Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

In Memory of Danny Aiello: Nate’s Top Ten Performances

Danny Aiello has left us today and with him goes a level of class, talent and charisma that was unparalleled in Hollywood and independent cinema. He had the kind of frame and presence that saw him embody many Italian mafia and tough guy roles but he also had an angelic, gentle essence which came in handy in gentler turns, as well as some of the tougher ones where he brought a softer edge out. Rest In Peace Danny, you were a wonderful, scene stealing, truly great actor and here are my top ten personal favourite performances:

10. Vincent Dianni in Danny Aiello III’s 18 Shades Of Dust aka Hitman’s Journal

I chose this because it’s one of his only lead roles and it was directed by his late son who passed away before him, sadly. It’s a classic low budget NYC crime flick starring Danny and William Forsythe embroiled in a feud between a crime family and the owner of a restaurant. Danny embues his character with a moral complexity and has terrific chemistry with Forsythe.

9. Captain Vincent Alcoa in Pat O Connor’s The January Man

I’m not a fan of this film and in my opinion it downright sucks, but there are some amped up, ham fisted portrayals to marvel at, Aiello’s turn as a hilariously aggressive police captain included. He’s clearly having fun and blowing off steam and gets one of the best, most maniacal “fuck you!!!” moments in cinema, directed at Kevin Kline’s weirdo detective.

8. Tony Rosato in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II

It’s just one quick scene he as a mob hitman here but he famously improvised the line “Michael Corleone says hello” that Coppola loved and kept in the film. Not to mention he gets one gnarly attempted murder and drag the body off frame moment, he might as well have been saying that Michael Myers says hello.

7. Roth in Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Another tiny cameo but here he serves as warning to one of the characters that events about to be set in motion can’t be undone once the decision is made. Roth is a racetrack bookie who knows a shady bet when he sees one and provides ample foreshadowing before the narrative reaches an event horizon of misfortune.

6. Sal in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing

An Italian pizzeria owner who has had enough, his hotheaded actions basically spur on a riot and push a racially charged portion of the city into riot. Everyone in this film is in performance overdrive, sweaty, fired up and ready for conflict, Danny included as the kind of dude who is always a few inches short of blowing his fuse.

5. Al in Kevin Dowlands’ Mojave Moon

Everyone’s a little loopy in this offbeat indie dramedy. Danny’s Al gives young Angelina Jolie a lift from the big city out to a strange Mojave Desert enclave where he cultivates odd relationships with her, her mom (Anne Archer) and her mom’s unhinged whacko boyfriend (Michael Biehn). This is one of those meandering little experiments about nothing in particular save a gaggle of wayward individuals interacting, often in bizarre fashion. Danny headlines charmingly, has wonderful chemistry with Jolie and blesses this offbeat script with his undeniable talent.

4. Mr. Johnny Cammereri in Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck

Johnny is sweet, good natured and just a bit dumb. He has the misfortune of seeing his fiancé fall for his younger brother but it’s all handled in a lighthearted way in this charming romantic comedy. He gives the role a childlike charm whether he’s aloofly proposing to Cher in a crowded Italian restaurant or using the Adam & Eve parable to explain skirt chasers.

3. Tommy Five-Tone in Michael Lehmann’s Hudson Hawk

What a misunderstood, undervalued gem of a film. Bruce Willis and Danny are Hudson and Tommy, two NYC cat burglars dragged into a loopy global caper all the way to Italy and beyond. The film’s tone is akin to something like The Looney Toons, with both actors displaying a rambunctious, fun loving personality and together embodying one of the funniest and one of my favourite bro-mances in cinema.

2. Louis in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder

I used the word angelic in the above summary of Danny specifically for this role. Louis is massage therapist, confidante, guardian angel and only friend in the world to Tim Robbins deeply haunted protagonist and the kindness, compassion and protective energy he emanates is a lighthouse of positivity in a sea of disturbing horror imagery that is this film.

1. Tony in Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional

This is the role that’s most special to me, the one I always think of when someone brings Danny up and exists in a special, classic film that I grew up with and watch at least a few times a year. Tony is the ultimate gangster with a heart of gold, father figure and mentor to hitman Leon (Jean Reno), dose of tough love to orphan Mathilda (Natalie Portman), both of whom he has beautiful chemistry with. He’s the neighborhood sage, consummate wise guy and gentleman mobster with a self titled kind streak. The core Aiello performance for me.

-Nate Hill

The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta

As far as comparing The Wachowski’s V For Vendetta to its source material by Alan Moore, I may be one of the only few who feels like the film is an improvement. The graphic novel is beautifully written but bleak and drab in many instances where the film adopts a rich, full bodied and ever so slightly hopeful tone in the adaptation forage. I know Moore is somewhere out there in his yurt on the plains, reading my review on a 3G tablet and cursing my name, but oh well. Fierce political commentary, blitzkrieg action picture, careful interpersonal drama and more, this has aged well (scarily well depending on the angle one views it from) and holds up gorgeously fourteen November 5ths on since its release.

Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving make Stockholm Syndrome sexy again as Evey and V, two very different individuals whose lives have both been upended by the tyrannical, fascist British Government. He’s a vicious vigilante freedom fighter with scars on the outside and inside, she’s a wayward civilian swept up in his brutal quest to overthrow an evil dictator (John Hurt in beast mode), first as witness and later as accomplice. This involves a complex laundry list of various betrayals, sieges, escapes and terrorist acts, all brought to life in breathtaking spectacle. An underdog secret policeman (Stephen Rea, a study understated excellence) doggedly pursues them and questions his own loyalties, while the chosen date of Guy Fawkes day (hey, that’s today!) looms ever closer and with it V’s promise to blow the shit out of the parliament block.

V says it best when he growls: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” There are large scale, prescient ideas at work here and despite being based on a graphic novel it feels eerily akin to our own world. V is a product of this damaged, corrupt system who has become a monster and is now ready to administer horrific dark justice on those who wronged him, working his way up an increasingly grotesque chain of despicable politicians with grim resolve. There’s a righteous fury to his quest and no other actor could have better captured the fire and brimstone behind that mask like Weaving does, he works wonders with his voice alone. There’s a lot more action than in Moore’s novel but can you really blame the Wachowskis? They are incredible at staging set pieces and the character of V suits the swooping, knife throwing, roof leaping, swash, buckle and bloody bodily harm on display here. There’s a strong undercurrent of compassion and humanity here to, as seen in my favourite sequence of the film: Portman’s Evey is locked up in a government prison and ready to wade into despair before she finds a rolled up scroll detailing the story of the cell’s former roommate and her struggles during the rise of this horrible regime. It’s in this short flashback scene alone we see all that’s worth fighting for in the microcosm of one girl’s life and feel the justification of not just V’s violent rampage but the collective uprising it stirs in the people. Great film.

-Nate Hill

THE ‘HIT’ MAN: An Interview with Dominik Starck by Kent Hill

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Dominik Starck is a cool guy who loves and makes movies. That’s a man I’m down for spending some time with – so I did. His new movie, The Hitman Agency, is a complex nest of intrigue, danger, action and redemption. Throw those altogether and you have a great blend that tastes a little like something we’ve had before – yet it’s flavored by Mr. Starck’s unashamed passion for his many cinematic influences as well as the sheer joy he has being a filmmaker.

Most of us, at one time or another, who make fatal decision to go off and pursue a career as an artist, are met with the inevitable speech for our parents which carries the immortal lines like, “You’ll never make any money,” or “Why don’t you get a real job.”

Now Dominik tried that – he tried to deny the fire inside, the voice telling him he wasn’t doing what he was meant to be doing. He wasn’t, as the Bard would say, to thy own self being true.  So he started doing what he had to do, and, for my money, what he does well – he started making movies.

“Making an indie film is close to being a hitman; choose your goal, aim and go after it no matter the obstacles. And like assassinations, it’s a hit and miss with movies. I consider our movie the latter but it’s up to the target audience to decide if that’s the truth or not,” says Starck, the writer/director. While the German independent production by Starck Entertainment and R.J. Nier Films is represented by distributor Generation X Group GmbH at the film market in Cannes (May 8th to 17th) for international sales, the US audience is the first to be able to watch THE HITMAN AGENCY on Amazon.com where it’s available for rent and buy.

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This movie is the directorial debut of writer/producer Dominik Starck who previously worked on the award winning mercenary action film ATOMIC EDEN, starring Blaxploitation legend Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas (RENEGADE). While being a deliberately different type of movie, THE HITMAN AGENCY features a special appearance by 11 time kickboxing champion Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson from BLOODFIST-fame. Starring American-born Erik Hansen (THE COUNTESS) and LA-based Everett Ray Aponte (ATOMIC EDEN) as competing hitmen from different ends of their assassin-careers, THE HITMAN AGENCY is a character-driven conspiracy-thriller with twists and turns, spiced with some martial arts outbreaks and assassinations. Shot on locations in Germany in English with more blood, sweat, and tears than a real budget, this underdog movie is proof to the phrase that nothing can stop you from making a movie when you really want it. Not even in Germany where there’s no platform for genre films at all.

Like I said at the top, Dominik is a cool guy and a cool filmmaker. He was worried about his English before we spoke but I tell you now as I told him then – “his English is as beautiful as his film-making.” Seek out THE HITMAN AGENCY… (follow the link below)

https://www.amazon.com/Hitman-Agency-Everett-Ray-Aponte/dp/B07BY5Y1XL

Knights be Damned: An Interview with Silvio Simac by Kent Hill

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Knights of the Damned is a film of a type you don’t see much of any more. When I was a kid there were fantasy films by the country mile – with titles including Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, Sword of the Valiant, Hawk the Slayer, The Archer, Zu Warriors, Knight of the Dragon.

But then, like the Western before them, they dried up and have henceforth become sporadic and fleeting. Knights of the Damned marks a return which sees the fantasy genre clash with the zombie phenomena in a film which sees a band of returning nights having to fight their way back to the castle of their sovereign lord through dragons, sirens and dark alchemy which has caused the dead to rise and stalk the living.

It is an exciting throwback to those fantasy films I know and love, as well as being something fresh and a little bit different. So, thrilled I was to speak with the star of show, Silvio Simac. And, thrilled was I to learn that KOTD is the first installment in an epic trilogy. Silvio is no doubt a future action movie notable and comes to the Damned with a CV of great roles in a vast array of high-concept cinema.

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So, for all you fantasy lovers out there that secretly yearn for a return to the heady days of high adventure – I won’t spoil it for you – check out Knights of the Damned now, and press play to listen to a fun interview with one of the knights most bold from days of old, whose mighty sword slashes the heads of those undead . . .

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(Courtesy of Kung-Fu Kingdom.com)

Silvio Simac is a Croatian-born British martial artist and actor who has enjoyed a long and varied three decade career with some outstanding achievements. These include being (multi-time) British, European and World Taekwondo champion. Aside from TKD, Silvio holds black belts in Choi Kwang Do, kickboxing, karate and combat self-defence. Having starred in numerous movies with such action superstars as Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi and Jason Statham he also regularly attends martial arts and health-oriented seminars and conferences alongside such friends as Benny The Jet, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, Don Wilson, Shannon Lee and many more! Silvio is widely respected by his peers for being a fount of martial arts knowledge and experience on training techniques, nutrition and philosophy; he remains a hardcore student of life, happily sharing and communicating what he’s learned with ease, covering those details that can be so easily overlooked by other teachers in this day and age.

“God wants you on the floor.” : Remembering Hoosiers with Angelo Pizzo by Kent Hill

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It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.

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Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.

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So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.

Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.

The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.

This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.

If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…

Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

People get a little aghast when I say that Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is my favourite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, but there’s something about the operatic, orchestral grandeur of Asgard contrasted with Thor’s deadpan, hilarious arrival on earth that is an irresistible flavour and calls back to classic adventure films of the 90’s that saw fish-out-of-water protagonists up to the same shenanigans (think the sea and feeling of Spielberg’s Hook, or the like). The world-building up there in the cosmic realm is still just some of the best eye candy the studio ever put out in their superhero romps, and no one blasted into the leading man scene quite like Chris Hemsworth did with his broad, knowingly silly and very heartfelt performance. The Avengers entries seem to earn all the love and they’re fun, but I like the solo outings that leave breathing room to focus on one of these heroes at a time, and really get to know them. Thor’s transformation from a proud, boorish and naive strongman who knows but one form of diplomacy (hit em with his hammer) into a wise, compassionate being worthy of the crown is just a great arc to see unfold. Throw in Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and priceless Kat Dennings as the most utterly charming human ‘sidekick brigade’ the universe has to offer and the whole thing becomes an almost instant classic. Branagh is a Shakespearean veteran, and every hint of that instinct is on display in the theatrical showmanship of Asgard, in the performances of Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston as scheming Loki, Anthony Hopkins as godly Odin and terrific Idris Elba as celestial gatekeeper Heimdall, who steals every scene. On earth-side Natalie Portman is adorable and blooms with both romantic yearning and genuine smarts, Kat Dennings takes the concept of comic relief and runs with it so deftly she almost walks away with that portion of the film. Clark Gregg fleshes out his glib Agent Coulson character, Jeremy Renner does his first badass turn as Hawkeye, Colm Feore is icily menacing as Laufi, king of the fearsome Ice Giants, while Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Josh Dallas and Jaime Alexander fill in as Thor’s rowdy warrior entourage, mistaken for Robin Hood, Jackie Chan and Xena when they stroll down Main Street after arriving nonchalantly on earth to help the god of thunder do battle with a giant fire-stuffed tin man sent by spiteful Loki. There’s something so thrilling about this picture though, from the chemistry between Thor and Portman’s Jane to the camaraderie he has with Skarsgard’s Professor Selvig to the larger than life, tripped out and gorgeous visuals of Asgard set to a banger of a score by Patrick Doyle, it all just works so damn well and is the one chapter in the MCU canon that works best as a stand-alone film all its own. Another!!

-Nate Hill

Alex Garland’s Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation is a stunning, incredible, awe inspiring and strikingly unique piece of work. It’s the kind of film that has you leaving the theatre and wanting to run up to strangers on the street passing by, shout how great it is in their faces and promptly buy them a ticket of their own. It’s reassuring that smart, dazzling big budget science fiction still thrives in Hollywood, and projects like this build upon and terraform the preexisting genre to produce things previously unseen, stories that wear their influences upon their sleeve whilst simultaneously hitting you as something you’ve never conceived in your wildest fever dreams. It’s also not the film you might be expecting from trailers and descriptions so far, in the best possible way. Is it about a team that heads off into a strange, quarantined area to investigate a possible extraterrestrial presence? Yes, but not really. Is it a clever blend of Alien-esque horror and trippy, delirious cosmic futurism? Sort of, but that’s just the tip of a very large, very deep iceberg surrounded by a wall of scintillating effervescence dubbed ‘The Shimmer’ by wary scientists and the military. It’s into this enshrouded no man’s land that biologist Natalie Portman and a team of professionals with nothing to lose venture, and where the film really kicks off. Every character has some kind of inner trauma which has caused them to self destruct in their own ways, an unnerving theme that Garland holds up to his audience like a prism and explores with equal scrutiny. Portman has never been better, changed by the disappearance of her soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) and eerily drawn to The Shimmer. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Ventress, coldly stoic and freakily collected as team leader. Tessa Thompson caught my eyes with her fiery work in both Westworld and Thor: Ragnorak, she’s purely haunting here as the detached, withdrawn and highly intuitive Josie, nailing her final scene with earth shattering poise. Gina Rodriguez burst onto the scene with her excellent work in Deepwater Horizon and is pure dynamite here as Josie, the emotional firebrand of their troupe, giving the character’s eventual meltdown scene a remarkably authentic edge. These four actresses pull the tapestry of the film’s narrative together with their collective and individual work ; they’re nothing short of superb. Garland has found a way to express otherworldly phenomena in an artistic and scientific way that no other filmmaker has yet achieved. The images are breathtaking, the visual effects beyond top tier, the ideas are ambitious and reach full on for the stars, and the whole deal should be the gold standard of genre films at the multiplex. I’ll say no more, and let you discover it for yourself. Oh but I have to mention Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s score, an indescribable auditory experience that reaches dreamy levels of expressive percussion in the third act. Ok, I’m done, just go see it right now.

-Nate Hill