Tag Archives: Armageddon

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Michael Clarke Duncan Performances

Michael Clarke Duncan was one of Hollywood’s gentle giants for decades, an instantly recognizable presence with intense physicality and a deep baritone voice full of expression. One might think that he’d get cast in a lot of tough guy villain roles but his career path found him often lending talent to comedic characters and lighthearted fare. That’s not to say he couldn’t embody a hulking bruiser when the opportunity came along, but he managed a terrific variety in his work before passing away far too soon in 2012. Here are my top ten personal favourite of his performances:

10. Benjamin King in Saint’s Row

This is voiceover work in a series of video games but I had to include at least one VO performance because of the sheer power and unique energy he could project. A sprawling urban crime epic in the vein of Grand Theft Auto, King is a self made millionaire, organized crime arch-boss, philanthropist, mega businessman and all around badass who commands a vast army, exudes both class and street smarts and reigns supreme. It’s a devilishly enjoyable vocal performance full of witty barbs, dark humour and booming tough talk.

9. Murdoch in See Spot Run

This is a silly, silly film but I’ve got some childhood nostalgia for it. Murdoch is a federal agent who gets a bit too attached to his canine unit partner and just can’t handle it when the dog runs off to assist a young boy (the kid from Two & A Half Men) and his infantile father (David Arquette) in taking down a cartoonish mobster (Paul Sorvino). Duncan plays him as an unflappably alpha tough guy who’s banging a fellow agent (Kim Hawthorne) but is reduced to tears when he can’t find his dog. I think we could all relate.

8. Attar in Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes

Add prosthetic makeup and fur to his already hulking frame and you’ve got one memorable, scary and conflicted turn as head general to a maniacal ape warlord (a scene stealing Tim Roth). Attar is an old school, militaristic individual who resents his boss’s extremism but isn’t above launching a lethal hunt for the human trespassers on their world.

7. Bear in Michael Bay’s Armageddon

Bruce Willis’s ragtag team of oil drillers turned astronauts are an eclectic, entertaining bunch but perhaps most adorable and endearing is Duncan’s Bear. He’s rowdy, lovable, rides a chopper, lends his pipes to Ben Affleck’s impromptu serenade of ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ and his first thought when asked to basically save the world is to request a stay at the White House.

6. Starkweather Two-Delta/Jamal Starkweather in Michael Bay’s The Island

Here he displays heart wrenching emotional range as a clone who wakes up mid surgery as an evil corporation harvests his organs for a rich client. It’s kind of an extended cameo but the outrage, hurt and desperate effort for survival is something haunting to see, and his work drives the film’s themes of ethics and morality home affectingly.

5. Wilson Fisk/Kingpin in Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil

Netflix’s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio’s frightening Kingpin have taken up both the mantle and the critical acclaim these days, but I still have a lot of love for this version and Michael’s imposing, classy yet brutal portrayal of the biggest baddie in Hell’s Kitchen. He rocks the crisp pinstripe suit, massive cigar and has both the keen intellect and bruising physicality of Fisk, illustrated nicely in a bone crunching final showdown with Ben Affleck’s Matt Murdock.

4. The General in Reto Salimbeni’s One Way

This curious, fascinating and overlooked indie drama sees him play a mysterious military general who serves as protector and metaphysical guardian angel to protagonist Angelina (Lauren Lee Smith). She’s a sexual abuse survivor with a tragic past whose trauma has likely manifested him, and at key moments in her life he appears to console and fight for her. He makes grave, compassionate work of such an esoteric character.

3. Manute in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City

Another slightly esoteric character, Manute is a gigantic, nearly invincible mafia enforcer tasked with neutralizing the unruly hookers of Old Town in this arresting noir realm of murder and madness. Attired in a smart suit that’s half military and all business, sporting a giant golden eyeball (that’s another story) and annunciating in disarmingly well fashioned vernacular, he’s a striking, slightly surreal villain played with gentlemanly yet sinister relish by Duncan. He was recast for the sequel after his passing by Dennis Haysbert, who gave it his all but couldn’t quite capture the magic that Michael gifted this role with.

2. Cleon Salmon in Broken Lizard’s The Slammin Salmon

The funniest performance of his career in one of the best entries by Lizard, who are truly an underrated comedic creative team. The egotistical, boorish owner of a swanky Miami seafood hotspot, Cleon has lost a whole whack of money in a game of ‘Japanese Albino hunting’ (strictly catch and release) and is now making his restaurant staff earn it all back for him in one night under the pretence of a contest. Duncan plays this dude as a maniacal loudmouth who always has to be the centre of attention, get the last laugh and bellow out his running joke of a catchphrase “Whateva mothafucka!!!!” to anyone in earshot. A stroke of comic brilliance.

1. John Coffey in Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile

His work as a death row inmate with a mysterious telepathic ability earned him a well deserved best supporting actor. Coffey is accused of child rape and murder, yet there’s more to the story we find as the block’s head guard (Tom Hanks) learns more about his his extraordinary power to absorb others pain both literally and figuratively. It’s a heartbreaking performance, the one that got him acclaim in Hollywood and the beautiful piece of acting that I’ll always remember him for.

-Nate Hill

Michael Bay’s Armageddon

As Michael Bay’s Armageddon opens, a stern, well spoken Charlton Heston informs us that once upon a time a great big asteroid slammed into our planet and killed all the dinosaurs. He also makes mention that it’s only a matter of time before it happens again. Well, Michael Bay takes that and runs with it for nearly three furious hours of jump cuts, character actors, explosions, music montages and delirious extended Americana fanfare, and I love the resulting film to bits with no apologies or hesitation. Bay haters (Bay-ters to us cool kids) can whine and rip on the guy all he wants but fuck em, Armageddon is one kick ass film and an all time favourite for me. I feel like people just latch onto the glossy, runaway excess of the Transformers films and are blind to the fact that the guy has several classics under his belt, this being chief among them.

Never mind that the plot defies logical scrutiny or science, it’s an excuse to see Bruce Willis and his merry band of oil drillers train for NASA’s space program, climb aboard the space shuttle that might as well be a party bus, blast around the moon and hang out on the surface of a freaky looking meteor that Steve Buscemi’s loopy Rockhound literally refers to as ‘Dr. Seuss’s worst nightmare.’ If there’s one thing you can count on in a Bay film it’s no expense spared on spectacle and set pieces, even the ones that aren’t necessarily central to the plot. Before Willis and his team are even briefed on the situation there’s a mini-asteroid demolition derby that shreds NYC and a busted valve on his oil rig that sends equipment flying everywhere and goes on for a good ten minutes as he’s somehow chasing Ben Affleck around with a shotgun as an aside to the main event. Willis and Affleck spar with each other over his daughter (Liv Tyler) and call me an old school sap but I’ve always fallen hook line and sinker for their romance, put to the test by the potential end of the world and accented by the now infamous Aerosmith song belted out by her dad in the background. The cast is stacked too, as per Bay. Scenery chewing occurs thanks to Michael Clarke Duncan, Owen Wilson, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Udo Kier, Eddie Griffin, Grace Zabriskie, Keri Russell, Chris Ellis, John Mahon, Shawnee Smith and Peter Stormare in probably the craziest Eastern European characterization he’s ever pulled off as the caretaker of the Russian space station who has more than a few screws loose.

As wild and crazy as much of the film gets, there’s a few characters who provide dramatic depth and weight that I’ve never seen mentioned in reviews, as most of them seem to be just focused on bashing Bay and his tactics instead. Billy Bob Thornton Is uncharacteristically grounded and dignified as the head of NASA, ditching his usual cocky prick attitude for a much more down to earth turn. Will Patton always makes me tear up as Chick, compulsive gambler who just wants to do right by his wife and kid, as well as make it home to see them. William Fichtner gives powerful work as an Air Force hotshot who also fears for his family’s lives and gets the most affecting scene of the film in a tense, emotional confrontation with Willis. Sure there’s the inherent silliness of the ‘Leavin On. A Jet Plane’ scene (it’s actually kind of sweet) and the overall maniacal attitude plus the constant stream of deafening pyrotechnics and special effects. But there’s also key dramatic moments and a host of excellent performances, and it would do many well to remember that. It’s an all timer for me, and a childhood classic that I fondly remember watching on VHS with my dad countless times. Oh, and fun fact; the guy who plays the US President here is Stanley Anderson, who also got the role in Bay’s The Rock, which pretty much suggests they exist in the same universe. I like the thought of a Bay multiverse, heh.

-Nate Hill

PTS Presents Editor’s Suite with MARK GOLDBLATT Vol. 3

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Podcasting Them Softly is incredibly excited to present PART 3 of our epic conversation with veteran film editor Mark Goldblatt! Up for discussion — his work on ARMAGEDDON, DETROIT ROCK CITY, PEARL HARBOR, XXX, BAD BOYS 2, CHAPPIE and much, much more! This is yet another fabulous and informative chat with a true legend in the industry. We can’t thank Mark enough for his time that he spent chatting with us!  We hope you enjoy!

 

 

A Chat with actor Chris Ellis: An interview by Nate Hill

Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Chris Ellis! Chris has an epic and wonderful career, appearing in many films including Armageddon, The Island, The Dark Knight Rises, The Devil’s Rejects, The Guest, Catch Me If You Can, Transformers, Wonderland, Planet Of The Apes, October Sky, Mr. Bean, Con Air, Wag The Dog, A Little Princess, Crimson Tide and many more. He’s a true gentleman, a hard working performer and a great guy. Enjoy our chat!

 

Nate: How did you first get into acting? Was it something you always wanted, or did you stumble into it?
Chris: From age 5 while watching the Mickey Mouse Club on early television, I warbled, “Hey diddley dee, that actor’s life for me.”
Nate: I’ve heard you referred to as a character actor before. What is you opinion on the term, and would you categorize yourself as such?
Chris: A male character actor is one who never gets the girl because he is not pretty enough – too bald, too chubby, too southern. I have played such roles throughout a lengthy, undistinguished career. Just once I wanted to kiss the girl.

Nate: The Dark Knight Rises: How was your experience working on this film, with Christopher Nolan and such an epic scene on that bridge?
Chris: You have the advantage of me, sir, as I have never seen that movie. More to the point, I have never read the script, though I understand I appeared in it in the early, middle and late sections. The reason I never read the script is that I was never shown any part of it other than the pages containing my own dialogue, and those pages were drastically redacted such that I was able to see the immediate cues for my dialogue and nothing else. At one point, after shooting a scene over my shoulder, the camera was turned around on me for a reaction shot. My query as to what I might be reacting to and how was answered by Nolan so: “That is on a need to know basis and you don’t need to know.” He fleshed out that response by suggesting I react as if I were “reacting to the sight of two guys talking.” No one I know who saw the movie hinted that I never looked as if I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but in fact no plot point was ever made known to me, nor any suggestion of the long arc of the movie. On the other hand, I got paid well, travelled to Pittsburgh, New York City, and Nottinghamshire in England. In all three places I had lots of time off in which to wonder what the hell the movie was about and to do lots of sightseeing. Any time, Mr Nolan.
Nate: I’ve noticed that you work with Michael Bay very frequently. Are you two pals, or has that just been coincidence? How has you experience been on his films, Armageddon/The Island etc.?
Chris: I worked with Bay on Armageddon, Transformers, and The Island. He is said by some to lack gentility and sophistication, and I have seen him on sets demonstrating a want of courtesy to actors who permit him to do so, but if you want a big action movie grossing a billion dollars about exploding planets and trucks turning over in high speed traffic mishaps, he is your boy. If you want art, go to the Lemmle Theatre in Santa Monica. I do this for a living. I go to museums for art. 
Nate: The Devil’s Rejects: such a wild and crazy film. Very memorable part as the goofball cop. How was your experience on that set, working with Rob Zombie and William Forsythe?
Chris: One day I mentioned to my theatrical agent that I had always been a fan of horror movies, by which I meant the classics of that genre, mostly from the 1950s and 60s. Very next day he called me with an offer for “a horror movie by Rob Zombie,” of whom I had never heard. I wouldn’t call The Devil’s Rejects horror – more like a Charlie Manson wet dream, but Zombie was the soul of gentility on the set. He is covered in tattoos, many of them visual renderings of famous horror movie characters from a simpler time, and when I worked with him he kept his wallet attached to his person by a length of chain sagging with languor between the wallet and his belt loop. This is a fashion accessory I associate with the Donald Trump demographic but which was belied by Zombie’s gentle and quiet spirit. 
Nate: What are some of your favourite roles you have played in your career so far?
Chris: Last year I played a judge on a TV series called Murder In The First. That was my dream job, as it involved sitting in a comfortable chair all day long on set, frequently unshod, and with an improving book in my lap to which I could refer between the words, “Cut!” and “Action!” I quite enjoyed yet another incarnation of Sheriff Cracker von Peckerwood in a 2000 movie called The Watcher, not least because I was given a rather wide berth by the director and screenwriter in making the dialogue my own. Also, it was a character with whom I felt a comfortable intimacy. The same applies to the character I played in the movie Armageddon and in one episode of the TV show X-Files. Playing Deke Slayton in Apollo 13 was probably the actual thrill of a lifetime because we all believed while working on that movie that it would become a significant movie (which it remains) and because I remembered Deke while he had been part of the Soyuz/Apollo mission in 1975. But, I hope it will not appear to be taking the liberty of rodomontade to utter the hope that there never has been a time of stepping onto a movie set without breathing a prayer of inarticulate gratitude for the consummation of a lifetime’s desire.
Nate: How was your experience on Catch Me If You Can?
Catch Me If You Can was a joy to work on, first because the script is superb, and because it gave me the chance to work with Spielberg who is a gentleman non pareil and who offers every artistic freedom to everyone on set. When I worked with him, at the completion of each set up, he would ask to the crew as well as to the cast, “Does anybody want to try another one? Anybody want to try something a little different? We have the time, so let me know if you’d like to do anything else with this shot.” Of course he has a very competent crew surrounding him, so his movies are apt always to come in one time and under budget, so it was a joy to work with such freedom.
Nate: Do you have a favourite or preferred genre to work in, or is it all equally enjoyable? Just once I’d like to kiss the girl, but as I say, every time I step onto any kind of set I remind myself that I am not laying roofing tar in Phoenix during the summer. If you ever hear me complain about any circumstance of my livelihood, you are invited to come where I am and kick me in the nuts.
Nate: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects, cinematic or otherwise that you are excited about and would like to mention?
Chris: Nope. Mostly what I do for a living is wait for the phone to ring. My family and I are now on vacation, but soon as I get home I will be slouching toward the telephone hoping to god it rings.

Nate: Thank you so much for your time Chris, it’s been a pleasure, and keep up the awesome work!