Roger Donaldson’s Species

Roger Donaldson’s Species is a trash infused Sci Fi horror yarn that’s clearly inspired by stuff like Alien and Body Snatchers right down to the scaly, jagged title font, but oh man did they ever take the silly, run of the mill route here. Scientists including Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley have successfully moulded human and extraterrestrial DNA sequences to create a hybrid creature called Sil, but as in any film like this it soon becomes apparent how ill advised such an experiment will come to be. Sil, played by an excellent Michelle Williams at preteen level and later by eye catching supermodel Natasha Henstridge, is an endlessly fascinating character with so much potential, but this being nothing more than a Schlocky B flick elevated oh so slightly by the presence of an ensemble cast with considerable pedigree, she is sadly relegated to pedestrian movie monster archetype, and the premise falls short of fruition as a result. Using the seductive powers of her human form (Henstridge is a babe) she evades recapture and seeks an earthling mate to perpetuate her species and probably cause a full scale invasion via systemic procreation, while the doctors and a team of experts including zoological guru Forest Whitaker and big game hunters Michael Madsen and Marg Helgenberger pursue her all over a metropolitan area while she looks for Mr. Perfect to make slimy babies with. Sex is treated in a very lurid, shallow and unpleasant way here, like with the budget and firepower behind a film this big you’d expect a modicum of maturity and respect for the female form, but they’ve thoroughly exploited the concept to sickening levels that probably looked fun on paper, but don’t translate very nicely on screen. Worth it for Sil, for both Williams’ and Henstridge’s take on the character and to think about what might have been had they written her character with more class, care and depth, but other than that this is just cheeseball slime without a brain or heartbeat. Followed by two sequels that pretty much go the same route of disappointment.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island 

Shutter Island is my favourite film by Martin Scorsese. Now, keep in mind that I still have yet to see heralded classics like Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but that being said I still feel like this clammy psychological opus would remain at the top of the charts. I’m a genre guy at heart, and as such gravitate towards that when watching any director’s work, I just feel more at home wading into fictitious, stylized thrillers than I do with earnest biopics or urban crime dramas, which aren’t always my thing to begin with. Shutter is a brilliant piece, a deliberately dense and serpentine mystery that unfolds step by delicious step, a gift to anyone who loves a good twist and plenty of clues to keep them engaged along the way. Not to mention it’s wonderfully acted, cleverly written and primed with emotional trauma to keep us invested in the puzzle beyond base curiosity. Leonardo DiCaprio is best when portraying intense, tormented people, and his US Marshal Teddy Daniels here is no exception, a haunted man who feels like a caged animal as he investigates the disappearance of a mental patient from a secluded island sanitarium, a place that just doesn’t seem right, with a mood in the air so oppressive you can almost feel the fog, both mental and meteorological, weighing you down. The patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer will send shivers up and down your spine) seems to have vaporized into thin air, and Teddy’s investigation leads to closed doors, uncooperative staff and a heightened level of dread that lurks beneath every hushed exchange of dialogue and fleeting glimpse at things he, and we, aren’t even sure he really saw. The head doctor (Ben Kingsley, excellent) is clearly hiding something, as is the austere asylum director (Max Von Sydow). The freaky Warden (terrific cameo from Ted Levine, who gets to deliver the film’s best written and most perplexing dialogue) babbles to Teddy in biblical platitudes, and the patients have run amok following a storm that compromised security. Needless to say the plot is deviantly constructed to constantly mess with the audience until the third act revelations, which come as less of a melodramatic thunderclap and more like a quiet, burning sorrow of realization, a tonal choice from Scorsese that hits you way harder. Scorsese has assembled a cast for the ages here, and besides who I’ve mentioned so far we also have Michelle Williams in disconcerting flashbacks as Teddy’s wife, so perfectly played I wish she got a nomination, creepy Elias Koteas as another phantasm from his past, John Carrol Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robin Bartlett and Patricia Clarkson. The score is a doom soaked death rattle courtesy of Robbie Robertson, not without it’s emotional interludes but thoroughly grievous. There’s also a beautifully slowed down version of ‘Cry’ by Johnnie Ray that accompanies the horrifying dream sequences within the film, adding to the already thick atmosphere nicely. This is a film built to last, both for dutiful rewatches from adoring veterans and discovery by lucky newcomers who get to experience it’s affecting story for the first time. All these boxer biopics, big city mafia ballads and heady stuff seems to have rolled off of me as far as Scorsese goes, I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re a one-off as far as how many times I’ll watch them. Give me a well spun, emotionally rich psychological murder mystery with no shortage of style, character and tantalizing thriller elements, however, and I’ll pop that sucker back into the DVD player time and time again. Scorsese’s best effort by far. 

-Nate Hill

Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

It is not easy to quantify Kenneth Lonergan’s MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.  At times, it is a very taut drama with an engrossing story, yet the narrative unravels a bit, and finds itself spiralling into subplots that tend to take away from the emotional core and impact of the story.  
There is a lot to like, more than a lot to like; there are things to absolutely love about the film.  The performances are paramount.  Casey Affleck has never been better in the token stifled and stoic man who has internalized all of his pain that we surely have seen on screen before.  Lucas Hedges plays Affleck’s nephew, and surprisingly received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor (Ralph Fiennes from A BIGGER SPLASH, anyone?).  Michelle Williams is wonderful as Affleck’s ex-wife, and Tate Donovan and Matthew Broderick show up in small roles.  If there’s an unsung performance in the film, it lies within Kyle Chandler, who plays the deceased brother who shows up plentiful in Affleck’s flashbacks.
Kenneth Lonergan is not a filmmaker for everyone, his films are dark and keep a flame of intrigue lit, yet at times he will purposely detach us from the emotional story, and take us to a small arc that really doesn’t go anywhere.  Specifically in this film, there is a small scene where Affleck’s nephew (who he is the sole guardian of) visits his mother played by Gretchen Mol, and her fiance played by Broderick.  While the scene is a believable progression of the story, it is scenes like this that remove us from the core of the film.
The film’s narrative is akin to a relay race, with each act of the film, supplementing a baton pass.  At times, there is a slight fumble, but the rest of the race runs smoothly, and as expected from a filmmaker like Lonergan.  The best elements of the film lie within Affleck and his story, the final confrontation between Affleck and Williams is heartbreakingly wonderful.  It is not only the best moment in the film, but it is one of the best moments of this year in cinema.  This isn’t a bad film, by any means, but had the filmed stayed laser focused on Affleck and his tragedy, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA would be more than deserving of the hype and praise it entered the awards season with.



HeltonPodcasting Them Softly is honored and extremely excited to present a discussion with feature film editor Jim Helton. Jim‘s big screen credits include Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, and this September’s The Light Between Oceans — all of which were directed by Derek Cianfrance. It’s very clear that Jim has forged a unique and intense artistic relationship with Cianfrance, who ranks as one of our favorite filmmakers currently working, and throughout this extremely informative chat, we discuss how their unique partnership came to be born. Jim has also worked on a variety of short films and documentaries, and also edited the indie dramedy Lovely By Surprise and the street-racing action thriller Quattro Nozza. He also contributed to the dynamic soundtrack for The Place Beyond the Pines, as music is a big passion for him, which is something we also had a chance to discuss. He even crafted the extremely memorable title sequences for Blue Valentine. Jim‘s work is smart, stylish, and extremely disciplined and we’re thrilled to add him to our Editor’s Suite series. We hope you enjoy!

Derek Cianfrance’s BLUE VALENTINE – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

“You made a promise to me, okay?”

Steeped in fiery passion and offset by raging resentment and animosity is the quagmire that is Derek Cianfrance’s spellbinding portrait, BLUE VALENTINE. 

The film is one of the most realistic portrayals of a new and growing love that eventually unravels in an emotionally catastrophic way.  There isn’t a good guy or a bad guy, there are just two people who have drifted apart over time.

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams duel throughout the entire film.  Each respective actor is continuously making the other one better, breaking new waves as they reach deeper within themselves to catapult their performance in a real and heaetbreakingly honest way.

Derek Cianfrance has quietly become a master filmmaker.  His vision is taut, compelling, and grounded within the secret horrors of reality.  His aesthetic and technical choices are paramount to his finished product.

The film was shot in one part 16mm for flashbacks and then one part digitally for present day.  The editing duties were split between Cianfrance’s two collaborators Jim Helton and Ron Patane whom edited the two timeframes in the film separately.

The film ends with a pulverizing gut punch.  For one of the characters, there is no more forward momentum; all is lost.  And then the film’s closing credits happen.  The credits are the most powerful closing credits since THE CHINA SYNDROME.  Editor Jim Helton constructs a closing sequence of still frames of Gosling and Williams young and in love, freeze frames encapsulating moments in time of over romanticized memories and faded dreams.