Tag Archives: M. Emmett Walsh

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Roger Donaldson’s White Sands

Somewhere out there in the gypsum dunes of New Mexico there’s White Sands, a long lost, slightly unfinished yet captivating neo-noir about small town law enforcement, big time gun runners and everyone else who gets caught up in between. Willem Dafoe is Ray, a bored rural sheriff who sees a way out of the dusty hum drum when an apparent smuggler turns up dead on his watch out there in the national park, prompting him to steal the guy’s identity and dive headlong into the illicit arms business with no real crash course or idea of what he’s doing. A risky move that propels the film down an exciting, sexy, ambient journey of untrustworthy alliances, atmospheric shootouts and a dangerously charming Mickey Rourke as Lennox, the kind of reptilian criminal who’s so good at seducing you into the lifestyle that you don’t realize you’re in the snake pit until it’s almost too late. Dafoe and Rourke have shared the screen aplenty before and while my favourite team up has to be their cartel duo in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico, this film certainly takes second place honours. They just work so well on camera together, a shaky bromance built on Ray’s deception and Lennox’s unpredictable penchant for violence that proves electric as the narrative weaves around them. The always phenomenal Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays an underworld connection who Ray unwisely gets steamy with in probably one of the hottest sex scenes of the 90’s and a complete false advertisement for the success rate of getting it on in the shower. Samuel L. Jackson has a fantastic early career villain role as the kind of corrupt FBI agent in whom it’s very unwise to place trust, and watch for others including the great Maura Tierney, M. Emmett Walsh, James Rebhorn, Beth Grant, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Kehler, Mimi Rogers and a sneaky unbilled double cameo from Fred Dalton Thompson and the inimitable John P. Ryan as slick arms dealers. The setting of White Sands park plays such a role in atmosphere here; the ghostly sight of white sand dunes brings about the thought that something is out of place, rare in nature and the same can be said for Dafoe’s affable sheriff thrown into a mixing pot of big city psychos and genuine menace, a fish out of water shtick that pulls you in the more accustomed to this netherworld the man gets. How about that knockout original score from Patrick O’Hearn too, who only composed for a handful of things since, it’s a hazy, melodic set that suggests both the beauty and danger lurking out there in the Sands, especially in the simmering climax where several characters meet poetically grisly fates. I do have a few minor issues with this film, it could have been at least fifteen minutes longer and rounded out the epilogue with Dafoe’s arc clearer, it almost feels like there’s a missing reel or some editing glitch that marred the final product just a tad, but it doesn’t hurt the film too much overall. This is a lost classic for me, a gorgeously specific film noir with some of my favourite actors giving some of their most fun, playful work, the aforementioned score and some cinematography that won’t quit. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Rob Schneider’s Big Stan

You’d hardly ever catch me giving praise to a Rob Schneider movie as he’s usually intolerable, but Big Stan deserves a shout out, both because it’s almost quality comedy and it has gotten less than half of the publicity given to other Rob flicks, which are all just terrible (remember The Hot Chick? Ew). Schneider is probably the least appealing, most irritating little mole rat out there, so you have to kind of grin and bear it here, but the comedy itself is kind of worth it. As Stan, Rob is a selfish, fraudulent little bastard real estate salesman who is busted selling faulty deals and given a three to five year in prison. When an ex-con bar patron (Dan ‘Grizzly Adams’ Haggarty looks like he can’t believe he agreed to say the dialogue in his script) scares him with tales of rampant rape in the joint, Stan sets out to become ‘un-rapeable’ before his sentence, with a little help from King fu guru The Master, played by a chain smoking, growly David Carradine in a parody of his former career. Armed with skills and sweet karate moves, Stan gets processed and pretty much almost incites a riot the first day, until the prisoners realize there’s no fighting him and he’s pretty much big boss. Abolishing prison rape, setting some new ground rules around violence and introducing salsa dancing are just a few of the changes brought on by him, and the prison sequences are the best of the film. Stan has a sidekick in Henry Gibson, locks horns with the obligatory evil Warden (the great Scott Wilson) and it all parades by with necessary silliness and some semblance of a life lesson that ultimately gets lost in aforementioned silliness. As you can probably surmise, it’s about the farthest thing from politically correct humour as well and very much milks its R rating, so put your thick skin on if you give it a go. Also starring the likes of Jennifer Morrison as Stan’s wife, M. Emmett Walsh as an enthusiastically crooked lawyer, Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage as the head guard, Randy Couture and others, it’s surprisingly well casted for a such a small movie that almost feels like it was funded by Schneider himself, as he directed it too. Usually I’d be the first to just rip into this guy and his awful, near self destructive output (remember The Animal? Or the Deuce Bigelow sequel?? Fuck), but this one really isn’t all that pitiable, but you’ve been warned, it’s cheerfully in bad taste and if you’re easily offended by off colour humour, steer clear.

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyam’s Narrow Margin 


Peter Hyams Narrow Margin is a sleek thriller that attempts to blend courtroom intrigue with a single location white-knuckler, which it does.. mostly successfully. A better way to put it would be that it sandwiches a cat and mouse game set on a speeding train between an intro and epilogue both set in the decidedly more complicated realm of legal escapades. We open as an unfortunate lawyer (J.T. Walsh in a too brief cameo) is assassinated by the mobster scumbag (Harris Yulin, creepy as ever) he had shady ties too. A terrified Anne Archer hides in the shadows, witness to the murder, and therefore a valuable asset to the dogged prosecutor (Gene Hackman) who is trying to bring the kingpin down. The two of them are ambushed on a routine transport via helicopter and escape onto said train, and here’s where the narrative cops out just a little bit. Almost the entire rest of the film is spent on the train, an extended diversion of a set piece that steps in for what I thought would be a more cerebral battle of wills between these factions, in court and out. It’s not a huge deal, I was just expecting a little more, and the bits at either end of the film stand as my favourite sequences. Hackman plays stubborn like no other, having both literal and figurative tunnel vision here, the only one thing he cares about being the life of his witness. They’re harried at every turn by corrupt officials of many kinds, and pursued by a mystery woman (Susan Hogan, my acting mentor in college no less), while the train hurtles through the gorgeous Canadian wilderness, captured pristinely by Hyam’s lens as he dutifully does his own cinematography, the dynamo. It’s a thrilling little piece that benefits from Hackman’s spirited work, the photography and editing backing it up nicely.  

-Nate Hill

Barry Sonnenfield’s Wild Wild West: A Review by Nate Hill

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I don’t get the hate for Barry Sonnenfield’s Wild Wild West. I just don’t.  It’s like I saw a completely different film than the entire rest of the continent. To my knowledge, there’s me and a couple other friends I know who love and cherish it, and the rest of the world has seemingly cast it out into the cold, inexplicably bashing it no end. Wtf. It’s a rollicking good time, full of a brilliant blend of situational and slapstick humour, lively characters from a great group of performers, incredible production design, and a dash of swash and buckle. It may not have much in common with the 1960’s era tv show its based on, but kudos to it for breaking new ground. Will Smith plays Marshall Jim West, a cocky (there’s literally a small window of freeze frame where you can see his ebony schlock in full glory. And don’t even ask me how I know that), ballsy (ok sorry I’ll stop) secret service cowboy badass who is working a case against some nasty villains who want to use president Ulysses S. Grant for diabolical ends. He’s led to old foe General ‘Bloodbath’ McGrath (Ted Levine in a show stopping, wickedly devious southern psycho role) a confederate lowlife who will hopefully lead him to whoever is kidnapping the nation’s best and brightest scientists for some Bond villain-ish scheme. West is joined by kooky inventor Artemis Gordon (a classy Kevin Kline) and the two embark on a shoot em up quest to thwart the evil plan of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a dastardly mega villain with plans for America that don’t involve presidents or laws or anything sane. The film is endlessly inventive, wildly funny and parades forth a reel of set pieces, each more amazing than the last until we realize we’re actually watching a fifty foot tall steam punk mechanical spider stomp all over the Utah desert (there’s a priceless story involving that and the film’s odd duck of a producer Jon Peters, which you can watch Kevin Smith regale an audience with over on YouTube). West and Gordon are joined by sultry Rita (Salma Hayek) a Femme Fatale with a hidden agenda who tags along under the guise of damsel in distress. It’s just plain fun and I still don’t get how anyone could dislike it. Witty barbs, raunchy double entendres and sarcastic banter permeate the wonderful script. Nifty gadgets, detailed costumes and clanking machinery speckle the epic production  design. An atmosphere of playful fun oversees all of it from beginning to end. Smith and Kline make a dysfunctional buddy duo for the ages, squabbling right up until the last frame. Branagh hams it up so far over the top as the bad guy that he nearly implodes on himself. Levine is deliciously creepy and crusty. Watch for other gem performances from Bai Ling, M. Emmett Walsh, Debra Christofferson, Sofia Eng, Rodney A. Grant and Musetta Vander. If you’ve seen it and already love it, good for you let’s go have a beer. If you’ve seen it and hate it, you’re a silly bum (to put it mildly). If you haven’t seen it, do so, form your own opinion and fall into one of the above two categories. It’s a classic for me.

Chattahoochee: A Review by Nate Hill

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Chattahoochee tells the sad and disturbing tale of Emmett Foley (Gary Oldman) a Korean War veteran who has returned home with severe PTSD. In a tragic and scary sequence, he shoots up his neighborhood in confusion and fear, injuring himself in the process. He is then sent to a ‘maximum security’ mental facility, and anyone who has heard what places like that were like in the 1950’s cam imagine what he’s in for next. The place is an unkempt, filthy sinkhole where the inmates are abused, neglected and subjected to inhuman maltreatment. So now, in addition to dealing with his mental illness, Emmet must witness this miscarriage of medical treatment on a daily basis, and suffer through it himself. He is befriended by deceptively cavalier Walker Benson (a funny and touching Dennis Hopper), and the two of them try to seek out better treatment and conditions for their fellow inmates. Only problem is, the beauricratic faction doesn’t want to hear any of this, stone walling and throwing it in their faces with callous indifference. It becomes the struggle of Emmet’s lifetime to win the day against this rotten system, and he’s aided by his sister (Frances Mcdormand) in his efforts. Oldman is as intense as you’d imagine with subject matter like this, an implosive tsunami of dread and outrage as he both bears witness and cries out in protest. Ned Beatty plays a nasty doctor, and there’s also work from Matt Craven, Gary Bullock, M. Emmett Walsh, Richard Portnow and Pamela Reed. This one is tough to find, and a tad forgotten, but it’s worth the hunt. It’s also based on a true story about a real veteran  named Christopher Calhoun, who later wrote a book detailing his experiences. Harrowing, but important stuff.