Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

Off Limits aka Saigon

What do you think of when the Viet Nam war comes up in conversation? Platoon? Apocalypse Now? Born On The 4th Of July? All great films, but one I like to call attention to is Off Limits, a sweaty, disturbing murder mystery set in the heat of Saigon during the height of the war. Someone is brutally murdering prostitutes in the brothels, raising enough of a stir that Army cops Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines are called in to investigate all fronts. Because this is war and anything close to an organized procedural is hopeless, there’s a creepy, lawless feel to their work as they probe American GI’s, shady local characters and even US military honchos. This is an unpleasant, royally fucked up film that isn’t easy to sit through or warm up to, but it’s brilliantly made and the sheer level of feverish intensity kept up by everyone involved has to be commended. Dafoe is reserved but lethal when necessary while Hines brings the humour as a guy who creates a flippant smokescreen to hide just how sharp he really is. Fred Ward plays their commanding officer of sorts terrifically but it’s Scott Glenn who lays down one absolute WTF of a performance as a psychopathic American colonel with some disgusting extracurricular habits, one hell of a nasty attitude and probably the single funniest and most unnerving death scene I’ve ever seen. Keep a lookout for Richard Brooks, David Alan Grier and Keith David in solid turns as GI’s who are immediately suspects because in a climate this volatile, everyone is. A fantastic film that fires on all cylinders, is exceptionally well made and very overlooked but be warned: you’ll want to take five or six showers after those credits roll.

-Nate Hill

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Roger Donaldson’s White Sands

Somewhere out there in the gypsum dunes of New Mexico there’s White Sands, a long lost, slightly unfinished yet captivating neo-noir about small town law enforcement, big time gun runners and everyone else who gets caught up in between. Willem Dafoe is Ray, a bored rural sheriff who sees a way out of the dusty hum drum when an apparent smuggler turns up dead on his watch out there in the national park, prompting him to steal the guy’s identity and dive headlong into the illicit arms business with no real crash course or idea of what he’s doing. A risky move that propels the film down an exciting, sexy, ambient journey of untrustworthy alliances, atmospheric shootouts and a dangerously charming Mickey Rourke as Lennox, the kind of reptilian criminal who’s so good at seducing you into the lifestyle that you don’t realize you’re in the snake pit until it’s almost too late. Dafoe and Rourke have shared the screen aplenty before and while my favourite team up has to be their cartel duo in Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon A Time In Mexico, this film certainly takes second place honours. They just work so well on camera together, a shaky bromance built on Ray’s deception and Lennox’s unpredictable penchant for violence that proves electric as the narrative weaves around them. The always phenomenal Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays an underworld connection who Ray unwisely gets steamy with in probably one of the hottest sex scenes of the 90’s and a complete false advertisement for the success rate of getting it on in the shower. Samuel L. Jackson has a fantastic early career villain role as the kind of corrupt FBI agent in whom it’s very unwise to place trust, and watch for others including the great Maura Tierney, M. Emmett Walsh, James Rebhorn, Beth Grant, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Kehler, Mimi Rogers and a sneaky unbilled double cameo from Fred Dalton Thompson and the inimitable John P. Ryan as slick arms dealers. The setting of White Sands park plays such a role in atmosphere here; the ghostly sight of white sand dunes brings about the thought that something is out of place, rare in nature and the same can be said for Dafoe’s affable sheriff thrown into a mixing pot of big city psychos and genuine menace, a fish out of water shtick that pulls you in the more accustomed to this netherworld the man gets. How about that knockout original score from Patrick O’Hearn too, who only composed for a handful of things since, it’s a hazy, melodic set that suggests both the beauty and danger lurking out there in the Sands, especially in the simmering climax where several characters meet poetically grisly fates. I do have a few minor issues with this film, it could have been at least fifteen minutes longer and rounded out the epilogue with Dafoe’s arc clearer, it almost feels like there’s a missing reel or some editing glitch that marred the final product just a tad, but it doesn’t hurt the film too much overall. This is a lost classic for me, a gorgeously specific film noir with some of my favourite actors giving some of their most fun, playful work, the aforementioned score and some cinematography that won’t quit. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Disney’s John Carter Of Mars

If Disney had kept the much more alluring title ‘John Carter Of Mars’ instead of hacking off the last bit and just keeping the dude’s name, I feel like Andrew Stanton’s John Carter would have had a better chance in marketing and taken flight, because it’s not even near as bad a film as people would have you believe. In fact, it’s a gorgeous, beautifully told, elaborate retro science fiction dream and a flat out great film. I suppose it’s kind of like Waterworld, where a film tanks so badly that people start to confuse bad numbers with bad quality and a whole negative stigma is whipped up around it. Speaking of Waterworld, another great film, John Carter bears similarities in production design and visual atmosphere, albeit set on Mars for most of the duration. Based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs believed to be some of the earliest works of literary SciFi, Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter, an ex Civil War badass who finds himself whisked away to Mars through a dimensional cave portal out in the desert, propelled on an adventure with warring clans, giant alien yeti beasts, a princess (Lynn Collins), humanoid extraterrestrials led by a green Willem Dafoe, an adorable little dog/toad/road-runner animal and more. This is one of those old school epics that doesn’t just hire a few leads and a gaggle of supporting players but turns a whole casting agency upside down, shakes it and signs any actors that fall out, and as a result we get a jaw dropping lineup that includes Samantha Morton, Polly Walker, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds, Jon Favreau, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Mark Strong, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston as a crusty cavalry general and Dominic West in full Shakespeare mode as an evil Martian prince. Oh, Ross from Friends is apparently in there somewhere too but I’ve never been able to spot him, keep your eyes peeled though. The plot at base level is a fish out of water story as John adjusts to the planet (seeing him mess around with the gravitational field is so much fun), bonds with Dafoe and his tribe of Tharks, takes on giant furry Pokémon things in an intergalactic gladiator arena and casts his gaze starward, wondering if he’ll ever see his blue planet again. A few convoluted subplots get in the way including Mark Strong’s weird metaphysical warlock priest dude, but for the most part this a propulsive, rollicking, operatic space adventure with special effects that won’t quit and a real sense of wonder. Why this flopped so bad is anyone’s guess and it’s a shame because when this happens people tend to focus more on the event of its release and that perceived failure more than the film itself, and the legacy gets clouded. Forget the losses a studio with billions in couch change ‘suffered,’ forget any bad press or skewed marketing and just enjoy the film on its own, because it’s one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

The King has risen: A Joyous Appraisal of AQUAMAN

Now the dude in the video above isn’t singing about the movie I caught today (and I’m not denying the fact that that is a damn tasty burger he has there) but his song along in the words of the film’s charismatic lead: “That was awesome,” is kinda how I feel right now.  Yes folks, despite any negative press you’ve heard, read, whatever – Aquaman is a feast – a thrilling adventure that really transported me. Not merely into the sumptuous and glorious undersea kingdoms created by the filmmakers involved – but back to the fun, exuberant times I ‘used’ to have at the movies – before the dark clouds engulfed us, trapping us in the forgotten seas where the dark creatures of the trench started forcing us to feed on one franchise after the next. Dark, moody, brooding, shit. That is not the joy I remember in that magnificent dark place we call the cinema – where worlds merge and the magnitude of the movie-maker’s vision takes me into it’s care, placing me, willingly, under it’s spell.

What a spell indeed, let me tell you. James Wan had me when I read his response to a question regarding the tone of Aquaman: “I’m a film fan, I’m a product of the 1980s and 1990s, and a lot of people have said that  Aquaman has a very 1980s quality to it. Especially the high-fantasy of the 1980s, like Flash Gordon and Krull.”

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Flash Gordon meets Krull! Vibrant, fantastical, magical world building on a big canvas. I don’t chiefly give to much of a fiddler’s fart about the MCU or the DCEU and their never ending cavalcade of chicanery, but, when I read Wan’s response to that question I was, hands down, not missing this picture. And it’s become a common phrase of late – “see it on the biggest screen possible” – but, meh, they’re right. Aquaman is a big picture, so that’s the best advice I can give.

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The cast are wonderful in their parts, and I get the feeling they understand the kind of ride they’re crafting. The exposition is fluid like the oceans that dominate the movie. You feel carried along on a current if excitement and wonder as the story advances. But, one the best parts truly, in terms of constructing this film which Wan did so masterfully, is that he simply shunned the Marvel formula of tying it together with all that has come before – a line of dialogue sorted that out. It’s a freeing maneuver that allows this exciting director to do what he does best, which is to flex is visual muscles and take us into a world that makes anything James Cameron has done thus far seem a little flaccid. The production design, the gliding camera, the effortless action. Oh my God – I love it.

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Momoa brings a grand juxtaposition of the boy unwilling to take up his trident, mixed with a guy just playin’ it cool. His nonchalant approach is great, and I caught myself smiling at his delivery more than once. He is supported by strong players all. Patrick Wilson’s power-mad dictator, Dolph Lundgren on his seahorse (sorry, sea dragon). Willem Dafoe, always dependable, Nicole Kidman, getting better with age (love that fish suit), Amber Heard, feisty-sexy, badass Black Manta and hell, his dad is Jake ‘the Muss’ for Christ’s sake – and he can drink Fishman under the table.

It’s a whale of a tale I tell you lads, a whale of a tale that’s true. ‘Bout the flappin’ fish and a mother’s love – stoppin’ a deep sea war with the shores above. I’d swear by my tattoo if I had one but put simply – scintillating, sensational, spectacular. Home might be calling, but they’ll need to leave a message ’cause I’ll be out . . . watching Aquaman . . . again. GO SEE IT NOW!

As always, dig your movies . . .

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That Dude in the Audience.

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart

David Lynch’s Wild At Heart can be given the nutshell description of ‘Lynch does Bonnie & Clyde’, but that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this twisted, surreal, beautifully scarring piece of bizarro cinema cunningly disguised as a love story. It is a love story, first and foremost, but that’s also only a blueprint onto which all sorts of other dreams, visions and nightmares are painted. It’s very, *very* loosely on a book by Barry Gifford, but what Lynch whips up makes the source material seem grey and unrecognizable in comparison. Gifford’s book is the black and white prologue to The Wizard Of Oz and Lynch’s version is the dazzling yet unnerving technicolour dream world that follows, and indeed he uses imagery and gives shout outs to that film any chance he gets here. Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are Sailor Ripley and Lula Pace Fortune, lovers on the run from the Deep South and Lula’s tyrannical monster of a mother Marietta, played by Diane Ladd in an Oscar nominated turn that doesn’t just chew scenery but devours it with the force of an imploding neutron star that eats galaxies. Marietta is intent on keeping the two of them apart for reasons slowly and subtly unveiled, and she sends everyone and their mother after them including mopey private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and dangerous mobster Marcellos Santos (the late great J.E. Freeman). Sailor and Lula’s journey is a deranged yellow brick road through 50’s infused Americana, perverse apparitions abound and literally almost everyone they meet ranges from deeply disturbed to outright psychotic to marginally quirky. Santos sends a cabal of weirdo assassins headed up by ghoulish sadist Perdita Durango (Grace Zabriskie in a pants shittingly scary performance) and her cronies (David Patrick Kelly and Calvin Lockhart). In Texas they run into reptilian scumbag Bobby Peru, brought to life by Willem Dafoe in a skin crawling portrait of sexual menace and warped glee that would scare off Frank Booth. Lula tells tales of her delusional cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) putting cockroaches on his anus and of being raped at age thirteen by her father’s business friend (actually shown in a brief but upsetting cutaway). Why all this unpleasantness, you ask? Well… I don’t know, but Lynch seems to and he isn’t sharing the coordinates of his moral compass with anyone, he’s simply storytelling and holding nothing back of the weird or wild variety. Amongst all the violence and monstrosity there’s an undercurrent of tenderness and love that pulses via Sailor and Lula’s relationship, cultivated in an ebb and flow tide of simple, candid pillow talk and unbridled passionate sex that mirrors their frequent and feverish visits to sweaty dance clubs. This is their story, and every ghost, goblin and witch they meet along the way is simply a dark passenger or otherworldly day player in their tale, plus they often make for hilariously off colour vignettes, like Jack Nance’s deranged 00 Spool or Freddie Jones’s gnomish pigeon expert. My favourite sequence is a sobering, haunted diversion off the side of a freeway where they discover a distraught girl (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) rambling through a bout of brain trauma from a car accident. Angelo Badalamenti’s score sings through this to the point of chills, as it does throughout the film. Also traversing down this dark yellow brick road are William Morgan Sheppard, Frances Bay, musician John Lurie, Nicholas Love, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frank Collison, Ed Wright, Isabella Rossellini and Sheryl ‘Laura Palmer’ Lee herself as Glenda the Good Witch. As proclaimed by Lula at one point, “this whole world is wild at heart and weird on top..” It is indeed, and we’re lucky to have a filmmaker like Lynch to do his part in keeping it that way by making unique, bizarre films like this to remind us just what is possible in cinema with a little invention, a whole lot of colour, splashes of horror and a love of storytelling. Maybe not Lynch’s most prolific or instantly recognizable work, but a full on classic for me and high up on his filmography list.

-Nate Hill

Bad Country

Bad Country is a fairly low budget, bayou set noir/crime flick, and while it doesn’t have the resources to pull of something intricate and mythic like The Departed or something, it succeeds with what it has in being a brutal, downbeat crime thriller with a heavy blanket of gloom over it and some brooding tough guys engaged in gang warfare in deepest Louisiana. It’s sort of like the type of extreme crime films you’d see in the 70’s, where every character has an anger and a violence to them and there’s no good guys or sweet resolution. Willem Dafoe is aces as gruff police detective Bud Carter, a rule breaking loose cannon who arrests mob contract killer Jesse Weiland (a scary Matt Dillon) in hopes of using him as leverage to take down Lutín (Tom Berenger, looking like an evil, Nazi Colonel Sanders), Louisiana’s fearsome underworld kingpin. This involves betrayals, shoot outs, lots and lots of swearing, sweaty bayou sex, tattoos, tragedy, depravity and many other hard boiled tropes, all done really well. I especially enjoyed Dillon’s character and his arc; he’s a man who has spent most of his life being a heinous villain, and is trying to turn it around in the eleventh hour by protecting his wife (Amy Smart, soulful and excellent) and infant child from Berenger and his hordes. But is it enough, after a lifetime of atrocities? The deep set sadness and hulking brutality is conveyed wonderfully by Dillon and it’s some of the best work he’s ever done. Berenger is monstrous and just a tad campy as the big boss, playing with his swamp drawl accent hilariously and having fun being cheerfully mean. The great Neal McDonough shows up as his crooked mob lawyer too. This one pulls no punches and gets about as dark and violent as you can, not to mention having one of those gutsy endings where nothing ends up fine and these characters are worse off than they started, a powerful choice especially in the haunting choice of resolution for Dillon’s character. Oh, and it’s fun seeing Dafoe and Berenger have a bloody, man to man smack-down brawl as well because it calls back fond memories of Platoon, and the two acting titans butting heads back then too.

-Nate Hill

PHILLIP NOYCE: An Interview with Kent Hill

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One of the great things Phil told me – aside from passing through my hometown to play footy in his youth – was that Queensland had a big part to play in convincing the studio powers that Blind Fury (my personal favorite of Phil’s pictures) could be a hit.

After a regime change – as often is the way in Hollywood – the new brass didn’t have much faith in a film the previous caretakers saw fit to green-light. Phil knew he had a good picture and thus persuaded the powers to let him take it to the far side of the world and release it in the Sunshine State, where, with the help of a publicist, they sold the heck out of Blind Fury and brought in $500,000 buckaroos.

So Phil went back to the blokes in suits and told them if the movie can do that kind of business 7,510 miles from Hollywood, I think we have a shot. See that’s the Phil Noyce touch ladies and gentlemen, remaining Dead Calm in the face of Clear and Present Danger. If you believe that there is even a Sliver of a chance your movie can Catch a Fire, you can’t just sit there like The Quiet American and take it with a grain of Salt. You need to fix your courage to the sticking place, follow the Rabbit Proof Fence all the way home and for your hard work they’ll call you The Saint for being the The Giver of great cinematic entertainment. You can play Patriot Games till the cows come home, but if you attack them on the Newsfront then you’ll be The Bone Collector and bring home the receipts.

I’ve watched many a great interview and read many a great book about the life and career of Phillip Noyce – never thinking that one day I might catch a moment’s grace and be able to have a chat with him. I have to thank (again) a top bloke by the name of Nick Clement for putting in a good word for me – without Nick I’d still be dreamin’.

Phillip Noyce is a marvelous chap of the old school and the maker of some truly wondrous pictures. He really needs no introduction from me for his reputation speaks for itself. Without further adieu . . . the master . . . Phillip Noyce.