Tag Archives: Salma Hayek

Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic

I feel like the one thing to take away from Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic is that the war on drugs isn’t working in any sense. That’s the short answer, but at nearly three hours runtime, Soderbergh isn’t interested in any kind of short answers, let alone clean cut, definitive or resolute ones that help anyone sleep at night. It’s a sprawling, complex international labyrinth of a film that scans every faction from the loftiest echelons of American politics to the poorest slums of Mexico, not necessarily looking for answers but digging up new questions and conundrums. In Washington, the president elects a straightforward family man (Michael Douglas) as the new drug czar and face of the crusade, except that his daughter (Erika Christensen) is knee-deep in hard drug addiction and heading down a dark path. Across the border, a Mexican cop (Benicio Del Toro, fantastic) tries to prevent corruption from eating away at his country and the soul of his partner. Back stateside, two undercover narcs (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle) prep a captured mid level smuggler (Miguel Ferrer stealing scenes like nobody’s business) to testify against the higher ups. The wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) of an imprisoned kingpin (Steven Bauer, sadly only glimpsed briefly) deals with her husband’s enemies while his slick dick lawyer (Dennis Quaid) eyes her up for the taking. A scary Mexican military General (Tomas Milian) fights drug running for his own mystery goal, and many other stories play out both in the US and Mexico. Soderbergh gets together a treasure chest of cameos and supporting talent that includes the likes of Clifton Collins Jr., Emilio Riveria, Topher Grace, Peter Riegart, James Brolin, Albert Finney, Marisol Padilla Sanchez, Viola Davis, John Slattery, Yul Vasquez, Jack Conley, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek and more. This isn’t a tunnel vision action flick or even your garden variety ensemble crime piece, there’s a distracted, fractured feel to the narrative that no doubt mirrors the very difficult nature of how this all works. Opinions and alliances shift, people die, others prosper and it all kind of seems for nought, except that almighty dollar. Del Toro and Douglas fare best in terms of bearing witness to it all; both are changed men by the time their final scenes roll around and the arcs come full circle. They anchor the vast network of people from respective sides of the border, showing the multilayered damage that such a problem, and the ‘war’ against it unleashes. Endlessly fascinating film.

-Nate Hill

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Kevin Smith’s Dogma

No one has ever skewered the Catholic Church quite like Kevin Smith did with Dogma, a wholly original, densely verbose, punishingly funny stage play of monologues, satirical jabs, cynical skits and cheeky lampoons that showcase the kind of idiosyncratic, acid tipped penmanship that only The Smith can bring us. It’s my favourite of his films, mainly because of how original the humour is, based in reality but blasted off into a stylized fantasy realm that gives a galaxy of perky acting talent room to pontificate and sink their teeth into immense passages of rich dialogue that are any actor’s dream. Also, it’s just such a unique, surreal experience in terms of casting and characterization; where else can you see beloved thespian Alan Rickman get his sillies out as the sarcastic Metatron, an asexual being who serves as the voice of god and the spiritual tour guide to adorable protagonist Linda Fiorentino (whatever happened to her?), who’s the chosen one in a holy not so holy crusade of angels, demons and religious figures all given the Royal Smith twist. There’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Loki and Bartleby, two hedonistic fallen angels who squabble at each other and rebel against heavenly management, causing quite the cosmic ruckus. Salma Hayek does a transfixing go-go dance to rival her slinky number in From Dusk Till Dawn as The Muse, a shapeshifter who helps them battle an excremental (that’s a demon made of poo, before you ask). It goes on with sterling work from everyone including Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Bud Cort, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and those two adorable slackers Jay & Silent Bob, who wouldn’t miss a Smith outing for the world. Oh, anyone who casts the already angelic Alanis Morisette as God should be given a hefty raise. It’s a tough film to summarize or even capture the spirit of with a written passage, as it defies description, shirks standards and makes no apologies. Anyone from the Clergy who took any offence clearly missed the point though, this is satire and lighthearted at that, with only a dash of the kind of jaded ill will a film like this could have had. This is Smith’s world, and the characters who populate it are larger than life yet still feel real, never boring and always have something to say, be it thoughtful rumination or effervescent silliness.

-Nate Hill

The Hitman’s Bodyguard 


It’s refreshing to see that the R rated action comedy thrives in Hollywood, especially when there’s entries as balls out entertaining as The Hitman’s Bodyguard. I’ve read reviews saying that it’s a one joke affair, and while the crux of it does rest upon the cantankerous relationship between profane, shoot-from-the-hip contract killer Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. ‘Mothafucka’ Jackson) and uptight punk private security expert Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), there’s plenty of enjoyable tomfoolery afoot as a sideshow to their circus of a jaunt across Europe. The pair are perfect actors for a buddy comedy, both overly colourful in their own work and boosting each other’s energy levels to the max when onscreen together. The serviceable writing is also given the shot of obvious improv between them, which helps a lot too. Reynold’s Bryce is reluctantly tasked with shadowing Kincaid and protecting him from endless hordes of goons and Interpol stormtroopers, out to get him before he testifies at the world court against the former Belorussian president, a tyrannical, pro genocide monster played by Gary ‘scary’ Oldman, who indeed gets a couple very frightening moments to chew scenery. Bryce’s former flame (Elodie Young) is an Interpol hotshot who he resents for maybe ruining his career, and Kincaid’s wife (a riotous Salma Hayek, spewing profanity faster than bullets) is in the clink to try and smoke him out. There’s welcome character actor Joaquim De Almeida as Interpol’s casually corrupt deputy director, and a coked out cameo from Richard E. Grant too, to round out the impressive cast. The action comes at you non stop, plus they’ve milked their R rating and then some, with countless headshots, impaling, explosions, bloodletting, car chases and one exhaustive fight scene set in a hardware store where Reynolds finds some gruesomely inventive uses for various power tools. There’s even a bit of poignancy among all the cavalier carnage, as we see a somber backstory for Jackson give a bit of weight to the character. His carefree reckless abandon causes delicious friction with Ryan’s buttoned up, flustered manner, and the two are flat out hilarious. ‘Get triggered’, boasts the poster slogan, and indeed this is a flick that couldn’t care who it offends or irks, free in it’s own hyper violent world of beautifully implausible, brutally excessive violence and set pieces, and it’s some of the most fun at the theatre this year so far. 

-Nate Hill

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado 

Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado is the original south of the border shoot em up bloodbath, bar none. I’m aware it’s a sequel/remake of Robert’s breakout debut El Mariachi, but the now legendary style and brutality he cultivated started to blossom here in the Mexican desert with scowling Antonio Banderas and his guitar case packed with heavy artillery. The aesthetic coalesced into something measurable here, whilst in Mariachi we only saw fits and starts. Here the tone is solidified and paves the way for the magnum opus that is Once Upon A Time In Mexico, my favourite Rodriguez flick. It all starts with the image of Banderas sauntering into a scumbucket cantina, full of sweaty machismo and smouldering angst, laying waste to the place with more phallic firepower than the entire wild Bunch. It’s a time capsule worthy sequence that demonstrates the pure viscerally intoxicating effect that the action film has on a viewer, when done as well as it is here. Narrated by wisecracking sidekick Buscemi (Steve Buscemi, naturally), Banderas positively perforates the place, fuelled by the internal furnace of revenge, shrouded in the acrid scent of gunpowder and awash in tequila delirium. As soon as this sequence blows past, the credits roll up and we’re treated to a Mariachi ballad sung by Antonio himself, belted out with his band to ring in this hell-beast of a movie. Together, those two scenes are some of the very, very best opening sequences you can find out there, timelessly re-watchable. The rest of the film pulls no punches either, as we see El leave a wanton gash of carnage in his wake across Mexico, on a vision quest of violence as he works his way up the ranks of organized crime, starting with slimy dive bar owner Cheech Marin. Quentin Tarantino has a spitfire cameo, rattling off a ridiculous joke before El steps into yet another bar and the shit (as well as the blood) hits the fan. His endgame target is crime boss Bucho, played with terrifying ferocity by Joaquim De Almeida. It’s hard to picture an angrier performance than Banderas’s before Almeida shows up, but this guy is a violent livewire who’s not above capping off his own henchman like ducks in a row, puffing on a giant cigar and casually blowing the smoke in his concubine’s face mid coitus. El has a love interest of his own too, in the form of ravishing, full bodied Carolina (Salma Hayek). Hayek is a babe of the highest order, and their steamy candle lit sex scene is one of the most full on ‘jizz your pants’ rolls in the hay that 90’s cinema has to offer. This is an action film to the bone though, and they’ve scarcely mopped up and caught their breath before he’s forced to dispatch another horde of Bucho’s degenerates in high style. One has to laugh a bit when a guitar case becomes a full on rocket launcher during the earth shattering finale, but such are the stylistic dreams of Rodriguez, a filmmaker who is never anything short of extreme in his work. As if the guns weren’t enough, Danny Trejo shows up as a mute assassin who like to hurl throwing knives at anything that moves, and it’s this Baby Groot version of his Machete character years later that comes the closest to punching El’s ticket. The stunt work is jaw dropping as well, a tactile ballet of broad movements, squib armies that light up the screen, accompanied by gallons of blood that follows the thunder clap of each gunshot wound like crimson lightning. It’s a perfect package for any lover of action, romance, action, darkest of humour, action, oh and action too. When discussing films that have held up in years or decades since release, this one is not only a notable mention, it’s a glowing example and a classic that has just aged gorgeously.

-Nate Hill

Four Rooms


Four Rooms is an anthology film of sorts, segmented into four episodes, two of which are pretty inspired as they just happened to be helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The other two outings… well, let’s just say they kind of bring the whole film down. As solid as Robert and Quentin’s efforts are, they’re two quarters of a whole that needs to be engaging all the time to work as a cohesive package, and sadly that’s not the case. These four tales all take place in one hectic and seedy L.A. hotel, in various rooms that showcase a host of troubled weirdos just trying to get through the night. This quartet of nocturnal misadventures is tied together by one central character, Ted The Bellhop (a peppy Tim Roth). In the first, which is also the weakest, a goofy coven of witches carry out some asinine ritual. This is a well casted bit as we see the likes of Madonna, Ioan Skye, Valeria Golino, Lilli Taylor and Alicia Witt, but the tone comes off as grade school level shenanigans and there’s many a cringe to be had. The second is an oddly placed noirish bit that finds Ted caught between an unhinged gun wielding whacko (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, David Proval is criminally underrated) and his femme fatale wife (Jennifer Beals). This one isn’t as awful as the first, yet feels a little off putting and claustrophobic. The third sees Robert Rodriguez step up to bat with ‘The Misbehavers’ a riotous black comedy concerning an upper class couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) who leave Ted in charge of their troublemaker kids for the night as they go out dancing. Anything can and does go wrong here, as the youngsters get into all kinds of shit including finding a half decomposed hooker (Patricia Vonne) stuffed in a mattress. Rodriguez shows comedic flair in fits and starts in the pulpy action side of his oeuvre, but here he’s purely having fun and the result is a sleazy hoot of a good time. The fourth and best is by Tarantino, and as such is mostly talking. But what talking it is; Ted stumbles into the penthouse suite which is home to a string out Hollywood film crew, and they’ve decided to place a dangerous bet that involves bodily dismemberment. Quentin is usually a fairly awful actor, but he’s not bad here as the motor mouthed ringleader of this insane posse, while Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei and a very stressed out Bruce Willis chime in as well. This segment is pure gold, with an abrupt, trademark Tarantino payoff that leaves you chuckling darkly. All kinds of folks have cameos, so watch for the recently disgraced, supremely ugly Kathy Griffin, Lawrence Bender, Salma Hayek and others. There’s always stronger and weaker entries in an anthology film, competition is par for the course. This one has quite the ups and downs though, and would have been far better off being just a Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, but oh well. 

-Nate Hill

Barry Sonnenfield’s Wild Wild West: A Review by Nate Hill

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I don’t get the hate for Barry Sonnenfield’s Wild Wild West. I just don’t.  It’s like I saw a completely different film than the entire rest of the continent. To my knowledge, there’s me and a couple other friends I know who love and cherish it, and the rest of the world has seemingly cast it out into the cold, inexplicably bashing it no end. Wtf. It’s a rollicking good time, full of a brilliant blend of situational and slapstick humour, lively characters from a great group of performers, incredible production design, and a dash of swash and buckle. It may not have much in common with the 1960’s era tv show its based on, but kudos to it for breaking new ground. Will Smith plays Marshall Jim West, a cocky (there’s literally a small window of freeze frame where you can see his ebony schlock in full glory. And don’t even ask me how I know that), ballsy (ok sorry I’ll stop) secret service cowboy badass who is working a case against some nasty villains who want to use president Ulysses S. Grant for diabolical ends. He’s led to old foe General ‘Bloodbath’ McGrath (Ted Levine in a show stopping, wickedly devious southern psycho role) a confederate lowlife who will hopefully lead him to whoever is kidnapping the nation’s best and brightest scientists for some Bond villain-ish scheme. West is joined by kooky inventor Artemis Gordon (a classy Kevin Kline) and the two embark on a shoot em up quest to thwart the evil plan of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a dastardly mega villain with plans for America that don’t involve presidents or laws or anything sane. The film is endlessly inventive, wildly funny and parades forth a reel of set pieces, each more amazing than the last until we realize we’re actually watching a fifty foot tall steam punk mechanical spider stomp all over the Utah desert (there’s a priceless story involving that and the film’s odd duck of a producer Jon Peters, which you can watch Kevin Smith regale an audience with over on YouTube). West and Gordon are joined by sultry Rita (Salma Hayek) a Femme Fatale with a hidden agenda who tags along under the guise of damsel in distress. It’s just plain fun and I still don’t get how anyone could dislike it. Witty barbs, raunchy double entendres and sarcastic banter permeate the wonderful script. Nifty gadgets, detailed costumes and clanking machinery speckle the epic production  design. An atmosphere of playful fun oversees all of it from beginning to end. Smith and Kline make a dysfunctional buddy duo for the ages, squabbling right up until the last frame. Branagh hams it up so far over the top as the bad guy that he nearly implodes on himself. Levine is deliciously creepy and crusty. Watch for other gem performances from Bai Ling, M. Emmett Walsh, Debra Christofferson, Sofia Eng, Rodney A. Grant and Musetta Vander. If you’ve seen it and already love it, good for you let’s go have a beer. If you’ve seen it and hate it, you’re a silly bum (to put it mildly). If you haven’t seen it, do so, form your own opinion and fall into one of the above two categories. It’s a classic for me.