Tag Archives: film review

Kristoffer Nyholm’s The Vanishing

Oh hey look, yet *another* film about Lighthouse keepers going nuts on a remote island. What is it about this setting that fascinates filmmakers so much? Perhaps it’s the fact that a Lighthouse is a symbolic totem of marine law and order, an ancient institution whose detriment means life or death on a grand scale out there, and the collective unravelling of those involved, although making for a terrific campfire yarn, has higher implications once our initial story comes to a close and everyone abandons their post. Who knows, but in any case Kristoffer Nyholm’s The Vanishing is a grim, brutal and ultimately bleak look at three Scottish keepers who make a discovery that leads to distrust, dissent and murder most foul.

A senior keeper (Peter Mullan), a slightly less senior one (Gerard Butler) and a rookie (Connor Swindells) are prepping for a long shift alone on the rock. Less than a week in they find a mysterious row boat, a half dead sailor and a chest full of gold bars. After the stranger attacks them and they’re forced to kill him, more come looking for him and the gold and it sets off a chain reaction of violence, psychological trauma, isolation, cold and madness that has but one possible conclusion. I’m not kidding either, besides the fact that this is called The Vanishing, it’s based on a very true story and despite being speculative nevertheless stays true to reality in the sense that these guys never made it back to the mainland, and possibly not off the rock.

I enjoyed this for its treatment of violence and trauma; in many cases films like these show ordinary men forced into horribly violent situations and suddenly they’re all just hardened killers right after the fact, with no emotion or disturbed feelings to process. I mean it serves the thriller genre well to shunt affairs on like that with little time for introspect or thought, but what of integrity in story or character? This is certainly a thriller and a very effective one, unbearably suspenseful in a few instances. But the performances also reflect just what the act of murder would do to one after, particularly in Gerard Butler’s character who begins to lose his mind and cannot come to terms with what they’ve done. His performance is so beautifully calibrated, so raw and dramatically rewarding it really makes me wonder why he doesn’t do more work like this instead of his silly action pulp and RomCom gloss all the time. Mullan too is exceptional but that’s no surprise, he’s one of those dudes that’s so effortlessly great he could turn in award worthy work in a Hallmark Channel film. Overall this is a tough watch because all three men are initially so likeable and down to earth that when things get harrowing and crazy you really feel for them. It’s a very well constructed, atmospheric thriller but be prepared for a bleak feeling deep down once all is said and done, this isn’t a feel good film, albeit a great one.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s I Heard You Paint Houses aka The Irishman

Remember when VHS was a thing and epic films like Titanic, Lord Of The Rings and Doctor Zhivago took up two tapes, twice the shelf space and therefore further branded their larger than life perch in cinema by doing so? Well, Martin Scorsese’s I heard You Paint Houses aka The Irishman would have likely taken up three tapes and thrice the shelf space, and will surely go on to leave a similar mark as aforementioned films. We will of course never see a VHS let alone a DVD as it’s a Netflix original film but none of that diminishes the monolithic power of this brilliant, vast and mesmerizing piece of work. It’s not just a mob epic, historical treatise, characters study or interpersonal drama, although it is all those things in top form. Scorsese is 77 years old, his actors in similar range. They are all on the far side of the hill in terms of their careers and with that comes a certain rumination on everything, a parting of the clouds, quietening of thought and deep introspection on one’s own life, and what it all means at the end. It’s a powerful yet fiercely inward look at a man throughout most of his life and then, seemingly snuck up on him as I imagine it does to us all, nearing its end.

Robert DeNiro is stoic, guarded Frank Sheeran, a man who learned loyalty and brutality in the military and has brought it home with him to implement in a fearsome career as a mafia hitman, union boss and confidante to Al Pacino’s gregarious Jimmy Hoffa, a man synonymous with American history. Joe Pesci is Russell Bufalino, the entrepreneurial crime boss who takes Frank under his wing and eventually forges a lifelong yet often stormy friendship with him that is eventually upended by Hoffa. The tapestry of American lore and incident flows fluidly with Scorsese’s talent for music, montage, beautiful sound design and always reliable editing from the great Thelma Schoonmaker. De Niro plays Frank as a guy whose loyalty goes seemingly beyond his own understanding sometimes and when he reaches that final bend in the road and observes the choices behind him and what little light he has before him, is somehow bewildered how it all went down, like he was on autopilot or didn’t see the big hits coming. Pacino is a fucking tornado of scene stealing gusto as Hoffa, the only actor here to really let it rip and shoot for the moon. Pesci disarms is by being quiet, calm, observant and showing none of the piss n’ vinegar, coked up squirrel mannerisms he is infamous for, it’s a brilliantly counterintuitive piece of work and it was so worth the wait for him to come out of retirement. Harvey Keitel is superb in a cameo as crime boss Angelo Bruno and the supporting cast is densely seasoned with excellent performances from Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Ray Romano, Jesse Plemons, Jack Huston, Katherine Narducci, Dominick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Paul Ben Victor and more. Anna Paquin gives a brief but devastating turn as Frank’s daughter Peggy, his anchor point and one of the key ways we see his actions affect his environment over time.

I won’t pretend to be a Scorsese completist as I’ve still not seen some of his best regarded films and tend to gravitate towards the ones that hardcore fans place lower in his canon, but this has to be one of the finest by anyone’s count. It feels like a goodbye, even if all involved go on to make some work here and there before the end, this is the last ‘getting the gang back together’ picture for them, and they make the most out of it. DeNiro’s Frank candidly and occasionally wistfully recalls the story from a humdrum retirement home common room, speaking pretty much directly to the audience. Scorsese too, although always unseen behind the camera, speaks out to his audience and gifts us this beautifully crafted package with all the tricks, talent, passion and devotion to filmmaking he has in store. This can almost be seen as a companion piece of sorts to Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood; both are late career magnum opuses heavily stocked with a rogues gallery of their friends and cinematic family, both are sprawling epics that take place in our world but speculate heavily and rearrange history to bring a vivid, enthralling and important story to life. Whether or not you believe that what went down here with Hoffa, Sheeran et al is true or not is irrelevant to this film. It’s a story set in an America of yore and one that isn’t necessarily always about the apparent events on display, but what they will lead to and how they will be looked back upon by these characters decades later. A masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Brittany Murphy Performances

Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless

A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.

9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys

Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.

8. Izzy in The Prophecy II

Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.

7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.

6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls

The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.

5. Veronica in Phoenix

A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.

4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway

When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.

3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.

2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun

Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.

1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word

Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin

Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin is a tough one to pin down. A chilling, dark maritime horror yarn, a weird interspecies romantic triangle and a creature feature all in one, it starts off with a young man (David Oakes) and an older man (Ray Stevenson) alone on a rocky Antarctic island tending to a remote lighthouse (remind you of anything this year?). Stevenson is half mad, lives in a pulverized mess under a mountain of beard and perpetually looks like he just emerged from a week long bender, and we soon see why. Every night after darkness falls, weird sub-humanoid creatures scurry out of the ocean’s depths and lay siege to the rock, particularly the lighthouse where he lives and picks a them off ruthlessly one by one as they climb the exterior. Soon the young man is swept up in this feverish nocturnal routine until he begins to question the motives, history and morality of his colleague, or whoever this dude is. There’s also a female creature he names Aneris (Aura Garrido) who lives with them periodically and… uh…. does other stuff with them too.

I liked this film a lot because it doesn’t reveal everything, even up to the final few frames. Why does Aneris forsake her kin in the sea to live with this sorry drunken prick? Why do the creatures attack in the same way every night when they, presumably somewhat sentient, know full well that these dudes have a sizeably advantageous perch? These aren’t plot holes at all by the way because you get the gnawing sense that the answers are right there in the ether, just not spelled out by the narrative, a tactic that almost always pays off nicely. Stevenson plays against his square jawed, strong n’ silent type as essentially a raving lunatic who has gotten on the wrong side of this race of beings and will not be dissuaded that they are anything more than vicious beasts, even when it becomes apparent that this is probably not the case and he has been going about the situation all wrong. Gens doesn’t fuck around when it comes to horror (check out his absolutely savage Frontiers and The Divide) and as such this has a brutal, tragic edge to it but there’s lyrical beauty as well, especially in Garrido’s remarkably physical, disarmingly soulful performance as Aneris, who seems like a strange hybrid of human girl, fallen angel, space alien and mermaid. Also effective is a very cinematic musical score by Víctor Reyes that swells and falls, ebbs and flows throughout the story like sea does against this stark, forgotten corner of the world. This film is like a strange tale told to you in a sailor’s pub one night by a drunken old captain; it’s at once ridiculous and sensational but there’s some kind of sad, eerie truth to it that hangs over you like a cloud after that final wave crashes. A film well worth seeing.

-Nate Hill

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

Guy Maddin’s Keyhole

What comes to mind when you think about films set in a haunted house? I promise you that nothing in your set expectations or perceived notions of the genre can prepare you for Guy Maddin’s Keyhole. “I’m only a ghost, but a ghost isn’t nothing” observes ethereal 1930’s gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric). He isn’t kidding. From the moment he and his gang evade the coppers in a sketchy, raggedly edited shootout and find themselves ensconced in his eerie childhood home, it becomes clear that that this ain’t your average family reunion, character study, ghost story, noir homage or even experimental film.

Ulysses and his gang find themselves trapped in an ever changing tangle of hallways, rooms, alcoves and hazily lit interior enclaves, the probing beams of police searchlights casting an otherworldly glow on their ordeal. Upstairs the spirits of his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), sons and spooky grandfather (Louis Negan) languish in eerie solitude and await his arrival. His goons mess about, try their hand at interior decorating and construct a weird homemade electric chair trap thing. A Doctor (Udo Kier, remarkably low key) arrives from outside the house to treat a mysterious drowned girl (Brook Palsson) who has come back to life and unsettlingly wanders about in a daze. This is of course the plot described literally, but such an endeavour is redundant here, as apparently is for Maddin territory in general from what I hear.

This is the first Maddin film I’ve seen, I’m embarrassed to say, but I am now completely in love with his artistic sensibilities and can’t wait to check out some more. Although surrealist art films are definitely my thing not all of them speak to me or reach out in a way I can process and absorb, but this one drew me right in the way David Lynch’s work does, an obvious comparison but a reasonable one to make. I always try and search out films that successfully replicate the atmosphere of being inside a dream, or what that subjectively means for me. I’ve always been fascinated by the subject of Dreams and artists struggle to bring them to life, no matter the medium. It’s not easy to do and simply can’t be approached from a traditional narrative or stylistic standpoint, but for Maddin it disarmingly seems like second nature, like he’s right at home in the surreal to a point where his characters don’t even bat an eyelash when shit gets weird, it’s just par for the course. Patric is chilling, hilarious, deadpan, gruff and bewildered as Ulysses, whose entire life seems to be contained in this manor, in no easily discernible order either mind you. Characters flit in and out of scenes with little to no introduction, phantoms loiter in hallways wailing to the ether, people’s identities shift mid scene and the dialogue seems to be untethered somewhere between logical scene construction and poetic meanderings. The sound design is full of hisses, hums, drones, cracks, whooshes and all manner of beautifully layered hullabaloo. Visually the film at first seems to bare its cards: rattling Tommy guns, angular French windows, antique interior design, buttoned down 30’s attire, the trappings of a classically inclined film noir. But once one settles into this world it feels anything but earthbound, there’s constant shift in perceptions, the walls seem to be stationary yet in motion, images are quickly intercut into scenes and the overall feeling is off kilter, eerie, bizarre and yes… exactly what it feels like to be deep within a dark, disorienting dream. It’s Ulysses’s dream though, told by Maddin in a fashion that has no interests in holding your hand, tucking you in, reading a bedtime story or explaining just what’s going on. It simply tosses you into this realm and invites you to observe, feel and intuit without logical deduction, and viewers will either be responsive or find it cold. I think it’s something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls

Liam Neeson ruthlessly pursuing Pierce Brosnan across an unforgiving post civil war US landscape, from snowy peaks to vast plains to acrid deserts and all the midlands in between. David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls is a stunning, folklore inspired tale of revenge, burning guilt, wayward ambitions and the joyless act of the hunt, portrayed not as thrill here but more as grim duty.

Brosnan is Gideon, an ex General now on the run from Carver (Neeson), another high ranking soldier who harbours deep hatred and rage against him for reasons the film wisely keeps to its chest until the last few minutes. This allows us to form our own picture of each man that is cultivated by each passing deed, and the labels of bad and good, hero and villain need not apply, which is how stories should be told anyways. They both appear to be good men in some instances, and both hardened killers in others. The film starts off in the snowy northern mountains, moves below to hills, valleys and ranches, continues on to the river lands and finally winds up in a scorching desert where the final revelations are laid bare and each man must make a choice. Von Ancken gives this story an almost biblical tone, from the Dante-esque journey from one specific natural setting to the next to the appearance of several key characters that seem to have supernatural undercurrents including a lone First Nations man (Wes Studi) who mysteriously guards a watering hole to a strange medicine lady (Anjelica Huston) who appears in the desert as if a phantom.

Neeson and Brosnan are phenomenal here. Liam lets the sickness of revenge spill out in his behaviour, that of a man with tunnel vision and no hesitations on letting anyone in his way become collateral damage. Pierce is haunting as a man running from both his adversary and his past, scenes where he hides out in a farmhouse and interacts with a young boy are subtly heartbreaking when you finally see the big picture later on. He’s grizzled to hell too, and there’s nothing like watching him patch up a bullet wound on his own, frontier style. Von Ancken carefully chooses his cast with wonderful character actors and familiar faces like the awesome Michael Wincott as Neeson’s roughneck hired bounty hunter, Xander Berkeley, Ed Lauter, Kevin J. O’Connor, Angie Harmon, Jimmi Simpson, James Jordan and more. I’d like to think that this exists in the same western universe as Von Ancken’s AMC drama Hell On Wheels because Tom Noonan briefly shows up here as pretty much the same Minister character he went on to excellently portray in the show, which I thought was a nice touch. This is a mean, callous, relentlessly and graphically violent piece of filmmaking that throws nods to Eastwood films of the same ilk while subtly doing its own kind of mythic, folklore thing that thrums along under the main story arc for you to pick up on, if you’re tuned into it’s ever so slightly esoteric frequency. Great, underrated film.

-Nate Hill