Tag Archives: Stephen Mchattie

Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Pay The Ghost

Today’s dose of Nic Cage is called Pay The Ghost and it’s not half bad, provided you have an affinity for moody low budget horror that doesn’t demand too much of its viewers and in turn isn’t expected to reinvent the genre wheel by those observing from their couches. It’s a neat title isn’t it, ‘Pay The Ghost’? My first thought is some scary loan shark nicknamed ‘Ghost’ that Nic has to do fork over his cheque’s to from movies like this. Jokes aside I can’t say it properly lives up to that name but it does it’s late 90’s SyFy Channel reminiscent best and works as a low key spooker with Cage in super relaxed concerned father/husband mode, a gear he always cruises well in. Nic plays a kindly college professor whose young son goes missing one halloween night at an NYC carnival. He and his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies, quite effective) are understandably devastated and while she mixes distraught with the desire to move on, he suspects some supernatural foul play and launches an investigation of his own. It turns out that many children have been going missing for years on Hallow’s Eve in this specific area and it isn’t just some coincidence, there’s a nasty pagan force dating back to colonial times that’s responsible. Now this is pretty standard horror stuff with a few decent jump scares, a cool esoteric showdown set in another realm that kinda reminded me of the “you shall not pass” Gandalf sequence and some nice stabs at mythology but I’ll also be honest and say that if I wasn’t working on this Cage treatise I probably never would have bothered. It’s ok though, I mean awesome character actor Stephen McHattie shows up as some bling homeless dude with dreadlocks and he’s always a plus. This is humdrum horror time killer but it’s not terrible, I’ll give it two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence

Every director at some point is encouraged to challenge the aesthetic they are known for, traverse terrains beyond the thematic and stylistic comfort zone they are accustomed to and bless new lands of genre and tone with their talent. Some don’t and stick with what they know, which is fine, while others break free as David Cronenberg did with his fearsome psychological horror story A History Of Violence. Cronenberg is a horror old-hand who loves his prosthetic body parts and buckets o’ blood, albeit always accompanied by strong themes and pointed subtext. Here he trades in the schlock (but not the gore, there’s still plenty of that) for a different sort of horror, the arresting mental climate of violent criminals and the roiling psychological unrest that goes hand in hand with such vicious behaviour, no matter how hard one might try to asphyxiate dark impulses with methodical conditioning. Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, small town Everyman, husband, father, greasy spoon diner magnate and pillar of a bucolic slice of Americana. Or is he? The film opens as two ruthless psychopaths (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk are so good they deserve their own spinoff film) barge into the idyllic sanctuary of his restaurant and terrorize patrons and staff alike. Tom reacts with uncharacteristically lithe force, quickly and frighteningly dispatching both to the lands beyond with a few quick moves, several gunshots and a pot of hot coffee (one brutal fucking way to die). He’s lauded as local hero and chalks up his heroic reaction to pure instincts… and that’s when the film gets really interesting. Back in the mid 2000’s before social media it would take making international news to dredge up any sort of long buried, sordid past one might have, but sure enough the press comes a’hounding and soon trouble comes a’knocking in an ominous black Chrysler containing one very pissed off Ed Harris as ‘organized crime from the east coast’ who is sure Tom is actually a fellow named Joey, who he once shared a scuffle with over some barbed wire. So who’s lying and who’s not? I mean it’s obvious Tom has a past, the fascination lies in both uncovering it and watching him try to reconcile it with the man he has become since then. The film gets positively Shakespearean when yet another Philadelphia wise-guy played by William Hurt enters the picture and pretty much steals the fucking film from everyone, the skill that dude has is amazing and what he does onscreen in about five minutes not only demonstrates his wry, diabolical control over a scene but completely justifies the Oscar gold he went home with, fucking bravo. The film starts where many other crime/noirs would end: a man with a violent past has found a way out, a proverbial light at the end of the viscera tunnel, and lives not necessarily happily ever after… but free from the din of his former incarnation anyways. Until two punks stir the long dormant reflexes, he ends up on the news and it all comes full circle. I think this film is so brilliant because of what is left unsaid, unexplained and unexplored; it’s barely over ninety minutes long but contains enough thematic implications to fill up or at least catalyze a half dozen films. But it never feels a moment longer or shorter than it needs to be. Mortensen’s performance is about dead on flawless, full of so many veiled notes that are conjured into view with multiple watches, which the film begs of any viewer. Equally spellbinding is Maria Bello as Tom’s firebrand of a wide who finds herself at odds with her own loyal nature when the shards of truth start to eviscerate their family. She’s an actress that Hollywood inexplicably doesn’t entrust with dramatically heavy roles too often but it’s their loss because when she lands a golden egg of a character like this she practically moves worlds. Harris has a ball as the bulldog on low simmer baddie who wishes he was as big of a bad as Hurt, who almost brings down the house and start his own fucking franchise before… well, I won’t spoil it that much. I would have loved to have ‘put it simply’ in my review and not drawled on in adoration like this but it’s just that kind of film. In a way it does the same as I have: it’s barely over an hour and a half and any film of that length could just ‘put it simply’, but in that brisk runtime there’s galaxies of psychological depth and treatises on human nature to unpack. Gotta throw a late hour bone to Howard Shore’s impeccable original score as well, an austerely baroque yet somehow evocatively Midwest composition that calls to mind everything from B&W classics to his work on Lord Of The Rings, which somehow suits the mood. A stone cold classic.

-Nate Hill

Indie Gems: The Art Of The Steal

I’ve reviewed The Art Of The Steal before, but it constantly kills me how underrated this banging heist comedy is, so here goes again. Imagine a wickedly funny, smartly written all star art thievery caper starring Kurt Russell, Matt Dillon and a host of others at the top of their game and you’ll have some idea. It’s strange that it’s so unheard of with this pedigree of actors involved, but it’s a joint Canadian production so that may have had an effect on marketing, or lack thereof. In any case, it’s the funniest, smartest heist flick since Ocean’s Eleven, and maybe tops it too. Russell is Crunch Calhoun, an Evel Kneval type ruffian who moonlights as a driver for a crew of fine art pilferers he leads. He’s hard up for cash and fresh out of a stretch in polish jail after his brother and second command Nicky (Matt Dillon, sleazy as ever) rats him out as a fall guy. Now back in Canada, he reluctantly agrees to work with brother dearest, as well as his old crew, for one last job, the theft of an obscure gospel manuscript. Their plan involves swerves, dekes, double-crosses, cons, conniving, hysterical fuck ups, roper dopes and double entendres, so much so that one marvels all that’s in this goody bag of a narrative can fit into a ninety minute film, a testament to both editing and direction. Crunch’s crew is is a roll call of varied talent, including twitchy rookie Jay Baruchel, wily old dog Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), Crunch’s sexy wife (Kathryn Winnick) and their flamboyant French forger (Chris Diamantopoulos). The real treat is Terence Stamp as a weary ex thief working with an Interpol snot-rag (Jason Jones) to lift time off his sentence. Stamp doesn’t show up too often in films these days but he’s comic gold here and has a surprisingly touching bit that brings a bit of reverence and gravity to the world of grand-theft-art amidst the mostly madcap tone. It’s sad that films like this don’t get a theatrical run anymore these days, because they end up on Netflix or wherever and the only way they get mass exposure is through word of mouth, chance or crazed cinephiliac zealots like me shamelessly plugging them on blogs. So go fucking watch it..now.

-Nate Hill

Summer’s Moon: A Review by Nate Hill 

Summer’s Moon, also given the slightly less exotic title Summer Blood, is a fascinating little family centered psycho sexual treat, starring an actress who previously hadn’t ventures into such intense territory. Ashley Greene is a porcelain beauty best known for those Twilight train wrecks, and its that marketing style these filmmakers have latched onto because of her involvement. The poster has a hazy hue that almost hints at the dreaded vampiric sparkle we’ve come to loathe. It’s picturesque to be sure, but doesn’t really provide any warning to the disturbing, gritty and uncomfortably intimate nature ofnthe story. Greene plays Summer, a wayward drifter who arrives in a small bucolic burg, out to find the father she never knew. Enter the Hoxeys, an I’ll adjusted family of serial killers claiming to be her long lost family, and beckoning her into depravity with all the charm and hospitality that small town folks can muster. Her brother Tom (Peter Mooney) keeps a kidnapped girl in the basement as a plaything and sleeps with his unstable mother (Barbara Nixon), and that’s but a taste of the horror that Summer has waded into. The film takes on new virility when the resident patriarch Gant Hoxey blows back into town, played with visceral ferocity by veteran tough guy Stephen Mchattie. Intense is the word for this guy (ever catch his cameo in A History Of Violence? Christ), and he’s a beast as Gant, Summer’s estranged father, a man who functions on violence and feeds of fear. The film examines how a clan of murderers might indeed function, right down to twisted lover’s spats and drama right out of an R rated Addams Family special. Greene nicely shatters her teen image by bringing us a broken protagonist who finds her dark passenger through resilience and torment, the blackness that sweeps over her soul clearly visible, loomed over by Mchattie’s grim reaper influence. Murder and the desire to do so is regarded as a genetic trait in this film, passed along the line of kin, generation to generation, wreaking havoc in the process. A film that I underestimated going in, a terrific horror entry that takes its it’s with character and suspense, slow burning up to a spectacularly gory third act filled with tension, blood and Mchattie, that icy voiced devil who steals every scene he’s in. Well worth your time. 

The Art Of The Steal: A Review by Nate Hill 

Heist flicks are sneaky affairs, but that doesn’t mean that awesome ones like The Art Of The Steal should just tiptoe past everyone’s radar with no hubbub. When subpar stuff like Now You See Me is breaking waves and this one collects dust before a year since it’s release, you know somethin ain’t right. It’s actually probably just budgeting and marketing, to chalk it up simply. Despite the cast (what a lineup) this one barely made a blip on the sonar when it came out a couple years ago. It’s great fun, with a crusty lead performance from Kurt Russell as Crunch Calhoun, an ageing motorcycle daredevil who used to moonlight as an art thief. He is lured out of ‘retirement’ by his sleazy brother Nicky (Matt Dillon crosses off another notch on the old scumbag belt with this role) with the proposition of one last score, involving his old crew and the theft of a historical artifact owned by a hilarious Terence Stamp. Other members of their crew include a crafty Jay Baruchel and Kenneth Welsh as salty ladies man Uncle Paddy. Twists and turns lace the plot, as they should in these types of films, but it’s the bawdy sense of humour that won me over. More than anything else this is a comedy, situational in nature and willing to give each weirdo of the bunch their own demented moment to shine. It’s Russel’s show though, a burnt out Evel Knievel type of dude who gets a face full of nonsense from his brother, edging him to the end of his rope. Russell owns it, egged on by the raucous chorus of characters accompanying him, and the nasty arc from Dillon that is the only piece which subverts the mostly lighthearted tone. Fun, little seen stuff that deserves a wider audience.  

Zach Snyder’s 300: A Review by Nate Hill

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Tough. Muscular. Operatic. The very definition of epic. I remember sitting in the theatre during Zach Snyder’s 300 and being just floored and knocked flat on my ass by the violence, spectacle and music on display, and that was just the first ten minutes. It’s a historical war film unlike any other, and like it’s sister film Sin City, it jumps right off the boldly crafted pages of Frank Miller’s novel with all the movement and spirit of a motion picture, while still retaining the fluidity and distinction of a comic book. The sheer force of it will trample your senses into glorious oblivion, whisking you away for two thunderous hours of sound, fury and unrepentant battle. Like any sensation of the week, it gained haters who claim it isn’t the winner everyone’s says it is, or that it hasn’t stood the test of time. They’re either trying to go against the grain to be the ‘cool minority’, or they’re just negative nitpicking nellies. No matter. In 300’s case, they are resoundingly off key whenever I hear them bash it, and just dead wrong. It has stood the test of time, a process I measure by the ebb and flow of my desire to watch older films again and again. I often revisit this one, and marvel at it anew each time. The story follows the battle of Thermopolye, in which three hundred well trained, ridiculously combat savvy Spartan men faced off against a Persian army numbering near a million, led by their arrogent weirdo of a king, Xerxes  (a very scary Rodrigo Santoro). They do this to protect their land and their people, a splinter group of sorts that takes up arms when the Spartan senate refuses to act. The battle is a relentless storm of blood, arrows, decapitated limbs, howling barbarians, wanton carnage and mass slaughter. It doesn’t feel half as savage or heavy as my description sounds though, thanks to the poise and purpouse of the narration penned by Miller, and the extravagant, thought out choreography that includes a whole lot of beautifully satisfying slow motion that has become Snyder’s trademark tool. Love it or hate it, I think it flairs up an action terrifically, especially ones as chaotic and hellbent as these. The Spartans are a wonder to see in action, virile death dealers with a full bore love for the heat of combat and a blatant, cavalier attitude in the very face of death. David Wenham is a force of gravity as Dilios, who provides the rousing narration and kicks ass as Butler’s second in command. Butler makes a commanding Leonidas, his presence everything that you’d want to see in a king, from nobility, to necessary belligerence, to an overwhelming love for his kingdom that is present in every step, every spear throw, every furious war cry. A cheeky Michael Fassbender and Vincent Reagan round out the platoon nicely, and they all have wicked cameraderie that makes their bond in battle stronger. Lena Headey is fiercely attractive and devilishly competent as Queen Gorgo, with a love for Leonidas and their son that cuts through the brutality and gives it purpouse. Dominic West goes against type as Theron, a sniveling, traitorous bitch boy of a Senate member who aims to usurp Sparta and send everything to high hell. The cast goes on with memorable turns from Peter Mensah, Robert Maillet and the legendary Stephen Mchattie. Composer Tyler Bates churns out a score that soars, scorches and bellows forth a primal auditory symphony. This was Snyder first flexing his muscles after his visceral remake of Dawn Of The Dead that barely hinted at the wonders in his career to come. Here he presents a staggering visual aesthetic that he would go on to use in his masterful adaptation of Watchmen, the sadly misunderstood, excellent Sucker Punch, and his DC Comics films which are unbelievable. It all started here with flash and flourish, a jaw dropping sword and sandal typhoon of a film that will give your adrenal gland a workout and your sound system a good old thrashing. In a word: Epic.