Tag Archives: Heather Graham

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell

The Hughes Brothers’ From Hell is one one of the most opulently stylish horror films out there, and despite being a bit melodramatic in areas, it boasts a grim, severely menacing atmosphere which is mandatory considering it focuses on the Jack The Ripper murders in Victorian era London. Based on a drab graphic novel by the great Alan Moore, The Hughes have amped up both suspense and passion and could be accused of Hollywood-izing Moore’s work too much, but the guy just doesn’t write very adaptable material and some liberties have to be taken to make watchable films. This one works better on its own terms, a dark, blood soaked detective story starring Johnny Depp as Frederick Abberline, a brilliant opium addicted Scotland Yard inspector out to nab the Ripper, with the help of his trusty boss Sgt. Godley, played by a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane. As we all know, the Ripper murders were never really solved, so naturally here a fictitious conspiracy is whipped up, full of intrigue and corruption, but as many cluttered subplots there are flying about, the film’s strength lies in the eerie murders carried out in nocturnal London, and Depp’s very strong performance as the drugged out cop who won’t quit. Supporting work comes from lovely Heather Graham as prostitute and love interest Mary Kelly, Ian Holm as London’s top medical consultant as well as Jason Flemyng, Ian Richardson, Katrin Cartlidge, Ian McNeice, Sophia Myles, Dominic Cooper and scene stealer David Schofield as an evil East End pimp. Some of the fat could have been trimmed here to make this a shorter, more streamlined experience, but the visual element is so damn good that at the same time one can’t get enough of the lavish production design. This one succeeds in creating a lived in London with dimension and scope, as well as staging a very effective sense of dread and danger lurking around every corner of every cobblestone alleyway, the atmosphere is just unreal, as well as the supremely graphic gore that lets us plainly know that the Ripper wasn’t just messing about, he was an actual monster. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War

I won’t pretend to be familiar with the details of the Russian/Georgian war or anything that goes on in that region, but I’m pretty sure Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War is skewed in favour of special effects and kinetic commotion, as opposed to dutifully telling a story. It’s disjointed and has no idea which characters to focus on primarily and as such feels like a film out of time and space, cobbled together with loose strands and spare action sequences. Half the name actors are casted in throwaway roles too, which is disorienting. In a hectic prologue, Heather Graham plays the girlfriend of a war photographer (Rupert Friend), but she’s killed in a blast literally seconds after meeting her character, which seems arbitrary even to call her agent for a booking. The films sees Friend, a Georgian native (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and others stranded in a region on fire, torn apart by combat and cut off from communication. The details of this conflict are swept up in a near constant stream of action sequences, near misses and explosions, and much of the film is simply people running through bombed out villages in desperation. Croatian actor Rade Serbdzija (Boris The Blade from Snatch) makes good use of a Russian general role, somewhat of a villain but the film actually pauses later to give him a modicum of an ad, which he handles nicely. Val Kilmer and his Aslan mane of hair show up too in a sly, over advertised cameo as another photographer who helps them out briefly, and then disappears from the film. Elsewhere Andy Garcia laments the situation as the Russian president, grilled by the press about his actions, or lack thereof, in the struggle. In terms of story and narrative cohesion it’s all over the place. One aspect it handles well though is keeping the kinetic energy alive during the war scenes, they are extremely well shot and designed on a big scale to raise pulses. Average flick that could have done with a bit more structure and thought put into the script.

-Nate Hill

DRUGSTORE COWBOY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Filmed in “beautiful” Portland, Oregon, Drugstore Cowboy (1989) is an unapologetic look at the life of a junkie during the early 1970s. As the film opens we see the protagonist, Bob (Matt Dillon), flat out on a stretcher in a speeding ambulance. He stares at the camera and his voice narrates, “I was once a shameless full-time dope fiend.” It is this confessional voice that sets the tone for the rest of the film as Bob takes us back in time to show how he reached his current state. He was the leader of a gang of drug users who robbed drugstores to maintain a constant high.

The gang follows a family mentality with Bob acting as the street smart “father,” and Diane (Kelly Lynch) as the “mother” who keeps everyone else in line. “I loved her, and man, she loved dope,” Bob remembers. Rick (James Le Gros) is the “son,” a quiet guy who clearly views Bob as a father figure. Nadine (Heather Graham) is Rick’s wife, the “daughter” figure, and a recent addition who is forever trying to prove her worth to the others. Director Gus Van Sant introduces this “family” in a great opening scene where they work together to rob a drugstore in broad daylight. Each one enters the store, apparently by themselves, each casing the place, waiting until Nadine provides the signal – a faked epileptic fit that draws everyone’s attention, leaving Bob free to sneak behind the counter and take the drugs. The plan is flawlessly executed with Diane even having the time to steal a paperback novel from a rack.

As the group flees the scene in a getaway car, Bob shoots up in the back seat and Van Sant uses this action to enter Bob’s head and show us the worldview of a junkie. As the drug takes hold Van Sant has the real world fade into the background and a dreamy, surreal world filled with floating syringes, spoons and houses complete with a hypnotic, monotone rap of a stoned Bob narrating the action: “Upon entering the vein, the drug would start a warm edge that would surge along until the brain consumed it in a gentle explosion that began at the back of the neck and rose rapidly until I felt such pleasure that the whole world sympathized and took on a soft, lofty appeal.” It’s a dreamy logic that seems to suit Bob’s own little world perfectly. In fact, much of the film is seen from Bob’s viewpoint. Van Sant takes the basic ritual of shooting up and focuses in on the primary components: extreme close-ups of the pills, a lit match, and a syringe sucking up the drugs off a spoon. It is almost like we are preparing for a fix right along with Bob.

And yet for such an accurate portrayal of the highs of drug use, oddly enough Van Sant does not show Bob or any of his crew in the throes of withdrawal, especially when, later on, he decides to go straight. While some of the negative aspects of this kind of life are shown, like people dying, the film refuses to show what happens when one tries to stop using drugs, unlike, say Trainspotting (1996), which does it so well and with such frightening intensity. What sets Drugstore Cowboy apart from other films about drug users are nice little touches like Bob’s superstitions: dogs, hats on beds and, strangely enough, looking at the back of mirrors. It is the hats, however, that is the most important hex and one that comes back to haunt him later in the film.

Matt Dillon does an excellent job of portraying someone high on drugs, in particular, the scene where Bob has taken speed. The actor nails all of the fidgety mannerisms, like clenching his job repeatedly. In Dillon’s long, illustrious career, this performance is his most relaxed and naturalistic. He gives Bob a cool, confident swagger that seems so right for the character. Dillon presents Bob as a smart person, always thinking ahead, always one step ahead of the law. He’s smart because as he says, “I just know, from years of experience, the things to look for, the signs…All you gotta do is look for the signs.” It is this ability that keeps him on top of his game. Dillon’s voiceovers are particularly effective in filling in the gaps and giving little tidbits of junkie culture. There is no wall between him and the camera and there are no artificial mannerisms in his performance.

The rest of the “family” is also excellent, in particular Kelly Lynch who is the perfect foil for Dillon. Diane’s role in the crew is evident in the way she deals with the other members. For example, when she steps in and breaks up a heated argument between local speed-freak David (Max Perlich) and Bob, it is like a mother breaking up a fight between two little boys fighting over a toy. James Le Gros is a greatly underappreciated character actor who dabbles in mainstream films like Point Break (1991) and Zodiac (2007), usually in small roles, and meatier parts in independent films like Living in Oblivion (1995) and Scotland, PA (2001). In Drugstore Cowboy, he plays Bob’s inexperienced right-hand man and protégé. At first, Rick seems a little on the dumb side as he speaks simply but there’s more to him. Le Gros spends a lot of time watching Bob and learning as becomes evident later on. Rounding out the crew is Heather Graham as Nadine. Before her performance as Rollergirl in Boogie Nights (1997) launched her career on a mainstream level, she had a memorable turn as Agent Cooper’s doomed love interest in Twin Peaks. She’s good as the hopelessly naive and inept member of the crew and her sole purpose is to be a pain in Bob’s ass but you kind of feel sorry for her at times.

James Remar brings a real sense of humanity to what could have been a stock cop role. He usually plays bad guys (48 Hrs.) or disreputable types (The Warriors) and gets to show off his range with Gentry in Drugstore Cowboy, playing a cop trying to bust Bob and his crew. At first, he comes across as a typical antagonist, always giving Bob a hard time but something happens over the course of the film. As Bob attempts to kick his drug habit, Gentry becomes a more sympathetic figure. He recognizes that Bob is trying to make an honest go of things and supports him in his own way.

What would a film about junkies be without a cameo by the king of them all, William S. Burroughs who plays a defrocked priest. Van Sant uses Burroughs as a sort of prophetic figure who delivers a sage monologue on the future of drugs: “Narcotics have been systematically scapegoated and demonized. The idea that anyone can use drugs and escape a horrible fate is anathema to these idiots. I predict, in the near future, right wingers will use drug hysteria as a pretext to set up an international police apparatus.” The legendary writer apparently wrote all of his own lines and it shows, as these words seem like vintage Burroughs, coming right off the pages of Naked Lunch. His presence also helps give the film an authenticity.

Drugstore Cowboy 1Drugstore Cowboy
is a film filled with strong performances, and stunning cinematography as Van Sant mixes Super 8mm with 35mm, using time lapse photography with elements of surrealism to create a world as seen through the eyes of a junkie. Van Sant does not judge his characters, he merely presents them as they are and leaves it up to the audience to make their own minds. Even though the film deals with depressing subject matter it never dips down the murky level of a film like Sid and Nancy (1986), but rather offers a ray of hope at the end as Bob tries to come clean and kick his habit. It won’t be easy for him, but at least he has a chance to give it a shot.