Tag Archives: tim blake nelson

Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report

Few films successfully balance story, character, emotion, action and special effects on a scale as grand as Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, which I saw for the first time last night and am still reeling from. It’s brilliant, intelligent science fiction, a labyrinthine murder mystery, complex detective story and a thunderous action movie all rolled together in a perfectly pitched recipe, probably as close to flawless as you can find. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Spielberg world-builds fantastically around the concept of ‘Pre-Cogs’, neurologically damaged clairvoyants who can predict murders before they happen and have been put to work in Washington DC of 2054, where Lexus hover cars jet along vertical freeways, mad doctors replace eyeballs in a grimy shanty town flophouses, holograms dance about and there hasn’t been a single murder in six years, which is all about to change. It’s a startlingly complex, succinct version of the future where every bell and whistle serves the story instead of being simple gaudy arbitration to flaunt the studio’s money showboating across the screen. Tom Cruise gives a focused, implosive turn as John Anderton, chief of the high tech PreCrime unit, tasked with taking the PreCog’s readings and implementing force to ensure that these future murders never take place, that is until his very own name comes down the tube and he’s propelled on an odyssey to clear his name, smoke out elusive corruption and put ghosts of the past to rest in several different cases. Talk about an eclectic cast of actors supporting him, with standouts including Max Von Sydow as the grandfatherly director of the program, Lois Smith as an eccentric botanist with ties to the past, Kathryn Morris as Anderson’s intuitive ex wife, Colin Farrell as a sharp federal agent who both hinders and helps Anderton’s cause, Peter Stormare positively devouring scenery as aforementioned mad doctor, Tim Blake Nelson as a chatty prison warden, Neal McDonough and Patrick Kilpatrick as fellow PreCrime cops and Samantha Morton who almost walks off with the film in an arresting portrayal of angelic, animalistic PreCog Agatha, whose gifted brain holds power to unlock the past. The central mystery of the film is deep, broad and filled with hairpin turns you don’t see coming, it’s noirish in the way it unfolds but slick and streamlined in design, like all the best retro futurism I can think of, this now included. Better still is the fierce, uncompromising emotional centre where it finds gravity, particularly in a heartbreaking scene where Agatha enlightens John and his wife to their own pain, hers and that of those in the past she is trying to find retribution for, it’s a devastating sequence of blunt truth and unfiltered compassion that resonates beautifully from Morton, Cruise and Morris who all nail it. What more can I say? Roger Ebert said it best when he wrote that this film reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place, and I agree. I was attentive, rose up to met the narrative with my focus and always felt entertained by both the large scale fireworks and careful mechanization of story. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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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

The Big White: A Review by Nate Hill 

Snowbound location. Pitch black comedy. A corpse that’s central to the plot. The Big White was obviously influenced by Fargo, the Pulp Fiction of wintry crime comedies, but holds its own fairly well thanks to solid acting and writing. It’s nothing new or incredible, but it’ll get you your perversely humerous noir fix, and who can say no to Robin Williams, playing a pitiable travel agent who spies a risky way to end his financial problems. Discovering a frozen corpse, he has the brilliant idea to pass it off as his deceased brother and collect the insurance money. A few problems lie ahead: a dogged insurance investigator (Giovanni Ribisi), two moronic hitmen (Tim Blake Nelson & W. Earl Brown) and the small detail that his brother isn’t actually dead, and comes waltzing back into his life in the form of a rampaging, unstable Woody Harrelson. William’s spitfire wife (Holly Hunter) looks on in exasperation as her husband turns their lives into disaster, while everyone is somewhat clueless and misinformed, leading to great amounts of hilarity. Sound chaotic? It is, sort of. It’s also kinda laid back and deadpan enough to make the Coen brothers proud. Harrelson and Williams both bring their very different brands of manic, Williams I’m a forlorn desperate sense, and Harrelson  just the unhinged wildcard. Alison Lohman is also running about, but it’s been so long since I saw it I can’t remember exactly who she plays. Fans of Fargo will be tickled, those with a weird sense of humour as well. Fun stuff. 

Wonderland: A Review by Nate Hill 

  
I’ve always thought of this as the Oliver Stone Movie that the man never made. It has the sordid, excessive sleaziness of U Turn, and the studious inquisition into true crime and intriguing Americana that he showed us in JFK. Both films explore the violence and ugliness that peppers American history in different ways, the brash and the academic which often exist in opposite poles colliding in Wonderland, a wholeheartedly nasty account of a stomach churning multiple murder involving one of the most infamous porn stars who ever lived, John Holmes (Val Kilmer). I don’t know what the real Holmes was like (besides tell rumours of his anaconda cock), but the version we see here is a sniveling, unrepentant scumbag who is very hard to empathize with unless you flip the nihilism switch on in your brain and lose yourself in it. The film follows his association with a group of fellow undesirables, interested only in furthering their own drug habits by any means necessary, legal or otherwise. John is late in bis career and on the cusp of being a washout, his underage girlfriend (Kate Bosworth) pretty much the only friend he has in the world. He spends his days getting involved in all kinds of smutty business, along with a crew of fellow junkies led by loose cannon Josh Lucas, grim biker Dylan McDermott and timid Tim Blake Nelson. When they collectively catch wind of the wealth of one of John’s acquaintances, a dangerous club owning mobster (Eric Bogosian in full psycho mode), the dollar signs swirl in their already dilated pupils. After an ill advised robbery, Bogosian reacts with all the wrath of the Israeli mafia, fuelled by his personal vendetta, brutally slaughtering each and every one of John’s gang, letting him live as a branded snitch. The film is based on notoriously grisly crime scene photos which can be seen online, laying speculation on Holmes’s part in the killings, and spinning a sinfully chaotic, noisy web of pulpy hijinks surrounding the case. The film is told from two different perspectives, a fractured narrative laid down by Kilmer and McDermott in respective and very different summaries of the event. Ted Levine and Franky G. play the two detectives who take it all in and work the case, and the excellent M.C. Gainey plays a veteran ex cop who they bring simply because he’s the only familiar face which skittish Holmes will open up to. This is an ugly, nasty film and I won’t pretend it doesn’t get very gratuitous both in dialogue and action. It goes the extra mile of obscenity and then some in its efforts to make us squirm, but every time I pondered the necessity of such sustained atrocities, I reminded myself that in real life there’s even more of such stuff, and the film is just trying to hit the themes of decay home hard, albeit with a sledgehammer, not a whiffle ball bat in this case. Kilmer is fidgety brilliance as Holmes, a severely damaged dude who hangs onto the last strand of our sympathy by the wounded dog whine in his voice alone. The only time I felt anything for the dude is when he visits his estranged ex wife (a flat out fantastic Lisa Kudrow, cast against type and nailing it) and we see flickers of a dignity in him that’s long since been consumed by darkness. One of his best roles for sure. Watch for further work from Michael Pitt, Louis Lombardi, Janeane Garofalo, Scoot Mcnairy, Christina Applegate, Faizon Love, Chris Ellis, Paris Hilton and Natasha Gregson Warner too. This one is like Boogie Nights, Rashomon and Natural Born Killers tossed in together on spin dry. It’s a wicked concoction, but you’ll need to bring a strong stomach and the foreknowledge that you’re going to be spending two hours with some of the most deplorable human beings this planet has to offer. The silver lining is you get to see it all play out in killer style, smoky and evocative 1970’s cinematography and dedicated thespians branding each scene with their own lunacy. Tough to swallow, but great stuff.

O Brother Where Art Thou? -A Review by Nate Hill

The Coen Brother’s O Brother Where Art Thou is just a rush of pure originality, musical genius and inspired storytelling, situated outside the box of used conventions, and rooted deeply in a whimsical realm of absurd, charming characters on an epic odyssey across the American south during arguably the most eccentric time period, the 1930s Great Depression. It’s the Coen’s second best for me (it’s hard to top the Lebowski, dude), and a film that I watched so many time growing up that it’s almost now a piece of my soul. It’s loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey. Three bumbling convicts escape from a dusty chain gang in a delightful opening romp set to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney) is their silver tongued, troublemaking leader, on his way to reunite with his estranged wife (Holly Hunter, reliably stubborn and sassy) and little daughters. Along with him is short tempered Pete (Coen regular John Turturro in top form) and sweet, dimwitted Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson). Together they get in just about every kind of trouble that you can imagine three hapless convicts on the run in depression era south getting into. They briefly share paths with musician Tommy (Chris Thomas King), cross the radar of a boisterous bible salesman (John Goodman, stealing scenes as usual with his effortless, booming charm), become involved with duelling governor candidates Homer Stokes and Pappy O Daniels (Wayne Duvall and Charles Durning), and have run ins with sexy sirens led by Musetta Vander, the KKK, notorious mobster George Babyface Nelson (Michael Badalucco has to be seen to be believed as the lively, likely bi polar suffering wise guy) and more, all the while pursued by mysterious Sheriff Cooley (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP). It’s quite al lot of goings on for one film, but the Coens are masters of telling zany, eclectic stories that deviate into all sorts of unexpected subplots without ever derailing and losing us. This one flows along wondrously, a wild, funny and haunting fable that almost feels like a dust bowl Dante’s Inferno at times, albeit of much lighter subject matter. Roger Deakins spins poetry with his lens, capturing every chaff of wheat, every ray of southern sun and brown hued set design with painstaking expertise. What really holds it together though, is the absolute knockout soundtrack. There’s so many moments of now iconic musical storytelling that we feel we’re watching a strange bluegrass lullaby that just happens to take place in cinematic vision. The Coens have always known their music, but they transcend to another level of intuition here, gathering an incredibly evocative group of songs and artists together that stir the collective ancestral memory of historical Americana. Off the top of my head there’s You Are My Sunshine, Keep On The Sunny Side, I’ll Fly Away beautifully warbled by the Kossoy Sisters, Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Babe sung by the slinky sirens, In The Highways by the adorable Peasall sisters, Jimmie Rodgers’s In The Jailhouse Now, Lonesome Valley, Ralph Stanley’s two eerie pieces O Death, and Angel Band, also by the Peasall Gals, and the classic Down To The River To Pray, which sneaks up on you and leaves you in rapture from its inescapable grip. My favourite by far though is I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow, an endlessly catchy hobo tune of jangling melancholy and highway humour, sung by John Hartford but cheekily lip synced by Clooney and team, an original piece made up on the fly by the three characters that goes on to make them ridiculously famous under the pseudonym the ‘Soggy Bottom Boys’. It’s all an intoxicating wonder to take in, the period authentic screenplay and production a feast for the senses. The Coens seem to be adept at whatever they try; sly satire, period piece, stinging violence, dark humour, and even touching drama when they put their minds to it. This is a career high for them, a totally unique piece of art that demands multiple viewings and a spot in any avid movie collectors pantheon.