Tag Archives: John Leguizamo

PAST THE POISON: A Look at Rene Perez’s THE INSURRECTION by Kent Hill

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Right off the bat, I like pictures that make you think. Nicholas Meyer once said that movies have the dreadful propensity of doing it all for you, leaving nothing for later like some greedy kid turned loose in a chocolate factory. In the era where everything old is new again – dusted off, repackaged and marketed to an audience for whom, the first time it was released, isn’t a part of their lexicon – it falls upon us to turn to those filmmakers working outside the mainstream; the place where stories that entertain, provoke thought, and evoke the magnitude of the how insurmountable power and the forces that wield it engulf us…constant willing victims that we are.

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Though Rene Perez (as he once told me) might be near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to cinematic voices in the tempest that is the modern day film industry, to me, he is a tirelessly, self-sufficient auteur. His pictures – while made for the VOD market (not unlike the VHS boom before it) and designed for the casual scroller in search of an evening’s mild amusement – are more than mere formulaic forays in genre.

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With The Insurrection, Perez comes out with all guns blazing, literally, but with the timeliness and the gravitas of the message he is projecting. Michael Paré (Eddie and The Cruisers, The Philadelphia Experiment) is a military veteran. Strong, determined, and not afraid to stand tall in the crossfire, yet burdened by regret for the life and family he neglected while serving in the line of duty. This makes him the ideal candidate as well as the only choice, and hope, for the magnetic Wilma Elles’ (Playing with Dolls: Havoc, The Fourth Horseman) Joan Schafer. More than your garden-variety whistle-blower, she is a part of the grand plan, a loyal servant of the ‘Ruling Class’. After securing Paré’s release from prison, Joan tasks the warhorse to keep her alive long enough to tell all – not just of her own private torment, but primarily of a plan that began long ago…to make slaves of us all. And it is for these bold words – how we are but pawns for the powerful, the hungry masses that heartily sup upon the most potent of elixirs supplied by the small glowing screens we carry in our pocket – that she is now targeted for termination by her former overseers. The first casualty, when war comes, is truth, and because of this truth…she must not be allowed to live.

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Schafer’s truth also encompasses the concept that we, the controlled masses, are victims of the promise, the carrot, dangled by the influential. She presents the fact that, no matter the microcosm of society in which we dwell, whether it be the real world or the one manufactured on that luminous rectangle that hangs before us in the darkened movie theatre – whether it be Romero’s Land of the Dead, Anderson’s Logan’s Run or Rodriguez’s Alita: Battle Angel – the promise our own ivory tower, our place among the Gods, is far too alluring a bait…as opposed to love, family…life’s simple wonders.

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As parallel duels of words and weapons rage, you will be equally gripped the story unfolding as you will by Perez’s dynamic camera and fluid editing. These combine, serving as an absorbing delivery system for a tale of the price those who choose to stand alone against the rising tide of the media-saturated, cynical world that consumes us, ultimately pay. Paré’s steely gladiator projects authority through his silence; a strong accompanist to Elles’ articulate argument relating to how easy it has been, and how easy it still is, for the mighty to suppress any and all beneath them.

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It is a thought-provoking work of intensity and depth that we have before us with The Insurrection. In the tradition of action-thrillers like Peter Hyams’ Narrow Margin and Harold Becker’s Mercy Rising, Perez and his team bring us a splendid declaration of the courage it takes to fight for freedoms we, all too frequently, take for granted.

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Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry

I really love it when actors step outside their comfort zone and try something that they’re not traditionally known for, it’s a difficult and courageous thing to do. Harrison Ford is a square jawed, attractive, alpha type dude, from Han Solo to Rick Deckerd to Indiana Jones. Seeing him become utterly vulnerable for a film like Mike Nichols’ Regarding Henry is something wonderful and let’s you observe a quieter, gentler side of this iconic actor.

Ford is Henry here, a brash, egotistical slick lawyer who cons innocent clients out of their settlements to line the pockets of his firm, cheats on his wife (Annette Bening) and when asked to apologize to his daughter (Kamien Allen, sad eyed and soulful) for an outburst, manipulates the conversation to further blame her. One night he pops over to the convenience store and interrupts a robbery, after which the twitchy burglar (a very young John Leguizamo) shoots him twice. The wounds leave him fighting for his life and with permanent brain damage, re-learning how to speak, walk, eat and piece together his fragmented memories with the help of a kindly physical therapist (the great Bill Nunn in possibly his greatest performance).

This is the ultimate case of ‘my dad went out for a pack of smokes and never came back’ because in a sense he doesn’t. For his daughter the cruel, unsympathetic father she watched him become is now gone forever and in his place a man she doesn’t recognize but now relates to, cares for and in return gets love she never experienced before instead. Henry has all the faculties of a child or adolescent at first, forced to forge a new moral compass and and patch over the damage that he and his amoral boss (Donald Moffat, smarmy as ever) have wrought. Ford makes low key yet deeply affecting work of Henry, his eyes have a meditative observance and his voice a shaky, emotive timbre, qualities I find to be often wasted on hero roles without a ton of depth (see The Age Of Adaline for another terrific example of him being used properly). He actually gets to play a human here, one who goes through one of the most taxing experiences anyone could live through, and the colours Ford paints this performance with are something to see. This film gets ragged on and sure it can come across as a bit gloss, a bit ‘Heartstring Hollywood.’ That may be so in instances but at the core it really cares, truly examines this man and what makes him who he is, then slaps him with a factory reset and reimagines who he is all over again, and how he must reconcile with what came before. Great film in my opinion.

-Nate Hill

Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 trades in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper for a giant 747, which is basically just a skyscraper barrelling through the air anyways, but it also expands action from the one location concept to a sprawling, chaotic LAX airport during the Christmas Eve rush. Bruce Willis returns as eternally exasperated underdog cop John McClane, whose wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is stranded on said aircraft while a severely violent band of terrorists clutters up the whole thing and makes it impossible for them to land. While not blessed with the malicious exuberance of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Harlin finds a steely replacement in William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart, the sociopathic, seriously scary dude in charge of the hostile takeover who has no reluctance in shooting his own guys just for fun. Franco Nero is the foreign dictator whose imprisonment ties into the airport fiasco, while the villains provide intense early career work for cool actors like Don Harvey, John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick. There’s something so relatable about McClane, Willis plays him as an everyday joe who is constantly second guessed by people way dumber than him and sort of has to go it alone based on the sheer level of incompetence he’s surrounded by, especially that of an ignoramus cop (Dennis Franz) who has it in for him big time. The action here is top tier, from the big bucks spent on the plane antics hundreds of feet above to the shootouts, explosions and combat thundering through LAX. Gotta give a special shout out to these terrorists, they possess a sadism and ruthless edge that is impressive even by franchise standards. I love this film, I think it’s every bit the worthy sequel and on the same level as the first.

-Nate Hill

Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street

Brad Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street pulled a vanishing act of its own almost immediately following release, sinking into the background with little acclaim or celebration. I really love its slow, atmospheric and ambiguous take on the post apocalyptic chiller. Anderson has two brilliant thrillers under his belt (Session 9, The Machinist) another two great but flawed ones (The Call, Transsiberian), but this is up there with his best for me, and definitely his most overlooked. Anakin Skywalker plays a Detroit news anchor who wakes up to something sinister: people are disappearing into the long, gaunt shadows that have started to amass here and there, especially at night where light sources are scarcer. By disappearing I mean just that; the dark hits them and suddenly there’s just a pile of clothes where they were standing, it’s quite jarring. He forms a band of desperate survivors including plucky Thandie Newton, her son (Jacob Latimore), an orphaned girl they find (Tyler Groothius) and custodian John Leguizamo, excellent as that one guy who won’t go down without a fight. It’s a dim, dark and depressing film that slowly drains the hope and light from the corners of each frame, but I love that primal terror one gets from it. Usually when we are scared of the dark we can keep the fear at bay by staying away from it, but here the darkness has a life of its own and comes for you, a chilling premise that Anderson really makes the most out of. Top tier horror for me. Oh and watch for a subtle tie in to a popular mystery in American history right at the end, implying all sorts of origins for this phenomena that Anderson wisely leaves unexplained.

-Nate Hill

Spawn 1997

With the impending release of a new Spawn film next year that will be written and directed by original comic book artist Todd McFarlane (!), it’s time to take a look back at the eclectic 1997 version. It’s a mixed bag that’s mostly filled with stuff I love, in particular a real nasty comedic edge brought to the table by John Leguizamo’s profane, obese, horrific hell clown The Violator, who lets face it, kind of steals the show. I read that every actor under the sun was considered for the lead role, from Denzel to Samuel L. Jackson to Tony Todd, but I feel like they really lucked out with martial arts legend Michael Jai White, whose sinewy presence lends itself to the dark character and practically radiates pent up rage. Spawn was once Al Simmons, a government assassin who was royally fucked over by the evil mercenary Wynn (Martin Sheen, trying his darnedest to shake the good ol’ Hollywood boy image) and sent to the fiery pit of hell, only to be resurrected as a half demon antihero with more whacked out powers than Beetlejuice and a serious hankering for revenge. That’s this movie anyways, I’m not sure how faithful it is to the comics. Guided by a pseudo Van Helsing looking mentor dude (Nicol Williamson in his final screen role) and pining for the wife (Teresa Randle) he widowed, he embarks on a bloody odyssey to… well to kill Martin Sheen and anyone who gets in his way doing it. Oh yeah, and Leguizamo’s demon clown follows him around making horrifically dark jokes (“I’ve been around since before you were soup in your momma’s crotch) and chewing more scenery than the actor has in the rest of his collective career, which is some fucking achievement. It’s funny because this film simultaneously contains some of the best and worst special effects of the 90’s; Spawn looks, feels and sounds terrific, with tactility and tangibility that should be admired, swooshing reptilian cape, glowing eyes and all manner of slice n’ dice weaponry. However, when we see him visit the devil in hell, the CGI used to bring old Satan to life look absolutely abysmal, like a Starfox final boss they forgot to completely render. I suppose they didn’t have enough budget to make everything slick, but honestly they should have just cut those scenes completely rather than have that embarrassment parade across the screen. Still, it’s hardly a blight on the movie and if anything is part of its scrappy charm, I’ve just been accused of being too much of a critical Pollyanna lately, so I have to throw in the occasional jab at a film I love just for credibilities sake in this snooty community of cinema we live in. Overall this version of Spawn is a blast of beautiful special effects, horrific imagery, vivid performances and Leguizamo mugging the camera like an aggressive dog. I’ve read that he was in that fat suit for so many takes one time that he actually had to deliberately piss himself, which I’m sure only added to the manic energy he has, like how’s that for method acting. I’m not sure what McFarlane has planned for his new one (Jamie Foxx has landed the lead), but I’d advise him to retain the bite and ferocity this one has, as well as its dark humour, weird dream logic and practical effects vs CGI. I’m sure he knows what he’s doing though, it’s not like he’s the original creator of the whole comics series or anything.

-Nate Hill

Brian De Palma’s CARLITO’S WAY

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Join Frank and special guest host, Paul Sparrow-Clarke, as they talk in depth about one of Brian De Palma’s most underappreciated films, Carlito’s Way. Paul returned to PTS to discuss Carlito’s Way after joining Frank and Tom during their From Russia with Love podcast in their For Your Ears Only James Bond podcast series. We hope you enjoy the show!

Tony Scott’s Revenge

Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.

-Nate Hill