PTS Presents ACTOR’S SPOTLIGHT with STEPHEN LANG

SLANG POWERCAST

stephen_langSTEPHEN LANG is an award-winning actor known for his work on TV, film and stage.  Lang has been cast in a recurring role as Waldo in the upcoming AMC genre-bending material arts series INTO THE BADLAND.  He will also be reprising his role as Colonel Miles Quaritch from James Cameron’s AVATAR in the three upcoming sequels.  Lang can be seen starring in WGN America’s hit series SALEM as Increase Mathers.  Recently, Lang took his acclaimed stage production of BEYOND GLORY on the road to eight cities nationwide. You can also watch Lang in the documentary BEYOND GLORY which the actor as he tracks the ten year odyssey behind his one-man show about eight medal of honor recipients.

Last fall, he starred as Coach Farris in 23 BLAST, a sports drama based on the true story of a high school football star who is suddenly stricken with irreversible total blindness.  He also starred as Increase Mathers in the first season of WGN America’s hit series SALEM. Lang can be seen in such films as Stephen King’s A GOOD MARRIAGE, THE NUT JOB, IN THE BLOOD, and PIONEER. He was also featured in the cast of the HBO documentary LOVE, MARILYN.  Lang’s many films include LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, TOMBSTONE, GODS AND GENERALS, GETTYSBURG, PUBLIC ENEMIES, WHITE IRISH DRINKERS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, CHRISTINA, and AVATAR.

Film awards and nominations include Saturn Award for Outstanding Villain, The Grace Prize, MTV and Teen Choice Awards, Best Actor Buffalo-Niagra Film Fest, Outstanding Acting Achievement VisonFest X.

Extensive work on TV includes Michael Mann’s classic CRIME STORY, and TERRA NOVA. His extensive work on the New York stage includes A FEW GOOD MEN, THE SPEED OF DARKNESS, DEATH OF A SALESMAN DEFIANCE, THE GUYS, and HAMLET, as well as 101 critically acclaimed performances of his solo play, BEYOND GLORY at The Roundabout.

He received the NEA Chairman’s Medal for Distinguished Service for bringing BEYOND GLORY to American troops around the globe, as well as the Bob Hope Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for his portrayal of American fighting men. Other theatre awards and nominations include The Tony, Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel, Joseph Jefferson, Helen Hayes, and Outer Critics Circle Awards.

Lang holds Honorary Doctorates from Swarthmore College and Jacksonville University, and is a member of The Actors Studio.

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SIDNEY POLLACK’S THE YAKUZA — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Sidney Pollack’s The Yakuza, released in America in 1975 after a Japanese premiere a year earlier, is a unique neo-noir gangster hybrid boasting an excellent script written by Leonard Schrader, Paul Schrader, and Robert Towne. Despite not being a box office hit at the time, the film has certainly gained a cult following over the years, and it was a movie that had always escaped my grasp. I’m so glad I finally caught up with this exceedingly entertaining drama, one that’s spiked with some truly great action scenes and a narrative that’s engaging on a story and emotional level. Featuring a solid-as-oak Robert Mitchum as an ex-private investigator who returns to Japan in an effort to rescue the kidnapped daughter of his friend, there’s a distinctive quality to this movie that’s hard to describe. There’s a great mix of hard-core shoot-outs and bloody sword play, Dave Grusin’s music supplied tension and grandiosity in equal measure, and the thoughtful and at times ruminative screenplay stressed character and motivation and thematic context rather than being an empty display of action. Ken Takakura provided more than just a steely gaze, injecting the film with a sense of lethality and wisdom, while supporting cast members Brian Keith, Richard Jordan and Herb Edelman made the most out of their distinctive roles. Especially Jordan, whose unique face was able to convey just as much information than the script ever could. But it’s Mitchum who totally owned the picture, bringing his customary gruff line delivery and masculine sense of purpose to this exotic and violent story that traded off of noir tropes and the demands of the action picture in equal measure, with Pollack’s sure and steady directorial hand bringing it all together in a very elegant, crisp fashion. The rich screenplay investigated themes of moral and social expectations on the part of the Japanese culture, and how familial loyalty and personal friendship can be tested through the differing viewpoints of Eastern and Western school of thought. Ridley Scott and his creative team would heavily borrow from this film for the 80’s classic Black Rain, and clearly, this must be a favorite for Quentin Tarantino.

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THE HILL FILES: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR ROBERT JOHN BURKE

I recently had the honour to chat with actor and firefighter Robert John Burke, a great guy and experienced veteran, appearing in excellent character arcs in Gossip Girl as Bart Bass, Rescue Me as Cousin Mickey, Law & Order SVU, Person Of Interest, Generation Kill, The Sopranos, Oz, Sex & The City, Homicide: Life On The Streets and more. He’s also worked in many films, including Robocop 3 in the title role, Limitless, Safe, Tombstone, Munich, 2 Guns, and the George Clooney directed films Good Night & Good Luck, and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. He’s one of my favourite actors, and I was beyond excited to be able to interview him. Enjoy!

Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you knew you wanted to do at an early age, or did you fall into it? Did you got to school for it at all? Where?

Robert: I kind of fell into it, and for an acting degree I went to State University of New York, at Suny Purchase.

Nate: Robocop 3 happened pretty early in your career, with not a lot of film credits before that (or at least as far as I can tell from imdb). How did that come about, and did you enjoy taking up the mantle of such an iconic character from Mr. Weller?

Robert: Robocop 3 came about.. In God’s great earth they thought I was the only actor who could do it, I don’t know why. I think physically I poked like Peter Weller, and I had also had extensive karate training, pantomime training, and body training, and I fit the suit. I held out for a long time, I was very hesitant to do it, but then after about six or eight months I finally agreed.

Nate: You are are a certified NY firefighter, and from what I’ve read participated in rescue efforts following 9/11. Would you care to share your experience with that at all? Did that contribute to your being casted in Rescue Me, or is that just coincidence?

Robert: I became a firefighter in 2002, my best friend was a fire captain, Captain Patrick Brown, he worked at Ladder 3, and when I went down to the World Trade Center to dig and look for Pat, that kind of became the first time I operated as a firefighter, returned to my hometown, joined the volunteer force, and after thirteen years I’m now a captain.

Nate: You frequently play offbeat, corrupt higher ups and gruff lawmen or criminals, always under the radar, but always absolutely memorable. Do you find that a career as a character actor was what you saw yourself doing upon entering the industry? Or have you surprised yourself with the direction your work has taken?

Robert: It has surprised me that I’ve become kind of a character actor, and the style of roles, the gruff detectives. People say do you worry about being typecast, and the operative word there is ‘cast’. So if we leave out the word ‘type’, what they are essentially asking is do you worry about about being cast, and no, I don’t, it sure beats unemployment. I love playing the bad guy, it’s always more fun, always more interesting. Who wants to play the good guy? It’s boring.

Nate: Who are some of your favourite actors/films/filmmakers?

Robert: My taste in actors is varied, I’m not much of a cinephile to begin with. I’d have to say that my number one actor that I really, really like is Alan Rickman. I don’t know what it is about Alan Rickman, the guy is just a consummate artist. I love Bob Duvall, also Gary Oldman I love. There are a lot of different actors I like for a lot of different reasons, but yeah, those would be the top three.

Nate: Awesome choices! Rickman and Oldman are absolute favourites of mine. You seem to have a ton of fun in your work, even when playing contemptible pricks. There’s always a glint in your eyes and an infectious energy that radiates off the screen. Do you find that that rambunctious, mischievous quality happens naturally via your personality, or do you consciously use your training to create it?

Robert: I always seem to have a lot of fun even when playing ‘contemptible pricks’, (laughs) I love that usage. Um, it’s fun, like in Person Of Interest, this character Patrick Simmons, whose kind of over the top, the story of Person Of Interest, the CBS television show, it’s kind of a comic book type of adventure, so you get to be a wee bit arch. But as long as I’m doing the definitive interpretation of the role, then I just am so grateful to be doing what I’m doing, that I don’t really apologize for it. Yeah I’m having fun, an acting teacher told me, why do you think they call it a play?

Nate: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind- the million dollar question haha. Your monologue in this one is just sheer comic brilliance, and lights up the entire movie like a beacon of knowing, satirical fun. My buddies and I re watch the scene on YouTube all the time and descend into fits of laughter. How did the nature of that come about? Did you take it upon yourself to lay the over the top, hilarious nature of that character into it, or was it in the script to have him like that?

Robert: With Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, that was my first audition after 9/11, I hadn’t auditioned in a year, I hadn’t acted in a year. I went for George Clooney and I read that scene, and he was.. snot was coming out of his nose he was laughing so hard. Then when I got up there subsequently to shoot it, I dialled it back a lot, and he said “What are you doin?”, and I said “well, I wanna be in the same movie YOU’RE shooting”, and he said “No, no, you have to do what you did in the audition, it was such a wonderful interpretation”, so I did it, and I really had fun with that. What was wonderful about George is that he’s an actor, so he allowed me to really just be fearless and not whatever the hell I wanted per say, but at the same time to reallyy stretch the boundaries of who this particular whacko CIA agent could be.

Nate: You have primarily worked in crime/action cinema. Do you find that a particular genre just kind of finds you based on your look, style and approach to the work, or did you actively seek out projects like that?

Robert: I think the reason that I work in these genres, of action adventure, well it’s not action adventure per say, but action. I guess it has to do with the way I look, you know, sharp featured, blue eyes. Western canon would say that I’m the consummate looking hunter, you know, killer. But I play a lot of military types, it’s interesting that that’s what is thrust upon me, I played like five or six Generals so far in the past three years. This is how I’m perceived, it’s kind of a surprise to me, but again it’s usually fun stuff, and interesting. I especially like doing historical work, playing someone who has actually lived, because then I get to do the research and being a history buff that coincides nicely.

Nate:  How is life these days? Do you have any projects you are excited for and would like to speak about?

Robert: Life these days is good, I do a recurring role on Special Victims Unit, and he really was a contemptible prick, and now they’re softening the character up. I just finished a turn in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and my volunteer fire service, July August I took off, that’s our busy time of the year, so just getting the fire department and the training materials, everything up to snuff, lots of training, lots of EMS calls, and the odd fire. There’s a lot of fire safety these days, so it cuts down on your fire service in that respect. But the training I love, and I’m pretty fortunate to have such good guys around me.

Nate: Thanks for sharing, Robert, I really appreciate it!

OREN MOVERMAN’S TIME OUT OF MIND — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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At once formally audacious and emotionally direct, Oren Moverman’s exquisite new film Time Out of Mind is a bold and challenging work, a movie that dares to explore a subject so often swept to the side in our society (our nation’s homeless), while simultaneously acting as an impassioned plea to help those who are suffering the consequences of mental illness. This is a work that couldn’t feel timelier if it tried, and while it wasn’t made to point fingers or to offer up solutions, it’s a fairly monumental piece of work in that it strives to tell an inherently compelling story about something that could seemingly happen to anyone, set against a depressingly bleak back-drop, going to some areas that many people might find too upsetting or too believable for comfort. Starring an unforgettable Richard Gere as a man reduced to a ghost of his former self, Time Out of Mind reveals its stylistic hand and narrative intent quickly and immediately: This is a purposefully slow-moving, deeply introspective piece that isn’t looking to have everything (or anything) solved with a tidy bow by its conclusion, told in a slightly oblique manner, essentially conveying mood and story through visuals and sounds. Bobby Bukowski’s startling widescreen cinematography is some of the absolute best I’ve seen all year, and it’s because the aesthetic and the content feel so attuned to each other that this demanding and unconventional piece of cinema works as effectively as it does. Almost the entire piece was shot at a remove from the actors, with the camera peering through windows and glass, as reflections and lights and colors smear and streak off the actor’s broken faces. This impressionistic quality gives the film a dreamy (nightmarish?) atmosphere that has the potential to cast a spell on the viewer. And then there’s the fully immersive sound-work, recalling Kenneth Lonergan’s obscenely underrated Margaret and the collective works of Altman, where background noise from an entire city fills the soundscape, with the conversations of strangers fully audible, thus creating an sonic mosaic effect that melds perfectly with the stylishly off-kilter visuals and heightened color palette. I’m always fascinated by filmmakers and technicians who can communicate their ideas on a visual level first and foremost, and in Time Out of Mind, at least an hour passes before any sort of background information is organically doled out, leaving the viewer to fill in some gaps on their own, while deciding what is and what’s not important to wonder about.
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All you need to know about the “plot” of this film is that Gere is a homeless man, navigating the uncertain streets of NYC, bouncing from homeless shelters to park benches to churches, looking for any way to nab that next six-pack of beer, while trying to put some of the pieces of his past life back together. He’s got a bartender daughter (an effective Jena Malone) that he’d love to re-connect with, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he has a lot to make up for before he’s going to find any personal or familial solace. And then there’s his chance encounter with another homeless man, played by a nearly unrecognizable Ben Vereen, who is a literal motor-mouth of mentally broken fragments. The scenes between Gere and Vereen have a caustic edge to them, with tenderness slipping through the cracks now and again (that scene at the piano…). There’s nothing “Hollywood” about this movie, and even if the final moments HINT at something upbeat or potentially cathartic, Moverman is too smart of a filmmaker to reduce his powerful, incredibly intense film into something with phony sentimentality. And I loved how the film opened and closed in the same stylistic manner, reflecting the day-after-day quality that the narrative stresses at almost every turn. Moverman has been a serious and thought provoking filmmaker in the past, having co-written Todd Haynes’ trippy ode to Bob Dylan I’m Not There, and this year’s excellent Beach Boys/Brian Wilson examination Love & Mercy, as well as writing and directing the one-two-gut-punch of The Messenger and Rampart, both starring the utterly magnetic Woody Harrelson. Moverman’s strengths have been his driving sense of character and intelligence, always looking for an interesting angle to approach his subject matter, never content to settle for formula or easily digestible themes and narratives. This is the sort of mentality that I look for when searching for filmmakers to explore, as I’m constantly finding that I’m drawn more and more to projects that can’t easily be summed up by a logline, or that stress distinct and form-pushing artistic qualities rather than the demand to create sequels and merchandise and a hit soundtrack. Time Out of Mind is an art film that will be a very tough sit for some, but exactly the sort of filmmaking and storytelling that film lovers should be celebrating.

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BILL POHLAD’S LOVE & MERCY — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Love & Mercy is a very sad film about a very troubled person. I have to assume that this film is factually correct because it feels extremely well-researched, and I just can’t imagine the filmmakers inventing stuff simply to manufacture drama. I’m was not up to speed with Brian Wilson’s turbulent life and the events that surrounded the rise of the Beach Boys, so as such, the entire film was one surprise after another, and it’s a work that’s both illuminating and despairing in equal measure, much as life so often is for many people. This isn’t your routine biopic whatsoever, and one of the aspects I liked the most was that director Bill Pohlad (his second film in 25 years after years of producing, most notably The Tree of Life, 12 Years a Slave, and Into the Wild) and screenwriters Oren Moverman (Rampart, The Messenger) and Michael Lerner really showed you the intense creative process that goes into devising, writing, and performing music, especially for a guy like Wilson, who clearly had some savant stuff going on, and definitely was ahead of his time in terms of how he approached the task of artistic collaboration. There’s a fantastic sense of fidelity to the material that makes the entire piece feel very heartfelt and eye-opening, with some of the real-life recording stages being used for key scenes in this constantly probing film. I haven’t seen a better performance from John Cusack in years, as he paints a portrait of the older Wilson as extremely damaged goods, yet not without his glimmers of hope and ability to want to love. Paul Dano is absolutely fantastic portraying Wilson in his song writing and singing prime, yet still demonstrating the fact that his mental illness took root early on in life, no doubt spurred on by the abusive behavior of his father. Both actors fully commit to their impassioned performances, and as a result, the dual impressions of Wilson the artist and Wilson the man feel incredibly cohesive. Paul Giamatti is pure scum as a disingenuous “doctor” who duped Wilson out of happiness (and other things) for far too long, and the always wonderful Elizabeth Banks plays Wilson’s later-in-life love interest, a woman who fell in love and went to bat for Wilson, in an effort to help him turn his life around. Shot by the extremely talented cinematographer Robert Yeoman (all of Wes Anderson’s films, To Live and Die in LA), the film feels extremely California, with golden sunlight stretching across the colorful images, with smart, casually stylish framing in abundance as per usual for this incredible cameraman. Atticus Ross’s immersive score not only highlights the best of the Beach Boys but creates an unnerving quality that cuts to the heart of Wilson’s numerous psychological issues; the use of rising sounds followed by abrupt silence is used to maximum effect. This is an incredibly focused and expertly crafted film, especially for someone calling the shots for the first time in more than two decades, marking Pohlad as a major talent to watch out for in the future, should he wish to continue sitting in the most important seat on the set.

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JOHN IRVIN’S THE DOGS OF WAR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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John Irvin’s take-no-shit war drama The Dogs of War is the sort of action picture rarely made these days — unsentimental, lean, and thoroughly engrossing (David Ayer’s underrated Fury feels cut from the same cloth, as do portions of Antoine Fuqua’s compromised Tears of the Sun). Gritty, violent, masculine, and shot with rugged panache by director of photography Jack Cardiff, this 1980 mercenary adventure has received the Blu-ray treatment from the fine folks at Twilight Time DVD Label and if you’re a fan of unpretentious, straight ahead war films, then check this one out. Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger deliver intense and extremely effective performances, with a surly and gruff supporting cast which included Colin Blakely, Hugh Millais, and Ed O’neil. Irvin would later direct the outstanding Vietnam film Hamburger Hill, 80’s classic Raw Deal, and the underrated Michael Caine thriller Shiner. According to the internet, Michael Cimino did a re-write on Gary DeVore and George Malko’s terse and disciplined script. The opening action sequence, which plunges the viewer into the middle a full scale Central American war-zone, is outstanding, especially for the days of zero CGI, with all sorts of for-real pyrotechnics and incredible stunt-work. The final act is essentially a battle, with some ridiculous fire-power on display. Geoffrey Burgon’s pulse-pounding score was more than up to the task. This is one of those excellent films that may have snuck through the cracks that’s totally worth re-discovering.

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CINEMATOGRAPHER SPOTLIGHT: STEVEN POSTER, ASC — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Veteran cinematographer Steven Poster, ASC has compiled a wide-ranging mix of theatrical and television credits throughout the years that stretch various genres and styles. After getting a start as a camera operator on Robert Altman’s brilliant 1978 comedy A Wedding, he moved into second unit work, getting a chance to cut his teeth on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China. In recent years, he’s developed a close working relationship with maverick indie director Richard Kelly on the cult classics Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, as well as the underrated sci-fi thriller The Box, which approximated the look and feel of the 1970’s in ways that few modern movies ever attempt. He shot the provocative Los Angeles sexual drama Spread from rising star director David Mackenzie (Perfect Sense and Starred Up), Ridley Scott’s 1987 neo-noir thriller Someone to Watch Over Me, audience favorite Rocky V, the subversive and totally wild sequel Big Top Pee Wee, and 80’s classics Strange Brew and The Boy Who Could Fly. In addition to his duties behind the camera, Steven currently serves as President of the International Cinematographers Guild, and in previous years, served as President of the American Society of Cinematographers. His upcoming projects for 2016 include the horror sequel Amityville: The Awakening, a new Richard Kelly movie, and the indie drama All Good Things. He’s an artist always looking to change it up with varying material and specific aesthetic choices, while always stressing smart control with imagery and a disciplined sense of camera placement.

Donnie Darko announced the arrival of the challenging filmmaker Richard Kelly, and the film became a calling card for the director, and for a generation of high school and college kids looking for something offbeat and unique. A big reason for the film’s overall level of success is the dreamy visual style that Poster brought to the project. Shot in 2.35:1 widescreen and frequently emphasizing the middle of the frame, the film has an ominous tone all throughout, with much of the story set at night, while Poster’s camera glides through one surreal cinematic moment after another, using slow-motion in a perfect fashion, heightening the emotional moments with force and purpose. Another Poster/Kelly collaboration is Southland Tales, the divisive, Dr. Strangelove-esque political and social satire that feels like 10 movies stuffed into one, with an aesthetic style that feels like a smart and logical extension from Donnie Darko, again maximizing the use of the widescreen space, filling the screen with hallucinatory images that wash over you like some sort of wild, psychedelic trip. The saturated colors favored by Poster in this film made the volatile world being presented in the narrative all the more seductive, while the final 30 minutes represent something of a stylistic freak-out on the part of everyone involved, with Poster emphasizing the otherworldly through lens flares, bold nocturnal images, with an exploding zeppelin and a floating ice-cream truck providing him with the opportunity to craft images that feel like nothing you’ve ever seen. And Poster’s work on Ridley Scott’s underappreciated thriller Someone to Watch Over Me is a clinic on how to shoot a neo-noir that never feels overly slavish to other genre entries, always taking cues from the past while imbuing it with a (for the time) slick and sexy visual style that feels oh-so-gloriously late 80’s in retrospect. Shadows, smoke, darkness, moonlight, neon, and all sorts of atmospherics played a big part in Poster’s overall mise-en-scene, and under the firm direction of Scott, Poster was able to craft one of the best looking films of his stellar career.

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