Tag Archives: film reviews

Johnny English Strikes Again

I never got why the Johnny English films didn’t get out there more or endure as classics because they’re pure gold. I mean if we’re talking franchises that spoof James Bond then Austin Powers kind of just reigns supreme as a given, but English is next up in line for my money, thanks to the sheer unfiltered cyclone of comedic star-power that is Rowan Atkinson. The first film is an all timer for me, minted platinum I’ve seen it so many times. The second is admittedly not as strong but the third outing, titled Johnny English Strikes Again, finds its way back to the magic of the first and is an absolute howling joy. He’s just so friggin perfect, stupid by way of being suave as perennial fuck up English, the type of guy that no one ever in real life would trust with a mission but in the satirical world of cinema espionage he constantly finds himself somehow employed. This one steps up his level of idiocy to near biblical heights in the very first scene: in hysterical collective cameos we see Charles Dance, Edward Fox and Michael Gambon as three legendary MI6 agents hauled out of retirement to assess a cyber attack that blew the cover of agents in the field. Naturally Johnny is also somewhere in the office and naturally he causes some colossal mishap that kills all three in the first ten minutes of the film. Three seasoned veterans of cinema, dispatched before the opening credits, that cracked me up so hard lol. Emma Thompson is great as the loopy section chief tasked with babysitting Johnny on his hectic escapades, Ben Miller returns as trusty, long suffering sidekick Bough and Olga Kurylenko is fun as a slinky Russian double agent who finds Johnny’s lack of self awareness charmingly quaint. The antics in this one are especially fun, with two distinct highlights: Johnny tries out a cutting edge VR room meant to help with surveillance, gets so disoriented that he runs about in a mad dash of confused violence all over London that culminates in the beatdown of a cafe owner with two baguettes. In the film’s funniest bit he accidentally swallows some secret pill that I’m pretty sure was just raw amphetamines and comes blasting out of his hotel room like a speed freak while Darude sandstorm plays loudly and he dances in a club literally all night until they turn the lights on and kick him out. These films might be too silly or whatever for some but there’s just something so winning about Atkinson’s presence, his mannerisms, constant fuck ups and the pure, self assured swagger he adopts that becomes hysterically ironic when we see what an actual moron he really is. Good times and a terrific cap to the trilogy.

-Nate Hill

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten Original Scores by James Horner

James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!

10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs

He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.

9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart

Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.

8. James Cameron’s Aliens

His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.

7. Ron Howard’s Willow

Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.

6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall

Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.

5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji

Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.

4. James Cameron’s Titanic

This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.

3. James Cameron’s Avatar

Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.

2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy

He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.

1. Ron Howard’s The Missing

This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.

Irwin Winkler’s The Net

Anyone who has ever experienced identity theft will relate to Sandra Bullock’s desperate situation in The Net, one of those lynchpin 90’s thrillers that captures the dawning internet culture in ways both silly as well as frightening. I mean this is kind of an off the wall film but it’s an old favourite of mine and always works as perfect escapist entertainment. Plus Sandra Bullock just makes the perfect protagonist, she’s so down to earth, humble and sweet that I always find myself right there in the passenger seat, sympathetically along for the ride in whatever crazy scenario she finds herself in. Here she plays Angela Bennett, a garden variety computer programmer who unwittingly stumbles into a deep set conspiracy that’s not only out of her pay grade but way beyond her level of comprehension or ability to dodge. Soon whatever forces out there have noticed and scary shit starts to befall her: her credit cards decline, law enforcement is hijacked into believing she’s a fugitive, a mysterious operative (Jeremy Northam) first appears attractive and friendly before becoming despicable and malevolent and her life begins to spiral out of control. I further sympathize with Angela because she’s virtually alone and has no one to really turn to, no boyfriend, no obligatory supportive coworker, no kindly boss, even her mother (the great Diane Baker) suffers from Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes her. She’s sort of a loner anyways but in that characteristic she finds the necessary resilience, defence mechanisms and edge to fight back against the nefarious net that’s closing in around her. This gets ragged on a lot and sure you can write it off as just another creaky 90’s cyber-tech thriller but it’s Bullock who wins the day with sheer star power and believable work the whole way through. Love this one to bits.

-Nate Hill

Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate

For a film about some book written by the Devil, old Satan is curiously absent from Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, a gorgeous looking but frustratingly muddled and ultimately incomprehensible pseudo religious mumbo jumbo thriller starring Johnny Depp and his trusty librarian’s man purse. Depp is Dean Corso, a rare book dealer known to be ‘thoroughly unscrupulous’ by his peers for his cunning habit of ripping off clueless clients. He’s a decent-ish guy though and is moral enough to be kind of shook when millionaire manuscript collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella, never hammier) and his hilarious pinstripe suit commission him to track down an ancient volume said to be written by Lucifer himself. This leads him on a Europe trotting spot of intrigue to compare Balkan’s copy to two others and look for clues that might help this collective bunch of spooky book nerds summon the devil… or something like that. This is either one complex film that was just beyond my tired ass or one confused film that Polanski didn’t really know what to do with other than give it the slow burn Rosemary’s Baby effort. The problem is, there’s nothing in the kerosene lamp *to* slow burn here, it’s just an undercooked series of chases, extended discussions on theology and satanism and one very silly, very cliched summoning ceremony complete with baroque robes and hundreds candlelit stone chambers as only rural Europe can provide. What works about it? The supporting cast is nicely placed. Langella has a lot of fun as the maniacal zealot and I was thinking the whole time that they just should have casted *him* as the Devil to amp up the proceedings, he already has the look. Lena Olin is appropriately savage as a vicious cultist bitch who fornicates with Depp and runs off into the night. The underrated James Russo has a nice bit as Dean’s rare book dealer buddy. Impossibly sexy Emmanuelle Seigner is some supernatural siren who follows Depp around like a vulture and uses her snazzy powers to assist him when necessary, for purposes the film never feels the need to even tell us. There’s a terrifically unconventional score by Wojciech Kilar, who also put his talents towards eccentrically spooky work in Coppola’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is perfectly suited for oddly eerie compositions. Depp is strangely ineffective here and is either stressed, smoking, slamming cocktails or wandering about in a trench coat daze while nondescript forces of muddy menace muster around him. And the ending? Fuck if I know, man. I mean it works as a neat tour guide of some really pretty Europeans cities and towns, the atmosphere is very evocative, the supporting actors all give wonderful work but it’s like somehow the lynchpin of it all, and I suspect it’s the script, is just… absent. It’s sad because this premise with all the talent involved should have been something truly frightening and memorable and instead it’s just kind of.. meh.

-Nate Hill

Josh Trank’s Capone

Tom Hardy and Josh Trank have some big collective nuts in pulling off a stunt like this, but they’ve crafted a bold, original and ghoulish piece of work with Capone, aka The Man With The Golden Tommy Gun or Zombie Tom Hardy Putrefied In Florida. This is a fucking bonkers film like no other, approaching the historical character study from an angle few would dare to try but the borderline experimental process and beyond weird stylistic choices combined with Hardy’s positively extraterrestrial performance as Al Capone and references to everything from Twin Peaks to The Shining make this a winner and my favourite film of the year so far.

Most filmic chronicles of real world crime figures focus on the up and coming rise to power of any given person, it’s a safe-bet, tried and true Hollywood formula that always raises pulses. Trank diverts from that route, instead showing us Capone in the last few miles of his twilight years, slowly rotting away both physically and mentally from neurosyphilis in his drafty Florida mansion while his family looks on in exasperation. Not once in the film do we see Capone as a younger man, at the height of his power and only for one brief moment is he anything that resembles sane, delivering a peppy anecdotal barb to his granddaughter at thanksgiving dinner before passing out of coherence and into a surreal, purgatorial twilight zone of his own wrought. His loyal wife (Linda Cardellini is fantastic as always) stays by his side but is increasingly more upset by the drooling spectre her husband has become. His twitchy doctor (Kyle Maclachlan, terrific as well) grasps at straws to plug the leaks in the once sharp gangster turned ghost and Al’s old friend Johnny (Matt Dillon) appears to him on elliptical vignettes. His son (Noel Fisher) struggle with the reality of his condition and everyone is pretty much there to bear witness to the deeply troubling unravel of a once iron fisted patriarch.

Hardy’s performance must be given special note; since his inception as a minted Hollywood star his performances have gradually edged off the face of what may be considered ‘normal’ in some circles, his portrayals getting more eccentric, each new vocal character choice becoming more bizarre. He’s barely human here as Al, a shambling, defecating, mumbling, scaly, bloodshot eyed phantasm who wanders about in a delirium, haunting his own house and trapped in a horrific, kaleidoscopic nightmare of his own violent past. He shits himself (twice), chews his cigars harder than the scenery, rants and raves at nothing in particular and has now patented the ‘Tom Hardy dialect’ that consists of grunts, guttural utterances, half formed syllables and rumbly noises so odd that it’s tough to tell what sounds are being made by his vocal chords and what ones are from his voiding bowels. You’re either onboard for this very disturbing character or not, but there’s no copping out by calling it a gimmick. Capone really did die a dishevelled mess and I’m pretty sure that nothing Hardy does here is too far from the grisly truth of a soul near death, which Hollywood nearly always shies away from showing in full splendour, or squalor.

Many people are going to hate this film with a passion, and I get it. It’s very different, frequently uncomfortable to watch and oh so terminally weird. Trank plays around with distorted reality and hip hop artist El-P composes a strange, otherworldly score that places Capone in a twisted, freaky haunted house of his own mind and there’s no baseline narrative to easily return to from the madness. What I took from this was an unflinching look at how a life of crime, violence, lies and fear ultimately leads to an anticlimactic, sadly ironic, deteriorated final episode of misery. The feds are on Al’s case but he barely knows what fucking planet he’s on anymore and his poor family, relegated from collateral damage to picking up his pieces must now deal with them as well as looming destitution. Ultimately a life of crime as prolific as his leads to dead ends, demons of torment and the slow, inevitable encroach of mortality like the alligators Al screams at as they unnervingly approach from the swamps surrounding his broke-down palace. This is a spectacular film and whether or not it’s ultimately your thing, there’s no denying the craft and vision put to work here.

-Nate Hill

Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train

More like The Midnight Mess Train. Man this was a royal disaster. I get that there was a Clive Barker short behind it and yeah it’s probably a cool one as he’s a great storyteller but man if you’re going to adapt something that scant you at least have to give it more than just a vague blueprint and an endless, grinding parade of gratuitous, painfully CGI gore that serves no other purpose other than to perpetuate itself in scene after scene of disgusting, unsatisfying carnage. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a gore-hound and a horror nut but there’s something called pacing, context and artistic style and the violence in this has none of that, it’s as flat, drab and unpleasant as I’d imagine the meat slaughterhouse we see multiple times is.

Bradley Cooper used to do a ton of cool genre stuff before he went Oscar titan on us and he’s engaging enough as an NYC art world photographer who is searching for those perfect, edgy shots of the city’s underworld, a vocation that pushes him into nocturnal escapades where he inevitably sees something he shouldn’t. That something here is well dressed, mute, homicidal bulldozer Mahogany, a spectacularly violent serial killer who rides the late subway train and literally butchers people like cattle for some unseen, hidden purpose. Of course he starts to notice Cooper tailing him and isn’t too stoked. His life begins to unravel as he becomes obsessed with finding out Mahogany’s deal to the point that it affects his relationship to his girlfriend, played by the lovely Leslie Bibb in one of the rare times they actually give her a role deserving of her untapped talent.

The problem with this is it makes not a goddamn lick of sense. Why is Mahogany killing people on the train? Does he have an employer or is he just a wild card loner? The film makes a half assed attempt to answer those questions but unfortunately it’s way too preoccupied with torture porn to tell it’s story clearly, succinctly or even remotely in a way that grabs us. There’s only so many shots of Jones bashing people’s heads in with a giant meat tenderizing hammer before our brains turn to the same mush it inflicts and we just. Don’t. Care. And the gore is often done in this really weird, closeup/slo-mo/lame way like the film was meant to be seen in 3D or something but they never bothered to even finish the process and we’re left with video game cutscene gore. It’s a shame because there are aspects that shine. Jones is incredibly menacing, he’s always had a terrific presence as an actor and the Mahogany character on his own terms is pretty frightening, until the film does his shtick to death. Bibb is terrific and I really felt for her as the poor girlfriend dragged into a nightmare, it’s also not one of those horror flicks where the significant other doesn’t believe the protagonist’s wild predicament to the point of abandoning them, she actually tries to help and I liked that character choice. I really liked Brooke Shields as an art world shark who talent scouts Cooper’s work, there’s a directness and genuine intelligence to her acting that turns a quick cameo into something very memorable. But holy shit man, most of the film is just ridiculous, poorly lit bloodshed and I get they’re on a dark subway train underground but even then dude… find your angles, set up your lighting, set aside time to colour grade… have some fucking pride in your craft. And for god’s sake know when enough gore is enough and your audience just wants to tap out and go watch Candyman again, another film based on Barker lore that knows when to use violence to shock or frighten, not to beat us over the head with it like Mahogany and his hammer until we’re in a vegetative state and just want to turn the tv off. A midnight meat train wreck if I ever saw one.

-Nate Hill

To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar

What a title for a film, and what a wonderful film therein. To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar feels way ahead of its time for 90’s Hollywood, it’s subversive, witty and although super bubbly and energetic it’s incredibly down to earth, compassionate and sympathetic, not just to the three heroines but every character who shows up. I mean I’ve always known about this one, there was always ‘that movie where Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes and John Leguizamo play drag queens’ out there in my awareness but I could never get a DVD and it seemed to be kind of a rare find. It’s on Netflix now and I’m pissed I waited this long to watch it because it’s a dime piece. Swayze and Snipes are Vida and Noxeema, two drag queens who tie in a pageant that sends them off on a road trip to Hollywood as their prize. Via kindness and mentorship they bring along Chi Chi (Leguizamo), a fiery Latina who just wants to win something for once in her life. As they make their way through those less evolved States where the kind of lifestyle they pick isn’t received too well their ragtop breaks down in a tiny one horse town and much of the film is spent on them interacting with, educating and forming bonds with the local townsfolk who are, for the most part, lovely people. Chi Chi falls for a local kid (Jason London, whatever happened to him?) who has eyes for her, Vida does her best to help a battered housewife (Stockard Channing) escape her abusive prick of a husband (Arliss Howard) and Vida forges a strong friendship with eccentric Clara (Alice Drummond) over golden age Hollywood lore. This is all while a homophobic, rapey Sheriff (Chris Penn, RIP) pursues them over a past incident while failing to realize that he himself is buried so deep in the closet that not even a near two hour character arc can get him out. I mean this thing on paper or in the studio pitch meeting could have gotten nervous reactions, it’s not easy to sell. But the three leads do just that, and I’ve never seen performances quite like this from any of them. They are three very masculine tough guys in Hollywood, which is perhaps why they were chosen for this but they are utterly and completely believable as these characters, always seeming larger than life but never ever veering into caricature or parody of this delicate matter. They’re kind, learned, feisty, compassionate, no nonsense role model material and I applaud whoever is responsible for the writing, direction and their performances for taking this seriously and giving three characters who are an absolute joy to spend a film with. Gotta throw a shoutout to Blythe Danner too as one of the townsfolk, she is always so candid, honest and adorable. Oh, and Robin Williams randomly too as some sort of off the books travel agent named (and I’m not even making this up) John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. Fantastic film.

-Nate Hill