Tag Archives: Gabriel byrne

Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls

There’s a certain melancholy defeat in viewing a film where missing and murdered people’s cases are met with lethargy, inaction and suspicious reluctance by the authorities, but in the same token they’re important films to watch as they shed spotlights on gross miscarriages of justice and impart that it can’t continue to go on like this. Liz Garbus’s Lost Girls uses a sobering tone, moody visuals and a deep intentional focus on the victims of the mysterious Long Island serial killer as human beings rather than ‘murdered prostitutes’ or statistical notches on the media’s callous belt. Around 2010 in rural New York State a serial killer struck, dumping bodies along a desolate stretch of road and leaving few clues save for vague ties to a nearby gated community that may be harbouring secrets. For struggling single mother Mari (Amy Ryan) this is a different kind of nightmare as her eldest daughter was in the area around this time and is still somewhere out there missing. Together with her two other daughters (Oona Laurence and Thomasin Mackenzie) she launches a fierce personal investigation into the matter when the lead detective (a smarmy Dean Winters) and even the police commissioner himself (Gabriel Byrne in introvert mode) seem to be willfully dragging their asses. It’s a sad story because Mari’s life is already tough enough; she’s severely low income, on her own as a mother and mental illness runs deeply within her family, already blooming in her youngest daughter. None of this makes the situation any better but she has grit, resolve and a desire for redemption that Ryan infuses in her performance nicely. The best work in the film goes to Thomasin Mackenzie as her middle daughter though, she’s an actress who made a big splash in Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace a couple years ago and once again delivers a powerful, understated yet rawly emotional performance. Because this is based on a real story that was never properly concluded there is a sense of heart wrenching, open ended pain here. The police investigation was never carried out properly, their response time to her daughter calling 911 the night she disappeared was unforgivable and as a collective result a heinous serial killer went uncaught. You’ll leave the film feeling sick and depressed, but it’s important that we pay attention because this shit probably happens every day. There’s a strong desire here to shirk the media’s portrayal of victims as deserving it because of their lifestyle and showing them as meaningless numbers in tv reports, while the families are out their mourning the human beings they remember so dearly. It’s in that the film finds it’s one ray of light, an important sentiment to take away. Not an easy watch, but perhaps the publicity now given to this tragic case will one day lead to the arrest of those responsible. Great film.

-Nate Hill

In memorial: Nate’s Top Ten Max Von Sydow Performances

Roger Ebert once referred to Max Von Sydow as a “mighty oak of Swedish cinema” and the same can be said of his career as a whole both in his home country and Hollywood too. Max was an actor of tremendous presence, a noble spirit with the kind of line delivery that was immersive and drew you right into the scene. He has passed away this week at age 90 and will be missed by countless people who loved his work, but he leaves behind a multi decade legacy of brilliant and diverse acting work, and these are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Blofeld in Irvin Kershner’s Never Say Never Again

Might be controversial to say but Max was the coolest Blofeld in my book. Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas had a businesslike, robotic vibe to their interpretations but Max gave this mega villain a decidedly sardonic, playful edge. Plus that hair makes him stand out from the classic bald image we’re used to. He isn’t in the film much but his scenes are super fun.

9. Leland Gaunt in Stephen King’s Needful Things

Malevolent, ancient and evil, Gaunt is a demon in human form hellbent on reaping souls. Setting up a curious antique shop in fictional Castle Rock, he goes up against suspicious Sheriff Pangborn (Ed Harris) and seems to have an unnatural knowledge of the town. Von Sydow makes keen, charming and ultimately super creepy work of this guy, one of the most well portrayed King antagonists put to film.

8. Dr. Kynes in David Lynch’s Dune

A longtime resident of the planet Arrakis, Kynes is an intuitive fellow who senses the buried potential within Paul Atreides (Kyle Maclachlan) and admires the resolve and integrity of his father Leto (Jurgen Prochnow). He gets some interesting, atmospheric moments in the film’s trademark voiceovers and makes a magnetic presence.

7. Judge Fargo in Judge Dredd

Fargo is one of the few high ranking judges of mega city who hasn’t been swayed by corruption, and that unconverted resilience is nicely embodied by Max. I know this isn’t the most well organized film and it hasn’t aged all that amazingly but there’s a lot to love, a bunch of dope production design and one hell of a cast, our man included. When he’s banished from the city for helping Dredd, there’s no sight quite as epic as a duster clad Max sauntering out into the desert like some intergalactic gunslinger. Good times.

6. Dr. Paul Novotny in Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape

This underrated 80’s SciFi fantasy palooza sees clairvoyant Dennis Quaid get recruited by Max’s government researcher to infiltrate people’s dreams and uncover a conspiracy. He’s a good, kind and decent man here who has no idea how far up the chain this pseudoscientific mutiny goes, Max imbues him with a genuine curiosity for his field, an easygoing camaraderie with Quaid and steals the show.

5. Dr. Nahring in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

Nahring is one of a few psychiatric professionals who heads up the austere institute that Leonardo DiCaprio’s federal marshal is snooping around in. If you know the twist and remember the dialogue, you get just how ingenious Max’s line delivery is here when he asks Teddy “if you see a monster, you should stop it, no?” It’s a great callback to the end of the film. At one point Teddy berates Nahring for being German because of his experiences during the war and one gets the sense from Max’s performance that he wasn’t on the side of conflict that Teddy assumes, it’s a terrific supporting performance that doesn’t intrude yet speaks volumes.

4. Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

The slick CEO of a futuristic murder investigation unit, Burgess has everything under control and then some.. until his plan unravels. This is a fantastic performance that follows the Hollywood beats of a hidden antagonist but allows Max to have one final beat to the character that he nails perfectly.

3. Lancaster Merrin in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist

This is one of the films that bridged the gap to Hollywood for him and has since become infamous. Merrin is a world weary, knowledgeable yet reluctant crusader who joins forces with Jason Miller’s Father Karras in doing battle with an ancient entity he encountered in Africa before. For all its razzle dazzle and pop culture iconography, this film has two very centred, humbled and down to earth performances from these two actors.

2. Jakob Bronski in Emotional Arithmetic

This soulful indie drama sees a group of people from various backgrounds gather on Quebec farmland to heal old wounds, resolve traumas from the past and roust the kind of bittersweet situational kerfuffles that only quaint independent stuff like this can brew up. Max’s Jakob is a Holocaust survivor with deep scars that aren’t immediately apparent and has a complicated relationship with Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne’s respective characters. This is a tough film to track down but worth the haul as it showcases an excellent cast in earnest performances.

1. The Tracker in Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come

The afterlife holds many mysteries for Robin Williams in this stunning, overlooked classic, some of which are navigated by Max’s tracker, a mysterious being who helps him find his deceased wife in the underworld. There’s more than meets the eye to this character, bestowed with an arc that Von Sydow gives sly, heartfelt talent, his inherently angelic nature just adding to the overall tone.

-Nate Hill

Ari Aster’s Hereditary

Hereditary more like Herediterrifying. I know I’m late to the party but Ari Aster’s supremely disturbing chiller deserves all the hype and more, it’s a beautifully designed, aggressively scary bag of fun that walks a line between being deeply, psychologically upsetting as well as otherworldly, supernaturally haunting. It’s striking to find a debut this good from a first time director, but the guy handles all elements seemingly effortlessly and the result is an immersive, atmospheric, competently staged, elemental fright flick that will literally have you sleeping with the lights on after.

Toni Colette gives the performance of a lifetime as a wife and mother somewhat grieving the loss of her own mom, who was a secretive, difficult old goat in life. Her husband (Gabriel Byrne) is somewhat detached, her two kids (Milly Shapiro, Alex Wolff) have their own issues. It isn’t until further tragedy strikes this family that we begin to see fissures crack in both their individual psyches and relationships as a group. Grief is a hell of a thing and it can turn a family dynamic ugly and venomous pretty quick, but there’s something else circling this clan, an intangible malevolence that I’ll shut up about right now because it’s a diabolical thrill piecing it together along the way. I will say pay attention to *every* frame though, as there are clues aplenty embedded in the visual scape. Colette displays several remarkably realistic meltdowns and I shudder to think of the personal process that led her to that level of mania because she’s downright unnerving. Byrne doesn’t do too many high profile films anymore but it’s always great to see him, he underplays it here but is no less unsettling as a guy who seems uncomfortable around his own family, one of the several taboos the film plays with. Shapiro doesn’t do much as the daughter but her unearthly presence alone is enough to get us squirming, she is one weird looking kid. Wolff, on the other hand, is quite excellent and has a couple scenes of heightened distress that are pretty staggering. A shout-out to character actress Ann Dowd too who, I’m happy to say, is getting more work than ever before these days and finally has a sizeable outlet for her talent.

One aspect that makes this such a freaky thing to sit through is that none of the family members, and no other characters in the film in fact, are really likeable characters. They’re somber, sullen, withdrawn weirdos who make heinous mistakes and harbour unthinkable secrets and when the horrors start coming for them it kind of feels warranted. There’s this blanket of mental unrest and familial turmoil that hangs over everything and provides the film with a canvas of unrest for the paranormal horror to gradually encroach on like fog on the horizon, and the mixture makes for an almost unbearable ride through hell that was the scariest viewing experience for me since 2014’s It Follows. It’s also darkly beautifully though, Aster mounts some detailed, artistic and pagan inspired production design that’s like eye candy, he lights the sets starkly and specifically and plays around with miniatures in transitions and shot compositions for a visual experience like no other. Don’t even get me started on the score by Colin Stetson that plays like a nightmare brought to life, as does this masterpiece of a horror classic.

-Nate Hill

Bille August’s Smilla’s Sense Of Snow

Smilla’s Sense Of Snow begins with a specific inciting event: a young Inuit boy plummets off the roof of a multi storey building in Copenhagen, to his death. The only person who seems to care is Smilla (Julia Ormond), a girl who lives in the complex, is half Inuit herself and did her best to take care of the poor kid when his mother drowned in alcoholism. From there the film spirals into curious, unexpected thriller elements that seem to have left many viewers baffled (reviews over time haven’t been so kind), but it’s the uniqueness of this story that appeals to me, the way we find ourself wondering how such a simple and straightforward incident can lead to the kind of sequences you’d find in a Bond film. That’s the mark of an absorbing thriller, no matter how ‘out there’ people complain it is. Smilla deliberately cloaks herself in a facade of coldness not dissimilar from the snowy northern landscape around her and comes across as initially unpleasant, but when we see how far she’s willing to go and what she will risk to uncover the truth around the boy’s death, we realize there’s a heart in there and Ormond creates a mesmerizing protagonist. There is indeed a clandestine web of secrets, coverups and conspiracies revolving around the whole thing, and it’s great fun watching her follow the breadcrumb trail to where it all leads. She’s a withdrawn, introverted person, and these qualities don’t lend themselves to hands on detective work, but therein lies the gold mine of character development for her as she discovers perhaps one of the most bizarre string of events I’ve seen in a thriller. The supporting cast is full of gems, starting with Gabriel Byrne as her neighbour and love interest, just darkly charismatic enough to suggest that he may not be who he says he is. The late great Robert Loggia makes a stern but soulful appearance as her powerful father, who pulls some strings to help her out. Soon she’s led to a shadowy scientist (Richard ‘OG Dumbledore’ Harris) with ties to it all, and other appearances from Jurgen Vogel, David Hayman, Bob ‘Clever Girl’ Peck, Vanessa Redgrave, Ona Fletcher, Tom Wilkinson, a quick cameo from one of the Doctor Who actors and an excellent Jim Broadbent in full exposition mode. The eventual premise here is set up in an arresting prologue concerning a lone Inuit hunter observing a meteor fall to earth and cause an almighty mess on the tundra, serving to inform us right off the bat that although this film initially sets off on the trajectory of a straightforward murder mystery, there will be elements of the fantastical. Said elements proved to be either too far out there or too removed from the grounded opening for people to grasp hold of, but not me. I love the journey this one takes, I love the heroine we get to take it with, I’m awed by the stunning arctic photography every time and the story always draws me in. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Steve Beck’s Ghost Ship

The only claim to greatness that Ghost Ship can make lies in its first five minutes, a frightening horror set piece that starts the film off with a bang, or should I say a slice. After that it’s a dank, rusty B movie with hilarious musical choices, routine scares and campy acting, but I kind of like the film in spite of all that. After the now famous Emily Browning witnesses a horrific ‘accident’ aboard a giant ocean liner back in the 60’s, we flash forward to a rowdy salvage crew and their attempts to find the lost ship somewhere in the Bering Straight. Captained by salty Gabriel Byrne, crewed by the likes of Julianna Margulies, Desmond Harrington, Ron Eldard, Isaiah Washington and Karl Urban, the thing has a capable cast that does well enough but at the end of the day they’re mired in a creaky, cheerfully silly flick that doesn’t make aspirations to take itself seriously. If you’re ok with that it makes cool background noise at a Halloween party, and even features a plot thread that is fascinating, if somewhat under-explored. That opening scene of collective, instantaneous carnage though, holy fuck man. I saw it on tv when I was younger and both the incident and young Browning’s reaction to it chilled me to the core. Too bad the rest of the film couldn’t keep up, but at least it’s better than 2001’s Lost Voyage starring Lance Henriksen, also I’m kinda just pulling one out of my hat that has no chance of comparison with anything because I enjoy Ghost Ship and want to make it seem better than it is.

-Nate Hill

Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Maniac

Cary Jo Fukunaga’s Netflix show Maniac is to date the only one I’ve ever binged in one sitting. It’s fucking magic. I slept in and got to work late today because I just had to finish the thing last night. The one word that comes to mind with this is unique. It’s a science fiction comedy drama stroke of cosmic brilliance that draws on everything from Kafka to Michel Gondry to Cloud Atlas to Inception to Kubrick and many others, but not for one moment does it feel derivative, and there is, and I mean this, nothing out there quite like this. If you’ve seen a trailer or read a blurb, you’ll know it stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two participants in a mysterious pharmaceutical drug trial, and indeed that is the launching pad for this strange, wonderful story infused with cassette futurism and dream logic, but oh just wait and see how deep, how multilayered and complex it becomes with each passing minute. After two opening episodes that burn sort of slow but are very important for developing character and establishing tone and setting, this hallucinatory, multi dimensional odyssey of self discovery and awakening constantly surprises the viewer by shirking narrative standards, constructing a script that feels fresh and untrodden, like a dimly lit path where anything could jump out at any second and all the well travelled beats have been cast away. Hill and Stone are unparalleled here, each playing a score of different characters throughout time and space and doing things with their work that I’ve never seem come from them before. Despite this being a fantastical show that traverses many internal worlds and has a whole host of dazzling special effects to showcase, above all it is an extremely thoughtful, often very dark psychological exploration of these two beings, the technology around them and how it may be used to map the human mind. Justin Theroux brings humour and eccentric humility as the neuro-chemist who is running the drug trial, Sonoya Mozuno is brilliant as his intuitive, chain smoking second in command and the cast is fleshed out by the likes of Hank Azaria, Josh Pais, Julia Garner, Geoffrey Cantor, Rome Kanda, Billy Magnusson, Glenn Fleshler, Joseph Sikora and more. Joining them are also veteran actors Sally Field and Gabriel Byrne in key roles, both of whom I love and haven’t seen in anything substantial for quite some time, they really shine here. I’m aware that this is loosely based on a Norwegian series of the same name, but honestly Fukunaga has used that as a drawing board and universally expanded the premise into something really special, original and magnificent. The central realms of the drug trial that Hill and Stone experience are the main show and the template used to plumb depths of the human condition, but just as vital is the story unfolding in the lab with Theroux, Mizuno and Sally Field, a slightly satirical look at how technology has started to approach the borders of the human soul, and even blur some lines there. I hope this gets traction, exposure and the high praise it deserves in the community. This is the best thing in any medium I’ve seen so far this year, and I can’t wait for countless revisits.

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyams’ End Of Days

Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.

-Nate Hill