mostly in the taxi. Mark Ruffalo shows up in his coolest role to date as a detective who gets wise to Cruise uncannily quick, Javier Bardem has a showcase scene as an angry mob boss, and watch for Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Wade Williams, Klea Scott, Paul Adelstein, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Emilio Riveria, Jason Statham, Richard T. Jones and the always excellent Barry Shabaka Henley as a jazz club owner with a few skeletons in his closet. My favourite scene is a wordless one, in which Vincent and Max see a lone coyote loping across the freeway in the hazy night. Each of them reacts, the sight of the beast meaning something different to them, internally, they share the moment, and move on. Taken out of context it could mean anything, stand on its own as a fifteen second short film, or be injected into a crime drama masterpiece like this to make it all the more atmospheric and special. It’s moments like this, along with a few other key scenes, one set on a subway train and the initial conversation between Foxx and Jada, that inject a surface level genre film with something intangible, something elemental. Mann gets this, every frame of his urban crime epics are filled with that kind of energy, and this stands as one of his best.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Frogs For Snakes


They say actors will literally ‘kill for a role’, and in the long forgotten, bizarre NYC set indie flick Frogs For Snakes, that’s the very concept. A handful of Bronx lowlifes all directly involved with criminal kingpin Al Santana (Robbie Coltrane, before he went all Hagrid on us), discover he is putting on a play, and promptly begin to literally murder each other for parts. Now, such a premise should provide a downright brilliant film, but sadly that’s not the case with this dreary gutterball. The possibilities are just endless, and all these miscreants do is just languish in alleyways, decrepit apartments and dive bars, monologuing about.. nothing much at all. It hurts when you have a cast this good in such fuckery as well. Al’s ex wife (Barbara Hershey) works as a debt collector for him, while she pines for her thespian boyfriend (John Leguizamo) who spends the majority of his scenes reciting overblown monologues that have nothing to do with the story, or lack thereof. There’s all manner of creeps and hoodlums running about like New York sewer rats, played by an impressive lineup including Harry Hamlin, Lisa Marie, Ian Hart, Clarence Williams III, Nick Chinlund and briefly Ron Perlman, but none of them have much to do and seem to aimlessly shamble through their scenes as if they were never given much of a script. Being the weirdo that I am though, I did get a sick thrill out of hearing potty mouthed Debi Mazar explicitly describe giving a blowjob to Coltrane’s character, a mental image I won’t soon erase from my head. It’s a whole lot of nothing for the most part though, and kinda makes you wonder how the thing ever got green-lit, let alone attracted such talent. If the film itself were a play, it would be run out of town on opening night. 

-Nate Hill

Batman Forever: A Review by Nate Hill 

It’s true, Batman Forever is a silly, overblown, cartoonish riot of buffoonry.  But so what? It’s also awesome in it’s own way, and inhabits a certain corner of the Batman culture, the side of things that is rooted in camp and unhinged wonderment. Now, there’s an important and discernable difference between taking things far and taking things too far. That difference is delineated on one side by a willingness to be goofy, colorful and not take this superhero stuff too seriously. The other side of that of course is a disregard for limits, throwing every ridiculous line, costume and awkward scene into it you can imagine. I’m referring to Joel Schumacher’s followup to this, Batman & Robin. Everything that is weird, wonderful and extravagant about Forever just revved up to much in Robin, resulting in a piss poor typhoon of mania and over acting. Not to say that Forever doesn’t have over acting. Ohhhh boy is there over acting. Between Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the thing is liable to give you epilipsy. But it somehow works despite its madness, a lucky stroke that Robin couldn’t have cared less about adhering to. Val Kilmer is the sedating antidote to Jones and Carrey, a remakably laid back Bats and a pretty solid casting choice, both as Brooding Bruce and Buttkicking Bats. Eternally broken up about the death of his patents, Bruce fights off Harvey Two Face Dent (Jones) in a garish, disarming Gotham City that resembles Mardi Gras in Dr. Seuss land. Jones’s Two Face is so far over the top, so rabid that it’s a wonder he didn’t give himself a bloody heart attack in the first take. Anyone who’s interested can read up on his performance, and how he pushed himself right to the heights of bombast in order to try and out-Carrey the Jim. Carrey, playing the Riddler, is a ball of twisted nerves himself, set loose on the wacky sets and basically given free reign to.. well.. go fucking nuts. It’s one of his most physical performances too, prancing around like a loon in green spandex that leaves nothing to the imagination. Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face may have had the edge for grit, but Jones has the rollicking clown version, and runs away to kookoo land with mannerisms that even call to mind The Joker in some scenes. The only thing I’ve seen him more hopped up in is Natural Born Killers, but shit man its hard to top his work in that. The story is all over the place, involving a nonsensical subplot with a mind control device, multiple elaborate set pieces, endless scenery chewing and the eventual arrival of Robin, played by Chris O’Donnell who is like the cinematic Buzz Killington. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle dutifully tag along as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, both looking tired at this point. Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore have amusing dual cameos as Two Face’s twin vixens, and Nicole Kidman does the slinky love interest shtick for Bruce as a sexy psychologist. Watch for an uncredited Ed Begley Jr. Too. There’s no denying the silliness, but one has to admit that the achievment in costume, production design and artistry are clear off the charts with this one, and visually it should be a legend in the franchise. Say what you will about it, I love the thing. 

Michael Mann’s The Insider: A Review by Nate Hill

There are some films that are so perfectly made in every way possible that
I sit there thinking ‘Every persons effort and every element of creative energy that went into making this movie has been implemented flawlessly, arriving here and now to give me the viewing experience I’m getting. A perfect movie’. Michael Mann’s The Insider is such a movie. I held off on reviewing it for a couple days after seeing it, partly to let it sink in but mostly to see if I’d feel any different about it once my synapses had cooled down and the frames had dimmed from my consciousness. Perhaps the fiery reaction it drew from me in the moment was cheaply earned, or I was just in the right mood to love it at that time. Not a chance. If anything I’ve become more enraptured by it as time has passed, already aching for a second viewing. Every performance and aspect of is just so rich, deep and rewarding that for its two and a half hour runtime I found myself externally distracted not once. Occasionally Mann deviates from his comfort zone in the nocturnal crime zone. The occult themed period piece, the colonial adventure, the psychological horror, and this, the blistering drama based on a true story. One might not think the subject matter deserves a two and a half hour film, let alone would make a great one, but Mann has the cinematic Midas touch, and never half asses it. His films always contain traces of a true master at work, telling little details that engrave the film with a sense of immaculate skill and unwavering dedication to telling the story in its finest, and most honest form. The Insider tells the story of Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), a chemist who turns whistleblower on the tobacco corporation he was once employed by, finding shelter under the wing of CBS News’s 60 minutes, and particularly hard nosed reporter Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). The network wants his take, in order to do an exposé on Big Tobacco, a plan with predictably disastrous and dangerous results, for both Wigand and CBS. The film shakes off any impending sensationalism or deliberately emotional stylistic cheats, instead keeping a microscope focus on the three lead performances and letting all the hurt, determination and emotion come forth naturally through their work, as opposed to smothering their story with an overbearing score and cheap cinematic manipulation. I’ve never been that won over by Russell Crowe until now. He always seems ‘halfway there’ in his work, like he’s missing something. This changed things for me. He’s like a raw nerve here, a family man pushed to the precipice of an impossible decision. One can almost see him wrestling with his conscience behind those haunted eyes, a storm with a lid barely kept on and anchored by Crowe in his finest hour. Pacino holds us captive with his work until we realize we’re not breathing. He’s the moral compass of the piece, and to see him explode at the injustices served up to him will give you goosebumps. The third leg of the table is Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace, the 60 minutes anchor who also struggles morally with the situation they are in. Plummer is so good you forget you’re watching a film, giving Wallace buried gentleness and chiselled emotional intensity that you can scarce believe is even possible through the craft of acting. The supporting cast is peppered with bushels of talent. Colm Feore, Philip Baker Hall, Gina Gershon, Stephen Tobolowsky, Diane Venora, Nester Serrano, Rip Torn, Michael Gambon and an unusually sedated Debi Mazar are superb. It’s Bruce McGill, however, who almost steals the film in one blistering scene, playing a lawyer with enough righteous anger to shatter your tv screen. A career best for him. No one puts you into a story by forcing you to feel alongside the characters quite like Mann. Here he guides us through the trials that Crowe, Plummer and Pacino face with steady hand and heart until we are invested. Then he pulls the ripcord and let’s the sparks fly, making monumentally intense work of events that could seem pedestrian in lesser hands. We really feel for Crowe and clutch the seat with the same desperate intensity that he clings to his family, and sanity. We feel the same jilted fury alongside Pacino as he wades through sickening bureaucracy for a shot at retribution. We take pause with Plummer as he ponders his legacy and are incredulous with all three at the snowball effect the entire proceeding has had on them, devastating us as an audience the same as them, in turn making us feel closer to them. This is all laced with the incredibly heartfelt music from Lisa Gerrard, who sang alongside Crowe in Gladiator and was a favourite of Tony Scott as well. Mann is a ceaseless monster of storytelling, tone and pacing. The story has flair simply because he doesn’t wantonly throw it in the mix; the feeling and reaction come from story and character and not the razzle dazzle. Mann knows this, and let’s the fireworks naturally spring from the absence of deliberation, like music in the vacuum of space. This one will live on to stand the test of time far longer than the decade and a half its help for already. It’s a revelation.