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Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten R. Lee Ermey Performances

Character actor R. Lee Ermey gained a whole bunch of traction from being casted by Stanley Kubrick and although he played many variations on the drill instructor archetype throughout his career, there’s also a host of varied, layered and always captivating appearances in this man’s work. Built like an all American tough guy and possessing of the badass presence to back it up, he’s embodied many cowboy, mercenary, law enforcement and the occasional regular joe type roles, these ten of which are my favourite!

10. Verne Plummer in DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

This is basically a minuscule cameo with one brief line but he’s playing against type and his quick presence in this beautifully dark neo-noir adds to an already eclectic cast. He and Shirley Jones play parents to Val Kilmer’s murdered wife, in a short but effective scene where they try and reconnect. The grief in all three is palpable and casting him was a nice touch.

9. Captain Phillips in JP Simon’s The Rift

This is one of those ‘underwater aliens’ SciFi horror schlock flicks that speckle the 80’s and 90’s like barnacle gemstones. Ermey plays the captain of a submarine that encounters mutant marine life, AI insubordination and deep sea extraterrestrials that wreak havoc in beloved, cheesy FX. His selfless reaction when he gets infected is something way more grounded than the film even deserves, and together with Ray ‘Leland Palmer’ Wise, he steals the show.

8. Conventioneer in Mike Figgis’s Leaving Las Vegas

Another cameo, but he always shone no matter the size of the role. Elizabeth Shue’s hooker tries to proposition him in a casino and his reaction is remarkably down to earth for that part of town. Affronted and insulted, he informs her he’s married, expresses disgust and moves on. It’s quick, wholesome and perfectly intoned.

7. Brisco County Sr in The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr

This is a fantastic, forgotten 90’s SciFi western with Bruce Campbell as the legendary gunfighter son of Ermey’s equally notorious but short lived bounty hunter. He doesn’t live past the pilot but his death basically kicks off all the action, plus he gets to display grit and badassery aboard a speeding locomotive.

6. Mr. Martin in Willard

A strange film about a weird dude (Crispin Glover) with an unhealthy affinity to rats, Ermey plays his domineering, asshole boss with that perfectly volcanic relish reserved for his villainous work. He and Glover have this oddly pitched but successful chemistry in an intense game of psychological warfare.

5. Police Captain in David Fincher’s Se7en

Many characters revolve around Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt’s harried detectives in Fincher’s dark horror masterpiece, one of which is Ermey as their stern, well spoken boss. Never given a name beyond the moniker of ‘Police Captain’, he’s a world weary veteran with haunted eyes and a restless, intuitive spirit.

4. Sheriff Buck Olmstead in Jeb Stuart’s Switchback

A salt of the earth small town sheriff, Buck does everything he can to help and befriend Dennis Quaid’s rogue FBI agent whose son is in the hands of a nasty serial killer. The character dynamic between the two carries the film and Ermey shows that when not being intense he can play mellow, compassionate fellows too. Underrated, beautifully photographed thriller as well, with a cool cast.

3. Clyde Percy in Tim Robbins’ Dead Man Walking

A grieving father full of quiet anguish and restrained outrage, he displays his talent for subtle drama in this examination of one death row inmate (Sean Penn) and the traumatic aftermath of his crimes rippling through a southern community. As he confronts a nun (Susan Sarandon) who is acting as counsel for his son’s killer, the bewildered sorrow and still burning sadness in his eyes, voice and mannerisms are palpable. Fantastic, against type performance from this actor.

2. Sheriff Hoyt/Charlie Hewitt in Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning

This one is all fire and brimstone, illustrating the kind of menace, terror and outright fury he could inject into a performance. Charlie is the deranged patriarch of the homicidal backwoods family who birthed legendary serial killer Leatherface. The first film sees him slyly impersonate a local sheriff until the wheels slowly come loose and an unfortunate group of kids find out that he’s there to do anything but serve and protect. In the second film he goes straight up fucking bonkers though, steals the show in a barnstorming, show-stopping tirade of terrifying behaviour, murderous actions and sadistic, maniacal glee. He’s scarier than Leatherface himself in that one and cements a horror villain for the ages into canon.

1. Gny. Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket

This is the one that put him on the map, and the first of many times where he steals the show like a goddamn hurricane. Hartman is essentially a one note presence, but because of Ermey’s real life career as a drill instructor there’s a brash authenticity and jagged realism to his performance that is instantly magnetic.

-Nate Hill

Leaving Las Vegas: A Review by Nate Hill

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Upon my first ever viewing (I know) of Mike Figgis’s Leaving Las Vegas last night, I discovered that it’s not the film I thought it was all these years. I had an image of a quirky, star crossed lovers tale with a modicum of sweetness. What I got wasn’t insanely far off the mark, but I have to say I was disarmed and deeply affected by the sense of decaying bitterness which prevails throughout the story and hangs over it like the sour, neon stained moon over a feverish, perpetually nocturnal Vegas. Every character besides the two leads sort of flits dimly in and out of the story, never having any impact further than they need to service the plot with. This leaves Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue eerily alienated and gives the movie a hypnotic flair. Even though these two abide in a bustling setting, it oddly seems at times that they are the only two human beings in existence. That also most likely stems from the film’s willingness to take the time to get to know them, lingering on every glance, murmur and mannerism, be it mundane or essential, to try and get a feel for these two completely broken souls. Cage is Ben, a failing Hollywood screenwriter who is quite literally drowning in alcoholism, plagued by some tragic past of which we never learn about. He is fired and splits for Vegas to hole up in a motel and deliberatly drink himself to death. There he meets Sera (Shue) a hooker with a heart of gold (Shue torches the cliche bravely). They are immediately attracted, and begin a relationship.  She continues to see Johns, after being freed of her sadistic Latvian pimp (Julian Sands, terrifying). He makes her promise to not attempt to stop his drinking. Their romance is born out of the primal lonliness that each human being feels to a certain extent, that instinctual urge to reach out and grab for anything, anyone to put out the pain. Cage is everything in the role: pathetic, charming, sad, manic, desperate and deeply, scarily committed to his lethal quest of inebriation. The scenes of liquor consumption in this film go beyond excess and make Denzel in Flight look like a high schooler. It will make many uncomfortable, but looking away for our own peace of mind takes away from the urgency and dark poetry of Cage’s situation. Booze is a low burn, but it’s still suicide, and an agonizing method for anyone to behold in action: the person has an extended period of time to rethink, reevaluate, and if they don’t, then their resolve is extended and far more disturbing than a split second decision. Cage displays this in harrowing form in a career highlight. Elizabeth Shue is heartbreaking as the girl who loves him but can’t quite say why, a girl who has spent years in loveless copulation, confused and torn upon feeling it for the first time. Her character goes through some truly hellish things here. You will cry for her, fall in love with her alongside Cage and swell with admiration at her steely resilience in the face of some of the ugliest things life has to offer her. Each member of the supporting cast is like a star in the desert sky, a moment of flickering purpouse before fading into the background again to let Cage and Shue continue their dance of the damned. Graham Beckel as a shaken bartender, Xander Berkeley as a cynical cab driver, Valeria Golino as as a Barfly and R. Lee Ermey as a taken aback conventioneer are all perfect. Director Mike Figgis composed the score himself, a moody blues melody that clings to your perception after the film like a dream that won’t let go. Just to make the film more haunting, it’s based on a novel by a severely alcoholic writer who took his own life two weeks after production was underway, furthering the disconcerting vibe to a saturation point. This one is a tough watch, and you’ll be forced to see two human beings at the absolute end of the road, miles past rock bottom with seemingly no hope in sight. And yet, if you are patient and try to empathize, you will see the kind of flickering positivity and briefly life -affirming intimacy and light that humans cling to even in the darkest of times. Cage and Shue beautifully paint a bittersweet portrait of this through their work. It’s overbearing with the better, but that makes the sweet all the more precious and lasting. Just watch something happy after.