Tag Archives: Ellen Barkin

Michael Caton-Jones’s This Boy’s Life

Michael Caton-Jones’s This Boy’s Life is based on a true story of abuse, of which there are thousands every year, many heard and many unheard. This one doesn’t end up as bad as some or as good as others but I liked that it didn’t make the abuse a centrepiece for the film and rather used it to show a fascinating character dynamic between 50’s teenager Tobias (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his nasty stepfather Dwight (Robert DeNiro). Tobias and his mother (Ellen Barkin) come from a free spirited background, abandoned by his birth father and left to roam the States looking for a new provider. She meets and marries Dwight pretty quick, and Tobias also figures out what he’s made of real quick too. Dwight is a nasty, bitter, violent, pathetic piece of human garbage whose self esteem is so low he’s just gotta take it out on others around him, often in a cartoonish way. He’s the type of guy that if you fronted on him in a bar or he got in your grille, you’d just laugh and brush him off rather than fight because you just feel sorry for the guy. Tobias is a teenager though and can’t actually stand up to him in a brawl, making him a prime target for years of physical and psychological abuse which his mom refuses to be a referee. This isn’t a sad or depressing film because we realize that this can’t go on forever, the real life man it’s based on grew up to be a successful professor of literature and the film is never downbeat, just desperate. This is Leo’s debut lead role and he kills it, finding that anger and resilience that will go on to be building blocks in his now legendary career. DeNiro is very anti DeNiro here if you catch my drift. Used to playing extroverted alpha males, he switches it up for an extroverted weasel who thinks he’s hot shit. The only thing I would have eighty-sixed is the Fargo style Minnesota accent he tries on for size as it doesn’t suit him and he’s never been an accent savvy actor. Watch for an uncomfortable appearance from Chris Cooper as well as striking early career work from Carla Gugino, Tobey McGuire and Eliza Dushku who is so young here she’s unrecognizable. This film feels loose and episodic at times but remember these are someone’s memories here and those can be tricky, illusory beasts. I love the way it feels, like several slices of life during adolescence, a point where life can be at its most tempestuous and confusing, therefore making for excellent material. Set in the lush Pacific Northwest and attuned with production design that is studious to the 50’s aesthetic, this is a great film for any actor to find their debut in.

-Nate Hill

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Ocean’s Thirteen: A Review by Nate Hill

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As silly, gaudy and drawn out the Ocean’s franchise had gotten by its third outing, I still somewhat enjoyed Ocean’s Thirteen, an overblown attempt to keep the magic alive that most of the time trips over its own bells and whistles. That being said, the gang is all there, and that alone is good for some laughs. This time around, Eliott Gould’s cranky charmer Reuben has been ousted from his Vegas property by Willie Bank (Al Pacino) a ruthless and ludicrously rich casino tycoon with big plans for the future. Reuben is left in a dazed depression, and the gang all drifts back together to try and rob the hell out of Pacino, using methods and cons so over the top they almost seem like a parody of the former films. Pacino is a bit more clownish than Andy Garcia’s grim Terry Benedict was in the first film, which adds to the cavalier absence of any sense of real danger. In fact, Benedict is now chummy with the gang himself, which is a cute turn of events but kind of seems to silly. Ellen Barkin adds a lot of class as Pacino’s head honcho, fitting into the Ocean world nicely. The gang I’d all back and more eccentric than ever, with Matt Damon scoring comedic points in one of the funniest prosthetic jobs I’ve ever seen. Newcomers to the show include Julian Sands, Oprah Winfrey and a reliably hapless David Paymer. It’s not that this one takes the formula too far, it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt and there was really not much need for it. I won’t say no though, because the blue print of what made the first so fun is still there, it’s just been jazzed up and adorned with a few too many gilded sequins and fancy jib jab. Still enjoyable.

Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law: A Review by Nate Hill

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You have to be in a very particular type of mood to properly tune into a Jim Jarmusch film. He populates his often black and white and always slightly mournful films with awkward, dazed individuals who more comfortable in the uncertain pauses between dialogue than the actual words themselves. When I feel like a Jarmusch film (other than Dead Man which is an all timer for me) it’s always during times when I feel the daydreamy grey matter coming on, an otherworldly, downbeat relaxation that his  work is rife with. Down By Law is a signature example of this, and most likely the film I connect with most of his, after Dead Man. This one concerns three wayward and very different souls who by fate and unfortunate circumstance end up in jail together. Zach (Tom Waits) is a radio DJ who is hounded by his girlfriend (Ellen Barkin) to be more proactive and less relaxed. Jack (John Lurie) is a laid back pimp, and they both find themselves incarcerated in a Louisiana prison where they meet the eccentric Italian tourist Roberto (Roberto Benigni, hilarious). The trio are a puzzling gaggle of misfits, moments of startling pathos and stinging humour sprouting as their time together goes on. Soon they discover that Roberto may know of a way to escape, and see it as their chance. The characters in any given Jarmusch film never seem the same as usual film archetypes; they’re always quirky and completely their own person, which is no doubt a product of a very intuitive directorial process, and an excellent relationship with the actors. It can be disarming to spend time with such distinct people in film, but when you stop to realize just how weird everyone around you in real life is vs. what is common for movie scripts, it feels geniune. This one is lived in, authentic and funny in that intangible way where you can’t even say why it’s so hilarious. We all a-scream for ice  a-scream!

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. There’s a title, eh? The film lives up to it too, and is simply one of the most unique, bizarre and original sci fi flicks out there. It’s the very definition of cult to its abstract bones, filled to the brim with eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. For me it represents a certain genre niche that’s nestled squarely in goofball mode, splayed out across the borders of science fiction, comedy and farce, without a care in the world and not an iota of self consciousness or any fucks given. Call it Buck Rogers meets The Avengers meets Bonanza doesn’t even scratch the surface. Peter Weller, that eternally cool bastard, plays Buckaroo Banzai, who is somewhat of a renaissance man. He’s a neurosurgeon, a rock star, a scientist and above all a lover of adventure, always sporting Weller’s unmistakable deadpan charm. Buckaroo and his band are also a crime fighting team called The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and include roughneck but lovable cowboy Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and slick New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum). Buck has perfected a device called the oscillation overthruster, which allows him to travel through solid matter and on into the eighth dimension. Only problem is, the red lectroids, an alien race from planet 10, want to steal the device for their own. They are led by an unbelievably funny John Lithgow who gets the spirit of the film and then some. Buck also finds romance with the adorable Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), whisking her off into super sonic adventure with him and the Cavaliers. It’s beyond silly, super arbitrary and random, and I love every glorious unfiltered minute of it. This type of wantonly bizarre stuff is my cinematic bread and butter, especially  when it’s done with such pep in its step, as well ass love and commitment to being an oddball venture. The cast is huge and all in that loopy sleep deprived state where everything is funny and strange organic creation comes from the abstract. Watch for Dan Hedaya, Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, John Ashton and Christopher Lloyd too. A wacky gem with a style all its own, constantly tapped into a well of creation, humour and fun.

Into The West: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Into The West is a charming Irish folktale with two excellent lead performances from Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin, who have been married in the past and therefore have a natural, easygoing chemistry. The film takes place in rustic Ireland, where two young boys are given a magnificent and mysterious white stallion by their gypsy grandfather (David Kelly). They come from a poor neighbourhood, somewhat left to their own devices by their downbeat alcoholic father (Byrne), who lost his wife and their mother years before. The horse seems to have some type of sixth sense related directly to their family history. The two boys are in that state of wonder where fables and magic still exist, and follow the horse wherever it leads. Byrne desperately pursues his sons to whatever end, helped by a fellow Traveller and old flame (Ellen Barkin, excellent and passing quite well as an Irishwoman). The horse seems to know his past and leads him to places which have sentimental value to him, leading him one step closer to his kids, while teaching him an esoteric lesson along the way. Great stuff, kid orientated but still has an eerie and mature atmosphere. Watch for early appearances from Brendan Gleeson and Liam Cunningham. Beautiful film. 

Crime & Punishment In Suburbia: A Review by Nate Hill

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Crime & Punishment In Suburbia follows the theme and story just as loosely as you’d imagine by glancing at both title and poster. It’s It’s own little nasty deviation on the classic tale, set in a decadent white neighborhood, and full of characters who are barely hiding the decaying darkness behind their fake personalities. Having never read Dostoyefsky’s book myself, I can’t in fact tell you how much is different, but I could damn well know that it’s probably very much so. It concerns a hot young teen named Roseanne (Monica Keena, with a dash of Brittany Murphy in those eyes) who is outwardly a normal girl, but has elements in her life which start to taint that image and prompt violent behaviour. Her stepdad Fred (Michael Ironside, dialing up the drunken sleaze to a slow boil) is abusive towards her, and a alcoholic train wreck to boot. Her mother Maggie (Ellen Barkin in screeching cougar mode) is an unstable, clueless mess. Situations like that almost always end badly, which is an understatement here. One night when Fred gets too friendly with Roseanne, she snaps, something comes over her and Maggie and they both brutally murder him in an extended, grisly sequence that would give Oliver Stone bad dreams. From there on in its a dark and trashy morality play involving deception, false incarceration and manipulation on all the everyone’s part. The film seems to revel in the excessive bad behaviour of it’s characters, a decision which can be polarizing for audiences. It’s ugly, sleazy stuff, but it does that very well, with all the actors taking full advantage of the mean spirited script, especially Ironside and Barkin. Just don’t expect any pathos or straight arrow characters, this is a sociopath’s game, through and through.

Operation Endgame: A Review by Nate Hill

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Rogue’s Gallery, given the slightly lamer title of Operation: Endgame, is a very odd little amalgamation of extreme violence, comedic banter and wannabe spy intrigue. It concerns a group of government agents holed up in some remote bunker, basically taking each other out one by one after someone among them murders their boss, Emporer (Bob Odenkirk). The cast is made up of two types of actors: sleek, distinct genre bad asses and quirky, less aesthetically streamlined comedians who stand out in this type of material very strangely. Fool (Joe Anderson) is the rookie, being shown the ropes of his first day by Chariot (a hilarious Rob Cordry). That’s where the plot starts, and that is also where it lost me. The rest of the film is just al of them bickering until it gets way beyond words, and then murdering each other in shamelessly gratuitous ways. Ellen Barkin stands out as Empress, a bitchy old tart who has it in for Devil (Jeffrey Tambor) another senior operative. Emilie De Ravin steps wayyyy outside her comfort zone as Hierophant, a psychotic little doll faced southern Belle who gives hulking Juggernaut (Ving Rhames) a run for his money. There’s also work from Odette Yustman, Maggie Q,  Adam Scott, Brandon T. Jackson, and Zach Galifianakis as a weird character that I still can’t figure out, perhaps because he does not much of anything at all except mope around wearing a hazmat suit and looking very hungover. It’s cool to see these actors give each other shit and fight like two raccoons in a burlap sack (the violence in this is really vicious, especially when Ravin is involved), if not much else. Very odd stuff.