Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

It’s been a long wait for Dune, but it’s finally here and let me tell you it was worth it. I didn’t get to see it in theatres because my country has gone collectively insane for a minute (hopefully a temporary situation) but it’s a strong testament to Denis Villeneuve and his entire creative team that even on my modest 55” TV with a JBL soundbar, this thing is one powerful spectacle of immense, grandiose science fiction storytelling, a Shakespearean space opera for the ages and the culmination of this filmmaker’s work so far reaching a fever pitch of visual creative energy, motion and sound. Obvious comparisons will be drawn between this and David Lynch’s notorious 1980’s version of Frank Herbert’s novel, but I won’t be making any other than to say I deeply love both films for different reasons, and they are so far removed from one another in style, tone and essence I can’t even place them on the shelf next to one another. The story is told in broad, sweeping strokes with an elemental momentum to both the set pieces of thundering action and soulful, dialogue driven character interaction. Keystone sequences like the Harkonnen invasion, the spice harvester rescue and the Atreides house triumphantly arriving on Arrakis are handled with massive scope, vision, beautiful world building and breathtaking, dreamlike production design. Hans Zimmer’s reliably supersonic score is a bass soaked deep space lullaby, a trancelike composition that echoes his work in Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 while organically blasting into new neural pathways of what is possible in music for film. I thought that Timothee Chalamet might annoy me as Paul, but he’s stellar, almost underplaying the enigmatic budding hero with a layered introspection and genuinely discernible arc from naive youngling prince to rough, rugged desert wanderer. All of the other actors are superb and imbue the characters with a subdued, mesmeric and haunted aura that adds to the spacey atmosphere, apart from Jason Momoa as fierce warrior Duncan Idaho, his performance is lively, brusque and the closest any of the actors get to down to earth. Stellan Skarsgard gives the same sort of villainous turn here as he did in Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur, a wistful, distant and detached yet quietly malicious and rotten bastard of a Baron, like an evil floating Humpty Dumpty, but in a good way. My favourite performance of the film goes to an unassuming Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica, a character not featured all that heavily in the marketing but one that comes across as the desperate soul of the film, a loving mother torn between her fealty to a strange sisterhood of weird nun magicians and her love for Paul and Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac is superb) and her people. Ferguson is eerie, wide eyed and charismatic in the type of way that holds you attention raptly, the only performance in this film that feels like it might be at home in Lynch’s version of Dune. The world presented here is tangible, tactile, the special effects are a seamless blend of CGI and practical, the baroque design of dragonfly winged spacecrafts, mammoth ancient pyramids, impossibly detailed metallic frescoes depicting the lore and history of these civilizations are a magisterial tapestry of woven visual creativity, costume design, detailed wildlife and anthropological wonder that will sweep you away into this realm. My only complaint is that, because this is only part one, the air gets sucked out of the room narratively speaking when this thing ends and I felt an aching yearn for the continuation of the story, which it looks like we will now indeed get and I understand that Villeneuve made a wise choice splitting the novel up to let the story breathe, but it still finishes on an airy exhale that leaves you craving more. I’m excited for part two, there are several characters that *are* featured a lot in marketing that only show up for like, five minutes or less, I want to see this story develop further so that I may get to know them, experience more brilliant performances and sink deeper into this gorgeous, hypnotic, mythologically rich universe. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango

Even if I told you to picture a Mexican version of Natural Born Killers starring Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem with shades of voodoo mysticism, tons of pulpy brutal violence, transgressive taboo vibes and shades of From Dusk Till Dawn it wouldn’t prepare you for the visual audacity and narrative viscera that is Álex de la Iglesia’s Perdita Durango, a scrappy mid 90’s bit of cult nihilism based on a book by Barry Gifford. Gifford, you may recall, also wrote the book that David Lynch based Wild At Heart on so many of the same characters appear here for a kind of fascinating “Lynch/Gifford extended universe” vibe. Rosie Perez is Perdita Durango, a vivacious wayward outlaw girl who hooks up with Bardem’s Romeo, a psychopathic, voodoo practicing criminal who has been hired by evil crime kingpin Marcelo ‘Crazy Eyes’ Santos (Don Stroud) to facilitate the black market delivery of stolen human fetuses for cosmetic industry (I swear I’m not making the shit up). The two of them hook up along the way and get up to all sorts of lurid shenanigans including kidnapping a teenage couple (Harley Cross & Aimee Graham), raping them both and forcing them to tag along on their bloodthirsty swath of carnage and mayhem across Texas and the Mexico border. James Gandolfini shows up as a dogged DEA agent hellbent on stopping them and nailing Santos, and he hilariously gets hit by multiple speeding vehicles only to keep on truckin with a neck brace, then a leg brace and so on. There are also scattershot appearances from musician Screamin Jay Hawkins, filmmaker Alex Cox and a young Demien Bechir as a Vegas crime kingpin who meets a spectacularly gory end at the hands of Bardem. He is unbelievable as Romeo, I didn’t think I’d ever see a film where he has a more ridiculous haircut than his mop in No Country For Old Men but it happened, he looks like a an angry tumblr maven with his hyper cropped bangs here, and he tears into the role with a kind of unhinged ferocity and rambunctiousness I haven’t seen before in his mostly restrained career so far. Perez is like a Latin Harley Quinn as Perdita, all pissed off fury and sudden violent sexual energy in a total tour de force. This film won’t be for everyone: it’s incredibly subversive and deranged, there are explicitly shown instances of human sacrifice, rape, child abuse and domestic violence, not to mention the overall dose of supremely bloody gun violence and just a generaly lurid, deliberately unsavoury tone that stems from Gifford’s often shockingly tasteless yet somehow captivating work. But it’s a lot of fun too, there’s heaps of hilariously subtle dark comedy thrown in, a ballistic firestorm of a soundtrack, a host of deliriously over the top performances from the excellent cast and all manner of bizarre, arbitrary, surreal and eclectic sideshow-freak elements that make this an eccentric trip to hell with two demented individuals who you can’t decide whether to run from in horror or party with as they’re that much fun.

-Nate Hill

Sam Mendes’s Skyfall

What are the key ingredients in a Bond film? Chase sequences. Gadgets. A sexy chick, maybe two or even three per film. A flamboyant, megalomaniac asshole bent on world domination or some other far flung quest for global chaos. Flashy cars. Admirable stunt work. Cringy one liners. What else? Not much, unfortunately, and it’s these formulas, mostly stuck to like a well worn blueprint throughout the franchise that have made me a self proclaimed Bond non-fan, aside from a few specific entries. That changed when the Daniel Craig iterations came along, thoughtful, self aware reworking that peaked with Sam Mendes’s Skyfall, which is arguably the best in the whole canon, and definitely my favourite. For the first time there’s thought put into 007’s arc, a personal backstory, connections to others that are rooted in emotion and a refreshingly intelligent script that both calls loving attention to and subtly sends up the franchise tropes. Craig’s Bond is an implosive, haunted warrior whose quips are never cavalier or cheeky, but feel rather sardonic with a touch of sadness. What made him this way? Well, a solid career of killing people and having extreme bodily harm inflicted upon him I’d imagine, the effects of which are readily apparent on his rough hewn frame and weary expression like never before in the franchise. The cryptic title of the film also calls back to his past, never thoroughly explored but hinted at just enough to accent the character. Then there’s the villain, a blond dye job piece of work named Silva, given the devilish, over pronounced charisma of Javier Bardem, who handles the dangerous monster, playful joker and petulant brat aspects of the character in harmonized synergy for a scene stealing and franchise best Bond baddie. Although admittedly a power-mad despot like any other, Silva’s ultimate endgame is something far more personal, which makes for a stronger character than some freak who just wants to blow up the moon with a laser. Most of the characters here shirk the standards and become something more than their allotted archetypes. Judi Dench’s hard-nosed M takes centre stage as not only the steely shot caller behind the desk but as a well rounded character whose choices behind said desk come back to haunt her. Ralph Fiennes’s salty aristocrat Gareth Mallory proves more resourceful and intuitive than that perfectly tailored suit n’ plummy accent would let on. Naomie Harris’s badass Eve is a cracking field agent with the wits and charisma to match Bond, and Ben Withshaw’s Q gets to intone more than simply the function of a few well placed, elaborate gadgets, of which there are indeed few, if any on display here. The only one who remains squarely in the imprint of past 007 films is Bérenicé Marlohe’s sultry but short lived Severine, who almost proves unimportant to the plot beyond obligatory eye candy and could have been left out. Pretty much everything works here, and better than it has for any prior Bond film, particularly the clever, wry dialogue, emotional element and iconoclastic trailblazing. Roger Deakins makes visual poetry yet again with his camera, from the neon soaked skyscrapers of Shanghai to the floating lantern casinos of Macau to the comfortably rain streaked brick of London, this is one flat out gorgeous film to look at. Couple the technical prowess with that oh so weighty, thoughtful script, Craig’s craggy and well worn warrior Bond and the fresh feeling rogues gallery of characters around him, not to mention Adele’s heart-stopping original song and you’ve got something truly special and elevated from any other 007 film out there. Oh, and the courtroom scene where M quotes Tennyson? Bloody time capsule worthy.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Collateral

I love Michael Mann’s Collateral so much. Few other films evoke the detached, hypnotic atmosphere of a metropolitan city, the thrum of a single night passing by, the hard bitten nature of a city whose main brand of social interaction is usually crime. Mann has a way with restless urban nocturnes and the weary, resolute characters who drift through them, personified here by Jamie Foxx’s shy, plucky cab driver Max and Tom Cruise’s lupine, charismatic hitman Vincent. They’re on odd pair to spend a murky, digitally shot Los Angeles night with, but the two actors make it a clash, confrontation and ironic companionship for the ages. Max is veering close to being a career cabbie, his dreams of entrepreneur enterprising fading fast in the rear view. He’s meek and soft spoken but we get the sense that somewhere in there is the capacity for violence and unpredictability, if prompted by the right catalyst. Speak of the devil with Vincent, a whip smart apex predator who hijacks Max into helping him make several high profile stops before a 6am flight out of LAX, each one leaving a cadaver in its wake, all related to an interwoven criminal syndicate that DA is trying to bring down. It’s high concept done on slow burn, with action taking a backseat beside Vincent, while story, character and brilliant dialogue command the forefront, a technique rarely employed in the big budget Hollywood blockbuster, but always a surefire way to success. Mann captures the pulse of LA almost better than he did with Heat, albeit to a smaller scale and constricted to one night, a nervous time-sensitive mood-scape that gives the proceedings a haunted aura. Cruise has never been better, sporting a silver fox get-up and enough scary micro-mannerisms to more than make us believe he’s an expert at his profession, until jaggedly unravelled by Foxx’s presence, who goes from unassuming hostage to razor sharp thorn in the side real quick. Jada Pinkett Smith is brilliant as a lawyer who Max picks up in the opening scene, their extended conversation set against the dreamy LA backdrop serving as a neat, Elmore Leonard-esque way to set up shop. The supporting cast are like easter eggs hidden throughout, they’re never obvious or given key monologues, but exist in harmonious flow to the chamber piece unfolding mostly in the taxi. Mark Ruffalo shows up in his coolest role to date as a detective who gets wise to Cruise uncannily quick, Javier Bardem has a showcase scene as an angry mob boss, and watch for Bruce McGill, Debi Mazar, Wade Williams, Klea Scott, Paul Adelstein, Peter Berg, Irma P. Hall, Emilio Riveria, Jason Statham, Richard T. Jones and the always excellent Barry Shabaka Henley as a jazz club owner with a few skeletons in his closet. My favourite scene is a wordless one, in which Vincent and Max see a lone coyote loping across the freeway in the hazy night. Each of them reacts, the sight of the beast meaning something different to them, internally, they share the moment, and move on. Taken out of context it could mean anything, stand on its own as a fifteen second short film, or be injected into a crime drama masterpiece like this to make it all the more atmospheric and special. It’s moments like this, along with a few other key scenes, one set on a subway train and the initial conversation between Foxx and Jada, that inject a surface level genre film with something intangible, something elemental. Mann gets this, every frame of his urban crime epics are filled with that kind of energy, and this stands as one of his best.

-Nate Hill

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!

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The President is a liar and a rapist.  Hurricanes rain down biblical style wrath the likes of which this country hasn’t seen in generations.  Man’s inhumanity to man is a relentless drumbeat of daily headlines, and basic civility between those who agree on almost but not quite everything seems ready to collapse at any moment.  This is the world of 2017, and this is the world that birthed Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! A defiant howl against what feels like the breakdown of society itself, the film isn’t crafted for the faint of heart, nor should it be.  Audiences and critics are rejecting it in droves if opening box office numbers and review amalgamation sites are to be believed, perhaps expecting the mainstream horror thriller the ad campaign deviously promises and then being truly horrified at the ugly Dorian Gray-style mirror the film holds up to America’s face, filled with corrupted beauty and mob mentality madness.  There’s no doubt that you the viewer are meant to walk out of the theater in a brutalized silence, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t a high wire act masterpiece.

Aronofsky’s quite comfortable swimming in the same dark waters that Lynch, Bunuel and many other surrealists dive into with regularity; he’s made a career of it, and on occasion even found critical and box office success doing it, as in the identity bending Black Swan.  With Mother!, he’s doubled down on a symbolism filled nightmare scape, mixing and matching plenty of horror tropes (a disturbing house, plenty of blood, stranger danger galore) but never allowing the flow to fall into anything approaching a genre comfort zone.  He’s taken the angelic face of Jennifer Lawrence and turned it into a trap for all of us, with the camera locking in on her increasingly confused, angry and frightened visage throughout—while the lead performer should be our guide throughout the story, she’s given no tools to work with, no road map, no explanations, so neither are we.  Javier Bardem is her chilling man child of a husband, an artist whose focus on adulation over accomplishment serves as a cutting parody of the aging celebrity with a trophy wife as well as a none too subtle nod towards the current resident of the White House.  As their pristine renovated home turns into a demonic bacchanal, with characters blinking in and out of existence and humanity portrayed as little more than an internet comment section run amok, Aronofsky drags the viewer alongside Lawrence into chaos and madness with relentless glee.  It’s this glee at how emotionally disturbing Mother! is that I suspect is putting off many theater goers; sometimes the first swipe at a piece of art this brazenly obtuse yet intimate is so effective that it sends its audience screaming for the exits.  Have great faith that, while you may be repelled by what the film puts you through, it’s all very much part of the plan.

Last year audiences had the same disdain for Nicholas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, a similarly singular workout that never commits to being a “horror movie” until it’s so far beyond that definition that it’s achieved True Art status, which isn’t supposed to be easy and rarely tries to be.  That film’s disgusting deconstruction of America’s dedication to surface above all else is mirrored in the layered but loud assault on our society’s treatment of the planet and each other in Mother! It starts with a telling sequence that I’ll not spoil here, but hints at cycles of behavior that are as old as time, and as inescapable.  Darren Aronofsky blew through the first draft of this script in five days by his account, and the resulting film feels every bit the guttural reaction to 2017 that you’d expect from one of America’s leading provocateurs.

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Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata 


Gabe Ibáñez’s Automata had the misfortune of being released in the shadow of another film concerning robotics and artificial intelligence, Ex Machina. It’s hard to compete with the kind of hype that film generated back in 2015, and as such it kind of slipped through the cracks. It’s a shame because there’s much about that’s striking, stylized and fascinating, despite being a bit too elaborate for it’s own good. Drenched in a rainy neon Blade Runner atmosphere, it follows a bleak story involving insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (a bald, somber Antonio Banderas) as he navigates a broken world ravaged by solar storms that have whittled down the human populace to around twenty million. Robots have been employed to rebuild the dying infrastructure, and Jacq keeps tabs in case any of them violate their primary directive, under the stewardship of his boss (Robert Forster). When rogue police officer Wallace (Dylan McDermott is dynamite) shoots a robot he claims was trying to alter itself, Jacq surmises that there’s a ‘clocksmith’ out there trying to give them minds of their own. It’s all very vague and we never really have anything more than illusory whispers or half explained concepts to go on, but these matters find him and the company’s nasty head of security (Tim McInnerney) venturing far out into the desert where a faction of robots, led by Javier Bardem no less, have grossly deviated their protocol and are evolving into… something else. Banders’s once wife Melanie Griffith does double duties as a creepy liaison in their case and the voice of a sympathetic sex slave-bot who plays a key role. I’m not entirely sure what the story arc is supposed to be, as it’s often muddled and dense, but it seems confident that it has one, and isn’t just flying blind into Euro experimental abstract mode as some scenes suggest. It has a point to make, it’s just wrapped that up in enigmatic fashion and cloaked any sense of linear exposition in blankets of atmospheric ambient sound, deliberately indistinct story beats and strangeness. I’m okay with that to an extant, as there’s plenty to enjoy visually, especially with the robots and their design, but many won’t be and will want more than just machine dreams without a manual to guide them. I for one enjoyed the memorable image of bald, parka clad Banderas hunting primordial androids in a washed out, used up wasteland. All that’s missing is a score by Vangelis or Tangerine Dream.  

-Nate Hill

Episode 9: Ridley Scott’s THE COUNSELOR, new trailers and Top Five Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz

Episode 9 is now live.  We discuss Ridley Scott’s THE COUNSELOR, new movie trailers and Top Five performances of Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz!

Enjoy!