Tag Archives: Michael Clarke Duncan

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

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Hidden Gems: Reto Salimbeni’s One Way

Reto Salimbeni’s One Way literally starts off one way and throws curve ball after left field turn after another until you really begin to appreciate a truly original script for once. Granted he produced his film in indie land where there’s considerably more creative freedom than the studio system but still, this is one unique film and I promise you it’s not the action thriller that the US market has tried to sell it as.

As the film opens, teenage Angelina is pursued and sexually assaulted by several boys alongside a riverbank. Suddenly a mysterious military general (the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan) appears out of nowhere and, after gaining her permission, positively ventilates them with a sub-machine gun. Jump cut to a decade or so later and we see hotshot advertising exec Eddie (Til Schweiger), married to the boss’s daughter (Stephanie Von Pfetten) but cheating on her every chance he gets with multiple women. Grown up Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith) works for the firm too, and they both get entangled up in a murder investigation involving the boss’s son (Sebastian Roberts), who is a sadistic rapist and very dangerous given his position of power.

I’ve done my best to somewhat describe the story so you have a vague idea of what this is all about but it’s tough to impart just how twisty and unexpected the thing gets, and that’s half the fun. Schweiger isn’t exactly an actor of dramatic heft, often appearing as stylized characters or posturing tough guys, but he does alright here as the sheepish philanderer who learns his lesson big time. Smith is fantastic as the most sympathetic character and the closest we come to a clear cut protagonist, dealing with the most tragic, yet ultimately heroic arc and nailing it beautifully. Duncan is the most striking character and is seen the least but always makes a huge impression, here in a small but incredibly key role. Watch for Art Hindle, Kenneth Welsh, Ned Bellamy and Eric Roberts in a brilliant extended cameo as a defense attorney who gets a few big dramatic moments of his own.

I can see why this film was tough to market as there is so much going on tonally, narratives weaving together at their own leisure and nothing really conventional about it at all. There’s corporate espionage, courtroom intrigue, emotional interpersonal drama and many more elements at play. Really though it’s about confronting your past, dealing with trauma particularly when it comes to sexual abuse and standing up to people who attack with impunity. Smith’s character takes front and center here, getting a gruesome revenge scene that rivals The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in it’s intensity. She has to face the horrors of her past full on here, whilst dealing with the legal problems Schweiger has thrown into the mix and it all makes for a unique, emotionally stirring and hypnotic hidden gem of a drama that I highly recommend.

-Nate Hill

Cats & Dogs

In my household the felines and canines seem to abide harmoniously, but in the hectic alternate reality of Warner Bros’ Cats & Dogs, such is not the case. This is one silly ass movie whose special effects time has not been kind to, but I still kind of partly dig it anyways. Jeff Goldblum plays one of his terminally awkward dudes, a scientist who is on the verge of curing dog allergies in humans, and the ruling body of the cat nation, spearheaded by Sean Hayes persnickety Mr. Tinkles, keeps sending in spies to steal the formula. The dog faction, lead by Charlton Heston’s grizzled General, send in operatives of their own to counter the attacks, including Alec Baldwin’s veteran Butch and an excitable Beagle rookie (Tobey Maguire). The filmmakers used a chaotic blend of real live animals, jerky animatronics and barely passable CGI to bring the whole spectacle to life, but they can be given somewhat of a pass as it was the early 2000’s. I did get a kick out of parachuting ninja Siamese cats, a Russian specialist sent in to infiltrate Goldblum’s household and the variety of voice actors including Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Lovitz and Susan Sarandon. Something has to be said for the borderline psychotic nursemaid (Miriam Margoyles) who preens over the villainous Mr. Tinkles like the matron from hell, these scenes do come alive and induce chuckles, but for the most part this is kind of a lame, dated flick.

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes


I’m going to catch some heat for this, but I’ve found Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes to be a far better film than any of the three recent versions. I can’t explain it, but there’s something so otherworldly and exotic about the production design, makeup and effects, a true storyteller’s touch used, resulting in a piece with elements of fantasy and world building brought lushly to the forefront, whereas the newer films just felt somewhat clinical and sterile, going through minimalist motions without any real sense of wonder applied. Oh and another thing: real, tactile makeup on actual human actors, which will win against motion capture/cgi any day. There’s also an old world, medieval feel to this planet, as the ‘humans being subservient to apes’ dynamic has already been in full swing for generations, as opposed to a lengthy origin story that takes up most of the newer trilogy. No build up here, just Marky Mark getting marooned on a distant world dominated by simians, fighting his way through their ranks, sort of falling in love with one (Helena Bonham Carter as a monkey=kinky) and attempting to find a way back to earth. There’s various apes of all shapes and sizes at war, the most memorable of which is a sleek, snarling Tim Roth as Thade, a volatile warlord who despises humans. Michael Clarke Duncan towers over everyone as Attar, his cohort and fellow soldier, and seeing already be-jowelled Paul Giamatti as a cumbersome orangutan is priceless. The human faction is led by weathered Kris Kristofferson and his daughter (Estella Warren, quite possibly the most beautiful girl on the planet), leading the dregs of humanity as they exist in hiding and fight for their lives. No expense was spared in filling every frame of this planet with lived-in splendour and atmospheric decoration, from suits of armour and architecture to the overgrown thickets of mountainous vegetation that grow on this world. As for the apes themselves, it’s terrific how real they feel. It’s the same thing that happened with Lord Of The Rings vs. The Hobbit, and the switch from practical Orc effects to the overblown cgi madness of the goblins in the later films. The human eye is inherently adept at deciphering what is real and what is not, and the effects of the later Ape films with Andy Serkis just felt lifeless and orchestrated, whereas here the makeup prosthetics are organic, authentic and wonderful to look at. Don’t even get me started on the ending either, it’s completely brilliant and will leaving you in cold isolation as the credits roll, a perfect gut punch to a film that could have easily turned sappy in the eleventh hour. So that’s my two cents. Bring on the backlash. 

-Nate Hill

Sin City: A Review by Nate Hill 

I remember seeing the edgy character posters for Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City hanging on the movie theatre wall when I was younger, having no idea what Sin City was or any knowledge of the books, but thinking they looked incredibly cool and enticing. Then the trailer came out, and it was all I could think, talk or breathe about for months leading up to its release. I was obsessed. When opening weekend arrived I got my dad to take me, and spent two unforgettable hours of cinematic nirvana in a dark auditorium that was packed to the gills with fans old and young alike, each basking in the delectable black, white and colour speckled glow of the piece unfolding in front of us. I had never seen anything like it, and it blew my system into sensory orbit like nothing had before. Around this time I was just discovering a lot of Rodriguez’s and Tarantino’s career, poring over pulp and crime thrillers from all across the decades as my love for cinema expanded, and this was something I just knew would be special as soon as I saw that first provocative teaser poster. The innovation and artistic ambition used by the ever resourceful Rodriguez and his team led to gleaming critical reception, a massive box office hit and one of the most gorgeous pieces of art in the motion picture realm. His decision to simply lift the still frames out of Frank Miller’s graphic novels was something that not every director would be able to go along with, let alone wrap their minds around (director’s are a finicky lot who always have thir own bright ideas, even when the source material is already gold). Rodriguez was so in love with the books that he envisioned them onscreen just the way they were drawn, and that’s pretty much what you get in the film. The pre-credit sequence sets the dark, vibrant, moody and impossibly lurid setting of Basin City, a rotting heap of corruption  where almost everyone is either corrupt, sleazy or just outright evil, and even the ones that aren’t deal out some pretty heinous bouts of violence themselves. The prologue involves girl in in a red dress (Marley Shelton) conversing with a mysterious, well dressed man (Josh Hartnett). The scene takes a turn for the dark and tragic, we zoom out as Rodriguez’s self composed gutter lullaby of a score grinds into motion, and the glowering opening credits trundle by, a moment of a pure joy for anyone watching. The film is separated into three central vignettes, each from a different volume of the comics. The first, and strongest, features a sensational Mickey Rourke as Marv, a hulking bruiser built like six linebackers and basically impervious to anything that could kill a human being. After a heavenly night with hooker Goldie (Jaime King), he wakes up to find her lying dead next to him, not a mark on her. This gives his set of talents a purpouse beyond bar fights and roughing up abusive frat boys, and he wages a war of ultraviolence in her name, to his grave if he must. There are some villains in these stories that seem to be dredged up from the very bottom of the last pit of hell, just the worst of humanity’s many deplorable qualities. Marv eventually runs into evil arch bishop Cardinal Roark (a devious Rutger Hauer) and insane cannibal ninja sicko Kevin (Elijah Wood will haunt your nightmares)., on his bloody quest. Rourke’s genius even shines out through 12 pounds of prosthetic makeup slapped all over his mug, and he captures the wayward warrior soul in Marv, a restless anger and old school, Charles Bronson esque charm by way of Frankenstein’s monster. His work is a great way to kick off the first third of the film, and the gravelly narration hits you right in the film noir nostalgia. The second segment is a lot more lively, with far more people running around, sans the melancholy of Rourke’s bit, and instead emblazoned with a war cry of a story starring Clive Owen as Dwight, a hotshot tough guy who gets on the wrong side of seriously scummy dirty cop Jackie Boy (a growling Benicio Del Toro having a ball) who likes to beat up on waitress Shelley (Brittany Murphy). Dwight pursues him to Old Town, a district run by lethal militant prostitutes lead by no nonsense Gail (Rosario Dawson can use that whip and chain on me anytime). Then everything goes haywire (I won’t say why), and Michael Clarke Duncan gets involved as a weirdly articulate, golden eye sporting otherworldly mercenary named Manute. This middle section is the one that feels most like a comic book, where as the other too have more of a noir flavor, like their old Hollywood roots. The third and most depraved chapter (which is no light statement in this town), sees aging Detective John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) lay his life down in order to protect young Nancy Callahan from a terrifying pedophile child killer (Nick Stahl) who is the spawn of despicable US Senator Roark (Powers Boothe sets up a cameo of the pure evil he would go on to exude with his much larger role in the sequel). Jessica Alba plays the adult version of Nancy, now an exotic dancer and once again in danger from Stahl, who now has some… interesting changes to bis appearance, courtesy of genital mutilation from Hartigan years before. It’s one demented set of stories that would be almost too much to take in the real world, but this is Sin City, a realm that exists in the darkest dreams of Raymond Chandler and his ilk, a seething netherworld of stunningly beautiful women, ghastly corruption and terror,  and good deeds that go unheralded in the night, bloody retribution perpetrated by antiheros and tragic scapegoats who know damn well what a pit of hell their town is, and that nobility is but a drop in the bucket of injustice they wade through on their way to violent exodus. The cast list goes on for miles longer than I’ve mentioned so far, but look out for Alexis Bledel, Carla Gugino, Michael Madsen, Jude Ciccollela, Nicky Katt, Nick Offerman, Tommy Flanagan and Devon Aoki as Miho, a deadly little hooker assassin who can turn you into a pez dispenser with her razor sharp katana. The level of violence on display throughout the film is so far over the top that after a while it seems almost Looney Toons in nature. Throats are slashed, heads are removed, testicles are ripped off, skulls are crushed and all manner of maiming and murder inflicted. What made it acceptable with the ever gay MPAA though is the fact that mic of it exists in the black and white mode of visual storytelling, and only a few instances of actual red blood seen.  That goes for more than just the violence though in terms of color. Amid the sea of stark black and white there are beautiful hidden gems of colour that you have to train your eye to find. A pair of green eyes, a crimson convertible cadillac, the sickly yellow pallor of Stahl’s mutated skin. That’s but a taste of the patchwork quilt of visual artistry you are treated to here, and has constantly been emulated in either work since, but never quite effectively as here. That’s the idea of it though, a heavily stylized piece of hard boiled neo noir that exists simply to plumb the very depths of darkest genre territory, do justice to Miller’s books with a laundry list of wicked actors, a bonus scene directed by Quentin Tarantino and a story that’s pure noir to its bloodstained bones.

Broken Lizard’s The Slammin Salmon: A Review by Nate Hill 

The hype surrounding comedy troupe Broken Lizard quieted down somewhat after the hullabaloo of both Super Troopers and Beerfest, but that didn’t mean they halted their output. In 2009 they released the insanely funny screwball romp The Slammin Salmon, which nobody seems to have seen and garnered nowhere near as much buzz as their previous films. It’s just as much of a riot, this time landing the gang into a Miami seafood restaurant, after their jaunts in rural law enforcement and extreme competitive alcohol consumption. The restaurant they all ‘work’ at is owned by a hulking bull in a china shop named Cleon ‘Slammin’ Salmon, a gigantic ex pro boxer played by the late great Michael Clarke Duncan in one of his last, and best, appearances. Cleon runs the restaurant with an obnoxious iron fist, a giant petulant brat with a penchant for beating up his staff and the social skills of a grizzly bear. On a busy night he announces to his staff that they must sell enough deceased marine life on plates to come up with a ten grand debt he owes to the Asian mob. This sets off a chain of reliably hilarious shenanigans involving the whole Broken Lizard crew, and a few cameos from salty hollywood veterans, a welcome trend that is commonplace among their films. The pushover manager Rich (Kevin Hefferman) attempts to keep the order. The lunatic head chef (Paul Soter) and his dimbulb busboy brother (also Soter) create trouble for everyone. Douchey waiter Guy (Eric Stolhanske) plays dirty to boost his sales. Ditzy server Mia (April Bowlby) dolls up her smile and smart one Tara (Cobie Smulders) plays it crafty to get ahead. Funniest by far is Jay Chandrasekhar as Nuts, a weirdo whose alter ego Zongo makes insane appearances whenever he forgets to take his meds. Clarke Duncan is the bellowing life of the party though, in an untethered romp through the comedic corn that clearly has been improvised a lot and shows the actor having some of the most fun I’ve ever seen onscreen. It’s a chaotic flick that captures the mania of restaurant life perfectly, with nods to everything from Monty Python to Blake Edward’s The Party, while still retaining a contemporary personality of it’s own. Broken Lizard has a knack for making every joke land in their films, and it’s laugh city all the way through this one. From engagement rings in fecal matter, third degree burns from scalding soup, endless situational fisacos and satirical characters, it’s just wild. Watch for Lance Henriksen, Carla Gallo, Olivia Munn, Jim Gaffigan, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Morgan Fairchild, Vivica A. Fox as a pop star named Nutella (lol) and a priceless Will Forte. On par with Troopers and Beerfest, funny in spades and so damn re-watchable. An essential for comedy fans. 

Michael Bay’s The Island: A Review by Nate Hill

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I love The Island, because it breaks ranks from Michael Bay’s mostly uniform career and gives us entertainment where story is as important as action, which can’t be said for most of his films. Don’t get me wrong, I love his destructive maelstrom of a career to bits (except Transformers and Pain & Gain. Those are shameful.), it’s just nice to get a movie from him with something to latch onto besides just… boom crash smash. His visual setups are like fire dancing on the retinas, but with The Island we get to see what’s behind those eyes and actually get a concept to explore along with our helping of razzle dazzle. Now this type of story has been done before, in stuff like Logan’s Run or the lesser known Clonus Horror, and obviously this time around the story is jazzed by a considerable amount of chromed up energy and adrenaline. In the far future, a group of people are kept inside a gargantuan facility and told that the world’s population has been nearly wiped out by a contamination. Only one untainted zone remains: The Island. It’s a place where some take off to, after winning a much touted ‘lottery’ that allows them access. Only, they aren’t going to any such place at all. They are selected based on the need for organs, spare biological matter and baby carriers for their human counterparts, the rich and affluent. They’re dormant cattle, so to speak, clones awaiting empty promises. Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is one such individual, a curious fellow who first suspects something is wrong with their utopian existence, and once confirmed knows he needs to get out. Dragging along his friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) he makes a harebrained run for it, escaping the facility and venturing into the world outside, which is anything but contaminated. I like what Bay did with the production design; Things aren’t too wacky or space agey, and more or less that same as now, but accents like flying motorbikes or massive additions to existing skyscrapers let us know how brave of a new world it is. Lincoln and  Jordan suffer considerable culture shock as they flee, and it’s amusing to see the childish way they react to simple things like a telephone, or ordering drinks at a bar. The facility’s Director, an arrogant son of a bitch named Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean) sends a team of off the books ex special forces dudes after them, led by Laurent  (Djimon Hounsou gets the best moments out of the film, the only actor who can stop the momentum dead in its tracks with his soulful performance). From there a lot of it is a deafening roar filled with chases, car crashes, fights and a spectacular highway chase that will wake up the tenants both above and below your apartment. Yes, Bay just can’t help throwing in colossal action scenes where they aren’t particularly needed, and complain if you must, but if it’s really that much of a wrench in your enjoyment of the actual story going on around it,  then use such interludes for a bathroom break or to go apologize to the neighbors for the racket your speakers are kicking up. You can only hope for Bay to reign it in so much, the dude just loves his action. Ask him to direct a Jane Austen adaptation and you can bet your hat he’d throw in a fireball or two in just for good measure. It’s his passion, and I don’t resent people for what they love to do. In any case it’s a terrifically fun piece. McGregor and Johansson are pitch perfect, as they begin to clue in about the world around them, lashing out in anger over what’s being done to them and becoming quite resourceful. Bean resists the label of villain with his performance, branding Merrick as an idealist whose breakthrough blinded him into extremism, from which there is no turning back. Steve Buscemi shows up bearing kindly comic relief as a tech worker who assists in their escape. Michael Clarke Duncan is very affecting in one scene as a clone who finds out the truth the worst way possible. There’s also work from Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Max Baker, Glenn Morshower and an incredibly bizarre cameo from an uncredited Kim Coates. Steve Jablonsky composes what I believe to be his finest, most stirring work and the best score to date in a Bay flick, adding to the sweeping scope and pure cinematic current that this one soars on. One of my favourites, highly recommended.