Eraser is a top notch Schwarzenegger vehicle, and in a year where the only other Arnie entry was the mind numbing Jingle All The Way, it supplies 1996 with that jolt of action from our favourite Austrian juggernaut. Here he’s John Kruger, a US Marshal who specializes in an obscure wing of the witness protection program that literally wipes people’s memories clean before replacement. The technology is naturally hoarded over by big old corporations which as we know aren’t to be trusted in these type of films. During a routine mission to help beautiful client Vanessa Williams, Kruger begins to suspect his own colleagues of some shady shit involving the sale of high grade weapons, and before he knows it he in the crosshairs and on the run with Vanessa tagging along. It’s all smarmy James Caan’s fault really, who plays his devilish, treacherous superior officer at the WitSec agency, a classic case of ambition gone rogue, his villainous cackle trademark of someone you just shouldn’t trust, even before his true colours are bared. The action is fast, furious and rooted in 90’s sensibilities, with all manner of attack helicopter chases, massive artillery fired off at a whim and the the near SciFi concept frequently smothered by the shock and awe campaign of each set piece, which is fine in an Arnie flick really, I mean they can’t all be Terminators and Total Recalls. There’s a neat rogues gallery of character actors filling in the wings in addition to the big guy, Williams and Caan, including Olek Krupa, Patrick Kilpatrick, James Cromwell, Danny Nucci, Robert Pastorelli, Joe Viterelli, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, Roma Maffia, Tony Longo, Melora Walters, Camryn Mannheim, Skip Sudduth and Nick Chinlund as Caan’s unwitting henchman. There’s also a delightful cameo from James Coburn as the WitSet CEO, doing the same pleasant ‘sort of a villain, but also sort of not’ shtick he did in Payback. One of Arnie’s more low key efforts, but still more than serviceable and a slam bang damn great time at the action races.
Disney/Pixar’s Big Hero 6 is the perfect example of what we should expect from animated films: dazzling, imaginative, passionate fables set across times and dimensions with no shortage of expanse or varied themes and visual splendour. It does seem that with each new outing (they’ve recently outdone themselves with Inside Out) they reach further for the stars and pull something out of the hat with qualities that somehow get better and better each time around. 6 is a miracle of innovation and future-house scientific pyrotechnics, a story that calls on everyone who ever wanted to try their hand at robotics, engineering or dazzling computer tech to take a look at the images on display here. In the futuristic metropolis of SanfranSokyo, the search for scientific progress and new discoveries reigns supreme, free from other pesky constraints like the R word (the way it should be in every society, tbh), and everybody is a pseudo Asian American brainiac devoted to brilliant new ideas and ingenuity, basically one giant year round science fair that doesn’t quit. Young Hiro (Ryan Potter) worships the endeavours of his prodigy of an older brother, who whips new inventions out of his sleeve every day, until one of them garners the attention of a shadowy arch villain, hijacking it for himself, resulting in his bro’s death. Left behind for comfort and companionship is giant Michelin Man robot Baymax, an adorable fatso who uses his Inspector Gadget level itinerary of utilities and rotund charm to befriend Hiro, while coaching him through the dangerous waters of seeking revenge. He’s joined along the way by many friends with voices from TJ Miller, Jamie Chung, James Cromwell and more, blasting off into one of the most visually stimulating Sci Fi adventures the world of animation has ever seen. Every kind of tool, gizmo and tech marvel is on display somewhere, and not just plonked in there as Dr. Seuss-ical sideshow diversions either, everything has a logical and specific purpose to fit it’s garish appearance and style. Baymax is the highlight, a big baby with a heart as big as his waistline who knows just when to lay down the comic relief when things get heavy. They do get heavy too, this is a mature film that treats subjects like loss, anger and moral corruption seriously, it’s a fantastical world inhabited by humans that couldn’t be more real or fleshed out, a recipe that Pixar has been perfecting for sometime now, since the first human leading characters showed up in The Incredibles. The Sci Fi is laid on thick enough for any geek to run with, and we’re reminded of everything from Stranger Things to Astro Boy and more with this package. If Pixar plans to keep climbing uphill in terms of quality, this is one hell of a brilliant plateau, and I can’t wait to see where they ascend too from it on rocket powered boots of inspiration and magic.
Surprisingly, The Sum Of All Fears is my favourite film version of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels. Alec Baldwin did a bang up job in the superb Hunt For Red October,
Harrison Ford held his in two beyond excellent entries, and we won’t speak of the Chris Pine/Keira Knightley snooze-palooza from a few years back. Why then do I gravitate towards this Ben Affleck incarnation? Who knows. Battfleck himself makes an adequate, inquisitive Ryan, on the younger end of the rope and under the guidance of CIA Yoda Morgan Freeman. I think it’s the early 00’s tone of the film itself though, the whip smart editing, Bourne-style escalation of suspense and terrific ensemble cast, a hallmark among Clancy films. Affleck embodies a younger, inexperienced Ryan whose infamous intuition is just breaching the surface of his character, right on time for a deadly plot to set off a nuclear device on American soil. A German radical (Alan Bates, underplaying evil nicely) with vague ties to a Neo Nazi faction is cooking up a false flag attack against Russia, using a long dormant warhead supplied by arch mercenary Colm Feore. Or at least I think that’s the crux of it, these cloak and dagger affairs can get pretty dense on you sometimes. There’s a sense of global danger though, a level of stress that ratchets up until even the stoic US President (an explosive James Cromwell) begins to lose it. The Russian President (Ciaran Hinds) gravely tries to sort out the misunderstanding, whilst Clancy staple character John Clark (Liev Schreiber gives Willem Dafoe a run for his money) covertly smokes out conspirators. Unease and tension nestle into the narrative, and when that impending disaster is minutes away during a hectic NFL game, you can feel the suspense in the air. The supporting cast is rich with talent including Michael Byrne, Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall, Josef Sommer, Ron Rifkin, Lisa Gay Hamilton and gorgeous Bridget Moynahan as Ryan’s fiancé. I’ve got nothing but love for Red October, Patriot Hames and Clear & Present Danger, but something about this one hit a frequency and resonated with me a little better, coming out on top as the most re-watchable, enjoyable entry.
The Snow Walker is as bleak and tragic as they come, attempting to find scant traces of beauty, kinship and compassion amidst a hopeless tale unfolding on the edge of the world. Charlie (Barry Pepper) is an ex WWII pilot who has flown a lot of missions, but none quite like the one he embarks on here. On a remote plane trip in the Arctic, he comes across a nomadic family of Inuits who are in desperate need of help. One among them, a girl named Kanaalaq (Annabella Piugattuk, fantastic), is sick with what appears to be tuberculosis, and will die if not treated soon. Charlie agrees to fly her back to civilization in exchange for a few wares, but during the voyage his plane develops mechanical problems and he is forced to make a crash landing in the middle of the wilderness. Stranded with little food, a sick girl and no hope of rescue, he and Anaalaq are brutalized by the incoming winter, tested beyond the limits of endurance by the harsh terrain around them and pushed to the point of despair. Charlie’s old friend (a sincere James Cromwell) sends a cocky bush pilot (Jon Gries) in hopes of locating him, but because Charlie took a detour end route, it’s worse than finding a needle in a haystack. There’s a mournfully poetic sense to the landscape around them, a dry and unforgiving vista that is shutting down as winter looms on te horizon, indifferent to the two of them, clinging to survival. Charlie is a loner, an outsider, and this situation tests his interpersonal skills as well as his stamina. Anaalaq speaks little to no English, and he not a word of Inuktituk, forcing deeper methods of communication and a trust in each other, warm compassion to ward off the cold anguish threatening their existence. This is not a Hollywood film (except for a random cameo from Michael Bublé, of all people), and as such is never predictable, easy or familiar. It walks it’s own road, a road into utter hopelessness. Watch something lighthearted after, your emotions will need the counterweight.
The finest Los Angeles film noir to ever come out of Hollywood, Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential is a serpentine wonder, a two and a half hour parade of hard boiled detectives, sultry dames and shady dealings, all wrapped up in a multiple murder story that kicks everyone’s arc into gear, taking you places you didn’t think you’d see some of these people go. ‘Triple homicide at the nite owl’, barks the headline of a gossip rag run by a sleazy Danny Devito, and indeed the crime scene has everyone buzzing, from the shirt tuckers in the highest ranks of the LAPD, to the burly brass knuckle wearers on the brutish task force. Something is amiss with the case, and Sgt. Edmund Exley (Guy Pearce) is a dogged straight arrow with a nose for corruption. He isn’t quite the formidable force needed to barge down certain doors or break certain bones though, and that’s where Det. Bud White (Russell Crowe) comes into play. The two are initially at each other’s throats following a cleanse of many of the department’s corrupt officers, spurred by Exley himself. It soon becomes clear that they have no choice but to work together, in order to smoke out the evil source of the crime, which may be closer to home than anyone thought. Crowe and Pearce were not the stars they are now back then, but came up from the farm league in sensational style, barging onto the Hollywood scene in shotgun toting, shit kicking style. Kim Basinger won an Oscar for her poised, complex turn as a call girl who works for a pimp named Pierce Patchett (a glib David Strathairn), an eccentric who pays surgeons to deck his girls out to look like movie starlets. My favourite performance in the film comes from a diabolical James Cromwell as Captain Dudley, a dangerous rogue who you don’t want to cross for fear of his unpredictability. Kevin Spacey is all style and self loathing as Jack Vincennes, a media mogul of a cop who advises on TV shows and hogs the press limelight like a boorish politician. The supporting cast is all across the board, including work from Simon Baker, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Ron Rifkin, Brenda Bakke, Jack Conley and an amusing cameo from Paul Guilfoyle as Mickey Cohen. Adapting a novel by the great undisputed king of LA noir, James Ellroy, Hanson weaves a deadly web of sensation, intrigue and steamy goings on that never follows a readily discernable pattern of narrative, and constantly has tricks up it’s sleeves. Remember Rollo Tomassi.
I feel like part of the reason why DreamWorks’s Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron works so well (Ebert noted this in his excellent review) is the fact that none of the animals talk. Although the titular horse is given internal narration by Matt Damon (of all people), not once does Spirit, or any other creature ever speak themselves. This allows for more time spent on music, visuals and storytelling free from banter or exposition. When you have a movie with such sweeping scope and majestic beauty, it’s nice to just relax and let it wash over you, almost like a music video. I’ll always love 2D animation, and here its done exquisitely, the wild frontier rendered in richly colored strokes, the horses vividly brought to life through the illustrations. It’s one of the last classic 2D outings, before the eventual switch to computer generated stuff. Don’t get me wrong I’m just as in love with 3D animation, but I will always have deep nostalgic pangs for this style as well. Someone once told me that cinema is the only art form in which every single artistic medium you can think of can all inhabit the same space, interacting and complimenting each other to create a symphony for all the senses and perceptions. Spirit is a shining example: exceptional drawing and animation, terrific voice acting, and the music, which is a standout. Both the stirring score by Hans Zimmer and the original songs by Bryan Adams are heartfelt compositions which soar along with the visuals in perfect harmony. Spirit is a wild young mustang, who is captured by a vicious Colonel, gruffy baritoned by James Cromwell. He tries to train the horse and break him, but Spirit has that wild spark of vitality that any protagonist of the animal kingdom must posess. He refuses to give in, never losing hope of one day returning to his herd. He is befriended by young native man Little Creek (Daniel Studi) who is also searching for home. The two form an adventurous bond, putting them against man and nature to return to their origins. Mountains, valleys, corals, trees and the untamed northwest wilderness are all presented in a fashion so gorgeous that the colors nearly pop off the screen. It’s just terrific entertainment through and through, never too silly, sappy or frightening, hitting all the right notes along the whole breadth of its breezy 80 minute runtime. DreamWorks doesn’t often give Disney a run for its money, but consider this a glowing exception.
For our second episode in the Gary Young Series, we sat down and discussed Roman Polanski’s CHINATOWN, Curtis Hanson’s LA CONFIDENTIAL and both of those films influences on the second season of TRUE DETECTIVE. We had a blast, hope you guys enjoy!