Tag Archives: film reviews

Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker

The Rainmaker is one of those journeyman courtroom dramas that’s isn’t all flash, sizzle and spectacle. There are those things periodically and in the obligatory final flourish but this is more a piece that shows the dutiful, unsung labour that goes into putting a deposition together, the many hours of stress involved in taking on a class action lawsuit and for once, a quality I admired, focuses more so on the victims who are suing rather than the lawyers themselves in terms of character. Based on a John Grisham novel and directed by a fellow you may have heard of called Francis Ford Coppola, it stars Matt Damon in a humble, restrained turn as rookie lawyer Rudy Baylor, riding on the coattails of amoral hustler guru Bruiser Stone (Mickey Rourke) and backed up by perennial sidekick Deck Shiffler (Danny Devito). Stone’s firm (if you can call it that) is an unabashed ambulance chasing racket until Rudy stumbles into some genuine high stakes cases that matter, namely a lawsuit against an insurance giant for denying treatment to a boy (Johnny Whitworth) dying of leukaemia. This puts Rudy and Deck up against a top dollar team of legal talent led by preening shark Jon Voight, the kind of soulless muckraker who gets ruffled at the very mention of the fact he’s sold out to the wrong side. Also along for the ride is battered housewife Claire Danes, whom Rudy takes a liking to and wishes to protect against her monster of a husband. It’s a fairly sprawling tale with an impressive amount of characters all juggled handsomely, not to mention a dense narrative that is somehow delivered to us breezily and coherently. But character is key here and ultimately wins the day; DeVito is terrific as the chow mein guzzling little curmudgeon who initially comes across as a sleaze but quietly, ever so subtly peels back a hidden and unobtrusive later of compassion as the story draws you, and him in. Rourke is priceless, chain-smoking, chewing dialogue and literally walking out of the film a third of the way through to some tropical beach where he delivers key information over the phone before returning to his all your can drink margaritas. Voight is cold, steely and blusters without getting hammy, something he’s always somehow been able to tightrope pretty damn well. Danny Glover is great as a sneakily idealistic judge, Dean Stockwell as a short lived and quite cantankerous one and watch for vivid supporting turns from Mary Kay Place, Teresa Wright, Red West, Randy Travis, Roy Scheider as the leathery, evil insurance CEO and a scene owning Virginia Madsen as a terrified whistleblower. I greatly enjoyed this because although it’s a big budget, star studded Hollywood courtroom drama, it takes its time, is leisurely paced, lived in, meticulous about character development, sincerely cares and has compassion for the humans who are scared and hurting within its narrative and tells several interwoven stories, all well worth your time and attention. Great film!

-Nate Hill

Antonio Campos’s The Devil All The Time

I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.

-Nate Hill

David Koepp’s You Should Have Left

This one is called You Should Have Left, and buddy let me tell you if I saw this in a theatre I just might have. It’s a fairly terrible film, just muddy, cluttered, rushed, undercooked, unfocused and painfully mediocre. It’s directed by David Koepp, who did the awesome Secret Window based on a Stephen King yarn and with this one he’s clearly trying to evoke The Shining, it’s a breadcrumb trail of inspiration that leads down a bunch of dimly lit corridors of a spooky manor that looks like a hurricane whisked up an entire Ikea and shat it out on a hill in the Welsh countryside. Kevin Bacon plays a wealthy Hollywood type married to famous actress Amanda Seyfried (I’m not being funny, she plays a famous actress) who, um, is like two decades younger than him and it’s just creepy seeing that kind of casting decision at work. He’s got a murky, tragic past, their marriage isn’t all wine n’ roses, their daughter (Avery Tiuu Essex should be commended for outshining Bacon and Seyfried combined) picks up on the friction and things are very tense before supernatural stuff even pops up. When it does, it doesn’t make much sense narratively, borrows off more than a few better films and feels out of place. Bacon plays two characters, and the story was so willy-nilly I couldn’t tell if we were supposed to know right off the bat that it was him in both roles or not (it’s obvious). The twist has zero impact because everything before wasn’t explained to us anywhere near close to clearly enough, and the level of incomprehension is almost insulting to any viewer. Why Bacon and Seyfried would do this kind of lukewarm, flaccid excuse for a horror flick is beyond me. I will say it had some cool lighting, and a half decent atmospheric score, but beyond that? Secret Window this ain’t, You Should Leave before wasting seven bucks for this on iTunes like I did.

-Nate Hill

Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg

For a movie about a giant shark, given a giant budget, Jon Turtletaub’s The Meg is just kinda underwhelming. First off it’s PG-13, which is just not gonna do your shark attack flick any favours, I mean people wanna see sharks fucking people up and rating constraints will put a damper on that. Secondly, they just don’t do much with the infamous prehistoric megalodon other than have it jump around a bit, swallow a few people whole and arrive at a densely populated beach that looks like it was conceived by Wes Anderson’s production designer. What does work? Much of the interaction between some engaging human characters is funny, genuine and likeable. Jason Statham is great as a legendary deep sea diver who would rather just crush beers in his Thailand shanty. Robert ‘Longmire’ Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, stoic Cliff Curtis, unbelievably sexy Ruby Rose, Bingbing Li and a smarmy Rainn Wilson are fun. There’s a welcome tribal feel to the group dynamic and enthusiastic cheesiness that somehow reminded me of Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising, a much more fun ocean set creature feature. But the shark action is lifeless and just not exciting, and if the lynchpin of your film doesn’t hold the thing together all you have is what works, in this case a fun group of folks played by varied actors running around impressive sets. The rest? Boring as hell dude. There’s one cool moment when a little girl sees The Meg slowly swim up to a giant glass window underwater and lunge for her but Netflix put that as the little teaser video on the film’s main menu so it’s spoiled before you even start the thing. I’ll still take Deep Blue Sea over this tide-pool detritus any day.

-Nate Hill

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe

Don’t rob an old blind dude in Detroit, especially if the dude is Stephen Lang with an angry Rottweiler backing him up. Seriously don’t though, you don’t wanna know the consequences involving a turkey baster, a pair of scissors and a jam jar full of… I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking grim. Don’t Breathe is a pretty damn effective shocker from director Fede Alvarez, who did that Evil Dead remake that had the nerve to be way better than it should have been. In an especially derelict Detroit neighbourhood, three hapless street kids (Jane Levy, Dylan Minette and Daniel Zovatto) unwisely decide to burglarize the home of gulf war veterans Lang, who reportedly has a nice wad of cash stashed in his basement. Well.. he’s got more than that down there, let me tell you. Once he gets wind of their presence, his lithe warrior reflexes, keen hunter instincts and heightened sense of hearing make their experience between his walls a living nightmare, not to mention… other things he gets up to. Lang is the perfect actor for this because before he got super jacked for Avatar he was a pretty lanky guy, so you have this sinewy frame with sizeable muscle mass packed on, not the body type you want to be trapped in a narrow hallway with. Plus he’s just a terrific actor and plays this guy like a feral beast with touches of sorrow curdled into madness. Alvarez makes great use of his cameras here, doing long sweeping takes that utilize hallways, door frames and wide rooms, evoking David Fincher’s Panic Room just enough to garnish his own style. The acting aside from Lang is just ok; Levy does the wide eyed, tomboy Final Girl thing well, Minette is just not a naturally gifted actor and it shows, while Zovatto is saddled with horribly written lines from the Hollywood ‘this is what street punks act like’ typewriter bot and is just cartoonish. Still though, it’s a highly suspenseful effort that benefits greatly from Lang’s presence. As for the turkey baster, I’m not sure the film needed such a stark, sickening set piece (Fincher himself would squirm) but I won’t soon forget it, which I suppose is half the point. Tense stuff.

-Nate Hill

Simon Wincer’s The Phantom

I love big, bold, colourful feature film updates of vintage 1930’s pulp comic books or radio plays and Simon Wincer’s The Phantom is just an absolute blast of escapism that’ll put a smile on your face no matter what. These days Billy Zane has become kind of a forgotten comedic totem but people forget what genuine charisma and star power he once had, and he rocks it here as Kit Walker aka The Phantom, a jungle born superhero descended from a long line of Phantoms before him, thus creating the reputation of being immortal, at least in his enemy’s eyes. Clad in a swanky purple suit with dual colt pistols and joined by a horse and a trusty wolf named ‘Devil’ at his side, he’s probably one of the most aesthetic superheroes I’ve ever seen in a film and I wish this led to sequels. Here he must protect three sacred skulls with supernatural power from power mad, psychopathic NYC tycoon Xander Drax (Treat Williams), fighting side by side with intrepid reporter Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson) through a series of exciting adventure set pieces in incredibly exotic, gorgeous locations around the world. Zane is terrific and gives The Phantom just the right mixture of cavalier attitude, genuine empathy and swashbuckling magnetism, plus he rocks that suit solidly, which given this suit, not all actors could do and be taken seriously at it. Williams is a hammy hoot as Drax but his thunder is ever so slightly stolen by two terrific secondary villains: James Remar as Quill, a sort of evil doppelgänger version of Indiana Jones and Catherine Zeta Jones as Sala, an impossibly bad tempered femme fatale who has the hots for the Phantom and goes through a hilariously conflicted meltdown mid-film. The supporting roster is excellent and includes Bill Smitrovitch, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Leon Russom, Jon Tenney, David Proval, John Capodice and the great Patrick McGoohan as the ghost of Phantom’s father who appears to him as voice of counsel and occasionally wingman. I thought this was just a brilliant good time, a solid, beautifully retro old school adventure flick and I was disappointed to read that it was a box office flop. It’s like the Lone Rangers, the Indiana Joenses, The Rocketeers, the Sky Captains, just this rollicking old world American pulp hero aesthetic that translates so well into action adventure in cinema. Oh and watch for a sly reference to William Friedkin’s Sorcerer. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Bo Welch’s The Cat In The Hat

The Cat In The Hat is one of those movies that probably shouldn’t have been made, but it did get made and, well, it just kind of sits there nursing incisively negative reviews, nonexistent box office attention and quietly fading into obscurity. The problem is simply that Dr. Seuss’s material is so singularly, specifically eccentric that any attempts to adapt it into a faithful and successful film fail by default, like trying to accurately describe a dream in non-abstract terms hours after you’ve woken from it. The vernacular, the drawings, the poetry, it’s just not made for cinema other than the incredibly literal animated shorts they did narrated by Boris Karloff (The Grinch has one that imparted eons more in like ten minutes than the feature length Jim Carrey version could). It’s like your Roald Dahls, your Maurice Sendaks, your E.B. Whites etc.. Big Hollywood can just never seem to nail the transition. Mike Meyers hasn’t had the best luck in character work outside Austin Powers and Wayne’s World and unfortunately he strikes out here, mugging, contorting, quipping, creeping, crawling as the famed feline home invader, to little effect. The fleeting, surreal whimsy of Seuss’s book is lost on a Fisher Price phantasmagoria of admittedly elaborate and impressive yet ultimately hollow and cornea splitting production design. Dakota Fanning and Spencer Breslin try their best as the two kids but just kind of come across as awkward in a story that’s reduced from a quick, lighthearted parable into a cacophonous jumble of hijinks that posses neither rhyme nor reason, dual qualities that were abundant in Seuss’s volumes. Alec Baldwin is there for some reason, debasing himself as an oafish slob. I’m only really reviewing this for Kelly Preston and she’s lovely as the kid’s mom, but not in it nearly enough and forced to share most of her scenes with the tone deaf, excruciating Sean Hayes. I don’t want to shred Dr. Seuss Hollywood adaptations too viciously because they don’t all miss the mark completely (check out The Lorax for one that’s actually half decent) but the magic from his books will never be recreated onscreen, it’s just not a tangible, realistic alchemy. And I gotta say, this one has to be bottom of the barrel in terms of them all, it’s an embarrassment to the book.

-Nate Hill

Kevin McDonald’s How I Live Now

It still amazes me that Kevin McDonald’s How I Live Now didn’t endure to become a more widely known or appreciated film, because it’s one of my favourites and in my mind one of the strongest, most affecting pieces of work in recent decades. I guess it kind of comes across as this Young Adult Book adaptation if you check out the cover and trailer but the film therein is extremely honest, disarmingly disturbing and very, very brutally frank about how widespread disaster may hit any region and those who live within it. It’s not without poetry, authentic romance, beauty or hope though and there’s this beautiful, life affirming balance between light and dark that makes for the perfect mixture.

The always exceptional Saoirse Ronan stars as Daisy, an American girl who suffers from severe anxiety and feelings of alienation, sent overseas to rural UK to live with an aunt and a whole pile of cousins she’s never even met. Slowly, bit by bit she comes out of her shell and warms up to this family, especially local boy Eddie (George MacKay) who she begins to fall in love with. Gradually the place she’s in and the people she’s with start to feel like home… until something unspeakable happens. Hundreds of miles away in London, a nuclear bomb goes off, cataclysm sets in and oppressive foreign forces slowly invade across the land. Her Aunt is gone doing humanitarian crisis work and so herself and Eddie, the closest thing the family has to leaders, must embark on a cross country odyssey fraught with dread, misery, peril and bleakness everywhere they turn.

This film hits me hard because of how real the danger and horrific aspects feel, how potent and believable the acting and relationships are and how brisk yet dense, heavy yet wistful and dark yet light the story ultimately feels. This is not a children’s film and it is most definitely *not* one geared solely towards teenagers either, there’s scenes of abject horror (it’s got an R rating that it more than earns), children thrown into impossibly complex and harrowing situations beyond their comprehension and is steeped in the harsh reality that in life things can go horribly wrong and if you find something anywhere near a happy ending you’re incredibly lucky rather than owed one by a pandering narrative. Ronan and MacKay are incredibly heartfelt and genuine, their romance and resilience anchoring the whole family as well as the film. Few films with children and young adults in the forefront have the bravery and honesty to show that the world can be just as harsh to them as to any adult protagonist, and show in the same token how said youngsters can have a tremendous amount of survivalism, intuition, spirit and courage to overcome adversity and do the best in an unforgiving world. This film is light and dark to me; the womb-like, sun dappled meadows and rivers of the English countryside where these children play and begin to grow up and then the blackened, nuclear poisoned land they venture out into and must find their way back to the light from. Light and dark. The blossoming romance between Daisy and Eddie, a force of great light in the face of encroaching evil and callous destruction approaching them, and the decision to use that love as a weapon in order to get them through, no matter how it might change either of them. In this film, the light wins and I watch it whenever I need a reminder of that. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Composer’s Corner: Nate’s Top Ten Film Scores by Ennio Morricone

I don’t know what I can say about Ennio Morricone that the maestro hasn’t already said with his unique, extraordinary and altogether legendary career in music composition, direction and innovation. He’s likely in my top five film composers of all time and the tactile, eccentric, melodious, often experimental and unmistakably singular presence he brought to the industry will never be forgotten. Ennio has passed this month but his work will live on immortal, and here are my personal top ten musical scores he crafted:

10. Wolfgang Petersen’s In The Line Of Fire

Tension and suspense are what this terrific assassination thriller is all about, and Ennio rises to the occasion for a nerve jangling yet quite beautiful piece of work. Favourite track: ‘Taking the bullet’, a propulsive entry that highlights secret service Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) and the penultimate beat of his character arc.

9. Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace

This gritty neo noir sees Irish mobsters clashing in 1990’s New York City and Morricone perfectly captures the moody, smoky street aesthetic while still heavily maintaining his melodic tendencies. Favourite track: Hell’s Kitchen, a mournful urban lullaby that highlights character and setting wonderfully.

8. Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More

The holy trinity of spaghetti westerns sees Ennio pack this middle chapter with iconic passages of his gorgeously eccentric, trademark composition. Favourite track: the main title, which makes full use of boings and twangs while that trademark whistle carries on in harmony.

7. Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars

The opener and introduction to Clint Eastwood’s legendary Man With No Name, with some of the Maestro’s most recognizable work. Favourite track: Finali, with fluttery flutes and whip cracks to prove once again that our man could sample any sound under the sun and integrate it seamlessly into his work.

6. Roland Joffé’s The Mission

A period piece sees Spanish priests protecting an indigenous village from Portuguese tyranny and Ennio composed an utterly holy piece of orchestral bliss that at times sounds like an angel’s choir and soars on high. Favourite track: ‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’, one of the most moving pieces he’s ever done.

5. Sergio Corbucci’s Navajo Joe

I’ll be honest I only watched this film once and it’s a decent if severely brutal and scrappy Burt Reynolds spaghetti vehicle. The main reason I’ve included it here is because Quentin Tarantino samples much of Ennio’s work on it for Kill Bill Volume 2, which to me is an iconic film. It’s epic, bold, bleeding heart melodrama put to music. Favourite track: The Confrontation, a war cry of a finale piece that plays during crucial scenes of both Joe and Bill.

4. Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The big daddy of the Man With No Name trilogy and some of Morricone’s most prolific, well recognized work. Favourite track: The Ecstasy Of Gold, a lilting, airy composition that accents landscape and character awesomely.

3. John Carpenter’s The Thing

He goes frozen, paranoid, lonely and sketched out for this low key yet deeply unnerving piece. It’s like No Frills Ennio in the best way possible, a somewhat counterintuitive undertaking based on what he was known for, but one of the most effective, chilling horror film scores ever crafted. Favourite track: Humanity Part 2, a driving, propulsive examination of the inevitably creeping horror making itself known in the story.

2. Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West

This western epic has some of his most achingly beautiful work ever, from the melancholy main theme to the eerie Harmonica strains to the booming, impossibly epic final showdown. Favourite track: Farewell To Cheyanne, a resolute, hauntingly downbeat exodus piece for Jason Robards’s character that meanders along beautifully and always sticks in my memory when I revisit the film, which is oh so often.

1. Oliver Stone’s U Turn

I know, I know, what a choice for number one. This film means a lot to me though, it’s incredibly underrated as a breathtaking piece of avant-garde, cheerfully fatalistic noir nihilism. A sunny Arizona set neo-noir with heaps of both black comedy and deeply buried tragic pathos seems like a tall order for any composer, but Ennio could quite literally rise to any challenge. Portions of his work here are bonkers, playful, full of hyperactive zips, zooms, boings and twangs and later he brings a haunting, echoey resonance to the storied Arizona landscape and suggests layers beneath the initial set up that turn the film from surface level nihilism into something more deep, profound and thoughtful. It’s ironic that this is my favourite work he’s done because you can’t find this anywhere unless you watch the film, and I *literally* mean anywhere. YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, nada man, it’s like the ghost score that everyone forgot. Check the film out though because his work is beyond beautiful here and brings me to tears every time I view Stone’s unheralded masterpiece. Favourite track: ‘Grace’, an evocative, quietly unsettling yet gorgeous piece that echoes off the canyon walls and provides so much atmosphere you feel like you’re right there.

-Nate Hill

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was my first theatrical viewing in a while this past weekend and damn it’s great to be back in the cinema!!What impressed me most about the film (and trust me, there wasn’t a second I *wasnt* impressed) is that despite a generous two hour runtime and a steady, slow build to the bulk of the action/horror there’s never a moment that doesn’t feel taut, efficient and streamlined, even in scenes meant only to build character. The east coast town of Amity feels cozy, lived in and primed for summer as the film starts off, elegiac and wistful in that small town way that Spielberg seems to be so specific at nailing. The rest and relaxation is of course literally cut short by the arrival of a nasty great white shark with notions on gustation rather than relaxation for the duration of it’s summer, which it plans to spend devouring anyone who wades out too far from the shoreline and spewing their mangled remains all over the Cape Cod Coast. The holy trinity of shark hunting badasses slowly comes together in the form of jumpy local police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), wiry marine biologist Hooper and crusty old sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw). The film feels so damn organic from scene to scene, and the multiple nail biting shark attack sequences are laced together with genuinely touching moments of family life, charmingly benign comic relief and swashbuckling bravery in the face of both menace from the Great White and ineptitude from the dumb-tit town mayor (Murray Hamilton) and his increasingly ludicrous wardrobe. John Williams’s iconic score does it’s creepy, crawly trademark thing but also gets really classically orchestral in other sweeping vista scenes and even hits some delightfully quirky notes later on. The shark effects are never anything short of breathtaking from POV to real life footage to animatronic and whatever else Spielberg employed, I believed that thing was there for real. The three main performances are excellent with Shaw stealing the show as he often did in a playful, cantankerous and eventually quite touching portrayal of the ‘mad seaman hunter’ archetype. I especially loved a monologue he delivered with uncanny charisma about his character being aboard the ill fated USS Indianapolis back in the war, it’s a sobering (literally) piece of dialogue that simultaneously develops all three characters as one talks and two listen, strengthens their bond right before throwing them into dangerous waters and is my favourite scene of the film. I can’t think of much wrong with this picture, it’s one hundred percent effective summer blockbuster action/horror/adventure entertainment and I can see why it has become a solid gold classic. Excellent film.

-Nate Hill