Tag Archives: michael pena

Ridley Scott’s The Martian

You know those Sci-Fi movies where someone has a near miss, narrow escape or heroic encounter up in space and everyone down in the NASA control room leaps up, cheers and claps in collective catharsis? It’s a well worn narrative beat and can sometimes be an eye roll moment. Ridley Scott’s The Martian has several of these but because the characters and plot are so well drawn they feel earned, appropriate and exciting. That goes for the film itself as well, it’s a two and a half hour space epic that feels as breezy as a ninety minute quickie, an optimistic, human story of one man’s ultimate quest for survival and everyone else’s daring attempts to rescue him.

Scott is no stranger to darker, more austere stuff particularly in his Sci-Fi exploits, but he shines a bright light on the proceedings here, making a super complicated, science based story with many moving parts somehow seem light and carefree while also making a big emotional landing. Matt Damon is Mark Watney, astronaut, botanist, space pirate and celestial castaway, marooned on the red planet following a mission gone wrong and presumed dead by NASA and his crew, until he’s able to communicate. He grows potatoes using… homemade fertilizer, repairs a satellite and awaits rescue while everyone else faces moral and technical quandaries in their struggle to bring him home. NASA’s director (Jeff Daniels, smarmy but never an outright baddie) is reluctant to go all out and send another mission, the crew’s handler (Sean Bean, fantastically low key and against his usual tough guy image) wants to do right by them and inform their commander (Jessica Chastain). The earthbound commotion is nicely interlaced with Damon’s solo outings up there and somehow they edit the thing to both realistically depict the passing of time but also fly through the proceedings breathlessly. Scott casts his film with ridiculous talent including Kate Mara, Donald Glover, Michael Pena, Aksel Hennie, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristin Wiig and Mackenzie Davis.

Many people wrote this off as a good film but simply fluff, like an enjoyable but kind of inconsequential ride, or at least that’s the vibe I got from some reviews. I couldn’t disagree more. This type of story is exactly the kind of thing we need more of in this day and age. One could remark on the vast amount of effort, overtime hours and expenditure NASA puts in simply to bring one astronaut home, and whether or not it’s worth it (Jeff Daniels certainly has that thought cross his mind), but the truth is that it’s not about just Mark Watney, or just any one person stranded up there, it’s about what the actions and efforts signify, and how important that is, as well as the notable and extreme resilience on his part. This is a film that shows the best in human beings who are put in impossible situations, and how we might make ourselves, and those around us into better people. It’s a rollicking space flick speckled with incredible talent, hilarious comedy, scientific knowledge and has already aged splendidly since it’s release four years ago. Top tier Ridley Scott for me, and one of the best Sci-Fi films in decades.

-Nate Hill

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Marvel’s Ant Man & The Wasp

Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.

-Nate Hill

Dominic Sena’s Gone In 60 Seconds

I’ve always liked Gone In 60 Seconds, even if it is one of the more lukewarm notches in Jerry Bruckheimer’s belt. Helmed by Dominic Sena who comes from a music video background, you get what you’d expect from a craftsman like that in the way of a flashy, eye catching popcorn flick that sees an easygoing Nicolas Cage as Memphis Rhaines, a car thief guru culled out of retirement when his dipshit little brother (Giovanni Ribisi) gets in deep with a dangerous UK mobster (Doctor Who). It’s the perfect setup for one long night of auto boosting as the villain gives them a laundry list of sweet cars to steal and ship out of the port by sunup or they end up as fuel for his scary flame factory/junkyard thing that these guys always seem to own and live in. The real fun is in seeing Cage put together an eclectic team of fellow thieves to work their magic, including Will Patton’s slick veteran booster, Scott Caan playing yet another insufferable horn-dog, Robert Duvall as a sagely old fence, Vinnie Jones as the strong silent muscle and Angelina Jolie as the motor mouthed tomboy who inevitably ends up in the saddle with Cage. They’re all hunted by two detectives, one an intuitive veteran (Delroy Lindo) and the other a misguided rookie (Timothy Olyphant) who always are naturally one step behind them, and so the formula goes. The cars are indeed pretty cool, especially Eleanor, Rhaines’s fabled unicorn automobile that happens to be a gorgeous matte silver Shelby GT with a seriously sexy purr. The supporting cast is solid and includes William Lee Scott, James Duval, Chi McBride, Michael Pena, John Carroll Lynch, Master P ad Twin Peak’s Grace Zabriskie as Cages’s feisty mom. This isn’t a knock your socks off flick or anything revolutionary in the genre, but it cruises along with an easy swing, carefree urban vibe and the actors, as well as Sena’s sharp and snazzy visual editing make it fun enough. Oh and it doesn’t get much cooler than those wicked opening credits set to Moby’s Flower, that’s how you lay down a mood for the film to follow.

-Nate Hill

Marvel’s Ant Man

In a world of gargantuan Marvel Movie phenomena, it’s nice to see the little guy get some love amidst titans, superheroes and demigods, and by little guy I mean Ant Man, who I recently heard referred to as the underdog of Marvel movie protagonists, and that he is, given adorable slacker charm by Paul Rudd, who couldn’t have been cast better. From InnerSpace to Antibody (first rounds on me if anyone’s heard of that one), the concept of people shrinking down to minuscule size has been a staple of cinema since before The Borrowers said they were doing it before it was cool, and this one, although stubbornly an MCU entry, functions better as a loving throwback to the kind of old school Sci-Fi bliss you’d find someone like Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges or Michael Douglas headlining in the late 80’s, early 90’s. Speaking of Douglas, he’s in this, as Dr. Hank Pym, a fancy scientist who should star in his own spinoff/crossover called Honey I Shrunk Paul Rudd, because that’s more or less what happens. Rudd is petty thief Scott Lang, a middle aged dude who acts like he’s twelve until a little fatherly guidance from Pym and a *lot* of snazzy metaphysical science turns him into a microscopic hero. Of course the technology is coveted by a sinister rival scientist, played by Corey Stoll and set set up for this summers sequel as the super villain The Wasp. What I loved so much about this is it knows how to have fun and utilize the potential of it’s premise so effectively. All the scenes involving shrinking have a thoughtful innovation, absurd sense of humour (the toy train crash jump cut killed me) and warped, trippy style. The third act sees a scary malfunction in which he literally can’t stop shrinking and starts to lose himself in molecular infinity, which is probably the coolest or at least most original Sci-fi set piece of any Marvel flick. Joining Rudd and Douglas is whip smart scientist Evangeline Lily (Kate from LOST), and the cast is thick with excellent talent including the lovely Judy Greer as Rudd’s exasperated wife, Bobby Cannavle as her new cop boyfriend, Michael Pena, TI and David Dastmalchian as Rudd’s merry band of thieves, with work from John Slattery and Hayley Atwell to remind us we’re in the Marvel Universe, and a cameo from oddball entertainer Greg Turkington (Baskin Robbins always knows) to remind us this is also a departure for the MCU into something a little more delightfully bizarre. A rockin good time.

-Nate Hill

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer was the first film in the revival of Matthew McConaughey’s career after a lengthy slump stretching back to the early 2000’s, and what a banger of a pseudo courtroom drama it turned out to be. Based on the series of novels by Michael Connelly which focus on slick, morally untethered defence attorney Mick Haller (played to perfection by Matt), director Brad Furman whips up an enjoyable, razor sharp yet laid back LA crime saga that’s smart, re-watchable and competently staged, not to mention stuffed to the roof with great actors. Haller is something of a renegade lawyer who operates smoothly from the leather interior of his Lincoln town car, driven by trusty chauffeur Earl (the always awesome Lawrence Mason). Mick is ice cool and seldom bothered by the legal atrocities he commits, until one case follows him home and digs up a tormented conscience he never knew he had. Hired to defend a rich brat (Ryan Phillipe) accused of murdering a call girl, events take a turn for the unpredictable as older crimes are dug up, double crosses are laid bare and everyone’s life starts to unravel. It’s a deliciously constructed story with twists and payoffs galore, as well as one hell of an arc for McConaughey to flesh out in the kind of desperate, lone wolf role that mirrors the dark side of his idealistic lawyer in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. Let’s talk supporting cast: Marisa Tomei is sexy and easygoing as Mick’s ex wife and rival, Bryan Cranston simmers on low burn as a nasty detective, William H. Macy does a lively turn as his PI buddy, plus excellent work from Frances Fisher, Shea Wigham, John Leguizamo, Bob Gunton, Bob Gunton, Pell James, Katherine Moennig and the great Michael Paré as a resentful cop who proves to be quite useful later on. There’s a dark side to the story too that I appreciated, in the fact that not every wrong is righted, or at least fully, a sad fact that can be seen in an unfortunate character played by Michael Pena, but indicative of life’s brutal realities, something Hollywood sometimes tries to smother. One of the great courtroom films out there, a gem in McConaughey’s career and just a damn fine time at the movies.

-Nate Hill

Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done


Werner Herzog’s My Son My Son What Have Ye Done, although not quite congruent with what you’d call my cup of tea, is an impressively bizarre little foray into… well, something. Michael Shannon plays a disturbed stage actor who, in an offscreen fit of violence, slays his mother (the great Grace Zabriskie) with a sword. Now, whether by mental illness, strange Peruvian spirits that piggy-backed on his psyche after a trip down there or reasons unknown, he slowly unravels throughout the rather short yet obstinately molasses paced film, until the final act solidifies his exodus into the realm of total bonkers lunacy. Shannon is an expert at all things in the circle of mental unrest in his work, and even when playing innocuous supporting characters or stalwart leads, there’s always a glint of menace in the whites of his eyes. It’s an impenetrable character study though, giving us not much to go on other than obtuse clues and the weird, wacky troupe of people in his life, portrayed by an appropriately zany bunch of cult actors. He has an uncle (Brad Dourif, a Herzog regular) with an ostrich farm and some, shall we say, interesting views on life. His quiet girlfriend (Chloe Sevigny) looks on in unsettlement, and his mellowed out drama instructor (Udo Kier) tries to make heads or tails of everyone else’s strange behaviour. You know you’re in the twilight zone when Udo Kier is the most well adjusted character in your film, but such is the territory. As Shannon descends into whatever internal eye of the storm privy only to him, he takes his mother and her two friends hostage, and the obligatory salty detective (Willem Dafoe) and his rookie partner (Michael Pena) show up to add to the clutter. David Lynch has an executive producer credit on this, and although the extent of his involvement is hazy to me, simply having his moniker post-title in the credits adds a whole dimension of bizarro to go along with Herzog’s already apparent eccentricities. It’s well filmed, acted and looks terrific onscreen, and I’m all for ambiguous, round the bush storytelling as a rule, but this just wasn’t a dose that sat well with me or tuned into my frequency as a viewer. Worth it in spades for that cast though, and their individual, episodic shenanigans. 

-Nate Hill

A chat with filmmaker Jack Perez: An interview by Nate Hill

 

Excited to bring you my latest interview, with filmmaker Jack Perez. Jack is responsible for one of the coolest, most unique indie films of the 1990’s, La Cucaracha. Starring genre icons Eric Roberts and Joaquim De Almeida and featuring an early career turn from Michael Pena, it’s a film like no other, a severely underrated south of the border morality play with shades of everything from Peckinpah to Walter Hill, a style all its own and a script that is genuinely one of a kind. The film has just been remastered for streaming release on Amazon prime, and I have included a link to the new trailer here, it’s  not a film to be missed. Enjoy! 

Nate: What led you to filmmaking? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do, or did you fall into it?
Jack: I got into it very young, one of those Super 8 kids who borrowed the family camera and drafted my sister into doing homemade monster movies. My father was a movie nut, and our primary mode of communication was watching old films together, so that’s what started it.  
Nate: Who are some filmmakers that you would say influenced your work, or you are a huge fan of and have looked up to?
Jack: Peckinpah definitely, probably above all others. His work was personal and mythical and expressionistic and truthful. And totally alive! Scorsese, of course – his mastery of the medium also melded with a powerful personal vision. Robert Aldrich, who did such a great range of work: VERA CRUZ and THE DIRTY DOZEN and KISS ME DEADLY. Altman and Polanski. Hitchcock and Hawks. Wyler and Wilder. Again, my father is the one who first introduced me to the classics, so by the time I went to film school I was pretty well saturated and ready to look at European cinema and cool experimental work (like Maya Deren!).
Nate: If you could have the rights to any novel/graphic novel series to undertake as your dream project, what would it be?

Jack: I don’t know if it could be done, or even should be done (probably not), but Dan Clowe’s LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON. Overwhelmingly striking.
Nate: La Cucaracha: How did the idea come about, and did the end result look anything like what you first started out with on paper?
Jack: My writing partner, Jim McManus, and I were very much into Peckinpah at the time, and the whole idea of gringos getting into trouble south of border was very much on our minds. BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA was a huge influence, but we were also enamored with THE WAGES OF FEAR and TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE and RIDE THE PINK HORSE. The south-of-the-border noir is kind of a mini-genre unto itself and we wanted to use that as a backdrop for a new kind of story. Something more character-driven and personal. Actually, Jim’s original concept – the one that set the whole thing in motion – was that the Walter Poole character would literally roll into town in his wheelchair at the climax, guns blazing ala Rooster Cogburn, and go down in a hail of bullets. An nifty idea. Of course, by the time we actually got to the end of the screenplay that ultimately resulted, that kind of hyperbolic nihilistic ending didn’t fit anymore.  Also I had intended to shoot it on location in Mexico and use the actual landscape and real people as part of the film’s fabric. But budgetary considerations brought us to the backlot of Universal, and the result was a Mexico much more mythical than intended (which I have to say, I kind of preferred in the end because it allowed for a more expressionistic look overall).
Nate: Working with Eric Roberts: you can honestly claim that you have directed him in what is, for me at least, in the top three greatest performances he’s ever given. How was the working relationship? What is he like? Do you guys keep in contact?
Jack: It was great working with Eric, and we’ve remained close over the years – him and his wife, Eliza. Eric works a lot, but I think he came to see LA CUCARACHA as an opportunity to really create a character, and show dimensions and vulnerabilities that he sometimes doesn’t get a chance to play. He knew I was deadly serious about making this picture the best it could be and, to his credit, attacked the role accordingly. He was a joy and a lot of fun to hang out with. Great sense of humor and loves animals (as I do).
Nate: Working with Joaquim De Almeida: a criminally underrated actor who rarely gets to show his true range and versatility. How was it working with him, especially in his intense and emotional scene near the end of the film? You can also claim to have seen probably the best and most truthful work he has ever done. 
Jack: I totally agree. A great actor – like Eric – sometimes limited to roles that don’t show what he’s truly capable of. Here, he went for it as well. In fact on the day we shot the Sunday Schoolroom scene, where he tests Walter’s character and actually steps on his head – he had a huge, complex 2-page monologue that, when he finished – the crew literally jumped to its feet and broke out in applause. Ive never seen that happen on any set. He was also a real gentleman, bright, warm and thoughtful. And unafraid. The scene at the end that you mentioned required him to be emotionally naked, and he went there.
Nate: How did the remastered version of La Cucaracha come about? To be honest it’s nice to see it now widely available, I searched for it for nearly five years before finally finding a second hand DVD, being blown away and wondering why it wasn’t on every shelf of every store out there.. Did Amazon approach you for this?
Jack: I pushed for it. I too was bummed it was sorta out of circulation. Certainly not in HD or in the proper aspect ratio (the DVD release cropped the the original 1.85 image). So I approached Renascent Films, who had acquired the streaming rights, and asked if they would pursue it. Thankfully they agreed and I set about tracking down the 35mm negative, which was no longer in the original lab and wound up – through a corporate buyout – in the vaults of Technicolor. We did the telecine there and I’m happy with the results and genuinely excited it’s out there on Amazon Prime.
Nate: What’s life like for you these days? Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, that you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Jack: I’m always going after the next project. The more personal the better. Though to make ends meet or just for the quick junkie filmmaking fix, I’ll do a TV project or a genre pic for hire. But the real joy is doing work that is personally necessary, ideally in an environment where not too many people fuck with you. That limits you to the world of independent financing. Anyway, we’re close to raising the bucks for a female-driven action-thriller I wrote called SHOTGUN WEDDING. I’ve wanted to do it for years and am I’m psyched for that!
Nate: Thank you so much for you r time, Jack, it’s been an honour and I’m very much looking forward to seeing La Cucaracha once again remastered!