Christopher Nolan’s INSOMNIA

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From the opening credits, Christopher Nolan assembles a sequence that not only clues us in on what is about to unfold but also tells us there is nothing but darkness and despair in what lies ahead. INSOMNIA may just be Nolan’s most overlooked film, and his most underrated.

Pitting a dreary Al Pacino against an eccentric Robin Williams is brilliant. Pacino’s slow and methodic unraveling is a marvel to witness. His turn as the tainted hero cop, Will Dormer is perhaps his finest performance of the third act of his career. He foregoes the caricature of bug-eyed screaming and gives an incredibly vulnerable performance as a cop who did a bad thing for a righteous cause, only to let that deed pull on the one string that can unravel his entire career.

Robin Williams is wonderful as the antagonist who plays it as if he really isn’t that bad of a guy, he just made a mistake, and then another mistake and then another that leads to a web of lies and the death of a sixteen-year-old girl. Williams is the only character we see on the screen that truly understands and accepts Pacino, and forgives him for his misdeeds. Nolan milks every ounce of affability he can from Williams, allowing the audience to like and sympathize with Williams. It’s a rather brilliant move in a film that is such a taut game of chess, you can almost hear Nolan slam his hand down on the chess clock.

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The hook of the film is brilliant, pitting Pacino against his own conscience in an Alaskan town that is so far north, the sun never sets. He makes catastrophic mistakes that lead to even worse mistakes all the while he is trying to solve a crime where suddenly he almost becomes a villain. It is almost as if he and Williams are following the same path, with one immeasurable mistake that leads to a sequence that leads to their respective unraveling.

It’s a brilliant structure that is so complex it becomes maddening. The entire film begins to turn over onto itself, causing the viewer to question there original notions of what morality is; casting complete shades of grey over the black and white of right and wrong.

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B Movie Glory: Mark Young’s Southern Gothic

A disgraced nightclub bouncer faces off against a psychotic zealot vampire preacher. Quite a crazed concept ripe for hyperactive exploitation thrills, and yet Southern Gothic plays it pretty low key and laconic, for the most part anyway. Moody where other films would have been brash, it’s a nice atmosphere piece with gore galore and a gonzo central performance from William Forsythe as Enoch Pitt, a man of the lord who has strayed from the path. Bitten by a vampire, the already sleazy Pitt turns into a full on monster, tearing up the small Deep South town of Redemption and building an army of the undead. Hazel Fortune (Yul Vasquez) is traumatized and broken by the death of his young daughter, until he meets young Hope (Emily Catherine Young), who crosses Pitt’s vision and finds herself in mortal danger. This puts the two men on a vengeful collision course of blood, retribution and carnage. Ok, so I’ve made it sound a little more epic than it actually is, but that’s more or less how it goes down. Energetic it ain’t, more of a slow burn than anything else. Firmly rooted in B-movie territory in terms of both budget and script, but entertaining and distinctly flavoured nonetheless. Vasquez is moody and four, but dangerous when he needs to be. Forsythe, as usual, is the acting equivalent to a junkyard bulldog let off the chain, chewing scenery faster than he can munch carotid arteries, and loving every campy, frightening minute of it. Not the cream of the horror crop per sé, but reasonable enough Saturday night horror background noise fodder. 

-Nate Hill

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce

Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce is the most dementedly unique horror SciFi mashup you’ll get. Based on a novel that’s literally titled ‘The Space Vampires’, the film is exactly that and more. It’s so out of it’s mind that at a certain point you have to surrender and bask in it, and grab the sides of the cart as it veers between all kinds of increasingly bonkers plot points. When a strange, rice kernel shaped object shows up in earth’s atmosphere, a team of exploratory astronauts led by intrepid Steve Railsback goes on up to investigate. What they find up there eclipses any weirdness aboard the Nostromo, Millennium Falcon or Event Horizon. Intergalactic vampires lie in creepy cryo suspension, just waiting for unlucky hosts to come along. Soon they’re exposed to earth and it’s a gory mad dash all over London to stope them from turning every earthling into zombies. Yes, that’s actually the plot, and despite how it sounds on paper, they really make it work. That’s mostly thanks to the screen shattering, ridiculously good special effects, especially in the opening aboard the alien’s strange, baroque vessel which is one of the most otherworldly and atmospheric sequences in any horror film ever. Once the action shifts back to earth it’s a pure shit show and near comedy of errors, with Railsback’s frenzied cosmonaut teaming up with a peppy British intelligence agent (Peter Firth), and even Patrick Stewart comes out to play as some vague scientific bro. There’s boundless imagination at work here, carried by sheer movie magic to contribute lasting, impressive images and create an entirely unique horror experience. Plus, how could a flick about space vampires not be amazing (we will not speak of Dracula 3000). A sci-Fi horror classic, an under-sung jewel of visual flights of fancy and practical effects laden nightmares.  

-Nate Hill

The Multi-talented Man of Action: An Interview with Jino Kang by Kent Hill

Jino Kang, the gentle-spoken son of a Hapkido Grand Master, grew up in South Korea during the 60’s, a time when the influence of the Western world was just beginning to emerge. The Kang family immigrated to California in 70’s.

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Jino adapted quickly to a new language and culture, all the while following the traditions of his father. He opened his Martial Arts school in the 80’s (http://hapkidousa.com/http://hapkidousa.com/). Jino holds a seventh degree black belt in Hapkido and continues to teach in San Francisco.  He was inducted in to Master’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

Although Martial Arts is in Jino’s blood, he had another passion – filmmaking. He began by making movies with his friends in Junior High School, his early screen heroes were Kurosawa and his frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune. Studying at the College of Marin, Jino elevated his skills and appreciation for the craft of making movies.

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In 90’s, Jino starred in, directed and produced his first feature film, “Blade Warrior”, shot in glorious 16mm. Jino has since shot, produced, and acted in Fist 2 Fist aka Hand 2 Hand.  Fist 2 Fist won numerous awards and critically acclaimed as “belongs in the top end of the scale of Martial Arts films”. His new film, Fist 2 Fist 2: Weapon of Choice won “Action Film of the Year” at Action on Film International Film Festival in 2014. He is currently at work on new films including a short subject action series, Kid Fury, starring one of his pupils Timothy Mah.

His balletic style and approach to action cinema set him apart from the multitude of entries in the genre. I believe should he continue to embrace this as he grows in his ambition, we shall someday soon no doubt witness an action/martial arts spectacle the likes of which this world has never seen.

Our Lady of Lethal: An Interview with Cynthia Rothrock by Kent Hill

Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock, is an American martial artist and actress who I first encountered in a little movie called Raging Thunder or No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (part of my beloved Seasonal Films Library). From there I followed her through the China O’Brian and Martial Law movies. It is fortuitous that she shares this triple martial arts action extravaganza with Don “The Dragon” Wilson; the pair having shared the screen in a number of Cynthia credits, including The Martial Arts Kid and its forthcoming sequel.

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Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.

It was in her hometown in Northern California in 1983 where she was on the Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Martial Arts Demonstration Team. A Leading Asian Film production company, Golden Harvest, was searching, at this time, in Los Angeles for the next Bruce Lee. Rothrock’s forms and manoeuvres were observed at a demonstration by Golden Harvest and they signed a contract with Cynthia there and then. It was two years (1985) later that she made her first martial arts movie, Yes, Madam (or Police Assassins / In the Line of Duty Part 2) which also starred Michelle Yeoh. Proving to be a box office hit, Cynthia ended up staying in Hong Kong until 1988 doing seven films there.

Rothrock would go on to be one of a handful of western performers who achieved stardom in the Hong Kong film industry, before even achieving success in their own country. Producer Pierre David initiated Rothrock’s move to back to America, offering her a co-starring role with Chad McQueen in Martial Law, Rothrock’s first U.S. production. A ten year successful career in B-grade action movies would follow in movies such as: China O’Brien and China O’Brien 2, Guardian Angel, Honour & Glory, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 and Prince of the Sun amongst a roster of thirty films

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Rothrock appeared in the television film The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion. She was also the inspiration for the video game character Sonya Blade from the game Mortal Kombat, though was given neither credit nor compensation. After the film Sci-Fighter, she retired from acting to teach martial arts at her studio in California. She made her comeback in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and in 2014, she starred in the action movie Mercenaries, (the all-female Expendables) alongside Kristanna Loken, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox and Zoë Bell directed by Chris Olen Ray.

Like her contemporaries of the genre, Cynthia is still going strong, busy with slate of movies either in the works or beginning production. She is dynamic, fearsome and as I’m sure Cynthia will tell you herself . . . she isn’t too old to quit kicking ass yet.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7DTnJSX0WQ

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Enter “The Dragon”: An Interview with Don Wilson by Kent Hill

When you used to decide to hit the video store (back in the day) and roam the aisles in search of hidden gems, you’d discover a great many things. Sometimes it was the films in total – other times it was a star you seemed to have an unending body of work.

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That was my first impression of Don “The Dragon” Wilson. There always seemed to be more and more movies that he had been in. So, being the completest I am, I sought out each, any and every film he was in.

Don “The Dragon” Wilson is a world champion kickboxer, a European Martial Arts Hall of Famer and an action film actor. He has been called “Perhaps the greatest kickboxer in American history.”

Some (and I stress the word SOME) movies to his credit include: Futurekick, Bloodfist 1-8, Ring of Fire 1, 2 & 3, Out for Blood, Operation Cobra, Blackbelt, Cyber Tracker 1 & 2, Terminal Rush, Redemption, Say Anything, Capitol Conspiracy and Batman Forever as the leader of the Neon Gang. You can judge the scale of a film’s budget by the quality of the craft services. In the case of is brief but memorable appearance in Batman Forever, there would be no mere fold-out table with ice mochas and Doritos. No, Don found  the whereabouts of a catering trailer in which stood a chef, ready to cook him whatever he desired.

But back to the movies – Don’s career has been motoring along for decades – and he shows no sign of slowing down. With films like The Martial Arts Kid and Paying Mr. McGetty along with several others waiting in the wings, Don “The Dragon” Wilson is still as vital and explosive as ever. I for one can’t wait to see where journey goes from here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7DTnJSX0WQ

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The Boring and the Beautiful…

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I was late to the movie. I hate that. Not a parking space in sight and having to walk a bloody mile on a hot and humid day.

The cool interior of the cinema gave me comfort and, hoping the number of trailers and commercials they usually play these days was at its regular maximum and still going on as I purchased my ticket for Blade Runner 2049 – I was hopeful. But no, I missed a bit of the start.

But what struck me right off the bat as I took my seat and wiped the sweat from my brow, was the tail end of something I had seen before – something that had at one time been intended for the first Blade Runner but never used. It was a part of the most excellent Dangerous Days documentary which was included with the release of The Final Cut some years ago. It was a scene meant to open the Scott masterwork. “Soup boiling in a pot,” Hampton Fancher had said.

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But I missed most of it, so I can’t really be sure. But the tail end I saw looked spookily reminiscent of those unused storyboards for that unused opening.

I have stated before that I am forever wary of a film that is, for the most part, praised to the heavens for its cinematography. Deakins should have taken home a statue long before now, but I’d say that it is a safe bet he’ll have one in his swag this time when awards season rolls ‘round.

Yes 2049 is stunning to look at. But what else is there? There’s the rub.

No one ever mentions Pinocchio when they talk about Blade Runner. It is a theme I believe that lies somewhere near the heart of it. The search for reality, for what makes us real, feel real, think real, act real. The first film was about the search for what defines us as human. This second seems preoccupied with the acceptance of what is, coupled with the desire to be more, or all you can be.

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It is a dusty, hazy, wet, baron, bleak world Villeneuve conjures. And don’t misunderstand, I like long movies. The last of this ilk I really enjoyed was the often dismissed The Assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford, ironically also photographed by Deakins.

The smooth and languid pace is belied by the thumping, buzzing and humming of Wallfisch and Zimmer. In some parts it could be a Tibetan monastery and in others the inside of a sawmill. This doesn’t dance over the top of the story of Lars and the Virtual Girl as nicely as I think Vangelis would have played. And the mystery of the bones was interesting if not as, I thought, compelling as the complicated splendour of the story of a boy and his hologram, Joi and Joe. Hey, Robin Wright is in another movie, thanks Wonder Woman.

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Jared Leto is visually impaired and kind of sadistic, also throwaway, but his robo-chick assistant is better. She is sinister in a quiet, cool way, and she can be devastating while getting her nails done.

Eddie Olmos makes a sheep.

Look I know this is blunt and cynical. I fell asleep a couple of times watching this. I can’t drink the pretentious Kool-Aid, I’m sorry. There were parts that genuinely had me. The idea that, and I may be totally wrong here, Dr. Ana Stelline, The Memory Maker, used K’s memories to help her find Dad Ford, I like that. But I may be wrong about it. But consider the end of Scott’s film. Deckard sees unicorns, Gaff leaves him a unicorn. K’s dying in the snow, inside Stelline is conjuring snow?

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The thing is this. Time made Blade Runner the masterpiece it is. It was not venerated when it first came out. Sure there were the makings of those who would grow up and tell the rest of the fan base, “See, told you so!”

Will that happen with 2049? Truth is I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe . . . sorry, had to do it. But seriously – this scenario I remember seeing before. It was in Hiroyuki Ochi’s 1995 Armitage III: Poly-Matrix (English language version featuring the voices of Kiefer “Lost Boy” Sutherland & Elizabeth “Showgirl” Berkley). Check it out and I challenge you not to find the comparisons.

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2049 though, yes, I will watch it again. It is the kind of film you should not be tired while watching. After all I want to see that opening in full; even though I get the feeling it will not have that beautiful simplicity of those unused now recycled storyboards. I hope there is a good extras package with the release. I don’t hold out hope for something as elegant and all-encompassing as Dangerous Days, after all, it took 20 years for that to form out of what was, became and eventuated out of the original Blade Runner.

A couple of my learned colleagues in this film writing game have made such pronouncements as, and I’m paraphrasing: “this is the cinematic event of the century,” and “at least they tried this time, that should be respected.” Yes they (The Movie Gods) did try, they gave it a bloody good go at trying to bring forth a sequel to stand next to, if not shoulder to shoulder, with an iconic piece of filmmaking and yes, it should certainly be respected. But did they ultimately succeed?

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The cinematic event of the century – well – for me the century isn’t over and I probably won’t be around when it is so I’m going to jump in with a Castaway reference here and say: “Who knows what the tide will bring.”

Time has prepared them. That was a line, a comment, from the Dangerous Days documentary that was ringing in my head when I came out of the theatre to begin the long sweaty trek back to my car. Time has prepared them. It was in reference to what we witnessed all those years ago when another film with Blade Runner in the title was new in theatres. It took time, the ultimate critic some say, to forge that film and see it take its place in the pantheon of great cinema.

Perhaps another look at another time might alter my thinking, but, for right now this is where I’m at.

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I wanted a Batty monologue as K passed away. I wanted David Peoples to pick up the pen and maybe have Gosling add his bit to it as that familiar music played.

There is a version of Batty’s final words that I recalled on my way back to the car.

“with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion. I’ve felt the wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it . . . felt it!”

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Maybe today I saw it, but I just wasn’t feeling it?

Will Blade Runner 2049 be lost in time, like tears in rain?

Perhaps time will prepare me?

 

Still, as ever, happy viewing…

The Dude in the Audience.

bhbh

 

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