Tag Archives: Patricia Clarkson

Dirty Harry: The Dead Pool

The Dead Pool is a a slick entry in the Dirty Harry franchise, also capping off the series as the fifth and last one. Clint Eastwood had come a long way since he first stepped into the shoes of no nonsense, persistently violent San Francisco super cop Harry Callahan to do battle with the Zodiac Killer, and in this one things get a little bit more meta and witty than they ever have in the canon, but none less violent or tough. After the murder of a junkie rockstar played by none other than a young Jim Carrey, San Francisco is on high alert after the discovery of an underground game called the dead pool, where people bet on celebrities to die (I myself have never engaged in such behaviour). The chief suspect is an asshole horror film director played by Liam Neeson, sporting a greasy ponytail to match his greasy attitude, but each clue seems to lead nowhere, and Harry keeps getting attacked by unseen assassins from both the mob and the killer’s arena. The fun in these flicks is observing his zero tolerance policy for bureaucracy, red tape or rules and the flagrant defiance in the face of any social niceties, not to mention his enthusiasm for cheerfully excessive force, behaviour that has made him such a beloved character. The 44. Magnum gets a ton of exercise here and before the opening credits are nearly up he’s already blasted holes in like six people. My favourite scene has to be the unique car chase action sequence in which the killer employs a tiny, bizarrely fast remote control car rigged with a bomb and chases Harry all up and down the famous hills of San Francisco, it’s absolutely hysterical and looks as if a family of Borrowers decided that they needed to wiped out Clint Eastwood and are hunting the poor guy down. Eastwood is a little older and a bit more grizzled here, and his hair has the refreshing metamorphosis aesthetic of the late 80’s emerging from the dust of 70’s poof/mullet nightmares (also observable with Nick Nolte between 48Hrs and Another 48Hrs), which adds to the character. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

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Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo


Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo is a film that has stuck with me since I saw it years ago, a glowing textbook example on how to create chilly, effective and engrossing horror on a minimal budget, to maximum creepy effect. Set in the snowy drifts of Upstate New York in the dead of winter, a stressed out family heads up to a remote cottage for a rest. Following an accident, a dead deer and the subsequent altercations with angry locals, things take a turn for the supernatural as some dark force takes up residence on the cottage grounds, shaking the family to their collective core. There’s an old legend out there about a spirit called Wendigo, a vengeful ghost that latches onto traumatic events, haunting those involved often right to their graves. These poor people awakened it, and it won’t go away. Jake Weber, Patricia Clarkson and Dewey from Malcolm In The Middle are great as these folks, compelling in their sense of confusion and dread. The creature is rarely seen, save for a single stark image that I haven’t forgotten since: after the car accident, the child looks a ways up the road and sees it standing there, a freaky spectre, all shadows, antlers and such. Spooky stuff. 

-Nate Hill

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island 


Shutter Island is my favourite film by Martin Scorsese. Now, keep in mind that I still have yet to see heralded classics like Goodfellas and Raging Bull, but that being said I still feel like this clammy psychological opus would remain at the top of the charts. I’m a genre guy at heart, and as such gravitate towards that when watching any director’s work, I just feel more at home wading into fictitious, stylized thrillers than I do with earnest biopics or urban crime dramas, which aren’t always my thing to begin with. Shutter is a brilliant piece, a deliberately dense and serpentine mystery that unfolds step by delicious step, a gift to anyone who loves a good twist and plenty of clues to keep them engaged along the way. Not to mention it’s wonderfully acted, cleverly written and primed with emotional trauma to keep us invested in the puzzle beyond base curiosity. Leonardo DiCaprio is best when portraying intense, tormented people, and his US Marshal Teddy Daniels here is no exception, a haunted man who feels like a caged animal as he investigates the disappearance of a mental patient from a secluded island sanitarium, a place that just doesn’t seem right, with a mood in the air so oppressive you can almost feel the fog, both mental and meteorological, weighing you down. The patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer will send shivers up and down your spine) seems to have vaporized into thin air, and Teddy’s investigation leads to closed doors, uncooperative staff and a heightened level of dread that lurks beneath every hushed exchange of dialogue and fleeting glimpse at things he, and we, aren’t even sure he really saw. The head doctor (Ben Kingsley, excellent) is clearly hiding something, as is the austere asylum director (Max Von Sydow). The freaky Warden (terrific cameo from Ted Levine, who gets to deliver the film’s best written and most perplexing dialogue) babbles to Teddy in biblical platitudes, and the patients have run amok following a storm that compromised security. Needless to say the plot is deviantly constructed to constantly mess with the audience until the third act revelations, which come as less of a melodramatic thunderclap and more like a quiet, burning sorrow of realization, a tonal choice from Scorsese that hits you way harder. Scorsese has assembled a cast for the ages here, and besides who I’ve mentioned so far we also have Michelle Williams in disconcerting flashbacks as Teddy’s wife, so perfectly played I wish she got a nomination, creepy Elias Koteas as another phantasm from his past, John Carrol Lynch, Mark Ruffalo, Jackie Earle Haley, Robin Bartlett and Patricia Clarkson. The score is a doom soaked death rattle courtesy of Robbie Robertson, not without it’s emotional interludes but thoroughly grievous. There’s also a beautifully slowed down version of ‘Cry’ by Johnnie Ray that accompanies the horrifying dream sequences within the film, adding to the already thick atmosphere nicely. This is a film built to last, both for dutiful rewatches from adoring veterans and discovery by lucky newcomers who get to experience it’s affecting story for the first time. All these boxer biopics, big city mafia ballads and heady stuff seems to have rolled off of me as far as Scorsese goes, I enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re a one-off as far as how many times I’ll watch them. Give me a well spun, emotionally rich psychological murder mystery with no shortage of style, character and tantalizing thriller elements, however, and I’ll pop that sucker back into the DVD player time and time again. Scorsese’s best effort by far. 

-Nate Hill

Jumanji: A Review by Nate Hill 

In the jungle you must wait, until the dice reads five or eight. So professes a mysterious board game possessed by dark magic to young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), a boy with no clue just how far an innocent roll of the dice can take you. From the first ominous drumbeat the game utters, until the last fading tones it plays the film out with, Jumanji is a giddy rush of pure adventure, with a refreshingly dark and primal side to its mayhem. Alan disappears from the 1950’s and we fast forward 25 years later. Young orphans Peter and Judy (Kirsten Dunst & Bradley Pierce) are moving into his old family home, so fate (and those damn creepy drums) would have them find the Jumanji in the attic, and continue the game Alan started with Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) over a decade ago. Suddenly every jungle creature, meteorological phenomenon and 90’s CGI monster erupts from the game into their little town, causing a mess that goes beyond the word havoc. This includes a near feral middle aged Alan, now played by Robin Williams. Together with a most reluctant Sarah, the quartet try to stop the destruction, play the game, but mostly just survive this onslaught. Psychotic monkeys, mutant mosquitoes, an elephant stampede, monsoons, giant spiders (fucking shudder) and crocodiles are but a few of the wonders awaiting them. My favourite has to be murderous Victorian game hunter Van Pelt, played mightily by stage actor Jonathan Hyde, with a pith helmet and an epic mustache that would make Kurt Russell chortle. Hyde does excellent double duty as both the deranged hunter and Alan’s stern but loving father, a tough contrast he handles like a champ. I admire the film’s willingness to go creepy and dark, despite being geared towards kids. The danger feels real, the game has an eerie mysticism to it, a life of it’s own that gives you goosebumps. Not often do family orientated films have a shred of real fear in them anymore, so let’s count our blessings with this one, still holding strong today. The special effects are dated in places (those monkeys, man) and wonderful in others (that hardwood floor quicksand tho), but you have to cut them some slack, it being 1996 after all. Williams and Hunt have snarky banter that barely hides their love for each other, and it’s one of my favourite onscreen pairings he ever had with a gal. He makes Alan resourceful, kind and just a little bit crazy, but the guy did spend years alone in a treacherous jungle straight out of your nightmares, so that can be expected. Amidst the chaos you can look out for Patricia Clarkson, a deadpan Bebe Neurith and David Alan Grier as well. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into the film, but never does it feel bloated or crippled by it’s own weight, flowing nicely and taking time where it can to develop character and give it’s human cast just as much to do as all the crazy jungle stuff. I’m surprised I never saw any of this go down as a kid, because parts of it were filmed blocks from my neighborhood, and CGI was scant back then, so much of it would have physically been there, large and loud. Maybe I did, and have since forgotten. I definitely haven’t forgotten any of the film, though, and allow for repeated viewings whenever I have the time. It’s one of the best, most thrilling adventure stories of its time and ages well as each year passes. Cue the drums. 

Easy A: A Review by Nate Hill

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The best way to describe Easy A is calling it a wiseass high school retelling of The Scarlet Letter. That can also be a temperature gauge for someone to tell ahead of time if it’ll be there thing, or not. I enjoyed it a lot, thanks to a funny as hell Emma Stone who doesn’t leave out the vulnerability peeking through her guise as strong young woman. It’s a little more relaxed in the content department than some of the bawdier stuff that she got her start in, but still contains sufficient amounts of raunch to please the comedy hounds. Stone also has a veritable army of seasoned pros backing her up, an element which helps her, however she’s quite capable of carrying a film and does so as well. She plays Olive, a spitfire high school girl who finds herself in a funny yet unfortunate situation after her dunce of a friend starts a wildfire sexual rumor about her. Soon the whole school is talking about it, and she takes action in a bizarre move to fight fire with fire…of a certain kind. She boldly takes up the mantle of the school harlot, forever changing things in her quiet serengetti of suburban youth. It all spins wildly out of control, a common characteristic of adolescence, with poor Olive stuck right in the middle of the debacle, which sucks for her but is too funny not to enjoy. Stanley Tucci (“The Bucket List”) and Patricia Clarkson are darlings as her parents, Thomas Haden Church scores points as a deliberately hip and sympathetic literature teacher, and Lisa Kudrow that old flamingo, has fun as a dour guidance counselor. There’s also work from Amanda Bynes as an unhinged religious nut, the perpetually wooden Cam Gigandet, Penn Badgley and a brief cameo from Malcolm  McDowell as the world’s most cynical high school principal. As a riff on The Scarlett letter it keeps theme alive, and as a teen comedy with a gaggle of adults trying to keep up with the youngsters, it’s a charmer. Stone holds the proceedings together very well.