Tag Archives: diane venora

The Jackal

If you ever want to see Bruce Willis being a nasty bastard check out The Jackal, a pulpy remake of a 70’s spy flick that ramps up the intrigue, ultra-violence and takes a decidedly silly turn with its set pieces. Despite the fact that he and Richard Gere are kind of miscast, they both somehow get the intensity right and bring the heat even though we never really believe them in the roles. Willis is the titular Jackal, a sadistic international assassin whose methods get so elaborate you wonder where he gets the energy from. Gere is the imprisoned IRA radical who is sprung by super agent Sidney Poitier to bring him down. Willis’s next job is supposedly one that will put the delicate forces of international diplomacy off their axis and therefore the powers that be have allowed dangerous Gere to come into play as a ‘fight fire with fire’ mentality, which as any student of action movie narratives knows, never really ends well. Gere seems out of place as both an Irishman and an antihero but is fun to watch nonetheless, while Willis hams it up royally with a stoic grimace and enough high powered weaponry to bring down a building. Poitier always seems dignified no matter the material and such is the case here. The real scene stealer though is underrated character actress Diane Venora as Poitier’s partner, a scary badass of a Russian agent who displays more grit and grizzle than both Willis and Gere combined. Other work is observed from JK Simmons, Tess Harper, Stephen Spinella, Mathilda May, Sophie Okonodo and others. One scene always stood out though for years, and for awhile I didn’t even know what film it was from as a watched it with my dad when I was very young. Jack Black plays a shady arms dealer who hooks up Willis with product, but he gets a bit greedy with his paycheque. Willis, not impressed, loads up a giant 50 caliber cannon, tells him to start running and blows his fucking arm off from a few hundred yards out. Needless to say that scene made a spectacular impression on me and for years I just knew it as ‘that movie where Bruce Willis fucks up Jack Black with a 50cal’ until I eventually went for a rewatch. Not a great film but worth it for that scene alone, and the production value.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior

There’s always those films whose reputation is more widely known than themselves, where the stormy production or behind the scenes drama caused such a ruckus and eclipsed the final product, creating negative buzz whether or not the film is good. John McTiernan’s The 13th Warrior is one of those, I haven’t read up exactly on what went wrong but I’ve always felt the film that was born out of whatever trouble there was is an excellent one.

Antonio Banderas stars as an unconventional version of the badass hero we’re used to, one who starts off as anything but that and has to earn his way to glory. He plays a Persian poet sometime around 900AD, a man who is sent away for macking on the sultan’s wife and captured by a roving band of Vikings. They are amassing an army of elite specialist warriors to bring back home in the north in order to defeat a near indestructible menace that is moving in on their land. Banderas finds himself caught up in the war, alone with the tribe and forced grab a sword, find his courage and take a few swings at this fearsome enemy. The plot is fairly simple stuff but it’s atmosphere and character development that win the day here, as well as epic production design. Banderas starts off as basically a pampered court jester who the Norsemen mock and ridicule, until he learns their ways and a bond of brotherhood forms, an arc from both parties that is handled with dignity and heart. The enemy they fight are an unseen horror who burn, kill and eat everything in their path, there’s a sense of genuine fear and threat when they show up and the battles are staged with smoke, mist and fire for ultimate atmospheric effect. A highlight is when they raid underground caverns used to hide out in via ships and you really get a sense of setting as well as budget on display. Banderas is supported by various people including Vladimir Kulich as the heroic Buliwyf, Diane Venora, Tony Curran, Richard Bremmer, Sven Wollter and a very brief Omar Sharif.

People can talk shit about this one all they want but I really feel like they’re thinking of the troubled production instead of the film itself and need to get their heads out of the sand, and refocus their gaze. This may be a fairly scrappy flick but it’s simply not a bad film. Banderas is a solid lead, there’s a tactile sense of wonder to the settings, both southern and northern and McTiernan mounts the sieges, battles, massacres and poetic revelry assuredly. Great film.

-Nate Hill

The Substitute

1996‘s The Substitute thought of arming schoolteachers with guns a few decades before the thought crossed Trump’s mind, thank you very much, and in movie-land at least it was somewhat successful. Of course, Tom Berenger is the teacher in question here, and he also happens to be a highly trained mercenary who’s just trying to protect his teacher girlfriend (Heat’s Diane Venora) from a raging band of psychotic cholo gangbangers led by Marc Anthony, of all people. It’s a silly premise given all the cheesy bells and whistles the 90’s had to offer, and could almost be considered a cult classic these days. Berenger’s Shale leads a colourful team of badasses including Raymond ‘Tuco’ Cruz (wearing a manbun before it was cool), Richard Brooks, Luis Guzman and volatile William Forsythe, back from a botched mission in Cuba and ready for the next one in urban high school territory. A few forged papers later, he’s a legitimized teacher who steps in for Venora and discreetly investigates who’s responsible for viciously attacking her and running drugs through the school. Not so discreet is the multitude of high powered shootouts that he finds himself in, eventually backed up by his men. I know this is an action film but so frequent are the bullet ridden dust ups that they kind of drown out some of the attempted social satire in deafening commotion. I enjoyed Ernie Hudson’s high school principal who moonlights as a nasty arch villain running the drug syndicate (of course it’s the principal) and Glenn Plummer’s heroic but short lived teacher who’s on Shale’s side of the moral compass. Marc Anthony has always been an incredible actor (see Man On Fire and Bringing Out The Dead) whose talents behind the camera exceed those in the recording studio, and he makes a wicked little street-shit scumbag here. A little less gunplay and a bit more pithy dialogue and tongue in cheek locking horns would have suited this one. Otherwise, it’s a neat little picture. I can’t speak for the sequels that find Treat Williams stepping in for Berenger, but who knows. Oh wow, I just googled it and there’s *three* more sequels with Williams. Not since Michael Gross in Tremors has an actor hijacked a franchise out of the original star’s hands.

-Nate Hill

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.