I’ve read lots of reviews that go ahead and dismiss Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall as just another schmaltzy post civil war melodrama like Hollywood used to do a lot in the golden age, and this film is certainly reinforced by and reminiscent of that aesthetic but to say it’s just hollow romantic fluff with good scenery is to miss out on real darkness, complex human characters and a deep, tragedy soaked narrative that is quite a bit more ruthless and unforgiving towards its characters than this type of gorgeous big budget historical piece usually is. The setting is Montana (filmed in Alberta though, because those Yanks can’t let our superior Canadian scenery speak for itself) sometime before the start of World War 1. Ex Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) lives a peaceful life on a sprawling ranch with his three sons, Tristan (Brad Pitt), Alfred (Aiden Quinn) and Samuel (Henry Thomas). The Colonel is a fiercely antiwar fellow having seen more than his fair share of combat and wishes to shield his sons from the horrors of war, but Samuel incites the other two with his idealistic nature and soon the trio is off to France to play in the trenches. This and the complex relationship the entire family has with Samuel’s fiancée Susannah (Julia Ormond) maps out a tangled web of malcontent, shifting romances and uneasy relationships as war, tragedy and crime make their mark on changing landscapes both physical and mental within this clan. Brad Pitt’s Tristan is the lynchpin of the story, an untamed halfbreed who has a good soul but seems to be a magnet for darkness and destruction, a nature that follows him no matter where he goes in the world, or who he loves. Quinn makes stately, resentful work of Alfred, Thomas is the baby-faced kid of the family who Tristan fiercely tries to protect in wartime scenes that depict harrowing, elemental carnage. Hopkins’ Ludlow has a warrior’s heart that has long since turned to peace with the wilderness and his family around him, until times get tough again. Ormond is quiet, dignified and heartbreaking as a girl who starts off the film having lost her own family and unfortunately is headed towards the same gauntlet with the Ludlows. The supporting cast is composed of excellent work from Tantoo Cardinal, Karina Lombard, Kenneth Welsh, Bill Dow, Gordon Tootisis, John Novak, Paul Desmond and Bart the Bear. I’ll listen to any arguments saying this movie is Hollywood melodrama and be in a modicum of agreement but that doesn’t make it bereft of substance, spirit or vitality. The characters are all immensely well drawn, starting with Hopkins’s patriarch who has seen what his former cavalry did to the indigenous tribes and has tried to purge that trauma from his being by spending the rest of his life being kind. Pitt’s Tristan is a supernova of the plains, the kind of character who makes an entrance followed by a literal flock of wild mustangs and it doesn’t even come across as silly because the film is so earnest. James Horner contributes a swelling orchestral score that is every bit as majestic as the jaw dropping cinematography and emotional as the narrative beats. Zwick did a small handful of these big sky, super emotional historical epics in his heyday including Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond, but this has to be my favourite. It’s such a potent, full blooded film and looks just spectacular on Blu Ray.
Reto Salimbeni’s One Way literally starts off one way and throws curve ball after left field turn after another until you really begin to appreciate a truly original script for once. Granted he produced his film in indie land where there’s considerably more creative freedom than the studio system but still, this is one unique film and I promise you it’s not the action thriller that the US market has tried to sell it as.
As the film opens, teenage Angelina is pursued and sexually assaulted by several boys alongside a riverbank. Suddenly a mysterious military general (the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan) appears out of nowhere and, after gaining her permission, positively ventilates them with a sub-machine gun. Jump cut to a decade or so later and we see hotshot advertising exec Eddie (Til Schweiger), married to the boss’s daughter (Stephanie Von Pfetten) but cheating on her every chance he gets with multiple women. Grown up Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith) works for the firm too, and they both get entangled up in a murder investigation involving the boss’s son (Sebastian Roberts), who is a sadistic rapist and very dangerous given his position of power.
I’ve done my best to somewhat describe the story so you have a vague idea of what this is all about but it’s tough to impart just how twisty and unexpected the thing gets, and that’s half the fun. Schweiger isn’t exactly an actor of dramatic heft, often appearing as stylized characters or posturing tough guys, but he does alright here as the sheepish philanderer who learns his lesson big time. Smith is fantastic as the most sympathetic character and the closest we come to a clear cut protagonist, dealing with the most tragic, yet ultimately heroic arc and nailing it beautifully. Duncan is the most striking character and is seen the least but always makes a huge impression, here in a small but incredibly key role. Watch for Art Hindle, Kenneth Welsh, Ned Bellamy and Eric Roberts in a brilliant extended cameo as a defense attorney who gets a few big dramatic moments of his own.
I can see why this film was tough to market as there is so much going on tonally, narratives weaving together at their own leisure and nothing really conventional about it at all. There’s corporate espionage, courtroom intrigue, emotional interpersonal drama and many more elements at play. Really though it’s about confronting your past, dealing with trauma particularly when it comes to sexual abuse and standing up to people who attack with impunity. Smith’s character takes front and center here, getting a gruesome revenge scene that rivals The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in it’s intensity. She has to face the horrors of her past full on here, whilst dealing with the legal problems Schweiger has thrown into the mix and it all makes for a unique, emotionally stirring and hypnotic hidden gem of a drama that I highly recommend.
I’ve reviewed The Art Of The Steal before, but it constantly kills me how underrated this banging heist comedy is, so here goes again. Imagine a wickedly funny, smartly written all star art thievery caper starring Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon and a host of others at the top of their game and you’ll have some idea. It’s strange that it’s so unheard of with this pedigree of actors involved, but it’s a joint Canadian production so that may have had an effect on marketing, or lack thereof. In any case, it’s the funniest, smartest heist flick since Ocean’s Eleven, and maybe tops it too. Russell is Crunch Calhoun, an Evel Kneval type ruffian who moonlights as a driver for a crew of fine art pilferers he leads. He’s hard up for cash and fresh out of a stretch in polish jail after his brother and second command Nicky (Matt Dillon, sleazy as ever) rats him out as a fall guy. Now back in Canada, he reluctantly agrees to work with brother dearest, as well as his old crew, for one last job, the theft of an obscure gospel manuscript. Their plan involves swerves, dekes, double-crosses, cons, conniving, hysterical fuck ups, roper dopes and double entendres, so much so that one marvels all that’s in this goody bag of a narrative can fit into a ninety minute film, a testament to both editing and direction. Crunch’s crew is is a roll call of varied talent, including twitchy rookie Jay Baruchel, wily old dog Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), Crunch’s sexy wife (Kathryn Winnick) and their flamboyant French forger (Chris Diamantopoulos). The real treat is Terence Stamp as a weary ex thief working with an Interpol snot-rag (Jason Jones) to lift time off his sentence. Stamp doesn’t show up too often in films these days but he’s comic gold here and has a surprisingly touching bit that brings a bit of reverence and gravity to the world of grand-theft-art amidst the mostly madcap tone. It’s sad that films like this don’t get a theatrical run anymore these days, because they end up on Netflix or wherever and the only way they get mass exposure is through word of mouth, chance or crazed cinephiliac zealots like me shamelessly plugging them on blogs. So go fucking watch it..now.
If you ever feel the need to define ‘tonally fucked” in the cinematic dictionary (if there was such a thing), you’d find a one sheet of The January Man, a warped, malignantly silly crime/comedy/thriller… something. It dabbles in wannabe screwball farce, serial killer mystery, breezy romance, high profile police procedural and as a result of it’s genre flim-flamming, has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be, and ends up a raging, tone deaf dumpster fire. It’s so all over the place that marketing churned out a bi-polar publicity package that at times seems like it’s advertising two completely different films. I used to see it on the shelf at blockbuster leering out at me like an eerie gothic murder mystery, Kevin Kline and Alan Rickman glowering evocatively off the dark hued cover. In reality it’s something just south of Clouseau, as Kline plays a bumbling, overzealous guru detective who scarcely has time amongst the silliness to hunt down a shave or change of clothes, let alone a murderer. Rickman? His odd, awkward artist friend who vaguely helps with the case but really isn’t necessary to any of the plot threads, and certainly appears nothing like his freaky persona does on the cover, suggestive of a villain. There’s another poster floating around on IMDb that is more honest about what’s in store, Kline perched like a loon in a brightly lit doorway while love interest Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio peers adorably around his shoulder in true benign comic fashion. The film wants to be both of those aesthetics and more though, wants to have it’s cake, eat it, regurgitate it against the wall and film that, which is at times what it seems like we’re looking at. The police force brings disgraced cop Kline back on the force to catch some killer, while everyone runs about tripping over their shoelaces. Harvey Keitel is Kline’s brother, now a police commissioner, Danny Aiello the precinct captain, Susan Sarandon Kline’s estranged wife, and so on. Rod Steiger causes a hubbub as the mayor, staging a terrifying meltdown in one scene that goes on for minutes, a curiously unedited, noisy tantrum that dismantles what little credibility and structure the film had to begin with and seems out of place, even by the barebones standards set here. This is a good one to watch if you yourself are making a film and want to see an example of what not to do in terms of deciding on and cementing a certain style, instead of carelessly chucking in every haphazard element on a whim like they did here. Equivalent to a grade school theatre play.
Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of those textbook disaster flicks where every recognizable element is in full swing: determined scientist, sure of his curveball theories that no one else buys, saddled with a dysfunctional family and a clock that’s quickly ticking down towards some looming cataclysm, in this case severely bat tempered weather. It’s cliche after cliche, but this is one of the ones that works, and I have a theory why. These days it seems like the formula for the disaster film is pretty dead, or at least doesn’t carry the same magic it did throughout the 90’s and early 00’s.
Stuff like San Andreas, 2012, Geostorm (shudder) just feel dead on arrival, and instead we go back and revisit things like Armageddon, Independence Day, and for me, ones like this. There’s a quality, a feel for time and place that got lost somewhere along the way as time passed in Hollywood, and this is one of the last few that serve as a milestone as to where that happened. The first half or so is cracking stuff, followed by a slightly underwhelming final act. Dennis Quaid is the scientist who gets all in a huff about an extreme weather front that’s apparently barrelling towards the east coast, threatening to give the whole region one wet day in the park. There’s an exaggerated halfwit Vice President (Kenneth Welsh) who scoffs at him, an excitable veteran professor (Bilbo Baggins) who eagerly supports him, and an estranged family right in the storm’s crosshairs who he must rescue. The special effects are neat when the maelstrom slams into New York like a battering ram, pushing over buildings with walls of water and chucking hurricanes all about the place. Quaid’s wife (Sela Ward) and wayward son (Jake Gyllenhaal) are of course stuck in this mess, as he races to find out what’s causing it, and how to escape. The initial scenes where it arrives are big screen magic, especially when Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend (Emmy Rossum) is chased down main street by a raging typhoon and barely scapes into a building, a breathless showcase moment for the film. The second half where the storm levels off isn’t as engaging, despite attempts to throw in extra excitement, such as wolves, which I still can’t quite figure out the origin of, despite watching the film a few times now. Holed up inside a library, it’s a long waiting game in the cold dark where the writing and character development is spread a bit thin for the time they have to kill, but what can you expect here. Should have thrown in a T Tex or some ice dragons to distract us from sparse scripting. Still, the film gets that initial buildup deliciously right, the nervous windup to all out chaos, the editing between different characters and where they are when the monsoon shows up, and enough panicky surviving to make us thankful for that cozy couch and home theatre system all the more. One of the last of the finest, in terms the genre.
Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller vs. home invading rodents. That’s pretty much the premise behind George P. Cosmatos’s Of Unknown Origin, a warped little TV movie that takes on battling rats as a central plot-line, with a straight face no less. Usually this type of thing would be a campy SyFy original with screensaver special effects and the tonal towel already half thrown in. This one goes for full realism though, or at least tries, and it’s an odd mixture. Weller plays a mild mannered businessman who just gets so irked by those pesky vermin, enough so that he saddles up in all kinds of elaborate gear that would make Christopher Walken in MouseHunt jealous, and trawls the hallways and ducts of his townhome like a looney head, trying to kill the little bastards. There’s a vague satire angle in terms of his job, office politics and whatnot, which is one more thing you wouldn’t really find in this type of flick, if it were garden variety, but this one avidly shirks the standards. The rats are treated not as spooky monsters or a shadowy hidden legion, but the outright heinous plague they are on society. I got a try-hard metaphor vibe out of this one, something like these things representing the decaying monotony of the proverbial ‘rat race’, and one lone suit and tie renegade who aims to blast the gnawing pet peeve out of the water, like Michael Douglas in Falling Down. Or maybe it’s just a flick about one lone crazy dude who just really doesn’t like rats. Either way, it’s a bizarrely constructed little thing that ducks the limbo bar of genre and darts off in it’s own slightly dysfunctional direction.
Frank and Kyle discuss the latest VOD horror sensation, THE VOID. They also discuss the latest footage from ALIEN: COVENANT. We’ll be back next week with an episode focused on Lawrence Kasdan’s SILVERADO and our top five performances from Danny Glover.
The best horror film of the year so far has arrived in the form of The Void, a genuinely spooky, deliriously gruesome 80’s throwback that gets tone, pacing and atmosphere right on the money, hitting that sweet spot that not all homages can fully grasp. It’s this year’s It Follows, I’ll put it that way. Balls out ballistic, atmospherically eerie and gorier than a chainsaw mud wrestling competition for spastics, it starts somewhat reigned in and then amps up to feverish nightmare fuel once it gets going, and boy does it ever get going. When emulating classics from distant eras, it’s important that these films find their own specific flavour and unique groove, as well as cleverly wearing influences on their sleeve. There’s an obvious adoration for John Carpenter’s The Thing running through it like an undercurrent, but the filmmakers find their own otherworldly pulse, and the fabulously icky body horror is subservient to an overarching plot involving forces from another dimension beyond ours, which a few lunatics are foolishly trying to contact. That happens later on though, once that special ripcord within the horror genre is pulled, the one that separates an uneasy opening act, a calm before the storm and the craziness to follow as soon as that first inciting attack occurs. The premise? Solid and simple: a small town cop (Aaron Poole) brings a blood soaked drifter to a nearly shut down county hospital run by a weary skeleton crew. No sooner has he arrived, bad shit starts happening. Some of the night staff go madly insane and start lobbing their own body parts off, while white cloaked cult weirdos gather outside to prevent anyone from leaving the building. A gruff, shotgun toting badass (Daniel Feathers) breaks in and pretty much violently threatens anything that moves. Corpses come alive and transform into glistening, pulsating piles of aborted pizza pocket waste, and to use the time honoured slogan, ‘all hell’ quite literally breaks loose. The head doctor (veteran character actor Kenneth Welsh, aka Windom Earle, is devilishly scary) clearly knows more than he lets on, and the new bodies pile up on the rotting older ones as dark forces gather for some kind of… birth. The actual how’s and whys of the story are left appropriately vague, as is tradition in hectic 80’s creature features with a supernatural twist. The term ‘void’ is never mentioned by anyone, rather hinted at by glimpses of a dreamy, austere parallel dimension that calls to mind everything from Altered States to Beyond The Black Rainbow to The Cell. A buddy of mine referred to the film as “Carpenter Fanboy Porn”, and while that’s definitely one angle you can look at it from, there’s more than just that, if you widen your gaze. It’s clearly a love letter to the man and his work, but it has its own thing going on as well, and feels at once as fresh as the titles it looks up to must have when they came out, and as lovingly nostalgic as a throwback piece should. The filmmakers have deliberately left it open for a sequel as well. Bring on the franchise, I say, the genre can really use stuff like this to fill the Void.
Heist flicks are sneaky affairs, but that doesn’t mean that awesome ones like The Art Of The Steal should just tiptoe past everyone’s radar with no hubbub. When subpar stuff like Now You See Me is breaking waves and this one collects dust before a year since it’s release, you know somethin ain’t right. It’s actually probably just budgeting and marketing, to chalk it up simply. Despite the cast (what a lineup) this one barely made a blip on the sonar when it came out a couple years ago. It’s great fun, with a crusty lead performance from Kurt Russell as Crunch Calhoun, an ageing motorcycle daredevil who used to moonlight as an art thief. He is lured out of ‘retirement’ by his sleazy brother Nicky (Matt Dillon crosses off another notch on the old scumbag belt with this role) with the proposition of one last score, involving his old crew and the theft of a historical artifact owned by a hilarious Terence Stamp. Other members of their crew include a crafty Jay Baruchel and Kenneth Welsh as salty ladies man Uncle Paddy. Twists and turns lace the plot, as they should in these types of films, but it’s the bawdy sense of humour that won me over. More than anything else this is a comedy, situational in nature and willing to give each weirdo of the bunch their own demented moment to shine. It’s Russel’s show though, a burnt out Evel Knievel type of dude who gets a face full of nonsense from his brother, edging him to the end of his rope. Russell owns it, egged on by the raucous chorus of characters accompanying him, and the nasty arc from Dillon that is the only piece which subverts the mostly lighthearted tone. Fun, little seen stuff that deserves a wider audience.
Vendetta is a tough film to watch without feeling sadness and outrage, but such is the stuff that HBO churns out, honest pieces of history that sting you with their refusal to honey coat or gloss over the nasty details (I’m looking at you, History Channel). This one takes place in 1890 New York City, a time of mass Irish and Italian immigration which spurred a ton of unrest among those already settled and raised in that area. Everyone is fighting tooth and nail for a piece of the pie and a chance to feed their families, and the ones with a bunch of pie just greedily want more. The influx of Italians is a cause for insidious worry for James Houston (Christopher Walken), an obscenely wealthy and deeply corrupt piece of shit. He’s joined by equally nasty William Parkinson (Luke Askew), and Mayor Joe Shakespeare (Kenneth Welsh), as the trio cook up an evil scheme to implicate a few young Italian men in the mysterious death of a sympathetic and kindly Irish police chief (Clancy Brown). This sets in motion a tragic outbreak of riots and and angry acts of violence against the Italians. Even their union representitive Joseph Macheca (Joaquim De Almeida) cannot bring peace or stop what Walken and team have started. You may think why make a film of this, as it heads straight for the bleakest of resolutions, but I think it’s important to shine a light on even the darkest patches of history, in order to understand the levels of deception and human cruelty so that we may see it coming before it’s too late next time around. This was a terrible, terrible event and the film hits you square in the face with it’s blunt truth and unwavering honesty. Kudos to HBO fpr taking it on. Watch for the late Edward Herrmann and Bruce Davison as rival lawyers in the chaos.