Tag Archives: Disney

Disney’s Togo

Man, Willem Dafoe is really on a roll this year, not to mention the last two decades in general. No other actor out there I can think of has balanced a career between appearing in edgy, fucked up arthouse and experimental stuff and then more accessible, Hollywood and conventional fare too with as much energy, enthusiasm and variety. The only thing he hasn’t done is made the jump to television, but everyone has their reasons. With Disney’s Togo he proves for the third time this year (see Motherless Brooklyn and The Lighthouse) what a commanding, distinct presence he has in either lead or supporting roles. Here he plays Leonhard Seppela, a real life Norwegian sled dog breeder whose unshakeable bond with his lead dog Togo is the stuff of legend and countless grabs for the Kleenex box throughout the film.

Togo was the runt of the litter, as we learn through decade ago flashbacks between the beginning of their friendship and a furious race through the Alaskan wilderness to bring medicine back for children dying of an illness outbreak. If this story sounds familiar it’s because it is: Another dog named Balto was slapped with most of the credit through happenstance it seems, but this film definitely makes it apparent that Togo was the uncanny and determined hero who turned the tide amongst one of the fiercest storms in Alaskan history.

Dafoe is so versatile he can play the freakiest, most otherworldly villains or the most affable and down to earth regular dudes. He’s an initial pragmatist here whose borderline callous way of training dogs is upended by Togo’s resilience and spirit that burns like a star’s reflection in the Alaskan ice. These two beings were made for each other and in the last haul of their respective lives (Leonhard looks to be in his late sixties and Togo is over twelve) they pull off a miraculous journey of courage, defiance and heartwarming friendship. It isn’t without its dangers or peril though, there’s a sequence where they have to navigate an inlet Sound coated in ice violently shattering all around them that is so harrowing to watch you won’t breathe until the outcome. That’s the power of these animal stories though and I suppose you have to be someone who loves all these creatures or a ‘dog person’ to be affected by it, but really at its core it’s about friendship no matter the species, not giving up on one another at any stage of either party’s life and how that can carry you onward. Both Dafoe and every dog in his team sell that and make this one of the best films of the year. A special mention to Mark Isham’s beautiful score and the use of emotionally galvanizing song ‘On The Nature Of Daylight’ by Max Richter in the third act, last heard in Scorsese’s Shutter Island at an equally penultimate point in the narrative. This one alone is worth the price of Disney+.

-Nate Hill

Meet-and-Greez by Kent Hill

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Daniel Roebuck’s directorial offering Getting Grace made me cry like a baby. The end result however, is that I was able to chat with one of the nicest dudes in Hollywood.

Now he’s back . . . and he’s in Star Wars. Well, a Star Wars video game, which isn’t bad either considering how much the line between video games and movies are blurring – the gaming experience having been elevated to its current status which is, quite simply, a little like an interactive story. But unlike the experience you have sitting down and watching a film – here you, are a part of the story.

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From the soulless killer, Samson Toulette, in Tim Hunter’s acclaimed dissection of 1980’s teen anguish, RIVER’S EDGE, to his latest role as the irascible four armed pilot Greez Dritus in the highly anticipated video game release, STAR WARS: JEDI FALLEN ORDER (available on PS4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows).

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EA and Respawn Entertainment’s STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER has already garnered a great deal of interest and the excitement is building for its November 15th, 2019 release. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, game director Stig Asmussen offered his thoughts on Roebuck’s character Greez, “He’s a member of a new species we’ve created. I don’t want to give away too much of his backstory, but like anybody you’re going to find during these dark times, he’s got demons. But he’s kind of like this loudmouthed little guy, he talks real big, he tells tall tales and most of the time they’re not true.”

Roebuck spent a few months working alongside of Cameron Monaghan, playing Cal, the young padawan and Debra Wilson who plays Cere in the game. “We had a wonderful camaraderie, the three of us,” said Roebuck. “Plus, we were performance directed by Tom Keegan who is truly a master director and always brings great insight into the process.” Keegan and Roebuck had worked together before on DEAD RISING 3.

During the performance capture process, the actors donned form fitting body suits covered with reflective balls and performed the game’s cinematic scenes in front of dozens of cameras. They also wore head gear fitted with cameras so that the animators could utilize the footage to animate the character’s facial features by directly correlating them to the actor’s reference video.

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STAR WARS JEDI FALLEN ORDER is on track to become one of the most successful video game releases of 2019. The game is one of a triumvirate of entertainment options being released by Lucasfilm LTD this fall. Its release coinciding with the original program from Disney +, THE MANDOLORIAN and STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, out this Christmas.

Disney’s Flight Of The Navigator

I feel like live action Disney stuff from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is underrated. The animated ventures always get minted into classics and go platinum while awesome entries like Flight Of The Navigator get lost and relegated to hidden gem territory after awhile. This is a smart, funny, charming, invigorating and refreshingly eerie little SciFi that doesn’t talk down to its young audience or wade into sap.

In 1978 young David (Joey Cramer) disappears walking through the woods one night, and isn’t seen for eight years until he walks up to his house and finds different people living in it. Here the film impressed me by showing this whole sequence from his blind perspective, because for him only about four hours have passed and he can’t figure out why when the cops track down his parents, (Cliff De Young and Veronica Cartwright are very effective) they have aged so much. Their reunion is treated maturely and with impressively adequate emotion from Cramer, who ever so slightly reminds me of a young Henry Thomas, therefore cementing the Amblin vibes nicely. David has of course been abducted by aliens but that’s no spoiler as you can see by the chromed up spacecraft jetting around on the film’s poster. The resident extraterrestrial who took him now returns and the two embark on an initially disorganized and frequently hilarious ‘mission’ to find star charts downloaded to David’s brain, evade a pesky NASA bigwig (Howard Hesseman) and return David to his family.

This film is a wondrous creation because of how laid back the action is. David teams up nicely with the alien, a rambunctious robotic arm named Max and voiced by Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens. Most of their time together isn’t spent lamenting the situation or blasting government troops with phaser beams but rather goofing off, rocking out to the earth music that Max takes to, hanging out with other alien specimens he has adopted in his voyages (cue the adorable 80’s practical effects) and zooming around the globe in their vehicle which provides some very good exterior FX too. A young Sarah Jessica Parker also shows up as a sweetheart of a NASA defector who watches out for David and eventually helps him escape. It’s a terrific film that doesn’t take itself too seriously yet doesn’t goof off too much and ruin setup and believability (I’m looking at you, Joe Dante’s misfire ‘Explorers’). It benefits greatly from Cramer who was a true find but doesn’t seem to have had much of a career following this. Greatly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Quaid Performances

What’s the first thing you think of when Dennis Quaid is mentioned? Western? Action film? High concept SciFi? Disney flick? For a guy with hero good looks and a winning smile he has deftly managed to avoid being totally typecast in his career and although very frequently nails the romantic lead, also shows up in unconventional, challenging roles that test and allow him to grow as an actor. He’s got charm through the roof but there’s also a darkness brooding in his persona that I always enjoy seeing brought forth in the work, as well as a talent for quick paced deadpan humour. Here are my top ten favourite performances:

10. Vaughn Ely in Martin Guigui’s Beneath The Darkness

Villain roles are a rare breed for him to be found in, but there is the odd one out there. This is a low budget ‘serial killer next door’ type horror flick in which a group of teenagers try to prove that their upstanding, affable neighbour (Dennis) is in fact a mass murdering maniac. Sounds fun, right? It is but only thanks to Quaid’s certifiably fruit-loopy performance that steals the whole thing. It’s new ground for the actor but he seems right at home in dark, tongue in cheek character work and plays the pants off of this unhinged suburban maniac.

9. Jack McGurn in Alan Parker’s Come See The Paradise

This is an important, heartfelt performance and one of the only ones where he doesn’t use that winning smile or roguish charm. Set in the US following the attacks on Pearl Harbour, he plays a family man married to a Japanese woman who, along with their young daughter and entire family, are imprisoned in internment camps during a period of history that is shamefully not discussed very often. It’s a terrible situation to find you and your loved ones in and his performance, which spans over a decade, reflects the hardships and turmoil of that time while retaining a fierce love for family and country.

8. Davidge in Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine

An intergalactic survival story sees military pilot Quaid and an extraterrestrial (Louis Gossett Jr.) marooned on a strange planet together. Fighting as mortal enemies in a war, they are forced to reconcile hatred and rely on each other for survival. A bond like no other is formed and both actors handle the mutual character development beautifully, making this much more than just a SciFi adventure story.

7. Doc Holliday in Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp

This is frequently known as ‘that other Wyatt Earp’ film because in most circles it is eclipsed by the admittedly superior Tombstone. Easy to see why as it’s moody, emotional and dour where it’s counterpart is essentially a cheerful swashbuckler. Val Kilmer’s pitch perfect take on Doc gets all the raves and rightly so but I find Dennis’s rendition to be equally as compelling, a snarky, fatalistic loudmouth who blindsides in certain scenes by laying down lucid emotional truths and providing sad yet profound insights.

6. Jimmy Morris in John Lee Hancock’s The Rookie

I’m not usually huge on sports films but this one is such a great underdog story, father son drama on two levels and just an all round feel good piece. Quaid plays a prodigy pitcher who never got his shot at the major leagues as a kid but now, in his mid forties, he’s thrown another chance when most of the guys around him trying out are half his age. You just find yourself rooting for this guy so willingly when you see the shine in the eyes of his kid (Angus T. Jones) and the blooming admiration his own father (Brian Cox, excellent as always) shows when he succeeds. Quaid plays it stoic, achingly modest and unsure of himself until that magic pitching arm gets to come into play and he becomes youthful again in the blink of an eye with a remarkable piece of acting.

5. Remy Mcswain in Jim McBride’s The Big Easy

About the cockiest hotshot vice cop you could find on the streets of New Orleans, Quaid’s Remy is womanizing, fast talking, fun loving, well meaning and just a tad corrupt, which spurs on the conflict of the film. He clashes royally with uptight DA Ellen Barkin until sparks inevitably fly and we are treated to some of the hottest, most adorable romantic chemistry I’ve seen in cinema. Quaid is easygoing and lighthearted in the role but never too goofy or self parodying, and there’s several scenes of sobering gravity that show his range even in a role as walk-on-the-clouds effervescent as this. We also get to see one of the most mature, realistic and down to earth sex scenes in film history, which is all too rare in Hollywood.

4. Arlis Sweeney in Steve Kloves’s Flesh & Bone

A dark, chilling tale sees Quaid play the son of a ruthless killer (James Caan) who falls in love with a drifter (Meg Ryan) that has some connections to their collective past. This is a stormy, doom laden psychological family drama that didn’t see half the exposure it deserves. Quaid plays the role introverted, a man haunted and confused by events he is still trying to reconcile, pitted against his demon of a dad and on a path to a violent, destructive conclusion.

3. Frank Sullivan in Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

Trust Quaid and costar Jim Caviesel to make such an ‘out there’ premise feel so down to earth. As father and son they are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and transcend the barrier of death itself via a very special HAM radio. Quaid makes comforting magic out of the Everyman/dad/firefighter/baseball fan archetype. There’s a warmth and genuine love he has for his family that jumps off the screen as grounds the film in human emotion.

2. Guy/Joshua Rose in Predrag Antonejevic’s Saviour

A little seen or heard of film, this one is brutal to sit through but worth it every second. A French foreign legion soldier with a tragic, bloody past, Quaid’s rough hewn mercenary finds himself awash in the Serbian/Bosnian war with no discernible side to fight on, genocide abound at every turn and a stunning lack of humanity poisoning the region. He finds a modicum of redemption in caring for a woman (Natasha Ninkovic) and her baby that is the product of rape by muslims, something her whole village has now shunned her for. This is dark, grim stuff we witness along with Guy, but his actions and eventual turnaround of soul are something wonderful to see. Quaid plays him streamlined of any heroic sensibilities or obvious moral fabric, just a man of few words with a tortured spirit trying to navigate a region tearing itself apart with evil.

1. Nick Parker in Disney’s The Parent Trap

This is a very personal choice for me, it’s one of the first films I ever saw as a kid, and was my introduction to Dennis’s work as an actor. There’s something cosmically perfect and warm about his performance here and to me no other film or series has captured his essence quite like this. Just a laidback Napa valley winemaker, a loving father and husband who finds himself in the wackiest of situations. His father daughter chemistry with both versions of Lindsay Lohan as well as Natasha Richardson just works so well and their whole unconventional, very sweet family dynamic carries the film to memorable heights.

Thanks for reading!! Please feel free to share your own favourite performances from Quaid and as always stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

Remembering Robin Williams: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Robin Williams left us five years ago this week, and out of all the celebrities, actors and entertainers who have passed on, his absence is still the one I feel most. So what made him so special? For me it was the way he could cut so deep in both serious and comic performances. When he showed up in the room the energy turned light and carefree as the zany, untethered forces of his improvisation and imagination took over like a gentle breeze. Then when it was time to rein it in for a more serious, introspective scene he would be less effervescent but the light in his eyes wouldn’t dim, the focus wouldn’t falter and he’d demonstrate his equally brilliant talent for heartbreaking drama as well. He could carry an entire film on his own, light up a supporting role and even make a cameo glimmer through to become memorable. In looking back I’d like to highlight the ten performances that are most personal, most memorable and mean the most to me as someone who grew up watching him on the TV all the time, idolized and loved him dearly. Enjoy!

10. Adrian Cronauer in Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Viet Nam

No other scenario requires a much needed sense of humour like the fog of war, but Williams’s rebellious spirit isn’t received well by the brass in Nam, yet he makes it clear that a good dose of verbal comedy is exactly what the airwaves need in this case. It’s a no holds barred performance with some touching emotional notes and plenty of slotted time to let loose behind a radio DJ’s mic.

9. Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia

Cast against type as the freaky villain of Nolan’s chilly murder mystery, he channels a Stephen King style energy in playing a slippery antagonist set against Alaska’s grey skies and at odds with Al Pacino’s sharp but distraught homicide cop. Williams is somehow constantly likeable yet creepy in a way you can’t quite put your finger on until the third act rolls around and he really lets it rip.

8. Parry in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Mental illness gets a ballistic but tender portrayal in Gilliam’s urban fantasy that sees Robin as a former professor of medieval history who loses his mind following a tragedy. Surreal production design helps his work flow but the raw potency is all his in a performance that brings down the house, brings out the best in both Gilliam and Jeff Bridges and shows how a mind broken isn’t necessarily one lost forever.

7. The Genie in Disney’s Aladdin

I’m pretty sure all of the Genie’s dialogue wasn’t even scripted off the bat, I think they just sat Williams down in front of a voiceover mic each morning, gave him a general outline and then slowly backed away out of the room to observe the magic happen. The result is a nostalgic blast of a vocal performance that so many hold dear and one of the most quotable Disney characters of all time.

6. Alan Parrish in Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Infusing childlike wonder is something he was always good at, and it served well here in playing a guy who has been trapped inside a deadly jungle themed board game since he was a kid. His chemistry with Bonnie Hunt is funny and touching, his feral mania upon being finally released from the game into 90’s suburbia is hilarious and the interaction with young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce makes for a dynamic character that I always love to revisit.

5. Philip Brainard in Disney’s Flubber

Williams plays an incarnation of the absent minded professor archetype in Disney’s unfairly dismissed comedy. In a film whose star is a rambunctious pile of ever morphing charismatic green goo, trust Williams to defy that description and upstage the Flubber itself with his own wild, inspired performance. But he also gets surprisingly deep when lamenting: “I’ve spent my whole life out there trying to figure how the world works when I should have been trying to figure out *why* it works..” it’s a disarming line to hear him intone in a heartfelt manner from a Disney film, but that’s why I love this one so much.

4. Sean Maguire in Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting

Mentor, friend and advisor to Matt Damon’s prodigal kid, Williams imparts wisdom in clear eyed fashion here as an extremely down to earth fellow faced with an extraordinary situation. His mid film monologue to Damon won him a best supporting Oscar, but the moment that captures this character’s spirit most beautifully is when he wistfully remembers his wife who passed away, and injects some humour into the conversation that was purely Robin’s improvisation and as a result hits the scene home.

3. Rainbow Randolph in Danny Devito’s Death To Smoochy

Devito’s venomous farce of children’s media is a criminally undervalued and quite terrific film, and Williams goes into full on nut-bar mode as a disgraced kiddie show host who never should have been let on the air to begin with. Trying to kill Edward Norton’s beloved rhino Smoochy in between bouts of rage, flagrant insecurity and maniacal mood swings, it’s an incredibly ballsy, thoroughly R rated and absolutely hysterical piece of black comedy performance art not to be missed.

2. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Chris Columbus’s Mrs. Doubtfire

The lengths that loving father Williams goes to in order to see the children he lost custody of here would be horror movie material in any other actor’s hands, but because Robin was so adept at both wacky innovation, disguises and genuine heartfelt explanations for such behaviour, the result is both magical and realistic. The restaurant scene alone is time capsule worthy, in which Hillard has to multitask and hop in and out of the Mrs. Doubtfire suit rapid fire to both have a family dinner and entertain a scotch swilling TV exec (Robert Prosky).

1. Chris Nielsen in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

A gorgeous fantasy film showcases Robin in his most deeply felt and affecting performance as a man who has lost everything including his own life. He ventures out across the afterlife through heaven, hell and beyond to find his wife and soulmate (Annabella Sciorra) and save her. Williams portrays celestial determination like no other and a fierce, passionate love for her that shines like a beacon through realms of the astral plane and lights up the film in the process.

Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy and hold Robin’s work as dear as I do, and have enjoyed my thoughts here.

-Nate Hill

Disney’s John Carter Of Mars

If Disney had kept the much more alluring title ‘John Carter Of Mars’ instead of hacking off the last bit and just keeping the dude’s name, I feel like Andrew Stanton’s John Carter would have had a better chance in marketing and taken flight, because it’s not even near as bad a film as people would have you believe. In fact, it’s a gorgeous, beautifully told, elaborate retro science fiction dream and a flat out great film. I suppose it’s kind of like Waterworld, where a film tanks so badly that people start to confuse bad numbers with bad quality and a whole negative stigma is whipped up around it. Speaking of Waterworld, another great film, John Carter bears similarities in production design and visual atmosphere, albeit set on Mars for most of the duration. Based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs believed to be some of the earliest works of literary SciFi, Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter, an ex Civil War badass who finds himself whisked away to Mars through a dimensional cave portal out in the desert, propelled on an adventure with warring clans, giant alien yeti beasts, a princess (Lynn Collins), humanoid extraterrestrials led by a green Willem Dafoe, an adorable little dog/toad/road-runner animal and more. This is one of those old school epics that doesn’t just hire a few leads and a gaggle of supporting players but turns a whole casting agency upside down, shakes it and signs any actors that fall out, and as a result we get a jaw dropping lineup that includes Samantha Morton, Polly Walker, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds, Jon Favreau, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Mark Strong, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston as a crusty cavalry general and Dominic West in full Shakespeare mode as an evil Martian prince. Oh, Ross from Friends is apparently in there somewhere too but I’ve never been able to spot him, keep your eyes peeled though. The plot at base level is a fish out of water story as John adjusts to the planet (seeing him mess around with the gravitational field is so much fun), bonds with Dafoe and his tribe of Tharks, takes on giant furry Pokémon things in an intergalactic gladiator arena and casts his gaze starward, wondering if he’ll ever see his blue planet again. A few convoluted subplots get in the way including Mark Strong’s weird metaphysical warlock priest dude, but for the most part this a propulsive, rollicking, operatic space adventure with special effects that won’t quit and a real sense of wonder. Why this flopped so bad is anyone’s guess and it’s a shame because when this happens people tend to focus more on the event of its release and that perceived failure more than the film itself, and the legacy gets clouded. Forget the losses a studio with billions in couch change ‘suffered,’ forget any bad press or skewed marketing and just enjoy the film on its own, because it’s one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Disney’s Incredibles 2

Incredible really is the word for Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2, a thoughtful, intelligent, hilarious and visually stupendous sequel to Disney Pixar’s first superhero adventure. It was always a curiosity how this was going to do; so many sequels that arrive a decade after their beloved predecessor can feel vague or disjointed by the gulf of time. This one jumps right back into the hot seat like it never left, feeling both new and organic as a continuing story and reminiscent of the first outing’s magic. Literally dropping us right back near the ending we remember where a little mole dude called the Underminer creates new trouble for our heroes, a gigantic bank robbery sequence sets the stage for the film to come as well as the ongoing and and now more complex issues that superheroes face in the eyes of the public and in the favour of the government. The real joy of the film comes from the family dynamic though, particularly between Bob ‘Mr. Incredible’ Parr and the kids. When an influential tycoon (a peppy Bob Odenkirk) and his techie sister (silk voiced Catherine Keener) develop a new promotional program to put supers in the positive spotlight, they recruit Susan ‘Elastagirl’ Parr (Holly Hunter) as their front runner. This pus Bob in the stay at home Dad seat, and in those sequences the film really finds a fresh voice, showcasing some hilarious and poignant sequences. The visual fireworks come full blast as Elastagirl battles a mysterious enemy called the Screenslaver and runs about the city with all kinds of gadgets including a souped up new motorbike. Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone is back too, and there’s a whole new gallery of interesting supers all brought into the fold by Odenkirk’s character. Edna Mode returns too, still hysterically voiced by director Bird himself. The magic of these films is that they’re not just flashy gloss or simply Disney fireworks, there’s actually themes to work through and things to ponder on their journey. I admire the addressing of media manipulation and collusion in how the supers are represented in the news, something that’s commonplace in the states today, as well as the raw angst of being a parent and trying to protect your young while simultaneously saving the world and rocketing around between very dangerous situations. This one is a winner, a little more dense and story heavy than the first was, but still knows how to have a great time in the action department, from chases aboard both a runaway subway train and a massive luxury ocean liner in the fast paced third act. Still feels as classy, cool and entertaining as the first, with a retro futurist vibe, striking tactile animation and a script packed with wit and innovation.

-Nate Hill