Tag Archives: Karel Roden

Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared

On the DVD DVD cover of Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, Pete Hammond of Maxim raves that it “makes Kill Bill look like Sesame Street.” That’s one way to put it. I’m sure he didn’t mean to blunt the edge of Tarantino’s film, he was just trying to articulate what a balls out, terrifying, kick-in-the-nuts experience this is. It’s one of the most brilliant pieces of crime filmmaking from recent years and one of my all time favourites, a dark, bloody urban fairytale that surges through a nocturnal ballad of explicit violence, mob war-games, monstrous characters and a performance from Paul Walker that has to be seen to be believed, and I mean that in the best way possible.

He plays Joey Gazelle here, a Jersey mob soldier who loses a very important gun left in his possession following a rigorous shootout with a gang of corrupt narcs who raided their drug deal. The kid next door (Cameron Bright) has snatched the pistol from his basement, used it to plug his heinously abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Roden) and disappeared into the night with it. This presents Joey and everyone else with no end of problems; if the surviving narcs, the Russian mafia or anyone else manage to get ahold of it, he and his colleagues are done for. It’s one of those hectic, delirious, ‘run all night through the city films’ where seemingly anything can, and does happen. It’s a mad dash through a town filled with freaks, monsters, corruption and the hum of barbaric nighttime activity. Poor Oleg, after stealing the gun, is launched from the frying pan into a city on fire with danger around every corner, the cops relentlessly on his tail headed up by Chazz Palminteri’s devilish Det. Rydell, plus both Joey and his wife Theresa (Vera Farmiga) looking for him too. Among the threatening figures he meets are a nasty, cartoonish pimp (David Warshofsky), feral crackheads, a sympathetic hooker (Idalis DeLeon) and two horrific child abusing kidnapper/murderers (Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell, forever in my head now as these characters) who are so messed up that the mid film sequence devoted to them is the ultimate barometer in discerning whether you can take what this film has to offer or wish to tap out of the chokehold it locks you in. One thing that’s always apparat: this isn’t just commotion flung at a wall, despite feeling that way some of the time. This is intricate, well spun storytelling that’s shot, edited and colour timed in ways that vividly bring all of this to life. One need only look as the unsettling, surreal animated credits to see that this isn’t just your average action crime film, but very well thought out, very specific and a piece that pushes the envelope to bring us something special.

Walker gives the best work of his sadly short career here, he’s energetic, in the moment and completely fired up to the edge of mania where he quite literally has to stop and take a breath at one point. Farmiga is the same, fearsome in the maternal instinct she has for Oleg, she reaches a level of scary when encountering the aforementioned pedophiles that will leave your adrenal glands in go mode. The film is chock full of outright dastardly motherfuckers, as if Kramer plumbed the depths of Hollywood hell for the worst of the worst villain stock in the stable, removed their leashes and muzzles and turned them loose in his film. Warshofsky is Joker material as the pimp, clad in an immaculate white suit and cheerful in threatening both women and children with a shiny switchblade. Johnny Messner is pure evil as Joey’s gangster boss Tommy, Arthur Nascarella channelling his inner Goodfellas as his dad and the Don of their operations. Roden is a sinister force of nature as Anzor, the nasty Russian stepfather with a meth habit and one unhealthy obsession with John Wayne, while Lord Of The Rings’s John Noble is impossibly sadistic as Ivan, head of the Russian syndicate. The women in the film are all an angelic and comforting presence, from Farmiga to the hooker (pay attention to the colour of her dress) to Ivana Milicivec as Oleg’s tragic mother, they serve as refuge from the night’s storm as best they can. It seems like I’ve described a lot here or spoiled some things but really I’ve only scratched the surface of this piece. It’s so fresh, potent and full of life that experiencing everything I’ve just laid out for yourself will feel absolutely new and invigorating, if daunting at the sheer titanic level of unpleasant human behaviour on display like a twisted circus trundling by, showcasing the dark underside of urban Americana.

Kramer has stated that he wanted to make the kind of gritty film you might have seen playing in the 70’s, and if anything he has fiercely committed to the adage ‘they don’t make ‘em like they used to.’ This film is unique in excess, style and atmosphere, from the assured yet riotous direction to the pitch perfect, profanity laced performances to the eerie, pulp infused score by Mark Isham. I don’t think people were quite ready for this film when it came out because it earned itself some very hostile reviews. I think that comes with the territory in a story this extreme, it’s just not going to be everyone’s thing, but many confuse personal taste with quality, and this is in no way a bad film but perhaps just ahead of its time. For me it’s already a classic, a film I’ve probably seen over thirty times since being awed and slightly scared speechless after the first round in theatres. I think I didn’t know what I was in for based on marketing, and the experience I got both humbled and terrified me at what is possible through visual storytelling. I think that’s one of the best effects a film can have on you. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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John Herzfeld’s 15 Minutes

John Herzfeld’s 15 Minutes is a mean, fucked up movie and I love it’s sketched out, darkly satirical edge, its a ruthless sendup of the media that plays like Network by way of Natural Born Killers. America is the land of opportunity, especially for those with sinister intentions, as two nasty Eastern European criminals (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) find out when they step off the boat in New York and almost immediately begin committing heinous acts of wanton violence and murder, filming it with a cheap camcorder and selling the footage to a tabloid news station run by sleazy anchorman Kelsey Grammar. Robert DeNiro angers it up as an alcoholic, loose cannon homicide cop on the trail of these two lunatics and chasing a bit of limelight for himself. It’s a hopped up, very stylized premise that gets the down n’ dirty, highly lurid treatment and doesn’t have much to put in a positive light, but as a farcical thriller it really works. DeNiro gets reasonable facetime and kills it but isn’t in the showcase arc you’d usually see, while Ed Burns plays an arson investigator (“you’re just a fireman with a badge”) who works alongside him. The real star here is Roden though as the chief baddie, a breakout performance as the worst kind of villain, one who isn’t necessarily after anything but just wants to fuck your shit up real bad for fun and then exploit the joke of a legal system and walk scott free. “I love America, nobody is responsible for what they do” he purrs at Burns, and there’s a stinging grain of truth to that. The cast is killer here with work from Vera Farmiga, Martha Plimpton, Melinda Kanakaredes, David Alan Grier, Anton Yelchin, Avery Brooks, Kim Cattrall, Paul Herman, Ritchie Coster and a cool cameo from Charlize Theron. Don’t expect much of an uplift or positive note anywhere here, it’s a thoroughly ill spirited, maladjusted story, but like the messed up crime scenes these two antagonists drum up simply for exposure, it’s kind of hard not to look away or enjoy yourself through pure morbid fascination alone.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: A Lonely Place To Die

You know when you’re on some wilderness trip, out of your element, and all these crazy, far flung ‘what if’ scenarios enter your head, but they never happen? In A Lonely Place To Die, one of them does, to hapless hiker Melissa George and her friends. Traversing the Scottish highlands, the group hears an eerie crying coming from a random ventilation pipe in a remote area, and unwisely digs below ground to investigate. Imprisoned in a seriously creepy bunker is a young Eastern European girl, alone and afraid. So begins their waking nightmare trying to find out where she came from, pursued by all kinds of nasties and forced to kill or be killed to protect her. There’s a horde of British thugs including resident creeper Sean Harris, a faction of powerful Russian spooks led by intense Karel Roden, and all manner of psychos adding to the hubbub. As a breathless chase thriller it works wonders, with more than a few impeccably stages set pieces that orchestrate suspense well. There’s violence too, as Melissa is forced to dispatch the heinous baddies in terrifically gory ways, and fighting tooth and nail to protect the girl. The plot moves in a familiar direction as far as her backstory goes and loses momentum in resolution, but they had to wrap it up logically I suppose. The film is best when it goes full on crazy, and gets into borderline horror mode, it’s got a loopy sense of violence about it that is the strongest quality.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Cat Run 


Cat Run is a useless, needlessly crass and unpleasant piece of pseudo euro-pulp garbage with not a redeeming factor in sight. It tries its best to do the whole assassin mad dash a-lá Smokin Aces and such, but there’s no heart, no discernible frequency to jive with and it ends up so thoroughly dead on arrival that you can feel the lack of pulse simply by watching a hastily cut trailer. The story is a glossy parade of silenced pistols, broad characterizations and graphic genre prototypes that offers nothing fresh, beginning with a murder scandal involving a scumbag politician (Christopher ‘Shooter McGavin’ McDonald) and a high class escort (Paz Vega). This causes subsequent fallout and bloodshed as all kinds of freaks and lowlifes come crawling out of the woodwork. They include two moronic would-be businessmen (Eurotrip’s Scott Mechlowicz and Alphonso McCauley), a mysterious oddball (DJ Hughley) an Eastern European mobster nutjob (always cool to see Karel Rosen) and Helen Bingham, a ferocious assassin played by British thesp Janet McTeer. They’ve made her character excessively, ridiculously arch and violent, hovering so far over the top she flies into orbit. The thing about these low rent, hard boiled, high octane ensemble capers is that you have to have a balance, a flow of all energies involved that stays streamlined and congruent. Smokin Aces had that (its sequel ran on an empty tank, but that’s another story), as a good example of the recipe done right. This one just feels aloof and awkward, nothing to say and no amount of high style to distract us from the lack of proper story. It amazes me that they churned out a sequel this year, which I’ll be avoiding, I think. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Last Drop


Before The Monuments Men, there was a dopey little WWII art heist flick called The Last Drop. Alright, it’s a tenuous connection but they’re centred around the same idea: what better time for a heist than the fog of war? Well, chaos is indeed the name of the game with this scrappy, obviously low budget barrel of fun, both in terms of setting and the film itself. The cast is the main draw, as is always the case with B movies.. without a few names, some veteran charisma, pieces like this would just be bereft of any value. Well they got Michael Madsen, because every movie needs a Michael Madsen, getting more screen-time than usual here as an American military honcho on the hunt for some priceless works of art that have gone missing from Berlin. It’s pretty much just a European wartime Rat Race, with various factions scrambling to find the loot and not get killed along the way. A platoon of Brits blunders across Holland, led by Sean Pertwee and including Tommy ‘Chibs’ Flanagan, Nick Moran, Rafe Spall, Alexander Skarsgard and more. A volatile German double agent (intense Karel Roden) pursues them all. Oh yeah, and Billy Zane calmly and deliberately poses for the camera as a Yankee operative with a fetish for wistful wartime romance, being as weird as Zane ever was. It all doesn’t make a ton of sense or add up to anything much at all, but it’s B movie bliss, and honestly I’d willingly watch this cast install drywall for ninety minutes, so one can’t complain about a silly little war flick that’s a bit rough around the edges. Good times. 

-Nate Hill

Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Guillermo Del Toro’s two Hellboy films are a wildly different pair, both incredible thrill rides and well worth anyone’s time, but I think I will always prefer the first. With the second he took the Pan’s Labyrinth approach, presenting a fairy tale world and showcasing makeup effects that were very similar to that film, an esoteric and elemental vibe. There’s just something about the Lovecraftian, steam punk WWII aesthetic of the first that works better for me, and seems to fit our red pigmented protagonist a little more. These films would be nothing without the essential and hard won casting of Ron Perlman, though. He brings a lively vitality, hulking physicality (he fits the part even before the prosthetics go on) and loveable sarcasm, and when you see him in action there is really no other actor you could envision bringing this character to life. It’s laughable to think that Del Toro fought the studio for years to get Ron in the role, turning down the likes of Vin Diesel and Nic Cage (what in the actual fuck were they thinking), not compromising for a second, knowing the film he wanted to make. Well, Ron got cast in the end, as we now know, and he’s not so much playing Hellboy, he just is Hellboy, he’s that perfect for the role. When he’s backed up by Del Toro’s near godlike creativity and imagination (the two partner on projects frequently and it’s genius every time), you get a piece of comic book escapism as exciting and adventurous as this. Hellboy was the result of a nazi experiment gone wrong, in which certifiable nut job Grigori Rasputin (freaky deaky Karel Roden) and his minions open a portal to a dark universe, in attempt to summon forth anything that could turn the tides of war (not the brightest idea, if you ask me), and instead out crawls infant Hellboy, a cranky crimson imp with a big stone appendage and an attitude to match. Kindly professor Trevor Broom (John Hurt) raises the creature to be a force of good and protection for our world, and soon enough he grows into eight foot tall, wise ass, cigar chomping, ass kicking Ron Perlman, now a valuable and formidable asset to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, an order who strives to keep the darkness at bay. Joined by his on and off flame Liz Sherman (pun intended, as she’s literally a firestarter), Professor Broom, rookie agent Meyers (Rupert Evans) and humanoid swamp thing Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones, dubbed out with David Hyde Pierce), he sets out to shield New York, the planet and the universe from Rasputin, who has returned with notions of finishing the cataclysmic work he started decades ago. The action is propulsive and rousing, initially in NYC streets and subway tunnels, and then in a far off arctic locale where a gateway to some dark dimension opens once more and a suspiciously Cthlhu esque deity of destruction peers out. Del Toro has stated before that he prefers to think of his work as ‘eye protein’ rather than eye candy. Well, call it what you will, his films are nothing short of dazzling on all levels, and Hellboy is no exception. There’s visual splendour in every frame, from the painstaking costumes, makeup and props (Perlman has a great big gun for that great big hand), to the production design and seamless computer wizardry, the world we see onscreen is immersive and entertaining for the entire journey. Roden makes a frothing madman out of Rasputin, always nailing the villain when he shows up, and stopping said show here with his theatrical and baroque insanity. My favourite has to be Kroenen though, a sharply dressed, mute nazi assassin with a face only a mother could love and a set of knives you’d be foolish to get in the way of. He’s an inspired and truly creepy villain that sets the apocalyptic dial on the highest setting when he shows up. Jeffrey Tambor provides additional comic relief as the long suffering suit who serves as the face of PR for the bureau, and props to Brian Steele as Sammael, a seriously pissed off demon set loose by Rasputin in the city streets, leading to one blockbuster of an action sequence. As far as comic book films go, this is a gold standard of filmmaking, world building and good old fashioned storytelling, all of which Del Toro is a master at. It wouldn’t have been the same without him, without Perlman and especially without the magic that happens when they work together. 

The Bourne Supremacy: A Review by Nate Hill

  

It’s nearly impossible for me to pick a favourite from the original Bourne trilogy, but I suppose if you held a gun to my head I would have to go for the breathless, breakneck Bourne Supremacy. It’s the first one I ever saw and one of the very first big summer movie experiences of my youth, so I have a burning nostalgia. I wouldn’t base my decision solely on that, though. No, I’ve thought a lot about it, and Supremacy just has every element in pitch perfect place, every second of pacing hurtling by on full throttle and Matt Damon taking names like he never did before. I love the fact that Bourne has something driving him other than a need to know who and what he is this time around. He has revenge for the death of someone he loved, which is never something you want to provoke when you have someone like him gunning for you. Life is quiet for Jason and Marie (Franka Potente 😍) for about five seconds at the beginning of the film, until a highly skilled assassin (a capable, relentless Karl Urban) explodes into their lives, sends their jeep careening off a bridge, resulting in Marie’s death. This pisses Jason off and then some, prompting a global excursion to find out who Urban works for and take them down. Also on his trail is CIA bigwig Pamela Landy (Joan Allen, excellent) and the severely morally misguided Ward Abbott (Brian Cox takes slimy to a whole new level in this outing). There’s also scheming Russian oil magnate Gretkov (a relaxed Karel Roden) with his own reasons for wanting Bourne. As is always the case, Jason is the smartest guy in the room, more so even than those that trained him, and he out thinks, out shoots and outruns them all every step of the way that takes him nearer to his goal. He isn’t simply running scared and confused with no outlet or idea how to use his talents anymore. He’s a lethal asset with emotion and forethought on his side, and he takes no prisoners. Damon is just ridiculously badass, especially in the several furious hand to hand combat scenes he dances through, doling out the smackdown faster than anyone’s reflexes can react. There’s also a humanity to him, burgeoning regret when he learns what Treadstone made him do, and the yearning to set it right, or at least make himself known to the daughter (Oksana Akinshina) of a Russian couple he once murdered. People complain about all the shaky cam, but whatever man, it sure fires up an action sequence and places you right there amid the mayhem of a rattling jeep chase through a Berlin tunnel, a bone splintering man to man with an ex Treadstone operative (Marton Csokas) and more. Julia Stiles is terrifically intense as a girl who used to do the psych evaluations for agents, Chris Cooper briefly returns as Conklin, the devious founder of the program, and watch for Tomas Arana, Corey Johnson, Gabriel Mann and Michelle Monaghan too. Like I said it’s a tricky task to pick a favourite, and on any given day I’d just say I love all three equally. This one just has a bit of an edge on the others in certain spots, and never feels like it bears the curse of the middle chapter. It’s a tightly wound coil of a film that springs into kinetic motion with the force of a piston. I’m curious to see how the new Bourne flick does, but I doubt it’ll come close to the first three, let alone this platinum classic. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review.