Tag Archives: Liam Neeson

Dirty Harry: The Dead Pool

The Dead Pool is a a slick entry in the Dirty Harry franchise, also capping off the series as the fifth and last one. Clint Eastwood had come a long way since he first stepped into the shoes of no nonsense, persistently violent San Francisco super cop Harry Callahan to do battle with the Zodiac Killer, and in this one things get a little bit more meta and witty than they ever have in the canon, but none less violent or tough. After the murder of a junkie rockstar played by none other than a young Jim Carrey, San Francisco is on high alert after the discovery of an underground game called the dead pool, where people bet on celebrities to die (I myself have never engaged in such behaviour). The chief suspect is an asshole horror film director played by Liam Neeson, sporting a greasy ponytail to match his greasy attitude, but each clue seems to lead nowhere, and Harry keeps getting attacked by unseen assassins from both the mob and the killer’s arena. The fun in these flicks is observing his zero tolerance policy for bureaucracy, red tape or rules and the flagrant defiance in the face of any social niceties, not to mention his enthusiasm for cheerfully excessive force, behaviour that has made him such a beloved character. The 44. Magnum gets a ton of exercise here and before the opening credits are nearly up he’s already blasted holes in like six people. My favourite scene has to be the unique car chase action sequence in which the killer employs a tiny, bizarrely fast remote control car rigged with a bomb and chases Harry all up and down the famous hills of San Francisco, it’s absolutely hysterical and looks as if a family of Borrowers decided that they needed to wiped out Clint Eastwood and are hunting the poor guy down. Eastwood is a little older and a bit more grizzled here, and his hair has the refreshing metamorphosis aesthetic of the late 80’s emerging from the dust of 70’s poof/mullet nightmares (also observable with Nick Nolte between 48Hrs and Another 48Hrs), which adds to the character. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises faced a tricky maneuver: providing a follow up to the earth shattering, delirious success that was 2008’s The Dark Knight. The film was never going to be as good as or better than that lightning in a bottle stroke of genius. However, the film we did get is one epic, operatic sonic boom of a Batman film, and if there’s one area where it does in fact outdo The Dark Knight, it’s in scope. The action set pieces here have an earth shattering, monumental quality to them, mainly thanks to Tom Hardy’s Bane, a full on monster who brings biblical destruction to Gotham City with some calculated, maximum impact attacks that almost blow the speakers of any system they’re shown on. Despite the apocalyptic blitzkrieg, Nolan loses none of that precious philosophy that has made this franchise glow so far, the sharp-as-a-tack dialogue and moral complexities of existing in a world of vigilantes and terrorists. It’s been eight years in Gotham since Batman took down the Joker and, somewhat controversially, the fallen angel that was Harvey Dent. Bruce Wayne has become a crippled recluse while the city more or less flourishes quietly, but there’s nothing that’ll roust a burg out of tranquil slumber like the arrival of a seven foot tall, highly trained psychopath bent on chaos. In a vertigo inducing opener set atop the clouds, Bane triumphantly crashes a CIA aircraft and makes off with its cargo, a mere taste of his brutality to come. Bruce is forced out of hiding to do battle with him, and before you know it they’re all thundering around Gotham’s tunnels and edifices, pursued by hordes of snarky GCPD, who no doubt have missed this kind of action for a near decade. The new commissioner (Matthew Modine) is a hotheaded nimrod, while Gordon (Gary Oldman, the gravitas is real with this guy) still hurts from the tragedy years before. Anne Hathaway throws a wicked curveball of a performance as Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle, and although no one will ever, *ever* top Michelle Pfeiffer’s brilliantly kinky turn years before, she’s a deadly force to be reckoned with both for Bruce and the criminal factions vying for power. Hathaway seems like a sanitized choice for the cat, but she’s deft, sexy, formidable, competent and looks damn good in that outfit careening around on Bruce’s batbike. Marion Cotillard is great as the mysterious Miranda Tate who may be more dangerous than she seems, a shtick which Cotillard unnervingly perfected first in Inception. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are top notch as Alfred and Lucius once again, Ben Mendelsohn plays up a sleazy business rival for Bruce, Juno Temple is cute as Selina’s off again, on again lover, Joseph Gordon Levitt’s intrepid detective gets a whole lot of plot momentum and crazy good dialogue, and the jaw dropping lineup of supporting work includes Brett Cullen, Burn Gorman, Desmond Harrington, Chris Ellis, Robert Wisdom, Tomas Arana, Aiden Gillen, Brent Briscoe, William Devane, Nestor Carbonell, Reggie Lee, Wade Williams, Christopher Judge, a brief reprisal from Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy as that pesky Scarecrow, the only villain who appears in all three films. The story goes to places the other two films never ascended to, and if the Joker thought his antics aspired to anarchy, he’d do flips when Bane literally starts blowing up the city on a massive scale, an extended sequence that’s delirious in it’s armageddon worthy panic. On a more personal scale, Batman deals with being broken, the cost he must pay to ultimately save his city, and the unknowable matter of when to cash out as a superhero, or forever give up your soul to a fight that has neither end nor reason. My only issue with the story is how a certain third act revelation pretty much neuters Bane’s character arc and renders his whole fearsome nature somewhat too human and redundant when all is said and done, it’s a narrative decision Nolan should examine closely for his own sake, and avoid such an impotent cop-out when writing his next arch villain. The cinematography is aces, the cgi blending seamless, Hans Zimmer’s score gives us the classic thunderstorm passages we’ve come to love while adding a rhythmic chanting for further depth and flavour. There’s not much that can be said that’s negative about the film, it’s one hell of an achievement and doesn’t let up until the Big Bang of an ending provides release for the franchise and every character in it, an expository epilogue in which loose ends are tied, and some semblance of peace is found. A near perfect third act to the trilogy, and a superhero flick for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Out of the Shallows: An Interview with Sandy Collora by Kent Hill

“Why weren’t you in the pros making stacks of cash and getting your toes licked by beautiful women?”

This line of dialogue from Shyamalan’s Signs always springs to mind when I think of the man and the career of Sandy Collora – and I told him as much. I have watched as filmmakers of lesser skill, passion and moxie rise and rise again with relative ease through the ranks of the Hollywood system.

But, while it boggles the mind as to why a man of Sandy’s talent has thus far been denied a shot to bring his truly awesome visions to fruition – his career has not been without triumphs. He has worked on some truly cool pictures like The Abyss, The Crow and Men in Black; along the way enjoying the benefits and encouraging tutelage of such luminaries like Stan Winston and Henri Alvarez.

Then came that little fan film you may have heard of, Batman: Dead End. Not only was it a game-changer, but it was also a life-changer, propelling Sandy into a league of his own and catapulting him toward the attention of the Hollywood players.

I referred to this period as Sandy being romanced by the industry. He refers to it differently. But he concedes that mistakes where made, and what might have been is anyone’s guess had he played the game by their rules.

Still the testament of all great artists that we applaud still, no matter the length of time it has been since they delivered unto the world their masterworks, is a resolve born of (in some ways) uncompromising vision and unshakable self-confidence. And, while Sandy freely admits the art of compromise will be necessary, if he hopes to realize his works on a larger scale, he (I hope) shall not lower his standards below that which work of his quality richly deserves.

Hunter Prey gave us a taste of feature-length Collora, and now he is at it again with his dynamic and compelling short, Shallow Water.

A new beast emerges, and with it comes the prospect of the reawakening of a genre made famous by its creatures like Alien and the Predator. It also marks the opening of another door for Sandy to, at last, the big time – a place in which he has fought hard to attain and worked tirelessly to offer some exuberance and, no doubt, something extraordinary.

There are so many great stories of great stories that have been a part of the life and cinema of Sandy Collora. I encourage you to check out the link below; find yourself a copy of, not only his incredible art books, movies and merchandise, but also the inspiring documentary: Behind the Mask.

Grand adventures, heartbreaking turmoil; this is the agony and the ecstasy, but also the the wisdom and the wonderment of the Collora cinematic universe. Dear listeners, it is my pleasure to present . . . Sandy Collora.

VISIT SANDY’S OFFICIAL SITE:

http://montaukstudios.com/

AND DON’T FORGET:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBSm6ZDY7n0

“Don’t be afraid.” – A review of The Grey by Josh Hains

You’re watching the opening titles click along, Open Road, Scott Free, the works all rolling through their frames in eerie silence. You think for a fraction of a second that maybe something bad will happen, maybe one of those wolves you’ve seen advertised will erupt into the frame and tear someone’s throat out and perhaps scare the hell out of you. It would be a most opportune time for a jump scare. Instead, wolves bay at the moon, their howls long and bone chilling. I think the howling is more frightening.

John Ottway (Liam Neeson) narrates the opening scene, conveying a “I-don’t-give-a-damn” no nonsense, cynical mindset. He drifts through the cold night like the ghost of someone who died with unsettled demons. A hopeless, broken man. So broken is he that Ottway contemplates and nearly commits suicide, his mouth firmly around the barrel of his rifle until the baying of wolves cuts his actions short. This understandably drawn out sequence is juxtaposed with marksman Ottway shooting a lone wolf that charged some oil drillers, a job he seems born to execute. Ottway respects the animal enough to stay with it until death, almost comforting the creature until its final breath.

A plane ride to Anchorage for oil rig workers on leave (Ottway amongst them) reveals seven more characters of worth, each one playing a significant role in the plot of the film. Flannery (Joe Anderson), the young reckless hick, scared out of his mind, nervous, panicky. Diaz (Frank Grillo) the cynical ex con with a penchant for the f-bomb and bar fights, and his pal Hernandez (Ben Bray). Lewenden (James Badge Dale), presumably a family man. Hendrick (Dallas Roberts), the sympathetic and rational religious mind of the group. Talget (Dermot Mulroney), the gutsy father. Burke (Nonso Anozie) the welcomed comedic relief in several key scenes. The plane they’re travelling in crashes, delivering easily one of the most terrifying on-screen plane crashes you’ll ever encounter on film; it’s the stuff of nightmares and fever dreams.

Ottway soon takes charge, seemingly the most experienced man in the group, making the decision to leave the crash site after Hernandez’s mangled body is found the morning after the sudden and brutal wolf attack that led to his death. The forest a few miles away will provide richer shelter against the harsh, unrelenting winter weather, and might work in the group’s favour against the wolves. Superficially,  The Grey is about a group of men the world seems to have discarded, “men unfit for mankind”, struggling against unfathomable odds. It’s a classic action adventure with elements of horror, but there’s more to this movie than just teeth and death.

The surviving men find opportunities for conversations that bring to light their wants and desires in life. Obviously, we learn the most information about our hero John Ottway, some though deep philosophical thoughts he seems to have been holding onto for ages, and some throughout the movie in the form of brief flashbacks with his wife. Though they are depicted as group at nearly all times, director Joe Carnahan (and co-writer Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who also penned the short story Ghost Walker that The Grey is based on) understand perfectly how to treat each character as an individual guided by their own unique desire to survive this horrific ordeal, and live to tell about it. The performances across the board are all great, though Grillo and Neeson seem the most natural, helping maintain the grounded atmosphere the movie carries. Neeson deserved more praise upon release than he ever received for giving such a moving, raw performance.

At the end of the movie (*spoiler alert* for those who haven’t seen The Grey over the past five years) Ottway is alone, freezing, desperate, and significantly more broken than he was when we first encountered him, reflecting on those who fell before him by looking through their collected wallets (the real wallets of the cast). Soon realizing to his dismay that he has found the den belonging to the wolves that have relentlessly hunted him, he reflects upon the passing of his late wife, told through one last heartbreaking flashback, her final words giving him the strength to press forward and fight for his life. After taping a knife and broken bottles to his hands as the alpha wolf approaches him, he delivers the lines to an anonymous poem he mentioned to the group earlier that sat in his father’s office when he was a boy. The screen cuts to black, and we’re left stunned and profoundly moved.

Our only clue as to what went down between man and beast lies in promotional material, a brief glimpse of which is shown in a nightmare Ottway has and nowhere else, not even on the Blu-Ray’s deleted scenes. A post credits scene shows Ottway is alive, resting on the presumably dying alpha wolf, though it remains unclear if he is mortally wounded or just worn out, exhausted.

While the misrepresentation of the final product in the promotional materials irked many, it didn’t bother me like I thought it would because I still understand that the sequence (as awesome as it likely is) didn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie. Liam Neeson slashing and stabbing a territorial wolf sounds like an epic fight for the ages, but that makes about as much sense as having Roy Scheider repeatedly stab the behemoth shark in Jaws to death while clinging to its dorsal fin. In a movie built on a foundation of callous logic and reasoning, that ending just wouldn’t have sat right in our stomachs, and I’m content with that.

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A Prayer For The Dying: A Review by Nate Hill 

A Prayer For The Dying is a melodramatic romantic action thriller following IRA assassin Martin Fallon (Mickey Rourke), a man with a brutal path in life whose long buried conscience surfaces after an explosives mission goes awry, resulting in the death of schoolchildren aboard a bus. It’s a bold scene to start a film with, and in every instance after it Fallon has a haunted frenzy about him, clearly damaged by what he did and saw. As if that weren’t enough, he now finds himself compelled to murder a priest (Bob Hoskins) who witnessed one of his militant crimes. Fallon spends a lot of time hesitating, and in that hesitation he strikes up a romance with the Hoskins’s blind daughter (Sammi Davis), finding sanctuary and a modicum of redemption  with the two of them. A lot of nasty people from his past are looking for him though, including his amoral former partner (Liam Neeson), an evil British crime kingpin (the great Alan Bates) and the kingpin’s murderous brat of a son (Christopher Fulford). Obligatory shootouts, personal and religious angst, sappy sentiment and dodgy accents, particularly from Rourke, ensue. He can blend into a lot of roles and pull off a lot of different characters, but it seems an Irish accent is a stretch, and it shows. As the character of Fallon himself, ethnicity aside, he does a bang up job though. Bates is razor focused in playing anyone, and his villain here is a spidery creepo. Neeson is young and doesn’t get much to do except hassle Rourke, but their confrontations are nicely done by both parties. Director Mike Hodges, whose other work I’ve never really seen, seems to like slow and deliberate action scenes, very old world and sometimes repetitive, but entertaining nonetheless. Not the best IRA thriller out there (most of the events here have little to do with the movement anyway, and focus more on Fallon), but a decent way to spend a couple hours. 

Taken: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Taken series has been done to death, memed out to glory and mined for market value a million times over since the first film came out way back in 2008, which has somewhat dimmed the charm of that original vehicle, at least for some of us. Like, how many times can Liam Neeson or his relatives be Taken before even they as characters realize that it couldn’t be happening and that they’re in a movie? Eventually the material unwittingly spoofs it’s origin in its need to repeat itself time and again. That’s not to say the first isn’t enjoyable on it’s own, in fact it’s quite the streamlined little dose of adrenaline that essentially coasts on some great pacing, neat choreography and the endlessly watchable Liam Neeson, whose career took a shot of nitrous to the heart after gamely stepping into the well worn shoes of the grizzled action hero. This was him nimbly ducking through the genre boundaries that his career was in up til that point, and the action thing fit him like a glove. The film is at its best when it follows Bryan Mills (Neeson) in action, which thankfully is most of the time. Mills is an ex CIA spook with some tactics that will seriously put a hurtin’ on you if you cross him in any way. A gaggle of moronic Bosnian human traffickers come under the receiving end of these tactics when they kidnap his vacationing daughter (Maggie Grace, looking suspiciously like she’s a decade older than her character is supposed to be) from Paris and auctioning her off to rich raghead perverts. This propels him into like an hour of non stop energetic ass kicking that is so fun to watch, as he shoots, stabs, sprains and splatters his way through hordes of eastern European cannon fodder, with not a second to spare for even the utterance of a any cheesy one liners. He’s assisted via Bluetooth by his three ex agency barbecue buddies (Jon Gries, Leland Orser and David Warshofsky) and has a few encounters with his jaded ex wife (Famke Janssen). And that’s about it, but Neeson sells the bare minimum as far as the genre goes with his effortless cool and stony, formidable stature that springs into startlingly spry motion every time he has to dispatch a new troupe of Slavic wise guys. If only they didn’t have to desecrate this little piece of lightning in a bottle with two sequels that dampen the momentum with cheap attempts at thrills, I may still feel strongly about this one as I did when it first came out. Hopefully they quit while they’re ahead, shirk the slimy dollar signs and let their first outing age in peace.

STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

It’s no secret that many high brow cinephiles have their knives out when it comes to STAR WARS, but in particular the prequels.  To be fair, my film snobbery overflows onto big blockbuster franchises, but STAR WARS, all aspects of it; the films, the novels, the video games, collectibles are so ingrained in my life since childhood that it’s fair to say I will never have as much passion for anything as I do for STAR WARS.

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THE PHANTOM MENACE is a stark contrast from the original trilogy, and that’s exactly what it is supposed to be.  Yes, there are many missteps, including the casting of some actors, and the dialogue at times is lackluster and unintentionally laughable but there is so much more at stake when you look at the big picture.

Set decades before A NEW HOPE, Episode I shows us the beginning.  We see a vibrant and fertile galaxy before the desolate dilapidation that the Empire brings to not only the aesthetics but also thematically in the original trilogy.  This is a time of prosperity, a time when the Jedi oversaw peace in the galaxy.

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But.  This is also the beginning of the galaxy being divided in a full-out war.  Planets pitted against each other by fear and economics.  All the workings of seminal STAR WARS villain, Emperor Palpatine, who in Episode I is nothing more than the affable senator from the peaceful planet of Naboo.  His Sith alter ego, Darth Sidious, does all the dirty work.

I know.  Jar Jar Binks is the go to hangup.  Yes, Jar Jar is annoying until you get over it and embrace him.  Liam Neeson as the Jedi Master who is the hierarchy of the Skywalker lineage more than makes up for Jar Jar.  As does John Williams’ AMAZING score, particularly DUEL OF THE FATES which loudly surrounds the greatest lightsaber battle in the STAR WARS saga: Qui Gon Ginn AND Obi Wan Kenobi versus fan favorite, Darth Maul.

Yes, THE PHANTOM MENACE is the weakest of the STAR WARS saga, but it is also a solid foundation of what’s to come after.  The chaos that engulfs the galaxy.  The tangible rise of Palpatine’s dark powers.  For all of Lucas’ faults, he does an excellent job guiding the camera through the birth of galactic turmoil.  His casting of Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, and Terence Stamp are wonderfully perfect additions to the series, and his vibrant aesthetic is a pleasant contrast from the darkness of the original trilogy.