Tag Archives: Owen Wilson

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

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Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris

Do you ever find yourself feeling drawn to or nostalgic for another time period? Like somehow even though you’ve never been, you feel like you miss being there? Owen Wilson has a case of this in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, a charming, brilliant piece that comes across as a ‘small’ film but has some big and deep ideas to discuss with you, the viewer. Wilson is Gil, a hapless wannabe screenwriter who looks up to the literary giants of yesteryear as he meanders around present day Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her family. He keeps going on about “Paris in the 1920’s in the rain” and how lovely it would be to see, hear and feel that for real. Her head is nowhere close to the clouds as his though, she subtly resents his whimsical daydreaming and yearns for suburban sprawl once they tie the knot. Now it’s impossible to really review this film without spoiling the enchanting central premise, so here goes: as he takes dreamy walks around Paris, he discovers that every night at precisely midnight he’s able to quite literally time travel back to the 1920’s. This puts him in close contact with aforementioned writers he considers titans and soon realizes are people just like him. I don’t know much about the figures portrayed here or whether the actors embody them truthfully, but they sure do a grand job of bringing their scenes alive. Kathy Bates is a robust Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll dryly intones Ernest Hemingway, Adrien Brody is great very briefly as Salvador Dali, Tom Hiddleston as Fitzgerald and so it goes. This could have easily been a high concept, Owen Wilson In King Arthur’s Court style time travel film where the lessons learned are never all that striking or below the surface, but Allen wants to dig deeper. What is it about nostalgia that holds so much power over us? Would it be healthy or productive to live out those fantasies for real, and how would one come out of it? Gil finds a modicum of answer to these questions when he meets restless Adriana (Marion Cotillard, wonderful as always), but there’s a certain portion of theme here that lies in mystery, especially when her side off this phenomena comes into play, a thought provoking venture that I won’t go into here. The production team has wrought such a well lit, meticulously costumed Paris of the 20’s that you almost feel like they somehow tagged along with Gil each night and just filmed the thing there, it’s that good. The story rises up to meet it, and honestly as I type I can’t think of one single thing I disliked about this film. It’s engaging, never too simplistic nor too impenetrable, the actors are all clearly having the time of their lives (check out scene stealers Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as McAdams’s kvetchy parents) and there’s just this charm over the whole thing that’s irresistible.

-Nate Hill

Anaconda

Anaconda is great stuff, no matter what anyone says. Revered as a B Movie cheese-ball, it holds up far better than anyone remembers, and there’s a lot to love about it. Reminiscent of creature feature stuff like James Cameron’s Piranha 2, Lewis Teague’s Alligator and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, it carved out its own nasty little adventure/horror story with neat characters, impressive effects for the snake and a knowing sense of fun. It sets the tone with a suspenseful prologue that sees poor poacher Danny Trejo stalked, attacked and killed by an unseen serpent, before the title card marches gloriously across the screen in true horror form. Then it follows a national geographic film crew led by intrepid Jennifer Lopez, whilst Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Vincent Castellanous, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and sexy Kari Wuhrur tag along, pretty much for snake bait and for us to place drunken bets on who’s gonna get nabbed by the beast first. Along the way they meet the most engaging character of the film, a whack job big game hunter played to cockeyed perfection by Jon Voight and his greasy ponytail. Sputtering out ominous warnings in a warped, tailored South American accent, willfully misleading their party into danger and staring creepily at anyone in his scope of vision, he’s hilarious and clearly knew the right recipe of branded camp and genuine menace to put into the work. It’s a glorified B Flick for sure, but one that knows its place, showcases a big old fashioned movie monster and whisks the viewer away for some solid gold escapism. Do avoid the sequel though (Hunt For The Blood Orchid), it’s about as interesting as cardboard.

-Nate Hill

Behind Enemy Lines

I’ve always enjoyed Behind Enemy Lines, a hyperactive, simple minded, highly kinetic Owen Wilson/Gene Hackman war survival flick. It’s lowbrow, full of plot holes and questionable in terms of representing both the military and the Serbian/Bosnian war, but it’s also explosive, jacked up fun that packs a visual and auditory wallop. Wilson is an Air Force pilot who goes awol after a crash, and runs afoul of some Serbian radicals running a sickening genocide operation somewhere out there, while Hackman is the fiery Admiral tasked with coaching him back to an elusive drop point, and helping him avoid obstacles along the way. In pursuit is a nasty rogue general (Olek Krupa), who wants to snuff him out as he’s witnessed the man’s squadron murder his copilot (Gabriel Macht), and also just because he’s the classic stock villain and has nothing better to do. His top assassin (Vladimir Mashkov, almost identical to Niko Bellik of Grand Theft Auto 4) is an Eastern European Bear Grylls with homemade grenades and the pain tolerance of a tank, also chasing poor Wilson. It’s fairly implausible, but oh so cinematic and one I often put on just to work out the sound system of my tv. Crazy souped up editing, jagged freeze frame effects and whatnot ensue, it’s cool and kind of like Tony Scott Lite in a way. Hackman could yell out any dialogue and be convincing, owning yet another role, especially in a scene where he has a wicked shouting match with an A-hole of a UN General (Joaquim De Almeida firing on all cylinders and then some). David Keith has a great bit as another Admiral assisting in Wilson’s plight too. It’s suspenseful, doesn’t take itself too seriously and shouldn’t be subject to too much scrutiny, lest you rob yourself of a pleasurable genre viewing experience. Plus the sequence where Wilson hides in a freaky, mud filled mass grave has stuck with me for years. Good stuff, man.

-Nate Hill

Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy: A Review by Nate Hill 

What do you get when you combine acid tongued social satire, unnerving physical comedy, borderline horror/stalker elements, endless pop culture references and an abrasive yet pitiful protagonist from your worst nightmare? Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy, that’s what you get. And yes, before the hands go up, I do consider Jim Carrey’s lonely, disturbed TV repairman Chip to be the protagonist of the film, mainly because he’s eternally more interesting than Matthew Broderick’s bland, lifeless performance as the poor average joe who becomes victim to his ‘friendly’ courtship. Chip is one part neglected child, two parts borderline psychotic with a dash of manic obsessiveness and a pinch of terrifying delusional behaviour. Doesn’t quite sound like a comedy, does it? It almost isn’t. Stiller’s vision is so pitch black that it takes a few well timed sympathetic beats from Carrey, infused with his googly charm, to make it work. It’s mostly a walk on the scary side though. Broderick has the misfortune of having Chip show up to look at the television, and the guy takes an immediate, unsettling shine to him, going to great and terrible lengths to solidify an unrequited bromance that is a complete one sided fabrication. Stalking, interfering, framing him for god knows what, roughing up a smarmy gent (Owen Wilson is hilarious) who horns in on his girl (Leslie Mann) are but a few of the life shattering misdeeds that Chip carries out, all under the pretense of the buddy system. He’s essentially Frankenstein’s monster that has grown up from a child left to his own devices, fuelled by a lonliness which has long since pickled into something sad and destructive, both to himself and others around him. Carrey plays him like a champ, never cheaping out or holding back, always willing to go there and show us the extreme degrees on the temperature of the human personality. Damn, I make it sound so dark, don’t I?  It is, but at the end of the day we’re talking about a comedy starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ben Stiller, so there’s still the inherent comedic vibe that both of them bring, just drenched in tar this time around. Call it character study, stalker drama, a lifetime movie gone horribly awry or anything in between, whatever it is, it’s some stroke of demented genius and holds up well today. Watch for Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick, Joel Murray, David Cross, Kathy Griffin, Charles Napier, Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Gass  and a pisser of a cameo from Eric Roberts as himself in a facepalming television melodrama. 

Shanghai Noon: A Review by Nate Hill 

I forgot how much goddamn fun Shanghai Noon is. It’s pretty much the quintessential east meets west buddy flick (sorry Rush Hour, love you too bbz), and upon rewatching it I realized that it’s every bit as awesome, and more so, than I remember as a kid. You take Jackie Chan, a stoic, robotic Chinese fighting machine with the sense of humour god gave a sock, and pair him with Owen Wilson, a wishy washy surfer dude of a cowboy who can’t take one second out of the day to stop talking or cracking jokes, and you’ve got gold. Of course, they need a film to run about in that’s just as solid as they’re team up, and that’s just what we get. This is a bawdy, unapologetic roll in the hay, a genre bender that tosses the American western, the buddy cop flick and the Kung Fu picture into a big cauldron, fires a few bullets in and gives it a big old stir. It’s ridiculously fun for its entire duration, an achievement which the sequel just couldn’t keep up with. Chan is Chon Wang (say it fast), a Chinese imperial guard on the trail of runaway Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who has runoff to America.  No sooner does he set foot on Yankee soil, he’s bumped into peace pipe smoking Natives, and clashed with a band of train robbers led by Roy O Bannon (Owen Wilson), a fast talking soldier of fortune who doesn’t seem to have much skill besides yapping his way out of a situation. The two are thrown into a mad dash across then west, Chon looking for the princess, and Roy after the missing gold from the train. It’s what movies were made to be, a pure rush of gunfighting and chop socky, kick ass action sequences, all given the boost of Chan’s insane talents. He’s like a rabid squirrel monkey, and Wilson a drunk sloth, constantly mismatched yet always coming out on top, like the best comic duos always do. They’re faced with taking dpwn a few baddies, including Walton Goggins as the dumbest outlaw this side of the Rockies, and a terrifying Xander Berkeley as a corrupt, homicidal marshal.  The core of it rests on Chan and Wilson to entertain us though, and even in the down time between action, their energy is infectious, especially in a manic drinking game that just can’t be described in writing. Like I said, the sequel, Shanghai Knights, just doesn’t capture he magic quite like this one does, and seems to fall flat. You can’t go wrong with this original outing though, and it just gets better with age. 

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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There’s always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker like Wes Anderson, known for making intimate and personal films, starts making movies on a more ambitious scale – bigger budgets and movie stars in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience – that he will lose all of the qualities that made his movies so interesting in the first place. Easily his most accomplished film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) merged his stylized dialogue and quirky characters with elaborate sets and action set pieces in an exotic locale.

After his best friend is eaten by a Jaguar shark, famed oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) vows revenge. The problem is that the fish is endangered and he’s having trouble raising money for the expedition. He also meets Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who may be his son by a woman he met 30 years ago. So, he convinces the young man to join his expedition in an attempt to make up for three decades of neglect.

Ever since Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s movies feature a water motif in some form or another, whether it is Anthony and Inez’s first kiss in a swimming pool in Bottle Rocket or Max Fischer’s desire to build an aquarium in Rushmore (1998). With Life Aquatic, Anderson finally realizes his fascination with water head on by crafting an homage to Jacques Cousteau.

Life Aquatic also continues Anderson’s thematic pre-occupation with flawed father figures and their sons. There is the burnt out Mr. Blume and Max in Rushmore and Royal and his children in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). In Life Aquatic, Steve tries to reconnect with Ned in the hopes that they will bond while hunting for the Jaguar shark. Like Blume and Royal, the world seems to have forgotten about Steve. He’s washed up and hit rock bottom now that his best friend has been killed.

The film also continues Anderson’s structuring of his movies into segments. In Rushmore, the story was broken down into months serving as acts in a play, with Tenenbaums, it was chapters as in a book and now with Life Aquatic it is days as Steve’s mission is being filmed for a new documentary. This structure reinforces the magical, almost-fairy tale feeling that Anderson creates in every one of his films by drawing attention to itself as a fanciful tale.

Bill Murray turns in another excellent, low-key performance as the melancholy Zissou. With his beard and gruff, macho attitude, Steve comes across as a Hemingway-esque figure with a dash of Cousteau. And yet, no matter how extravagant things get, Murray always keeps things grounded with his sparse performance. Over the course of his career, the comedian has been gradually refining his style of acting. He gained fame in broad comedies like Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984) but has fine-tuned his style to a less-is-more approach with movies like Rushmore and Lost in Translation (2003). His turn in Life Aquatic is just the right blend of comedy and pathos.

Most films don’t warrant much thought or discussion, but Anderson gets more and more interesting with each new effort. They are filled with so many fascinating little details crammed in each and every frame, repeated thematic motifs and minor characters who often wander in and out of the background of scenes. His movies are magical, existing in their own unique worlds and bursting with ideas that are almost too much to absorb in one sitting. As was the allure of David Lynch’s short-lived T.V. show, Twin Peaks, one of the appeals of Anderson’s films is that we want to be in these quirky worlds he creates and we want to know his characters. We want to lose ourselves in his universe and the beauty of DVD is that they allow us to revisit the worlds of his movies any time we want.

Anderson is not only more ambitious in terms of structure and scale but also with the visuals of Life Aquatic. Shot in Italy, he utilizes the striking landscape of the country for a sun-kissed warm color scheme of yellows and browns. There are also the striking images that linger long after the film ends: the glowing jellyfish on a beach at night and the stop-motion animated fish (by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick) and portrays them so vividly and in an exciting way.

Anderson’s career had been building up to this film. With The Royal Tenenbaums, he was able to juggle a large cast of name stars while still maintaining his artistic integrity. With Life Aquatic, he continued to use stars but upped the ante in production values and scope. However, he did not lose the intimate feeling that all of his movies possess. No matter how ambitious or big the scale, his films have hand-crafted feel to them. One gets the feeling that Anderson cares about every detail and every aspect and it is this personal touch that makes his movies so unique.