Tag Archives: Joaquim De Almeida

Alexander Payne’s Downsizing

I was very pleasantly surprised by Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, an intelligent, methodically high concept social sci-fi satire that takes the Honey I Shrunk The Kids template and plays it for thoughtful, heartfelt laughs while thinking big, thematically speaking. Matt Damon turns on the dim witted charm as a regular joe who decides to undergo ‘downsizing,’ a radical procedure patented by the Norwegians in which a human is shaved, sedated and shrunk down to the size of a tennis ball. Why, you ask? It’s scientist’s answer to the growing issue with humans ruining our planet, and they figure having an itty bitty carbon footprint instead of a big ol’ one will do this rock some good. This is but one of a group of very ambitious ideas that Payne explores, and whilst he doesn’t quite have time to thoroughly wring our every theme and thesis, it’s nice to see such thought and care put into a concept that could have easily gone the brainless Dwayne Johnson route. Damon settles down in a mini hydra dome called Leisureland, where the inflation rate is minuscule and things cost a fraction of what they did topside. He’s got two hilarious neighbours in snarky Serbian playboy Dusan (Christoph Waltz alllmosttt has the accent down) and his fellow hedonist, salty Konrad (really nice to see veteran Udo Kier back in the Hollywood game in more than just ironic cameos). These two are his introduction to the way this procedure has affected everything in the world from commerce to social relations, but it’s not until he meets feisty Vietnamese maid N’goc (Hong Chau) that he realizes the same problems which have always afflicted humanity have followed them down to their pint sizes, and even become worse. Chau is so good she pretty much walks off with the film, her blunt nature and hilarious accent contrasted by a bruised heart beneath. There’s some.. oddly placed plot points in the third act and I could have done with a bit less of the preachy climate change chatter, but for the most part this one stimulates and goes for laughs, milking the ‘shrunk’ concept in ways Hollywood never before. Watch for peripheral work from Kristin Wiig, Rolf Lassgard, Jason Sudeikis, Neil Patrick Harris, Laura Dern, Don Lake, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place and Joaquim De Almeida. Neat stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Behind Enemy Lines

I’ve always enjoyed Behind Enemy Lines, a hyperactive, simple minded, highly kinetic Owen Wilson/Gene Hackman war survival flick. It’s lowbrow, full of plot holes and questionable in terms of representing both the military and the Serbian/Bosnian war, but it’s also explosive, jacked up fun that packs a visual and auditory wallop. Wilson is an Air Force pilot who goes awol after a crash, and runs afoul of some Serbian radicals running a sickening genocide operation somewhere out there, while Hackman is the fiery Admiral tasked with coaching him back to an elusive drop point, and helping him avoid obstacles along the way. In pursuit is a nasty rogue general (Olek Krupa), who wants to snuff him out as he’s witnessed the man’s squadron murder his copilot (Gabriel Macht), and also just because he’s the classic stock villain and has nothing better to do. His top assassin (Vladimir Mashkov, almost identical to Niko Bellik of Grand Theft Auto 4) is an Eastern European Bear Grylls with homemade grenades and the pain tolerance of a tank, also chasing poor Wilson. It’s fairly implausible, but oh so cinematic and one I often put on just to work out the sound system of my tv. Crazy souped up editing, jagged freeze frame effects and whatnot ensue, it’s cool and kind of like Tony Scott Lite in a way. Hackman could yell out any dialogue and be convincing, owning yet another role, especially in a scene where he has a wicked shouting match with an A-hole of a UN General (Joaquim De Almeida firing on all cylinders and then some). David Keith has a great bit as another Admiral assisting in Wilson’s plight too. It’s suspenseful, doesn’t take itself too seriously and shouldn’t be subject to too much scrutiny, lest you rob yourself of a pleasurable genre viewing experience. Plus the sequence where Wilson hides in a freaky, mud filled mass grave has stuck with me for years. Good stuff, man.

-Nate Hill

The Hitman’s Bodyguard 


It’s refreshing to see that the R rated action comedy thrives in Hollywood, especially when there’s entries as balls out entertaining as The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I’ve read reviews saying that it’s a one joke affair, and while the crux of it does rest upon the cantankerous relationship between profane, shoot-from-the-hip contract killer Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. ‘Mothafucka’ Jackson) and uptight punk private security expert Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), there’s plenty of enjoyable tomfoolery afoot as a sideshow to their circus of a jaunt across Europe. The pair are perfect actors for a buddy comedy, both overly colourful in their own work and boosting each other’s energy levels to the max when onscreen together. The serviceable writing is also given the shot of obvious improv between them, which helps a lot too. Reynold’s Bryce is reluctantly tasked with shadowing Kincaid and protecting him from endless hordes of goons and Interpol stormtroopers, out to get him before he testifies at the world court against the former Belorussian president, a tyrannical, pro genocide monster played by Gary ‘scary’ Oldman, who indeed gets a couple very frightening moments to chew scenery. Bryce’s former flame (Elodie Young) is an Interpol hotshot who he resents for maybe ruining his career, and Kincaid’s wife (a riotous Salma Hayek, spewing profanity faster than bullets) is in the clink to try and smoke him out. There’s welcome character actor Joaquim De Almeida as Interpol’s casually corrupt deputy director, and a coked out cameo from Richard E. Grant too, to round out the impressive cast. The action comes at you non stop, plus they’ve milked their R rating and then some, with countless headshots, impaling, explosions, bloodletting, car chases and one exhaustive fight scene set in a hardware store where Reynolds finds some gruesomely inventive uses for various power tools. There’s even a bit of poignancy among all the cavalier carnage, as we see a somber backstory for Jackson give a bit of weight to the character. His carefree reckless abandon causes delicious friction with Ryan’s buttoned up, flustered manner, and the two are flat out hilarious. ‘Get triggered’, boasts the poster slogan, and indeed this is a flick that couldn’t care who it offends or irks, free in it’s own hyper violent world of beautifully implausible, brutally excessive violence and set pieces, and it’s some of the most fun at the theatre this year so far. 

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado 

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is the original south of the border shoot em up bloodbath, bar none. I’m aware it’s a sequel/remake of Robert’s breakout debut El Mariachi, but the now legendary style and brutality he cultivated started to blossom here in the Mexican desert with scowling Antonio Banderas and his guitar case packed with heavy artillery. The aesthetic coalesced into something measurable here, whilst in Mariachi we only saw fits and starts. Here the tone is solidified and paves the way for the magnum opus that is Once Upon A Time In Mexico, my favourite Rodriguez flick. It all starts with the image of Banderas sauntering into a scumbucket cantina, full of sweaty machismo and smouldering angst, laying waste to the place with more phallic firepower than the entire wild Bunch. It’s a time capsule worthy sequence that demonstrates the pure viscerally intoxicating effect that the action film has on a viewer, when done as well as it is here. Narrated by wisecracking sidekick Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, naturally), Banderas positively perforates the place, fuelled by the internal furnace of revenge, shrouded in the acrid scent of gunpowder and awash in tequila delirium. As soon as this sequence blows past, the credits roll up and we’re treated to a Mariachi ballad sung by Antonio himself, belted out with his band to ring in this hell-beast of a movie. Together, those two scenes are some of the very, very best opening sequences you can find out there, timelessly re-watchable. The rest of the film pulls no punches either, as we see El leave a wanton gash of carnage in his wake across Mexico, on a vision quest of violence as he works his way up the ranks of organized crime, starting with slimy dive bar owner Cheech Marin. Quentin Tarantino has a spitfire cameo, rattling off a ridiculous joke before El steps into yet another bar and the shit (as well as the blood) hits the fan. His endgame target is crime boss Bucho, played with terrifying ferocity by Joaquim De Almeida. It’s hard to picture an angrier performance than Banderas’s before Almeida shows up, but this guy is a violent livewire who’s not above capping off his own henchman like ducks in a row, puffing on a giant cigar and casually blowing the smoke in his concubine’s face mid coitus. El has a love interest of his own too, in the form of ravishing, full bodied Carolina (Salma Hayek). Hayek is a babe of the highest order, and their steamy candle lit sex scene is one of the most full on ‘jizz your pants’ rolls in the hay that 90’s cinema has to offer. This is an action film to the bone though, and they’ve scarcely mopped up and caught their breath before he’s forced to dispatch another horde of Bucho’s degenerates in high style. One has to laugh a bit when a guitar case becomes a full on rocket launcher during the earth shattering finale, but such are the stylistic dreams of Rodriguez, a filmmaker who is never anything short of extreme in his work. As if the guns weren’t enough, Danny Trejo shows up as a mute assassin who like to hurl throwing knives at anything that moves, and it’s this Baby Groot version of his Machete character years later that comes the closest to punching El’s ticket. The stunt work is jaw dropping as well, a tactile ballet of broad movements, squib armies that light up the screen, accompanied by gallons of blood that follows the thunder clap of each gunshot wound like crimson lightning. It’s a perfect package for any lover of action, romance, action, darkest of humour, action, oh and action too. When discussing films that have held up in years or decades since release, this one is not only a notable mention, it’s a glowing example and a classic that has just aged gorgeously.

-Nate Hill

A chat with filmmaker Jack Perez: An interview by Nate Hill

 

Excited to bring you my latest interview, with filmmaker Jack Perez. Jack is responsible for one of the coolest, most unique indie films of the 1990’s, La Cucaracha. Starring genre icons Eric Roberts and Joaquim De Almeida and featuring an early career turn from Michael Pena, it’s a film like no other, a severely underrated south of the border morality play with shades of everything from Peckinpah to Walter Hill, a style all its own and a script that is genuinely one of a kind. The film has just been remastered for streaming release on Amazon prime, and I have included a link to the new trailer here, it’s  not a film to be missed. Enjoy! 

Nate: What led you to filmmaking? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did you fall into it?
Jack: I got into it very young, one of those Super 8 kids who borrowed the family camera and drafted my sister into doing homemade monster movies. My father was a movie nut, and our primary mode of communication was watching old films together, so that’s what started it.  
Nate: Who are some filmmakers that you would say influenced your work, or you are a huge fan of and have looked up to?
Jack: Peckinpah definitely, probably above all others. His work was personal and mythical and expressionistic and truthful. And totally alive! Scorsese, of course – his mastery of the medium also melded with a powerful personal vision. Robert Aldrich, who did such a great range of work: VERA CRUZ and THE DIRTY DOZEN and KISS ME DEADLY. Altman and Polanski. Hitchcock and Hawks. Wyler and Wilder. Again, my father is the one who first introduced me to the classics, so by the time I went to film school I was pretty well saturated and ready to look at European cinema and cool experimental work (like Maya Deren!).
Nate: If you could have the rights to any novel/graphic novel series to undertake as your dream project, what would it be?

Jack: I don’t know if it could be done, or even should be done (probably not), but Dan Clowe’s LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON. Overwhelmingly striking.
Nate: La Cucaracha: How did the idea come about, and did the end result look anything like what you first started out with on paper?
Jack: My writing partner, Jim McManus, and I were very much into Peckinpah at the time, and the whole idea of gringos getting into trouble south of border was very much on our minds. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA was a huge influence, but we were also enamored with THE WAGES OF FEAR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and RIDE THE PINK HORSE. The south-of-the-border noir is kind of a mini-genre unto itself and we wanted to use that as a backdrop for a new kind of story. Something more character-driven and personal. Actually, Jim’s original concept – the one that set the whole thing in motion – was that the Walter Poole character would literally roll into town in his wheelchair at the climax, guns blazing ala Rooster Cogburn, and go down in a hail of bullets. An nifty idea. Of course, by the time we actually got to the end of the screenplay that ultimately resulted, that kind of hyperbolic nihilistic ending didn’t fit anymore.  Also I had intended to shoot it on location in Mexico and use the actual landscape and real people as part of the film’s fabric. But budgetary considerations brought us to the backlot of Universal, and the result was a Mexico much more mythical than intended (which I have to say, I kind of preferred in the end because it allowed for a more expressionistic look overall).
Nate: Working with Eric Roberts: you can honestly claim that you have directed him in what is, for me at least, in the top three greatest performances he’s ever given. How was the working relationship? What is he like? Do you guys keep in contact?
Jack: It was great working with Eric, and we’ve remained close over the years – him and his wife, Eliza. Eric works a lot, but I think he came to see LA CUCARACHA as an opportunity to really create a character, and show dimensions and vulnerabilities that he sometimes doesn’t get a chance to play. He knew I was deadly serious about making this picture the best it could be and, to his credit, attacked the role accordingly. He was a joy and a lot of fun to hang out with. Great sense of humor and loves animals (as I do).
Nate: Working with Joaquim De Almeida: a criminally underrated actor who rarely gets to show his true range and versatility. How was it working with him, especially in his intense and emotional scene near the end of the film? You can also claim to have seen probably the best and most truthful work he has ever done. 
Jack: I totally agree. A great actor – like Eric – sometimes limited to roles that don’t show what he’s truly capable of. Here, he went for it as well. In fact on the day we shot the Sunday Schoolroom scene, where he tests Walter’s character and actually steps on his head – he had a huge, complex 2-page monologue that, when he finished – the crew literally jumped to its feet and broke out in applause. Ive never seen that happen on any set. He was also a real gentleman, bright, warm and thoughtful. And unafraid. The scene at the end that you mentioned required him to be emotionally naked, and he went there.
Nate: How did the remastered version of La Cucaracha come about? To be honest it’s nice to see it now widely available, I searched for it for nearly five years before finally finding a second hand DVD, being blown away and wondering why it wasn’t on every shelf of every store out there.. Did Amazon approach you for this?
Jack: I pushed for it. I too was bummed it was sorta out of circulation. Certainly not in HD or in the proper aspect ratio (the DVD release cropped the the original 1.85 image). So I approached Renascent Films, who had acquired the streaming rights, and asked if they would pursue it. Thankfully they agreed and I set about tracking down the 35mm negative, which was no longer in the original lab and wound up – through a corporate buyout – in the vaults of Technicolor. We did the telecine there and I’m happy with the results and genuinely excited it’s out there on Amazon Prime.
Nate: What’s life like for you these days? Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Jack: I’m always going after the next project. The more personal the better. Though to make ends meet or just for the quick junkie filmmaking fix, I’ll do a TV project or a genre pic for hire. But the real joy is doing work that is personally necessary, ideally in an environment where not too many people fuck with you. That limits you to the world of independent financing. Anyway, we’re close to raising the bucks for a female-driven action-thriller I wrote called SHOTGUN WEDDING. I’ve wanted to do it for years and am I’m psyched for that!
Nate: Thank you so much for you r time, Jack, it’s been an honour and I’m very much looking forward to seeing La Cucaracha once again remastered!

HBO’s Vendetta: A Review by Nate Hill

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Vendetta is a tough film to watch without feeling sadness and outrage, but such is the stuff that HBO churns out, honest pieces of history that sting you with their refusal to honey coat or gloss over the nasty details (I’m looking at you, History Channel). This one takes place in 1890 New York City, a time of mass Irish and Italian immigration which spurred a ton of unrest among those already settled and raised in that area. Everyone is fighting tooth and nail for a piece of the pie and a chance to feed their families, and the ones with a bunch of pie just greedily want more. The influx of Italians is a cause for insidious worry for James Houston (Christopher Walken), an obscenely wealthy and deeply corrupt piece of shit. He’s joined by equally nasty William Parkinson (Luke Askew), and Mayor Joe Shakespeare (Kenneth Welsh), as the trio cook up an evil scheme to implicate a few young Italian men in the mysterious death of a sympathetic and kindly Irish police chief (Clancy Brown). This sets in motion a tragic outbreak of riots and and angry acts of violence against the Italians. Even their union representitive Joseph Macheca  (Joaquim De Almeida) cannot bring peace or stop what Walken and team have started. You may think why make a film of this, as it heads straight for the bleakest of resolutions, but I think it’s important to shine a light on even the darkest patches of history, in order to understand the levels of deception and human cruelty so that we may see it coming before it’s too late next time around. This was a terrible, terrible event and the film hits you square in the face with it’s blunt truth and unwavering honesty. Kudos to HBO fpr taking it on. Watch for the late Edward Herrmann and Bruce Davison as rival lawyers in the chaos.

Moscow Zero: A Review by Nate Hill

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Moscow Zero is a chilly little subterranean ghost story, and a favourite for me. It god critically shredded by the few people who did see it, and quickly forgotten. I think this may be because of odd marketing,and the cultural rifts in different areas of both the world, and cinema. It was marketed in North America as a supernatural shocker starring Val Kilmer, which was a cheap shot to fans and in fact false advertising. Kilmer is in it, for maybe ten minutes, and is very good, but the story isn’t his. It’s also supernatural, but in a far more subtle, ambiguous and inaccessible way that the ADHD-ridden audiences over here just aren’t used to. In short, it’s very European, and they just seem to have a better handle on the intuition it takes to make an atmospheric chiller than anyone else, also seeming to be more connected with ghost lore and the spirit realm. The story concerns a priest named Father Owen (hollywood’s resident alien Vincent Gallo, playing it dead straight here). He has traveled to Moscow I hopes of finding his friend Professor Sergey (Rade Serbedzija), who has descended into ancient catacombs and endless tunnels below the surface of the city in hopes of finding a lost artifact hidden during wartime. He joins up with a group of guides and Moscow natives including the beautiful Lubya  (Oksana Akinshina) and a tracker named Yuri (Joaquim De Almeida) to traverse the underside of the city and find his friend. There are long, eerie scenes of Sergey wandering around the dimly lit labyrinth, pursuing his scholarly goal and talking to himself as strange shadows and far away whispers follow him around, gradually letting the viewer know that he’s not alone. Owen and his team rendezvous with Tolstoy (Joss Ackland) the elderly leader of a tribe of tunnel dwellers who won’t go below a certain level of the catacombs, who provides a map. Then they go deeper. Kilmer plays Andrey, a Russian dude who runs a gang that are in control of opening and closing a deep fissure gate that is said to lead to a hell like place. He’s relaxed, in both demeanor and the Russian accent, but he’s clearly having fun in one of his more character type roles. The catacombs have a haunted feel to them, and indeed there are ghosts, but not presented in the way you might think. The way the human characters see them is quite different from how they see themselves, and how the audience sees them, which is a nice touch. The story keeps itself mysterious, right up until it’s puzzling, creepy conclusion, buy I prefer that open ended, almost experimental style over desperate attempts to scare us. It’s atmospheric, strange, unique, thick with ideas and altogether a bit of brilliance. Definitely an aquire taste, though.