Tag Archives: Kelly McGillis

Peter Weir’s Witness

Witness is one of those films that in the hands of a less inspired director could have turned out to be pretty run of the mill thriller stuff, but they gave the script to Peter Weir, and he’s made a career out of films that could be called just about anything but run of the mill. This is essentially a fairly grounded tale of big city detective Harrison Ford undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who accidentally saw a cabal of corrupt cops murder someone in cold blood. It’s a fish out of water tale, it’s got budding romance, hot blooded action and even some comedy here and there. But there’s also this lyrical, esoteric atmosphere Weir brings to every project that really makes it something special. There’s a danger present in the Amish community, or rather the threat of such as seen in the long grass of the fields or sensed on the fringes of their village where the tree line looms. There’s a blessed calm as Ford learns the ways and customs of these folk and gets close with the daughter (Kelly McGillis) of one of their elders (Jan Rubes, a scene stealer) but alongside that there’s this restless, inexorable foreboding that these evil officers of the law could turn up at anytime and turn the calmness into a storm to follow. They eventually do, of course, and are played by the fearsome likes of Josef Sommer and Danny Glover, arriving like phantoms to herald a showdown of stealth and gun violence that is Western to its core but still stings with the grit of an urban cop flick. I love this film not so much for the story or script (both of which are just fine) but for the *feeling* it evokes, the ambience spun onscreen by Weir and composer Maurice Jarre, whose work here is ecstatically beautiful. There’s an extended sequence where we see the Amish folk building a barn and it’s a simple enough task, but something about the dutiful way Weir films it coupled with an almost grandiose passage of Jarre’s music makes it come alive in a way that not many scenes of its nature do in film. And always, lurking in the background, is the fear that danger is on its way, a sustained distillation of unease that helps to make this a gorgeous, effective thriller and all round great film.

-Nate Hill

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Jim Mickle’s Stake Land: A Review by Nate Hill 

Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is one of my favourite vampire films of the last twenty years, ousted only by 30 Days Of Night, but that one is tough to compete with in anyone’s book. The vampire movie and all it’s trimmings has been done to death a million times over, under every stylistic filter and narrative tweak you could imagine, so this one can’t really break too much new ground simply by default, but what it does do is show us a bleak, lived in and worn out world, a world that has been under attack from vampires for a long time, and as such is starting to fray at the seams. These aren’t quiet, regal, brooding vamps either, they’re quick, feral nasties who actually pose a threat and cause a lot of damage, as our young hero Martin (Connor Paolo)  finds out in an arresting opening sequence set in a farmhouse. Left without a family in a world he not ready for, he’s taken under the wing of gruff and rugged Mister (Nick Damici, also the brilliantly talented writer behind Mickle’s films), and the two set off on an increasingly tragic, Cormac Mccarthy esque trek across a broken world, finding lost souls and ravenous monsters at every turn. One thing that seems to escape many vampire films is an emotional core, something to latch onto amidst the cold and clinical happenings, but this one finds that in several key places, including the father son dynamic between Mister and Martin, as well as an encounter with a wounded pregnant girl (Danielle Harris in what is probably her best work so far). It’s sad, downbeat stuff though, without much hope or solace for anyone involved. Kelly McGillis of all people has a brief appearance you can keep your eyes peeled for. Grungy, desolate, tragic, extremely well made, touching and unique in the vampire subgenre. Highly recommended. 

TONY SCOTT’S TOP GUN — A 30TH ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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At this point in our culture, it’s nearly impossible to discuss Top Gun with any amount of clear-eyed objectivity. The film is a milestone for all of its key contributors, a pop culture touchstone for multiple generations of people, and an often imitated and parodied relic from a very specific time and place in cinematic history. For director Tony Scott, it was his early-career masterpiece, the film that announced an exciting new voice in commercial cinema while showcasing his slippery-slick yet still gritty visual aesthetic, which would come to dominate the action genre for decades. It’s also the film that got him out of director’s jail after the critical and box office failure of his artsy debut, The Hunger, which is now of course a premiere cult classic. For producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, it was the movie that truly solidified them as the uber-showmen of the 1980’s, with Flashdance and Beverly Hills Cop arriving before and Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Days of Thunder immediately following.

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As legend has it, Simpson and Bruckheimer were in their office, and an issue of California magazine was sitting on their desk, featuring a clean cut fighter pilot standing next to a jet. And with that evocative and elaborate “Nothing On Earth Comes Close” Saab commercial that Scott had made in the early 80’s continually turning heads (the one that showed a Saab 37 Viggen fighter jet going neck and neck with the Saab 900), it was clear that it would be a match made in heaven between the producers and their ace in the hole. And for star Tom Cruise, it was his first runaway blockbuster sensation, his first taste of global superstardom, and the film that made him a house-hold name. Top Gun is a product of its time in a way that so few films can claim to be, and over the years, has come to mean so many different things to so many different people, which is why it remains imminently watchable 30 years later.

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Released in the summer of 1986, Top Gun played on the still lingering fears of war with the Soviets, and carried a rah-rah, jingoistic spirit that seems laughable to some nowadays, but probably felt very honest at the time of release. It feels pointless to rehash the plot of Top Gun – anybody with a pulse has seen it and knows all about Maverick (Cruise, in all his perfect-grinning excellence) and Goose (Anthony Edwards, everyone’s best buddy) and Iceman and Jester and Charlie and the rest of the crew. The scenes on the ground carry an earnestness to them, playing off of melodrama (the mysterious death of Maverick’s father, himself a legendary pilot; workplace romance; the death of a best friend), but the film truly comes alive when it’s up in the sky, as Jeffrey Kimball’s gorgeous, smoky, 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen cinematography is still a lesson in mid-80’s perfection. Every single shot in this film is spectacular, whether the moment is big or small, with cool blues and sunset reds dominating the horizon. It can’t be understated how influential the look and feel of Top Gun would become for so many films and filmmakers to follow in the years, and whether or not this style is your favorite or not, it’s undeniably exciting on a visceral and stylistic level, with an emphasis on the balance of light, visual minutiae, and overall atmospheric texture. It’s commercial cinema without a shred of pretension, smartly focusing on the drama and action inherent to the story’s scope, and all balanced out by Harold Faltermeyer’s propulsive, oh-so-80’s musical score and the lightning quick editing patterns of Billy Weber and Chris Lebenzon. And when you add in the ridiculously quotable one-liners conjured up by co-screenwriters Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. (who knew that rubber dog shit originates from Hong Kong?) and the high-flying airborne camerawork which is still unmatched to this day, then it’s no wonder that the film plays every Sunday on TNT and has become one of the most influential and iconic movies ever made, with so many other movies attempting, and failing, to ape its success.

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On a thematic level, the film is all about machismo (a major theme in all of Scott’s work), and how men deal with expectations, loss, tragedy, acceptance, and success. Those classic scenes in the shower (or during a particular game of beach volleyball…) seem homoerotic in hindsight (and maybe they did upon first glance…), but what they’re really about is men trying to one up each other, trying to figure out how to best your opponent, and always remembering that there are no points for second place. To say that Top Gun is one of the most macho movies ever made would be understatement; you can practically smell the testosterone on the set. I’ve often wondered if PA’s were kept solely for the purpose of spraying down the actors with water in order to simulate excessive sweat, because everyone is glistening in this film. Top Gun also expertly understands male camaraderie and friendship, and how people are willing to go the extra step for those that they care about, both professionally and personally. Kelly McGillis and Meg Ryan were the objects of affection for Cruise and Edwards respectively, while the absurdly masculine supporting cast included Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Clarence Gilyard, Jr., Whip Hubley, James Tolkan(!), Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Duke Stroud, Tim Robbins, and Adrian Pasdar.

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Shot for a now hard to believe $15 million, Top Gun opened on roughly 1100 screens nationwide, grossing $8,193,052 on its opening weekend. The film would eventually gross $176 million in the U.S. and another $177 million overseas, truly cementing the Simpson-Bruckheimer brand after the similar worldwide gross two years previous from Beverly Hills Cop. Top Gun would also break every single VHS sales record, as it was one of the first movies made available to the public at the $20 price point. Scott would continue his legendary streak with the two producers in the following years with the equally huge Beverly Hills Cop 2, and then in 1990 with the summer hit Days of Thunder, which while not becoming the blockbuster some might have thought, is still a splendid piece of action moviemaking that was all accomplished with zero CGI and some of the greatest racing footage ever put on film. But Top Gun would be the film that all of the creative parties would become remembered for, what with its sleek visual design, tough guy banter, love story for the ladies, and the dynamic aerial combat footage that still pops off the screen to this day, especially when viewed in the Blu-ray format. In 2015, the United States Library of Congress added the film to their preservation vaults, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” And if you’re not a fan of Top Gun, then just remember, the plaque for the alternates is in the ladies’ room.

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