Tag Archives: Scarlett Johansson

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs might be the guy’s best film so far, it’s miraculous on all levels. Now, I’m someone who previously wasn’t really an Anderson fan and had to warm up to his aesthetic as the movies came down the pipeline. With Life Aquatic and Tennenbaums I was left a little cold, a little meh. It took Moonrise Kingdom for me to be like “Ok.. this is pretty good,” by the time Grand Budapest rolled in I went “fuck yeah this is great,” and Dogs pretty much had me flipping over the moon. Much of the appreciation I have is for the breathtakingly detailed, tactile and textured stop motion animation technique employed here, a dazzling bag of tricks that brings a parallel dimension version of Japan to painstaking life, and fuels the story of one young boy (Koyu Rankin) looking for his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). The boy’s power mad Uncle (Kunichi Nomura) is the Mayor of Nagasaki Town, where dogs have been prohibited and banished to gargantuan Trash Island, where they live a savage, poverty ridden existence. The doggos here are voiced by an incredible cast of eclectic actors, which is par for the Anderson course. Bryan Cranston steals the show as Chief, a moody mongrel with violent tendencies who consciously contemplates why he is the way he is and has a beautiful arc. Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Anjelica Huston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton and more round out the rest of the puppers, each with their own distinct furry idiosyncrasies to offer. The message here is obvious and plays a bit too much into the state of current affairs when it should have been content to be a fictitious romp, but all is well. Anderson & Co. have also whipped up a supremely elaborate script that is as full of stimulating details of language and interactions as is the visual palette. This is a rollicking adventure, a tail of friendship, a deadpan screwball comedy, a satirical sideshow and a gorgeous work of visual art rolled into one unclassifiable piece of ingenuity.

-Nate Hill

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Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock

I feel like a lot of people were expecting a vast, loosely paced biopic from Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock, but what they really got was a tight, sardonic, laser focused and surprisingly emotional look at the relationship with his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), during the making of Psycho, and the monumental struggle it took in bringing the now iconic horror film to being. It’s about adjusting your expectations really, and keeping them in check, and you can enjoy what is one of the best films of that year. Meticulously casted with a galaxy of brilliant actors, royally mounted in terms of production design and costume (Oscar shamefully glossed over it in those categories) and written with brittle, whip-crack wit by John J. McLaughlin, it’s a treat for cinema lovers and Hitchcock junkies alike. Anthony Hopkins plays the old goat as a stubborn, eccentric, obtuse man, a filmmakers who is so fascinated by the universal revilement he’s met with upon pitching Psycho that he morbidly just has to see the production through, even if it means friction from all angles including Alma, the studio, the censorship board and everyone in between, not to mention mortgaging his snazzy mansion in the process. It’s an interesting look at one of the most important mile markers in the horror legacy, the dawn of the slasher film and Hollywood’s begrudging shift from camp to lurid exploits in the fright flick, which saw Alfred gleefully starting the snowball effect with Psycho. James D’arcy is uncannily perfect as Anthony ‘Norman Bates’ Perkins, Scarlett Johansson captures the virility and charisma of Janet Leigh magnetically, and Jessica Biel does great work as Vera Miles, looking almost unrecognizable. Hitchcock based the character of Norman Bates on famed serial killer Ed Gein, and as such the filmmakers have him appear to Hopkins in ghostly fashion, played grimly and excellently by character actor Michael Wincott, a supernatural stylistic flourish that some hated for its gimmickry but I found a neat, provocative touch. The cast gets deeper with work from Toni Collette, Danny Huston, Ralph Macchio, Richard Portnow, Michael Stuhlburg, Frank Collison and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith as a crusty chairman of the censorship board. Hopkins slithers expertly into the prosthetic makeup and opaque personality of the character, clearly having a mischievous blast and cutting loose from some of the more laconic roles he’s done, it’s one of his most engaging performances. Sure it’s not a grand old biopic of the guy, spanning years and leaping multiple story arcs, but I found the intimate focus on his marriage and Psycho to be deliberate, riveting and well deserving of any audience’s attention, especially for fans of that era of Hollywood. A winner.

-Nate Hill

Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin

People often say that Jonathan Glazer‘s Under The Skin is one of those films you’ll either love or hate, and while I understand the stark precautionary sentiment, I think there’s more shades of grey than a knee-jerk reaction towards either side of the fence. I loved what the film did with sound, atmosphere, imagery and expectations. I hated how it made me feel overall. Detached. Alienated. Confused. Uneasy. Cornered by otherworldly stimuli. For what it’s worth, that’s most likely the intention behind the whole thing, and I applaud the genius in achieving a goal of exquisite discomfort, but I doubt anyone could blame me when I say that it’s a film I’ll watch once, and only once. Glazer goes for less of a conventional narrative and more of a dread inducing screensaver aesthetic, moving glacially through a series of events that seem to be both cohesive and just out of reach, toying with audience perception for a mood piece that is the cinematic equivalent to a particularly intense bout of disassociation. Scarlett Johannesson is as scary and sexy as one could get, playing some type of alien creature on a quiet, merciless rampage in various areas of Scotland. Seducing, destroying and stockpiling the pilfered essences of several unfortunate dudes who wander into her proverbial spiderweb, she, or rather ‘it’, eventually experiences some kind of inner awakening and undergoes a paradigm shift clearly brought on by her ongoing affiliation with those strange and sneaky creatures called human beings. If I’m being vague, it’s on purpose; there’s no gift wrapped cliff-notes for this baby, it’s something that makes its imprint on you in a language too illusory to impart in words. I’m reminded of other science fiction films like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi or E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten in the sense that most of what we see, hear and feel is not pleasing to the senses at all. Many heady sci-fi films are engineered to elicit positive emotional response from an audience, via a cathartic score, engaging production design and very human stories. Films like this, and the aforementioned, go out of their way to come across as cold, uncomfortable and stranded in a mist of off-putting hysteria. It’s a bold move whenever it happens. In the case of this film, it’s to give us a sense of what it must be like for an alien being to be thrown in with our lot here on earth. From the shrill, rhythmically jagged score by Mica Levi, to Scarlett’s alluring menace, to the murky nocturnal photography to the half mumbled daze of near incoherent dialogue, it’s all there to move us several planes away from ‘normal’, and get under our skin (hey that’s the title). Does it work? One hundred percent, and kudos, as it’s as scarily disorienting as they come. Is it pleasant moviegoing? Miles from it, it’s a beast built to provoke a reaction, and if you don’t like what it bristles up in you, you won’t hastily rewatch it anytime soon. I know I won’t.

-Nate Hill

Making Epics and eating Subway with Patrick Stewart: An Interview with Shahin Sean Solimon by Kent Hill

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There is a filmmaker working in Hollywood right now, who is out to show the big boys that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make the movies you want to make. Shahin Sean Solimon is the man behind the movement. Together with his talented group of like-minded artists, he is forging new waves to achieve epic results without the big budget price tag.

“If I inspire some thirteen year old kid somewhere to pursue his or her dreams as I have, no matter what the nay-sayers say, I’ve done my job.”

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And getting the job done is exactly what Shahin has been doing.  Beginning with his first feature Djinn, Based on ancient middle eastern fairy tales written thousands of years ago, and passed down from generation to generation, Shahin crafted luscious, fantastical realms along with a pure and moving tale love and destiny.

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With his second film he took it to the next level, conjuring the days of high adventure and summoning cinema which brings to mind the heady days of Ray Harryhausen with: Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage. When the Sultan’s first born is taken by an evil sorcerer, Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a desert of magic and creatures to save her. Add into this the talents of Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who offered his distinct vocal styling as the films narrator. He also turns out to enjoy Subway, but you’ll have to listen for more on that.

Now, for the next big thing. In his third feature Alpha: The Awakening, Shahin is tackling the sci-fi and post-apocalyptic genres with one mighty stroke. It is the story of a man, Apollo, who wakes up in the future to realize the human race has been wiped out because of an ancient virus.

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There seems to be no end to his creativity or his ability to realize his visions. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with this talented filmmaker who is, without a doubt, taking the bull by the horns and making the movies he wants to make.

“My inspiration as an artist is not about money, or fame…but about trying to project imagination, show a different perspective of life, and simply entertain.”

And entertaining us is what he has done and will, I believe, continue to do.

“Are you watching closely?” A review of The Prestige – by Josh Hains 

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.”

– Cutter (Sir Michael Caine); The Prestige, 2006

I’ve always been enamored by magic since I was a young boy. I don’t know how to perform any tricks and haven’t read dozens of magic books, but I’ve seen enough magic performed to validate my love for it. I’ve always enjoyed trying to decipher how a trick is pulled off. Sometimes I’m right, sometime I’m wrong. That’s the name of the game. In the case of The Prestige, Christopher Nolan’s 2006 masterpiece, I’ve spent the last couple years on and off deciphering the movie as best I can. A part of me doesn’t mind the ambiguity, and doesn’t need to solve the puzzle. The other half just had to solve it. I believe I have the movie figured out better than most, but whether or not I finished the puzzle isn’t the point of the movie. The point is entertainment, and I think The Prestige is amongst the finest entertainment you’ll find in cinema.

Apprentice magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) work under Milton The Magician (Ricky Jay), frequently acting as fake volunteers for Milton in 1890’s Victorian London. Julia (Piper Perabo), Robert’s wife and an escape artist, drowns while trying to escape from a water tank with her hands bound when Alfred ties the necessary slipknot too tightly. She’s gone before stage engineer (or “ingenieur”) John Cutter (Sir Michael Caine) can break the glass with an ax. This tragic event sets into motion a bitter and violent years long rivalry, each man trying to one-up or sabotage the other.

During this time, Borden marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall), and together they have a child, their daughter Jess, while Angier launches his own magic career with Cutter and new assistant Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlet Johansson), and Borden perfects a new trick dubbed The Transported Man. The trick bewilders Angier, but Cutter is unimpressed, suggesting Borden uses a double to complete the trick. Angier finds that solution too obvious, and becomes obsessed with finding the answer at seemingly any cost. Through a series of unfortunate events, both Borden and Angier find themselves in possession of the other’s personal journals that hold the ins and outs of how each trick is performed. Borden’s journal leads Angier to Nikola Tesla and his assistant Mr. Alley (the late David Bowie, and Andy Serkis, respectively), in the hopes they hold the key to replicating Borden’s trick.

The Prestige reminds me of a Jenga tower. Remove the wrong piece and the entire thing comes crashing down, remove the right piece and it stands tall for a while longer. At any moment the film could derail if all the plot threads weren’t tied up nearly with a bow, and yet for me it never does derail. Remove the script from your mind for a moment. Are the performances great? At least 3 are Oscar worthy. And the cinematography, score, set design, and costuming, how are they? Immaculate as one might expect from Nolan and his trusted team. And the script, what do you think of it? Delightfully complex, thought provoking, and fresh. For me, there aren’t any cracks in the glass.

About that ending. The film gives you clues as to how the lives of both men will turn out. One is willing to kill a bird and present a new one to the audience in its place, the other willing to save the bird and re-present it to the audience. Bearing that in mind, the possibility exists that one of the two men acquired a machine capable of successfully duplicating a person, much like a pile of hats and black cats (“They’re all your hat.”). The first duplicate is killed, then every night for 100 nights straight, the man performs the “Real Transported Man”, constantly duplicating himself and either he or one of his duplicates winding up in a tank of water below the stage they perform upon. Perhaps the true prestige is that the other man pulled his trick off using a twin brother, while the other sacrificed his life and the lives of duplicates for the look on people’s faces when they witness his great trick.

Perhaps the solution is simpler, and the machine never worked to begin with, and Tesla was just a distraction from the real trick, the use of a double. And perhaps when that man found out he’d been tricked, he chose to use a double from prior engagements, a drunkard stage actor, to help pull off his great illusion, and no one ever drowned until the night his rival came up on his stage. Maybe a trick lock was always used beforehand and replaced with a real one to setup the rival. Maybe the duplicates seen in a morgue or standing erecting in water tanks at films end are nothing more than wax figures. And maybe the revelation that his rival used a double all along makes his efforts seem fruitless in his final moments. Maybe the prestige of the film is that simple yet no one wants to accept it because of the simplicity, and certain science fiction infused elements like a machine capable of duplication are far too compelling and obvious a solution to be ignored.

Maybe we’re not meant to solve the mystery, just be driven mad by our own obsessions with it. Maybe we’re all Angiers.

Lunch with the Equalizer: A Conversation with Richard Norton by Kent Hill

Richard was a young lad from Melbourne, Australia plagued by asthma who loved martial arts.

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As he grew in skill, he would eventually catch the eye of the legendary Chuck Norris, who extended an invitation to the young Norton to come and train with him. It was while working as a celebrity bodyguard that he finally found his way round to the home of Norris, and from there he was offered a part in The Octagon as the masked ninja, Kyo.

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This would be the first of more than sixty screen appearances for the action film star, stuntman, stunt/fight coordinator/choreographer and martial arts trainer. He has worked on fights for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, joined Suicide Squads, trained Scarlett Johansson  for the Manga turned motion picture Ghost in the Shell. He even braved the heat, dust and high-octane insanity on George Miller’s Fury Road.

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As a respected member of the martial arts community, Norton has remained close friends and has shared the screen with fellow industry luminaries such as Jackie Chan, Don “The Dragon”  Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.

When I spoke with him, Richard was on his way to train the X-Men for another big screen outing, so there is no sign that the humble 67 year old from Melbourne is slowing down.

Richard Norton is a man who remembers well his origins and what it took to climb the mountain of success, upon which he stands, victorious. It was really cool to chat with him. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

So, here he is folks, the ‘real’ action man . . .  Richard Norton.

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SING by Ben Cahlamer

Voice.  No, it is not the sounds uttered from your vocal cavity; it’s the inner courage to stand up for yourself; to be better than the “you” you were before a journey started.  Finding your voice is ultimately the catalyst for change and is one of the many key lessons in Garth Jennings’ vivid animated hit, “Sing”.  Christophe Lourdelet co-directs.

As a kid, Buster (Matthew McConaughey) was introduced to the theater, and fell instantly in love.  Following his heart into adulthood, he owns the Moon Theater, but can’t put a show on to save his life.  With the help of his friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), a doubtful Suffolk sheep and his trusty green iguana assistant, Karen (Garth Jennings), Buster sets up a singing competition, drawing every animal with a dream to Sing, including an overworked, but inventive piglet, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a streetwise mouse, Mike (Seth McFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a young punk porcupine with big aspirations, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a mountain gorilla with a voice trying to find a path away from crime and Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage Indian elephant with a desire to sing.  Gunter (Nick Kroll) is Rosita’s effervescent dance partner; Norman (Nick Offerman) is Rosita’s workaholic husband.  Jennifer Hudson, Rhea Pearlman, Leslie Jones and Larraine Newman round out the supporting voice cast.

Jennings’ script tries to establish each of the supporting character’s emotional states by interweaving their backstories with Buster’s struggles.  Some of the character’s stories work, certainly Johnny’s and especially Meena’s.  Unfortunately, these side stories overwhelmed the emotional impact of Buster’s story.  The songs chosen for each supporting character allows them their moment to shine during the third act, supporting their underlying emotion.

Similar story challenges arose in the inferior “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions”.  Hopefully, this is not a continuing trend for Illumination, which has a stellar track record in the 3D animation department; a strength in “Sing”.

Illumination Mac Guff delivered the 3D animation in spades, showing a range of motion and emotion.  Complex dance sequences with facial expressions, right down to the quivering lips carrying a note, thanks to the masters of animation, the entire experience is vibrant.  The movie was converted for 3D theaters in post-production.  The 2D image was stunning; one can only imagine what it looked like in 3D.

“Sing” is all about the audio.  And not just the music, but the ambient sounds, the voices; all of it conveys a sense of exuberance.  Then there’s the music!  Joby Talbot’s original score is breathtaking in its own right.  From Christopher Cross’s “Ride Like The Wind” to Van Halen’s “Jump”, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”, Queen’s “Under Pressure” to an heartfelt rendition of “Hallelujah”, every song throughout the movie hit all the right notes in terms of finding your inner self

Despite a challenged script, “Song” ends on a high note and is Recommended.