Tag Archives: Richard Jenkins

Niki Caro’s North Country

Charlize Theron can pretty much play any role when she sets her mind to it, and when it comes to embodying the collective injustice and abuse inflicted towards female mine workers in late 80’s Minnesota, she is heartbreaking. Of course many other brilliant actors work hard to bring Niki Caro’s North Country to life, but it’s Theron who gives it the wounded centre and makes us care, not just about the issues at had but her character as well.

She plays a semi fictional character named Josey Aimes, who is loosely based on a real life woman that launched a milestone lawsuit against the corporate mining giant. Josey has escaped her abusive husband and come home to seek refuge with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) while trying to provide for her two children. The highest paying wage in the region is at the mines but from the moment she joins up she’s faced with hostility, scorn and rampant sexual harassment from the vast male work force there, and the few other female employees fare the same, unless they keep their head low. Josey and her young coworker Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) have it the worst because they’re, shall we say, easiest on the eyes, while their childhood friend Glory (Frances McDormand) keeps up a tough exterior, but in truth they are all of them fed up. As their treatment gets worse, Josey does the unthinkable and launches a high profile lawsuit against Big Mining for mistreatment and neglect, causing a shit-storm of controversy for both herself and the entire town whose survival depends on that industry. Not only that, but the case dredges up painful events from her past that involve supervisor Jeremy Renner, whose special interest in tormenting her dates back to then and explains why he radiates with guilt.

This is a brave, difficult choice for a woman to make especially when it seems like everyone is against her, but Josey is determined and Theron makes her wounded, charismatic and captivating. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as the lawyer hired to represent her, an idealistic man who isn’t afraid to unleash some hell when delivering statements or interrogating a witness because he believes it will lead to change. Jenkins is always brilliant, the arc he carries out here goes from cynically intoning that his daughter must have cheated on her husband to illicit violence like that to later openly defending his her with his own violence in court when he finds out what she has gone through. The old pro handles it gracefully and I can’t remember if he was nominated for this but he should have been. McDormand is her usual salty self and is excellent, while Sean Bean, an actor who often plays gruff, alpha male badasses is laid back and sensitive as her introvert boyfriend. Watch for great work from Xander Berkeley, Rusty Schwimmer, Corey Stoll, Brad William Henke, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard and Chris Mulkey too.

Director Caro drew huge acclaim for her film Whale Rider a few years before, another story that dealt with a girl trying to find her place in the world and defying the men in her life. Once again this is a fantastic piece that shows her talent for filmmaking, never coming across as too much of a dramatization or too slack when it needs to cut deep. Theron is a force of nature and you can see the hurt, frustration and will to not back down burning in her eyes. This is a tough film to watch in many instances, but an extremely important one to sit through and the type that Hollywood doesn’t usually jump to green-light, at least back then anyways. Something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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The Farrelly’s There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary, and there’s also just something about The Farrelly Brothers, something about the way they make bad taste seem passable and almost classy, something about how they make incredibly silly shit come across as utterly hilarious. This is a film that would never get made these days, it would get hounded out of the office halfway through the pitch, which is deliciously ironic when you consider that one of these two screwball directors nabbed an Oscar this past year for a film that couldn’t be a farther cry from stuff like this. There’s so much to laugh at here you barely get breaks in between, and while any hope of actual pathos crumbles in the face of relentless comic rumpus time, it never lags or slows down either. Ben Stiller is Ted, hapless sap who tracks down his old high school sweetheart Mary (Cameron Diaz) because he just can’t let her go. Only problem is, half the rest of the state falls for her too including ultra sleazy private eye Healy (Matt Dillon is a force of nature here) and others that I dare not spoil here. The plot is essentially really creepy and peppered with all kinds of questionable shit, but the visual gags, situational humour and just plain slapstick madness somehow work so well. Not to mention the cameos, including Jeffrey Tambor as Healy’s cokehead pal, Richard Jenkins as a therapist who’s bored out of his mind, Keith David as Mary’s gregarious stepfather and standup comic Harland Williams as the man with the seven minute abs idea. You couldn’t make this shit up, but the Farrellys somehow did and it’s one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Stiller is an inherently pesky actor you’re never sure if you should like or just be mad at simply for existing, but it works for the role here. Dillon uses that pithy, laconic drawl to maximum effect and I don’t think you could dream up a sleazier character if you tried. Diaz is a ray of pure sunshine in anything and she reaches the closest thing you could call to actual ‘acting’ that anyone gets to here, bringing a good natured sweetness that goes a long way. Scrotums caught in zippers, a dog on fire, a horde of disabled folks played for laughs, semen used as hair gel, a hacked up corpse in a gym bag, these are the down n’ dirty things the Farrellys peddle in, and when it comes to them, it’s only the finest from this duo. Between this, Dumb & Dumber and Me, Myself & Irene you kind of get a holy trinity of there distilled comedic aesthetic, one that remains hilarious to this day.

-Nate Hill

Snow Falling On Cedars

Snow Falling On Cedars is an interesting one, but I can’t say I mean that in much of a good way. I’ve rarely seen a film that focuses so intently on atmosphere, incident and specific isolated scenes and kind of leaves it’s own overarching story in the dust, or rather snow. That’s okay if you’re making a mood piece or deliberately impressionist film that doesn’t need the lucidity of a clear narrative, but that this is not. Its one gorgeous looking film though, shot by Robert Richardson who really earns the Oscar nom, full of looming boreal scapes, whirling blizzards and rustic homesteads. Set in the Pacific Northwest during a particularly tumultuous pair of timelines in the 40’s and 50’s, it sees the plight of a small coastal fishing village when a mariner is found dead, entangled in nets near his own boat. The local Sheriff (Richard Jenkins) discovers this, prompting a trial in which an accused fellow fisherman (Rick Yune) is prosecuted by an annoying shark (James Rebhorn) and defended by a German American (Max Von Sydow). Now, the accused is also part of the Japanese community residing nearby, and it being sometime after WWII, it’s not a very great period of history to be Japanese in the States, casting a dark glow over the trial before it’s even begun. Ethan Hawke plays the reporter with whom the accused’s wife (Yûki Kudô) has a lasting and deep romantic involvement with. Sound complicated? It is, but really shouldn’t be. The film chooses to tell the story in a meandering, out of time nature and as such it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on at any given time. What’s more, the relation between Hawke and Kudô, although deeply touching and wonderfully acted by both, has little to do with the trial and murder mystery and as a result much of the story feels like a slog through snowbanks with no reward on the other side. Other actors make appearances, like Sam Shepherd as Hawke’s publisher father, James Cromwell as the trial’s overseeing judge, Celia Weston and her deplorable Scandinavian accent, Daniel Von Bargen, Anne Suzuki, Akira Takayama and others but they’re sort of swallowed up by the scattered hollowness of a story that should mean more, and should cut deeper based on the effort put into this production. And what a good looking film, I’ll give it that. Robert Richardson’s cinematography is breathtaking, somehow vast yet contained at the same time as we see life in the northwest unfold, attention to period detail immaculately kept up. The score by James Newton Howard is a swell of orchestral emotion and a strong point too. This film would have been so much more affecting if it spent more quality time on the central relationship between Hawke and Kudô, the latter of which gives the best performance. The matter of Japanese people being carted off to internment camps is handled realistically and gives us some of the film’s strongest scenes, these actors also steal the show with their obvious heartbreak and theft of dignity. But who really cares about the murder trial when there’s so much else going on in the big picture that’s more fascinating? So much time is spent in that dark courtroom discussing details of an event I had no stock in with the film as a whole, and if your narrative has that effect on even just one person, well.. that’s a problem. Perhaps the novel is different but I’m not really sure what they were going for here in the film, from both an editing and story focus standpoint. I left with an admiration for the technique used, the photography and atmosphere achieved is something to be proud of, as is the romantic angle. Everything else left me as cold as that falling snow.

-Nate Hill

Mike Nichol’s Wolf


Mike Nichol’s Wolf cleverly combines comedic character study, spoofs the high profile business scene and whips it together with a far more literal lycanthropic horror story than I’d ever imagined before I watched it. It’s neat that dry metaphor went full on genuinely real monster flick, while losing none of it’s smarts along the way. Jack Nicholson, that old devil, plays an aging publisher whose livelihood is threatened by the arrival of a roguish young upstart (James Spader laying down that smarm) with designs on his job. It doesn’t help that he’s worn out, weary and not as sharp as he once was. Cue a werewolf mauling, which fixes those things right quick and turns him into a new man, in more ways than one. He’s fiercely competitive, virile and on the ball, but he also has to keep his hairy secret, well, a secret. Christopher Plummer is great as his fiery tempered boss, whose daughter (slinky Michelle Pfeiffer) begins to have eyes for the old dog, and the supporting cast has well coloured turns from Kate Nelligan, Ron Rifkin, Om Puri, David Hyde Pierce, Eileen Atkins, David Schwimmer and Richard Jenkins as a wily detective who begins to sniff the rat. The Wolf effects by Rick Baker and team are refreshingly old school, practical prosthetics and nice and gooey too. It’s also a tongue in cheek examination of male potency and territorial behaviour, so what better avenues of exploration than instinctual canine interaction and the politics of the workplace? Cool stuff, neat genre blending, a wicked cast and cool horror elements. 

-Nate Hill

Me, Myself & Irene: A Review by Nate Hill 

Probably the most ridiculous outing the Farrelly brothers have ever taken us on, Me Myself & Irene cares not a whiff who it offends, how many eyes are rolled or how badly the scales of humour are tipped, or rather yanked, in the direction of extremely bad taste. With the exception of Stuck On You where they played it safe, every dirty little flick in their career is a testament to the utmost raunch in film, the very definition of lowbrow humour and never not flat out totally hilarious. Obesity, dates gone wrong, Amish people, conjoined twins, bowling, physical disability, they’ve tackled every scatalogical venture you could dream up. This time it’s mental illness, in a completely unapologetic depiction that will leave most people red faced, either from fuming or laughing their asses off. Jim Carrey plays Charlie, a meek little pussy who spends one day with his newlywed bride, before she’s whisked away by a black midget played by Tony Cox, who gets all the black midget roles, that little bastard. Charlie has a knack for never standing up for himself, and letting anyone walk all over him. He’s a Rhode Island State Trooper with no balls to back up his badge, and is pretty much the laughingstock of the town. All this bottles up and reaches a boiling point, resulting in a classic Carrey meltdown of rubbery expressions and spastic gutteral incantations. Emerging from the mess is Hank, Charlie’s abrasive, dysfunctional and borderline psychotic alter ego, a result of what the film imagines multiple personality disorder just must be like. Hank causes all hell, and the first time he shows up is the funniest bit in the film, an extended montage of hair raising antics that oddly seems to sum up the Farrely’s career. Charlie/Hank then get caught up in some intrigue involving beautiful Renee Zellweger, back when she was still Renee Zelweger. The scattershot story is just a playground for Carrey though, and this is some of the edgiest R rated mayhem he’s ever caused, guaranteed to arch the backs of some of the more, shall we say… *sensitive* folks we have to deal with running around these days. Charlie has three loudmouth black sons that were dumped in his lap, and they’ve now grown into profane geniuses who love their pops to bits, and it’s here the film finds its only bit of heart amidst the crass vulgarity. The baddies are the classic slimy Farrely cretins, a dirty cop played by Chris Cooper, and an unsavory golf club owner (Daniel Greene). Robert Forster makes a welcome appearance as Charlie’s Trooper boss, and keep a look out for Anthony Anderson, Cam ‘Sea Bass’ Neely, Richard Tyson, Lenny Clarke, and the always hilarious Richard Jenkins. Like I said, this is likely the lowest rung of the ladder in everyone’s career, but it’s a splendidly offensive, colorfully trashy piece of gross out bliss, and definitely the dirtiest of the Carrely team ups. Where else can you see Jim stare a five your old kid down and growl “What are you staring at, fucker?”

Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly: A Review by Nate Hill

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What can I really say about Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly. Well, my bosses named our site after it, and judging by our ongoing excellent taste in film (hehe), the namesake of our moniker should be a masterpiece. It is a masterpiece, a slow burning, truly clever crime yarn that slightly deconstructs the genre, sets it’s story at a pivitol time in American history, and has some of the most hard hitting, intimate scenes of violence I’ve seen on film. Dominik takes his sweet damn time getting to know these characters before any bloodshed occurs, and when it does, it’s a visceral affront to the senses, pulveruzing us with a very un-cinematic, realistic and entirely ugly vision of violence. Ray Liotta plays Markie, an illegal gambling official who once robbed one of his own games, subsequently boasting about it like a chump. When another of his outfits is knocked off by two scrappy losers (Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot Mcnairy) logic dictates that it must be him playing games again, and his superiors send a merry troupe of thugs to find him. The matter is overseen by Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) a slick, sophisticated killer who prefers to ‘kill them softly’, in other words, from a distance and with little pleading or fuss. He is employed by “” (an awesome Richard Jenkins), a businessman sort who isn’t above haggling for the price of a killer’s contract down to the very last dime. You see, the film is set during the 2008 financial crisis, and Dominik takes every opportunity he can to fill his frames with debris, dereliction and strife. Even in a world of criminals the blow to the economy is felt, and they too must adjust accordingly. Cogan brings in outsider Mickey (James Gandolfini), an aging wash up who spends more time swearing , boozing and whoring up a storm than he does getting any work done. Gandolfini ingeniously sends up his capable Tony Soprano character with this bizarro world rendition on the Italian hoodlum, a fat, lazy layabout with bitter shades of the threatening figure he must once of been. Before all this happens, though, we are treated to extended interludes spent with Mendelsohn and Mcnairy, and they both knock it out of the park with their shambling, sweaty, reprehensible presence. Mendelsohn is endlessly watchable, muttering his slovenly dialogue through a curtain of heroin and sleaze. Watch for a tiny, super random cameo from Sam Shepherd as a thug who hassles Liotta. There’s a beatdown sequence, and you’ll know when it comes, that pushes the limits to extremes. Every punch is felt like a meteor landing, leaving the victim and the viewer aghast. Dominik never throws gimmicks into his work here. Every scene is insistently unique, and the real hero is pacing. The film moves in fits, starts and eruptions with long flatlines in between, until our instinctual knowledge of a narrative truly is lost to the story, with no idea what will happen next. Genius.  

Sea Of Love: A Review by Nate Hill

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Sea Of Love is one of my favourite romantic thrillers of the 80’s. It’s perfectly structured, riveting the whole way through, and just as steamy as you’d imagine a pairing between Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin to be. It’s so well made that we don’t even notice pieces of the puzzle falling into place until the image they make is staring us right in the face and we sheepishly snap out of the sensual trance the film has laid upon us. It’s never too grisly, never sappy, but strikes every note in time with the rhythm of both its script and the acting style of the two leads. Pacino is Frank Keller, a police detective pursuing a killer who is choosing their victims based on personal ads placed in the newspaper. This provides a readily made paper trail for him to follow and hopefully find his man, but in the process he must stage a bunch of blind dates that are essentially theatrical stake outs, in attempt to lure his prey into the open. Pacino is always keen and sharp when playing detective roles, but only in this one does the romantic side of his life play just as important of a part as the thrill of the hunt and the crime dynamics, which makes the role unique in his career. Things get complicated when he gets involved in a torrid and unpredictable affair with Helen, a mysterious girl who replies to one of the adds and quickly becomes a prime suspect. Aided by another detective (John Goodman is fantastic as always) from a few precincts over, he tries to race against both time and the spiderweb of danger which is unseen yet slowly winches tighter on everyone involved, as the killer circles them all. Watch fpr suppoetin turns from Michael Rooker, William Hickeyn, Paul Calderon, Richard Jenkins, Larry Joshua, John Spencer and a cery young Samuel L. Jackson who is simply credited as ‘black guy”, which cracked me up. It’s got rocket fuel for pacing and I mean that as a compliment; It’s pure cinema from both a genre standpoint and in general. Fairly forgotten these days, but one of the very best to come out of its era.