Tag Archives: movie reviews

Robert Zemeckis’s Death Becomes Her

Robert Zemeckis’s Death Becomes Her is a such a frickin sexy, good looking film that you think it’s glamorizing death but it cleverly ducks that later on, using its devilish central premise to poke fun at just how vain, petty and superficial some people are and to hilariously show the awkward clumsiness and unwieldy, bizarre nature of the human body getting older and dying using morbid dark humour and screwball comic sensibilities. Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep are two bitter rivals with a decades long feud over the same man, mild mannered undertaker Bruce Willis. When I say mild mannered I mean that as an understatement; this is the antithesis of classic Willis tough guys we are used to, he’s constantly shook, rattled, neurotic and absolutely hysterical as a poor sod stuck in between two crazy bitches. Streep’s character just can’t even handle her body getting older, so she obtains some magic potion with suspiciously vague properties from a shady gypsy witch (Isabella Rossellini is like… unreasonably sexy here) and suddenly she’s a perky, nubile young’in once again… but it’s not without its side effects. When she’s accidentally ‘killed,’ her body just doesn’t wanna stay dead and she’s basically a really whiny zombie chick… and just wait til you see the kind of undead insanity it escalates to from there. Hawn and Streep are terrific in their roles as these two supremely unlikeable shrieking banshee harridans, while Willis is a royal hoot as the hapless, anxiety ridden boob. I like the film’s overall condemnation of materialistic whinging over ones physical appearance and the incessant vanity that permeates western culture. The special effects are wonderfully wild and even quite scary in places as a spectacularly uncoordinated zombie Meryl Streep jerks and careens about her mansion like a drunken slinky, terrifying everyone in sight. Playful direction from Zemeckis, caustically witty screenplay courtesy of David Koepp, engaging lead performances and a spooky Alan Silvestri score, this one is a barrel of fun.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Acts Of Vengeance

So Bruce Willis got his official Death Wish remake (which I still haven’t seen) and now it appears that Antonio Banderas has scored one too, albeit unofficially. Acts Of Vengeance is pretty much just another assembly like cheapie action thriller with a few big names attached, some decently choreographed fight sequences and a few recognizable character faces in underwritten throwaway supporting turns, a collective undertaking that seems to permeate the direct to VOD realm these days.

Antonio Banderas brings his Latin stoicism as a self absorbed defence attorney whose wife and young daughter are murdered one night on the way home from a song recital that he missed because he’s too busy with work (when will that plot point not be a thing anymore). He first descends into a guilt ridden booze cruise and then learns some martial arts with a Mr. Miyagi proxy and proceeds to hunt down his family’s killer, with the half assed help of a Detective (Jonathan Schaech) who literally spends his scenes texting on his phone rather than doing police work. Karl Urban shows up in an utterly thankless role that anyone could have played as another cop who is sympathetic to his crusade for revenge and helps him out here and there, but the role is way beneath his talents and I found myself just wondering why someone as cool as him would spend his time on such a baseline cop role. The late great Robert Forster has a pretty badass cameo as Antonio’s pissed off father in law, showing up for one single funeral scene to give him a stinging verbal beatdown and disappearing for the rest of the film. Paz Vega also shows up as a friendly nurse who takes him in when he receives one of many ass kickings at the hands of thugs, she’s a nice sort of ‘Penelope Cruz Lite’ presence. It’s a really derivative, fairly dull film to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing new here, it’s all been done much better elsewhere, Banderas is a listless protagonist, the character motivations (particularly that of the ludicrously written, out-of-nowhere villain) are pretty questionable and it’s just overall… bland. I did however notice that the end credits are dedicated to the director’s family, who I’m guessing he lost at some point? This would appear to be a personal project for him and I don’t want to detract from that but I have to be honest about the film on its own terms.

-Nate Hill

Sean Penn’s Into The Wild

Sean Penn’s Into The Wild is ostensibly about a young college grad who abandons societal norms, traditional Western aspirations and archetypal beats to live first on the road and eventually in the wilderness, but that’s really only the framework for something more elemental and profound. What I got out of it, thanks to meditative filmmaking and an ensemble cast for the ages, was a quiet, studious anthropologist’s discourse on how many different human beings conform to, tear free from or abide just outside what society deems ‘normal’ or ‘allowed.’ Emile Hirsch’s Christopher McCandless is perhaps the most extreme and outright noticeable example within the cast of characters, a young boy just starting out in life who has decided to flip the proverbial table and rewrite the collective standards of living in our world to suit his strikingly literate, ambitiously philosophical nature. This is one of those films where the main character is on a journey and meets/interacts with many varied, interesting folk along the way. Penn loves to use this motif (check out his masterpiece The Pledge for quite a different version of the idea), is terrific with ensemble casts and many actors of considerable talent thankfully flock to work in his pictures. Christopher’s parents are played by Marcia Gay Harden and a heartbreaking William Hurt, two actors who have never been pinned down into playing one role or typecast, both very clearly the materialistic, compassionate yet volcanically dysfunctional proud suburban parents. Jena Malone is Christopher’s supportive, loving sister and from these relatives he sets out on a cross country journey with Alaska as his endgame, and meets a host of people who could be a collective time capsule of late 80’s/early 90’s Americana. Vince Vaughn is a rowdy farming magnate who takes Christopher in, gives him work and a boisterous big brother presence, for awhile. Kristen Stewart is the teenaged hippie girl he finds romance with in a wistful trailer commune… for awhile. Signe Egholm Olsen and Thure Lindhart are two effervescent European backpackers he shares a watering hole with.. for like ten minutes. Hal Holbrook will break your heart into pieces as a fatherly widower with a tragic past who gives him shelter and paternal companionship.. for a brief time. The running theme here is that Christopher never stays anywhere for long and it soon becomes clear that some human beings, himself included, were simply meant to roam restlessly until their soul finds a place it can be at peace. My favourite among his interactions is that with an ageing hippie couple played by the wonderful Catherine Keener and someone called Brian Dierker, who I’ve never heard of before but makes a striking impression. They’re a loving pair with tragedy in their past who find kinship and parental caring for Christopher, and I felt like if there was one place or group of people on his journey he may have ended up staying with permanently, it would have been them. We all know how this film turns out and what the story tells us, but for me it was a beautifully episodic, sweepingly melodious exploration of human beings and how they interact, migrate about the landscape and find their own customs, relationships and purposes with the lives given to them. There’s a montage right near the end where as we witness Christopher arrive at the final beat of his arc, we also see everyone he met and cared about in life at the exact same moment in time elsewhere, each in various snapshots of joy, anguish, libation or introspection. It’s a brilliantly edited sequence because it sews the final stitches together in a thread of human experiences the film gifts us, and I’ve seldom felt more connected to the “connectedness” of human beings overall than I did in this beautiful sequence. This is a masterpiece, and I won’t even go into the brilliant album composed by Eddie Vedder because we’d be here all day.

-Nate Hill

Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika

I’m not sure why the general reception to Mathieu Kassovitz’s Gothika was bad bordering on hostile and I have nothing to say to people who hate this film other than I love it and really don’t see what the huge issues with it are. This is an atmospheric, expressionistic horror film made by a European director who favours image, sound, stylistic viscera, trippy nightmare logic and frightening tonal discordance over plot mechanisms, which is just fine by me. Halle Berry plays an expert psychiatrist at a scary Arkham Asylum looking facility where a disturbed patient (Penelope Cruz) whispers of unseen terrors that haunt her. One day Berry wakes up as a patient in her own ward, told by her colleague (Robert Downey Jr) that she’s guilty of killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton). She has no memory of the night in question except meeting a mysterious, ghostlike girl (Kathleen Mackey) on the road right before the alleged crime. Others including the local sheriff (John Carroll Lynch) and the facility’s director (Bernard Hill, always fantastic) try to get to the bottom of this supernaturally drenched murder mystery while Berry struggles to keep her sanity as she’s plagued by terrifying visions, waking nightmares and the ominous presence of the ghost girl. Look, not everything in this film’s plot makes the most sense, but it’s clear enough to serve as narrative framework for one of the most darkly evocative, visually eerie and audibly menacing auras in a horror film. It’s essentially a haunted house flick with a very real (and very horrific) murder/rape conspiracy playing alongside, as Berry wanders the stylized grounds of the asylum pursued by noises, grotesque deformations, tactile hallucinations and that persistent ghost girl who demonstrates the most effective and chilling use of the “jerky, otherworldly backwards ghost walk” I’ve probably ever seen. Berry and Downey Jr are terrific while Cruz does some very scary, against type work as the extremely disturbed trauma victim who holds secrets to the mystery she guards cryptically. I love this film, I love its weird, borderline surreal vibes, I love how lurid and gruesome the murder mystery is, how the production and sound design stimulate every sense and the film draws me into its world spectacularly every time.

-Nate Hill

Adam Resnick’s Cabin Boy

I’ve always kind of known Cabin Boy existed, but I’ve skirted around it for years because.. well, as funny as that Chris Elliott guy is in other stuff (he’s the best part about Scary Movie 2) I just didn’t think he could carry an entire comedy on his own, and the thing just looked stupid based on the DVD cover. Well the good news is that he doesn’t have to carry the whole thing on his own because this thing is so packed with character actors, super random cameos, bizarre practical effects, trippy vignettes and eccentric humour it carries itself on sheer outlandish momentum alone. I also wasn’t prepared for how fucking weirdly surreal and unearthly much of it is, it in fact might be one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen and in that regard it succeeds on sheer cult status merit alone. Elliott is pretty idiotic as a self proclaimed “fancylad” (they pronounce it as one word), a rich, spoiled little asshole who leaves his cushy life to run his father’s business in Hawaii but accidentally boards a salty fishing vessel after being given wrong given directions by David Letterman (I’m not making that up). The crew of this boat is populated by the grizzled likes of James Gammon, Brion James, Brian Doyle Murray, Ritch Brinkley (the obnoxious county prosecutor from Twin Peaks, for anyone as nerdy as me who remembers) and a young Andy Richter. They don’t take kindly to Elliott’s snooty attitude though and basically make him the Boat’s Bitch until he can earn his stripes. The film is terminally dumb in many areas but sometimes the script really surprised me with hilariously subtle comedic dialogue and deftly hysterical performances from the main cast and cameos alike. The central plot at some point gives way to a jaw dropping, delirious bout of random interludes including an iceberg monster, a Norwegian half man/half shark creature called Chocki (Russ Tamblyn, of all people), a pissed off Olympic swimmer (Melora Walters), a floating cupcake (Jim Cummings), a cave dwelling Kama Sutra goddess (Ann Magnuson) and in the film’s funniest bit, her Brooklyn born giant of a husband (Mike Starr, always love this guy) who tries to open a hardware store for seagulls. It’s about as fucking off the wall as it gets and suffice to say I was not prepared for the brand of deranged lunacy this film has to offer but I quite enjoyed a good portion of it. In a world where the comedy genre is so saturated with uninspired, limp-dick efforts and terminal misfires, I appreciate something with the verve, lack of inhibitions and capacity for abstract thought that lets it all hang out and throws every certifiably insane idea at the wall to see what sticks. Most of it does.

-Nate Hill

Curtis Hanson’s The River Wild

Curtis Hanson’s The River Wild is one of those cheerfully formulaic, undemanding 90’s adventure flicks that you can crush consecutively like a case of lite beer, they’re always easy breezy good fun if done properly. This one sees a classic suburban family head for a river rafting expiration led by ex-guide mom (Meryl Streep), reluctantly joined by workaholic dad (David Strathairn) and enthusiastically headed up by their kid (Joseph Mazzello from Jurassic Park). The vacation is going pretty well until they run into a trio of career criminals led by evil Kevin Bacon on the run after a heist, who plan to use the narrow canyons of the river to escape, but they’re without the proverbial paddle of rafting experience and need Streep’s expertise, so they promptly kidnap the whole family and things get pretty gnarly. So the film overall is pretty average for a thriller, exciting enough but nothing to truly cream your knickers over. Streep is sterling great as always and her performance feels almost too good for this film, probably because her talents are obviously a bit above the material. Bacon is impressively evil as the conniving, psychopathic asshole who makes their lives hell, he’s always been able to slip in and out of good guy/bad guy roles with such ease. Strathairn is usually terrific but somehow comes across a bit bland here, John C. Reilly is effective and low key hilarious as Bacon’s hopeless dumb-fuck cohort and there’s appearances from Bill Lucking, Liz Hoffman, Diane Delano, Glenn Moreshower and Benjamin Bratt too. Gorgeous Montana scenery accompanied by a notable Jerry Goldsmith score add to the fun. It’s a good thriller, not a great one.

-Nate Hill

Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop

Do you like science fiction stories that put human characters, story and emotion before action, special effects and visual bedazzlement? Quiet, contemplative, episodically interwoven narratives that use SciFi as a means to illuminate hidden truths, internal revelations and complex interpersonal relationships? Lovingly detailed, retro-futuristic artistic creation lifted right off the pages of an iconic novel? Amazon Prime’s Tales From The Loop has all this and more and is one of the most gentle, low key yet deeply staggering pieces of work I’ve ever experienced in the genre. The story focuses on a small town somewhere that is built above ‘The Loop,’ a mysterious underground research facility home to a subtly sentient A.I. engine used to create and power countless inventions. Each episode shows a story centred around a few families and individuals from this town and how this mysterious power source from The Loop affects their lives in surprising, tragic, metaphysical ways. There’s a teenage couple who find an object that pauses time except for their perception, after which they’re left to their own devices and we see what that can do to a relationship. Elsewhere a lonely man wanders into a parallel dimension and literally (and figuratively too) finds himself. The elderly founder and engineer of The Loop (Jonathan Pryce, fantastic) struggles with his mortality while his daughter (Rebecca Hall) and son in law (Paul Schneider) have their own personal experiences with the forces around them, and so do many others whose lives are woven together organically to create a tranquil, reflective and hypnotic piece unlike any other. The SciFi aspects really only act as background scenery and catalysts for unconventional human experience; we never learn what The Loop really is and most of the robots, structures and tech it creates hover in the background like fish in an aquarium while the human being characters abide in wonderment, learning complex, challenging lessons around love, compassion, self identity, overcoming fear, reconciling one’s own life cycle, coming to terms with death, facing past choices/mistakes and all of that overwhelming stuff that makes us who we are. It’s all set to soul-stirring, mesmerizing and unique original music from maestros Phillip Glass and Paul Leonard Morgan and breathtaking, vintage inspired visual design that brings to life robots, domelike architecture, otherworldly technical ambience and all manner of stylistic splendour that always serves as atmosphere and allows story, characters and themes take centre stage overall. Brilliant piece of work, and the kind of life affirming, empathetic art we need right now.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23

Joel Schumacher’s The Number 23 is one of the silliest films I’ve seen in a long time, so much so that I couldn’t even really get mad at it, I just sat there in disbelief looking at this adorable kindergarten level film noir huff and puff and try to be edgy and dangerous. Maybe it’s the fact that Jim Carrey is in a serious role, or the script is just so hilariously scattered and overcooked or that Carrey plays a freaking dog catcher (do those even exist anymore?) but for whatever reason I just couldn’t take this thing remotely seriously. So the plot, best as I could jigsaw it together from the hack job of a script: Jim is a mild mannered animal wrangler who finds an ancient Nordic mask that when worn, turns the wearer into- gotcha, didn’t I? Okay for real this time: he *is* an animal wrangler but instead he finds a little self published memoir written by a disturbed big city cop named Fingerling (also Jim with spray on tribal tattoos). In this book the detective is plagued by the number 23, which seems to show up everywhere including, you guessed it, in the real world where it haunts animal wrangler Jim as well. His wife (Virginia Madsen) and kid (Logan Lerman) do their best to both play along and look on in concern as he lets a numeric equation take over his life. There’s a grab bag of subplots including a mysterious psychiatrist (an uncredited Bud Cort), Danny Huston as a colleague who does his best to help, a death row inmate (Mark Pellegrino), a secretive dead girl (Rhona Mitra) and, uh.. a mysterious dog that leads people to gravestones of importance. It all seems hastily thrown together, none of it works or makes any kind of sense let alone lands with any emotional impact or narrative synergy and the ending left me chuckling in bemusement, my lack of conviction in this film equaled only by that it has in itself, which apparently is none. The wannabe noir cutaways to the book about Fingerling are laughably try-hard (Carrey literally wistfully plays a saxophone and stares out an apartment bay-window) and wincingly faux kinky, the psychological character aspects involving the twist ending are so far flung I threw my arms up in surrender and honestly it all felt like several better films tossed into a magic bullet and puréed into an indistinguishable pulp. The only scene with any kind of real power is in a graveyard with this fog, who fascinated me; a priest (Ed Lauter, RIP) informs frenzied animal wrangler Jim that this is a spirit dog who watched over the souls of the dead by standing at their graves. This scene *actually* has conviction, atmosphere and emotional substance, and it gave me chills… but it’s untethered from the film as a whole and has no bearing on the context or overall plot! It’s just… a scene! out of the ether! The same goes for the film as a whole.. what does the dog have to do with the dead girl have to do with the shrink have to do with Jim’s knockoff tribal tattoos have to do with the number 23? Not much of anything, and what little does fit together or add up… just feels stupid.

-Nate Hill

Ron Howard’s The Missing

I’m not sure why a gorgeous, thrilling horror/western/adventure like Ron Howard’s The Missing didn’t win over audiences as much as it should have upon release, but it’s one of my favourite in the genre, the best film overall from Howard (IMHO) who has always felt like an uneven, ‘play it safe’ Hollywood filmmaker to me and one of my go-to films to revisit. This films plays it anything but safe, blanketing a very personal, desperate set of protagonists and their struggles with a cloak of menace, mysticism and marauding danger around every corner of a threatening New Mexico brush-scape. Cate Blanchett gives one of her most raw, affecting turns as single rancher and single mother Magdalena Gillekson, a woman with a great deal of trauma in her past who is simply trying to live the isolated homesteader life and raise her two daughters (Jenna Boyd and Evan Rachel Wood) right, with the help of her friend, ranch-hand and sometimes lover Brake (Aaron Eckhart). Their lives are first upheaved with the reappearance of her ne’er do well father Samuel (Tommy Lee Jones), a halfbreed nomad who is disgraced most people in his past, and then with the arrival of a terrifying witch-doctor (Eric Schweig) who kidnaps her eldest daughter and makes off with his gang of Apache and white human traffickers towards the Mexican border to sell her and a whole bunch of other girls they’ve taken. So begins a journey of reconnaissance, rescue and reconciliation as Magdalena, Samuel and the younger daughter voyage across wintry plains of New Mexico into barren badlands to square off with this evil cabal of predatory psychopaths and return the stolen girls to their homes. These two characters that Blanchett and Jones play fascinate me; she’s cold, bitter and has clearly been robbed of some of her humanity in the past. He’s an outcast loner with a life story so dysfunctional that his Native name literally translates into English as ‘shit for luck.’ Their struggle to salvage any kind of father daughter relationship between them is almost as daunting as the brutal rescue mission they undertake, and the narrative pays just as much careful attention to character development and human interaction as it does to action and violence. Schweig is utterly despicable as the evil Apache shaman, a hateful, volatile, ugly as fuck rotten bastard monster who haunts the film like the very wind over the terrain itself with his unholy magic spells and sudden outbursts of shocking violence. The supporting cast is full of rich talent including Elizabeth Moss, Steve Reeves, Jay Tavare, Ray McKinnon, Max Perlich, Simon Baker, Clint Howard and a surprise cameo from Val Kilmer. As good as everyone is overall, my favourite performance of the film goes to Jenna Boyd as the youngest daughter.. it’s hard enough to find child actors who will be able to to the minimal amount of believable emotion in a role like this, but she is uncannily talented and her potent terror, fierce resilience and undimmed love for her mother and sister woven into her work simply knocked me flat. The late James Horner composes a score that tops the list of prolific work from him for me, an ambient collection of classic yet somehow eerie western motifs that play along the sideline for the first two acts and then swell with orchestral release later when the finale rolls around. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino makes spooky use of the wide open vistas, craggy, labyrinthine geological structures and captures the rugged natural beauty of the region splendidly. I wish Howard would do more edgy, off the beaten path and thoroughly dark pieces of work like this because for my money he’s never been better. Perhaps that’s why this wasn’t received so well though, it’s a harrowing far cry from what we’re used to seeing in Hollywood westerns, full of black magic, dark deeds, horrifying imagery and bloody, unforgiving violence. It has a soul too though, present in the bittersweet relationship between its main characters and the ruthless resolve they fuel in each other to seek retribution against the forces of darkness at their door. This is a great film and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, I think it was just either misunderstood, ahead of its time or people simply couldn’t reconcile the heavier aspects. I’ve recently acquired the only existing Blu Ray put out by Shout Factory which is an absolutely gorgeous release that includes an extended version with twenty minutes more footage that enriches and deepens this story wonderfully. One of the best films of the last two decades.

-Nate Hill

Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad

80’s Amblin nostalgia fuses together with classic Hammer horror characters in The Monster Squad, a film I never even knew existed until it was brought to my attention by twitter peeps the other day, but after one viewing I’m immediately in love. This exists in the same cherished vein of stuff like The Goonies, Flight Of The Navigator, Gremlins etc and the aesthetic is always irresistible no matter what, then throw in this classic horror flavour too and you’re pretty much guaranteed to win me over. Monsters are loose in small town Americana, and that’s pretty much all you need to known plot-wise in a review. A band of local kids who call themselves The Monster Squad because they’ve always been prepping to fight imaginary beasties finds themselves hurled into a very real fight against a very real posse of them lead by Dracula himself (Duncan Regehr). There’s also a nervous Wolfman (Jon Gries), a mummy (Michael Reid Mackay) and a surprisingly benign Frankenstein’s monster played by the great Tom Noonan. It’s all very playful, loosely structured and down to earth, the child characters emblazoned with the kind of aggressively cute, profane yet ultimately sweet personalities that only the deepest of 80’s cuts in cinema could offer. The best part of the film for me was the warm-hearted, touching friendship between one of the squad’s baby sister (Ashley Bank) and Noonan’s monster who are both unbearably adorable. Blessedly prosthetic monster effects, a campy yet very smartly written tone and vivid, memorable characters make this an absolute treasure.

-Nate Hill