Tag Archives: John C. Reilly

Peter Segal’s Anger Management

Adam Sandler’s career is composed of a few key elements: unfunny trash, comedy gold and a small handful of serious dramas. Anger Management falls into the second category and is an absolute blast but it’s mostly thanks to a batshit crazy, scene stealing virtuoso Jack Nicholson rather than anything Sandler does. It doesn’t hurt that the film is packed to the brim with hilarious cameos and supporting talent as well. Sandler is Dave Buznik, a meek businessman who gets walked all over by his toad of a boss (Kurt Fuller) and constantly reminded by his girlfriend (Marisa Tomei, about a hundred acres out of his league) to stand up for himself. After finally losing his cool (sort of) on a plane he gets slapped with a court order to do twenty hours of anger management treatment under the deranged supervision of unconventional therapist Dr. Buddy Rydell (Nicholson). Rydell is a thoroughly weird dude who insinuates himself into Dave’s life, hits on his girl, frequently loses his cool and displays a near constant stream of bizarre, inexplicable behaviour. There’s a reason for all that, revealed in the film’s monumentally implausible twist that falls apart under any scrutinizing back down the chain of events in this narrative, but this isn’t the type of film to nitpick like that. Nicholson is a goddamn treat here and gets so many wacky moments I wish the film was more centred on him, he’s hilarious to watch whether having a volcanic tantrum and launching his plate of breakfast against a wall, forcing Sandler to sing ‘I Feel Pretty’ from West Side Story or obliterating some poor dude’s car with a baseball bat just because he boxed him into a parking spot. The ironic thing about Sandler is that he’s touted as a comedian but he’s just not funny, and the appeal from any film he stars in always comes from the other actors in it who steal it from him without fail. There’s quite a few here including Heather Graham, Allen Covert, a hotheaded John Turturro, Luis Guzman, Krista Allen and January Jones as a pair of rambunctious lesbian porn stars, Kevin Nealon, Rudy Giuliani, Derek Jeter, John C. Reilly, Harry Dean Stanton and Woody Harrelson in a hysterical encore cameo as a transvestite named Galaxia. The film works with its manic energy, hectic ensemble cast and Nicholson’s dysfunctional tirade of a performance, and is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen recently.

-Nate Hill

Gregory Jacob’s Criminal

Look up ‘hidden gem’ in the dictionary and you’ll find a one sheet for Gregory Jacobs’s Criminal. Alongside many others, but you catch my drift. This is a virtually unknown grifter flick that is smart, funny and really acidic and unpredictable in spots. It also has that low key ‘small movie’ feel, which is welcome in a con artist flick anyways because you can ditch the big budget gloss and focus more on story and character instead. John C. Reilly plays a middle aged con man here who, simply put, is a huge asshole, but has charmed his way through the hustling game and made some serious cash. He’s saddled with a rookie youngster (Diego Luna) who wants to learn the ropes, but the old guy basically wants nothing to do with him. It’s a sour partnership that never seems to quite gel, which provides suspense as to when the back stabbing will start. With the help of a feisty colleague (Maggie Gyllenhaal), their plan is to rob a wealthy, intimidating Scottish currency collector (the great Peter Mullan) for millions, using a carefully implemented bag of tricks and a vast contact network of fellow tricksters. As is the case with all great caper flicks, nothing is as it seems and the plot revelations are fast and heavy, in this one’s case packing a whallop of an unconventional twist ending. The terrific supporting cameo cast includes Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Brent Sexton, Michael Shannon, Malik Yoba, character actor Jack Conley and more. This is a hugely entertaining film, with an unlikeable protagonist whose arc is really a curious one to watch. Director Jacobs has only helmed two other flick, the Magic Mike sequel and the Emily Blunt horror vehicle Wind Chill, but he really shows a flair for fun exposition and labyrinthine plot turns here, as well as bringing out interesting qualities in his carefully picked actors. Steven Soderbergh also did uncredited screenplay work, which only adds to the capability and slickness. A treat.

-Nate Hill

Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

Roger Ebert made it clear that Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie doesn’t even make it into his most hated canon of flicks (a hard enclosure to gain access to as the guy was a pretty fair critic right to the end). A small part of me sees the exasperation in a guy who took his cinema seriously. But most of me, especially the parts that enjoy humour so off the wall and bizarre that I’d be labelled just as far on the spectrum as the two demented wunderkinds behind this ninety minute freak show, loves it. You have to be a special kind of deranged to enjoy Tim and Eric’s brand of humour; the words abstract, surreal and extremely bizarre come to mind, but that doesn’t begin to cover the maniacal parade they’ve whipped up here. One thing does fascinate me though: since the very beginning when they first got their show rolling (Great Job!), they have been a magnet for some of the most prominent and prolific talent in Hollywood’s comedy arena, scoring cameos from the likes of Will Ferrell, Jeff Goldblum, John C. Reilly and more. That tells me that a lot more folks than you might think have an innate affinity for this extreme brand of shock humour and madness than would care to admit, and that when it comes down to it, humans organically produce their own humour in this weird, abstract fashion that’s much more natural than most scripted, constructed comedy we see in film. The humour here is so far into the stratosphere of weirdness that it understandably made a lot of folks uncomfortable, but that just makes the whole thing funnier. The ‘plot’ is just a series of running gags loosely connected by Tim & Eric owing a billion dollars to the Schlaaaaang Corporation (run by William Atherton and Robert Loggia in one of his last movie roles). They skip town and decide to take up Will Ferrell on his offer to be caretakers of a giant dilapidated shopping mall, after a few back to back viewings of Top Gun. The mall is host to a whole array of weirdos and insane people including slightly retarded Taquito (John C. Reilly), snarky sword salesman Allen Bishopman (Will Forte), a man who sells used toilet paper, Bob Ross, a bunch of hobos, oh and a wolf too, among others. Don’t expect it to make much sense, that’s not the Tim and Eric way. Just expect to be shocked, disgusted, disoriented, appalled, and if you’re tuned into the right frequency, to laugh your ass off. Their outright deliberation in pushing boundaries of taste and coherency no doubt had people running from the theatre and demanding money back in droves, but as Mia Wallace iconically put it, don’t be a 🔲. The real endurance test is when Ray Wise (Twin Peak’s Leland Palmer) shows up as a nutso self help guru whose brand of treatment (Shrim!) really goes to some gag-worthy places. Other notable cameos include Jeff Goldblum as (wait for it) ‘Chef Goldblum’, Johnny Depp, Zach Galifianakis, Mark Cuban and Bob Odenkirk. It’s a weird world, and in a genre that routinely isn’t weird enough, plays it safe and sticks to the often bland script, we need guys like Tim and Eric to shake shit up, open their bag of tricks and assault audiences with their very specific, certifiable brand of comedy. Buckle up.

-Nate Hill

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

Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch 


It’s always curious to me when directors remake their own projects. Sometimes it seems redundant and risky, and one wonders what compels them to revisit already trodden territory. In Ole Bornedal’s case it’s a creepy murder mystery called Nightwatch, made once in his native language of Danish, and again as a slicked up Hollywood version featuring some heavy acting talent and a reworked script by none other than Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen the newer one, and despite some awkward, clunky moments in the narrative, it can get pretty squirmy and frightening when it wants to, especially any scene involving a young Ewan McGregor stuck alone on a morgue graveyard shift. Creepy concept, and in some scenes it’s really milked to full effect, but there’s also few really silly and unnecessary subplots, particularly one with McGregor’s daredevil buddy Josh Brolin, and his girlfriend (an underused Patrica Arquette. When the film focuses on its main horror storyline it works quite well though. There’s a killer loose in the city, one with a penchant for necrophilia, and no one wants to have the night shift at a mortuary with someone like that running about. Nick Nolte adds class and charisma to his role as a weary, grizzled police detective who’s searching for the killer. Nolte rarely sets foot in the horror/thriller side of things, but his looming presence and concrete scraper sounding voice fit into the atmosphere terrifically. There’s a couple cameos as well, one from John C. Reilly as an ill fated police officer and an amusing Brad Dourif as the morgue’s cranky duty doctor. If Borendal had trimmed the fat in places as far as subplots go, given a bit more edge to the script and overall just tweaked it more it could have been a cracking good thriller, but as is it’s only above average with a few spots that really shine. 

-Nate Hill

Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace


Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace had the unfortunate luck of being released in 1990, the same year that also saw Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the third Godfather film. It’s hard to gain your footing when that kind of momentum is surging about, but this film is as good as the others, and deserves recognition or at least some kind of re-release. Set in the blistering inferno of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, it’s a violent tale of Irish Mobsters, undercover cops, betrayal and murder, set to a smoky, mournful Ennio Morricone score that lingers in the air like smog. Sean Penn is Terry Noonan, a deep cover operative who returns to his childhood neighbourhood to reconnect with old friends, and dig up buried grudges. Ed Harris is Frankie Flannery, ruthless gangster and former ally, while Gary Oldman plays his hotheaded brother Jackie with a tank full of nitrous and the kind of unpredictable, dynamite fuse

potency one expects to see from a David Lynch character. The three of them are on a collision course set in the grimy streets of New York, bound by old loyalties yet destined to clash and draw new blood. Penn shares the screen with his once wife Robin Wright here, looking lovely as ever. There’s also supporting turns from John Turturro, John C. Reilly, R.D. Call, a geriatric Burgess Meredith and an unbilled cameo from James Russo. Penn, Harris and especially Oldman are like flint sparks, a trio that won’t be stopped and light up the screen for a spellbinding, visceral two hours until their eventual confrontation, hauntingly shot by cinematographer ” in the midst of a bustling St. Patrick’s Day parade. This one has been somewhat lost to the ages, like a number of other stellar crime dramas I can think of from the nineties. The cast, score and Joanou’s thoughtful direction make it an unforgettable piece of work. 

-Nate Hill

WRONG: DULL ISLAND

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He’s bigger, he’s better and he’s back. He’s King Kong, and this time he is not going to be dragged off Skull Island and taken back to civilization to be paraded around till he takes exception to being someone’s meal ticket, breaks loose his chains and starts a city smashing rampage which ends with a barrage of bullets and a long fall to the asphalt below.

No folks, this time round Kong, now the size of a mountain, is hanging out and keeping the peace on his island. That is until and group of curious humans, led by an alleged Bear Grylls, Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson who shifts between looking wide-eyed at things and taking photos, John Goodman who knows the truth is out there and Samuel L. Jackson. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every monkey in the room – accept no substitute. This group headlines a cast of who-gives-a-shit characters on a trip to Skull Island where everything is big. Even the ants apparently, but that’s a set piece too far.

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The journey to the island is mandatory – montage and music stuff. Then we break through the perpetual storm clouds and have ourselves a bit of an Avatar moment as the crew marvel at the grandeur and beauty of this lost wilderness. Then Kong shows up and goes apeshit. He smashes up the Apocalypse Now homage and then walks off to enjoy a little calamari, ’cause they just don’t make bananas that big. So,  with the cast all over the place, Tom and snap-happy Brie and their group are headed from the rendezvous point, Sam and John and that guy who played Private Wilson in Tigerland, plus the other soldiers are off to get some more guns to aid in Sam’s desire to turn the King into fried funky monkey meat.

There’s a giant spider that should make Jon Peters happy. There’s the Watcher in the Water moment. The Soldier who writes to his son bites it, or gets bitten by something unusual, but we don’t get the exposition till we meet up with John C. Reilly looking like his character Gershon Gruen from The Extra Man, minus the collection of souvenirs and the no-testicle high voice. This guy though gives the film a pulse. Oh, and he was the pilot from the beginning, SPOILER! He’s been hanging out on the island with the tribe that speech forgot, waiting to come in and add some much needed comic relief. Turns out there are huge nasties that you can call whatever you want under the ground that Kong has kept from emerging to prominence and getting there own spin-off movie.

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This task used to be in the hands of more Kongs, but there is a ‘big one’ of these things that lay waste to them. Now Kong is the only one left who can keep cool, sit tight and keep the creatures in there holes. Of course this film falls into the cash-cow category. They brought back Godzilla, now they make a Kong that’s to scale, in order for the pair to have a decent scrap. But sadly it is a joyless ride. Predictable, laughable, with (and I’m quoting a prior review I’ve read) cardboard cut-out characters that are simply there to fill in the time between Kong and his monster-bashing bits. Heck my son started talking at least 45 minutes out from the end. This tells me that he is board out of his mind and I was with him. But I tried to hang on. I did not fall asleep like I did after the first fifteen minutes of the Conan remake. I have since completely avoided the try-again versions of Clash of the Titans, RoboCop, Ben Hur, Point Break, Total Recall as so on and so forth.

There is a line from James Ivory’s Surviving Picasso in which Anthony Hopkins, as the title character, refers to the methods of artists who have found fame and fortune. He says they make themselves little cake-molds and bake cakes, one after the other, all the same. He then  stresses to Natascha McElhone’s Francoise, not to become your own connoisseur. This is extremely relevant and typical of the modern Hollywood. There is little to no attempt at originality, and if there is, it takes place within a film that fits into the friendly confines of a pre-branded property.

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But the big ape lives and walks off into the center of his jungle home. He survives his encounter with dim-witted humanity, only to go off and fortify himself for the coming sequels and, quick note on cinematography, Larry Fong gets to send a love letter to his buddy Zack Snyder with a little samurai sword in green smoke action. We have reached that point in the history of the movies dear readers, in which the dead horse has been flogged so often that they have been whipping the bones. Soon all that will be left is the dust of said bones under foot. What are we to expect then? I’m reminded of one of Kevin Costner’s lines from his summation speech in JFK, “perhaps it will become a generational thing.” Ten years goes by  and it’ll be, “Well, time to drag a King Kong movie out again.”

Sam Jackson buys the farm much like he does in Deep Blue Sea, swiftly and unexpected, at least for him. I’m starting to believe Hollywood is looking at us the same way. Here we stand, full of confidence, about to witness triumph in whatever form it may appear. Then it becomes like the lead up to the first ever screening of the Phantom Menace. The audience was cheering, poised, ready for the planets to align in complete and utter harmony. The Fox logo. The Lucasfilm logo. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Star Wars. If you watch the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas, one interviewees describes this as perhaps one the greatest moments in cinema history, then, then the film started.

I think it is a frequent occurrence today. There is so much pomp and pageantry surrounding these tent-pole movies that more often than not bad, because to achieve the same level as the hype generated is near impossible. Mind you, there are a few that defy this convention but they are few and far between.

So my favorite Kong is still the one I grew up with, the John Guillermin 1976 version.

People tell me they hate that one too. But to each his own. Kong will most likely be back in a decade after this lot. He’ll be half the size of the planet, ripped and ready to rumble against the Independence Day giant aliens when they decide to return to the best place in the universe, Planet Earth: home and the re-imagination of the adaptation of the sequel of the remake.

He’ll take a huge crap in his mighty hand and fling it at them. Oh if only…

The Dude in the Audience

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SING by Ben Cahlamer

Voice.  No, it is not the sounds uttered from your vocal cavity; it’s the inner courage to stand up for yourself; to be better than the “you” you were before a journey started.  Finding your voice is ultimately the catalyst for change and is one of the many key lessons in Garth Jennings’ vivid animated hit, “Sing”.  Christophe Lourdelet co-directs.

As a kid, Buster (Matthew McConaughey) was introduced to the theater, and fell instantly in love.  Following his heart into adulthood, he owns the Moon Theater, but can’t put a show on to save his life.  With the help of his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a doubtful Suffolk sheep and his trusty green iguana assistant, Karen (Garth Jennings), Buster sets up a singing competition, drawing every animal with a dream to Sing, including an overworked, but inventive piglet, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a streetwise mouse, Mike (Seth McFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a young punk porcupine with big aspirations, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a mountain gorilla with a voice trying to find a path away from crime and Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage Indian elephant with a desire to sing.  Gunter (Nick Kroll) is Rosita’s effervescent dance partner; Norman (Nick Offerman) is Rosita’s workaholic husband.  Jennifer Hudson, Rhea Pearlman, Leslie Jones and Larraine Newman round out the supporting voice cast.

Jennings’ script tries to establish each of the supporting character’s emotional states by interweaving their backstories with Buster’s struggles.  Some of the character’s stories work, certainly Johnny’s and especially Meena’s.  Unfortunately, these side stories overwhelmed the emotional impact of Buster’s story.  The songs chosen for each supporting character allows them their moment to shine during the third act, supporting their underlying emotion.

Similar story challenges arose in the inferior “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions”.  Hopefully, this is not a continuing trend for Illumination, which has a stellar track record in the 3D animation department; a strength in “Sing”.

Illumination Mac Guff delivered the 3D animation in spades, showing a range of motion and emotion.  Complex dance sequences with facial expressions, right down to the quivering lips carrying a note, thanks to the masters of animation, the entire experience is vibrant.  The movie was converted for 3D theaters in post-production.  The 2D image was stunning; one can only imagine what it looked like in 3D.

“Sing” is all about the audio.  And not just the music, but the ambient sounds, the voices; all of it conveys a sense of exuberance.  Then there’s the music!  Joby Talbot’s original score is breathtaking in its own right.  From Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind” to Van Halen’s “Jump”, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Queen’s “Under Pressure” to an heartfelt rendition of “Hallelujah”, every song throughout the movie hit all the right notes in terms of finding your inner self

Despite a challenged script, “Song” ends on a high note and is Recommended.

Hard Eight: A review by Patrick Crain

 

The screen is black and the opening credits begin. The first thing we hear is a dirge called Clementine’s Loop, composed by Jon Brion. The mood it pitches is stark and foreboding. The audience is immediately keyed in to the notion that the next 102 minutes will probably not be a reflection of the life-affirming highlights of the characters’ lives.

When the image comes up, we’re outside a Denny’s. Well, a reconverted Denny’s. The world of Hard Eight is one of unshakable reputations; it can say Ray’s Cafe on the sign but it’s still a Denny’s that has been broken down, sold off, and is quietly functioning in its new skin. Walking towards this cafe is Sydney, a shadowy, yet direct man who, seemingly at random, offers to buy a poor stranded soul named John a cup of coffee.

It seems appropriate to note that, once upon a time, Peter Yates directed Robert Mitchum in a film called the Friends of Eddie Coyle which was not too dissimilar from Hard Eight. Set in the less-cinematic parts of Boston, that film chronicled the lives of the lowest-level functionaries in the organized crime business; bottom feeders who would feed on each other if need be. And in that film, everyone spoke with a clarity that ensured that whoever was listening understood what was said and what was not being said.

Hard Eight is very much like this world. In the earlier film, Robert Mitchum got to put the fear of God into a hot shot gunrunner by explaining why you never ask a man why he’s in a hurry. In Hard Eight, Sydney helpfully reminds John never to ignore a man’s courtesy. In both scenes, the veteran looks dog-tired and slow but you never once doubt his wisdom and respect the commanding way he delivers it.

In Hard Eight, Sydney is played by Philip Baker Hall and John is played by John C. Reilly. During the course of the opening scene, we will learn just enough about each character to want to tag along with them; Sydney is a well-dressed, professional gambler and John is a sweetly dim loser who only wants to win enough money in Vegas to pay for his mom’s funeral. Fifteen minutes into the film, we’re hanging on Sydney’s every word and John’s receptiveness to them. By the time sad-eyed cocktail waitress-cum-prostitute Clementine (Gwenyth Paltrow) and reptilian casino security manager Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) are added to the mix, we slowly begin to see the ingredients of disaster come together and, like John, we look to Sydney for his guidance and trust his every movement. For there’s no doubt he’s seen disaster before.

What’s most astonishing about the debut film of Paul Thomas Anderson is how subdued it is, Made by a young man of 26, Anderson refuses to fall into the trap that 99% of nascent filmmakers do which dictates that one must be as flashy as possible by jamming in as many cinematic references and tricks that they can. In his first time out as a filmmaker, Anderson shows a real maturity in his restraint and his ability to approach material correctly and there is an amazing wisdom in the dialogue.

The film’s setting is interesting, too. Like Robert Altman’s California Split, Hard Eight takes place in the unglamorous world of daytime nightlife. Garish hotel rooms, eerily desolate roads, and the sparse, Wednesday afternoon crowd in dumpy Reno casinos are all writ large on cinematographer Robert Elswit’s wide canvas. And John Brion’s Hammond B3-laced score injects the right amount of lounge-lizard sleaze into the atmosphere. The characters and plot, a potent blend of a Jean Pierre Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur, Louis Malle’s Atlantic City, and an Elmore Leonard novel, mix with its harsh, cinematic world in such a way that you can smell the stale cigarette smoke on every frame of film.

To achieve this, a film has to be extraordinarily observant and meticulous in its details. Take, for instance, a scene in which Clementine, who has to leave town with John in a hurry, gives Sydney instructions for feeding her cats and how to unlock her apartment door with a key ring we never see, but can hear is ridiculously overloaded with keys and trinkets. It’s not played for laughs and it doesn’t even call attention to itself. It’s simply a detail that serves as a reminder that Anderson knows characters like Clementine; someone who sadly, and in the name of basic survival, gives so much of herself away that overloading her keychain with goofy charms and ephemera seems like one of the few remaining frontiers of self-expression and individuality.

As well-realized its world and well-written its dialogue, Hard Eight is, above all, an actor’s film.

Philip Baker Hall, an actor who before Hard Eight was mostly known as Richard Nixon in Robert Altman’s film adaptation of Secret Honor, got one of the biggest gifts from the gods with a role for the ages. Stoic and precise, Hall gets the immense actor’s pleasure of both being able to express himself with his stoney face and the right to spit hot-fire lines of dialogue like “You know the first thing they should have taught you you at hooker school? You get the money up front.” It’s a performance of masterful skill, immense control, and sheer perfection. I’ll fight the man, woman, or child that disagrees.

John C. Reilly can never get enough credit and is one of the finest character actors working today. In Hard Eight, he turns in one of his greatest performances as a truly pitiful lug who needs a hug and an emotional anchor. While Hall is tasked with the heavy lifting during the scenes of severe gravity, Reilly gets a few astonishing moments of emotional counterbalance, most especially during a telephone conversation in a key scene in the film’s third act. Also bringing the lumber is Gwenyth Paltrow who summons up the depressing cheapness that runs through her character while also making her vulnerable and human. It helps that her character is the hooker with a heart of despair and loneliness, not gold and half of the time her smeared lipstick makes her look like a clown that escaped a black velvet painting.

Fourth-billed Samuel L. Jackson brings fire to the film as the charismatic yet crudely loathsome security manager who knows everything that goes on in, and out, of the casino. With his wide grin, his maroon leather jacket, and his driving gloves, Jimmy is a study in someone who wouldn’t know class if he fell into it, yet is supremely lethal and projects a menace that, once he’s introduced, hangs like a pall over every remaining second of the film.

Looking back on how Hard Eight was marketed, it must be said that the trailer for the film is ridiculous. Obviously cut to capitalize on the then-red hot Samuel L. Jackson and Quentin Tarantino vibe, the film was marketed as a explosive fire of witty banter, cool Vegas shenanigans, and gritty gangster action. To give the film more of that post-Rat Pack fetish vibe that washed all over indie cinema in the mid to late 90’s, the trailer assigns face-card titles to the characters (Gwenyth Paltrow is the Queen!). That the film had none of the aforementioned elements probably surprised the few that were able to overcome the distributor’s shameful mismanagement and see it in a theater. For some, the surprise was likely a let down. Regardless of quality, there was an audience that ate up every single post-Pulp Fiction-ish film indiscriminately. This, by the way, is how the noxious Boondock Saints, the Sublime of the Pulp Fiction wannabes, ever became the hot property it did. If a film didn’t have that same pop, slash, and burn, it was chucked as boring. And Hard Eight doesn’t have that pop. Despite the use of a quick pan here or there and one tremendous tracking shot of Sydney moving like a shark across the casino floor, the film’s dynamism comes solely and bravely in its silences and what it doesn’t say. The electricity it emits is a slow burning charge that feels confident.

But, finally, Tarantino fashioned the mood of Pulp Fiction after those deliciously chosen pop tunes, Anderson fashioned Hard Eight after a Tom Waits song; a broken boulevard of heartache and misery where, after an evening of carnage, one can merely adjust their coat sleeve to cover up the bloodstains and move about their day unmolested.

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