Tag Archives: Stephen Lang

Lin Oeding’s Braven

Lin Oeding’s Braven is the second film I’ve seen this year that sees an emotionally damaged lumberjack taking revenge on a bunch of assholes who messed with his family, and although it isn’t quite the stab of innovation that Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy is, it takes the old school rough n’ tumble action route and does the genre proud. Jason Mamoa is Joe Braven, a logger and family man living with his family in the gorgeous Canadian wilderness. His dad (the great Stephen Lang) is suffering from the onset of dementia, causing enough stress in the family. Life gets tougher for them when a pack of dangerous, heavily armed drug smugglers arrives at Joe’s remote mountain cabin to retrieve a previously stashed bag of smack, and put his family right in the crosshairs. It’s up to him and pops Lang to use ingenuity, teamwork and a few weapons to take the baddies out and keep his wife and daughter safe. It’s a formula premise given earnest treatment and works well thanks to solid performances and terrific action choreography, there are some deliciously ruthless kills here as well as breathless chase scenes through the wilderness and atop snowy peaks. It’s also nice to see an action hero who bleeds and is very much a vulnerable human being, Joe gets knocked around quite a bit both physically and emotionally, Momoa handles the beats wonderfully. Lang is terrific old grit as always, and Garrett Dillahunt plays a vicious Dilla-cunt as the psychopath leader of the smuggling ring who’s not above capping off his own guys and brutally threatening Joe’s clan. I’m always a sucker for films set in the snow, it somehow just laces the atmosphere and gives it that edge, there is some spectacular Canadian wilderness photography here especially in a moody opening credit sequence showcasing local wildlife and set to the surprisingly mellow, elemental score from Justin Small and Ohad Benchedrit that echoes the melodies of Sigur Ros nicely. This isn’t anything revolutionary or groundbreaking, but within the genre it resides it is top shelf stuff, beautifully made, appropriately rugged and visceral with a steady emotional core and heaps of wintry atmosphere. Loved it.

-Nate Hill

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“I’m not fallin’ all over myself to talk about much anywhere, Jack.” Manhunter Revisited – by Josh Hains

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
– Friedrich Neitzsche

Will Graham doesn’t want to take the job Jack Crawford is offering, and we can hardly blame him. We are able to infer that whatever happened to him was of such a horrific nature that it caused his retirement from the FBI as a criminal profiler. We later learn in little bits and pieces (and not in an unnecessary prologue; I’m looking at you, Red Dragon) that a confrontation with the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecktor left him physically scarred from presumably gruesome injuries, and mentally broken. Through his body language and the stern, almost melancholic tone of his voice, we discern his reluctance, his unpreparedness, and we can sense the deep pain broiling beneath his calm surface. His peaceful existence in Marathon, Florida with his wife Molly (Kim Griest) and son Kevin is now on the brink of being shattered, all thanks to Jack’s perseverance. All it takes for him to crawl back into darkness is one look at a photograph of the deceased Leeds family, and the knowledge that he can help track down this one last psychopath, as if catching the killer will somehow put to rest his own inner demons from his years as a profiler. Easier said than done.

I revisited Manhunter on September 4th, over two years since the last time I’d seen it in March of 2016, and have given myself these last twelve days to absorb the film all over again. I had forgotten that for all of the darkness, despair, and violence, Manhunter is a beautifully photographed film, particularly during the opening scenes that establish Will’s moral quandary, and the serene dream sequence that occurs when Will falls asleep on a plane later in the picture. Even if Manhunter was somehow a genuinely awful movie, I believe I’d still remember those jaw droppingly gorgeous images conjured up by director Michael Mann and the director of photography Dante Spinotti. It certainly helps that I was watching it in high definition.

We later see that Will Graham (William Petersen) was indeed unprepared for this final job when he comes face to face with Dr. Lecktor in his cell, and experiences some manner of anxiety attack that sends him rushing out of the colossal building he’s incarcerated in. I recognized as with previous viewings, that unlike other interpretations of Lecter (spelled “Lecktor” only here in Manhunter, and spelled “Lecter” in the books by author Thomas Harris, and the other films and television shows) that reach for grandiose heights with the kind of theatricality one might expect from a Broadway production, Dr. Lecktor as played by the great Brian Cox, is a mild mannered, relaxed, everyman take on the character. He’s undoubtedly a psychopath, but his menace doesn’t come though in how he speaks but rather in what is spoken. This approach makes him all the more chilling than later versions because we know from human history that many of the most vile beings who have ever walked this earth, walked upon it in a manner as calmly, politely, and “normally” as Lecktor presents himself to be. What’s more frightening to you, reader: the Lecter you know is crazy before he’s ever opened his mouth because he practically smells of insanity, or the Lecktor you never suspect is insane until you’ve awoken under his knife?

Of course, no serial killer thriller is complete without the law enforcement affiliated lead, here personified with a palpable depth and a grounded everyman quality by William Petersen, in a performance as subdued and internalized as Cox’s Lecktor. Petersen never once strays into any kind of territory that would evoke feeling of his performance appearing fake or forced. He’s as natural as they come, and were it not for the knowledge that he is in fact, merely behaving for the screen, one might assume from his naturalism in Manhunter, To Live And Die In L.A., and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, that maybe he’s the real deal, a cop turned actor like his co-star in Manhunter, the late Dennis Farina. Farina, who was a police officer in the Chicago Police Department’s burglary division for 18 years before Michael Mann used him as a consultant on his feature film debut, Thief (for which Farina also had a small role as an enforcer), turns in an equally as grounded, and entirely believable and authentic performance as Jack Crawford.

And then there’s the cause of Will’s return to profiling, the serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy” for the bite marks he leaves on the bodies of his victims post mortem, better known to us as Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan, who also has a small role in Mann’s Heat). His height and implied strength make him an imposing figure, though he’s also a shy little boy tucked away inside this monstrous shell, afraid to show his cleft palate, and obsessed with William Blake’s painting “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun”, later witnessed in a horrific scene with one of Dollarhyde’s victims, the sleazy reporter Freddy Lounds (the great Stephen Lang). That same painting has inspired an alternate personality borne out of his psychopathy he calls “Great Red Dragon”, which comes to life when he seemingly can’t control urges of both violent and sexual natures. Thanks in large part to Noonan’s eerie performance, and the subtle writing of Dollarhyde by Mann himself, the thin line between compassion and love, witnessed in intimate moments between Dollarhyde and blind co-worker Reba McClane (Joan Allen) with whom he starts a relationship with, and uncontrollable murderous rage, is narrower than the edge of a piece of paper, creating a figure all the more real and subtly terrifying.

It wouldn’t be a Michael Mann film without a memorable score or the use of a popular song, and Manhunter is no exception, complete with a thrilling, pulsating score from Michael Rubini, and The Reds, and the incredibly effective, memorable use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Godda-Da-Vida” during the climactic confrontation between Dollarhyde and law enforcement led by Graham and Crawford. The use of Red 7’s “Heartbeat” over the credits offers up a welcomed upbeat conclusion to an otherwise dark picture.

In my revisitation of Manhunter, I took note of something that I had noticed the very first time I saw Manhunter in my teens (at the very least 11 years ago), and that has stuck with me ever since: the scene when Will visits the Leeds family home to scour the crime scene for clues to their murders, which is also where I came intonthe movie all those years ago when I caught it on television. This interpretation of Will Graham doesn’t just stand in the bedroom of the deceased Mr. and Mrs. Leeds and state into a tape recorder what he thinks occurred, like later versions. He scans the room before he ever says a word, his eyes circling the room from left to right, his mind at work taking in all of this visual information and formulating his idea of what happened simultaneously. When he’s done absorbing the scene, he speaks, low and taking his time, telling us how he thinks they died, and more, in full graphic detail. While we thankfully never bear witness to the events that actually occurred, we move onto the next scene with a clear understanding of what more than likely happened, without the sensation that we just listened to an unnecessarily long exposition dump. It’s a bone chilling scene, given the terrible subject matter, but an effective one we might not soon forget.

I’ve also come to recognize as I’ve grown older, that this same scene also conveys what it is about Will’s brilliant skillset as an FBI criminal profiler that compelled Jack Crawford to ask Will to step out of retirement to help him capture this one last criminal in the first place; to knowingly pull him out of paradise only to thrust him into a personal hell that endangers his family and himself. And why Will Graham said okay.

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles

Scott Cooper’s Hostiles is beautifully shot, competently staged, well produced, acted and scored, but there’s a certain depth, development and complexity lacking, and I lay the blame on script, which seems a little south of the polished stage, with one foot still rooted in the blueprint phase. It’s a shame because the actors are game to give the film all they’ve got, but the script handed to them just isn’t on par with their efforts. Christian Bale is implosive as ever in one of his best performances as Blocker, a decorated civil war vet who has spent a great portion of his career heavily involved in the war and genocide against Native American tribes, and as such has become a hard, mean and brittle tempered creature. It’s fascinating to observe how someone like him, who does have a decent soul deep down, can be turned so backwards and hateful in circumstances like that, another theme the film doesn’t quite follow through with. Blocker is tasked with one last mission before semi-early retirement: Escort legendary Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi, excellent as ever) and his kin from Arizona back to his home in Montana to live out his remaining years. Blocker bristles at the thought, but when his salty superior officer (Stephen Lang) threatens his pension, he begrudgingly saddles up. The film then showcases their journey, several hardships and skirmishes they find themselves in, all to fertilize the eventual bond and understanding formed between the two groups and their decision to work as a unit, and even respect each other. Here’s the problem: the script isn’t deep or thoughtful enough to make any of these arcs believable. The Native characters are painfully underdeveloped, particularly Yellow Hawk’s son and his wife, played by Adam Beach and Qorianka Kilcher, two actors more than capable of handing in great work when the material comes their way. The one thing that does work and is probably the best quality that film has is a character played by Rosamund Pike, a frontier farmer whose entire family is slaughtered by vicious Comanches in the film’s arresting opening scene. She joins Bale’s company, and Pike plays her with harrowing sadness, terrifying vengeful poise and gives one of the most realistic, un-cinematic portraits of grief I’ve ever seen. Come awards season next year, she should be a front runner. The film almost doesn’t deserve her sterling subplot, but it does it’s best, and reaches some heights here and there. Bale’s company is played by a reliable troupe including upright Jesse Plemons, melancholic Rory Cochrane and grizzled Peter Mullan. Also appearing is western veteran Scott Wilson in a brutal last minute cameo, always nice to see him still in the game. There’s an unbalanced focus between the soldiers and the natives, who I wanted to learn more about but were left as mainly tagalong bystanders with scant dialogue. When Bale’s arc reaches it’s final stages, I felt slightly cheated by everything that came before: I didn’t quite believe that what he’d been through was enough to sway over two decades of hate and prejudice, and once again the fault lies with script. A little more care, preparation and editing could have turned this from a good film into one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Eye See You 


You know those films that you just seem to get fixated on and love for no particular reason, like they’re not even that good, you just… really like them? That’s Eye See You for me (known as D-Tox to all you folks across the pond), a heavy handed snowbound horror vehicle for a sedated Sylvester Stallone. It’s silly to the max, thoroughly implausible and perforated with cliches, but for whatever reason I just can’t get over the damn thing. Now, I admittedly have an affinity for the Agatha Christie style murder mysteries, especially ones set in the snow (cue fond memories of Hateful 8 and The Thing), and this one piles on a blizzard of red herrings, multiple shady characters, extremely graphic violence and paranoid unease. Maybe it’s that cast, a platoon of tough guy characters actors backing Sly up in one serious roster of a supporting cast. Old Rocky plays a big city FBI agent who is trying to find a jarringly vicious serial killer that targets law enforcement and has that classic obsession with his pursuer. After his girlfriend (Dina Meyer) falls victim to this beast, Sly unravels and following a suicide attempt, is sent up north by his mentor (Charles S. Dutton) for a little R&R,

and both R’s in that stand for rehab in a special remote facility designed just for cops with issues to work out. The place is run by Krusty Kris Kristofferson, and home to so many recognizable faces one has to give the casting director a tip of the fedora. A disgraced Mountie (Robert Prosky), emotionally fragile ex SWAT commander (Sean Patrick Flanery),

former Scotland Yard (Christopher Fulford), hostile ex narc (Jeffrey Wright with some pretty Harvey Dent facial scars), an insufferable macho asshole (Robert Patrick), ex military (Tom Berenger) who serves as caretaker, sympathetic therapist (Polly Walker) and a seriously creepy Stephen Lang. That’s a whole lot of suspicious characters to pick a killer from, because (you guessed it) the meanie has followed Sly out to the mountains and is posing as a member of their group. It’s a guessing game right up until one severely bloody climax, with ex cops dropping dead all over the place along the way, and Stallone looking more hollow and dishevelled as each body turns up. He’s not in action mode here at all, hell, he’s not even in sorta kinda Cop Land action mode, he’s a broken man trying to heal who’s forced back into shit kicking, and it puts a visible strain on him that the actor handles surprisingly adeptly. The rest do their job terrifically, with Flanery standing out in the scant but affecting screen time he’s given, and Patrick blustering through every scene until you’re just praying for the killer to target him next. There’s downsides galore, mind you, this isn’t well thought out territory, it’s gory genre nirvana and not much else. There’s a level of predictability that could have been avoided by making the identity of the killer a bit less… obvious, for lack of a non spoiling term, but oh well. It’s also just overblown lurid potboiler madness, but what else do you expect from this type of thing? I get exactly what I want out of it: a nice helping of ultra-violent intrigue to tune into on a cozy night, and not much more. In fact, I think I feel a revisit happening this week.

-Nate Hill

Ten Actors Who Are Perfect For a Quentin Tarantino Film

Many of us love Quentin Tarantino films for a multitude of reasons; the story, his use of popular music, his dialogue, and especially his casting.  He resurrected the careers of John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Jamie Foxx, David Carradine and introduced Michael Fassebender, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Uma Thurman into the mainstream of cinema.  Along the way he has also brilliantly used Kurt Russell, Michael Parks, Michael Keaton, Robert De Niro, Michael Madsen, and many other great actors that have given some of their best performances in a Tarantino film.  There are so many actors that Tarantino should work with, so making a list of just ten is nearly impossible.  But this is my dream list.  Some are more realistic than others.

 

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Jaqueline Bisset

                Most recently, Bisset gave a show-stopping performance in Abel Ferrara’s WELCOME TO NEW YORK.  Not only was it great to see her work with such compelling material, but it was also incredible to see her work with Abel Ferrara, a director that’s transgressive works wouldn’t normally attract an actress of that clout and cinematic reputation.  She gives a fierce performance in the film, and I could only imagine what she would be capable of in a Tarantino film.

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Russell Crowe

                Russell Crowe is in prime career transition.  His days of the young, muscular cinematic asskicker are long gone.  He’s currently floating between the mentor, the heavy, and the middle-aged leading man.  His performance in THE NICE GUYS is one of his best in recent memory, and his turn in LES MISERABLE is one of the most underrated performances within the last ten years.  He’s more than suited to headline or sidestep back into a Max Cherry-esque role.

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Daniel Day- Lewis

                It’s widely noted that one of the only roles that Day-Lewis has ever sought out was the role of Vincent Vega in PULP FICTION.  First of all, I can’t imagine what DDL would have done with that role, and secondly, I can’t imagine Tarantino, hot off his indie hit of RESERVOIR DOGS telling the studio and DDL no, I’m going with John Travolta.  Day-Lewis can take a role, even in some of his more mediocre films, and knock that role out of the park.  He’s showy when he needs to be, and knows when to reign in a performance to make it so slight and subtle.  Imagine what he could do with the colorfulness of Tarantino’s dialogue.

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Jane Fonda

                Whatever is left of cinematic royalty, it’s Jane Fonda.  Throughout the years, she has continued to stay relevant in both film and not television with Netflix’s GRACE AND FRANKIE.  Recently, she gave a briefly pulverizing performance in Paolo Sorrentino’s YOUTH.  Casing Fonda would not only be a callback to some her earlier performances, but she would also bring an air of golden movie star cache that we rarely see on film anymore.

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Harrison Ford

               Let’s face it, Harrison Ford is one of the biggest movie stars of all time.  He is Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Jack Ryan – yet for the past twenty years or so, he hasn’t been as compelling as he used to be.  Yet, his return as Han Solo in THE FORCE AWAKENS is one of the best things he’s ever done.  The return was phenomenal, thrilling, and heartfelt.  His performance was organic, and there wasn’t one moment in the film where it felt as if he were phoning in the performance.  Ford has had quite the ride as a movie star, and his persona would go a hell of a long way inside of a Tarantino film.

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Mel Gibson

                If there is any actor at this moment in time who is due to make a cinematic resurrection, it is Mel Gibson.  His most recent leading turn in BLOOD FATHER shows, without a doubt, that his screen presence is still an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.  His smaller roles in MACHETE KILLS and THE EXPENDABLES 3 further prove that he and Tarantino are a perfect match.  Regardless of how outlandish or low key that theoretical role would be, Gibson would absolutely kill it.

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Stephen Lang

                Stephen Lang is much like Daniel Day-Lewis.  He’s a cinematic chameleon.  Decade after decade the guy has disappeared into so many memorable roles in so many memorable films.  Most recently, Lang has taken a career transition as a muscular badass in James Cameron’s AVATAR and this year his gives a tour de force performance in Fede Alvarez’s DON’T BREATHE.  He owns Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES, outshining both Johnny Depp and Christian Bale.  Mann knew exactly what he was doing casting Lang, bringing in a skilled actor to bring the film to an absolute stop during the final moments of his epic gangster saga.  The merging of Tarantino and Lang is a cinematic match made in heaven.

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Ben Mendelsohn

                I can’t think of many current actors who has been in so many great films in such a short time span.  KILLING THEM SOFTLY, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, ANIMAL KINGDOM, SLOW WEST, and his next two films are polar opposites: UNA based off of the transgressive and acclaimed Broadway play, BLACKBIRD and ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY where he is cast as the evil Imperial Director Orson Krenick, the man in charge of the Empire’s military.  A lot of Tarantino’s work is cast in moral ambiguity, and there isn’t anyone better at playing that, than Ben Mendelsohn.

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Vince Vaughn

                Thankfully, Vince Vaughn has successfully shaken off his prolific comedic career and has heavily vested himself back into dramatic works.  The amazing second season of TRUE DETECTIVE reset Vaughn’s path as an actor.  His next film is Mel Gibson’s long anticipated World War II film, HACKSAW RIDGE where Vaughn plays a rough and tough commanding officer.  After that, Vaughn is going to be in BONE TOMAHAWK director S. Craig Zahler’s  BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 that sounds as dark and gruesome as BONE TOMAHAWK did.  Vaughn, who can play both humor and drama would be an excellent mesh with Tarantino’s words and look of his films.

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Sigourney Weaver

                Whether she’s killing aliens or emotionally breaking Kevin Kline, or romancing Bill Murray; Weaver has always had a unique and powerful presence on screen.  Her work is always solid, regardless of the end result of whatever project she is working on.  She belongs to the same class of actresses like Pam Grier, Daryl Hannah, and Jennifer Jason Leigh – those actors who had at one point were A list actors due to not only their sex appeal, but also their carefully crafted performances.  Whether she’d be a femme fatal, or a badass hero – she would fit perfectly into Tarantino film.

B Movie Glory with Nate: Pawn

Pawn is another gift from the assembly line of slightly muddled second tier crime dramas, cobbled together with elements of greats from yesteryear, and barely held together at the seam by acting titans who have fallen on hard times chasing that almighty paycheque. That’s not to say it’s bad (although plenty of its breed are woeful), but simply inconsequential and forgettable. Starting off with a simple diner robbery that will inevitably spiral beyond control, we meet a band of clueless petty thieves lead by Michael Chiklis, doing his utter best with a silly cockney accent that has no reason to exist here. Little do these geniuses know, the diner they picked to lift happens to be a front for the Russian mob, setting off a chaotic chain of events that could end in all their deaths. The mob panics, and brings in everyone they can to clutter things up. Two corrupt cops show up, one inside the diner, played by Forest Whitaker, looking like he had some trouble understanding his portion of the script, and one outside, played by Marton Csokas who is underused a lot it seems. Common shows up as a hostage negotiator of all things, which made me chuckle. Stephen Lang is dangerously quiet as the restaurant owner and strong arm of the Russians. He hires a chatty Ray Liotta to hold one of the thieves wives (Nikki Reed) hostage and appear vaguely menacing until everything blows over. So we have scenes of him talking to her in cyclical metaphors interspersed with all the intrigue going down at the diner, and it all amounts to… what, exactly? Well, you’ll have to take a look for yourself, but the while thing seemed rather pointless to me. 

Marcus Nispel’s Conan The Barbarian: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never seen any of the original Conan films with Ahnuld (I know, get the torches and pitchforks), so I don’t really have anything to compare Marcus Nispel’s remake to, but on it’s own I found it to be a solid, servicable sword and sandal outing with a welcome hard R rating and some neat work from legendary actors. Jason Momoa was fresh of his Game Of Thrones stint, jumping right into a very similar role as iconic Conan, a musclebound soldier of fortune on a grisly quest to exact revenge against warlord who decimated his village when he was but a pup. Momoa exudes a different aura than I imagine Schwarzenegger must have, a stoic, silent tunnel vision style as opposed to posing theatrically. It works, but it’s a new Conan from the one I’ve seen in many a trailer and snippet on tv, that’s for sure. My favourite part of the film is the extended prologue, which just somehow feels like the most grounded part, whereas everything else is almost cartoonish, reminding me of stuff like The Mummy. The opening is terrific though, introducing us to a young Conan (Leo Howard) and his father Corin (Ron Perlman, who else?), living in their nomadic village on the edge of nowhere. Enter tyrannical villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his super freaky daughter Marique (Ivana Staneva), played later down the line by Rose McGowan, before she got all lame on us. Laying waste to Conan’s home and killing countless people including Corin, he is left to breed fearsome vengeance for years, until he sets out into the wide world on a journey to find Zym and mess him up real good. The story is standard, the action is well staged by Nispel, who has a golden eye for spectacularly orchestrated displays of violence in his films, and pulls no punches here. He also casts roles on the nose, and has for years. Lang is in overdrive, practically frothing at the mouth and turning Zym into something scary indeed. McGowan is straight out of a Takahashi Miike film, all bone white hissing snarls and needle sharp appendages, a hellcat with supreme bloodlust that you just don’t want to encounter. Momoa has the brawn for Conan, but a few extra syllables of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt, if only to round the guy out some more and give Jason something to say, which he rarely gets to do in his work it seems. I think parts of the film, especially the finale, were somewhat ruined for me by the catastrophically bad 3D they used (when oh when will they learn with the damned 3D), so I feel like a Blu Ray revisit is nigh, in which I can fully appreciate some of the set pieces without being reminded of a popup book. It’s a good time at the movies, but like I said, I have nothing to compare it to as far as Conan goes.