Tag Archives: Liev Schreiber

Robert Benton’s Twilight

The title Twilight obviously brings up bad memories of a franchise we’d all like to forget, but before that abomination ever entered the fold, the moniker belonged to a laconic, brightly lit yet darkly intoned LA film noir starring Paul Newman as an aging Hollywood private investigator. He’s a guy who was was never famous himself but seemingly behind the scenes of stardom and scandal and making a career out of it until his golden years find him living on the lavish estate of a fading starlet (Susan Sarandon) and her husband (Gene Hackman), also an actor of former stature. He’s always been in love with her but is also Hackman’s good buddy and it makes for a love triangle that is never too tense or melodramatic, but just as uncomfortable as it needs to be. He sort of serves as their homefront security officer and sorta just spies on Sarandon languishing by the pool and you can tell that the three of them are just mournful ghosts of what they probably were decades ago, haunting their surroundings like echoes rather than living in them.

Things get heavy for them once again when Newman takes on a shady job that involves delivering blackmail money, a situation that quickly snowballs into deceit, old wounds torn open and, of course, murder most foul. Something nasty is going on that dates years back into the collective past of these three individuals and has come back to bite them all squarely on the ass, and although it might not be the most innovative mystery narrative and certainly aspects are predictable, it’s just so much fun watching these master actors play it out in sunny Hollywood enclaves. Speaking of old pros, James Garner has a nice supporting role as an ex cop pal of Newman’s who helps him out with intel and backup. Watch for early career work from Liev Schreiber, who now stars on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, another LA noir story that I’m almost positive drew inspiration from this film. A very young and very naked Reese Witherspoon also shows up briefly, as well as Stockard Channing, Margo Martindale, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Clarke, John Spencer, Clint Howard and M. Emmett Walsh. Newman is terrific here in one of his older dude roles, his blue eyes lend just a hint of optimism to the downbeat noir archetype. Hackman and Sarandon say a lot with little dialogue and plenty of body language, embodying damaged souls with grace and grizzle.

I recently heard a character in Amazon’s Goliath (yet another LA noir- can you tell I’ve cultivated a fixation on the sub genre?) say that murders in LA and Hollywood are especially tricky to solve because anybody could know anybody or be connected to anything. That gives ample freedom to intertwine characters and set up strange encounters or resolutions to plot, which is always fun and evident here too. It’s a slow, sunny burn of a crime flick that isn’t designed to be particularly flashy or lurid, but unfolds at its own pace alongside Newman & Co. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs might be the guy’s best film so far, it’s miraculous on all levels. Now, I’m someone who previously wasn’t really an Anderson fan and had to warm up to his aesthetic as the movies came down the pipeline. With Life Aquatic and Tennenbaums I was left a little cold, a little meh. It took Moonrise Kingdom for me to be like “Ok.. this is pretty good,” by the time Grand Budapest rolled in I went “fuck yeah this is great,” and Dogs pretty much had me flipping over the moon. Much of the appreciation I have is for the breathtakingly detailed, tactile and textured stop motion animation technique employed here, a dazzling bag of tricks that brings a parallel dimension version of Japan to painstaking life, and fuels the story of one young boy (Koyu Rankin) looking for his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). The boy’s power mad Uncle (Kunichi Nomura) is the Mayor of Nagasaki Town, where dogs have been prohibited and banished to gargantuan Trash Island, where they live a savage, poverty ridden existence. The doggos here are voiced by an incredible cast of eclectic actors, which is par for the Anderson course. Bryan Cranston steals the show as Chief, a moody mongrel with violent tendencies who consciously contemplates why he is the way he is and has a beautiful arc. Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Anjelica Huston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton and more round out the rest of the puppers, each with their own distinct furry idiosyncrasies to offer. The message here is obvious and plays a bit too much into the state of current affairs when it should have been content to be a fictitious romp, but all is well. Anderson & Co. have also whipped up a supremely elaborate script that is as full of stimulating details of language and interactions as is the visual palette. This is a rollicking adventure, a tail of friendship, a deadpan screwball comedy, a satirical sideshow and a gorgeous work of visual art rolled into one unclassifiable piece of ingenuity.

-Nate Hill

Dean Koontz’s Phantoms 


Dean Koontz’s Phantoms is one of those that I was really stoked on for years and would recommend at the drop of a hat… until I got around to reading the book. Koontz’s novel is brilliantly paced nocturnal nightmare fuel, detailed, imaginative and specific in it’s thrills and chills. This film is a brisk, truncated version of that story, not only that but it takes severe liberties and deviates quite a bit from the tale, resulting in a film that bears little resemblance to the book. It’s good on it’s own, for sure, atmospheric and freaky on terms that don’t include the big picture, but when seated alongside the novel it pales like the large number of paralyzed corpses that pop up all over an eerie abandoned village somewhere in the Midwest. Two sisters (Joanna Going and Rose McGowan) drive into town expecting to visit kindly relatives, and find only death and desertion instead. They wander about, plagued by visions and radios that play spooky old timey music of their own accord, spine tingling in this context. The only townsfolk they find are starched cadavers, killed by some unseen force that watches, waits and refuses to be defined. It’s in this first act that the film is scariest, achieving impressive levels of dread through isolation and uncertainty. As soon as Sheriff Ben Affleck and his shitkicking deputies shows up, the effect dims a bit and degenerates into schlocky survivalist gimmicks, still entertaining yet not as effective as the opening. Things get downright silly when the FBI delegates a crusty old professor of cryptozoology or some such farfetched endeavour (a peppy Peter O’ Toole) to come on over to town, analyze the mystical menace and.. well that’s about it from him. Clandestine hazmat teams are dispatched, Body Snatchers/The Thing homages ooze all over the place and the film putts along in standard horror gear, never getting near to as good as it was in the first twenty minutes or so, let alone the quality of the book. Liev Schreiber is memorable as one of Affleck’s boys who goes a little nutty, Bo Hopkins and Robert Knepper score points in cameos as cheeky G-Men, and there’s work from Clifton Powell Nicky Katt. For what it is it ain’t bad, just expect to be a little deflated if you watch this first and then go check out the book, because there’s no kind comparison to make. 

-Nate Hill

Tom Clancy’s The Sum Of All Fears


Surprisingly, The Sum Of All Fears is my favourite film version of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels. Alec Baldwin did a bang up job in the superb Hunt For Red October,

Harrison Ford held his in two beyond excellent entries, and we won’t speak of the Chris Pine/Keira Knightley snooze-palooza from a few years back. Why then do I gravitate towards this Ben Affleck incarnation? Who knows. Battfleck himself makes an adequate, inquisitive Ryan, on the younger end of the rope and under the guidance of CIA Yoda Morgan Freeman. I think it’s the early 00’s tone of the film itself though, the whip smart editing, Bourne-style escalation of suspense and terrific ensemble cast, a hallmark among Clancy films. Affleck embodies a younger, inexperienced Ryan whose infamous intuition is just breaching the surface of his character, right on time for a deadly plot to set off a nuclear device on American soil. A German radical (Alan Bates, underplaying evil nicely) with vague ties to a Neo Nazi faction is cooking up a false flag attack against Russia, using a long dormant warhead supplied by arch mercenary Colm Feore. Or at least I think that’s the crux of it, these cloak and dagger affairs can get pretty dense on you sometimes. There’s a sense of global danger though, a level of stress that ratchets up until even the stoic US President (an explosive James Cromwell) begins to lose it. The Russian President (Ciaran Hinds) gravely tries to sort out the misunderstanding, whilst Clancy staple character John Clark (Liev Schreiber gives Willem Dafoe a run for his money) covertly smokes out conspirators. Unease and tension nestle into the narrative, and when that impending disaster is minutes away during a hectic NFL game, you can feel the suspense in the air. The supporting cast is rich with talent including Michael Byrne, Bruce McGill, Philip Baker Hall, Josef Sommer, Ron Rifkin, Lisa Gay Hamilton and gorgeous Bridget Moynahan as Ryan’s fiancé. I’ve got nothing but love for Red October, Patriot Hames and Clear & Present Danger, but something about this one hit a frequency and resonated with me a little better, coming out on top as the most re-watchable, enjoyable entry.  

-Nate Hill

Jackman Unleashed Week: Gavin Hood’s X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

The idea behind this film was to franchise origin stories, including a Magneto film that turned into a soft reboot of the X-Men films with FIRST CLASS.  We were also supposed to get a solo Gambit film that is still currently in development limbo, and a Deadpool film with Ryan Reynolds that eventually took seven years to get off the ground.  What ended up happening was an unintentional Wolverine trilogy.

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This film has some major flaws and is an imperfect picture.  The two sequels, THE WOLVERINE and LOGAN, remain superior films to this, yet Origins still remains my favorite Wolverine film warts and all.  The X-Men franchise has never taken continuity into consideration.  Actors were recast in important roles, most notably in this film Danny Huston as William Stryker and Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed/Sabertooth.  Timelines get blurred, especially after the hard franchise reboot of DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and what ends up happening is reinvented origins for Wolverine.  Basically, the takeaway here is that the timeline continuity of the X-MEN films is almost as confusing as the TERMINATOR saga.

What saves this film for absolute failure are two important factors and why this remains my favorite Wolverine centered film.  Firstly, the opening credits sequence is phenomenal.   Spanning the course of every major American war from The Civil War to Vietnam we watch Jackman and Scheiber, brothers in arms, relentlessly fighting and almost single-handedly winning each war for America.  As the wars rage on, Logan observes and acknowledges Creed’s bloodlust and morality eroding.

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Secondly, which is encompassed in the opening credit sequence, the relationship between Logan and Creed.  They’re brothers, they share the same mutant powers.  Freakish regeneration and organic weapons from their hands.  What sets them apart is important.  Creed isn’t as strong as Logan when it comes to regeneration, he would not be able to survive the Adamantium process as Stryker tells him.  Most importantly, Creed lacks the morality that Logan attains.  Logan has empathy, Creed does not.

Violence is what both of them were born into, what their sole purpose became as they aged into warfare.  Creed’s bloodlust overtook him and what little compass of morality he had was disbanded, while Logan was more sensible – more in touch with humanity.  This comes full circle in the botched third act of the film that turns Wade Wilson into this super mutant Weapon X.  It is a silly ending that promises the future reconnection of Logan and Creed.  Regrettably, that never happened; which is a total and complete shame considering this year’s LOGAN was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Casting the dated CGI and third act aside, this film is still steeped with fertile X-Men lore.  We get a cool glimpse at Taylor Kitsh as Gambit, which leaves us wondering what could have been had he reprised his role in future films.  Taskforce X led by Stryker (who does Brian Cox’s original turn absolute justice) is a very fun aspect of the film yet is underutilized.  Aside from Logan and Creed, the team is made up with Reynolds as Wade Wilson (pre Deadpool), Daniel Henney as Agent Zero, Kevin Durand as Fred Dukes/Blob, Will.i.am as Wraith, and Dominic Monaghan as Bolt.

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This film could have been monumentally better, but if you take it for what it is, it remains an incredibly enjoyable picture.  Had the film focused more on Logan and Creed fighting their way through major wars, or made Taskforce X the focal point, this film would have been fantastic.  What we’re left with is an at times clunky vehicle with an easter egg packed third act that left most Wolverine diehards disappointed.  Regardless of keyboard warriors trolling of this film, it’s a lot of fun with colorful dialogue, heavy adult themes, and a once in a lifetime performance from Liev Scheiber as Victor Creed.  ORIGINS: WOLVERING rightfully earns its keep as the starter for one of the most beloved superhero trilogies in recent memory.

Spotlight: A Review by Nate Hill

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Spotlight focuses on a devastating turn of events which were ripe for melodrama, and instead turns out to be a spare, minimalistic entry that knows how to keep things close to the chest and still be deeply affecting. Director Tom McCarthy takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to his technique, showing us an intimate glimpse at what it no doubt must have been like for these Boston reporters as they brought to light one of the most sickening and heinous atrocities of our time, the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church, which rotted through many a priest, parish and law firm who insidiously kept their mouths shut about the whole deal. For the reporters, ignorance was just not on the table, no matter what the consequences. Rachel McAdams is tender and fearless as Sacha Pfeiffer, a keen operative who is first to smoke out a lead, bringing it to her boss, the legendary Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, (Michael Keaton), and the executive in charge of the paper, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). The matter is brought to further attention by Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who arrives from out of state. It’s Mike Rezendes though, played by a stunning Mark Ruffalo, who drives the point home, refusing to give up and shoving loads of empathy down the throats of those who would look the other way. Ruffalo is note perfect, his determind sentiment delivered with compassion and impact that lingers. He hounds diamond in the rough lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci hides the sympathy behind the sass) to allow him access to the victims, giving him something concrete to go on. The bitter side of the lawyer coin comes in the form of Eric McLeish (underrated Billy Crudup), a passively belligerent guy who is anything but cooperative until the hammer comes down. Richard Jenkins proves that he can turn in excellent work with nothing but his voice, playing a source who is heard only via phone calls. Keaton is brilliant, bringing the laid back nature and giving the character an easy listening style Boston accent. McAdams mirrors the hurt in those she interviews with eyes that echo years of suffering. Tucci comes the closest the film gets to comic relief, and then veers into dead serious mode as he realizes his character is in control of lives with the info he has, snapping to rigid attention. Watch for work from Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Brian D’Arcy James and Paul Guilfoyle as well. The film arrives at its destination free from obvious emotional  fireworks, on screen text or sensationalism, elements which often permeate true life stories. It’s simple, to the point, grounded and diligent to story, character and truth. That approach makes it all the more shattering.