Tag Archives: stephen king

Vincenzo Natali’s In The Tall Grass

Stephen King adaptations are all across the board, especially these days, but Vincenzo Natali’s moody, atmospheric In The Tall Grass (a Netflix film) pleasantly surprised me and it further surprises me that it’s getting such negative reception. This is essentially a fairly simple premise whipped up into a complex spiderweb of narrative tricks and elliptical turns which could have overall put people off but there’s no denying that it grabs you with, sticks to and squarely lands its story with effective atmosphere, immersive storytelling and, for the most part anyways, solid performances.

Director Natali also directed the cult horror flick Cube, and one can see the similarities in setting when you consider this is set in a giant shifting maze of tall grass with an ever present, omnipotent malevolence brewing away within it. A brother and sister (Laysla De Oliveria & Avery Whitted) are driving through the states to San Diego when they hear a child’s voice calling for help from a vast field of tall grass lining a desolate highway. When they step inside to investigate and help… well that’s where the fun begins. This labyrinth of whispering vegetation traps them in confusion, moves them mysteriously around and becomes increasingly sinister. Things get especially weird when when they meet the father and husband (Patrick Wilson) of another family who strayed into this maze a while ago and are still wandering around wondering wtf is going on. Soon reality shifts, time begins to have no meaning or linear progression compared to events unfolding on the outside of the grass and everything seems to be controlled by a strange, hypnotic monolith at the heart of the maze with weird cave paintings all over it.

It’s a bizarre, whackadoo premise but also kind of right up my alley; I love horror films about people stuck in otherworldly places where the rules of physics, time and space don’t seem to matter. The performances range across the board and aren’t all up to par but Wilson steals the show as usual, doing a delicately hysterical balancing act of straight arrow affability and diabolical menace, he really sends it in every role. The atmosphere within the maze is overpowering and brought to life by an ethereal score from Mark Korven, kaleidoscopic framing/editing choices and a prevailing sense of disoriented, panicky hopelessness, while the story itself is one that can get pretty complex and seemingly incoherent but actually does work itself out step by step if you’re paying strict attention and letting everything wash over you. Definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Miguel Ferrer Performances

Miguel Ferrer was one of those instantly recognizable, charismatic, unconventional tough guys who could always brighten up a film, show or animated cartoon with his presence. Rocky voiced, sharp featured, incredibly intense when he wanted to be, he also had a gift for stinging deadpan comedy and the kind of line delivery that had you snap right up and pay attention, even if the project he was in wasn’t the most riveting thing. He’s no longer with us but his work will always be, and here are my top ten personal favourite performances!

10. Charlie Pope in David Marconi’s The Harvest

A rare lead role sees him as a washed up screenwriter drifting through Mexico looking for a story until he gets more than he bargained for. A mysterious femme fatale (Leilani Sarelle) beds him for the night and when he wakes up he’s missing a kidney. This is one sweaty nightmare of a thriller with a panicked, intense and irritable turn from Miguel, sly supporting work from Hollywood veteran Harvey Fierstein and a wicked sharp twist ending. Oh yeah and it features Miguel’s cousin George Clooney in his first onscreen role as a ‘lip synching transvestite.’

9. Lloyd Henreid in Stephen King’s The Stand

A petty criminal psychopath recruited by supernatural being Randall Flagg (Jamey Sheridan) to assist him in the coming apocalypse, Miguel lends a shrewd, cruel edge to this character and ends up frequently stealing this miniseries over the course of its mammoth six hour runtime.

8. Bob Morton in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop

The quintessential corporate shark, Morton pioneers the cutting edge Robocop program that revolutionizes law enforcement and then goes haywire. He lives to regret his work… and then doesn’t live at all. This guy is a dangerously ambitious, coke fuelled little spitfire and Ferrer plays him to the hilt. He’s said in interviews that this was one of his favourite projects he’s ever worked on during one of the happiest times in his life, and it’s evident. He’s having a terrific time onscreen and makes a wonderful addition to a legendary cast of characters.

7. Dr. Garrett Macy in Crossing Jordan

His arc on this excellent medical drama is a long, rich one that I don’t remember every aspect of but he explores a flawed, self doubting chief examiner who has estranged family, a drinking problem and one big passion for jazz music. He’s also faced with frequently explaining the antics of feisty Jordan (Jill Hennessy), his most talented yet troubled staff member. Any network show is more than lucky to have him as a recurring character, and he lit this one up wonderfully with his presence.

6. Amador in Tony Scott’s Revenge

Ex Navy pilot Kevin Costner faces off against ruthless Mexican gangster Anthony Quinn in this melodrama full of blood, sweat, bullets, tears and tequila. Miguel is a roughneck private mercenary who along with his brother (a very young John Leguizamo) helps Kevin out in training, shooting and overall badassery. It’s a solid supporting turn that paved the way for many gritty action antiheroes to come.

5. Harbinger in Jim Abrahams’ Hot Shots: Part Deux

Most likely the silliest film ever made, Miguel plays a special ops soldier who loses his nerve for combat until Charlie Sheen’s Rambo-lite coaxes him out of anxiety and prompts the all timer line: “War… its fantastic!!” This is him blowing off steam playing a parody of not only his brand of tough guy but the archetype in general, alongside Sheen who parodies the ultimate action hero.

4. Vincent in Wrong Turn At Tahoe

This is one the multitude of direct to video Cuba Gooding Jr flicks, and is actually pretty damn good. Cuba plays enforcer to his vicious, volatile mob boss who finds himself at war with a much more powerful gangster kingpin (Harvey Keitel) over a brutal misunderstanding. The gunfights and tough talk are supported by terrific writing and a fierce sense of pride and morality in this grim, depressing tale. Miguel paints the themes wonderfully in his work and has palpable chemistry with Gooding.

3. Richard Dees in Stephen King’s The Night Flier

One of the more obscure King adaptations out there, this HBO production features him as a snarky tabloid journalist who goes searching for the Night Flier, an urban myth about some freaky vampire dude who pilots a mysterious Cessna around the states at night, killing people. This is a classic ‘curiosity killed the cat’ flick about being careful what you wish for. He plays Dees as a seen it all cynic who discovers that he in fact has not seen it all and what’s out there could spell the last story for him.

2. Owen Granger in NCIS: Los Angeles

This is the best of the NCIS volumes, thanks in no small part to his wonderful performance as Granger, a recurring senior operative in their ranks. Just to give you the kind of passion and commitment Miguel had in his work, here’s an excerpt of trivia regarding this role:

“Miguel Ferrer was so devoted to his role, he refused to take time off, even when diagnosed with cancer. When it started to affect his voice, his illness was written into the character as well. “

1. FBI Special Agent Albert Rosenfield in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks

Forensic genius, fierce pacifist and silver tongued devil, Albert is one of the most fascinating and magnetic characters in a near endless sea of cast members. Initially a belligerent, belittling asshole, he gradually warms up to the townsfolk and by the time his peculiar yet touching arc comes to a close he’s practically an honorary member of their community. A key part of the supernatural legacy, friend and confidante to Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MaClachlan) and one of the most treasured, ultimately lovable characters in television history.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

Firestarter 2: Rekindled

So, the sequel to Stephen King’s Firestarter is an interesting one.. more of a miniseries than an actual film and runs well up almost to three hours, is full of horrendous pacing issues and numbing filler and yet… I still kinda dig it. Maybe it’s the cast, maybe it’s the languid runtime that fills up an entire rainy afternoon or who knows, but I own this on its own DVD and in the two pack with the first one and I pop it in at least once a year.

What’s it all about? Well the clairvoyant Charlie who was first played by Drew Barrymore is now grown up and embodied by Marguerite Moreau, who has some great charisma and pulls it off quite well. When she was a kid her and her dad were on the run from all kinds of nasty characters, most of whom fell victim to her incredible but severely destructive elemental gifts. One who did not however is John Rainbird, the vaguely occult weirdo played by George C. Scott in the first and now given the diabolical essence of Malcolm McDowell this time round. He wanted her powers for himself and if that didn’t work he was prepared to kill her, an agenda that kind of went up in flames (weyy). Now he’s back with gnarly burn scars and has spent the decade tracking down other kids with similar powers as Charlie and training them to be his evil little work force, eventually hoping to track her down and… who knows, the guy is beyond certifiable. Charlie has kept off the grid and struggled with these demons from her past as well as an understandable confusion in her own self identity. She finds companionship in a young journalist (Danny Nucci) who tries to help her and another psychic from their collective past played by Dennis Hopper in a warm, compassionate extended cameo.

So, what works? Well, McDowell as Rainbird is the film’s strongest point. Stephen King wrote this guy as a Native American and Hollywood just had to do their thing in casting a white dude so there’s this weird stoicism that didn’t come across well in George’s work. Malcolm reinvents the dude and fares far better as a manipulative, Machiavellian sorcerer hell bent on chaos and he eats up the role tremendously. We see flashbacks to young Charlie again and this time instead of Barrymore it’s Skye McCole Bartusiak, the excellent child actress who passed away sadly and too soon a few years back. Hopper is always terrific even in an easygoing paycheque role. I appreciated the genuine interest in the filmmakers part on building this world further and exploring new ideas. There’s a super cool, explosive showdown between Charlie and Rainbird that takes place in an all but deserted western style town. Moreau makes the most of the role and carries it pretty effectively. So what doesn’t work? The thing is two fucking hours and forty five minutes long, which is just a big no no. This could have easily been a sleek ninety minute flick and been all the more effective by pulling up the narrative slack and cutting all kinds of droning filler. It’s clearly lower budget, made for TV and we don’t get that beautiful Tangerine Dream score as we did before. It ain’t a great film but for what it is, it’s pretty fun.

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Johnny Depp Performances

Johnny Depp is known as one of the ultimate chameleon actors, and since he got his start in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street he has been entertaining audiences for over two decades with lively, theatrical and off the wall characters. Sometimes it works wonders (our beloved Jack Sparrow), other times comes across as weird (that lame Mad Hatter) and sometimes it’s downright creepy (oh man his misguided attempt at Willy Wonka). He’s also adept at voice work as well as some gritty, brooding, down to earth character roles and whether the particular performance lands nicely or flounders awkwardly, he’s never not fascinating in some way. Here are my top ten favourites of his work!

10. Rango in Gore Verbinski’s Rango

Depp lends his voice to the titular chameleon and hero of this most unconventional, unclassifiable and wholly brilliant animation film. Set in the Mojave desert, it follows Rango as he encounters a town called Dirt, and just about every western archetype you could think of within it. It’s a dazzling sendup of both the western genre and the medium of storytelling itself, speckled with off the wall adult humour and vivid voice work from a huge cast. Johnny brings obvious physicality to the role and embodies the energy, tone and style of this unique piece flawlessly.

9. Ichabod Crane in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

In bringing this classic Washington Irving character to life Depp uses a hilariously ironic fear of blood and all things morbid that’s constantly at odds with his fascination, intuition and knack for solving grisly murders. Burton’s flat out gorgeous palette, Depp’s nervous yet strong willed performance and a whole pack of epic supporting actors make this one of the best gothic horror flicks out there.

8. Frederick Abberline in the Hughes Brother’s From Hell

An opium addled Scotland Yard inspector with some serious demons in his closet, Depp’s keen but damaged cop investigates the Jack The Ripper slayings in Victorian London and uncovers more than he wished. This is a sumptuous, gloriously stylized Alan Moore adaption that captures the horror and grim malice of this period of history. His performance finds the haunted notes of the character while still retaining a lucid intellect and trusty intuition, displaying terrific chemistry with Heather Graham as a prostitute he falls in love with and Robbie Coltrane as his salty captain.

7. Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas

Depp was close friends with author Hunter S. Thompson and it’s apparent in his balls out, maniacally dedicated performance as a junkie journalist on a madcap bender through sin city with his trusty and equally deranged sidekick (Benicio Del Toro). This is a love it or hate it experience of mind blowing insanity, but there’s no denying his headlong commitment to character and willingness to go the extra mile and then some.

6. Tonto in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger

This film inexplicably bombed and got a bad rep, but it’s one of my favourites and Depp’s loony, off kilter turn as Tonto is something to be seen. He’s a nut job with a crow on his head that spouts enough mumbo jumbo to confuse anyone and yet there’s something sad, forlorn and lonely about the work here, which becomes even more apparent as his character arc comes full circle.

5. Mort Rainey in David Koepp’s Secret Window

Channeling his inner wacko, Depp brings a deranged Stephen King character vividly to life in this tale of a depressed writer holed up in a cabin on the lake until he gets an unwanted visitor and things get spooky. He’s always had a great loony side to his work but here he really gets to explore a character who, bit by bit, is completely losing his marbles. Featuring scary supporting work from John Turturro as a bumpkin who comes wandering out of the woods looking for trouble, this is a deliriously fun and very atmospheric thriller, one of the best page to screen King translations.

4. Ed Wood in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood

Ed Wood was considered the worst director of all time, but that’s just an aside to Burton and Depp, who choose to make their film ultimately about a man so in love with filmmaking that he overlooks every flaw in the process, finding beauty in blunder. Wood was a guy who essentially made Z grade junk for less than dimes and soldiered on through rejection and infamy. Depp plays him as a warm and very passionate guy who wants to give everyone a shot, including now washed up and drug addicted Bela Lugosi, played brilliantly here by Martin Landau. Whether perceived as jokester hack artist or dedicated exploitation pirate, there’s no denying that Depp finds all the perfect notes, sad nuances and beautiful aspects of Wood’s life and legacy in a performance that practically comes to life in crisp, gorgeous black and white.

3. Jeffrey Sands in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico

Sands is a rogue CIA operative who is so spectacularly corrupt that the agency doesn’t know what else to do but station him way down in Mexico where he can’t cause trouble but somehow manages to anyway. He’s is just so hilariously eccentric in the role, whether he’s wearing a prosthetic arm to hide a firearm, murdering a chef because his slow cooked pork was *too good*, deviously instigating an explosive coup that tears Mexico City apart or reading a biography of Judy Garland in between double crossings and back stabbings, he’s too much fun and steals a film that already stars people like Willem Defoe, Mickey Rourke Danny Trejo, which is no easy accomplishment. He also gets arguably the most badass shootout of the film in a sequence that’s beautifully reminiscent of Sergio Leone in all the coolest ways.

2. William Blake in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man

This haunting, unconventional art house western sees him as a meek accountant from Cleveland who travels out to the Wild West for work and instead finds himself becoming an outlaw, murderer and eventually arriving at his own death, but not in the way you might think. This is one of my all time favourite films, it’s a meditative work of brilliant art with stunning black and white photography, a wonderfully eclectic star studded cast and a hypnotic guitar score by Neil Young. Johnny anchors it with a performance that travels an incredible arc from mild mannered city boy to archetypal phantom of the frontier.

1. Captain Jack Sparrow in Gore Verbinski’s Pirates Of The Caribbean

What can I say, this is the flagship Depp performance, the most inspired piece of acting he’s done and one of the most lovable, roguish, hilarious and perpetually tipsy characters to ever be born of cinema. With roots in Keith Richards’s essence he made specific costume, mannerism and vocal choices in bringing Jack alive, he’s the heart, soul and dreadlocked hair of the Pirates franchise and pretty much a pop culture icon too.

Thanks for reading! Tune in for more content and let me know if you have any requests!

-Nate Hill

The Popcorn King of Nacogdoches by Kent Hill

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Here’s my Joe Lansdale origin story…if you will.

It has often been my custom to seek out and devour everything an author has written….once said author’s work has completely overwhelmed me.

My first brush with the Popcorn King from Nacogdoches came in the form of a chap book in one of those slowly disappearing, (at least in Australia anyway) dust-ridden book exchanges. Where the yellowing pages of the regarded and discarded writers of ages are stowed. The store that I frequented  with my Grandmother – the most voracious reader in the family – we would go to after she was done reading a great pile of books, looking to exchange them for new ones. Gran would always ask the proprietor to save some of the credit from her returns for me, to pick up an armful of comic books. Yay!

It was on a rainy day in February, three summers and a thousand years ago, that I went into that old store by myself, ready with a pile of freshly digested comics…..ready to swap them – for more. As I scanned the racks I saw, at far end of one of the shelves, wedged between two war comics, a thin, slightly discolored book entitled: On the far side of the Cadillac Desert with Dead Folks. That title alone is a grabber – I don’t give a shit what you say. Eagerly I dove in and found myself so entranced, that it took the hand of the proprietor, shaking on my shoulder, to break the spell the story had on me. Turns out I had been standing there for a good forty-five minutes reading. Without hesitation I handed over the comics in my other hand and said I wanted nothing but the thin, little volume. The owner tried to tell me I could take it plus the comics, but I had neither need nor interest in comics that day. I shoved the Dead Folks into my pocket and cycled home as fast and as recklessly as I could. Once there, I read the incredible find over and over, till the weekend faded away.

Some weeks later, and after countless repeated readings of the Cadillac Desert, I found myself beset by another grey and rainy Saturday. I was rushing into the city library via the side entrance. My breath was all but gone as I had been racing, and narrowly escaping, the oncoming downpour. Dripping on the carpet with my hands on my knees I looked up. As my breath returned, at the bottom shelf of the aisle closest to me, I remember clearly staring at the row of books and noticing that they were all by the same author. The same guy who penned my glorious obsession, Dead Folks. I snatched up as many books as my library card would allow me to leave with, and the rest is history. My first encounter had been powerful, but now my love affair with Lansdale was really about to take flight.

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And…at last…we have a cinematic valentine to that literary God among men. All Hail the Popcorn King, directed by Hansi Oppenheimer, is a perfectly balanced, passionate portrait of the man, who by some, is called the greatest writer…you’ve never heard of.

With collaborators like Don Coscarelli, Joe Hill and the man with a chin that could kill, Bruce Campbell, Popcorn King showcases Joe Lansdale the best way a filmmaker can: on his home turf, on his own terms, and in his own wondrous porch raconteur’s tone, that I’ve heard before –  but still, it’s not nearly as cool as talkin’ to the legend his own self.

Enjoy this dynamic one-two punch of literary and cinematic awesomeness, I pray you. Be excellent…

JOE R. LANSDALE

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HANSI OPPENHEIMER

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The Running Man

The Running Man is some silly ass shit, but it’s done with so much adorable enthusiasm, blinding 80’s neon and deafening ultra violence that it kinda wins you over. Plus it has one humdinger of a villain who, lets face it, gives the film most of its personality. Based on a Stephen King novel (albeit under his sheepish Bachman pseudonym), this takes place in one of those austere, glumly lit fascist hellscapes where there’s rubble everywhere, helicopters relentlessly thrum overhead and humanity has devolved to its worst. This is set in the year 2019 and although they undershot the level of depravity they imagined we’d sink to at this point, they sure as fuck weren’t far off the mark. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a military man who is framed for heinous war crimes and forced to compete in the world’s most popular game show, a sadistic tournament called The Running Man where convicts are hunted down on live television by paid pro wrestler looking freak shows. This is all masterminded by an egotistical sociopath called Killian, played by real life former game show host Richard Dawson in what has to be one of the most inspired pieces of casting out there. It’s fun watching Ahnuld and slightly less athletic pal Yaphet Kotto get saddled with hilarious spandex onesies and shunted down a luge course from hell where they’re faced with such looming monsters as Subzero, Buzzsaw and Dynamo, who Arnie naturally begins dispatching in clever, gruesome ways followed by those obligatory one liners. It’s not a thoughtful film and the dystopian nightmare it establishes at the outset is never established on nor explored, mostly we just get sound, fury, profanity and extreme carnage as the game plays out about as loudly as any could get. The production design is so 80’s you could stick it in a time capsule, from dancing chicks with perms to synth music to Jesse Ventura himself in full roid-rage mode. Dawson is the soul of it all though and it wouldn’t be the same film without him, he steals the show as the ultimate evil ringmaster and has charisma that makes you laugh and want to knock his teeth down his throat in the same instance. Not the best of 80’s Arnie, but a fun, hectic ride through futuristic sci-fi.

-Nate Hill