Tag Archives: Viggo Mortensen

David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence

Every director at some point is encouraged to challenge the aesthetic they are known for, traverse terrains beyond the thematic and stylistic comfort zone they are accustomed to and bless new lands of genre and tone with their talent. Some don’t and stick with what they know, which is fine, while others break free as David Cronenberg did with his fearsome psychological horror story A History Of Violence. Cronenberg is a horror old-hand who loves his prosthetic body parts and buckets o’ blood, albeit always accompanied by strong themes and pointed subtext. Here he trades in the schlock (but not the gore, there’s still plenty of that) for a different sort of horror, the arresting mental climate of violent criminals and the roiling psychological unrest that goes hand in hand with such vicious behaviour, no matter how hard one might try to asphyxiate dark impulses with methodical conditioning. Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, small town Everyman, husband, father, greasy spoon diner magnate and pillar of a bucolic slice of Americana. Or is he? The film opens as two ruthless psychopaths (Stephen McHattie and Greg Bryk are so good they deserve their own spinoff film) barge into the idyllic sanctuary of his restaurant and terrorize patrons and staff alike. Tom reacts with uncharacteristically lithe force, quickly and frighteningly dispatching both to the lands beyond with a few quick moves, several gunshots and a pot of hot coffee (one brutal fucking way to die). He’s lauded as local hero and chalks up his heroic reaction to pure instincts… and that’s when the film gets really interesting. Back in the mid 2000’s before social media it would take making international news to dredge up any sort of long buried, sordid past one might have, but sure enough the press comes a’hounding and soon trouble comes a’knocking in an ominous black Chrysler containing one very pissed off Ed Harris as ‘organized crime from the east coast’ who is sure Tom is actually a fellow named Joey, who he once shared a scuffle with over some barbed wire. So who’s lying and who’s not? I mean it’s obvious Tom has a past, the fascination lies in both uncovering it and watching him try to reconcile it with the man he has become since then. The film gets positively Shakespearean when yet another Philadelphia wise-guy played by William Hurt enters the picture and pretty much steals the fucking film from everyone, the skill that dude has is amazing and what he does onscreen in about five minutes not only demonstrates his wry, diabolical control over a scene but completely justifies the Oscar gold he went home with, fucking bravo. The film starts where many other crime/noirs would end: a man with a violent past has found a way out, a proverbial light at the end of the viscera tunnel, and lives not necessarily happily ever after… but free from the din of his former incarnation anyways. Until two punks stir the long dormant reflexes, he ends up on the news and it all comes full circle. I think this film is so brilliant because of what is left unsaid, unexplained and unexplored; it’s barely over ninety minutes long but contains enough thematic implications to fill up or at least catalyze a half dozen films. But it never feels a moment longer or shorter than it needs to be. Mortensen’s performance is about dead on flawless, full of so many veiled notes that are conjured into view with multiple watches, which the film begs of any viewer. Equally spellbinding is Maria Bello as Tom’s firebrand of a wide who finds herself at odds with her own loyal nature when the shards of truth start to eviscerate their family. She’s an actress that Hollywood inexplicably doesn’t entrust with dramatically heavy roles too often but it’s their loss because when she lands a golden egg of a character like this she practically moves worlds. Harris has a ball as the bulldog on low simmer baddie who wishes he was as big of a bad as Hurt, who almost brings down the house and start his own fucking franchise before… well, I won’t spoil it that much. I would have loved to have ‘put it simply’ in my review and not drawled on in adoration like this but it’s just that kind of film. In a way it does the same as I have: it’s barely over an hour and a half and any film of that length could just ‘put it simply’, but in that brisk runtime there’s galaxies of psychological depth and treatises on human nature to unpack. Gotta throw a late hour bone to Howard Shore’s impeccable original score as well, an austerely baroque yet somehow evocatively Midwest composition that calls to mind everything from B&W classics to his work on Lord Of The Rings, which somehow suits the mood. A stone cold classic.

-Nate Hill

Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill

Peter Weir’s Witness

Witness is one of those films that in the hands of a less inspired director could have turned out to be pretty run of the mill thriller stuff, but they gave the script to Peter Weir, and he’s made a career out of films that could be called just about anything but run of the mill. This is essentially a fairly grounded tale of big city detective Harrison Ford undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who accidentally saw a cabal of corrupt cops murder someone in cold blood. It’s a fish out of water tale, it’s got budding romance, hot blooded action and even some comedy here and there. But there’s also this lyrical, esoteric atmosphere Weir brings to every project that really makes it something special. There’s a danger present in the Amish community, or rather the threat of such as seen in the long grass of the fields or sensed on the fringes of their village where the tree line looms. There’s a blessed calm as Ford learns the ways and customs of these folk and gets close with the daughter (Kelly McGillis) of one of their elders (Jan Rubes, a scene stealer) but alongside that there’s this restless, inexorable foreboding that these evil officers of the law could turn up at anytime and turn the calmness into a storm to follow. They eventually do, of course, and are played by the fearsome likes of Josef Sommer and Danny Glover, arriving like phantoms to herald a showdown of stealth and gun violence that is Western to its core but still stings with the grit of an urban cop flick. I love this film not so much for the story or script (both of which are just fine) but for the *feeling* it evokes, the ambience spun onscreen by Weir and composer Maurice Jarre, whose work here is ecstatically beautiful. There’s an extended sequence where we see the Amish folk building a barn and it’s a simple enough task, but something about the dutiful way Weir films it coupled with an almost grandiose passage of Jarre’s music makes it come alive in a way that not many scenes of its nature do in film. And always, lurking in the background, is the fear that danger is on its way, a sustained distillation of unease that helps to make this a gorgeous, effective thriller and all round great film.

-Nate Hill

“I never touched a legend before.” : Remembering Nightbreed with Nicholas Vince by Kent Hill

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Seems to me NIGHTBREED had been out for a while before I made a point of sitting down to watch it. I’d seen the trailer a bunch of times, been curious, but it wasn’t until I read the illustrated screenplay that I admit to really becoming hell bent on checking it out.1411764498435

It is at once a phantasmagoria, a dark fantasy, a love story – a rich, self-contained world that seemed on the verge. But, as I would discover, the powers that be didn’t receive from Clive Barker what they were hoping for. He had produced for them two Hellraiser pictures, thus they made the mistake of assuming they were set to receive yet another study in fear. Especially with a title like, Nightbreed. Hence you have the reason for the fractured state of the movie and all the subsequent releases and restorations – the producers attempting to fashion the movie into something it was never meant to be.

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What you ultimately take away from Barker’s monster-piece is the feeling of wanting more – and not just a re-cut of the existing elements. I suppose that’s why the idea of a Nightbreed series, I feel, would work better than another motion picture. There is so much to mine, so many characters – along with my favorite, Kinski (played by my guest Nicholas Vince), that I would love to see make a return.

So, kick back and enjoy our discussion on all things concerned with the tribes of the moon. God’s an Astronaut. Oz is Over the Rainbow, and Midian is where the monsters live.”

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Renny Harlin’s Prison

Before Lord Of The Rings shot him into the stardom we know today, Viggo Mortensen had one oddball of a career leading up to it. Between playing the Devil, appearing in one of the more bizarre Texas Chainsaw sequels and training Demi Moore to be the first female Navy Seal he did Renny Harlin’s Prison, a little known, low budget horror flick that’s actually quite a lot of fun. A slick, schlocky hybrid between classic grassroots prison films and effects heavy gore of the 80’s, it sees an ancient precinct becoming haunted by the ghost of a long dead inmate who got the chair, perhaps wrongfully. The Warden (Lane Smith) is an angry old prick whose demons are coming back full force and he’s taking it out on the convicts big time. Mortensen is Burke, a mysterious con with integrity and grit who helps out when he can doesn’t stand for the warden’s bullshit. Chelsea Field is a prison board member who gets swept up in the whole thing and watch for Tom Everett, Kane Hodder, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Tiny Lister too. Smith plays the Warden not as so many have done like an outright sadistic villain, more a severely stressed out career man who has turned ugly overtime and started to project his frustrations in the most damaging ways, given his position of power. This is very low budget stuff and it shows, but there are still some striking set pieces including a solitary cell that heats up like a red hot furnace and fries those inside gruesomely and a string of barbed wire that comes to live and wreaks all kinds of havoc. Harlin made his debut here and it’s a strong one, he makes exciting decisions with the actors and handles the horror excellently. I could have used a tad more backstory on Mortensen’s character as some more exposition regarding the ghost convict, but other than that this is a blast.

-Nate Hill

34th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival Wrap-Up Podcast

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Welcome back to our annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival podcast! Tim and Frank recount their experience at this year’s festival. Included in the red carpet interview portion of the podcast is Roger Durling, Rami Malek, Adam McKay, Spike Lee, Viggo Mortensen, Richard E. Grant, Glenn Close, Josh Lucas, John David Washington, and Sam fucking Elliot.

SBIFF: Viggo Mortensen on David Cronenberg, Green Book, and putting Coca-Cola in The Road.

Vladimir Putin was an inspiration for his character in Easter Promises, he owned his two horses from the Lord of the Rings, and then T.J. from Hidalgo, and he thinks it is total bullshit that David Cronenberg has never been nominated for best director. Viggo Mortensen is an accidental movie star who is fluent in seven languages, has his own publishing house, and never tires of people walking up to him on the street to talk to him about Aragorn. The 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s American Riviera Award was presented to Mortensen by his two-time co-star and one-time director, Ed Harris, which was preceded by a delightful two-hour Q&A with Deadline’s Peter Hammond.

Mortensen is currently making the rounds for his third Academy Award nomination for one of the year’s best films, The Green Book, knowing full well that he’s going to be three and out but continues to champion a film that he truly loves and believes in. He and Harris were about an hour late to the event, a serve storm prolonged their trip up from LA, diverting to take a private plane to a local airport and eventually hitting the red carpet and taking his time along the way promoting his latest feature.

“Coke doesn’t do R rated films, and then I asked if I could call the guy,” Mortensen continued, “I can’t remember his name, but I called the rep from Coca Cola and asked him if he had read The Road. He had not but his wife or someone he knew had. I told him to read pages, I don’t know, eighty-six through eighty-seven. And then to speak to his kids or his wife or whoever, and then in a few days he called back, and we could use Coke.”

His first on-screen appearance was in Peter Weir’s Witness, which came right off the heels of his scenes being cut from Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo. He was in his very early twenties when he decided to become an actor, there was not a specific film or an actor who inspired him, but the theatre experience was an emotional enlightenment that was woven with curiosity about how film could evoke reactions from laughter to tears.

The Lord of the Rings series is a part of his life that remains incredibly special to him. Not only did he love making the films, but he also speaks to what that afforded him to achieve not only professionally, but also personally. He started Percival Press, a publishing house that produces works of poets, musicians, and photographers as well as his own music, poetry, art, and photo books.

The Extended Cut of The Fellowship of the Ring is his favorite of the trilogy, reasoning that it was the film with the most human to human interaction. As the films went on, there was more CGI, more green screens, creating less and less interaction with other people. That was not a slight towards the other films, he warned because he has stated the same prior and he has been taken out of context.

Mortensen has a flip phone and has gotten better at emailing since he launched his website, but he’s just not all that interested in modern technology and frankly doesn’t find an interest in it. He is more interested in bringing stories to the screen that would not otherwise have a voice. He finds unique narratives and uses his movie star cache as a vehicle to shine a light on compelling characters and writer-directors whose visions would not be told.

Green Book is a special film to Mortensen, he loves it and the character of Tony Lip. He is very aware of the campaign against the film, especially how some are citing that the real Tony and Dr. Shirley were not friends and the film is a false representation of factual events. Firstly, Mortensen noted that Green Book is a movie, and only covers a span of two weeks and that Tony Lip went on to drive Dr. Shirley for another two years, and moderator Peter Hammond noted that Deadline has published audio tapes of Dr. Shirley speaking of his friendship with Tony and how the two remained friends for the rest of their lives.

He spoke very highly of the cast of Captain Fantastic and especially Mahershalla Ali, and how Ali was the greatest acting partner he’s had. He made not of Ali’s reactionary acting to him, and how so much of Ali’s performance is store within his reactions and economy of movement. He also spoke of his fondness for Ed Harris, who was there to present Mortensen with the award.

Dressed in cowboy boots and a red vest that looks like something William Holden would have worn in a genre-pushing western, Harris gave a rather straight forward yet emotional tribute to Mortensen, conveying that their friendship was built on a foundation of loyalty. Mortensen thanked Harris, SBIFF, and executive director Roger Durling for an award that he was not just a nominee for, but the outright winner. Mortensen is the strong silent type who is fiercely intelligent, and a man made up for passion and raw talent that elevates every single project that he touches.

Best of 2018: Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK

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Had 2018’s GREEN BOOK been made in the late 80s or early 90s by Martin Scorsese or Sydney Pollack with Robert De Niro and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, it would have been hailed a seminal classic of that era it would be one of those films that revolved around in conversation when discussing DRIVING MISS DAISY, PHILADELPHIA, or CITY SLICKERS; films that have a dramatic narrative that encompasses topical and social issues, but also have an undercurrent of humor, electrifying chemistry between the leads, and made with a mature and classical aesthetic that does not come across as heavy-handed, agenda driven or overly preachy. Yet, in 2018 the film and its filmmakers find themselves embroiled in controversy as the film leaps to the top of the pack as the awards season intensifies.

 

The picture is a charming and good-hearted road film between Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, a rough-edged Italian from an inner-city gulch and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley, an over-educated worldly maestro who embark on a musical tour that takes them well below the Mason Dixon Line in 1962. The film has many laugh out loud moments between the micro worldview of Mortensen and the macro view of Ali. GREEN BOOK has an inverted narrative of most current films about racism and sexuality as the primary focus of the plot is the friendship and connection that builds between the two leads, as race and sexuality are dealt with in a reserved and respectful manner.

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Mortensen is wonderful as he channels the archetypal blue-collar guy with a high school education at best. He gained weight for the role, chain smokes cigarettes, speaks in double negatives, and folds an entire pizza in half and eats it. Ali is just as good with his stoic and physical presence, giving a calculated reserved performance that is the definition of the economy of movement with his absolute disdain that turns into love for Mortensen.

Based upon a true story of happenstance meeting turned into a lifelong friendship, the film does not aim to cure racism nor does it intend that white people can solve the problem with a snap of their fingers, the film is about personal growth and enlightenment. Had this film been made in the late 60s or 70s by Hal Ashby, Sydney Lumet or Mike Nichols starring James Caan and Sydney Poitier GREEN BOOK would be a film that revolves in the same conversations as NETWORK, THE LANDLORD, or THE GRADUATE.

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After the Apocalypse: A Conversation with Barry Hunt by Kent Hill

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There are too few films in this day and age that leave you with something to ponder in the wake of experiencing them. But, The Further Adventures of Anse and Bhule in No-Man’s Land is, I’m pleased to report – does not fall into that category.

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As I remarked to its gentleman director – Barry Hunt – I found myself thinking to the influences which drove his artistic choices and compositions. I found traces of Herzog, Annaud, Jodorowsky – even Samuel Beckett.

For you see, this ain’t your typical day in the wake of the devastation of the world as we know it. Mr. Hunt has crafted here a sublime and visual feast that is as deep as it is vast. I found myself recalling films like Quest for Fire, Aguirre and Holy Mountain – even the lost children scenes from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.

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One of the founders of the Sowelu Theatre in Portland , Oregon, Hunt has taken this intriguing, theatrical source material and constructed a film which is at once engaging and thought-provoking. And you can’t tell me there are too many films about which offer these sensations anymore. From the opening scene, to the world after the fall, Anse and Bhule also brought back to me the emotions evoked by McCarthy’s The Road. Both are absorbing journeys in which the characters we follow must shed, if you will, their emotional and even physical ties to all they have known. Then and only then can they truly become creatures of the new age, thrust upon them.

I urge you to seek this film out, and prepare yourself for a profound cinematic experience. The burgeoning cinema of Barry Hunt I eagerly anticipate. He has a new film in the spawning, and I have a feeling it will, just as Anse and Bhule did, exceed my expectations while completely stripping them away.

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I present a fresh and brave new voice in the service of pure cinema. I give you, Barry Hunt.

 

Sean Penn’s The Indian Runner

I’ve often argued with myself whether Sean Penn is a better actor or director, but the truth is he’s just as captivating a storyteller whether on camera or behind it, and The Indian Runner is a bold testament to the latter, a somber, tragic family drama that leaves the viewer reeling with it’s hard luck characters and sorrowful resolutions. Set in the heartlands sometime after the Viet Nam war, Penn’s focus is on two brothers who have been at odds with each other years. David Morse’s Joe is a farmer turned cop, an even tempered, recent family man with a loving wife (Valeria Golino, what ever happened to her?) and his shit firmly together. Viggo Mortensen’s Frank is a volatile, hotheaded veteran, the little brother with a big chip on his shoulder, a fiery temper and wires crossed somewhere deep inside. From the get-go there’s tension, and when Frank brings home a naive girl (Patricia Arquette) to start some semblance of a family, trouble really brews. There’s hints from director Penn of his own internal turmoil, two wolves that roil against one another represented by the brothers onscreen, and the inevitable violence begotten from the hostile one. It’s so strange seeing Mortensen in a role like this, miles removed from not only the stalwart Aragorn we’re used to, but from anything else he has ever done in his choosy, sparse career. This is the role of a lifetime for any actor and it’s the one he should be remembered for, a maladjusted outsider who rages against civility and can’t be controlled, to his own demise and detriment. Morse is always a slow burner, and takes it laconically here, but there’s a sadness that burns at the corners of his eyes which the actor exudes achingly well. Arquette captures the stars her character has in her eyes for Frank, and tragically lets them fall in disillusionment when she realizes he’s not the man she thought she knew, a splendid arc for the actress to breathe life into. The brother’s patriarch is played by a low key, heartbreaking Charles Bronson, probably the last role in which he actually gets to *act*, and not just play a tough guy. He’s full of complexity and depth in his brief appearance here, and knocks it out of the park. Dennis Hopper has an extended cameo as an antagonistic bartender, and Benicio Del Toro is apparently somewhere in it as well as he’s in the credits, but I honestly couldn’t spot him anywhere. The film subtly tackles everything from implied PTSD to biblical references to near mythic aspirations built around a legend that explains the title, but more than anything it’s about something as simple as can be: How circumstances shape human beings, how trauma affects us and the ways we interact with each other, what it means to exist and make choices. Penn’s fascination with these themes is obvious, skilled and nears profundity in dedication to story and character. A brilliant piece in need of far more exposure than its ever gotten.

-Nate Hill