Tag Archives: Tom Waits

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

What’s your favourite movie version of Dracula? For me its always been Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish, eccentric, audacious and full bodied telling of Bram Stoker’s book, brought to life fiercely and passionately by Gary Oldman in what has to be one of his best works. This may be an unpopular choice among the older generation of folks who love this story/character but the old black and whites just don’t do it for me like this one does. Lugosi and Lee had their day but in my eyes Oldman freshness and innovation in his headlong portrait of supernatural evil ravaged by centuries old heartbreak, a romantic angle that wasn’t in the book or most previous adaptations of it but adds a dimension the story never knew it needed.

Coppola makes production design the star of this beauty, beginning with a fearsome prologue showing Oldman’s Transylvanian knight and how the man became a dark prince of vampires, before shifting the action to Victorian London. Dracula is searching for the spirit of his long dead wife who just happens to have been reincarnated as Mina Harker (Winona Ryder). People start turning up dead all over town though and Mina’s friend Lucy (Sadie Frost in an uncelebrated encore performance) has restless dreams, waking night terrors and finally goes full on vamp. This prompts the arrival of Anthony Hopkins’ hilariously blustery, borderline senile Abraham Van Helsing and the beginning of a bloody fight to save Mina, her husband Jonathan (Yes Keanu Reeves tried on a British accent but we’re not discussing that here) and most of London.

Stoker’s book is mostly made up of journal entries, letters and other written correspondence and as such the film has an episodic pace to it, but what really makes it flow are costume design, music and the wonderful performances from the varied, eclectic cast. Oldman is sensational and can almost be said to play multiple characters because of how different each manifestation of Dracula is. He finds sadistic evil in the character and accents it with love that still simmers on the back burner, spinning the character into something, dare we say, sympathetic. Ryder is terrific, her doe eyed naïveté suiting the gradually emerging horror nicely. Other excellent work comes from Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, Billy Campbell and Tom Waits in a deranged showstopper of a turn as the lunatic Renfield. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka outdoes herself here with the kind of work that begs for Blu Ray action, showing Dracula in several getups from creepy old Count to full on From Dusk Till Dawn style monster, Oldman embodying each one with grace and style. Composer Wojciech Kilar turns in a portentous rumble of a score that fires up the baroque horror elements but also finds the aching romantic notes in the eye of the orchestral hurricane.

My favourite scene of the film isn’t even in the realm of horror; Dracula and Mina share a moment together with one of his wolves who he has momentarily tamed. She strokes the beasts fur in awe while he looks at her in mournful adoration and quietly says “He likes you.” Oldman finds wonderful opposites to the character in this moment and becomes something so much more than the campy monster that Hollywood has envisioned this character as before. There’s a gentle tenderness to this scene and it’s contradictory elements like that that make it stand out and accent the horror with immediacy. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish is a gorgeous, star studded look at street hoodlums of the 1950’s through a strange, dreamlike prism of off kilter dialogue and mesmerizing characterization. It’s based on a book by S.E. Hinton, who also wrote The Outsiders, which Coppola adapted as well, this one is a bit of a different animal. Where one might expect a grounded, topical, straightforward script and narrative, we’re instead treated to a lyrical, dense and almost experimental tone. Characters exude archetypal charisma that is stunningly thrown off balance by the poetic, otherworldly dialogue that’s at times almost inaccessible, but always feels intuitively… right somehow. It’s as if The Outsiders went to sleep and had a dream, functioning on a similar yet highly unconscious plane. Once you get accustomed to such an aesthetic, it’s a film to draw you in and give you poetic dreams of your own. Young Matt Dillon is Rusty Ryan, a naive upstart with dreams of notoriety in the worn doldrums of his urban sprawl neighbourhood. He lives under the intense reputation of his older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rourke is at the peak of his moody blues James Dean phase here, and commands the screen with a laid back abandon and smirking charm. He gets romantically involved with angelic local beauty Patty (young Diane Lane, stunning), and deals with his loveable deadbeat father (Dennis Hopper). The scenes between Hopper, Dillon and Rourke have an easy swing to them, and the three inhabit a lived in dynamic that strengthens their characters, individually and as a group. Rourke is under the suspicious eye of robotic, violent local cop Patterson (William Smith), who is just waiting for him to step out of line. Dillon and his thug pals, including Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Vincent Spano, daydream their days away pining for the oft talked about days when gang warfare was commonplace. There’s a splendid supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Sofia Coppola, Diana Scarwid and Tom Waits, mumbling sweet existential nothing’s to themselves in the local diner, the silent streets and other beautifully shot locations. The film is shot in wistful black and whites with the vivid exception of the titular rumble fish, who appear in vibrant hues to accent their metaphorical presence. The film exists in a realm of heightened emotions where the characters all seem to be a little larger than life, but nevertheless human. There’s a gorgeous, entrancing surreality to it too, a free flowing, dreamy vibe of chrome on asphalt, lazy afternoons and long glances at pretty girls in windows. An unconventional masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

Tony Scott’s Domino

Domino is Tony Scott’s fire roasted, charbroiled, turbo charged masterpiece. I’ve seen it over fifty times and every time I seem to enjoy it more. It’s pure unfiltered Scott, free from the nagging pressures of the studio, financed by his own company, a loving treatise of pure style and breakneck kamikaze energy that doesn’t let you breathe for a second. It’s loosely based on the life of Hollywood baby turned rough and tumble bounty hunter Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley), daughter of actor Laurence Harvey. She leaves the 90210 world of rich snobs and gilded mansions to pursue a grittier path, in the form of restless underground law enforcement. Now, the film sheepishly admits it’s not entirely based on a true story before the credits even start, so as long as you know that much of it is fantasy going in, you won’t feel cheated. Knightley is a pissed off, sparking roman candle in the role of her career, shedding the dainty image and going full furious grunge, giving Domino an alternative edge and damaged pathos that fuels much of the film’s kinetic energy. Mickey Rourke plays her grizzled boss Ed Moseby, a veteran bounty hunter with a trail of violence behind him, who’s weary and tough in equal parts. Rourke fires on all cylinders, giving some of his simultaneously hilarious, heartbreaking, badass and best work. Edgar Ramiraz plays scrappy Choco, third musketeer and eventual lover to Domino with fiery Latin charisma. Christopher Walken, weird mode fully activated, waltzes in as a reality TV producer with the attention span of a ferret on chrystal meth, Mena Suvari as his squirrelly assistant, Lucy Liu as a prim, OCD afflicted federal agent who verbally spars with Knightley in flash forwards, Delroy Lindo is excellent as their bail bondsman handler Claremont Williams, and there’s scuzzy work from Dale Dickey, Lew Temple, Macy Gray, Monique, Dabney Coleman, Jacqueline Bisset, Jerry Springer and more. Just to sample some of the esoteric weirdness that goes hand in hand with the hard boiled crime elements, Tom Waits has a beautifully perplexing cameo as a spiritual wanderer who has a mysterious meeting with Domino and her friends in the Mojave desert, imparting some prophetic truth to them that only Scott and the sand dunes are in on. This is the kind of film that grabs you by the collar and hurls you down an asphalt horizon of hallucinatory camera work, brings you an intricate, lurid story of true crime gone wrong, and a balls to the wall depiction of life at its fastest, wildest and most out of control, as only the maestro of such things, Scott, can bring you. Domino, at least in this film, lives a crazy life that culminates in a hellish Mexican standoff and subsequent shootout atop a Space Needle-esque Vegas casino, a fitting way for a Scott film to come full circle and certainly not the first time he’s ended one in that situation. He uses cinematic magic to create visual poetry here, his sucker punch editing, nebulous display of scorched out colours, thunderous symphony of sound design and hectic, buzzing aesthetic isn’t for everyone but it’s something truly unforgettable and a style wholly his own, I truly miss the guy and believe he was one of maybe the ten best filmmakers to ever work in Hollywood. This is by far his best film, definitely his most personal and also the most arresting vision he’s ever sculpted, it will leave you haunted, pummelled, fired up and deliciously puzzled. Domino ironically says in voiceover near the end, “I’ll never tell you what it all meant”. Scott tells you, in his own special way, and if you’re tuned in to his otherworldly frequency you’ll treasure this masterwork as much as I do, and will continue to for years to come.

-Nate Hill

Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopath

No other film has grown on me quite the way Martin McDonough’s Seven Psychopaths has. Initially disarming in expectations versus result, this isn’t just your average black comedy, there’s wonderfully subversive meta-narrative twists and it has something subtly acidic to say about the development and treatment of genre screenplays in the Hollywood of today, which wasn’t the approach I was expecting prior to seeing it for the first time. That and it’s straight up one of the funniest fucking things I’ve ever seen. Less serious and emotional than McDonough’s masterpiece of a debut In Bruges, the tone here is about as deadpan as it gets, with Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as Billy and Hans, two LA oddballs who make a living snatching people’s dogs and collecting the reward money later. Inevitably they grab the wrong guy’s dog who just happens to be unhinged gangster Charlie (Woody Harrelson), sparking a brutally violent wild goose chase all over LA and the surrounding area. It sounds like you know what you’re gonna get, right? Not really, for you see they’re joined by boozy, neurotic screenwriter Marty (Colin Farrell) who is trying to pen a script of his own titled ‘7 Psychopaths’, which not only becomes a running joke, but also provides aside vignettes and even heavily influences the plight of our three heroes in the ‘real world.’ Hans is a quiet, compassionate pacifist and Walken plays him against type, very understated. Farrell’s Marty is a hilarious, anxious wreck who orders six beers at noon and tears his hair out both from writer’s block and the unpredictable behaviour of Rockwell’s Billy, who is a blisteringly funny, antagonistic weirdo that should be on medication but has instead been let off the leash for what is probably the best and definitely the funniest performance the actor has ever given. Harrelson plays it loopy as a guy who’ll blow your head off without twitching an eye but bawls like a toddler when no one can find his silly shit-zu for him. They’re joined by Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko who don’t have much to do (also a meta joke later on) as well as Zeljiko Ivanek, Kevin Corrigan, Linda Bright Clay, Michael Stuhlburg, Michael Pitt, Harry Dean Stanton, all giving lovely work. Tom Waits is as great as you’d expect Tom Waits to be as ex-serial killer Zachariah, who carries his pet bunny rabbit around and tells harrowing tales from years before. The real hero here is McDonough’s brilliant script, and I love how it ducks the limbo bar of Hollywood writing standards and aims for something just left of left field. Farrell says it best himself when he laments “I don’t want it to be all violence and action though, it should be a set up for an out and out revenge flick and the heroes should just drive off into the desert and talk for the rest of the movie…” then he, Rockwell and Walken do just exactly that, for a time anyways until Harrelson catches up with them and the final confrontation gets skewered by McDonough and his refusal to play it straight too. We need more writers like him in Tinseltown, and although I wasn’t so much a fan of his newest Three Billboards one, Bruges and Psychopaths have already been minted as classics for me, two of the best this century.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt

How to even approach Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt. For a guy whose career has spanned decades from golden age Hollywood to contemporary and etched out a few mile markers that have practically defined the medium, this is definitely both the odd duck and black sheep of the man’s career. There’s no way around it either so I’ll be blunt: it’s kind of a mess. But it’s an intermittently breathtaking mess, like someone spilt a can of turgid motor oil in their garage, but a few gold and silver flakes of airbrush paint snuck into the oozing puddle. There’s a noticeable Stephen King vibe here, with flippant Val Kilmer as horror novelist Hall Baltimore, struck with writer’s block and hiding out in a creepy Midwest town to try and get the creative juices flowing. There’s murder afoot there, in more ways than one, and soon he’s visited by the ghost of a girl (Elle Fanning, darkly ethereal) who guides him along a chain of memories that recall missing children from the past. The town’s gruff, obnoxious Sheriff (Bruce Dern) doesn’t appreciate Hall nosing around his neck of the woods and harasses him at every turn. There’s Skype seasons with his wife (Joanne Whalley, Killer’s real life ex) that feel suspiciously improvised, an appearance by Edgar Allen Poe himself (Ben Chaplin) and creaky narration from none other than Tom Waits. Ultimately it doesn’t really connect, and feels so fascinated by itself that it fails to coherently tell us the tale in a way that sticks. What does take hold, however, are some truly gorgeous and striking visuals, lit by stark silver moonlight, accented by crimson blood and brought to unholy life by tactile, riveting slow motion, like a dream sequence in which Kilmer observes a group of ghost children frolicking on an eerie riverbank. Much of it feels subconscious and free form or lifted out of an Evanescence music video, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It just needs the focus of the script to properly come across as a whole story, which, sadly, it mostly doesn’t have. Fanning makes the biggest impression as the ghostly waif, peering off the film’s poster and promising a poetic spook show, which… we kind of get. This has been seen as a shrill blast of emptiness by many critics, but there’s some fun to be had, and plenty of gothic eye candy to feast on, even if the brain goes hungry.

-Nate Hill

Terry Gillian’s The Imaginarium Of Dr. Parnassus


Terry Gilliam films almost always feel a bit slapdash and chaotic, it’s just the guy’s calling card to have a modicum of organized mayhem filling the fringes of whatever project he delivers. With The Imaginarum Of Dr. Parnassus, that is probably the case more so than any other film he’s made, and despite letting the clutter run away with itself a bit too much, it’s still a dazzling piece. Of course, your movie will always have a disjointed undercurrent when your lead actor passes away halfway through production, but that’s just the way it goes, and Gilliam finds a fascinating solution to that issue here. Imaginarium is in many ways a companion piece, in spirit, to The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, a film he made decades earlier, both containing a sort of baroque, Da Vinci-esque splendour and sense of fantastical wonder. Christopher Plummer hides behind a gigantic Dumbledore beard as Parnassus, a magician extraordinaire who travels the land with his daughter (Lily Cole, that bodacious Botticelli bimbo) and circus troupe, including Verne ‘Mini Me’ Troyer. Years earlier he made a pact with the devil (Tom Waits, an inspired choice) using his daughter as collateral, and now Old Nick has come to reap the debt, causing quite the situation. The story is a hot mess of phantasmagoria and kaleidoscope surrealism thanks to the Imaginarium itself, a multi layered dimension-in-a-box that accompanies them on their travels. Things get complicated when they rescue dying lad Tony (Heath Ledger) who somehow ties into the tale as well. Now, this was Ledger’s very last film, its future left uncertain after his passing, but help arrived in the form of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, swooping in to play doppelgänger versions of Tony as he bounced from one plane of the imaginarium to another with Cole in tow, always one step ahead of Waits, who is a rockin’ choice to play the devil, smarming and charming in equal doses. It’s kind of a huge melting pot of images and ideas hurled into creation, but it’s a lovable one, the fun you’ll have watching it reasonably eclipses lapses in logic, plotting and pacing. 

-Nate Hill

Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King: A Review by Nate Hill 

Tragic. Uplifting. Comical. Bittersweet. One of a kind. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King takes on mental illness by way of a fantastical approach, an odd mix on the surface, but totally fitting and really the only way to put the audience inside a psyche belonging to one of these beautiful, broken creatures. Sometimes an unlikely friendship springs from a tragedy, in this case between a scrappy ex radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) and a now homeless, mentally unstable ex professor of medieval history (Robin Williams). Bridges was partly responsible for an unfortunate incident that contributed to William’s condition, and feels kind of responsible, accompanying him on many a nocturnal odyssey and surreal journey through New York City, an unlikely duo brought together by the whimsical cogs of fate that seem to turn in every Gilliam film. Williams is a severely damaged man who sees a symbolic ‘Red Knight’ at every turn, and seeks a holy grail that seems to elude him at every turn. Bridges is down to earth, if a little aimless and untethered, brought back down from the clouds by his stern, peppy wife (Mercedes Ruehl in an Oscar nominated performance). They both strive to help one another in different ways, Williams to help Bridges find some redemption for the single careless act that led to violence, and Bridges assisting him on a dazed quest through the streets to find an object he believes to be the holy grail, and win over the eccentric woman of his dreams (Amanda Plummer). In any other director’s hands but Gilliam’s, this story just wouldn’t have the same fable-esque quality. Straight up drama. Sentimental buddy comedy. Interpersonal character study. There’s elements of all, but the one magic ingredient is Gilliam, who is just amazing at finding the way to truth and essential notes by way of the absurd and the abstract. Watch for fantastic work from Michael Jeter, David Hyde Pierce, Kathy Najimy, Harry Shearer, Dan Futterman and a quick, uncredited Tom Waits as well. The hectic back alleys and silhouetted trellises of NYC provide a sooty canvas for Gilliam and his troupe to paint a theatrical, psychological and very touching tale of minds lost, friendship found and the past reconciled.