Tag Archives: Elias Koteas

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

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Jim Sheridan’s Dream House

Imagine the potential for a concept like Dream House, and then look at how badly, how royally they fucked up the script and eventual film that came after. It’s like someone had a really cool idea for a thriller that could have been something great in the vein of Shyamalan or Hitchcock and it just ended up a flat, lifeless, boring exercise in.. well… not much. Sadder still is the talented, first rate cast stuck in it, and when you consider the director has a heavily Oscar nominated film from back in the day under his belt, it boggles the mind. Okay, maybe the last two points are unfair, artists sometimes don’t have control over what projects cross their desk, but I would have jumped ship at the premiere if I were them, paycheque in hand. The premise is certainly interesting: a publisher from New York (Daniel Craig) moves with his wife (Rachel Weisz) and two young daughters to a quaint manor in quiet New England to get away from it all. The house, naturally, has a troubled past and is sorta kinda haunted, in one of those twisty roundabout ways I can’t say without spoiling the whole deal (*cough* The Others). Craig has to solve the mystery of a brutal crime that took place in his new home, avoid freaky stalkers that seem to follow his family, and with the help of a kind, benevolent neighbour (Naomi Watts), figure out just what’s going on. There is a twist, that shows up midway through the film instead of near the end and because of that feels entirely like a silly gimmick once we know, a misjudged pacing decision if there ever was one. The thing that sucks is there are well done aspects; the acting from everyone is great, the cinematography and production design beautifully done, it’s just story that takes a nose dive, and almost right off the bat, too. The payoff and resolution for such an ‘out there’ setup just feels dry and voided of the mysticism and otherworldly spookiness that the film set you up with, and the result is you just feel cheated. Not even capable actors like Elias Koteas as a shady hitman and Marton Csokas as an even shadier businessman can bring antagonists with enough life into the fold, and their thankless presence is wasted. After this film I kind of wish I watched it again without any sound or subtitles on like a silent version, because the imagery and visual element is too good to be wasted on a script as badly drawn and executed as this.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen


A demon angel. A Badass Denzel Washington. Tony Soprano singing the Rolling Stones. Creeping psychological dread. Browned, burnished production design. A deliciously mean spirited, ballsy twist ending. All this and more can be found in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen, an atmospheric spook-house of a flick that gets tone, fright and suspense just right. Nestled in that sweet spot of the 90’s where detective stories often had a neat supernatural twist (The Prophecy is another dope one), it’s a film that demonstrates the power of storytelling and atmosphere done right, like a campfire tale that cops tell their youngsters. Denzel is Hobbs, a detective who oversees the graphic execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, terror incarnate), a monster he once caught. Case closed, right? Not so much. Soon after he kicks the bucket, one or more copycat killers show up, and once again the crimes happen under Hobb’s watch. Coincidence? Paranormal? It’s a neat, eerie game of cat and mouse with an antagonist who possesses a few unearthly methods of skulking around in the dark. Hobbs is helped by his two colleagues, salt of the earth John Goodman and hothead James Gandolfini, bumps heads with the obstinate police captain (Donald Sutherland), and runs into his foe at every turn, each time in a new vessel which gives the actors, right down to extras, an opportunity to have some devilish fun. Embeth Davidz is her usual withdrawn self as a woman with ties to the killer’s past, and watch for Robert Joy and Gabriel Casseus as well. Composer Dun Tan’s unearthly drone of a score compliments the drab shadows, oppressive nocturnes and threatening frames of the film eerily as well, creating a mood-scape that drips ambience. The end is an acidic kick in the nuts, and I admire a film that has the stones to chuck in such a shock tactic, embracing the dread that has been built up to that point with one last sardonic, hopeless cackle. Film noir to it’s roots, subtly mystical, a perfect one to settle down with as we move into the Halloween season. 

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Prisoner


Prisoner is a rough, disturbing little psychological thriller about a potential prison film, or rather the lonely location scouting sessions of controversial, much disliked Hollywood auteur director Derek Plato (Julian McMahon). He’s an arrogant prick of a dude whose newest film has him scouring abandoned penitentiaries for that perfect location. He’s alone, curiously, until all of a sudden… he’s not. Out of nowhere appears the mysterious Jailor (Elias Koteas), a frightening man who forcefully imprisons Plato, mentally berates him and forces the man to look back upon his long and quite unpleasant past in both the film industry and his disaster of a personal life, prodding him with intimate questions and accusations. This is essentially a chamber piece with the two actors being the only ones who appear in the present timeline, which is punctuated by hazy flashbacks to his life before. McMahon carries himself nicely, handling a well worn arc with charisma and giving off an authentically unlikeable vibe early on. Koteas is a beast of an actor and could scare the pants off of real life convicts, as such he steals the show with a brutal, galvanizing performance. Now, these types of films usually head towards conclusions we’ve seen before, and I won’t spoil anything except to say that although I was satisfied with the way the ending did rise up to meet the rest of the film, some won’t be and may find it cliched, but hey, that’s life. Nevertheless, it’s a taut little mind game by way of a character study, clocking in well under ninety minutes, a sleek little piece that leaves the viewer no time to lag or lolly-gag as it trundles along through it’s intense story beats. Cool stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island 


Shutter Island is my favourite film by Martin Scorsese. Now, keep in mind that I still have yet to see heralded classics like Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but that being said I still feel like this clammy psychological opus would remain at the top of the charts. I’m a genre guy at heart, and as such gravitate towards that when watching any director’s work, I just feel more at home wading into fictitious, stylized thrillers than I do with earnest biopics or urban crime dramas, which aren’t always my thing to begin with. Shutter is a brilliant piece, a deliberately dense and serpentine mystery that unfolds step by delicious step, a gift to anyone who loves a good twist and plenty of clues to keep them engaged along the way. Not to mention it’s wonderfully acted, cleverly written and primed with emotional trauma to keep us invested in the puzzle beyond base curiosity. Leonardo DiCaprio is best when portraying intense, tormented people, and his US Marshal Teddy Daniels here is no exception, a haunted man who feels like a caged animal as he investigates the disappearance of a mental patient from a secluded island sanitarium, a place that just doesn’t seem right, with a mood in the air so oppressive you can almost feel the fog, both mental and meteorological, weighing you down. The patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer will send shivers up and down your spine) seems to have vaporized into thin air, and Teddy’s investigation leads to closed doors, uncooperative staff and a heightened level of dread that lurks beneath every hushed exchange of dialogue and fleeting glimpse at things he, and we, aren’t even sure he really saw. The head doctor (Ben Kingsley, excellent) is clearly hiding something, as is the austere asylum director (Max Von Sydow). The freaky Warden (terrific cameo from Ted Levine, who gets to deliver the film’s best written and most perplexing dialogue) babbles to Teddy in biblical platitudes, and the patients have run amok following a storm that compromised security. Needless to say the plot is deviantly constructed to constantly mess with the audience until the third act revelations, which come as less of a melodramatic thunderclap and more like a quiet, burning sorrow of realization, a tonal choice from Scorsese that hits you way harder. Scorsese has assembled a cast for the ages here, and besides who I’ve mentioned so far we also have Michelle Williams in disconcerting flashbacks as Teddy’s wife, so perfectly played I wish she got a nomination, creepy Elias Koteas as another phantasm from his past, John Carrol Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robin Bartlett and Patricia Clarkson. The score is a doom soaked death rattle courtesy of Robbie Robertson, not without it’s emotional interludes but thoroughly grievous. There’s also a beautifully slowed down version of ‘Cry’ by Johnnie Ray that accompanies the horrifying dream sequences within the film, adding to the already thick atmosphere nicely. This is a film built to last, both for dutiful rewatches from adoring veterans and discovery by lucky newcomers who get to experience it’s affecting story for the first time. All these boxer biopics, big city mafia ballads and heady stuff seems to have rolled off of me as far as Scorsese goes, I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re a one-off as far as how many times I’ll watch them. Give me a well spun, emotionally rich psychological murder mystery with no shortage of style, character and tantalizing thriller elements, however, and I’ll pop that sucker back into the DVD player time and time again. Scorsese’s best effort by far. 

-Nate Hill

Andrew Niccol’s S1mone 


Andrew Niccol’s S1mone is social satire at its cheeriest, a pleasant, endearing dissection of Hollywood mania and celebrity obsession that only hints at the level of menace one might achieve with the concept. It’s less of a cautionary tale and more of a comedic fable, and better for it too. In a glamorous yet used up Hollywood, mega producer Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino with some serious pep in his step) needs to give his enterprise a makeover. His go-to star (Winona Ryder) is a preening diva who drives him up the wall, and there seems to be a glaring absence of creative juice in his side of the court. Something cutting edge, something brand new and organic, something no one else has. But what? Simone, that’s what. After finding clandestine software left behind by a deceased Geppeto-esque computer genius (Elias Koteas, excellent), he downloads what lies within, and all manner of mayhem breaks loose. The program was designed to create the perfect virtual reality woman, flawless and capable in every way, including that of the cinematic thespian. Viktor sees this as gold and treats it as such, carefully introducing Simone (played by silky voiced model Rachel Roberts) to an unsuspecting film industry who are taken by storm and smitten. Simone can tirelessly churn out five oscar worthy performances in a month, never creates on set drama, whips up scandals or demands pay raises. She’s the answer to everyone’s problem, except for the one issue surrounding her very presence on the screen: she isn’t actually real. This creates a wildly hysterical dilemma for Pacino, a fiery Catherine Keener as a fellow executive, and everyone out there who’s had the wool pulled over their starry eyes. It’s the kind of tale we’d expect from Barry Levinson or the like, a raucously funny, warmhearted, pithily clever send up of the madness that thrives in the movie industry every day. There’s all manner of cameos and supporting turns including Evan Rachel Wood, Jay Mohr, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Rebecca Romjin and the late Daniel Von Bargen as a detective who cheekily grills Pacino when things get real and the masses want answers. This is fairy tale land in terms of plausibility, but it’s so darn pleasant and entertaining that it just comes off in a relatable, believable manner. Pacino is having fun too, a frenzied goofball who tries his damnedest to safeguard his secret while harried on all sides by colleagues and fans alike. Roberts is sensual and symmetrical as the computer vixen, carefully walking a tightrope between robotic vocation and emoting, essentially playing an actress pretending to be an actress who isn’t even human, no easy task. It’s a breezy package that’s never too dark or sobering, yet still manages to show the twisted side of a famously strange industry. Great stuff. 

 -Nate Hill

“I am very sure that’s the man who shot me.”: Zodiac 10 years later – by Josh Hains

The idea of offering up a defence for David Fincher’s Zodiac seems rather silly given that ten years later it’s widely regarded as perhaps Fincher’s greatest film, often revered as one of the finer films released over the past decade. We all know it’s great, though admittedly, I didn’t know that for several years.

I avoided Zodiac like it was coated in radioactive slime until 2014. I had heard a great deal of positive things about the movie, and had been greatly intrigued by the marketing behind it, but the knowledge that not only was it was a long, slow paced movie, but also a rather unsettling one too kept me away for so long. When I did finally give it a chance late September 2014, my mind immediately gravitated toward Google, scouring through page after page of information about the investigation in an attempt to better understand the finer details of the case, and come to my own conclusions about who the Zodiac killer may have been. My gut however, felt like I’d eaten a bad take out meal, disturbed, shaken, and stupidly hungry for more. I felt like how I imagined Robert Graysmith felt all those years ago, minus the fear, paranoia, and impending danger of course.

That David Fincher populated Zodiac with such a great cast is a marking of a great director who knows how to compile actors who will treat the characters as individuals and not just caricatures. I find it intriguing and perhaps even ironic, or merely coincidental, that Jake Gyllenhaal starred in last year’s underrated thriller Nocturnal Animals, given that in Zodiac he is essentially one. His Robert Graysmith is a nocturnal animal, an increasingly gaunt, wide eyed mouse sniffing around for a piece of cheese, in this case the next tangible clue or lead worth obsessively investigating. And it’s all thanks to his unshakeable love for puzzles, a factor that helps decode the first Zodiac letter. As he digs deeper into the case, we come to fear for his safety, in particular during a genuinely white knuckling scene in which the unarmed and unimposing Graysmith ventures into the basement of someone we begin to assume might put an abrupt end to Graysmith’s life.

Before the blockbuster splash that was Iron Man in 2008 thundered into the film scene, one could have argued that Robert Downey Jr.’s performance as the San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery was the best he’d ever given. An argument can be made that while he was seemingly born to play the billionaire tycoon and saviour of the planet Tony Stark, his best work still resides in the fractured Avery. The deeper the investigation gets the further Avery seems to slip from cool as a cucumber journalist to a paranoid, spineless slob.

Prior to his self induced exile on a houseboat, I got a kick out of the scene where he joins Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) for drinks at a populated watering hole, chugging back those luminous bright blue Aqua Velvas while rambling about the case and their personal lives. There’s a great sense of both humour and humanity in that scene, as Avery lets his guard down and actually engages with someone beyond a superficial relationship, while Graysmith sheds his mouse-like internalized mannerisms in favour of energetic, loud behaviour, though briefly. From this point forward however, Graysmith has a spine, albeit a rather loosely fitting one, and Avery has seemingly lost his, donning “I am not Paul Avery” buttons in the hopes of fending off potential threats. He’d have made a wonderful Doc Sportello.

And of course, there’s San Francisco detective Dave Toschi played with a real sense of respectable authority by Mark Ruffalo. Toschi, an Animal Cracker snacking family man, and the inspiration behind both Steve McQueen’s preferred method of wearing his service revolver in Bullitt, and Dirty Harry’s iconic law breaking detective Harry Callahan, can’t seem to figure out how to put the pieces together in the Zodiac case, understandable in light of the overwhelming amount of contradictory information at hand. Under Fincher’s direction, Ruffalo portrays Toschi as a driven yet logically minded detective. He remains dedicated for years to catching the Zodiac, but lacks the desperation and paranoia Graysmith possesses. Instead, Toschi approaches every aspect of the case with the kind of logical thinking and reasoning every detective should be in possession of, following procedure by the book, and generally doing everything he can to crack the case until the psychological burden becomes far to heavy to bear. You can see how heavy sits in his mind by Ruffalo’s subtle body language in later parts of the movie, and you soon feel sorry for the guy.

Near the end of the film, Graysmith declares “I need to stand there, I need to look him in the eye and I need to know that it’s him.”, desperate to prove that Arthur Leigh Allen (John Carroll Lynch; perfectly unnerving and subtle) is indeed the cold blooded killer. He gets his wish a short time later when he encounters Allen at an Ace Hardware store in Vallejo where Allen works as a clerk. Allen offers his assistance to Graysmith with a polite “Can I help you?”, Graysmith responds with a “No.”, the two men simply staring at one another until Graysmith leaves, Allen thrown off by Graysmith, and Graysmith appearing much more certain that Allens is the man they’re after. The movie moves forward eight years to when Mike Mageau, survivor of the Zodiac killer at the start of the film, meets with authorities to potentially identify the Zodiac killer, positively identifying Arthur Leigh Allen as the man who shot him and killed Darlene Ferrin. While many had their suspicions and some evidence pointed in his direction, Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned. Not that he would have confessed anyway.

Admittedly, I have intentionally left out many details and characters, with no disrespect intended, and it should be said that every actor involved in this film, from the leading performances to the smallest of cameos (for exmaple, Ione Skye of Say Anything as Kathleen Johns, a woman who was threatened in her car by the Zodiac killer), give world class performances, some even the best of their careers to date. And the script by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith, is an achievement of impeccable research and respect for the case. And the cinematography  by the late Harris Savides is bar none the greatest work the man had ever crafted, richly capturing everything with immaculate detail, from the lush valleys of California and its busy, inviting cities and streets, to the Aqua Vera drinks, to beams of red light emanating from police cars. He painted a gorgeous picture for us to gawk at for years to come.

Ten years later, I find it astonishing that Zodiac never truly ends like other movies do. Most movies tie up every loose thread with a ribbon to go with it, others leave room for potential sequels. You can’t end a movie when their is no resolution in reality, forcing a tacked on Hollywood ending wouldn’t sit right with anyone in possession of a brain. You can only leave the audience with the next best thing, the assurance of a living Zodiac victim that the man in the picture they’re pointing to is indeed the man who shot him. That Fincher was bold enough to choose this manner of ending his film shows us he’s a director capable of unsettling viewers long after the film ends, without needing to manipulate his audience or present alternative facts. Zodiac is a bona fide masterpiece, the crime film equivalent to All The President’s Men, and just as good too.

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