Tag Archives: film review

William Friedkin’s The Hunted

William Friedkin’s The Hunted is the kind of blunt, ruggedly visceral, artery slicing action picture we should be seeing more of in modern times. Where in other films there’s car chases, shootouts and the man to man violence is impossibly elaborate, Friedkin goes primal here, with knife fights that cut to the basics of the human body and its movements, fight scenes that make us wince because we can feel each jab and tear, as the camera dives in close to give us a dose of intimate adrenaline. While the story is simple enough, there’s a haunted complexity to Benicio Del Toro as a highly trained ex marine who has lost his mind. Someone with that skill set is a dangerous person when they go off the rails, and soon this traumatized warrior is hunting people for sport in the Washington rainforest. The only one who can track and possibly stop him is his former Lieutenant and trainer, played with earnest frankness by Tommy Lee Jones. The flashback scenes of Del Toro’s training are very matter of fact, as Jones shows him, without emotion or bias, how to wound or kill another human being in the most efficient way possible. This has made him into a deadly weapon, but they never took his psyche into account, which has run amok. I love action films set in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest region (see Shoot To Kill with Tom Berenger, another great one) where I live, the scenery takes on a lush, mossy personality of it’s own here. The latter half of the film is purely just Jones hunting Del Toro through the Northern wilderness, each using their skills, setting booby traps, reading the terrain until the eventual bloody confrontation. When I say bloody, I mean just that ; Their knife fight is some of the best close quarters action I’ve ever seen, and will have you shielding your major organs as you watch them slice and slash. Friedkin here acts the same way Michael Mann operates with his gunfight sequences: they both understand that less is more with these types of set pieces, to not go overboard and throw all the cards in (John Woo does this, but with grace and style), but to let the action be realistic, impactful in it’s pacing and land with the real threat and consequences of violence instead of screaming overkill. If this film has come out in the 70’s or 80’s like the vibe it exudes, it would have had one of those beautifully hand drawn vintage posters. There should be a criterion edition or some sort of boutique release that revamps the artwork and provides the ultimate DVD package for this film, because it’s one of the finest action movies ever made.

-Nate Hill

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Tim Burton’s Batman

Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.

-Nate Hill

The Fault In Our Stars

Anyone who dismisses The Fault In Our Stars as sentimental teen sap has just got their head in the wrong place. Although built around the same general formula as countless other flicks based on young adult novels, this one bucks the trend and actually tells a blunt, realistic love story that gets cut short by death, and doesn’t have the kind of garden variety storybook ending you can find anywhere else. This also isn’t the kind of sugar coated Walk To Remember type thing that doesn’t showcase how an illness or tragedy affects someone in favour of Hollywood gloss, either. In telling the story of Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Egort), director Josh Boone is lovingly dutiful to the details of the novel by John Green, and pretty much doesn’t change much of anything to pander our way. This is a story that could have happened to anyone: she’s sick, he’s sick, they both might not have long. Everyone around them behaves like they’re made of fine china and could break at any moment. All they really want is to live lives of some normalcy, and hold onto each other for as long as they can. Woodley is absolutely sensational and will break your heart with a performance that comes straight from the gut, while wearing her heart subtly on her sleeve with every glance and gesture. Egort displays the same glib facade he’d later use in Baby Driver, but carefully shows you the bruised soul underneath. There’s a truth to their journey, a willingness to focus on things like death and impermanence, which are often glanced over lightly in films that are geared towards younger audiences, as if such things are taboo. These two are faced with an impossible situation and it’s both fascinating and heartrending how they deal. They’re perfectly matched and when life gets in the way, it’s almost unbearable to see. Boone deliberately casts intense, committed cinema veterans to act alongside these brilliant newcomers including Laura Dern as Hazel’s soulful mother and Willem Dafoe as a cantankerous old fucker who’s hurting in his own way, and imparts some unconventional wisdom to her, when he’s not being a royal prick and listening to Dutch house music on full volume. Soundtrack choices include the likes of Charli XCX, Grouplove, Jake Bugg, The Radio Department and more, and are carefully woven into the tale to really bring it alive. It’s a hard, tragic thing to see unfold though, and the fact that it maintains such an unblinking, frank gaze at grief and loss makes it all the tougher, but it’s necessary to explore these things and put ourselves in the shoes of these people for a couple hours, if anything it’s like empathetic therapy for the viewer. Also, who doesn’t just love a raging tearjerker once in a while to flush the old ducts out.

-Nate Hill

Shawn Levy’s Date Night

Date Night… could have been a hell of a lot worse, I guess. I’m trying to be nice here as there were parts I enjoyed but overall it’s fluff in the wind, thanks to an unwillingness to go the extra mile and give it the R rating it deserves. It’s got one killer cast, I’ll give it that, and a few scattershot scenes that work. Let’s be real though, any film that so obviously wants to pay tribute to Scorsese’s After Hours should be ready to suit up and get as weirdly dirty as that one did, instead of playing it safe in the brightly lit, cookie cutter candy aisle of comedy. Steve Carell and Tina Fey are certainly matched with chemistry here and are a spunky, underdog couple to spend the night from hell with. They’re both kinda like that one kid in the friend group that ends up being the butt of all the jokes, and then found each other, got married and doubled down on that awkward energy. A lot of these madcap stories start with a case of mistaken identity, which is what happens when Carell brazenly snags another couple’s reservation at the hottest dinner joint in town. Just their luck, the other couple happens to be Taste and Whippet (yes those are their names) a deadbeat, dysfunctional pair of ratchet gutter rats played hilariously by James Franco and Mila Kunis. Before they know it, they’re chased by a couple of dangerous hit men (Common and the underrated Jimmi Simpson) who think they owe money all over town. Also pursued by a relentless detective (Taraji P. Henson), the real conflict comes from seeing the couple unravel and their issues come pouring out until the collective hangups they have with each other are funnier and seem more pertinent than the fact that they’re running for their lives. The cameos in this thing are endless and include Mark Ruffalo, Kristin Wiig, JB Smoove, Leighton Meester, Mark Wahlberg, Gal Gadot, Bill Burr, Olivia Munn, Jon Bernthal and more. My favourites were Ray Liotta and William Fichtner as a mob boss and a corrupt DA, sneakily echoing their respective roles in the Grand Theft Auto games. This could have been a really balls out, irreverent flick if they had pushed the envelope and not slapped it with such a pansy ass rating. As it stands it has some really funny moments and a good energy overall, but every time I think about it I just imagine what could have been, had a little more freedom in creativity and content been given.

-Nate Hill

David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect

What if the power in an entire state/province all went out at once, for an indefinite amount of time? David Koepp’s The Trigger Effect shows you just what would happen in this scenario, albeit in the 90’s before everyone had a smartphone to keep them on the grid. After a mass blackout across California, one suburban couple (Kyle MaClachlan and Elizabeth Shue) attempt to weather the storm of confusion, vandalism and eventual madness that sweeps across the region. It starts with subtle domestic friction between the two, but as they venture out for provisions they bear witness to the lawless, frenzied chaos that such an event can do to the populous. It doesn’t help when Maclachlan’s roughneck buddy Dermot Mulroney shows up to turn an already strained marriage into an outright deceptive love triangle, adding to the tension. Some of the finer plot points and scenarios can be a bit silly but the aura of unease that covers everything is quite well done, and the acting is solid. Supporting turns include William Lucking as a gruff pharmacist, Richard T. Jones as a desperate father, Richard Schiff, Jack Noseworthy, Bill Smitrovich and more as various individuals affected by the widespread panic. The best performance of the film, however, comes from an explosive, scary Michael Rooker as a mysterious hitchhiker who may or may not be friendly. His extended cameo blasts the energy level of the film from mellow to frenetic in a matter of seconds, leaving us shellshocked in his wake. This isn’t a knock your socks off thriller by any means, and has it’s own strange way of pacing itself that may leave some cold, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere it offered, the eclectic cast and how immersive the experience was from that first blackout until the resolution. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence

Like your SciFi smart, slick, realistic and extremely trippy? Don’t miss James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence, a voyage into the twilight zone that will push the limits of your lateral thinking until you feel your brain lashing out at the paradoxical borders of it’s realm of thought, an effect brought on by only the most challenging films out there. Like many stories it begins at a lively dinner party somewhere in the Hollywood hills, as a group of old friends talk, laugh, gossip and reconnect. There’s a comet passing by over the night skies of LA though, a phenomenon that has, shall we say, a unique and very disturbing effect on those below. I really don’t want to say anything about what happens to these people, but it’s weird and warped in that kind of metaphysical way that keeps your rooted to the screen and has your spine shivering with each new development. Adding to the immersive atmosphere is the fact that most of this seems to have been improvised with the actors around the general core of the story, so we have a very naturalistic, humorous vibe among the group that doesn’t feel scripted or staged at all, and more or less plays out in real time, while there’s initially still linear time anyways (oops). The cool thing is that this film could be made for like, five hundred bucks, shot on an iPhone over a spare weekend with your friends. It’s that barebones and simple in the technical department and there are zero special effects save for one brief shot of the comet (hello stock footage), but the implications and function of the story are infinitely complicated, and that’s where the wealth of the film lives. If you find yourself sitting around one night wishing for a flick that really will blow your mind, give this little gem a go, while it’s still on Netflix.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: iMurders

iMurders. Just let that title sink in. It’s worse than it sounds. A movie about a series of murders related to an online internet chat room should at least have the trashy decency of something like Pulse or One Missed Call, but this thing plays like a soap opera that got cancelled after the pilot. Cheap, lazy and ridiculous, the only saving grace is the comforting presence of a few character actors to brighten your day. It’s a roundtable whodunit with a series of characters, all who might be the killer stalking them via ‘cutting edge’ technology that resembles nothing Apple has actually ever put out. There’s a tragic shooting from years before that has somehow spurred this lunatic to torment a MySpace group like this, but honestly it’s all a bunch of narrative mud. There’s a scandalous college professor (the great William Forsythe), Gabrielle Anwar (who honestly deserves better than this) as a girl with a few skeletons in her closet, a detective (Frank Grillo) with some personal ties to the case, and more. The one decent strand sees a mysterious psychiatrist (Charles Durning) interviewing a girl (Miranda Kwok), and the two appear to be in some weird other dimension, probably one where the horror films are better than stuff like this. Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd shows up as a sarcastic FBI agent. The whole thing has a silly Fisher Price feel to it and we never buy anything as legit, and even on the standards set by B Movies this is shameless, and that’s all I have to say. Oh and Billy Dee Williams is apparently in it too, but I’ll be fucked if I remember who he is.

-Nate Hill