Tag Archives: Sandra Bullock

Irwin Winkler’s The Net

Anyone who has ever experienced identity theft will relate to Sandra Bullock’s desperate situation in The Net, one of those lynchpin 90’s thrillers that captures the dawning internet culture in ways both silly as well as frightening. I mean this is kind of an off the wall film but it’s an old favourite of mine and always works as perfect escapist entertainment. Plus Sandra Bullock just makes the perfect protagonist, she’s so down to earth, humble and sweet that I always find myself right there in the passenger seat, sympathetically along for the ride in whatever crazy scenario she finds herself in. Here she plays Angela Bennett, a garden variety computer programmer who unwittingly stumbles into a deep set conspiracy that’s not only out of her pay grade but way beyond her level of comprehension or ability to dodge. Soon whatever forces out there have noticed and scary shit starts to befall her: her credit cards decline, law enforcement is hijacked into believing she’s a fugitive, a mysterious operative (Jeremy Northam) first appears attractive and friendly before becoming despicable and malevolent and her life begins to spiral out of control. I further sympathize with Angela because she’s virtually alone and has no one to really turn to, no boyfriend, no obligatory supportive coworker, no kindly boss, even her mother (the great Diane Baker) suffers from Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes her. She’s sort of a loner anyways but in that characteristic she finds the necessary resilience, defence mechanisms and edge to fight back against the nefarious net that’s closing in around her. This gets ragged on a lot and sure you can write it off as just another creaky 90’s cyber-tech thriller but it’s Bullock who wins the day with sheer star power and believable work the whole way through. Love this one to bits.

-Nate Hill

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

Jan De Bont’s Speed

“Pop quiz, hotshot!!” Most action films are comprised of beats, wherein there are exciting sequences and then lulls in between to catch our breath and collect ourselves, but the beauty of Jan De Bont’s Speed is that as soon as the central premise is delivered to the narrative, pretty much every beat is action, the concept airtight in terms of any breathing room creeping in, and that’s one reason why I think it’s endured as a such a classic in the genre.

Dennis Hopper plays yet another wild eyed lunatic here, and it’s scary to think that his mad bomber Howard Payne was once a decorated LAPD officer. He’s now a very pissed off ex police officer who has gone psychotic and started blowing shit up all over the city, attracting the attention of daredevil super cop Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves). Howard gets elaborate when he decides to rig a city bus with a device that will blow it the fuck to bits of the driver slows down past fifty miles per hour, and from then on in the film barely stops to grab a coffee, take a piss or collect its thoughts. Howard masterminds the whole deal from a secret surveillance lab, Jack races to board the bus and defuse the bomb and intrepid civilian Annie (Sandra Bullock) takes over the wheel after the driver has a heart attack. Reeves and Hopper play off each other like flint and steel, it’s a hero villain smackdown for the ages between a rock steady officer of the law and a probably once great detective who has lost his mind but none of his wily nerve. Keanu and Sandra also have great romantic chemistry too but it’s underplayed and sort of seems natural, which isn’t always easy to pull off. Throw in Joe Morton, Beth Grant, Glenn Plummer, Alan Ruck, Hawthorne James, Richard Schiff, Veronica Cartwright and scene stealer Jeff Daniels as Keanu’s charismatic senior partner and you’ve got one hell of an ensemble.

This was one of the first R rated action cookouts I was allowed to see (hell, I think I even saw it before Die Hard) and it still blows my mind as much today as it did back then. The stunts and set pieces are all unbelievable and so kinetically explosive its a wonder that talented cinematographer Andrej Bartkowiak could keep his lenses following them. Everything with the bus on freeways and overpasses is extraordinary (that heart-stopping bridge gap!) but don’t even get me started on the balls out underground subway crash that blows the lid off any sound system it touches. A classic.

-Nate Hill

Ocean’s Eight

I had a lot of fun with Ocean’s 8. I mean it’s no Ocean’s 11 but that’s a hard plateau to breach. If anything though, the heist this time around is a little more fun, a bit more showy and humorous too, and every one of the girls headlining the all star blow out of a cast has a ball and does great. Some viewers bitch that it uses the same peppy split screen techniques and apes the laid back score and charm of Soderbergh, but hello people, this is in the same franchise and it stands to reason that it would feel like the others. Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, brother to George Clooney’s now deceased Danny, which is a shame because I would have loved to see a partner up flick. She’s no less the troublemaker, and the film follows the same beats of her being paroled and immediately planning an elaborate heist with many moving parts, all carried out by a crew of carefully picked, charismatic scoundrels, starting with Cate Blanchett’s Lou, a streetwise small time crook with sass and style. Instead of three giant Vegas casinos, the plan this time is to lift a priceless diamond necklace (actually it clocks in somewhere around the 150 million range) from the hilariously faux prestigious Met Gala. The piece will be worn on the neck of persnickety, ditzy mega star Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), which requires a pickpocket (Awkwafina), a hacker (Rihanna), a fence (Sarah Paulsen), a fashionista (Helena Bonham Carter), a forger (Mindy Kaling), a few well placed cameos and plenty of hair-brained schemes within schemes along the way. Director Gary Ross keeps the mood light, fast paced but never too silly, letting each actress have their priceless moments. Hathaway was my favourite as the clueless diva who is exasperated by anyone in her orbit, and Bonham Carter nails an adorable Irish accent and scene steals the whole way through. I’ve heard complaints about originality and that it’s just a retread with chicks, and the may be so but it’s such a winning, fun formula! Who wouldn’t want more? They could do one with a bunch of dogs taking on a heist next and if the charm was there I’d be on-board because as it is, this is the perfect recipe for intelligent escapism and I enjoyed this one a lot.

-Nate Hill

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity

There’s a select few theatre going experiences that are mile markers for me in the sense that they changed and expanded my realm of experience in the cinema. I remember seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity in 3D, AVX, iMax fuckin all the bells and whistles were present and accounted for. I walked into the theatre almost on a whim while my ex was at dance rehearsal and I had a few hours to kill downtown, the film had already been in theatres for about a month, I was aware of the buzz but the trailers weren’t doing it for me and it wasn’t high on my priority list. Well.. I’m glad I made that impulsive decision because not only is it now one of my favourite films, but the theatre experience, particularly alone and totally attentive to the immersive universe it created, is something I’ll treasure forever. Sandra Bullock gives a career best as mission specialist Ryan Stone, stranded in the heavens when chunks of a decimated satellite shred through the space station she’s fixing up, leaving her and veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney in a roguish portrait of cavalier stoicism) adrift among the stars. It’s an arresting nail biter of a sequence that leads to many more, all staged in breathless, unbelievably realistic fashion by Cuaron and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Bullock’s character is in a purgatorial womblike state up here, wounded by tragedy from years before and unable to fully continue on with her life without some kind of rebirth, which the unpredictable vacuum of space is more than willing to contribute to at every turn. Hair raising near misses and death defying escapes abound, with moments of tranquil, hypnotic pause to catch glimpses of the dazzling blue green globe below or communicate across millions of miles and a language barrier with an Inuit man over a rogue radio signal. This is all a lead up to what has to be one of the most stirring, adrenaline soaked descents to the planet’s surface ever filmed. Cuaron knows how to raise pulses and get you to invest in character so that when the time comes for Steven Price’s gorgeous cosmic battle cry of an original score to herald her journey home, attentions are riveted. It’s likely my favourite sequence ever shot in a film set in space, a triumphant display of resilience and poetic grandeur as she plunged through the embryonic atmosphere of our planet in a rickety little escape pod and hurtles towards the surface, angelic strains of music echoing all around her, surrounded by flaming meteors of detritus from the space station like fallen stars. I wish they’d bring this film back to theatres every couple years so we can relive the glory at its fullest potential. A masterpiece and miracle of an achievement from all involved.

-Nate Hill

The STUNTWOMAN: An Interview with Cheryl Wheeler by Kent Hill

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It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.

Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion

Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films as Back to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.

I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.

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28 Days


I’ve always had a thing for 28 Days. So often in Hollywood there are films that try tackle real issues, but not all of them feel like they’ve achieved anything, or even portrayed said issues in a realistic, compassionate way. This one shines a probing, nonjudgmental spotlight onto alcoholism, in all it’s subtleties and absurd truths, like few other films have. Many films portray alcoholism like a raging mania that turns you rabid and irrational, and while that certainly can be the case, I like how here they show what a semi-functioning addict looks like, as opposed to your atypical abusive archetype. It’s also just more pleasant fare too. Despite being a story about great struggle and personal woe, there’s lightheartedness to it that’s welcome in such stressful territory. Sandra Bullock, that luminous brunette, is pretty much instantly likeable in anything, a beautiful, effortless, natural born movie star, giving any film an instant advantage simply by having her headline. Here she plays Gwen, a NYC newspaper columnist who, along with her Brit boyfriend (Dominic West), has a fairly serious problem with the booze. After spectacularly ruining her poor sister’s (Elizabeth Perkins) and recklessly crashing a stolen limousine, the thin line between functionality and outright self destruction is crossed, and it becomes time to seek help. Court ordered into rehab, Gwen ships off to an upstate clinic to sleep off the hangover, but the real progress comes from first admitting she has a problem at all. Like any film about rehab, the facility is home to many quaint, quirky people for her to meet, bond and squabble with, fellow addicts on the road to whatever recovery means to them. Steve Buscemi underplays a sly turn as the program founder and lead social worker, Viggo Mortensen is sorta kinda a love interest, but also not really, in an ambiguously written supporting role, and there’s solid work from Alan Tudyuk, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Azura Skye and Margo Martindale too. Parallel to her treatment we see hazy flashbacks to Gwen being raised by her severely alcoholic mother (Diane Ladd), and get a glimpse of how the hectic, sprawling life of someone who drinks just seems like the mundane to them, internally until they decide to swallow that proverbial red pill, step outside the routine and examine their choices. It’s a great little film with an organic, realistic arc for Bullock that she inhabits with grace, humility and humour.

-Nate Hill