Tag Archives: mykelti Williamson

Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Like Bruce Willis’s cranky hitman Goodkat assures us in the sleepy opening to Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin, this is a story that pulls the rug out from under you big time, going left when you look right and anchoring the very glib, cavalier crime shenanigans in something solid and emotional in the eleventh hour. It’s a wild, wacky film that borrows from others and often gets sidetracked by itself, but it’s also one of the most stylish, ambitious and beautifully made crime dramas of the last few decades, and has become an all time favourite for me.

Josh Hartnett plays the mysterious Slevin, a hapless dude who is constantly mistaken for an even more hapless dude named Nick Fisher. Fisher is in a lot of trouble, owing large gambling debts to feuding NYC mobsters The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), debts which now forfeit to Slevin simply because he’s consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s the overzealous, shady NYPD cop (Stanley Tucci in mean mode) shadowing him, plus the bubbly girl next door (Lucy Liu) who tags along in his adventures in mistaken identity. It’s all very overelaborate, convoluted and long winded, but it’s part of what makes the thing so magical. Characters often use ten words where two will do, employ quirky anecdotes, monologue and show their pithy eccentricities, it’s an oddball script by Jason Smilovic that makes for one labyrinthine ride through New York City’s peculiar underworld dating back to the 70’s. The actors are having an absolute blast here and we get further work from Mykelti Williamson, Cory Stoll, Danny Aiello, Peter Outerbridge and more. A standout is the great Robert Forster in a cameo as a cop who delivers more exposition in one single scene than I’ve seen in some entire films, he’s a great enough actor that he fills a seemingly inconsequential role with wit and personality.

McGuigan is a stylist who throws colour and pattern into the mix even when the scene doesn’t call for it, to great effect. Why shoot in a drab warehouse or monochromatic apartment when you can douse your set in kaleidoscope design just for the sheer hell of it? It works, the offbeat production design serving to illustrate and accent a very strange, often hilarious yet ultimately human story. Much of the film is near cartoon level neo noir that doesn’t dig two deep, but there are three scenes, and I can’t be specific here without spoiling, that anchor it straight into the ground, provide an emotional core and make something heartfelt cut through the tomfoolery. Many people wrote this off as just silliness, but that’s lazy criticism 101. This is a fantastic film, full of many things to love. It’s probably Hartnett’s best work in a very eclectic career and his romantic chemistry with Liu (also superb) is patiently developed and adorable to see. Freeman and Kingsley eat up the dialogue like wisened old alligators and have a blast playing their arch villains. Willis is darkly charismatic and empathetic when he needs to be, stealing every scene. A classic for me.

-Nate Hill

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The Assassination Of Richard Nixon

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon is loosely based on a true story and does indeed have an attempt on the former president’s life woven into its narrative, but in no way is it a sensationalistic thriller and the main focus lies on Sean Penn’s journey as Samuel Bicke, the ultimate disgruntled American citizen. Sam is a hard working average joe who finds himself dealt a near constant shitty hand in life, and blames it on the one personification of the country’s entire problems: the president. He works under a two faced tyrant of a boss (Jack Thompson), is served divorce papers by his wife (Naomi Watts) who wants nothing to do with him anymore, and all attempts to get his own business underway with a partner (Don Cheadle) seems to fail when presented with the tumultuous economic and political climate of the times. The thing is, much of what makes you successful or not successful in any given time period is attitude and frame of mind. Not solely of course, some eras are just tougher to grind through and come out on top of then others, but internal perspective and outlook always play a big part, and Sam’s is one of self predicted defeat and jaded forlornness almost from the get go. He is a man who wants to do good and wishes prosperity for himself and others, but feels helpless against the obstacles in his way, begins to mentally deteriorate and lashes out. One scene in particular between him and his well spoken businessman brother Julius (Michael Wincott in a stern, savage, brutally honest and scene stealing cameo) lays it all out: Julius berates and shames him for breaking the law and stealing goods from his business for plans of his own, no matter how honourable or constructive his intentions were. Samuel responds not with an apology, but with a long winded, bitter rant about how everything and everyone in the country has it in for him, how hard it is as the little man to make your daily bread or come out a winner. His mental climate is fascinating as it ultimately leads to a reckless, dangerous act, but we can trace every moment along the way where his stability falters and see why he is the way he is. The actual attempt itself involves hijacking a plane and bombing tricky Dick himself in the White House, but once we see him try and go through with it it’s just sad, anticlimactic and almost irrelevant. The real power lies in what led him there, how he felt betrayed by his own country and how, in the end, he blamed one man who probably didn’t even have that much power over everything to begin with. Penn is raw and ragged in a performance that almost hurts to watch, in a story that isn’t cinematic, cathartic or pleasant in any way. But it is important, and makes for a great film.

-Nate Hill

Steve De Jarnett’s Miracle Mike

Ever had one of those clammy nightmares where you’re dead sure that some catastrophic disaster is imminent, but are next to powerless to do anything about it, run or escape what’s coming? Steve Dejarnett’s Miracle Mile captures that feeling uncannily well, and is now one of my favourite films for that as well as many other reasons. It’s not that that sensation is pleasant or at all enjoyable to relive outside of a dream, but it’s so hard to tangibly recreate on film that what Miracle Mike achieves is a rare commodity among mood-scapes. The film is disarmingly benign as it opens: a young man (Anthony Edwards) and woman (Mare Winningham) meet and fall in love outside a neon adorned diner in dreamy, pastel hued Los Angeles. They make plans for later that night, and a whimsical note takes hold. We’re treated to some of the most inspired foreshadowing I’ve ever seen involving a pigeon, a lit cigarette and an open power line. As night descends on the Miracle Mile neighbourhood of LA, Edwards finds himself back at the diner when the pay phone outside rings. He answers it, and a frantic voice warns him that nuclear attack is coming to the city in just over an hour. What would you do? Who would you tell? He races right back into the diner and, panicked, informs the rogues gallery of oddballs you’d find at such an establishment after midnight. Naturally they all freak out too, and as soon as that cat is out of the bag, it’s a feverish, mad dash to exit the city before the threat arrives, if indeed it is a credible danger. That’s part of the beauty here; whether or not this is a hoax is not clearly revealed until the absolute last minute of the film, but would you risk not taking it seriously? These characters react in a variety of ways, but Edwards just wants to find that special girl he met earlier when things felt so sunny and full of possibility, to find her and escape together. It’s one of those ‘real time, one night in the crazy city’ films that unfolds over a short period of time but couldn’t be more full of instances, encounters and the kind of strange occurrences only the witching hour has to offer. The romantic angle, usually played to the hilt of melodrama in these kinds of films, is somehow so frank and truthful that we buy it, we care about these two kids and it makes the thought of apocalypse all the more dreadful. For all it’s focus on death and potential destruction, this is a beautiful film that is so full of life and character, a sly cross section of LA’s invisible working class under the nocturnal skies and a bubble gum, eye popping display of colour, design and eccentricity. The cityscape is populated by an ever present cast of brilliantly used character actors including O Lan Jones, Robert Doqui, Kurt Fuller, Mykelti Williamson, Edward Bunker, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Denise Crosby, Kelly Jo Minter, Allen Rosenberg, Earl Boen, Brian Thompson, Peter Berg and a quick but badass cameo from Aliens’s Janette Goldstein, once again waving around a big gun in exuberant fashion. A film needs a good score, and whenever Tangerine Dream is hired to compose, unfiltered magic happens. Their music here is a driving force to the action, an atmospheric lullaby that exudes both beauty and danger in its synth laden, melodic pulse. This is such a unique film, such a deft melting pot of genres that the recipe can’t really be defined as anything but a flavour all it’s own, an experience that makes you feel primal fear while wowing you with cinematography, editing and one shots that practically pull you right into the action. Points also awarded for bravery in pulling off that ending without compromise. The very definition of a forgotten gem, and a film that should be on every shelf.

-Nate Hill

The Purge: Election Year

I love the Purge films, and I find the evolution of the franchise fascinating. Trust an Ethan Hawke home invasion horror show to spawn some inspired, stylish and whacked out sequels. As good as Hawke and the horror was, it’s the concept of the Purge itself that led to ignition on the rest of series. Where Anarchy broke free from the conceptual restraints of the first and burst into all out war as we got to see full scale just what a purge looks like, Election Year builds ideas upon the carnage and gets political, though no less visceral and terrifying. There’s just something so unnerving about the premise of it, the absolute extremes in human behaviour it brings out, accented by a wry, satirical edge that seems so disturbing to me and what makes these films unique from scores of other horror fare. Here we see the New Founding Fathers, originally responsible for inauguration of the purge, challenged by a fierce new independent senator (Lost’s Elizabeth Mitchell), who has survived a particularly nasty purge night years before and wants to abolish the night forever. The evil, bitter chairman of the Fathers (Raymond J. Barry, turning the creepy Machiavellian scumbag dial up well past eleven) slightly augments the newest purge night in hopes of eliminating her from the running. Frank Grillo returns as eternally badass Sarge, now on her private security detail, and they both are forced to run through the night from rabid purgers (who have now gone international, apparently) Barry’s lethal Neo Nazi special ops assassination squad and even a bunch of crips. Help comes from a salty old deli owner (Mykelti Williamson) who wont go down with out a fight and a badass anti purger (Betty Gabriel) with a triage van. It’s loud, mean, brutal stuff that, as Anarchy did, takes lurid advantage of the premise and shows some jarringly depraved human behaviour from folks in all classes and makes a strong point towards the purge being a pretty shitty idea to begin with, especially when ulterior motives of those in power become clear. Writer director James Demonaco always attracts interesting actors to these films and has carved out quite the little legacy here. This year saw another one, a prequel called The First Purge which I’m excited to see, and Amazon just announced their own small screen version, so bring it on.

-Nate Hill

Con Air

Con Air, man. Is there a better movie about inmates who take over an airplane and hold the guards hostage? It’s actually the only movie about that, but in all seriousness it’s one hell of a blast of summer action movie fireworks, and it holds up like a fucking diamond to this day. It’s ridiculous and it full well knows it, but producers Jerry Bruckheimer and notorious pyrotechnics enthusiast Don Simpson start at outlandish and only ascend from there, until there’s so many explosions, crashes, bangs, tough guy banter, graphic violence and commotion that it reaches a fever pitch and you kind of just surrender to the onslaught and get lost in hyperkinetic bliss for two glorious hours. One of the biggest assets the film has is the script by cunning linguist Scott Rosenberg (Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead), who gives every character at least a handful of one liners and keeps the dialogue fresh, cynical and never short on laughs. Nicolas Cage and his tangled, flowing mane of hair play Cameron Poe, a good ol’ Alabama boy just off of a jail stint for accidentally killing a redneck asshole (Kevin ‘Waingro’ Gage) who verbally assaulted his beautiful wife (Monica Potter). Here’s the setup: he’s paroled and stuck on a giant aircraft thats sole purpose is to transport convicts around the country. Now the department of corrections being the geniuses that they are (John Cusack is the head genius in this case), they decide to populate this particular flight with literally the worst group of psychotic, ill adjusted, murdering dissidents that ‘Murcia has to offer, because staggering them over a few flights or peppering just a few monsters in with the regular convicts every third or fourth flight just makes too much sense, or, as we the audience must remember and revere, there would be no bombastically entertaining hook for a story like this. Of course the plane gets taken over, the inmates run a very big flying asylum and many people die in many different ways, while Cage sticks around to play hero, protect his cell mate friend (Mykelti Williamson) and take out as many of these bastards as he can, often with his bare hands. Talk about eclectic, layered casts; everyone is in this flick, starting with scary John Malkovich as Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, a career criminal who claims he’s killed more people than cancer. Yeah. Ving Rhames is a hulking lunatic called Diamond Dog, vicious Nick Chinlund scores points as mass murderer Billy Bedlam, Danny Trejo is a heinous piece of work called Johnny 23 on account of his numerous rape charges, and there’s all manner of creeps, scoundrels and scumbags including Dave Chappelle, M.C. Gainey, Juan Fernandez, Emilio Riviera, Doug Hutchison and more. Colm Meaney, Don S. Davis, Rachel Ticotin and Powers Boothe make impressions as well, but it’s Steve Buscemi who takes the cake as a Hannibal Lecter-esque nutjob named Garland Greene, who’s so dangerous that corrections officers will literally only touch him with ten foot poles. It’s an action movie that dares to get really down n’ dirty, and probably wouldn’t get made today, or at least not without a few tweaks to its very profane, deliberately messed up script. I wouldn’t have the thing any other way though, not only is it mean and nasty, it’s got all the bells and whistles of a summer blockbuster, plus the Lerner Airfield sequence and the Vegas strip landing set piece are two of the most monumentally raucous action undertakings I’ve ever seen, not to mention the subsequent fire truck chase that destroys half the city and makes gruesome use of a pile driver. This film is as far over the top as the altitude that the plane flies at, and then some.

-Nate Hill