Tag Archives: James Remar

Walter Hill’s The Long Riders

◦ I’m pretty sure that Walter Hill’s The Long Riders does something that no film had done before or after, least to that extent: pull off the biggest sibling stunt casting session in history. Based on the rowdy, violent exploits of the James Younger gang in the old west, Hill casts real life brothers as the troupe, a choice which could have been south of silly in any old director’s hands, but works like gold here. James and Stacy Keach play Frank and Jesse James, David Robert and Keith Carradine are the Younger clan, while Randy and a very mean, very young Dennis Quaid fill the boots of the Millers. It’s fairly brilliant, well organized and pays off nicely, especially if you’re a fan of any of these guys, which I am and then some. Now, the film. Most westerns about these hotshot outlaws take a quippy, cavalier standpoint and go for sterling silver charm. Not Hill, a notorious trend shirker and trailblazer whose tactics in casting, music, editing and tone have never followed the Hollywood grain. The film is downbeat, somber and mostly a series of vignettes that topple against each other like dominoes. The gang shuffles from robbery to holdup almost reluctantly, like it’s written in the stars and they have no choice but to commit crimes. They clash royally with the ruthless Pinkerton agency, who cause more than a few casualties on their side. The shootouts here are no sanitized 50’s Lone Ranger fluff, they’re brutal, bloody and amped up to extreme violence, which is always to be expected from Hill. The life of an outlaw is not glamorized here either, a choice rarely, if ever made in the western department. These are hard men resigned to their rough lives, not fast talking hot-doggin prince charmings like insufferable Young Guns type crap. There’s scattershot subplot about the brother’s lives, but mostly the focus is rooted in their exploits and run ins with the law. David Carradine’s Cole Younger has a cool knife fight sequence up against half breed injun Sam Starr (Hill favourite James Remar) over the favour of pretty hooker Pamela Reed. The actors are all gritty and grizzled, from James Keach’s long-faced, Moody Jesse James to Dennis Quaid’s volatile psychopath Ed Miller. Hill’s go to music guru Ry Cooder provides another achingly gorgeous score with echoes of his composition on Southern Comfort a few years later, a melancholic tune stripped bare of any action sequence swells or orchestral hoo-hah. Pretty damn underrated as far as big screen westerns go, with a tone and look that seems somehow far more genuine than many others in the genre.

-Nate Hill

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B Movie Glory: The Surgeon aka Exquisite Tenderness


The Surgeon is an overlooked little hospital horror chiller that’s worth the price of admission just for the opening scene alone, a spooky black and white prologue in which a young boy witnesses a surgery gone horribly wrong, all set to that cheery ‘Lollipop Lollipop’ song, quite a memorable way to kick your film off. After that it’s fairly standard, as he grows up to be a scalpel wielding slasher who roams the wards of a huge hospital, killing patients, doctors and undergrads at leisure. Two intrepid doctors in training played by Isabel Glasser and James Remar are onto this beast and gradually begin to realize there’s foul play afoot, and the demented surgeon, played by Sean Haberle, continues his stealthy rampage throughout the halls. Malcolm McDowell is also there for a bit, sorely underused as an arrogant, short lived doctor who likes to trial weird drugs on chimpanzees in the basement. Peter Boyle chews scenery as a bumbling detective, Charles Dance has a fun bit and it all hurtles along like the B movie it is. That opening though, quite a well accented bit with the song, and an eerie setup for the schlock to follow. The film’s actual title on IMDB is Exquisite Tenderness, which was rebranded for DVD release as The Surgeon, which is slightly less.. European of them than the original one, but it does suit the low grade silliness. Decent stuff, for what it is. 

-Nate Hill

Hellraiser: Inferno 


Hellraiser: Inferno marks the first juncture in the franchise where ideas deviated beyond the formula set in place by the first borderline surreal, masochist piece.

Gone is the dreamy, sordid aesthetic used back then, the Cenobites who were front and centre are reduced to limited appearances and the story is less otherworldly and something decidedly more noirish and down to earth. Whether that’s accepted by franchise die-hards and horror hounds alike is subjective, but I didn’t mind it’s slow burn approach or sidewinding tone. Craig Sheffer, the closest thing you’ll get to Josh Brolin without breaking the bank, plays a crooked Detective who finds himself dragged down a rabbit hole of creepy, murderous goings-on when he’s assigned to hunt a serial killer known as ‘The Engineer’. Of course the murders always seem one step ahead of his grasp, and naturally dark secrets from his sketchy past are brought to light as he gradually begins to lose his mind. Doug Bradley does eventually return as the iconic Pinhead, with a few members of the Cenobite posse, but their presence is kept mostly on the back burner for quite a while. Taking antagonist duties for a while instead is Sheffer’s eerie psychiatrist, played with sinister charm and knowing charisma by James Remar, a dubious fellow with a few tricks up his own sleeve. This is the one entry that sticks out from the franchise in it’s diversion from the usual path of distinct, abstract psychosexual horror and mutes the whole icy nightmare down to rebuild a story in it’s own image. You’ll either appreciate the initiative, or you’ll miss the good ol’ freakshow of the original film. Up to you. 

-Nate Hill

ABC’s FlashForward: here in a flash of brilliance and gone after one season 


ABC’s Flashforwad was a gripping psychological/supernatural epic with potential to run many seasons and provide us with solid entertainment for a long time a lá Lost (which it bears some similarities with), but the network mysteriously axed it after a single season, leaving a vacuum in the air as far as it’s story, and many viewers left stranded, wanting more. The show was built around a wicked concept: one day, every human being on planet earth simultaneously blacks out for a few minutes, and in that time has a precognitive vision of the future some months away from their present time, then promptly wakes up. This of course causes sheer chaos all over the globe, initially with millions of car crashes, disasters and planes falling out of the sky, and eventually the uncertainty, paranoia and confusion as to just what these flash-forwards are all about, and if it will happen again. An FBI task force spearheaded by the likes of Joseph Fiennes and Courtney B. Vance is commissioned to investigate the matter, and their mission takes them to some truly weird places, both geographically and thematically. There’s strange forces at work with this one, secrets that are kept close to the chest and gradually doled out over the expansive twenty three episode arc, a great length of run that should really be the standard for television. It’s similar to Lost in the sense that every week the mystery deepened as opposed to circling a resolution, clues and questions piled on top of the previous ones without a hint of finality or exposition to light the way, an audience tested, surefire way to keep people from flipping the channels mid episode and a great of garnering new viewers via word of mouth. The trick is to also add rhyme and reason to your bag of mysteries, provide a modicum of answers to keep the frustration just at bay, a formula which this one actually succeeds better at than Lost ever did. The scope and budget here are both enormous, giving new meaning to both the terms ‘globetrotting’ and ‘ensemble piece’, a truly vast attempt at long form storytelling. The cast is eclectic, other leads including John Cho as another hard-nosed Fed, Zachary Knighton as a doctor whose life is perhaps affected most by the incident, and brilliant turns from Jack Davenport, Sonya Walger, Peyton List, Dominic Monaghan, Brian F. O’Byrne and the late Michael Massee as nefarious, shadowy ultra-villain Dyson Frost, who serves as a sort of mcguffin during the first act of the show. Guest arcs included James Remar, Thomas Kretschmann, Rachel Roberts, Gabrielle Union, Shohreh Ahgdashloo, Annabeth Gish, Callum Keith Rennie, James Frain, Peter Coyote as the US President and so many more. The show looks amazing too, a brightly lit, well oiled mystery machine with all sorts of storytelling wizardry including nifty slow motion musical montages, trippy time jumps, non linear what-have-you and all manner of neat stuff. Gone way, way before it’s time, this one is well worth a watch and shouldn’t have been written off so soon. And remember: D. Gibbons is a bad man. 

-Nate Hill

James Cameron’s Aliens 


Each of the four Alien films has their own distinct and noticeable personalities. Ridley Scott’s original creeping horror show is a tense, streamlined, gracefully vicious film that slinks along at its own pace, not unlike the resident feline Jonesy who wondered about on the spaceship Nostromo back then. If Alien has the qualities of a cat, James Cameron’s Aliens has those of a rambunctious puppy dog, a rip snortin, go get em action backyard barbecue knockout that runs up and gives the audience a big wet slimy kiss. All animal metaphors aside (I’m running out of oh-so-clever ways to open my reviews, ok? Been at this shit for two years now), Cameron’s film is an undisputed classic, still jaw dropping to this day, even after what feels like hundreds of viewings, nostalgic yet fresh in different ways every time, and simply one of the best films ever made. It’s the gold standard for creature feature sci fi too, and while many argue whether or not it in fact outdid Scott’s original white knuckler, I can’t bring myself to be petty and pick favourites out of the quadrilogy, I love them all for a whole bunch of reasons. Aliens picks up quite a while after the catastrophic events of the first, with Ripley floating around in that cryo-pod for way too long, until she happens to cruise past earth, crossing the vision of the Weyland/Yutani corporation once again. Because they always make astute, well thought out choices, they decide to send a research team, accompanied by a very reluctant Ripley and a group of hoo-rah, bull in a China shop colonial marines to far off industrial exomoon LV-426, where they have lost communication with the settlers. After a brief, clammy build up, all hell breaks loose, and we get to see the full impressive extent of Cameron’s skill as a visual storyteller, as well as the oh-so-gooey, inspire practical effects work that brings those gorgeous Xenomorph beauties to snarling life. The cast is the epitome of badass, as we are constantly reminded of by Bill Paxton’s Hudson, the film’s resident squirrel who gets hilariously skittish when things get dicey (“game over, man!” Will never not out a big, Paxton sized grin on my face), but who heroically holds his own once he gets his sillies out. The other side of that coin is Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn, never slicker), cool as ice, shaken by nothing, including an atmosphere entry landing that would make Alfonso Cuaron pee himself, but doesn’t come close to disturbing Hick’s afternoon nap. Every Alien team must have an artificial human, some of which are trustworthy, and some not. Lance Henriksen’s Bishop is as solid as they come, never losing his head (despite being reduced to a puddle of spilt dairy product) and sticking by Ripley’s side until the bitter, hectic end. Ripley herself is a little older, a little wiser and a lot tougher, her intensity calcified into grit after losing her daughter, and given somewhat of a surrogate in the form of Newt (Carrie Henn) an orphaned child who has survived months living like a rodent in the air ducts. “They mostly come at night… mostly” she eerily warns Ripley. Oh boy, do they ever. LV-426 is positively teeming with them, and they show up to provide speaker shattering, pixel scattering action like only Cameron can do. The facehugger in the room sequence is still one of the most terrifying sequences in any film, and serves to make you hate Weyland weasel Burke (Paul Reiser) with that deep loathing reserved for the scummiest traitors in film. The final thirty minutes of the film are a showcase of action cinema, and it’s amazing to think they pulled off the Queen fight without any cgi back then, a slam-bang marvel of a climax that fires on a thousand cylinders, and to this day has never been topped. That goes for the film too. It’s *the* action sci-fi film, and as close to perfection as you can get.  
-Nate Hill

Red: A Review by Nate Hill 

Despite being somewhat neutered by the ever present annoyance of the PG-13 rating, Red is some of the most fun you can have with in the glib assassin subgenre of action comedy. Bold, hilarious and just a little bit demented, it jumps right off the pages of the graphic novel it was based on for just under two hours of wiseass popcorn movie nirvana, hosted by a cast that’s almost too good to be true. ‘RED’ stands for ‘Retired Extremely Dangerous’, a moniker given to aging ex contract killers who have laid down the guns, but are still closely watched by the CIA. Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is one such person, languishing in the doldrums of forced retirement, bored out of his mind and chatting endlessly with a cutey call center girl (Mary Louise Parker). Things get freaky when deranged former associate Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) pays him a visit, belting out wild theories about the CIA sending operatives to terminate him. Before he knows it, Frank is swept up in espionage and intrigue once again, pursued by a slick, ruthless agency man (a deadly Karl Urban doing the anti-007 shtick nicely), with Parker in tow, whose terrified reactions to the escalating violence and deadpan sociopaths around her get funnier and funnier as the film progresses. Helen Mirren is regal gold as a well spoken ex MI6 spook who dissolves corpses in bathtubs full of acid, right before afternoon tea, I presume. Watching this dainty waif rock a Barrett 50 caliber and make red mist out of her enemies is one of the many mental pleasures one can get from this flick. Morgan Freeman takes it easy as another former buddy of theirs from the older, and I imagine, more agile days. As for the supporting cast, hell, take your pick. Richard Dreyfuss is a slimy Trump-esque politician lowlife, an underused James Remar shows up for a very brief cameo, as does that old toad Ernest Borgnine, Julian McMahon once again shows that no one wears a suit like Julian McMahan, and that lovable imp Brian Cox almost walks away with the film as a sly devil of a Russian agent who woos Mirren with the silver tongued virility of a fox. What works so well the dynamic between the three leads; Malkovich is mad as as hatter, Willis plays exasperated babysitter and Parker looks on in horror that starts to turn into amusement with every outlandish scenario. Action comedies are tricky recipes, and it’s easy to let too much of one ingredient slip into the pot. This one keeps a steady trigger finger that’s locked onto the funny bone and positively sails. 

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.