Tag Archives: thomas kretschmann

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang is one of the most interesting indie flicks to have come along in recent years, and while I can’t quite call it a great film, it has to be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever seen. There are so many concepts, characters, creations, ideas and pontifications running about here that it almost becomes a swirling soup made up of parts of itself as opposed to a cohesive meal, but I’ll never turn down original ideas and unique creative expression, no matter how fucking bonkers it’s all presented.

This is one of those films with a cast that is the very definition of eclectic. A handful of actors are gathered up here who would normally not be seen in the same thing together, let alone casted as against type as they are, and I’m always an advocate for casting against type. It’s basically a noirish California detective story infused with themes of physics and pseudoscience, like Phillip Marlowe by way of Nikola Tesla. Antonio Banderas does an impressive encore here as Ned Cruz, a low rent private eye who is hired by one monster of a Russian prizefighter (Robert Maillet) to find a pen pal girlfriend named Lexie Parsimmons, who he has never even met. As with all detective stories like this, that one seemingly simple task leads Ned on a riotous goose chase all over LA and the outskirts, encountering every oddball, weirdo and pervert the sunny state has to offer. His search is also intercut with scenes in the future where’s he’s somehow been arrested by three spectacularly corrupt LAPD big shots and is being interrogated to the nines.

I greatly admire Krantz for giving his film life, vitality, filling in every corner with substance and conversation and providing every character, right down to those who only get one scene or so, with their own personality, quirk or viewpoint. The three cops are played by William Fichtner, Delroy Lindo and Thomas Kretschmann and if you’re a fan of either you’ll know what scene stealers they are, they constantly try to one up each other with pithy barbs and are all fantastic to watch in action. Most memorable has to be Sam Elliott as Simon Kestral, an eccentric billionaire who is funnelling big bucks into literally recreating the infamous Big Bang using scientific equipment, it’s a hilariously counterintuitive casting choice for such an earthy cowboy but it just somehow works. Look at the rest of the lineup too, which is populated by people like James Van Der Beek, Jimmi Simpson, Bill Duke, Sienna Guillory, Rebecca Mader, Autumn Reeser and Snoop Dogg as a porn director who greatly enjoys acting in his own films, because of course Snoop would.

The plot here is impossibly convoluted and packed to the gills with nonsense, runaway trains of thought, synergetic visual poetry, scenery chewing from almost every actor and all manner of sideshow trickery, but as they say, the fun is in the journey, and what a journey Krantz provides for his characters. I can’t call this a great film but I can say that I love it a lot, I think it’s one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever seen attempted, it looks so fucking sexy onscreen (just look at the poster) and you don’t find films this unique every day. With the upcoming release of David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake, which I’ve still yet to see, I’ve been fixated on LA noir films (this one is that and then some) and I’ve been going back in time to revisit some of my favourites. What are yours?

-Nate Hill

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S. Craig Zahler’s Dragged Across Concrete

Dragged Across Concrete is exploitation auteur S. Craig Zahler’s third feature film, and so far stands as his best. I use the terms auteur and exploitation vaguely here because neither can completely encapsulate what the man is doing with his work, the flavour he strives to bring us is so specifically distilled and perfectly see-sawed a recipe that there are really no pins to drop on the cinematic landscape or existing terms for it, and he may have pioneered something new entirely. He blared onto the scene with primal horror western Bone Tomahawk and followed it up with brutal flick Brawl In Cell Block 99, but Concrete is his most deliberate, suspenseful, heavily charismatic, thoughtful and entertaining piece yet.

Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are Ridgeman and Lurasetti, two sinewy older detectives prone to excessive force and bitter attitudes, until a particularly violent arrest lands them on a viral video and an unpaid suspension from their captain (Don Johnson in a delicious extended cameo). Feeling slighted by both the department and the civilians they’ve served for decades, they decide to tap into underworld contacts and win back some currency as they both have family problems that unemployment wouldn’t serve well. “We have the skills and the right to acquire proper compensation” growls Gibson through a muskrat ‘stache and eyes clouded with anger, and it’s easy to see why he’s miffed. The film is under vague fire for showing us two racist asshole antiheroes and while their actions in the opening collar sequence are extreme and not very nice, they’re not as played up, hateful or heinous as I’ve read some whiny reviews claim. These two are hard bitten jerks, but when the anvil comes down and we see the moral core of each laid bare, they are essentially decent guys who won’t stand by when real injustice rears it’s ugly head. It does too, in the form of nasty arch criminal Vogelmann (an icy, evil Thomas Kretschmann) after a tip off from an underworld contact (Udo Kier, all too briefly). They decide to try and score some mob loot just as ex con Johns (Tory Kittles) and his childhood buddy Biscuit (Michael Jai White) gang up with Vogelmann to do some criminal shit.

This film has its action scenes and close encounters but what really enthralled me is the patience it takes to show us stakeouts in real time and set up incident on its own clock. The two cops post up in their car, eat snack food, nap, banter and compare world views as they simply wait for their quarry to make his move. This is the kind of character cultivation and pacing that leads to investment in the story, so that when the payoff comes we are riveted. I’ve already spoiled too much because I just saw this and want to gab about it endlessly but it’s essentially a long, measured surveillance game followed by a chase and one knockout of a confrontation scene that’s insanely suspenseful and ducks many expectations we have given what we’ve seen so far. Gibson and Vaughn are just so great here, they eat up the dialogue like fast food served with fine wine, it’s Mel’s best performance in years and he owns it. Zahler has a way of writing that is like protein for the ears, a poetically rich timbre as if every character has several thesaurus’s on hand and uses rich, offbeat dialogue to place you right in the scene. Some will inevitably find it too purple or pretentious a script, but I love the way this guy writes. Further down the cast lineup we get turns from Zahler regulars Jennifer Carpenter and Fred Melamed as well as Laurie Holden, Cardi Wong, Matthew MacCaull and others.

My only one gripe is the ongoing and blatant use of Vancouver as other cities when it’s very clearly not. It’s supposed to be Bulwark here but they’re sat up there in Don Johnson’s office on like the twentieth floor somewhere in Coal Harbour with the whole Burrard Inlet visible and it’s like… get real, it’d be nice to see things filmed where they’re set for personality instead of just lazily using my city, but oh well. Probably not a gripe for most, but having grown up here it takes me out of the story just a bit when everything under the sun is recognizable. This has to be Zahler’s most complete and streamlined creative vision so far, a nasty gutter-ball genre piece that shows life in the inner city boiling over the pot into street violence, heists gone up in flames and good intentions shot to ribbons by high powered artillery. The best film I’ve seen so far this year.

-Nate Hill

Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a name for himself as one of the most ambitious, resourceful filmmakers out there, and his version of King Kong isn’t so much a film as it is literally a three hour trip to another world. The 1930’s Kong was a marvel of its time, admittedly now very dated, but this film is really something else, and for me is the minted definitive version of the story, brought to howling, lush, terrifying and affecting life by Jackson and his army of F/X wizards. The main beef people take up is its way too long, and I’m not even going to try and argue. Of course it’s too long. Of course. But I love it anyways, and part of what makes it so immersive and captivating is the length. We spend almost two hours in a New York prologue leading to oceanic escapades before the ship even finds the island! You almost get so tied up in smoke n’ soot vaudeville and scenic intrigue that you forget that there’s a giant gorilla on the way, among many, many other things. Jackson reaches for the stars here, sails off the edge of the map past the borders of the known world and awakens something dark, primal and enthralling in the viewer: a genuine sense of wonder, like films were always meant to since the beginning, and these days don’t often achieve. He also films in a way that you really feel scope, size and the tactile, spacial dynamics of his world, from the gorgeously foreboding mega forests of skull island to the vast expanse of an open ocean to the titanic skyscrapers of old world NYC. Naomi Watts makes a perfect Ann Darrow, her striking femininity harbouring a deeply intuitive courage that ultimately spells her survival and acts as a magnet to Kong, who is a wonder in himself and played right out of the park by Andy Serkis. Jack Black and Adrien Brody embody the hustling filmmaker Carl Denham and the wiry playwright turned adventurer Jack Driscoll neatly. Jackson takes time in getting to know the supporting characters as well, and in a film with this much breathing room, who wouldn’t? Thomas Kretschmann steals every scene as the intense, heroic Captain Englehorn, Evan Parke is implosive as the first mate and Jamie Bell does terror to a turn as a crew member. Skull island itself is the real star of the show here; along with the living, breathing and feeling vision of Kong, the primordial rock is home to all manner of threatening, awe inspiring ecological splendour including vicious T-Rex’s, graceful herbivores, cunning raptors and more. Two sequences in particular test the boundaries of comfort in the viewer and push into almost outright horror as the crew falls victim to an insect pit home to the kinds of spiders, worms and other creepers you wouldn’t want to find in your worst nightmares, as well as the scariest bunch of indigenous tribes-people I’ve ever seen in a film. Nothing quite compares to the otherworldly atmosphere Jackson infuses in the island, we really feel like we’re in a place that time forgot and the attention to detail is remarkable. In a film full of human characters, Kong wins us over as the most emotionally relatable, a rampaging beast whose softer side is brought out by Ann, until the harsh realities of the human world catch up with them in a flat out spectacular aerial smack down set atop the Empire State Building where we see how savage behaviour begets the same back tenfold when you mess with a creature of his size, it’s a heartbreaking sequence. This is a testament to what can be done in film, from effects to world building to period authentic detail to music (the score by James Newton Howard is brilliant) and more, all combined in a piece of adventure cinema for the ages, and one that reminds us why movies are so fun in the first place.

-Nate Hill

Lee Tamahori’s Next

Lee Tamahori’s Next is an ironically titled piece of garbage, because in working my way through Nicolas Cage’s minefield of a post-90’s career, all I wanted to do was yell “next!” and shut this one off. Next in line is actually Ghost Rider, which is like going from the frying pan into the fire, but you can’t win em’ all I suppose. I’m all for a trashy Cage flick now and again, even enjoying some of his more lambasted outings but this one really takes the cake. Adorned in a greasy mop-mullet, he plays a low rent Vegas magician here who actually does possess a bit of the ol’ clairvoyance, which comes in handy when Ice Queen FBI Agent Julianne Moore wants to recruit him for the bureau’s x files department to stop terrorism before it even happens, particularly an attack on Vegas expected soon. It’s a thin setup and he spends most of his time hitting on truck-stop waitress Jessica Biel, who is at least half his age. That’s another thing with the latter half of his career, this old grandpa Cage keeps getting casted with these babes who are young enough to be his daughter, and man it feels weeeiirrddd. (Two films starring as Eva Mandes’s boyfriend! Two!). I know the guy’s a superstar but believability is strained when you realize none of these chicks would actually do that if these flicks were real life. Anywho, the terrorist plot here is a lazily written thing, the baddie literally called Mr. Smith, played by Thomas Kretschmann, too great of an actor to always be stuck in these half ass styrofoam villain roles. Cage uses a mode of telepathic foresight to investigate, a gimmick that plays around with time and reality but lacks any modicum of coherence and just becomes super duper confusing to the plot. This one is all glitter and razzle dazzle up front, but there’s nothing under the hood to back up the hollow roar of it’s somewhat promising premise that gets trod upon by sloppy filmmaking and an overall sense of tackiness. Next!

-Nate Hill

ABC’s FlashForward: here in a flash of brilliance and gone after one season 


ABC’s Flashforwad was a gripping psychological/supernatural epic with potential to run many seasons and provide us with solid entertainment for a long time a lá Lost (which it bears some similarities with), but the network mysteriously axed it after a single season, leaving a vacuum in the air as far as it’s story, and many viewers left stranded, wanting more. The show was built around a wicked concept: one day, every human being on planet earth simultaneously blacks out for a few minutes, and in that time has a precognitive vision of the future some months away from their present time, then promptly wakes up. This of course causes sheer chaos all over the globe, initially with millions of car crashes, disasters and planes falling out of the sky, and eventually the uncertainty, paranoia and confusion as to just what these flash-forwards are all about, and if it will happen again. An FBI task force spearheaded by the likes of Joseph Fiennes and Courtney B. Vance is commissioned to investigate the matter, and their mission takes them to some truly weird places, both geographically and thematically. There’s strange forces at work with this one, secrets that are kept close to the chest and gradually doled out over the expansive twenty three episode arc, a great length of run that should really be the standard for television. It’s similar to Lost in the sense that every week the mystery deepened as opposed to circling a resolution, clues and questions piled on top of the previous ones without a hint of finality or exposition to light the way, an audience tested, surefire way to keep people from flipping the channels mid episode and a great of garnering new viewers via word of mouth. The trick is to also add rhyme and reason to your bag of mysteries, provide a modicum of answers to keep the frustration just at bay, a formula which this one actually succeeds better at than Lost ever did. The scope and budget here are both enormous, giving new meaning to both the terms ‘globetrotting’ and ‘ensemble piece’, a truly vast attempt at long form storytelling. The cast is eclectic, other leads including John Cho as another hard-nosed Fed, Zachary Knighton as a doctor whose life is perhaps affected most by the incident, and brilliant turns from Jack Davenport, Sonya Walger, Peyton List, Dominic Monaghan, Brian F. O’Byrne and the late Michael Massee as nefarious, shadowy ultra-villain Dyson Frost, who serves as a sort of mcguffin during the first act of the show. Guest arcs included James Remar, Thomas Kretschmann, Rachel Roberts, Gabrielle Union, Shohreh Ahgdashloo, Annabeth Gish, Callum Keith Rennie, James Frain, Peter Coyote as the US President and so many more. The show looks amazing too, a brightly lit, well oiled mystery machine with all sorts of storytelling wizardry including nifty slow motion musical montages, trippy time jumps, non linear what-have-you and all manner of neat stuff. Gone way, way before it’s time, this one is well worth a watch and shouldn’t have been written off so soon. And remember: D. Gibbons is a bad man. 

-Nate Hill

Immortal: Ad Vitam


Immortal: Ad Vitam is comic book based high fantasy that wasn’t handed a budget big enough to sustain it’s visual dreams, and sadly as a result is the oddest looking thing ever, like a cross between a screensaver and an early 90’s video game cut scene. Set in some distant surreal future where ancient Egyptian gods (who may just be extraterrestrials) rule over a stylized New York City full of mutant humans, it’s a striking yet incomplete vision. When god Horus is sentenced to die, he descends from a giant floating pyramid in the sky and searches for both a male human host to carry his essence and a female one to bear a child, continuing his holy lineage in case he gets caught. Or… something like that, it’s a weird ass movie. German actor Thomas Kretschmann plays Nikopol, a prisoner who escapes cryo-incarceration after a ward malfunction, now on the loose and playing host to Horus, who’s thoughts he can hear in his head. A rogue doctor (Charlotte Rampling) has discovered a girl (Linda Hardy) she deems a genetic anomaly, also catching Horus’s attention. Now, the creator of the comic book, Enki Bilal, is also credited as director and seems to be adapting his own work, but it’s a shame that he didn’t strive for proper funding in order to sell the visual effects, because as it is now I can’t even give the film a decent rep simply based on the kindergarten level CGI that permeates the whole thing and pulls you right out of the story. It’s sad because the story has such promise, it’s really a creative blast with some unique ideas, and the human actors hold their own, especially Kretschmann, but they’re afloat in a pixelated, ill rendered botch-job of a visual palette and it’s quite a drag to have to sit through. Some of the cityscapes look reasonably polished, but as soon as we zoom in and see gods or human/animal splices walking around it’s cringe time. I will say that effects aside they’ve created a terrifically eerie atmosphere though, truly otherworldly, dreamy Blade Runner style aura that helps quite a bit. Perhaps one day they can go back with money, a team and fix all the potholes so one can truly enjoy this potentially great film. Until then, it’s a bit hard to take seriously as a whole. 

-Nate Hill