Tag Archives: film

Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller

In Robert Altman‘s stunning, dreamily haunting piece of anti western melancholia McCabe & Mrs. Miller, two lost souls wander out from unseen former lives into the rugged, barely tamed Canadian Pacific Northwest and attempt to carve out their slice of enterprise from a vast, unforgiving environment. Warren Beatty’s John McCabe is a shrewd yet caustic entrepreneur whose sense of romanticism is dwindling like the stars at dawn, a man who plans to capitalize on the wants and desires of the townsfolk of frontier settlement Presbyterian Church by tent-poling a successful local whorehouse. Julie Christie’s Constance Miller is a forlorn, sharp tongued opportunist bereft of any wistful innocence, her piercing, deep set blue eyes peering out from a thicket of gingerbread curls, scanning the horizon for lucrative endeavours. Both of them seem to arrive in the Northwest as if from another dimension; no backstory save for unfounded rumours, no goals except for capitalist monopoly and no sense of wonder or lyricism save for the few shiny flecks that haven’t been rinded down by the harshness of their lives, like mountains plundered for precious gold until not but scant flakes remain amongst weathered, weary crags. They team up as any person with a good head for business will concede to do, and before they know it they’re making a pretty penny… until big money mining interests try to muscle them out. Altman shows here how capitalism was a precursor to violence and corruption even in the early days of this continent and is successful in getting across his themes but for me the real treasures of this film lie in cinematography, tangible sense of character and mood. Christie and Beatty probably give career best performances as two hardened pioneers of commerce who collectively arrive at the end of each of their respective journeys in the saddest, mournfully poetic fashions imaginable. I wish I knew these two individuals before the world made them the way they are and the snowdrifts settled into the final acts of their arc because they’re two wonderful, well rounded and unique characters. Filling out a solid supporting cast are the likes of the late Rene Auberjonois, Keith Carradine, William Devane, John Schlick, Michael Murphy, a very young Shelley Duvall and more. Altman uses unbelievably evocative wilderness photography to tell story and several aching, poignant songs by Leonard Cohen to bookend his film. It’s tough to capture the essence of this thing in a review, one has to let it wash over you, let it murmur in your ear for two hours as wood doors slam, horse drawn carriages trundle through muddy streets, wind whispers through tree lines, characters move in and out with organic disorganization like moths to and from firelight and McCabe & Mrs. Miller’s sad, introspective, beautifully ponderous story plays out. Sensational film.

-Nate Hill

Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart

I love films that show human beings close to nature, eccentric conservationists and bold, idiosyncratic individuals who value the lives of animals and the wilderness above other humans, industry or infrastructure. Philippe Mora’s A Breed Apart is a fantastic example of this, of one reclusive army veteran with severe PTSD and a tragic past named Jim Malden (the late great Rutger Hauer) who lives alone on remote Cherokee island off the coast of North Carolina, devoting his life to the care, companionship and protection of birds and any other creatures he finds. He awkwardly flirts with the local general store owner (Kathleen Turner, switching up her smoky voiced socialite persona for something more casual and earthy) and bonds with her kid. He is fiercely protective of his land and the animals that dwell there to the point of inflicting mortal wounds with a crossbow onto two idiotic, nasty hunters (Brion James and John Dennis Johnston) who shoot birds illegally. Trouble arrives in the form of rock climbing adventurer Mike Walker (Powers Boothe) who has been hired by a weird, rich collector of rare bird eggs (Donald Pleasance channeling the Penguin from Batman) to pilfer the nest of rare bald eagles on Jim’s island, rendering that species extinct. Mike isn’t a malicious or cruel man and admits that the prospect bothers him but he’s been promised two hundred grand for his troubles that will go to funding an expedition in China that is very important to him. We then have this extreme battle of wills governed by moral principles, with both actors doing phenomenal jobs. Hauer is rugged and intense as ever, hinting at a mournful past and winning us over with his compassion for animals, whether washing oil spills off of a bird’s coat or playing with cute black bear cubs in his epic tree fort. Boothe is cavalier and brash at first but we get a sense of moral centre in him as his arc goes on, this could almost be considered ‘the other environmental protection film’ he did in the 80’s and played a good guy in alongside John Boorman’s masterful The Emerald Forest. It’s a a joy to see the two actors onscreen together and a neat precursor to Sin City two decades later, where they don’t share any scenes but play brothers. Now this film had a rough time in post production, many of the reels being lost, what they’ve done to piece it together works for the most part but there are a few pacing issues that aren’t easy to brush off, as well as some really cheesy sex romp stuff but I guess it was the 80’s after all. Still, it’s a beautiful film overall, looks terrific on the Shout Factory Blu Ray, has a wonderful electronic score by Maurice Gibb and is about something that I’m very passionate towards: the care and conservation of natural habitats at all costs, and the dire consequences befalling any greedy piece of shit person who tries to exploit them. Very good film.

-Nate Hill

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