All posts by nlclement

After spending close to a decade working in Hollywood, Nick Clement has taken his passion for film and transitioned into a blogger, critic, and entertainment reporter. His work has been published in Variety Magazine, and at numerous websites, including Hollywood-Elsewhere, MovieViral, Back to the Movies, Taste of Cinema, and Awards Daily. Some of Nick's favorite filmmakers include Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Oliver Stone, David Fincher, Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Billy Wilder, with favorite films including The Tree of Life, Goodfellas, Heat, Back to the Future, Fitzcarraldo, Zoolander, and Enter the Void. He's currently writing a book on Tony Scott's filmmaking career.

RON HOWARD’S GUNG HO — A REVIEW BY FILMMAKER & GUEST CRITIC DAMIAN K. LAHEY

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‘Gung Ho’ (1986) dir. Ron Howard

“The truth? You don’t want the truth. You want to hear that Americans are better than anybody else. But they’re kicking our butts. That ain’t luck. There’s your truth. Sure, the great old American do-or-die spirit. Yeah, it’s alive. But THEY’VE got it.”

In ‘Gung Ho’. a U.S. automotive plant has been bought out by a Japanese company and the workers must adapt to the Japanese way of doing business. This is an unintentionally prophetic film about the complacency of the American working class and the tensions that arise in a rapidly evolving multi cultural and global economy. A comedy packed with some earnest socio-political insight, this remarkable film is headlined by an effortless and confident Michael Keaton who fits this movie like a glove.

Watching this film years after I last saw it, some of the culture clash gags did make me wince but overall it holds up. In less capable hands individual sequences could have dissolved into SNL skits. Howard does a commendable job of sidestepping obvious set ups (for the most part) and focusing more on the world these characters inhabit without becoming patronizing. I think this is one of his best films. The script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel from a story by Mandel, Ganz and Edwin Blum is clever and quick with a clear understanding of these characters. The film feels very ‘lived in’ and Production designer James L. Schoppe and costume designer Betsy Cox deserve serious kudos for their work on this. Cinematographer Donald Peterman captures the proceedings in an unassuming way, really letting the material breathe.

I really love all the supporting players in this, too. Gedde Watanabe, George Wendt, Mimi Rogers, John Turturro and infamous acid tripping professional baseball player Dock Ellis all do a wonderful job.

Adding to this film’s relevancy is the fact that ‘Gung Ho’ sheds a light on something that has now had a very negative impact on the United States Of America – the delusional entitlement of the working class or more specifically, the white working class that turned out in droves for Donald Trump. Brain dead from propaganda telling them they’re the greatest thing since sliced cheese and that they deserve pay checks just for getting up in the morning, they have supplanted a racist nationalist ideology for a reliable work ethic. They want to be treated and compensated like the hard working Paul Bunyons of American mythology without actually doing any of the work. They believe they’ve been abandoned and in some ways this is true. But they’re abandonment of a reliable work ethic has let them down far more than any foreigner or liberal policy they would like to blame.

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BILL WATTERSON’S DAVE MADE A MAZE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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The charming, off-beat indie Dave Made a Maze is one of those efforts that truly feels hand-made and the product of a filmmaker who had a very specific vision and a very specific way of realizing that vision. Directed by Bill Watterson from a script he co-wrote with Steven Sears, this quirky and unconventional piece of psychological distortion is a startling and extra-cool debut for the helmer, while the film has a genuine novelty as a hook (30,000 square-feet of cardboard were used to create the titular maze) and there’s an exciting sense of originality at work all throughout the lean running time, which results in a movie where genre conventions are explored and upended, statements are made about viewer expectations and the decisions that the various characters face, with the overall surreal nature of the entire piece becoming a constant source of joy to discover. You legitimately don’t know what will happen next, which is one of the best compliments anyone could ever pay any particular film. Jon Boal’s inventive cinematography is a major plus for the entire production.
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The art direction by Jeff White and production design by Trisha Gum and John Sumner is pause-button worthy, as the film takes on a humorous yet dark done that extends from everything to the performances to the aesthetic. The various actors, especially lead Nick Thune, are never arch with their line delivery or reason for being within the story, and you get the sense that Watterson and his collaborators were having serious fun with the shifting fantasy world that is on display. The narrative centers on an artist suffering from a serious case of creative block, and the complex maze which he creates in his living room as a way of escaping his frustration. But when the maze seemingly takes on its own life with surprising and dangerous ramifications, all bets are off, as the weird and wild story straddles multiple lines while dishing out something happy-creepy and new. After premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival and winning the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, Dave Made a Maze received a limited theatrical run this summer, and is available as a streaming option via various providers. This is a cool, funky-fresh little item that defies description and feels destined to pick up a sizable cult following.
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TAYLOR SHERIDAN’S WIND RIVER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Wind River is masterful, utterly immaculate filmmaking, almost suffocating in its greatness by the time its powerful conclusion unfolds. Written and directed by the extremely talented storyteller Taylor Sheridan, who in the past few years has scripted the one-two punch of Sicario (for Denis Villeneuve) and Hell or High Water (for David Mackenzie); I’m happy to report that he’s as good of a director as he is a writer, though I’ll likely skip his torture-porn debut Vile from 2011. Wind River, to my eye and from where I sit, is virtually faultless, with a rock-solid narrative built upon deep swells of familial emotion and discord, and punctuated by smart, sudden violence and unwavering tension (especially during the final act) that isn’t over-done or gratuitous. And the layered themes of isolation, depression, and societal anger that Sherdian embeds in his narrative only solidifies every ounce of the story.

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The film tells a dark and tragic story with a snowy, lyrical touch; it’s a murder mystery/whodunit but one that’s elevated because of Jeremy Renner’s intensely focused and realized performance, and everything else around him in terms of the ace supporting performances and gritty production values. Elizabeth Olsen is the out-of-her-depth FBI agent (nice nod to The Silence of the Lambs, in more ways than one) assigned to investigate a rape/murder on a Native American reservation in Wyoming, with Renner playing a fish and game officer who “hunts predators.” He’s more than happy to help her out when his assistance is requested in finding who’s responsible. I absolutely loved every single second of this film and I can’t wait to see it again and again, just as I felt with Sicario and Hell or High Water.

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Sheridan’s innate ability of cutting to the chase and creating vulnerable characters who can still rise to the occasion is something I’m very much in awe of; his narratives are of the zero-fat variety, eschewing boring exposition, instead relying on their visuals to tell the story, with a sense of all forward momentum and characters being born out of situation without ever sacrificing the small details. Wind River is a deceptively simple film that isn’t interested in pulling the rug out from underneath you at the end, but rather, more interested in being focused and made with a determination to tell such a hard-lined story without softening any edges; it’s positively engrossing.

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Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ brooding and poetic music is in perfect tandem with the somber, stark visuals conjured up by cinematographer Ben Richardson, who previously shot Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Fault in Our Stars, and delivers some of the best work of the year in any movie that I’ve seen. Every single shot counts in this chilly and ultimately sad movie, and the editing by Gary D. Roach is strict and sharp, with a tense atmosphere felt all throughout. This is an exemplary thriller and a movie that will undoubtedly feature into my favorites of the year. And of course Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Friday Night Lights, Patriot’s Day) was an executive producer; this guy is top-shelf all the way. And it goes without saying, I’ll follow Sheridan ANYWHERE he goes as a filmmaker; he’s one of the most exciting “new” voices in years.

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STEVEN SODERBERGH’S LOGAN LUCKY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Steven Soderbergh is back to directing feature films with the recently released southern-fried heist-comedy Logan Lucky. This is an enjoyable late-summer offering with a busy plot, featuring one narrative strand that could’ve been jettisoned with no overall harm being done to the movie. I’m surprised that this little pisser of a film wasn’t a tad tighter from a construction stand-point, because there’s a certain point where you feel the movie is going to satisfactorily end, and it doesn’t, and I’m not sure what purpose the final scene is trying to establish, other than a thoroughly needless sequel? But regardless of these minor quibbles, I laughed a lot and hearty with the red-neck humor and there’s some very witty dialogue in Rebecca Blunt’s debut screenplay (whether or not Blunt actually exists is something that Soderbergh the clown can only answer…), and as usual, Soderbergh’s frequent aesthetic collaborators, director of photography Peter Andrews and editor Mary Ann Bernard, did very strong work with some great individual shots and some super-sharp cuts respectively. After directing every single episode of the totally dynamic but way-too-short-lived Starz series The Knick (one of my favorite TV shows ever), I can’t wait to see what else Soderbergh has up his cinematic sleeve; I really hope he doesn’t pull a phony-retirement again.

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The starry cast is a roll-call of big-time talent just cutting loose and having a blast with the wink-wink material, with Daniel Craig running away with the movie at all times, while Channing Tatum and Adam Driver both anchor the piece with laid-back charm and many moments that tickle the funny bone. The jaunty, jazzy and playful score by David Holmes is a constant pleasure, adding lots of background flavor to the entire piece, to say nothing of the jamming classic rock selections that litter the soundtrack. However, an intervention must be staged on behalf of Katherine Waterston; her short hair-cut, also recently seen in the woeful Alien: Covenant (even more egregious there) has GOT TO GO, as it’s not very flattering. Look out for child-actress and total scene-stealer Farrah Mackenzie who nails her role as a Little Miss beauty pageant contestant (“Nobody likes a fat girl”); this entire portion really solidifies the emotional relevance of the story. Katie Holmes and Riley Keough look trashy-hot in their bit parts, and even if the film feels decidedly minor in the grand scheme of Soderbergh’s brilliant career, it’s still a joy to have a low-tech movie that’s this much FUN getting a theatrical release, even if ticket-buyers shrugged their shoulders and turned a blind-eye to it on opening weekend. Their loss, and that’s a shame, because this one enjoys pleasing itself and the audience in equal measure.

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NICK’S NOTES: JAMES CAMERON’S THE ABYSS

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James Cameron’s epic sci-fi film The Abyss is absolutely incredible, a film that has gained in reputation over the years, and one that I really wish I could see on the big-screen some day. The recent news that Cameron is finally begining to prep this film (not to mention True Lies…) for Blu-ray makes me very excited. Ed Harris is absolutely riveting as a deep sea diver who encounters an alien species at the bottom of the ocean, while Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn were all fantastic in super-intense supporting roles. The underwater photography is breathtaking, the overall cinematography package by veteran lenser (and sometimes director) Mikael Salomon is positively stunning on every single aesthetic level, and Alan Silvestri’s exciting and emotional musical score ratchets up the drama and tension and suspense in every afforded moment.

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A fleet of dynamic film editors including Conrad Buff, Howard E. Smith, and Joel Goodman (with no doubt an army of assistants) all collaborated with sterling results; this film is so slick and beautifully cut that it’s pure joy to watch it with the sound turned off. The entire production is beyond fascinating to read about; check out the IMDB and Wikipedia for some truly insightful stuff. The Abyss, arriving in theaters in 1989, was definitely made on the cutting-edge (as all Cameron productions are), but couldn’t rely on extensive CGI which was still in its infancy in terms of the dominating type of special effect. SO MUCH of this film was done practically, with massive sets and real stunt-people and just absurd production values all over the place. And yet, somehow, it only reportedly cost $50 million to produce. Mind-boggling. I also think the Special Edition/Director’s Cut is better than the theatrical version.

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ROGER SPOTTISWOODE’S THE PURSUIT OF D.B. COOPER — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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***ALERT – THE PURSUIT OF DB COOPER AIRING IN HIGH-DEFINITION ON EPIX MOVIE CHANNEL!!!***

While I was scrolling through the various movie channels and setting my weekly recordings, I noticed that on Tuesday at 3am this week, the EPIX HD movie channel is airing the long-lost cult item The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. Being a child of the 1980’s, there are more than a few under the radar gems that always made me smile or that kept me entertained for one reason or another. Based on the novel Free Fall by J.D. Reed, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper was one of those titles that I found myself watching on cable (or was it HBO?) repeatedly, never truly understanding it, but enjoying it nonetheless.

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I did purchase a Region B DVD of the film (no American disc release has ever occurred, to my knowledge), but was disappointed that the photography had been cropped from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1. The transfer also looked to have been processed in bowls of urine, with the image looking overly yellow in numerous spots. Which is a damn shame because Harry Stradling’s cinematography, in general, is consistently eye-catching, and the film itself is a raucous and totally crazy little adventure that took a real man and real situation and turned the entire thing into the equivalent of story you’d tell or hear at a campfire, or an urban legend that takes on a mind of its own. It’s the truest idea of what a “cult movie” is, or should be, and the behind the scenes rigmarole that accompanied the production is fascinating in its own right. Kino-Lorber or Shout! needs to grab this one and finally release it on Blu-ray; it’s just waiting for the boutique label treatment.

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The film has somewhat recently been added as a rental option on Amazon and YouTube.Released in 1981, the narrative centers on wild-man aircraft hijacker D. B. Cooper (Treat Williams in a unique role), who made off with $200,000 in 1971 after leaping from the back of a plane over the Pacific Northwest. The script imagines what it would have been like for Cooper to hide out and attempt to evade capture by law enforcement. Jeffrey Alan Fiskin’s incident packed screenplay fictionalized most of what happened during Cooper’s escape (because who really knows?), and there’s a certain zippiness to the plotting which keeps a bouncy tone and pace; Fiskin’s other scripting credits include the brilliant and undervalued Cutter’s Way, Tony Scott’s pulpy thriller Revenge, and the gritty Amazon crime series Bosch.

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John Frankenheimer was The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper’s original director, and would later denounce the entire production. He was replaced by TV journeyman Buzz Kulik just before shooting began. Then, after the movie was well into production, Kulik was fired, and replaced by final collaborator Roger Spottiswoode, who would be the only director to receive an onscreen credit. The film has an interesting, sort of ramshackle visual aesthetic, heightened by a jaunty, honky-tonk-ish score by James Horner. The performances by Robert Duvall (as an insurance investigator) and Williams anchor the film with a level of class and conviction, Kathryn Harrold was a total knock-out, and while the overall lightheartedness of the entire endeavor is apparent from frame one, the various action scenes are briskly shot, cut, and executed, especially the opening sequence complete with a real sky-dive done before the era of CGI laziness kicked in.

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HAPPY 30th ANNIVERSARY TO GARY GODDARD’S MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE — A RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW BY NICHOLAS LOUIS CLEMENT

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1987 was a big year at the movies for me as a seven year old. Harry and the Hendersons, The Monster Squad, Three Men and a Baby, The Princess Bride, Adventures in Babysitting, Innserspace, Benji: The Hunted, Empire of the Sun, Project X, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie and Hope & Glory were all theatrical trips that I made with my parents, but nothing came close to the feeling and pent-up anticipation of seeing my beloved He-Man in Gary Goddard’s Masters of the Universe. My mother, being the amazing woman that she is, took my best friend Mike and I to see this on opening night roughly 30 year ago; I can still remember sitting in the theater and just loving every single second of this Cannon Films production, which looked to capitalize on the animated TV-show and popular action-figure toy line that every little boy just had to have. And yes, sure, fine, the movie was made on a budget like many Golan-Globus efforts, but the gee-whiz honesty of spirit that accompanies so much of this film still lives on to this day, and while financially compromised in certain areas, it perfectly reflects this sort of entertainment that was prevalent 30 years ago. Anyone can fire up their computer and make a CGI-dominated He-Man movie in today’s movie world, which makes the quaintness factor of this movie even more special.

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There’s massive Billy Barty as Gwildor POWER, James Tolkan, a.k.a. “Strickland,” as Detective Lubic POWER, and cheesey-wooden-awesome Dolph Lundgren as the blond and ultra-buff hero who must save the day. You also get an impossibly young and adorable Courtney Cox, and Meg Foster as a tough baddie. But the entire film was totally dominated by Frank Langella, who brought a Shakespearean level of gusto and gravitas to his role as He-Man’s arch nemesis Skeletor; the performance is a hoot to watch in retrospect and you gotta love Langella for majorly selling every single scene he appeared in. Written by David Odell (The Muppet Show, The Dark Crystal, Supergirl), the film centers on He-Man and his band of buddies, going up against the evil Skeletor and his crew, and ending up on Earth as a result of some sort of cosmic gizmo that’s able to bend time and space, sending people from Eternia to Earth and back again, and sounds like some sort of new-age synthesizer. Bill Conti’s robust musical score is excellent, definitely helping to tie the film together, while legednary editor Anne V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia, Out of Sight, The Elephant Man) was recruited for cutting duties. The film’s visual look from cinematographer Hanania Baer (Breakin’, Ninja III: The Domination) is dark and square-jawed, while William Stout’s production design alternates between truly inspired and clearly in need of a few more dollars. It really does beg to wonder what this film might’ve been like if all of it’s financial ducks had been in order.

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Reportedly grossing $17 million off of a $22 million budget, the film would of course go on to become massively popular on VHS and cable, quickly gathering passionate support from youngsters before becoming a piece of solid nostalgia for older movie fans who remember the days of the sticky-floored theater that WASN’T laid out with stadium seating and wall to wall surround sound. It’s a shame that a sequel never happened as one is hinted at during the film’s final moments. You also have to love any movie that kills the young protagonist’s parents, and then allows them to come back to life at the end. This movie is so 1987 I can barely stand it, and there’s a treasure trove of behind the scenes information that’s available to read at both the IMDB and Wikipedia, as well as on YouTube in the form of retrospective reviews and commentaries. A former Disney Imagineering concept developer, Goddard also created and produced the rather amazing and extremely ambitious hybrid TV-series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, which I was also obsessed with as a kid, before becoming one of the biggest names in the theme park attraction business, with credits including T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Jurassic Park the Ride, and many others. Masters of The Universe is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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