If Quentin Tarantino has achieved anything in his love letters to the spaghetti western genre, it’s his notable subtraction of the noodles from aforementioned dish, leaving decadent swaths of scarlet marinara sauce to be flung about the screen as blazing bullets rock various characters to their bones, sending blood all over the place in quantities that defy physics or biology. He did it with Django, and he does it again with The Hateful Eight, a somber, simmering snow opera that fell just south of winning me over entirely. Don’t get me wrong: there’s much merit to be found here, and as usual QT has a solid gold ear for dialogue that is as pleasing to the ear as Ennio Morricone’s unusually restrained, palm sweating score. He also shows his uncanny knack for chasing awesome actors out of the woodwork and casting them in his films. In his attempts to resurrect 70mm panavision he has achieved undisputed success. I’m also a sucker for both Agatha Christie style mysteries and snowbound locations (and what locations!!), both of which are in abundance here. And yet.. something just didn’t quite click for me, story wise. Perhaps it’s the fact that trailers had worked my imagination up to imposible heights of intrigue that couldn’t be brought to the table with this tale. In that regard, I suppose it’s my own fault. In any case, the eventual revelations just didn’t feel as profound and fitting after having sat through the endless, tantalizing set up. But oh, what a set up. QT deliberately marinates his characters in a stew of unease and malcontent, each player a grizzled picture of vague evil intent, firing missiles of distrust and loathing at one another until the ill will is as thick as the snow drifts they fight through. In the throes of a gathering blizzard, bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell in a sly nod of the head to beloved R.J. Macready, only saltier and far meaner) leads shackled prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh in the best performance of the film) to the town of Red Rock, to be hung. Along the way, and with much chatter, he picks up two stragglers: pissy fellow hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L.Jackson) and one Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins). They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, an oasis in the sea of winter, where four other undesirables have already shacked up in refuge: Owaldo Mobrey (Tim Roth earns his keep and then some) a self proclaimed hangman with some serious pep in his step, crusty confederate Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), Bob the Mexican (Demian Bichir is restrained comic perfection) and dangerous looking cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen, that gravel voiced wildcat, is always awesome). They all hunker down to ride out the storm and quickly begin to realize that one or more amongst them isn’t who they say they are, and there’s devilry afoot. Sound intriguing? It did to me too, and I can’t say much about what exactly let me down without giving stuff away, but it just felt like such a pedestrian knockoff of a second act after the absolute slow burning joy of a guessing game which preceded it. Maybe it’s a bit like a Christmas present: you spend months in a giddy daze wondering what you’ll get, you get there christmas morning and there your present is: shiny, gleaming and filled with endless possibility, but unmistakably shaped by your specific anticipation of what lays within. You open your present… and there it is, mystery evaporated, no longer a present but an actual object, or in this case a story that you must wrestle with to appease the lingering wonder of what you expected, as opposed to what you got. I know it’s too much to expect every film to be that perfect christmas present that is as satisfying wrapped as unwrapped, but with QT’s stuff I feel I always act that way a bit, having pictured my definitive version of the films before having seen them, and feelng somewhat underwhelmed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it: It’s chock full of macabre surprises, earnest performances and expectedly nasty violence. Jennifer Jason Leigh owns as Daisy, a frothing feral beast. Leigh has no shortage of courage in taking on courageous, unflattering roles, and she dives right into this one with fists and teeth clenched, eyes narrowed and a steely will to survive. It’s truly a blessing to see her on the big screen again and I hope to see more in the future. There’s one casting decision which almost ruined the last act for me. I won’t spoil it here but the ‘actor’ in question is so unbelievably untalented and sticks out like ten sore thumbs in his ineptitude, really making me wonder about QT’s sanity. The rest of the cast makes up for it in spades though, particularly Madsen, Roth and Russell. Goggins also gets loads to do and does it with grinning flair that would make Boyd Crowder proud. The cinematography by legendary Robert Richardson is staggeringly beautiful. The wintry Vistas sweep by in splendor, eventually moving inward to the firelit cabin where everything has a burnished, lived-in texture that’s transfixing to look at. If only the story had the weight and impact I was expecting, I could have given this glowing accolades, but there’s always next time. Gorgeous Tarantino outing with a cast that chomps at the bit relentlessly, and although it ultimately falls short, it’s quite the piece of cinema all the same.
It’s hard for me to fully express the staggering impression that Room left on me using only the written word, but I’ll have a go at it anyway. First I’ll say that it’s hands down my favourite film of the year thus far, and I left the theatre with many emotions swelling in me, affected in a way the only a small group of films have been able do for me. It’s a patient, mature study in psychology and a sweeping symphony of complicated emotions revolving around a terrible, tragic situation that seems like a well of hurt and pain until in climbs it’s way out into a tenderly heartfelt, incredibly life affirming resolution that never dips into half assed melodrama and feels earned and appropriate. The film casts such a powerful spell that it briefly changed the concept of time for me; Upon arriving near the end, I felt as if years had actually passed for me in theatre since I embarked on the film’s journey. The camera, script and actors kept me so intimately close to the characters for the duration of the piece and made me love and care for them so much that it brought me right into their timeline with an intimacy that rarely happens for me in cinema. Now on to the actors. What brave, compelling work from every single performer on screen, right down to the bit parts. Every role castes with a sharp eye for detail and reverent contemplation of who is right for what, creating a roster of heavy hitters and up and comers to be reckoned with. Brie Larson gives a beyond award worthy turn as Joy, a girl who was kidnapped at a young age and held captive by a horrible man (Sean Bridgers, displaying smouldering volatility in terrifying proportions) who impregnates her. She raises the child in the dour, tiny garden shed he keeps her in. Faced with the unthinkable task of creating a nurturing environment for her little one, she tells him that the shed is ‘Room’, their kingdom, and that the people he sees on their little TV are fake, imparting that they and their captor are the only real ones and there is no outside world. This reminds just how mouldable our minds are when we are small, and the film beautifully explores the psychological ramifications of how we raise our young, how nature vs. nurture comes into play in startling ways during the darkest of times, and the decisions we are forced to make on our own to ensure that our children are safe, even when things have gone beyond wrong, as they have for the poor girl. Old Nick, as she nicknames their captor, rapes her every few days, and treats the two of them like animals. Her son Jack reaches an age where escape becomes vital in his mothers eyes, and she takes her chance, orchestrating a harebrained ditch effort to break free, which is my favourite sequence of the film. It’s also one of the most tension filled, seat gripping scenes I’ve ever seen, as the character buildup has set our personal stakes epically high, which co,vines with the excellent set up makes for a clammy nightmare of an escape. The director makes the fascinating choice not to us any music at all until they reach freedom, which I noted. As soon as they are out, I let out a cathartic, audible sigh of relief, as the dank hell they undeservedly spent almost a decade in gives way to a vibrant, strange new world for little Jack. The camera takes his perspective and pores over every aspect of the outside realm with the patience and curiosity it takes to place us in his psyche, a child viewing the world in its entirety and true form for the very first time, essentially a second birth, a theme which the film handles marvellously. I must speak about Jacob Tremblay, a Vancouver native who plays Jack and gives the most soul wrenching performance I’ve ever seen from a child actor. The levels of sheer intuition and innocent truth he infuses in his work at such a young age are just unbelievable, and he should be in the riding for Oscar gold as well. Larson and him have uncanny chemistry, the love shown in the early scenes a blooming Rose of hope that fends off the looming darkness they dwell in, which is tested by the inevitable complications they face upon entering the real world once again. Larson burst onto the scene with 21 Jump Street and Don Jon, fun but inconsequential fluff. Here she shows us that she means business, and wants to tell stories that are important, and show audiences what it means to be human through her work. I look forward to where this extraordinary girl takes us in her next cinematic journey. Joan Allen makes subtly heartbreaking work as Joy’s mother, William H. Macy is briefly present as her Dad, Tom McCamus makes compassionate work of her stepdad and like I said, everyone else is superb, right down to the day players. I was crippled by emotion and raw with nerve jangling suspense after this one, exiting the theatre soaring on the high I eternally strive for in my cinematic adventures. The fact that only one theatre in Vancouver is playing this one is an affront to the universe. Get down to Tinseltown and see this one before it’s gone. You’ll thank me.
Excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Wayne Duvall. Wayne has made awesome appearances in many films including O Brother Where Art Thou?, Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, Pride And Glory, Lincoln, Apollo 13, Edge Of Darkness, Duplicity, In The Valley Of Elah, Evolution, Hard Rain, Tony Scott’s The Fan, Baja, Disclosure, Falling Down and more. He’s also done stellar work in many TV shows including Fargo, Macguyver, Gotham, HBO’s The Leftovers, Elementary, He’ll On Wheels, Boardwalk Empire, Hawaii Five-0, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU, CSI, The West Wing and done voice work for video games including Max Payne 3 and Hitman: Blood Money. Enjoy!
Nate:What led you to acting? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did it take you by surprise?
Wayne: When I was 5 years old I found out that I had a cousin who was a professional actor. I couldn’t believe that was a job. It just didn’t compute for me. My cousin’s mom used to call us when he was going to be on. We would gather around the TV and watch him. The shows were Combat!, The FBI, The Defenders. It was so cool. I knew that was what I wanted to do. Oh, my cousin, he did pretty well……Robert Duvall.
Nate: Some favourite actors/filmmakers/films who have inspired your work?
Wayne: The big influence was cousin Bobby. Others who inspire me for there truth are Sean Penn, Oscar Isaac, Gary Oldman, Kate Blanchett, Robin Wright. Directors Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Paul Haggis, George Clooney and most definitely The Coen Brothers. There are many others but these are the ones off the top of my head.
Nate: O Brother Where Art Thou: How Wayne experience for you working on that film, alongside the Coen Brothers, and creating that memorable Homer Stokes?
Wayne: That was a magical experience. My first day was the big scene where I get carried out on a rail. Every star was there that day and the main part was me! This was my biggest film part to date and I just remember thinking, “you can’t play it safe”. So I just jumped. I was so supported by everyone. The Coens were fantastic. I was very fortunate to have that as my first big gig.
Nate: Prisoners: Your experience on that film? Working with director Denis Villeneuve? Are you a fan of the film?
Wayne: I’m a huge fan of Prisoners! Denis was amazing as was Jake Gyllenhaal, who I definitely add to the list of influential actors. Denis let’s you improvise and it was so freeing. Jake is a master and will go down as one of the best we have. He’s so grounded in truth. He’s a master craftsman. Working with both Denis and Jake was such a wonderful experience
Nate: Some of your favourite characters you have played in your career so far?
Wayne: Homer Stokes was obviously a fav. I loved playing the Coach in Leatherheads. Lovably dim. That movie was a blast! Clooney is an amazing director. I just played a fun character in the movie Wolves coming out next year. It stars Michael Shannon and Carla Gugino. I played a basketball coach which was a dream role for me. The first 20 years of my life was more focused on playing basketball than anything else. It was so much fun taking that knowledge and using it in my current work. I been fortunate to have played some wonderful characters.
Nate: Do you enjoy doing voice work? How does it compare to live action film?
Wayne: The voice work I do is mostly for commercials. It’s fairly easy and is done mostly for the money. I’ve not done any animated films which I would love to get into. I’ve heard they are a blast.
Nate: Pride And Glory: A very underrated little cop thriller and one of my favourite films you have been in. How was that experience for you?
Wayne: Pride and Glory was great fun, but sadly a lot of my favorite stuff got cut. Gavin O’Connor is one of those uber talented artists who believes in collaboration. One of my favorite moments was when he felt a scene he wrote for Jon Voight and I wasn’t good enough and asked Jon and I to go off and see if we could come up with something. So there I am at about 2am on a Queens Street with the legendary Jon Voight, improv-ing a scene. It didn’t make it in. Jon and I had a whole story line of being good friends that was cut from the film. It was a good decision on Gavin’s part. It wasn’t needed. Loved that film.
Nate: I noticed your credits are all acting. Have you ever considered writing or directing your own material at all? Branching out?
Wayne: I’ve tried writing and it’s just too frustrating. I’m pretty good with characters and dialogue, but that whole plot thing keeps getting in the way. Directing is something I think I’d like to try. Thankfully, acting has been keeping me busy. Maybe one day. i wouldn’t want to direct and star in something that would be too much for me.
Nate: Thank you so much for chatting and for your time Wayne! Keep up the incredible work!
The late Tony Scott and Denzel Washington collaborated on five films, the second last of which is underrated sci fi thriller Deja Vu. It contains Scott’s trademark visual style, all skitchy sketchy frames, deliriously rapid editing and deep, gorgeously saturated colours that pisses a lot of people off in its garish, flippant aesthetic. I for one love his style, and here he is coming down off the high that was his masterpiece, Domino, exercising restraint that was no doubt mandated by the studio bigwigs. Nevertheless, the same unmistakably heightened forces of filmmaking that flow through the veins of this crackling thriller can be found in most of his work, just in smaller doses here. The film tackles a lot in its unassuming narrative, from terrorist bombing, an elliptical story that’s put in an otherworldly trance by a plot point involving a high tech time travel capability, and a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrant that somewhat sneaks up on you. During a captivating opening credit sequence, we see a horrific explosion onboard a navy transport ferry in the New Orleans harbour, killing over five hundred people including women and children. ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Washington) is called in to investigate, and before long his cunning intuition catches the eye of FBI Agent Pryzwara (an unusually calm Val Kilmer) who is spearheading a very hush hush investigative technique that’s being used to track the terrorist in the days leading up to the incident. What Kilmer doesn’t tell him is the mind-bending metaphysical implications of it, but keener Denzel gets wise to their act, and throws himself headlong into a quest to stop the bomber, save the mysterious Claire (Paula Patton, just phenomenal) who was murdered and has ties to the event, and reverse time. Denzel is an implosive wrecking ball of determination, his ingenuity and reserve made me wonder why Carlins career aspirations stopped short of the ATF. I don’t know why Patton isn’t in more films (she recently starred alongside Denzel again in the super fun 2 Guns), she brings a battered resilience to her work, and is a radiant beauty to boot. Peppy gerbil Adam Goldberg is the obligatory one liner spewing techie who’s got more going on than his exterior may read, and Bruce Greenwood is all stern bluster as the FBI honcho in charge. This film doesn’t often come up in discussions of either Denzel’s or Scott’s greatest hits, but it’s ripe for rediscovery and praise. Propulsive action, far fetched sci fi intrigue that’s hard to digest and follow, yet simultaneously wicked fun, and like I said before an emotional core that takes you by surprise. There’s a sentence that I internally intone to myself whenever I see a film, or aspects within a film that fire up my adrenal glands, tear ducts or simply rouse my soul. Be it a banger of an action sequence, a romance that hits all the right notes, a good old fashioned fantastical invention or visual flights of fantasy that stir wonder within me. That sentence is “This is why I watch movies”. I get no greater pleasure in my cinematic escapades than being able to say that to myself as my heart pumps to the tune of whatever grand spectacle I’m witnessing before me onscreen. I can tell you, the sentence was uttered while watching this one, and now that I think of it, pretty much every film in Scott’s portfolio. Highly recommended.
I used to own a copy of Richard Rush’s Color Of Night, and I could kick myself in the teeth for ever pawning it in times of financial despair. It’s one of the steamiest, wackiest and most ludicrous erotic thrillers that the 90’s has to offer. I’m not kidding, this one navigates its way to the edge of the map of believability and logic, and with a knowing wink, dives headlong right off the edge of it into realms of sweaty, sexy excess, characters so strange they seem to be from a looney toons episode directed by David Lynch, and a preposterous story that has to be seen to be disbelieved. That’s not to say I don’t like it; I love the hot mess and yearn for a re-watch, just as soon as I track down a dvd. Bruce Willis eases into the erotic tropes with gusto that would make Michael Douglas proud, playing color blind psychiatrist Bill Capa who gets a nerve shake-up when a distraught female patient (Kathleen Wilhouette in a cameo of gushing melodrama) takes a suicidal swan dive out of his forty story office to the NYC streets below. Soon after, he’s tasked with taking over a support group previously run by a colleague (Scott Bakula) who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The group is populated by several oddball weirdos, one of whom may be the one who offed the good doctor Bakula. There’s tortured ex cop Buck (Lance Henriksen, always welcome and one of the only performers who takes things seriously here), OCD weasel Clark (Brad Dourif) and a host of others, all competing as to who can be the strangest red herring in the proceedings. Capa soon finds himself sexually involved with the impossibly sultry Rose (Jane March). And when I say sexually, I. Mean. Sexually. It’s hard to reach the clawing levels of heightened on-screen copulation that this baby throws at us without slipping into outright parody, and indeed sometimes it feels like we’re watching the 9/12 Weeks spoof scene in Hot Shots Part 1. It helps though, that March is breathtakingly sexy and spends a solid slice of the film absolutely in the nude, and slathered with all kinds of fluids, bodily and other. What doesn’t help? Willis’s grizzly bear fur coat of a torso and the moment where he bears his wee willy winker dinker in naked glory, making sure that anyone who didn’t quite get that image burned into their retinas with a similar scene in Pulp Fiction gets a glorious second chance here. Oh goody. Anyways, between bouts of feral coitus, Willis and March navigate treacherous waters to smoke the killer out and save their skins. They also get bothered by a bumbling detective (vivacious Ruben Blades) that would make Columbo proud. Supporting work is also provided by Kevin J. O Connor, Shirley Knight, Erick Avari, Eric Lasalle and Lesley Ann Warren who add extra incredulity to gild the already silly tone. It’s large. It’s loud. It’s oiled up. It’s a really unbelievable piece of violent eroticism, and despite everything… I loves me some Color Of Night.
Before John Carpenter’s Halloween, there was Black Christmas, and no it’s not a Tyler Perry holiday special. It’s a slick little slasher set in a 1970’s sorority house during Christmas break, when many of the girls have gone home. Suddenly mysterious phone calls start to plague the ones still there, and one by one a murderous, unseen prowler starts to murder them. The phone calls themselves aren’t overly threatening, but instead sound like the nonsensical babbling of someone who is a couple reindeer short of a sleigh, making them all the scarier. I remember watching this years ago and being far more creeped out at the phone calls rather than the actual murders. That is a perfect example of using atmosphere to get under your audience’s skin rather than straight up gore, and a testament to the fright films of the 70’s and 80’s, which really seemed to have all the atmosphere vs. gore dials in the right positions. This positively drips with tension and ambience. The silences in between screams are almost deafening in their vacuous anticipation of terror to come, and strange as it sounds, there’s actually a nice Christmas-y feeling in places where the fear hasn’t yet struck, despite it being a horror movie. Olivia Hussey plays Jess, the main target of the killer with appropriate wide eyed intensity, Margot Kidder is briefly seen as the house mother, and horror regular John Saxon shows up as a suspicious Police Chief as well. I’d say this one achieves a state of suspense and atmosphere that can step up to the same plate as Halloween any day, it’s just a little overlooked I suppose. The house they are in is the perfect setting, a sprawling Yuletide manor of creaky hallways, desolated basements, dark, dingy attic space and an uneasy thrum of awaiting gloom that gives the words Silent Night a new meaning. The poor girls just never know when a shrill telephone ring will slice through the eerie corridors, forcing them to answer it and hear an unnerving voice warble out “It’s me, Billy” on the other end.
PS: avoid the remake at all costs. It takes everything that was creepy and restrained about this classic and turns it into a disgusting nightmare.
Recently myself and a good friend of mine, Mo Barrett, have begun to craft special ‘interactive’ video summaries of some of our favourite darker, more challenging films. This installmeant sees us look at Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, a terrific. Option picture which we both have a mutual love for. Please click the link below and enjoy!
Bringing Out The Dead
Created By Mo Barrett and Nate Hill, with thanks to the support of Frank Mengarelli and Nick Clement of Podcasting Them Softly.