Tag Archives: Sean Penn

Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life

No other film simultaneously reaches as far as it can to the heavens and remains as grounded in inwardness as Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, an experience that isn’t so much a film as it is a meditative, open ended question, a quiet and gentle nudge that reminds to remember and revere how miraculous life is in the simple fact that it even exists. It also tries to discern what makes a life, from the individual to the human race to the very cosmos around us all, and isn’t something to be even approached in traditional critical analysis. Malick directs Jessica Chastain, Brad Pitt, Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan through a series of fly-on-the-wall vignettes in hazy, comforting 1950’s Americana. They are every white picket fence Midwest family. Pitt is firm, strict and fearless in raising his sons with the lessons given to him as a boy, Chastain is warm, compassionate and intuitive, two energies that visibly shape the boys into young men. Decades later, Sean Penn plays the older version of one of them, and ponders on his youthful years as he goes about adult life in an introspective trance. And.. that’s the film. In writing, anyways. What’s special about it can’t really be described, you just have to see and hear it, which is the same for all films, I suppose, but this one really immerses you in something deeply felt. Using emotionally affecting classical music and employing unbelievable visual camera work, Malick sets up time and place like no other filmmaker, making the streets, sun dappled backyards, tree lined laneways and beckoning house interiors come alive in a way that stirs up memories long buried for many who had childhoods just like this. On a grander scale, he also explores the universe in a mid-film sequence that had some walking out of theatres but is really an inspired bit, a time rift to rival the bone toss in Kubrick’s 2001. Malick’s aesthetic isn’t for everyone, you kind of either tune into it wholly or you’re left cold and adrift, but here he spins up something to be marvelled at, his own treatise on human life and the realms around it, both distant and close. A masterpiece, no review I write could properly impart my love for this one, it’s an important, vital film to be absorbed with focus and vulnerability, and thought upon deeply after.

-Nate Hill

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Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

There’s a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2 where Michael Madsen’s Budd lays down the sword rhetoric: “If you’re gonna compared a sword made by Hattori Hanzo, you compare it to every other sword ever made, that wasn’t made by Hattori Hanzo.” I’d like to augment that slightly in the case of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line and say, “If you’re gonna compare The Thin Red Line, you compare it to every other war movie ever made that *isn’t* The Thin Red Line.” That’s not to say its better than all the rest or on any kind of quality pedestal, it’s just simply unlike every other war film out there, and that differentiation makes it an incredibly special picture. Why, you ask? Because it takes a ponderous, meditative approach to a very hectic horrific period in history, and takes the time to explore the effects of conflict on both humanity and nature, as well as how all those forces go hand in hand. What other war film does that? Malick uses a poets eye and a lyricist’s approach to show the Guadalcanal siege, a horrific battle in which lives were lost on both sides and the countryside ravaged by the fires of war. To say that this film is an ensemble piece would be an understatement; practically all of Hollywood and their mother have parts in this, from the front and centre players right down to cameos and even a few appearances that never made it into the final cut (which I’m still bitter about). The two central performances come from Jim Caviesel and Sean Penn as Pvt. Welsh and Sgt. Witt. Welsh is a compassionate, thoughtful man who seems primally uncomfortable in a soldiers uniform, and shirks the materialistic horror and industrialist grind of war to seek something more esoteric, a reason for being amongst the horror. Witt is a hard, cold man who sees no spiritual light at the end of the tunnel and does his job with grim resolve, scarcely pausing to contemplate anything but the next plan of action. These two are archetypes, different forces that play in each of us and, variations of which, are how we deal with something as incomparable as a world war. Around them swirl an endless sea of famous faces and other characters doing the best they can in the chaos, or simply getting lost in it. Nick Nolte as a gloomy Colonel displays fire and brimstone externally, but his inner monologue (a constant with Malick) shows us a roiling torment. A captain under his command (Elias Koteas) has an emotional crisis and disobeys orders to send his men to their death when thunderously pressured by Nolte. Koteas vividly shows us the heartbreak and confusion of a man who is ready to break, and gives arguably the best performance of the film. Woody Harrelson accidentally blows a chunk of his ass off with a grenade, John Cusack climbs the military rank with his tactics, John Savage wanders around in a daze as a sadly shell shocked soldier, Ben Chaplin pines for his lost love (Miranda Otto) and the jaw dropping supporting cast includes (deep breath now) Jared Leto, Nick Stahl, Tim Blake Nelson, Thomas Jane, Dash Mihok, Michael Mcgrady, John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Mark Boone Jr, Don Harvey, Arie Verveen, Donal Logue, John Travolta and a brief George Clooney. There’s a whole bunch who were inexplicably cut from scenes too including Bill Pullman, Gary Oldman and Mickey Rourke. Rourke’s scene can be found, in pieces, on YouTube and it’s worth a search to see him play a haunted sniper. Hans Zimmer doles out musical genius as usual, with a mournfully angelic score that laments the process of war, particularly in scenes where Caviesel connects with the natives in the region, as well as a soul shattering ambush on the Japanese encampment that is not a sequence that ten year old Nate has been able to forget since I saw it and the hairs on my neck stood up. This is a diversion from most war films; Malick always has a dreamy filter over every story he weaves: exposition is scant, atmosphere matters above all else and the forces of music and visual direction almost always supersede dialogue, excepting inner thoughts from the characters. If you take that very specific yet loose and ethereal aesthetic and plug it into the machinations of a war picture, the result is as disturbing as it is breathtakingly beautiful, because you are seeing these events through a lens not usually brandished in the genre, and the consequences of war seem somehow more urgent and cataclysmic. Malick knows this, and keeps that tempo up for the entire near three hour runtime, giving us nothing short of a classic.

-Nate Hill

“Roadblocks won’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.” : Remembering The Wraith with Mike Marvin by Kent Hill

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The Wraith was like many a glorious find back in the day at my local video store. The cover had a holographic shimmer to it – a strange robot-like character standing in front of some bad-ass, customized car that looked as though it would be more comfortable zipping through the galaxy rather than flying at break-neck speeds along the long stretches and cactus-lined roads of Arizona.

Yes sir, that cover held the promise of sci-fi mysticism combined with heat-thumping vehicular action to rival the Road Warrior.

Oddly enough, Dr. George’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure was the template for Mike Marvin’s Cult Classic. When the man who started out making skiing films came to Hollywood and saw an opportunity to fuse High Plains Drifter with Mad Max 2, one would assume it was a concept any studio would be happy to throw their weight behind.

But, then as now, the movie business can be treacherous, and Marvin’s experiences making The Wraith were far from pleasant. As a matter a fact, they were a nightmare. Plagued by unscrupulous producers, a tragic death while filming – along with all the other perils of production – it is a wonder that this certified 80’s classic ever made to to the screen.

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Lucky for us, however, thanks must go, in no small part, to a string of wonderful performers, a dedicated crew and a talented director at the helm, The Wraith survives as a one of a kind mash-up of genres that has endured and is, for this film writer at least, yet to be equaled.

This interview was conducted before I was able to sample Mike’s great and candid commentary on the Region 1 DVD release of the film. And while some of what he relayed to me you will find on that release, the truly glorious thing that I experienced was to hear these insights, plus a couple that were not covered in that commentary track, first hand from this journeyman warhorse of a film-maker.

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So seek out the The Wraith, those of you who have not yet experienced it. Let this interview, hopefully tantalize your interest to learn more about this incredible film that really was both ahead of its time, a product of its time and most assuredly one of a kind…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Mike Marvin.

 

 

Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner

I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.

-Nate Hill

Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River


Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is one of the most gut wrenching, haunting, stressful experiences one can have watching a film, and I’m only talking about the first ten minutes so far. On a quiet 70’s era Boston afternoon, three young boys play street hockey near their homes. After writing their names in freshly lain concrete sidewalk, a sinister ‘police detective’ (John Dolan, who I can never ever see as anyone but this character, he’s that affecting) hassles them and tries to lure the youngsters away. Two of them are wise to his game and escape. The third does not. This crime spurs a ripple effect into the future for these boys, as we see them grow up into very different and equally troubled men. Jimmy (Sean Penn has never been better) is a small time hustler with anger issues, Sean (Kevin Bacon) a cop with his own demons and Dave (Tim Robbins), the boy who was successfully kidnapped and held all those years ago, is a fractured shell of a human whose damaged soul lashes against the whites of his eyes and prevents him from functioning normally. Malcontent comes full circle to find them once again when Jimmy’s young daughter (lovely Emmy Rossum) is found murdered, setting in motion one of the great tragedies you’ll find in cinema this century or last. Eastwood lets his actors quietly emote until the floodgates open and we see raw despair roil forth from three men who are broken in different ways, and how it affects everyone in their lives. Penn is tuned into something higher here, and I’ll not soon forget him arriving at the scene of his daughter’s murder. Robbins let’s the horror of buried trauma deep through the family man facade until we see the deformed psyche left beneath, while Bacon reigns it in for a performance no less memorable than the others. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney are excellent as Dave and Jimmy’s wives, while Laurence Fishburne provides the faintest ray of humour as Sean’s partner. This is as much a murder mystery as it is an intense interpersonal drama, but the whole story is ruled by emotion; that burning need for revenge from several angles, the hollow pit of loss left behind when someone dies, the psychological scar tissue that trails in the wake of abuse, everything slowly coming to light as the grim, doom laden narrative unfurls. Tom Stern’s camera probes inlets along the harbour, sprawling neighbourhoods and hidden barrooms, Brian Helgeland expertly adapts the novel from Dennis Lehane and Eastwood himself composes a beautiful lament of a score, while the actors turn in galvanizing work. One of the finest films of the last few decades and not one you’re ever likely to forget, once seen. 

-Nate Hill

Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace


Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace had the unfortunate luck of being released in 1990, the same year that also saw Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the third Godfather film. It’s hard to gain your footing when that kind of momentum is surging about, but this film is as good as the others, and deserves recognition or at least some kind of re-release. Set in the blistering inferno of Hell’s Kitchen, NYC, it’s a violent tale of Irish Mobsters, undercover cops, betrayal and murder, set to a smoky, mournful Ennio Morricone score that lingers in the air like smog. Sean Penn is Terry Noonan, a deep cover operative who returns to his childhood neighbourhood to reconnect with old friends, and dig up buried grudges. Ed Harris is Frankie Flannery, ruthless gangster and former ally, while Gary Oldman plays his hotheaded brother Jackie with a tank full of nitrous and the kind of unpredictable, dynamite fuse

potency one expects to see from a David Lynch character. The three of them are on a collision course set in the grimy streets of New York, bound by old loyalties yet destined to clash and draw new blood. Penn shares the screen with his once wife Robin Wright here, looking lovely as ever. There’s also supporting turns from John Turturro, John C. Reilly, R.D. Call, a geriatric Burgess Meredith and an unbilled cameo from James Russo. Penn, Harris and especially Oldman are like flint sparks, a trio that won’t be stopped and light up the screen for a spellbinding, visceral two hours until their eventual confrontation, hauntingly shot by cinematographer ” in the midst of a bustling St. Patrick’s Day parade. This one has been somewhat lost to the ages, like a number of other stellar crime dramas I can think of from the nineties. The cast, score and Joanou’s thoughtful direction make it an unforgettable piece of work. 

-Nate Hill

SEAN STONE: An Interview with Kent Hill

Many of us can only imagine what it must be like to grow up in a household where one or both of our parents are people of extraordinary ability. We can only muse further what it must be like if that said parent were internationally recognized in their chosen field of expertise.

On the other hand, when we are young, we don’t really question such things. They are the ‘norm’, the everyday, and our parents are simply Mum and Dad. They do what they do and we are none the wiser. Then of course we reach an age when that changes. We realize that there are differences, and our worlds shrink or growth according to the depth of that perception.

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So imagine growing up and one day the realization hits that your Dad is the acclaimed filmmaker Oliver Stone; on top of that you have essentially grown up in the movies your father has been making. Now you were unaware to the extent of just how different things at home where compared to other people. But, it’s just how things were, and it’s just how things were for Sean Stone.

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Being on the set was normal because making movies is what Dad did for a living. These famous actors were simply people that were helping Dad out. It all seems fine that is till, as Sean told me, the world opens up and your understanding of that which you have been exposed to becomes evident.

Being a lover of the work of Sean’s dad, I, like the rest of you, have seen him as a baby on the lap of Gordon Gekko, as a young Jim Morrison, as the brother of an eventual mass murderer and more. He is now, however, a storyteller in his own right. Beginning with the chronicling of the making of Alexander, Sean has emerged as a naturally talented filmmaker. He has continued exploring the documentary as well as genre filmmaking, and I eagerly anticipate his intended adaptation of his father’s book A Child’s Night Dream.

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It was a real treat to chat with him at the dawn of 2017 . . . ladies and gentlemen, I give you . . . Sean Stone.

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