Tag Archives: HBO

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

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Powers Boothe Performances

Powers Boothe was one of Hollywood’s most understated yet grittiest badasses, a powerful, stone voiced presence who could vividly bring many characters to life including cowboys, corrupt politicians, stern law enforcement officers and more, always with the kind of steely eyed, half smirk charisma that suggested he’s holding a couple cards close to his chest for a fiercely explosive element to the performance arc later on. Unfortunately he is no longer with us but the vivid impression he left with his multiple, varied and always intense portrayals lives on every day. Here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Philip Marlowe in HBO’s Philip Marlowe: Private Eye

Many actors have taken a whack at playing this iconoclastic gumshoe, but Boothe’s turn remains the most charismatic, entertaining and also under the radar. This is kind of a long lost HBO miniseries that’s hard to find these days but his gruff, keen and dangerous version of Marlowe is a key touchstone of the man’s career.

9. Mace Ryan in Dwight H. Little’s Rapid Fire

Perhaps the crankiest big city narcotics task force commander that Chicago has ever seen, Ryan teams up with the late great Brandon Lee to viciously take down a heroin syndicate and fire as many guns as he can in the process. He’s loud, mean and always on edge here but underneath that bristled exterior there’s a warmth and strong moral compass that we see in his subtly paternal relationship with Lee’s character. I might add this is one of the most underrated martial arts/shoot out actioners of the 90’s.

8. Mayor Eo Jaxxon in Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City

Not many people paid attention to this short lived, balls out animated series but it’s a fucking gem. Basically like an Archer type cop show with that amazing 80’s neon pastel Miami Vice aesthetic that we all love, starring Rob Lowe as a cocky but ultimately dipshit big city cop. Boothe steals the goddamn show in one episode alone though as the brash, coke fuelled, megalomaniacal mayor. Sporting a crispy white suit and two snow leopards for pets, it’s the kind of voiceover performance that lets this mostly grave and serious actor have a fucking ton of fun and just be looney for a little while, he had a real untapped gift for comedy that was only really apparent in this role.

7. Curly Bill Brocius in George P. Cosmatos’ Tombstone

Nothing beats the sight of villainous Brocius stumbling out of of an opium den, drawing his revolvers and deliriously shooting civilians for the sheer hell of it. Or his deadpan, nonchalant “Well… bye!” sardonically sneered at Wyatt Earp and his gang. He’s admittedly overshadowed and outlived by Michael Biehn’s ferocious antagonist Johnny Ringo but still makes a hell of an impression.

6. Cy Tolliver in HBO’s Deadwood

Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen gets much of the accolades here and rightfully so but Boothe’s rival saloon kingpin is an evil snake whose perverse, complex and twisted relationship with his chief whore (Kim Dickens) is a powerfully compelling dynamic.

5. Sheriff Virgil Potter in Oliver Stone’s U Turn

All of the townsfolk in Superior, Arizona are nasty, secretive snakes, Powers’ scary local sheriff included. He spends much of the film intimidating Sean Penn, getting silly drunk on spirits and not a whole lot of actually enforcing the law. When the third act revelations begin to play out and the noirish twists come along there’s a terrifying, blind drunk ferocity to his work that remains some of the best in a large, prolific cast.

4. Corporal Charles Hardin in Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort

A well read, thinking man stuck in the military isn’t something you always expect to see in cinema every day but here he plays an educated Texan who is less than thrilled to be saddled with yokel fellow soldiers for a Louisiana National Guard training exercise that goes hellishly South. There’s a hard bitten nature to his resilience here as he and another survivor (Keith Carradine) in the unit do battle with dangerous Cajuns who know the terrain far better than them.

3. Senator Roark in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City & Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

His monologue about power in the first film was a chilling picture of ultimate evil and corruption, and then in the second we got to see him actually act on all that for one of the most memorable and heinous comic book baddies ever written. Gravel voiced, power-mad beyond reason, narrow eyed and psychopathic to the bone, Powers makes this guy one arch villain for the ages.

2. Cash Bailey in Walter Hill’s Extreme Prejudice

The pimpest drug baron to ever wear a white suit and swig tequila, Cash is in a fierce turf war with childhood friend and Texas Ranger Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) that erupts into bloody Peckinpah-esque madness. Boothe is slick, mean, magnetic, deftly verbose and creates one of the coolest, baddest dudes of action cinema here, whether he’s prophetically killing a scorpion or menacing his and Jack’s childhood sweetheart (Maria Conchita Alonso). What a character.

1. Bill Markham in John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest

Perhaps the most vulnerable and down to earth character he’s played, Bill is an industrial developer who loses his son at the edge of the vast Amazon rainforest, only to be reunited after a decades long search and the boy’s adoption into a Native tribe. He shows striking depth, compassion, determination and paternal instinct here, I love that Boorman cast him against type because he wound up giving what I consider to be a career best turn.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

City of Dark Angels: Nate’s Top Ten LA Noir films

Los Angeles is a place of bright sunny daydreams, hopeful aspirations of fame and fortune and the ever present hum of the Hollywood industry. It’s a fascinating arena to watch a film noir unfold but between the palms, roaming the hilly outskirts and permeating the cityscape is often a deep, sleazy corruption and sense of danger at every turn, apparent in many films that explore the dark, noirish side of town. Vice cops on the take, starlets on the run from powerfully evil forces, mobsters running the show from behind the scenes and grisly serial murderers that inspire films of their own, it’s all there and more. Here are my top ten in this sexy, beautiful and often hilarious sub-genre.. Oh one more thing! Please keep in mind I’m still a young’in and haven’t seen pretty much any of the old LA crime films dating back to black and white days of the 40’s and 50’s.. one day we’ll get to those, but for now these are my favourite one from a more contemporary scope of vision.. Enjoy!

10. Carl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington sniffs out corruption most foul in this sweaty potboiler that includes a mysterious femme fatale (Jennifer Beals), a politician (the late Maury Chaykin) with some disturbing skeletons in his closet and a scary rogue cop (Tom Sizemore). The narrative is reliably serpentine, Denzel pulls off a smooth performance and the atmosphere is all grit, shadows and smoked out jazz clubs.

9. Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls

In this vision of 40’s LA, corruption has to stand up to Nick Nolte’s Max Hoover, an off the book vigilante cop who doles out brutal frontier style justice on gangsters along with his equally ruthless crew (Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and Chazz Palminteri). This one has a bad rep but it’s fantastic, the scope of the central mystery spans to the outskirts of town and includes a mysterious songbird (Jennifer Connolly), a weirdo Air Force colonel (John Malkovich) and more. It’s a positively star studded piece of work with cameos buried like hidden treasure throughout, a spectacular sense of time and place thanks to lavish production design and a hard edged, angry lead performance from Nolte at his most battered and distraught.

8. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

The buddy comedy gets a royal workout in this balls out pairing between Russell Crowe’s aloof thug for hire and Ryan Gosling’s moronic private eye. The plot here is almost impenetrable but it’s no matter, most of the fun is in the colourful, detailed 1970’s production design and Black’s trademark deadpan dialogue which we get in spades. Ooo, and an icily sexy turn from Kim Basinger as the city’s most corrupt government official, a deliberate callback to another film later on this list.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Combining elements of classic noir with the zany cartoon aesthetic and using stunning technology to do so, this miracle of a film parades around pretty much every animated character you can think of in a tale of humans living alongside ‘Toons’ in an alternate reality Los Angeles. A trip to Toon Town, the sultry femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner) a truly terrifying villain (Christopher Lloyd), an intrepid private eye (Bob Hoskins) and so much more can be found in this timeless, visually dazzling classic.

6. Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential

A sprawling, diabolical tale of police corruption, this brilliant, galvanizing piece of crime cinema launched the international careers of both Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, both providing solid, brawny tough guy turns. Kim Basinger gives arguably her best performance as a blonde bombshell starlet, Kevin Spacey is splendid as a headline hogging super cop who reeks of self loathing and James Cromwell makes for one terrifying villain as the last guy you want as a Police Commissioner. The real star here is the script, a labyrinthine tale that takes its time imparting revelations and ends with several dark secrets and a bang-up shootout. Oh, and remember Rollo Tomassi.

5. DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

Val Kilmer explores the duality of man as both a nocturnal meth-head and a mournful trumpet player in this curious, dreamy and altogether captivating piece of pulp bliss. Populated by eccentric actors like Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf and Vincent D’Onofrio in a bizarre encore as a drug kingpin called Pooh Bear, this is one of the most distinctive and memorable crime flicks out there. From it’s haunting trumpet solos set against the sunset on the shores of the titular waters to the feverish late night shenanigans of Kilmer and his band of druggie freaks to a slow burn revenge subplot that creeps up from behind, this is a brilliant picture.

4. HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

This might be a controversial pick a) because it’s a season of television and not a feature film and b) because this season isn’t regarded as quality content in some circles. Well… with these lists I envision a world of blogging where film and TV occupy the same realm and also I will defend this incredible story to the grave. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn play lost souls in a fictional California county who begin to uncover a dense, decades old trend of conspiracy and corruption in their midst. It’s bleak, fatalistic and hyper stylized but the truth of each character and the season’s dark themes overall shine through wonderfully. It’s one of my favourite seasons of television ever produced and simply undeserving of any dislike thrown its way.

3. Ethan & Joel Coen’s The Big Lebowski

What do marmots, nihilists, White Russians, bowling, sarsaparilla, interpretive dance, dirty undies and the sheriff of Malibu have in common? It’ll take a couple of viewings to completely string together the Coen’s farcical cult classic and distill it to a point of cohesion, but is that really the point anyways? This film has sort of spawned a subculture and taken on a life all its own. A purebred masterpiece of screwball elements, abstract dream sequences, stoned out tomfoolery and the bad guy from Roadhouse playing a pornographer who likes to draw dicks… what more do we need?

2. Michael Mann’s Collateral

There’s a point in this film where a lone coyote ambles across the LA interstate while Jamie Foxx’s introverted cab driver and Tom Cruise’s philosophical hitman look on in dreamy bemusement to the tune of Groove Armada’s haunting ‘Hands Of Time’ in the background. It’s striking for a few different reasons.. it serves the plot none other than to highlight both the savage, jungle law nature of Los Angeles and to remind us that the colour of this beast’s coat mirrors that of Cruise’s hair and leaves us to wonder if that is deliberate or just us making conjecture. Mann’s brilliant crime thriller is full of moments like these, subtle instances, eerie coincidences and mood setting interludes that make it something more than just your average cat and mouse thriller, something deep, meditative and primal.

1. Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

As a once aspiring actor I’ve always had this fantasy of becoming casted by accident and catapulted into the LA scene by sheer happenstance, and that’s exactly what happens to hapless Robert Downey Jr in this hilariously meta send up of noir in general. Of course the lucky break isn’t without strings attached, the main one being Val Kilmer’s scene stealing private detective Gay Perry. The two of them bicker their way down a rabbit hole involving an aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan, luminous), a shady tycoon (Corbin Bernsen) and numerous other lowlifes and weirdos the great city has to offer. Downey and Kilmer win the day with their utterly hilarious and touching characterizations, spurred by Black’s winning dialogue and an overall sense that everyone involved has a deep love for all things Hollywood.

Thanks for reading!! What are some of your favourite LA Noirs?

-Nate Hill

HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

So just what was it about season two of HBO’s True Detective that caused such a monumental ruckus of ruthless criticism? Well, who can say. I imagine it had something to do with the dark, difficult and byzantine way that creator Nic Pizzolatto presents the material. Maybe it’s the fact that it had to follow the lightning in a bottle, southern gothic, out of left field mastery of season one. Simply just the shift in tone and setting? I’m reaching for straws here because the hate and rejection that this brilliant piece of television has amassed always flew over my head. This is deep, dark LA noir at its finest, most gorgeously dangerous and I love every challenging, impenetrable episode to bits.

The setting shifts from bayous of Louisiana, the amount of lead characters multiplies significantly and where there was once eerie folk horror and occult conspiracy we now find decadence, corruption most high and a focused, implosive inwardness in exploring each individual the narrative focuses on. Colin Farrell is unbearably intense as LA cop Ray Velcoro, a haunted addict who has fallen from the grace of both the department and his family, but isn’t down for the count quite yet. Vince Vaughn is emblematic of every career criminal trying to go straight as Frank Semyon, a stubborn small time kingpin with dreams of scoring big in California real estate. Rachel McAdams is haunted as Ani Bezzerides, a cop with a tragic past and the deep set trauma to prove it. Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrough, a pent up special ops veteran turned state trooper who rounds out this quartet as they’re faced with the kind of miserable, insurmountable odds one always finds in the best kind of film noirs. There’s an unsettling, decades old conspiracy afoot in the fictional yet uneasily realistic county of Vinci, CA, a brooding, festering menace that seems rooted in the now booming transportation system that has taken the economy by storm. Our heroes struggle to fight treachery, debauchery and excess run mad everywhere they turn, for their souls and California’s itself alike as the slogan for promotional material “We get the world we deserve” seems stingingly apparent throughout.

Farrell is my favourite as Velcoro, the anxiety ridden badass who displays the horrors of his past in the manic whites of his eyes and drowns them out with enough booze and blow to feed a city’s collective habit. He’s an antihero type, moonlighting as an enforcer for Vaughn but maintaining a fierce moral compass when all else is naught. Vaughn feasts on the stylized dialogue here and produces verbal poetry so good it hurts and you hit the rewind button just to hear his delivery again. His Frank is a hard, jaded piece of work with a soul hiding beneath the layers of anger and distrust for the world around him. McAdams’s Ani comes from a place of childhood trauma so unthinkable that they barely show it in hushed flashback, and it’s apparent in her caged animal body language, by far the actress’s most affecting work. Kitsch makes the slightest impression of the four and his arc didn’t seem as immediate as the others but he still did a bang up job in intense physicality. After the success of season one a host of excellent actors were drawn to this project, standouts here include David Morse as Ani’s commune leader dad, Kelly Reilly as Frank’s intuitive wife and second in command, Rick Springfield (!) as a shady plastic surgeon, Ritchie Coster as Vinci’s terminally alcoholic mayor, W. Earl Brown, James Frain, Ronny Cox, C.S. Lee, Lolita Davidovitch and the legendary Fred Ward as Ray’s bitterly prophetic ex-cop father.

Pizzolatto spins a very different kind of story here, one composed of long glances, deep shadows, arresting establishing shots of Vinci’s sprawling highway system, as dense and tough to navigate as the season’s central mystery, which isn’t one you get a sense of in just one, two or even three viewings. Impatience and frustration are easy to understand with this narrative, but one shouldn’t write off this piece so easily and I’m sure that’s what happened. A few people don’t have the time to invest in it, get hostile and throw some negative reviews out there and before you know it it becomes cool to hate and there’s folks throwing around words like ‘flawed’ before they’ve attempted a single episode, but that’s the way the internet works I suppose. Balls to them though, this is a deliciously dark, highly stylized, very emotional ride through a world whose themes, intentions and true colours aren’t readily visible until you descend several layers deep alongside these compelling characters. It’s thoughtful, pessimistic yet just hopeful enough to keep a candle lit in all that darkness and has some of the most beautiful acting, camera, dialogue and music work I’ve seen from anything. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill