Tag Archives: film review

Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.

-Nate Hill

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island

Not since LOST has a sentient tropical island caused a bunch of people this much trouble in this weird ass, misguided stab at a nostalgia reboot of content that it’s target audience is too young to even remember, let alone have been into. They shouldn’t be compared at all because LOST is overall a masterpiece and Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is a short circuited fusebox of loose wire subplots, mish-mashed attempts at torture porn and overall anemic bunch of nothing stretched painfully over a feature length runtime. In the original 70’s show, each episode saw a bunch of vacuous, shallow individuals brought to fantasy island where polished Latin debonair Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) made their deepest wishes come true, with a little help from the island’s powers. In this version Roarke is played by a markedly disinterested Michael Pena and his agenda gets decidedly morbid as the fantasies of each guest on the island get a gnarly horror twist. That should be fun, right? Well not really, because they literally and figuratively missed the boat to making this island remotely fun, scary or memorable. There’s various visitors including the always lovely Maggie Q, whose fantasy involves a former fiancée she spurned, Lucy Hale who wants revenge on a high school bully and others, all of whose fantasies mingle like paint thrown violently at a wall without any sense of cohesion or logic. Michael Rooker shows up to skulk around the jungle swinging a machete and apparently the costume department misread his role on the call sheet as ‘flamboyant river pirate’ because that’s the only way I can describe what he’s dressed in here. There’s an evil musclebound doctor who runs around trying to slice and dice people, mostly ineffectively. The always awesome Kim Coates briefly brings a bit of much needed energy as a random Russian henchman (whose? The plot barely addresses it). A lot of bad films can be considered a swing and a miss but fuck man, this thing doesn’t even seem to want to swing in the first place. It’s lazy, written so thinly it makes the numerous anorexic bikini models look huge and it’s just not a scary, remotely engaging film.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Levine’s 50/50

If you’re going to make a film about something as heavy, upsetting and uncomfortable as cancer, you have to make it lighthearted and uplifting enough to contrast such a horrific phase of someone’s life, no matter the outcome of it. But you damn well better not make it too schmaltzy, syrupy or saccharine either because your audience will see right through it and tear your film to shreds. Honest, heartfelt, upfront and simple is the way to go and 50/50 hits the sweet spot squarely. It doesn’t hurt that it’s very closely based on a true story either, the script feels achingly authentic on both comedic and dramatic terms, both of which interplay with each other seamlessly and organically in the central relationship between Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt, the latter of which is saddled with a rare and very scary cancer diagnosis at an age where no one should have to hear such news. The film explores the many relationships in his life beyond best friend, confidante and personal court jester Rogen. There’s his overwhelmed mother (Anjelica Huston) who he has a hard time loving or letting in, his intern therapist (Anna Kendrick, is there a lovelier girl on this planet?), his cold sociopathic girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), two elderly buddies (Phillip Baker Hall & Matt Frewer) he gets quite close with during rounds of chemo and ultimately his relationship with himself, which might sound a tad cliche but during such an intense process one would have no choice but to look inward, evaluate one’s beliefs, feelings and augment perception accordingly. Levitt handles this expertly in a beautiful performance of love, righteous anger, kindness and refusal to give up, even when it seems like the easiest option. There are a few heart wrenching moments of brutal emotional honesty from the actors here and one gets a sense that no one, on either side of the camera, was willing to compromise this story to make it more ‘Hollywood accessible.’ Rogen is obviously the bawdy comic relief and is intermittently hilarious, but he finds a slow revealing emotional centre and gravity here I’ve never seen elsewhere in his work, he’s phenomenal. Kendrick is the sweetest girl in the world on camera and fills every frame she’s in with genuine charisma, mellow empathy and just a touch of adorable awkwardness, her and Levitt have chemistry that borders on transcendent. One doesn’t usually group ‘feel good films’ and ‘cancer films’ into the same category but this one is both for me, a life affirming, down to earth, honest piece that rings true with every rewatch.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: American Yakuza

I mean what can you expect from a film called American Yakuza? There’s no lofty cultural metaphors at play here, it’s quite literally about infiltration of the infamous Japanese crime syndicate by a lone wolf FBI deep cover agent played by Viggo Mortensen, who had quite the fascinating career before Lord Of The Rings shunted him into the international spotlight. He’s an interesting guy who really broke the mold with Aragorn but before that Hollywood didn’t quite know what to do with him, casting him in a goody bag of incredibly eclectic roles that saw him serve as action hero, sage mentor, maniacal villain and even The Devil himself. Here he’s restrained, sardonic and carries the role of this somewhat renegade Fed well, underscored by solid action scenes and obligatory early 90’s melodrama. He’s caught between a ruthless yet honourable Yakuza boss (Ryo Ishibashi) who believes him to be one of the ranks, an equally ruthless mafia Don (scene stealing Michael Nouri) with no honour whatsoever who wants to wipe the Japanese out and a corrupt, unorthodox FBI section chief (Robert Forster) who is trying to pit both forces against each other and let the animals wipe each other out in a collective bloodbath. Viggo is stuck in the middle and I found his character fascinating because he’s alone in the world, the reason he joined the bureau is he had no family, nothing to lose and he sort of finds one in the Yakuza, before loyalties are tested and all hell breaks loose. This is a pretty substandard 90’s action flick that benefits a great deal from Mortensen, who could literally make interesting acting work out of portraying a soup cracker. Nouri is also a vicious treat as the Italian mob boss, an evil xenophobic asshole who loves to provoke others, intimidate his own men and is just an all round rotten bastard. Fun stuff, streaming on Amazon Prime these days.

-Nate Hill

Andrezj Bartkowiak’s Doom

I mean who doesn’t wanna see Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson blowing up demonic aliens with excessively heavy artillery on Mars? Well plenty of people didn’t if you look at the overall critic and audience reception to Doom, but I kinda enjoyed this cheesy, bloody, dimly lit and shamelessly lowbrow yet raucously entertaining bit of space action horror. Having not played this game series beyond a few vague rounds of Doom3 back when I was a stoned teenager, I can’t comment on the congruency in style, tone or narrative of the film versus the games but if that’s a dealbreaker and you hate the film because for you it betrayed the soul of the source material, more than fair enough. All I know is I put this thing on as background noise and it served as engaging, very silly intergalactic schlock with big monsters, bigger attitudes and *incredibly* big guns to shoot them with, one plasma cannon wielded by The Rock that’s so large it almost veers into parody. Dwayne is effectively tough as Sarge, leader of a ragtag bunch of mercenaries, among whose ranks we see various archetypes like the religious zealot (Ben Daniels), the rookie kid (Al Weaver), the loudmouth clown (a scene stealing Richard Brake) and of course the strong silent hero type Reaper, played solidly by Karl Urban. The pack of them are off to Mars using a weird teleportation device made of soap bubbles (not sure if that was a staple in the games) to engage murky zombie demon mutant things in vicious firefights down dimly lit space station corridors as a perky scientist (the lovely Rosamund Pike) does her best with unnecessary exposition that had me chuckling.. like it’s a film about space marines blowing up nondescript, raving mutant monsters, do we really need a few pages of explanatory pseudo genetic-science based verbal diarrhoea to try and make sense of it? I think not. Anyways, all the shooting, fighting, bleeding, limbs flying and fast-food action horror are kinda fun, especially seeing Dwayne and Karl in shameless early career genre mode set to a bangin’ metal soundtrack.

-Nate Hill

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is a masterpiece of artistic creation and a wonderful piece of filmmaking in every arena of the medium. It’s also one of the best examples of dream logic I’ve ever seen in cinema, and ‘logic’ is really the key word here. Let me explain: many, many films strive to replicate the feeling of a dream, the maniacally detailed disarray of the subconscious mind and where many end up faltering is just by making their dream logic a series of random abstractions without an undercurrent of logic and sense, however far removed from that which we are familiar with. Apparently Miyazaki more or less made this story up as he went along, using little in the way of script and allowing naturally formed ideas to spontaneously jump from the creative process of that and his team directly into storyboard form. This shows, and helps the film achieve effect wonderfully because you get this stream of consciousness series of dream world vignettes that although are sublimely weird and abstract, have their own set of coherent rules and surreal ‘logic’ that makes sense even if one can’t quite articulate it as we see young girl Chihiro swept up in a magical, otherworldly journey bookended by two scenes that are just down to earth enough to take place in our world. When her and her parents meander through a mysterious tunnel in a lush, overgrown area of rural Japan, she loses sight of them and ends up in a bizarre, metaphysical bathhouse that serves the needs of a nearby town of celestial spirits, beings and life forces from the astral realms beyond our own. This operation is run by a nasty old witch spirit named Yubaba, who makes enterprise out of stealing people’s names and imprisoning them as her own free labour force, which Chihiro soon finds herself right in the middle of. The narrative skips along and is very light on its feet but hugely dense and filled with so much incident, spectacle and visual bedazzlement that explaining it here would sound like I’m making it up, but in the film itself it feels assured, confident in itself as a story and grounded in its own logic, full of virtually boundless imagination and not to mention gorgeously animated and symphonically scored by Joe Hisaishi. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Richard Stanley’s The Colour Out Of Space

I missed out on Richard Stanley’s Colour Out Of Space last year but I’m glad I caught up because wow what a trip into earthbound cosmic madness as only the mind of H.P. Lovecraft could dream up. When a weird meteor thing plummets into the backyard of Nic Cage and his average, slightly hippie family, things start to get strange in the surrounding area as a mysterious ‘colour’ from another part of the universe begins to transform everything around it into something else, sometimes just odd, sometimes beautiful and eventually downright terrifying. I love the idea of a meteor falling and being the setup for a horror film because there’s so much you can do with that concept in the realms of imagination. This film reminded me of Alex Garland’s Annihilation in a sense, but whereas the entity that came from a meteor in that used the genetic codes and biological structures of our planet to create something new, this Colour thing just shows up and begins fucking around with things on its own shocking, illogical terms, like any self respecting Lovecraft monster should. It’s a hoot watching this family slowly start to lose it, starting with Cage in one of his patented full on neurotic meltdowns filled to the brim with maniacal rants, grotesque physicality and pitch black humour. His wife is played by Joely Richardson who I haven’t seen in a while, since Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at least but I always love seeing her turn up. The cast is pretty darn eclectic too and includes the lovely Q’orianka Kilcher as the world’s bitchiest small town mayor and beloved Tommy Chong as a forest dwelling oddball with a cat he calls ‘G-Spot’ (*snicker*). The main draw for me here is the otherworldly, mystical horror elements and director Stanley pulls out all the stops in terms of atmosphere, visuals and things just going berserk. Everything turns pinky purple, the family loses their sense of coherence and time and eventually they begin to transform, and there’s one sequence in particular that is fucking miles beyond how horrific I thought they were gonna go with this film and is disturbing to the core. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Chad Faust’s Girl

What if you returned to your hometown after decades away with plans on killing an abusive parent, only to find out that someone had already beaten you to the punch? Problem solved, right? Not quite, at least for troubled, angry teen Bella Thorne in Chad Faust’s Girl, a bleak modern western about a no-horse town and the Girl who blusters into it looking for answers and revenge. She’s come for her estranged daddy, who was volcanically abusive to her and her mother years before, and she intends to settle the score with him, for good. When she finds that someone has already killed him, instead of calling it a day and packing off home, she noses around the derelict backwater enclaves that were no doubt once a half prosperous township, and finds more trouble than she bargained for. Mickey Rourke has a good sized, scenery chewing role here as the dodgy county sheriff who, you guessed it, also moonlights as the local crime lord. I think in these deeply corrupt little slices of rural hell its just a job prerequisite for any sheriff to also be a vice kingpin, I mean taking on the two most powerful jobs on the roster is just killing two birds with one stone, no? Rourke is a leathery, hulking presence these days and makes this guy every inch the evil, murderous son of a bitch you’d hope from the role. Faust is a first time director and does a pretty damn good job considering, despite a few bloated passages of dialogue and choppy editing that could have used a bit of tough love. He also takes on one of the acting roles which he does with eccentricity and freakish exuberance. This is the first time I’ve seen Bella Thorne in anything and hadn’t even heard of her before this film, she’s pretty limited in terms of emotional range and line delivery and could use some work on her acting, but she’s got good presence, brooding in a faded hoodie and glaring out from behind a windswept mane of hair. Plus her weapon of choice is a hatchet, which she wields with startling lethality. The film’s strongest quality is atmosphere, and tons of it. IMDb doesn’t list any filming locations yet but wherever it is, it’s a place the rest of the world forgot. Boarded up buildings along the main drag, muttering drunks lining the lonely streets and pickling in a shabby dive run by an eternally pessimistic barkeep (Glenn Gould) and grey, washed out inland wilderness. It might be the most depressing place on the continent, but serves as quite the backdrop for this gnarly little tale to run its course. There’s also a wonderful, haunting original score by Dylan Baldassero that combines eerie lyrics and strange, unconventional instrumentals to great effect, as well as some very well orchestrated plot twists that spice up the narrative. Solid film.

-Nate Hill

Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out

It’s fitting when a film like this lives up to its title, and you really Better Watch Out for this ugly, pointless, infuriating, uncomfortable, sexist piece of wanton trash disguised as a Yuletide black comedy. It’s basically a home invasion fake-out where two sociopathic little brats, one a drooling simpleton (Ed Oxenbould) and the other a cold hearted monster (Levi Miller), kidnap their own babysitter (Olivia DeJonge) and subject her to humiliation, torture and intimidation for no other reason than they’re fucked in their little pea brained adolescent heads. There is no point to setting this film at Christmas time, the delicious irony found in other contradictory Christmas films about violence and misanthropy in a festive context (see The Ice Harvest, Black Christmas and The Ref for successful examples) lands with an ill favoured thud here and we’re left with an agonizing ninety minutes of pointless, anxiety inducing exploitative scumbaggery passing itself off as a movie. The one saving grace is Billy Hargrove from Stranger Things in an inspired cameo of comedic improv to himself in a rear-view mirror that is absolutely hilarious. Other than that, this is a bottom feeding piece of work. Even Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen look like they want to run for the hills and spend most of the film away from the action. There’s a scene that takes the paint can sequence from Home Alone to brutally realistic new heights and thinks it’s oh so clever and playful when really it’s unnecessary and sadistic. Miller does his best but the character is just such a horrific little snot-fuck I wanted to jump through the tv and cave his head in on the marble countertop, such is the level of mental distress, terrorization and abuse he inflicts on the babysitter it goes beyond gratuitous. Then there’s the ending. Don’t even get me started on how badly this movie cheats the viewer of an absolutely cathartic final resolution by being a cheeky shit and holding out on a finale it desperately needed to follow through on if it hoped to earn anything resembling redemption. It doesn’t seem to care about its characters, audience, story or the universe in general. Perhaps I’m being far too harsh and it just hit me the wrong way but whatever, every now and then I gotta have a ‘Roger Ebert emphatic intense rant review’ if something irks me and this one made me feel like shit all night after. Bah. Fucking. Humbug.

-Nate Hill

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s 21 Grams

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu has always had an affinity for telling dark, difficult, unconventional stories in his work and while there are certain more prolific films he’s made I think that 21 Grams might be his most challenging, emotionally galvanizing and unconventionally rewarding piece to date. Using his patented ‘mosaic’ storytelling motif, we see a series of increasingly distressing and unrelentingly bleak events unfold involving a woman (Naomi Watts) whose family was killed in a hit and run, the troubled ex con (Benicio Del Toro) who ran them over and the terminally ill man (Sean Penn) who is intrinsically tied to both their lives. The film asks us to cast an unblinking eye on grief, tragedy and ponderous moral morass as these three souls collide in heated encounters, violent confrontations and darkly cathartic resolution. Penn is as implosive as ever and his was the one performance of the three I didn’t fully connect with but to be fair character’s situation is nearly impossible for the viewer to put themselves in, and in any case he is terrific. Watts is a sorrowful quarry of devastation, turning to substances and nearly succumbing to despair in her grieving process while seeking retribution for her family. Del Toro gives the best performance of the film as a self loathing, hard-luck, emotionally stunted fellow who uses starch evangelism as both a weapon against his own family and a tool to convince himself of something perhaps only he sees, or hopes for in his own nature. The supporting cast are all excellent and given their own individual moments to shine including the criminally underrated Melissa Leo as Benicio’s destructively pragmatic wife, Eddie Marsan, Danny Huston, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dennis O’Hare, Stephen Bridgewater, Paul Calderon, Kevin Chapman, Lew Temple and more. The great Clea Duvall also shows up in a heartbreaking key supporting part and trust an intuitive guy like Inarritu to direct cameras slowly away from Watts as a core scene plays out and gradually move in on Clea for a distilled, gut wrenching closeup, I appreciated the focus and attention momentarily being given to a fantastic actress who has spent most of her career in Hollywood on the supporting sidelines but gets to powerfully emote big time here, if only for a few blessed frames. This is an emotionally devastating experience on all fronts and although it may not flow quite as organically as Alejandro’s debut stunner Amores Perros, there is no denying the raw, elemental potency of the drama, the stark vulnerability of the performances or the beauty of a fragmented, jigsaw puzzle narrative which serves to remind us how memory and time can shape the way we act, perceive and relate to one another in life. Masterful film.

-Nate Hill