Tag Archives: HBO

HBO’s The Outsider: Season 1

I love stories that question the parameters of humanity’s collective ancestral belief, faith and reason, tales that dredge up ancient horrors and turn them loose on a modernized, very ill prepared and unsuspecting world. We’ve all turned the lights out to go to sleep at night and shuddered at the thought of something supernatural in the bedroom with us, pondered the presence of beings beyond trees and wildlife watching us when in the woods at night and entertained the ideas of the irrational, esoteric and unexplainable. HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Outsider has concluded its first season and my god what a stunner, a darkly gorgeous, oppressively uneasy and wholly human treatise on everything I opened this paragraph with and more.

This story starts routinely enough: in a small US community a young boy is found savagely murdered and sodomized in a rural area. All signs seemingly point towards local math teacher, little league coach and family man Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman displaying a startling level of gravitas I didn’t think him capable of), with multiple witnesses and various security cameras all over town implicating him pretty cut and dry. Lead detective on the case Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelssohn, fantastic as ever) makes his arrest, the DA viciously prosecutes and everything seems to be wrapping up pretty neatly… until it doesn’t. Bit by bit evidence starts to not add up, unease creeps into the procedural and something increasingly otherworldly hovers on the fringes of everyone’s awareness, some quick to believe and others skeptics until the last second. That’s about all I’ll say in regards to plot because every viewer deserves to have this tantalizing, shocking mystery furl out unspoiled for them.

This show is so effective because of how counterintuitive it feels compared to many other King adaptations. Because he’s predominantly a horror writer there’s a lot of gory effects, heavily dramatic performances and special effects employed when bringing his work to life in film and television, but not so much here. Yes, there is a supernatural element and yes there are gruesome aspects to it but there’s a lack of obvious FX and subtlety infused into each one of the human performances, all of which I genuinely cared about and felt each arc hit hard. Mendelssohn and Bateman are brilliant, the latter not getting as much screen time but using it for maximum impact in a soulful performance that goes against the grain of his largely comedic career. Others are wonderful including Paddy Considine, Bill Camp, Max Beesley, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham, Marc Menchaca, Yul Vasquez, Derek Cecil, Jeremy Bob, Hetienne Park, Michael Esper and more. My favourite performance and character is Cynthia Erivo as Holly Gibney, a slightly clairvoyant private investigator who sees the world just a bit differently and is the perfect person to have as head needle on the compass of this hunt for a heinous killer. Erivo got an Oscar nom this year, has been steadily producing brilliant work and I look forward to whatever she’s going to do next with great interest, her Holly is a sharply intuitive, subtly emotional, determined woman who is always just ahead of the curve and blends fierce pragmatism with empathy buried just below. Overall this season is a spellbinder, a dark story with touches of folk horror, well drawn characters, eerie music, haunting visuals and a real sense of place as is the case with King’s work. They have hinted at a second season and I’d be pumped if such is indeed the case but as it is this first instalment speaks for itself as a well crafted piece. Terrific stuff.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Massee Performances

Not too many people remember or could name a lot films in Michael Massee’s career, but to me he was always an electrifying, charismatic and often quite scary character actor accustomed to villains, tough guys and supernaturally malevolent roles throughout his varied career. With sad, cold eyes, gaunt frame and a voice that seemed to both annunciate clearly and blur mercurially with his mannerisms, he always stood out no matter the role. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances!

10. Leroux in Sahara

This African set war film is a remake of an old Humphrey Bogart picture and sees tank commander Jim Belushi leading troops through a desert gauntlet of fierce combat. It’s a serviceable TV movie and Michael steals scenes believably playing a French soldier who joins forces with them and turns on the charm even when things get tough.

9. Jacob Dawes in Criminal Minds

A vicious, manipulative serial killer who sits on death row giving everyone the crazy eyes, Jacob is not only responsible for murder but for corrupting an innocent woman and convincing her to join him in the atrocities. Michael makes this one episode arc count with sinister magnetism.

8. Casey Steele in CSI: NY

Casey is a mysterious and sadistic trucker who is transporting several kidnapped women in his rig across many state lines, likely for human trafficking. Michael gives him a sardonic edge and just the right amount of dark humour. When apprehended and in custody instead of talking he just curtly tells the cops: “If you gentlemen are done here I’d like to go to prison now.” That line delivery is note perfect.

7. D. Gibbons/Dyson Frost in FlashForward

This excellent and painfully short lived show saw the entire world experience a collective metaphysical phenomenon and try to deal with the aftermath as well as all the mysteries it brings about. Frost is one of those mysteries, an elusive scientist of dark proclivities out for nefarious ends and appearing here and there like an evil force of nature. Massee gets a solid arc here as basically the show’s main baddie and proves a force to be reckoned with.

6. Andy in David Lynch’s Lost Highway

Lynch’s trippy psychological shocker is chock full of fascinating personalities including Marilyn Manson, Gary Busey and a terrifying Robert Blake in his final acting role. Michael’s Andy is a sleazy socialite who hosts weird cult parties and, like most characters that Bill Pullman’s protagonist comes across, perpetually seems to be keeping some kinky secrets to go along with that unsettling pencil thin moustache.

5. Man In Massage Parlour Booth in David Fincher’s Seven

Another dark film full of interesting cameos, Michael plays clerk at essentially a brothel where one of the film’s central murder set pieces occurs. When asked cynically by Brad Pitt’s detective if he enjoys his work and likes what he has to watch happen there every day he replies “No, I don’t. But that’s life.” It’s a minuscule portion of dialogue but Michael gives it all the gravity, sorrow and resolute melancholy in the world.

4. Gustav Fiers/The Gentleman/Man In The Shadows in The Amazing Spider-Man and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I’m not really familiar with Fiers as a villain in the comics but her he’s essentially a shadowy figure who manipulates Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper) for unseen purposes and hovers over the events of these two films like a dark entity, actually ending up being the most effective antagonist in either entry, as most of the other efforts are pretty silly. Michael gives him a ghostly noirish vibe and gets the spotlight in the first film’s tantalizing post credits scene.

3. Lucius Belyakov in HBO’s Carnivale

This is a tricky role and it doesn’t belong entirely to him but he’s basically a Russian soldier who serves as avatar for darkness in this show’s complex, slowly revealed mythology. Michael doesn’t speak a word here (the role is later given the voice of Linda Hunt, of all people) but the sight of him spectrally hunting down a wild bear in a smoky battlefield is pretty haunting, as are the surreal dream sequences where he stares menacingly at his adversary Scudder (John Savage).

2. Isiah Haden in Revelations

This miniseries sees him play a maniacal prophet of doom heralding the apocalypse while a priest (Bill Pullman) and a nun (Natascha McElhone) investigate both his claims and his sanity. Michael often reined it in for quieter portraits of evil but he lets it fucking rip and goes absolutely ballistic here, all fire, brimstone and biblical fury. It’s also one of his largest roles in a career spent mostly in fringe supporting appearances.

1. Ira Gaines in 24

Gaines is a sterling badass psychopathic bastard and straight up my favourite villain that Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer has ever done battle with. He isn’t even a top tier baddie either, he’s one of the early season middle men that is clearly working for someone else (as is always tradition with 24) but there’s something about how cold, nasty and calibrated his operation is that sticks with you. He orders countless people killed and when one of his henchman asks where to bury one he hisses back “In the ground.” When Jack eventually corners and has the drop on him he calmly wishes him “good luck” and casually goes for his gun without hesitation. He was a beast of a villain played expertly by Michael and the show has never matched that level of icy malevolence since.

-Nate Hill

HBO’s Watchmen

Given Alan Moore’s corrosive reaction to any adaptation of his work so far I admire the big brass balls of anyone who attempts to go near it these, much less craft a new story based on his existing volumes. So that said, HBO and Damon Lindelof should be given the slow clap for attempting such a thing and not only that but making something just as sprawling, provocative and prescient as the source material. I have a deep love for Moore’s original graphic novel, I’m a huge fan of Zachary Snyder’s epic big screen version and I can now happily say that I am also over the moon about and mostly appreciate what they’ve done here.

I can’t say much about the story without spoiling both this and the book for anyone who isn’t up to date but anyways: The year is 2019, over two decades since ex superhero Ozymandias changed the course of history with a certain gooey incident in NYC (this follows the book, whereas Snyder did his own thing in the third act, which was also welcome). The setting is rural Oklahoma where masked police officers team up with costumed antiheroes to tackle a white supremacist hate group who have hijacked deceased Rorschach’s extremist views for their own nasty agenda, complete with wearing his mask. If you remember Rorschach you’ll recall that although his intentions steered towards the righteous now and again, for the most part he was a hateful, maladjusted prick and I wouldn’t put it past that elusive diary of his to spark this kind of cancer across the land years later. Anywho, police officer Angela Abar (Regina King) moonlights as a badass called Sister Night and along with her captain (Don Johnson), human lie detector Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson, finally gifted a role that exercises his talents beyond ‘dim-bulb hayseed’) and more, try to get to the bottom of what’s up. This proves tricky especially when former Silk Spectre Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) blows into town hunting vigilantes and a shadowy conspiracy begins to emerge involving everyone’s past. Lindelof & Co. carefully pick their cast and as such we get amazing work from the likes of Hong Chau, Tom Mison, Sarah Vickers, Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr, Glenn Fleshler and scene stealing Jeremy Irons as a haggard, very eccentric older Ozymandias.

I really can’t comment much more on story without ruining the surprises here, of which there are many. This is a byzantine tale, one that at first seems to have little to do with the original story until slowly, carefully and cleverly the layers peel back and the “Aha!” moments begin to roll in. My favourite performance of the whole piece is Jean Smart as the brittle, jaded and supremely badass Laurie, I noted with interest that she took her father Edward ‘The Comedian’ Blake’s last name despite everything that happened to her and her mom, and its these little touches that augment what we remember and add such rich depth to the mythology. Where is Dr. Manhattan in of this? There are blue phone-booths all over the world that one can go into and supposedly get a direct one way line to Mars where he just might be listening. Thousands of tiny, bizarre squid aliens periodically rain from the sky serving as reminder of the great unknown that made itself known in NYC. Watching this I felt immersed, I believed that this is the way the world could very well have ended up after what happened all those years ago. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross outdo themselves with a menacing, sonic original score that surges the action along and spins up the same kind of paranoia one feels reading the source material. Aside from a few issues with character development and the deliberate one note portrayal of some of the antagonists, this is worthy of the Watchmen name and then some.

-Nate Hill

Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials – Season 1

If you’re a fan of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials book series you’ll know what a complex, unique, mystical and demanding story it is, deserving of an adaptation that takes themes, character and pacing seriously. If you’ve seen the 2007 Golden Compass film you will know just how monumentally, how embarrassingly they failed at bringing this very special piece of storytelling to life and doing the source material justice. Second times the charm though, I’m happy to report that HBO’s long form crack at it is a gorgeously dense, adequately mature and living, breathing, convincingly built model of Pullman’s literary work.

Logan’s Dafne Keen is Lyra Belacqua, a mysterious child adopted by a collective scholarship in an alternate dimension where every human being has a ‘daemon,’ literal pieces of their soul manifested as animals in the physical realm, lifelong companions tethered by an intangible yet essential bond. Lyra is periodically watched over by her shrewdly ambitious uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy understands this guy far better than Daniel Craig did), but his interests ultimately lie north in the arctic where he researches elusive metaphysical phenomena deemed ‘heresy’ by the Majesterium, a fascist, omnipresent religious sect that makes the churches of our world seem like kindergarten playtime in comparison. Anyways, Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon are swept up in an epic quest northbound to discover where the missing children of the roaming Gyptian clans have gone, find answers to the secret of her own identity and even possibly unlock portals to other worlds, including our own.

In a way the film never stood a chance next to this simply by default; one book is just going to breathe better in eight hour length episodes rather than one two hour movie no matter how you spin it. However, where this truly eclipses the past effort is its attention to detail and proper care in bringing several complicated and difficult relationships to life, as well as an ever present and necessary tone of darkness. Lyra and the power mad Marissa Coulter (Ruth Wilson is terrifyingly conflicted) are such an important, vital dynamic to this story and both actresses soar in their scenes together. McAvoy finds the callous, tunnel vision mentality to Asriel nicely, this guy is no hero or proper father figure, just a desperate explorer hellbent on that horizon no matter the personal cost. James Cosmo gives a heartbreaking, Emmy worthy turn as Farder Coram, the Gyptian elder who once shared a great love with Northern Witch Serefina Pekkala (Ruta Gedmintas). The only somewhat weak link is Lin Manuel Miranda as gunslinging aeronaut Lee Scoresby, who is a bit less grizzled than the character demands (Sam Elliott played him far better in the film) and could use a brush up in the acting department, but he still makes an impression. There are armoured bears, battles on the ice, northern lights, trips into our world through secured doorways, voyages far into the arctic circle and more, but what makes this so successful is the human element, and the willingness to tackle themes that some young adult adaptations just don’t seem to want to address. Lyra struggles with trust, understanding the world and dealing with the adults in her life, two of which cause her great pain and suffering when they should be the two most supportive and loving ones. It’s a difficult, often harrowing and tragic journey for a child to make, but one worth taking for how seriously the show runners wish to take it. Bring on season 2.

-Nate Hill

End of an Era: Nate’s Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

It has been an amazing decade for television! Not only that but in the last ten years we have seen a giant shift from the casual week-to-week entertainment factor of cable TV towards serious arthouse long form storytelling, major production value on the small screen and a much celebrated golden age of serialized television. There have been dozens upon dozens of beautifully crafted, innovative, imaginative and affecting pieces of work produced and here are my twenty personal favourite!

20. The Big Lez Show (2012/YouTube)

This one is something else. Essentially a simplistic piece quite literally animated on Microsoft Paint, it highlights the profane, raucous and often meditative adventures of Big Lez, his stoner Sasquatch buddies and many others. Australian humour adds an offbeat quality and there’s never a shortage of bizarre comedic set pieces, hysterical character interaction and a sense of WTF-ness that permeates the whole thing.

19. Justified (2010/FX)

You’d never believe that such a legendary, Kentucky fried aesthetic could be distilled from one Elmore Leonard short story, but this thing is a feast. Timothy Olyphant scores big as brittle Federal Marshal Raylan Givens, venturing back to his rural roots for six glorious seasons of pulpy, star studded, densely verbose modern western intrigue.

18. Goliath (2018/Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thornton does a career best turn in this surreal LA noir about a disgraced ex super-lawyer on the skids and forced to take on near suicidal class action lawsuits. Cue mystery, political corruption, glossy California decadence and a sense of ramshackle family within his tight knit crew. It’s a fantastic, high powered thriller and intense character study with top caliber guest actors and a feel for California and the surrounding area that draws you right in.

17. Ray Donovan (2013/Showtime)

Part Grand Theft Auto, part L.A. Confidential with a healthy dose of contemporary pop culture, this is a fantastic cross section and often satire of gritty underworld Hollywood through the eyes of Liev Schreiber’s Ray, a Boston bred tough guy with the polish of L.A. who acts as fixer, muscle, often romantic partner and secret agent of sorts to the elites of media and sports industries. There’s morality plays, fierce examinations of Shakespearean loyalty and betrayal, stinging dark humour, farcical sensibilities, dastardly villains and a lot of pathos packed into this still continuing epic.

16. Shameless (2011/Showtime)

Life for a lower middle class Chicago family is hilariously documented in this candid, raunchy, heartfelt and chaotic framework full of fantastic performances, chief among them William H. Macy as their perpetually drunk patriarch and the lovely Emmy Rossum as his brave, fierce and resilient daughter. There’s never a shortage of hijinks, severely R rated shenanigans or berserk subplots around, plus along the way you get a good sense for each family member and their woes, joys and personal struggles.

15. Game Of Thrones (2011/HBO)

I do have issues with this show, namely pacing, tone and the fucking rush job of a last season thanks to those two writers. However, this is a gargantuan fantasy epic that changed the landscape of television forever and has an infinity of gorgeously mounted set pieces, complex character dynamics and yes, dragons.

14. Stranger Things (2016/Netflix)

Neon, 80’s nostalgia, Amblin vibes, Stephen King atmosphere and yesteryear pop culture abound. This show is now an international phenomenon and rightfully so but it legit has the quality and heart to back up the hype, particularly in the near perfect first season.

13. Homecoming (2018/Amazon Prime)

Julia Roberts uncovers a deeply planted conspiracy amongst the ex military patients she’s hired to provide counselling for in this baroque, moody noir that only arrives in thirty minute episodes but somehow seems much denser. Melancholy, burnished and stocked with musical tracks lifted right from classic Hollywood films, this is one captivating piece of storytelling.

12. The Alienist (2018/TNT)

This dark, macabre tale sees a psychiatric pioneer (Daniel Bruhl), a crime scene illustrator (Luke Evans) and the first woman in the New York police department (Dakota Fanning) on the hunt for a terrifying, ever elusive serial killer near the turn of the century. It’s slick, intelligent, unexpected and not watered down whatsoever, leading to one of the starkest and most brutal yet captivating portraits of history I’ve ever seen onscreen.

11. The Terror (2018/AMC)

This inclusion goes for season one, which in its own is a thing of magisterial beauty, terror and primal existentialism. An elemental fiction reworking of a real life naval disappearance in the arctic, this story is best binged in one rainy day to absorb character, incident and the cold atmosphere of such a remote series of events.

10. Fargo (2014/FX)

I’ve been flayed for holding this opinion before but for me this tv adaptation outdoes the Coen brothers’ original film itself. A near biblical trio of seasons that begins with the icy Minnesota black comedy crime aesthetic and ascends at times to something daring and esoteric, this breaks both the mould it was forged in and that of television itself. Plus you get to briefly see Bruce Campbell play Ronald Reagan and if that ain’t worth the time capsule then I just don’t know what is.

9. Letterkenny (2016/CraveTV)

Rural Ontario seems like an odd setting for one of the snappiest, smartly written and hysterical comedies this decade has seen but there you go. Basically just the humdrum misadventures of a town with 5,000 population and no shortage of mayhem, this is television like no other and you really have to just crush like five episodes, immerse yourself in the mile a minute dialogue and jokes to experience the magic. Pitter patter.

8. Happy! (2017/SyFy)

Disgraced, alcoholic ex cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni in a career best) and his daughter’s imaginary friend Happy the flying unicorn (Patton Oswalt) hunt down all kinds of freaks, weirdos, perverts, contract killers and arch villains on Christmas Eve to find a bunch of kidnapped children. That description says nothing though, only through viewing this can you appreciate how ballsy, subversive and deeply fucked up this story really is. Not for the faint of heart, but anyone with a love of whacked out dark humour and unconventional storytelling will get a royal kick.

7. Hannibal (2013/NBC)

I’ll admit I wasn’t super pumped when I heard that NBC was doing a Hannibal rendition, as they’re kind of a vanilla cable show runner. But creator Bryant Fuller churned out something spectacularly atmospheric, unbelievably artistic and so not what you’d expect to see. Mads Mikkelsen makes a chilling, low key and almost ethereal Dr. Lekter, Hugh Dancy a haunted, empathetic Will Graham and there’s an eclectically rounded cast of guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, Kacey Rohl, Eddie Izzard, Michael Pitt, Katherine Isabelle, Lance Henriksen and more.

6. Westworld (2016/HBO)

The advent of artificial intelligence blends with humanity’s deepest desires and eventually something more profound in this complex, operatic, gorgeously mounted science fiction epic. It’s a tricky beast and a labyrinthine (literally and figuratively) experience to process but stick with it and the resulting effect is mesmerizing.

5. Maniac (2018/Netflix)

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone headline this psychological fantasy that’s kinda tough to pin down. A clandestine drug trial in a casette futurism setting leads to personal revelations, social satire and the kind of episodic time travel multidimensional storytelling that I live for. Brilliant stuff.

4. The Haunting Of Hill House (2018/Netflix)

Stephen King called this a work of genius, and I too share that sentiment. This is old school spook horror done beautifully, with powerful performances, psychological depth, harrowing scares both ghostly and wrought from human nature and characters that forge a strong place in your heart with each passing episode.

3. The OA (2016/Netflix)

I’m still so choked that Netflix cancelled this after only two seasons yet they keep tired, mediocre garbage like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why limping on long past their shelf life. I’ll quit being bitter now but you’ll see what a gem this is after five minutes of the pilot. Rich storytelling, groundbreaking conceptual design and ideas that don’t only think outside the box but defy dimensional existence. One day someone will pick this up for continuation but until then please check out the two masterful first seasons.

2. True Detective (2014/HBO)

A southern gothic conspiracy folk horror, an inky, fatalistic LA noir and a bleak ozark family saga. So far. The first season kicks off with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the darkest heart of Louisiana and while it’s my favourite part of this anthology so far, all three chapters cast their respective spell wonderfully.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017/Showtime)

David Lynch delivers not only a dazzling, appropriately perplexing and ever mysterious follow up to his initial series but a personal filmmaking magnum opus. He and his team changed the face of television once in the early 90’s and with this stunning piece of originality, horror, musical performance, surrealism, coffee, cherry pie and inter-dimensional travel… they pull it off again.

Thanks for reading and tune in lots in the coming decade for much more!!

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Gandolfini Performances

James Gandolfini meant a lot to Hollywood, cinema and myself as both an actor and lover of film. Yes he was the Italian gangster archetype incarnate, and a lovable teddy bear in comedic turns too. But his talent and wish to explore his craft went deeper than that, and even in roles that seemed outwardly to be one thing you could sense opposites, contradiction and a deliberate desire to subvert the obvious choices in his work. A tough guy he played could display disarming notes of vulnerability that takes one off guard, or a loving family man might show glimpses of volcanic darkness. It’s that understanding of complexity and juxtaposition within character that made him such striking, relatable and deeply loved presence in film and television for decades. Here are my personal top ten favourite performances!

10. Eddie Poole in Joel Schumacher’s 8MM

This is one intense film to sit through, one that even for its time and even now pushes the boundaries of extreme. Private investigator Nicolas Cage is looking for the dark origins of a possible snuff film, and the trail leads to shady small time pornography Eddie, who is an unrepentant, obnoxious, amoral scumbag. James finds the animalistic notes in him and the eventual pathetic fear he devolves into when secrets are threatened.

9. Lou in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen

Denzel Washington, John Goodman and Gandolfini play three homicide detectives hunting an elusive supernatural serial killer in this fantastic, underrated horror/noir. Lou is the mouthy one of the bunch, the cop in the precinct who is always chatting, shooting the shit and firing off jokes. James could fill a room with his presence in terms of gregarious humour but he’s also terrifying when the evil entity possesses him and intimidates Denzel in a chilling scene.

8. Tony Soprano in HBO’s The Sopranos

The big daddy of Italian monsters in film and television, Tony is a complex, scary, insecure, cunning and well rounded human being given the consistently brilliant talents of Gandolfini, who makes this guy someone you root for even when he’s being a piece of shit.

7. Colonel Winter in Rod Lurie’s The Last Castle

The ultimate battle unfolds between a decorated General (Robert Redford) and military prison warden Winter, who perceived insulting behaviour from him and makes it his mission to wage psychological warfare against him and any inmates standing with him. Gandolfini makes this guy simultaneously terrifying and pathetic, a failed officer who twists his resentment in not succeeding into a bitter, self destructive streak of self pity and anger.

6. Detective Joey Allegretto in Sydney Lumet’s Night Falls On Manhattan

I like it when films show police corruption as not necessarily an established routine or inherent trait but something that sneaks up on the characters through circumstance and makes them do things out of desperation that they never meant to do. Joey and his partner (Ian Holm) are two NYC cops forced to make some crazy split second decisions that lead to bad blood and dire consequences. James handles the arc fantastically in an early career turn displaying haunting moral complexity and much of the talent that would carry him on to fame later.

5. Al Love in Steven Zaillian’s A Civil Action

As a David vs. Goliath environmental lawsuit unfolds in a small rural community, many blue collar lives are caught up in the struggle. Gandolfini’s Al is a husband and father who much make the tough choice whether to risk his job by testifying against a company that is dumping toxic waste. There’s a quiet, understated moment at the dinner table where he looks around at his family with love as they eat, and he realizes he has no other choice but to protect other families like his own in the region. It’s a stirring, low key performance anchored by that important moment.

4. Mickey in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly

The ultimate antithesis of his classic Italian tough guy archetype, Mickey is a a sad sack ‘hitman’ brought in from out of town to kill a disloyal wise-guy (Ray Liotta). What he does instead is spend time drinking a bunch of booze, fucking multiple hookers and bitching about the way things used to be. It’s an interesting portrait of a guy long passed his prime who may or may not have one more killing in him, but certainly has a bad attitude, hedonistic habits and a bleak worldview to spare.

3. Bear in Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty

The strong, silent stuntman type, Bear never goes anywhere without his adorable toddler daughter, which proves to be dangerous when he gets embroiled in a tricky hollywood crime standoff. I like James as Bear because he’s laidback, not incredibly smart but sharp enough to know where to invest his considerable talent and resourcefulness when shit gets real.

2. Virgil in Tony Scott’s True Romance

Another early career turn and probably the most ruthless character he’s ever taken on, Virgil is a Detroit mobster with a sadistic streak out to retrieve a suitcase full of coke for his kingpin boss (Christopher Walken). His explosive, ultra violent confrontation with Patricia Arquette’s Alabama has since become a legendary sequence of over the hill madness. He gives Virgil a gleeful menace and predatory relish in his actions that amp up a traditionally constructed villain character into something beastly and horrific.

1. Winston Baldry in Gore Verbinski’s The Mexican

Another mob hitman, but of a completely different sort than ever before. Winston is tasked with babysitting Julia Roberts all over the states and winds up becoming besties with her, in a completely charming yet ultimately believable arc. Winston may be a seasoned professional killer but he’s entirely in touch with his feelings, haa romantic yearnings of his own and isn’t without a good dose of compassion. It’s a brilliant, well rounded performance in an underrated film and the one performance that is the most beloved and memorable for me.

Runners up: Surviving Christmas, Zero Dark Thirty, The Drop, Where The Wild Things Are.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Dennis Farina Performances

Who knew that a Chicago ex-cop would go on to become one of the most recognizable and talented presences in Hollywood? Michael Mann did when he cast buddy Dennis Farina in Thief way back in the day, after which the actor went on to give us an absolutely captivating, scene stealing body of work in cinema and a career particularly in crime and comedy genres that is now legend. He could be funny as all hell and then turn downright dangerous at the drop of a hat, your affable best friend or grim worst enemy in any given scene and often simultaneously. Dennis is no longer with us but his epic career lives on every day, and here are my personal top ten characters he crafted!

10. Maurice Cantavale in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock

If you haven’t seen this lovely little film then get on that right away, because it’s an absolute charmer through and through. So basically Alan Rickman is a British wine connoisseur who travels across the pond to Napa valley for a competition to enter his wines. Farina is his neighbour, a travel guide entrepreneur who accompanies him for camaraderie, companionship and moral support. He’s a lovable teddy bear here who has adorable chemistry with Rickman and adds to an already terrific ensemble cast.

9. Henry DeSalvo in Barry Sonnenfield’s Big Trouble

In an ensemble cast that’s just about as packed as one 90 minute comedy can handle, he stands out as a super cranky hitman called into Miami to kill a asshole corrupt business exec (Stanley Tucci). He finds every obstacle possible thrown in his path though from rambunctious football fans (“we got gator fans!”) to overzealous security guards and everything else the city has to offer. His mounting exasperation and deadpan frustration is one of the highlights of this hilarious, underrated screwball comedy.

8. Lt. Mike Torello in Michael Mann’s Crime Story

Here he gets to channel his real life roots in playing a tough Chicago police detective trying to prevent an up and coming wiseguy (Ray Luca) from ascending to power in the city’s dangerous criminal underworld. A companion piece of sorts to Mann’s more popular Miami Vice, this is a fantastically produced crime epic that’s packed with guest stars, many of which went on to A-list fame. Dennis is grounded, angry, violent when he needs to be but imbues the character with compassionate hues as well, it’s a beautiful lead role in a career that’s mostly stocked with supporting turns.

7. Joe May in Joe Maggio’s The Last Rites Of Joe May

Another lead role yay! This is a fantastic little seen indie drama about ex Chicago hustler Joe May who is released from prison in his twilight years and discovers the streets, along with his capabilities, aren’t what they used to be. Farina sadly passed away a few years after this was released and as such it kind of stands as a swan song of sorts. It’s about age, the passage of time and ultimately redemption in the face of one’s own mortality, and he nails every aspect of theme/character flawlessly, and should have been nominated for all the awards.

6. Dick Muller in Jon Bokenkamp’s Preston Tylk aka Bad Seed

This little seen indie drama sees widower Luke Wilson in a disquieting game of cat and mouse with his deceased wife’s lover (Norman Reedus), both blaming each other for her untimely death. Dennis is the world weary private investigator Wilson hires to help him through the whole mess and it’s in their dynamic that a touching interaction is formed. This is a depressing, sad story that can only end messily overall but he finds the humour, pathos and uplifting notes to his performance and it’s one of my favourite of the lesser known ones.

5. Jimmy Serrano in Martin Brest’s Midnight Run

This guy is a piece of work, but a hilarious one. The grumpiest Chicago mobster you could ever find, he’s a violent, corrupt, short tempered prick who spends most of his scenes threatening his poor lawyer (Phillip Baker Hall) with extreme bodily harm and trying to track down Robert De Niro’s elusive bounty hunter with whom he has a decades old grudge with. It’s a flashy, really funny and engaging bad guy turn that manages to scare and I still laughs in equal measures.

4. Gus Demitriou in HBO’s Luck

This was a sadly short lived but magnificent series set in and around an LA horse racetrack and focusing on all sorts of individuals whose lives revolve around it. Dustin Hoffman is Chester, a parolee who walks a fine line between businessman and mobster, while Farina’s Gus is his driver, assistant, sounding board, business partner and overall good friend. The dynamic between these two is communicated brilliantly by the two actors and we get a real sense of Gus’s moral standpoint, goals and outlook on life.

3. Jack Crawford in Michael Mann’s Manhunter

A few guys have played the FBI’s head of behavioural science and while Scott Glenn’s turn will always be my favourite, Dennis made a fascinating version. In a career filled with intense and exuberant work he made his Crawford into an understated guy who works well with William Petersen’s equally inward Will Graham.

2. Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni in Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty

One pissed off Miami gangster who is none too happy to get called to LA on business, he gets the film’s best line when he begrudgingly proclaims to a taxi driver: “They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.” Dennis was a staple in film adaptations of Elmore Leonard’s work and this is one of the pithiest, funniest in both his and the author’s rogues gallery.

1. Cousin Avi in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch

In an ensemble cast full of eclectic underground whackadoos, he *really* steals the show as a supremely sassy NYC gangster reluctantly dragged to London (which he hates) to track down a stolen diamond. Dennis’s energetic Chicago twang and Ritchie’s stylized flair for dialogue make this character sing, he gets many of the film’s funniest bits and is clearly having a ton of fun.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill