Tag Archives: Harris Yulin

Phillip Noyce and Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan: Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has had a few iterations over the decades, the last two of which were sadly lukewarm efforts, but for my money Harrison Ford and Philip Noyce gave the best version with the explosive double feature of Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger. Star studded across the board, gifted with long runtimes, huge budgets and intelligent scripts, these are two enduring espionage films that I always have a place for on my DVD shelf and always tune in to if I come across them on TV. Ford is a heroic presence in cinema, and although his actions as Ryan are violently intrepid, he gives the character an unsure edge and resounding vulnerability that is always compelling and offsets the intrigue as great character work. This guy is an analyst after all, not a field agent and the portrayal should reflect that.

Patriot Games kicks off with Ryan in a brutal personal war against a rogue faction of the IRA, a tense conflict that reaps collateral damage on both sides. The two constant characters who ground both Ford and Ryan are his boss and mentor Greer (James Earl Jones) and his wife Cathy (Anne Archer), they keep him humble, human and sympathetic amongst all the chaos and political intrigue. Sean Bean is scary good here as Miller, renegade Irish operative whose plans are foiled early on by Jack, prompting him to swear bloody revenge on his whole family in a courtroom scene that is as chilling as Bean has ever been. Paranoia sets in as countless attempts are made against his and his families life, and even reassuring words from an IRA honcho (Richard Harris) who denounces Miller can’t set Ryan at ease. Only the eventual confrontation puts an end to it, which we get in a spectacular nocturnal speedboat chase across a Maryland harbour. The talent includes Thora Birch as Jack’s daughter, J.E. Freeman, Patrick Bergin, James Fox, Polly Walker, Bob Gunton and a young Samuel L. Jackson.

Clear & Present Danger sees the headstrong US President (Donald Moffat, never one to not devour dialogue like a good steak) declares war on marauding cartels from South America, another conflict that Ryan gets thrown into headlong both on location and back on the home front. Their leader (Miguel Sandoval) is a hotheaded moron, but the real danger lurks in Felix Cortez (Joaquim De Almeida, a spectacularly nasty villain), advisor, assassin and deadly power behind the throne who has ideas of his own. This entry is slightly more epic and action centric but the homeland espionage is played up too, particularly in the corrupt actions of two impossibly sleazy suits back in Washington played by Henry Czerny and Harris Yulin. They are so good in their roles they almost steal the film, especially Czerny as the ultimate prick and absolute last person you’d want making decisions for their country. Ford is less seething than he was in the very personal conflict of Patriot Games, but no less resourceful and violent when he needs to be. Willem Dafoe fills the boots of John Clark, a Clancy staple character and ruthless tactical agent who sometimes functions as a one man army. Further work is provided by Benjamin Bratt, Raymond Cruz, Dean Jones, Ann Magnuson, Patrick Bauchau and Hope Lange.

These two are not only great action spy films but to me represent an oasis of 90’s filmmaking that has never been replicated. Enormous casts, every dollar of the budget onscreen, timeless original scores (courtesy of James Horner here), vivid action set pieces, equal parts focus on story and action, no CGI in sight, character development and all round consistency in craft and production. I grew up with these two classics, watched them countless times with my dad and will always tune right back in whenever they’re around.

-Nate Hill

Advertisements

“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” – A review of The Place Beyond The Pines by Josh Hains

As the opening title, “A film by Derek Cianfrance”, dissipates, a breath is drawn followed by the clinking of an angel knife as Ryan Gosling’s Luke Glanton menacingly opens and closes it, his abs glowing in the dimly lit room, his body battered with tattoos as the sounds of people, rides and games emit from outside his small trailer. He’s told it’s showtime by an outside authority, jamming the knife overhand into a wall before picking up his shirt and red jacket and slipping out the door, putting them both on as he traverses the crowd until he reaches a large tent boasting The Globe Of Death. He walks with the swagger of James Dean as he enters the tent to cheers and cries of excitement from fans alike as he and two fellow riders known only as The Heart Throbs gear up on their motorcycles and glide into the deadly spherical cage. Engines roar and fans scream as Handsome Luke and The Heart Throbs dizzyingly ride their motorcycles loop de loop until the screen fades to Luke signing autographs. And to think, that was all done in one take.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully brooding, tragic, heartbreakingly powerful, and ambitious genre film about fathers and sons, legacy, and consequences. Luke Glanton (Gosling), a daredevil carnival motorcycle rider finds out former fling Romina (Eva Mendes), a local waitress and fan of Luke’s skills, recently had their son, Jason after their last fling. Much to her surprise, he quits his job in the hopes that he can concoct a relationship with the infant and her too, even though she has a new, responsible man in her life by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali, in an understated role).

Luke is irresponsible, impulsive, tattooed all to hell and prone to outbursts of violence. Things only get complicated once he meets Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), a grubby mechanic who hires him after witnessing his outstanding skills on the motorcycle. He suggests that Luke rob banks, Robin himself having robbed banks years earlier, and Luke, in need of quick cash to support his son, opts to do just that. As time marches on the risks get higher and the cash comes thicker during riveting, manic heists and intense and stunningly realistic getaways; until Robin suddenly balks, leaving Luke to sloppily rob a bank and subsequently get chased across town on his motorcycle. The breathtaking chase leads Luke to a violent confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young police officer and son of a well respected judge.

After his confrontation with Luke, Avery begins to question his actions during the encounter as fellow officers headed by Pete Deluca (the always intimidating Ray Liotta, in full-on bad cop mode) engage in thuggish, corrupt behaviour which begins to take its toll on Avery and his family life as the father to a newborn son and husband to a fearful wife.

Skip ahead 15 years and Avery is running for public office, as his and Luke’s respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) begin a tumultuous and troubling friendship. I have to stop there, as any more details about the film will surely spoil what is undoubtedly a surprising film.

Luke’s story takes up the first 45-60 minutes, and is the best of the three stories in this triptych film; a deep, emotional roller-coaster that follows Luke as he struggles to provide for his newborn son. The heists are crisp, increasingly sloppy and volatile, brimming with an underlying intensity and fiery rawness. When he robs, he angrily squeals and shrieks his commands, grabbing the closest person to him as leverage until he has the money. When he rides, it’s as if you’re right there with him; the roar of the engine thundering through the air as he speeds down twisting roads into Robin’s cube truck.

Ryan Gosling as the violent, troubled Luke Glanton is mesmerizing, delivering his best performance since 2010’s Blue Valentine (which marked his first collaboration with this film’s director Derek Cianfrance), and surely one for the Oscar nomination list. He doesn’t say much which draws comparison to his eerie role as The Driver in 2011’s Drive, his eyes and facial expressions exuding Luke’s restrained and ominous personality in the same brooding manner as he did in Drive. He also has a vehicular skill, this time motorcycles and not cars, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Where Driver felt like a caricature, or a fantastical vigilante ripped from a ludicrous dream, Luke feels, and very much so is, a genuine, authentic and honest portrayal of a man struggling to leave a strong imprint in his son’s life while dealing with his own inner, violent demons. He holds honest intentions, but is far too explosive and violent for the life he quietly yearns for.

Eva Mendes is at her quiet best here as Romina, giving an heartfelt and touching portrayal of a mother trying to do what’s right for her son, which may or may not always be the best of decisions. Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly fame) yet again find a rhythm for playing the greasy, twitchy mechanic and Luke’s only friend Robin. His ability to slip into these scuzzy roles is fantastic, as he once again delivers a magnetic performance.

The second story that follows Avery post-Luke encounter runs for about the same length as the first section, as does the last section. The film seamlessly weaves between the sections, pausing only for a moment with a black screen as if to let us breathe before it catapults us into Avery’s battle for survival in the world of policing. The story presents itself much like a cop film from the ‘70’s, something the likes of William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola would have sunk their teeth deep into. Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this act, quickly taking the reins of the film as the torch gets passed along, proving once again that most audiences have underestimated his acting prowess in the past despite the complexity of his most recent roles. Ray Liotta as Pete Deluca, a corrupt veteran officer, is at his menacing best, and Rose Byrne (Jennifer, Avery’s wife), Harris Yulin (as Avery’s judge father Al) and Bruce Greenwood as slippery lawyer Bill Killcullen all deliver with quiet, small roles with actions that echo a lifetime.

I won’t go too deep into the final act, but I will say that Dane DeHaan is one to watch, one-upping his co-star Emory Cohen as Luke’s estranged son Jason, matching pound for pound the intensity delivered by the more seasoned actors in the film. Emory is convincing as the drug-addled interpretation of MTV styled behaviour infused into Avery’s son A.J.

The latter two stories following Avery post-confrontation, and later their respective sons, are thoroughly engaging, edgy and potent, but are intentionally not as electrifying as Luke’s daredevil lifestyle portion of the film. Luke’s story is one electric scene after another, each as haunting and memorable as the last until his story ends, when the film slows down to give us a deep insight into the lives of police officers and their family, and the ramifications of the violence and corrupt actions committed in the first story; each scene for the 140 minute running time never failing to captivate your eyes and mind. Despite how well acted the last two chapters of the film are, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed by them both after the volatile, quick paced first act.

This is a powerhouse, haunting, Shakespeare-esque cinematic experience of a lifetime. Derek Cianfrance, the director behind Blue Valentine and the largely unseen Brother Tied gives us his best film here, an honest tale of fathers and sons, violence and its impacts, actions and their consequences. He gets the absolute most of of his actors, no matter how big or small the role, with relative ease it seems. As stated in several dozen interviews, many of the scenes are genuine, featuring real actions from his actors during rehearsals, or spontaneous behaviours from them as filing was occurring, which helps push the realistic, honest and authentic nature of this film to greater heights. The violence is quick and bloody, but never stylized or gimmicky, instead remaining true to the speed and ferocity of real violence one would see in a Sunday night instalment of World’s Wildest Police Chases, which Derek himself said inspired the realism of this film. Mike Patton’s thrilling score greatly enhances each scene, never becoming overbearing or underused.

While Blue Valentine was a small scaled romantic tragedy, The Place Beyond The Pines is on a much larger playing field as it spans its 15 plus years, giving us a sweeping genre epic that stands an equal among similar father-son consequential films such as The Godfather. Derek Cianfrance once again shows us he’s a masterclass in filmmaking, delivering what will surely be the year’s best dramatic film. This is filmmaking from the pelvis by Cianfrance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go until the final, heartbreaking frames contrasted with Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’; this, is one hell of a film, and among the best of its year of release. As this epic tale of fathers, sons, and consequences rides off into the morning sunrise, its grip will loosen just enough to leave you breathless in its powerful wake.

 

Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day: A Review by Nate Hill 

“To protect the sheep, you gotta catch the wolf, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” This questionable sentiment is how rogue LAPD detective Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) justifies a heavy laundry list of dirty deeds, scary volatility, sociopathic backstabbing and a complete disregard for the badge that he wears on a chain like dog tags. And indeed, inner city Los Angeles can seem like a war zone, but its like he’s in fact more part of the problem than the dark angel of justice he sees in himself. Antoine Fuqua’s combustible crime drama Training Day rightly won Washington an Oscar for his unsettling runaway train of a performance, and he owns it down to the last maniacal mannerism and manipulative tactic. The film takes place over one smoggy L.A. day (hence the title) that feels like an eternity for its two leads, as well as all the colorful and often terrifying people they meet along the yellow brick road that’s paved with used needles and shell casings. Harris is tasked with showing rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) the ropes in his neighborhood, in the hopes that he’ll pass the test and achieve Narc status. Jake is prepared for a run of the mill crash course, but as soon as he’s treated to a verbal beatdown from Harris in the diner they meet at, he has a feeling it ain’t gonna be anywhere close to a normal day. This is just another day for Harris though, as he drags Hoyt by the scruff through drug busts, gang warfare, the worst neighborhood in town and pulls him deeper into his very dangerous world. Fuqua has a knack for getting the atmosphere of his settings just pitch perfect, and the feverish nightmare of the inner city comes alive, seemingly possessing the characters themselves until the atrocities just seem like a way of life. The trouble really starts when they run across Harris’s old drug lord buddy Roger (a wicked Scott Glenn in a role originally intended for Mickey Rourke), who proves a valuable asset later, though not in the way you might think. Harris introduces Jake to his equally crooked and scary team, including Peter Greene, Nick Chinlund and Dr. Dre who struggles in the acting department, especially in a room full of such heavy hitters. Jake is aghast at the horrors he sees and cannot believe the streets are like this. Harris devilishly assures him that this is the job, mutilating the symbol of his badge even more by justifying such behaviour as necessary. Tension reaches unbearable heights during a visit to a Latino gang household run by Cliff Curtis, Raymond Cruz and the eternally scary Noel Gugliemi. This is the heart of darkness fpr the film, a story beat from which there is seemingly no escape, until it becomes clear that Jake has somehow evolved a step up the food chain as far as LA goes, and is now ready to put down the dog who taught him, a dog who has long been  rabid. People complain that the final act degenerates into a routine action sequence. Couldn’t disagree more. With a setup so primed with explosive conflict, it can’t end up anywhere else but an all out man to man scrap, which when followed by no flat out action sequences earlier in the film, hits hard. Their inevitable confrontation is a powerhouse, especially from Washington, who finally loses his composure and yowls like a trapped coyote, his actions caught up to him. In a role originally intended for Tom Sizemore (who would have rocked it in his own way) I’m glad Denzel got a crack at it, for he’s absolute dynamite. Watch for Harris Yulin, Raymond J. Barry and Tom Berenger as the three senior LAPD dick heads, Eva Mendes as Alonzo’s girlfriend, Macy Gray as a screeching banshee of a ghetto whore and Snoop Dogg as your friendly neighborhood wheelchair bound crack dealer. Fuqua keeps attention rooted on the dynamic between Washington and Hawke, who is excellent in as role that could have easily been swallowed up by Washington’s monster of of a performance. Hawke holds his own, and the film is really about how two very different guys view a difficult area of town, how it changes them both, and ultimately how their moral compasses end up on a collision course. One of the best crime framas out there, and quickly becoming timeless.

Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines: A Review by Nate Hill

image

Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines is so ambitious in reaching for its themes, it almost seems godlike in its depictions of paternal archetypes. Even gods fall though, and this is a film that grandly shows us the flaws in two very different fathers, how those qualities and the actions they generate can cause damaging rifts for their offspring and those around them years later. Cianfrance seems intent on tackling difficult subject matters with each new film he makes, spiraling systematically into the heart of human behaviour, and mine for the answers to questions which mean so much to him. Mental illness and love were areas he explored prior to this, and now he takes on fatherhood, fateful missteps included. The film is separated into two distinct and very different episodes. We begin somewhere in the 1980’s with Luke Crash (Ryan Gosling) an adrenaline junkie motocross daredevil who is all about little talk, lots of impulse and low rationality. He’s drawn along by a petty criminal (Ben Mendelsohn, superb) on a series of increasingly risky bank robberies, with notions of providing for his wife (Eva Mendes) and infant child. He takes it too far though, and tragedy strikes with the arrival of Avery (Bradley Cooper), a gung ho young police officer who suddenly finds himself in the hot seat after being branded a hero cop. The film then makes a jarring leap in both time and tone to present day. Avery is now a political candidate with powerful friends and some nasty secrets that gave him his position. He has a son (Emory Cohen) who’s on a rocky road of difficult behaviour, estranged and distant from him. Fate steps in and places Luke’s own son (Dane DeHaan) in the mix for a very volatile and prophetic outcome that brings the big picture into full circle. My favourite part of the film is the first segment, particularly the interaction between Mendelsohn and Gosling, and their dynamic. It’s so organic and unforced, everything happening with the cadence and pace that I recognize in my own life. That’s realism. It’s moody, ponderous and has an atmosphere thicker than most films dream of. It’s somewhat strangled by the abrupt change halfway through, but it’s simply one door in the narrative leading into a new room, and is neccesary once I thought about it more. What the film has to day about fathers and sons isn’t your garden variety family drama message. There’s a near Shakespearian darkness to it, the cloak of inevitability laid down by a few lightning quick moments in one’s life that arch out through the years and affect ones children in ways that were never contemplated in that one split second it took to act. Rough stuff, but endlessly fascinating. Ray Liotta does his patented corrupt dick head cop thing nicely, Rose Byrne quietly plays Cooper’s wife, and look out for Bruce Greenwood and Harris Yulin as well. After the titanic undertaking he has striven for here, I can’t wait to see what Cianfrance has in store for us next. Powerful stuff.