Tag Archives: Madeleine Stowe

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Alan Rickman Performances

Who didn’t love Alan Rickman? The guy was pure class, charisma and magnetism whether on camera, in voiceover or simply on the red carpet during an interview. He didn’t do a whole multitude of films in his career but instead chose to carefully pick scripts and take on characters that would challenge him as an artist and inspire us, the audience. His steady voice was like molasses over mahogany, his line delivery somehow swift yet infinitely measured. He was a consummate actor and genuinely mesmerizing human being and I miss him all the time! His excellent work work remains though and here are my top ten personal favourites performances:

10. Absolem The Blue Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and Alice Through The Looking Glass

Admittedly one of the only good things to come out of Burton’s startlingly misguided vision of Lewis Carroll’s books, but then Rickman could turn anything to spun gold. He’s the best choice for the role when you think about it and intones Absolem with a sleepy, stoned vernacular that’s hilarious and adorable. I’ll add that Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat was the only other addition I enjoyed from films, while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter left me cringing and shaking my head. Can’t go wrong with an Alan-pillar though.

9. Harry in Richard Curtis’s Love Actually

A droll business CEO and family man who finds himself in a sticky situation with both his loving wife (Emma Thompson) and skanky secretary (Heike Makatcsh), it’s fascinating to see him explore a character who is and wants to be a decent husband and just seems to let himself get off the track before he even realizes what he’s doing, and is forced to reconcile the notion that he’s hurt his wife as well as betrayed his own nature. This is a great film (I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) because there’s like twenty different stories about love, some that end happily and others that do not, because that’s life, actually. His does not and it’s a bittersweet entry in this goodie bag anthology treat.

8. Lieutenant General Frank Benson in Gavin Hood’s Eye In The Sky

This was his last role in cinema, and the final lines he gets are something really special. Benson is a high ranking British military general involved in high tech, extreme stakes drone warfare. When it comes down to whether or not to pull the trigger the final word is his, as is the guilt if there is civilian collateral damage. It’s a brilliant, complex morality play and he grounds it with gravity and resolute world weariness.

7. The Interrogator in Radha Bharadwaj’s Closet Land

This is a forgotten gem that explores the dynamic between a stern, terrifying interrogation officer (Alan) and a children’s author (Madeleine Stowe) accused of sedition in an unnamed fascist country. It’s a chamber piece featuring only these two characters for a full length feature and as such it’s intense and implosive. Rickman and Stowe make wonderful scene partners and are believable in their respective roles the whole time, turning this into one harrowing film.

6. Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest

This beloved and slightly cult SciFi spoof sees him play a key crew member aboard a fictional exploratory starship that soon becomes… not so fictional. His intrepid admiral spends a lot of time playing second fiddle to Tim Allen’s Captain Kirk archetype and through cunning and courage comes out on top later in the story, after some hysterical bouts of fussy neurosis over the course of his arc.

5. Steven Spurrier in Randall Miller’s Bottle Shock

Circa 1970’s, A slightly snooty UK wine connoisseur journeys across the pond to Napa valley and enters his treasured wines into a contest opposite an up an up and coming American vineyard owner (Bill Pullman). Rickman plays him as a skeptical curmudgeon who doesn’t believe in the merit of US wines compared to sacrosanct French history and is endearingly, adorably thrown off balance at the pleasant culture shock of it all.

4. The Metatron in Kevin Smith’s Dogma

Who better to play the voice of god than Alan, who had possibly the most distinct voice in Hollywood? Rickman embodies this cynical, stressed out angel perfectly in Smith’s royal rumble of a religious spoof, guiding the bewildered protagonist (Linda Fiorentino) through a series of madcap misadventures. Apparently Rickman agreed to do this under the condition that the script be left exactly the way he read it in the draft given to him by Smith. Good call, he makes pithy, attitude laced hilarity of the Metatron while still finding sympathetic notes.

3. The Sheriff Of Nottingham in Kevin Reynolds’ Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves

His performance here is so over the top that it basically eclipses the rest of the film around it. This was another one he took on grounds that he’d get to do his own thing with it and… he certainly does something. Whether casting malicious rapey eyes towards Maid Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), cheerfully impaling his cousin (Michael Wincott) with a broadsword or ruling over the serfdom with maniacal rage, this guy is a fucking hoot the whole way through.

2. Hans Gruber in John McTiernan’s Die Hard

This is the one that put him on the map and basically paved the way for scene stealing arch terrorist roles that would be the bread and butter of many a character actor for decades to come. Hans is ice cool, cold blooded and mercurial, until he’s faced with Bruce Willis’s super cop John McClane anyways. He’s terrifying without being hammy and altogether believable as this German mastermind who meets his match.

1. Severus Snape in the Harry Potter legacy

No appearance is more iconic than his oily manifestation of J.K. Rowling’s venomous, highly secretive and ultimately very tragic wizard. Originally Tim Roth was in place to play this role but I’m glad fate put Alan in the wig and robes because he turned written words on the page into a timeless, compelling and very human archetype.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Intruder Alert: Nate’s Top Ten Home Invasion Thrillers

Lock the doors, bolt the windows and load that shotgun, because someone’s out there and they want in. There’s something primal and terrifying about a good home invasion thriller, a certain violation felt in the act of unwanted visitors breaching the sacred perimeter of one’s homestead. Be it burglars, psychopaths, serial killers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, no one likes the sanctity of their dwelling encroached upon and the premise alone has made for some really fun, often scary and always exciting films, my top ten of which are as follows:

10. Joel Schumacher’s Trespass

These days there’s a new Nicolas Cage flick for every day of the week, and you have to tread carefully through the proverbial minefield of shit nuggets. This is a sleek, solid thriller in the tradition of 90’s Hollywood programmers and provides serviceable excitement. Cage and Nicole Kidman are an upper class couple whose lavish mansion is invaded by a trio of nasty, violent criminals played by Dash Mihok (always awesome), Cam Gigandet (I know he sucks so bad but he’s the only weak link here) and Ben Mendelsohn who rocks the house as always. Who are these guys? What do they want? The fun is in finding out and watching Cage and his family evade these dangerous loonies while trying to stay alive.

9. Joseph Ruben’s Penthouse North

Another 90’s genre throwback, this one sees blind artist Michelle Monaghan facing off against psychopathic jewel thief Michael Keaton, who hid a diamond in her spacious Manhattan loft apartment years ago and wants it back. Monaghan is always terrific and overlooked as an actress, whenever she scores a lead role I’m first in line for tickets. Keaton tends to nail the diabolical villain part because his upfront affability is so disarming that one feels true shock when he abruptly shifts to volatile nastiness. This was tied with Mike Flanagan’s Hush for a spot on the list and while that one is terrific too, I felt that due to the extreme obscurity and overlooked status of Penthouse North that it needed some love.

8. Michael Dunstan’s The Collector

A very unique horror film in which an ex con decides to rob the country estate of his wealthy employer, with a small crew. But someone else has also targeted the house on the same night, basically the last dude you want to be stuck alone with in a closed off environment. It’s a stylish, spooky mashup of Saw, Home Alone and Mouse Trap with a dark palette, some spectacularly gory sequences and a villain you won’t soon forget.

7. James DeMonaco’s The Purge

While the overall concept of the purge is better explored and elaborated on more in the sequels, this first one still works as a horror thriller and dishes out some great suspense, not to mention believable performances from Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. It’s also fun watching Hawke’s reportedly foolproof home security system get slowly breached by the preppy psycho brats that have decided to target them.

6. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

This whacked out funhouse of a flick starts with one home invasion that’s a brash, routine burglary and evolves into another that is subtle, psychological and terrifying. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe are the couple who receives help from Ray Liotta’s friendly cop following the burglary, but then he gets a bit *too* friendly. Taking a keen, perverse interest in Stowe, he latches himself onto their lives and eventually becomes violent and unstable in this harrowing tale of one officer of the law who forgot about protecting and serving.

5. Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

It’s kind of an unconventional choice for a home invasion flick, but the vibe is technically there and I’ve always really liked it and found it to be unfairly bashed. Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone move their kids (Kristen Stewart and Ryan Wilson) to a creaky old mansion in the countryside for some rest and readjusting. Scary local redneck Stephen Dorff grew up there though, and he isn’t quite ready to move on, let alone watch another family set up camp and start renovating. So begins a relentless series of stalker moves, creep out moments and serious violations of privacy that start to turn violent. It’s essentially a pretty predictable Hollywood thriller but the spooky rural atmosphere is something I’ve always liked and you get a cool Christopher Plummer cameo too.

4. Michael Cimino’s Desperate Hours

One of Cimino’s less celebrated films is a remake of an oldie with Humphrey Bogart about three murderous burglars who take a suburban family hostage. Here the lead criminal is Mickey Rourke, the family patriarch Anthony Hopkins and the tone is very broad and melodramatic, but still a lot of fun. Any middle of the road film will get points for having a top notch cast and the players here are all terrific including Elias Koteas, David Morse, Lindsay Crouse, Dean Norris, Shawnee Smith, James Rebhorn, Mimi Rogers and Kelly Lynch.

3, Brian Bertino’s The Strangers

This sensational horror/shocker taps into everyone’s primal fear of being stalked by killers in their own home, and leaves a brutally nihilistic lasting impression. With an auburn, earthy visual tone, nods to 70’s horror films of the same style and a believable central performance from Liv Tyler, this one hits all the right notes and cultivates a terrifically hopeless sense of dread.

2. Florent Siri’s Hostage

This isn’t your garden variety Bruce Willis action picture. Buried cleverly in and around the tale of a hostage negotiator (Willis) trying to rescue an innocent family from three dangerous juvenile criminals is something almost noirish, expressionist in nature and akin to a horror movie in places. The house that these guys break into is a specifically designed labyrinth of shadows, walls and security traps that prove hard to navigate for all parties involved and makes an evocative setting while Willis gives one of his best, most haunted performances on record and Ben Foster makes chilling work of the lead antagonist who is a devilish psychopath.

1. David Fincher’s Panic Room

The bar is set here in terms of home invasion thrillers, and pretty damn high too. Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart (for the second time on this list!) retreat to the titular stronghold within their NYC home and fight for their lives against three evil professional thieves (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam and Jared Leto). The suspense here is just unreal, this should be in textbooks on how to craft an effective, aesthetically pleasing thriller that keeps you on edge the whole time.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

Eternity’s Music, Faint and Far: Nate’s Top Ten Time Travel Films

I love a good time travel film. There’s something so purely exciting about opening up your story’s narrative to the possibility, and once you do the potential is almost endless. From the mind stretching nature of paradoxically puzzling storylines to the sheer delight of seeing someone stranded in an era not their own and adjusting to the radical development, it’s a sub-genre that always has me first in line to buy tickets. Here are my personal top ten favourites:

10. Nicholas Meyer’s Time After Time

How’s this for a concept: H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) chases Jack The Ripper (David Warner) around 1800’s London, through a time machine and all over 1970’s San Francisco. This is a brilliant little picture because as sensational as this high concept is, the filmmakers approach the story from a place of character and emotion rather than big style SciFi spectacle or action. McDowell plays Wells as a compassionate, non violent fellow while Warner’s Jack relishes in the ultra-violent nature of the time period. This is also the film where McDowell met Mary Steenburgen and shortly after they were married.

9. Rian Johnson’s Looper

Time travel gets monopolized by the mafia in this stunning futuristic tale that is so specifically high concept it requires a near constant expository voiceover from Joseph Gordon Levitt so we can keep up. Playing an assassin hunting his future self (Bruce Willis), this has a vaguely steam punk feel to it, an uncommonly intelligent and surprisingly emotional script as well as scene stealing work from Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano and a scruffy Jeff Daniels.

8. Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits

A young boy tags along on one hell of a epic adventure with a band of time travelling dwarves on the run from both the Devil (David Warner for the second time on this list, how nice) and God himself (Ralph Richardson). This is an exhilarating, lush example of what can be done with practical effects, from a giant walking out of the ocean to a Lego castle somewhere beyond time and space to a recreation of the Titanic. Not to mention the cast, which includes cameos from Gilliam’s Monty Python troupe regulars as well as Ian Holm, Shelley Duvall, Jim Broadbent and Sean Connery in several sly roles.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Back To The Future

“Great Scott!!!!” Man, who doesn’t just love this film. It’s practically it’s own visual aesthetic these days, and spawned two fun sequels that couldn’t quite capture the enchantment found here. From scrappy antihero Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) to demented genius Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) this just hits all the right notes and gets a little taboo in the process as we see what would happen if someone ended up in the past and got hit on by their own mom. Yikes!

6. The Spierig Brothers’s Predestination

The less you know about this tantalizing, twisty flick going in the better, except to know that it will fuck your mind into submission with its narrative. Ethan Hawke plays a rogue temporal agent who’s been pursuing a relentless terrorist through time since he can remember, and finally has a plan he think will work to end the chase. Featuring Noah ‘exposition in every other SciFi film’ Taylor and the sensational new talent Sarah Snook, this is not one to miss and you’ll need a few viewings to appreciate it fully .

5. Tony Scott’s Déjà Vu

Scott’s trademark visual aesthetic blesses this kinetic, elliptical story of secret FBI technology used by keen ATF agent Denzel Washington to find and stop a mad bomber (Jim Caviesel) who has already slaughtered hundreds in a riverboat explosion. Adam Goldberg and Val Kilmer are welcome as agency tech experts but the real heart of this film lies in Washington’s relationship to a survivor of the incidents (Paula Patton) and how that plays into the fascinating central premise that doesn’t start *out* as actual time travel but gradually becomes apparent.

4. Gregory Hoblit’s Frequency

A father son relationship is the beating heart of this tale of cop Jim Caviesel (again!) and his firefighter dad Dennis Quaid. They are able to communicate across a thirty year gulf of time and the barriers of death itself via a miraculous HAM radio and some pseudo science involving the aurora borealis. This provides an exciting, involving and heartbreaking dual experience as the son races to find ways to save his dad from several different grim fates and take down a nasty serial killer while he’s at it. This film has aged so well mostly due to the genuine emotion felt between the family including mom Elizabeth Mitchell. The yearning to escape perimeters of linear time and reconnect with passed loved ones is especially prescient for me nowadays days based on my own recent experiences and as such the film holds extra weight now. A classic.

3. James Cameron’s The Terminator

Artificial intelligence works out time travel for itself in Cameron’s ballistic gong show of an action classic that sees freedom fighter Michael Biehn, civilian turned survivor Linda Hamilton, homicidal cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger and a few hundred short lived cops engaged in a bloody, brutal fight for the future. I picked this over the sequel because the notion of time travel in the saga overall feels freshest and most well worked out here, despite my love for T2 being just a smidge higher on the gauge. Perhaps it’s also because the excellent Biehn makes damn believable work of convincing us that he’s a weary, distraught soldier from a different era, and sells the concept with his beautiful performance.

2. John Maybury’s The Jacket

Hazy, experimental, haunting and atmospheric, this was not a critical hit and it’s chilly vibe is evidence of that, but beneath that there’s a heartfelt story of confused gulf war vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) trying to make sense of his shattered psyche while surviving a gnarly mental institution run by a madman with a god complex (Kris Kristofferson). Somewhere along the way he discovers he can jump through time and uses the phenomena to investigate his own death and prevent others from happening. Featuring a low key, emotional turn from Keira Knightley and fantastic supporting work from Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch and Jennifer Jason Leigh, this is a harrowing psychological thriller that gradually reveals itself as a meditation on life, death and the realms in between.

1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

Gilliam gets two on this list, lucky him! He deserves it though, this is a curious film with unbelievable production design, a deeply felt performance from Bruce Willis and one from Brad Pitt that kind of defies description and erases doubts of his immense talent from anyone’s mind. Willis is a convict sent back in time from a bleak future to discover how and why a deadly virus wiped out most of earth’s population and sent the rest into subterranean caves. It’s not the film you’d expect and the sad, eerie resolution at the end is something that will stick with you for a long time.

Once again thanks for reading! There’s many that didn’t make the list as it’s tough to just pick ten, but I’d love to hear some of your favourite time travel films!

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry

What if a cop decided that instead of serving and protecting civilians, he would instead stalk and terrify them? How would you deal with a scenario like that? Cops, after all, hold the power to arrest you or worse and unless you resorted to extreme measures, you’re kind of fucked. Jonathan Kaplan’s Unlawful Entry is a terrifying psycho thriller that explores this idea deeply and thoroughly enough to give any law abiding citizen nightmares. Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe play a nice yuppie couple whose home is broken into one night by a petty criminal. No one is injured, and the cop who shows up to investigate assured them that he’ll do everything in his power to keep them safe. The only problem is, this cop is played by Ray Liotta and in a film billed as thriller, that’s a dark omen. He’s affable and kind at first, but begins to envy this couple their suburban oasis, particularly placing an unnerving interest in Stowe, and pretty soon he’s gone full monster on them, with complete impunity no less. He wants her for himself, or maybe even isn’t sure what he wants but is nonetheless dead set on wedging himself into their lives like a juggernaut of violent, negative energy. Russell is helpless especially when the officer’s partner (Roger E. Mosley) wants nothing to do with their plight and won’t raise a hand against his comrade, perhaps out of fear himself. This is a scary film not just for the way it’s executed but for the fact that this *could* actually happen in real life. If you turn on the news or scroll through your phone’s feed you’ll see handfuls of headlines about cops getting up to all sorts of no good, reminding us that they too are only people and subject to fallacy and shortcomings. Liotta goes way way beyond that here though into outright monsterville, this is one of his trademark unhinged lunatic roles and instills straight up dread. It’s tough to watch scene after scene of Stowe being terrorized and traumatized by the guy and between and Tony Scott’s Revenge she really got put through a wringer early in her career, but if you’re the female lead in a horror thriller alongside Liotta, you can kind of see the storm on the horizon ahead of time. This is an intense, fucked up film that has razor sharp suspense, three very strong lead actors and a a spooky atmosphere. It also makes a great double feature with Jonathan Mostow’s Breakdown, another high strung Kurt Russell thriller where he yet again has to contend with a psycho who has his wife, albeit trading in rogue cops for rogue truckers. Both great films.

-Nate Hill

Simon West’s The General’s Daughter

The General’s Daughter is one of those films that’s well acted and staged enough from a technical standpoint that the excessive, overcooked script, self righteous snark and needlessly perverse plot could almost be forgiven. Almost. This is a lurid, sweaty southern gothic military murder mystery, and as amazing as that sounds, it’s actually quite an unpleasant piece to sit through. Based on a book by Nelson DeMille (crown prince of airport novel thrillers), and directed by Simon West (Con Air), it’s given the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the nuance of a rogue missile. At least the acting is decent, starting with jumped up John Travolta as a private investigator called to a military base after the daughter of a powerful General (James Cromwell) is found dead on the property in… a compromising way. The suspects are lined up neatly like ducklings and include the General’s faithful aide (Clarence Williams III), an arrogant high ranking officer (James Woods, practically assaulting the dialogue), another officer on base (Timothy Hutton) who went to Westpoint with her and naturally the General himself. Travolta is joined by another investigator (Madeleine Stowe) who he has a romantic history with, because of course he does. They’re threatened by unseen assailants here and there, and stalled by a local redneck Sheriff (the late Daniel Von Bargen) who has it in for him. The investigation gets so weird, convoluted and messed up that it’s a wonder the writers could even keep track of their own work when scotch taping the third act together. When the inevitable flashbacks show up to tell us just what happened to her, we wish we didn’t know. The poor girl, played by Leslie Stefanson, is humiliated, brutalized and murdered in a way that’s miles beyond bad taste, totally unnecessary to show in graphic detail other than for the film to reiterate what a miserable display of ‘too much’ it is in every category. The scene doesn’t even stand to serve her character arc either, as we’re informed she has a history in S&M type shit. The depravity is there simply to exist on its own and turns a relatively run of the mill thriller into something deranged. It’s a spectacle, you won’t be bored, it’s well mounted and acted by a solid cast, but is it a good film? Nowhere close.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys

There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.

Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.

I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s The Last Of The Mohicans

Before Terrence Malick lyrically explored the relationship between settlers, natives and nature in The New World, Michael Mann crafted the emotionally gripping, beautifully feral The Last Of The Mohicans. Take Mann out of his comfort groove of big city crime epics and whatever new avenue he explores is going to be incredibly fascinating (his much forgotten, sadly panned The Keep is further evidence). Trading in looming urban skyscrapers for equally imposing trees of the frontier, high powered weaponry for one badass long-shot rifle and the onslaught of rapid fire combat for incendiary cannon fire, the colonial times suit him splendidly and he rocks this period piece for all its worth. Daniel Day Lewis is a force of nature as Nathaniel Hawkeye, the white man raised by his adoptive father (Russell Means) and brother (Eric Schweig) in the wild. Madeleine Stowe is a dark haired candle of radiance and fiercely spirited as the lovely Cora Munro, brought from the prim, lacy traditions of Olde England out to the wild, uncompromising new land, with her impressionable young sister (Jodi May is low key brilliant). Wes Studi gives the bitter hearted warrior Magua a steady grace and brutal resolve. The film is lovingly made, sweeping from thundering battles to cascading waterfalls to meticulously constructed war forts to uneasy treaties to verbose politics to romance that stirs the heart and unlocks the tear ducts. But it’s all about those last twenty minutes, man. Holyyy fuck does this movie have an ending. When the final, white knuckle climax happens atop the scenic yet unforgiving Promentory Ridge, hearts, bones and dreams are broken as all the characters collide in a tragic, inevitable confrontation that leaves fire in your heart and tears in your eyes. James Newton Howard and Trevor Jones provide a legendary, soul stirring musical score that swells for the final act and carries it to transcendent heights. Mann directs with a compassionate, objective eye, never designating anyone as the good or bad guy, but simply showing us human beings fighting for survival, love and revenge in a land only just finding its cultural identity. A real classic and one of the best of the 90’s. Oh, and avoid the director’s cut at all costs. That’s not usually advice I’d give for any film but Mann somehow thought it necessary cut an incredibly important final scene of dialogue between Lewis, Means and Stowe that gives thematic weight to the story and caps off the characters arcs gorgeously. Rookie move, Michael, that’s a key scene and bookends the film beautifully.

-Nate Hill

Tony Scott’s Revenge

Tony Scott’s Revenge is a difficult one to sit through, but it’s Aalto a good showcase of not only the late director’s inherent talent around a camera and staging of restless, brutally violent action, as well as one of the better, albeit off-putting entries in a sub genre I like to think of as ‘desert noir’ (Oliver Stone’s U Turn pioneered and set the good standard in my books). Sweaty, sleazy, excessively graphic, melodramatic and mottled out of those old school, primitive pulp laden love triangle bad blood archetypes, it’s relentlessly unpleasant but has a dark hearted charm that somehow sneaks in the back door and gives it an iota of likability, albeit in a weird way. Kevin Costner plays a hotshot navy pilot (Scott shamelessly plugging Top Gun) who heads to Mexico for a little down time, where he finds anything but. While on a visit to his old gangster friend (Anthony Quinn, that big ol’ sweaty Italian meatball), he meets the kingpin’s beautiful, shockingly young wife Miryea (Madeleine Stowe, back when she used to be in things), and naturally they fall in love. This ignites a volcanic conflict between them all that results in some of the most sadistic, sexist acts of violence and a giant rift in the brotherhood between Costner and Quinn, for you see, the pilot saved his life years before and there’s some vague blood debt owed, obviously now null in void when he tries to mow the guy’s lawn. There isn’t much to the story other than these Stone Age, chauvinistic games of betrayal, sex and retribution the three play, or at least the two while Stowe is so badly hurt she’s out of commission after the first act. Costner spends time moping about the backroads and flophouses of Mexico, befriending a dusty old shit-kicker (the late character actor James Gammon, credited simply as ‘Texan’), who helps him get back on his feet. He’s also aided in his vendetta against Quinn by two mercenaries, played by scene stealing Miguel Ferrer and John Leguizamo. The eventual final confrontation between them has the hollow howl of redundancy as both men sheepishly realize they’ve become a slave to their own emotions and ruined their lives, and especially Miryea’s. Ebert wrote of this “It’s such a good job of salesmanship that you have to stop and remind yourself you don’t want any.” Well, that’s Scott for you, who could take footage of a domestic dispute and whip it up into a frenzy of action and energy you can’t take your eyes off of. This is a dark, empty, unpleasant film bereft of gallows humour or tongues in cheeks. But there’s something about it’s lurid sense of danger, hot blooded anger and over the top, hide-behind-the-couch doses of extreme violence that draw you in and cast a dark spell.

-Nate Hill

TWELVE MONKEYS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

46

“It’s one thing to get lost in your own madness, but to become lost in somebody else’s madness is weirder.” – Terry Gilliam

How do you know when someone is crazy? This is a question that filmmaker Terry Gilliam tries to answer in many of his films, for he is obsessed by the notion of insanity – what makes someone insane and how do others view this person. Is someone really crazy or do they simply have a different view of the world than the rest of society? In the past, Gilliam’s films have presented characters that tend to blur the boundary between sanity and madness, but perhaps his most complex treatment of this subject is Twelve Monkeys (1995). It is with this project that the filmmaker combines his long standing obsession of breathtaking visuals with his knack for working closely with actors. This combination has resulted in more mature films for Gilliam who is normally associated with stylish overkill: films that tend to let the visuals overwhelm the story and characters. And make no mistake, Twelve Monkeys contains some of the most stunning images you are ever going to see but never at the expense of the story or its characters and herein lies one of the reasons why Gilliam remains one of the most interesting people working in film today.

Twelve Monkeys
is a film that constantly plays with, distorts, and more often than not, manipulates time. The film begins in the year 2035. A deadly virus has wiped out almost all of humanity, leaving the survivors to take refuge deep underground. Only the occasional foray up to the surface in protective gear by a select group of “volunteers” offers any clues as to what went wrong. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is one such volunteer who is particularly good at retrieving information. As a result, he soon finds himself being sent back in time to find out how the virus originated and who was responsible. Unfortunately, he goes back too far, arriving in 1990 and is promptly thrown into a rather nightmarish mental hospital in Baltimore where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt), a fellow inmate with a loopy sense of reality that feeds all sorts of paranoid delusions of grandeur. Cole also encounters Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) a beautiful doctor who feels sympathy for him and his plight.

As Cole travels back and forth in time he begins to realize that one of the most important clues to the source of the deadly virus may lie in the rather enigmatic underground organization known only as The Army of the 12 Monkeys. Soon, Railly and Goines begin to play integral roles in Cole’s search as he consistently crosses paths with them. But is this all taking place in Cole’s mind? Is he really humanity’s only hope at averting a catastrophic disaster or is he just insane? From the first shot to the film’s conclusion we are never quite sure of Cole’s sanity or lack thereof. It is just one of many questions that the audience must think about not only during the film but long after it ends.

The seeds of Twelve Monkeys lie in an obscure French New Wave film called La Jetee (1962) made by Chris Marker. The film was composed entirely of black and white photographs and set in Paris after World War III. It was an apocalyptic vision in reaction to the threat of nuclear annihilation that became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. Writers David and Janet Peoples were approached by producer Robert Kosberg to do an adaptation of La Jetee. The screenwriting couple wasn’t that keen on the idea, however. “We couldn’t see the point. It’s a masterpiece and we didn’t see that there was anyway to translate that masterpiece,” David remarked in an interview. And he was no slouch to the art of screenwriting, having rewritten the screenplay for Blade Runner (1982) and penned the brilliant Clint Eastwood film, Unforgiven (1992).

Kosberg got the Peoples to watch La Jetee again and the couple began to see possibilities for a different, more detailed take on the material. “How would we react to people who showed up and said ‘Oh I’ve just popped up from the future’ and in turn how would that person deal with our reaction.” With this in mind, David and Janet set out to write a challenging piece of fiction that not only manipulated our conventional views of time but that also dealt with the notion of madness. Janet explained in an interview, “We were very interested in asking questions like ‘Is this man mad? And how about the prophets of the past, were they mad? Were they true prophets? Were they coming from another time? What are all the different possibilities?'” The film’s script argues that certain people who are classified insane by society at large may not really be crazy at all but are in actuality presenting ideas that are way ahead of our time. And perhaps the blame for this misunderstanding should be leveled at the psychiatric profession which, as one character in the film observes, has become the new religion of a society that has deserted traditional faith for modern technology.

After showing the finished screenplay to Marker and getting his blessings, the Peoples were faced with the daunting task of finding someone who would not only click with the material but also have the visual flair that the story needed. The couple figured that the only director to handle such tricky subject matter was somebody like Ridley Scott or Terry Gilliam. The theme of madness that plays such a prominent role in the script fit right in with Gilliam’s preoccupations and so he seemed the natural choice to direct. As luck would have it the filmmaker was between projects and looking for work after several years of seeing potential projects fall through for various reasons.

Gilliam was also eager to take a lot of Hollywood money (a $30 million budget) and create a strange art film that would fly in the face of the traditional mainstream movie. “The idea that someone’s writing a script like this in Hollywood and getting the studio to pay for it was pretty extraordinary. So I thought let’s continue to see how much money we can get the studio to spend.” Gilliam’s battles with Hollywood studios are the stuff of legend – most notably his struggle with Universal over the release of Brazil (1984). They wanted to revoke the director’s final cut privileges to insert a happier ending instead of Gilliam’s decidedly downbeat ending. Gilliam’s vision prevailed in the end, but the ordeal left him understandably wary of further studio involvement. He had reconciled somewhat with Hollywood by making The Fisher King (1991), which turned out to be a surprise commercial and critical success.

Architecture plays an important role in Gilliam’s films and Twelve Monkeys is no different. “I’ve always used architecture as if it was a character.” To this end, he found all sorts of intriguing architecture to populate his film. This included the transformation of an 1820s prison into a 1990s mental hospital where the film’s protagonist, James Cole first meets the Jeffrey Goines. The director found that the structure was designed like a wheel with spokes and hub. And so Gilliam used one section where three spoke-like parts headed off into nowhere. “It seemed to me [that] this trifurcated room was right for multiple personalities.” This feeling of madness is further amplified by the extensive use of skewed, off-kilter camera angles that are often shot at low angles to constantly distort and disorient the scene. “We started doing it and it got more and more fun to see how far we could push it because I wanted to create an atmosphere that you don’t know whether this guy is crazy or whether he actually does come back from the future.” The unusual camera angles not only mimic Cole’s confused state but also reflect Jeffrey’s manic, hyperactive worldview. By presenting the mindsets of these two characters in such a fashion, Gilliam is inviting us to see the world through their eyes and in the process offer a new, unique take on the world that we might not have been aware of before.

Gilliam was not just content to challenge mainstream audiences with unusual visuals and subject matter, but he also wanted to mess with people’s perception of certain movie stars by casting box office names like Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis against type. “One of the reasons [for doing Twelve Monkeys] was taking Bruce and putting him into situations and asking of him things I don’t think he’s ever done before or that people haven’t seen him do … and with Brad Pitt it’s the same thing. Brad is pretty laconic in some ways. Suddenly he’s a blabbermouth, jabbering away at high speed. I love doing that, playing with the public’s perception of that star; otherwise, it wouldn’t be fun.” As a result we get a very different Bruce Willis here than we have come to expect. Gone are the wisecracks and smart-aleck attitude and instead we see Willis impart a real wounded sensibility to the character of James Cole. The reluctant time traveler always seems to be flinching at every little thing, often appearing disoriented or distracted as he struggles to understand what is going on around him. Willis displays great skill in this role – perhaps the best of his career – as he creates a truly tragic figure that may or may not be losing his mind.

Brad Pitt’s character, Jeffrey Goines, resides at the exact opposite end of the spectrum. Where Cole is a sad, brooding figure, Goines is a frenetic psychotic oscillating wildly between paranoid ravings and calm interludes where his madness is kept in check but still resides behind wild eyes. It’s a daring performance for Pitt who lets it all hang out as he gladly chews up the scenery with his loony radical environmentalist cum revolutionary that all but steals every scene he’s in. It’s a performance that Pitt worked long and hard to achieve and it paid off in a Golden Globe Award that year for Best Supporting Actor and an Academy Award nomination in the same category.

It is easy to see what attracted Terry Gilliam to a project like Twelve Monkeys. In keeping with his past films, this one also played “with the same old things – time, reality, madness – so I was intrigued.” Even though it was one of the few projects he did not originate himself, Gilliam quickly made the film his own. In fact, it is Twelve Monkeys‘ unique look that prevents any easy categorization. As Gilliam observed in an interview, “I’m determined to make it indefinable.” It is this avoidance of any clear cut genre that makes the film a riddle waiting to be solved. The film is also structured somewhat like an onion. On the surface, the audience knows very little at the beginning, but gradually as it progresses and the layers are removed, more and more of the mystery is revealed. However, this is not readily apparent after an initial viewing. Only after subsequent screenings does the full impact and brilliance of what Gilliam and his cast and crew have created sink in. It is this great amount of care and detail that has clearly gone into this film that makes Twelve Monkeys worth watching.