Tag Archives: Michael Caine

Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa

Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa is a stunning film, an enigmatic jewel that doesn’t reveal any of its secrets or intent after the first five minutes, half hour or even mid point but rather let’s the passage of time, the sense of place, the richness of character and mesmeric atmosphere draw the viewer in. Bob Hoskins is George in another one of his ferocious bulldog performances, but this time around there’s a roughly sculpted emotional climate he’s cultivating too. George is an ex con who has drifted off his path in life, and after being released from prison has no idea where to turn. An old mob contact sets him up as driver and protector to high class call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson) and the two of them get on thunderously at first, until he gradually falls madly in love. She is a cipher, and Tyson plays her with a counterintuitive, flint-spark resilience. What’s she looking for as she scans the inky black London streets with an uncommonly focused gaze? I won’t spoil the surprise, but this narrative unfolds organically, at its own pace and with a deep feel for London as both a city and a primordial habitat. Michael Caine is deliciously vile as the horrid porn kingpin Mortwell, a selfish sociopath whose path George and Simone must cross on their own. You can’t quite pin this one down in any one genre and therein lies the magic that is a Jordan film. His work is always illusory yet somehow so specific but never tethered to any one thing you could describe in a few sentences. He makes films less from a genre perspective and more from a life perspective. There’s romance here to be sure, but not in the way one might think and the film’s violent conclusion set in seaside Brighton might leave you just as confused and heartbroken as some of its characters. There’s droll comedy too in episodic interactions between George and his chum Thomas, played by the great Robbie Coltrane in the kind of jovially cherubic turn that only he can pull off. There’s danger, loneliness, joy, monsters, corruption, redemption, love, hurt and more, all gilded by achingly beautiful cinematography drenched in West End neon, a Michael Kamen score that hits every note from jazz to a horror theme style jangle, of all things. I don’t know what else to say except experience this slice of life on celluloid for yourself, because it’s something truly special and not to really be put into words. Magnificent film.

-Nate Hill

Austin Powers in Goldmember

There’s two questions I get asked a lot when discussing films and they’re a) what is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen (to which I usually answer Blair Witch Project) and b) what is the funniest movie you’ve ever seen. It’s interesting how subjective these two specific genres are, and how impossible it is to please an entire demographic with just one film. Anyways that second question is a tough cookie but after some thought I’d most likely go with Austin Powers In Goldmember which really is solid gold and probably the most fucking funny thing in existence. It’s my favourite of the trilogy and arguably the best, right down to the little moments that seal the deal. It opens with a stunning Bruckheimer’s Bond type action sequence where we get the hilariously meta sight of Tom Cruise as Austin, Gwenyth Paltrow as (snigger) ‘Dixie Normous’, Kevin Spacey as Dr. Evil and best of all Danny Devito as Mini Me. It’s that kind of inspiration that one ups the other two films and goes the extra mile in making this the literal gold standard. Also… how effing hot is Beyoncé in this? Foxy Cleopatra is by far the best Powers babe and even puts a bunch of 007 vixens to shame. Honestly though the funniest part for me is Dr. Evil, a sublimely funny character whose speech patterns, ADHD shenanigans, bizarre recounting of his childhood and relentless abuse of his awkward son (Seth Green) just steals the show, man. Not to mention Fat Bastard, also played by Mike Meyers doing quadruple duty this time around. His in-depth analysis of an enormous fart has to be the pinnacle: “Even stink would say that stinks.” Off the top of my head I can think of countless elements that play part in making this my favourite comedy: Mini Me’s massive schlong (“It’s like a baby’s arm holding an apple”), the disturbingly raunchy shadow puppets, Dr. Evil’s MTV motivated prison break, Steven Spielberg doing cartwheels, Meyer’s uproarious ‘Dutch’ accent, Michael Caine’s super horny mega spy Nigel Powers and everyone laughing hysterically at Austin when he fails to show up to his knighting ceremony, the running montage of dick jokes that now pivots into boob jokes narrated by a host of silly celebrity cameos too abundant to check off here, Austin’s groovy hit single ‘Daddy Wasn’t There’, Britney Spears as a FemBot, a sneaky John Travolta, man the list just goes fucking on and on. The film has a loose way about it and is pretty off the wall regarding any sensible plot and as such I’ve kind of just made this a stream of consciousness thing about how dope this movie is rather than an actual review, plus I’m tired and lazy as shit today and don’t feel like writing any kind of structured review. So there you go, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. The next big question I always get is ‘Will they ever make an Austin Powers 4?’ Well I’m not involved in Hollywood whatsoever and as such have no fucking clue. But never say never, I mean in this age of nostalgia we’ve gotten sequels to Dumb & Dumber, Bill & Ted, Bad Boys, Men In Black and more decades after the fact, so we’ll see. I will say that if Meyers & Co. do decide to go for it, they’ve set the bar intimidatingly high with Goldmember and better all bring their fucking Eh Game.

-Nate Hill

Hidden Gems: Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum aka Eliza Graves

Ever heard the expression ‘inmates running the asylum?’ Brad Anderson’s Stonehearst Asylum has, and quite literally spins a terrifically gothic horror yarn for the ages around it, packed with stars, ideas, twists, beautiful scenery and a wistful aesthetic reminiscent of old Hammer horror stuff. Now if the premise sounds like a final act twist let me assure you I haven’t spoiled anything that the trailers don’t cheerfully announce early on. This film is so bonkers it starts at level ten madness and only ratchets the lever up from there. But don’t get the idea that this is a raving madhouse without story or subtlety either, for all its wanton spectacle there are well drawn human beings with something to say behind these walls.

Based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Jim Sturgess stars as an apprentice Alienist shipped off to the austere Stonehearst Asylum in rural Britain (actually stunning Bulgarian countryside) to learn the trade. Once there he discovers that the facility’s real staff have been overthrown by the patients in a violent revolution and now a cunning madman (Ben Kingsley doing a sly riff on his Shutter Island character) is impersonating the actual superintendent (an icy Michael Caine) and calling the shots. This is apparent right off the bat since the place seems to have no security protocol in place and oddballs of all shape and size cavort freely about the manor. One patient who doesn’t seem to be a hopeless basket case though is the mysterious Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a girl with a shady past and secrets up her sleeve.

Director Anderson is an unsung horror thriller maestro with an incredibly solid track record including The Machinist, Session 9, The Call, Vanishing On 7th Street and now this which is a proper old school horror flick like you don’t really see anymore. This is a film that throws in subplots simply to have them there, amps up simple set pieces until they are unnecessarily but wonderfully cacophonous and is just overall in love with storytelling. The cast are all clearly having the time of their lives especially Kingsley who injects some genuine pathos into a role that could come across as high camp in someone else’s hands, exploring the notion of what would happen for real in this outlandish scenario. We also get familiar faces like Brendan Gleeson, Jason Flemyng, Christopher Fulford, Sinead Cusack and others. Standouts include newcomer Sophie Kennedy Clarke as a scene stealing patient with a penchant for childlike melodrama and David ‘Professor Lupin’ Thewlis as a particularly scary homicidal resident. You’ve kind of gotta employ considerable suspension of disbelief here, this is a film where spectacle, atmosphere and incident dance over the graves of logic and continuity, but there’s a rich tale to be absorbed with many fine performances, gorgeous cinematography and a creaky gothic vibe. Highly recommended, you can find this streaming on Amazon Prime.

-Nate Hill

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

SBIFF: An Evening with Alfonso Cuaron

At the emotional core of Alfonso Cuaron’s seminal works is sacrifice. Take his latest film ROMA, where he not only secured his second Academy Award as a director but also legitimized Netflix as a game-changing powerhouse. Within the fertile layers of the background, middleground, and foreground is a woman who is bound by servitude, putting the wellbeing and lives of the children she cares for above her own, as well as her unborn child. Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine all selflessly end their lives for the greater good in CHILDREN OF MEN, and same could be said for George Clooney in GRAVITY.

Alfonso Cuaron SBIFF

Speaking at a Q&A with Yalitza Aparicio after a free screening on ROMA at the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Cuaron spoke to memory and how for one to truly understand a memory, in particular, one of a deep personal meaning, they have to understand the present and where they currently are in their life. He then went on to caution how “memory is the biggest liar” and indirectly stated how memory creates a false sense of the past, allowing us to not just romanticize it, but also how we condition ourselves to be selective and allowing nostalgia to trump the continuity of our past. To quote Cormac McCarthy’s THE COUNSELOR, “reflective men often find themselves at a place removed from the realities of life.”

CHILDREN OF MEN is Cuaron’s most important work. It is not just some dystopian future shot by the remarkable Emmanuel Lubezki with tracking shots stacked atop one another; it is a premonition and it is a film that becomes all too real as we embark into the unknown future of humanity. Not only does is champion the current plight of migrants fleeing their warzone homeland and being put into cages, but also government propaganda strategically laced with a populous message of population control; all of this orchestrated by an overbearing and overreaching government to sew seeds of discontent in a power-grab that is designed to numb the minds of the people with the ultimate goal of total and complete control.

Upon a fresh viewing of the film, presented on the big screen by SBIFF as apart of the director’s showcase, what was striking was Michael Caine’s character Jasper, the once renown zany political cartoonist who has since become the voice of reason in a world that hasn’t just been forgotten and abandoned, but been erased. His glasses were circular shaped, he listened to music that came from a time and place of deep meaning and philosophical importance. His hair was long but parted perfectly, and his lexicon and accent were remarkably striking.

Michael Caine, Children of Men

“I don’t know if this is off base, but I could not help but think that Michael Caine’s character was John Lennon if he had not died.”

Cuaron’s eyes got big and smiled as he threw his head back.

“Yes! That was all Michael. He said, “I want to play it like John.” I said, “John who?” And then he said, “Lennon!” and then I thought to myself, oh but of course that is who Jasper is! It was all Michael’s idea. From the glasses to the wig with that was parted just like Lennon’s hair.”

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Cuaron is enigmatic, he is a stone cold auteur; a maverick filmmaker who constantly changes the formula of cinema, producing a pristine mosque with each new picture. His eye for detail is painstaking, birthing films that are so atmospheric that one can smell the cigarette smoke, feel the sweat, and obsess with the phantom ring in their ear. His films are unique, they tend not to string together aesthetically or thematically, yet with each one of his seminal works lies and unapologetic and selfless acts of sacrifice.

The Man behind The Dark Knight rises by Kent Hill

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How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.

I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’  by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.

But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.

Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.

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Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.

All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.

Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…

 

https://www.hulu.com/press/show/batman-and-bill/

https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/1360261187749/batman-and-bill (for Aussie viewers only)

https://www.amazon.com/Bill-Boy-Wonder-Secret-Co-Creator/dp/1580892892

 

John Huston’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

John Huston’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is a cinematic feat. It’s a remarkable fable, tracking two adventures who trek deep into a dangerous land with the design of ruling a region where white men have not set foot since Alexander the Great. The film encompasses engrossing performances, a tremendous score, a taut script, and awe inspiring photography all engineered and guided by Huston, one of cinemas filmmaking titans.

Sean Connery and Michael Caine headline the film as a pair of former British soldiers whose exploratory ambitions are offset by their primal brutality yet softened by their chemistry and wry offbeat humor. Christopher Plummer is the narrative anchor of the film, he acts as the narrator as well as the audience to Caine retelling his adventure with Connery. The two of them are a remarkable pair in the film, they bring their pre-existing screen personas and mesh them together and fuse a relationship that grows and blossoms throughout the film, until they reach their breaking point and bid one another an emotional farewell.

The picture is more than just an exhilarating adventure, it morphs into a cautionary tale of demigods and false prophets; the dark desire of man to transcend into a God. Caine and Connery propel the film forward, their performances are as raw as they are touching. Yet what truly makes this film remarkable is that it exists in a period of film where epics were truly epic. It’s shot on tangible locations, it is populated with indigenous people playing indigenous people; an air of authenticity is created and immediately accepted by the audience.

The craftsmanship of the film cannot be understated. The practicality is wonderful, from the sets to the costumes and beyond. The locations are as exotic as they are ominous; spanning sandy dunes and tribal villages to the vast snowy mountains, to their endgame – a civilization untouched by the outside world for centuries, a beautifully dilapidated holy site filled with treasure and dangerous mystique.

While the story is fun and entertaining, it cascades into a heartbreaking and bittersweet ending as the rise and fall of the pair’s conquest quickly erodes into a breathtaking climax where ramifications of greed and lust for power comes full circle and the characters are dealt with not just appropriately but poetically as well. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is that underappreciated Hollywood epic that somehow found a way during the counterculture and rage against the machine films of the 70s.