Tag Archives: Nick Nolte

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Coburn Performances

James Coburn was an interesting actor for me because he flawlessly jumped the gap between old school silver screen Hollywood and the post mid 90’s Hollywood we know today, so you’re just as likely to spot him in a Turner Classic western flick as you are to hear his deep, comforting voice in a colourful Disney/Pixar film. He had a rumbling intensity that lent itself to alpha tough guy roles early on in his career and later on blossomed into a winking joviality that saw him land many roguish old rascal types. He was one of the greats, and these are my top ten personal favourite performances of his!

10. WitSec Chief Beller in Chuck Russell’s Eraser

He turns a quick extended cameo into something fun and memorable in this underrated Arnold Schwarzenegger SciFi romp. Arnie spends the whole film battling his treacherous former boss (James Caan) and just when Coburn’s big shot CEO shows up we think he’s going to be an even *bigger* bad than Caan but he turns out to be a pretty solid dude, acting as a Deus Ex Machina of sorts to bail the entire situation out.

9. Mr. Waternoose in Disney/Pixar’s Monsters Inc.

Here he explores his playful side as one of the antagonists of this animated classic. Waternoose is CEO of Monsters Inc., a cranky spider-crab thing who only has the company’s interests at heart and acts in a callous, unforgiving manner given blustery gusto by James and his baritone boom.

8. Thunder Jack in Disney’s Snow Dogs

Another Disney one! This is admittedly not the greatest film, a silly city slicker in the Arctic vehicle for Cuba Gooding Jr. James is a curmudgeonly surrogate father who whips him into shape and gives him a good dose of tough love along the way. I have a soft spot for this since it’s one of the first films I ever saw in theatres as a kid, James is terrific fun in it and the squabbling banter he has with Cuba is a treat for kids.

7. Derek Flint in Our Man Flint and In Like Flint

Long before Mike Myers ever spoofed James Bond in Austin Powers, Coburn starred as slick super-spy Derek Flint in these films and they are kind of all over the friggin place. Super 60’s vibe, full of sexy chicks and dastardly villains and James makes a simultaneously klutzy and suave parody of 007.

6. Sedgwick ‘The Manufacturer’ in John Sturges’s The Great Escape

This classic WWII flick sees a gigantic ensemble cast full of multiple big names try and get out of a German POW camp with James playing a logistical expert and tools provider with that classic sly glint in his eye.

5. Britt in John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven

Strong silent type and expert knife thrower, Britt is one of the less show-boaty and understated among this classic band of antiheroes, but definitely one of the most memorable. James looked like he had some First Nations background which adds to the rugged western flavour here. He’s kind of like the Mads Mikkelsen knife throwing character in Antoine Fuqua’s (who also coincidentally directed the Magnificent Seven remake) underrated King Arthur (a film I will always champion) : low key, man of few words, but deadly as all hell and super charismatic.

4. Jack Buchan in Joe Dante’s Second Civil War

Alongside Barry Levinson’s Wag The Dog this is one of THE most criminally overlooked political satires of all time, and I imagine that both films were deliberately buried in terms of marketing because they’re just a *bit* too close to the way things sadly actually work in the world and those in charge didn’t want too many people exposed to such dead-on, accurate material. James plays advisor to the president during a time of ludicrous crisis and his perpetual exasperation at having to rationalize postponing executive decisions because they interrupt POTUS’s favourite soap opera is priceless, as an actor he truly understood comedy and had a gift for it.

3. Justin Fairfax in Brian Helgeland’s Payback

This wry neo noir sees Mel Gibson’s career criminal Porter going on a cynical rampage to get some money he was jewed out of, and Coburn is one of the powerful underworld bosses in his way. Fairfax hilariously seems to have little interest in Porter or the serious situation though, he’s just returned from vacation and is more concerned about his fancy luggage than any intruders with guns. James makes hysterical work of line delivery like “That’s just mean, man!!” When Gibson blows a bullet hole through his suitcases. It’s a juicy, eccentric cameo and brings some comic relief to the table.

2. George Caplan in Michael Lehmann’s Hudson Hawk

Talk about an underrated, misunderstood gem of a film. Bruce Willis is Hawk, the worlds greatest cat burglar on his craziest mission yet and up against all kinds of kooky cartoonish villains. Coburn’s Caplan is an ex military prick with a huge attitude problem, a mercenary for hire who commands a private unit of weirdo operatives named after candy bars like ‘Kit Kat.’ James understands this bizarre material and turns George into a rapscallion of a villain, whether he’s terrorizing local town folk or reminiscing about his Cold War spy days where he was ‘getting laid every night.’

1. Glen Whitehouse in Paul Schrader’s Affliction

This is the role that landed him an Oscar and it’s well earned. Affliction is the bleak, difficult tale of the Whitehouse clan, an ill fated New England family presided over by Coburn’s volcanically abusive, black hearted patriarch, a man who seems to reap poisoned soul food out of terrorizing his own family. He’s a mean, crass, violent old fucking rotten bastard but James is too good of an actor to play him one note. Glen is a monster but there’s shades of humanity when his wife passes, albeit briefly. There’s gnarled self hatred, a booze soaked, misanthropic nature to him and many other carefully calibrated aspects that make this one of the best pieces of acting in film.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten James Gammon Performances

James Gammon May not have been a household name but as consummate Hollywood character actor and grizzled veteran of cowboy westerns his presence was near unparalleled. With a raspy drawl and an essence that was one part hunter killer, one part leathered frontiersman with a touch of endearing teddy bear (he actually did voice a bear in one film, though it didn’t make this list) he always made a terrific impression and became one of my favourite ‘that guy’ actors as I began to discover cinema in my youth. Here are my top ten performances from his varied and fascinating career:

10. Roger Wayne in Luiso Berdejo’s The New Daughter

I included this moody Kevin Costner horror thriller because it was Gammon’s final film appearance before passing a few years ago. Costner plays a rural father whose adopted daughter (Pan’s Labyrinth star Ivana Baquero) begins to exhibit weird, possibly supernatural behaviour. He digs a little deeper into the mystery and comes across Roger, a man who dealt with the very same issue in his own children years ago and whose methods were… questionable. Gammon gives this homeless old dude a chilling edge in his curtain call appearance.

9. Ironbutt Garrett in Running Cool

This is the most lighthearted, benign biker flick you’ll probably ever see. Drifter Bone (Andrew Divoff) reunites with old pal Garrett to take down evil, prejudiced land developers threatening both their land and biker way of life. The camaraderie and friendship between the two is nicely illustrated with both, two epic cult actors sharing the screen. Plus, his name is fucking Ironbutt, how can you go wrong with that.

8. Sheriff Henderson in Eduardo Sanchez’s Altered

The creator of Blair Witch Project brought us this little seen alien horror flick combined with the classic cabin in the woods setting. Gammon plays a county Sheriff (one of many throughout his career) who comes knocking when weird sounds are heard and has what you’d call a ‘close encounter.’ His reaction upon being told that the thing that viciously attacked him is an extraterrestrial? “Shit. That’s fucked up.” He was capable of such wry, deadpan line delivery even in a tense, unnerving situation.

7. Esco Swanger in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain

A frontier family man before the civil war, Esco resents the rabble rousing in his town and brings a subtle antiwar perspective to the large and varied cast. When one of of his kids declares proudly that he’s going to fight for the south, his boisterous retort: “Last I heard, the south was a direction!” He steals any scene he’s in here from a huge roster of supporting characters and makes a vivid impression in this beautiful but uneven war epic.

6. Sam Parker in Outlaw Trail: The Treasure Of Butch Cassidy

This is a low budget made for TV kids flick about a group of youngsters searching for gold buried by the legendary bandit. Gammon plays the grandfather of one of them and their lineage can be traced right back to Butch, which he’s none too pleased about. He resents illegal activity and sees his legacy as childish and pointless, until his grandson makes good on the treasure hunt and brightens everyone’s day. Silly flick overall but he gives his scenes a stormy, melancholic aura and plus it’s one of the only appearances in his career where he’s not sporting that moustache, kinda like Sam Elliott.

5. Nick Bridges in Nash Bridges

A flashy Don Johnson cop show, James plays his lovable but troublesome father, a retired longshoreman with slight dementia, an affinity for get rich quick schemes and the kind of rebellious nature that gets passed from father to son.

4. The Texan in Tony Scott’s Revenge

Kevin Costner’s bloodied up antihero meets many people on his journey to recovery and retribution in this sweaty, seedy south of the border melodrama, one of which is Texan, a mysterious horse trainer who meanders across Mexico, dying of some undisclosed illness and acting as a kind of soldier of fortune in between breaking colts. He helps Costner out in that laconic, weathered fashion that’s just south of nice guy and just the this side of badass.

3. FBI Agent Teddy Lee in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

The hunt for elusive, spectral serial killer Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio) has many procedural moving parts but Teddy essentially spies the clue that leads them right to his doorstep. The film is an austere, surreal and often heavy mood piece full of intense, hushed and introspective performances. It may seem counterintuitive of Singh to cast rambunctious, rowdy Gammon in a key supporting part but the offset works beautifully and he livens up an otherwise grim series of events in his brief screen time.

2. Lou Brown in Major League

Sassy coach to the dysfunctional Cleveland Indians, Lou is coaxed away from his apparently way more interesting job selling tires to put together a winning roster and kick the team out of a royal slump. He’s a take-no-shit, old school dude with enough grit and attitude to both get them into the winning streak and stir up all kinds of political trouble within the league while he’s at it.

1. California Joe in Walter Hill’s Wild Bill

A moody, fragmented look at the final few years in the life of Bill Hickock (played with sterling charm by Jeff Bridges), Gammon embodies Joe perfectly. He’s a hell-raiser, gunslinger, sidekick, friend and confidante to the legendary figure and provides many a memorable moment, in one of the most dynamic, front and centre roles he got in his career.

-Nate Hill

Paul Schrader’s Affliction

Paul Schrader’s Affliction is a terrifying, tragic and too-real examination of how one series of events, dating back to childhood abuse, can spark the kind of self destructive downward spiral that no well adjusted person could ever thing themselves capable of. At the outset Nick Nolte’s Wade Whitehouse does indeed seem, perhaps mostly in his own eyes, to be a fairly well adjusted person. He’s an auxiliary lawman in a small New Hampshire community with a daughter, ex wife and set of problems that could be chalked up as ‘everyday variety.’ But just underneath that is a simmering layer of trauma and violence that inevitably will be unleashed, given the right set of catalytic incidents. Wade has a volcanically abusive father (James Coburn) who drinks like there’s no tomorrow and terrorized his family no end for years. Wade’s brother Rolfe (Willem Dafoe) distanced himself from the whole implosive saga years ago but when their mother passes away and the dynamics of their family as well as that of the town begins to shift, forces align against all of them.

This is a sad, heavy, fucked up, heinously bleak and relentlessly downbeat piece of storytelling, no fooling around. Wade’s trajectory is just painful to watch, from hazy flashbacks to childhood horrors inflicted by the old man to slow, steady signs of mental illness, delusional breakdowns and unstable behaviours manifesting gradually like an incoming blizzard. His relationship with his father is a poisoned minefield, his brother stays at arm’s length while his ex wife and daughter are resentful of him, perhaps scared or both. He has one solace in the girl he’s seeing (Sissy Spacek) but once she’s drawn into the whirlwind that is his life she too frays around the edges and is tainted by the violence, bad luck and pain surrounding it all. If this sounds like anything but a pleasant experience, it totally is and you’ll leave the room feeling like you’ve been slapped in the face repeatedly. But it’s an important, well crafted, intelligent, vital film that explores in uncommon empathy and understanding how a cycle of abuse, alcoholism, dereliction of compassionate behaviour and violence can ripple throughout generations like a sentient force all its own.

Nolte is sublime in this role, he’s an actor who always seems on the edge of an explosive outburst, always restless or shifting around, possessive of a deeply uneasy tone of voice and a guarded gaze. He rocks this role scarily well and it could be the performance of his career. Coburn is a tower of terror as the domineering patriarch, an imposing force in flashbacks now reduced to a frail, brittle and sour parody of himself in old age, constantly swilling booze, pissing archaic rhetoric like a toxic fountain and continuously displaying what the very worst traits of the male image look like. Dafoe is quietly powerful, present briefly in person and then in spirit with haunting narration, the black sheep of this clan in the best way possible. Spacek is so sad as the poor girl dragged into all this as it’s achingly clear she has deep feelings for Wade which she must abandon as soon as it becomes clear the kind of black hole he’s headed for. The cast is rounded out nicely with folks like Chris Heyerdahl, Brigid Tierney, Jim True-Frost, Mary Beth Hurt, Wayne Robson, Joanna Noyes and the excellent Holmes Osborne who we recall as Donnie Darko’s dad. This is a grim tale, as rough and cold as the inland terrain these people make their home, and for the family here there’s no way out of the cold, save for perhaps Dafoe’s character. It’s essential work though, a film that doesn’t doesn’t shy away from taboos that we ignore and banish out there with the howling wind, but rises up to meet and bear witness to such atrocities so that we may better recognize them in our own realm, and whittle away at the block of empathy and compassion in the face of such horror. A stone cold masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Barbra Streisand’s The Prince Of Tides

As Nick Nolte’s hazy, forlorn narration fades in over a dreamlike aerial view of the South Carolina lowlands, you aren’t quite sure exactly what The Prince Of Tides has in store for its audience, which I think was intentional on director Barbra Streisand’s part. This is a film of immense power, tough interpersonal relationships, courage, hope, love, hardships and trauma buried like a secret so deep it takes many story beats to unpack it, like a flower tossing petals to the wind until bit by bit we see the core of truth within.

Nolte is Tom Wingo, a southern family man who endured a tumultuous and horrific childhood, weathering out hardships in stronger fashion than his two siblings, one of whom is dead and the other in psychiatric care in New York City after repeated suicide attempts. Tom leaves his wife (Blythe Danner) and daughters for awhile to look after her and to speak with her doctor, Susan (Streisand), who is trying desperately to understand and help them. It’s then that his real journey inward begins, and he learns to unearth, process and begin to heal from an unspeakably heinous tragedy from his childhood. He also finds love with her, despite them both having spouses, children and being two people who are worlds apart in every aspect of their lives despite their deep attraction and bond to one another.

The film is structured in such a way that harbours secrets deep and dark, events that are key in Tom’s understanding of himself and willingness to move forward, but they only come to light when he’s ready to both tell her and remind himself what he’s tried so hard to forget. He’s a headstrong man, loving father and rowdy southern football coach who outwardly appears to have it all figured out and has an alpha, assured response to anything flung his way… except Susan’s desire to know his pain, and help him through it. Nolte is a blustery, stormy performer who can scarcely sit still for two minutes or light a smoke without tossing it away after one drag to belt out some retort at another character, and indeed this is the impression we get of Tom off the bat. But there’s an introspective stillness that creeps into his performance here, slowly turning him from a closed off, emotionally unavailable man into a deeply hurt one who has to slow down a bit in order to heal. There’s a key scene in his performance where Susan frankly and bluntly (perhaps as a last resort tactic) coaxes the truth out of him; he does the nervous leg bob, stares out the window, gruffs, grunts and does anything to avoid letting himself remember it, feel it, but when he does… well, let’s just say that it’s the most honest work I’ve ever seen from him and he owns it with absolute dignity, truth and clarity. It isn’t easy getting such can honest performance out of someone as a director, but Streisand shows a sure hand and clear eye as a creative force and ditches the bubbly, frazzled aesthetic in her acting work for something beautifully direct and down to earth. The film shows how time can both heal wounds and cover them up without the proper reconciliation and processing, leading to the kind of intense, life changing surge of midlife dramatic events we see here. Tom bookends the film with meditative, personal rumination imparted to us in voiceover as the deep orange sun saturates the Carolinas and keeps us afloat in his world, his story for a captivating, heartbreaking, unforgettable two hours. The film may not be from 2019, but it’s my favourite one I saw for the first time this year and it will remain in my memory for a long time to come.

-Nate Hill

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is an odd one, a film that I enjoyed for the fact that it somewhat cuts ties to the biblical tale it bases itself on and does it’s own thing. The style and tone are so out of place and out of time that one could almost imagine this being set sometime far, far in the future instead of the distant past. Aronofsky introduced a very earthy, tactile and nature based aesthetic with his film The Fountain (which is my favourite film ever made), and he explores it further here, with time-lapse photography of plants growing, barren landscapes that suggest either a very young planet earth or a very old one and simple, elemental costumes that could be of both ancient ilk or post apocalyptic fashion. The story is quite literally as old as time, and given new life by a fantastic cast of actors starting with Russell Crowe as Noah, a man jaded by humanity and conflicted by forces beyond his own understanding. Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and others play his family, one of whom knocks up Emma Watson, causing quite the controversy when the almighty creator commands Noah to build that ark before the monsoons come. Anthony Hopkins is the prophet Methuselah, and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain a rough hewn archetype of all of our worst qualities as a race. Coolest of all might are Frank Langhella, Mark Margolis, Frank Oz and Nick Nolte as some ancient looking stone golems who are actually angels sent down by the creator to shepherd humans when needed. It’s funny because Nolte is so grizzled and rugged in his old age these days he probably could have just played the role in person instead of voiceover, but as it stands the special effects used to bring them to life are spectacular, a standard that holds throughout the film from landscapes, props, wildlife and general visual mood. Now, I can never get behind Christian films or take them seriously, so it’s a good thing that Aronofsky remains at arm’s length from the religious stuff and takes a more mythological approach to the story in the sense that this could be happening in any world or universe, and isn’t tied down to one theology. Not a perfect film, but the arresting visuals, fantastic cast and overarching message of love and reverence for life in all forms make it something special.

-Nate Hill

Oliver Stone’s U Turn

Ever had one of those days where literally everything seems to go wrong and there’s some kind of invisible cosmic force aligned against you? Sean Penn’s Bobby has one of those in Oliver Stone’s U Turn, a deranged, sun drunk parable by way of neo-noir and near Boschian displays of brutal human behaviour punctuated by pockets of the blackest comedy one can find. This is a deliberately, brutally unpleasant slice of nihilism that wouldn’t be easy to swallow were it not so fucking funny, so gorgeously visual, so perkily acted by the knockout ensemble cast and so beautifully scored by Ennio Morricone. Penn’s Bobby has the rotten luck of breaking down in the one horse town of Superior, Arizona, where bumpkin mechanic Billy Bob Thornton takes his sweet time patching up the rig, leaving him to drift about town and get in all sorts of trouble. There’s a rockabilly maniac named Toby ‘TNT’ Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix) who wants Bobby’s head for ‘making time’ with his girl (a loopy Claire Danes). The menacing local Sheriff (Powers Boothe) seems hellbent on doing anything other than protecting and serving. Jennifer Lopez is sultry babe Grace, who snares him up in a dangerously lurid love triangle with her husband Jake (Nick Nolte at his utmost Nick Nolte-iest), who also happens to be her stepfather (!). This all boils into a mucky miasma of murder, violence, sex games, insurance fraud, gas station robberies, betrayal, severed limbs, manipulation and any other noisy calamity you could think of to befall a small town in Arizona that the rest of the world has seemingly forgot. Bobby is on the run from a scary Vegas loan shark (Valery Nikoaelev), but nothing he can do compares to the level of hurt these warped townsfolk inflict upon him, so it’s kind of an out of the frying pan into the fire type scenario. The thing is, Bobby himself is something of a reprehensible scumbag anyways, so there’s a cheeky masochist edge in watching him traverse this dusty, 9th ring of Americana hell and circle an ending of inevitable doom. ‘Treat others how you wish to be treated’ is an adage that almost every single character in the film seems to have sadly forgotten or chose to ignore except one individual, a blind old native man played with disarming truth by Jon Voight. Bobby has several encounters with him, and he’s the only one who isn’t after something, doesn’t display hostility or unkindness, he speaks plainly and offers Bobby bitter pearls of wisdom that ultimately go unheeded. Stone employs the same type of jittery, whacked out visual surrealities he used in Natural Born Killers, a deeply saturated colour palette, tumble dry editing techniques and more breathe life into this vivid version of curdled small town life in the vast, lonely desert. Morricone’s score is a spring loaded jack-in-the-box in areas and a melodic, melancholic lullaby in others, an underrated composition that gives the film an eerie sadness and zany vibration all it’s own. There’s more going on than meets the eye here; at surface level it’s a dark crime comedy with a quirky edge, but both Voight’s character and a few mysterious hints at Lopez’s backstory with the tribes in the region hint at a deeper, darker sense of malice lurking out there with the coyotes, suggestive of an almost mythic aspect. Stone gets high praise for his political dramas, but I’ve always loved him best when he’s doing genre stuff, he’s such an expressive storyteller and the real fruit of his imagination comes out when he’s turned loose. For me this is his second finest work after Natural Born Killers and before Savages, the three films that seem most genuine and celebratory of the medium. In any case, U Turn is a southern fried, asphalt laden, angry, sexy, perverse road trip to sunny noir heaven or hell, and a masterpiece. Watch for neat cameos from Laurie Metcalf, Bo Hopkins, Brent Briscoe, Julie Hagerty and Liv Tyler.

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear is a harrowing film, one with enough perverse psychosexual energy, dripping southern atmosphere, stalker suspense and domestic trauma to raise the dead from the swamps of North Carolina where it takes place. Technically a remake of an old 60’s black & whiter with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, I have to give Scorsese’s version the edge no matter how controversial that opinion may be, he just had the freedom to take it further and not have to be so tame as films were back then. He also benefits from having star Robert Deniro in the hot seat as Max Cady, a monstrous, homicidal lunatic out to get Nick Nolte’s Sam Bowden, the slick heeled lawyer who put him away for years. Disclaimer: this is a thoroughly fucked up, highly disturbing film that goes to places you don’t even want showing up on the fringes of your nightmares, and doesn’t shy away from showing these atrocities in wild screaming life. Cady is an extremely clever, resourceful southern gentleman when he wants to be, and when the facade comes off he’s an unabashed, mass murdering psychopathic beast who will get at Sam any way he can, including the harassment and abuse of his wife (Jessica Lange) and teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis). It’s a setup for a wild ride of a thriller that seldom lets up once the wheels are rolling, and flies towards a conclusion set on the bayou that will raise hairs. Lewis, in one of her earliest roles, was rightly nominated for an Oscar, her simultaneous terror and mesmerization when Cady eerily seduces her is magnetic. The Mitchum and The Peck have two fun cameos too, the former as a sceptical cop and the latter as a hilarious, bible spouting asshole lawyer who shamelessly defends Cady. Nolte and Lange are charismatic in their scenes, but this is Deniro’s show all the way, and he creates a villain for the ages. Whether he’s beating up the guys Sam hires to beat him up, cackling maniacally in a movie theatre to piss everyone off, giving off violent rapey vibes to both Lewis and Lange or using freaky disguises to follow them all around, he’s a charming, ruthless boogeyman that has since become iconic. This is one of the premier psycho thriller of the 90’s, an intense, evocatively shot southern gothic freak show that has only gotten better with age.

-Nate Hill

Ole Bornedal’s Nightwatch 


It’s always curious to me when directors remake their own projects. Sometimes it seems redundant and risky, and one wonders what compels them to revisit already trodden territory. In Ole Bornedal’s case it’s a creepy murder mystery called Nightwatch, made once in his native language of Danish, and again as a slicked up Hollywood version featuring some heavy acting talent and a reworked script by none other than Steven Soderbergh. I’ve only seen the newer one, and despite some awkward, clunky moments in the narrative, it can get pretty squirmy and frightening when it wants to, especially any scene involving a young Ewan McGregor stuck alone on a morgue graveyard shift. Creepy concept, and in some scenes it’s really milked to full effect, but there’s also few really silly and unnecessary subplots, particularly one with McGregor’s daredevil buddy Josh Brolin, and his girlfriend (an underused Patrica Arquette. When the film focuses on its main horror storyline it works quite well though. There’s a killer loose in the city, one with a penchant for necrophilia, and no one wants to have the night shift at a mortuary with someone like that running about. Nick Nolte adds class and charisma to his role as a weary, grizzled police detective who’s searching for the killer. Nolte rarely sets foot in the horror/thriller side of things, but his looming presence and concrete scraper sounding voice fit into the atmosphere terrifically. There’s a couple cameos as well, one from John C. Reilly as an ill fated police officer and an amusing Brad Dourif as the morgue’s cranky duty doctor. If Borendal had trimmed the fat in places as far as subplots go, given a bit more edge to the script and overall just tweaked it more it could have been a cracking good thriller, but as is it’s only above average with a few spots that really shine. 

-Nate Hill

Michael Mann’s Luck: A short lived masterpiece 


Michael Mann’s Luck was a painfully short lived HBO original series with reach-for-the-stars potential, a mind blowing cast and a terse, eccentric script from David Milch, all fuelling a brilliant ensemble storyline set in a pristine Los Angeles horse racing track. I’ll get the elephant out of the room right away: the series was cancelled due to a few of the horses dying on set, for whatever reasons. Had it been allowed to continue though, I imagine it would have gone on to become one of the network’s, and Mann’s, most hallowed and heralded works. Dustin Hoffman is the centrepiece of the cast as Chester ‘Ace’ Bernstein, a sharp witted Jewish mobster who’s recent stretch in the joint has somewhat dulled his edge. Nevertheless, he slyly takes a stab at playing his hand with horse ownership, joined by his charismatic driver Gus (Dennis Farina, reliably wonderful). There’s all kinds of other hoopla going on, and it’s cool to see the story focus on both the upper crust elite doing their shady deals as well as everyday joes tossing their money into these worshipped games. Kevin Dunn is terrific as a disabled firebrand of a gambler, joined by his two scrappy pals (Ritchie Koster and Jason Gedrick) as they try out their own brand of luck. Jill Hennessy is a determined horse trainer who clashes with a belligerent owner (Yul Vasquez), and there’s two ominous crime kingpins played by Michael Gambon and Ted Levine who hover in the shadows as well. Further still is a heartbreaking turn from Richard ‘Bing Bong’ Kind as a stressed out jockey manager, Nick Nolte as a crusty, broken-down horse trainer, Joan Allen, Alan Rosenberg, Spencer Garrett, Don Harvey, Ian Hart, W. Earl Brown, Shaun Toub, Bruce Davison, Frank Collison, Mercedes Rhuel, Tony Curran and a cameo from Jurgen Pröchnow as the stern owner of the whole track. How’s that for a cast. I must say that the dense, peculiar dialogue from Milch takes some time getting used to, but once you tune in to it’s jive, it’s pure poetry being rattled off by every character, and a gorgeously structured, meticulously layered script at that. The actors are all on a plane of pure excellence as well, many of them turning in career best efforts and bringing their roles vividly to life. The cinematography from various artists is pure spun gold too, every sparkling irrigation sprinkler, glistening horse coat, careful closeup and crop of dirt kicked up by hooves captured succinctly and smoothly. This seriously is as near to a perfect season of television as one can get, and it kills me that it got cut down before it had a chance to really get going, because just think of the places it could have gone. At least we still have this first glorious season to admire, and I recommend every minute of it. 

-Nate Hill