Tag Archives: film review

Bille August’s Smilla’s Sense Of Snow

Smilla’s Sense Of Snow begins with a specific inciting event: a young Inuit boy plummets off the roof of a multi storey building in Copenhagen, to his death. The only person who seems to care is Smilla (Julia Ormond), a girl who lives in the complex, is half Inuit herself and did her best to take care of the poor kid when his mother drowned in alcoholism. From there the film spirals into curious, unexpected thriller elements that seem to have left many viewers baffled (reviews over time haven’t been so kind), but it’s the uniqueness of this story that appeals to me, the way we find ourself wondering how such a simple and straightforward incident can lead to the kind of sequences you’d find in a Bond film. That’s the mark of an absorbing thriller, no matter how ‘out there’ people complain it is. Smilla deliberately cloaks herself in a facade of coldness not dissimilar from the snowy northern landscape around her and comes across as initially unpleasant, but when we see how far she’s willing to go and what she will risk to uncover the truth around the boy’s death, we realize there’s a heart in there and Ormond creates a mesmerizing protagonist. There is indeed a clandestine web of secrets, coverups and conspiracies revolving around the whole thing, and it’s great fun watching her follow the breadcrumb trail to where it all leads. She’s a withdrawn, introverted person, and these qualities don’t lend themselves to hands on detective work, but therein lies the gold mine of character development for her as she discovers perhaps one of the most bizarre string of events I’ve seen in a thriller. The supporting cast is full of gems, starting with Gabriel Byrne as her neighbour and love interest, just darkly charismatic enough to suggest that he may not be who he says he is. The late great Robert Loggia makes a stern but soulful appearance as her powerful father, who pulls some strings to help her out. Soon she’s led to a shadowy scientist (Richard ‘OG Dumbledore’ Harris) with ties to it all, and other appearances from Jurgen Vogel, David Hayman, Bob ‘Clever Girl’ Peck, Vanessa Redgrave, Ona Fletcher, Tom Wilkinson, a quick cameo from one of the Doctor Who actors and an excellent Jim Broadbent in full exposition mode. The eventual premise here is set up in an arresting prologue concerning a lone Inuit hunter observing a meteor fall to earth and cause an almighty mess on the tundra, serving to inform us right off the bat that although this film initially sets off on the trajectory of a straightforward murder mystery, there will be elements of the fantastical. Said elements proved to be either too far out there or too removed from the grounded opening for people to grasp hold of, but not me. I love the journey this one takes, I love the heroine we get to take it with, I’m awed by the stunning arctic photography every time and the story always draws me in. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Lasse Hallstrom’s Something To Talk About

Julia Roberts has many notorious pop culture hits under her belt, all of which become memorable for a reason: they’re flashy, relatable, well made crowd pleasers like Erin Brockovich or Pretty Woman. But that irresistible charm (if you’re a fan of hers) was also put to great use in some quieter, more challenging and less accessible pieces like Lasse Hallstrom’s Something To Talk About, an interpersonal dramedy that explores the relationship between her and her husband (Dennis Quaid) in the aftermath of him cheating on her. She comes from a big family, has headstrong parents (Robert Duvall and Gena Rowlands) who have an influential role in her life and a fiery, fiercely protective older sister (Kyra Sedgwick is fantastic) who literally kicks Quaid in the nuts when she finds out. Now, this is a 90’s film and doesn’t have the same perspective on life we now know today, so her frustration, anger and outrage at her husband’s infidelity isn’t taken as seriously as it could be right off the bat. Duvall is more worried how it may be bad for business than any emotional toll it will take on his daughter, while she simply wants to be heard and allowed to be pissed off at the guy. Her husband reacts with a sheepish wounded animal tactic that wears off when he realizes his wife is smarter than that, and Quaid handles the arc carefully and humbly. It’s basically about the snowball effect an affair can have in a close quarters family situation, and while I enjoyed some of the laughs provided by Roberts deliberately exposing other sneaky cheaters in their tight knit community, I connected most when the film focused on her as a woman wronged, and a woman who’s not afraid to stand up for herself, even if it means stirring shit up royally. She’s a movie star with a mile wide smile and people know her as such, but I think that the high profile roles sometimes have us forgetting what an absolute diamond of an actress she is as well, and small, character driven pieces like this serve well to remind. She rocks it here, and is supported by all around her including Muse Watson, Brett Cullen and Haley Aull as their intuitive daughter. A treasure.

-Nate Hill

Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit won’t be what audiences are expecting it to be, and these days in Hollywood, that’s a really good thing. There’s a whole string of Liam Neeson genre films since Taken that for the most part are generic vehicles for him to run around in and beat people up. Fortunately, every so often one breaks the mould and turns out to be a fresh, distinguished animal from the rest of the pack, and this is one of them. Yes it’s about a snow plow driver in a small mountain town whose son is murdered by drug dealers. Yes, Neeson plays him as the lone man who takes his revenge in a series of violent encounters and action sequences. But that’s just the blueprint, and honestly director Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own 2014 film, seems far more interested in showing us the casual eccentricities and personal lives of all of these characters, particularly the dealers, than focusing on action alone. Neeson’s initial rampage causes quite a bunch of confusion in the ranks when the local outfit mistakes his mayhem for the actions of a rival Native American gang from Denver, and that’s when the snow really hits the fan. Tom Bateman is a coked up dervish as Viking, head of the local boys, the kind of guy who caps off his own people before breakfast and encourages his son to hit bullies back harder, ‘just for starters.’ The Native American dealers are my favourite part, adding a mystic deadpan quality and distinct class that makes the film seem just this side of a regular action flick. Tom Jackson is charismatic and scary as their leader White Bull, and Raoul Trujillo does a hilarious turn as Thorpe, his second in command. Emmy Rossum is good but slightly underused as an enthusiastic local cop, while John Doman gets a few of the film’s funniest scenes as her less enthusiastic partner. It’s terrific to see the great William Forsythe on the big screen again as Neeson’s ex criminal brother Wingman, an old dog who knows the ropes and seems both worried and amused at his brother’s drastic actions. Speaking of underused though, they’ve thrown Laura Dern a thankless role as Neeson’s wife who simply disappears from the plot like halfway through. A little Dern goes a long way, but she’s given almost nothing to do here. As Liam picks these guys off one by one and they all wonder just what the shit is happening, I found myself much more entertained by the precious little sideshow moments concerning all the criminals, narrative excursions that take huge liberties with the film’s pacing, a choice that I have no problem with. Viking has intense squabbles with his ex wife (Wind River’s Julia Jones) over their son’s ridiculous diet, Thorpe and his crew have a hilarious interaction with a hotel clerk who uses the word ‘reservation’ in a context that makes for the funniest joke in the film, and one of Viking’s boys has interesting ideas about how to bang hotel maids. My favourite is when the film stops dead in its tracks to show White Bull and his guys simply playing in the snow, watching skiers practice and getting one of their guys to hang-glide off the mountain. It’s that sense of playfulness, the care in stepping off the beaten path and giving us something we don’t often see in Hollywood films that sets this aside and makes it something special. It doesn’t particularly work as a thriller because it’s too funny, and won’t land with an emotional impact for the same reason. That doesn’t matter much though, because it’s just fine as a screwy black comedy full of really interesting side characters, offbeat situational comedy and high spirited, naturalistic comedic timing. A barrel of fun if you’re tuned into the abstract frequency. One last thought: I really wish they’d kept the title ‘Hard Powder’ instead of the much less tongue in cheek Cold Pursuit, which feels too run of the mill for a film this idiosyncratic.

-Nate Hill

Ghost Rider

There’s no way around the fact that Ghost Rider is a garbage film, from Nick Cage’s ridiculous Yu Gi Oh haircut to Wes Bentley’s faux Dracula bad guy to the unpolished screensaver special effects to yet another creepy case of him getting blessed with a love interest half his age, this time poor Eva Mendes. When it comes to the Ghost Rider aesthetic, PG-13 theme park flash like this is the wrong way to go, it needs something grittier like the Nick Cave/John Hillcoat touch (not even the reliably edgy Neveldine/Taylor could save the sequel, but that’s a story for another day). That all said, there’s a few key elements that I love about this film and two actors in particular who do a bang up job and really deserved a better film than they got. Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a motorbike stunt demon who grew up in a circus and made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) to save his dying father (Brett Cullen), a deal with fine print that dictates his soul remains prisoner and he must serve out a very long time bounty hunting runaways for the big guy. Later in life he becomes the legendary Ghost Rider, a big bad biker with a chain whip, flaming skull and leather metal-head outfit, tasked with bringing down renegade demon Blackheart (Bentley) and juggling his awkward romance with Mendes and friendship with fellow rider Donal Logue. This is all a lot less cool than it sounds and all the scenes of him as the rider that are supposed to be awesome are just… not. Now this isn’t one of those ones where the good qualities redeem the film, it’s just too silly and far gone, but they are there and are noticeable, starting with Fonda’s absolutely rock ‘n roll performance as Mephistopheles, a silk voiced, well dressed manipulator who commands the screen and to this day is one of the most fun film versions of the Devil I’ve ever seen. He’s accompanied by a fantastic, sinister low level music cue from composer Christopher Young that sets the mood perfectly. You also get Sam Elliott as former ghost rider and mentor to Johnny in another one of his brilliant, charismatic cowboy turns that the film hardly deserves, but his scenes sure pick up on the gravity that Sam exudes wherever he goes. That’s about all the film has to offer in the realm of quality. There’s an opening credit sequence set to an instrumental version of Ghost Riders In The Sky with POV shot of a bike careening through a racecourse that’s kind of cool. Mostly though this is one big flaming sinking ship and just made me wish for a less cartoonish prequel starring Elliott’s Rider and Fonda’s deliciously evil Satan. Next time.

-Nate Hill

Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

I can understand that a bleak, disturbing SciFi horror like Pandorum didn’t connect well with Hollywood audiences or generate a lot of income, but it’s a shame because it weaves an intelligent, beautifully shot, truly scary dark dream of psychological paranoia, freaky ideas and tense, claustrophobic set pieces. Helmed by Christian Alvert, a German director best known for unconventional horror films, this was never going to be a flashy, familiar feeling big budget thing, which many probably didn’t expect. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid are Payton and Bower, two astronauts who awaken on a giant derelict spaceship with severe amnesia and the unsettling feeling that their mission has gone horribly wrong. After a bit of exploring they find out just *how* wrong. Terrifying, monstrous humanoid creatures hunt any survivors through dim, clanging corridors that echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. Payton encounters two initially hostile nomads (Antje Traue and Cung Le) who he must band together with. Somewhere deep inside the ship, the reactor starts to fail. Another mentally unstable survivor (Cam Gigandet) is found by Quaid and starts to dangerously unravel. Gradually the secrets of what happened are revealed along with the reason for the presence of these creatures, which I won’t call aliens because they’re not. This is brutal, grim stuff that isn’t light watching or easy on the senses, it’s a skin crawling deep space nightmare of a film and a tough piece, no kidding. But it’s smart, tightly wound storytelling with fantastic acting (especially Quaid who rarely gets to go this bonkers crazy) and a plot that races along like some intergalactic nightmare until the final revelation, a thunderclap that lets us breathe again for the first time in over an hour. The title itself refers to a fictional psychotic disorder in which one believes the mission is cursed and becomes a delusional nut-job with destructive behaviour, the mental byproduct of extended space travel. This ties neatly into the very real dangers aboard the ship as reality shifts for these characters and their narratives become unreliable. A brilliant piece of SciFi horror filmmaking, a film that still hasn’t gotten its proper due. Get the Blu Ray, it looks fresh, crisp and darkly dazzling.

-Nate Hill

Marvel’s Ant Man & The Wasp

Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.

-Nate Hill

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Raise your hand if you think that Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is going to indeed be the last film in the franchise. I have this sneaky feeling they’ll pull a Friday The 13th and just cheerfully keep on trucking after this one as if they never said the buck would stop here. Or not, maybe they’ve gotten their sillies out for real, I mean this is the sixth film. Either way works for me, I kind of love these things. Say what you want about them (I’ve literally heard it all), they do wonders when you get a craving for action/horror with wall to wall carnage and not a minute spent on plot beyond the obligatory five minute hyper stylized recap at the beginning of each one, narrated by Milla Jovovich’s endlessly endearing, sultry voiced super warrior Alice. The first three films are the closest this series has been to what you might call ‘down to earth.’ There was the claustrophobic zombie siege thriller, the urban outbreak sci-fi horror and then the post apocalyptic Mad Max esque third entry. After that… they truly went balls out and kind of just had a free for all of decimated cities, giant monsters and more excessive bloody special effects than the franchise had seen before, until they arrived here. The good news is that this has more of a story than the last two did by far, and although doesn’t concretely wrap up this insane runaway train of a franchise, it does serve to cap off what we’ve seen so far and even includes a few narrative surprises that sort of don’t have to play by the rules of logic considering they threw them out the window like four films ago, but it’s nice to see the wheels turning anyways. After being betrayed by evil Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) in DC, Alice pursues deranged megalomaniac Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen, even more fun here than in Game Of Thrones) back to the Hive in Raccoon City where it all started in hopes of taking down the impossibly powerful Umbrella Corporation and finding a cure for the T Virus. Cue a deafening roar of tank chases, grisly zombie hordes, medieval style sieges in a derelict city, furious hand to hand combat, flying bat dragon things, other giant monsters and Jovovich in hysterical old age makeup at one point, which is part of the film’s big surprise. Milla is a trooper with these films and seems to never run out of steam, as countless other actors come and go, she’s the constant and the series wouldn’t be the same without her. I enjoyed the stuff about Umbrella’s backstory and events dating back before the first film, but they really just serve to bring on more frenzied R rated action set to Tool-esque hard rock music, which is fine by me. These films are either your thing or they’re not, but they’re definitely their own thing, that’s for sure. Nothing like the games anymore, or even the borderline restraint of the first film, they have carved out their of very bizarre niche in the realm of action/horror. Fun times.

-Nate Hill