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Bram Stoker’s Dracula

What’s your favourite movie version of Dracula? For me its always been Francis Ford Coppola’s lavish, eccentric, audacious and full bodied telling of Bram Stoker’s book, brought to life fiercely and passionately by Gary Oldman in what has to be one of his best works. This may be an unpopular choice among the older generation of folks who love this story/character but the old black and whites just don’t do it for me like this one does. Lugosi and Lee had their day but in my eyes Oldman freshness and innovation in his headlong portrait of supernatural evil ravaged by centuries old heartbreak, a romantic angle that wasn’t in the book or most previous adaptations of it but adds a dimension the story never knew it needed.

Coppola makes production design the star of this beauty, beginning with a fearsome prologue showing Oldman’s Transylvanian knight and how the man became a dark prince of vampires, before shifting the action to Victorian London. Dracula is searching for the spirit of his long dead wife who just happens to have been reincarnated as Mina Harker (Winona Ryder). People start turning up dead all over town though and Mina’s friend Lucy (Sadie Frost in an uncelebrated encore performance) has restless dreams, waking night terrors and finally goes full on vamp. This prompts the arrival of Anthony Hopkins’ hilariously blustery, borderline senile Abraham Van Helsing and the beginning of a bloody fight to save Mina, her husband Jonathan (Yes Keanu Reeves tried on a British accent but we’re not discussing that here) and most of London.

Stoker’s book is mostly made up of journal entries, letters and other written correspondence and as such the film has an episodic pace to it, but what really makes it flow are costume design, music and the wonderful performances from the varied, eclectic cast. Oldman is sensational and can almost be said to play multiple characters because of how different each manifestation of Dracula is. He finds sadistic evil in the character and accents it with love that still simmers on the back burner, spinning the character into something, dare we say, sympathetic. Ryder is terrific, her doe eyed naïveté suiting the gradually emerging horror nicely. Other excellent work comes from Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Monica Bellucci, Billy Campbell and Tom Waits in a deranged showstopper of a turn as the lunatic Renfield. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka outdoes herself here with the kind of work that begs for Blu Ray action, showing Dracula in several getups from creepy old Count to full on From Dusk Till Dawn style monster, Oldman embodying each one with grace and style. Composer Wojciech Kilar turns in a portentous rumble of a score that fires up the baroque horror elements but also finds the aching romantic notes in the eye of the orchestral hurricane.

My favourite scene of the film isn’t even in the realm of horror; Dracula and Mina share a moment together with one of his wolves who he has momentarily tamed. She strokes the beasts fur in awe while he looks at her in mournful adoration and quietly says “He likes you.” Oldman finds wonderful opposites to the character in this moment and becomes something so much more than the campy monster that Hollywood has envisioned this character as before. There’s a gentle tenderness to this scene and it’s contradictory elements like that that make it stand out and accent the horror with immediacy. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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Mind At War: Nate’s Top Ten Films on Mental Illness

The subject of mental illness is one that’s close and important to me as I myself am one of the afflicted, and it’s impossible to ignore that the treatment of it by Hollywood, particularly in formative years, hasn’t been so apt. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuff like Me, Myself & Irene or Split as entertainment but in terms of accurately representing the conditions that beset human beings, they haven’t been so hot. There are those films and filmmakers out there that strive to educate and enlighten or even just to craft an effective thriller or comedy and still stay true to real life, doing important work for the collective awareness and making terrific art/entertainment in one shot. Here are my personal top ten favourites!

10. Geoffrey Sax’s Frankie & Alice

Multiple personality disorders are popular in Hollywood but there’s a tendency to mock, sensationalize or tell a ‘real life’ story that’s later proved as fraud. This one showcases Halle Berry in a galvanizing dual performance as a go-go dancer afflicted by two very different internal identities and finding her life in splinters as a result. When a kind, compassionate psychiatrist (Stellan Skarsgard) makes it his mission to help her get back on track it becomes apparent just how challenging and horrific it must be to endure such a thing.

9. Dito Montiel’s Man Down

I heard this one sold one single theatrical ticket in the UK and didn’t fare much better here, getting squeaked into a quiet streaming release. It’s too bad because it is one haunting drama about PTSD featuring an implosive, incredibly intense performance from Shia LaBeouf as an ex marine who can’t psychologically reconcile his experience and is lost amongst his own trauma. Terrific work from Kate Mara as his wife and Gary Oldman as an army counsellor too.

8. James Mangold’s Girl Interrupted

Likely the most accessible and mainstream story on this list, Mangold’s look at a mental care facility for girls in the 60’s gets a superficial rep in some circles but I find it to be every bit the rewarding drama, ensemble piece and explorative journey that those who champion it say. Winona Ryder plays a wayward girl whose self destructive behaviour lands her there but it’s Angelina Jolie as a fellow patient diagnosed with borderline personality disorder that both anchors the film and provides it with a wildly unpredictable streak.

7. Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island

This is of course a big old elaborate mystery film with a gigantic cast, many red herrings, tons of subplots and all kinds of stylistic fanfare. But if you look past all that there’s a harrowing and very realistic portrait of minds irreparably damaged, between Leo Dicaprio’s PTSD afflicted ex soldier and Michelle Williams in a haunting turn as his deeply sick wife. The film overall is a tantalizing guessing game and broadly covers the thriller board but the final act brings it right down to earth for a grounded, grim finale showcasing the brutal honesty of these illnesses and the heart wrenching tragedy they beget.

6. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King

Robin Williams gives one of his best performances as Parry, a once successful professor of medieval history who lost his mind following the death of his wife and now wanders the streets of NYC, homeless. Jeff Bridges is the radio DJ who befriends and tries to understand him and their relationship carries the film. So to does Gilliam’s knack for surreal visual storytelling, letting these fantastical creations run wild and giving us a glimpse into Parry’s damaged but fascinating mind.

5. Brad Anderson’s The Machinist

Christian Bale’s Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year. Guilt, extreme weight loss and delusions are just the start of his problems. This is billed as and feels like a thriller but I think that’s deliberate on director Anderson’s part to put us in the hot seat next to Trevor, to make us feel the same paranoia and delusions of persecution he does. The atmosphere here is almost suffocating, the score a muted tangle of busted nerves and Bale’s performance something just this side of unearthly. When it all comes together and we see why he is the way he is it’s deeply sad but makes a kind of terrible sense and gives the film a final stab of emotional weight.

4. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace

PTSD is only vaguely hinted at in this beautiful father daughter drama but it’s there in every frame, in every mannerism of Ben Fosters masterful performance. Him and newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie achingly display a family dynamic that has been set off balance by his illness, and the wedge it has driven both between them and between him and ever living a normal life again. This is a restrained yet heartbreaking film that gently unpacks its themes with kindness and compassion, letting a devastating final scene bring the whole point home heavily but somehow lightly in the same note.

3. David Cronenberg’s Spider

Ralph Fiennes give a focused, intense turn as the titular individual, a man released from a mental care facility and relegated to a London halfway house where all the scrambled and tumultuous memories of his past come tumbling down through the scattered web of his broken mind and into the present. Recollections of his parents (Gabriel Byrne and Miranda Richardson) are somehow shrouded from himself, by himself and as he tirelessly works to regain his sanity, he slips further away from it. Cronenberg uses shadows, dimly lit alleys and creaky, barren rooms to show how this character has been cast away from his own perception and wanders about like a lost soul.

2. Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy

The life and times of Beach Boys pioneer Brian Wilson are explored here, namely at two important junctures in his life. Paul Dano plays him younger, at the height of fame and success but poised on the cusp of a psychotic breakdown after stress and an unhealthy relationship with his abusive father (Bill Camp) reach a fever pitch. Decades later John Cusack embodies a much older Wilson, stuck under the tyrannical yoke of an evil, manipulative psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) until he meets the love of his life (Elizabeth Banks) and a chance at a fresh start along with her. The scene of Dano putting recording headphones over his ears and closing his eyes in horror as he hears voices is one of the most brutally honest and realistic depictions of auditory hallucinations you can find in film. Wilson had a rough life and the film makes that very clear but it’s never ever sensationalist or exploitive and overall has a message about love, light and working endlessly to overcome any demons or struggles thrown into your path.

1. Kasi Lemmons’ The Caveman’s Valentine

Samuel L. Jackson gives a career best as schizophrenic former musician Romulus, a man afflicted by terrible hallucinations and delusions to the point that when he discovers a genuine murder conspiracy no one, including his police officer daughter (Aunjanue Ellis) believes him. This film is driven by a fascinating mystery narrative that takes Romulus from his cave in Central Park into the pretentious New York art world and beyond to find a killer. At heart though director Lemmons let’s it m be a serious minded exploration of what it must be like to live like that, to be constantly sabotaged by your own mind. Jackson’s brilliant performance and Lemmons effective use of surreal, mesmerizing imagery give us a compassionate, dynamic window into this man’s mind and in turn a unique, thought provoking piece of cinema.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more content!

-Nate Hill

No One Can Hear You Scream: Nate’s Top Ten Horror Films set in Space

If space really is the final frontier then there’s going to be all sorts of scary shit lurking out there we’ve never heard of, a notion that Hollywood has taken full advantage of in exploring the SciFi genre. The chief threat would of course be extraterrestrials and naturally loads of fun films have been done on that but I also like to observe how it’s branched out into things like rogue A.I., evil alternate dimensions or haunted planets for some really imaginative ventures. Here are my top ten personal favourites!

10. Christian Dugay’s Screamers

This one’s pretty cool, if a bit low budget and schlocky. So basically in a distant galaxy there’s an interplanetary war going on for decades and one side invents something called Screamers to hunt their foe and turn the tide. They’re self replicating, blade wielding, problem solving machines called Screamers but eventually they get too smart and instead of just hunting down enemy forces they pretty much go after anything that moves, not to mention start evolving themselves and it’s up to one squadron of soldiers to wipe them out. The creatures themselves are actually pretty frightening and man do they ever scream so it makes for a neat horror flick. Plus Peter ‘Robocop’ Weller plays the military commander and you can never go wrong with him.

9. Rand Ravich’s The Astronaut’s Wife

This is admittedly an odd choice because of its hour and forty minute runtime only about ten minutes is actually set in space, and only just above the earth’s atmosphere. However, the ambiguous evil force that astronaut Johnny Depp encounters there infects and follows him back down to the surface and the resulting film has an exceedingly unearthly feel to it. Charlize Theron classes up the joint as the titular wife whose keen intuition red flags his creepy behaviour early on and adds tension to the proceedings. Tom Noonan, Joe Morton, Donna Murphy, Nick Cassavetes and Clea Duvall add further pedigree as well. This is a critically shunned film for the most part but I enjoy it, there’s a slick Rosemary’s Baby vibe, Depp and Theron do very well in their roles and the otherworldly presence, although felt and never seen, is apparent in every shadowy frame.

8. Andrej Bartkowiak’s Doom

You can all fight me on this one. It’s a shit film no doubt, but I consider it hella great entertainment, even if it has little to nothing in common with the games. Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban leading a team of rowdy marines on a Martian extermination mission? Yes please. Rosamund Pike as a sexy scientist? Absolutely. Never mind that we only see actual Martian landscape for a ten second establishing shot, that can be forgiven when I consider the bitchin’ soundtrack, hardcore creature gore, wicked cool first person shooter sequence and scene stealing supporting work from cult favourite Richard Brake as the obligatory perverted loudmouth mercenary in their ranks.

7. John Carpenter’s Ghosts Of Mars

Another Martian outing yay! And another universally reviled film that I absolutely love double yay!! In case you haven’t noticed by now I’m trying not to always aim for the obvious choices here, which can be controversial. However, I will never compromise and choose a film that I don’t like just to be contrary, these choices genuinely reflect my taste and I own them. This film is a heavy metal induced bundle of fun, a B movie western gem that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a solid cast, gnarly SFX makeup and one headbanger of a score from Anthrax. Plus, Natasha Henstridge and Ice Cube make one badass buddy team-up to take down vengeful Martian spirits possessing the corpses of slaughtered miners.

6. Jim Isaac’s Jason X

Jason Voorhees in space!! This is one of my favourite franchise entries, mostly because of Jason’s epic new gear upgrade and also the awesome cameo from David Cronenberg who, yes, gets mauled by our hero. Jason has been in cryogenic suspension for hundreds of years and awakens in the 25th century to wreck havoc aboard a spaceship full of intergalactic college students. You pretty much improve any franchise by making one that’s set in space but you also have to have a fun production to back up the concept (check out Leprechaun in space for a failed example) and this one is dope. Foxy Lexa Doig from Continuum makes a cool Final Girl, there’s a spectacularly gruesome kill involving liquid nitrogen and two slutty camper chicks get what may be the best lines of the whole series. Also, Jason just looks so fly here with his space grade machete and chromed up super-mask.

5. David Twohy’s Pitch Black

This launched the epic Riddick franchise that I will always champion and went on to traverse space opera, animation and video game territory but the catalyst is this lean, mean creature feature showcasing Vin Diesel in probably his best role. As a ragtag crew m crash lands on a distant world with three suns, all about to plunge the planet into nighttime for months, while hordes of vicious extraterrestrial predators who can’t stand light come crawling out of caverns to hunt. Perfect timing right? Riddick & Co must set aside their dysfunctions and work together to fight back, survive and repair a damaged ship so they can ditch this dangerous rock for good. It’s good old fashioned mid level budget SciFi horror fun, before the series took off and soared to new heights in the equally fun but different Chronicles Of Riddick.

4. Christian Alvert’s Pandorum

This film was overlooked and I can somewhat see why. It’s a horror to be sure but there’s a quiet, contemplative nature to the exposition and I think people weren’t expecting something so complex as opposed to a straight up deep space monster flick. Two astronauts (Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster) awaken on a mammoth derelict space station stranded somewhere among the stars. Where were they headed? Where’s the rest of the crew? What are those chilling animalistic noises emanating from the hallways? This is a fun, frightening one to figure out, it’s got truly freaky creatures, a weird psychological aspect and one kicker of an ending.

3. Tobe Hoopers’s Lifeforce

Who doesn’t love vampires from space?! This one is a real oddity, cobbled together with various elements and ideas but dementedly committed to its singular vision and as a result comes out an inspired winner and one of the absolute weirdest SciFi flicks out there. Steve Railback leads a team of astronauts who discover slumbering bloodsuckers about a gigantic alien craft, which they very foolishly bring back to earth. Cue rampant chaos, global collapse and some extremely unsettling zombified makeup effects. Oh, and Patrick Stewart too. Grab the boutique Blu Ray if you can find it, I promise you there’s noting out there quite like it.

2. Paul WS Anderson’s Event Horizon

One of the spookiest and most infamous horrors ever made sees a salvage crew attempt the rescue of a missing prototype spaceship that somehow got itself into a black hole and brought back the entire Hellraiser universe with it. This one is unapologetically gory, over the top and filled with enough grisly images to make even die hards nervous.

1. The Alien Quadrilogy

I know I know, it’s cheating to give one spot on the list to four films but they really do feel intrinsically linked as one saga. Ridley Scott’s atmospheric, suspenseful initial shocker. James Cameron’s rootin tootin mercenary safari action blowout follow up. David Fincher’s deliberately unsettling, nihilistic prison flick threequel. Jean Pierre Jeunet’s ultra gooey, deadpan entry packed with ooze, one liners, character actors and deranged alien lore. They’re four very different films set against the same template and idea of this Xenomorph but honestly they are all brilliant in their own way and I couldn’t pick a favourite. The haunted, silent corridors hiding unseen horror that Scott gave us. Cameron’s lovable, rambunctious squad of colonial marines teaming up with Ripley and scene stealing Newt. The acrid, eerie penitentiary world Ripley finds herself clawing for life on in Fincher’s nightmarish vision. That horrific Butterfly alien hybrid and the original blueprint for Joss Whedon’s Firefly Space pirates led by Michael fuckin’ Wincott and Ron friggin Perlman in Jeunet’s funhouse of gore and dark comedy. Just so, so much to love.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!

-Nate Hill

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Gary Oldman Performances

Gary Oldman is both one of my personal favourite actors and an absolute champion of the craft, an adaptable master of any role thrown at him who can take words on a page and lift them to magnificent heights in his work. Intense, implosive, focused, hard working and super dynamic in front of a camera, he’s always an actor to watch and an undisputed master of his craft. I love each and every performance this man has given us so far in a brilliantly diverse career, but here are the ten characters that stand out the most for me:

10. Charlie Strom in Sin

Bear with me on this one. Like any actor, Gary has appeared in a few duds, and overall this happens to be one of them *but* his performance in it is fantastic. Ving Rhames plays a tough ex cop whose sister (Kerry Washington) is raped and brutalized on Oldman’s orders as some kind of underworld porn king. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues in which Rhames seeks revenge for the atrocity but discovers that Oldman targeted him for reasons of his own going back into both their pasts. It’s a decent script given the scrappy low budget treatment but Oldman’s tormented villain is worth sitting through for. He has a conversation with Rhames midway through the film that gets philosophical in nature and overall he just nails the haunted persona of this role.

9. O.W. Grant in Bob Gale’s Interstate 60

This is a playful role in one heinously overlooked hidden gem. Essentially an existential road trip movie with supernatural elements and enough cameos to launch a pilot, Gary plays a mysterious genie like deity who grants everyone he sees one wish by blowing green smoke from his monkey shaped pipe. He also has no reproductive organs, as a hitchhiking nymphomaniac chick hilariously discovers. It’s light, easygoing work from the actor who isn’t doing any heavy lifting with the performance yet still makes a terrific comedic impact and seems like he’s having a lot of fun.

8. George Smiley in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

John Le Carré’s chilly Cold War thriller sees Oldman take on the role of an MI6 lieutenant embroiled in the treacherous search for a soviet spy amongst his own ranks. Restrained and opaque, one begins to see the keen scrutiny hiding behind the character’s initially withdrawn nature. When an event causes him to almost lose that composure, he expertly shows the emotions bursting forth and the efforts to keep them within, reaching a pitch perfect note of performance that gets better and more detailed every time you revisit the film.

7. Jackie Flannery in Phil Joanou’s State Of Grace

One of the great crime dramas he has taken on, this one sees him play a volatile, unstable Irish gangster in NYC’s brutal Hell’s Kitchen, stick between his mob boss older brother (Ed Harris) and childhood friend (Sean Penn) who is now an undercover cop infiltrating their ranks. With a mop of greasy hair and the mannerisms of an untrained dog let off the leash, this is a ballistic tornado of a characterization with childlike notes, a good dose of rambunctious restlessness and primal violent nature uncaged.

6. Sirius Black in Alfonso Cuaron’s Harry Potter & The Prisoner Of Azkaban

From the moment we see gaunt, haunted eyed convict Black onscreen Gary makes him a magnetic, spooky presence to be reckoned with. Even before that we see him howling out of moving wanted posters in Diagon Alley and off the front page of the Daily Prophet. Oldman makes juxtaposed genius out of his work here and the shift from scary fugitive to compassionate friend and mentor to Harry is handled beautifully. It’s also nice to see him and fellow British thespian David Thewlis collectively chewing scenery, they have palpable chemistry and I’d love to see a buddy cop thing with them one day, or something like that.

5. Jack Grimaldi in Peter Medak’s Romeo Is Bleeding

The ultimate corrupt cop, Oldman’s Jack is a loose cannon dirtbag who discovers that his ways have consequences when his life is made into a living hell by terrifying femme fatale Mona Demarkhov (Lena Olin) and ruthless mafia don Falcone (Roy Schneider). He inhabits the sweaty, desperate neo-noir palette of this great film very well, especially in sly, mournful voiceover as he literally narrates his own story as if it didn’t happen to him.

4. Dracula In Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Francis Ford Coppola outdoes himself with this lavish, baroque piece of eye candy that for me is the best film version of Dracula ever made, likewise for Gary’s knockout performance as the titular vampire king. He has several incarnations here from armoured Transylvanian knight to skeletal senior citizen to dashing foreign prince to full on nine foot gorilla werewolf hell-beast thing and he rocks each one with full blooded embodiment and spectacular verve. Surrounded by solid players like Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Keanu Reeves, Cary Elwes, Richard E. Grant and Tom Waits in an encore as the lunatic Renfield, this is a magnificent dark jewel of a film and a horror masterpiece.

3. James Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises

The actor goes inward here for a fierce, gritty turn as the legendary police commissioner, giving the character all the salt of the earth integrity and brooding charisma we could hope to get. In a career full of extravagant portrayals and amidst a trilogy riddled with flamboyant villains and people who dress up in costumes, ironically he gets to play the most down to earth and level headed guy, comparatively. His Gordon is a straight arrow cop who is fallible, tactical and compassionate.

2. Drexl Spivey in Tony Scott’s True Romance

A white pimp who thinks he’s black, this has to be the single most impactful performance ever filmed that only takes up one five minute scene and another brief thirty second one. Dreadlocks, gnarly scars, a dead eye, leopard print housecoat, this guy couldn’t be more visually ridiculous but for all the flourish and swagger, it’s Gary’s mannerisms that shine through and win the day. The goal of his scene is essentially to circle and intimidate Christian Slater before pouncing on him like a pissed off coyote, and he succeeds in freaking him out plus the rest of the world watching on their screens. This film is filled with memorable moments scene after scene but his mad dog portrayal of this reprehensibly hilarious Detroit gutter-rat piece of shit stands out.

1. Norman Stansfield in Luc Besson’s Leon The Professional

I’m not sure what Besson’s direction to Oldman was in playing this spectacularly corrupt DEA agent but he kind of just runs off and does his own thing to the point where other actors in the scene look scared of him for real. Casually homicidal, easily distracted, highly unstable and so intense he frequently goes red in the face, this is a villain that would frighten most others into submission. Contrasted with Jean Reno’s and Natalie Portman’s more contemplative performances he’s the wild card of this tale and fills it to the brim with madness, firepower, dark humour and that trademark white suit that you better not get blood on or he’ll shoot you after he’s already killed you in a crazed tantrum of scenery chewing that only Gary Oldman is capable of.

Thanks for reading ! Please share you favourite Gary Oldman performances as well!

-Nate Hill

Andrew Niccol’s S1mone 


Andrew Niccol’s S1mone is social satire at its cheeriest, a pleasant, endearing dissection of Hollywood mania and celebrity obsession that only hints at the level of menace one might achieve with the concept. It’s less of a cautionary tale and more of a comedic fable, and better for it too. In a glamorous yet used up Hollywood, mega producer Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino with some serious pep in his step) needs to give his enterprise a makeover. His go-to star (Winona Ryder) is a preening diva who drives him up the wall, and there seems to be a glaring absence of creative juice in his side of the court. Something cutting edge, something brand new and organic, something no one else has. But what? Simone, that’s what. After finding clandestine software left behind by a deceased Geppeto-esque computer genius (Elias Koteas, excellent), he downloads what lies within, and all manner of mayhem breaks loose. The program was designed to create the perfect virtual reality woman, flawless and capable in every way, including that of the cinematic thespian. Viktor sees this as gold and treats it as such, carefully introducing Simone (played by silky voiced model Rachel Roberts) to an unsuspecting film industry who are taken by storm and smitten. Simone can tirelessly churn out five oscar worthy performances in a month, never creates on set drama, whips up scandals or demands pay raises. She’s the answer to everyone’s problem, except for the one issue surrounding her very presence on the screen: she isn’t actually real. This creates a wildly hysterical dilemma for Pacino, a fiery Catherine Keener as a fellow executive, and everyone out there who’s had the wool pulled over their starry eyes. It’s the kind of tale we’d expect from Barry Levinson or the like, a raucously funny, warmhearted, pithily clever send up of the madness that thrives in the movie industry every day. There’s all manner of cameos and supporting turns including Evan Rachel Wood, Jay Mohr, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Schwartzman, Rebecca Romjin and the late Daniel Von Bargen as a detective who cheekily grills Pacino when things get real and the masses want answers. This is fairy tale land in terms of plausibility, but it’s so darn pleasant and entertaining that it just comes off in a relatable, believable manner. Pacino is having fun too, a frenzied goofball who tries his damnedest to safeguard his secret while harried on all sides by colleagues and fans alike. Roberts is sensual and symmetrical as the computer vixen, carefully walking a tightrope between robotic vocation and emoting, essentially playing an actress pretending to be an actress who isn’t even human, no easy task. It’s a breezy package that’s never too dark or sobering, yet still manages to show the twisted side of a famously strange industry. Great stuff. 

 -Nate Hill

J.J. Abram’s Star Trek: A Review by Nate Hill 

I’ve never really been a trekkie my whole life. Didn’t grow up with the television series and haven’t actively explored it later in life. When the announcement came that wonder-kid JJ Abrams would be taking on the lofty overhaul of a remake, I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact I waited quite a while before seeing it in theatres, dragged along by a buddy who talked it up quite a bit. Well, it was amazing, and still is. Nothing gets you pumped and makes your heart ache quite as much as that epic ten prologue, starring an intrepid Chris Hemsworth who selflessly saves the lives of everyone onboard his ship, including his newborn son, James T. Kirk. When your eyes flood with tears in the first few minutes of a film, it’s always a good sign. Abrams ushered in Star Trek for the new generation, and I imagine strived to keep core elements like friendship, cameraderie and wonder alive as well. Chris Pine makes one hell of a Kirk, but then he’s one of the best in his age group these days. Cocky, belligerent, dysfunctional, impulsive and recklessly brave, he’s the perfect opposing force to Zachary Quinto’s calculated, logical, no nonsense Spock, who goes through quite a wringer when his entire world is decimated by rogue Romulan extremist Nero, played by a sensational Eric Bana. Both Kirk and Spock are no stranger to loss, being affected and reacting to it in different ways. Their initial rivalry tangles into the beginning of a friendship, hinted at by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock Prime, visiting Quinto from far in the future (time travel, baby). The plot and character motivations are in fact mostly about loss and anger; Nero himself is driven by grief which has morphed into poisonous hatred, willing to inflict hurt a thousand fold in return for what happened to his people. Bana finds the wounded areas of Nero, and uses the trademark Romulun leer to cover them up in violent fury. There must always be comic relief too, and when the banter between the two heroes gets too dark, the spotlight shifts to chipper Scotty (Simon Pegg) and a brilliant Karl Urban as Leonard ‘Bones’ Mccoy, the ship’s neurotic doctor. Urban is cast heavily against type in the liveliest role he’s ever been thrown, and clearly loves every antsy second of it. John Cho makes a formidable Sulu, and the sadly departed Anton Yelchin charms the pants off of everyone with his priceless russian accent. Clifton Collins Jr. and Jennifer Morrison are great as well. Abrams loves to cast beloved actors from bygone eras in these things (I peed a little when Peter Weller showed up in the sequel), so keep a look out for terrific work from Ben Cross and Winona Ryder as Spock’s parents. Bruce Greenwood is nobility incarnate as Commander Pike, the kindly captain who sees the potential in Kirk and paternally attempts to clear the wreckage of his personality, dust it off and make something out of him. The special effects and set pieces are a dizzying dream of nonstop adrenaline. The opener I mentioned before, a show stopping fight scene atop a giant chain miles above the surface of a planet, the hair raising arrival of Nero’s ship (it looks like some horrific giant space beetle) and a chase across a snowy tundra pursued by an evil Yeti Muppet thing are highlights that demonstrate how effective and useful CGI can be when implemented properly. For all its razzle dazzle though, Star Trek is ultimately about relationships between different beings (human or other), the ways in which they deal with tragedy, love one another, learn to coexist, help those in need and most importantly, explore the wonders of the universe around them. I admire the fact that in a huge Sci Fi blockbuster such as this, those kind of themes and qualities come first. We are all made of stars, and inward exploration of the ones that reside in us and how they make us what we are is just as essential as the world’s that lie millions of light years away, awaiting our arrival. JJ understands this, and I offer him a well earned Starfleet salute for it.  

Netflix’s Stranger Things: A Review by Nate Hill 

Netflix’s Stranger Things snuck up and floored me. You’d think that a long form mystery series concocted from the DNA of Amblin/ET/Goonies and retro, gooey Stephen King horror would have made a significant blip on my radar months in advance, but nope. That almost made watching it even more special; this wasnt something I’d spent oodles of time hyping up and thinking about (which often leads to expectations being dashed). It came out of the blue and knocked me sideways six ways to Sunday. I came home one night with the notion to check out the pilot before I went to bed. I fell deeply in love within the first ten minutes, and slashed my curfew to bits as I devoured about half the season in one go, hitting stop only because I would have been depressed to wake up the following morning and have no more to watch. I took the next day off work to finish up the remaining episodes, after which I sat there in a gaping stupor. I’ve since rewatced it all again. Yes, it’s that good. It’s not just the nostalgia bursting at the seams that suckered me in. This is is a show with a meticulous pace where you feel every beat naturally, some of the most fleshed out characters of recent times that you actually really CARE about, and a wondrous story relating to fear of the unknown, the bonds of friendships both new and old, redemption in the face of ages old trauma and grief, a reverence to all things creepy & crawly, an understanding of the importance fear holds in both our entertainment and collective psyches and above all, a sense of adventure. As soon as the retro opening credits flared up, I knew I was in for something special. They’re a flurry of neon letters that assemble in fashion and font achingly similar to King’s books, set to an ominous synth rhapsody that echoes everything from Refn to Sinoia Cave’s Beyond The Black Rainbow. Immediately we are transported to a setting drawn forth from the past and the nightmares of many other artists before it’s time, which is not to say it’s at all derivitive or lazy. That’s the issue with deliberatly nostalgic stuff: it can come across as forced or cheap novelty trying to play to our sentimental sides. This one uses it naturally and never feels like a gimmick for one second. What’s amazing is that despite the fact that nearly every element of story it uses has been done before multiple times throughout the years, it all somehow feels completely new, and never once leans on the crutch of inspiration any harder than it has to, which in this day and age deserves a goddamn medal. The story opens up in small town Hawkins, Indiana, sometime in the mid 80’s. Just outside of town, trouble brews deep within a mysterious CIA sanctioned research laboratory. A dangerous portal is opened, something from another dimension gets out, a girl with telepathic abilities named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) escapes into the town, and young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) disappears without a trace from his home. All this happens in the first half hour, kicking off a well timed wind chime of inciting incidents to get the tale underway. The town is thrown into a panic as Will’s mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) frantically searches for him. The forlorn, sad sack police chief Hopper (David Harbour, beyond excellent in so many ways) tries to reign in the growing mania, but the situation only gets worse. Will’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer) witnesses another disappearance, and Eleven finds herself hiding out with Will’s endearing gang of buddies (Finn Wolfhard, Caleb Mclaughlin and Gaten Matarazzo), who valiantly launch a quest to ensure his safe return from the netherworld. Meanwhile, the laboratory’s sinister, silver haired head Doctor Brenner (a chilling Matthew Modine) is an amoral prick who will stop at nothing to get Eleven back and continue his godawful experiments. It’s a hell of a lot crammed into eight hours, but not a second is wasted, not a scene or a line of dialogue misplaced. Everything glides smoothly and the whole thing is so joyously watchable that I had trouble even thinking about picking up my phone or reaching for the iPad (I’m easily distracted). There’s teen drama, heartbreaking tragedy, first love, palpable danger without being too gory or messed up, and damn if the Spielberg/King flavour isn’t just delactable. The monster is a gooey, walking Venus fly trap that instills real fear in the opening moments of the pilot. The ideas explored are presented in ways that would make both the X Files and Twilight Zone jealous. My favourite performance has to be Brown as Eleven. Of all the child roles hers is the most difficult to land and she’s a revelation. Seeing the world outside the facility with new eyes, falling for Wolfhard, protecting her newfound friends, it’s all handled impeccably and I think we can expect great things from this young actress. David Harbour has consistently shown versatility in anything he does, and when one looks at his role here contrasted against work in, say, A Walk Among The Tombstones, it’s uncanny. His arc goes from sheepish to badass to tragic and he positively soars. Modine channels the very essence of King style villains, over pronouncing every syllable with poised venom on the tongue and cloaked malice oozing from every pore. Ryder works herself up into a frenzy that any mother must feel in the situation, and it’s just great to see her in a central role in anything these days. The kids provide heart and levity, proving wise beyond their years to the point of Calvin & Hobbes esque insight, yet still maintaining their innocence in the face of peril. Not only does the soundtrack showcase a whole whack of 80’s treasures (that Joy Division tho♡), the score itself by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein is a love letter to everything from Tangerine Dream to Cliff Martinez, evoking the setting beautifully and bringing forth atmosphere in scene after scene after scene. Stranger Things lovingly blows a trumpet of times past, wears it’s influences proudly and unobtrusively on its sleeve and brilliantly blazes it’s own trail. There are monsters out there, both human and otherwise. Never give up hope, not matter how bleak the prognosis. There’s still some wonder and unknown to be discovered in this world of ours (and beyond). Redemption is only a few daring acts around the bend. Kindness goes a long way, as does trust. Friends don’t lie. These are but a few things you’ll discover if you give this one a shot, which I hope you will. Bring on Season 2, man.