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Passion Of Mind: A Review by Nate Hill

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Passion Of Mind is a little seen fantasy romance tale that stars Demi Moore as a woman named Marie, essentially living double lives in a way. She lives and works in New York, and is as ordinary as any other woman in the world, but when she goes to sleep she wakes up to another life in the French countryside, with another job and children who aren’t in New York. She lives a day in the French life, goes to sleep, wakes up back in the New York life and lives for another day before going to sleep and back again. And so it goes. Is one life a dream? Or both? Is she imagining things, or stuck in some rift? To complicate things, as always happens in film, there are two men, one for each life. Aaron (William Fichtner) is a kind, caring businessman in the New York life who she begins a relationship with. In France she meets compassionate, romantic William (Stellen Skarsgard) who she also begins to fall for. Quite the predicament, no? If the premise sounds familiar to you, here’s why: there was a short lived NBC drama called Awake which ran for one season, starred Jason Isaacs and had the exact same setup. Now while the show obviously borrowed it’s central plotline from this film, it’s no big deal because it’s such a great idea it deserves more than just one shot. The film is quiet, pleasent and sweet, never really taking steps to explain it’s concept but simply letting it’s characters live within it in perplexed, whimsical harmony. Moore has an inherent sweetness to her and she’s wonderful here. One might think a protagonist who is put through a scenario would be confused, stressed out and damaged. Moore plays it her own way, as she always had. Her character is enchanted by her situation, if a little wary. Skarsgard and Fichtner are left field choices for romantic leads, as both are kind of considered character actors with stark, specific looks. Both play it straight here and their casting helps the film loads. Marie has two separate therapists, each from one of the lives (an element which the NBC show used as well), played by Joss Ackland and Peter Riegart. It’s not to serious, not too fluffy, just the right kind of low key romance with an imaginitive streak and a high concept that fits neatly into the story.

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Things We Lost In The Fire: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Things We Lost In The Fire takes an unblinking look at addiction, recovery, redemption, grief and the ways in which various people cope with all of the above. It shirks the dramatic stereotypes and instead shoots for realism, or at the very least, an unpredictable narrative within a genre that often follows rigid blueprints. It also contains two exceptional performances from Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro. Berry plays Audrey Burke, mourning the loss of her husband Brian (David Duchovny could write a textbook on understated acting that cuts deep) to a really unfortunate accident. The last minute arrival of his longtime best friend Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro) adds a new element to the family’s grieving process. Jerry is an ex lawyer who is now addicted to heroin. Brian stood by him for many years, never judging or intervening but simply being there to spend time with, and look out for his friend. Duchovny appears in multiple flashbacks with both Berry, Del Toro and his two remarkable children (Micah Berry and Alexis Llewellyn) that instil a lingering presence that not so much casts a shadow over everything, but brightens and flavours it with memories. Audrey is unspeakably lonely and devastated, and despite the fact that she despised Jerry and what he represented for years, invites him to live in their garage, in flat out pure desperate instinct, and probably in an attempt to be closer to Brian after he’s gone, by bringing what was close to him closer to her. Jerry is great with the kids, supportive and wants to change, even accepting employment assistance from their kindly neighbour (excellent John Carroll Lynch). The demons do their best to pull him back though, as is their purpose, and a rift forms as we begin to see that Audrey has not fully accepted Brian’s death and is in the throes of miserable confusion. Director Susanne Bier uses many intimate close ups of eyes, hair, smiles and frowns to bring us into the mindset of her characters, a tactic which works wonders here and keeps minds and hearts of her audience glued to the proceedings. Berry is dynamite, pure and simple. The finest acting moment I’ve ever seen from her comes deep from the gut and late in the third act, an agonizing moment in which she has a splintering realization that her husband is gone for good, that final, resolute place that sinks in and grabs hold which we’ve all heard about from family members or news stories in which loss of loved ones has played a part. I don’t know if Berry has experienced this for herself in her own personal life, but she sure damn well embodies it here with every ragged sob, and it cast her in an entirely new light for me. Del Toro is Brando-esque, a shambling, unshaven pit of insecurity and inner turmoil, giving Jerry the mutilated soul he deserves without ever dipping in self pity, given the phoenix treatment and rising from the ashes of his longtime affliction simply by being exposed to Audrey and the kids. One would think that the relationship between Audrey and Jerry might end up going into romantic territory, but Bier and company is more interested in the road less travelled, showing us a story which unravels in a way that’s much more akin to believability. Between her directorial skills, Berry and Del Toro’s virtuoso work, this is not one to miss.

Frankie & Alice: A Review by Nate Hill

  

There needs to be more films about mental illness that treat the subject with the vital care and compassion that Frankie & Alice does. It should be re-titled ‘The Halle Berry and Stelllen Skarsgard Show’, because for just over 90 minutes the two of them give some of the bravest, challenging work of their career in telling this story. Granted, it takes a few liberties with what we know about multiple personality disorder and what still to this day lurks in the shadows of the vast human consciousness, but it’s in service to character and story and is never exploitative. This film was made in 2010 and mired in distribute hell for nearly four years before dropping off of a most unceremonious assembly line into weak marketing. No one I’ve asked has even heard about it, which is a shame because it’s Berry at her most shattering, sexy and charismatic, and it’s somewhat based on a true story as well. She plays Frankie here, a wayward exotic dancer prone to destructive episodes in which Alice, an alternative personality, takes over and wreaks havoc in her personal life. Alice is a racist, southern white girl and Frankie is a black stripper in 1970’s New York. You can imagine the predicament. She ends up in a psychiatric halfway house under the care of Dr. Oz (Stellen Skarsgard) a man who is not remotely familiar with the term ‘giving up’. He sees the issues with Frankie clear as day, where his shirt tucking colleagues (Matt Frewer and Brian Markinson) are skeptical and impatient with his process. Oz is trying to unlock the secrets of Franki’s mind through the knowledge of each alter personality, all of whom are related to a tragic incident in her past that we get brief, fractured glimpses of through the broken prism of her mind. Director Geoffrey Sax keeps the melodrama to an agreeable minimum and let’s his two leads feel their way through the work both through each other and the material. Berry and Skarsgard have never been better, setting one another alight with the kind of chemistry many lead pairs can only dream of. Berry writhes with fury, confusion and loneliness, her coherence a flower that begins to bloom when Oz shows her kindness and the desire to really help her, something which. O one has ever done for her before in life. Skarsgard is an interesting guy because he’s equally great at inhabiting cold, sociopathic villains (King Arthur, Ronin) and he’s also compassion manifest when he wants to be (Passion Of Mind, Powder Keg). The performance he gives here radiates with warmth and assurance, a lighthouse in the fog of Frankie’s illness. Newcomer Vanessa Morgan is also excellent as the 16 year old version of Frankie, caught in a hailstorm of racism and sadness that no doubt are the seeds for her future condition. I’d love to know more about the real story of Frankie, and see how it contrasts with the film. Even if the differences are great and the liberties taken are considerable, we are in the end left with a superbly made film that takes mental illness head on and is one step further in erasing the stigma. A film that’s woefully unseen, so,etching I hope this review will change.  

Frankie & Alive: A Review by Nate Hill

  

There needs to be more films about mental illness that treat the subject with the vital care and compassion that Frankie & Alice does. It should be re-titled ‘The Halle Berry and Stelllen Skarsgard Show’, because for just over 90 minutes the two of them give some of the bravest, challenging work of their career in telling this story. Granted, it takes a few liberties with what we know about multiple personality disorder and what still to this day lurks in the shadows of the vast human consciousness, but it’s in service to character and story and is never exploitative. This film was made in 2010 and mired in distribute hell for nearly four years before dropping off of a most unceremonious assembly line into weak marketing. No one I’ve asked has even heard about it, which is a shame because it’s Berry at her most shattering, sexy and charismatic, and it’s somewhat based on a true story as well. She plays Frankie here, a wayward exotic dancer prone to destructive episodes in which Alice, an alternative personality, takes over and wreaks havoc in her personal life. Alice is a racist, southern white girl and Frankie is a black stripper in 1970’s New York. You can imagine the predicament. She ends up in a psychiatric halfway house under the care of Dr. Oz (Stellen Skarsgard) a man who is not remotely familiar with the term ‘giving up’. He sees the issues with Frankie clear as day, where his shirt tucking colleagues (Matt Frewer and Brian Markinson) are skeptical and impatient with his process. Oz is trying to unlock the secrets of Franki’s mind through the knowledge of each alter personality, all of whom are related to a tragic incident in her past that we get brief, fractured glimpses of through the broken prism of her mind. Director Geoffrey Sax keeps the melodrama to an agreeable minimum and let’s his two leads feel their way through the work both through each other and the material. Berry and Skarsgard have never been better, setting one another alight with the kind of chemistry many lead pairs can only dream of. Berry writhes with fury, confusion and loneliness, her coherence a flower that begins to bloom when Oz shows her kindness and the desire to really help her, something which. O one has ever done for her before in life. Skarsgard is an interesting guy because he’s equally great at inhabiting cold, sociopathic villains (King Arthur, Ronin) and he’s also compassion manifest when he wants to be (Passion Of Mind, Powder Keg). The performance he gives here radiates with warmth and assurance, a lighthouse in the fog of Frankie’s illness. Newcomer Vanessa Morgan is also excellent as the 16 year old version of Frankie, caught in a hailstorm of racism and sadness that no doubt are the seeds for her future condition. I’d love to know more about the real story of Frankie, and see how it contrasts with the film. Even if the differences are great and the liberties taken are considerable, we are in the end left with a superbly made film that takes mental illness head on and is one step further in erasing the stigma. A film that’s woefully unseen, so,etching I hope this review will change.  

44 Inch Chest: A Review by Nate Hill

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44 Inch Chest is packed full of bloated, preening masculinity, cold hard chauvinism and dense, wordy exchanges that seem pulled right off the stage, an intense bit of British pseudo-gangster quirk with two writers who seem intent on heightening every syllable to near surreal levels of style. The same scribes are responsible for the glorious verbal stew that can be found in Paul McGuigan’s brutal Gangster No. 1 as well as Sexy Beast, and while the level of viciousness here is left almost entirely to the spoken word alone, the elliptical sting of their script still hits home, and even ramps up a bit from those films. A mopey, consistently weepy Ray Winstone stars as boorish Colin Diamond, an gent whose wife (Joanne Whalley Kilmer) has been caught in an affair with a chiseled french pretty boy (Melvil Poupoud). He resorts to a melancholy, comatose state as his perceived manliness visibly circles the drain. His circle of friends arrives, each with their own flamboyant ideas for resolving the situation. Velvety Meredith (Ian McShane, cool as a cucumber) looks on in snooty amusement. Violent guttersnipe Mal (Stephen Dillane, replacing Tim Roth) has the brawn but neither the brains nor ambition to act. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is the bewildered everyman. Old Man Peanut (a fire and brimstone John Hurt who devours the script like a lion feasting on a gazelle) is a bible thumping, crusty old pot of fury who suggests that wifey should be stoned to death for her indecency and betrayal. They spend the better part of the film pontificating like a babbling senate, whilst Winstone languishes in despair. One wonders what the point of it all is and where it’s going, until we arrive at an oddly satisfying third act that somehow negates almost everything we’ve seen before it. Strangely enough, though, it works, if only to give us something we’ve never quite seen before, pulling the rug of genre convention out from under us and giving us a piece that almost could resemble a spoof of other works, if it weren’t so damned straight faced and persistent in its execution. In any case, I could watch this group of actors assemble ikea furniture and it would still be transfixing. It’s just a room full of talent shooting the shit for most of the running time, and in a genre where one can scarcely here the performers talk over the gunfire and cheekily referential soundtrack a lot of the time, I’ll damn well take something a bit more paced, quiet and stately. Winstone smears over his usual seething anger with a morose depression would almost be endearing if it weren’t so pathetic. Wilkinson brings his usual studious nature. McShane is pure class in anything (even a few B movies I’m sure he’d love to forget) and he swaggers through this one like a regal peacock, getting some of the best lines to chew on. Dillane is detached and indifferently cruel, with seldom a word uttered, his lack of mannerism contrasted by the vibrant animosity of his three peers. Hurt is pure gold as the closest the film comes to caricature, just a vile old coot who belongs in the loony bin raving to the walls about awful things that happened ‘back in his day’. Different is the key word for this one, and one might be easily fooled by the poster and synopses into assuming this is a revenge flick populated by action and violence. Not so much. Although a lot of the time that is my cup of tea, it’s nice to get a welcome deviation once in a while, and this one is a real treat.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

Image19Much ado has been made about the huge risk Marvel Studios took adapting Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) for the big screen. Since The Avengers (2012), they’ve been content cranking out sequels to their mega-successful franchises of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Guardians would be a real test of the Marvel brand with most industry insiders forecasting a modest success and a few predicting it to be the studio’s first big flop.

Based on a fairly obscure comic book set in a galaxy far, far away featuring the misadventures of a ragtag group of aliens led by a human orphaned from Earth, Guardians of the Galaxy enjoyed a resurgence in 2008 but still lacked the name recognition of the aforementioned superheroes. Furthermore, it was to be co-written and directed by James Gunn, the B-movie maverick responsible for modern cult classics like Slither (2006) and Super (2010), starring up and comers like Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and professional wrestler Dave Bautista. The two biggest movie stars – Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel – would not actually be appearing on-screen, instead providing voices for completely computer generated characters. Marvel’s canny and pervasive marketing blitzkrieg paid off. Guardians smashed opening weekend records for August.

We first meet Peter Quill as an eight-year-old boy losing his mother to cancer only to be subsequently abducted by a group of notorious space pirates led by a blue-skinned bandit known as Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). They raise the young boy to be a smuggler and an outlaw a la Han Solo complete with the self-applied moniker Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). He steals a mysterious orb and plans to sell it on the Nova Corps homeworld Xandar, ripping off Yondu in the process, which results in a hefty bounty being placed on his head.

Little does Quill know that this theft has caught the attention of several interested parties: Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a mercenary duo, and Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a powerful Kree alien who wants the orb so that it can be handed over to Thanos (Josh Brolin), an even more powerful being last seen at the end credits of The Avengers, in exchange for destroying Xandar, his sworn enemies. To this end, Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a deadly assassin, to retrieve the orb.

However, Quill when crosses paths with Groot, Rocket and Gamora, the resulting chaos has them arrested by the Nova Corps and thrown into an outer space prison known as Kyln. It is here that they meet Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a warrior with a thirst for revenge on Ronan for killing his family. They form an uneasy alliance and break out of prison to sell the orb with Yondu, the Nova Corps, and Ronan and his trusted lieutenant Nebula (Karen Gillan) in hot pursuit.

With this film, Parks and Recreation’s Chris Pratt becomes a bonafide action star, deftly blending amusing quips with heroic feats. He does a nice job of also portraying Peter Quill as a man haunted by his past, like many of his cohorts. All of the Guardians have lost deeply personal things in their lives and this is what unites them – that, and saving their own lives and, by default, the galaxy. Zoe Saldana gets to portray yet another alien, but instead of being buried under CGI as she was in Avatar (2009), the actress sports a striking green look and a fierce attitude to match. A pleasant surprise comes from the casting of WWE wrestler Dave Bautista who is excellent as Drax, the gruff warrior that tags along with the rest of these ne’er-do-wells. It is a lot of fun to see this athlete bounce off of the other actors and who more than holds his own.

If Quill provides the film its heart, then Rocket provides the bulk of its humor, stealing almost every scene he’s in by not just getting to spout the bulk of the film’s funniest lines, but also the impressive CGI that brings him vividly to life so that he actually emotes convincingly. Special effects technology has finally caught up to Groot and Rocket, creating expressive, fully realized characters. Early on, you stop thinking of them as CGI characters and look at them as part of the team thanks to the voice work of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper who give Groot and Rocket distinctive personalities.

The banter between Quill, Rocket, Gamora, Drax, and even Groot is a large part of the film’s charm. Quill is the wisecracking smartass while Gamora is all business, Rocket has anger management issues, Drax doesn’t understand metaphors (making for some pretty funny exchanges between him and Quill), and Groot just says, “I am Groot” at key moments. Credit should go to the witty screenplay by Gunn and Nicole Perlman that plants the seeds of jokes early in the film only for them to successfully pay off later on.

There is a fantastic mix of character moments and visual eye candy in Guardians of the Galaxy as Gunn immerses us in this strange galaxy and the colorful characters that populate it. His production team has crafted a textured, lived-in universe that is rich in detail and drenched in atmosphere. The film’s vibrant color scheme is complimented by a stellar soundtrack featuring songs from the 1970s and 1980s via a mixtape in Quill’s vintage Walkman that also acts a touchstone to his childhood on Earth and memories of his departed mother. As a result, the songs run the gamut from commenting humorously on the action (“Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede) to also adding poignancy to more reflective moments (“I’m Not in Love” by 10cc) as well.

The only problem I have with Guardians of the Galaxy is that its villainous trio isn’t all that interesting. Ronan and Nebula look cool, but the former is yet another power-mad baddie that Marvel likes trotting out in all of its films with only a few notable exceptions, and the latter suffers from Darth Maul syndrome – a character with a badass reputation but with very little actual proof of such. It’s no surprise that Loki and the Winter Soldier are the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strongest villains – they both have deeply personal and compelling motivations for what they are doing, which is something that is lacking with Ronan. As for Thanos, he only gets a cameo this time out with hints that he might figure more prominently in either Guardians 2 or The Avengers 3, but that’s a long way off. Fortunately, our heroes are so interesting and so much fun to watch that the lack of substantial villains is a minor quibble at best.

Gunn has pulled off a real coup with this film. He maintains a tricky balancing act of creating a gonzo space opera full of weird characters and loaded with a dense plot while somehow making it palatable for mainstream consumption without compromise. After the debacle that was the Star Wars prequels, cinema needed a good space opera to expunge the bad vibes of George Lucas’ movies. Only Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005) bravely stepped up and showed everyone how do it right, but now Guardians of the Galaxy joins it by providing an alternative for those hungry for an entertaining science fiction film, fulfilling a need that Lucas was unable to with his prequels.

Guardians of the Galaxy is an unabashed science fiction film full of exotic aliens, power-hungry villains, and exciting spaceship battles with the fate of the entire galaxy at stake. It is also a funny film – as close as Marvel has come to making a full-on comedy. Their other films have had humor, but were largely dramatic in nature. Guardians inverts this formula so that it is largely comedic with dramatic moments and the result is another entertaining and engaging film from Marvel who continue their impressive winning streak. More importantly, this film opens up the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a big way by introducing an entire galaxy for its increasing number of characters to inhabit.

B Movie Glory with Nate: 2103 The Deadly Wake

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2103: The Deadly Wake strives to stand out from the B-movie masses by giving turning it’s straightforward sci-fi concept somewhat on its head. It’s set in the very distant future, in which earth’s oceans have become so contaminated that they have all taken a gaseous form, with corporations sending forth spaceship type vessels that deliver goods and wage warfare. They resemble submarines basically sailing through colored fog, and it’s one of the neatest and adorably ambitious futuristic settings I’ve seen. Malcolm McDowell is damn excellent in a rare hero role as Captain Sean Murdock, a salty old sea dog who lost a ship years before and is somewhat disgraced. Forlorn and fed up, he’s in a slump when hired to transport a massive ship across the ocean, with a mysterious cargo that’s guarded by a sinister mercenary and security expert  (Michael Paré). Usually in this type of thing it’s Paré as the hero and Mcdowell as the villain (which has actually happened in Roland Emmerich’s Moon 44), but here they pull a Tarantino and switch up the type casting which is wonderful to see and makes for a fresh vibe. Paré works for the sultry, sleazy (Heidi Von Palleske), the company CEO who wants an eye kept on the cargo hold. Paré and Mcdowell bit heads, there’s murky conflict and the ship’s Artificial Intelligence engine is called B.A.B.Y. and is quite literally a fetus in a big gooey tank with wires attached to its brain. If that isn’t worthy of a medal in the ambition department I don’t know what is. Theres an odd sort of climactic fight scene that plays like a dream and doesnt involve fighting at all really, more like just a laser show with strange dialogue. Despite it being set in the future there’s a nifty retro style, with soldier uniforms and the darkly poetic tone almost calling forth the sensibility of the 40’s. I was reminded of Titanic in scenes, but that could be my weird cinematic free association. This one’s a keeper for fans of off kilter, under the radar oddities.