Tag Archives: john turturro

Peter Weir’s Fearless

A plane falls out of the sky and crashes in a cornfield. Some of the passengers survive. Others do not. No one involved is ever the same after. Such is the premise of Peter Weir’s Fearless, a complicated, challenging, unconventional and altogether brilliant piece that goes a lot deeper than most Hollywood produced films are allowed to. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, a man who emerges serenely from the wreck having saved multiple lives and undergone a personal change that can’t be made clear in a scene or two, but rather takes the film it’s whole runtime to explore. While the entire plane is in full panic, Max reaches a sort of tranquility in the face of death, and instead of freaking out he very lucidly gets up and joins a young boy who’s alone on the flight and comforts him. When they land and he survives, his relationship to those around him is affected including his wife (Isabella Rossellini), young son, a trauma counsellor (John Turturro hired by the airline) and others. Most fascinating is the time spent with Carla (Rosie Perez) a fellow crash survivor whose newborn baby wasn’t so lucky, leaving her in a pit of grief. They share something together that no one, audience included, can fully understand because they weren’t there. The beauty of it is that Bridges and Perez can’t really know either, but the magic of both their performances is that they make you believe they’re in this extraordinary situation for real. Bridges never plays it with a messianic or mystical aura like some would, he’s always straight up and kindly which works wonders for this character. Perez is a revelation, soulful and heartbroken but never cloying or panhandling for our tears, she earns them fair and square. I’m not one too get too heated about Oscar snubs but it’s a crime she got beat out by Marisa Tomei that year for fluff like My Cousin Vinny. Peter Weir is a thoughtful director whose films are always high concept stories, but are also always character driven to provide that balance. He’s interested not in spectacle or sensationalism here but the difficult questions that others might gloss over or be too afraid to think about. There’s two scenes revolving around the crash, one of the aftermath and an extended one of the incident itself playing out that reach a level that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Not an easy film to classify or describe in a review, but the rare Hollywood picture that tackles concepts well above what we’re used to seeing. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Michael Bay’s Transformers

Because the Transformers franchise has become an unwieldy cloud of toxic waste over the years, most seem to have forgotten how enjoyable the first one was. Michael Bay gets an awful rap for these, and by all means he deserves any shade thrown his way for some of the sequels, but I’m still convinced they only got made to cash in on the massive Asian market, I’ve heard that stuff like this is huge over there. This first film is a little saner and a lot more focused though, with a sort of 90’s Amblin infused vibe crossed with big budget CGI disaster mayhem of our current era, which is par for the course in a film directed by Michael Bay, as are lens flares, a grossly backlit slow motion kissing scene, explosions, fetishistic attention to the details of military protocol, montages of various factions of Americana playing out and um…cameos from loud sassy African American actors. Based on the Hasbro toy of the same name as well as probably an animated show that came before it, Bay ramps up the scale, special effects, human characters and exposition to somewhat plausibly set the Autobots and Decepticons loose in our world, engaged in noisy warfare over the All Spark, a cube of untold power that looks not so distantly related to the Tesseract. Caught in the middle is Shia Lebeouf as Sam Witwicky, a nervous teen whose family history hides something related to the Tranformers mythology, naturally sending him and the obligatory super hot love interest (Megan Fox) on a wild goose chase of stuff blowing up. There’s also various military factions caught up in the squabble including intrepid soldiers Josh Dumahel, Amaury Nolasco and Tyrese Gibson, research scientists Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson, Jon Voight as the grave Secretary of defense, John Turturro in pure comic relief form as a hapless federal agent and uh… Bernie Mac too, as the world’s saltiest used car salesman. The Shia Lebeouf angle has a cool 90’s sort of Joe Dante vibe, right down to the presence of consummate 90’s dad Kevin Dunn, naturally playing Sam’s father. While it goes a little off the rails in a final battle that pretty much levels an entire city to the ground and numbs any sense of realism to a dull roar, there’s a lot of fun to be had with the film, especially in the special effects used to bring these mechanical goliaths to life. Bumblebee is always a fan favourite, Optimus Prime looks fantastic and Hugo Weaving brings the vicious Megatron to life nicely. Steve Jablonsky almost outdoes his score for Bay’s The Island here, giving a magisterial composition that’s large and loud enough to accompany the Transformers on their journey and fills the film with noise, as the does the Oscar nominated sound design. Like I said, the sequels have become an impossible wall of deafening, uncalled for noise in the years since and it’s a shame because this one gets tainted in people’s memory when it’s still a good time.

-Nate Hill

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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…

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As always, happy viewing.

THE DUDE IN THE AUDIENCE.

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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.