Tag Archives: film review

Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher

So I get that Tom Cruise isn’t over six feet tall and doesn’t look like an ex marine biker type tough guy, but that doesn’t stop Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher from being a lean, mean, badass fucking film and one hell of an effective, tightly written thriller. Now, I’m not a huge disciple of Lee Child’s books nor have read a single one of them and therefore don’t have beef with Cruise in the role, in fact I like the steely, unflappably calm violence he brings and believed him as this outlaw ex military renegade warrior, but I can see hardcore literary fans being a trifle pissed.

Anyways, McQuarrie paints a propulsive, brutal world that Reacher exists in, full of sociopathic mercenaries for hire, mad dog war veterans out for the kill and deep rooted corruption in almost every facet of the government. Reacher, existing outside of said institutions, is free to use any force or tactic necessary to smoke out evil and restore the balance, and believe me this guy does not fuck around, but to his credit, gives fair and ample warning to anyone in his way before he beats the piss out of them. The film opens with a harrowing public shooting perpetrated by some ghost operative (Joseph Sikora) employed by shadowy factions we can’t even imagine. The act seems random but of course isn’t, and Jack breezes on in to untangle a terrifying web of dark deeds and malpractice in echelons most high. Rosamund Pike is excellent as a government figure who may or may not be on his side, as is Richard Jenkins as her high ranking father who also might (or might not) be up to all sorts of no good. David Oyewelo, Jai Courtney, Josh Helman and Robert Duvall all provide solid supporting work.

The real treat and scene stealer here though is legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog cast as a terrifying arch villain known only as ‘The Zec.’ Dressed in black with half his fingers missing, blessed with that milk over mercury voice only he has and with a penchant for inflicting heinously ruthless torture and punishment on his own cohorts, this is one villain that I wouldn’t want to come across anywhere, it’s a fantastic portrayal and he’s clearly having a blast. This is one of the rare times where I’ll concede and say that an action film works with a PG-13 rating. Usually it limits creativity and dulls any edge a thriller might have but here McQuarrie has still somehow made this thing feel genuinely dangerous, edgy and mature. It’s a brilliant thriller with several set pieces designed for maximum impact, a smart script with just enough eccentricities peppered throughout the dialogue to stick. Cruise has a lot of fun to, whether he’s taking a bar brawl out into the street and putting several dudes in wheelchairs at once or engaged in nasty, bone smashing hand to hand combat with any of the many spooks out to get him. Love it.

-Nate Hill

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Marc Forster’s Stay

Marc Forster’s Stay is billed as a psychological thriller and it’s… sort of that, but really it’s something far deeper and more metaphysical, a core concept that I can’t say much about without spoiling the whole deal and trust me this isn’t one you want ruined ahead of time, it’s that affecting. It’s easy to see why this didn’t make waves at the box office and how it left a lot of critics cold (Ebert got it, and loved it) as it’s a slow, stylish, disorientating experience that slowly reveals secrets it holds close to its chest for much of the duration.

Ewan McGregor is an NYC psychiatrist who is filling in for his colleague at a university when a distraught young art major (Ryan Gosling) wanders into his office and announces plans to kill himself a few days from then. What to do? The guy seems eerily resolute as if his fate is somehow already decided, and seems like he’s already halfway gone to the other side. McGregor’s wife (Naomi Watts) tried to end her own life once so the doctor is no stranger to these things, but something about Gosling unnerves him to his soul, especially when he tells him about voices he’s hearing, phenomena that soon leak into the doctor’s own waking perception and blur the lines between reality and… something else. Bob Hoskins is low key great as a blind colleague that he plays chess with, and watch for nice work from Mark Margolis, Kate Burton, Elizabeth Reaser, Sterling K. Brown, Amy Sedaris, Michael Gaston, Isaach De Bankolé and Janeane Garofalo too.

It’s very important that you give unwavering attention to this film if you wish to get the most out of it. Best viewed in the wee hours, all lights off and on your own, it’s a visual and auditory mood board of sounds, faces, snippets of seemingly arbitrary yet crucial dialogue and scene-to-scene transitions that are orchestrated to confuse and confound yet make sense on a cosmic level when looked back upon later. McGregor and Watts are terrific but Gosling owns the film in what is probably his great under-sung performance. We get the sense that although this guy seems lost, devastated and out of place and time that he still somehow knows exactly where and when he is, but isn’t telling anyone else a thing as it’s not their place to know… yet. The artwork for this film suggests something sketchy, scary and horror oriented but the reality, although jarring and unsettling, is something gentler, more close to the soul and spirit. Director Forster (Monster’s Ball, Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland) is no stranger to deep, challenging projects and here he strives to go beyond what we’d usually see in a film like this, and make it stick. He’s helped by everyone involved including an otherworldly score composed by offbeat musical duo Asche & Spencer to make this something unique, something to Stay with you long after the credits have rolled and the sun peeks over the horizon. Haunting, dreamlike, ethereal, altogether brilliant piece of filmmaking.

-Nate Hill

Rowdy Herrington’s Striking Distance

Bruce Willis in another cop flick? That’s not even a Die Hard Entry? Rowdy Herrington’s Striking Distance got put through a wheat thresher by critics and viewers alike but I think it’s a lot of fun. Never mind that it’s overly lurid, predictable to a dime and excessively stylish. Willis is Detective Tom Hardy (lol) one of his mopey disgraced cops who drinks a bunch and mutters half assed one liners under his breath whenever someone tries to tell him to get his shit together. After failing to catch a slippery serial killer, he’s relegated to boat duty in the Pittsburg harbour and assigned to a rookie partner (Sarah Jessica Parker doesnt do much here) he can barely stand. Tom comes from a police family, his uncle (Dennis Farina) is the commissioner, his cousin (Tom Sizemore) a fellow detective and as such he’s been kind of shunned and also blamed for the death of his other cousin (Robert Pastorelli), a cop who lost his mind. But this killer has resurfaced and is playing sick mind games with him all over the city, murdering people and ghost calling him, until a series of sting operations, stand offs and one man hunts are conducted to smoke him out. The cast also includes Brion James, Tom Atkins, Andre Braugher and John Mahoney as Tom’s father who, you guessed it, is also a high ranking cop. Director Rowdy Herrington is known for Roadhouse and therefore subtlety isn’t his game, so the lapses in logic and continuity are kind of to be expected. What he does do well are scenes of atmospheric suspense and well staged shootouts. Yes, the identity of the killer is kind of easy to surmise given that it’s not a huge cast and there’s only a few people it could be (at least it doesn’t go Jennifer 8 and cheat by literally picking one of the bit players out of the crowd that we’d never suspect), but the fun is in watching how Willis hunts and takes him down. Plus the cast is great, you really can’t go wrong with Farina and Sizemore, both of whom are reliably intense. Not the best cop vs. killer flick out there but for sure not the worst either.

-Nate Hill

Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel

How bad could your first day on the job as a cop go? For Jamie Lee Curtis in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, pretty damn bad. Before the title was a Ben Stiller fourth wall break it was a sexy, simmering, extremely violent psycho thriller from Bigelow, who was always way better back in the day when she focused on gritty genre films and not the politico-war stuff she’s known for today.

Curtis is a rookie cop who finds herself in a tense stand-off with a convenience store robber (Tom Sizemore, fired up in one of his first gigs). When the guy won’t back down she’s forced to shoot him, case closed. Right? Nah. First of all, her superiors take harsh disciplinary actions instead of giving her the medal she deserves, but there was also someone else there that night, a posh stockbroker (Ron Silver) who witnessed the whole thing, and something about the violence and potency in the air just kind of makes him lose his shit. He somehow got ahold of her gun, has been carving her name into the bullets and shooting people all over town, making it look like she’s out there playing vigilante. The captain (Kevin Dunn, always welcome) and the DA (Richard Jenkins, also always welcome) are furious and blame her for inciting this whole hellish series of events. But soon he’s insinuated his way into her life and she finds herself in a steamy affair with him, unbeknownst that he’s the lunatic that’s been circling her for days like a hungry wolf. There’s also another fellow cop, a hard nosed detective played by Clancy Brown, who she *also* starts up a torrid affair with and naturally that doesn’t end well. It’s nice to see Brown in a non-villain role for once and especially as the romantic lead, of sorts anyways. Elizabeth Pena shows up as well, as do Louise Fletcher and Philip Bosco as her troubled parents.

This is a gritty, bloody, scary piece of filmmaking and I can see why it turned many viewers off. There’s a kinky psychosexual vibe running through it like a perverse current of deviant energy and delirious, trashy abandon. Curtis is tough but vulnerable as well, no stranger to playing the lone girl stalked by an unrelenting, spectral madman. Silver is an actor who is no longer with us (remember him as the evil senator in TimeCop?) and it’s a shame because he was a real treasure. This has to be his best turn and he’s eerily on point in showing how a mind can deteriorate and turn sick after witnessing trauma. There’s an ‘unstoppable killer’ vibe to his action and pursuit scenes but he also gives the quieter moments a terrifying humanity as a guy who maybe doesn’t even know what he wants or isn’t in control anymore, it’s deeply disturbing work. Bigelow is just so good at staging practical action scenes and makes the chases, gunfights and jump scares supremely effective while maintaining a shadowy, blue tinged nocturnal palette that’s decidedly noirish and feels like an outright horror film in many instances. A real forgotten classic.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

Mrs. Doubtfire

Ever watch Mrs. Doubtfire lately? Some 90’s films haven’t aged all that well in the years since, but if anything this one has improved, and endured as a sterling classic. What was it about Robin Williams that made him such a dynamic, magnetic and beloved artist? The list is long but for me it was his uncanny, intuitive ability to feel his way around a scene using both dramatic tenderness and that wildly energetic comedic mania that was his trademark. There’s this childlike earnestness when he’s expressing himself in a serious or sorrowful scene that is so damn genuine, and the unbridled mayhem in comic sequences interplays in a delicate balancing act that no one has ever replicated.

Here as voiceover actor and loving father Daniel Hillard he proves that he’ll go to any lengths for his three children (Lisa Jakub, Matthew Lawrence and Mara ‘Matilda’ Wilson) including elaborately disguising himself as a late middle aged British nanny just so he can spend more time with them. This is thanks to his makeup whiz of a brother (The lovable Harvey Fierstein) and ends up fooling everyone including the kids, his ex wife (Sally Field) and even her swanky new suitor (Pierce Brosnan, clearly having fun). The thing is, in the hands of almost any other actor this would be some creepy ass shit. I’ve even seen some spoof trailers on YouTube that recut this to look like a horror flick. But Williams was so talented and put his heart into it to the point that the concept just sells, and feels real despite being completely nuts on paper.

There’s two scenes that sort of cement both his character here and the kind of magic he was capable of on camera as an actor.

In a drab divorce hearing he pleads with the stone faced judge to let him have equal custody, lamenting that he can’t exist without being near his children and the emotion clouding his face feels immediate and organic. Later he has to rapidly switch in and out between the Mrs. Doubtfire disguise to fool a cantankerous social worker (Ann Haney) into believing he’s got his shot together. It involves slam dunking his face into a cake to mask the fact that he accidentally whipped his real mask out the window, and it’s absolutely hilariously inspired work that really illustrates his gift for delirious comedy. He had a long and varied career in film, but this has to be one of the showcase ventures. Aside from his work there’s a breezy, laidback San Francisco vibe and lovely work from a supporting cast including Polly Holiday, Rick Overton, Paul Guillfoye, William Newman and jolly old Robert Prosky as a scotch swilling network TV kingpin.

There’s also a surprising maturity in a narrative that could have easily patronized and pandered to the younger audience. There are core lessons to be learned that are never preached but written in seamlessly and the ending doesn’t cop out or cave in like many films would and do, but remains steadfastly rooted in this bittersweet situation, feeling all the more genuine for it. Williams is the rock, heart and soul of it but it’s a classic all across the board.

-Nate Hill