Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

Francis Lawrence’s Constantine

So they chose a dark haired, American Keanu Reeves to play John Constantine instead of some sassy blonde British Sting doppelgänger, big whoop. I mean if that really cheeses you off as a fan of the comics to the point where you can’t enjoy this wonderful film then fair enough. This iteration of Constantine makes its decided departure from source material and opts to give us a gorgeous dark LA Noir fantasy full of striking imagery, genuinely frightening set pieces, intense character work from a host of cool actors and a slick, oily visual feel that accentuates the supernatural tone beautifully. Keanu is basically an icon of cool, between The Matrix and recently introducing John Wick to the world this guy is kind of a cultural talisman of epic genre films and for me this stands with the best. Constantine is an exorcist, detective, damned soul, chain smoker, extreme ghostbuster and all around cynical badass, here solving a mystery with biblical implications relating to an LAPD officer (Rachel Weisz), her ill fated clairvoyant twin sister (also Weisz) and a fearsome series of events that could spell the end of the world. John has allies in snarky cab driver Chaz (Shia Leboeuf in his ‘back in the day’ phase), mysterious club magnate and sorcerer Papa Midnite (Djimon Hounsou), eccentric entomologist Beeman (Max Baker), hard drinking clergyman Father Hennessy (Pruitt Taylor Vince) and demonic concubine Ellie (Michelle Monaghan). He’s up against some gnarly foes of this world and others including nasty hellhound Balthazar (Gavin Rossdale channelling Harvey Dent), a possessed Mexican immigrant (Jesse Ramirez), the treacherous Angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton in mercurial androgynous mode) and big baddie Lucifer himself played by a kooky, darkly dapper Peter Stormare in what has to be one of the coolest and most captivating portrayals of the devil cinema has to offer. Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games) has big budget, flashy effects sensibilities and while there is a fair amount of visual sizzle and large scale spectacle here the tone is often one of suffocating darkness, unseen dread creeping down narrow hallways stifling both light and space, eerie close quarters settings and a claustrophobic aesthetic that refracts the hellish elements of this story into the forefront brilliantly. John’s trip to hell with assistance from a cat is one stunner of a sequence, as is his explosively violent, gory n’ gooey showdown with Balthazar and an opening exorcism that launches a full length mirror, demon trapped inside, onto an LA street in broad daylight. His flippant confrontation with Stormare’s Satan has to be my favourite scene though, it’s such a classy, stylish, well acted and creepy-funny bit that caps off this story not with a huge bombastic action sequence but rather a clipped, ironic and altogether biting exchange of dialogue between these two great actors, who would go on to have another priceless little Easter egg scene together in John Wick 2. So say what you will about this film and I hear ya with legitimate grievances regarding fealty to the comics but that don’t bother me, I love this dark, unique, creepy, baroque jewel of a film too much. Great stuff.

-Nate Hill

Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria

I’m not usually too lenient on remakes of my favourite films and 1977’s Suspiria would have been a deal breaker, but holy goddamn if they didn’t do it justice and then some with 2018’s fierce, austere, unrelentingly gruesome update. It shouldn’t even be called a remake anyways as besides title and general premise, it’s an entirely different beast possessing of its own unique aesthetic and themes far removed from Dario Argento’s vision. Italian director Luca Guadagnino is not a voice I’m familiar with, I haven’t seen a single other film he’s done and looking at his credits it seems this is his first venture into the horror genre, a winning first stroke for sure.

The visual atmosphere here is decidedly different and that’s part of what makes this such a piece all its own. Argento’s neon bathed, opulently saturated colour and lighting is traded in for bleak greys, browns, sickly beiges and suffocated hues that breed uncomfortably onscreen for something less attractive yet far more unsettling than the bejewelled beauty of its predecessor. It also fits the late 70’s Berlin setting which as history reminds us was pretty fucking grim. Young Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) journeys from an Ohio Mennonite community to the prestigious Markos dance academy, which as fans of this story know, is front for a nasty coven of ancient witches. Things go awry almost from the second she arrives but the film plays deftly with who and what it means to be a protagonist here and we see a dynamic shift from other girls (played solidly by Mia Goth and Chloë Grace Moretz) who get suspicious and then wish they hadn’t. The school is run by angular, mercurial shryke Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton in one of three roles, because apparently she can do anything.

So is this a better film than Argento’s original? There is of course no right answer to that and I don’t even think they should be compared alongside one another, they may as well be from different galaxies, let alone genres. There’s a sense of diseased malfeasance to these witches, who go out on the town, drink and party just like anyone else but are anything but human. I loved the decision to change Susie’s character from doe eyed heroine to an eerily intuitive avatar with a seemingly dark destiny already written in blood years before. The film wanders about in draft filled hallways, echoey dance studios and chilly, depressing Berlin streets for much of the runtime until the climax arrives, and holy fuck I was not expecting this to go the whole nine yards into outright wanton, surrealistic chaos horror mode. There’s a crazily violent collective piece of mania that happens deep within the bowels of the school building that might be one of my new favourite set pieces in any horror film ever. It tells this story through image, impression, carnage, lighting and fantastic performances from all involved including a terrifying cameo from the grim reaper itself. All set to a hauntingly unconventional score by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, it’s not a sequence I’ll soon forget and propels the overall film into classic territory. What an experience.

-Nate Hill

Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton

Usually when George Clooney shows up in a film, you get to see that smile. That mile wide, slightly mischievous grin is one of the chief reasons he’s such a charismatic onscreen presence, but in Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton it’s nowhere to be found. This allows other aspects of his personality to come forward in playing the stressed out, introspective titular law firm fixer in what might be his best performance so far in a brilliant drama. His face is drawn and worried, his wide eyes taking in the ruthless corporate environment around him with taciturn angst and survival instinct of a cornered jungle cat. Michael has every reason to be worried not only in a general profession like this but also because of recent events. One of the firm’s top lawyers (Tom Wilkinson) is having a royal mental breakdown whilst in the thick of a high profile class action lawsuit putting billions against a chemical giant who are almost certainly guilty of what they’re being accused of. This is not good, not good at all and the the firm’s most senior partner (Sydney Pollack, so serious he’s scary) throws everything he’s got at the wall to remedy the situation, including Michael. Clooney plays the man almost as a guy who has chosen the wrong profession; to be a fixer like that I feel like you’d need a certain sort of cold detachment and near sociopathic level of apathy when dealing with such moral quagmires, but Michael is a man who, despite obvious efforts to stay one step removed, let’s his humanity seep through with every sympathetic glance and wounded exchange. Perhaps it’s Clooney’s inherent affability or a deliberate character choice, but in any case the contradictory portrayal works wonders and makes for such a fascinating protagonist. Wilkinson isn’t capable of giving a bad performance even in the worst films, his darkly comic unravel from learned man of law to unhinged mad scholar is a beautifully tragic arc and one of the tethers holding Michael in the swirling gale of tricky decisions and do-or-die chess moves he must navigate. Another is icy, robotic Tilda Swinton as a shady lawyer hired by Big Chemical to try and patch up things on their end. She unravels too, albeit in a less theatrical way than Wilkinson, but the noiseless, implosive confrontation she has with Michael in the third act is enough to knock anyone flat and stands as my favourite scene of the film. Michael is a family man with a young son who dreams of escaping this cutthroat netherworld and starting up a restaurant, a goal that the audience sees glowing on the horizon as clearly as he does thanks to the empathy inspiring performance. After all is said and done we witness some of the most simply unique end credits out there on a hypnotic car ride where both Michael and the viewers decompress and meditate on everything before, it’s a brilliant bit of the pacing puzzle here. This isn’t really a political thriller and can’t very well be called courtroom drama either, really it’s own thing. I suppose the closest is character study, but even that doesn’t provide a legible menu option for the meal to follow. Unique in atmosphere and character interaction, crisply written and directed by Gilroy, and acted to the absolute nines by Clooney without ever showboating or chewing scenery. Great film.

-Nate Hill

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is a dazzling, indisputable success, as both a standalone film and when viewed next to its literary counterpart. It stands as a milestone for me, in the sense that it’s pretty much the only film adaptation of a book that was very special to me growing up to not only do the story justice, but to come out a winner as the best cinematic vision of it possible. It’s a feast for the eyes, ears and spirit, and remarkably, a lot of it plays out exactly how my memories of the book do. Having said that, I would advise avoidance of the sequels, one of which I’ve seen and it put me off going any further. Prince Caspian felt lazy, rushed and cheap, all the mystery and wonder found here was gone, not to mention they fudged up the progression of the series and completely skipped The Horse And His Boy, one of my favourites. This one is the real deal and hits the right notes, and from the opening frame when a rattling POV shot of bombs descending on a WWII ravaged London, the film assures us that it means business, and isn’t going to slip into the pandering, glossy, watered down Young Adult world of adaptations. The Pevensie children, four precocious English youngsters, are sent away from the conflict to live with a distant relative in the country. There, they find a desolate old mansion, populated only by a starchy old goat of a housekeeper and the eccentric Professor Kirke (Jim Broadbent, brief but memorable). They also stumble upon a magical wardrobe leading to a vast kingdom called Narnia, filled with talking beasts, castles, forests and more legendary creatures than you can shake a stick at. Lucy (Georgie Henley is the perfect, darling Lucy I imagined), the youngest and most intuitive of the four, is first to venture through, meeting kindly fawn Mr. Tumnus (James Macavoy) who tells her that Narnia has fallen on hard, wintry times. Her siblings back in our world don’t believe her, until they too are whisked through into the land, unknowingly thrust into an adventure to save Narnia, which will well likely put them in more danger than anything WWII has to offer. The four are uncannily well cast: William Moseley brings the humbled nobility and budding leader in Peter magnificently, Anna Popplewell shows the compassionate warrior’s heart in Susan, and Skandar Keyes expertly handles the arc of Edmund, the black sheep of the group with lessons to learn, both bitter and sweet. They are pit against Narnia’s resident villain and warlord, the malicious White Witch Jadis (Tilda Swinton will freeze your heart), with the help of many a talking animal, including friendly Mr. Beaver (Ray Winstone), and the messianic lion and all around badass Aslan (Liam Neeson, because who else would you cast?). Michael Madsen provides his raspy growl to the voice of Maugrim, the Witch’s top wolf lieutenant in her lupine secret police force, and other hidden Easter eggs of voiceover work can be heard from Dawn French as Mrs. Beaver and Rupert Everett as a Fox. Scope and spectacle are paramount in bringing the world of Narnia to life, and the filmmakers spared no expanse here: The children delve into chases, battles, betrayals, icy encounters with the witch, sword fights and all sorts of wonder, including a surprise visit from Father Christmas himself, warmly intoned by James Cosmo. Equally important as the razzle dazzle are the quiet, contemplative conversations that flourish into important character beats and lessons for all involved. The four are at a crux of human development, and vulnerable to stimuli both internal and external. Even though the story takes place in a magical, heightened world of fantasy, the interactions and human behaviour couldn’t feel more real. It’s beautifully carried over from the book, violent darkness and uplifting light included and born on the gilded wings of a stirring musical score from Harry Gregson Williams that swells to near transcendent heights when we reach that climactic battle. Swinton switches up the traditional theatrics that Barbara Kellerman brought to the BBC production (that version is a whole other story) in favour of a vicious, unrelenting and at times almost extraterrestrial portrayal of the witch, she’s cunning, manipulative and oh so evil. Director Andrew Adamson brings magisterial beauty to it visually and stages the battles with kinetic but focused energy. I love this film, not a note felt false to me when keeping the book in mind as I sat in the theatre, and that is incredibly rare if the source material means something to me.

-Nate Hill

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs might be the guy’s best film so far, it’s miraculous on all levels. Now, I’m someone who previously wasn’t really an Anderson fan and had to warm up to his aesthetic as the movies came down the pipeline. With Life Aquatic and Tennenbaums I was left a little cold, a little meh. It took Moonrise Kingdom for me to be like “Ok.. this is pretty good,” by the time Grand Budapest rolled in I went “fuck yeah this is great,” and Dogs pretty much had me flipping over the moon. Much of the appreciation I have is for the breathtakingly detailed, tactile and textured stop motion animation technique employed here, a dazzling bag of tricks that brings a parallel dimension version of Japan to painstaking life, and fuels the story of one young boy (Koyu Rankin) looking for his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). The boy’s power mad Uncle (Kunichi Nomura) is the Mayor of Nagasaki Town, where dogs have been prohibited and banished to gargantuan Trash Island, where they live a savage, poverty ridden existence. The doggos here are voiced by an incredible cast of eclectic actors, which is par for the Anderson course. Bryan Cranston steals the show as Chief, a moody mongrel with violent tendencies who consciously contemplates why he is the way he is and has a beautiful arc. Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Anjelica Huston, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton and more round out the rest of the puppers, each with their own distinct furry idiosyncrasies to offer. The message here is obvious and plays a bit too much into the state of current affairs when it should have been content to be a fictitious romp, but all is well. Anderson & Co. have also whipped up a supremely elaborate script that is as full of stimulating details of language and interactions as is the visual palette. This is a rollicking adventure, a tail of friendship, a deadpan screwball comedy, a satirical sideshow and a gorgeous work of visual art rolled into one unclassifiable piece of ingenuity.

-Nate Hill

Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer: A Review by Nate Hill 

Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a cold affair in more ways than one. It treats it’s characters with the same icy indifference as the storm which batters the few remaining people on the planet, confined to a locomotive that speeds around the globe in perpetual motion, humanity’s last ditch effort against a cataclysmic ice age of their own making. The train is designed to house the poor and disenfranchised folks in filthy barracks at the back end of the train, while the rich and privileged elite live in glamerous excess at the front. What better metaphor for brutal classism? A confined vehicle from which their is no escape, dwindling resources and rising tensions eerily serve to remind us of our own situation on this rock. Chris Evans grimes up his Captain America image as the ruthless leader of the poor, rebelling traincar by traincar and waging an ongoing war against the upper class and their minions, his sights set on reaching the engine. Unfortunately they’re up against some nasty security forces dispatched to end their rebellion at any cost, including axe wielding henchman, a J.T. Walsh lookalike who is tougher to kill than a terminator and an absolutely nutballs Tilda Swinton, unrecognizable under a dairy queen cake of makeup and a muddled northern England accent, dryly  playing the tyrannical head of propaganda. Aside from the obvious social satire that hits home, the film is also a rollicking action slam dunk with some jaw dropping, delightfully implausible set pieces and truly inspired visual design. Each train car has a different theme and purpouse, from a self sufficient aquarium (anybody want some sushi?) to a terrifyingly cheerful classroom where kiddies are brainwashed by a crackhead of a school teacher (Alison Pill in overdrive), and eventually the engine itself, a technological marvel presided over by a lonely, twisted and miscast Ed Harris as the architect of the whole deal, a role better suited for a Patrick Stewart or a Malcolm McDowell type. John Hurt plays the other half of the brains, stuck in squalor at the caboose, and there’s work from Ewan Bremmer, Octavia Spencer, Jamie Bell, Ah Sung Ko and Kang Ho Song as a resourceful explosives expert with his own agenda. The themes of this film will be difficult for some to swallow, which is what I imagine led to it’s piss poor marketing, at least in North America. The topical, callous and icy blunt truths about society, sacrifice and oppression won’t be willingly received  by many, least of all the powers that be, who don’t want such notions floating around freely. That’s what makes it important though, and sets it a step above most. It reaches near taboo levels of thought, displaying ugliness and outrage that seems scarily logical the more you think about it. Plus it’s a humdinger of an action adventure flick. Strong stuff, both in visual and narrative departments. 

Burn After Reading: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading is the duo at their height of trolling the audience, a mood they seem to make some of the most devilishly funny films of their career. This one reminds me of long days full of running around, confusion and missed appointments, days where I get home and reach the end only to realize that for all the frenzy, nothing I did all day was really of any consequence. This film is sort of like that; a whole lot of clandestine nonsense and tomfoolery that adds up to.. well, not much of anything in the end. If that sounds like I’m being negative, I’m not. That’s part of the Coen’s charm and a core aspect of what makes this one so hilarious. It’s also full of complete dimwitted morons, which only adds to the chorus of lunacy. John Malkovich teeters on the borders of mania, scary and funny as ex CIA half wit Osborne Cox, in a performance so utterly Malkovich that he almost seems like some other actor parodying him. He’s got a cold hearted bitch of a wife (Tilda Swinton) who is fooling around with even bigger idiot Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney  is a riot) who is also fooling around with anything that has a pulse, being the squirrelly sex addict that he is. Cox has started a memoir (or, ‘mem-wah’, as Malkovich ludicrously intones it), the contents of which are on a disc that end up in the hands of yet even bigger idiots. Linda Litzke (Frances Mcdormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt) run a gym called Hardbodies (only the Coens, folks) and see the disc as ‘secret spy shit’ they could use to make a buck. That’s where the plot hollers off the rails into pure madness, as each and every character makes the dumbest possible decision  along the way. J.K. Simmons are gold as two CIA honchos who are more puzzled than the audience, Richard Jenkins trolls perhaps the subtlest of all, and the cast also includes Jeffrey Demunn, Olek Krupa and a meta cameo from Dermot Mulroney. Among the cloak and dagger chaos, the Coen take every chance they get to spoof and lovingly ridiculue society’s cringe inducing stereotypes, until you start to realize they’re levels of exaggeration aren’t all that over the top. Pitt is gold as the air headed gym rat, Clooney pure screwball, and Malkovich is a force of demented nature, his exentuated word pronunciations reaching a boiling point of absurdity here. This is up there with the Coen’s best, and certainly one of their funniest hours.