Tag Archives: Jeff Daniels

Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia

Scared of spiders? This is the perfect movie for you and no it’s not Eight Legged Freaks. Seriously though if you’re one of those people who are mortally, terminally and irrationally afraid of them then Arachnophobia will flare up just that kind of reaction. It’s produced by Spielberg too so it has that special kind of ‘menace in 80’s suburbia’ feel, this isn’t some cobwebby haunted house or fearsome jungle setting, this is killer spiders in the small town California which is all the more disarming. There is a jungle set prologue though because we gotta see just how these things did make it to Cali and you can thank scientist Julian Sands for that when he accidentally lets a breed of deadly arachnids hitch a lift in a coffin back to the states. There they slowly but surely begin to breed and wreak havoc on unsuspecting townsfolk until they’re basically everywhere. Jeff Daniels steps in for hero duty as a doctor who just moved into town and is getting a pretty suspect first impression of the area thanks to these creatures. It’s up to him and an intrepid posse to take them on while evading their deadly bites in the process. John Goodman shows up and steals the film as a boisterous, beer swilling exterminator who knows a maximum threat when he sees one and breaks out the non FDA approved methods for dispatching them. His character provides the film with levity and laughs as a kind of cross between Chris Walken’s kooky exterminator in Mouse Hunt and one of the Ghostbusters. This film is actually terrifying because it isn’t just giant spiders like in Harry Potter or The Hobbit and they’re not CGI or schlocky like countless other horror films, there’s actual craft and artistry put in and they use real spiders too so it’s pretty gnarly. There’s one scene where Daniels and his family are in the middle of the living room and there’s spiders literally everywhere.. the couch, ceiling, walls, appliances, floor… covered. We all know that feeling of seeing just one of them somewhere over in a corner, now amplify that by like a thousand. Yeah. It’s a great fright flick that never gets too gooey or gory and always maintains humour amidst the horror.

-Nate Hill

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Jan De Bont’s Speed

“Pop quiz, hotshot!!” Most action films are comprised of beats, wherein there are exciting sequences and then lulls in between to catch our breath and collect ourselves, but the beauty of Jan De Bont’s Speed is that as soon as the central premise is delivered to the narrative, pretty much every beat is action, the concept airtight in terms of any breathing room creeping in, and that’s one reason why I think it’s endured as a such a classic in the genre.

Dennis Hopper plays yet another wild eyed lunatic here, and it’s scary to think that his mad bomber Howard Payne was once a decorated LAPD officer. He’s now a very pissed off ex police officer who has gone psychotic and started blowing shit up all over the city, attracting the attention of daredevil super cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Howard gets elaborate when he decides to rig a city bus with a device that will blow it the fuck to bits of the driver slows down past fifty miles per hour, and from then on in the film barely stops to grab a coffee, take a piss or collect its thoughts. Howard masterminds the whole deal from a secret surveillance lab, Jack races to board the bus and defuse the bomb and intrepid civilian Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes over the wheel after the driver has a heart attack. Reeves and Hopper play off each other like flint and steel, it’s a hero villain smackdown for the ages between a rock steady officer of the law and a probably once great detective who has lost his mind but none of his wily nerve. Keanu and Sandra also have great romantic chemistry too but it’s underplayed and sort of seems natural, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Throw in Joe Morton, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Alan Ruck, Hawthorne James, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright and scene stealer Jeff Daniels as Keanu’s charismatic senior partner and you’ve got one hell of an ensemble.

This was one of the first R rated action cookouts I was allowed to see (hell, I think I even saw it before Die Hard) and it still blows my mind as much today as it did back then. The stunts and set pieces are all unbelievable and so kinetically explosive its a wonder that talented cinematographer Andrej Bartkowiak could keep his lenses following them. Everything with the bus on freeways and overpasses is extraordinary (that heart-stopping bridge gap!) but don’t even get me started on the balls out underground subway crash that blows the lid off any sound system it touches. A classic.

-Nate Hill

Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You know those Sci-Fi movies where someone has a near miss, narrow escape or heroic encounter up in space and everyone down in the NASA control room leaps up, cheers and claps in collective catharsis? It’s a well worn narrative beat and can sometimes be an eye roll moment. Ridley Scott’s The Martian has several of these but because the characters and plot are so well drawn they feel earned, appropriate and exciting. That goes for the film itself as well, it’s a two and a half hour space epic that feels as breezy as a ninety minute quickie, an optimistic, human story of one man’s ultimate quest for survival and everyone else’s daring attempts to rescue him.

Scott is no stranger to darker, more austere stuff particularly in his Sci-Fi exploits, but he shines a bright light on the proceedings here, making a super complicated, science based story with many moving parts somehow seem light and carefree while also making a big emotional landing. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, astronaut, botanist, space pirate and celestial castaway, marooned on the red planet following a mission gone wrong and presumed dead by NASA and his crew, until he’s able to communicate. He grows potatoes using… homemade fertilizer, repairs a satellite and awaits rescue while everyone else faces moral and technical quandaries in their struggle to bring him home. NASA’s director (Jeff Daniels, smarmy but never an outright baddie) is reluctant to go all out and send another mission, the crew’s handler (Sean Bean, fantastically low key and against his usual tough guy image) wants to do right by them and inform their commander (Jessica Chastain). The earthbound commotion is nicely interlaced with Damon’s solo outings up there and somehow they edit the thing to both realistically depict the passing of time but also fly through the proceedings breathlessly. Scott casts his film with ridiculous talent including Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig and Mackenzie Davis.

Many people wrote this off as a good film but simply fluff, like an enjoyable but kind of inconsequential ride, or at least that’s the vibe I got from some reviews. I couldn’t disagree more. This type of story is exactly the kind of thing we need more of in this day and age. One could remark on the vast amount of effort, overtime hours and expenditure NASA puts in simply to bring one astronaut home, and whether or not it’s worth it (Jeff Daniels certainly has that thought cross his mind), but the truth is that it’s not about just Mark Watney, or just any one person stranded up there, it’s about what the actions and efforts signify, and how important that is, as well as the notable and extreme resilience on his part. This is a film that shows the best in human beings who are put in impossible situations, and how we might make ourselves, and those around us into better people. It’s a rollicking space flick speckled with incredible talent, hilarious comedy, scientific knowledge and has already aged splendidly since it’s release four years ago. Top tier Ridley Scott for me, and one of the best Sci-Fi films in decades.

-Nate Hill

The Farrelly Brothers Dumb & Dumber To

I might catch some royal shit for this, but I loved Dumb & Dumber To, the Farrelly Brother’s decade’s later follow up to pretty much one of the best comedies of all time. It’s different; meaner, raunchier, a tad more meta and way less down to earth than its predecessor, it seems to be almost universally projectile vomited upon by critics and loyal fans alike. Fuck em if they can’t take a joke, because there’s no arguing that this one isn’t funny. In bad taste? Sure, but so was the original in its own 90’s way. Less charming? Maybe, but suck it up. Discontinuous to the nature of the leads in the original? Granted,

but it’s been like twenty years and the filmmakers/actors have changed as artists. Bereft entirely of valuable, effective humour? Not a chance. Just be thankful we got something to erase the pungent memory of Dumb & Dumberer, a prequel wholly undeserving of the legacy’s name. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are a little older and a little more leathery, but they’re still Harry and Lloyd, the two dim witted pioneers of mid 99’s gross out humour and buddy comedy shtick, resurrected for a brand new adventure. After a prologue where Harry rescues Lloyd from a care facility (that catheter is a wince moment), they’re off to find Harry’s daughter (Rachel Melvin) who he spawned with the notorious Freida Feltcher, brought to life by none other than Kathleen Turner in full hoe mode, she’s a face I haven’t seen in movies for years. There’s a half baked crime melodrama unfolding around them just like in the first one, and just like then, they’re too dumb to get what’s going on, a running joke that villains Laurie Holden and Rob Riggle (doing a double shift) carry amiably enough, but they’re no Joe Mental or Nicholas Andre, let’s be real. The highlight for me was when Harry and Lloyd bumble their way onstage at a TED Talk-esque (updating set pieces for a new millennium) as judges, and hurl moronic criticism at every invention that graces the desk. It’s not the same as the original but it’s been years, after all. The Farrelly’s have always been about distasteful, raunchy, whacked out humour that aims low and beats the laughs out of you, which is exactly what I found to be on display here. Vastly undervalued.

-Nate Hill

Scott Frank’s The Lookout


Scott Frank’s The Lookout is a film where every turn of plot, exchange of dialogue, set piece and stylistic choice just seems to mesh flawlessly, resulting in a package that’s nearly as perfect as you can get. Part psychological character study, part crime thriller, sewn together lovingly by threads of brilliantly written, intelligent interpersonal drama that seems lived in, the writer never uses the pen to pander nor patronize, but provides well drawn, realistic human beings who sound like actual people and not archetypes dwelling within the pages, never fully realized. Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Chris Pratt (not actual Chris Pratt lol) a young hotshot who becomes the victim of his own cocky, self destructive behaviour. After a horrific car accident that was entirely his fault, his girlfriend is left maimed and he a busted up shell of his former self, saddled with bushels of brain damage and the inability to cohesively live his day to day life the way he did before. It’s some sort of synapse frying neurological scarring that’s never fully explained, but the symptoms are clearly and fascinatingly outlined in a way that no other film has really tried before. He’s left somewhat adrift in life, naively attracted to his foxy psychiatrist (Carla Gugino), misunderstood by his parents (Bruce McGill & Alberta Watson), and cared for by his eccentric, blind and motor-mouthed roommate (Jeff Daniels, a standout as always). He happens to be from a small midwestern town though, and in movie land these burgs are almost always filled with schemes, heists, double crosses and feed store robberies. ‘Bro seduced’ by an equally suave and shady dude (Matthew Goode, whose work here lives up to that surname and then some), Chris is shanghaied into assisting in the hold up of the very bank he works at, and soon the kind of hell that would make the Coen brothers applaud breaks loose. Everything makes sense though, the jigsaw pieces of the narrative nestling flush against one another, not a beat feeling out of place or in danger of derailing the whole thing. That’s not the easiest thing to achieve, especially in a taught running time that clocks in under two hours and still manages to feel substantial. Levitt is terrific, a guy who used to be in control, used to be revered as the alpha who takes care of things, his condition worsened by the knowledge that people know full well how broken he is. The stakes are inherently high when someone that set back by life must navigate their way through the complex ins and outs of pulling off a bank heist. One hell of a film.  

-Nate Hill

THE LOOKOUT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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With his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Out of Sight, Scott Frank demonstrated a knack for crime thrillers with plenty of plot twists and double crosses. He finally got the chance to direct his own film and the result was The Lookout (2007), a neo-noir that evokes other crime movies like Charley Varrick (1973) and Fargo (1996).

Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young hockey player with a promising career that is snuffed out in an instant thanks to a car accident that he caused. Four years later, he’s working as a night janitor at a local Midwestern bank located out in the middle of nowhere and dealing with a head injury from the accident. He has to write down everything that he does to get ready every day. His old life is gone and his new one is one mundane day after another. Chris now lives with Lewis (Jeff Daniels), his blind roommate who helps the young man out with things around their apartment.

Chris meets Gary (Matthew Goode) at a bar one night. He’s a genial guy who befriends the young man over beers. Chris also meets a beautiful young woman named Luvlee (Isla Fisher) who is friends with Gary. They quickly go to work on Chris, Gary appealing to his brain and Luvlee to his heart. They make him feel like he belongs, which is important to him because his family doesn’t know how to relate to him anymore. Pretty soon Gary tells Chris about a bank heist he plans to pull with his buddies. The bank that they are targeting just happens to be the one that Chris works at. Gary dangles the proverbial carrot in front of Chris with the promise of money and the power that comes with it. He is very persuasive and knows exactly which buttons to push. Like most heist films, things do not go according to plan and the rest of the film deals with the aftershocks.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues his knack for offbeat roles. He does a great job portraying someone with neurological damage and the frustration that comes from not being able to do simple things like opening a can of food or remembering someone’s name. He also conveys the guilt his character feels over the car accident that cost two of his friends their lives and robbed him of a promising future. We see how he tries to hide his disorder and the frustration of not being able to do basic things. It’s a performance grounded in realism that is in contrast to this stylized noir world. It doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded by cold, detached characters, and this makes him very sympathetic as well.

Jeff Daniels steals pretty much every scene he’s in as Chris’ genial roommate. The actor displays a dry sense of humor that is very funny to see in action. He and Gordon-Levitt’s character make for very unlikely roommates to say the least but the two actors make it work thanks to the excellent chemistry they have together. Along with The Squid in the Whale (2005) and Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Daniels is turning out to be quite an excellent character actor appearing in several well-made independent films.

Frank has a keen visual sense, adopting a predominantly dark color scheme in keeping with the neo-noir tradition. He has crafted a clever little thriller with a fascinating protagonist at its center. What could have easily been a forgettable film is anchored by yet another riveting performance by Gordon-Levitt.

DANNY BOYLE’S STEVE JOBS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Danny Boyle’s riveting and unconventional biopic Steve Jobs is a complete knock-out from start to finish, and as bracingly un-Hollywood as this sort of material is going to get. This is laser-precise filmmaking, acted with extreme gusto, written with absurd skill, and shot and cut in a manner that suggests erudite style without ever feeling ostentatious. Aaron Sorkin’s classic rat-a-tat-tat dialogue is on full display from the opening scene, never relenting for two crisp and clean hours of storytelling; it’s an audacious screenplay in terms of structure, and overall, the film feels like a concert or a three act play, with maestro Boyle handling the glorious conducting. Some people are going to say that the film has been designed to never have any payoff – this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that Boyle and Sorkin upend our expectations (especially for the genre) and give us something we haven’t seen before. By framing the picture in three acts and showing the final 40 minutes leading up to three iconic product launches — the original Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in ’90, and the iMac in ’98 – there’s a purposefully restrictive quality to the storytelling and filmmaking that might have been detrimental to the overall finished product had the endeavor not been in control by shrewdly talented filmmakers.

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The hectic, emotionally turbulent, sometimes painful, and always awkward interactions that Jobs had with his creative/business team and family members make up the bulk of the picture, with a remarkable supporting cast all getting their chance to shine (Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, and Jeff Daniels are all fantastic). But it’s the Michael Fassbender show all the way, with this marvelous actor appearing in almost every single scene, giving a tour de force performance as a man driven to greatness by something I’m not sure he could ever fully explain or understand. Alwin Kuchler’s intensely stylish yet never ostentatious cinematography still gets to show off some trademark Boyle visual flourishes (Dutch angles, sped-up film speeds, saturated color, projected images that give off a trippy vibe), but this is a decidedly tamped down Boyle in comparison to his Tony Scott-esque aesthetics that were on display in Slumdog Millionaire, Trance, and 127 Hours. The decision to shoot each act in a different medium (16mm for Macintosh, 35mm for NeXT, high-def digital for iMac) is nothing less than a sensational aesthetic conceit which heightens the already slightly surreal quality to the narrative.

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And most crucially, the filmmakers, never at any point, try to soften their lead character’s dick-ish-ness, and it must be said that Fassbender is absolutely remarkable as Jobs, crafting a portrait of extremely flawed yet obscenely brilliant human being who likely learned too late (if this film is to be believed) in life that sometimes you should be a bit nicer to others. You sort of have to wonder why so many people stuck with him for so long, to go off what’s presented in this film. Yes, he was a genius, a true iconoclast who revolutionized the world we currently inhabit. But he did so at an intense personal cost to his own personal well-being, creating just as many enemies as friends, with many people likely realizing that they had no choice but to stick it out with working for Jobs, because no matter how egomaniacal he was, you could pretty much bet that he’d come out on top at the end. And make no mistake about it – the line of the year so far is: “I’m poorly made.” This is a film that I’m already jazzed to revisit, and it represents everything I want to see in a film.