Tag Archives: Rade Serbedzija

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War

I won’t pretend to be familiar with the details of the Russian/Georgian war or anything that goes on in that region, but I’m pretty sure Renny Harlin’s 5 Days Of War is skewed in favour of special effects and kinetic commotion, as opposed to dutifully telling a story. It’s disjointed and has no idea which characters to focus on primarily and as such feels like a film out of time and space, cobbled together with loose strands and spare action sequences. Half the name actors are casted in throwaway roles too, which is disorienting. In a hectic prologue, Heather Graham plays the girlfriend of a war photographer (Rupert Friend), but she’s killed in a blast literally seconds after meeting her character, which seems arbitrary even to call her agent for a booking. The films sees Friend, a Georgian native (Emmanuelle Chriqui) and others stranded in a region on fire, torn apart by combat and cut off from communication. The details of this conflict are swept up in a near constant stream of action sequences, near misses and explosions, and much of the film is simply people running through bombed out villages in desperation. Croatian actor Rade Serbdzija (Boris The Blade from Snatch) makes good use of a Russian general role, somewhat of a villain but the film actually pauses later to give him a modicum of an ad, which he handles nicely. Val Kilmer and his Aslan mane of hair show up too in a sly, over advertised cameo as another photographer who helps them out briefly, and then disappears from the film. Elsewhere Andy Garcia laments the situation as the Russian president, grilled by the press about his actions, or lack thereof, in the struggle. In terms of story and narrative cohesion it’s all over the place. One aspect it handles well though is keeping the kinetic energy alive during the war scenes, they are extremely well shot and designed on a big scale to raise pulses. Average flick that could have done with a bit more structure and thought put into the script.

-Nate Hill

Stigmata

Stigmata is one of those thrillers with religious undertones that seems to avoid pesky, eye roll preaching by simply sticking to the horror aspects and providing a solid genre flick, without getting up in our faces with it’s message or feeling lame (see Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate and Peter Hyams End Of Days for other ones that achieve this). This one is religious in the sense that it has to be for it’s plot to move along (just look at the title) but essentially it’s part atmospheric spook-fest and part chase film, both of which it does fairly well. Patricia Arquette, in full damsel in distress mode, plays Frankie, a girl whose last priority in life is religion, but suddenly finds herself afflicted with the stigmata, mysterious self-manifesting crucifixion wounds that show up without warning, ruining bedsheets and couches alike. The Vatican soon gets wind of this and dispatches priest investigator Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to debunk or research her case. Something about her her soon has shattering implications for not just Catholicism but faith as a whole, and suddenly they’re on the run from a nasty villain priest (Jonathan Pryce) whose ideology is seriously cornered by these new revelations. When Pryce plays a bad guy in your film (see Ronin and The Brothers Grimm) you know he’s going to go all out, arch it up and be a grandiose piss-ant of an antagonist, his ‘priest’ here is so vibrantly evil he seems to have walked over from a Dario Argento flick. There’s a more compassionate man of faith too (Rade Serbedzija) who has a better grasp on the new theology, which he lays down in expository patience so the audience has an inkling of what’s at stake. Byrne and Arquette actually have some terrific chemistry and romantic yearnings, but sucks for them with him being a priest and all. You can do far far worse with thrillers like this, it really sets up a hellish urban atmosphere neatly and diligently tells a pretty cool story.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: The Code


The Code, or Thick As Thieves as it’s known on DVD in some regions, is pretty much just Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas strutting their way through a B-grade, R-rated Ocean’s Eleven. It’s second tier stuff, but it has one hell of a cast and enough serpentine twists and betrayals to keep the viewer interested. Freeman plays a slick master burglar, recruiting Banderas’ younger thief to pull off one of those ‘impossible’ heists that requires all kinds of over elaborate planning and stylish execution. This is all in order to pay an outstanding debt to the Russian mob in the form of dangerous Rade Serbedzija, aka Boris the Blade, aka Boris the Bullet Dodger, who has a few surprising secrets of his own. All of them are also hounded by a classically dogged detective (Robert Forster, intensely excellent) and his rookie partner, who of all people is played by Tom Hardy in a role so small and random I’d love to hear the tale behind his casting. There’s also an obligatory love interest for Antonio, played by leggy Radha Mitchell. Now, it’s all mostly as pedestrian as it sounds, except for a few garnishing touches that elevate it just enough that it sticks in your memory. The master thief. The Ahab-esque cop. The vicious Eastern European gangster. The love triangle. Backstabbing. These are all ancient archetypes that have been done quite literally to death, and they’re all present and accounted for here, but there’s a few moments that genuinely surprise and break feee of that somewhat. Revelations involving the Russian who isn’t what he appears to be, a third act twist that feels welcome, and snares of dialogue that snap our attention amidst the cliches. For what it is, it does its job well enough, and a few times shows actual inspiration. Not bad at all. 

-Nate Hill

Moscow Zero: A Review by Nate Hill

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Moscow Zero is a chilly little subterranean ghost story, and a favourite for me. It god critically shredded by the few people who did see it, and quickly forgotten. I think this may be because of odd marketing,and the cultural rifts in different areas of both the world, and cinema. It was marketed in North America as a supernatural shocker starring Val Kilmer, which was a cheap shot to fans and in fact false advertising. Kilmer is in it, for maybe ten minutes, and is very good, but the story isn’t his. It’s also supernatural, but in a far more subtle, ambiguous and inaccessible way that the ADHD-ridden audiences over here just aren’t used to. In short, it’s very European, and they just seem to have a better handle on the intuition it takes to make an atmospheric chiller than anyone else, also seeming to be more connected with ghost lore and the spirit realm. The story concerns a priest named Father Owen (hollywood’s resident alien Vincent Gallo, playing it dead straight here). He has traveled to Moscow I hopes of finding his friend Professor Sergey (Rade Serbedzija), who has descended into ancient catacombs and endless tunnels below the surface of the city in hopes of finding a lost artifact hidden during wartime. He joins up with a group of guides and Moscow natives including the beautiful Lubya  (Oksana Akinshina) and a tracker named Yuri (Joaquim De Almeida) to traverse the underside of the city and find his friend. There are long, eerie scenes of Sergey wandering around the dimly lit labyrinth, pursuing his scholarly goal and talking to himself as strange shadows and far away whispers follow him around, gradually letting the viewer know that he’s not alone. Owen and his team rendezvous with Tolstoy (Joss Ackland) the elderly leader of a tribe of tunnel dwellers who won’t go below a certain level of the catacombs, who provides a map. Then they go deeper. Kilmer plays Andrey, a Russian dude who runs a gang that are in control of opening and closing a deep fissure gate that is said to lead to a hell like place. He’s relaxed, in both demeanor and the Russian accent, but he’s clearly having fun in one of his more character type roles. The catacombs have a haunted feel to them, and indeed there are ghosts, but not presented in the way you might think. The way the human characters see them is quite different from how they see themselves, and how the audience sees them, which is a nice touch. The story keeps itself mysterious, right up until it’s puzzling, creepy conclusion, buy I prefer that open ended, almost experimental style over desperate attempts to scare us. It’s atmospheric, strange, unique, thick with ideas and altogether a bit of brilliance. Definitely an aquire taste, though.