Tag Archives: Hilary Swank

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

I never bothered too much with the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and didn’t even know it was based on a movie until I saw that it’d be playing on the big screen this week. Slight, silly and saturated in 80’s style, this was an absolute blast, a ton of fun and a totally hilarious culture clash between brooding gothic bloodsuckers and mouthy, fashionista valley girls. Kristy Swanson is Buffy, an attitude driven high school chick who spends her days at the mall, planning dances and hanging around with her jock boyfriend. That all ends when the mysterious Merrick (Donald Sutherland) recruits her for a centuries old battle against immortal vampires that’s about to play out right in the valley. She’s cynical, skeptical and reluctant as most teenagers are to do anything outside their usual bubble but rises to the occasion and discovers she has badass hidden talents for kicking vampire ass. Joining forces with moody bad boy Pike (the late Luke Perry), she goes head on with the evil vampire king Lothos (Rutger Hauer) and his goofy henchman Amilyn (Paul ‘Pee Wee Herman’ Reubens) in a deadly battle that spills into the senior prom dance for hilarious results. I really didn’t expect to like this as much as I did but the thing is just so damn fun. Swanson has way more charisma and beauty than Sarah Michelle and really gives a good turn as someone who is outwardly insufferable and spacey but reveals that’s all an act, something we all remember doing in high school at some point. Sutherland plays it grave and serious and as a result comes off as hilarious but has terrific exasperated paternal chemistry with Buffy. Hauer is a typically implosive and intense but here he’s having an extroverted ball, playing this debonair vamp like a pimp from hell in a smoking jacket and swanky white gloves. Reubens is straight up silly and gets one of the most inexplicably bizarre and hysterical death scenes that’s so melodramatic it needs to carry over into a post credits scene. The cast is stacked and includes early career work from Hilary Swank, a loopy David Arquette, Sasha Jenson, Natasha Gregson Warner, Stephen Root, Candy Clark, Sasha Jenson, Slash, Thomas Jane, Ricki Lake, Seth Green, Alexis Arquette and Ben Affleck. Wow. I loved this and loved how I didn’t expect to be so hot on it but got blindsided. Beautiful production value, wicked sharp comedic scrip, fun performances and an appropriately synthy 80’s score. Oh, and watch for the Mystery Machine from Scion Doo too.

-Nate Hill

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Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky

After a sort of slow opening act, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky becomes a sweet, funny, raucous, touching and unexpected film, the most enjoyable thing he’s made after a series of dead serious dramas. Kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the Monster Truck crowd, this is popcorn fare with brains, but it’s not afraid to get loopy and mess around in the sandbox either in terms of comedy and characterization, especially that of Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang, the world’s most aloof safecracker. Joe’s help is needed when brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan take it upon themselves to stage a heist during NASCAR mania when times of financial woe befall them. Jimmy is laid back and affable, Clyde is old school idiosyncratic to the point of hysterics and their dynamic is something hilarious. Throw in Joe with a Bang and the thing takes off, once the gears of the plot start grinding, mind you. Like I said, the opening dilly dallys a tad. Despite being a screwball comedy of sorts, this never goes too far off the rails into, say, Cannonball Run territory and never feels *too* light or inconsequential. Soderbergh is an alchemist in complete control of every element and this thing unfolds deliberately, intricately and always playfully. Surrounding them is a delightfully eclectic supporting cast including Seth McFarlane, Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterson, Macon Blair, Sebastian Stan and Dwight Yoakam as a breezy Prison Warden. The heist is a blast, full of screw ups, diversions and delirious suspense as these ill prepared, lovably hapless goofs try to do right by their families and each other. Craig must be broken out of jail where he’s “in-car-cer-ated” for the duration of the job and then stealthily returned once the mission is accomplished, and Jimmy has to be done with it all in time for a beauty pageant that his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, wonderful) is appearing in. It’s fairly random but it just somehow works, from left field character choices to specifically nutty set pieces to third act twists that come out of nowhere. Just when you think you can relax, a federal agent (Hilary Swank in full shark mode) shows up to stir the pot again. The film ends on a narrative cliffhanger and with perhaps one of the best and most enticing zoom-out shots I’ve ever seen that had me both wishing for a sequel and wanting the magic to remain bottled just there at that perfect penultimate moment. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Elizabeth Chomko’s What They Had

Alzheimer’s disease is a tricky subject in film; it can often sink into distracting melodrama or be used as a plot device instead of an actual ailment to the character, as they conveniently collect themselves when the narrative requires it and then get all confused again when needed. First time director Elizabeth Chomko handles it wonderfully in her debut What They Had, letting the sad realities of this affliction play out realistically for one Chicago family whose matriarch approaches stage 6. Blythe Danner playfully, sadly and intuitively embodies this woman, fleetingly letting us see glimpses of the woman that once was, now lost to inexorable mental fog as she approaches the end. Her husband of four odd decades (Robert Forster) refuses to put her into a home, out of both stubbornness and just plain love. Their two children (Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon) return home to deliberate the situation, and a superbly acted, quietly honest family drama ensues. Chomko also wrote the script and her dialogue has the stinging bite and dynamic depth of someone who is drawing from somewhere personal, and indeed I read that this film is based on her own experience. She shows surefire talent in writing as well as behind the camera and I wish her all the best in a career that will hopefully be something really special. Shannon is perfect as the scrappy, diamond-in-the-rough bar owner who uses gruff bluster to mask his heartbreak. Swank is emotionally resonant as the more distant and reserved of the two siblings, trying to deal with both her mom and daughter (Taissa Farmiga, excellent). Forster has seldom been better as the obstinate family man who just won’t let his girl go, he handles the guy with a stern resolve that begins to crack as he realizes that one day she will forget him entirely. Danner has the most difficult role, but nails it. There’s a befuddled remoteness to people with this disease, a near constant confusion that I’ve seen in real life but that doesn’t dim the warmth of their personality, at least for a while anyways, and the actress never over or underplays it. This is a terrific debut for Chomko and demo reel worthy material for all the major players, a small scale drama that wins big and elicits well earned empathy from us. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s INSOMNIA

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From the opening credits, Christopher Nolan assembles a sequence that not only clues us in on what is about to unfold but also tells us there is nothing but darkness and despair in what lies ahead. INSOMNIA may just be Nolan’s most overlooked film, and his most underrated.

Pitting a dreary Al Pacino against an eccentric Robin Williams is brilliant. Pacino’s slow and methodic unraveling is a marvel to witness. His turn as the tainted hero cop, Will Dormer is perhaps his finest performance of the third act of his career. He foregoes the caricature of bug-eyed screaming and gives an incredibly vulnerable performance as a cop who did a bad thing for a righteous cause, only to let that deed pull on the one string that can unravel his entire career.

Robin Williams is wonderful as the antagonist who plays it as if he really isn’t that bad of a guy, he just made a mistake, and then another mistake and then another that leads to a web of lies and the death of a sixteen-year-old girl. Williams is the only character we see on the screen that truly understands and accepts Pacino, and forgives him for his misdeeds. Nolan milks every ounce of affability he can from Williams, allowing the audience to like and sympathize with Williams. It’s a rather brilliant move in a film that is such a taut game of chess, you can almost hear Nolan slam his hand down on the chess clock.

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The hook of the film is brilliant, pitting Pacino against his own conscience in an Alaskan town that is so far north, the sun never sets. He makes catastrophic mistakes that lead to even worse mistakes all the while he is trying to solve a crime where suddenly he almost becomes a villain. It is almost as if he and Williams are following the same path, with one immeasurable mistake that leads to a sequence that leads to their respective unraveling.

It’s a brilliant structure that is so complex it becomes maddening. The entire film begins to turn over onto itself, causing the viewer to question there original notions of what morality is; casting complete shades of grey over the black and white of right and wrong.

P.S I Love You


P.S. I Love You is pretty grounded, affecting stuff as far as romantic dramadies go, a sorrowful story that’s light on sap and earns your tears. It’s sad, to be sure, but that’s a necessary element to balance out any otherwise happy-go-lucky narrative, which is something many forget when making these types of films. Jarringly soon after we meet adorable and slightly dysfunctional couple Gerry and Holly (Gerard Butler & Hilary Swank), Gerry passes away, leaving her bereft and broken, but not necessarily alone. Knowing of his illness beforehand, he’s left a series of love notes that lead her on a scavenger hunt, each new note and following action geared towards easing her pain, saying goodbye and trying to help her start a new life. Although consoled by her two caring friends (Gina Gershon & Lisa Kudrow) as well as her mother (Kathy Bates) this is Holly’s solo journey at heart, a meditation sent from the afterlife by the world’s most thoughtful husband, unconventional in his methods yet intuitive to his last breath. Losing a loved one, especially your other half, is a kind of pain one could never fathom unless, heavens forbid, we find ourselves in that situation one day. Holly and Gerry didn’t always work well, as we see in a few of the haughty flashbacks, but their love for each other was real, and the subsequent pain on her part is palpable in Swank’s performance, which must be no easy task. A trip to Ireland, an encounter with a handsome stranger there (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), flirting with a kindly potential suitor (Harry Connick Jr.), she circles many endeavours in her time after his passing, all part of a grieving process and a desire on deceased Jerry’s part that she live her life, remember him yet not fall into an abyss of chronic grief and let it stall her, which happens to some. It’s a sweet and good-natured way to tell a very grave, emotionally corrosive story, but like I said before, it’s never manipulative or deliberately mushy, it lets the story push your buttons naturally, until the floodgates on your tear ducts are opened by observing the story and characters, not connived by soap opera histrionics or tacky melodrama. A beautiful little film that makes you deeply sad, but also puts in an effort to cheer you up along the way, just like Gerry does for his Holly. 

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia: A Review by Nate Hill 

Christopher Nolan has a monumental filmography full of lofty cerebral ideas, superheroes mythic in nature, and incredibly complex morality plays. The one time he hit the road in a straight line is Insomnia, a fairly standard cat and mouse thriller given the obvious boost of having Chris at the helm, as well as two actors who get dangerously out of control, in the best possible way. Al Pacino plays Will Dormer, an L.A. cop who treks out to small town Alaska to solve the mystery of a murdered local girl. The twist: they’re in the region where it’s daylight for a month straight, and if that’s something you’re not accustomed to, it’ll throw you way off. It’s fascinating to watch Pacino roll in sharp as a razor and completely in control, then observe his lack of sleep eat away at the frills of his perception and start to play tricks on his weary mind. The film has one of those narratives that gives us a heads up as to who the killer is nearly right off the bat, in this case personified by Stephen King esque novelist Walter Finch, played by a vastly creepy Robin Williams. He and Pacino do an eerie dance through the foggy local geography and small, gaunt townscape, Pacino looking for clues and proof while trying to hold onto his sanity, and Williams unnervingly playing a macabre mind game, perhaps only for his own amusement. There are shades of Vincent Hanna in Pacino’s work here, the extremely stressed out LA detective from Michael Mann’s Heat. One gets a sense of the same world weariness and feral ferocity of that character, especially in a heartbreaking monologue to the local innkeeper, played by underrated Maura Tierney, who is brilliant in the scene that requires her mostly to listen, a much harder task than delivering any page of dialogue. As for Williams, he’s never really done anything this specific before. I mean, he’s played freaks and villains all across the board, but none quite like Walter Finch. He’s detached in a way that still clings to a humanity he may have lost through so many years writing stories that only happened in his head. He’s both dangerous and rational, and when those two are fuelled by emotional trauma… watch out, because there’s damage to be done. There’s further work from Hilary Swank as Will’s partner, Nicky Katt, Emily Perkins, Martin Donovan and edgy Vancouverite Katherine Isabelle, who just excels in anything, here playing the murder victim’s troubled best friend. 

 Now, this film is based on a chilly Swedish thriller of the same title, starring Stellen Skarsgard in Pacino’s role, and Williams nowhere to be found, naturally. I connected with Nolan’s version far more, the original seeming rather bland and lacking personality, but it’s got a huge following and a Criterion release, so what the hell do I know, go see for yourself. I do know that nothing stands up the hairs on my neck quite like the portentous back and forth between Pacino and Williams here, the icy inaccessibility of the central mystery and the feeling that there’s always something bubbling just below the surface of a seemingly civilized interaction. Barring Memento, which even rose to flights of fancy, this is the most down to earth Nolan has ever been in his exploration of the psychological landscape. Dreams, outer space, damaged memory and morality are for another day here. It strips away any of that, leaves it’s characters stranded in a misty, threatening environment that mirrors their own starkly layered perception, and sits back to observe. Rats in a maze of the human mind, if you will. It’s an important film in Nolan’s career for this very reason; a departure from ambitions grandiose in nature, a vacation from fantasy, and a forceful glimpse at two men with minds holding on by just a thread, like a spider’s web, beaded with dew in perpetual sunlight that refuses to set and give them solace. A masterwork of tension, with few instances of release. 

Sam Raimi’s The Gift: A Review by Nate Hill 

Anyone who loves a good slice of southern gothic murder mystery should check out Sam Raimi’s The Gift, one of several films in the eclectic scoundrel’s ouvre which made a departure from his usual brand of chaotic horror. Cate Blanchett stars as Annabelle, a single mother with a very perceptive telepathic ability, which in rural USA is greeted without any skepticism by the locals. She is renowned for her gift, and often approached by people in need. The story sees her trying to locate young Jessica (Katie Holmes), who has gone missing, and discovering some nasty secrets about the people around her in the process, people she thought she knew better. Jessica’s fiance (Greg Kinnear) is desperate but clearly knows something he’s not saying. Also involved is battered housewife Valerie (Hilary Swank), her terrifying abusive boyfriend Donnie (Keanu Reeves), a local mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) who befriends Annabelle,  and others. It’s an ugly tale contrasted by Blanchett’s striking beauty, which the cameras capture in all the right instances. She could be rearranging a bookshelf and still be compelling and elegant, and always is in whichever role she takes on. Reeves is a scary tornado of pent up rage and sickness, cast way against type and loving every rage fuelled second. As if the main cast wasn’t packed enough with talent, we also get stellar work from Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Rosemary Harris, a random cameo from Danny Elfman and a sly turn from J.K. Simmons as the county sheriff. What a cast, eh? Raimi puts them to good use, and each one gets their moment to shine. I’ve never seen a film by the director I haven’t loved; the guy just makes super fun, accessible genre treats that are irresistibly likable. Pair that with the evocative southern tone and Blanchett’s winning presence and you’ve got one hell of a little package. Very overlooked stuff.