Tag Archives: Michael Parks

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2

Roger Ebert observed about Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2 that although it takes place in a heightened reality that’s removed from the realism of our own, the human behaviour and emotions explored couldn’t be more real or more relatable. That insight is precisely why it is my favourite Tarantino film and in particular I think that the last half hour or so is the best, most thoughtful and intuitive thing he’s ever directed in a career that for the most part hasn’t dug that deep in such a way.

Every filmmaker must duck expectations and adapt or fall victim to self parody and repetition, and the guy understands this well. Volume 1 is a thrilling love letter to samurai films, peppered with sword fights, hectic editing and celebrates movement, choreography and synergistic expression. With this film though he moves inward, not just showing us the extreme actions of these characters, but why they’re doing them. The first film opens with the how, as Bill (David Carradine) tenderly puts a loaded gun to the temple of The Bride (Uma Thurman) and pulls the trigger. This film shows us what led to that, and the consequences yet to come, why indeed she feels the need to Kill Bill. It’s a beautiful story that’s acted to the nines by Thurman and Carradine, both giving their career best. The samurai vibe is somewhat present again but here the tone is that of a spaghetti western. Anyone who knows or loves this genre (pauses typing and raises hand) is familiar with the aesthetic: languidly paced shots, long glances lingered on by a camera that moves slowly, stolidly. Orchestral significance placed upon seemingly mundane or small gestures and measured, introspective performances. It’s all here, from the glorious wide shots of the California desert to the laconic inwardness of Michael Madsen’s Budd to the Morricone strains that Quentin loves to sample.

The Bride continues her quest stateside, taking on Madsen’s lowkey deadly cowboy, tussling with Daryl Hannah’s treacherous banshee Elle Driver, punching her way out of a sealed coffin six feet deep and even finding time to stop in for a quick visit with Michael Parks, sneakily playing a different role than Volume 1. Madsen is off the chain spectacular as Budd, a gruff, sadistic badass who has seen better days and seems done with life until she brings out the fire in him once again. His quiet scene with Carradine outside the rundown trailer is a showstopper, as is his priceless expression when chewed out by an asshole boss (Larry Bishop, providing the funniest moment in either of the two films). Tarantino brings out the best in Madsen and this is their finest collaboration, proving in tandem what creative forces both or them are.

This is the Uma and David show when it gets down to it though, their eventual confrontation is what we’ve been anticipating since the beginning, but he doesn’t quite give us what we expect. They meet at a quiet Mexican villa, she sees her daughter for the first time and the words spoken between them cut deeper than any of the physical blows, of which there are barely any. Both The Bride and Bill know exactly what their respective actions have done to them both individually and as a couple, and that there’s no going back from a betrayal like that. The fascinating thing, for me at least, is seeing how despite this anguish and hatred, they are still very obviously in love with each other, something that isn’t easy to get across without spelling out, but these actors nail it. I love the writing here, the body language, the time and attention spent on exploring the pathos, I think it’s Quentin’s showcase sequence and the one that dispels anyone from thinking of him only as ‘that guy who makes violent movies.’

He often works with his pal Robert Rodriguez and most people might immediately think of GrindHouse or Sin City but this is my favourite of their collaborations. Robert isn’t seen or present behind the camera but he composes an original score that is heartfelt, evocative of the western genre and altogether a brilliant composition, particularly the cues around Madsen. This is unique in the fact that it’s the only film Tarantino has made using a score in a career of distinctive soundtrack choices.

From the stunning opening sequence shot in dreamy black and white and aching with palpable yet guarded emotion to the intense, exhaustive training montages with warrior Pai Mai (Gordon Liu, also showing up in a different role) to the blood n’ dust takedown of Elle and Budd in the bone dry desolation out west to the final showdown and reconciliation of sorts with Bill, this is a fantastic story and one hell of a piece of filmmaking on every level. The two Volumes are so very different and I noticed the other day that although I’ve seen both probably hundreds of times, I’ve never watched them back to back. They are separate entities, two sides of the same coin. Bill tells The Bride that her side ‘always was a little lonely.’ The same goes for Volume two, there are less characters, more time spent on emotion and a slightly mournful feeling that the frenzy of Volume one just didn’t have time for. I love this portion of the story the most, I’ve always felt just a tiny bit more at home in Volume 2, and I will never have anything but absolute love for it.

-Nate Hill

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Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained really and truly feels like the old school exploitation epics that he was going for in everything from style, music, dialogue and especially pacing. Movies were longer back then in more ways than just length, which sounds odd so I’ll try and explain: Django has a great big laconic violent narrative that takes its time like a talkative houseguest and lingers for a while, until it seemingly ends. Then after that ending, there’s like another forty minutes of movie after, as if somehow with this one we discovered that staying past the credits magically extends the film into further, hidden acts. Seems crazy now but that’s the way some movies were back then. People have said that that feels lopsided and is a downfall for Django, but I disagree and think it gets a lot of it’s charm from that structural padding, no doubt purposeful on QT’s part. It’s also some of the most colourful, flat out ballistic and fun pieces he’s ever done. Post Kill Bill, he really delved into the past for some specific genre stabs at various key time periods, in some cases even rewriting history to meet his pulpy, shock ‘n awe oeuvre. Unchained tells the story of intense self freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx), jovially verbose bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, the soul of the picture), bratty, psychopathic plantation baron Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio refreshingly cast against type), and a whole sweaty myriad of other cowboys, slaves, businessman and opportunists in a very vivid Old West. Django and King aim to free his imprisoned wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from Candieland, a hellish property ruled over by traitorous head house slave Steven (cantankerous Samuel L. Jackson) and hordes of vicious, tumbleweed thugs. To say violence ensues is a big old understatement; the blood flows like Niagara here, the heads get shot off in double digit count and bullets tear through people like they’ve got barbed wire on them. Hyper stylized, yes, but never a case of style over substance, as QT’s scripts always see to. The friendship between King and Django is allowed to percolate like their tin campfire coffee pot long before any serious chaos ensues, these two make a stalwart pair. DiCaprio is a grinning antagonist whose heinous personality is obvious in Waltz’s gradual revulsion, a setup ripe with gleeful, knee slapping suspense. Joining them is an all star supporting cast including James Remar in sly dual roles, James Russo, Zoe Bell, Miriam F. Glover, Russ Tamblyn, Amber Tamblyn, M.C. Gainey, Walton Goggins, Laura Cayouette, Dennis Christopher, Dana Gourrier, Franco Nero, Don Stroud, Bruce Dern, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jonah Hill, Lee Horsley, Tom Savini, James Parks, QT himself with a horrendous Aussie accent, a Michael Parks cameo and Don Johnson as a hilarious plantation pimp called Big Daddy. The soundtrack samples everything from Rick Ross to Morricone to Johnny Cash to amp up the proceedings, and cinematography traverses rough hewn deserts, snowy peaks and buzzing bayous to provide sharp, succinct atmosphere for this extreme yarn to play out in. QT’s career comes in two halves for me: The hard boiled, present day set gangster flicks that segued into Kill Bill, still set in our times. For the second half he’s gone historical and turned up the dial on violence, characterization, action and colour, and Django can arguably be called the showcase picture in latter day Tarantino. It’s big, bold, audacious,

unapologetic and I love every second of it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Librarians aka Strike Force

Exterior, Miami Beach. A hardened mercenary (everyone’s favourite tough guy, William Forsythe) has just returned the kidnaped daughter of a businessman, and the guy says “I don’t even know what to call you guys.” Forsythe’s Simon replies “Just call us the Librarians… lets just say we return overdue books”, with a straighter face than David Caruso’s Horatio Cain on CSI, another ludicrous Miami tough guy. Anyways, that’s the kind of knowingly asinine B Movie Glory (trademarked at this point) that we have here, but it’s a good bit of fun, to quote a certain Tarantino character. Forsythe’s off the books squad deals in locating the victims of human trafficking, and bringing the pain to those who perpetrate it. He’s joined by Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco, martial arts star Daniel Bernhardt and former playboy bunny turned B movie maiden Erika Eleniak. Their next task: rescue the kidnaped daughter of a mysterious billionaire (Michael Parks Skypes in a cameo that contains more gravity than the rest of the film combined, not to mention more than it deserves) from the clutches of a slimy crime lord (Andrew Divoff in full villain mode). It’s routine and predictable, punctuated by off the wall one liners, porno lit sex scenes, low grade gunfight last and sloppy hand to hand combat. I still can’t get over that aforementioned snippet of dialogue though, it sums up what glorious little gems like this are all about, encapsulates the B action film and Forsythe delivers it with that knowing little smirk that’s says it all. Watch for familiar faces like Ed Lauter, Forsythe’s own daughter Rebecca, Christopher Atkins and more. Oh yeah, and Burt Reynolds shows up briefly as a shady character credited (he actually had his name removed from the roster, understandably) as ‘Irish’. His first and middle names could be ‘Not’ and ‘Actually’, because the brogue he uses here is worse than Tommy Lee Jones I’m Blown Away and Dennis Hopper in Ticker combined, it’s a perplexing, cringy cameo. Hilarious stuff.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Stranger By Night

Stranger By Night is an all but forgotten cop thriller starring Steven Bauer, a charismatic actor who, after a showcase role in Brian DePalma’s Scarface and a handful of other prolific 90’s appearances, fell from grace into the netherworld of direct to video releases, like so many other former heavy hitters. This one sits above the bilge water because of a uniquely psychological angle towards the ‘killer terrorizing an urban neighbourhood’ motif, a great central performance from him and some memorable scenes. Bauer his precinct are looking for a murderer, but the kick is that he has a sketchy mental mindset, experienced weird blackouts, fits of rage an missing hours, which not only makes tracking down any suspects difficult, but always puts the crosshairs of suspicion on him. He’s an unreliable protagonist who means well but keeps getting sabotaged by his own demons, a theme played up nicely. The story involving the killer is fairly run of the mill, but anything to do with his character developments is cool stuff, especially in an introspective conversational has with his father (J.J. Johnston). There’s another cop played by the great Michael Parks, but the underwritten role is wasted on an actor meant to shine, but at least the production benefits from his credit. This one is low key, but I enjoyed the exploration in character for Bauer, as well as a hectic opening montage that sets the maniacal tone.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: 13 Moons


It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package. 

-Nate Hill

From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter- A Review by Nate Hill 

Some franchises feel stale and wrung out by the time the third effort comes along, but not From Dusk Till Dawn. In fact I’d even be so bold as to say that despite not having quite such a budget and resources as the original Tarantino/Rodriguez splatter party, this prequel almost has more in the way of imagination. The first came out of the gate roaring and paved the way, the second was a more mellow heist orientated flick that incorporated the horror elements in as it went, but the third does something altogether different. It’s a period piece, set a hundred years in the past, sometime around the Mexican/American war. When notorious outlaw Johnny Madrid (Marco Leonardi) dodges the hangman’s noose and escapes, he brings abused daughter Esmerelda (Ara Celi) along and scrambles for the state line. The ferocious hangman is none too pleased, given the menacig scowl of Maori bad boy Temuerra Morrison, who played Jango Fett in another prequel we all love. Rounding up a posse, he hunts Madrid and his scurvy gang through the terrain. Madrid is unknowingly headed for a far worse danger though, when he and Esmerelda run straight into the iconic Titty Twister bar, dressed up like a frontier whorehouse this time around. Also along for the ride are a group of wagon travellers including a young newlywed couple (Rebecca Gayheart and Lennie Loftin), oddball Ezra (Orlando Jones) and the real life writer Ambrose Bierce, played with alcoholic grit and gallows humour by Michael Parks. Bierce is famous for actually disappearing somewhere in that area back then, and I like how the film cleverly weaves fact and fiction, putting in a commendable effort to make the turn of events fascinating beyond just a servicable horror level. Danny Trejo also returns, as he must, playing pretty much the same character he did in the first and second, never mind the fact that he keeps dying (you can’t really kill Danny, everyone knows this). I love the formula for these films; they always start out with a slower paced, pulp/crime style narrative that suddenly explodes into creature FX, blood orgies and vampire mayhem without much warning. The first was the bank robbers on the run with hostages, the second was the heist crew and the third is a rousing Desperado style actioner that morphs into the horror we all know is coming. Well produced with a lot of love and some real thought put into the story, exciting and provides more than enough for any horror fan. Definitely the better of the two sequels. 

Blood Father: A Review by Nate Hill 

Blood Father is the best I’ve seen from Mel Gibson in years. Between extended cameos in the Machete and Expendables franchises and the underwhelming Get The Gringo, there just hasn’t been a film in a while that I thoroughly enjoyed and felt that cinematic rush I used to feel when watching his older, classic stuff. This has it all: a rough, rugged story line, an older, grizzled and disarmingly jacked up Mel, and a surprising rose of an emotional core that’s embedded in a violent bed of thorns which serves as our narrative. Later in his career Mel has been playing older, meaner versions of antiheros from his past, and one gets the comforting feeling that any of these jaded brutes could be the unofficial versions of those very same characters. Desert dwelling excon tattoo artist John Link could easily be an older Porter, the protagonist from my favourite Gibson film, Payback. I’d like to think that such parallels are deliberate on the filmmaker’s part. Whoever he is, Link has a long and checkered past of broken bridges and incarceration, etched like a road map onto his shaggy visage. When his troubled teenage daughter (Erin Moriarty, terrific here as well as this year’s Captain Fantastic) re-enters his life on the run from her psycho cartel brat of a boyfriend (Diego Luna), the fire in Link is kindled. Taking her on the run, he goes into ultimate protective dad mode and let’s the old forges of violence burn bright once again, in hopes of finding some kind of redemption. William H. Macy hangs around as Link’s AA sponsor, but the real supporting gem comes from legendary Michael Parks as Preacher, a vile neo nazi scumbag and former associate of Gibson’s. He’s icky and repellant, but coos with Park’s patented purr and steals his sequence of the film menacingly. The action is down and dirty, reigned in by an obvious small budget, but that comes as a welcome gift in a genre hampered by big style fireworks that smother story. Not here. The crucial part of it is Link and his daughter, and their glib back and forth that just hides the pathos we get to see in full bloom near the end. We wouldn’t give a damn about the whole deal if their relationship, and the actor’s chemistry, didn’t work. Gibson and Moriarty knock it out of the trailer park. I couldn’t give a laminated shit about whatever Gibson did or said to piss so many people off. That’s seperate from the work he does and should be treated as such. Everyone who stifled and shunned him professionallly for something which occurred in his personal life should be flogged. Nevertheless, I hope we get to see more stuff like this from him moving forward. He’s a bit older, a bit more rough around the edges, but goddammit he’s still our Mel.