What if there was an alien organism out there whose evolutionary process unfolded at about a thousand times faster rate then ours? What if it crash landed on earth and began said process amidst our carefully balanced infrastructure and caused a modicum of pandemonium? Couple that juicy premise with the gooey Ghostbusters sensibility of Ivan Reitman and the X Files vibe that David Duchovny carries and you’ve got Evolution, one hell of a fun film. This raucous SciFi comedy didn’t make much of a critical splash and sort off faded into obscurity but it’s tough for me to see why as I had a fucking blast with it, starting with the oddly balanced comedic quartet of Duchovny and Orlando Jones (in a role that sounds like it was written for Will Smith, how cool would that have been) as college scientists, Julianne Moore as a CDC guru and Seann William ‘Stifler’ Scott as a hapless wannabe fireman. This alien species grows at a scary rate and contains the kind of arbitrarily morphing biodiversity you might find in a Super Mario game. While they kind of seem benign and don’t really have an aggressive or conquering mentality beyond their base evolutionary nature, it still seems like they need to be eradicated on the simple ‘us vs. them’ clause. An asshole military general (Ted Levine) and the blustery, stressed out governor (Dan Akroyd dressed to the nines and stealing the show) have their own ideas but they’re in over their overqualified heads and it’s up to our four heroes to figure something out. This is an escapist comedy that doesn’t take its premise too seriously but rather wants to showcase some lovingly crafted 80’s era practical effects and a few scrappy early 2000’s CGI ones too. It’s got a playful Men In Black mentality that I felt right at home in, and knows how to have a great time. My favourite scene is when four scared housewives open the pantry to find a slug/dog/platypus/seal looking thing and one of them responds dead seriously with: “When did you get a dog??” It’s that kind of lunacy that spurs this into a truly inspired piece. That and all the ooey gooey aliens running around being chased by a shotgun wielding Agent Mulder & Co. Good times.
The Forgotten is a well wrought twilight zone type thriller that does indeed seem to be forgotten these days, or at least not held in high regard when I go back and look at reviews upon release. Julianne Moore stars as a mother who is suddenly told one day that her young son never existed, and all traces of him seem to have vanished. Then her husband (Anthony Edwards) seems to forget they were ever married. She searches desperately for any clues that would help prove that the life she had was once real, and she’s lead to the father of her son’s former friend (Dominic West), who can’t remember his daughter and seems to never have had one. It’s a terrifying premise when you consider both the helplessness she feels in the situation and implications of some supreme higher power that is playing sick games with people’s lives for… whatever reason. This is apparent when a mysterious man (Linus Roache) begins following her and her psychiatrist (Gary Sinise) seems to subtly know more than he lets on. Moore and West are terrific as two desperate parents whose love for their children proves a force to be reckoned with against whatever is out there manipulating their realities. Whatever it is, the film wisely remains very vague about exactly what’s going on and who is behind the curtain, relegating any explanation to a few very well placed jump scares that will rattle your shit up and some half whispered dialogue that’s cut short by aforementioned scares in order to keep the mystery intact. There’s a chilly, subdued vibe to both the performances and atmosphere, always as if someone or something out there is watching the whole thing. Nothing benchmark or crazy in terms of thrillers but a solid entry into the supernatural mystery box. Recommended.
What motifs, when implemented well, make for an effective thriller? The wrongly accused man whom no one believes, the dogged pursuer who engages in ruthless indifference, the chaotic statewide manhunt, the methodical quest to clear one’s name, the righteous anger when the time for confrontation arrives. The Fugitive employs all of these and more almost effortlessly, and is as close to a perfect thriller as I can think of. It’s not just that the film is so exciting every step of the way, not just that the stunts are pulled off flawlessly or that every cog in the story’s mechanism turns believably, its simply that Harrison Ford plays Dr. Richard Kimble as so relatable, so likeable and engaging that all the stuff I mentioned before, whether or not executed well, actually matters. The lynchpin scene that hooks us in occurs early on when a dipshit Chicago police detective (Ron Dean, who would go on to get shot in the face by Harvey Dent later in his career) bluntly interrogates Kimble after his wife is found murdered. Ford plays it it straight up, his raw reaction at being accused of something so unthinkable sears the screen, and as he pounds the table and pleads with them to “find this man”, we are immediately and unconditionally on his side, a lot to pull off in one scene but Ford is up to it and this may be his best performance ever. After that it’s a careening adrenaline rush of a chase film as the prison bus Kimble is on is hit by a speeding train, one of the finest pieces of blow-shit-up staging I’ve ever seen, propelling the man on a relentless ditch effort to find the mysterious one armed man who actually killed his wife (a far too short lived Sela Ward) and exact retribution. Tommy Lee Jones is a walking stick of C4 as US Marshal Sam Gerard, it isn’t so much his job to track down Kimble as it is his compulsion, the man is a calculating force of nature. Although put in Kimble’s path as the obstacle, the script treats him and his team with respect and intelligence, they’re not just mindless drones to keep plot and action sailing but fully formed human beings who start to unravel the mystery right alongside the good doctor. The film hurtles along from stunt to crash to chase to brutal fistfight and these sequences have since become iconic, especially that fiery sonic boom of a crash and the legendary standoff between Ford and Jones set in a storm drain leading off of a raging river dam hundreds of feet below. Everything just works in this film; Ford supplies charisma, subtle humour and inspires empathy all while kicking serious ass and evading capture in ways that would make Jason Bourne jealous, Jones chews scenery in the best way possible and is every bit the worthy adversary and eventual sympathizer, while Jeroen Krabbe, L. Scott Caldwell, Daniel Roebuck, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Tom Wood, Richard Rhiele, Nick Searcy and Jane Lynch all provide excellent work. Julianne Moore shows up in what appears at first to be a cameo as a suspicious nurse, but she was originally written in for a larger role as a new love interest for Kimble. The film cut her scenes and abandoned this subplot, a very wise move as it would have cheapened his arc and gone the cliche route. Simply put, this is a classic and a textbook example of the magic possible in the action/adventure/thriller genres. Brilliant.
Freedomland is a dark, strange drama about events spiraling out of control following the disappearance of a young boy, the distraught nature of his mother (Julianne Moore) and the subsequent search that takes two detectives (Samuel L. Jackson and William Forsythe) into a heated black community and the surrounding wilderness nearby. Moore’s character is a notoriously unstable woman and not the most reliable mother, her story just doesn’t seem to add up, especially when she claims she saw a black man take off with her car with her kid in it. Jackson’s charismatic cop knows the community well and does his best to ease mounting racial tension, while Moore is a basket case who can barely function, and the whole thing feels sort of meandering and purgatorial until a third act revelation that puts an entirely new spin on the film but also kind of thematically negates everything that came before. Is is a slightly political interpersonal drama? Somewhat. Is it a twisty abduction thriller? Not really me, but I feel like it wants to be. Is it a character study of a broken woman? Could have been with more development. It’s an odd mix that doesn’t really gel with much that it tries except when it focuses on Moore, who is fascinating damaged goods, but again more time should have been spent cultivating that angle. Jackson is fine in his authoritarian mediator role, normally boisterous Forsythe is pretty laid back as the trusty sidekick, Edie Falco plays a concerned activist looking to help out and Ron Eldard is terrific as Moore’s brother, an emotional firebrand who calls her right out on her ongoing bullshit. This film tries to be more than it ultimately ends up being, if that at all makes sense. Elements are in place for it to be great and some of them do in fact work, but the script needed some tweaks, especially in how the bulk of the film and the conflict there relate to and clash with that twist ending, which needed to be revealed way sooner to set up a moving, provocative final act. Not terrible for the effort that was made.
Lee Tamahori’s Next is an ironically titled piece of garbage, because in working my way through Nicolas Cage’s minefield of a post-90’s career, all I wanted to do was yell “next!” and shut this one off. Next in line is actually Ghost Rider, which is like going from the frying pan into the fire, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose. I’m all for a trashy Cage flick now and again, even enjoying some of his more lambasted outings but this one really takes the cake. Adorned in a greasy mop-mullet, he plays a low rent Vegas magician here who actually does possess a bit of the ol’ clairvoyance, which comes in handy when Ice Queen FBI Agent Julianne Moore wants to recruit him for the bureau’s x files department to stop terrorism before it even happens, particularly an attack on Vegas expected soon. It’s a thin setup and he spends most of his time hitting on truck-stop waitress Jessica Biel, who is at least half his age. That’s another thing with the latter half of his career, this old grandpa Cage keeps getting casted with these babes who are young enough to be his daughter, and man it feels weeeiirrddd. (Two films starring as Eva Mandes’s boyfriend! Two!). I know the guy’s a superstar but believability is strained when you realize none of these chicks would actually do that if these flicks were real life. Anywho, the terrorist plot here is a lazily written thing, the baddie literally called Mr. Smith, played by Thomas Kretschmann, too great of an actor to always be stuck in these half ass styrofoam villain roles. Cage uses a mode of telepathic foresight to investigate, a gimmick that plays around with time and reality but lacks any modicum of coherence and just becomes super duper confusing to the plot. This one is all glitter and razzle dazzle up front, but there’s nothing under the hood to back up the hollow roar of it’s somewhat promising premise that gets trod upon by sloppy filmmaking and an overall sense of tackiness. Next!
This time round I really had no plan, and I find that makes for the best interviews, cause, man, it can go anywhere. I love his unfiltered take on the epicenter of the film industry, his encounters with certain movie town luminaries, his hilarious CliffsNotes on the status of the latest cinema fodder, and his seeds of wisdom when we’re talking shop.
From possible titles for Meatloaf’s next album to O.J. Simpson, to the best idea I’ve ever heard for a reality TV series, Matt and I don’t just shoot the breeze, we gleefully fire and Uzi into the clear blue sky and I hope you’ll delight, as I do, with what hits the ground.
So for luck, for laughs, for the unknown, join us now, me and my mate Matt as we sit down again. And don’t worry – we also talk about movies…
The third Hannibal Lecter film is an unorthodox and strange beast. It doesn’t quite live up to the previous two films, MANHUNTER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, on the whole; yet it feels like a natural cinematic progression that does the film franchise justice, yet falls short of the powerful impression the novel left.
The film is handicapped before it even leaves the gate with the recasting of Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling. The recasting really isn’t that catastrophic due to Scott’s ability to minimize Starling’s impact on the story and refocus the narrative on the title character and Gary Oldman’s grotesque and obscene performance as Mason Verger, a character so complex he quickly goes from victim to antagonist.
Over the course of the film, it’s an almost exhilarating journey watching Hopkins reprise his seminal role in a way that feels fresh, even though Hopkins has since worn his welcome out in that role. It’s a different Lecter, a reborn Lecter who has been living a new life, leaving his past behind him; or so he tries.
The transgressive nature of the film is a stark contrast to the soft aesthetic and alluring score, and beautiful Italian set pieces. The depravity the film slowly and softly sinks and is startling if you are paying attention. The homoeroticism between Oldman and Hopkins in a flashback, the feeding of the wild hogs, and the infamous Ray Liotta dinner scene are all prime examples of how subversive and disgusting the film can get.
While the ending of the film is a drastic change from the brilliant ending of Thomas Harris’ novel, it’s a sensible and cinematic ending, even though it runs the risk of not saying much, which almost hinders the film as a whole. The film isn’t great, and can feel worn out around some of its edges, but when it’s good, it is really good.
Many of us get so wrapped up in the legacy of Silence Of The Lambs that we sometimes forget just how great Ridley Scott’s Hannibal is. Lambs is a wicked clinical shocker, full of psychopathic deviance and razor suspense, but Hannibal is just as good, instead coming from a place of lush, baroque opulence and velvet gilded carnage that overflows with style. They’re two very different films populated by the same characters, chief being Anthony Hopkins’ disturbed cannibalistic serial killing psychiatrist. Lecter has settled down in Italy when we find him, where one foolish police detective (Giancarlo Giannini, terrific) thinks he can lure the good doctor into a trap. Big mistake, although his efforts do gain the attention of FBI Agent Clarice Starling once again, this time played with grit and grace by Julianne Moore. Lecter is fascinated, perhaps even attracted to Starling, and it’s a treat watching them play a complex game of European cat and mouse whilst other various characters dart in and out of the tale. Ray Liotta blunders into their path as Starling’s ill fated bureau handler, a loudmouth who… doesn’t quite… keep his head screwed on tight (yes I went there). Gary Oldman shows up too, although you’d never know it was him as he’s uncredited and slathered up under a metric tonne of Chernobyl waste prosthetic makeup, playing perverted millionaire Mason Verger, who has a bone to pick with Lecter and I mean that quite literally. Hopkins had aged some since Lambs and doesn’t have quite the same unsettling virile charisma he did there, but he’s lost none of the malevolence or cunning, showing once again what a manipulative monster Hannibal can be. This film is all style, and even the frequent graphic violence, although abhorrent, is done with all the flourish and hues of a renaissance painting. The horror is somehow numb as well, or relaxed would be a better term. Lambs was all in your face with jump scares and spine shuddering yuckyness, while here the horror is rich, deep and vibrant, terrifying yet oddly aesthetic. Goes without saying that this is the closest Lecter film, in terms of style, to NBC’s masterful tv version we’ve been blessed with today, and much inspiration was no doubt culled from this gem. Beautiful, harrowing stuff.
Lasse Hollstrom’s The Shipping News is two thirds of a great movie, but unfortunately has a first act which introduces it’s main character in the most heavy handed of ways, and sort of shoots itself in the foot. It helps that the rest of the film is lovely, but it takes some time to get the sour taste out of your mouth. Kevin Spacey is Quoyle, a meek milquetoast dude who has spent his entire life moping and whining, constantly being walked all over and never standing up for himself, starting right from his childhood relationship with his father (Jim ‘sippy poo’ Lahey, the glorious bastard). He’s so pathetic and such a loser that one wonders where can you go from here, and why did Spacey choose to start his arc at such a sad extreme, instead of livening it up a bit? By chance (and I mean chance) he marries Petal ( half mad Cate Blanchett), a wayward woman-child with barely an ounce of sanity or sensibility in her, and has a daughter with her. She runs off to a tragic self inflicted end, and he is left to raise the girl. Suddenly he receives news that a relative has passed in a small coastal fishing village his ancestral home of Newfoundland, so he packs it in and the two of them head on out there to begin anew. From there it’s an awakening for him, and bit by bit his character becomes believable and tolerable, two traits that were simply not there up until this point. He meets a long lost relative (a salty Judi Dench), befriends a local gal (Julianne Moore), starts working for the gruff local newspaper magnate (Scott Glenn, wonderful) and essentially finds a self within him that he never had before, a life to fill the pointless void he’s lived in for his whole existence so far. The town is charming, the atmosphere authentic and the acting terrific, including Rhys Ifans and the late great Pete Postlethwaite. I just wish the first act could have measured up to the rest and not stuck out like such a misplaced and noticeable sore thumb. Hallstrom has an ear for intimate, rural set family drama (check out An Unfinished Life with Robert Redford fpr his best work), and for the most part, this one delivers the goods.
Prophetic. Speculative. Provocative. Chilling. Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men is one of the best films of my lifetime, a totally immersive experience where ideas and action coexist in an effort to tell a deeply human and thoroughly harrowing story of mankind’s last hope for survival. Clive Owen was fantastic in the leading role of a lifetime, while the supporting cast including a stony Michael Caine, a mysterious Julianne Moore, the shifty Chiwetel Ejiofor, the slimy Danny Huston, and the scene-stealing Peter Mullan all get a chance to shine. The blunt, forceful, incredibly streamlined screenplay (by four credited writers) is all forward narrative momentum, while Cuarón and cinematographer of the century Emmanuel Lubezki plunge the viewer into the middle of any number of violent spectacles, including large scale military battled, close-quarters combat, and vehicular mayhem, all shot with a constantly roving camera that’s prone to some very, very long and elaborate sequences without any noticeable edits. The film is a technical knock-out, a marvel on a story level, and it’s a total embarrassment that one of the most ambitious and challenging action pictures ever made wasn’t given any Academy recognition. Cuarón would later get his trophy for his spectacular thrill-ride direction on Gravity, and while that film is certainly accomplished in ways that very few other movies have ever been, Children of Men is an absolute all-timer, and a reminder that big, bold ideas can still intermingle with overwhelmingly visceral action.