Ahh, Peter Berg’s The Rundown. What a sun soaked galavant of action fun, a purely cinematic exercise in excitement and joyous fun, a rollicking genre exercise that’s free from the rides of intellectual expectation. No, it’s nothing but playtime here, and one of the rare cases where a PG-13 rating actually doesn’t hurt an action film. It’s so lighthearted and affable that the extra bloody punch of an R rating probably would have been a jarring, unnecessary distraction and offset it’s tone. For the record, you will almost never hear me advocate that in this genre, but I suppose every issues has its extreme exceptions. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plays Beck, a rough and tumble dude who coyly disguises the title of bounty hunter by calling himself a ‘retrieval expert’. He’s essentially a big teddy bear with the ability to rip out your stuffing and kick the ever loving shit out of anyone whose demise will earn him a pay cheque. He doesn’t like using guns, and every cent he makes goes towards a dream of opening up his own restaurant. Pretty much the most adorable action hero you can imagine. He is sent by an Miami crime lord (William Lucking hamming it up royally) to retrieve his wayward son (Sean William Scott) who has run off to an unspecified tropical country. Beck jumps a plane and runs off to said country to give us one of the most pleasently riotous action/comedy/adventure of the 00’s. His pursuit of Scott leads him to endless picturesque jungles, horny baboons, invincible native Kung fi warriors and more. Scott turns out to be an elusive wise – ass who is nothing but calamity for both Beck and himself. The scenes where they try the dodgy local fruit are rewind worthy. He really shines here, bringing the same burn-down-the-house attitude he did as Stiffler. There’s also a priceless artifact that everyone is trying to retrieve, including a tough local bartender (Rosario Dawson). There’s also a villain, as there must be in any action film, a bugnuts local tyrant named Hatcher played by the one and only Christopher Walken. Hatcher is a wonderful Walken creation whose attempted menace is constantly undone by his penchent for silliness, a winning combination that super-charges every scene he gets. That lanky Scotsman Ewan Bremer is wicked funny as a deranged bush pilot who assists Beck in unintelligible endearance. Hearing him vivaciously recite Dylan Thomas’s ‘Dying Of The Light’ right before a big old gunfight kicks off is absolute gold. Dwayne makes nice work of the action hero archetype, bringing an almost adolescent buoyancy to his vibe that he may even have not seen coming when he got into the craft. There’s a surprise cameo from a genre titan early on in the film that is essentially a passing of the torch symbol, so eyes should be kept peeled. Director Berg knows how to wow an audience in many a genre, this being my favourite excursion of his thus far. It’s loud, scenic, unapologetic and has fun six ways to fucking Sunday.
“Let us go then, you and I,
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
This excerpt from the poem ‘The Love Of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by Eliot is our theme for a film called Till Human Voices wake us, a film I’ve owned on dvd for almost two years and only got around to watching last night. I have a whole gigantic stack of films that number in the hundreds which I still have to conquer. Some are dodgy movies and risky looking indie muck that I picked up because they have an actor or actress I really love. Some end up being absolute gems that I wish I got around to far, far sooner. This is one of those. It’s such a beautiful story, an atmospheric, airy glance into grief, regret, life after death, guilt and redemption. It stars Guy Pearce as Sam, an emotionally constrained professor of psychology who travels back to his town of origin in eerie, ambient Australia to bury his recently deceased father. The very moment he arrives he is flooded with memories both glad and sad, permeated deep to his core by a past that he perhaps purposefully numbed over with time and tide, revisiting the lost events of a youth painted by wonder and first love, and tainted by aching tragedy. We see in flashbacks his younger self (Lindley Joiner) barely a teenager in the lonely rural outback. He spent his days back then with his beautiful friend Sylvie (Brooke Harmon), and the two fall deeply, sublimely in love in that affectionate way that only two youngsters who are both experiencing it for the first time can profess. Tragedy strikes though, resulting in Sylvie’s death and Sam’s withdrawal from his life in the that town, and eventual flight from Australia, not to return until over a decade later, much older yet still plagued by the loss. Upon returning, he meets a mysterious girl named Ruby (Helena Bonham Carter) who he saves from jumping off a bridge. All she can remember is her name. Nothing else like who she is or what she was doing up there. Sam takes her in and tries to help her figure out who she is, and perhaps unbeknownst to him, who he is these days as well. Together they meander through meadows memories, exploring each other’s thoughts, perceptions and feelings, gradually coming to some third act revelations that really shouldn’t come as a surprise to any viewer with an ounce of intuition. The surprise comes not in being taken off guard by plot turns, because I certainly wasn’t. No, the film never sets out to try and surprise you, and guessing what’s going on before any reveal I suspect was part of its plan. What it floored me with, though, is the level of emotion and heights of pure crestfallen sadness that we need to sit through. I say need because this is a film about coming to terms with ones own past, hard parts and all. Sam has bottled up the loss of Sylvie for quite some time, and his character arc lets it all tumble out in some scenes that hit hard. It’s never ugly or despairing though, and gracefully makes itself only as sorrowful as it needs to be. Pearce and Carter are painfully good in the leads, quietly devastating work for both. It’s Harmon and Joiner who complete the song as young Sylvie and young Sam though, two young actors who are uncommonly good on camera and vastly skilled at imparting the raw, reckless and romantic nature of youth, particularly discovering love for the first time, and subsequently losing it in heartbreak that strikes far too soon, like an early summer storm. This is one I’m imagining not too many people have heard of, and one I might have gone a few more years without seeing if I hadn’t randomly decided to watch it last night. I’m glad I did, and you should too.
It’s refreshing that in an age populated by revisionist westerns and snazzy new takes on the ancient genre, some filmmakers just want to play it straight and deliver a good old oater without any newfangled bells and whistles. Jon Cassar’s Forsaken does just that, arriving a few years late (turbulent post production issues) but in modest, simple form, here to tell the age old tale of one man who stands up to some evil frontier bankers with stoic heroism. Kiefer Sutherland is John Henry Clayton, a man who has been away from his quiet hometown for nearly a decade. Following a traumatic stint in the war, circumstance led him into the life of the gunfighter. His unannounced return home stirs up old wounds in his preacher father (Donald Sutherland) who cringes in the very presence of his violent aura. John has thrown down the guns and sworn never to pick them up again, but we all know that just ain’t true, and when he meets a certain group of unsavory dudes in town, he becomes a time bomb of righteous anger that’s liable to go off any time. He spends some time mourning his mother and reconnecting with a lost love (Demi Moore), until the inevitable conflict brews. Corrupt banker James McCurdy (Brian Cox) is buying up farms and forcing families who don’t want to sell off their land, using despicable methods carried out by his two goons, vicious Frank Tillman (Aaron Poole) and mercurial ‘Gentleman’ Dave Turner (Michael Wincott). Tensions arise and everyone finds themselves headed for an unavoidable and blistering conclusion. Kiefer always has a jagged rage simmering just below the surface, which is what made him so perfect as Jack Bauer, another time bomb. He’s downright implosive here, delivering the best work I’ve ever seen him give. He’s got a touching scene with his father in which he goes to places I didn’t know he was capable of in his work. Donald is quiet, resentful and compassionate, wrestling internally to keep his serenity in the face of injustice. Cox always puts on a good show as the villain, and he’s exactly what he needs to be here: beaurocratic menace with just a dash of swagger. It’s Wincott who steals the show though, with the best work in the film. He inhabits Dave (and his incredibly dapper costume) with a relaxed, lupine calm, punctuated by sudden bursts of danger and always presided over by the midnight black, raspy croon of a voice that makes him so special. He jaunts along the line between villain and sympathetic antihero so well, the only character in the film to shirk the archetypes, and I was please try reminded of Jason Robard’s Cheyenne from Once Upon A Time In The West. His best work in a while as well, but then he’s always perfect. The film is refreshingly violent in its gunplay, with an earned brutality that never feels gratuituous, and always satisfying. The production took place in wildest alberta, a trip worth the taking for the breathtaking scenery we get to feast on, especially in an opening credit sequence that is very reminiscent of Eastwood films of yesteryear. It’s a landmark in the sense that although both Kiefer and Donald have been in the same film before (Joel Schumacher’s underrated A Time To Kill) they never have shared the same frame until now. Trust me, it was worth the wait. They are both excellent, along with their peers in a simple, honest to goodness Western film that should please fervent fans of the genre and moviegoers alike.
Folks, this is one for the books. Ever wish there was a film made about a badass, gun slinging vampire who is secretly contracted by the President of the United States (Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert) to carry out dangerous missions and thwart evil Islamic terrorists? Well your very specific and demented wish just came true. Imagine for a moment that John Carpenter, Joe Dante and Michael Bay got hammered one night and wrote the most ridiculous script for a horror action comedy this century has seen. The resulting treatise would be Blood Shot, an absolute hoot of a flick that combines elements that wouldn’t be caught dead (or undead) together in any other setting but that of the gloriously unrestricted world of the B movie. The President uses a craggy operative named Sam (ever brilliant Lance Henriksen) to brief the Vampire in question (Michael Bailey Smith) on his missions. He is to hunt down violent Islamic rebels, led by a dude called Bob. Bob is Arabic. Bob is played by Brad Dourif, who is white as a sheet, but here shows up caked in brown makeup and hollering away in the most idiotic accent I’ve ever heard. His casting alone is just hysterical, and should drive the social activists up the wall screaming, while the rest of us howl in with laughter. His character is called Bob because of everyone’s inability to pronounce his real arabic name which is a mile long and completely nonsensical. His crew are terrorists straight from a Mel Brooks film, complete with a midget amongst them. There’s also a lone hero cop (Brennan Eliott channels the hotshot, reckless law enforcers of 80’s movies) hunting both the terrorists and the Vampire, getting in everyone’s way and capping anything that moves. The fact that Highlander plays the President in a film about a Vampire who hunts down terrorists named Bob should be more than enough for any self respecting film fan to drop whatever they’re doing and go bask in this baby’s glow. Despite being a direct to video flick, it contains not a trace of the trademark ineptitude and shoddiness that you’re always likely to find when exploring the genre. Campiness and lunacy, oh yes. But never mediocrity or laziness. But that’s what your friendly neighborhood Nate is here for, to wade through the unwatchable sludge and mine out the priceless gems for you all to see. This one’s funny, imaginitive, off the wall and a pint of B positive fun.
Passion Of Mind is a little seen fantasy romance tale that stars Demi Moore as a woman named Marie, essentially living double lives in a way. She lives and works in New York, and is as ordinary as any other woman in the world, but when she goes to sleep she wakes up to another life in the French countryside, with another job and children who aren’t in New York. She lives a day in the French life, goes to sleep, wakes up back in the New York life and lives for another day before going to sleep and back again. And so it goes. Is one life a dream? Or both? Is she imagining things, or stuck in some rift? To complicate things, as always happens in film, there are two men, one for each life. Aaron (William Fichtner) is a kind, caring businessman in the New York life who she begins a relationship with. In France she meets compassionate, romantic William (Stellen Skarsgard) who she also begins to fall for. Quite the predicament, no? If the premise sounds familiar to you, here’s why: there was a short lived NBC drama called Awake which ran for one season, starred Jason Isaacs and had the exact same setup. Now while the show obviously borrowed it’s central plotline from this film, it’s no big deal because it’s such a great idea it deserves more than just one shot. The film is quiet, pleasent and sweet, never really taking steps to explain it’s concept but simply letting it’s characters live within it in perplexed, whimsical harmony. Moore has an inherent sweetness to her and she’s wonderful here. One might think a protagonist who is put through a scenario would be confused, stressed out and damaged. Moore plays it her own way, as she always had. Her character is enchanted by her situation, if a little wary. Skarsgard and Fichtner are left field choices for romantic leads, as both are kind of considered character actors with stark, specific looks. Both play it straight here and their casting helps the film loads. Marie has two separate therapists, each from one of the lives (an element which the NBC show used as well), played by Joss Ackland and Peter Riegart. It’s not to serious, not too fluffy, just the right kind of low key romance with an imaginitive streak and a high concept that fits neatly into the story.
Things We Lost In The Fire takes an unblinking look at addiction, recovery, redemption, grief and the ways in which various people cope with all of the above. It shirks the dramatic stereotypes and instead shoots for realism, or at the very least, an unpredictable narrative within a genre that often follows rigid blueprints. It also contains two exceptional performances from Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro. Berry plays Audrey Burke, mourning the loss of her husband Brian (David Duchovny could write a textbook on understated acting that cuts deep) to a really unfortunate accident. The last minute arrival of his longtime best friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro) adds a new element to the family’s grieving process. Jerry is an ex lawyer who is now addicted to heroin. Brian stood by him for many years, never judging or intervening but simply being there to spend time with, and look out for his friend. Duchovny appears in multiple flashbacks with both Berry, Del Toro and his two remarkable children (Micah Berry and Alexis Llewellyn) that instil a lingering presence that not so much casts a shadow over everything, but brightens and flavours it with memories. Audrey is unspeakably lonely and devastated, and despite the fact that she despised Jerry and what he represented for years, invites him to live in their garage, in flat out pure desperate instinct, and probably in an attempt to be closer to Brian after he’s gone, by bringing what was close to him closer to her. Jerry is great with the kids, supportive and wants to change, even accepting employment assistance from their kindly neighbour (excellent John Carroll Lynch). The demons do their best to pull him back though, as is their purpose, and a rift forms as we begin to see that Audrey has not fully accepted Brian’s death and is in the throes of miserable confusion. Director Susanne Bier uses many intimate close ups of eyes, hair, smiles and frowns to bring us into the mindset of her characters, a tactic which works wonders here and keeps minds and hearts of her audience glued to the proceedings. Berry is dynamite, pure and simple. The finest acting moment I’ve ever seen from her comes deep from the gut and late in the third act, an agonizing moment in which she has a splintering realization that her husband is gone for good, that final, resolute place that sinks in and grabs hold which we’ve all heard about from family members or news stories in which loss of loved ones has played a part. I don’t know if Berry has experienced this for herself in her own personal life, but she sure damn well embodies it here with every ragged sob, and it cast her in an entirely new light for me. Del Toro is Brando-esque, a shambling, unshaven pit of insecurity and inner turmoil, giving Jerry the mutilated soul he deserves without ever dipping in self pity, given the phoenix treatment and rising from the ashes of his longtime affliction simply by being exposed to Audrey and the kids. One would think that the relationship between Audrey and Jerry might end up going into romantic territory, but Bier and company is more interested in the road less travelled, showing us a story which unravels in a way that’s much more akin to believability. Between her directorial skills, Berry and Del Toro’s virtuoso work, this is not one to miss.
There needs to be more films about mental illness that treat the subject with the vital care and compassion that Frankie & Alice does. It should be re-titled ‘The Halle Berry and Stelllen Skarsgard Show’, because for just over 90 minutes the two of them give some of the bravest, challenging work of their career in telling this story. Granted, it takes a few liberties with what we know about multiple personality disorder and what still to this day lurks in the shadows of the vast human consciousness, but it’s in service to character and story and is never exploitative. This film was made in 2010 and mired in distribute hell for nearly four years before dropping off of a most unceremonious assembly line into weak marketing. No one I’ve asked has even heard about it, which is a shame because it’s Berry at her most shattering, sexy and charismatic, and it’s somewhat based on a true story as well. She plays Frankie here, a wayward exotic dancer prone to destructive episodes in which Alice, an alternative personality, takes over and wreaks havoc in her personal life. Alice is a racist, southern white girl and Frankie is a black stripper in 1970’s New York. You can imagine the predicament. She ends up in a psychiatric halfway house under the care of Dr. Oz (Stellen Skarsgard) a man who is not remotely familiar with the term ‘giving up’. He sees the issues with Frankie clear as day, where his shirt tucking colleagues (Matt Frewer and Brian Markinson) are skeptical and impatient with his process. Oz is trying to unlock the secrets of Franki’s mind through the knowledge of each alter personality, all of whom are related to a tragic incident in her past that we get brief, fractured glimpses of through the broken prism of her mind. Director Geoffrey Sax keeps the melodrama to an agreeable minimum and let’s his two leads feel their way through the work both through each other and the material. Berry and Skarsgard have never been better, setting one another alight with the kind of chemistry many lead pairs can only dream of. Berry writhes with fury, confusion and loneliness, her coherence a flower that begins to bloom when Oz shows her kindness and the desire to really help her, something which. O one has ever done for her before in life. Skarsgard is an interesting guy because he’s equally great at inhabiting cold, sociopathic villains (King Arthur, Ronin) and he’s also compassion manifest when he wants to be (Passion Of Mind, Powder Keg). The performance he gives here radiates with warmth and assurance, a lighthouse in the fog of Frankie’s illness. Newcomer Vanessa Morgan is also excellent as the 16 year old version of Frankie, caught in a hailstorm of racism and sadness that no doubt are the seeds for her future condition. I’d love to know more about the real story of Frankie, and see how it contrasts with the film. Even if the differences are great and the liberties taken are considerable, we are in the end left with a superbly made film that takes mental illness head on and is one step further in erasing the stigma. A film that’s woefully unseen, so,etching I hope this review will change.