Tag Archives: Viggo Mortensen

28 Days


I’ve always had a thing for 28 Days. So often in Hollywood there are films that try tackle real issues, but not all of them feel like they’ve achieved anything, or even portrayed said issues in a realistic, compassionate way. This one shines a probing, nonjudgmental spotlight onto alcoholism, in all it’s subtleties and absurd truths, like few other films have. Many films portray alcoholism like a raging mania that turns you rabid and irrational, and while that certainly can be the case, I like how here they show what a semi-functioning addict looks like, as opposed to your atypical abusive archetype. It’s also just more pleasant fare too. Despite being a story about great struggle and personal woe, there’s lightheartedness to it that’s welcome in such stressful territory. Sandra Bullock, that luminous brunette, is pretty much instantly likeable in anything, a beautiful, effortless, natural born movie star, giving any film an instant advantage simply by having her headline. Here she plays Gwen, a NYC newspaper columnist who, along with her Brit boyfriend (Dominic West), has a fairly serious problem with the booze. After spectacularly ruining her poor sister’s (Elizabeth Perkins) and recklessly crashing a stolen limousine, the thin line between functionality and outright self destruction is crossed, and it becomes time to seek help. Court ordered into rehab, Gwen ships off to an upstate clinic to sleep off the hangover, but the real progress comes from first admitting she has a problem at all. Like any film about rehab, the facility is home to many quaint, quirky people for her to meet, bond and squabble with, fellow addicts on the road to whatever recovery means to them. Steve Buscemi underplays a sly turn as the program founder and lead social worker, Viggo Mortensen is sorta kinda a love interest, but also not really, in an ambiguously written supporting role, and there’s solid work from Alan Tudyuk, Marieanne Jean-Baptiste, Azura Skye and Margo Martindale too. Parallel to her treatment we see hazy flashbacks to Gwen being raised by her severely alcoholic mother (Diane Ladd), and get a glimpse of how the hectic, sprawling life of someone who drinks just seems like the mundane to them, internally until they decide to swallow that proverbial red pill, step outside the routine and examine their choices. It’s a great little film with an organic, realistic arc for Bullock that she inhabits with grace, humility and humour.

-Nate Hill

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Matt Ross’ CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

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This is a wonderful film.  I don’t know how Matt Ross got this film made, even anchoring it with an actor like Viggo Mortensen, it had to be difficult.  Mortensen is the patriarch of a gaggle of children who he and his late wife raised in the wilderness of Washington.  They all know how to hunt, make a tourniquet, and speak a plethora of languages from Japanese to German.  His wife, who suffered from a mental illness killed herself and in turn, Mortensen packs all his children up into his Ken Kesey-esque bus and they travel to Nevada to stop her from being buried so they can cremate her and flush her ashes down the toilet like she wanted.

 

The film asks and answers an elusive question.  How much reality would one sacrifice to raise his children in such a noble yet unrealistic manner?  What he and his wife set out to do is remarkable – raise children away from the dangers and structure of society, is very admirable, but all the virtues of their upbringing yield an unrealistic member of society.

Viggo Mortensen certainly does deserve his Academy Award nomination for Best Actor this year.  He is terrific.  This might even be his finest performance, but that’s such a tough call to make considering his wonderful canon of brilliant performances.  Most of his character is told through his body language, which for Mortensen seems natural and organic, not as if an actor is acting.

The film, also written by Matt Ross, is so unique it is refreshing.  We don’t really see too many films like this anymore; an adult drama with humor and heart that roots an emotional connection through its taut narrative very early on in the picture.  Frank Langella shows up in the third act; watching Mortensen and Langella matched up is why a lot of us love movies.  CAPTAIN FANTASTIC isn’t a perfect film, but its originality truly is awesome.

 

Captain Fantastic: A Review by Nate Hill 

Somewhere deep in the rugged mountainsides of the Pacific Northwest, a mother and father have chosen to raise their five children off the grid, away from society and by a completely different set of rules and customs than anyone in our day and age is used to. Viggo Mortensen doesn’t take on just any film, and in fact since his breakout role in Lord of The Rings which allowed him some clout, he’s done nothing but carefully thought out, worthwhile cinema, Captain Fantastic being probably one of the best. He is intense and caring as Ben, an intellectual renaissance man who has been bitterly put off of capitalism and commercialism. His wife (Trin Miller, angelic in flashbacks) is mentally ill and eventually passes away, leaving him on his own with the brood. He does what he knows best, sticking to the rigid physical and intellectual education plan in place for them. They learn to hunt wild game with homemade tools, read from classics like Lolita and Brothers Karamazov every evening, grow all their own grains and vegetation, practice complex defense, combat and survival skills, and live a life of elemental potency, far from the lemming’s march of consumerism just beyond their verdant and very isolated homeland. Trouble has a way of finding paradise though, however well it hides, and here it arrives in the simplest form of all: the absence of a mother. Things aren’t the same following her death, and they all take up arms and head south to New Mexico for her funeral, in a big old repurpoused school bus. They’re the most ecentric family you’ve ever met, and the ironic part is they’re the closest thing to what we were meant to live like in this world you’ll find. The real absurdity is the technicolor strip mall fast food fever dream we inhabit today, far removed from our earthy origins. It’s just because it’s become so commonplace that it seems normal to us. The family clashes spectacularly with an unprepared outside world who react to their behaviour in many different ways. The children all have the physique of a professional athlete and the academic abilities of six college professors, but somewhere along the way Ben forgot to teach them about what matters most: How to interact with one another, how to care for and love another human, and the simple social cues one aquires from growing up around a large number of people. His jaded father in law (knockout work from Frank Langella) sees Ben as a loose cannon, a danger to his grandchildren and the cause of his daughter’s death. At one point the film levels out and let’s us see things in a complete objective way: yes there are extreme benefits to a method of raising children like this, an experience that no one else could have and an implementation of their human potential that goes several degrees farther than usual. But how far is too far? Is there a dangerous element to their training and conditioning that goes beyond what they’re capable of and poses a threat? Mortensen is a picture of conflict, his undying love for his children tested when he’s thrown out of the comfort coccoon he has forged for them. Suddenly he is not the all knowing protector they’ve gotten used to, and the world outside is just as much a cause of fear for him as it is for them. They are a family though, which is achingly, evidently clear in each performance. George Mackay is the eldest and bears the brunt of realization when it comes time to meet other people. The others, including Annaliese Basso, Shree Crooks, Nicholas Hamilton and Samantha Isler are all sensational and have a lived in, well worn and often quite hilarious dynamic. It’s essentially a fish out of water story that begs us to question both the water and the land, and how going from one environment to the other, both worlds apart but in the same realm, can affect a human being. This is the best film I have seen so far this year, one that challenges us to ponder what we see unfold, urges us to be more than just another fish in the school, but to laugh, be crazy, think for ourselves and pitch in an effort to find the scattered pieces of the puzzle we call the human condition. Fantastic is the word indeed.

Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide: A Review by Nate Hill 

In terms of submarine movies, nothing will light your fire or get your pulse racing quite like Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide (well maybe Das Boot, but that’s another story). Scott just has this way with hyper kinetic tension and a knack for causing whirlwinds of propulsive energy in his work, and even when the material is more melancholy there is still a rousing climate to every frame. Pair his visual skill with Quentin Tarantino’s sterling (and uncredited) ear for dialogue and you’ve got one simmering package. Not too mention the actors and the blood stirring score from Hans Zimmer which is one of the composer’s best and richly orchestrated works. This is the second time Tarantino and Scott have done the writer director duo, albeit the lesser of the two films, it’s still a stunner. When lunatic Russian extremist Vladimir Radchenko (Daniel Von Bargen, RIP) goes off in a huff and threatens nuclear warfare, the Yanks get nervous and send in an ace in the hole submarine loaded with warheads of it’s own, cause, you know, ‘just in case.’ The vessel is captained by an intense and corrosive Gene Hackman, backed by a more reserved and introverted Denzel Washington. The two clash right off the bat and its obvious that fireworks of conflict will erupt between them once the shit hits the propeller. It soon does, in the form of a command order that is partly lost in translation. It could mean go ahead and fire the nukes on Radchenko. It also could not. Hackman, that spitfire, wants to engage and eradicate any chance of action on the extremist’s part. Washington insists on holding back, terrified by uncertainty. This troublesome personal disagreement eventually leads to flat out mutiny amongst the crew, in more ways than one. The crew has no concrete leader to direct their devotion to, and that’s a dangerous thing aboard a military vessel. Hackman and Washington are pure electricity as opposite sides of the same coin, facing off in a claustrophobic arena where one wrong move could end up in cataclysm. Along with internal disruption concerning the crew, there’s also the fact that they’re on a submarine miles below the surface to contend with, and it’s one whopper of a suspense cocktail. Viggo Mortensen is terrific in a conflicted supporting role, and watch for solid turns from Danny Nucci, George Dzunda, Matt Craven, Ryan Phillipe, Steve Zahn, Chris Ellis and a fiery James Gandolfini. Ooo and Jason Robards in an uncredited cameo, which he’s also done for Scott in Enemy Of The State. It’s pure movie bliss, but what can you expect from Scott other than the cream of the crop? The guy gave us pure gold for decades, bless his soul, and this is one of his best.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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It was the film many thought would never happen and that languished in development hell for years, bouncing from studio to studio until New Line Cinema took a very big gamble with filmmaker Peter Jackson who, at that point in his career, was known for making slapsticky low budget horror films (Braindead) and had one art house hit (Heavenly Creatures). He wasn’t someone you would necessarily entrust millions upon millions of dollars on making a trilogy of fantasy films – not the most commercially successful genre (Willow, anyone?). Jackson was also tackling The Lord of the Rings, the much-beloved series of books by J.R.R. Tolkien – get it wrong and you’re going to have legions of very unhappy fans.

However, Jackson was a fan too and he had a vision, which, with the help of his co-screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and an army of collaborators, brought The Lord of the Rings vividly to life. The first film, The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), was a massive critical and commercial success and would be followed by two even more successful sequels, The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). Everyone has their favorite film of the trilogy and for me it’s the first one because it has an intimate feel rendered on an epic scale, if that makes any sense. In other words, The Fellowship of the Ring is about a small group of characters, the Fellowship, and the journey they undertake.

Jackson establishes this intimacy early on with Bilbo Baggins’ (Ian Holm) birthday celebration. The Special Extended Edition version takes its time introducing the hobbits and their world. Jackson uses warm, inviting colors and folksy music to convey that the hobbits are a friendly, down-to-earth people who live in a tight-knit community where everyone knows each other. Most importantly, we are introduced to Frodo (Elijah Wood), the hero of this epic tale. For it is he who Bilbo entrusts with the last remaining Ring that he must to take Mordor to destroy so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of the evil Sauron.

The Shire sequences also establish the dangerously seductive lure of the Ring, the origins of the quest and the creation of the Fellowship as led by the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Aside from Frodo, fellow hobbits Sam (Sean Astin), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) join him on his journey. The group starts simply enough and over the course of the film others join their ranks, including Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), a human ranger, Legolas (Orlando Bloom), an elvan archer, Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a grumpy dwarf, and Boromir (Sean Bean), a human fighter. At heart of the Fellowship (and really all three films) is the friendship between Frodo and Sam. It is Sam who looks out for Frodo and sticks with him for the entire quest.

There are all kinds of parallels, story structure-wise, between The Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). The Tolkien books were an obvious influence on George Lucas’ films. The main characters from both films are plucked from obscurity, a remote rural environment to go on a dangerous quest and are mentored by an elderly wizard type. Hell, Han Solo and Aragorn are characters cut from the same cloth and are both given cool introductions to establish their respective badass credentials.

Jackson manages to get some career-best performances out of many cast members. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Orlando Bloom, in particular, have never done anything better since (or before for that matter, except maybe for Wood and his chilling turn in Sin City) and this film launched a series of very eclectic leading man roles for the always watchable Viggo Mortensen (it doesn’t get more diverse than disparate roles in Hidalgo and Eastern Promises). Both Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee give the film some serious class and loads of genre credibility. It is Wood and Astin that anchor this film and give it its heart. The relationship between their two characters epitomizes most noble aspects of friendship and of the Fellowship. This only deepens in subsequent installments.

Once our heroes begin their journey, Jackson establishes a riveting urgency as they are pursued by the nightmarish ringwraiths and a vicious army of orcs. And yet this only strengthens the camaraderie among the hobbits and the rest of the Fellowship despite its dysfunction in the form of Boromir. However, when it matters and when faced with dangerous opponents, they work as a team as evident in the exciting and visceral battle against a monster in Balin’s Tomb and the even grittier battle against the orcs at the film’s climax.

Contrary to popular belief, Peter Jackson did not have a lifelong ambition to adapt Tolkien’s books into films. Producer Saul Zaentz owned the film rights for years and gave them to Jackson when he and Fran Walsh met with him and expressed their passion for the project. Zaentz sold the rights to Miramax who wanted to make only one film with Jackson. Disney was the financial backer but they didn’t believe in the project, refusing to give Miramax the money to make it. Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, gave Jackson three weeks to find someone else to make the film and in 1998, New Line agreed to make it into three films. Jackson originally proposed two films but it was New Line’s idea to make three.

In order to cut down on costs, Jackson decided to film all three films back-to-back over a grueling 274-day shooting schedule on location in remote areas of New Zealand in more than 100 locations with 20 major speaking roles and 20,000 extras. At the height or production, the film crew swelled to 1,300 people with seven units shooting multiple elements simultaneously. Jackson and company were at the mercy of New Zealand’s notoriously mercurial weather – unseasonal snowstorms and overnight flooding but in the end, the filmmakers accomplished what they set out to do and the proof is in the impressive final results.

rings2The Fellowship of the Ring is one of those rare films that lives up to its mountains of hype. Jackson tells an engaging story and crams as much of the source material as possible into the film. Sure, certain characters and subplots have been cut-out but that is the nature of a feature film adaptation. Maybe, someday, someone can turn it into a mini-series so that everything can be included. Until then, we have Jackson’s magnificent films to enjoy.

Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane: A Review by Nate Hill

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I’ve always thought that Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane is the movie Michael Bay made in another reality where he matured a little more. I mean that as a compliment to Sir Ridley and the film. The crisp, aesthetically lighted style has Bay written all over it, but it’s employed alongside a human story of one girl facing some truly daunting odds. Demi Moore plays Jordan O Neill, a determind, plucky individual who has her mind and heart set on going through the infamous Navy SEAL training, making her the first woman to undertake the task. She just wants to do her training like the rest of her peers, but unfortunately her situation comes with a tirade of media attention and notoriety, something which she never signed on for. Corrupt politician Theodore Hayes (the late Daniel Von Bargen smarming it up) wants to ruin her, and he’s at odds with a pushy Senator (Anne Bancroft is as stiff and sour as the glass of kentucky mash she constantly pulls from). Meanwhile, Moore begins her training, thrown in with a bunch of testosterone fuelled dudes, rabid dogs who don’t react well to a girl in their midst. Her instructors do their best, but she meets quite the adversary in Master Chief James Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) a no nonsense guy with a razor sharp intellect and a personality to fuel it. Mortensen gets to do something really special with the role. Where other drill instructors in film are somewhat caricatures, monstrous, profane loud-mouths with all the depth of a wood plank, Urgayle has a metallic edge that encases real human qualities beneath. Mortensen latches on to that right off the bat, blessing the film with a fully three dimensional person. The cast is great as well, with work from Kevin Gage, David Warshofsky, Jason Beghe, Morris Chestnut, Jim Caviesel and the legendary Scott Wilson who is mint as the cranky base commander. His dialogue is straight out of a Mamet script and Wilson bites down hard, especially in a scene where he verbally owns Bancroft. Moore is combustible, lacing her take no prisoners attitude with the grace and power of her femininity. She’s also in wicked shape too, her physique a reflection of both Jordan’s commitment to her goal and Demi’s steadfast need to tell the best possible story. This one is far better than some critics would have you believe, with a story arc both suited to the character and theme. It’s also just plain powerhouse filmmaking that chimes in on all the right notes. Awesome stuff.