Tag Archives: john turturro

David Koepp’s Secret Window

David Koepp’s Secret Window is a terrific little psychological chiller, with just the right doses of fright and camp. Based on a Stephen King short, it’s got everything you’d want in a little vignette from the master: secluded wilderness setting, paranoia, whacked out protagonist, cerebral mind games wrapped in a classically meta package, the story being about a writer itself. The problem with the film is that it has a twist, and in this day and age after the loss of cinema’s innocence, everyone and their mother has seen a film with some variation of the revelation that Window has to offer. But this is not the film’s problem, really, because it hails from a simpler time back in the late 90’s, early 00’s, when twists like that were still somewhat new. The Sixth Sense hype had barely died down, the new age of psychological horror hadn’t yet dawned and stuff like this seemed really fresh. This one is terrific on its terms though, and has a certifiably loony central performance from Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey, a depressed nut-job novelist who’s holed himself up in a cabin on a lake to cook up his newest book, but really he’s just there to mope about his wife (Maria Bello) leaving him for the considerably less dreamy Timothy Hutton. His bout of self loathing is interrupted when freaky stranger Shooter (John Turturro) shows up at his door and aggressively accuses him of plagiarism. Turturro plays the guy in a weird Amish getup and with enough menace in his southern drawl to rival his perverse lunatic Jesus from The Big Lebowski. Anywho, after that Depp descends into sketchy paranoia, unsure of what’s real, who’s real, who double-crossed who and who’s trying to get the better of him. Set in rural Maine as per usual, this is classic King and benefits a lot from Depp, who wisely chooses to make his performance fun, engaging and just cartoonish enough where other actors might try to be too realistic or serious. If you watch it these days in the wake of countless other thrillers that have filled the gulf of time between 2004 and now, you might not be all that impressed. Try and retain your sense of wonder in terms of the genre, you may have a blast. I always enjoy this one.

-Nate Hill


Henry Selick’s Monkeybone

Henry Selick’s wacktastic, surreal Monkeybone is off its head, and while it never quite coalesces into something wholly memorable, the images and impressions on parade are not something easily shaken. To start with, the visual production design is so detailed and thoroughly deranged it deserves it’s own art gallery after the fact. Selick, the other half of the creative team behind Nightmare Before Christmas, create’s here what is maybe one of the most unsettling, eye popping mood boards in any film of the century. It’s just just in keeping us awake with the storytelling that he falters somewhat, not enough to sink the ship, but enough that not a lot of people remember or revere this film these days, which is a shame because it’s quite an achievement in areas. Brendan Fraser, who seems to actively seek out oddball scripts, plays cartoonist Stu Smiley, who goes into a coma, gets sent to a place called Downtown where the veggies go until they either croak or wake up, and is put in jeopardy once someone has the idea to pull the plug on him. His loving girlfriend (Bridget Fonda, who I wish was still in the acting game) waits for him, while his newest creation, a little plush horn-ball named Monkeybone, gets a little too sentient and tries to steal his body, which has a certain organ he wasn’t endowed with on the drawing board. The story is too weird and raunchy for kids, and falls into the Roger Rabbit/Cool World arena of adult oriented fare that still has a childlike sensibility. Downtown is essentially a haunted DisneyLand astral plane, a reject realm where ghosts, ghouls and monsters with disturbing anatomy roam free and feed on nightmares, siphoned from the psyched of those upstairs stuck in comas. Weird enough for you? You don’t know the half of it. The nightmare scenes are shot in stark black and white and have a genuinely subconscious, tuned in vibe to them that actually feels like one does in dreams, not an easy aura to pin down onscreen. Fraser does a wicked job, especially when the monkey hijacks his body upstairs and starts prancing around like a mental patient, it’s an inspired bit of physical comedy from the man who brought us George Of The Jungle. Monkeybone is apparently played by none other than John Turturro, but his voice is so tripped out on helium effects it’s fairly unrecognizable. The film gets downright hilarious when Stu follows the scamp back up in the avatar of a corpse with a broken neck (bravo to Chris Kattan), a dementedly genius sequence. There’s cameos and vaudeville supporting turns galore, including Rose McGowan as a sexy cat/human hybrid, Bob Odenkirk, Thomas Haden Church, Giancarlo Esposito, Lisa Zane, and Whoopi Goldberg as Death, a sly meta rework on her Ghost character. The film is at it’s best when it focuses on Downtown, which really is a vibrant atmosphere to hang around in, always an odd mutant creature to look at or a morbid one liner for chuckles. The stuff back on earth can be fun too but really doesn’t pick up until Kattan comes roaring in and steals the climax with his bobble-head gymnastic fanfare. If only this had been a little more in terms of story and character, it could have matched it’s truly impressive visual scope. As it is, it’s worth it just to see how weird and surreal mainstream movies can get when they want to.

-Nate Hill

Don’t you want to know about Transformers 5, dude?


Well, turns out Merlin was a bullshit artist and no wizard at all. Turns out he had him a lot of help from the Transformers who, as we learn from this movie, have been with us a lot longer than the 80’s.


Now, bearing in mind I’ve not seen Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction, ‘cause, while the first outing was okay, the second was just plain old big dollar dumbshit; it didn’t inspire me to keep up with the franchise. Nowadays though I find myself a father and thus have an excuse to be found at such films like The Last Knight and still be able to maintain my image.

But, while TLK is the same brand of BDD that saw my interest in the Transformers franchise diminish – this entry is a return to form. It is on par with all those great Michael Bay comedies of 90’s and early 00’s. With films like The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and The Island – so Transformers 5 is bombastic, ludicrous, but also a bloody good laugh.

We team up with ‘The Legend’ Marky Mark, in a world that has too many Transformers. Bummer! So many in fact that there is a force set up to police and also destroy them – should the Cybertronic shit hit the fan.


After a round table prologue that justifies the films subtitle, we are straight into the guns and explosions along with kids doing things they shouldn’t, like hanging out in forbidden areas. Here we meet an orphan girl, who doesn’t really have much of a part to play other than pull the heart strings occasionally and be smart-mouthed in contrast. With Prime (Optimus) floating in space like the bear Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules knocked into orbit, the Autobots are bored shitless. They hang out in Marky Mark’s junkyard, waiting for the plot to catch up with them.

Megatron is hiding out too. He is after the ‘fabled’ weapon. It is Merlin’s rod, given to the so-called sorcerer by the medieval Transformers. The whole plot surrounding this feels ripped off from The Fifth Element. You remember – a weapon that was originally entrusted to humanity to keep until a great evil returns and it is needed once more?


Anyways, Megatron is not opposed to negotiations. He meets with a team of lawyers to have ‘his crew’ released, and those brainy military cats are content to let him have his way because their plan is to have the Decepticons do the dirty work and lead them to the mysterious staff of legend.

Oh, and the planet is getting horny! (But more on that later.)


So the Decepticons track down the Autobots and they fight. Hey, it’s what they do. Marky Mark has inherited an amulet from a crash-landed ‘old’ Transformer back during the kids being naughty in the forbidden area sequence. Megatron wants this thing too. So fighting and chasing ensues. (This adds to a nice little joke when Marky Mark is asked if he (SPOILER!!! BEING THE LAST KNIGHT) is chaste. Okay – so I laughed at it.)

Then there’s polo. And I don’t mean Marco. Enter the British Megan Fox – smart and beautiful and very late for work.  She hangs out, in her spare time, at her mother’s house where a bunch of old ladies sit around, drink and play cards. All the while they taunt Brit-Fox for not having a boyfriend.


Anthony Hopkins is in this flick too. The narrator who actually shows up as an eccentric earl and the last surviving member of the Witwiccan order and has his robo-butler go fetch Marky Mark as well as ‘he likes the French accent’ Hot Rod (who, if you remember that great animated Transformers movie from when we were kids, became Rodimus Prime) round up Brit-Fox to have them round to the castle for tea and some long-winded exposition. We get to hear Hopkins say dude and dickhead in this movie, which are a couple of high points, and his robo-butler has some chuckle-worthy moments  adding, or should I say making the lofty expository scenes more epic with his mad skills on the pipe organ along with his choral-like singing ability.


But all this cannot forestall the impending doom that shall be visited upon the earth by an evil Transformeress who makes Prime her bitch as she nears the planet looking to tear humanity a new one.

Marky and Fox leave Hopkins to go break into the Prime Minister’s office while they dive down into the ocean’s depths to grab Merlin’s rod. Evil Optimus shows up, ruins everything, and is about to go all the way over to the dark side when Bumble Bee pulls a Silent Bob, bringing him back into the fold. Megatron is as horny as the Earth (SPOILER!!! We are really piggy-backing on Unicron) for the impending destruction that will occur when he hands over ‘the rod,’ which he has taken to the evil Transformeress.

It’s time for the BIG CLIMAX!


I thrilled at the notion of Hopkins versus Megatron – but it was momentary. At this point of the film the laughs sputter out, except when the think-tank boys decide they’re the ones who can conjure up a Hail Mary to save the world using the power of physics. But no, that’s a job for Prime and the Autobots; and that cool dragon Transformer-thing which you get a little of at both battle-bookends of the movie.

T5 is a grand, dopey comedy. I may have been the only one laughing in the theatre, but people today I find take this stuff  and themselves far too seriously. I suppose if you sit by the (Michael) bay long enough, you’ll start thinking this way. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and The Last Knight is funnier than what meets the eye…


As always, happy viewing.



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

Romance & Cigarettes: A Review by Nate Hill 

Romance And Cigarettes is the strangest musical you’ve never heard of. Strange as in awkward, because most of the songs are just too overdone and absurd to work, but I’ll concede that that very quality makes them unforgettable, if for not quite the same reasons the filmmakers intended. Going for a sort of pseudo Jersey Boys look, they set their cluster of stories in working class New York City, focusing on a number of hot blooded Italian American scamps and the mischief they get up to, all set to a raucous medley of musical numbers, some pleasant and others pretty darn tone deaf. James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a rowdy blue collar construction worker who finds himself between a rock and a hard place when his long suffering wife Kitty (an even rowdier Susan Sarandon) finds out about his secret mistress Tula (kinky Kate Winslet). This seems to be the last straw for Kitty as far as their marriage goes, and it all erupts into a series of volcanic confrontations and spats as only New Yorkers can spectacularly stage. In Kitty’s corner are her three handful daughter’s (Aida Turturro, Mary Louise Parker and adorable Mandy Moore) and her helpful Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken). Nick turns to a co worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), is scolded by his stern mother (Elaine Stritch) and receives advice from an ex military tough guy (Bobby Cannavle). The film sides with both parties for one long and often chaotic look at marriage, infedelity and extremely short tempers, peppered with songs that, like I said before, are hit and miss. Walken has the best bit (doesn’t he always?) when he gets to a rip roaring riff on Tom Jones’s ‘Delilah’ that jazzes up the film quite a bit. Not destined to go down in history as one of the best musicals ever made, but worth it for the spoofy fun had by the impressive cast. 

Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened: A Review by Nate Hill


Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened is an unfairly overlooked little Hollywood satire, a little less bombastic than his excellent Wag The Dog, but no less biting. It’s like Entourage on Zanax, a surprisingly laid back entry into an oeuvre that is usually foaming at the mouth with frenzy. Robert De Niro plays Ben, a very stressed out movie producer who is dealing with a zillion different things at once, most of which are going wrong. The character is based partly on real life Hollywood producer Art Linson, and his book. Ben has a lead actor (Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis) who refuses to shave his bushy beard for a film. Anyone who remembers the film The Edge with Alec Baldwin and how big his beard was in that, well, that’s where the idea came from. That’s just a taste of how many weird things that both Hollywood and his personal life toss at Ben. He’s also in post production on a Sean Penn film (Penn also plays himself) with a very stubborn and flamboyant director named Jeremy (Michael Wincott) who refuses to cut the film in accordance with the studio’s wishes (here manifested by an icy Catherine Keener). Ben’s daughter (a weepy Kristen Stewart) is going through personal crisis, he’s also got a bitter rivalry with an obnoxious writer (Stanley Tucci) and has to babysit an anxiety ridden agent (John Turturro). It’s all a lot for him to handle and we begin to see the turmoil start to boil under Ben’s cool exterior. The cast is beyond ridiculous, with additional work from Moon Bloodgood, Peter Jacobson, Lily Rabe and Robin Wright as Ben’s estranged wife. Standouts include Michael Wincott who is a comic gem and gives the film it’s life with his pissy, enraged and altogether charming performance. Willis is also priceless as he ruthlessly parodies himself to the hilt. It’s slight, it’s never too much and is probably a bit too laid back for its own good, but I had a lot of fun with it, and it’s always cool to see meta movies about the inner workings of Hollywood. 

John Dahl’s Rounders: A Review by Nate Hill


John Dahl’s Rounders is the premier poker movie, an utterly charming, never too serious and surprisingly slight look at the lives of several very different individuals whose lives revolve around the game in New York City. The main focus lands on two young men who are fast friends, yet reside on somewhat opposite sides of the responsibility coin. Poker prodigy Mike (Matt Damon) has since given up his art after a soul crushing loss to local russian bigwig Teddy KGB (John Malkovich). He’s content to simmer in solitude with his perky girlfriend (Gretchen Mol, who never fails to convince me that she’s Samantha Mathis until I double check on imdb). Right in time to disrupt his quiet life is cocky street rat Worm (Edward Norton), fresh out of prison and looking for the type of trouble that landed him there in the first place. It’s to long before he’s racked up some serious debt to dangerous people with ties to Teddy KGB, and Mike is forced to come out of retirement and risk everything he has once again, this time for his friend. The poker scenes are staged with meticulous eye for detail and mannerisms in attempt to put you at the same table as the players, and it’s nifty to see each acting style played to the microscopic hilt as Dahl maintains patient focus on his work. Norton is appropriately scuzzy with just a dollop of endearing, scrappy charm and Damon fills the protagonist’s shoes very well. It’s Malkovich, however, who pulls the stops out and is my favourite character of the piece. With a muddy russian accent that rivals his french one from Johnny English, a lazily snarky streak with just a hint of intimidation and a bag of oreos at his side without fail, he’s a hoot, holler and a half as the life of the poker party. Sexy Famke Janssen has as great bit as as shady chick with eyes for Damon and connections with dodgy folks, expertly playing the half sweet and seductive, half menacing game. Watch for topnotch work from John Turturro, Josh Pais, Michael Rispoli, Josh Mostel, Adam Lefevre, David Zayas, Goran Visjnic, Lenny Clarke and Martin Landau in an earnest turn as a kindly professor who looks out for Mike. It’s short, sweet, concisely paced, tightly written, flawlessly acted and wonderfully entertaining stuff.