Tag Archives: John hurt

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A new Hellboy film opens this week and the reviews are… not great, to put it nicely. I’ll probably end up seeing for myself to give it a shot but honestly my heart is still with Guillermo Del Toro and Ron Perlman’s vision and I still wish we could have seen their trilogy capped off with a third entry instead of being obnoxiously shunted off to another iteration so soon.

After a brilliantly Lovecraftian introduction to this world, Del Toro returned with Hellboy II: The Golden Army and he brought back with him all the fairytale-esque visual grandeur he could muster for a sequel that is decidedly more esoteric but no less awesome than the first. Perlman was born to play the role and you have to champion Guillermo for sticking by his side and not backing down through damn near a decade of negotiations with studios who were tossing around hilarious suggestions like Nic Cage and Vin Diesel (good lord I shudder to think). Perlman *is* Hellboy and rocks every revolver slinging, cigar chewing, monster smashing minute of his screen time. This time he and the gang are contending with angry Elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who resents humans for neglecting the fantastical in their modern age and wants to unleash the powerful golden army upon their world, obliterating it for good. As much as that kindddd of makes a bit of sense from his perspective it’s still not a constructive solution to his concerns and therefore his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton) takes issue with his extremism and defects to Hellboy’s side. It’s a raucous ride of jaw dropping practical effects, enthralling world building and way more commotion than the eerie first film, but that works too. Doug Jones returns as fish-man Abe Sapien, this time without the strange ADR of David Hyde Pierce overtop his own chords, Selma Blair is lovely once again as spirited firestarter Liz Sherman, Jeffrey Tambor further cultivates droll comic relief as the FBI handler dude, John Hurt briefly reprises his role as paternal Professor Broom and newcomer Seth Mcfarlane is welcome to the fold, playing a German ghost that lives in some kind of early 1900’s scuba diving kit. Del Toro always has a wicked flair for effects, he never just throws CGI at a wall and expects it to stick, there’s always a meticulous process in bringing his creatures alive and this film is full to the brim of wildly imaginative wonders. Goss and Walton are so good as Nuada and Nuala that they almost deserve their own spinoff film, they’re darkly charismatic and soulful in an otherworldly way, their performances accented by beautiful hair & makeup.

I have to say I’m more a fan of the first film than this, but it’s less of an issue of quality and more of aesthetic; I’m in love with the dark, moody, Lovecraft atmosphere punctuated by the rogue nazi element, it seems to have more roots in horror and works for me more as an overall feeling, but really they’re both fantastic films and on the same level. Also the first one has Kroenen, who is possibly the coolest and scariest comic book villain ever put to film.

I’m not one to gloat when something flops or gets bad reviews out of the gate but I can’t help feeling a smidge of bitter glee at the fact that this reboot no one really asked for is now being bitten on the ass, seemingly because it actually does suck. For years and years the fans (myself included) hoped and prayed for a third Del Toro/Perlman Hellboy film to complete this wonderful story, and what do they do? Go out and hire a bunch of new stock, switch up the creative aesthetic completely and expect people to buy it. No sir. That’s not to detract from David Harbour, Neil Marshall, Ian McShane or Milla Jovovich, they’re all brilliant artists who have now just become collateral damage to a production that sounds suspiciously rocky. I’ll definitely check out the film they’ve made and give it a fair shot but I have to say that not one trailer or piece of marketing has me remotely excited, and that’s independent of my love for the first two films. Perhaps one day Ron Perlman will sit in that makeup chair for six hours again and give us that magic we miss so much, with Del Toro at his side. Perhaps this new apparent swing and a miss will make that happen quicker, who knows. Until then we can revisit the first and Golden Army to our hearts delight, they’ve aged gorgeously and are both great films.

-Nate Hill

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Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

Space Operatic: An Interview with Stephen van Vuuren by Kent Hill

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I applaud anyone who makes their way on this crusade, some might say foolish crusade, to make a film. It can be a long, arduous, laborious. And thinking on that word laborious, now consider making a film that has to be stitched together using over 7 million photographs with animation techniques pioneered by Walt Disney on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. No CGI. And I know that sounds sacrilegious in this day and age where a film without CGI is like a day without sunshine.

However, the film that Stephen van Vuuren has, albeit laboriously, constructed In Saturn’s Rings, is a unique master-work that is as beautiful and immersive on the small screen I watched it on as I can imagine it being played in its large format form.

Sparked by Cassini‘s arrival at Saturn in 2004 and the media’s lack of coverage, van Vuuren produced two films. Photos from space missions — including images of Saturn taken by Cassini — were included. But van Vuuren was not satisfied with the results so he did not release them.

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While listening to the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber one day in 2006, van Vuuren conceived the idea of creating moving images of Saturn based on a pan-and-scan 2.5-D effect. The technique involves creating a 3-D perspective using still photographs.

After discussion with audiences at IMAX conferences, van Vuuren decided the film title Outside In (the title of the short version) was not a good match for the film’s sensibility. The Giant Film Cinema Association had been publicising the film and surveys it conducted supported this. It was during a discussion in 2012 about the film’s climax where he was describing Earth “in Saturn’s rings” that van Vuuren realized he had found his new title.

Although narration had originally been removed in 2009, by 2014 van Vuuren realized that a sparse narration was necessary for the film. This amounted to 5 pages and about 1200 words in total. After listening to many voice actors one stood out and he asked LeVar Burton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to be the narrator for the film.

The culmination of these elements, plus a lot of hard work, has resulted in something that is essentially more than a film. Like Kubrick’s 2001 which inspired him, van Vuuren has crafted an experience of what it may by like to drift through the far reaches of space to the planet that has always been the physical embodiment of his childhood fantasies. And I for one am grateful he stuck to his guns and made a movie that, even though it’s not a tale from a galaxy far, far away, it is the universe at its most wondrous…

John Irvin’s CHAMPIONS

 

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Credit: Bizzaro World

John Irvin’s Champions (1984)

 

Champions isn’t your typical success story. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions, which the film delivers well.

It’s based on the true story of British jockey Bob Champion. The movie begins in the middle of Champion’s career, having already established himself as a successful jockey in the height of his career. While in the US on vacation, he starts to feel severe pains, and a trip to the doctor reveals that he has cancer. Champion endures agonizing treatment without a guarantee of success. He only has his ironclad will to help him survive and get back to doing what he loves the most – riding and racing.

Meanwhile, things aren’t looking great for his horse, Aldaniti either, after he sustained chronic leg injuries and was vetted not to race again. Aldaniti exhibits the same strong will as Champion, and with the help of his owners, trainer Josh Gifford, he recovers and gets back into racing shape.

The two, now sharing a common bond and the same level of courage, successfully enter and win The 1981 Grand National.

Champion was played by the magnificent Sir John Hurt (may he rest in peace), and his stellar performance earned him an Evening Standard British Film Award in 1985. To prepare for the role, he spent a lot of time with the real Bob Champion – The Guardian shared a photo of the two together in 1984.

Many of the supporting cast including Edward Woodward, Jan Francis, and Ben Johnson were all exceptional in the movie as well. The movie “grips the viewer from the start,” as described in a review by The Horse Studio.

The Grand National

The Grand National is an insanely tough race which makes their achievements that bit more memorable. The jump race totals roughly 7 kilometers and the fences are bigger than other steeplechase races, not to mention the open ditches. Due to its difficulty, there have been a number of horse fatalities either at the race or sometime later as a result of injuries sustained on the Aintree track. There have also been jockeys who have suffered serious injuries, too.

On the flipside though, that handicap is also what gives the race its grandeur. It takes serious skill to cross the finish line, and that in itself is already an achievement. This led to the increasing popularity of The Grand National, and the festival grew so much over the years, it has become one of the most high-profile horse racing events in the world. Approximately 600 million viewers tune in to watch the race annually.

Betting is also a major component of the occasion, with even casual spectators joining in. A post from The Conversation mentioned that 2 out of every 3 adults in the UK bet on the race, many of whom only do so when The Grand National takes place and not for any other race in the year.

The same happens in other countries too, which is why analysts have begun to offer their projections through up-to-the-minute race previews. World renowned trainer Paul Nicholls is a regular columnist for Grand National Daily Tipping on Betfair and his previews of the race have won many awards over the years for their meticulous nature, not to mention accurate forecasts. Nicholls’ columns are just an example of how digital content supports The Grand National and its lead-up to the big race. They also help garner the race a huge audience across the globe, and this is why it’s been in a league of its own since the 80s.

With all that established, it’s easy to understand how big the stakes were for our two warriors. In the year when Bob Champion and Aldaniti emerged as the victors, only 12 out of the 40 contenders finished the race. And to think that both of them had just overcome major health problems to win The Grand National was impressive, to say the least. Stories like that rarely play out in a positive manner. Champions is a wonderful film that can truly inspire you to persevere and achieve your dreams, no matter how big.

Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend 


-Nate Hill-
Sam Peckinpah’s The Osterman Weekend is so strangely plotted, so illogical and hard to understand, that not even John Hurt providing a play by play from an ever present tv monitor can seem to make sense of it. It’s not that it’s a bad film, parts are very well done and there’s that nostalgic Cold War vibe that 80’s espionage thrillers always have, it’s just that somewhere along the way, whether in the editing room, the shot list or scheduling, someone quite literally lost the plot. It’s enjoyable, well acted and supplies some of that classic Peckinpah grit he’s known for, but it’s just one massive loose thread that no one bothered to pull taut, which is a shame when you look at the talent involved. The film opens with the murder of a beautiful woman, the wife of a CIA spook (Hurt). Now, this inciting incident is what spurs on the rest of the plot, but the how and the why seem to be missing, and the matter of his wife doesn’t come into play again until all is almost said and done, and seems to have not a lot to do with the entire rest of the film. The bulk of it focuses on controversial talk show host John Tanner (Rutger Hauer), a man who lives to rub people the wrong way and put men of power on the spot with provocative, candid questions, all from the safety of his brightly lit studio. He’s forced to get his hands dirty though when Hurt contacts him, informing him that his three friends he’s planned to spend the weekend with (Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper and a sleazy Chris Sarandon) are in fact soviet spies in hiding. Forced to bug his weekend home and play host to Hurt as he watches them all via hidden cameras, tensions arise as they try to smoke the three out and figure out… something. But what? It’s anyone’s guess what three potential traitors have to do with a murdered agent’s wife, and I’m sure the novel by Robert Ludlum on which this is based covers that a little more pointedly, but this film is just all over the place. It drags where it should glide, and skips hurriedly over scenes with potential to be great. Nevertheless, they achieved some level of class at least, with a crackling on-air conclusion that cathartically weeds out some corruption and provides almost a glimmer of an answer to what’s going on. There’s a fight scene between Nelson and Hauer that’s excellently choreographed, the performances are committed and engaging, and I’m always a sucker for cloak and dagger theatrics. But the thing just can’t seem to cohesively pull itself together and present a story that makes sense. It’s not even that it doesn’t make sense in a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy sense, because I’m sure that if I sat down and watched that film like five times in a row, id get it, it has a plot buried under all of it. This one though, it’s like there’s pieces missing, and the ones that are left are either out of order, or from a different puzzle entirely. Close, but no cigar. 

Brighton Rock: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Brighton Rock is a character study focusing on one of the most delinquent, misanthropic, sociopathic, maladjusted pieces of work you’ve ever seen. The fiend I speak of is a wannabe British gangster named Pinkie, played by Sam Riley, an actor who doesn’t usually get this dark with his work, but makes quite the impression when he does. Pinkie lives in the seaside town of Brighton, and aspires to rule the crime faction there with a razor brandishing, snarling, self destructive death wish. Despite the quaint and quite pleasant coastal setting, this is a cold as ice story about a guy who brings nothing but despair and violence to everyone including himself. Showing up on the scene to oust local bigwig Phil Corkery (John Hurt), Pinkie declares personal war on everyone around him in a spectacular downward spiral of burnt bridges and furious confrontations. There’s also what has to be one of the most dysfunctional ‘love’ stories to be found anywhere, between him and a clueless waitress played by a very young Andrea Riseborough. She’s deluded by the bad boy effect, blind to the fact that Pinkie cares for her about as much as roadkill. She’s a plaything to him, a curiosity to be toyed with and eventually discarded, or worse. She loves him, or at least naively believes she does, making it quite sad and unfortunate to see their bitter courtship circle the sinkhole. Helen Mirren plays her restauranteur boss who feels the bad vibes coming off Pinkie in waves, and warms poor Andrea. Needless to say, these warnings go unheeded. Watch for Sean Harris, Phil Davis and Andy Serkis in appropriately scummy roles as well. This is Riley’s show, and he owns it with the force tyrannical pissant who is positively bursting with self loathing and homicidal hatred. A dour tale hiding beneath a picturesque shell, strangling us in malaise before we know what’s hit us.

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films are a wildly different pair, both incredible thrill rides and well worth anyone’s time, but I think I will always prefer the first. With the second he took the Pan’s Labyrinth approach, presenting a fairy tale world and showcasing makeup effects that were very similar to that film, an esoteric and elemental vibe. There’s just something about the Lovecraftian, steam punk WWII aesthetic of the first that works better for me, and seems to fit our red pigmented protagonist a little more. These films would be nothing without the essential and hard won casting of Ron Perlman, though. He brings a lively vitality, hulking physicality (he fits the part even before the prosthetics go on) and loveable sarcasm, and when you see him in action there is really no other actor you could envision bringing this character to life. It’s laughable to think that Del Toro fought the studio for years to get Ron in the role, turning down the likes of Vin Diesel and Nic Cage (what in the actual fuck were they thinking), not compromising for a second, knowing the film he wanted to make. Well, Ron got cast in the end, as we now know, and he’s not so much playing Hellboy, he just is Hellboy, he’s that perfect for the role. When he’s backed up by Del Toro’s near godlike creativity and imagination (the two partner on projects frequently and it’s genius every time), you get a piece of comic book escapism as exciting and adventurous as this. Hellboy was the result of a nazi experiment gone wrong, in which certifiable nut job Grigori Rasputin (freaky deaky Karel Roden) and his minions open a portal to a dark universe, in attempt to summon forth anything that could turn the tides of war (not the brightest idea, if you ask me), and instead out crawls infant Hellboy, a cranky crimson imp with a big stone appendage and an attitude to match. Kindly professor Trevor Broom (John Hurt) raises the creature to be a force of good and protection for our world, and soon enough he grows into eight foot tall, wise ass, cigar chomping, ass kicking Ron Perlman, now a valuable and formidable asset to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, an order who strives to keep the darkness at bay. Joined by his on and off flame Liz Sherman (pun intended, as she’s literally a firestarter), Professor Broom, rookie agent Meyers (Rupert Evans) and humanoid swamp thing Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones, dubbed out with David Hyde Pierce), he sets out to shield New York, the planet and the universe from Rasputin, who has returned with notions of finishing the cataclysmic work he started decades ago. The action is propulsive and rousing, initially in NYC streets and subway tunnels, and then in a far off arctic locale where a gateway to some dark dimension opens once more and a suspiciously Cthlhu esque deity of destruction peers out. Del Toro has stated before that he prefers to think of his work as ‘eye protein’ rather than eye candy. Well, call it what you will, his films are nothing short of dazzling on all levels, and Hellboy is no exception. There’s visual splendour in every frame, from the painstaking costumes, makeup and props (Perlman has a great big gun for that great big hand), to the production design and seamless computer wizardry, the world we see onscreen is immersive and entertaining for the entire journey. Roden makes a frothing madman out of Rasputin, always nailing the villain when he shows up, and stopping said show here with his theatrical and baroque insanity. My favourite has to be Kroenen though, a sharply dressed, mute nazi assassin with a face only a mother could love and a set of knives you’d be foolish to get in the way of. He’s an inspired and truly creepy villain that sets the apocalyptic dial on the highest setting when he shows up. Jeffrey Tambor provides additional comic relief as the long suffering suit who serves as the face of PR for the bureau, and props to Brian Steele as Sammael, a seriously pissed off demon set loose by Rasputin in the city streets, leading to one blockbuster of an action sequence. As far as comic book films go, this is a gold standard of filmmaking, world building and good old fashioned storytelling, all of which Del Toro is a master at. It wouldn’t have been the same without him, without Perlman and especially without the magic that happens when they work together.