Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View is one of the best paranoid thrillers from the 70’s, taking its ambitious and chillingly layered narrative concoctions and making them just believable enough. I’ve watched this film countless times, and each time I revisit, I find a new detail that had previously been left undiscovered, and it’s clear that the film served as a major inspiration for future efforts like Peter Hyams’ The Star Chamber, David Fincher’s The Game, and Rob Bowman’s The X-Files: Fight the Future, to name only three. It seems insane to think that this film hasn’t been given the unnecessary remake that Hollywood seems to love to throw out, and my hope is that people are smart enough to leave this one alone. I’m sure some savvy filmmakers could craft a solid updating, but there’s something so incredibly 70’s about this film, from Warren Beatty’s look and attitude, to the cryptic plotting, to the downbeat finale. Gordon Willis shot the ever living hell out of this film, the diabolical screenplay by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (with uncredited rewrites by Robert Towne) never lets anyone off the hook, and the beyond creepy musical score by Michael Small immediately sets a nervous, anxious tone that Pakula maintains for the entire duration. Effective supporting performances by Hume Cronyn, William Daniels, Paula Prentiss, Earl Hindman, William Joyce, Walter McGinn and Kelly Thorsden are on display, while Beatty anchors the film with class and the perfect amount of cockiness and uncertainty. And then there’s the ruthless finale, which feels both earned and inevitable, with the closing moments ranking as some of the iciest in cinema history. The Criterion Collection would be wise to put out a Pakula box set, as Klute, All the President’s Men, The Parallax View, and Sophie’s Choice are all worthy of that swanky stamp of approval, while it’s interesting to note that Pakula also crafted a bunch of dependable, thoughtful studio thrillers like Consenting Adults, Presumed Innocent, and The Devil’s Own; I need to finally catch up with Rollover, Comes A Horseman, and Starting Over. I’ll always be enamored with The Parallax View and with how Pakula and his team effortlessly pulled off all of the ingredients in this truly sketchy piece of work.
Damn. The 2013 French action thriller Zulu, directed by Jérôme Salle, is a knock-your-socks off piece of filmmaking. It’s violent – VERY violent – but not without purpose, and the twisty/twisted narrative (involving something called Project Coast which is beyond disgusting) takes familiar procedural elements and filters them against the dangerous and exotic backdrop of South Africa and various groups of drug-runners and gang-members. The racial unrest that has plagued South Africa for years is on full display in this exciting film, with the story touching on generational violence that has formed the attitudes and behaviors of the various characters. This is one of those international productions, like Metro Manila and Miss Bala and Sin Nombre, that takes you on a hellish ride, never interested in holding your hand, and plunging you into a volatile world of nightmarish scenes of human behavior. Orlando Bloom was really good here, and Forest Whitaker, as always, commands the screen whenever he appears. Stunning cinematography and fantastic location work contribute to the visually vibrant atmosphere, and while the script is probably too on-the-nose with its dialogue in a few spots, there’s a ferocity to the storytelling and filmmaking that puts most American actioners to shame. Excellent shoot-outs that don’t shy away from the bloody consequences of urban warfare. Available as a Region B Blu-ray only, which is rather pitiful, given that it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
Watchmen is as bold, risk-taking, and ambitious as a major studio event movie starring actors in spandex suits is going to get. Without the runaway success that 300 became, divisive but undoubtedly gifted director Zack Snyder was never going to be allowed to make a $150 million hard-R comic book movie. Throughout the years, a diverse group of filmmakers including Joel Silver, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass, and many others all tried – and failed – to bring Alan Moore’s wildly revered graphic novel to the big screen. The big-wigs calling the shots at Warner Brothers at the time of Watchmen’s production (the Alan Horn-era?) deserve some serious accolades, as this project could have been turned into a PG-13, watered-down version of its incredibly nihilistic source material. And it wasn’t. I’m not judging the film version against the graphic novel. They are two totally different mediums, and what works in one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other. The big changes were A-OK by me, and quietly frankly, made a lot of sense from a cinematic point of view. I’ve read the Watchmen source material, and I never thought for a moment that what Moore put on the page would be exactly copied and transferred to the screen; this was not going to be 300 all over again, with a film that literally feels TORN from the pages of its original inspiration. Back on opening weekend in 2009, I saw the film in the IMAX format and it was an overwhelmingly powerful visual experience. It was honestly too much to fully process on initial viewing, even with the benefit of having read the graphic novel beforehand. But over the course of multiple viewings and endless online discussions, I’ve been able to boil down all of the plot lines and key thematic discussions, with the visuals and action and special effects never losing their dynamic impact. Billy Crudup’s scenes as Dr. Manhattan are easily my favorite; the Mars interlude has an elegance to it that’s hard to describe.
I’m stunned by the overall sense of design and visual sophistication of the film, especially the opening credit sequence, which dispenses with backstory and motivation in such an economical and purely visual fashion that it’s nearly impossible not to become immediately engrossed. Set to Bob Dylan’s classic tune “The Times They Are A Changin’,” Watchmen opens up with a glimpse of our society that’s just a tad skewed from what we’re familiar with, all done in glorious Snyder-vision, showing the formation of the Minutemen, their eventual collapse, and the birth of the Watchmen, while providing a political timeline that expands upon this alternate universe – it’s visceral poetry in motion and one of the most startling openings to any film. Snyder seems to love the ability to literally turn a graphic novel into a living, breathing piece of moving celluloid, and Watchmen has a fantastic, surreal quality because much of it was done on practical sets and real locations, but also utilizing CGI environments and backdrops, giving the film a rough yet slick and totally heightened quality. With Watchmen, he took a supposedly “unfilmable” graphic novel and made it – at least to my eye – into one of the most uncompromising, demanding, and insanely brutal superhero films that’s ever been attempted. There’s so much to sift through – the alternate political timeline, the subversion of the superhero genre, the blending of film noir with science fiction – Watchmen feels like an uncanny amalgam of 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Dark City, Sin City, The Dark Knight, and the works of Raymond Chandler. It’s a very heady brew, trippy and surreal at times, ironically campy in a few instances, always nasty, frequently kinky, and always interesting to experience. This is a one of a kind film that really stands alone within the space of the comic book film, and even though it’s not perfect, it’s so ambitious and at times downright hypnotic to watch that I find myself under its spell in no time whenever I put on the Blu-ray.
I’ve become quietly obsessed with Ben Wheatley’s fucked up, totally tripped-out piece of cinematic psychedelia A Field in England over the last year or so. Sightseers and Kill List are also both excellent genre subversions made with extreme skill and devilish wit, but this one stands alone and completely on its head as a wild piece of wholly original filmmaking that pushes the limits of personal, expressionistic storytelling to new, unhinged heights. A Field in England is pure madness, a descent into a strange and sometimes terrifying world of alternating perspectives, nightmarish dream-logic, and hallucinatory imagery that feels even more aggressively stylish because of the shimmery black and white cinematography. I won’t bother trying to explain the “plot” of this film – just watch the trailer. You’ll know within about eight seconds whether this is up your alley. For me, like other works such as Enter the Void and Under the Skin and Enemy, this is one of those films that begs for constant revisits, as no individual viewing will likely be the same as the next. There’s too much to explore, both thematically and aesthetically, for this to be a one-off experience. If you can take it. Again…my thinking is that for every person who loves this film, there will be 10 who hate it, or just can’t get into the groove that Wheatley hits in this perverse, sometimes upsetting, and always ferocious tale of men driven to the brink of insanity. Makes sense that the film would Drafthouse release; it’s also a work fully endorsed by Martin Scorsese. Wheatley’s next film, High Rise, sounds like more insane, extremely dark work from this challenging and provocative filmmaker.
David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is a clever psychological horror film that has a lot of thought and emotional depth buried under the genre trappings it so lovingly clings to. Essentially a commentary about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, the narrative hinges on an unseen force coming to kill a group of teenagers who are “infected” by evil spirits, who target their victims based on sexual activity. These kids know that by having sex, they’ll be “infected,” and thus prone to the dangers of these supernatural entities, and yet they do what their hormones are telling them to do even though they know they shouldn’t. The film features some spectacular stedicam work, the direction is strong and smart, lead actress Maika Monroe (also effective in The Guest) is appealing and appropriately vulnerable, the sound design is sketchy all throughout, and the reliance on intelligent scares rather than cheap shock-tactics and excessive gore kept me engaged and interested. It’s also a film that abides by the golden cinematic rule of having a fantastic opening and closing scene. This is a really good “horror” movie for people who are looking for more than just a routine slasher flick.
I am pleased to bring you my recent chat with actor Richard Fancy, an immensely gifted man you may recognize as Mr. Lippmann from Seinfeld. He’s also appeared in shows like Mad Men, Ray Donovan, Carnivale, General Hospital, The Mentalist, Crossing Jordan, 3rd Rock From The Sun, Friends, Star Trek: Voyager, Numb3rs, Gilmore Girls and more. His film credits include Being John Malkovich, The Girl Next Door, Species, Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Hollywoodland, Shopgirl, Rob Zombie’s horror films Halloween and The Lords Of Salem, and more. Take a look:)
Nate: I don’t see much of your background or training on imdb. Care to share how you got into acting, what about the craft that appeals to you, and where you trained?
Richard: I knew I wanted to be an actor when I was fifteen. Like falling in love with someone, it’s really impossible to say “Why.” I began studying at fifteen (I was living in LA then) and, when I was twenty two, I moved to New York where I studied for a year with Uta Hagen. I spent a year studying in England, came back to New York and studied with Peter Kass, Uta Hagen (some more), George Morrison, John Lehne, Kristin Linklater, Lee Strasberg, Sharron Shayne and I recently became a professional observer with full working privileges at the Actors Studio here in Los Angeles.
Nate: You have a very mischievous aura to your work, a gleeful vibe that is very memorable (the moment in Ray Donovan when you realize they’re pulling a fast one on you is a perfect example of this, and one of my favourite character beats of your work) ). Is this quality something you consciously developed in your work, or just organically happened out of your personality?
Richard: Thank you for the compliment about my gleeful vibe. I think what you are seeing is just my response to creating a particular character; that response will unavoidably reflect my own personality and whatever glee that gives off:-)
Nate: The Lords Of Salem: what was it like for you working on a Rob Zombie film, especially such an intense one? Fun experience?
Richard: I loved working for him. The films are intense; the set is the most relaxed, supportive atmosphere you can imagine. Rob (I’m sure you heard this before) is a great guy.
Nate: Carnivle: One of my favourite shows of all time. Your role, although brief, was very memorable for me. Did you have a sense of the story when filming that, were you given a lot to go on in terms of that psychiatrist and who he was dealing with? Have you seen the show and do you enjoy it?
Richard: I had a clear idea when I got to the set the way this psychiatrist would walk, talk; I wanted a moustache and spectacles. He should start out in too much control. I wanted there to be a contrast between the very obsessively organized person he is when we first see him and the nut he becomes. Scott Winant who was the director on the first episode I did was wonderfully supportive and collaborative. A splendid director.
Nate: You have a tremendous gift for comedy, as can been seen with your work on Seinfeld. Do you enjoy working in lighthearted, funny stuff like that? How was working laying Mr. Lippmann for you?
Richard: Everything depends on the script and the people you are doing it with. I loved doing Seinfeld; it was unique. But I enjoyed working with Scott Winant on creating the character I played in Carnivale every bit as much. And, I see something funny in almost everything. I guess it’s built into the way I perceive reality.
Nate: If you had to pick a few roles that you’ve played that have been your favourites, what would you say?
Richard: The roles that have been my favorites have been in intimate theater in Los Angeles. . Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Mr. Prince in Rocket to the Moon, Moe Axelrod in Awake and Sing and–now I’m doing Awake and Sing again, playing Uncle Morty. The intimate theater movement in Los Angeles has been producing extraordinary productions for thirty years now; Spring Awakening, a brilliant Los Angeles intimate theater production, just opened on Broadway to a huge rave in The NY Times. Intimate theater has unfolded here because LA is a place where there are a lot of excellent actors who work in film and TV and, itch to work onstage. If you play your cards right, you can see five brilliant intimate theater productions in this town for the price of a Broadway ticket.
Nate: Any upcoming projects, film or otherwise, you are excited for and would like to mention?
Richard: Right now I’m doing a play in Los Angeles. It’s Awake and Sing at the Odyssey Theatre (odysseytheater.com) and it is really worth seeing. It’s a great American play by Clifford Odets in an extraordinary production. It just got a critics choice in the Los Angeles Times.
Roger Waters’ THE WALL is the greatest spectacle I have ever witnessed. I saw him perform THE WALL twice, the first was at an indoor venue on a smaller scale. The second was at Wrigley Field, and it was absolutely epic. Throughout the duration of the concert, a physical wall gets built, brick by brick until it is completed, only to be torn down at the final moments of the show.
Five years later at the Toronto International Film Festival, a concert documentary film was released of THE WALL. The film is as great as seeing the concert live. Cut into the concert, we follow Waters on his own journey from his home, traveling to France to see his grandfather’s grave from World War One, to Waters traveling to Anzio to finally seeing the memorial where his father died during the battle in World War Two. Along the way he’s joined by his family, a childhood friend and mysterious people. Are they actually there with him? Yes and no.
Like any great piece of art, THE WALL is timeless as it is life changing. It can mean a vast many different things to many different people. Isolation, self hatred, fear, enlightenment, hope, self preservation. It is an incredibly personal journey that one has to take on their own, experience themselves, guide themselves through the journey of the double album.
Viewing the film is an emotional experience to say the least. Whether you’re searching for own inner peace along with Waters, or enjoying the film for the madness that it is, you can’t help but go on a personal ride with Waters, watching him on his quest for inner peace. Watch him read the hand written KIA letter his mother received about his father, or watching Waters play OUTSIDE THE WALL on a trumpet at each memorial site he arrives at.
THE WALL asks, rather begs us as individuals – why aren’t we treating ourselves better? For if we do that, we’ll treat others better and therefore change the world whilst deconstructing our own personal walls, no matter how thick or how high. Tearing it down, brick by brick.