Tag Archives: Keira Knightley

“By the look of you, you haven’t come to bob for apples.” : Remembering Sword of the Valiant with Stephen Weeks by Kent Hill

Stephen Weeks interview

“How the hell do I relieve myself in this tin suit?”

Sword of the Valiant might come across as just another Cannon curiosity, especially for the uninitiated. For the casual observer it may simply look like another film in which another director managed to con Connery into yet another pair of strange/fancy duds?

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But while Boorman managed to get Sean to into his Zardoz get-up, which for my money is more so in the strange/fancy category than SOTV, the film in total is both an elegant and joyful rendition of the days of Arthurian legend from my guest in this interview, Stephen Weeks.

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Yes before Connery got to be the king himself in First Knight, before Clive Owen and way before Charlie Hunnam – in days of old, when knights were bold, there was the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which as I discovered, is not the film I know it to be. Turns out I’ve no seen it in all its glory…

Working with Cannon was by no means a cakewalk, as Stephen shall tell you. And the subsequent release of the picture was grossly mishandled. Thus, the world has really not experienced this movie as the filmmaker’s intended, and that was one of many intriguing tales proffered me by the eloquent Mr. Weeks.

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This was not his first rodeo, having made a version of the film some years earlier, Stephen saw this as an opportunity to expanded his canvas. Unfortunately for him and what no one knew, or knew well enough, at the time, was the grimy underbelly of the behemoth at the top which sat Golan and Globus.

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Despite these trappings, and now knowing what I know, I still love the movie and feel privileged to have been gifted an audience with its director, who not only informed and enlightened, but also entertained.

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Stephen Weeks is an impressive filmmaker and now is an accomplished author (please see the link to his work below). As a fan of his work and SOTV in particular, I enjoyed and hope you too shall enjoy, this little trip back into the mists of time – to a fantasy world, and a fantastic film…

 

 

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Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is so good it almost gives the first one a run for it’s money in terms of visual effects, imagination, swash and buckle. It does have it’s issues with letting some of the action set pieces run on literally forever (that rolling windmill sword fight tho) until you seriously start to question the limits of cardio in those involved, but director Gore Verbinski has always been an advocate for cheeky excess, so who can complain. In preparing a sequel to Black Pearl, they no doubt had a daunting task in equaling, and if possible outdoing the sheer bliss that came before, and they kind of succeeded and then some. Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann and a whole circus sideshow of others are propelled on a dazzling adventure that spans past the isle of Tortuga, beyond the waters of Port Royal and to the far ends of the Caribbean, not to mention amping up the supernatural aspects of the first to dizzying heights. In Captain Barbossa’s absence (well, almost;), they also had to find a villain to match his adorable theatrics, and Bill Nighy’s moody Davy Jones, a hentai tentacled tyrant cursed by the ocean’s magic, doomed to sail the baroque galleon The Flying Dutchman forever, fits the bill. His crew are a gnarly, barnacled bunch of miscreants adorned in enough wicked cool marine biology and detailed special effects to get an Oscar nomination, which they did. Other new character additions include mopey Stellan Skarsgard’s bedraggled Bootstrap Bill, Naomie Harris’s spooky voodoo babe Tia Dalma, as well as familiar faces like Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), who gets a lot more to do here than twiddle the stick up his ass as he does in the first one, Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce), Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally, deadpan as ever) and the whole motley crew. Depp takes what made Sparrow so charismatic and weird in Black Pearl and soars over the rainbow with it, he really and truly carries these films with his presence and it may just be the best characters created by him. A worthy sequel, kickass adventure and one for the books.

-Nate Hill

John Maybury’s The Jacket


The Jacket is a curiosity of a film, and didn’t stand out for many critics when it came out, but for some reason it’s stayed in my thoughts for years since and has become one of my favourites, of any genre. Moody, cold, desolate and sketchy, it’s an at once alienating and life affirming piece that puts you front and centre with the kind of crushing loneliness one must feel when the mind becomes broken, and then wraps us in a comfort blanket with the notion that forces unknown to us, and some not so mysterious (human contact is touched upon), one might extricate themselves to a better situation. Adrien Brody is confusion incarnate as haunted gulf war vet Jack Starks, a gaunt silhouette of a soul who suffered a head wound, the neurological fallout of which has left gaps in his perception of reality and a jagged sense of cohesion. Shipped off to a nightmare of a mental facility run by Kris Kristofferson, whose character almost certainly shouldn’t be left in the care of troubled minds as his idea of treatment consists of pumping patients full of untested pharmaceuticals and shunting them into a morgue drawer. This is where, by unexplained phenomena, Jack is able to bounce forward in time from his drab 1999 timeline over to a slightly less drab 2007, where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), a girl who might have ties to his past. The film sounds high concept, almost Sci Fi, but the way it’s composed is anything but. The supernatural elements are shown frankly and never overblown, gilding the psyche of the characters in a more internal, psychological fashion, especially when Brody is in that drawer and all manner of bizarre subconscious phantasms dance before his vision, before he’s whisked off to the future. All the characters but one are listless, withdrawn and somber, from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sympathetic, forlorn doctor (she’s terrific here) to Kristofferson, who provides grizzle and a welcome depth where other actors would have gone the straight up Dr. Frankenstein cop-out route. Daniel Craig is the one live-wire who breaks the mold, and I enjoy his early career work before he calcified into the stoic 007 template. He’s a treat here as a rambunctious fellow patient and spirit guide to Starks. Appearances from Brad Renfro, Kelly Lynch and Stephen MacKintosh are notable as well. There’s a despondent, bleak blanket over much of the film, a coldness brought through in broad strokes by director John Maybury, whose distinct European approach to filming (multiple extreme closeups, subtle voiceover, trippy experimental effects) helps the mood really soak in. There’s a contrast at work too though, amidst the film’s themes of loneliness and unrest there shines through a deep emotional warmth, a reassuring grasp on the reins from Brody’s character to seize back a life that was taken from him, and wake up from his nightmare, with help from those around him. A willingness to keep going, to change the course of one’s life when it swerves off track, explored quietly, underplayed in harmony with the seeping discomfort hidden in many of the frames. Part Hollywood thriller, romance, art house flick and psychological horror show, there’s just no other film like it. 

-Nate Hill

London Boulevard 


Pains me to say this, but London Boulevard is a whole lot of nothing. Like, a disgraceful amount of nothing when you step back and look at the talent involved. I read a review on IMDb saying that “every element of this film is so right, but how did it end up so wrong?”.. Sad to say, I couldn’t agree more. This is one unfocused, meandering, royal catastrophe. Where does the blame lay? Who can say, really.. I don’t want to lay it on the director, even though his only other feature, Mojave, was pretty dismal, but he’ll find his groove. The cast is capable and willing, none of them totally phoning it in. No, I feel like it’s the script, a botch job of a story consisting of scenes mired in a never-ending doldrum where nothing ever really goes anywhere and the characters get caught up in the purgatorial nonsense of it all. Colin Farrell is a tough guy who is hired to act as pseudo-bodyguard to a reclusive, neurotic film star (Keira Knightley), after which all sorts of freak occurrences and oddball Brit-bag characters get in the way. He’s got a wayward sister to protect (Anna Adriel), a volatile partner in petty crime (Ben Chaplin) a nosy DI on his trail (Eddie Marsan) and all these chess pieces converge upon the arrival of London’s most fearsome crime boss (Ray Winstone), who has a bag of bones to pick with Farrell for a number of different and equally muddled reasons. Winstone tries to pull him back into the game with vague homoerotic intimidation, Knightley wistfully wallows in depression with her druggie friend (David Thewlis, looking like he forgot to read the script) and hides from paparazzos, the story clumps along missing every beat and wasting a decent score as well as some stylish flourishes on events that no one seems to care about, least of all the audience. Perhaps that’s why Farrell scowls his way through the whole thing, and not in a smouldering, potent way either, more like a confused, begrudging participant in a pointless exercise. They really should have gotten their shit together a little more with a cast and budget like this, found a better script and given us something worth seeing. Instead we’re given the cinematic equivalent of a pocket of lint, promising on the outside before we look in, ripe with potential but filled with nothing remotely worthwhile once we look inside. Shame. 

-Nate Hill

10TH ANNIVERSAY REVIEW OF TONY SCOTT’S MASTERPIECE DOMINO — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Without question or hesitation, I can firmly state that Domino is my absolute favorite Tony Scott film, the one I keep coming back to the most, and at 10 years old, I feel it’s time that this insanely undervalued pièce de résistance from one of our ultimate modern auteurs got the critical attention and audience credit that it truly deserved. Ahead of its time yet also fabulously au courant when the film was unleashed upon cinemas in 2005, Domino is a smashing entertainment, the perfect synthesis of Scott’s gritty yet slick, highly aggressive style that he developed in the 80’s and 90’s with The Hunger, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, and The Fan, which then led to a decidedly expressionistic (and at times impressionistic) aesthetic in the mid to late 2000’s, with such works as Man on Fire, Beat the Devil, Agent Orange, Déjà Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and his final film, the hard-charging and incredibly entertaining Unstoppable, pushing his trademark visual flourishes to the absolute extreme. Sandwiched in between were his two “silver-blue sheen” political thrillers Enemy of the State and Spy Game, with the former sort of predicting our post 9/11 world climate, and the latter commenting on it in real-time. But for me, Domino is the *Toniest* Tony Scott film that the iconic filmmaker ever crafted.

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Easily one of the most misunderstood, sadly maligned films of the last decade, Domino is due to gain a much-deserved cult following. It bombed at the box office, and with the exception of a few sharp critics (Ebert, Dargis, Strauss), people really attacked Scott over this distinctly personal and hyperactive piece of purposefully heightened cinema. And make no mistake, like an effort by Picasso, Domino is a work of collage-inspired art, maybe the first piece of true cubist-cinema ever crafted, leading a super-charged group with the likes of Running Scared by Wayne Kramer, Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces and Stretch, Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘em Up, and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs.The World, all of which feel spiritually and stylistically connected to Scott’s over the top yet highly artistic sensibilities. Simply put, Domino is one of the most visually elaborate and sophisticated movies ever created, and all of these efforts feel birthed from the seismic contribution that Oliver Stone’s breakneck masterwork Natural Born Killers brought to the forefront in 1994, with its unrelenting sense of visual dynamism, outlandish humor, graphic violence, experimental tone and structure, and an emphasis on constant forward momentum. It’s also more important to note that Scott went on record as saying that Domino was his most favorite film that he ever directed; at the end of the day, he got the movie made the way he wanted to make it, and that says a lot in our current bean-counting movie climate.

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I know that this is Scott’s most divisive, most critically savaged film. Many people hate it. Some people, like me, consider it to be the apex of Scott’s razzle-dazzle career as a storyteller and stylist, with a wild cast of characters (Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Mo’Nique, Christopher Walken, Dabney Coleman, Delroy Lindo and many others) who all throw themselves into the filmmaking process with gusto and unending enthusiasm for the lurid material. The film is a slightly insane, pseudo-biopic of infamous bounty hunter Domino Harvey (the fantastic Knightley) that exists primarily as a showcase for Scott’s obsession with style and form and, as per usual, a heartfelt narrative. What makes Domino work as a whole is that the story is as unhinged as the style, always complimenting each other, always doing this crazy cinematic dance. Also, many people forget that much of the film takes place through a cloud of mescaline, and most of the third act incorporates a hallucinogenic-trip aspect to the proceedings. And then there’s Domino herself – a wild, rebellious British model turned bounty hunter who wanted only to march to the beat of her own drum. The real Domino Harvey did in fact lead a crazy life, but it probably wasn’t as over the top as Richard Kelly’s crisscrossing and zigzagging script, which was based on a story co-created by The Last Seduction scribe Steve Barancik. The filmmakers make it clear upfront that they’ve taken liberties with the facts – there’s even a graphic that reads: “Based on a true story…sort of.” What I love most about Domino is how frenetic and in your face the filmmaking is, and how incredibly intricate the plotting becomes by the finale. Scott’s hyperventilating and exhilarating style would mean diddly-squat if it wasn’t in service to an exciting plot with characters you like and stakes that are high. Knightley shredded her good-girl image with her balls-out performance as the titular heroine; from the lap-dance scene to breaking Brian Austin Green’s nose to busting out the double machine guns during the finale, she grabbed the role and ran with it. Mickey Rourke’s recent career resurgence really began here, with a gruff and stern performance as Domino’s boss. And Edgar Ramirez, who would later blaze up the screen in the epic five hour terrorist biopic Carlos, busted out in a big way as Domino’s volatile partner, Choco, and the love story that develops between them is as soft and tender as the rest of the film is jagged and primal.

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Many complained that Scott’s directorial tricks and kinetic editing patterns were a major problem in Domino. To those individuals I say: Go home and watch Driving Miss Daisy. First off, lest anyone forget, the film is framed through the P.O.V. of a main character who is tripping on mind-altering substances – that should be the first sign to the viewer that the film is going to be a bit off-kilter. Kelly’s labyrinthine yet still coherent screenplay is a marvel of ingenuity, character construction, and dense plotting with a couple of his customary satiric zingers thrown in for good measure. Daniel Mindel’s super-saturated, kaleidoscopic cinematography bleeds with intense color as the images jump off the screen, assaulting and overwhelming the viewer’s senses – it’s a hot-blooded cinegasm of technique, designed to get you off. Repeatedly. And when you take into consideration that Kelly’s off-the-wall but still rooted in reality screenplay frequently shoots off in various directions at any given point, always carrying the potential to spin wildly out of control, you have to applaud the zeal of all the people behind this crazy undertaking. Strip away all the pyrotechnics and the nonlinear structure and you’re left with a rather simple story of love, deceit, revenge, and emotional and physical catharsis. And let me tell you – if you don’t find it cinematically satisfying when Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez are speeding down that elevator shaft in the Stratosphere hotel while the penthouse level is exploding from an I.E.D., well, I’m not sure what to tell you!

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There are just so many glorious sights that this movie has to offer: The epic opening credit sequence which needs to be played at full volume blast, Christopher Walken stealing scenes as a lunatic reality TV producer with a serious “font issue,” Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green destroying their 90210 celebrity personas in hilarious cameos, Tom Waits as a tripped-out roamer of the desert with some poetic and interesting notions regarding fate, Knightley giving a bra and panty lap dance to a gang member in order to get her crew out of trouble – this movie never stops chugging and churning, throwing stuff at the audience, egging them on for a visceral response. The Jerry Springer interlude with the unveiling of the “mixed-race flow chart” is still a pisser for the ages, and overall, the bizarre nature of the narrative can never really be pinned down, which is a huge part of the fun factor. This was Tony Scot unleashed, the moment where you felt Scott put ALL OF HIMSELF into making a movie. It’s that rare, expensive, personal project that only gets funded by private investors who then let the filmmaker do whatever it is that they want. Domino is Tony Scott’s undying love letter to cinema as a whole and stands as his immortal masterpiece. As Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said in her glowing review of the film: “It’s all the Tony Scott you could want in a Tony Scott movie.” Damn straight.