Tag Archives: Robert Knepper

Edward Zwick’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn’t the thunderclap thriller the first one was and considerably diminishes from a large scale epic feel to something more small, comforting and TV movie style, which is not say that’s a bad thing as I quite enjoyed it, I just wasn’t riveted and amped up like I was the first round. It’s interesting that director Edward Zwick stepped in as he’s usually accustomed to large scale, sweeping epics (Legends Of The Fall, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Glory) and instead went for something smaller here, but it works.

Tom Cruise’s nomadic badass Jack Reacher is still out there looking for people who cause trouble so he can cause it tenfold back upon them and as the film opens we see him take down nasty small town sheriff (Jason Douglas) turned human trafficker using only a payphone. That sets the tone for another raucous adventure that is decidedly not as ruthless or brutal as the first, but takes a more compassionate tone which is an interesting decision that I really liked as it allows us to see the softer side of this character. Jack has a liaison in the military called Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who feeds him intel and he’s taken a liking to her enough to ask her out, but when he arrives in Washington to do that he instead finds her smug superior officer (Holt McCallany) sat at her desk informing him that she’s been arrested under charges of espionage. This doesn’t quite sit well with Jack and after beating the shit out of him for answers, he launches a violent inquiry, tracks Major Turner down and helps her clear her name and vet out a conspiracy within the military.

This film works well because of that relationship between the two, and the terrific chemistry that Cruise and Cobie have. They serve as both romantic leads and partners in action and provide the story with a warmth that wasn’t there in the first, as the relationships there felt a bit cold and detached. There’s also a mysterious girl (Danika Yarosh) who may in fact be Jack’s daughter from a wife years back, and that adds a human side as well which was welcome. On the weaker side, the action set pieces aren’t as ingenious or as memorable as before, and the villains not as charismatic or well painted. It is hard to top Werner goddamn Herzog though so I feel their pain. McCallany is nasty enough as a classic bully and Robert Knepper sneers and snarls as an evil private security Colonel but he shows up so late in the game it’s hard for him to make a real impact. What does work works really well though, and Smulders is the best thing the film has going for it. She’s a true star that never mugs the camera but always feels sympathetic and engaging, not to mention gorgeous. Not the film the first was, but a fun time all the same.

-Nate Hill

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Florent-Emil Siri’s Hostage

Hostage isn’t just another Bruce Willis action movie. It is that, but a lot more and told in a unique, frightening way that evokes both horror films, impressionistic art and a European style of filmmaking. It’s frequently more intense than your usual Willis shoot em up too, the violence has a much more horrific impact and happens on a smaller, more intimate scale while the explosions take a backseat. Willis plays hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, a man who is haunted by a hair raising incident with a situation he failed to diffuse, as we see in a bleak, visceral prologue that lets us know exactly how grim and bereft of one liners the rest of the film will be. Relocated to small town California with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s own daughter with Demi Moore), he seeks the quiet life, but naturally trouble begins to follow him in a spiralling set of dark turns and unfortunate events that lead to the case of his career and the night from hell. On a routine B&E call, Talley discovers that three white trash punks have taken over the home of businessman Kevin Pollak and his two children. Two of them are twitchy petty thieves (Marshall Allman and the reliably intense Jonathan Tucker) and are just out for valuables, but the third (Ben Foster, scary as fucking shit) is a sociopathic monster capable of terrible things, and the situation escalates from there. Little does anyone know, Pollak is involved in something far more dangerous than any of this, and soon a shadowy covert boogeyman called The Watchmen (Kim Coates, managing to still be terrifying behind a ski mask the whole time) has kidnaped Talley’s family as brutal leverage. It’s an intricate web of danger, heroics and violence that erupts like a flash-bang grenade and hits hard. Willis has never been better, you can see the open wounds in his soul bared through his eyes, and feel the weight of the situation crushing him as he races to find a solution. Pollak’s mansion feels like a labyrinthine death trap as the world’s most elaborate security system descends on those inside and shuts them in. Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett are terrific as Pollak’s resourceful kids, dealing with Foster’s unpredictable psychopath as best they can. The mood here is dour, savage and dark, with Willis’s fallen saint of a cop anchoring it all, it’s really some his finest work. There’s an austere score by Alexandre Desplat that accents the action with thumping passages in great sweeping master shots, and spikes the scenes of claustrophobia inside the house with uncomfortable rhythms. Director Florent-Emil Siri plays with an unconventional, surprisingly artistic palette and makes what could have been another routine action film seems somehow special, in all the right ways. One of my top Willis flicks, both in terms of his work and the overall film.

-Nate Hill

Two Wolves, a snake eating its tail and a secret- A review of Twin Peaks: The Return by Nate Hill 


Twin Peaks: The Return has come full circle, and I mean that quite literally. Carefully, lovingly and maddeningly orchestrated by David Lynch, who has proven himself to be nothing short of a brilliant mad scientist of the cinematic arts, this is an endlessly deep, fiercely creative vision that refuses to compromise or meet anyone halfway, and it’s all the better for it. Showtime gave the man full and total control over every aspect, a decision they most likely didn’t fully understand at the time, but one which will have a beautiful ripple effect upon the landscape of serialized television and art itself in the decades to come, just as the original series did until now. 
  As the show unwinds in elliptical, rhythmic kaleidoscope fashion, it arrives at what can be called an ending only for the fact that there must be a last episode, but it’s not really an ending at all, there never was one in Twin Peaks, and likely never will be, a quality that has given it it’s vitality since day one. Many are having trouble accepting Lynch’s open ended, haunting finale, and that’s alright, considering human beings are simply wired to seek answers, and engineered to get frustrated, hostile even, when they aren’t provided. If one sits at a table with a jigsaw puzzle spread out, how would it be if the puzzle were quickly, neatly solved? The very quality that makes it a puzzle evaporates, the mystery gone, and one would simply lose interest, get up from the table and walk away. Now, if a handful of pieces are missing and never found, if the puzzle remains unsolved indefinitely, it feeds the observer with the fuel to pour thought, attention and care into continuously pondering how they might fit the pieces together, if ever at all. In short, the mystery lives on, and on. Lynch understands this, and it’s a wondrous gift to give fans, who no doubt will have Twin Peaks on the brain until the day they move on to the white lodge. It is quite literally the gift that keeps on giving. Like a snake eating it’s own tail, like the never ending, billowy curtains of the labyrinthine Red Room, like the portentous infinity symbol that the Philip Jeffries teapot warns Cooper with, this is a story that has ends, beginnings, middles, alternate timelines, repetition and, thanks to the intangible forces constantly at work, will never truly be at rest, at least not in any way that we can comprehend. 
  The themes which have fascinated Lynch his whole career are in full bloom here like never before, but one that takes centre stage after being deftly touched upon in the show and Fire Walk With Me is that of duality, light versus dark and the uneasy realization that the line between them isn’t as stark as we’d like it to be. Leland Palmer was always thought to be possessed by Bob, unbeknownst of his heinous atrocities, a babe in the very dark woods. Fire Walk With Me blew that comforting certainty right out of the water with some very dodgy scenes implicating Palmer himself, blurring the lines to show that although good and evil may indeed occupy opposite sides of the fence, they most certainly hop over and tread on each other’s lawn, a truth that has been shied away from in cinema quite often, but one which Lynch won’t let you tune out so easy. As we see a mullet adorned doppelgänger version of Cooper engage in a tirade of crime and violence across the states, the real Agent Cooper, or at least that part of his soul that’s trapped in the embryonic limbo of a pastel phantasmagoria Vegas, seems lost in a sea of characters we’ve never met before the Return. When it comes time for that inevitable showdown, it’s quick, and the surface level battle is skimmed over so Lynch can dive into a disorienting rabbit hole in which Cooper is stoic, uncharacteristically violent, a concentrated prism of all the qualities that were separate in the worlds that came before, his psyche in narrative nursery school until Lynch hurtles past that 430 mile marker into territories with ugly truths and revelations that are hard to swallow. Two wolves fight inside every one of us, one light and one dark, but they’re only two sides of the same coin, rival essences within a single beast, and although they run along side by side, tussle occasionally and appear to be separate entities, they’re one and the same when they look in each other’s eyes, as we see in the mirror, or when we come face to face with our doppelgänger against the backdrop of a shimmering red curtain. 
Twin Peaks has always been about secrets, from the very moment that Laura Palmer’s body washed up on those shores, wrapped in plastic (or did it?). Who killed her? That one secret lead to many, and as a story unfolds that’s scope vastly captures realms far beyond the sleepy little northwestern town it began in, we see a story at play that’s so much more, one that is very much filled with secrets, a motif we were warned about almost right off the bat. “She’s filled with secrets”, the Arm gleefully imparts to Cooper. That she is. The hollow screams of a shell shocked Sarah Palmer. The haunted, weary eyes of trailer park supervisor Carl (the beloved Harry Dean Stanton). Audrey Horne sharply awakening in the frightening unknown. Cooper and Laura being foiled yet again by the powers that be (those darn Chalfonts). An empty glass box that isn’t so empty. Coordinates that nestle between shrouded mountain glades. Heartbreakingly gorgeous melodies from the maestro Angelo Badalamenti. Pages from a secret diary that document horror, madness, joy, bravery, vulnerability and an odyssey through time, space, love, evil and of course good, the secrets that keep us coming back for more each time. Lynch has spun his magnum opus here, a tale where every piece is important, even the ones we may likely never find. A testament to the power of storytelling, a treatise on the mystery genre, everything I could have hoped for in a return to the town of coffee and cherry pie, and a full on bona-fide masterwork. See you in the trees, and whatever kingdoms lie beyond them in the glow of the red curtain, the purple seas, the hum of electricity in the dreams of a homecoming queen and a lone FBI Agent on a road trip to…

Xavier Gen’s Hitman 


How to put this: if none of the classic video games featuring Agent 47 were ever made, and Xavier Gen’s Hitman was a standalone film, it wouldn’t be a half bad little B-movie type actioner, with a few gnarly set pieces and a level of acceptable energy kept up throughout. As a film version of these beloved games, however, it just just crashes and burns. Here’s why: the games were very specific, stealthy and designed to be atmospheric, slow burning tactical missions carefully built upon each other like a precarious house of cards, each mission more complex, difficult and risky than the last. The film? A standard Hollywood-ized action narrative that blatantly ignores every structural piece and character quality of the games. When will they learn? What’s more is, the film would have been unique, something memorable, had they followed the blueprint which the games pioneered, but they always just insist on cheapening the formula with boring old movie tropes instead of revering an already charted course which made the source material popular enough to get a film version green-lit in the first place. Ironic. Anywho, this ones your standard globetrotting cheeseball outing, with a bald Timothy Olyphant doing his best yet coming nowhere close to being a solid 47, stuck in a mucky plot involving corrupt Eastern Europeans, double crossing fellow agents and pursued by a hyped up Dougray Scott as some Interpol bigwig and Robert Knepper as a shady Russian (dat accent tho) secret police dude. 47 is betrayed by his own organization and tossed to the dogs, forced to go rogue and, in the film’s most grave plotting misstep, saddled with babysitting duty to a Slavic damsel in distress (Olga Kurylenko). They seriously just gotta hurl a Bond babe into every flick that remotely resembles a 007 venture, don’t they, which is a major offence when you look at what a ruthlessly mythic, near inhuman creature 47 is in the games, and what a manipulatable chump he becomes when pinned under the yoke of this painfully silly script. The 46 I know would just as soon as bury a bullet in this chick’s head as let her tag along and become a liability, let alone start to develop (cringe) human emotions. Such are the dollar signs in the eyes of studio execs though, and any hope of a faithful adaptation suffers as a result. The few sequences that work, including a hotel escape and a subway car Mano á mano between 47 and his genetically altered fellow killers, just don’t feel remotely inspired by, or in the spirit of the video games. The film has a few muted notes of originality, but any action piece that feels the need to pilfer John Powell’s Bourne Identity score instead of hiring a composer to whip up something fresh just can’t be taken seriously. Big ol’ meh from me, think I’ll rent out a PS2 from the pawn shop and settle in with Hitman: Blood Money again, because this shit doesn’t cut it. 

-Nate Hill

Dean Koontz’s Phantoms 


Dean Koontz’s Phantoms is one of those that I was really stoked on for years and would recommend at the drop of a hat… until I got around to reading the book. Koontz’s novel is brilliantly paced nocturnal nightmare fuel, detailed, imaginative and specific in it’s thrills and chills. This film is a brisk, truncated version of that story, not only that but it takes severe liberties and deviates quite a bit from the tale, resulting in a film that bears little resemblance to the book. It’s good on it’s own, for sure, atmospheric and freaky on terms that don’t include the big picture, but when seated alongside the novel it pales like the large number of paralyzed corpses that pop up all over an eerie abandoned village somewhere in the Midwest. Two sisters (Joanna Going and Rose McGowan) drive into town expecting to visit kindly relatives, and find only death and desertion instead. They wander about, plagued by visions and radios that play spooky old timey music of their own accord, spine tingling in this context. The only townsfolk they find are starched cadavers, killed by some unseen force that watches, waits and refuses to be defined. It’s in this first act that the film is scariest, achieving impressive levels of dread through isolation and uncertainty. As soon as Sheriff Ben Affleck and his shitkicking deputies shows up, the effect dims a bit and degenerates into schlocky survivalist gimmicks, still entertaining yet not as effective as the opening. Things get downright silly when the FBI delegates a crusty old professor of cryptozoology or some such farfetched endeavour (a peppy Peter O’ Toole) to come on over to town, analyze the mystical menace and.. well that’s about it from him. Clandestine hazmat teams are dispatched, Body Snatchers/The Thing homages ooze all over the place and the film putts along in standard horror gear, never getting near to as good as it was in the first twenty minutes or so, let alone the quality of the book. Liev Schreiber is memorable as one of Affleck’s boys who goes a little nutty, Bo Hopkins and Robert Knepper score points in cameos as cheeky G-Men, and there’s work from Clifton Powell Nicky Katt. For what it is it ain’t bad, just expect to be a little deflated if you watch this first and then go check out the book, because there’s no kind comparison to make. 

-Nate Hill

Twin Peaks: on the eve of revival – a rambling write-up by Nate Hill


When I first discovered David Lynch’s Twin Peaks some ten years ago, I was hooked from that first lilting chord of the opening theme, a Pacific Northwest lullaby that dreamily pulled back a red curtain to reveal the mesmerizing realm of sawmills, Douglas firs, cherry pie, secrets, metaphysics, owls, murder mysteries, eccentricities, FBI Agents, roadside diners and so much more. There was nothing quite like it under the sun. Lynch had tapped into the intangible flavour in the ice cream parlour, an undefinable conduit to the subconscious, an emotional fever dream of haunting music, beautiful storytelling and vivid, compelling character arcs, and I knew from that moment on I’d be living in this world, in whatever capacity, for the rest of my life. Since then I’ve seen the entire run of seasons one and two at least thirty to forty times, and watched Fire Walk With Me, Lynch’s big screen masterpiece and companion song to the show, even more. Twin Peaks is the one thing I can revisit at any crux of the story, during any phase of my life, and it will always draw me right back in like the beckoning grove of sycamore trees who stand as sentinels to the great beyond lying just around the bend in the woods. There was just one problem with it all: the show was tragically cancelled on the penultimate beat, a cosmic cliffhanger that left fans reeling and plunged the legacy into exile for decades, a vacuum left in air that once housed a worldwide phenomenon, which is the only way to describe what season one did not just for television, but for the arts themselves, a thunderous ripple effect that has inspired generations of fan culture and adoration. To quote another film that finds its home in the trees, “If you ride like lightening, you’re going to crash like thunder”, which in a way is what happened to Twin Peaks. That lightening was captured in a bottle, which unfortunately shattered to shards via a combination of network interference and creative differences. Needless to say, the thought of a possible return to the show was beyond low on my list of things that could happen, right down there next to dinosaur cloning. Life finds a way though, and so apparently does Lynch. When it was announced that he had struck a deal with Showtime for an epic eighteen episode return to those Douglas firs, the internet nearly imploded upon itself. The golden age of television had just gone platinum, for Twin Peaks is the cornerstone of a generation of storytelling, a mile marker of stylistic structure and expression that gave life to countless other legacies in its wake. If any fragmented, incomplete tale deserves another day in court, it’s Peaks. For a while we sat on our hands and held our breath, the words ‘too good to be true’ ringing around in our heads. After a few hitches in the giddyup, however, and some three years of development later, we have arrived on the day that the new season premieres, and it still hasn’t set in for me. Eighteen brand new episodes. All written and directed by the man himself. A titanic sized cast of Twin Peaks residents both old and new, from every walk of Hollywood, genre town, music world and indie-ville. It definitely does seem to good to be true, and yet here we are, on the eve of a television paradigm shift. Any new fans who have hurriedly made their way through the original series run for the first time should pause for a moment and realize just how infinitely lucky we are to get this, how special this truly is, and will be for the entire summer. I feel as though this will be the second wave of Lynch’s magnum opus, a stroke of creative brilliance that has come full circle, and in just a few hours time those beloved chords will once again flow out from our television screens, as the journey continues onward to a destination whose coordinates Lynch guards like Pandora’s Box. Come what may, I will be tuned in to whatever the man and his team of actors, artists and musicians have in store for us. See you in the trees.

-Nate Hill

RIPD: A Review by Nate Hill 

I wanted to give RIPD chance, I really did. But it’s such a shameless ripoff of Men In Black that most of it just constituted one big eye roll from me. It’s not an outright knockoff, but it just uses the unmistakable blueprint of MIB and runs with it as if it were it’s own organic idea. The veteran wiseass, the young hotshot, the clandestine otherworldly law enforcement syndicate, googly, goopy special effects, it’s all there and just feels stale these days, but for a few saving graces. Jeff Bridges is an undeniable charmer as Roy, an undead wild west super cop who is tasked with retrieving runaway souls hiding out down on earth, and capturing them for return to the great beyond, here pictured as the penultimate vision of nightmarish beaurocracy that seems oddly derived from Beetlejuice (huh). When Boston cop Ryan Reynolds is betrayed and murdered by his corrupt scumbag of a partner (a skeezy Kevin Bacon) he’s recruited by Proctor (Mary Louise Parker, all business and loving it) to join Roy in bringing “deados” back upstairs. The two don’t get along, as newly paired cops in movies always behave, and the banter only really works from Bridges’s side. He’s a hoot as crotchety old Roy, while Reynolds plays it a bit too serious, especially in scenes with the wife he left behind (Stephanie Szostak). The film earns it’s one inspired subplot when we see the human avatars the pair use to move about the earthly plane: Bridges is a knockout blonde chick (Marissa Miller), and Reynolds an elderly Chinese man played by the seemingly immortal James Hong. If they spent more time on terrifically funny ideas with potential like that and less on special effects that look like something out of the Garbage Pail Kids, they might have been on to something worthwhile. But alas, most of the film is spent on a whirlwind of silly slapstick and big gross weird things that are in no way engaging. There’s a few slap dash deado hunts, including a brief turn from Robert Knepper as one that is lured out of hiding with Chinese food (what in the..), and a big sky vortex yawner of a finale where evil Bacon tries to wreak havoc on earth. Most of the time it’s just a snooze though, save for the few times the clouds part and we get something fresh, usually from either Bridges or those to damned hilarious avatars. Shame.