Tag Archives: films

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels is a film that asks the viewer to accept hard truths: that any given human being is capable of maliciousness, compassion, mistakes, volatility, naïveté and the desire to do better within the same lifetime. It presents to us an ensemble of small town characters at penultimate crossroads of their lives where decisions will be made that cannot be unmade, and may shape both their futures and our perceptions of character but we must remember… they’re only human. Resisting the urge to use any sort of filmmaking gimmickry, Green forges a blunt, unforgiving yet unusually honest portrait of these people: Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale give heartbreaking, career best performances as hopelessly dysfunctional divorced parents who lose their way both as a unit and as individuals following the tragic death of their infant daughter. This event spirals out around them into the community as we see murder, adultery, budding teen romance and all manner of human interaction transpire. Rockwell is a careening time bomb of emotional immaturity, a man who loves his ex wife and loved his daughter dearly but cannot reconcile his own mental health issues and his performance implodes upon itself like a dying star in a work of art that has never seen this actor more vulnerable and raw. Beckinsale ditches her glossy, restrained pretty girl image for a character that it’s easy to dismiss as unlikeable and irresponsible until you see the depth and dimension she pours into the performance, and it’s not so easy to pass judgment or condemn. Others provide vivid impressions including Griffin Dunne, Amy Sedaris, Nicky Katt, Jeannetta Arnette and Tom Noonan who bookends the film in haunting profundity as a no nonsense high school band teacher who seems almost like a godlike force or deity watching over the souls of this small northwestern town. The single uplifting plot thread is a teen romance between Olivia Thirlby and Michael Angarano, who flirt adorably, fall for each other awkwardly and discover sex, conversation and each other’s company in a realistic, down to earth and warm-hearted way, it’s a cathartic oasis of love and light amidst the dark onslaught of this overall bleak snowstorm of a narrative. What makes all of this tragedy, pain and sorrow so palatable then, you may ask? Green is a terrifically intuitive director who gets genuinely believable performances from his actors, full of naturalistic dialogue, believable idiosyncrasies and a sense that nobody in this story is simply good, simply bad or there to serve one archetype, they are all flawed human beings capable of the deepest acts of love, caring and compassion or the most callous, nightmarish violence, neglect and abuse. There’s a scene where a mother comforts her teen son who has made a traumatizing discovery and she tells him how important it is not to keep that pain bottled up, but to feel through it and it’s one of many strikingly intimate, uncommonly intelligent scenes in a film that is a meticulously edited and shot carousel of human experience. The tag line read: “Some will fly, some will fall,” and it’s applicable to our our experience as human beings overall: life is not easy for everyone, mistakes are made, love is found and lost and the cycle continues. A lot can be learned, felt, internalized and reflected upon after watching this miracle of a film.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Evolution

Kate Beckinsale roars back into action with Underworld: Evolution, a sequel that, like many follow ups, isn’t as structured or fresh as the first but still manages to be every inch as stylish, baroque and gorgeous looking as the other few in the series I’ve seen (I am making my way through a Blu Ray box set of all five films in their extended cut glory). The action takes up right where it left off; outcast warrior Selene (Beckinsale) has killed vamp elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) and ran off into the night with her halfbreed lover Michael (Scott Speedman) with monstrous final boss Marcus in hot pursuit. This provides one of the entire franchise’s most jaw dropping, visually dynamic action sequences as they careen down Vancouver’s Sea To Sky highway against a muted overcast sky in a big rig semi truck. Now Marcus (Tony Curran under a metric ton of makeup) is one of those snazzy Spawn-esque vamps who can fly and has extra razor sharp limbs and cool bodily accessories to help him fight, so basically he’s flying alongside them at a crazy speed attacking the truck while Selene empties clip after clip into his face from her semiautomatics before ploughing right into the Britannia Mine tunnels, it’s just an exhilarating, incredibly well shot action sequence and the highlight of the film. Also I’m a bit tired of American studios filming here and then trying to pass off my beautiful home province as some place in the states or wherever so from now on I’m just going to refer to any film shot in Vancouver as being set here as well. Anyways, this is a solid entry that benefits from Marcus as a formidable, physically ruthless villain and continues the ongoing trend of seasoned British stage actors cast as vampire elders, Derek Jacobi stepping in here for a mostly absent Bill Nighy. Not my favourite of the series that I’ve seen so far, but a solid entry with memorable set pieces including a snowy medieval prologue that sets the tone for Rise Of The Lycans, an impressive climax set atop a ruined mountain castle complete with hovering helicopters and that Sea To Sky truck chase is just one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Wolfen

Many werewolf films take place in the woods, mountains or various other rugged and elemental vistas that are inherently threatening and suit the mythos. But what about the urban jungle? How many werewolf films can you think of that place their action in a big city? Wolfen is one that does this and as such stands out in the genre for being a moody, eerie inner city horror about a gruff, unfriendly NYC police detective (Albert Finney) chasing down mysterious murderous hoodlums who he soon realizes are some kind of lycanthropic shapeshifters straight out of a Native legend. This leads him on a hushed yet bloody and quite atmospheric hunt through some of New York’s shadiest areas, made all the more spooky by the presence of these ferocious and quite stealthy cryptid hybrids. He’s helped and hindered by many in one eclectic cast that includes Diane Venora, James Tolkan, Rino Thunder, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines as a slick streetwise colleague, a very drunk and very brief Tom Waits and Tom Noonan as an ill fated ‘expert.’ This isn’t a very loud, snazzy or schlocky horror flick and in fact if memory serves it’s more of a mood piece type thing than any sort of thriller or shocker. Finney is sombre, muted, hard to read and even vaguely menacing, while the cast around him are sly, eccentric and always seem like they know more than they’re letting on. The werewolf attacks are hazy, dreamlike and terrifying in an otherworldly sort of way while still retaining enough gore and gristle, the special effects for the creatures themselves wonderful and the use of real wolves (or dogs, perhaps) adds to the earthen, folky aura that collides fascinatingly with this urban aesthetic. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this (a rewatch is no doubt imminent) and I can’t recall everything except that it’s one strikingly distinctive, unique and very immersive big city horror cop flick amalgamation that is well worth checking out.

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I think that seeing Daniel Baldwin yank vampires out of a boarded up hideout into the sunlight with a steel cable pulley winch mounted to his truck to get torched to death is one of the most satisfying scenarios in John Carpenter’s Vampires, and maybe the vampire genre overall. This is an amazingly fun, super imaginative, down n’ dirty vampire western in the tradition of stuff like From Dusk Till Dawn where the vamps are fearsome beasts, those who hunt and kill them are profane, volatile outsiders and the overall tone is the opposite of what you’d call subtle, an aesthetic I love. James Woods is Jack Crow, a vampire slaying guru who works as freelance mercenary for the Vatican along with his second in command Montoya (Baldwin) and a host of other badasses who all hilariously get killed off in the opening scenes of the film as nasty vamp kingpin Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) raids their motel party and leaves everyone dead save for Jack, Montoya and ill fated hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who has been bit and shares a handy psychic link with Valek but is also a time bomb now that she’ll turn soon. It’s basically the big opening shootout and then a series of dusty, bloody extended chase sequences across the southwest with Jack and Montoya shouting at each other, Katrina looking progressively more sinister and Valek flying around like a literal bat out of hell trying to bite them, and I loved spending time with these characters. The Vatican’s cantankerous top dog (Maximillian Schell) dispatches a twitchy rookie priest (Tim Guinee) to assist Jack but he mostly gets in the way and serves as cannon fodder for his offbeat sense of humour and strikingly unchecked rage issues. Carpenter’s score is a departure from his synthy super sonic work and has this twangy, grinding western vibe that I really liked as well. The film is loud, gory and pretty hectic but it somehow also manages to feel laid back and easygoing, with Lee stealing the show, Woods doing his blustery asshole shtick to a tee and Baldwin being pretty badass for a Baldwin that isn’t, ya know, Alec. Good times.

-Nate Hill

The Boy

I think it’s safe to say there’s an over saturation of killer/haunted doll movies these days, I mean just ask Chucky, who has a lot of competition in this era as the top dog. It’s refreshing then to find an entry like The Boy, which on the surface appears to be another chomp at the evil doll bit but, without revealing too much, has more going on than one might think and although it doesn’t quite keep the viewer genuinely guessing or break the mould of predictability, certainly has more than a few moments of genuine suspense and chills. Lauren Cohan plays an American nanny hired by a plummy old British couple to watch their young son Brahms while they go on holidays. These two are apparently senile old goats though because Brahms turns out to be an especially creepy little porcelain doll who they literally treat like a human child, and expect their recently hired nanny to as well. Her amusement quickly sours into terror and paranoia when she’s left alone with Brahms and… weird shit starts to happen. Her only human contact is with the house handyman (Rupert Evans) and eventually her abusive maniac ex boyfriend (Ben Robson) who has followed her across the pond. I really can’t say much but you may end up guessing pretty quick what’s really happening in the house, and then again you may not because the answer, although evidently logical, isn’t exactly presented super obviously. The film has enough scares, atmosphere and suspense to be worth a solid viewing, but it’s not too original or noteworthy. The big reveal in the third act is done really well though and is the most effectively skin crawling moment in the film. Also, I gotta say that Cohan is a strikingly terrific actress with natural charisma, beauty and presence, I love seeing her in lead roles and I honestly hope she gets to give that tiresome Walking Dead crap the slip soon so she can focus on some more film roles.

-Nate Hill

Eric Red’s Bad Moon

A 90’s werewolf flick starring Tom Cody from Streets Of Fire, written by the guy who penned The Hitcher and set in the Pacific Northwest.. gotta be a winner, right? Well.. kinda. There are aspects I did enjoy about Eric Red’s Bad Moon and some things I thought were a little weaker. Michael Paré plays a dude who gets bitten by a werewolf in the South American jungle and winds up back home in Vancouver where his affliction puts his sister (Mariel Hemingway) her son (Dennis The Menace) and their German shepherd Thor in great danger. In this version of the werewolf lore it doesn’t have to be a full moon for him to transform, it just happens every night, which causes maximum destruction and carnage in the neighbourhood. So what I liked about this film: obviously I’m a push for that Vancouver scenery and the film is gorgeous, the two main settings being a beautiful character home that Hemingway’s lawyer salary has snagged and a breathtaking lakeside locale where Paré parks his airstream. The film is actually mostly from the perspective of the dog, who is the only one to really figure out that there’s a monster around, POV shots and pacing are used to present him as the protagonist and I really enjoyed that choice. What didn’t work for me: the wolf itself looks cheap a scraggly, not aesthetically pleasing or impressive enough for me. The human characters/acting are not so great either.. Paré is a great presence in anything and does ok but his character goes through a bizarre an unexplained personality change (beyond just being a werewolf lol) midway through the film while Hemingway and the kid are just awkward, stilted and I just didn’t buy that these people were siblings/uncle etc. The dog is great though! He should have his own spinoff film where he goes into business as a werewolf hunter. I wanted to love this based on all the elements involved but it kinda just was an okayish one bordering on a meh.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

I feel like the Underworld films don’t get proper credit for just how visually magnificent and stylistically sumptuous they are. I mean sure the stories are often a muddle of faux Shakespearean shifting alliances and paranormal melodrama that are impossible to decipher but if you just approach them overall as the story of an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves with lots of preening politics, an abundance of beautifully gory, darkly balletic action sequences and the occasional splash of forbidden romance then you’re good, and don’t need to engage the brain much further. Take Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, for example, which best I could figure is some kind of prequel to the first film where we see what went down between the two species hundreds of years before. Bill Nighy gives the word overacting new meaning here but is a lot of fun as Viktor, king of the vampire nation who has effectively enslaved all the werewolves for his own work/war effort and forces them to hunt down their own kind who rebel. His daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) does some rebelling of her own by constantly defying daddy’s orders and carrying out a secret romance with Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen). This overall unrest leads to the werewolf uprising and eventual incursion that will start a centuries long war. That’s all you need for story, trust me. What works best about this film is the resplendently beautiful production design and what makes it stand out in the initial trilogy is that it’s set far in the past so the uproarious gunfights become ruthless swordplay, the nocturnal urban atmosphere becomes a moonlit medieval castle aesthetic and never before has the franchise felt this gothic. Mitra is a beauty and then some, and while she’s not quite as lithe or physically distinctive as Beckinsale and her leather trench coat, she suits the ancient warrior aesthetic and does the Underworld name proud. Nighy is so far over the top I wanted him to calm down a bit before he had a stroke or something, he’s about as arch and theatrical as it gets but it suits the role and tone of the film nicely. Much of the film is sound, fury, blood and metal under inky black moonlight and some may have trouble deciphering the specifics of choreography under such a dim cloak of a visual palette but trust me it’s all there and it’s all *very* well done. This franchise has some of the most gorgeous, anatomically and aesthetically satisfying werewolves I’ve personally seen in horror, just great big bastards that look like they could rip a cow in half and are deadly in their speed, physicality and agility despite their hefty size. The Vamps have this eerie aristocracy to them and always seem calmly observant and deviously in charge, with help from the iridescent, creepy contact lenses the actors get to wear. The fight scenes are brutal and relentless, packed with gore and stylish weaponry and staged against spatially striking castle, river, forest and mountain vistas. There’s a shamelessly lurid sex scene between Sonja and Lucian where they’re literally writhing in slow motion on the edge of an impossibly baroque cliffside that is quite possibly one of the most arousing, breathtaking sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. Say what you want about these movies man, and maybe I’m just a whore for visually stimulating horror films and am too generous on the ones that rely on the style over substance play, which is quite possibly the case, and I own that. However, I’m sitting there watching all of this play out and I’m in raptures about it, totally and completely entertained and pleased in my experience, and if that be the case, well I’m more than okay with all style and little substance, provided the style is as bounteous and well crafted as is the case here. *Great* looking film, if not a great one overall.

-Nate Hill

León & Cocina’s The Wolf House

There are many ways to symbolically impart real world events in film, and sometimes when the events are particularly grim it helps to bathe your message in a healthy dose of artistic abstraction, as not to overwhelm your audience in grisly details or bring the mood down with a stifling sense of literacy. Joaquín Cociña/Cristóbal León’s The Wolf House is based upon (in spirit) the true life tale of a horrible former Nazi who started a nightmarish, controlling doomsday cult who abused hundreds of children in the Chilean mountains sometime after WWII. After one young girl is punished for allowing pigs to escape, she runs away from the commune herself and it’s this basic framework that allows a terminally surreal stop-motion Dreamscape to play across the screen. There is no actual story to the events onscreen and one would have to either read up on the film or come across a review like this to even fully grasp the theme and backstory. There’s a quick and deliberately ominous infomercial for the commune right at the start of the film but even that is untethered of context and quickly segues into a consistently unearthly theatre of the bizarre. This isn’t succinct, structured stop motion animation in the way someone like Tim Burton would create, this is something so wild, so artistically expressive I can almost not even put it into words, but my review is accompanied by a PhotoGrid mood-board as always, so feast your eyes. The tactility and sculpted bazaar of mâché, clay and many other materials creates a swirling, never placid, always metamorphosing subconscious ballet of scintillating, melting, dissolving image and sound that is truly, singularly unlike any other medium I’ve ever seen. The film reportedly took five years to make, and honestly I would have guessed double that with how complex and elemental the design is. One has to watch it at least that many times to fully absorb everything on display as we see figurines constantly disintegrating mid-scene, transforming into inanimate objects, suddenly becoming ectoplasmic vapour that creeps across the walls of the detailed dioramas they inhabit in forms of movement that are anything but of this world. Because of how non-traditional the experience is, the viewer must use mood sensors and subconscious intuition to intake the film’s essence, and abandon all hope of a clearly discernible plot. A scene where the animated figurine of three German children sing a haunting lullaby together was the emotional core and the closest the filmmakers get to outright exposition, it’s a heartbreaking image when contrasted against the Wikipedia knowledge about the cult in real life, which was a horrible and senseless event that could have been avoided. This is an art installation come to life, not a narrative story, and inside the circus of paint, colour and dynamism we can sense the undertones of menace and tragedy if we’re tuned into the film’s far out frequency. Highly recommended for creative types who enjoy films that not only function outside the box of what’s considered normal and palatable, but barely seem like they’re from this dimension at all. A wonderful experience, streaming on Shudder for anyone interested.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic

Paolo Barzman’s Emotional Arithmetic is a stunning independent drama that, despite a ridiculously prolific cast, ultimately slipped through the cracks into obscurity. It’s well worth hunting down to see four seasoned professionals as the top of their game in telling the story of various characters dealing with the lingering horrors of the Holocaust, both directly and indirectly. Susan Sarandon plays a Canadian woman sometime in the 80’s who survived a concentration camp at a very young age, and has invited two fellow survivors (Max Von Sydow & Gabriel Byrne) to a reunion at her house in the Quebec countryside where they will reconnect after decades of separation following a tragically abrupt parting from each other and will have the chance to meet her much older husband (Christopher Plummer) and their son (Roy Dupuis). It’s a pleasant, cathartic enough reunion but the collective scars they share from enduring such a horrific phase of their lives are apparent in each of them, in different ways. Byrne’s quiet, introspective character has buried his trauma under a cloak of calm, Von Sydow deliberately tried to forget using electroshock therapy, while Sarandon herself has obsessively documented, scrapbooked and reflected on their past very openly over the years to employ her own process. Plummer’s character is the outsider, having never gone through what they did and starts the film off in a sort of cavalier, borderline insensitive way until the grave reality of what his wife and her friends have suffered through hits home and he becomes more compassionate. All of the performances are absolutely magnificent and I really wish more people were able to see this moving film because each of these actors provide showcase work and should be very proud. If you are lucky enough to find a DVD, please ignore the misleading, stupid Hallmark style artwork and silly alternate title (Autumn Hearts, are you kidding me? Lol) because it’s as if the distribution company didn’t even watch the film and just did whatever the hell they wanted. This is not a sappy, syrupy film at all, it’s a deep, thoughtful, challenging interpersonal drama that stirs the soul in a realistic fashion without cheap manipulation. Highly recommended, wonderful hidden gem of a film.

-Nate Hill

Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner

If you think Billy Bob Thornton was a Bad Santa wait until you see Christopher Plummer in The Silent Partner, he gives him a run for his money and then some as a psychopathic, profoundly evil criminal who hits a Toronto bank for all its worth disguised as the local mall Santa. Only problem is, shrewd bank teller Elliot Gould realizes he’s going to do it while he’s still casing the joint, steals all the cash for himself minutes before the hit, and thinks he’s got away with it. Plummer is also a smart dude here and not the kind of fellow you want to pull a stunt like that on, soon he comes around looking for the money he believes to rightfully be his and so ensues a vicious game of cat, mouse and morally bankrupt working professional as these two individuals, one not particularly likeable and the other downright abhorrent, battle each other for the prize. Two girls are involved with both of them, confused fellow bank teller Susannah York and French Canadian femme fatale Céline Lolez but they end up being more collateral damage in the narrative than anything else. So… this film has a huge cult following, glowing reputation and overall hype surrounding it and I wish I could fully get onboard with that, but I just wasn’t as taken by it as many seem to have been. I liked it, I didn’t love it. Let’s start with the film’s strongest asset: Christopher goddamn Plummer. The man goes fully into bizarro world here to play this character, and the guy is a villain for the ages. Heinously violent, gruesomely misogynistic, volcanically volatile, decked out in super femme eyeshadow and heaps of mascara and decorated with bangles of silver bling on every limb, he’s a flamboyantly nasty piece of work and steals the film, whether he’s being an evil Santa or showing up in drag which he gets to do later on. Gould plays his bank teller as very intelligent but also very awkward and somehow stilted in expression and line delivery, I couldn’t really get a sense of his character beyond stoic idiosyncrasy and I feel like he’s an actor who perhaps didn’t find his groove until later in his career when he appeared in stuff like Ocean’s 11, where he’s far more engaging and charismatic than this younger incarnation. Roger Ebert raved about this one being a taut, clockwork tight narrative and I kind of feel different.. the first and third acts are terrifically suspenseful, exciting and ruthless but the film’s midsection wastes a lot of runtime on languid romantic subplots featuring the two girls that don’t add much overall, don’t feel believable with a guy as odd as Gould’s character having that much game with the ladies and bog the narrative momentum down quite a bit. Still, when the film is in its highest gear it’s quite a mean machine, especially when Plummer has anything to say or do about it, which he does. Careful with this one if you’re sensitive about violence towards women, there’s a couple sequences that push the envelope on that just about are far as you can go (even by 1978 standards) and are tough to watch. I found this to be a good if not great suspense thriller with some very well done set pieces and plot turns, and one truly despicable turn from Plummer, who is also playing very against type and loving it. Not as much of a gem for me as it was for a lot of others, but definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill