Tag Archives: peter stormare

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

Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

Few films successfully balance story, character, emotion, action and special effects on a scale as grand as Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, which I saw for the first time last night and am still reeling from. It’s brilliant, intelligent science fiction, a labyrinthine murder mystery, complex detective story and a thunderous action movie all rolled together in a perfectly pitched recipe, probably as close to flawless as you can find. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Spielberg world-builds fantastically around the concept of ‘Pre-Cogs’, neurologically damaged clairvoyants who can predict murders before they happen and have been put to work in Washington DC of 2054, where Lexus hover cars jet along vertical freeways, mad doctors replace eyeballs in a grimy shanty town flophouses, holograms dance about and there hasn’t been a single murder in six years, which is all about to change. It’s a startlingly complex, succinct version of the future where every bell and whistle serves the story instead of being simple gaudy arbitration to flaunt the studio’s money showboating across the screen. Tom Cruise gives a focused, implosive turn as John Anderton, chief of the high tech PreCrime unit, tasked with taking the PreCog’s readings and implementing force to ensure that these future murders never take place, that is until his very own name comes down the tube and he’s propelled on an odyssey to clear his name, smoke out elusive corruption and put ghosts of the past to rest in several different cases. Talk about an eclectic cast of actors supporting him, with standouts including Max Von Sydow as the grandfatherly director of the program, Lois Smith as an eccentric botanist with ties to the past, Kathryn Morris as Anderson’s intuitive ex wife, Colin Farrell as a sharp federal agent who both hinders and helps Anderton’s cause, Peter Stormare positively devouring scenery as aforementioned mad doctor, Tim Blake Nelson as a chatty prison warden, Neal McDonough and Patrick Kilpatrick as fellow PreCrime cops and Samantha Morton who almost walks off with the film in an arresting portrayal of angelic, animalistic PreCog Agatha, whose gifted brain holds power to unlock the past. The central mystery of the film is deep, broad and filled with hairpin turns you don’t see coming, it’s noirish in the way it unfolds but slick and streamlined in design, like all the best retro futurism I can think of, this now included. Better still is the fierce, uncompromising emotional centre where it finds gravity, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where Agatha enlightens John and his wife to their own pain, hers and that of those in the past she is trying to find retribution for, it’s a devastating sequence of blunt truth and unfiltered compassion that resonates beautifully from Morton, Cruise and Morris who all nail it. What more can I say? Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that this film reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place, and I agree. I was attentive, rose up to met the narrative with my focus and always felt entertained by both the large scale fireworks and careful mechanization of story. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II

Michael Bay is a great filmmaker and Bad Boys II is a masterpiece, one of the best action movies ever made. I know there are those out there who have nothing but contempt for Bay and his balls out, blitzkrieg blockbusters, and that’s okay. But there’s also those of us who recognize that the guy just has bushels of talent when it comes to staging breathtakingly explosive, propulsive large scale action sequences. I’ll concede that he has been perpetually slumming it in Transformers-ville for ten punishing years, but honestly I think that’s just to harvest dollars from the Asian box office overseas, because that’s where those big dumb flicks are most popular.

Bay’s core filmography is legendary, and while I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite, I’d say Bad Boys II if you held a gun to my head, definitely because of aforementioned action sequences but also it’s just one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen, thanks to the combustible camaraderie between Martin Lawrence, Will Smith and a host of scene stealing others. This film is insane in all the best possible ways, it starts at brutal excess and only escalates from there until taste, shame and any other employments of restraint have been pummelled by a beautifully un-PC masterwork of ultra-violence, cheerful profanity, unabashed nihilism and enough Miami gunplay to constitute a civil war.

While Bay’s first Bad Boys was a great time, it was kind of like pre-drinks at buddy’s place before really getting the night underway, and II is the penthouse party that blows the lid off of everything, gets the cops called and shuts down the entire block. Smith and Lawrence’s Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett kick off the proceedings by noisily barrelling through a KKK rally in the Everglades which results in Marcus getting accidentally shot through the ass cheek by his own partner, going on to be a priceless running joke. Then it’s on to take down simultaneously terrifying and hilarious Cuban drug baron Johnny Tapia, played by Jordi Molla in a performance so manic and unhinged that to me he represents the Spanish Gary Oldman. This results in a deafening, barnstorming tirade of extended car chases, ferocious shootouts, almost horror movie level carnage, excessive drug consumption and so much bickering between our two leads that we begin to wonder what was improv and what was scripted, but I suspect it was mostly the former. Bruckheimer seriously just threw paint at the wall here and let Bay set fire to it, this has to be one of the most precious, time capsule worthy, fucked up blockbusters that has ever come down the Hollywood assembly line. Gabrielle Union has never been sexier and holds her own as Marcus’s DEA sister, Bay favourite Peter Stormare hams it up almost as much as he did in Armageddon as an unstable Russian gangster and the cast is insane with memorable work from Michael Shannon, Yul Vasquez, Teresa Randle, Oleg Taktarov, Jon Seda, Antoni Carone, Henry Rollins and more. A huge shout-out to Joe Pantoliano as their stressed out Captain, he reaches levels of exasperation that I didn’t think were possible, and the scene where Marcus shows up in his living room fucked up on ecstasy is one of the most indescribably great comedic moments of the millennium, played to the hilt by all three actors.

From drug infested Miami Beach nightclubs to all out warfare on the highway overpasses to attitude filled family pool parties at Marcus’s crib to a thrilling showdown outside Tapia’s Cuban mansion and everything in between, Bay pretty much set the bar for the R rated action comedy, and set it pretty fucking high. Critics like Ebert hate this one because it overflows with unpleasantness, excess and mean spirited humour, and hey who am I to argue. If your sense of humour is tuned in to this kind of stuff then you’ll dig it, if not then it won’t be your bag, it’s very much an early 00’s film and most of it sadly wouldn’t even come close to being green-lit in today’s big budget world. I love this crazy ass film to pieces, it’s showcase Bay, hallmark Bruckheimer, the comedic pinnacle of both Smith and Lawrence’s careers (“Big fuckin eyes, but a nice fuckin fish!!”) and a milestone in the action genre. Woosahh.

-Nate Hill

Mercury Rising

If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?

Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.

-Nate Hill

John Wick: Chapter 2

John Wick: Chapter 2 expands nicely on a mythology that we caught a glimpse of from behind the shadowy curtain of assassin’s anthropology in the first film, a fantastic meld of stylish world building and hyper violent, stunts driven action that saw Keanu Reeves come blasting back onto the big screen in probably the best role so far of his career. Chapter 2 has one big challenge to face though: the first one was driven by the fact that those fuckers killed his dog, and the man’s subsequent bloodlust over it. That was the crux, the catalyst, the reason we cheered so loudly each time he maimed or mauled someone. Now, I don’t need an excuse like that to watch an antihero slaughter people, but some might, and the dog thing just propelled him forward faster and furious…er. What’s the catalyst here? Well, they destroy his house. Not quite the emotional kick in the nuts you get from seeing a beagle murdered, but it seems to be enough to light Wick’s fuse again, so there you go. He’s faced with a figure from his past here, some fruitcake of an Italian mobster (Ricardo Scamarcio) who wants him to come out of retirement and kill his powerful sister (Claudia Geroni) to ensure his seat at a revered council table of international crime figures. It’s basically John Wick’s Eurotrip, as he treks across the pond to kill more goons and thoroughly destroy more night clubs and other such convenient set pieces than you can shake a stick at, before returning back to New York for an ultra-violent third act. John Leguizamo, the always awesome Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Bridget Moynahan and David Patrick Kelly all reprise their wicked cool roles, whilst Common, Ruby Rose, Peter Serafinowicz and Franco Nero create new characters that flesh out this fascinating world of killer’s mythology even further. The film is special though for two important reunions for Reeves that give wonderful callbacks to earlier in his career: the prologue sees Wick ferociously reclaim his stolen car from Abram Tasarov (Peter Stormare) the more gregarious brother of Viggo, villain from the first film. Reeves and Stormare played Constantine and Lucifer in the underrated 2005 comic book adaptation, where they faced off with just as much menace and charisma we see in their little bit here. It’s also a reunion for Neo and Morpheus, because Laurence Fishburne shows up as the godlike Bowery King, a rooftop dwelling, pigeon keeping derelict who runs a vast crime syndicate that all disguise themselves as dishevelled hobos. It’s wonderful references like these that pack the pedigree with solid gold and moments to remember, not to mention it’s just a worthy sequel, a slam bang screamer of an action flick and a great time all round. Bring on Chapter 3, and I request an Al Pacino villain turn so we can get nostalgic for The Devil’s Advocate all over again.

-Nate Hill

Jonas Ackerlund’s Spun

Jonas Ackerland’s Spun is a film you’ll be onboard with in seconds, or jumping ship before the credits even start. It’s unpleasant, epileptic, downbeat, hyperactive, fucked up, strung out, cartoonish, nonsensical, unstructured, and is a complete masterpiece for those willing to lend an empathetic ear towards lost souls mired in the doldrums we call drug addiction. Set on a particularly sweaty day in the suburbs of L.A., all the film really does is try to keep up with a sorry bunch of meth-heads as they meander through a hazy existence filled with confusion, mania and that ever present need to score. Jason Schwartzman’s Ross is the default protagonist, and he moves from locale to locale, encountering the denizens of each dwelling in all their warped glory. John Leguizamo’s trademark brand of crazy is right at home as Spider, a maniacal dealer who can’t sit still for a nanosecond, along with his haggard looking girlfriend Cookie (Mena Suvari). Brittany Murphy is excellent as wayward Nikki, who leads Ross to her cook boyfriend, a strange fellow credited as literally The Cook, played in a brilliantly dark pitched, sad turn by Mickey Rourke. There’s others flitting about as well, including Patrick Fugit’s nutball Frisbee, a couple of frenzied narcs played by Alexis Arquette and Peter Stormare, plus cameos from a grab bag of figures like Debbie ‘Blondie’ Harry as a fearsome diesel dyke, Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford as a porn shop clerk, Ron Jeremy, Larry Drake, Josh Peck and a surprise Eric Roberts who gets a reunion of sorts with former costar Rourke. Director Ackerland, also a music video whiz, employs every stylistic trick and balls out editing fuckery to his film, until we have some wild inkling of what it must be like for these deranged urban pixies and their ADHD addled misadventures. It isn’t all comedic though; Once in a while the crazy curtain lifts and we see the deep set sadness that lives in these characters, a melancholy self loathing in which the actors find truth amongst the raging din, especially Murphy and Rourke, who provide the best work of the film. Mickey has a final act monologue that encapsulates the weary trajectories inhabited by these folks. Much of the film is stylized sound and fury though, a cavalcade of noise, vulgarity, offbeat altercations and loosely strung together events that have no meaning to anyone outside this asylum’s inner circle of addicts. One of a kind experience, and the most blatantly honest film I’ve seen on the subject of drugs.

-Nate Hill

John Woo’s Windtalkers


John Woo’s Windtalkers is a brutal, somber, joyless affair, a muddy and hopeless war picture that contains little of the ethereal poise of stuff like The Thin Red Line or heroic muscle such as Saving Private Ryan. As long as you can adjust and tune into it’s frequency it’s a well made, sorrowful look at the American effort against Japan, particularly a mission involving a regiment whose task is to protect Native Navajo code breakers that can detect messages fired off by the enemy. A mopey Nicolas Cage is their shell shocked leader, pressing his men onward into territory that no doubt contains the same horrors he witnessed before the film begins. We find him in a trauma ward initially, cared for by a kindly nurse (Frances O’Connor), until Jason Isaacs cameos as the recruitment officer who spurs him back into action. His troupe is composed solely of excellent, distinct acting talent and they help the film considerably. The Navajo are played by Adam Beach and Roger Willie, giving grace and nobility to two men who are out of their depth and terrified. Peter Stormare, Christian Slater, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Brian Van Holt and a standout Martin Henderson are the rest of the troops, each getting their moment to shine within the unit’s cohesive arc. Woo is an odd choice for a war picture, and his stylized flair for bullet ridden action is nowhere to be found in these bleak, bloodied trenches, trading in suits and duel wielded glocks for faded camo and muted rifle fire. The action is neither cathartic nor poetic, simply a concussive cacophony of combat that offers little aesthetic pleasure, forcing you to find the value in empathy towards these men, and as long as you can do that, you’ll get something out of it. 

-Nate Hill