Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line

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

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Thomas Jane’s Dark Country

Dark Country actor Thomas Jane’s first venture behind the camera as director, and although the final product is a bit muddy and perplexing, it also creates an atmosphere of impenetrable mental fog and noxious delirium that’s in itself a success, even if the whole thing amounts to a big question mark. Jane has already proved to be a stalwart action hero, charismatic leading man and talented performer (anyone raising their hand to disagree with me gets a copy of Mark Pellington’s I Melt With You hucked across the classroom right at their head). Working off a script from veteran writer Tab Murphy, Jane concocts what can only be described as a Twilight Zone episode on opiates, with a hint of sketchy Midnite Movie added for flavour. Does it work? Yes and no. The story is nearly indecipherable except to someone glued to the screen inches away, kept abreast of every minute plot shift and disorienting, mumbled bit of dialogue. Jane and Lauren German play a couple driving from somewhere to somewhere, who encounter a freaky, whacked out hitchhiker (Chris Browning) somewhere around the Nevada desert. He’s bloodied up something fierce, babbling on about nothing and from the moment he arrives, their turns turns dour. It’s anyone’s guess what goes on from there… a dead body they must contend with, a suspicious state trooper (nice Ron Perlman cameo) on their tail, flashbacks to a weird encounter at a desolate roadside diner, ever creeping fog that seems to have followed Jane over from Stephen King’s The Mist to wreak more havoc, and so it goes. Plot is of little importance to him as a director though, and instead he seems more intent on clouding up the viewer’s perception of events until it’s more like a shadowy fever dream full of dead ends and few answers. An atmosphere piece with a logic tank that’s run dry, but succeeds in whipping up a neat nightmarish road trip through confusion and paranoia, if not much else.

-Nate Hill

The Punisher (2004)

There’s several movie versions of Marvel’s The Punisher, which these days are pretty much eclipsed by Netflix’s take-no-prisoners, balls out long form adaptation, but the film ones are still out there, if only for variety. By several I mean three, which some might not be aware of. Dolph Lundgren made an effort back in the 90’s which looks cool, but I’ve yet to see. Ray Stevenson most recently took up the mantle for a jagged edged, jarringly violent and dismal toned entry, which is worth a look. My favourite has to be the Thomas Jane one though, by far the most ‘hollywood’, high profile stab at the mythology, slightly silly in places, dementedly weird in others, a well casted, oddly pitched vehicle that is somehow the most fun of the trio of flicks. Jane, at least in the looks department, is the closest you’ll find to the Frank Castle of the comics, a rock-jawed, all American tragic antihero turned mass murderer. The story he finds himself in… well, it’s a little stuffed with itself, subplots dangling from it like entrails and far too many characters running about, but oh well. Jane’s Castle watches his wife (sadly short lived Samantha Mathis) and family massacred in the film’s opening, at the hands of melodramatic mobster Howard Saint, played by John Travolta, who’s determined to steal every scene whether anyone likes it or not. Forced into hiding, Frank eventually becomes the angry Punisher, a vigilante dressed like a jock in a school shooter Halloween costume, now on a path to wipe out Saint and his whole freaky entourage, which includes consigliere Will Patton, sporting some icky extra curricular activities. He also shacks up with sexy Rebecca Romjin and her two apparent roommates Ben Foster and comedian John Pinette, when he needs to dodge Travolta’s onslaught of colourful assassins. Well, he only *literally* shacks up with Romjin, but you get the idea. Speaking of assassins, there’s some really cool supporting villains dispatched by Saint. Castle is unprepared when an eight foot tall, mute Russian goon in Where’s Waldo inspired attire busts down his door looking for blood. My favourite has to be Harry Heck though, a contract killer so similar to Johnny Cash that for years after watching this I legit thought they somehow convinced the man in black himself to do an epic cameo. It’s actually a country singer named Mark Collie, but oh well, the guy composes a twangy guitar accompanied vocal for every target he’s assigned, which he croons out to them before getting violent, and that’s a fuckin wicked comic book villain in anyone’s books, whether or not the character actually appeared in the ones this film is based on (I’m guilty of never reading them). This film is fun because of it’s arch, broad strokes approach, especially with Travolta’s over the top take, Laura Harring as his emotional wife, whose fault it is that the whole massacre in the opening happens to begin with. That opening is ruthless, exploitive and doesn’t hold most of anything off camera, a good setup for revenge (or,sorry, ‘punishment’) in any pulp comic book scenario. Jane holds his own, and even popped up again years later to do a pseudo sequel in short film form called ‘Punisher: Dirty Laundry’, which is so good it almost blows this one out of the water. Here you’ll find a movie that’s not quite as resigned to it’s unpleasantness as the Warzone one (which really gets messed up), but still knows how to pack a mean punch, when it’s not too tied up with itself.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkin’s Under Suspicion 


If Stephen Hopkin’s Under Suspicion were a meal I was served at a restaurant, I would throw it against the wall, flip the table, walk promptly back to the kitchen and knock the chef out cold. It’s a hollow, pointless piece, like digging into a pie that’s put before you only to find that under that layer of crust there’s no filling, only air. The premise is promising: wealthy businessman Gene Hackman who has political ties is grilled out of the blue by longtime friend and police detective Morgan Freeman and his partner Thomas Jane, regarding the murder of a thirteen year ago old girl in the slums of San Juan. Hackman is a successful, assured alpha socialite, and these type of men always have some type of close guarded secret which comes to light. Freeman is a dogged working man who probes him until it almost seems personal rather than routine. Sounds terrific, right? You would think. The acting is of course fine, as these guys couldn’t miss a beat if they tried, but the way the story is set up just rips the viewer off blind. These two thespians soar spectacularly, but their duel is structured around purposefully unreliable flashbacks, beating around the bush and oodles of red herrings that treat the audience like sixth graders watching a low rent magician at a birthday party. Hackman has a pretty trophy wife (Monica Belluci, underused) and a host of personal demons that he projects onto Freeman’s simple blue collar rhetoric like a defence mechanism. None of these narrative fireworks can save it though, especially when an ending rolls around that is the very definition of a letdown, through and through. In an attempt to explore the forces that drive a man to the edge of admitting guilt whether he is responsible or not, the filmmakers miss the boat on providing a focused treatise that takes itself seriously with these potentially fascinating themes, instead settling on an overcooked, ultimately vacant that could have been so much more.  

-Nate Hill

Thursday: A Review by Nate Hill 

Thursday is one of the great forgotten neo-noir comedies of the 90’s, floating on the wake of everything from Tarantino to Verhoeven. It’s almost impossible to find these days (I watched an old youtube version years ago), but worth hunting down for its vehement hedonism, mean spirited dark humour and cast members who take a walk down the dark end of the street, and clearly have fun with the shamelessly disgusting material. There’s a spirited willingness to be nasty, a bottom feeding urban sleaziness that almost reminded me of Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared, or Joe Carnahan’s Stretch. Thomas Jane, riding the wave of a supporting role in Face/Off, plays Casey, an ex drug dealer trying to go straight and adopt a child with his wife (Paula Mitchell). Suddenly his old buddy Nick (a ferocious Aaron Eckhart) blows back into his life with big ideas and an even bigger amount of heroin he stole from god knows where. This sets off a wild and exceedingly weird chain of events including convenience store robbery, murder, a psycho named Billy (James LeGros) with a penchant for elaborate torture, a kinky femme fatale (Paulina Porizkova) and a scary rogue cop (Mickey Rourke). It’s a big bloody hot mess, but a brilliant one that nails the feverish tone of stuff like Natural Born Killers, a complete disregard for discretion or moderation, tossing everyone and everything into the fire until the audience feels like they need a big collective shower. Eckhart is a treat to watch, taunting the laid back Jane with a knowing glee, waiting for that inevitable revert to bis old, crazy self. Rourke is relegated to what is essentially an extended cameo, but he makes the most of it with quiet tension and the menace of a junkyard dog. This film has what is probably the weirdest sex scene I’ve seen, which the youtube version won’t show (being the sicko that I am, I had to track it down elsewhere). Brutally reckless stuff, and a howl if this is your type of thing. Watch for a brief and hilarious cameo from Michael Jeter. 

Elmore Leonard’s Killshot: A Review by Nate Hill 

John Madden’s Killshot went through the ninth ring of production hell before it was finally released in 07 or so, after like three years of gathering dust on the shelf. The resulting film didn’t win anyone over who waited all that time with baited breath, because you can see the cuts, chops and gaps in story where it’s been muddled around with, no doubt by the fuckwit studio. I still love it, flaws and all. Based on an Elmore Leonard tale (you can never go wrong with his work, it’s a sombre tale of psychopaths, assassins and one hapless estranged couple (Thomas Jane & Diane Lane) caught in between. When legendary native american hitman Arman ‘The Blackbird’ Degas (Mickey Rourke) botches a job for the Toronto mafia, he’s forced on the run, and hides out with aimless young lunatic

criminal Ritchie Nix (Joseph Gordon Levitt), who somewhat reminds him of a litte brother he lost years before. Rourke pulls off the native angle quite well, and shows vague glimpses of a humanity that was once there and has long since been buried in violence. When Jane and Lane accidentally witness him murder someone, he won’t let it go, pursuing them beyond rationality or reason, even to his own end. Levitt never gets to play the wild card, and he rocks his redneck sociopath brat role with scary aplomb. Rosario Dawson has an odd appearance as Ritchie’s girlfriend, an elvis fan who is seemingly a little bit challenged upstairs. Watch for a cameo from Hal Holbrook as a crusty old mobster too. You’ll just have to imagine the federal agent character played by Johnny Knoxville though, because he never made it into the film and can now only be seen in ages old trailers that were a false start. Despite it’s issues, I find it to be an atmospheric little pulp outing that does have the classic Leonard feel, a hard bitten, cold-hearted turn from Rourke that’s one of his best characters in recent years, and a mean, unforgiving narrative set in picturesque northern Canada. Give it a shot, it deserves way more love than its received so far. 

B Movie Glory with Nate: Mutant Chronicles

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Mutant Chronicles is a solid gem, as both a b movie and a legit exercise in bloody high concept fantasy. It’s got a sci fi vibe meshed nicely together with a grinding steam punk sensibility, and it’s pure visceral gold. The vague plot, as I best remember it: Some form of extraterrestrial intellegience takes up residence deep within the earth’s core, using a gigantic machine to turn humans into mindless, rabid killing machine with nasty, pokey, king crab looking things for limbs. The warring corporations who control the remaining resources on the planet commission a crew of dirty dozen style bad asses to venture deep into the earth, stopping the mutants and their makers, and silencing the evil contraption forever. Thomas Jane is Major Mitch Hunter, the stoic tough guy leading the group with grit and guts. He’s also searching for his missing superior officer Nathan Rooker (Sean Pertwee). Along with him is strong, silent monk Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman), his mute daughter (Anna Walton), and other assorted warriors including Benno Furmann and Devon Aoki. That’s pretty much all you get for a plot. The rest is screaming zombie esque hordes that ambush them at every turn and provide especially grisly action set pieces. There’s a really impressive journey in a rickety spaceship that looks like a cross between a hot air balloon and a toaster, and a cameo from an extremely bored looking John Malkovich. Jane and Perlman use their tough guy charisma to bring the story to life, and the special effects are pretty damn cool. This one has bite, imagination and buckets of gore, particularly in a frenetic finale deep within the earth’s interior. Great stuff.

Frank’s Thoughts on Mark Pellington’s I MELT WITH YOU 2011

I am a Man

Now I remember

I am divorced

I can’t get hard

I love my wife

I don’t love her

I lie to myself

My mother is dead

I’m rich

I’m a failure

We forget

I am the bread winner

I am married

I am a failure

She left me

I’m under 50

I’m just like my father

I’m nothing like him

I’m over 21

I can fuck

My kids need me

I’m losing my hair

I need glasses

I am afraid

I love you

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     I MELT WITH YOU is one of my absolute top five films of all time.  I have two top five films, one made up of my favorite films, and one made up of the best films that I have seen.  I MELT WITH YOU is in both top fives.  I would like to preface this post by saying that this film is incredibly hard to watch.  It is an in your face, fast burning film that does not pull any punches what-so-ever, and the film takes dark leaps that you don’t think it will.  This is a film, that last time I checked has an 11% on Rotten Tomatoes and was dubbed the worst film of 2011.  That’s all bullshit.  The problem with I MELT WITH YOU is that the director, Mark Pellington (ARLINGTON ROAD, THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES), uses this film as a mirror, and holds it inches from your face.  What you see in the reflection is real, raw and the unapologetic truth about who we are, and what we hide from others and ourselves.

     I equate the film to being very THE BIG CHILL esq, the plot of the film is about four middle aged friends, Richard (Thomas Jane) who is a “failed” writer and now a high school English teacher, Jonathan (Rob Lowe) a high-end general practitioner who is taking money in exchange for prescriptions, Ron (Jeremy Piven) a fraudulent investment banker, and Tim (Christian McKay) an artist who has lost his soul mate in a crash he caused, and these four have gotten together for a weekend every year since they all graduated college together.  The weekends are loud, drug induced and partying that makes THE WOLF OF WALL STREET look like a PG rated film.

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     The first act of the film is laugh out loud funny, with the four friends partying their ass’ off and reminiscing about old times.  The chemistry the four actors have is absolutely paramount, and looks and feels incredibly genuine and the comradely overflows through the screen, and you feel like one of them, hanging out, taking pills and drinking whiskey.  It’s all fun and games.  A great time.

     There are many messages, themes and realities this film conveys, but at the bottom of all that is the foundation of love.  These men love each other more than anything, it’s a bond that is not easily achieved, and can never be broken.  They love each other, regardless of their individual failures and successes, it doesn’t matter.  The four of them are always there for one another.  Nothing will ever change that.  Nothing will ever change the love and support they have for one another, until it does.

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      The second act of the film takes an incredible, and I mean incredible, dark turn.  Everything in the film is turned upside down, causing the characters to deal with the reality of what happened, and the bigger picture of the reality of a pact they made when they graduated college together.  This causes them to reexamine who they are, what they’ve become, and how far away they are from who they once were.  How they didn’t stay true to themselves, and became hypocrites.

     Richard (Jane) is the realist and the leader of the group.  He was in love once, it didn’t work out, and spent the rest of his life having sex with a vast amount of women.  Richard is the idealist, reminding the rest of the friends who they once were, who they have become, and why they haven’t stayed true to themselves, and each other, and he reinforces the pact they made, signed with their blood.

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     Jane gives his finest performance, and that is saying a lot, from BOOGIE NIGHTS to THE MIST, he is always incredible and has an emotional depth and range to bring any character he plays to life.  Fleshes them out, and makes them real.  Jane’s affability rolls over into his character, where he’s the “cool” high school teacher.  His students like him, and we like him.

     Rob Lowe gives his finest dramatic performance as Jonathan, the broken doctor who set out to help people, make them better, give them hope.  He turns into the biggest hypocrite of all, and sells prescriptions to his wealthy patients, and loses himself, and the oath he took, and somewhere before that, loses his wife and son.  His wife is remarried and their son calls the stepfather Daddy.  Jonathan is a broken man who has lost his way, much like the rest of them, slowly going through life without any progressive momentum.

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     The four actors: Jane, Lowe, Piven and McKay give soul bearing performances.  I can’t think of many ensemble casts that not only provide the best they can be as an actor, but also showing us an incredible emotional range.  This film is truly special, and it is remarkable in every way possible.  I’ve been watching films seriously for the past fifteen years, and there has not been a film that is grounded in reality and as heavy, deep, moving and self reflective as I MELT WITH YOU.  After all this film is about the purest form of love, and these four love each other so much, they stop the world and truly do melt with each other.

This film is available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime.