Tag Archives: Movies

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

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The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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B Movie Glory: The Rift


The Rift is a nifty little underwater creature feature in the tradition of stuff like The Abyss and Leviathan, a low budget affait that uses neat practical model effects to churn out some gooey thrills, and a cool cast to run around being hunted by them. When an experimental submarine dubbed the ‘Siren II’ (after the disappearance of the Siren I, naturally) descends into a deep fissure in the ocean, things begin to pop up that shouldn’t be down there. By things I mean cleverly designed miniature models that are lit just right enough to fake us out into believing they are actually giant underwater behemoths from the darkest nightmares of marine cryptozoology. Captained by R. Lee Ermey, giving the character gravitas the film almost doesn’t deserve, it’s a doomed mission from the start, especially when you factor in the shady presence of first mate Ray ‘Leland Palmer’ Wise, who has a few tricks up the old sleeve. It’s up to man of the hour Jack Scalia to swagger their way out of danger, but the rift is deep, dark and pretty soon all kinds of gooey things find their way aboard the craft. It’s not half bad, at least nowhere near the second tier hack job some critics dubbed it as. Any effort that puts that much artisan ingenuity into deep sea monsters with as little money as they were given gets a handful of gold stars from me. Plus, you can’t go wrong with that cast. 

-Nate Hill

Tab Murphy’s Last Of The Dogmen


Tab Murphy’s Last Of The Dogmen is a beautiful story, providing assurance that on a rapidly shrinking modern world there can still be some undiscovered wonder to be found, sometimes in the last place anyone would look. Tom Berenger, gruff as ever, stars as Lewis Gates, a rural bounty hunter charged with pursuing a gaggle of escaped felons who’ve hightailed it into Montana wilderness so dense that the usual branches of law can’t track them. Joined by his anthropologist friend (Barbara Hershey), he searches day and night for these convicts, and in the process finds something far more incredible. Buried far in the heart of this mostly untouched frontier is a tribe of Native Americans, thought to be wiped out by settlers generations earlier, living since then with no contact to the outside world. Gates is wary but fascinated, while Hershey recognizes this for the miracle it is and tries her best to communicate with the people, who in turn are fiercely protective of their land, especially towards the escaped prisoners who have wandered onto it as well. Hot on Berenger’s tail as well is his ex father in law (Kurtwood Smith) who is also the county Sheriff, bitter towards him for a past tragedy, volatile and unpredictable, another risky faction to flare up conflict between all sides. The action is kept to a necessary minimum, and the real meat of the piece lies in the pure spectacle of their situation, a reverence for both parties involved and a keen eye for interaction between human beings who couldn’t be more different yet have shared the same region for eons. The Native actors, including Sidel Standing Elk, Dawn Lavand, Eugene Blackbear and Steve Reevis, are all superb, as are Berenger and Smith. The real magic comes cascading through the lens of cinematographer Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who beautifully captures Banff National Park in it’s full glory, as well as other such locations not far from my Canadian home. The film hangs onto the notion that there is still undiscovered splendour out there, from rushing rivers to ancient mountains, and the mysterious tribes who once, and perhaps still do, call it home. 

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Francis Delia’s Freeway


In the vein of highway set psycho thrillers, stuff like Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher and Steven Spielberg’s Duel paved and pioneered the way, fertilizing the ground for countless other similar efforts, some terrific and others not so much. Freeway falls into the former category, an atmospheric little B movie that delivers more clammy thrills than it frankly has any right to. It’s not to be confused with the classic Reese Witherspoon trash-terpiece of the same name though, this is a different animal altogether. There’s a serial killer terrorizing the nocturnal arteries of the L.A. highway system in this, an unhinged whacko in a Lincoln of or some such automobile of equally austerity, firing off love rounds into people’s faces whilst bellowing out bible verses extremely out of context all over the overpass in the wee hours. He’s mostly heard and unseen, but he’s played by none other than Billy Drago when he does show that leering visage, and the man let’s it rip in a performance that should be legendary. He’s hunted by another cool-as-ice character actor, tough guy James Russo as a Detective of few words and tons of action, namely shooting anyone that won’t give answers or spur his leads. There’s a dark, dreamy nocturnal aura to this, love and care put into atmosphere, showing is that the filmmakers, despite working with a low budget, actually give a darn about quality in their work as opposed to a throwaway second tier genre mad dash where the lack of passion is evident. A low rent classic in the realm of homicidal vehicular themed exploitation. 

-Nate Hill

One Man’s Hero


One Man’s Hero takes place during a conflict that doesn’t get all that much coverage in Hollywood, the Mexican American war. With a sweeping Patriot-esque vibe and a world weary starring turn turn from Tom Berenger, it’s an affecting tale that whether or not is based on truth, still packs an emotional whallop. Berenger is Riley, an Irish American who leads his mostly immigrant troupes through racial prejudice beset on them by their own American superiors, just one more obstacle thrown in with the already taxing war itself. Defecting from the troops, Riley is commissioned to lead his men on the opposing force, banding together with fiery, disillusioned Mexican revels leader Cortina (Joaquim De Almeida) and fight for acceptance and survival while navigating both sides of the conflict. Although there are a few impressive battle sequences staged here and there, the film is more about the private and personal wars fought amongst the ranks themselves, the notion that one army isn’t always just focused on the task and can get caught up in internal conflict, which often, including in this case, leads to unnecessary tragedy. Berenger and Almeida go at it fiercely in a love hate companionship constantly tested by the war and their mutual affection for beautiful fellow freedom fighter Marta (Daniela Romo). Underrated Patrick Bergin shows up in a severely powdered wig, Stephen Tobolowsky plays yet another one of his loathsome, letcherous roles and the late great James Gammon is the perfect embodiment of crusty yet compassionate General Zachary Taylor. Not a title that crosses many people’s vision when discussing war films, but a really solid effort despite a lower budget, a story that needed to be told and a star turn from Tom to remember. 

-Nate Hill

Peter Hyam’s Narrow Margin 


Peter Hyams Narrow Margin is a sleek thriller that attempts to blend courtroom intrigue with a single location white-knuckler, which it does.. mostly successfully. A better way to put it would be that it sandwiches a cat and mouse game set on a speeding train between an intro and epilogue both set in the decidedly more complicated realm of legal escapades. We open as an unfortunate lawyer (J.T. Walsh in a too brief cameo) is assassinated by the mobster scumbag (Harris Yulin, creepy as ever) he had shady ties too. A terrified Anne Archer hides in the shadows, witness to the murder, and therefore a valuable asset to the dogged prosecutor (Gene Hackman) who is trying to bring the kingpin down. The two of them are ambushed on a routine transport via helicopter and escape onto said train, and here’s where the narrative cops out just a little bit. Almost the entire rest of the film is spent on the train, an extended diversion of a set piece that steps in for what I thought would be a more cerebral battle of wills between these factions, in court and out. It’s not a huge deal, I was just expecting a little more, and the bits at either end of the film stand as my favourite sequences. Hackman plays stubborn like no other, having both literal and figurative tunnel vision here, the only one thing he cares about being the life of his witness. They’re harried at every turn by corrupt officials of many kinds, and pursued by a mystery woman (Susan Hogan, my acting mentor in college no less), while the train hurtles through the gorgeous Canadian wilderness, captured pristinely by Hyam’s lens as he dutifully does his own cinematography, the dynamo. It’s a thrilling little piece that benefits from Hackman’s spirited work, the photography and editing backing it up nicely.  

-Nate Hill