Tag Archives: JT Walsh

Stephen King’s Misery

It took me a while to finally catch up with Stephen King’s Misery (as adapted by Rob Reiner) but what spectacularly unsettling horror film, mostly thanks to an almost unbearably intense Kathy Bates. I can picture King during the writing process of this book waking up in a cold clammy sweat from a trauma induced nightmare about some psycho stalker fan (I’m sure he’s had a few), feverishly grabbing pen and paper from his nightstand and scribbling off another chapter. Reiner & Co. capture the cold dread, deafening isolation and mounting hopelessness of the story wonderfully, as unlucky hotshot novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) finds himself injured, stranded and finally ‘rescued’ by super-fan Annie Wilkes (Bates), rushed off to her remote snowy cabin and nursed back to health.. and then some. The great thing about Bates’ performance is she doesn’t make Annie a complete outright monster, there are momentary flashes of something resembling humanity, albeit of a lonely, bitter, misshapen kind. She takes the maniacal behaviour to extreme heights by starting on a slow burn that has us *slightly* on edge and gradually turning the dial up to a deafening roar of obsessive behaviour, delusional fantasies and homicidal volatility. It’s a wicked sharp, playful, very somehow simultaneously in control and unhinged piece of acting, while Caan, in a difficult role, is bed ridden as he bears witness to and takes the full brunt of her tempestuous meltdown. The chilly winter setting is a huge plus, my cup of tea atmosphere indeed and the beautiful snowed in locations make for a splendid visual feast. We spend most of our time with Caan and Bates yet there is a curated supporting cast of memorable folks including Lauren Bacall, Frances Sternhagen, Reiner himself, the late great Richard Farnsworth as a charismatic local Sheriff and the also late great J.T. Walsh as the county’s most inept state trooper. I feel like King took the masochistic route here and heavily projected himself into the role of Paul, the trapped artist forced to plonk out new work on an aggressive timeline not of his own delineation. What trials and hardships is he trying to wrestle out of his mind by telling this story? The crushing doom of a publishing deadline? The vacuous, soul-eating doldrums of writer’s block? The no doubt nerve-wracking, paranoia laced burden of dealing with a fanbase of oddball horror nuts? Who can say. But this feels like a personal story for him, and it’s certainly a very well told, acted and produced film full of deeply shocking moments, icy tension and an antagonist for the ages served up by Bates who, to quote herself, is one ‘cockadoodie’ chick. Great film.

-Nate Hill

John Dahl’s Red Rock West

Ever drive past a dusty one horse town on the edge of some forgotten interstate in the middle of nowhere and wonder what kind of crazy shit the shady locals get up to with too much time on their hands? So does John Dahl and his terrific neo-noir/Western hybrid Red Rock West is a diabolical good time at the movies. It’s one of those deliciously twisted narratives where everyone is out to kill each other, they all are angling for the Money McGuffin buried somewhere out there (in this case a graveyard) and everyone is a deeeitful, sociopathic piece of work. This differs from other such similar noirs out there because Nicolas Cage’s forlorn, weather beaten protagonist is a fundamentally decent guy, a righteous dude who has a terrible case of ‘wrong place wrong time’ syndrome. After meandering around looking for work to no avail he wanders into the town of Red Rock and more specifically into the local bar owned by Wayne (J.T. Walsh), a man who looks perpetually suspicious and nervous at the same time. Wayne has called in a contract killer from Dallas to murder his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) and inadvertently assumes that Cage is the guy before, you know, checking his ID or something but in a town that sees like one drifter or newcomer a year we can forgive his oversight. Cage becomes hopelessly embroiled with Wayne, his wife, the rest of the local police force and even the actual hitman who shows up a week late like a tornado in the form of Dennis Hopper, having a scene stealing blast in Frank Booth Lite mode. There’s double crosses, murders, hidden identities, shootouts, sexy seductions and all manner of naughty fun as only a noir can provide, given low key yet somehow terrifically pithy verve by Dahl and his wonderful quartet of actors who are all clearly having a party. Cage smoulders yet ultimately is a force of conscience and reason amongst such wanton bad behaviour, Boyle does the same slinky, sly sexpot thing she’s done in other hard boiled flicks, Walsh was just so damn good at playing contemptible scumbags and Hopper is off the chain as ‘Lyle from Dallas.’ I enjoyed how he and Cage are two of the many, many US veterans scattered to the wind following any given war, left to their own devices and somewhat abandoned by the system, and they both have tread very different paths that have somehow led them into each other’s orbit once more. Cage is decent, low profile and hard working, Hopper is a rowdy, morally bankrupt assassin and it’s quite fascinating to see the two clash royally. If you like your short, sweet and offbeat, this is the ticket, one of the most fun crime films the 90’s has to offer.

-Nate Hill