Tanya Wexler’s Jolt

Kate Beckinsale is, quite literally, electrifying in Jolt, a new bubblegum pop action flick from Amazon prime that is already being written off as empty popcorn fluff when it’s so much more fun than that. Yes it is action popcorn entertainment, but Kate’s performance, the writing, character quirks, purply-neon visual dynamics and wry, dark sense of humour totally won me over. There’s a million and one “tough girl assassin with vague superpowers“ movies out there but this one does the shtick with actual talent, sass and good old fashioned storytelling, kinda like if Joe Carnahan did a Luc Besson. Kate plays Lindy, a girl who has suffered from what’s called “intermittent explosive disorder” (it’s a real thing, I looked it up) since she was a child, a condition that causes her to involuntarily burst out in angry, violent episodes which, when coupled with her off the charts cortisol levels and overactive adrenal glands, make her very powerful and very dangerous. She controls this, with a bit of help from Stanley Tucci’s underworld doctor, by deliberately juicing up her nervous system with a jolt of electricity from a handheld control device wired to implants inside her. Does this work, you may wonder? Kinda, sorta, not really… I mean what fun would the film be if we didn’t get to see her lose her shit and beat the absolute piss out of people? The trouble starts when she finally meets a guy she likes (Jai Courtney) and of course he’s murdered under shady circumstances. This puts her on a one woman crusade across NYC to find the ones responsible with two oddball detectives on her trail, a sympathetic one (Bobby Cannavale) and a hard-nosed, unforgiving one (Laverne Cox, a genuine scene stealer). Lindy’s journey is a vigorous, colourful, violent, profane, unexpected odyssey that takes her to nightclubs, fight-clubs, clandestine skyscrapers, a hospital maternity ward where a game of ‘catch the baby’ ensues (don’t ask) and she comes up against all sorts of weirdos including Filch from Harry Potter as some sort of creepy rare animal collecting mob emperor and an unnerving Susan Sarandon as a shadowy figure from her own past come back to haunt her. While this narrative itself has patches that are a tad overplayed and the eventual ‘twist’ struck me as a bit bothersome, what the film has is energy, wit, enthusiasm and pizazz for days. It’s stylish, propulsive, visually gorgeous and peppered with delicious bits of dark, eccentric humour here and there. What’s more, it proves once again that Kate Beckinsale is an absolute diamond of an actress and a natural born star, whether it’s in Underworld, something dramatic like David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels, Van Helsing or even the shitty Total Recall remake that she was the only good part of, the woman just has charisma and talent like no other. She tears into the role of Lindy here with punishing physicality, sardonically droll deadpan attitude and, most importantly, a genuine sense of humanity and character kept aglow amidst all the action and flair. The film sets itself up for a sequel; I say bring it on.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Blood Wars

It’s rare to have your favourite entry in a franchise be the fifth sequel, but here we are. Underworld: Blood Wars is most likely the most imaginative effort in the franchise and does a few key things that the others don’t, which I’ll get to in a minute. As expected, the tireless war between vampires rages ever on, as aristocratic vamp elder Thomas (Charles Dance) waffles about on a proper battle plan while mutinous underlings grow restless in his ranks. On the Lycan side of things, new and more organized warlord Marius (Tobias Menzies) rallies the Wolf clans for an attack that poses real threat. Meanwhile Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is perpetually exiled from both races, existing on the fringes where she searches for the daughter she never new she had until Thomas begrudgingly asks for her help in the impending wars. It’s strictly politics and expository setup until the story really kicks off, which is when it becomes one for the books. The action, gore and choreography is wonderful as ever here but what really makes it stand out and what might be my favourite sequence of the whole franchise is Selenes breathtaking journey to the Arctic to request shelter with a mysterious coven of Nordic snow vampires. How cool is that??!! The whole franchise we have this his buttoned down, black leather bureaucrat baroque vampire aesthetic with muted colours and droll performances and suddenly theres this blast of inspiration in the mythology and we are treated to new facets of lore we feel Ike we already know so well. The Nordic clan have an ethereal elvish aura to them with very elemental costumes and an ice castle hideout that has an airy, artsy look to it, there’s just nothing else like them anywhere else in the franchise and I *loved* the creative choices made here. Additionally, Selene goes through quite an intense hurdle here battling Marius and at one point, without spoiling too much, she undergoes a sort of Gandalf The White visual transformation and character arc here complete with a fur adorned outfit, wintery white hair highlights and an epic Deus Ex Machina third act mix drop moment that had me cheering. There’s also genuine pathos in her quest to find her daughter, an emotional resonance that isn’t often found in this film, so often full of sound, fury, blood, bullets and fur. Breathtaking film.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Awakening

Underworld: Awakening picks up the relative slack of Revolution and rejoins Selene’s story once again after the rousing medieval diversion of Rise Of The Lycans and is one of the strongest, most action packed and exciting entries so far. This one is cool because it goes for a shocking and ambitious premise: the human population on earth have somehow found out about the vampire and Lycan races and it’s caused all kinds of chaos. A human CDC kingpin (Stephen Rea) concocts a shady plan full of tainted vaccines, inter species psuedo genetic modification and various hidden agendas that poses a real threat to both sides while Kate Beckinsale’s Selene, who never seems to get a moments rest, wakes up from some kind of cryo-sleep in Rea’s spooky lab and must fight her way out, figure out his sinister plan and protect the daughter (India Eisley) she never knew she had from all these nefarious forces. There is a fucking tremendous amount of action in this one, nearly wall to wall and it just might have some of the most impressive set pieces, or at least the most satisfying for me as a fan. Rea is no stranger to the vampire/werewolf genres, he’s done vicious turns for Neil Jordan in both Interview With The Vampire and The Company Of Wolves. He makes a formidable enemy for Selene here and gets to chew scenes in that kind of super low key, almost laidback but still menacing way he’s perfected as an actor. Also in his employ is a strange Lycan super-breed who becomes the size of a literal tank when he transforms, so there are numerous incredibly badass sequences of her fighting this gigantic tank-sized werewolf that are so much brutal fun. She also finds herself at the bottom of an elevator shaft at one point with the speeding elevator in free fall headed right for her. Being the franchise that this is, she simply empties countless rounds from her guns into its incoming floor until it’s perforated with bullet holes and she can literally punch right through it. So. Fucken. Cool. Once again this franchise is not gonna be everyone’s thing and even for those who liked the first, these might get a bit repetitive but this world, action, effects, atmosphere and overall aesthetic is just so up my dark alley I could literally never get tired of them, and this was one of my favourites so far.

-Nate Hill

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels

David Gordon Green’s Snow Angels is a film that asks the viewer to accept hard truths: that any given human being is capable of maliciousness, compassion, mistakes, volatility, naïveté and the desire to do better within the same lifetime. It presents to us an ensemble of small town characters at penultimate crossroads of their lives where decisions will be made that cannot be unmade, and may shape both their futures and our perceptions of character but we must remember… they’re only human. Resisting the urge to use any sort of filmmaking gimmickry, Green forges a blunt, unforgiving yet unusually honest portrait of these people: Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale give heartbreaking, career best performances as hopelessly dysfunctional divorced parents who lose their way both as a unit and as individuals following the tragic death of their infant daughter. This event spirals out around them into the community as we see murder, adultery, budding teen romance and all manner of human interaction transpire. Rockwell is a careening time bomb of emotional immaturity, a man who loves his ex wife and loved his daughter dearly but cannot reconcile his own mental health issues and his performance implodes upon itself like a dying star in a work of art that has never seen this actor more vulnerable and raw. Beckinsale ditches her glossy, restrained pretty girl image for a character that it’s easy to dismiss as unlikeable and irresponsible until you see the depth and dimension she pours into the performance, and it’s not so easy to pass judgment or condemn. Others provide vivid impressions including Griffin Dunne, Amy Sedaris, Nicky Katt, Jeannetta Arnette and Tom Noonan who bookends the film in haunting profundity as a no nonsense high school band teacher who seems almost like a godlike force or deity watching over the souls of this small northwestern town. The single uplifting plot thread is a teen romance between Olivia Thirlby and Michael Angarano, who flirt adorably, fall for each other awkwardly and discover sex, conversation and each other’s company in a realistic, down to earth and warm-hearted way, it’s a cathartic oasis of love and light amidst the dark onslaught of this overall bleak snowstorm of a narrative. What makes all of this tragedy, pain and sorrow so palatable then, you may ask? Green is a terrifically intuitive director who gets genuinely believable performances from his actors, full of naturalistic dialogue, believable idiosyncrasies and a sense that nobody in this story is simply good, simply bad or there to serve one archetype, they are all flawed human beings capable of the deepest acts of love, caring and compassion or the most callous, nightmarish violence, neglect and abuse. There’s a scene where a mother comforts her teen son who has made a traumatizing discovery and she tells him how important it is not to keep that pain bottled up, but to feel through it and it’s one of many strikingly intimate, uncommonly intelligent scenes in a film that is a meticulously edited and shot carousel of human experience. The tag line read: “Some will fly, some will fall,” and it’s applicable to our our experience as human beings overall: life is not easy for everyone, mistakes are made, love is found and lost and the cycle continues. A lot can be learned, felt, internalized and reflected upon after watching this miracle of a film.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Evolution

Kate Beckinsale roars back into action with Underworld: Evolution, a sequel that, like many follow ups, isn’t as structured or fresh as the first but still manages to be every inch as stylish, baroque and gorgeous looking as the other few in the series I’ve seen (I am making my way through a Blu Ray box set of all five films in their extended cut glory). The action takes up right where it left off; outcast warrior Selene (Beckinsale) has killed vamp elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) and ran off into the night with her halfbreed lover Michael (Scott Speedman) with monstrous final boss Marcus in hot pursuit. This provides one of the entire franchise’s most jaw dropping, visually dynamic action sequences as they careen down Vancouver’s Sea To Sky highway against a muted overcast sky in a big rig semi truck. Now Marcus (Tony Curran under a metric ton of makeup) is one of those snazzy Spawn-esque vamps who can fly and has extra razor sharp limbs and cool bodily accessories to help him fight, so basically he’s flying alongside them at a crazy speed attacking the truck while Selene empties clip after clip into his face from her semiautomatics before ploughing right into the Britannia Mine tunnels, it’s just an exhilarating, incredibly well shot action sequence and the highlight of the film. Also I’m a bit tired of American studios filming here and then trying to pass off my beautiful home province as some place in the states or wherever so from now on I’m just going to refer to any film shot in Vancouver as being set here as well. Anyways, this is a solid entry that benefits from Marcus as a formidable, physically ruthless villain and continues the ongoing trend of seasoned British stage actors cast as vampire elders, Derek Jacobi stepping in here for a mostly absent Bill Nighy. Not my favourite of the series that I’ve seen so far, but a solid entry with memorable set pieces including a snowy medieval prologue that sets the tone for Rise Of The Lycans, an impressive climax set atop a ruined mountain castle complete with hovering helicopters and that Sea To Sky truck chase is just one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Hidden Gems: Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum aka Eliza Graves

Ever heard the expression ‘inmates running the asylum?’ Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum has, and quite literally spins a terrifically gothic horror yarn for the ages around it, packed with stars, ideas, twists, beautiful scenery and a wistful aesthetic reminiscent of old Hammer horror stuff. Now if the premise sounds like a final act twist let me assure you I haven’t spoiled anything that the trailers don’t cheerfully announce early on. This film is so bonkers it starts at level ten madness and only ratchets the lever up from there. But don’t get the idea that this is a raving madhouse without story or subtlety either, for all its wanton spectacle there are well drawn human beings with something to say behind these walls.

Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Jim Sturgess stars as an apprentice Alienist shipped off to the austere Stonehearst Asylum in rural Britain (actually stunning Bulgarian countryside) to learn the trade. Once there he discovers that the facility’s real staff have been overthrown by the patients in a violent revolution and now a cunning madman (Ben Kingsley doing a sly riff on his Shutter Island character) is impersonating the actual superintendent (an icy Michael Caine) and calling the shots. This is apparent right off the bat since the place seems to have no security protocol in place and oddballs of all shape and size cavort freely about the manor. One patient who doesn’t seem to be a hopeless basket case though is the mysterious Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a girl with a shady past and secrets up her sleeve.

Director Anderson is an unsung horror thriller maestro with an incredibly solid track record including The Machinist, Session 9, The Call, Vanishing On 7th Street and now this which is a proper old school horror flick like you don’t really see anymore. This is a film that throws in subplots simply to have them there, amps up simple set pieces until they are unnecessarily but wonderfully cacophonous and is just overall in love with storytelling. The cast are all clearly having the time of their lives especially Kingsley who injects some genuine pathos into a role that could come across as high camp in someone else’s hands, exploring the notion of what would happen for real in this outlandish scenario. We also get familiar faces like Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Christopher Fulford, Sinead Cusack and others. Standouts include newcomer Sophie Kennedy Clarke as a scene stealing patient with a penchant for childlike melodrama and David ‘Professor Lupin’ Thewlis as a particularly scary homicidal resident. You’ve kind of gotta employ considerable suspension of disbelief here, this is a film where spectacle, atmosphere and incident dance over the graves of logic and continuity, but there’s a rich tale to be absorbed with many fine performances, gorgeous cinematography and a creaky gothic vibe. Highly recommended, you can find this streaming on Amazon Prime.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing

Who loves the Hugh Jackman Van Helsing flick? I know plenty who hate on it pretty bad but they’re looking at it from too serious a perspective. This comes from Stephen Sommers, the same horror filmmaker to bring us stuff like The Mummy, Deep Rising, GI Joe and the 90’s Jungle Book with Cercei Lannister. This guy is in the industry to make films for fun and if you were expecting the subtlety and restraint of horrors like the source material he draws from well, jokes on you. His Helsing is a splendidly entertaining cornucopia of horror mythology given a juiced up boost of contemporary style and plenty of gothic, mist soaked atmosphere.

Jackman’s Van Helsing ditches the creaky old man archetype for something more virile and torqued up, careening around London like a steampunk Indiana Jones and sporting enough gnarly gadgetry to take on Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman in one film, which coincidentally he does. He’s sort of half sanctioned by the government but the London police force resents his far out methods, especially in a stunning opening romp as he chases Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (a scene stealing Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane) across rooftops and edifices like a supernatural parkour death match. Then it’s off to Transylvania to do battle with the big bad Vamp King himself, played to melodramatic, emo perfection by Richard Roxburgh. There’s a loose plot involving Dracula wanting to use Dr. Frankenstein’s corpse revitalizing technology to bring his unholy offspring to life, and as such his work poisons the land, pisses off the locals and prompts sexy monster hunter Kate Beckinsale to call for Helsing’s help. It’s an off the rails theme park ride of splatter effects, wild performances and extended chase sequences all over the land. Jackman makes a stalwart antihero, while Beckinsale looks amazing in leather and is surprisingly convincing as an Eastern European. David Wenham provides comic relief cast against type as Van’s trusty clergyman sidekick and the cast is rounded out by Shuler Hensley as The Monster, Elena Anaya, Will Kemp and Kevin J. O Connor as Igor in a cool black and white prologue that serves as the one sequence paying homage to these horror roots.

This was never going to be an awards season darling but it’s nowhere close to as bad as people say. Any film that has all three iconic monsters in it (plus quite a few others too) is going to have a lot to juggle and will just feel chaotic by default, but Sommers handles the pandemonium quite well and knows how to spin an absorbing popcorn yarn. There’s plenty of drop dead gorgeous landscape cinematography given the appropriately macabre touches, monsters running all about the place to give horror fanatics their fix and enough action to spawn a whole video game franchise. My favourite part is where Dracula’s babies finally hatch in spectacularly gooey fashion from Alien style eggs and start swarming the landscape like demonic infant bats. That sequence alone is worth the price of admission and showcases the kind of gung-ho, all or nothing spirit of horror adventure filmmaking offered here. Love this film.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor 


As much as it pains me to say it, I’m a die hard fan of Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour. It doesn’t pain me because of the backlash I get for praising it or anything, I could give a possum’s rectum what people think of my film taste, but the fact remains that I am well aware of how ridiculously dumb the love triangle at the centre of this film is, and yet I’m a sucker every time. Every other aspect of it is actually very well done, but it’s attempts to be a historical epic that uses a love story as its lynchpin are sorely misguided. Worse is the fact that I know all this to be true, yet I still get misty eyed as the heavy handed schoolyard fling between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale plays out, and further lunge for the Kleenex box as Josh Hartnett enters the picture to drive a Bruckheimer sized wedge between them. So what’s my problem, you ask? No clue, other than being a hopeless romantic whose brain flatlines at the first hint of a soppy sideshow. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s talk about the two things that make this film work really well: the deafening, thunderous recreation of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and the jaw dropping cast of actors on display here. All wildlife was cleared from the harbour area prior to filming, and legions of period authentic boats and planes were shipped in to make this one of the most ambitious cinematic versions of a siege ever assembled. When the ambush starts, we feel every percussive blast and fiery crash as the US army/navy forces are taken completely by surprise, foxholes and sadly decimated by a cunning Japanese armada. When the fog of the first wave clears, we see the carnage left in its wake and feel the sheer desperate urgency of nurses and medics as they race to collect and treat the wounded, a well staged yet heartbreaking sequence. Hans Zimmer gives it his all to accompany all of this too, my favourite strain called ‘Tennessee’ opening the film with a prologue involving young Affleck and Hartnett, with a moving cameo from William Fichtner. Speaking of the cast, it’s unbelievable, and I’ve always considered this to be the sister film to Black Hawk Down, purely for the amount of actors who appear in both. Alec Baldwin scores grit points as a salty veteran heading up the eventual counter attack, Cuba Gooding Jr. is most excellent as a navy cook turned war hero, Tom Sizemore kicks ass as a plane mechanic who grabs a shotgun when the shit gets heavy, Jennifer Garner, Jaime King and more show resilience and compassion as nurses who step up when needed most, Jon Voight is stubborn and stoic as Teddy Roosevelt himself, Dan Akroyd brings salty wit to a military analyst, Mako is noble and reluctant as the Japanese commander, Scott Wilson is quietly diligent as infamous General George C. Marshall, and the list just goes on with vivid work from Kim Coates, Ewen Bremmer, Leland Orser, Glenn Moreshower, William Lee Scott, Michael Shannon, Cary Tagawa, Matthew Davis, Colm Feore, Sean Gunn, Graham Beckel, Tomas Arana, Sung Kang, Eric Christian Olsen, Tony Curran and more. Say what you want about this one, many loathe it (just ask Trey Parker & Matt Stone), but there’s no denying its scope, ambition and technical undertaking. Also it just has an exquisite love story to rival that of Gone With The Wind and Titanic. Haaaa… just kidding. Or am I? 😉

-Nate Hill

Haunted: A Review by Nate Hill

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Haunted is an atmospheric, valiant yet frustratingly uneven ghost story effort, in the tradition of stuff like The Awakening and The Haunting. If the plot seems close to last year’s Crimson Peak, it’s because it is, and I’d bet that Del Toro had this forgotten entry in mind when he embarked on that journey. I say frustrating because there’s a certain few absolutely terrific moments of gothic horror that truly shiver your timbers, but they’re hopelessly mired in a mucky moor of a plot that unfortunately is not as effective as those key scenes. You David Ash is rough housing around wit his sister in the English countryside when she hits her head on a rock, and drowns in the pond below. He grows up soaked in guilt, dedicated to disproving the existence of paranormal phenomena. As an adult he’s played by Aiden Quinn, who is an average dude with slightly wild looking eyes who is always effective in the sense that he seeks out challenging, odd projects which test his everyday aura nicely. In the early 1900’s he is summoned back to rural Britain by an elderly woman (Anna Massey) who is convinced that she is surrounded by ghosts. He is greeted there by the luminous, attractive Christina (Kate Beckinsale), a friendly young thing with a distinct untrustworthy vibe and a penchant for getting creepy close with her two strange brothers (Anthony Andrews and Alex Lowe). She lives out there in isolation with them as well as their disturbed mother, and one gets the sense right off the bat that something is wonky. I suppose that’s the point though isn’t it? Beckinsale has carved a path of playing either somber, distraught women or tough, silent warrior chicks. This is the most animated work I’ve ever seen from her, and the most radiant she’s ever looked as well. It’s aslso to date the only nude scenes she’s ever put forth, and I don’t use the term lightly… she really bares it all here. The middle portion of the film meanders around with these characters, not revealing enough to push the plot forward enough, until the curtain  is whisked away jarringly in the third act, cementing it’s pacing issues for good. It’s a picturesque enough journey, I just wish we had something to latch onto besides that, some substance and a consistency in the creepiness factor to keep us invested. Alas. It’s got a spookily wonderful beginning, and an electric, full blooded ending, the only two instances where it shows true feeling and commitment. The rest is, well… stale. It’s worth a peek for a few reasons though, including Beckinsale’s solid performance and that one uber-scary scene in the opener.