Tag Archives: Reese Witherspoon

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Brittany Murphy Performances

Brittany Murphy had a look and a talent that jumped off the screen wherever she was seen. She made an apparent effort to pick edgier, more challenging roles in distinct, darker projects and as such her career is speckled with some truly interesting appearances. That’s not to say she didn’t know how to carry herself in the odd RomCom or straightforward drama, which she did here and there too. But it was that adaptable nature, that obvious magnetism and passion for unconventional films and frequently playing broken, troubled individuals that made her so magical onscreen. She left us far too soon but her work remains, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Tai in Amy Heckerling’s Clueless

A surprise 90’s sleeper hit, the trio of Murphy, Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone as three teenage girls coming of age is a charmer thanks to all their performances, hers being the standout.

9. Fay Forrester in Penny Marshall’s Riding In Cars With Boys

Everyone is dysfunctional in this off kilter, bittersweet drama showcasing a woman (Drew Barrymore), her family and everything that befalls them. Murphy is bubbly, sweet, neurotic and adorable as her friend Fay who struggles equally as hard and deals with it in hilarious ways, like belting out off key solos at a wedding.

8. Izzy in The Prophecy II

Right as Izzy and her boyfriend deliberately crash their car into a wall and commit suicide, Christopher Walken’s scheming Angel Gabriel shows up to grab her soul and help him out in a few endeavours. She gives the dark situation a comedic touch here, it’s a nice riff on ‘suicides become civil servants in the afterlife,’ plus she has terrific chemistry with Walken.

7. Daisy in James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

In a powerhouse female cast with people like Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and Clea Duvall, Brittany holds her own as an outcast of the group with a sad history of sexual abuse, bulimia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. She has a complex relationship with her father who mistreats her and a corrosive one with Jolie’s wild card Lisa that ultimately ends her arc in tragedy. Murphy handles it with maturity and a clear sense of character the whole way.

6. Jody Marken in Cherry Falls

The Scream franchise gets all the slasher spoof accolades but this underrated gem is well worth checking out. Set in a small Virginia town where a serial killer is targeting virgins, you can imagine how it goes. She plays the daughter of the local sheriff here (Michael Biehn) and gives a tough, magnetic turn in a very subversive piece of hysterical genre satire.

5. Veronica in Phoenix

A wayward Arizona teen who crosses paths with a corrupt vice cop (Ray Liotta), its an uncomfortable case of daddy issues run amok in a hot blooded desert film noir. Her mother (Anjelica Huston) knows reprehensible behaviour when she sees it, both on her daughter’s part and Liotta’s. She’s great in scenes with both these acting titans and demonstrated early on her natural talent and ability to control a scene almost effortlessly.

4. Rhonda in Matthew Bright’s Freeway

When Reese Witherspoon’s fearsome protagonist Vanessa finds herself in juvie lockup, Murphy’s Rhonda is her cellmate of sorts, and she’s quite something. Twitchy, off kilter and slightly disassociated, we kind of wanna know why she’s in there too, until we find out and regret it. This is probably the most distinct and oddball character work she has done, replacing her usual bubbly nature with a sly, ever so slightly menacing smirk and creepy mannerisms that bounce hilariously off of Witherspoon’s deadpan acidity.

3. Shellie in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

As saloon barmaid with questionable taste in men, Shellie can be forgiven for the simple fact that every single man *in* Sin City is questionable in nature. Embroiled in a sweaty love triangle between hard-ass Dwight (Clive Owen) and nasty corrupt cop Jackie (Benicio Del Toro), she gives her scenes a slinky, nervous yet in control quality and suits this world nicely.

2. Nikki in Jonas Åkerlund’s Spun

Spun is a delirious, heavily stylized and chaotically brilliant look at a day in the life of LA meth junkies, one of whom is Murphy’s Nikki. She’s dating a meth cook twice her age (Mickey Rourke) and can’t seem to figure out why her dog’s fur is green, so needless to say her life is somewhat in shambles. She finds the manic, buzzing energy here alongside a wicked awesome cast, giving Nikki a tragic edge that cuts deep past all the posturing and ditzy fanfare.

1. Elizabeth Burrows in Gary Fleder’s Don’t Say A Word

Psychologist Michael Douglas is called in to evaluate her character here, a highly disturbed teenager who hides behind a shellshocked, twisted facade and guards closely the reason for her damaged mind. Years before she witnessed her father die at the hands of a ruthless killer (Sean Bean) and knows that one day he’ll come back for her. Despite being younger than a good portion of her scene partners throughout her sadly short career she always found energy and potency alongside them and quite often stole scenes. Such is the case in her interplay with Douglas here, a harrowing set of mind games meant to smoke the truth out of her and constant ditch efforts on her part to avoid facing the past. Brilliant performance in a solid thriller.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Robert Benton’s Twilight

The title Twilight obviously brings up bad memories of a franchise we’d all like to forget, but before that abomination ever entered the fold, the moniker belonged to a laconic, brightly lit yet darkly intoned LA film noir starring Paul Newman as an aging Hollywood private investigator. He’s a guy who was was never famous himself but seemingly behind the scenes of stardom and scandal and making a career out of it until his golden years find him living on the lavish estate of a fading starlet (Susan Sarandon) and her husband (Gene Hackman), also an actor of former stature. He’s always been in love with her but is also Hackman’s good buddy and it makes for a love triangle that is never too tense or melodramatic, but just as uncomfortable as it needs to be. He sort of serves as their homefront security officer and sorta just spies on Sarandon languishing by the pool and you can tell that the three of them are just mournful ghosts of what they probably were decades ago, haunting their surroundings like echoes rather than living in them.

Things get heavy for them once again when Newman takes on a shady job that involves delivering blackmail money, a situation that quickly snowballs into deceit, old wounds torn open and, of course, murder most foul. Something nasty is going on that dates years back into the collective past of these three individuals and has come back to bite them all squarely on the ass, and although it might not be the most innovative mystery narrative and certainly aspects are predictable, it’s just so much fun watching these master actors play it out in sunny Hollywood enclaves. Speaking of old pros, James Garner has a nice supporting role as an ex cop pal of Newman’s who helps him out with intel and backup. Watch for early career work from Liev Schreiber, who now stars on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, another LA noir story that I’m almost positive drew inspiration from this film. A very young and very naked Reese Witherspoon also shows up briefly, as well as Stockard Channing, Margo Martindale, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Clarke, John Spencer, Clint Howard and M. Emmett Walsh. Newman is terrific here in one of his older dude roles, his blue eyes lend just a hint of optimism to the downbeat noir archetype. Hackman and Sarandon say a lot with little dialogue and plenty of body language, embodying damaged souls with grace and grizzle.

I recently heard a character in Amazon’s Goliath (yet another LA noir- can you tell I’ve cultivated a fixation on the sub genre?) say that murders in LA and Hollywood are especially tricky to solve because anybody could know anybody or be connected to anything. That gives ample freedom to intertwine characters and set up strange encounters or resolutions to plot, which is always fun and evident here too. It’s a slow, sunny burn of a crime flick that isn’t designed to be particularly flashy or lurid, but unfolds at its own pace alongside Newman & Co. Good stuff.

-Nate Hill

The Man In The Moon

The Man In The Moon is a hauntingly opaque title for a film; it could be a literal sci fi, decidedly cartoonish or something more vague. In this case it’s a sad, enlightening and unusually mature coming of age story starring Reese Witherspoon as a girl teetering on the cusp of childlike whimsy and the tough life lessons that follow, introduced to romance, tragedy and the complexities of life as one gets older. The poster and description sounds something along the lines of My Girl, which is an astute enough film about the nasty curveballs that life throws us, but this one deliberately dodges any cliches we may see coming and mines life for the odd, unpredictable turns it takes that you don’t often find woven into narratives. Witherspoon has never been better than she was in her first few key roles as a young actress, this being a lynchpin. She plays Dani, a fourteen year old girl growing up in the south with her loving parents (Sam Waterson and Tess Harper) and beautiful older sister (Emily Warfield). She’s a forthright tomboy who loves playing in hidden glens and watering holes out in the backwater, and finds a kindred spirit in Court (Jason London), a teenage boy new to the region living with his mom and brothers. Sparks fly between the two and burgeoning emotions rose up in Dani with the fires of adolescence, until confusion and tragedy force her to reconcile them in ways that are difficult for a girl her age. The plot takes you by surprise and doesn’t him along idyllically like similar films, rather finding the bends in the road of life and emphasizing that things don’t go our way more often than they do. Witherspoon is magic in the role, balancing anger, first time heartbreak and grief incredibly carefully. She never over or underplays emotion either, and that goes for the rest of the cast too, who all coexist realistically, make the rural setting feel lived in and sculpt the relationships between one another in genuine, warm fashion. A gem that’s been sort of lost in the tides of time, but holds up wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

Matthew Bright’s Freeway


Matthew Bright’s Freeway is the most fucked up, disturbing take on the Little Red Riding Hood tale you’ll find, and the only time Reese Witherspoon totally cut loose, got down n’ dirty to truly give a performance straight from the gutter. You can’t spell gutter without gut, which is the primary place this film operates from, gag reflex and all, and the same goes for her wickedly funny firebrand of a performance. The filmmakers have taken every minuscule plot point from Riding Hood and deliberately thought up the most disgusting and deplorable ways to drag them through the mud, churning forth a film that is so sickeningly perverted that you can’t take your eyes or ears off it once, kind of like a fresh, glistening pile of roadkill on the interstate that induces retching, yet is compelling in a sense, even attractive in its ability to morbidly hold your attention by being something that’s outside the norm. Witherspoon is Vanessa Lutz, a trailer park baby who’s been dealt a rough hand in life on all fronts. Her kindly boyfriend (Bokeem Woodbine) is tied up in dat gang life, her mom (Amanda Plummer) is an unstable slut-bag and her stepdad (Michael T. Weiss) has a case of… wandering hands, shall we say. Vanessa picks up and leaves town to go visit her grandmother, but no sooner does she hit the road, she’s tossed from the frying pan right into the fire when she’s picked up by psychiatric counsellor Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland). Bob is your classic clean cut, mild mannered yuppie, save for the fact that he also happens to be a dangerous pedophiliac serial killer, and she’s now in his car. Vanessa is a force to be reckoned with though, as Bob soon finds out, and the two of them wage sleazy war all over the state, until one or both are either dead or incarcerated. It’s so much heinous mayhem and depravity that one reaches saturation point and just had to go with the grimy flow, either that or walk out of the theatre, but that’d make you a bitch. Witherspoon and Sutherland are having a howling good time, each sending up their hollywood image in the type of roles that John Waters or Wayne Kramer would think up some lonely night. Bob is the worst type of offender, and one has to laugh when he’s wheeled into court, facially deformed at the hands of Vanessa, and she proceeds to savagely berate him on his looks, dropping insults that you can hear whistling through the air, delivered like gunshots by Witherspoon, then only barely twenty years old, who has never been this good in any film since. Funnier still is Wolverton’s naive wife looking on in aghast horror as only Brooke Shields can do with that soap opera stare. Other talents include Dan Hedaya as a stoic Detective, Conchata Farrell, Tara Subkoff and Brittany Murphy as a creepy cell mate Vanessa meets while in holding. Anyone claiming to be a fan of Witherspoon who hasn’t seen this just needs to take the time and do so, she’s just the most foul mouthed, violent, adorably profane trashbag pixie you could ever imagine, especially when onscreen with Sutherland, who has never been more evil or intimidating. This is one fairy tale you wouldn’t show the kids, but it still stands as my favourite cinematic version of Riding Hood to this day. There’s a sequel out there somewhere too, but I can’t weigh in on it as I haven’t had the time so far to check it out. I doubt it reaches the heights of sordid delight achieved here though. 

-Nate Hill

Little Nicky


I’ve never been one to actively nab the Adam Sandler flicks off the rental shelf, but even he has made the occasional winner, one of the best being Little Nicky. For some reason it’s panned over other far worse ones he’s churned out of the gumball machine (ever re-watch Billy Madison? What the fuck were we/they thinking back then?), but when you part the curtains of Sandler Stigma™ and really just look at what the movie is in itself, it’s a hoot. What other film can boast Rodney Dangerfield playing Harvey Keitel’s dad in hell? That’s right, Keitel is the red beast himself, coming down off a ten thousand year unholy monarchy, with no plans to retire. This infuriates his two wicked sons, played by Tiny Lister (must have been a different devil-mom) and a slick Rhys Ifans. They depart the inferno and set up their own devilish franchise up in New York City, raising all kinds of hell, the most amusing of which is lowering the drinking age to ten (where were these guys when I was that age?) and forcing Regis Philbin to say naughty things on live primetime. Their younger, slightly retarded brother Nicky (Sandler) must pursue them on their haunts and trap them in a magic flask before it’s too late. Dumb concept, right? Sure it is, but try and tell me it’s not hilarious m, especially with the amount of inane visual gags and trippy production design these folks have dreamed up. Between Hitler dressed as a slutty maid getting a pineapple repeatedly rammed up his rectum to a giant gorilla massaging mammaries that have sprouted on a dude’s head like fleshy succulent pigtails, there’s no shortage of wtf moments. Sander picks an odd character mask as usual, sporting a metal-head swoosh of a haircut and lisping his way through his lines sounding like he had a stroke from watching Billy Madison dailies one too many times. Patricia Arquette is in it, as a sweet, shy girl he meets topside and the closest thing to a sane person you’ll find in this madhouse. Cameos abound, from usual Sandler cronies like Jon Lovitz, Rob Schneider, Kevin Nealon, Dana Carvey, Peter Dante and Allen Covert, to randoms like Michael McKean, Clint Howard, Laura Harring, Henry Winkler, Ozzy Osborne, Reese Witherspoon as Nicky’s angelic mom and Quentin Tarantino as a blind preacher. I don’t really know what else to say about the thing, because its it’s own thing and you either rock out with it, or you don’t. Visually it’s never boring, the script was conceived in the toilet and jumped straight to the gutter, the performances are all garishly obnoxious and the overall tone is that of an sixth grade birthday party gone rogue. 

-Nate Hill

SING by Ben Cahlamer

Voice.  No, it is not the sounds uttered from your vocal cavity; it’s the inner courage to stand up for yourself; to be better than the “you” you were before a journey started.  Finding your voice is ultimately the catalyst for change and is one of the many key lessons in Garth Jennings’ vivid animated hit, “Sing”.  Christophe Lourdelet co-directs.

As a kid, Buster (Matthew McConaughey) was introduced to the theater, and fell instantly in love.  Following his heart into adulthood, he owns the Moon Theater, but can’t put a show on to save his life.  With the help of his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a doubtful Suffolk sheep and his trusty green iguana assistant, Karen (Garth Jennings), Buster sets up a singing competition, drawing every animal with a dream to Sing, including an overworked, but inventive piglet, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a streetwise mouse, Mike (Seth McFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a young punk porcupine with big aspirations, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a mountain gorilla with a voice trying to find a path away from crime and Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage Indian elephant with a desire to sing.  Gunter (Nick Kroll) is Rosita’s effervescent dance partner; Norman (Nick Offerman) is Rosita’s workaholic husband.  Jennifer Hudson, Rhea Pearlman, Leslie Jones and Larraine Newman round out the supporting voice cast.

Jennings’ script tries to establish each of the supporting character’s emotional states by interweaving their backstories with Buster’s struggles.  Some of the character’s stories work, certainly Johnny’s and especially Meena’s.  Unfortunately, these side stories overwhelmed the emotional impact of Buster’s story.  The songs chosen for each supporting character allows them their moment to shine during the third act, supporting their underlying emotion.

Similar story challenges arose in the inferior “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions”.  Hopefully, this is not a continuing trend for Illumination, which has a stellar track record in the 3D animation department; a strength in “Sing”.

Illumination Mac Guff delivered the 3D animation in spades, showing a range of motion and emotion.  Complex dance sequences with facial expressions, right down to the quivering lips carrying a note, thanks to the masters of animation, the entire experience is vibrant.  The movie was converted for 3D theaters in post-production.  The 2D image was stunning; one can only imagine what it looked like in 3D.

“Sing” is all about the audio.  And not just the music, but the ambient sounds, the voices; all of it conveys a sense of exuberance.  Then there’s the music!  Joby Talbot’s original score is breathtaking in its own right.  From Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind” to Van Halen’s “Jump”, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Queen’s “Under Pressure” to an heartfelt rendition of “Hallelujah”, every song throughout the movie hit all the right notes in terms of finding your inner self

Despite a challenged script, “Song” ends on a high note and is Recommended.