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Nick Nolte | The House Next Door | Slant Magazine
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Nick Nolte (#110 of 15)

Summer of ‘88: Red Heat

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Red Heat</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Red Heat</em>

What the hell are film critics actually talking about when they speak of “craftsmanship”? Walter Hill’s relatively recent status as an auteur may have been stymied by his unwillingness to take on sprawling, pretentious, or overstuffed shots or edits; for him, the somewhat anonymous vocabulary of the studio picture was one well enough worth perfecting. The gains of 48 Hrs., Hill’s biggest hit by a substantial margin, were lost almost immediately on his follow-up, the post-apocalyptic doo-wop musical tent-pole Streets of Fire. The film’s financial loss was profound; in career terms it scaled the writer-director right back down to where he was before, directing lower-budget studio actioners and comedies for the rest of the ’80s.

Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger. If Hill was tasked with writing and directing Red Heat on the basis of his legendary pairing of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, it’s not hard to imagine the limitless possibilities that the bigwigs at Carolco—Schwarzenegger’s financiers of choice—saw for the superstar’s first-ever comedy. In both form and content, the film is lopsidedly, irrevocably dictated by his participation; the opening 15 minutes are exclusively in Russian, introducing Schwarzenegger’s Captain Ivan Danko as an impenetrably stiff juggernaut, nakedly infiltrating a sleazy cocaine ring encamped in a traditional Russian bathhouse. The scene’s dominant textures—buttressed by composer James Horner’s radiant, ominous synthesizer keys—are stone, flesh, smoke, steam, and ultimately snow, as the inevitable brawl between Danko and the Georgian mobsters explodes through a window out into the frozen hillside. Hill’s Moscow is nothing if not tough.

Venice Film Festival 2012: The Company You Keep

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Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Company You Keep</em>
Venice Film Festival 2012: <em>The Company You Keep</em>

What very good company Robert Redford keeps indeed. The 76-year-old stuffs more left-leaning talent into this man-on-the-run thriller than President Obama could fit on stage at a Democratic rally. Here’s a rundown of the embarrassment of acting riches cameoing as former anti-Vietnam militants: Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Root, and Brendan Gleeson. The Company You Keep certainly needs the star wattage to help it sparkle, as there isn’t much in the way of invention when it comes to its workmanlike direction, which leans too much on a typically stellar synth score by Cliff Martinez.

Redford plays Jim Grant, an upstanding civil rights lawyer who’s recently become a widower and is bringing up his young daughter. But there’s no time to observe how he’s coping as a single dad. A two-bit reporter, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), from a local rag has uncovered that Jim is actually Nick Sloan, a key member of the Weatherman Underground, a radical leftwing movement of the ’60s and ’70s, who’s been on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list since the murder of a security guard during a botch bank robbery in 1971. Nick’s comrade, Sharon (Sarandon), is already in the custody of F.B.I. Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard), who’s heading up the manhunt, but is unwilling to talk. It’s an intriguing setup that could have made for some interesting twists and turns if Redford and screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey, Dark City) weren’t so quick to reassure the audience that Nick is no killer. It’s a move that makes this liberal actor/director look oh so conservative. Early in the film, Nick’s daughter asks him point blank, “Did you kill that man?” “Of course not,” he replies incredulously. Mr. Sundance doesn’t do shades of gray, as his golden locks testify.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 9

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 9

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 9

Go back to the first episode of Luck and you’ll see how much is made of a little goat (known for his giant testicles) that hangs out in Turo’s (John Ortiz) barn. Though the goat is mostly used as a form of comic relief in that episode, Turo is quick to point out that the critter is a necessary inhabitant of his barn because the horses like him. One can speculate about whether Turo is unnaturally attuned to the thoroughbreds he trains or if this assertion stems from a superstition revolving around chance. But in last night’s series finale, the disappearance of the goat takes on a metaphoric importance.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 8

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 8

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 8

Given the plentiful violence found in previous shows by executive producers Michael Mann and David Milch, early speculation on what Luck would feel like often ended up somewhere in The Sopranos territory. After all, Luck would take place in the shady world of gambling. Its cast would sport tough-guy actors like Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina. And it would air on HBO, which some say is at its most successful when exploring violent worlds like those of The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. Eight episodes in, it’s safe to say that this at times sweet show about the community forming around the Santa Anita Race Track is nothing like that. But in this, the series’s penultimate episode, Sopranos director Allen Coulter gives us a taste of what the darker Luck many of us had been wishing for might have been like. And it isn’t pretty.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 7

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 7

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 7

As in creator David Milch’s previous HBO shows, Deadwood and the short-lived John from Cincinnati, one of Luck’s central themes concerns the building of a community. This comes to the fore in episode seven, written by Amanda Ferguson and helmed by returning director Brian Kirk, which emphasizes the growing interaction between the denizens of the Santa Anita Race Track. It reinforces that the most successful of them rely on others, and those that don’t are destined to fail.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 6

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 6

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 6

There’s no getting around the fact that this week’s episode of Luck, written by Robin Shushan and directed by Henry Bronchtein, was overstuffed with exposition. Last week’s entry was a bit of a respite after the turning point that was the fourth episode, letting us take in the state of some of the characters midseason. This week’s episode is one where David Milch and the writers start setting the plates into motion that will keep spinning all the way until the first season concludes three weeks from now. As such, much of the plot mechanics are a little more obvious, particularly in the storyline involving Ace’s (Dustin Hoffman) scheme to get back at former partner-in-crime Mike (Michael Gambon). So, given that Luck is strongest when the show is at its most elusive, eliding past plot points to get to a deeper truth, the strongest thread this week belonged to stammering jockey agent Joey Rathburn (Richard Kind), whose simmering financial/professional tensions have finally come to a boil.

15 Famous Missing Persons

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15 Famous Missing Persons
15 Famous Missing Persons

In a role that’s sure to further squander her talent, big-eyed blonde Amanda Seyfried returns this weekend in Gone, a paranoid thriller that sees her character go rogue when the police won’t help her find her missing sister. Lots of folks go missing in the movies—kids, Dames, drugged fiancés, imaginary inmates—and some of the most memorable are right here in this list. So while Seyfried hopefully kicks off another search (for a new agent), click on through to see which cinematic abductees are here—and, if you feel so inclined, tell us which ones are, you know, missing.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 4

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 4

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 4

For the past few weeks, those unfamiliar with David Milch’s style have probably been scratching their heads, wondering what, aside from the lush visual rubric established by Michael Mann, critics and fans see in Luck. As far as Milch shows go, Luck’s characters, at least initially, are a good deal less likeable than, for instance, Dennis Franz’s alcoholic, racist Andy Sipowicz was in Milch’s NYPD Blue. Because the writer incorporates horse-racing terminology into his trademark stylized slang, Milch-speak as it’s referred to, is made more impenetrable in Luck than it is in his period-accurate Deadwood—never mind the surfer-infused dialect of his failed John in Cincinnati. Tonight’s revelatory episode, written by Daily Racing Form columnist Jay Hovdey and directed by Phillip Noyce, marks the turning point that should put any detractors’ criticisms to rest.

Luck Recap Season 1, Episode 3

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Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 3

HBO

Luck Recap: Season 1, Episode 3

If I had to select one image that best represents the central theme of this week’s episode of Luck, it would be a medium shot of Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Jerry (Jason Gedrick), Renzo (Ritchie Coster), and Lonnie (Ian Hart), all holding carrots while they stand, befuddled, in Turo’s stall. The episode’s director, Allen Coulter, is known for the menacing edge he brings to his other projects for HBO, like The Sopranos. But what’s often ignored is his ability to leaven such dark material with a healthy dose of humanity, and this week, Bill Barich’s script provides just the right opportunity for Coulter to display his talent in this respect. A good number of our main characters are closer to catching on to what Luck’s horse trainers, old Walter (Nick Nolte) and Turo (John Ortiz), seem to know already: These horses aren’t just lucky talismans; they also possess a purity of spirit that rehabilitates many of the show’s jaded characters.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions Supporting Actor

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Supporting Actor

That a now slimmer, totally unfunny Seth has been nominated for an Oscar before McLovin’ (whose take on Evil Ed was, if no patch on Colin Ferrell’s smoldering Jerry in the Fright Night redo, still a more fully realized character than Moneyball’s Peter Brand, movies’ all-time flimsiest amalgamate) is the only kink in a category preoccupied with old men getting real with their feelings. Which is why no one should’ve been surprised in the slightest to see Albert Brooks given the cold shoulder: His Drive heavy had no feelings to bloviate (though the compassion he showed one of Drive’s supporting characters even while taking his life away should’ve been more properly noted). I’m not sure whether Brooks should take it as a compliment or an insult to have been excluded, but it has to sting a little bit that Hill’s downright catatonic bullpen pencil pusher usurped him in what seems clearly this year’s biggest coattails nod.