Tag Archives: Movies

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Clarke Duncan Performances

Michael Clarke Duncan was one of Hollywood’s gentle giants for decades, an instantly recognizable presence with intense physicality and a deep baritone voice full of expression. One might think that he’d get cast in a lot of tough guy villain roles but his career path found him often lending talent to comedic characters and lighthearted fare. That’s not to say he couldn’t embody a hulking bruiser when the opportunity came along, but he managed a terrific variety in his work before passing away far too soon in 2012. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Benjamin King in Saint’s Row

This is voiceover work in a series of video games but I had to include at least one VO performance because of the sheer power and unique energy he could project. A sprawling urban crime epic in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, King is a self made millionaire, organized crime arch-boss, philanthropist, mega businessman and all around badass who commands a vast army, exudes both class and street smarts and reigns supreme. It’s a devilishly enjoyable vocal performance full of witty barbs, dark humour and booming tough talk.

9. Murdoch in See Spot Run

This is a silly, silly film but I’ve got some childhood nostalgia for it. Murdoch is a federal agent who gets a bit too attached to his canine unit partner and just can’t handle it when the dog runs off to assist a young boy (the kid from Two & A Half Men) and his infantile father (David Arquette) in taking down a cartoonish mobster (Paul Sorvino). Duncan plays him as an unflappably alpha tough guy who’s banging a fellow agent (Kim Hawthorne) but is reduced to tears when he can’t find his dog. I think we could all relate.

8. Attar in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes

Add prosthetic makeup and fur to his already hulking frame and you’ve got one memorable, scary and conflicted turn as head general to a maniacal ape warlord (a scene stealing Tim Roth). Attar is an old school, militaristic individual who resents his boss’s extremism but isn’t above launching a lethal hunt for the human trespassers on their world.

7. Bear in Michael Bay’s Armageddon

Bruce Willis’s ragtag team of oil drillers turned astronauts are an eclectic, entertaining bunch but perhaps most adorable and endearing is Duncan’s Bear. He’s rowdy, lovable, rides a chopper, lends his pipes to Ben Affleck’s impromptu serenade of ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ and his first thought when asked to basically save the world is to request a stay at the White House.

6. Starkweather Two-Delta/Jamal Starkweather in Michael Bay’s The Island

Here he displays heart wrenching emotional range as a clone who wakes up mid surgery as an evil corporation harvests his organs for a rich client. It’s kind of an extended cameo but the outrage, hurt and desperate effort for survival is something haunting to see, and his work drives the film’s themes of ethics and morality home affectingly.

5. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil

Netflix’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s frightening Kingpin have taken up both the mantle and the critical acclaim these days, but I still have a lot of love for this version and Michael’s imposing, classy yet brutal portrayal of the biggest baddie in Hell’s Kitchen. He rocks the crisp pinstripe suit, massive cigar and has both the keen intellect and bruising physicality of Fisk, illustrated nicely in a bone crunching final showdown with Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock.

4. The General in Reto Salimbeni’s One Way

This curious, fascinating and overlooked indie drama sees him play a mysterious military general who serves as protector and metaphysical guardian angel to protagonist Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith). She’s a sexual abuse survivor with a tragic past whose trauma has likely manifested him, and at key moments in her life he appears to console and fight for her. He makes grave, compassionate work of such an esoteric character.

3. Manute in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

Another slightly esoteric character, Manute is a gigantic, nearly invincible mafia enforcer tasked with neutralizing the unruly hookers of Old Town in this arresting noir realm of murder and madness. Attired in a smart suit that’s half military and all business, sporting a giant golden eyeball (that’s another story) and annunciating in disarmingly well fashioned vernacular, he’s a striking, slightly surreal villain played with gentlemanly yet sinister relish by Duncan. He was recast for the sequel after his passing by Dennis Haysbert, who gave it his all but couldn’t quite capture the magic that Michael gifted this role with.

2. Cleon Salmon in Broken Lizard’s The Slammin Salmon

The funniest performance of his career in one of the best entries by Lizard, who are truly an underrated comedic creative team. The egotistical, boorish owner of a swanky Miami seafood hotspot, Cleon has lost a whole whack of money in a game of ‘Japanese Albino hunting’ (strictly catch and release) and is now making his restaurant staff earn it all back for him in one night under the pretence of a contest. Duncan plays this dude as a maniacal loudmouth who always has to be the centre of attention, get the last laugh and bellow out his running joke of a catchphrase “Whateva mothafucka!!!!” to anyone in earshot. A stroke of comic brilliance.

1. John Coffey in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile

His work as a death row inmate with a mysterious telepathic ability earned him a well deserved best supporting actor. Coffey is accused of child rape and murder, yet there’s more to the story we find as the block’s head guard (Tom Hanks) learns more about his his extraordinary power to absorb others pain both literally and figuratively. It’s a heartbreaking performance, the one that got him acclaim in Hollywood and the beautiful piece of acting that I’ll always remember him for.

-Nate Hill

David Lynch’s What Did Jack Do?

Not since Pirates Of The Caribbean has a monkey named Jack made such a hilarious, adorable and frequently unsettling impression. David Lynch is many things on top of my favourite filmmaker of all time, one being a master of the unexpected surprise, both within any given project he crafts and in the way he presents or markets them to his audience. It’s just like him to quietly sneak a seventeen minute short film onto Netflix on his 74th birthday with little fanfare, but here it is. What Did Jack Do is pure Lynch magic: a police detective (Lynch himself) interrogates a talking monkey (Jack Cruz) who is suspected of murdering farmyard birds, but keeps dodging the man’s questions with enigmatic idioms that have little to do with the overall flow of conversation, or lack thereof. That’s basically it, but the signature style and dreamlike sustained atmosphere makes it feel like so much more than just a short about a talking monkey. Lynch sits, stares, smokes cigarettes and annunciates in that clear, purposeful yet slyly elusive way that only he can. The monkey also sits but gazes around nervously as his mannerisms are animated in that unnerving way that those Annoying Orange videos are, yet somehow it seems not tacky like those were but more lifelike than if they’d used CGI, but that’s Lynch’s gift for unconventional practical effects. He shoots in the same ghostly, stark textured black and white employed in Twin Peaks: The Return and yet again crafts something haunting, mesmeric and subconsciously affecting. His wife makes a cameo playing a waitress who serves them, you guessed it, coffee. At one point Jack breaks out into the kind of otherworldly song routine that immediately reminds one of Lynch’s breakout film Eraserhead. It might sound like I’m detailing too much for a film so short but it doesn’t really matter; you can describe a Lynch film down to its buttons in every detail and the reader would still have no clue of its power until they take the plunge themselves. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some living room where the folks have no idea who Lynch is or what he’s about and just pick this from the Netflix lineup thinking it’s a cute little monkey documentary, heh.

-Nate Hill

The Glass House

The Glass House is one of those silly, sensationalist, bombastic pieces of melodramatic domestic turmoil branding itself as the slickest thriller on the block. It thinks it’s a lot smarter, more suspenseful and shocking than it actually is and despite the fact that it’s a total riot of bad movie cliches and overcooked hoo-hah, I still had a bit of fun with it. The main reason it kind of works is casting; Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgard are just watchable in anything no matter the quality, and here you get to see them play the world’s worst foster parents to two wayward orphans (Leelee Sobieski and Trevor Morgan). They at first seem like nice, caring folks: they’re rich, well put together, hospitable and live in a big old house atop a hill that’s just secluded enough to come in handy later when things go wrong. Soon it becomes apparent these two are whackos though. Skarsgard’s Terry is a dangerous manipulator who is hellbent on nabbing the kid’s four million trust fund left by their parents, while Lane’s Erin is an unstable junkie prone to weird outbursts and scary behaviour. It’s tough since no one really believes these kids and the whole thing circles the drain to one of those hilariously over the top forgone thriller conclusions that has a chase, several implausible fights, some cat and mouse stuff and plenty of villainous posturing from the two leads. Sobieski is always solid (see Joyride for a much better thriller starring her), Skarsgard no stranger to playing unhinged psychos and Lane although cast against her sweetheart type rocks the batshit chick aesthetic well. They’re all just stuck in such a formulaic, dull ass, waterlogged script that doesn’t step an inch out of line or do anything different than we’ve seen loads of times before. The only thing that really stands out beyond being adequate is the lighting, which really cracks on blu Ray. Other than that and the game performances it’s a trip through mediocrity town.

-Nate Hill

Nickelodeon’s Snow Day

Lol anyone remember Nickelodeon’s Snow Day? It’s one of those early 2000’s kids comedies that now exists in a time bubble all its own. They’ve neither aged well nor poorly, they just simply… are (kind of like Max Keeble’s Big Move). I remember watching this on YTV on a legit actual Vancouver snow day when I was a kid and nothing beat the sheer delirious elation that there’s no school and you can run outside for all kinds of wintry hijinks and destruction.

This one is adrift with subplots and iconic adult celebrities in cameos, and unfortunately mostly revolves around one idiot lovesick teen (Mark Webber) trying to woo the most popular girl in the neighborhood (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who is newly single. It’s a lame, tired and kinda misinformed motif but thanks to the sheer pandemonium revolving around it, the film is still pretty fun. Chevy Chase has a bit as his dad, the local tv weatherman forced to endure intense degradation by wearing a different winter themed costume for every broadcast, but it’s no less humiliating than the actor’s entire career overall, to be honest. There’s a running gag involving the school principal (Damien Young) who just wants to get home but keeps getting peppered by snowballs from an armada of unseen kids who ambush him at every turn. Other welcome appearances come from Pam Grier, Jean Smart, John Schneider and, uh.. Iggy Pop as a weirdo radio DJ.

Probably the most memorable element of the film is perennial Hollywood simpleton and lowbrow comedic jackass Chris Elliott as Snowplow Man, the only one with the unholy power to clear the roads and get school back in session. This makes him target zero for the neighbourhood kids and their furious battle against him is where the film really cuts loose and he gets to chew more scenery than he did as that handicapped Amish dude who kept saying “pee pee vagina” in Scary Movie 4 (I still laugh like an immature kid at that to this day). He laugh like a maniac and calls his plow truck ‘Darling Clementine’, it’s an inspired piece of WTF arch-villain-ry. It’s all in good fun, but the romantic central thing is just so dumb. Sissy Spacek’s daughter plays the guy’s best friend who is clearly head over heels for him while he ogles the classic popular chick and it’s painful to watch. Nevertheless, I hold a nostalgia for this and I wish they’d release it streaming somewhere to put on when we get legit snow days like today.

-Nate Hill

Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman

There’s no nice way to put this: Tomas Alfredson’s The Snowman is a fucking embarrassing mess of a film. It frequently looks very beautiful but stunning snowy visuals can only get you so far in a film whose story is so jagged it’s borderline nonexistent. Based on an airport thriller novel, this tries to be a grisly murder mystery in the vein of Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or something and ends up stumbling over its own lopsided narrative, getting lost in a sea of serial killer cliches and providing a host of excellent actors with basically jack shit to do.

Michael Fassbender is Detective Harry Hole (snicker), hard bitten Oslo lawman who comes across a serial murderer who leaves victim’s bloody scarves wrapped around an eerie looking snowman. So begins an impenetrable investigation dating decades back and relating (somehow) to a bunch of characters whose involvement just seems out of nowhere really. There’s a set of twins played by Chloe Sevigny, who always picks edgy, boundary pushing roles but seems listless and lost here. J.K. Simmons shows up briefly with a horrendous Norwegian accent as the police captain overseeing the case. Others meander in and out including Rebecca Ferguson, James D’arcy, Toby Jones, Adrian Dunbar and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Oh yeah and Val Kilmer too, playing a cop in flashbacks who lost his mind trying to find this killer, with godawful dubbing over his voice. At one point he actually steps out his office window and paces out onto a ledge like he wants nothing more than to escape this train wreck of a film. What a cast, just thrown to the winds.

I remember when the trailer for this came out, I couldn’t have been more excited for it. Snowy setting, eerie serial killer mystery, hard boiled cop with his own demons, I mean it’s so much up my alley it was practically knocking on my door. I answered by seeing the thing finally and wish I just stayed inside. The resulting film seems like it was thrown into a snowblower for editing and just launched across a field for release with little thought for character, incident, motivation, suspense or anything remotely engaging. It’s a shame because up until this, Alfredson’s track record was pretty impeccable. A straight up dud.

-Nate Hill

Ready Or Not

You ever have a game night with people who take that shit just a bit too seriously? Well for new bride Samara Weaving, such is most definitely the case. She’s marrying into an impossibly rich, pompous and slightly creepy family, and on the midnight stroke of her wedding night they want to play a game with her, an initiation rite of sorts. Could be Uno, could be checkers or crib, but god help them all if she pulls the hide and seek card. Ready Or Not is a brutal, breathless, hilarious and grisly horror comedy that plays like a big soup mix of Knives Out, The Evil Dead, The Most Dangerous Game, Meet The Parents, The Looney Toons and… well I shouldn’t compare it to all that much because it’s got its own thing going on too, and I fucking loved the dementedly high strung, black comedy saturated aesthetic.

Weaving is a phenomenal talent, who you’ll remember as the sinister but smokin hot Babysitter in the Netflix film of the same name. She bears such a striking resemblance to Margot Robbie that up until now it thought it *was* Margot in this flick, but she’s just as awesome. Basically she’s stuck in a grand old Clue-esque manor while her obnoxious, flippant, asshole in-laws hunt her down with antiquated weapons that look like they’re pilfered off that angry ass colonial hunter from Jumanji. There’s all kinds of hijinks, gory set pieces and an ending that is so off the map of WTF-ness and unexpected pandemonium I had to give it a the ol’ royal slow clap for effort and ingenuity. Scene stealers include the always deadpan Henry Czerny as the clan’s smarmy, perpetually cheesed off patriarch, Adam Brody as his very conflicted son and beloved Andie MacDowell as the two-faced dragon of a matriarch. This is tongue in cheek territory and then some, I mean the concept is right out of a darker version of Saturday Night Live or something. Weaving is just so great, turning white hot panic into exasperated anger and truly getting some exemplary, crowd pleasing moments of extreme violence, especially towards the family’s hapless butler (John Ralston). If you’re a fan of down n’ dirty, super gory and utterly hilarious horror mayhem, this is pretty much guaranteed to be a good time.

-Nate Hill

William Eubank’s Underwater

I’m pumped that I got to see William Eubank’s Underwater in theatres, because it’s the kind of giddy, delightful escapism that you don’t get on the big screen too often anymore. I love creature feature flicks, love SciFi, love films set underwater, there’s a feel akin to outer space that is just so immersive and enchanting. Throw in Kristen Stewart, who I love as an actress no matter how much hate y’all throw her way, and well this thing seems like it was made for me!

Seven miles down the Mariana Trench, a vast drilling expedition has made a bit to much of a racket and awoken something up on the ocean floor, something big, pissed off and scary as fuck. Stewart and her research team feel the repercussive effects about a mile further up on their rig, and in the first couple minutes of the film, all hell literally breaks loose. This is after a brief, moody and atmosphere setting introduction to Stewart’s Nora, a tough but damaged and fatalistic engineer whose survival instinct kicks in the minute things go haywire, evading extreme pressure, aquatic dementia, claustrophobia, panic and undersea monsters to stay alive along with her captain (Vincent Cassel) and crew that includes T.J. Miller as hysterical comic relief, John Gallagher Jr and Jessica Henwick as their research assistant who brings a sense of warmth and humanity in her excellent performance.

This is a tight, no nonsense B movie that hits the ground running, basically takes place in real time, has some very inventive biology for the creatures that I won’t spoil (there’s a WTF reveal in the third act that gave me chills) and feels like one long extended scene that somehow finds a few moments to actually make you feel for these people. Stewart rocks a blonde crew cut and sports bra, vaguely evoking Ripley from the Alien films but finding her own bleak, badass groove. Her final ‘fuck you’ to the aquatic beasts is a stand-up-and-fucking-cheer moment that solidifies her character as a capable, selfless and gritty heroine. This isn’t going to win any awards but it’s a shining example of the type of thing I want to go see at the multiplex: thrilling escapism, heroes to root for, nasty monsters from the deep places of the earth, a beautiful sense of style brought by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli and wonderfully spooky, cathartic score composed by Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts. I couldn’t recommend this enough.

-Nate Hill