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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

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DO YOU SEE? Back to the Event Horizon with Philip Eisner by Kent Hill

 

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It was a good day for a movie. When is it not? I was home from university and had the agenda to go to a flick that started soon and looked good. Science fiction looked good and I had heard and read little about this new offering from the director of Mortal Kombat, the future impresario of  the Resident Evil franchise, Paul W.S. Anderson.

My buddy Paul was just coming out of the theatre, and as it happened he had just watched Event Horizon. I recall him being angry, “That’s shocking, terrible, grotesque,” he said. Well it’s been a while. But I certainly remember the look on his face and he was, for lack of a better word, mortified.

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Now when someone tells you not to look at something, what’s the first thing you do? That’s right, you go check it out. I knew I was going to. I knew my friend to be no coward, so I was automatically intrigued by the prospect of seeing this movie that had gotten to him on such a visceral level. I recall him saying, before we parted company, “Don’t waste your time with it,” or something to that effect.

I bullshitted and said sure, don’t worry, I’m seeing a different movie. After that review I was definitely going inside, and the movie I encountered therein was really cool.

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Coming out I felt satisfied. The movie worked on all levels. It was terrifying, impactful, funny at the right time, suspenseful, beautifully composed, strongly acted and above all, well written.

The world was not as socially connected at the time. Nor was it part of my complete breakfast during that period to track down and try to arrange interviews with the good people who make the movies.

Behind the scenes material was scant at best, and Event Horizon, no one at the time could have known, would go on to become a cult favorite and get a really nice re-release with a handsome collector case and lots of juicy bonus features. There is a great documentary included, commentary and the likes. But there was little about the film’s author and the script is only a brief part of the BTS discussion.

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Fortunately the world has moved on and we are all now accessible via a myriad of networking tools. Thus it was my good fortune to finally get in touch with and interview the very excellent screenwriter and all-round gentleman Philip Eisner. The man who was once locked away with nothing but The Road Warrior for a week, was an absolute pleasure to interview.

I feel, like I often do, when talking to the makers of my favorite films, like I’m getting the commentary track that should be included with the feature. After all, it is the with the screenwriter that these journey’s begin.

As I like to keep things as informal as possible, our chat was not restricted to Event Horizon. We discussed Philip’s journey to writing, the genesis of the script, how sometimes you homage and other times steal, what he thought of Rogue One (’cause us Star Wars boys can’t help ourselves), how it’s easier to say “No” in Hollywood and much more.

I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy this interview as much as I did and, in case you have wanted to know more about the true gem that is Event Horizon, or were looking for an excuse to watch it, if indeed you haven’t already…

Well now folks . .  . you’ll see.

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Netflix’s The OA: A Review by Nate Hill 

I always try to find unique and original projects when choosing films and shows to watch, for we live in a time where many titles you see out there are sequels, nostalgia reboots or spinoffs. These aren’t bad things per se, but it’s also important to break new ground and produce organic material, something which Netflix has a fairly glowing track record for. Tapping the creative well that is the mind of young female director/actress/producer Brit Marling, the platform has given her the chance to tell one of the most striking, beautiful and altogether astonishing pieces of work I’ve ever seen from the long form storytelling format. Earlier this year, Stranger Things knocked me flat, and recently Westworld has captivated my attention and imagination. But The OA has done something different for me; stirred my soul in a way that few creative pieces can, with a story so unpredictable that it starts to feel like the forces of nature at work, forking off into tributary sections of narrative that you would never, ever have been able to to surmise ahead of the reveals. 

  Now, something I’ll say right off the bat: This won’t be for everyone, and I predict many confused, bitter reviews. Such is the case with work that requires effort and clarity of attention from the viewer, as well as the key ingredient: objective thinking. This is both a scientific and spiritual story, bereft of any religious implicatioms, incredibly vague, esoteric and at times left open to interpretation, or clarification we will get from a second season, fingers crossed. 

  It starts off simply enough, with the return of a girl named Prairie (Marling) to the home she disappeared from seven ears prior. Mysteriously cured of childhood blindness and very secretive of the events which have befallen her, her loving parents (Scott Wilson and Alice Krige in knockout performances) are just happy to see her again. It’s here the story turns off it’s headlights and hurtles blind into the night, going to places you’d never have thought it would, let alone be explored in a mainstream network series. Marling and Co creator Zal Batmanglij (yes that’s his real name) have outdone themselves in the originality department, presenting ideas and questions so far from the norm of what we’re used to that their story really and truly feels unique from anything else we’ve ever seen. Marling is incandescent in the role, which requires her to go to some fairly tricky places in terms of acting, handling it with the shimmering grace of an angel. It’s difficult for me to say anymore because I want you to open up this gift of a story on your own, without anything to go on, but I must mention her co star Jason Isaacs, who plays a scientific man involved in her disappearance. He’s obsessed in a feverish, sick way, and in any other actor’s hands the character may have come across as too villainous or intense. Isaacs is an unheralded genius of the craft though, and despite the callous nature of the role, he seems more human, more grounded than most. 

  I really can’t tell you much more at this point, and what I’ve said so far is much less than I usually do in reviews, as far as plot goes. This is one to binge watch, one to let wash over you like a blanket of stars, and one to think long and deep about as soon as the credits of the last episode make themselves known. For the thinkers, the wonderers, the ones who ponder what’s out there and what may be in store for us way down the road of the cosmos, The OA is a blast of nutrition for the soul.

Paul W.S. Anderson’s Soldier: A Review by Nate Hill 

Before poor Paul W.S. Anderson made a fatal misstep with Alien Vs. Predator and was maligned, he made a few really excellent genre flicks back in the mid to late 90’s, one of them being the mostly forgotten and excessively fun Soldier, starring a mostly mute and wholly badass Kurt Russell as a genetically bred super soldier who has fallen on hard times. His name is Todd 3465, and he’s from the last line of soldiers who are in fact real humans, albeit altered. There’s a new program moving in, wherein actual replicants are produced, rendering Todd obsolete. The head of the new outfit is sadistic Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs in full evil prick mode), who wants to do away with anything that isn’t state of the art. Todd is thrashed in a one on one smackdown with Mekum’s lead soldier (Jason Scott Lee), and then left to die on a remote planet used only for trash disposal and inhabited by wayward crash survivors who scavenge what they can. Todd is immediately the outsider, an unfeeling asset bred only for combat and alien to human qualities. A few among the group, including their leader Mace (Anderson regular Sean Pertwee) and Jimmy Pig (Michael Chicklis) attempt to connect, but it’s gorgeous Connie Nielsen who finally breaks the ice. He may be conditioned to kill, but he’s still a human man after all, and there’s some base instincts you just can’t ignore. Trouble brews when Mekum shows up again, that bastard. Now he wants to vaporize their planet on the grounds that the refugees are essentially squatting. Undermining him is Todd’s former boss Church (an unusually restrained Gary Busey), an honorable military veteran who’d love to put Mekum six feet under and restore order. Todd must help his newfound friends, fight tooth and nail against replicants and win his superiority back. Russell is a tank in the role, letting both silence and action speak volumes, a one man old school ass kicking hero of the highest order. The world building and outer space effects are incredibly fun, the villains are broadly characterized with the force of a western, and the whole film knows what people want for a good time at the cinema. Oohh and fun fact: this takes place in the same cinematic universe as Blade Runner, and you can listen for the brief tie in reference that only die hards will pick up on. Great stuff. 

David Ayer’s Fury: A Review by Nate Hill

  

David Ayer’s Fury is the most fearsome, unrelenting war film of the decade and quite the experience to sit through. One stumbles out of the theatre as shell shocked as the brave soldiers we’ve just witnessed onscreen, needing time to wind down from the horror, after which we realize that among the thunderous bravura and non stop, head shattering combat are moments of tender humanity and ponderous reflection, just enough to contrast the madness. Logan Lerman has the pretty boy look, which is quickly stripped away and replaced by frenzied terror and confusion, playing a young army clerk who hasn’t seen one second of combat, suddenly tasked with joining the ranks of a tank warfare crew. They are each hardened in their own way by what they’ve seen and done. Brad Pitt is Wardaddy, their iron jawed commander in a gritty, unstable and altogether brilliant performance. Jon Bernthal is the obligatory redneck Neanderthal, a big lug whose brutish ways mask a childlike yearning beneath. Shia Leboeuf is the restrained one, a bible reader and thinker whose resentment of the war radiates from his eyes like sad and sick beams of sympathy. Michael Pena, reliably excellent, is the closest to neutral of the group. Ayer airdrops us right into the action without pretext, warning or proclaimed intention. This isn’t a ‘men on a mission’ war flick, this is a single harrowing day in the lives of men at the end of the world as well as their ropes, an intimate study of the horror inflicted on both body and soul, both soldier and civilian, the collective horrific impact of the war refracted through the prism of a small period of time. Such a tactic has huge potential, and here it works wonders in brining us closer to these characters, as well as anyone they meet along their way. Pitt leads this ragtag band with the indifferent sentiment of a hardened, brittle man who has been in one too many a tight spot and seen one too many a comrade fall under his care to waste time with compassion for the enemy. Time and tide have turned killing into a purely instinctual, second nature business for him, and we see this unfold in a kicker of a scene where he forces Lerman to murder an unarmed German private who begs for his life. Such is war, and such is Ayer’s film, free from Hallmark moments and structured escapism. Midway through, the film stops dead in its tracks for a beautiful, tension filled sequence in which the band finds temporary refuge in crumbling abode with two German girls. The culture shock is numbed out by the extremity of the war, and these two groups are forced to coexist, if only for an hour or so. The youngest of the girls (Alicia Von Rittberg) is stunning, a baleful example of the corrupts of innocence, her character arc a testament to the senselessness of war. The combat scenes within the tank clank with clammy, claustrophobic dread and desperation, helped by the fact that for the most part they filmed inside real replicas. Jason Isaacs shows up in yet another war movie role as a grizzled commander who briefly assists them, and (of course) steals his two quick scenes in the process. War films often struggle to find humanity amongst the ugliness by trying a little too hard, and by being a little too obvious. This one is frank, unrelenting and assaults you with a deafening roar of chaos, with a few extremely subtle moments of introspect and emotion. It may just have cracked the formula for finding the comfort in such turmoil: less is more. One of the best war movies I’ve ever seen.