Tag Archives: jennifer jason leigh

Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne is one of those ones I held off on watching for years, for whatever reason. It’s an absolute corker though, a well written horror story of the most human kind, finding the darkest corners of the psyche and blowing them up full scale for a morbid effect that’s altogether far more unsettling than any ghosts or supernatural stuff. Ominous grey clouds roll in over picturesque Maine (actually Nova Scotia, the sneaky bastards), as former housewife and in-home nurse Dolores (Kathy Bates in one show stopper) is accused of a heinous crime: murdering her sick and elderly employee, a rich old goat (Judy Parfitt) who’s put her through decades of hard labour. Dolores’s daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns home from a high profile journalist gig in the big Apple just in time for old wounds to be seared open. As a highly biased Detective (devilish Christopher Plummer) grills her on every aspect of the case, the narrative arcs back to Selena’s childhood years with Dolores and her monster of a father (David Strathairn, well out of his comfort zone and loving it), a tyrannical alcoholic whose ‘accidental’ death casts a heavy shadow on Bates, a pattern to be deciphered deliciously by both Leigh and the viewer. Things are not only not what they seem, but just about as far away from what we’re presented as possible, and when the final curtain lifts, it’s a wicked series of revelations to look back upon. King is undeniably the master of all things horror under the sun, but what he really excels at is how the lines blur between external demonization, the forces that exist out there in the night and the simple fact that humans are capable of despicable acts, whether by design or influence. It’s not a pretty tale, especially during the lurid, violent third act, but what a masterfully told tale it is, with expert director Taylor Hackford pulling at the reins, Danny Elfman undoing his mischievous aesthetic for a score that’s deep and dark, cinematographer Gabriel Beristain probing the inlets and harbours of eastern Canada with a surefire lens that creates atmosphere to spare, and every actor firing on all cylinders, including nice sideline work from Eric Bogosian, Ellen Muth, Bob Gunton, Wayne Robson and John C. Reilly. It’s interesting to observe the contrasts in visual style as well: For the most part, this is a moody, misty locale played dead straight, with no touches of the surreal or ‘out there’. Then in the third act there’s this crazy sequence during an eclipse (which bares uncanny similarities to this year’s gem of King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, I might add) that goes full on horror mode, dials down the realism and reminds us that this is after all a Stephen King story, and at some point things are liable to get weird. This one aims to please and prickle the senses of even the most stoic fan of deranged thrillers, and is a terrific funhouse to get lost in.

-Nate Hill

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Ron Howard’s Backdraft

Ron Howard’s Backdraft is all you could want in a big budget Hollywood picture, and more in the sense that it combines a handful of genres for one big opus that’s bursting at it’s seams with family drama, romance, mystery, psychological thrills (of the deliciously heavy handed variety) and no shortage of shit blowing up. As far as firefighter films go, this is probably where the buck stops as far as I’m concerned. Stuff like Ladder 49 came and went without much lasting impression as I’m sure the Josh Brolin one from this year will too, but Backdraft man, it’s an action classic that’s endured and aged remarkably well over the years. It opens with a bang as a Chicago team thunders into action set to a score by Hans Zimmer that could wake the dead. This intro serves as a showcase moment for what’s to come, as we meet two brothers who are fiercely competitive, each scarred by there fireman father’s (Kurt Russell) untimely demise. The older (also Russell) is a headstrong bull with self destructive tendencies, while the younger (William Baldwin) does his best to live up to the family name by struggling through the academy. That’s the framework for a story that’s brimming with characters and subplots, as any Hollywood epic should be. Robert Deniro steals the show as a gruff, old school arson investigator who’s seen a few deadly fires in his time, and keeps a close watch on psychopath firebug Donald Sutherland, who himself gives a thoroughly chilling performance. Scott Glenn is rough ‘n tough as veteran fireman Axe, Jennifer Jason Leigh is Baldwin’s flame in a role that’s uncharacteristically safe for the daring actress, while Rebecca De Mornay is terrific as Russell’s ex-wife. Ohh and J.T. Walsh steals every scene as a dubious politician. What a cast. The film is big, bold and noisy, with a visual and auditory aesthetic that will give any home theatre system a pounding. Zimmer’s score is seriously awesome, a grandiose, emotional, booming concoction that stands as both one of his best and most underrated. This is one of the old fashioned, pure bangers of unbridled cinematic escapism that can’t be beat, replicated or watched too many times.

-Nate Hill

The Safdie Brother’s Good Time

You probably won’t find a more kinetic, nerve draining film so far this year than Good Time, a neon saturated nocturnal fiasco that takes pages out of the same book you’d find stuff like Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared and Martin Scorsese’s After Hours in. Whether or not it’s a good time, as the title dryly advertises, is up to you. It’s well made, breathlessly paced and so realistically acted that we feel like you’re right alongside the mad dog characters running around seedy NYC, but you have to be willing to go with it’s often strange and unpredictable flow, as well as tolerate some unpleasant diversions. Robert Pattinson has beyond proved by now that he is indeed serious about acting and not just aimlessly riding the dollar sign tidal wave of his sparkly boi fame, not to mention he actually has some chops. He’s a wiry, resourceful bank robber here, trying to prevent his mentally challenged brother (Benny Safdie, also the director) from being sent to Riker’s Island after a heist ends up in disaster. Any and all means necessary are the functioning tools of this twitchy fellow, including assistance from his neurotic ex girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a corrupt bail bondsman (Erik Paykert), and a spunky teenage girl (Taliah Webster in a wicked sharp debut performance) who unknowingly gives them shelter from the law. Things just sort of… happen here, like they would in real life, a loosely structured series of snowball effects and plot turns that feel authentically influenced by choices the characters make as opposed to pawns in an obviously preordained narrative, a neat touch. The film has a visual mood-board that would make Nicolas Winding Refn jealous, one of those hyper-hued, soaked in colour palettes that pop off the screen like candy, accompanied by one striking synth score from experimental musician Oneohtrix Point Never. There’s a few plot points that take some thinking to really absorb, and an ending that may leave some in the dust of wtf-land, but overall it gels nicely together, and doesn’t run on too long either. I like those frenzied thrillers set all in one hectic night where the protagonists are put through a wringer, forced to jet all over some throbbing night-scape to right some egregious event gone awry, and this one holds it’s own with some of the best in the sub genre.

-Nate Hill

John Maybury’s The Jacket


The Jacket is a curiosity of a film, and didn’t stand out for many critics when it came out, but for some reason it’s stayed in my thoughts for years since and has become one of my favourites, of any genre. Moody, cold, desolate and sketchy, it’s an at once alienating and life affirming piece that puts you front and centre with the kind of crushing loneliness one must feel when the mind becomes broken, and then wraps us in a comfort blanket with the notion that forces unknown to us, and some not so mysterious (human contact is touched upon), one might extricate themselves to a better situation. Adrien Brody is confusion incarnate as haunted gulf war vet Jack Starks, a gaunt silhouette of a soul who suffered a head wound, the neurological fallout of which has left gaps in his perception of reality and a jagged sense of cohesion. Shipped off to a nightmare of a mental facility run by Kris Kristofferson, whose character almost certainly shouldn’t be left in the care of troubled minds as his idea of treatment consists of pumping patients full of untested pharmaceuticals and shunting them into a morgue drawer. This is where, by unexplained phenomena, Jack is able to bounce forward in time from his drab 1999 timeline over to a slightly less drab 2007, where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), a girl who might have ties to his past. The film sounds high concept, almost Sci Fi, but the way it’s composed is anything but. The supernatural elements are shown frankly and never overblown, gilding the psyche of the characters in a more internal, psychological fashion, especially when Brody is in that drawer and all manner of bizarre subconscious phantasms dance before his vision, before he’s whisked off to the future. All the characters but one are listless, withdrawn and somber, from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sympathetic, forlorn doctor (she’s terrific here) to Kristofferson, who provides grizzle and a welcome depth where other actors would have gone the straight up Dr. Frankenstein cop-out route. Daniel Craig is the one live-wire who breaks the mold, and I enjoy his early career work before he calcified into the stoic 007 template. He’s a treat here as a rambunctious fellow patient and spirit guide to Starks. Appearances from Brad Renfro, Kelly Lynch and Stephen MacKintosh are notable as well. There’s a despondent, bleak blanket over much of the film, a coldness brought through in broad strokes by director John Maybury, whose distinct European approach to filming (multiple extreme closeups, subtle voiceover, trippy experimental effects) helps the mood really soak in. There’s a contrast at work too though, amidst the film’s themes of loneliness and unrest there shines through a deep emotional warmth, a reassuring grasp on the reins from Brody’s character to seize back a life that was taken from him, and wake up from his nightmare, with help from those around him. A willingness to keep going, to change the course of one’s life when it swerves off track, explored quietly, underplayed in harmony with the seeping discomfort hidden in many of the frames. Part Hollywood thriller, romance, art house flick and psychological horror show, there’s just no other film like it. 

-Nate Hill

Two Wolves, a snake eating its tail and a secret- A review of Twin Peaks: The Return by Nate Hill 


Twin Peaks: The Return has come full circle, and I mean that quite literally. Carefully, lovingly and maddeningly orchestrated by David Lynch, who has proven himself to be nothing short of a brilliant mad scientist of the cinematic arts, this is an endlessly deep, fiercely creative vision that refuses to compromise or meet anyone halfway, and it’s all the better for it. Showtime gave the man full and total control over every aspect, a decision they most likely didn’t fully understand at the time, but one which will have a beautiful ripple effect upon the landscape of serialized television and art itself in the decades to come, just as the original series did until now. 
  As the show unwinds in elliptical, rhythmic kaleidoscope fashion, it arrives at what can be called an ending only for the fact that there must be a last episode, but it’s not really an ending at all, there never was one in Twin Peaks, and likely never will be, a quality that has given it it’s vitality since day one. Many are having trouble accepting Lynch’s open ended, haunting finale, and that’s alright, considering human beings are simply wired to seek answers, and engineered to get frustrated, hostile even, when they aren’t provided. If one sits at a table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out, how would it be if the puzzle were quickly, neatly solved? The very quality that makes it a puzzle evaporates, the mystery gone, and one would simply lose interest, get up from the table and walk away. Now, if a handful of pieces are missing and never found, if the puzzle remains unsolved indefinitely, it feeds the observer with the fuel to pour thought, attention and care into continuously pondering how they might fit the pieces together, if ever at all. In short, the mystery lives on, and on. Lynch understands this, and it’s a wondrous gift to give fans, who no doubt will have Twin Peaks on the brain until the day they move on to the white lodge. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving. Like a snake eating it’s own tail, like the never ending, billowy curtains of the labyrinthine Red Room, like the portentous infinity symbol that the Philip Jeffries teapot warns Cooper with, this is a story that has ends, beginnings, middles, alternate timelines, repetition and, thanks to the intangible forces constantly at work, will never truly be at rest, at least not in any way that we can comprehend. 
  The themes which have fascinated Lynch his whole career are in full bloom here like never before, but one that takes centre stage after being deftly touched upon in the show and Fire Walk With Me is that of duality, light versus dark and the uneasy realization that the line between them isn’t as stark as we’d like it to be. Leland Palmer was always thought to be possessed by Bob, unbeknownst of his heinous atrocities, a babe in the very dark woods. Fire Walk With Me blew that comforting certainty right out of the water with some very dodgy scenes implicating Palmer himself, blurring the lines to show that although good and evil may indeed occupy opposite sides of the fence, they most certainly hop over and tread on each other’s lawn, a truth that has been shied away from in cinema quite often, but one which Lynch won’t let you tune out so easy. As we see a mullet adorned doppelgänger version of Cooper engage in a tirade of crime and violence across the states, the real Agent Cooper, or at least that part of his soul that’s trapped in the embryonic limbo of a pastel phantasmagoria Vegas, seems lost in a sea of characters we’ve never met before the Return. When it comes time for that inevitable showdown, it’s quick, and the surface level battle is skimmed over so Lynch can dive into a disorienting rabbit hole in which Cooper is stoic, uncharacteristically violent, a concentrated prism of all the qualities that were separate in the worlds that came before, his psyche in narrative nursery school until Lynch hurtles past that 430 mile marker into territories with ugly truths and revelations that are hard to swallow. Two wolves fight inside every one of us, one light and one dark, but they’re only two sides of the same coin, rival essences within a single beast, and although they run along side by side, tussle occasionally and appear to be separate entities, they’re one and the same when they look in each other’s eyes, as we see in the mirror, or when we come face to face with our doppelgänger against the backdrop of a shimmering red curtain. 
Twin Peaks has always been about secrets, from the very moment that Laura Palmer’s body washed up on those shores, wrapped in plastic (or did it?). Who killed her? That one secret lead to many, and as a story unfolds that’s scope vastly captures realms far beyond the sleepy little northwestern town it began in, we see a story at play that’s so much more, one that is very much filled with secrets, a motif we were warned about almost right off the bat. “She’s filled with secrets”, the Arm gleefully imparts to Cooper. That she is. The hollow screams of a shell shocked Sarah Palmer. The haunted, weary eyes of trailer park supervisor Carl (the beloved Harry Dean Stanton). Audrey Horne sharply awakening in the frightening unknown. Cooper and Laura being foiled yet again by the powers that be (those darn Chalfonts). An empty glass box that isn’t so empty. Coordinates that nestle between shrouded mountain glades. Heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies from the maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Pages from a secret diary that document horror, madness, joy, bravery, vulnerability and an odyssey through time, space, love, evil and of course good, the secrets that keep us coming back for more each time. Lynch has spun his magnum opus here, a tale where every piece is important, even the ones we may likely never find. A testament to the power of storytelling, a treatise on the mystery genre, everything I could have hoped for in a return to the town of coffee and cherry pie, and a full on bona-fide masterwork. See you in the trees, and whatever kingdoms lie beyond them in the glow of the red curtain, the purple seas, the hum of electricity in the dreams of a homecoming queen and a lone FBI Agent on a road trip to…

Miami Blues 


Miami Blues is a crime film full of loose ends, incompetence, wanton violence and meandering characters who seem lost within their own story, and I mean all that in the best way possible. Some pulp affairs are sharp, succinctly plotted creatures, every cog in the machine placed to serve the momentum of plot and character, while other efforts have messily dropped the cogs all over the floor for an untethered, ‘wing it’ type approach in which story and character are like aimless leaves blowing about in a restless pond. Isn’t life like that though? There’s no narrative structure to a lot of what we do, and as such there’s little to be found in the tale of highly self destructive, psychotic criminal Alec Baldwin, who has barely left the airport upon arriving in Miami before he’s already got a serious warrant out for his arrest. He’s a violent sociopath who takes what he wants when he wants and, most aggressively, how he wants. He’s also very smart, which is a dangerous mix in anyone whose moral compass has flatlined. His anarchic crime spree gains the attention of an aloof older detective (Fred Ward) whose badge he steals for some good old law enforcement impersonation, leading the poor weary cop on a darkly comical mad goose chase all over town. He also picks up an endearing dumb blonde (Jennifer Jason Leigh, excellent) who’s infatuated with him and blatantly tunes out any and all red flags, of which there are…many. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but with these three actors it’s pure gold. The knowingly audacious arch criminal, the Betty Boop wannabe wifey sidekick and the exasperated, constantly outsmarted copper, a trio of archetypes augmented slightly in favour of each performer’s stellar work. Never takes itself too seriously, knows full well how heinous the turn of events within it’s frames are, yet firmly refuses to not have fun, a cheeky, sexy, sweaty and altogether terrific little venture. 

-Nate Hill

Forgotten gems:  Remembering 1988’s hypnotic, bizarre Heart Of Midnight 


Somewhere between the dustbowl basilicas of 1980’s VHS town and the restless urban decay of metropolitan Americana lies the Heart Of Midnight, a dilapidated abandoned sex fetish nightclub full of nightmarish corridors, dead end rooms with ominous stains on the wall and a perpetual sense of acrid dread. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the reluctant heir to this heap, passed on to her by a weird old uncle she barely remembers, now deceased. It’s in a ruined, crime ridden part of town that still seems safer compared to the various themed rooms of this erotica dungeon, but she’s a trooper anyways, giving her best efforts to fix the place up and make something decent of it. Leigh seems to have deliberately go out of her way to pick kinky, controversial roles since her career began, always with sexual undertones and never short on psychological turmoil. She’s put through a wringer here, as the sordid, perverse and highly disturbing history of both the club and her uncle comes back to haunt her in full sleazy swing, a turn of events not for the squeamish or puritan side of the crowd. Walls seem to move, eyes peer through cracks and haunted cries echo through the fissures in the structure, as well as howling bad dreams that distort her reality. When a detective (Peter Coyote, brilliant work) shows up to help, he’s just as unsettling and shady as the building itself, clearly in the know or up to something. The only borderline sane character is another cop played by Frank Stallone, getting some of the best much needed comic relief of the piece. It’s priceless to see Leigh wander into the police station looking for answers only to find him in the middle of a ukulele folk ballad with the rest of the precinct belting out the chorus. Things don’t go very well for our heroine, as the dark forces playing with her seem to close in for a suffocating finale that leaves you feeling violated and disoriented. This is a film that seeps right to the root of human unpleasantness and psychosexual decadence, and one should firmly equip oneself mentally before going in. It’s also a film of startling dark beauty and alluring atmosphere, like a dreamy black velvet orchid that warbles a lullaby both dangerous and seductive, beckoning you to let your guard down until you wish you hadn’t, and are under it’s spell. One of the most overlooked mood pieces of the 80’s, a gorgeously horrific phantasm of a film that gets under your skin and crawls into your dreams.