Tag Archives: sissy spacek

Amazon’s Homecoming

Amazon Prime hits it out of the park yet again with Homecoming, a tightly structured, noir laced conspiracy thriller that’s so contemporary yet so unbelievably retro I couldn’t fathom how well they pulled off the mixture.

Julia Roberts gives her best performance in years as Heidi Bergman, a low level mental health worker who has been left in charge of the mysterious Homecoming facility, which on the outside is an integration program to help veterans with PTSD transition into civilian life. This is a privately funded deal though, and Heidi begins to suspect that the powers that be don’t have these guys’ best interests at heart, especially after observing the shady avoidance behaviour of her slippery boss Colin (Bobby Cannavle, also the best he’s been in some time). Years later, Heidi waitresses in a marina fish joint, the events and apparent scandal of Homecoming in her rearview, until a dogged Department Of Defence investigator (Shea Wigham, pretty much incapable of hitting a false note) tracks her down and asks questions, forcing her to look at the past in a new light.

This isn’t just your average spook thriller with Manchurian Candidate undertones, but it certainly achieves that as well. At the core is Heidi’s emotional relationship with Walter (Stephen James, a revelation), one of the vets she’s treating, and how that affects her perception of what’s going on around her, their dynamic is the constant and the catalyst for things to get out of hand. To say more would be to spoil an incredibly subtle, slow burn paranoia piece that unspools one thread at a time and is an utter delight to unpack as the viewer. Roberts is sensational, usually we get a character from her on feature film terms, for two or so hours and then the arc is capped, but there are ten half hour episodes here and she’s allowed to room to breathe in her work, drawing us in and earning sympathy beat by beat. Cannavle is a pithy portrait of corporate greed and casual apathy run amok, not necessarily a bad dude but certainly an amoral, selfish schmuck who realizes the consequences of his actions too little too late, it’s fantastic work from the him. Wigham is always brilliant and plays this guy in the guise of a robotic company man, but as the story progresses we see that he cares far more than his tucked shirt demeanour lets on. Other stellar work comes from Rafi Gavron, Jeremy Allen White, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sydney Tanmiia Poitier, Dermot Mulroney, Sissy Spacek and Hong Chau.

I was floored by the camera work here, the overhead angles, meticulous lighting, tracking shots and general symmetry in frame are so immersive and well done, this thing visually feels like noir to its roots while still being very of this era, thematically speaking. It also cleverly plays around with aspect ratio in order to put us in Heidi’s psychological state and accent the passage of time, a tactic I’ve never seen before but am now obsessed with.

It took me a bit to clue in that creator Sam Esmail literally lifted hordes of original score from classic 60’s, 70’s and 80’s horror thrillers and used them here, but by the time I heard cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing and The Fog I had an ‘aha’ moment and had to go look up just how many themes are sampled, and trust me there’s a lot. That could have been a lazy choice from a lesser production to just *entirely* recycle old music, but it’s used to such effect here and works splendidly for this story. This is brilliant stuff and I can’t think of a single criticism really. Stick around for a provocative post credits scene that pretty much begs for a second season.

-Nate Hill

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Niki Caro’s North Country

Charlize Theron can pretty much play any role when she sets her mind to it, and when it comes to embodying the collective injustice and abuse inflicted towards female mine workers in late 80’s Minnesota, she is heartbreaking. Of course many other brilliant actors work hard to bring Niki Caro’s North Country to life, but it’s Theron who gives it the wounded centre and makes us care, not just about the issues at had but her character as well.

She plays a semi fictional character named Josey Aimes, who is loosely based on a real life woman that launched a milestone lawsuit against the corporate mining giant. Josey has escaped her abusive husband and come home to seek refuge with her parents (Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins) while trying to provide for her two children. The highest paying wage in the region is at the mines but from the moment she joins up she’s faced with hostility, scorn and rampant sexual harassment from the vast male work force there, and the few other female employees fare the same, unless they keep their head low. Josey and her young coworker Sherry (Michelle Monaghan) have it the worst because they’re, shall we say, easiest on the eyes, while their childhood friend Glory (Frances McDormand) keeps up a tough exterior, but in truth they are all of them fed up. As their treatment gets worse, Josey does the unthinkable and launches a high profile lawsuit against Big Mining for mistreatment and neglect, causing a shit-storm of controversy for both herself and the entire town whose survival depends on that industry. Not only that, but the case dredges up painful events from her past that involve supervisor Jeremy Renner, whose special interest in tormenting her dates back to then and explains why he radiates with guilt.

This is a brave, difficult choice for a woman to make especially when it seems like everyone is against her, but Josey is determined and Theron makes her wounded, charismatic and captivating. Woody Harrelson does a fine job as the lawyer hired to represent her, an idealistic man who isn’t afraid to unleash some hell when delivering statements or interrogating a witness because he believes it will lead to change. Jenkins is always brilliant, the arc he carries out here goes from cynically intoning that his daughter must have cheated on her husband to illicit violence like that to later openly defending his her with his own violence in court when he finds out what she has gone through. The old pro handles it gracefully and I can’t remember if he was nominated for this but he should have been. McDormand is her usual salty self and is excellent, while Sean Bean, an actor who often plays gruff, alpha male badasses is laid back and sensitive as her introvert boyfriend. Watch for great work from Xander Berkeley, Rusty Schwimmer, Corey Stoll, Brad William Henke, Jillian Armenante, Amber Heard and Chris Mulkey too.

Director Caro drew huge acclaim for her film Whale Rider a few years before, another story that dealt with a girl trying to find her place in the world and defying the men in her life. Once again this is a fantastic piece that shows her talent for filmmaking, never coming across as too much of a dramatization or too slack when it needs to cut deep. Theron is a force of nature and you can see the hurt, frustration and will to not back down burning in her eyes. This is a tough film to watch in many instances, but an extremely important one to sit through and the type that Hollywood doesn’t usually jump to green-light, at least back then anyways. Something of a masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Oliver Stone’s JFK

I’m not so much for political films but Oliver Stone’s JFK is an engrossing, obsessive, feverish and altogether brilliant piece of clandestine intrigue and I loved every minute of its impossibly long runtime (the director’s cut runs well over three hours). It might be excessive to take such an indulgent amount of time for one story to play out but Stone is fixated on every single aspect and detail of his narrative, scrutinizing the dark corners of shadowy politics, leaving no stone unturned and the result is a film that draws you in so close that at times the effect is breathless, a surging momentum full of moving parts, characters and secrets all unfolding in a mammoth production.

Stone has taken the real life investigation of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, used it as a launching pad and blasted off into his own theories, queries and plot turns. Kevin Costner is excellent and uncharacteristically vulnerable as Garrison, an idealistic family man determined to shine a light on the truth until he realizes he and his firm are in over their heads. This thing has one of the most jaw dropping ensemble casts I’ve ever seen assembled, right down to supporting turns, cameos and walk-ons populated by recognizable faces. Costner and his team are the constant, a dogged troupe that includes varied folks like Laurie Metcalf, Wayne Knight, Jay O. Sanders, Gary Grubbs and the always awesome Michael Rooker. We spend the most time with them as they discuss theories at length, argue in roundtable fashion, interview witnesses and it all feels eerily as if every discovery they make leads to ten more even more unnerving ones. Others show up throughout the film and when I say this is a cast for the ages I’m not even kidding. Jack Lemmon does paranoia flawlessly as a nervous informant they visit, Gary Oldman is a super creepy Lee Harvey Oswald, Joe Pesci impossibly rambunctious as oddball David Ferrie, Tommy Lee Jones and his poodle wig are icky as a corrupt US Senator and that’s just the start, there’s great work from everyone under the sun including John Candy, Walter Matthau, Sissy Spacek, Vincent D’onofrio, Kevin Bacon, Martin Sheen, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Edward Asner, Frank Whaley, Brian Doyle Murray, Bob Gunton, Lolita Davidovich, John Larroquette and more. Donald Sutherland is pure showstopper as a mystery man who has an epic, sixteen minute long tinfoil hat monologue that is so well delivered and perfectly pitched that we don’t even really notice what a massive enema of exposition it is simply because he and Stone keep up the energy levels and, in turn, us riveted.

That’s the thing here, I went in expecting perhaps something intriguing but maybe a little dry in places or bits that might lag because it is, after all, a three plus hour film revolving around politics. This is Stone though, and the way he films it is taut and immersive the *entire* way through, which is just so fucking impressive. He plays rogue agent with the facts, using established suspicions to draw one wild conclusion after another until we aren’t sure if everyone we see onscreen perhaps had something to do with JFK’s death. That’s his goal here though, he seeks not to provide concrete answers (how could he) but instil the kind of creeping dread, mounting uncertainty and fear that I imagine gripped the nation for years following this event. Conflicting conspiracy theories, clues that lead to nothing, unexplained and admittedly suspicious witness deaths, it’s all here and it all makes for one damn good mystery film.

-Nate Hill

Nancy, it’s you!: An Interview with Nancy Allen by Kent Hill

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There are actors that portray a certain kind of character. They fit so perfectly within the story being told that they appear to have been designed for just such a purpose. These performers often run the risk of being typecast – only wanted to fulfill similar roles for the duration of their career. Then you have actors who bring such a spirit to their parts that we, the viewer, find it difficult to separate the character they play with the actor in person. It is a performance so electric and all-consuming that the role will be forever theirs. And, though the part may be played by other actors – should the film in question be part of an ongoing series – their turn becomes the standard-bearer and the one to top.

I personally can’t imagine Anne Lewis being played by anyone else except Nancy Allen. The depth she brings to what on the surface might appear a mere formulaic character, if you look closer, is in fact the catalyst for change. Thus RoboCop’s central character, Alex Murphy, is, following his brief initial encounter with Lewis, on a mission to rediscover his humanity. The result rendering this simple concept of a kind of futuristic revenge-Western type tale a classic in the process, with more dimensions than first meet the eye. But RoboCop, though iconic, doesn’t define the truly stellar talent that is personified by Nancy Allen.

She again plays these deep, soulful characters in two other of my favorite films: Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (opposite John Travolta) and Stewart Raffill’s The Philadelphia Experiment (opposite Michael Paré ). With her evergreen beauty, lustrous smile and endearing tenderness, Allen carries all the hallmarks of a phenomenal actor who has graced our screens, large and small, for decades now. Still, acting is not all Nancy applies her gifts to. She is a passionate advocate for the preservation of our environment as well as a soldier in our species’ battle against Cancer. We can do so much by merely setting an example for others to follow, and it is by this method Nancy serves these causes close to her heart.

As we live in an age where everything old is new again, the film in which she played a pivotal role, RoboCop, is in line again to be reworked by a fresh creative team. Nancy herself has gone on record saying you shouldn’t or can’t remake a classic – lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice? But if it does, it is the cinematic prayer of the faithful fans that if they are going to try, go all the way, and then they need to make us remember why we loved the original in the place. They need a touchstone, a standard-bearer. I don’t believe they’ll win hearts and minds without one. So with that in mind, I say finally to the movie gods – they need my guest. They need Nancy Allen.giphy My sincere thanks to Eva Rojano, without whom this would not be possible. Please do, all you Robo-Fans, jump on the bandwagon and sign the petition (https://www.change.org/p/mgm-studios-inc-we-want-nancy-allen-to-play-a-role-in-robocop-returns) to get Nancy back into the Robo-verse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deadfall

Deadfall is a dangerously sexy, offbeat snowbound thriller with a gorgeous cast, wintry photography and a hard boiled noir edge that feels almost mythical at times. Despite an ending that doesn’t come close to wrapping up its multifaceted, emotionally dense story (someone shit the bed in the editing room), I still love it, it’s wonderfully atmospheric, using character and story to transport you into the narrative, while violence and action comes second but with no less of an impact. Eric Bana gives one scary knockout performance as Addison, a charismatic sociopath on the run with his sultry, damaged goods sister (Olivia Wilde) following a casino robbery that ended in bloodshed and a statewide manhunt. After their car gets spectacularly destroyed, they’re forced through the wilderness to a small county and try to evade encroaching law enforcement. At the same time, a troubled ex-prizefighter (Charlie Hunnam) is en route to the same county to spend the holidays with his estranged parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson), and the paths of these ill fated characters inevitably collide in a blood soaked blizzard of cat and mouse games. Kate Mara is also fantastic as the daughter of an asshole local sheriff (Treat Williams) who thinks that women have no business carrying a badge. There’s a lot of plot threads and elements at play, most of which the film handles with adept fluidity, except for the very end where it seems like a scene or two is missing, I could have used a bit more resoluteness in Hunnam’s arc. The film overall is too good to nitpick, especially Eric Bana’s work, the dialogue written for him has a poetic, ponderous cadence. He really sinks into the role, casting a freaky, incestuous eye towards his sister and calmly, deliberately terrorizing anyone who gets in his way, including a mysterious First Nations man (Tom Jackson) who serves to represent the esoteric nature of the landscape clashing with the materialistic, hard edged criminal element trespassing on it, or at least that’s how I saw it. A near excellent film with more going on under the surface than the mounting blanket of snow suggests (I can’t resist the winter metaphors), plenty of thrills and conflict as well as a fine cast all doing great work.

-Nate Hill

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives is a fascinating one, if a bit too cluttered with spare vignettes for a feature film. It’s one of those mosaic pieces where we see a string of unrelated episodes about various people here and there in the midst of some life changing moments, and as is usually the case with these, it is absolutely star studded. There’s two formats for these, the one where everyone’s story is interwoven and the vignettes collide and weave (ie Paul Haggis’s Crash) and the linear template where each story is a standalone piece, with no blurred lines or cross crossing. This film falls into the latter category, and themes itself on nine different women in various instances of their lives, be it tragic, joyful, passionate, penultimate or simply everyday life. The issue is, nine of these stories is just too much for a film that runs under two hours. Or perhaps it’s not and what I meant to say was that nine stories that are this thoughtful, complex and important shouldn’t have shared the same compacted narrative, for its too much to keep up with from scene to scene. Anyways there’s quality to be found, some actors cast brilliantly against type and any flick that rounds up a cast of this pedigree deserves a high five. My favourite by far of the bunch is a two person scene between Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright Penn as two former lovers who meet in a supermarket after being apart for many years and try to reconcile their feelings. Both actors are tender, attentive to one another and it’s some of the most affecting work I’ve seen from either. A more lurid one involving Amy Brenneman and William Fichtner lands more with a questionable thud, both are great as well but their scene needed some backstory. My second favourite stars a young Amanda Seyfried as a girl who alternates speaking with her father (the excellent Ian McShane) and mother (Sissy Spacek) who are in different rooms of the house. It’s intimate family drama through a prism of casualty and works quite well. Other sequences, including one that sees Glenn Close on a picnic with her granddaughter (Dakota Fanning), aren’t as memorable or striking. But the cast alone is enough to stick along for the ride, and includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Mary Kay Place, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Stephen Dillane, Molly Parker, Aiden Quinn, Joe Montegna and more. A worthwhile watch for the handful of stories that have some weight, but falters here and there and could have axed some of the commotion of too many solo narratives buzzing about.

-Nate Hill

Blast From The Past

Blast From The Past is an apt title indeed, since not a lot of folks seem to remember this brilliant, high concept farce from the late 90’s that should be basking in notoriety to this day. It’s so forgotten these days it could almost be considered a cult classic, but either way it’s pure cinema bliss. In the early 60’s,

an eccentric scientist (Christopher Walken, because who else) builds himself a swanky underground bomb shelter for himself and his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacey) to hide in, should the missile crisis become a reality. They head down there during a false alarm, a plane crashes into their property confirming his fears and they pretty much stay hunkered in for over 30 years, raising their baby into a full grown man (Brendan Fraser, the life of the party). Then they head back up, or at least Fraser does anyway, to a bustling San Fernando valley in the midst of the late 90’s, which is a culture shock and a half for his sunny 50’s mindset and impossibly naive outlook. It’s a terrific concept that’s milked for a full on laugh riot as he makes his way around the city with not a clue how to interact or carry himself. Falling in love with a classic valley girl (Alicia Silverstone, excellent) in a sweet romantic subplot that soon becomes the backbone of the story, seeing the ocean for the first time, and a few hilarious cultural misunderstandings (“A negro!” He exclaims, having never seen variety in colour beyond his two parents) are just a few of the well written, thought out jokes and set pieces he rambles to and fro in. Fraser makes it a performance of physical comedy, deadpan cheekiness and puts genuine sweetness into an arc that some actors may have interpreted just slick shtick. Walken is his kooky self, while there’s work from Dave Foley, Bruce Slotnick and a jarring cameo from young Nathan Fillion. Filled to the brim with laughs, heart and the kind of humour birthed organically from story, it’s a gem.

-Nate Hill