Tag Archives: Tom wilkinson

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins

These days we take the abundance of DC/Batman films and TV series for granted, but back in the first half of the 2000’s there was a massive drought left on the land thanks to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which we won’t go into here. Then Christopher Nolan came along and changed that forever, not with necessarily a bang, but the thoughtful, moody, introspective Batman Begins, a film that served as catalyst to one of the most celebrated motion picture trilogies of today. That’s not to say it didn’t blast into the scene with a bang, this is one seriously fired up action film that left iMax screens reeling and sound systems pumped. It’s just that Nolan gave the Batman legacy the brains and psychological depth that it deserves to go along with the fireworks, while Schumacher & Co. were simply making live action Saturday morning cartoons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing either but after two films seemed a bit beneath the potential of what Batman could be.

Nolan bores into the roots of Bruce Wayne’s anguished past to expose themes of fear, not only facing his childhood fears but eventually becoming them to release the anger he’s harboured since that night in the alley. Christian Bale finds both the cavalier flippancy of Bruce and the obstinate, short tempered dexterity of Batman and yes, he makes an impression with a voice that has perhaps since become more well known than the films. Trained in the heartlands of the Far East by mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), Bruce returns to Gotham years later to find it rotting from the inside out with crime, corruption and poverty. Nolan shows the rocky road he sets out on and the failures he endures in his first few ventures onto the streets in costume, crossing paths with Cillian Murphy’s dangerous Dr. Jonathan ‘Scarecrow’ Crane, uneasily aligning forces with Gary Oldman’s stalwart Jim Gordon and assisted at every turn by Michael Caine’s Alfred Pennyworth and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox. Nolan assembles a cast full of roles both big and small including Richard Brake, Mark Boone Jr, Ken Watanabe, Linus Roache, Rade Serbedzija, Joffrey Lannister, Rutger Hauer and more. I have to mention Katie Holmes because she gives one of the most underrated performances in the whole trilogy. I’m not sure what went on behind the scenes when recasting her with Maggie Gyllenhaal for the next film but it did no service to the character, Katie made it her own, is full of personality and will always be the real Rachel to me. Special mention must also be made of Tom Wilkinson as mob boss Carmine Falcone, who is only in a handful of scenes but scares the pants off of everyone with his off the cuff blunt dialogue, violent tendencies and shark-like personality.

I can’t say this is my favourite film in the franchise or even the one I’d call the best (Dark Knight holds both those honours), but it is definitely the one that stands out to me the most when I think of the trilogy as a whole. Why? Visual aesthetic and production design. With the next two films Nolan cemented a very naturally lit, real world vibe that became his signature touch on the legacy, but Begins is different. There’s a burnt umber, earthy, elemental, very gothic tone he used here that just isn’t there in the next two, and whether intentional or not, it sets this one in a Gotham slightly removed from Knight and Rises. The mood and story are also rooted far more in mysticism and the fantastical as opposed to the earthbound, economically minded, concrete edged sensibility of what’s to come. Just a few observations.

In any case Nolan pioneered an arresting new Gotham for Batman, his friends and foes to do battle in, he injected the smarts, philosophy and character development that the franchise had been thirsting for a long time before. Wally Pfister’s swooping cinematography, Hans Zimmer’s cannonball original score, Nathan Crowley’s spooky, cobwebbed production design and every performance in the film work to make this not just one hell of a Batman film, but an overall excellent fantasy adventure that truly transports you to its world, the mythology, development and destruction of which leaves a lasting imprint on the subconscious. Brilliant film.

-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

Bille August’s Smilla’s Sense Of Snow

Smilla’s Sense Of Snow begins with a specific inciting event: a young Inuit boy plummets off the roof of a multi storey building in Copenhagen, to his death. The only person who seems to care is Smilla (Julia Ormond), a girl who lives in the complex, is half Inuit herself and did her best to take care of the poor kid when his mother drowned in alcoholism. From there the film spirals into curious, unexpected thriller elements that seem to have left many viewers baffled (reviews over time haven’t been so kind), but it’s the uniqueness of this story that appeals to me, the way we find ourself wondering how such a simple and straightforward incident can lead to the kind of sequences you’d find in a Bond film. That’s the mark of an absorbing thriller, no matter how ‘out there’ people complain it is. Smilla deliberately cloaks herself in a facade of coldness not dissimilar from the snowy northern landscape around her and comes across as initially unpleasant, but when we see how far she’s willing to go and what she will risk to uncover the truth around the boy’s death, we realize there’s a heart in there and Ormond creates a mesmerizing protagonist. There is indeed a clandestine web of secrets, coverups and conspiracies revolving around the whole thing, and it’s great fun watching her follow the breadcrumb trail to where it all leads. She’s a withdrawn, introverted person, and these qualities don’t lend themselves to hands on detective work, but therein lies the gold mine of character development for her as she discovers perhaps one of the most bizarre string of events I’ve seen in a thriller. The supporting cast is full of gems, starting with Gabriel Byrne as her neighbour and love interest, just darkly charismatic enough to suggest that he may not be who he says he is. The late great Robert Loggia makes a stern but soulful appearance as her powerful father, who pulls some strings to help her out. Soon she’s led to a shadowy scientist (Richard ‘OG Dumbledore’ Harris) with ties to it all, and other appearances from Jurgen Vogel, David Hayman, Bob ‘Clever Girl’ Peck, Vanessa Redgrave, Ona Fletcher, Tom Wilkinson, a quick cameo from one of the Doctor Who actors and an excellent Jim Broadbent in full exposition mode. The eventual premise here is set up in an arresting prologue concerning a lone Inuit hunter observing a meteor fall to earth and cause an almighty mess on the tundra, serving to inform us right off the bat that although this film initially sets off on the trajectory of a straightforward murder mystery, there will be elements of the fantastical. Said elements proved to be either too far out there or too removed from the grounded opening for people to grasp hold of, but not me. I love the journey this one takes, I love the heroine we get to take it with, I’m awed by the stunning arctic photography every time and the story always draws me in. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Stephen Hopkin’s The Ghost & The Darkness


Nothing beats the sheer adventurous spirit and eerie primal mythos that fuels Stephen Hopkin’s The Ghost And The Darkness. It’s a go-to comfort movie for me whenever I’m feeling down or stuck inside on a rainy night. It’s like a campfire tale told on a quite windless night on the Serengeti, and like all the best scary stories, this one has roots in fact. In 1898, production of the East Africa Railroad along the Tsavo River was stalled for weeks, the workers suffering repeated attacks from two savage, mysterious lions. Acting against instinct, killing for sport rather than food and disappearing back into the night as quickly as they came, they were so ferocious and relentless that locals gave the eerie nicknames “the ghost and the darkness.” The story has film written all over it, and Hopkins chooses the swashbuckling, Universal style horror route, and an irresistible tone. Val Kilmer, in his heyday, plays Patterson, an engineer sent by the boorish railroad tycoon Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson, chewing scenery like steak) to speed up production and pick up the slack in order to finish ahead of schedule. Not on the lions watch. He’s scarcely arrived when they begins their endless tirade of horrific attacks, forcing him to trust in the skills of leathery game hunter Remington (Michael Douglas), sort of like Van Helsing crossed with Indiana Jones. The film clocks in under two hours but it seems longer somehow, like we’re stuck with them in real time as the hopelessness of the situation sets into our bones, raising the stakes for our hunters and hammering home how terrifying an ordeal like this must be. Casting is on point here, watch for Bernard Hill as the sympathetic camp doctor, the late Om Puri and a brief early career cameo from Emily Mortimer as Patterson’s wife. Occasionally straying into the realm of melodrama is this one’s only fault, for the most part it’s a hair raising, nightmarish account of adventure and terror told with style, packed with atmospheres and primed to get pulses racing. 

-Nate Hill

Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s always those films that get buried under a landslide of terrible reviews upon release, prompting me to avoid seeing them, and to wait a while down the line, sometimes years, to take a peek. I was so excited for Disney’s The Lone Ranger, being a die hard fan of both Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp’s monolithic work on Pirates Of The Caribbean, and just a lover of all this western, as well as the old television serial. The film came out, was met with an uproar of negative buzz, I went “well, shit”, and swiftly forgot it even existed. The other day I give it a watch, and would now like to pull a Jay and Silent Bob, save up cash for flights and tour the continent beating up every critic I can find in the phone book. I was whisked away like it was the first Pirates film all over again, the swash, buckle and spectacle needed for a rousing adventure picture all firmly present and hurtling along like the numerous speeding locomotives populating the action set pieces. Obviously the material has been vividly revamped from the fairly benign black and white stories of the tv show, especially when you have a circus ringmaster like Verbinski at the reigns, the guy just loves to throw everything he has into the action, packed with dense choreography and fluid camerawork that never ceases to amaze. Johnny Depp loves to steal the show with theatrical prancing and garish, peacock like costumes, and he kind of takes center stage as Tonto, the loyal sidekick to the Lone Ranger, who is given a decidedly roguish, unstable and altogether eccentric edge that the series never had, but I consider it a welcome addition to a character who always seemed one note in the past. Armie Hammer has a rock solid visage with two electric blue eyes peeking out of that iconic leather strap mask. It’s an origin story of sorts, chronicling Reid’s journey to visit his legendary lawman brother (James Badge Dale) and family in the small town West. Also arriving, however, is ruthless butcher and psychopathic outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) at the behest of opportunistic railroad tycoon Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson). Tempers flare and violence erupts, and before you know it Reid is without a family, left for dead in the desert and befriended by Tonto, who himself is a tragic loner in a way. Revenge is on the minds of both, as they venture on a journey to find Cavendish and his men, discover what slimy Cole is up to and bring order to the west, one silver bullet at a time (actually there’s only one silver bullet used in the entire film, but let’s not get technical). Now, I’ll admit that the middle of the film meanders and drags quite a bit, half losing my interest until the intrigue steps up a notch. A sequence where the pair visit a circus brothel run by a take no shit Helena Bonham Carter seems like unnecessary dead weight and could have been heavily trimmed, as could other scenes in that area that just aren’t needed and might have been excised to make the film more streamlined. It’s no matter though, because soon we are back in the saddle for a jaw dropping third act full of gunfights, train destruction and unreal stunts that seem like the sister story to Pirates, some of the action often directly mimicing parts from those films. Depp is like fifty, and still scampers around like a squirrel, it’s a sight to see. Fichtner is a world class act, his mouth permanently gashed into a gruesome snarl, the threat of violence oozing from his pores and following him like a cloud. Wilkinson can take on any role, period, and he’s in full on asshole mode, Cole is a solid gold prick and a villain of the highest order. Barry Pepper has a nice bit as a cavalry honcho who never seems to quite know what’s going on (it’s perpetual chaos), watch for Stephen Root and Ruth Wilson as Reid’s sister in law who ends up… well you’ll see. It’s fairly dark and bloody for a Disney film as well, there’s a grisly Temple Of Doom style moment and attention is paid towards America’s very dark past with the indigenous people, which is strong stuff indeed for a kid orientated film. Nothing compares to the flat out blissful adrenaline during the final action sequence though. That classic William Tell overture thunders up alongside two careening trains and your tv will struggle to keep up with such spectacle, it’s really the most fun the film has and a dizzyingly crowd pleasing sequence. All of this is told by an elderly Tonto in a museum exhibit, to a young boy who dreams of the west. A ghost from the past, part comic relief and part noble warrior, Tonto is a strange character indeed, and the old version of him has a glassy eyed reverence for his adventures before, the last one alive to remember. Many a review will tell you how bad this film is, but not mine. I found myself in pure enjoyment for the better part of it, and would gladly watch again.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind: A Review by Nate Hill 

Films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind come around once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky. I watched it when I was too young to fully grasp much, and it flew over my head. In the last few years I had a revisit and was knocked flat. Few stories out there have the power to mine deep within the human psyche and search for the complexities, contradictions and puzzling flaws that lie in the beautiful disasters we call human beings. A contemplative yet fast paced meditation on relationships, love, heartbreak and reconciliation doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of what you’re in for with this uniquely told and one in a million film. Sagely ragamuffin Michel Gondry, not one for the easy way out, has truly outdone himself, as has screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who is never short on wild ideas with emotional heft that sneaks up and blindsides you. Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) ditches work on a whim one morning, and hops a train out to snowy Montauk. Through fate’s mysterious grasp, he meets free spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet), and the two hit it off immediately. He’s reserved, cautious and calculated, and she’s an impulsive wild card. They couldn’t be more different, but somehow they work. Until they don’t. Joel is devastated to learn one day of a radical brain alteration technique that effectively removes the memory of an ex from your mind, and Clementine has taken the plunge. Joel is confused and lost, and while the iron is still hot in his beating heart, he decides to undergo the procedure as well. Then the film really turns your world upside down. Whilst the staff of the Institute (Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood and Kirsten Dunst) go to work on his mind in his sleep, he has a change of heart. With the memories of Clementine radidly disintegrating, he races through the internal landscape of his mind in order to find and save her, hiding her in obscure corners of his data log where she won’t be found. It’s a genius way to tell the story, taking a delightful turn for the surreal as both of them find themselves catapulted headlong into various moments of his life. On the outside, a tragic subplot unfolds involving Dunst and the the head doctor at the program (Tom Wilkinson). Kirsten and Tom have never been better, treating an often used trope with dignity and gentleness. For all its tricks and psychological whathaveya, the film is first and foremost about love. It isn’t interested in showing us any generic or clichéd depiction of it either, like most of the pandering fluff that gets passed off as romance these days. It strives to show love in all its brutal and painful glory, the fights, the hurt, the time spent alone, the resentment and the willingness to batter your way through all that, against better judgment and logic, if it’s worth it. Is love a force of its own, a measurable influence that can transcend a procedure like that? Is it it’s own element, or simply always a part of us? Carrey and Winslet (and, to a lesser extent, Wilkinson and Dunst) tenderly search for the answers to these difficult questions in what are the roles of a lifetime for both. Carrey has never been so vulnerable, so open, and despite his brilliant comedic work elsewhere, his performance here is a direct window into the soul, and his best work to date. Although the film is quite labyrinthine and jumps around quite a lot, it never, ever jumps the track or misses a beat. It’s always concise, deliberate and crystal clear, if you have the patience and dedication to watch it a few times in order to let all the beautiful images, words and ideas sink in. Movies are first and foremost for entertainment. You give the man your nickel, he fires up the projector and you watch the lone ranger chase down down a speeding locomotive. Every once in a while you get one like this, one that challenges and inspires deep thought, intangible feelings and teaches you something, maybe even about yourself. Every once in a while, you get one that alters your life, and that is what is so important about that little spinning machine that opens up worlds upon a simple flat white canvas where before there was nothing. A masterpiece.

Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla: A Review by Nate Hill

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Guy Ritchie’s Rocknrolla was the third British crime comedy caper for the director, and it could have easily been the misstep that signaled him wearing out his welcome. Happily I can tell you that it’s a winner, and although not as cracking as Lock Stock or Snatch, it sinks into its own distinct groove that’s fairly removed from it’s two predecessors. Once again we are treated to the life and times of a bunch of hoods and gangsters in London, but not the grungy, back alley soup kitchen London that we’re used to from Ritchie. No, this is a glistening, prosperous London, filled with real estate money ripe for the taking and developers making underhanded deals with shady businessmen. The climate has definitely changed in Ritchie’s aesthetic, but the characters remain the same, just as witty, eccentric and chock full of piss and vinegar. The story centers around the wild bunch, a cozy little clan of East end petty thieves led by One Two (Gerard Butler) and Mumbles (Idris Elba). Their third musketeer is Handsome Bob, played by a hilarious Tom Hardy who has a secret up his sleeve that spills out in what is the most adorable scene Ritchie has ever written. The gang is hired by a mysterious chick (Thandie Newton) to rob some dudes, and that’s where the trouble starts. Elsewhere in town, arch gangster Lenny Cole (a frothing Tom Wilkinson) negotiates a land deal with dangerous russian billionaire Uri (Karel Roden switches up his trademark psychosis for smooth talking menace here) that hinges on a missing painting. Lenny dispatches his right hand bloke Archie (Mark Strong, subtly trolling us) to find it along with his rock star nephew Johnny Quid. Got that? Nevermind, half the fun is the how and not the why of Ritchie’s stories, and I find it best to just let the flow of it wash over you as opposed to thinking out each detail and missing the sideshow. Toby Kebbell is off the hook as Quid, a wiry stick of dynamite and a comic force to be reckoned with, truly the most exciting performance of the film. Ritchie has a knack for bringing out the funny side in actors, even ones that aren’t usually the type to make you laugh. Strong is terrific, with a few carefully timed moments of sheer hilarity that deftly make you forget how dangerous he is. Ludacris and Jeremy Piven are fun, if a bit out of place as two event promoters. Butler and Elba have an easy-peasy rapport that’s light, friendly and believable. Wilkinson dances between alpha assuredness and aging buffoonry nicely, always commanding the scene and oddly reminding me of Mr. Magoo. There’s a playful tone to this one, glitzy and celebratory in places where Snatch was grim and sketchy, and the whole affair feels like a new years party with a bunch of old friends. Watch for cameos from Matt King, Nonzo Anonzie, Jimi Mistry, Mundungus Fletcher and Gemma Arterton. Very fun stuff.