Tag Archives: jason isaacs

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

Opening the doors of perception: Netflix’s brilliant and undefinable The OA Part II

When season one of Netflix’s The OA aired back in 2016, it went by largely unnoticed. This was due to the network doing little to no marketing, fanfare or ads and it kind of just attracted its own little fan base without creating the whirlwind that say, Stranger Things has. It’s sort of a shame and sort of not, because it’s by far the best original content that Netflix has produced and one of the most intricate, challenging and cosmically investigative pieces of storytelling out there (with an emphasis on ‘out there’). Season 2 has recently aired, again with little hubbub surrounding it, and the leaps, jumps and creative epiphanies that series creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij have made in the three years since are both staggering and revolutionary in the SciFi/fantasy genre.

Anyone who isn’t caught up should heed a spoiler warning regarding Season 1 right about here and stop reading as I’d like to discuss certain story beats. When we left our characters after the ambulance chasing cliffhanger of S1, we weren’t sure what became of The OA/Prairie Johnson when the school shooter got her and she seemingly died. S2 opens with a slow burn episode as we follow a gruff ex FBI private detective (Kingsley Ben-Adir, phenomenal) as he searches for a missing girl in a version of San Francisco that’s just a bit removed from the reality we know. This is the reality that Prairie has travelled to after dying in the dimension she came from, for the Movements related to near death experiences explored in the first season are a gateway to endless parallel dimensions and subsequent travel between them. Confused? That’s nothing, I’ve barely described the season opener so far. This new dimension is a fascinating one, full of futuristic tech, underground ‘games’ ruled over by an unseen force and even more intangible metaphysics that we got the first time around. Prairie is stuck in this new plane with Dr. Hunter Percy, the unorthodox rogue scientist played with startling compassion and chilling resolve by the great Jason Isaacs, who is just wonderful here in a role that lets him flex his talents. Prairie leaves her friends in the previous dimension behind to wonder where she went, including Steve (Patrick Gibson), Buck (Ian Alexander), Betty (Phyllis Smith), French (Brandon Perea) and Jesse (Brendan Meyer). The new reality thrusts her forth into a frightening situation with her old friends Will (Scott Brown), Renata (Paz Vega), Rachel (Sharon Van Etten) and Homer (Emory Cohen) the love of her life. It’s a ton of characters to keep track of, each playing at least several versions of themselves and there’s even more new additions that show up for this part of the story including The Florida Project’s Bria Vinaite and an appearance from Zendaya as a mysterious girl with ties to the forces around all of them.

Marling and Batmanglij are light years beyond most artists writing original content right now, their level of storytelling and drive is sort of unparalleled in the sense that they reach out to ask questions that are difficult in the context and boundaries of television, or any filmed medium. The first season hinted at life beyond death and took its time getting to the initial breach between worlds that might open up new possibilities. This season dives headlong into the implications and ripple effect of what came before, has no patience for laggers and hurtles along at a sonic pace, blasting us with ideas, emotion, tricky concepts, psychological labyrinths, new wave cyber software, bizarre biological phenomena, a rose stained glass window with untold power and a telepathic Octopus named Old Night. This is either a show that is ‘too weird’ for most who aren’t open to unconventional thinking or have no capacity for abstraction or it will be the favourite thing out there for those of us that eat this stuff up. Prairie says of her travels and revelations that she’s ‘looking for a border’ that’s hard to define, and the same can be said about the show itself. This isn’t something that is just SciFi or just fantasy or even both, it’s an organic piece that feels like elemental forces at work rather than constructed artifice spin for entertainment.

With this story, all the creative forces work together to open the doors of perception and stretch the nature of what is possible in storytelling. Brilliant characters abound who we care about, are funny and seem like genuine, fleshed out human beings, a specifically distilled visual aesthetic that Sci Fi lovers will go gaga for, fantastic original music by multiple artists including Danny Bensi, Saunder Juuriens and Van Etten herself, haunting complexity in narrative arcs and an overall desire to strive for something new, something we haven’t seen before and that may expand our perspective on the world around us, and those beyond. I’m hooked on this and can’t wait until we get a Part III.

-Nate Hill

At play in the Fields of Cullen: A Look at the Director’s Cut of London Fields by Kent Hill

I must confess I am in the same boat as my learned colleague Mr. (Paul) Rowlands of money-into-light.com, when it comes to an interest in films marked by some form controversy. Well, not solely controversy, but the types of films that have been long-suffering passion projects finally seeing the light of day, or long overdue restorations of genuinely overlooked masterpieces that may or may not have suffered the same fate as the picture that I shall, in these words following, discuss. It is the wretched crime of the industry at large to present grand achievements in aborted states – the director’s vision left on the cutting room floor, or in the parlance of our times, designated to a file on some mass storage device.mathewThe embattled figure in this saga is filmmaker Mathew Cullen and his stunning debut, London Fields. A slick and stylish noir, bombarded by flashing images of humanity’s chaos, swirling around  and serving as the world beyond that which we shall traverse with the movies’ delightful assortment of strange and sympathetic characters. Into the urban sprawl, at the center of this film’s universe, comes the melancholically-serene presence of Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), who we learn has traded his own stateside shithole for the shabby chic and eccentrically opulent abode of Mark Asprey – a disembodied Jason Isaacs.static1.squarespace.comBut this is not where our story begins. Our story begins with a murder.

A death that was seen coming by its victim, along with the hook being that the killer remains faceless until the movies’ final moments when we discover exactly who our Keyser Söze is.x1080-38ESo we have Thornton/Young, a man that has to live his stories. Being a natural voyeur, he soon becomes intrigued and infatuated if you will, by the astonishingly sexy and magnetic presence of Nicola Six (Amber Heard), whom I have enjoyed since she appeared in John Carpenter’s last effort, The Ward and again in the truly awesome guilty pleasure that is Drive Angry with the quintessential renaissance man himself, Nicholas Cage.London-Fields-Featured-ImageShe has power both in character and in substance. She is a woman who has flirted with the perilous, courting intrigue, danger, the playful and the despicable. And this it would seem is her last hurrah . Bringing into the final web she will spin the polished bravado of Guy Clinch (Theo James), and the personification of grotty goodness, Keith TalentJim Sturgess taking his Cloud Atlas Scottish football hooligan character to its apex.

 

These crotch-led power-mongers think they have our girl Six clocked and at their mercy. The key portion of that sentence being, ‘think’. Because this is all ruse, all part of Nicola’s game, indeed part of how Nicola (we take from the shards of back story given) has lived out her existence until its brutal, bloody climax. Young/Thornton watches and listens along as Six leads the boys into her little traps, playing each against the other in the midst of their own debauched  and dysfunctional existences – Clinch’s disintegrating family life and Talent’s quest to become an all conquering champion of darts.MV5BZmYyNjAwMjQtNDBiYy00YWI0LWI5OTQtOTJhZDYyNTJlOTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_If it all sounds a bit nutty (wait till you meet Chick Purchase), I say now, don’t be afraid. The juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, sex, violence, a musical number and the bizarre nature of Nicola’s game is an easy pill to swallow. For the casual multiplex visitor, yeah, maybe not – but this is a picture that had me from start to finish and brought to mind fond memories of the time when it was my privilege to witness another spectacular director’s cut in the form of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World – an equally luscious and absurdly-infectious cocktail of cinema.b0be7af53fa5c87a98786b212a5a1f17I have followed the press surrounding London Fields and waited for such an opportunity as I have thus been presented with, which is to experience the film as the director always intended it to be seen.5917e9efb12a157c32b854dbd16ed744912a0557 This being the case, I have in the interim sought out and devoured Martin Amis’ gorgeous darkly comedic, mysterious murder source material and also the theatrical version. So, if these words I write carry any weight at all with you, please believe my sincerity when I urge you, nay, implore you – seek out this, the director’s cut of London Fields. It is a heartbreaking urban-dystopian twisted noir love poem that, thank God, exists for us all to watch, to ponder, to cinematically wolf-down. Bon appétit, dear viewer.London-Fields

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives is a fascinating one, if a bit too cluttered with spare vignettes for a feature film. It’s one of those mosaic pieces where we see a string of unrelated episodes about various people here and there in the midst of some life changing moments, and as is usually the case with these, it is absolutely star studded. There’s two formats for these, the one where everyone’s story is interwoven and the vignettes collide and weave (ie Paul Haggis’s Crash) and the linear template where each story is a standalone piece, with no blurred lines or cross crossing. This film falls into the latter category, and themes itself on nine different women in various instances of their lives, be it tragic, joyful, passionate, penultimate or simply everyday life. The issue is, nine of these stories is just too much for a film that runs under two hours. Or perhaps it’s not and what I meant to say was that nine stories that are this thoughtful, complex and important shouldn’t have shared the same compacted narrative, for its too much to keep up with from scene to scene. Anyways there’s quality to be found, some actors cast brilliantly against type and any flick that rounds up a cast of this pedigree deserves a high five. My favourite by far of the bunch is a two person scene between Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright Penn as two former lovers who meet in a supermarket after being apart for many years and try to reconcile their feelings. Both actors are tender, attentive to one another and it’s some of the most affecting work I’ve seen from either. A more lurid one involving Amy Brenneman and William Fichtner lands more with a questionable thud, both are great as well but their scene needed some backstory. My second favourite stars a young Amanda Seyfried as a girl who alternates speaking with her father (the excellent Ian McShane) and mother (Sissy Spacek) who are in different rooms of the house. It’s intimate family drama through a prism of casualty and works quite well. Other sequences, including one that sees Glenn Close on a picnic with her granddaughter (Dakota Fanning), aren’t as memorable or striking. But the cast alone is enough to stick along for the ride, and includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Mary Kay Place, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Stephen Dillane, Molly Parker, Aiden Quinn, Joe Montegna and more. A worthwhile watch for the handful of stories that have some weight, but falters here and there and could have axed some of the commotion of too many solo narratives buzzing about.

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness 


Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness is a tricky one to pin down or feed readers a review that will point in either direction. Parts of it are sleek, beautiful, scary beyond words and terrifically staged. Others are bombastic, out of left field and completely unwarranted. During the head scratching climax I found myself wondering aloud, ‘how did we get from where the film started off to… *this*??!’. It’s senseless, meandering and probably a bit too long as well, but despite all that, I kind of loved the damn thing, eels and all. When you see the name ‘Gore Verbinski’ as director, you know that the film you’re about to see is going to have a few distinct qualities: lengthy, ambitious, stuffed with ideas both visual and auditory, offbeat and usually in no way similar to the last film he did. He’s the king of variety, I love his work a ton and think he’s one of the most under appreciated directors out there. This is his stab at a grand old horror picture, and while he admittedly doesn’t get everything right, there’s much wonder to behold and keep the viewer mesmerized. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more visually sumptuous horror flick since Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak. This largely takes place in the Swiss Alps, and shot after shot is just cold beauty and immersive vistas, a beautiful terrain surrounding the facility where a young businessman (Dane DeHaan, who I’ve never really been a fan of, but his weird spindly goblin aura suits the material here) ends up, trying to extricate a senior member of his company back to New York for a life and death merger. Life and death are also key components of this establishment, or more-so the latter, as he will find. The place is an eerily calm self help retreat run by icy, devilishly charming Director Volmer (Jason Isaacs eating up scenery with ferociously measured relish). There’s foul play afoot, which is glaringly obvious from the moment the young man steps through the front door. That’s the thing about this film, or much of it anyways, there’s no surprises or unpredictability to be had. We know the sinister path of these types of shockers quite well, and it all seems so familiar. Then when the third act rolls around, we wish we didn’t hope for something deviating from that path, because the narrative pretty much sets the path on fire, runs off the map into it’s own deranged subplot that will shock, if not awe. The film has some truly icky moments, one involving eels and a dubious looking plastic tube that’s a squirmer for sure, and the sickly atmosphere in the air all about this hellhole in the heavenly mountains. There’s fine acting to be seen, not just from terrific Isaacs but also ethereal looking Mia Goth as a creepy young waif who’s presence the plot hinges on later. The end ramps up for something that ditches the clinical body horror and heads right into old school, Hammer Films style horror a la Frankenstein or something kinkier, and while jarring, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained or giving it the aghast slow clap of sheepish approval simply because the film had the balls to *go* there, without a care spent on whether we wanted to see such absurdities or not. I admire such brazenness in film. A curiosity of a flick, seemingly cobbled together from ideas that don’t always quite mesh, but are still fun to bear witness to. A mess, but a hot one, and a damn good looking one too, if all over the place. 

-Nate Hill

Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil


Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil is probably the second best video game adaptation out there (I’ll remain vague so you all lose sleep arguing about what the best is) and a damn fine horror/shocker flick. I’d stay away from most of the sequels unless you’re really invested in Milla Jovovich’s ass kicking Alice character (guilty here), but it can be said that this lean, mean initial entry is a genuinely terrific film full of grisly traps, gnarly zombie dogs and a butch Michelle Rodriguez that’ll make you weak at the knees. The world’s most irresponsible biotech corporation Umbrella is perpetually up to no good, and their underground research lab ‘The Hive’ has been overrun with monstrosities of their own creation which will eventually spill out into the streets of fictitious Raccoon city, and the entire world beyond in some of the bombastic later sequels. Minimalistic claustrophobia is what makes this one work so good, as a hardened team of mercenaries led by Rodriguez and Colin Salmon descend into this manufactured hell for a bit of shoot em up fun. Jovovich is Alice, security expert turned survivalist who they find down there and recruit as a tag along and just happens to be wearing an impractical yet eye catching red dress for the duration. It’s a deliriously fun female bromance between her and Rodriguez, with just the right dose of sexual chemistry, while the rest of the team, including Eric Mabius and James Purefoy as Alice’s shady ex husband, fare pretty well. Anderson regular Jason Isaacs also has an inexplicably brief cameo as Umbrella’s head honcho mad scientist, a character who would later be recast by Ian ‘Ser Jorah Mormont’ Glen in the following films, even though the guy is clearly credited as Dr. Isaacs, begging one’s curiosity as to just what drove Jason away from the role. The thing that makes this one work so much better than any of it’s sequels is the sweaty single location format: we’re with these characters inside the Hive for the entire film as opposed to watching them slice their way through some helicopter filled globetrotting apocalyptic gong show, a classic case of too much thrown into the pot ruining the recipe. Keep it simple, a few scattershot mercs navigating a haunted funhouse full of lethal canine mutants, slobbering undead and bone slicing laser beam grids, all watched like a hawk by a ruthless AI security system designed to look and sound like the red queen from Alice In Wonderland. Pretty cool, eh? I thought so, and still do every time I give it a rewatch during Halloween season. 

-Nate Hill

John Woo’s Windtalkers


John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it. 

-Nate Hill