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Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Gore Verbinski’s Rango is a wonder among animated films. Naturally the colourful, larger than life medium lends itself to the eyes, ears and hearts of children, which is the direction most of them take. But Rango presents a mature, raunchy, surreal, absurd spectacle rife with a mischievous buzz and peppered with laughs just bordering on the inappropriate, even though they’d go right over their heads anyway. This film broke the record for how many times my jaw hit the floor seeing what they could do with the visuals. It’s detailed, meticulous, gorgeously rendered and beautifully crafted, not to mention speckled with subtle references to other films, literary works and themes that Verbinski no doubt holds dear and uses to amplify the story nicely. Johnny Depp gives wit, endearing naivety and a sense of childlike wonder to his creation of Rango, a little lizard in the big desert, violently thrown from a car wreck into the greatest adventure of his life, and the archetypal heroes journey. He wanders through the baking Mojave desert into the town of Dirt, inhabited by sassy, loveable creatures modelled after all our favourite western characters and carefully constructed from the biological blueprint of wildlife in that area. He blunders his way into becoming the sheriff, and leads the whole town on a quest to locate their most sought after resource: Aqua. Verbinski directs with a snappy, take no prisoners sense of humour, throwing joke after joke after one liner after tongue in cheek nod at us, until we feel so bombarded with fantastic imagery, brilliant voice acting and just plain fun, that we more than feel like we’re getting our money’s worth. Each animal is beautifully designed, from the evil Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy having a ball with a mini gun tail and evil amber eyes), to Beans (a fellow lizard and love interest for our scaly hero), to the sleazy mayor (Ned Beatty, that old turtle), to a rampaging band of bank robbing moles led by a blind Harry Dean Stanton. The cast includes everyone from Timothy Olyphant to Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Abigail Breslin, Isla Fisher, Lew Temple, Ian Abercrombie, Gil Birmingham and Verbinski himself in multiple roles. There’s just so much going on here visually, from a dusty cameo by The Good, The Bad & The Ugly’s Man With No Name to eerie trees that wander the desert searching for water, a cameo from Hunter S. Thompson’s Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo themselves and don’t even get me started on the batshit crazy aerial chase scene set to a mariachi version of Ride Of The Valkyries. The film is so full of detail, beauty and ambitious artistry that it has taken me at least three viewings to feel like I’ve noticed every character, one liner and cheekily brilliant little touch. It’s that good. Among the whacky antics there’s a theme of owning up to ones identity, becoming responsible for people you save, and finishing the work or task you set out to do, lest you leave your legacy unwritten. A classic.

-Nate Hill

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Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is like being at a frat party where you slowly begin to realize that every other person there is an irredeemable asshole, but they’ve somehow strung you along with charm and charisma thus far. Like a nihilistic den of wolves where everyone involved is out to get each other, its quite simply one of the most hellbent, devil may care, narratively self destructive crime flicks out there. I admire that kind of reckless abandon in a huge budget Hollywood picture with a cast so full of pedigree it’s almost like The A list agencies just packed up all their talent in a clown car, drove it to South Boston and turned them loose on the neighbourhood. By now you know the fable: Two roughnecks, one a mobster (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the state police, the other a deep cover operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is posing as a crime figure. Both are are intrinsically connected to Boston’s most fearsome gangster Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance so balls to the wall one almost feels like his 89’ Joker ditched the makeup and left Gotham for Southie. He’s a calculating maniac who openly mocks the veteran sergeant (Martin Sheen) putting in every effort to take him down, and rules over his vicious soldiers (Ray Winstone is a homicidal bulldog and David O’ Hara gets all the best comic relief) like a medieval despot gone mad. At well over two hours, not a single scene feels rushed, drawn out or remotely dawdled, there’s a breathless tank of violent machismo and wicked deception that never runs out, as the artery slashing editing reminds you every time it cuts to a new scene before the soundtrack choice has made it past the intro. The supporting cast has work from the gorgeous Vera Farmiga as a sneaky cop shrink, Anthony Anderson, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and more. Mark Whalberg also shows up to do the bad cop routine in a role originally meant for Denis Leary, and as solid as he is I kind of wish old Denis took a crack at it because you can obviously see how perfect he would have been, and is the better actor. As much as Jack Nicholson eats up the spotlight and chews more scenery than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, my favourite performance of the film comes from Alec Baldwin as the head of the police tactical team. Spouting profanity like a fountain, slamming Budweiser as he swings his 9 iron and kicking the shit out of his employees, he’s a mean spirited, violently comical force of nature and I fucking love the guy. Scorsese has clearly set out to not deliver a heady message or lofty themes here as some do with crime epics; the characters all operate from the gut, use animal instinct and never pause to ponder or pontificate. The only message, if any, is the oft spouted ‘snitches get stitches’ as you can clearly see by the film’s final shot, also the only frame containing anything close to a metaphor. I admire a film like that, and certainly enjoyed the hell out of this one.

-Nate Hill

Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur

I’ve been singing the praises for Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur for years, but here’s the thing: you simply have to watch the extended director’s cut, it’s a different film entirely than the theatrical. Expanding both on complex moral quandary and lethal, bloody carnage, it allows ideas, expression and extreme violence to play out in a cut free of time and rating constraints, and as such is one of the best sword/battle flicks I’ve ever seen. The main buzz surrounding this one was how much of a departure it is from the usual Arthur lore we’re used to.. darker, grittier, more tied in with Ancient Rome and bereft of any lighthearted fantasy, it may as well be its own thing untethered of any Arthurian scope, because who can really say how it all went down back then anyways. Here Arthur is a restless, stormy Sarmatian knight played by a hot blooded Clive Owen, a fearless, jaded warrior who is steward to a rowdy troop of loyal swordsman forced by the empire to serve out fifteen years of service in exchange for freedom at the end of it all. Each of his troupe is played by a stellar actor, and each blessed with their own distinct, fully formed personality. Headstrong Bors (The always awesome Ray Winstone), dysfunctional Lancelot (Ioan Gryffud), lethal Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen, probably the coolest of the bunch), stalwart Galahad (Hugh Dancy), mischievous Gawain (Joel Edgerton) and strong, silent Dagonet (Ray Stevenson). They’re a wickedly diverse bunch of warriors, lovers, brothers and each has their own carefully carved out view on freedom, the Romans, life on the battlefield and ancestry, just a few of the themes explored deeply by the consistently surprising script. This film is notorious for its portrayal of Keira Knightley’s Guinevere, a bikini clad warrior whose appearance in the third act eclipses what is actually a really well written character, is unfairly panned based on a few brazen costume choices. Arthur and gang are up against a fearsome Saxon army led by Cerdic (stellar Stellan Skarsgard), a bloodthirsty maniac restlessly looking for his equal on the battlefield, which he finds in Arthur once they duke it out. Merlin is a tree dwelling mystic played by an unrecognizable Stephen Dillane, the round table in a dilapidated version of the glory found in books, and the knights resemble rough n’ tumble mercenaries more than the glowing reputation they’re given in classic lore. Sure, it’s a different take, but I for one really like the gritty, hellish aura surrounding the whole thing, it’s a brutal and risky departure from anything close to Disney and I applaud them for it. Better still is the way morality and philosophy are explored through the character’s actions, until we have a clear picture of Arthur as a realistic, hands on hero who isn’t afraid to get violent to prove points. The set pieces and swordplay are breathtaking, from a tense stand-off set on a deadly frozen lake to the final spectacular battle, each knight getting their chance to nail some superb fight choreography and draw gallons of blood. Hans Zimmer provides one of his most surging, palpitating thunderclap original scores, it’s up there with his best work and rides right next to the knights into battle with symphonic glory that just begs for a surround sound system to play on. I think this got so shit on because critics are usually only privy to the theatrical version right out of the gate, and first impressions cement reputation for years to come. Once again, the director’s cut is really the only way to go. It’s bolder, longer, more violent and sensual, and just tells the best version of the film’s story that it can.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast


Whenever someone asks me to provide the showcase example of the actor’s process done as close to perfection as one can get, I direct them towards one earthquake of a performance: Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. It takes a considerable amount of work to fully realize a character, bring them to life, make them seem genuine, lifelike and idiosyncratic so as to win over the viewer and elicit the modernized ‘putting down the iPhone to engage with full attention’ reaction’, but Kingsley’s rabid London hoodlum Don Logan is just that creation, and then some. He’s not even the lead character either, yet royally steals the film, which earned him an oscar nomination. The film itself couldn’t be more brilliant either, cooked up via a stinging, gorgeously verbose script by Louis Mellos and David Scinto, glossy wit from director Jonathan Glazer and actors who go the extra mile to give a fairly arch story some tangible depth. Ray Winstone, reliably superb, is Gal Dove, a boisterous ex criminal who has retired to sunniest Spain with his sexy wife (Amanda Redman) and best friend (Cavan Kendall). Retirement is tricky for someone with Gal’s past though, and soon his past barges through the front door in the form of Kingsley’s Logan, a terrifying bald beast of a man that would give any sensible person cause to immediately run and hide in the nearest cupboard. From the moment he shows up, heralded by bad dreams that plague Gal and a literal boulder that cascades down the hill into his villa pool uninvited (hello metaphor), things go from worse to hellish. Logan isn’t the type of man to take no for an answer, and is a complete and total nightmare to deal with even before Gal tries to shut him down. Logan wants him for a job in London, organized by shark of a mob boss Teddy Bass (Ian McShane, creepy as all hell), but Gal has no interest leaving the sunny shores and just wants the nutter out of his house. Any time Kingsley is on screen you can feel the tension crackle in the air. He’s the unvarnished hyena to Winstone’s aloof, relaxed teddy bear, a force to be reckoned with and feared. His use of profanity lands like a backhander from Dwayne Johnson, his body language is erratic enough to induce seizures and that cobra gaze could melt adamantium. He’s the penultimate antagonist and raises the stakes to the stratosphere, berating every person in sight and maintaining a cold, detached veneer that’s more than slightly disconcerting. Not to mention the fucker talks to himself in the mirror, which alone is cause for worry. While the story takes place in our world, there’s an off kilter, demonically surreal undertone that derails genre conventions. The artfully dirty, near poetic screenplay, stark visions of some sort of evil Chernobyl rabbit thing, lurid editing transitions, whatever it is it’s hard to pin down or describe, but you feel miles from your comfort zone and ever so slightly removed from our solar system while watching this odd, scary, compelling and uniquely peculiar piece of work. 

-Nate Hill

London Boulevard 


Pains me to say this, but London Boulevard is a whole lot of nothing. Like, a disgraceful amount of nothing when you step back and look at the talent involved. I read a review on IMDb saying that “every element of this film is so right, but how did it end up so wrong?”.. Sad to say, I couldn’t agree more. This is one unfocused, meandering, royal catastrophe. Where does the blame lay? Who can say, really.. I don’t want to lay it on the director, even though his only other feature, Mojave, was pretty dismal, but he’ll find his groove. The cast is capable and willing, none of them totally phoning it in. No, I feel like it’s the script, a botch job of a story consisting of scenes mired in a never-ending doldrum where nothing ever really goes anywhere and the characters get caught up in the purgatorial nonsense of it all. Colin Farrell is a tough guy who is hired to act as pseudo-bodyguard to a reclusive, neurotic film star (Keira Knightley), after which all sorts of freak occurrences and oddball Brit-bag characters get in the way. He’s got a wayward sister to protect (Anna Adriel), a volatile partner in petty crime (Ben Chaplin) a nosy DI on his trail (Eddie Marsan) and all these chess pieces converge upon the arrival of London’s most fearsome crime boss (Ray Winstone), who has a bag of bones to pick with Farrell for a number of different and equally muddled reasons. Winstone tries to pull him back into the game with vague homoerotic intimidation, Knightley wistfully wallows in depression with her druggie friend (David Thewlis, looking like he forgot to read the script) and hides from paparazzos, the story clumps along missing every beat and wasting a decent score as well as some stylish flourishes on events that no one seems to care about, least of all the audience. Perhaps that’s why Farrell scowls his way through the whole thing, and not in a smouldering, potent way either, more like a confused, begrudging participant in a pointless exercise. They really should have gotten their shit together a little more with a cast and budget like this, found a better script and given us something worth seeing. Instead we’re given the cinematic equivalent of a pocket of lint, promising on the outside before we look in, ripe with potential but filled with nothing remotely worthwhile once we look inside. Shame. 

-Nate Hill

44 Inch Chest: A Review by Nate Hill

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44 Inch Chest is packed full of bloated, preening masculinity, cold hard chauvinism and dense, wordy exchanges that seem pulled right off the stage, an intense bit of British pseudo-gangster quirk with two writers who seem intent on heightening every syllable to near surreal levels of style. The same scribes are responsible for the glorious verbal stew that can be found in Paul McGuigan’s brutal Gangster No. 1 as well as Sexy Beast, and while the level of viciousness here is left almost entirely to the spoken word alone, the elliptical sting of their script still hits home, and even ramps up a bit from those films. A mopey, consistently weepy Ray Winstone stars as boorish Colin Diamond, an gent whose wife (Joanne Whalley Kilmer) has been caught in an affair with a chiseled french pretty boy (Melvil Poupoud). He resorts to a melancholy, comatose state as his perceived manliness visibly circles the drain. His circle of friends arrives, each with their own flamboyant ideas for resolving the situation. Velvety Meredith (Ian McShane, cool as a cucumber) looks on in snooty amusement. Violent guttersnipe Mal (Stephen Dillane, replacing Tim Roth) has the brawn but neither the brains nor ambition to act. Archie (Tom Wilkinson) is the bewildered everyman. Old Man Peanut (a fire and brimstone John Hurt who devours the script like a lion feasting on a gazelle) is a bible thumping, crusty old pot of fury who suggests that wifey should be stoned to death for her indecency and betrayal. They spend the better part of the film pontificating like a babbling senate, whilst Winstone languishes in despair. One wonders what the point of it all is and where it’s going, until we arrive at an oddly satisfying third act that somehow negates almost everything we’ve seen before it. Strangely enough, though, it works, if only to give us something we’ve never quite seen before, pulling the rug of genre convention out from under us and giving us a piece that almost could resemble a spoof of other works, if it weren’t so damned straight faced and persistent in its execution. In any case, I could watch this group of actors assemble ikea furniture and it would still be transfixing. It’s just a room full of talent shooting the shit for most of the running time, and in a genre where one can scarcely here the performers talk over the gunfire and cheekily referential soundtrack a lot of the time, I’ll damn well take something a bit more paced, quiet and stately. Winstone smears over his usual seething anger with a morose depression would almost be endearing if it weren’t so pathetic. Wilkinson brings his usual studious nature. McShane is pure class in anything (even a few B movies I’m sure he’d love to forget) and he swaggers through this one like a regal peacock, getting some of the best lines to chew on. Dillane is detached and indifferently cruel, with seldom a word uttered, his lack of mannerism contrasted by the vibrant animosity of his three peers. Hurt is pure gold as the closest the film comes to caricature, just a vile old coot who belongs in the loony bin raving to the walls about awful things that happened ‘back in his day’. Different is the key word for this one, and one might be easily fooled by the poster and synopses into assuming this is a revenge flick populated by action and violence. Not so much. Although a lot of the time that is my cup of tea, it’s nice to get a welcome deviation once in a while, and this one is a real treat.