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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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Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

“When I die

bury me deep

lay two speakers around my feet…

wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine 

Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine whips up a knowing, near meta grind-house schlocker that harvests names, ideas and actors from other well know horror classics and churns out a wonderful little pastiche that’s clearly in love with every project influencing it, as well as the genre. In a giant m, imposing corporate high rise, the collective minds of future tech enterprise brainstorm the next best thing, but all of the are bested by creepy, psychotic designer Jack Dante (Brad Dourif) an antisocial lunatic who has designed an appropriately razor-adorned monster equipped with cunning AI, primed to tear the building, and everyone in it, to shreds. This includes the looney board of directors who all bear names lovingly similar to that of various creative minds in the horror/sci-Fi industry. Scott Ridley (The always maniacal Richard Brake), Sam Raimi (The Machinist’s master of everything unsettling, John Sharian) John Carpenter (William Hootkins) and even a pair of characters called Weyland and Yutani, all references are here and they’re not subtle whatsoever, part of the film’s charm. Dourif’s moniker is no doubt based on Gremlin’s pioneer Joe Dante, and speaking of Brad, he’s a flat out beastly delight as he turns loose a mechanical nightmare of a creation for all to be sloppily slaughtered by at some point. Bureaucracy is lampooned between decapitations and corn syrup gore, the film is never short of dark humour to garnish it’s violent pandemonium. The film is displayed a lot like Alien, and the creature itself looks not unlike a bionic xenomorph with the ability to change into all sorts of elaborate shapes, all the better to hunt you down through the tight crawl spaces and narrow ducts that made up most of 1989’s cinematic architecture. Director Norrington would go on to make his own horror classic in 1998’s Blade, and here he earns his stripes as both a vetted disciple of the genre and a thrifty low budget wizard. Watch out for Rachel Weiss, of all people, as a random board member who’s seen briefly. A howlin’ good time. 

-Nate Hill

Legacy: Black Ops – A Review by Nate Hill 

Legacy: Black Ops is a good one. Like so many indie products, it has been marketed to look like an action flick for dvd, but the truth is something more akin to a psycho – political thriller. Clearly influenced by both the Bourne films and Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, it reins the intrigue in somewhat for an intimate, starkly paced look at one man who is on the brink of losing both his mind and memories in the wake of a special ops mission gone awry. Idris Elba gives a mini powerhouse as Malcolm Grey, a battle scarred veteran who has isolated himself in a drab motel room, ruminating on a calamitous outing with his fellow squad members to find and take out eastern European extremist Salenko (Julian Wadham). Whatever went wrong sent a chain reaction down the ranks and left them divided in years to come, but we are only treated to unreliable fragments of these events, reflected through the prism of Malcom’s broken mind. He receives visits from his squad mates, but are they really there, or yet another illusion dreamt up to avert his gaze from the truth? Character actor Richard Brake is O’Keefe, his longtime friend and second in command, providing sympathy and solid support during the mission we see unfold in hectic flashbacks. Adjacent to this plot is the political rise of Malcom’s brother Darnell (Eamonn Walker) riding the wave of an election that will put him in a seat of immense power, but one wonders how he’s connected to Malcolm and his past? How indeed. It’s confusing to say the least, but never trips over its own ambitions, sewing threads of concise cause and effect throughout it’s story, which is emotionally downbeat and melancholic in nature, a stylistic choice that really works in the film’s favour. If you’re willing to sit, absorb and meditate on a slow burner of a tale that feeds you pieces of the puzzle bit by bit, with almost zero action to be found, have at ‘er. I enjoyed it immensely. 

Rob Zombie’s 31: A Review by Nate Hill 

I couldn’t help but feel fairly underwhelmed and a bit let down by Rob Zombie’s 31, which is a reaction I never thought I’d have to a film from one of the most dedicated and talented artists working in the horror genre these days. 

Now I’m not saying saying I hated it or even really disliked the film, there’s actually a lot of incredibly creative visual material and good old fashioned practical effects to feast your fangoria loving eyes on, but the fact remains that Zombie has regressed to the primal state he opened up his first few films with. 

  There’s two phases of his work so far: a rip snortin’ hoo rah gross out redneck scumbucket pile of profanity and bottom feeding trailer trash human garbage, which is what we saw in The Devil’s Rejects, House Of 1000 Corpses and somewhat in Halloween. Then there’s quieter, more thoughtful and meditative Zombie, using an art house, Argento psychedelic slow burn template that he brought hints of to the table in the excellent Halloween II and then full force with The Lords Of Salem, which to me is his best film so far. Now I love the trailer trash aesthetic to bits. It’s mile zero, the genesis of his fascinating career so far, and his writing is detailed, character driven, lifelike and oh so hilarious. But there’s a natural progression to any filmmaker’s career, moods and states which ebb and flow into new regions of stylistic exploration, and 31 just feels like a detour down the wrong road. I expected the atmosphere we got with Salem to churn forward and be a leg on the table of whichever phase came next. But alas, he has done a willful throwback to his earlier work, and although solid (I believe he’s incapable of making a truly bad film, there’s just too much creative juice with him), it’s sadly the least memorable among even phase 1 of his work. 

 31 is essentially a variation on The Most Dangerous Game, with a dirty dustbowl setting thrown in. A group of potty mouthed carnies, including Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Philips and the ever present Sheri Moon Zombie, trundle through the desert, reveling in promiscuity and lewd behaviour, another trope that is getting old and icky, even on Rob’s barometer. Attacked and kidnapped one night by a band of scarecrows, they find themselves unwitting contestants in a vicious game called 31 (why is it called that? I still don’t know), on Halloween eve. The masterminds are a group of creepy aristocrats led by a plummy Judy Geeson and Malcolm McDowell, sporting a powdered wig, attire of french royalty and going by the name Father Murder. They release Moon and her peeps into a dismal maze and set a group of demented cackling psychopaths called the “heads” after them, dressed like clowns and seriously adjusted I’ll adjusted, these folks. Now you’d think that premise would be just a bucket of horror fun, and it’s nominally entertaining but just never really takes off into the desperate, visceral fight for survival I wanted to see. The clowns are varying degrees of scary and amusing. EG Daily fares well as whiny creepshow Sex Head, and there’s Sick Head, a chatty midget dressed up like Hitler who yowls at his prey in garbled Hispanic incantations. The film’s real energy shows up in the form of Richard Brake as Doom Head, a repellant maniac who is the only actual scary one of the bunch. Brake is a criminally underrated actor who I had the honour of interviewing some months ago, and when asked what the favorite role of his career is so far, he promptly said this. One can see why, it’s the most he’s ever been given to do in a film and he milks it with virile ferocity and animalistic sleaze that will leave you crying in the shower. McDowell and his cronies are here and there, but feel oddly disconnected from the events at hand, and while visually ravishing, ultimately aren’t given much to work with. I will say though that Zombie has a flair for the musical finale, and the end sequence set to ‘Dream On’ here is a blast that does indeed touch the epic heights of his older films. 

 And there you have it, kids. I wanted to rave about this one, I really did. But it use felt loose,

cobbled together and nowhere near as cohesive and brutally mesmerizing as his earlier work, all of which still hold up. There are elements here that work, but unfortunately just not enough, and framed by a whole lot of choices that feel copied and pasted. Now Zombie at his worst is still better than most in this sagging genre these days, but for those of you who know his work well and have expectations for the guy, you may just feel a little let down, like I did.

Doom: A Review by Nate Hill 

Despite not having a whole lot to do with the video games, Doom is still a rush of schlock and awe silliness, getting more fun and ridiculous in equal amounts near it’s nonsensical ending. Karl Urban and The Rock are the tough guys for the job when it comes to scoping out a Martian research base that’s accidentally opened up a portal to hell, unleashing all kinds of lovely things. Rock is Sarge, stoic commander of this unit, and Urban is John Grimm (he lives up to his last name) a battle scarred badass who has personal stake in fighting these monsters. His sister (Rosamund Pike) is a scientist on the base, and is now in a great deal of danger. After a neat Google Earth type zoom in on the Martian surface (ironically the only shot in the film that suggests they’re even on the red planet), it’s off to dank corridors, vast bunkers and beeping control panels, an Aliens-esgue siege on horrors of the dark that quickly goes sideways on them. It’s run of the mill stuff save for one stroke of brilliance: a pulse racing first person shooter sequence that showcases a POV of Urban shooting, slashing and chain-sawing his way through alien flesh. It’s a bold move that pays off immensely and is quite fun. The rest of their team is forgettable except for Richard Brake as Portman, the loudmouth A Hole of the bunch, a refreshingly animated performance in a roomful of muted, grim characters. The monster from the game shows up, a hulking hell pig nicknamed Pinky that tirades it’s way through everything until Urban gives it what for. This ain’t no great flick, but as far as video game movies go, you could do way worse. There’s definitely enough gore for the hounds, and it’s adequately stylish in presentation. 

Commanding the White Walkers, orphaning Bruce Wayne and more- A chat with actor Richard Brake: An interview by Nate Hill

  
Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Richard Brake! Richard has a legendary career, appearing as the fearsome Night’s King in Game Of Thrones, the murderous criminal Joe Chill in Batman Begins, and in countless films and shows including Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, Hannibal Rising, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and the upcoming 31, Doom, Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Water For Elephants, Death Machine, The Numbers Station, Ray Donovan, Peaky Blinders, and more. Please enjoy!
Nate: You were born in Wales. Are you purely of Welsh background, and when did you make your way to America? Was acting something you always wanted to do, or did it find you by happenstance? Did you attend any acting schools?
Richard: I’m Welsh through and through. My parents are Welsh and my grandfathers worked in the coal mines. But we moved to America when I was young. I grew up all over, mostly down south. But we came back to Britian a lot and lived there for a while when I was a teenager.  
I wanted to be a writer. I started writing stories when I was very young. When I was 17 I started writing plays, short plays, heavily influenced by Edward Albee. I went to a small high school in Ohio, and one evening I was sitting outside with my best friend when a girl came over and begged us to audition for the school Play. It seemed they didn’t have enough boys auditioning and it was a big cast. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. My friend and I sort of reluctantly agreed to audition and we got cast as the judges. After a few rehearsals I was hooked. I loved the collaborative nature of it all, rehearsing, playing, all of it. I actually loved that more than the performances. I remember walking back to my dormitory with my friend after one of the rehearsals and saying to him “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’ve been lucky to see that come true.  
I went to Duke University and studied English and Drama. I did a lot of theatre there, then studied in New York at the Michael Checkov Studio with an amazing actor Beatrice Straight. I knew I wasn’t very good, or at least as good as I wanted to be. So I went to England and Studied at a Mountview Drama school for three years. I was incredibly lucky that they had just hired a Russian teacher named Sam Kogan. He was a genius. An amazing teacher. 
Nate: You have a very distinct style and energy that lends itself to playing larger than life, comic book style characters. Did you mean to take this avenue, or did those types of roles just happen to find you because of your style? 
Richard: I think that just comes from the writing of those particular projects. It lends itself to a certain extreme expression. And I am willing to be extreme if it works for the piece.  
Nate: What does life look like for you besides acting? Hobbies, interests, family? What lines of work did you find yourself in before the industry?
 The usual, waiting tables, telephone sales, all kinds of jobs to make a few dollars. 
 I have two great kids, an ex wife I get on with, and a girlfriend. That keeps me busy!! If I get a chance I play a bit of guitar, badly. I also practice Ashtanga yoga. I’ve been doing that for a long time, almost daily. It keeps me sane in this insane business.  
Nate: I watched an interview with you once where you mentioned that having an active imagination is important in the craft. Would you care to elaborate on that? Does it stem from your training or is this a quality you’ve unearthed in your own exploration of the work?

Richard: Active imagination was a term coined by Sam Kogan. Before I studied with Sam, if I was working on a character, I often saw the character in my imagination as if he was in the third person. I’ll give an example of what I mean, that’s probably the best thing to do. Let’s say my character needs to find out where the money is hidden. He’s a bad guy, a drug dealer. He’s captured the person who knows and tied him to a chair and now he’s torturing him. It’s a lot of money and he wants it so he can quit drug dealing and live on a remote island with the woman he loves.  

 An actor needs to have an objective (Sam called them “purposes”) to motivate his action. That’s a pretty basic acting tenant. You hear that all the time as a young actor. “What’s your character’s objective. What does he want?” So in this case, I want the guy to tell me where the money is. In passive imagination I see my self in the third person standing over the guy as he blurts out the location of the money. In active imagination I see it all through my eyes, feel the temperature of the room, the smell of his sweat, ect. My character has a long term objective of being on the island, peacefully enjoying life with my girlfriend. So in passive imagination, I see myself sitting on a chair in the sun drinking a mai tai, while my girlfriend rubs suntan lotion on herself. It’s like watching a movie. It’s all in the third person. In active imagination, I can feel the chair under me, the heat of the sun, the smell of the lotion, the taste of the mai tai. I see it all through my eyes, rather than watching it outside of myself. It is far more effective to prepare for a role using active imagination than passive. Passive just causes bad acting, because it doesn’t really motivate. Active imagination motivates. It get’s those objectives into the actor’s being not just his head.  
Nate: Game Of Thrones: you made quite an impression as the Night’s King. How were you approached to play the role? How much of you was make up and how much was cgi? How was the battle of hardhome scene for you? Mainly cgi or a lot of practical?

Richard: I auditioned.  
Very little CGI. I was in the make up chair for close to 6 hours. Then a couple of hours to get it off. The contact lenses were massive, as big as you can put in a human eye. Torture. But worth it. I loved the episode and playing the character. I’m very proud of it. It’s an amazing show that has resonated with so many people.   
Unfortunately, I wasn’t available for Season 6. I had a long contractual commitment on The Bastard Executioner. I was very sad about that as I love the show and being a part of it.  
Nate: Another iconic, yet smaller role- Joe Chill, from Batman Begins. How was that experience for you?

Richard: Great. I loved working with Nolan. He is so assured. Great director. And I was a huge Batman fan as a kid, so it was a dream come true to play the guy who killed his parents. Hahahaha, that’s a pretty weird dream, come to think of it, but there you go.  
Nate: You mentioned before on Twitter that your favourite role you have done is Doom Head from Rob Zombie’s upcoming film 31. Why was that? And what can we expect from the film, and from your work in it?  

Richard: I saw the film at Sundance and it rocks! Rob Zombie is a genius. He’s so creative, generous, inspiring. I can’t say enough good things about him. He has this incredible ability to bring out the very best in everyone who works with him. It’s a real gift, and it shows on screen. I can’t wait for people to see it.  
Nate: A film I really enjoyed you in was Good Day For It, with Robert Patrick and Lance Henriksen. Was that an enjoyable experience?
Richard: We had fun. We shot it on a super low budget in the Poconos for 2 weeks or so. We all stayed in this off season ski lodge. All I remember is laughing all the time. Lance is a very funny guy.  
Nate: You appeared in Death Machine in a central role pretty early in your career, with it a lot of previous credits? How did were you cast in that?

Richard: As always, I auditioned. I think I was 27 years old. I was probably a little too young in truth to play the President of an Arms Corporation, but I got it. I was so thrilled to work with Brad Dourif. He’s so focused and very generous. I was young and nervous and he was very kind to me.  
Nate: Besides 31, are there any other projects you are excited for and would like to mention?

Richard: I’m in the new season of Peaky Blinders. It’s going to be the best season yet. It was one of the bests things I’ve read, and the director, Tim, did a great job. I think it comes out in early May. I’m filming Ray Donovan at the moment. It’s also incredibly well written, acted and directed. Two great shows to be a part of. I’m also hoping to shoot a film my friend Jeff Daniel Phillips wrote later this year. He stars in 31 too. It’s a psychological horror we would like to film in Wales. We are raising the money, etc now. I play a reclusive Goth Rocker from the 80’s. Things get pretty crazy and dark when a young woman comes to visit.  
Nate: Thank you so much for your time, Richard, it has been an honour!