Tag Archives: Movies

Bille August’s Smilla’s Sense Of Snow

Smilla’s Sense Of Snow begins with a specific inciting event: a young Inuit boy plummets off the roof of a multi storey building in Copenhagen, to his death. The only person who seems to care is Smilla (Julia Ormond), a girl who lives in the complex, is half Inuit herself and did her best to take care of the poor kid when his mother drowned in alcoholism. From there the film spirals into curious, unexpected thriller elements that seem to have left many viewers baffled (reviews over time haven’t been so kind), but it’s the uniqueness of this story that appeals to me, the way we find ourself wondering how such a simple and straightforward incident can lead to the kind of sequences you’d find in a Bond film. That’s the mark of an absorbing thriller, no matter how ‘out there’ people complain it is. Smilla deliberately cloaks herself in a facade of coldness not dissimilar from the snowy northern landscape around her and comes across as initially unpleasant, but when we see how far she’s willing to go and what she will risk to uncover the truth around the boy’s death, we realize there’s a heart in there and Ormond creates a mesmerizing protagonist. There is indeed a clandestine web of secrets, coverups and conspiracies revolving around the whole thing, and it’s great fun watching her follow the breadcrumb trail to where it all leads. She’s a withdrawn, introverted person, and these qualities don’t lend themselves to hands on detective work, but therein lies the gold mine of character development for her as she discovers perhaps one of the most bizarre string of events I’ve seen in a thriller. The supporting cast is full of gems, starting with Gabriel Byrne as her neighbour and love interest, just darkly charismatic enough to suggest that he may not be who he says he is. The late great Robert Loggia makes a stern but soulful appearance as her powerful father, who pulls some strings to help her out. Soon she’s led to a shadowy scientist (Richard ‘OG Dumbledore’ Harris) with ties to it all, and other appearances from Jurgen Vogel, David Hayman, Bob ‘Clever Girl’ Peck, Vanessa Redgrave, Ona Fletcher, Tom Wilkinson, a quick cameo from one of the Doctor Who actors and an excellent Jim Broadbent in full exposition mode. The eventual premise here is set up in an arresting prologue concerning a lone Inuit hunter observing a meteor fall to earth and cause an almighty mess on the tundra, serving to inform us right off the bat that although this film initially sets off on the trajectory of a straightforward murder mystery, there will be elements of the fantastical. Said elements proved to be either too far out there or too removed from the grounded opening for people to grasp hold of, but not me. I love the journey this one takes, I love the heroine we get to take it with, I’m awed by the stunning arctic photography every time and the story always draws me in. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Lasse Hallstrom’s Something To Talk About

Julia Roberts has many notorious pop culture hits under her belt, all of which become memorable for a reason: they’re flashy, relatable, well made crowd pleasers like Erin Brockovich or Pretty Woman. But that irresistible charm (if you’re a fan of hers) was also put to great use in some quieter, more challenging and less accessible pieces like Lasse Hallstrom’s Something To Talk About, an interpersonal dramedy that explores the relationship between her and her husband (Dennis Quaid) in the aftermath of him cheating on her. She comes from a big family, has headstrong parents (Robert Duvall and Gena Rowlands) who have an influential role in her life and a fiery, fiercely protective older sister (Kyra Sedgwick is fantastic) who literally kicks Quaid in the nuts when she finds out. Now, this is a 90’s film and doesn’t have the same perspective on life we now know today, so her frustration, anger and outrage at her husband’s infidelity isn’t taken as seriously as it could be right off the bat. Duvall is more worried how it may be bad for business than any emotional toll it will take on his daughter, while she simply wants to be heard and allowed to be pissed off at the guy. Her husband reacts with a sheepish wounded animal tactic that wears off when he realizes his wife is smarter than that, and Quaid handles the arc carefully and humbly. It’s basically about the snowball effect an affair can have in a close quarters family situation, and while I enjoyed some of the laughs provided by Roberts deliberately exposing other sneaky cheaters in their tight knit community, I connected most when the film focused on her as a woman wronged, and a woman who’s not afraid to stand up for herself, even if it means stirring shit up royally. She’s a movie star with a mile wide smile and people know her as such, but I think that the high profile roles sometimes have us forgetting what an absolute diamond of an actress she is as well, and small, character driven pieces like this serve well to remind. She rocks it here, and is supported by all around her including Muse Watson, Brett Cullen and Haley Aull as their intuitive daughter. A treasure.

-Nate Hill

Hans Petter Moland’s Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit won’t be what audiences are expecting it to be, and these days in Hollywood, that’s a really good thing. There’s a whole string of Liam Neeson genre films since Taken that for the most part are generic vehicles for him to run around in and beat people up. Fortunately, every so often one breaks the mould and turns out to be a fresh, distinguished animal from the rest of the pack, and this is one of them. Yes it’s about a snow plow driver in a small mountain town whose son is murdered by drug dealers. Yes, Neeson plays him as the lone man who takes his revenge in a series of violent encounters and action sequences. But that’s just the blueprint, and honestly director Hans Petter Moland, remaking his own 2014 film, seems far more interested in showing us the casual eccentricities and personal lives of all of these characters, particularly the dealers, than focusing on action alone. Neeson’s initial rampage causes quite a bunch of confusion in the ranks when the local outfit mistakes his mayhem for the actions of a rival Native American gang from Denver, and that’s when the snow really hits the fan. Tom Bateman is a coked up dervish as Viking, head of the local boys, the kind of guy who caps off his own people before breakfast and encourages his son to hit bullies back harder, ‘just for starters.’ The Native American dealers are my favourite part, adding a mystic deadpan quality and distinct class that makes the film seem just this side of a regular action flick. Tom Jackson is charismatic and scary as their leader White Bull, and Raoul Trujillo does a hilarious turn as Thorpe, his second in command. Emmy Rossum is good but slightly underused as an enthusiastic local cop, while John Doman gets a few of the film’s funniest scenes as her less enthusiastic partner. It’s terrific to see the great William Forsythe on the big screen again as Neeson’s ex criminal brother Wingman, an old dog who knows the ropes and seems both worried and amused at his brother’s drastic actions. Speaking of underused though, they’ve thrown Laura Dern a thankless role as Neeson’s wife who simply disappears from the plot like halfway through. A little Dern goes a long way, but she’s given almost nothing to do here. As Liam picks these guys off one by one and they all wonder just what the shit is happening, I found myself much more entertained by the precious little sideshow moments concerning all the criminals, narrative excursions that take huge liberties with the film’s pacing, a choice that I have no problem with. Viking has intense squabbles with his ex wife (Wind River’s Julia Jones) over their son’s ridiculous diet, Thorpe and his crew have a hilarious interaction with a hotel clerk who uses the word ‘reservation’ in a context that makes for the funniest joke in the film, and one of Viking’s boys has interesting ideas about how to bang hotel maids. My favourite is when the film stops dead in its tracks to show White Bull and his guys simply playing in the snow, watching skiers practice and getting one of their guys to hang-glide off the mountain. It’s that sense of playfulness, the care in stepping off the beaten path and giving us something we don’t often see in Hollywood films that sets this aside and makes it something special. It doesn’t particularly work as a thriller because it’s too funny, and won’t land with an emotional impact for the same reason. That doesn’t matter much though, because it’s just fine as a screwy black comedy full of really interesting side characters, offbeat situational comedy and high spirited, naturalistic comedic timing. A barrel of fun if you’re tuned into the abstract frequency. One last thought: I really wish they’d kept the title ‘Hard Powder’ instead of the much less tongue in cheek Cold Pursuit, which feels too run of the mill for a film this idiosyncratic.

-Nate Hill

Ghost Rider

There’s no way around the fact that Ghost Rider is a garbage film, from Nick Cage’s ridiculous Yu Gi Oh haircut to Wes Bentley’s faux Dracula bad guy to the unpolished screensaver special effects to yet another creepy case of him getting blessed with a love interest half his age, this time poor Eva Mendes. When it comes to the Ghost Rider aesthetic, PG-13 theme park flash like this is the wrong way to go, it needs something grittier like the Nick Cave/John Hillcoat touch (not even the reliably edgy Neveldine/Taylor could save the sequel, but that’s a story for another day). That all said, there’s a few key elements that I love about this film and two actors in particular who do a bang up job and really deserved a better film than they got. Cage plays Johnny Blaze, a motorbike stunt demon who grew up in a circus and made a deal with the devil (Peter Fonda) to save his dying father (Brett Cullen), a deal with fine print that dictates his soul remains prisoner and he must serve out a very long time bounty hunting runaways for the big guy. Later in life he becomes the legendary Ghost Rider, a big bad biker with a chain whip, flaming skull and leather metal-head outfit, tasked with bringing down renegade demon Blackheart (Bentley) and juggling his awkward romance with Mendes and friendship with fellow rider Donal Logue. This is all a lot less cool than it sounds and all the scenes of him as the rider that are supposed to be awesome are just… not. Now this isn’t one of those ones where the good qualities redeem the film, it’s just too silly and far gone, but they are there and are noticeable, starting with Fonda’s absolutely rock ‘n roll performance as Mephistopheles, a silk voiced, well dressed manipulator who commands the screen and to this day is one of the most fun film versions of the Devil I’ve ever seen. He’s accompanied by a fantastic, sinister low level music cue from composer Christopher Young that sets the mood perfectly. You also get Sam Elliott as former ghost rider and mentor to Johnny in another one of his brilliant, charismatic cowboy turns that the film hardly deserves, but his scenes sure pick up on the gravity that Sam exudes wherever he goes. That’s about all the film has to offer in the realm of quality. There’s an opening credit sequence set to an instrumental version of Ghost Riders In The Sky with POV shot of a bike careening through a racecourse that’s kind of cool. Mostly though this is one big flaming sinking ship and just made me wish for a less cartoonish prequel starring Elliott’s Rider and Fonda’s deliciously evil Satan. Next time.

-Nate Hill

Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

I can understand that a bleak, disturbing SciFi horror like Pandorum didn’t connect well with Hollywood audiences or generate a lot of income, but it’s a shame because it weaves an intelligent, beautifully shot, truly scary dark dream of psychological paranoia, freaky ideas and tense, claustrophobic set pieces. Helmed by Christian Alvert, a German director best known for unconventional horror films, this was never going to be a flashy, familiar feeling big budget thing, which many probably didn’t expect. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid are Payton and Bower, two astronauts who awaken on a giant derelict spaceship with severe amnesia and the unsettling feeling that their mission has gone horribly wrong. After a bit of exploring they find out just *how* wrong. Terrifying, monstrous humanoid creatures hunt any survivors through dim, clanging corridors that echo Ridley Scott’s Alien. Payton encounters two initially hostile nomads (Antje Traue and Cung Le) who he must band together with. Somewhere deep inside the ship, the reactor starts to fail. Another mentally unstable survivor (Cam Gigandet) is found by Quaid and starts to dangerously unravel. Gradually the secrets of what happened are revealed along with the reason for the presence of these creatures, which I won’t call aliens because they’re not. This is brutal, grim stuff that isn’t light watching or easy on the senses, it’s a skin crawling deep space nightmare of a film and a tough piece, no kidding. But it’s smart, tightly wound storytelling with fantastic acting (especially Quaid who rarely gets to go this bonkers crazy) and a plot that races along like some intergalactic nightmare until the final revelation, a thunderclap that lets us breathe again for the first time in over an hour. The title itself refers to a fictional psychotic disorder in which one believes the mission is cursed and becomes a delusional nut-job with destructive behaviour, the mental byproduct of extended space travel. This ties neatly into the very real dangers aboard the ship as reality shifts for these characters and their narratives become unreliable. A brilliant piece of SciFi horror filmmaking, a film that still hasn’t gotten its proper due. Get the Blu Ray, it looks fresh, crisp and darkly dazzling.

-Nate Hill

At play in the Fields of Cullen: A Look at the Director’s Cut of London Fields by Kent Hill

I must confess I am in the same boat as my learned colleague Mr. (Paul) Rowlands of money-into-light.com, when it comes to an interest in films marked by some form controversy. Well, not solely controversy, but the types of films that have been long-suffering passion projects finally seeing the light of day, or long overdue restorations of genuinely overlooked masterpieces that may or may not have suffered the same fate as the picture that I shall, in these words following, discuss. It is the wretched crime of the industry at large to present grand achievements in aborted states – the director’s vision left on the cutting room floor, or in the parlance of our times, designated to a file on some mass storage device.mathewThe embattled figure in this saga is filmmaker Mathew Cullen and his stunning debut, London Fields. A slick and stylish noir, bombarded by flashing images of humanity’s chaos, swirling around  and serving as the world beyond that which we shall traverse with the movies’ delightful assortment of strange and sympathetic characters. Into the urban sprawl, at the center of this film’s universe, comes the melancholically-serene presence of Samson Young (Billy Bob Thornton), who we learn has traded his own stateside shithole for the shabby chic and eccentrically opulent abode of Mark Asprey – a disembodied Jason Isaacs.static1.squarespace.comBut this is not where our story begins. Our story begins with a murder.

A death that was seen coming by its victim, along with the hook being that the killer remains faceless until the movies’ final moments when we discover exactly who our Keyser Söze is.x1080-38ESo we have Thornton/Young, a man that has to live his stories. Being a natural voyeur, he soon becomes intrigued and infatuated if you will, by the astonishingly sexy and magnetic presence of Nicola Six (Amber Heard), whom I have enjoyed since she appeared in John Carpenter’s last effort, The Ward and again in the truly awesome guilty pleasure that is Drive Angry with the quintessential renaissance man himself, Nicholas Cage.London-Fields-Featured-ImageShe has power both in character and in substance. She is a woman who has flirted with the perilous, courting intrigue, danger, the playful and the despicable. And this it would seem is her last hurrah . Bringing into the final web she will spin the polished bravado of Guy Clinch (Theo James), and the personification of grotty goodness, Keith TalentJim Sturgess taking his Cloud Atlas Scottish football hooligan character to its apex.

 

These crotch-led power-mongers think they have our girl Six clocked and at their mercy. The key portion of that sentence being, ‘think’. Because this is all ruse, all part of Nicola’s game, indeed part of how Nicola (we take from the shards of back story given) has lived out her existence until its brutal, bloody climax. Young/Thornton watches and listens along as Six leads the boys into her little traps, playing each against the other in the midst of their own debauched  and dysfunctional existences – Clinch’s disintegrating family life and Talent’s quest to become an all conquering champion of darts.MV5BZmYyNjAwMjQtNDBiYy00YWI0LWI5OTQtOTJhZDYyNTJlOTI2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_If it all sounds a bit nutty (wait till you meet Chick Purchase), I say now, don’t be afraid. The juxtaposition of comedy, tragedy, sex, violence, a musical number and the bizarre nature of Nicola’s game is an easy pill to swallow. For the casual multiplex visitor, yeah, maybe not – but this is a picture that had me from start to finish and brought to mind fond memories of the time when it was my privilege to witness another spectacular director’s cut in the form of Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World – an equally luscious and absurdly-infectious cocktail of cinema.b0be7af53fa5c87a98786b212a5a1f17I have followed the press surrounding London Fields and waited for such an opportunity as I have thus been presented with, which is to experience the film as the director always intended it to be seen.5917e9efb12a157c32b854dbd16ed744912a0557 This being the case, I have in the interim sought out and devoured Martin Amis’ gorgeous darkly comedic, mysterious murder source material and also the theatrical version. So, if these words I write carry any weight at all with you, please believe my sincerity when I urge you, nay, implore you – seek out this, the director’s cut of London Fields. It is a heartbreaking urban-dystopian twisted noir love poem that, thank God, exists for us all to watch, to ponder, to cinematically wolf-down. Bon appétit, dear viewer.London-Fields

Marvel’s Ant Man & The Wasp

Among all the razzle dazzle that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, my favourite series going right now has to be Ant Man. There’s something so relatable about the underdog superhero who’s just a regular guy with a criminal record and a daughter to raise and isn’t some alien from way out there or a snarky billionaire. I love all the quantum realm elements, the trippy SciFi surrealism reminds me of 80’s stuff like Joe Dante or Spielberg and the large/small scale action sequences are hilarious, played up even more in Ant Man & The Wasp, a sequel that blasts further into new ideas, develops the characters more and has a lot more fun than the already brilliant first outing, or at least I did anyways. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is under house arrest for two years after an unauthorized trip to Germany, which provides both obstacles and a running joke when Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) need him to wear the Ant Man suit once again and help them find Pym’s missing wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) who got herself stuck in the Quantum Realm decades before. Pretty much everyone is back for the ride again, including Scott’s merry band of thieves (TI, Michael Pena and David Dastmalchian), his ex wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale) as well as others. I loved this film because nowhere in it is there a sense of menace or an edge, usually something I embrace in superhero movies, but I was looking for something light, feel-good and benign. Even the antagonists are on the easygoing side; Laurence Fishburne is a salty old colleague of Pym’s, Walton Goggins plays his black market tech dealer with that frivolous southern charm and even Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost, who’s in a perpetual state of (wait for it) ‘molecular disequilibrium’, is just a damaged girl trying to make things right. We won’t speak of the jarring mid credits sequence that now has me demanding an Ant Man 3, which better happen soon. These first two and particularly this one are pleasant, gung-ho SciFi comedies that make the most of terrific visual effects, Rudd’s natural charisma and a retro feel. Something about Douglas and Pfeiffer flying around in Ant suits together and blasting through the quantum realm just has me missing the same sort of films they used to star in in their heyday. This is a throwback to that sort of thing, and I love it to bits.

-Nate Hill