Tag Archives: Tom Cruise

City of Dark Angels: Nate’s Top Ten LA Noir films

Los Angeles is a place of bright sunny daydreams, hopeful aspirations of fame and fortune and the ever present hum of the Hollywood industry. It’s a fascinating arena to watch a film noir unfold but between the palms, roaming the hilly outskirts and permeating the cityscape is often a deep, sleazy corruption and sense of danger at every turn, apparent in many films that explore the dark, noirish side of town. Vice cops on the take, starlets on the run from powerfully evil forces, mobsters running the show from behind the scenes and grisly serial murderers that inspire films of their own, it’s all there and more. Here are my top ten in this sexy, beautiful and often hilarious sub-genre.. Oh one more thing! Please keep in mind I’m still a young’in and haven’t seen pretty much any of the old LA crime films dating back to black and white days of the 40’s and 50’s.. one day we’ll get to those, but for now these are my favourite one from a more contemporary scope of vision.. Enjoy!

10. Carl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress

Denzel Washington sniffs out corruption most foul in this sweaty potboiler that includes a mysterious femme fatale (Jennifer Beals), a politician (the late Maury Chaykin) with some disturbing skeletons in his closet and a scary rogue cop (Tom Sizemore). The narrative is reliably serpentine, Denzel pulls off a smooth performance and the atmosphere is all grit, shadows and smoked out jazz clubs.

9. Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls

In this vision of 40’s LA, corruption has to stand up to Nick Nolte’s Max Hoover, an off the book vigilante cop who doles out brutal frontier style justice on gangsters along with his equally ruthless crew (Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and Chazz Palminteri). This one has a bad rep but it’s fantastic, the scope of the central mystery spans to the outskirts of town and includes a mysterious songbird (Jennifer Connolly), a weirdo Air Force colonel (John Malkovich) and more. It’s a positively star studded piece of work with cameos buried like hidden treasure throughout, a spectacular sense of time and place thanks to lavish production design and a hard edged, angry lead performance from Nolte at his most battered and distraught.

8. Shane Black’s The Nice Guys

The buddy comedy gets a royal workout in this balls out pairing between Russell Crowe’s aloof thug for hire and Ryan Gosling’s moronic private eye. The plot here is almost impenetrable but it’s no matter, most of the fun is in the colourful, detailed 1970’s production design and Black’s trademark deadpan dialogue which we get in spades. Ooo, and an icily sexy turn from Kim Basinger as the city’s most corrupt government official, a deliberate callback to another film later on this list.

7. Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Combining elements of classic noir with the zany cartoon aesthetic and using stunning technology to do so, this miracle of a film parades around pretty much every animated character you can think of in a tale of humans living alongside ‘Toons’ in an alternate reality Los Angeles. A trip to Toon Town, the sultry femme fatale Jessica Rabbit (Kathleen Turner) a truly terrifying villain (Christopher Lloyd), an intrepid private eye (Bob Hoskins) and so much more can be found in this timeless, visually dazzling classic.

6. Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential

A sprawling, diabolical tale of police corruption, this brilliant, galvanizing piece of crime cinema launched the international careers of both Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce, both providing solid, brawny tough guy turns. Kim Basinger gives arguably her best performance as a blonde bombshell starlet, Kevin Spacey is splendid as a headline hogging super cop who reeks of self loathing and James Cromwell makes for one terrifying villain as the last guy you want as a Police Commissioner. The real star here is the script, a labyrinthine tale that takes its time imparting revelations and ends with several dark secrets and a bang-up shootout. Oh, and remember Rollo Tomassi.

5. DJ Caruso’s The Salton Sea

Val Kilmer explores the duality of man as both a nocturnal meth-head and a mournful trumpet player in this curious, dreamy and altogether captivating piece of pulp bliss. Populated by eccentric actors like Danny Trejo, R. Lee Ermey, Meat Loaf and Vincent D’Onofrio in a bizarre encore as a drug kingpin called Pooh Bear, this is one of the most distinctive and memorable crime flicks out there. From it’s haunting trumpet solos set against the sunset on the shores of the titular waters to the feverish late night shenanigans of Kilmer and his band of druggie freaks to a slow burn revenge subplot that creeps up from behind, this is a brilliant picture.

4. HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

This might be a controversial pick a) because it’s a season of television and not a feature film and b) because this season isn’t regarded as quality content in some circles. Well… with these lists I envision a world of blogging where film and TV occupy the same realm and also I will defend this incredible story to the grave. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn play lost souls in a fictional California county who begin to uncover a dense, decades old trend of conspiracy and corruption in their midst. It’s bleak, fatalistic and hyper stylized but the truth of each character and the season’s dark themes overall shine through wonderfully. It’s one of my favourite seasons of television ever produced and simply undeserving of any dislike thrown its way.

3. Ethan & Joel Coen’s The Big Lebowski

What do marmots, nihilists, White Russians, bowling, sarsaparilla, interpretive dance, dirty undies and the sheriff of Malibu have in common? It’ll take a couple of viewings to completely string together the Coen’s farcical cult classic and distill it to a point of cohesion, but is that really the point anyways? This film has sort of spawned a subculture and taken on a life all its own. A purebred masterpiece of screwball elements, abstract dream sequences, stoned out tomfoolery and the bad guy from Roadhouse playing a pornographer who likes to draw dicks… what more do we need?

2. Michael Mann’s Collateral

There’s a point in this film where a lone coyote ambles across the LA interstate while Jamie Foxx’s introverted cab driver and Tom Cruise’s philosophical hitman look on in dreamy bemusement to the tune of Groove Armada’s haunting ‘Hands Of Time’ in the background. It’s striking for a few different reasons.. it serves the plot none other than to highlight both the savage, jungle law nature of Los Angeles and to remind us that the colour of this beast’s coat mirrors that of Cruise’s hair and leaves us to wonder if that is deliberate or just us making conjecture. Mann’s brilliant crime thriller is full of moments like these, subtle instances, eerie coincidences and mood setting interludes that make it something more than just your average cat and mouse thriller, something deep, meditative and primal.

1. Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

As a once aspiring actor I’ve always had this fantasy of becoming casted by accident and catapulted into the LA scene by sheer happenstance, and that’s exactly what happens to hapless Robert Downey Jr in this hilariously meta send up of noir in general. Of course the lucky break isn’t without strings attached, the main one being Val Kilmer’s scene stealing private detective Gay Perry. The two of them bicker their way down a rabbit hole involving an aspiring actress (Michelle Monaghan, luminous), a shady tycoon (Corbin Bernsen) and numerous other lowlifes and weirdos the great city has to offer. Downey and Kilmer win the day with their utterly hilarious and touching characterizations, spurred by Black’s winning dialogue and an overall sense that everyone involved has a deep love for all things Hollywood.

Thanks for reading!! What are some of your favourite LA Noirs?

-Nate Hill

Barry Levinson’s Rain Man

What I enjoyed most in Barry Levinson’s excellent Rain Man is that it didn’t cheap out with a faux sweet final cherry on top with the ending. What I mean by that is that in some stories about mentally challenged people, they will spend much of the film dealing with their conditions, the relatives, friends and doctors around them will help and periodically become frustrated by them and right near the end there will be this miraculous, parting of the clouds moment where a coherence comes through and the filmmakers attempt to manipulate the events by showing something unrealistic in order to make the story more palatable. Not this one. Dustin Hoffman is a method actor’s method actor and while I don’t always see the value in such focused, orchestrated and inorganic prep work, for this type of role it’s not only necessary, it’s crucial.

He plays Raymond here, a high functioning autistic man living in a care facility who is scooped up by his estranged younger brother Charlie (Tom Cruise). Charlie didn’t know he existed so it’s a bit of a shock and adjustment period for both, but really all he’s after is the three million inheritance money that’s gone into a trust in Raymond’s name, and all else he has to deal with results in frustration and lashing out. Charlie is a materialistic, caustic, self centred asshole when we meet him and one could argue who is in fact the more mentally challenged one given his immature behaviour. But that’s what character arcs are for, and Cruise’s here is something really special. At first he’s distant and short tempered with Raymon who, naturally, is tough to properly communicate with. But after spending time on the road together for weeks a bond forms and Charlie realizes that this man is the only real family he has left, and in a poignant series of interactions highlighted by one key conversation, the two become brothers again, or perhaps even for the first time, properly anyways. It’s a fantastic piece because the script treats these two with respect and let’s them be real human beings and not cloying plot devices. Cruise plays it hotheaded and then down to earth when the shift in his tone comes, I loved the scene best where he confronts Raymond’s doctor (Gerald R. Molen) about keeping his existence a secret this whole time. “It would’ve been nice to know I had a brother, and it would have been nice to be able to know him this whole time.” Cruise delivers the line offhandedly but the intention beneath cuts real deep. Hoffman is a series of mannerisms, behaviours and reactions that are clearly researched well, but he still lets the humanity and personality in Raymond shine through in every scene, he’s essentially multitasking with both sides of his brain and he fucking nails it. They’re supported by others including Valeria Golino as Charlie’s compassionate wife, Levinson himself as an irritating doctor prick, Lucinda Jenny, Beth Grant, Chris Mulkey and Bonnie Hunt who I’ve always had a huge crush on.

I like the choices made in this film. Many dramas like this get sort of way too down to earth and exist primarily in houses, hospitals, courtrooms and such. This one is essentially a buddy movie and much of it is spent on the road, which gives it a carefree, laidback feeling that lets the drama emanate through naturally of its own accord as opposed to setting up specific, intimate scenes and blocking the actors in such a way that you know it’s just meant to elicit heavy lifting in terms of performance. This film is different. They cruise down the highway, go for pancakes, gamble in Vegas and you truly get the sense that these are two real individuals living life and not existing inside the preordained vacuum of a heavily tailored script. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s light, ethereal score. There’s certain films where his composition is sort of non orchestral and counterintuitive, not what he’s used to. True Romance, Pacific Heights, Interstellar and this all feel like that, and the style suits the material here. What a great film.

-Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back isn’t the thunderclap thriller the first one was and considerably diminishes from a large scale epic feel to something more small, comforting and TV movie style, which is not say that’s a bad thing as I quite enjoyed it, I just wasn’t riveted and amped up like I was the first round. It’s interesting that director Edward Zwick stepped in as he’s usually accustomed to large scale, sweeping epics (Legends Of The Fall, Courage Under Fire, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Glory) and instead went for something smaller here, but it works.

Tom Cruise’s nomadic badass Jack Reacher is still out there looking for people who cause trouble so he can cause it tenfold back upon them and as the film opens we see him take down nasty small town sheriff (Jason Douglas) turned human trafficker using only a payphone. That sets the tone for another raucous adventure that is decidedly not as ruthless or brutal as the first, but takes a more compassionate tone which is an interesting decision that I really liked as it allows us to see the softer side of this character. Jack has a liaison in the military called Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) who feeds him intel and he’s taken a liking to her enough to ask her out, but when he arrives in Washington to do that he instead finds her smug superior officer (Holt McCallany) sat at her desk informing him that she’s been arrested under charges of espionage. This doesn’t quite sit well with Jack and after beating the shit out of him for answers, he launches a violent inquiry, tracks Major Turner down and helps her clear her name and vet out a conspiracy within the military.

This film works well because of that relationship between the two, and the terrific chemistry that Cruise and Cobie have. They serve as both romantic leads and partners in action and provide the story with a warmth that wasn’t there in the first, as the relationships there felt a bit cold and detached. There’s also a mysterious girl (Danika Yarosh) who may in fact be Jack’s daughter from a wife years back, and that adds a human side as well which was welcome. On the weaker side, the action set pieces aren’t as ingenious or as memorable as before, and the villains not as charismatic or well painted. It is hard to top Werner goddamn Herzog though so I feel their pain. McCallany is nasty enough as a classic bully and Robert Knepper sneers and snarls as an evil private security Colonel but he shows up so late in the game it’s hard for him to make a real impact. What does work works really well though, and Smulders is the best thing the film has going for it. She’s a true star that never mugs the camera but always feels sympathetic and engaging, not to mention gorgeous. Not the film the first was, but a fun time all the same.

-Nate Hill

Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher

So I get that Tom Cruise isn’t over six feet tall and doesn’t look like an ex marine biker type tough guy, but that doesn’t stop Christopher McQuarrie’s Jack Reacher from being a lean, mean, badass fucking film and one hell of an effective, tightly written thriller. Now, I’m not a huge disciple of Lee Child’s books nor have read a single one of them and therefore don’t have beef with Cruise in the role, in fact I like the steely, unflappably calm violence he brings and believed him as this outlaw ex military renegade warrior, but I can see hardcore literary fans being a trifle pissed.

Anyways, McQuarrie paints a propulsive, brutal world that Reacher exists in, full of sociopathic mercenaries for hire, mad dog war veterans out for the kill and deep rooted corruption in almost every facet of the government. Reacher, existing outside of said institutions, is free to use any force or tactic necessary to smoke out evil and restore the balance, and believe me this guy does not fuck around, but to his credit, gives fair and ample warning to anyone in his way before he beats the piss out of them. The film opens with a harrowing public shooting perpetrated by some ghost operative (Joseph Sikora) employed by shadowy factions we can’t even imagine. The act seems random but of course isn’t, and Jack breezes on in to untangle a terrifying web of dark deeds and malpractice in echelons most high. Rosamund Pike is excellent as a government figure who may or may not be on his side, as is Richard Jenkins as her high ranking father who also might (or might not) be up to all sorts of no good. David Oyewelo, Jai Courtney, Josh Helman and Robert Duvall all provide solid supporting work.

The real treat and scene stealer here though is legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog cast as a terrifying arch villain known only as ‘The Zec.’ Dressed in black with half his fingers missing, blessed with that milk over mercury voice only he has and with a penchant for inflicting heinously ruthless torture and punishment on his own cohorts, this is one villain that I wouldn’t want to come across anywhere, it’s a fantastic portrayal and he’s clearly having a blast. This is one of the rare times where I’ll concede and say that an action film works with a PG-13 rating. Usually it limits creativity and dulls any edge a thriller might have but here McQuarrie has still somehow made this thing feel genuinely dangerous, edgy and mature. It’s a brilliant thriller with several set pieces designed for maximum impact, a smart script with just enough eccentricities peppered throughout the dialogue to stick. Cruise has a lot of fun to, whether he’s taking a bar brawl out into the street and putting several dudes in wheelchairs at once or engaged in nasty, bone smashing hand to hand combat with any of the many spooks out to get him. Love it.

-Nate Hill

Hey Bill, glad you’re back: Behind The Taking of Tiger Mountain by Kent Hill

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The first film I thought of while the early moments of Tiger Mountain played before me was THX 1138. This was a trip, dragged forcefully against one’s will and plunged into a murky pond which is a kind of metaphoric representation of being removed from the light and air and smothered by naked oppression and placed under the rule of the hive mind. And it is a mesmerizing submersion into these terrifying depths that are as much about the myth of control as they are the misuse of it.TigerPosterr Another part of the allure for me to tackle this movie is the treat of seeing Bill Paxton back on the screen. I remember watching Edge of Tomorrow and delighted in his presence – a kind of measured version of his character from Weird Science. The man was talented – even though he made it all look far too easy. But as I spoke to Tom Huckabee, (Paxton’s longtime friend and collaborator) I quickly was made to understand that this easy-chair nature I’d seen and enjoyed in Paxton was in fact a ruse. Turn’s out Bill was a lot more Near Dark than most people really knew.

Tiger Mountain is a passion project that has survived because of the enthusiasm shared by two buddy’s who were looking for a way into the movie business. It is a product of it’s time, topical to that period and perhaps in some ways even more relevant as a kind of looking glass held up to the world of today, indeed more so than it was then. The journey has taken since 1974 to come before an audience at last in the best and most complete version of the film that exists. It is a picture that has crossed continents and indeed space and time to arrive like some strange and miraculous time capsule which stands as an epitaph to the exuberance of youth and a yearning for greater self expression.71124 So this is the first time since 1983 that you’ll have to witness this compelling cinema experience influenced by William Burroughs – which is then counter balanced with the writings of Valerie Solanas. Portions of text coming from a Burroughs’s novella whose title had already been taken by a chap named Ridley Scott.

This 4K transfer is beautiful and the journey, although sold as the brainwashing of an American draft dodger by militant feminists in order to assassinate the Welsh minister of prostitution, Tiger Mountain is an experience, a fascinating making-of tale to hear and a parable of sorts which speaks of the possibilities that growth and recognition are always achievable as long as art is never abandoned.

TOM HUCKABEE

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Tom Huckabee is a writer, director, producer with over 40 years experience in entertainment. As a student at UT Austin he studied under Tom Schatz, Loren Bivens, and Edward Dymytryk, directed “The Death of Jim Morrison,” nominated for a student academy award, and “Taking Tiger Mountain,” starring Bill Paxton and co-written by William S. Burroughs. He has been a staff producer at Landmark Theaters, a writer of non-fiction TV for Disney and Discovery, a story analyst for 21st Century Films, and a staff researcher for The History Channel’s Modern Marvels. In 1987 he produced and co-wrote “Martini Ranch’s Reach,” a long-form music video directed by James Cameron, starring Kathryn Bigelow, Bill Paxton, Phil Granger, Bud Cort, Judge Reinhold and much of the cast from “Near Dark” and “Aliens.” In 1997, he was associate producer of post-production and music supervisor for “Traveller,” starring Paxton, Mark Wahlberg, and Julianna Margulies. From 1998 – 2001, he was vice president of American Entertainment, underwritten by Walt Disney Studios, where he created and/or oversaw development of feature projects with Touchstone, Universal, Imagine, Image Movers, HBO, Sony, and Revolution Studios. In 2001 he executive-produced Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty, starring Paxton, Powers Boothe and Matthew McConaughey. Also in 2001, he produced and directed a live event, Arthur C. Clarke: Beyond 2001 at the Playboy Mansion, featuring James Cameron, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman, and Buzz Aldrin, He was an uncredited script consultant on Twister, Mighty Joe Young, Vertical Limit, U-571, Thunderbirds, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and The Colony and a quality control supervisor for Lucasfilm (1990-2004), working on films by Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathryn Bigelow, etc.. In 2005 he was a producer/writer on 75 episodes of National Lampoon’s An Eye for an Eye. In 2007 he was the artistic director for the first annual Lone Star International Film Festival. His sophomore feature Carried Away (2010) won three first place festival awards and is available on Amazon Instant View. Recently, he directed the documentary short “Confessions of an Ecstasy Advocate,” story-edited Ghostbreakers, a 20-part syndicated TV series starring Joey Greco, set to debut in 2016 on The Family Channel, co produced The Starck Club, a documentary feature and The Price, a drama starring Randy Travis and James Dupre. In 2014-15, he was the artistic director of the Wildcatter Exhange literary festival, while his short film “The Death of Jim Morrison” (retitled “Death of a Rock Star”) was included in the omnibus package, Jonathan Demme Presents Made in Texas, which premiered opening night 2015 at SXSW and is distributed by UT Press. He teaches screenwriting workshops and offers a wide-range of freelance development services. Upcoming projects include feature films Hate Crimes, ReCharge!, and The Attachment, full length stage plays, Dr. Zombi, PhD and The Reversible Cords; and Great Lives, a live theater festival of one-person historical shows.

James Mangold’s Knight & Day

Both Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz can carry a film nicely on their own, but both of them front and centre in the same project makes for a great time, even if it is a piece of inconsequential fluff like James Mangold’s Knight & Day, a riff on the romantic action spy comedy that sees the two of them shooting their way across the globe before inevitably ending up in each other’s arms. This film looks, feels and sounds like a million others out there, it’s brightly lit, generically shot and doesn’t have much in the way of its own brand of style or atmosphere. What sets it apart are Tom and Cameron, who breathe life into the two roles and provide their own lighting with those famous smiles. He’s Roy Miller, a slightly aloof super spy on the run from both his former bosses (Viola Davis and Peter Sarsgaard, both meaning business) and a nasty Latin arms dealer (Jordi Molla). She’s June Havens, a bubbly rare auto restorer who bumps into him in the airport and gets swept up in a frenzied world of intrigue, murder, car chases, dodgy feds, international escapism and all the Miller Lite PG-13 gunplay the MPAA can shake a stick at. There’s a freeway pileup in Boston, a rowdy hand to hand beatdown aboard a plane that Cruise is forced to land in a cornfield, a motorbike chase in Madrid, and (my favourite) a close quarters knife fight on a train through the Austrian Alps. It’s all fun and games without much of a brain in its head, but the idea is to have a good time anyways. Cruise plays it slightly loopy here, as if decades of stressful spy work has left him… not quite all there. Best line of the film? “Nobody move or I’ll kill myself and then her!” He barks to a diner full of people as he drags her off to another action sequence. Diaz is game for it and keeps up with him, especially once she starts to get a feel for the fast and loose lifestyle. The film doesn’t make too much of an impression and I wish it had more of an organic vibe all its own to match what the two stars bring to the table, because as is the overall visual aesthetic is a bit bland, and over-lit. Cruise and Diaz make it worthwhile though, and are clearly having a blast. It just occurred to me, but where did that title even come from?

-Nate Hill

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