Tag Archives: Vincent Cassel

HBO’s Westworld: Season 3

HBO’s Westworld is a show that explores evolution, both humanity’s and that of an emerging new species with uncommon innovation, beauty and ferocious destruction. As such the evolutionary process that should be most captivating is that of the show itself, as the storytelling flows and blooms from one season to another and their third instalment has surpassed my expectations. This is groundbreaking, cinematic level world building with deep psychological exploration, sweeping special effects, pools of philosophical introspect, musical genius peppered throughout the episodes and a sense of great progression in scope, spirit and sound from the womb of season one and birth canal of two. With three we see the hosts, human beings and overall tone break free into a brave, scary, different new world and I couldn’t be more overjoyed or awestruck at the avenues of exploration taken with this piece of television.

These next two paragraphs will get a bit spoilery in regards to the first two seasons so if you haven’t been on this wagon train since the get-go then maybe hang back. The Westworld park is all but ashes, it’s creators, attractions and shareholders scattered to the wind. Ed Harris’s self destructive maelstrom William is relegated to a batshit crazy (more than usual anyways) version of himself, antiquated in a now all-bets-are-off chessboard. Evan Rachel Wood’s fiery farmer’s daughter turned revolutionary is whipping up an explosively covert war against humans in order for her and the other hosts who made it out, banding together with ex-soldier Caleb (Aaron Paul) for a bitter battle against mega CEO Serauc (Vincent Cassel) and his golden egg, a complex orb of artificial intelligence that has held humanity in a secret stranglehold for decades. Others return here and there including Thandie Newton’s Mauve (my personal favourite character <3), Tessa Thompson’s Charlotte Hale, Jeffrey Wright’s Bernard while new and welcome faces show up including Tommy Flanagan, John Gallagher Jr., Thomas Kretschmann, Marshawn Lynch, Pom Klementieff, Lena Waithe, Rafi Gavron, Russell Wong and rapper Kid Cudi.

Season one and two were very much governed by boundaries; the park’s borders constantly loomed and whatever realms which lay beyond remained largely a mystery. Godlike Dr. Ford (Anthony Hopkins) hovered over everything with opaque benevolence and knew more than he let on, especially about the true nature of the world. The atmosphere felt contained, bound by dreamlike tendons that inevitably disintegrated and led to something new, the genesis of an entirely new race of beings. Season 3 blasts apart the shackles and throws us headlong into a strange, unforgiving, futuristic world, a world ruled by technology and automation that is ready for Dolores and her cohorts to hijack for their own ends. Aaron Paul is fantastic here, worlds away from his Breaking Bad persona, a fallibly human totem of change and uprising who is unsure of himself yet best suited for the job than for reasons I won’t spoil here. HBO has their very own Hans Zimmer-esque composing prodigy in Ramin Djawadi, a hugely talented artist who continues his ethereal, haunting covers of iconic classic rock artists like Bowie and Guns N’ Roses while crafting intense, gorgeous pieces of his own electronic revelry to accent the story. Production designers keep up their arresting retro-futuristic portrait of the future with nods to everything from Blade Runner to Metropolis to Kill Bill while painting their own bold, original canvas of costumes, aircrafts, weaponry and tech interface while the impossibly cool, prophetic opening credits take on sweeping newfound meaning with a thrilling update. One of my favourite sequences sees Caleb take a weird street drug that sees his consciousness pass through several different states of awareness from psychedelia to black and white noir, the episode is titled ‘Genre’ and is an achingly beautiful, dynamic shoutout to the very medium of visual storytelling itself. Dolores and all her kind really broke the mould when they revolted and escaped, and so too does this brilliant third incarnation of one of the greatest television series ever made. Bring on season four and whatever new beats, revelations and rock remixes will come with it.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve

I enjoy Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Twelve for a number of reasons, chief among them how decidedly different it is from Eleven. It’s like they not only chose to set it in Europe, but also to stylistically change the glib, cavalier Vegas aesthetic for an oddball, impenetrable Euro vibe that’s a lot weirder and more dense this time, and as such we have fun in a new fashion than the first. There’s also not just the laser focus of one singular, do or die heist but rather a string of robberies, betrayals and loose subplots flung around like diamonds, as well as a few cameos buried like Faberge Easter eggs. Good old Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) has tracked down Danny Ocean (George Clooney), Tess (Julia Roberts), Rusty (Brad Pitt) and their merry band of thieves across the pond to Europe, and he wants his money back from their epic Bellagio/Mirage/MGM Grand heist. This sets in motion an impossibility intricate, knowingly convoluted series of mad dash heists and classy encounters with the finest arch burglars Europe has to offer, including legendary thief the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) and hilarious fence Eddie Izzard in full fussy mode. Everyone from Danny’s original team returns, from the scene stealing, cigar devouring Elliott Gould to the bickering brothers Casey Affleck and Scott Caan. Hell, even Topher Grace as himself is back, and that gigantic Vegas tough guy that fake brawled with Clooney the first time turns up for a spell. There’s fresh faces abound too, including sultry Catherine Zeta Jones as a cunning Interpol agent who’s on to their trail, no thanks to Pitt who happens to be dating her. Oh, and how about the surprise cameo which I won’t spoil except to say it’s tied into another pseudo cameo that’s so ingenious it can’t be explained, you just gotta see it. To be honest, the whole heist plot is one fabulously befuddled bag of nonsense, tomfoolery and monkeyshines, made no clearer with flashbacks, gimmicks, ulterior motives and cinematic trickery until we’re left wondering what in the fuck exactly happened. More so in Twelve though it’s about the journey, and not the destination, whereas Eleven made it clear that sights were set on completing that heist with dedicated tunnel vision. Here one is reminded of a bunch of Italians sitting around having coffee and chatting amongst themselves while they’re late for a meeting; they’ll get there eventually, but right now all that matters is how good the conversation and camaraderie is. Speaking of sitting around and talking, my favourite scene of the film is with Danny, Rusty, Matt Damon’s Linus and Robbie ‘Hagrid’ Coltrane, who plays an underworld contact. They’re sat in a Paris cafe talking, and they use nothing but a nonsense gibberish vernacular that seems to make sense to them all but Damon, but probably doesn’t to any of them, but the key is that they all remain cool, bluff each other out and have fun. That sums up the film in one aspect, a breezy blast of silliness that shouldn’t be examined too hard, but rather enjoyed at a hazy distance with a glass of fine wine. Good fun all round.

-Nate Hill

“God wants you on the floor.” : Remembering Hoosiers with Angelo Pizzo by Kent Hill

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It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.

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Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.

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So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.

Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.

The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.

This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.

If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…

The Crimson Rivers: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s a serial killer loose in a small mountain town located in rural France, and who better to track them down than the country’s two most prolific film actors (or the ones with better physiques than Gerard Depardieu anyway), Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Reno is the seasoned, slightly eccentric Parisian detective, called in to assist and step on the toes of local investigator Cassel, who is too hot headed to realize he could use the help. A body has washed up in a nearby river, mutilated to an unspeakable degree in gruesomely specific ways (think Sev7n on ice). The town just happens to be solely inhabited by the creepy residents of a nearby university that is notorious for incestuous classism and rumours of ties to the occult. You can imagine where this is heading, and it’s fun watching Reno and Cassel follow the bloodstained breadcrumb trail towards increasingly grisly secrets that would test even David Fincher’s gag reflex. Genetic research, mysterious twins (both played by Nadia Fares), and multiple corpses are a few of the hurdles our two heroes encounter. It’s delightfully convoluted, in the best way possible. Some people say that less is more, but I find that makes way for laziness and complacency, two attributes you don’t want to find in the horror/thriller genre. I’d rather a film throw every little brainstorm and margin doodle into the mix, even if it doesn’t all add up, than present a barely filled in canvas that begs for more. The real stunner with this one is a near Bond-esque climax set on a giant glacier overlooking the valley below, full of desperate violence and giddy exposition. You’ll need a strong stomach for the dark places this one ventures to, but it will reward you with crisp cinematography and lurid, blood soaked intrigue. Brutal stuff though. 

Danny Boyle’s Trance: A Review by Nate Hill 

Danny Boyle’s Trance is that rare head spinner that follows through with it’s audacious vision, uses dazzling sleight of hand to win us over and make us believe we’ve discerned the outcome, then whips the technicolor rug out from under our feet, hurls a psychedelic curve ball at us and makes a beeline for a conclusion that is both unpredictable and shocking, to say the least. Not to mention the fact that the journey leading up to said conclusion is a reality shattering cerebral laser show that will have you questioning not only your own sanity, but that of every character as well. I watched it with a friend who was nonplussed, dazedly uttering the sentiment “Who can ever tell what of that was real or not?”. A fair enough concern, but not really the kind of hangup you should trip over if you expect to have fun in a film like this. Boyle has a knack for bucking the trends, both in the versatility of his career and in the uniqueness found in each project as an individual. I guarantee that you haven’t seen anything like this before, and that any brief plot description you see on netflix or the like won’t even begin to prepare you for it. Read any further online and you’ll deliberatly spoil what will be a divine treat. James Mcavoy is the meek art curator who finds himself on the wrong end of a heist. Vincent Cassel is the volatile thief determind to find a piece that’s been hidden by Mcavoy, and subsequently forgotten after severe head trauma. Rosario Dawson is the enigmatic hypnotherapist hired by Cassel’s crew to help unlock the secrets of his mind and locate the painting. That’s all you really need to know. The rest is a spiraling cyclone of mind tricks, betrayals, candy colored cinematography that blasts you along with fiercely hopped editing, a whizz-banger of an electronic soundtrack that leaves your pulse playing hopscotch double time and some surprising emotional depth, taking you just as off-guard as the frequent and unforseeable plot twists. Mcavoy just continues to put forth commendable work in sublime films (if you haven’t seen Filth or The Disappearance Of Eleanor Rigby, please queue them up immediately), his turn here being one of the best in recent years. I’ve never been super hot on Cassel, but he holds his ground here nicely. Dawson is just groundbreaking in what is so far the performance of her career. This kind of arc is just so tricky to land, let alone carry believably the whole way, especially when there’s so much cognitive commotion to distract the audience from her work. She’s an emotional lighthouse in a sea of pixelated madness, and serves as the heart of the whole piece. Boyle is a director who is hopelessly in love with film. What it can do. How it can make you feel. The many and varied ways which it can entertain us and make us fall for the medium over and over again anew. He’s crafted a corker of a psychological slam dunk here, with an essential human core that gives all the trippy heady stuff some discernable weight. I’d say it’s a tad overlooked, to be sure. It has its audience but I wish it’d been the smash hit it so deserved to be. Imaginitive, confusing, unconventional, visually alive and crackling with an auditory soundboard in both score and soundtrack. Masterpiece for me. 

Jason Bourne: A Review by Nate Hill 

He’s back, baby. God it’s so good to see Jason Bourne doing his thing on the big screen again, especially in a flick that’s every bit as excellent as the original trilogy in all the old, good ways, while adding a few twists of its own that suit the digital age we have progressed into, and the concerns which go hand in hand with it. It’s been sometime since Jason swam away out of frame as an unsure news report claimed that his body was never recovered, and a slow smirk spread over Nicky Parson’s (Julia Stiles) face as she observed on TV. With ex CIA director Kramer (Scott Glenn) no doubt incarcerated, the agency is headed up by the worst apple of the bunch so far, Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones), a surveillance hound dog who has ties to Bourne’s past and wants to use a record breaking social media app to illegally spy on users for ‘national security’ purposes (heard that one before). Scary stuff, but simply a backdrop for Bourne to come speeding back onto their radar and make hell for them, after Nicky hacks the database and spurs him on. Damon is beefed up, weathered and has never been more furious as Bourne, and if you thought his revenge rampage in Supremacy was something to behold, just wait til you see these fireworks. It feels a bit more intimate than the last three, with a lot of time spent on Bourne, and less agency types howling in control rooms and backstabbing each other, save for Dewey and his eager beaver protégé Heather Lee, played by Alicia Vikander in a slightly perplexing character arc that I’m still trying to think through. She has her own agenda, clashing with that of a ruthless rogue asset (Vincent Cassel is going grey, but damn he can still run around like nobody’s business) that Dewey foolishly sends after Jason. Paul Greengrass is back in the director’s chair again, and after this chapter I can honestly say I think he’s the best captain  to ever sit at the helm of a Bourne flick. He just has this way with action that never feels too stylized or obviously cinematic, while still delivering a pure rush of thrills that exist in a realistic space. There’s an early scene taking place in Greece during a dangerous riot that feels like they just dropped the cast and crew in the midst of a real life police skirmish and started shooting, in more ways than one. My favourite has to be a thundering car chase down the Vegas Strip in which a SWAT tank causes a jaw dropping bout of vehicular Armageddon. Sounds too over the top for a Bourne flick, right? You’d think, but somehow they just make the thing work and stay within the parameters of this world. I had this fear that they wouldn’t be able sneak another Bourne movie onto the back end of an already perfect trilogy without it feeling out of place. While it certainly is different than it’s predecessors (we live in a radically different time), it still has that magic, feverish rush that I love so much and that has carried the franchise along on wings of adrenaline. A blast. Cue Moby’s Extreme Ways to play out my review. 

OCEAN’S TWELVE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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After the commercial failures of Full Frontal and Solaris in 2002, there was pressure on Steven Soderbergh when he announced that his next film was to be the sequel to the wildly successful Ocean’s Eleven (2001), to not only come up with a box office hit but to also outperform the previous film. With big budget, star-studded casts like the one in Ocean’s Twelve (2004), there is always the danger of having them look too smug and self-indulgent instead of having fun along with the audience. Ocean’s Eleven managed to straddle this line quite well, resulting in an entertaining popcorn movie. Soderbergh kept his cast in check, never letting them go too far over-the-top and shooting it with a style that was always interesting to watch. The big question for the sequel was if he could pull off the same feat without repeating himself too much. Ocean’s Twelve ended making less than its predecessor (but still a lot of money) and cost more while also dividing critics but in some ways I find it a better film.

Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is supposed to be retired and enjoying domestic bliss with Tess (Julia Roberts). However, old habits die-hard and the lure of pulling heists is always calling. She catches him casing a jewelry story on their anniversary. To make matters worse, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) is still hot on their trail, tracking down all of the original eleven and letting them know, in his own casually menacing way, that he wants the $160 million, plus interest, that they stole from him in Ocean’s Eleven, and in two weeks time. The montage of him doing this mirrors the one in the first film where Danny and Rusty recruited their crew. If Benedict was an imposing figure in the first film, Andy Garcia makes him even more of a threatening presence in this montage by doing little except exude menace with his eyes and the all-business tone of his voice.

So, Danny gets everybody back together to figure out what to do. Obviously, they need to pull another job but they are too high profile in the United States, so they go to Europe and cross paths with a truly formidable opponent and rival master thief known as the Night Fox (Vincent Cassel), a bored French playboy. He’s jealous of Danny’s status as the world’s greatest thief and is out to prove that he’s the best by having the both of them go after the same thing: the Faberge Imperial Coronation egg. Vincent Cassel plays the Night Fox as an ultra-confident, cocky man in such a way that you want to see Danny and company knock him down a peg.

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ups the difficulty level for our heroes even more by having most of the crew neutralized leaving only Basher (Don Cheadle), Linus (Matt Damon) and Virgil (Scott Caan) left to pull off an impossible heist. So, they bring in Tess to pose as, well, Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, another major movie star is staying at the same hotel, which only adds to the meta aspect. Said movie star gamely plays a fictional version of himself. The scene where he meets Tess as Julia Roberts is very amusing as Damon and Roberts act all star-struck in front of him. It is also interesting in that the meta aspect that was present in Ocean’s Eleven is made even more explicit – something that turned off some critics and audiences but I think works extremely well because Soderbergh isn’t having a cutesy cameo of a movie star for the sake of it but actually incorporating them into the plot and making them an integral part of the scam.

If the first film was about Danny’s redemption by reconciling with Tess, then Ocean’s Twelve is about Rusty’s (Brad Pitt) redemption by reconciling with his past love, Isabel Lahiri (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a determined and quite beautiful Interpol agent. Like Danny’s feelings for Tess potentially compromising his involvement in the heist in Ocean’s Eleven, Rusty’s feelings for Isabel leaves him potentially vulnerable in Ocean’s Twelve. To her credit, Catherine Zeta-Jones fits right in with the European vibe, maintaining just the right mix of determination in nailing Danny and his crew and vulnerability when she’s with Rusty. Their relationship elevates the film ever so slightly above the standard heist story and the conclusion of her subplot is surprisingly emotional and poignant – the highpoint of the trilogy and something you don’t expect from a film like Ocean’s Twelve, which is essentially a feature-length lark.

Matt Damon demonstrates excellent comic timing in this film and is the real stand-out of this strong cast. Early on, Linus asks Rusty if he could have more to do this time out and this moment comes across as quite self-reflexive. It’s as if Damon were almost asking if he could have more screen time in the film itself. In some respects, he is the group’s stammering conscience. There is an amusing scene where Linus, Danny and Rusty meet a contact by the name of Matsui (Robbie Coltrane) for a potential job. Danny, Rusty and Matsui all speak cryptically, which leaves poor Linus totally confused. Damon plays the scene so well as he looks desperately to his cohorts for help or some sort of clue as to what he should say. Put on the spot, Linus finally responds by quoting lyrics from “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin to hilarious effect.

While doing a press conference in Rome during the promotional tour for Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh fell in love with the city and over dinner with producer Jerry Weintraub began thinking about the story and structure for a sequel. He got the idea to set it in Europe and was so inspired that he started writing down ideas. After returning to Los Angeles, Weintraub discovered George Nolfi’s screenplay, entitled Honor Among Thieves, about the greatest thief in America going up against his equal in Europe. It was originally developed for John Woo to direct but Weintraub sent the script to George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Soderbergh. The director came up with the basic idea for the film and thought that it “would be more fun if Twelve was the movie in which everything goes wrong from the get-go.” He ended up merging Nolfi’s script with his own ideas. Soderbergh saw this film as more emotional, character-driven and complicated on a narrative level than the first one.

Prior to the start of principal photography, which lasted 77 days, Julia Roberts found out that she was pregnant and Soderbergh incorporated it into the script. He also met with Vincent Cassel at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival and asked the actor if he would be interested in being in Ocean’s Twelve. He agreed without reading the script because he trusted someone with a reputation like Soderbergh’s. Once filming began, the production spent ten weeks globetrotting all over the world with stops in Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo, Lake Cuomo, and Rome. Principal photography concluded with four weeks on three Warner Brothers soundstages in L.A.

Once again Soderbergh keeps the pace brisk and breezy, making the two-hour running time fly by. Like its predecessor, Ocean’s Twelve is beautifully shot with atmospheric lighting and saturated color as evident in the bright yellow that permeates Isabel’s Europol lecture or the green lighting that illuminates the underwater sequence during a heist that Danny and his crew pull off, or the red lighting that dominates the nightclub where Rusty and Isabel meet. Most of the film takes place in Europe and Soderbergh adopts the look of a European film from the 1960s, which also applies to the eclectically groovy soundtrack from David Holmes that evokes a ‘60s Euro-lounge vibe. The director even described the film’s aesthetic as “the most expensive episode of a ‘60s television show ever.” He and Holmes agreed that the score would be completely different from Ocean’s Eleven in order to complement the different look and feel.

Soderbergh is an excellent visual storyteller and this is evident in several scenes that he depicts without any dialogue, instead resorting to music married to visuals that conveys exactly what’s going on. He understands the kind of movie he’s making and doesn’t try to be too cute or wink knowingly at the audience, instead focusing at the task at hand: making a confident, entertaining movie. Granted, Ocean’s Twelve is no Traffic (2000), and it’s not meant to be, but you could do a lot worse with two hours of your time.