The Running Man is some silly ass shit, but it’s done with so much adorable enthusiasm, blinding 80’s neon and deafening ultra violence that it kinda wins you over. Plus it has one humdinger of a villain who, lets face it, gives the film most of its personality. Based on a Stephen King novel (albeit under his sheepish Bachman pseudonym), this takes place in one of those austere, glumly lit fascist hellscapes where there’s rubble everywhere, helicopters relentlessly thrum overhead and humanity has devolved to its worst. This is set in the year 2019 and although they undershot the level of depravity they imagined we’d sink to at this point, they sure as fuck weren’t far off the mark. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Ben Richards, a military man who is framed for heinous war crimes and forced to compete in the world’s most popular game show, a sadistic tournament called The Running Man where convicts are hunted down on live television by paid pro wrestler looking freak shows. This is all masterminded by an egotistical sociopath called Killian, played by real life former game show host Richard Dawson in what has to be one of the most inspired pieces of casting out there. It’s fun watching Ahnuld and slightly less athletic pal Yaphet Kotto get saddled with hilarious spandex onesies and shunted down a luge course from hell where they’re faced with such looming monsters as Subzero, Buzzsaw and Dynamo, who Arnie naturally begins dispatching in clever, gruesome ways followed by those obligatory one liners. It’s not a thoughtful film and the dystopian nightmare it establishes at the outset is never established on nor explored, mostly we just get sound, fury, profanity and extreme carnage as the game plays out about as loudly as any could get. The production design is so 80’s you could stick it in a time capsule, from dancing chicks with perms to synth music to Jesse Ventura himself in full roid-rage mode. Dawson is the soul of it all though and it wouldn’t be the same film without him, he steals the show as the ultimate evil ringmaster and has charisma that makes you laugh and want to knock his teeth down his throat in the same instance. Not the best of 80’s Arnie, but a fun, hectic ride through futuristic sci-fi.
I feel like John Mctiernan’s Last Action Hero doesn’t get enough love. I mean, people like it and it has a lasting legacy.. but there’s a weird lukewarm reception among critics, and I’ve always found it to be one of the most gloriously meta, excitingly enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there. A young boy (Austin O Brien) spends his days glued to the seats of a creaky old movie theatre (many of us can relate) run by a mysterious projectionist (Robert Prosky), who gives him a magical ticket that brings all kinds of cinematic archetypes and characters to wild, screaming life including badass action hero Jack Slater (Arnie). It’s basically like a trip into the Hollywood version of those Where’s Waldo illustrations that are just packed to the brim with colour, life and incidence, and in this case joyously wall to wall film references, cameos, in jokes and self referential bliss. The villains are wonderfully tongue in cheek including Charles Dance’s cranky assassin Benedict, Anthony Quinn’s moronic Sicilian mobster Tony Vivaldi and Tom Noonan in a vicious, memorable turn as The Ripper, an axe wielding psycho who escapes the land of film and attacks the actual Tom Noonan in real life, also played by Tom Noonan. See how much fun this thing sounds? It’s a fucking blast for anyone who is a fan of the action genre, reality smashing fantasy, wowza production design or simply cinema itself. Arnold has so much fun with the role, bringing the best aspects of T-101, John Matrix, Harry Tasker and Dutch, throwing them into a blender of a performance that’s just silly enough and just tough enough to win us over. There are so many cameos I couldn’t even list them all here without busting a few algorithms, but my favourites have to be Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone, very briefly), the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Ian McKellen as Death, who stalks right out of an old black and white picture when the shit really hits the projection reel and the worlds of cinema blur into the edges of reality. It may not be coherent much of the time or employ rigidity in the narrative, but with a film this eclectic, I’d rather have no guardrails along the road it furiously careens down and have elements spill over, crash and tumble as McTiernan uses everything in his bag of tricks to both send up the genres and express his love for them. One of my absolute favourites, a cauldron of mischievous celluloid gold, I feel lucky for the fact that it was even made every time I revisit.
The first film I thought of while the early moments of Tiger Mountain played before me was THX 1138. This was a trip, dragged forcefully against one’s will and plunged into a murky pond which is a kind of metaphoric representation of being removed from the light and air and smothered by naked oppression and placed under the rule of the hive mind. And it is a mesmerizing submersion into these terrifying depths that are as much about the myth of control as they are the misuse of it. Another part of the allure for me to tackle this movie is the treat of seeing Bill Paxton back on the screen. I remember watching Edge of Tomorrow and delighted in his presence – a kind of measured version of his character from Weird Science. The man was talented – even though he made it all look far too easy. But as I spoke to Tom Huckabee, (Paxton’s longtime friend and collaborator) I quickly was made to understand that this easy-chair nature I’d seen and enjoyed in Paxton was in fact a ruse. Turn’s out Bill was a lot more Near Dark than most people really knew.
Tiger Mountain is a passion project that has survived because of the enthusiasm shared by two buddy’s who were looking for a way into the movie business. It is a product of it’s time, topical to that period and perhaps in some ways even more relevant as a kind of looking glass held up to the world of today, indeed more so than it was then. The journey has taken since 1974 to come before an audience at last in the best and most complete version of the film that exists. It is a picture that has crossed continents and indeed space and time to arrive like some strange and miraculous time capsule which stands as an epitaph to the exuberance of youth and a yearning for greater self expression. So this is the first time since 1983 that you’ll have to witness this compelling cinema experience influenced by William Burroughs – which is then counter balanced with the writings of Valerie Solanas. Portions of text coming from a Burroughs’s novella whose title had already been taken by a chap named Ridley Scott.
This 4K transfer is beautiful and the journey, although sold as the brainwashing of an American draft dodger by militant feminists in order to assassinate the Welsh minister of prostitution, Tiger Mountain is an experience, a fascinating making-of tale to hear and a parable of sorts which speaks of the possibilities that growth and recognition are always achievable as long as art is never abandoned.
Tom Huckabee is a writer, director, producer with over 40 years experience in entertainment. As a student at UT Austin he studied under Tom Schatz, Loren Bivens, and Edward Dymytryk, directed “The Death of Jim Morrison,” nominated for a student academy award, and “Taking Tiger Mountain,” starring Bill Paxton and co-written by William S. Burroughs. He has been a staff producer at Landmark Theaters, a writer of non-fiction TV for Disney and Discovery, a story analyst for 21st Century Films, and a staff researcher for The History Channel’s Modern Marvels. In 1987 he produced and co-wrote “Martini Ranch’s Reach,” a long-form music video directed by James Cameron, starring Kathryn Bigelow, Bill Paxton, Phil Granger, Bud Cort, Judge Reinhold and much of the cast from “Near Dark” and “Aliens.” In 1997, he was associate producer of post-production and music supervisor for “Traveller,” starring Paxton, Mark Wahlberg, and Julianna Margulies. From 1998 – 2001, he was vice president of American Entertainment, underwritten by Walt Disney Studios, where he created and/or oversaw development of feature projects with Touchstone, Universal, Imagine, Image Movers, HBO, Sony, and Revolution Studios. In 2001 he executive-produced Paxton’s directorial debut, Frailty, starring Paxton, Powers Boothe and Matthew McConaughey. Also in 2001, he produced and directed a live event, Arthur C. Clarke: Beyond 2001 at the Playboy Mansion, featuring James Cameron, Patrick Stewart, Morgan Freeman, and Buzz Aldrin, He was an uncredited script consultant on Twister, Mighty Joe Young, Vertical Limit, U-571, Thunderbirds, The Greatest Game Ever Played, and The Colony and a quality control supervisor for Lucasfilm (1990-2004), working on films by Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Kathryn Bigelow, etc.. In 2005 he was a producer/writer on 75 episodes of National Lampoon’s An Eye for an Eye. In 2007 he was the artistic director for the first annual Lone Star International Film Festival. His sophomore feature Carried Away (2010) won three first place festival awards and is available on Amazon Instant View. Recently, he directed the documentary short “Confessions of an Ecstasy Advocate,” story-edited Ghostbreakers, a 20-part syndicated TV series starring Joey Greco, set to debut in 2016 on The Family Channel, co produced The Starck Club, a documentary feature and The Price, a drama starring Randy Travis and James Dupre. In 2014-15, he was the artistic director of the Wildcatter Exhange literary festival, while his short film “The Death of Jim Morrison” (retitled “Death of a Rock Star”) was included in the omnibus package, Jonathan Demme Presents Made in Texas, which premiered opening night 2015 at SXSW and is distributed by UT Press. He teaches screenwriting workshops and offers a wide-range of freelance development services. Upcoming projects include feature films Hate Crimes, ReCharge!, and The Attachment, full length stage plays, Dr. Zombi, PhD and The Reversible Cords; and Great Lives, a live theater festival of one-person historical shows.
How did this wonderful film slip through the cracks? There was little to no word about this utterly enthralling and compelling story about the ‘other’ man behind the bat.
I admit to you now – I was in the dark. While comics were a staple of my formative years, as that time receded, my interest had diminished to ‘casual’ by the early 2000’s. Even then I was far from what you would refer to an an aficionado. Comics were flame bursts in the dark. Most of mine were not pristine, and I collected them by the bundle when my Grandmother would take me along with her to the Book Exchange and allow me to parlay a stack of her used paperbacks for a pile of superhero awesomeness.
But, back to the topic at hand. I read comics without much regard for who created them (that attention to detail I reserved for my first obsession, the movies). I was there to indulge, pure and simple. Still, as our awareness grows, so do we seek out ever greater detail – the mechanics that make our preferred mode of escapism tick and thus our experience is enriched and the depths of our interest continue to descend into the pop culture sea that abounds, seemingly fathomless.
Such is the story brought to life by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce. Like the equally incredible Searching for Sugar Man before it, Batman & Bill traces the steps of the elusive Bill Finger – the man who, in case you didn’t know, co-created Batman with Bob Kane. And, like Sugar Man, the plot, which on the surface might seem to have a logical conclusion, just keeps unraveling as the real life seeker of justice, Marc Nobleman, tracks down and lets the sun shine brightly on the life, labors and legacy of Finger.
Now I’m not going to spoil this at all. You must, must, must seek out this glorious unfolding of a sad, arduous, but ultimately triumphant saga which is predominantly about rewriting history, but at its heart there is a drum that beats and reminds us to stand tall in the face of adversity, and the film depicts this, in the form of the mammoth uphill battle to place Finger’s name next to Kane’s as a creative force behind one of the truly monolithic heroes from the realms of illustrated storytelling.
All I will say is that the end broke me up like Field of Dreams always manages to. Yes, strong men also cry, to quote The Big Lebowski, but you’ll walk away from this film ever changed and with a sense of pride having seen honor restored, a name reclaimed and a final note so satisfying it’ll touch your heart.
Read the book, see the film, and as for right now enjoy my chat with the extraordinary team who have captured beautifully this tale of a watchful protector who fought with a pen mightier than any sword to see the ‘other’ man behind the Dark Knight, rise…
Andrzej Bartkowiak (DOOM, EXIT WOUNDS) directs a Ross LaManna (the RUSH HOUR movies) script that is fast, fun, furious and keeps delivering all the way to the closing credits. It’s the story of the battle against terrorism being fought on all fronts. Alex and his Russian security team join forces with Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold and the US company men to track down and stop a major international incident from exploding. When Eric Roberts’ US Secretary of State’s rebellious daughter goes rogue to be with her Russian boyfriend, she is at first feared kidnapped by the surprisingly comedic duo of Matthias Hues and Mark Dacascos, a failed television who has become the bag man for William Baldwin’s Man in the Shadows (as he is credited). What ensues is a race, not only to save the girl, but to stop all hell from breaking loose.
The action is top shelf, which is to be expected from a seasoned pro like Bartkowiak – this blends in well with the pen of LaManna who brings his Tucker/Chan chops to the forefront and lets the laughs ring out with grand timing. The big surprise other than the funny frolicking shared by Hues and Dacascos, is Nevsky. Alex does hard-hitting, action hero stuff in his sleep – but as he exhibited in Showdown (teaming with Casper Van Dien) – he is developing all the time as a versatile performer, and now displaying comedic freedom which this writer can see him parading in the future with roles, not unlike his idol Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Kindergarten Cop/Twins type territory.
This is a major step up for Nevsky and, although this is the kind of film Hollywood doesn’t make any more (that medium-range budget action movie), it great to see that it can still be put together independently with top-of-the-line talent in a beautifully slick and professional package that – just as Showdown was a kind of 80’s action movie homage – so now Impact is a look back to the 90’s style action/comedy.
Aside from all that chatter, it is simply a fun movie which I was anticipating and was not at all disappointed with. Alex is a top bloke and I hope you’ll have a listen to our chat and check out MAXIMUM IMPACT when it hits Blu-ray soon…
Arnold Schwarzenegger versus The Devil. Just let that sink in. It had to happen at some point in the guy’s career, and I’m thankful it turned out to be Peter Hyams’ End Of Days, a slam bang action horror party of a film that is lowkey one of the best things Arnie has ever done, both in terms of production and the character he gets to play. As Jericho Cane, he’s a far cry from the competent badasses he usually plays, an alcoholic ex secret service agent dealing with the trauma of a murdered family. The last thing he needs is Satan setting up shop in Manhattan on his watch, but that’s exactly what’s in store, for every millennium or so, the red guy gets to take a vacation earth-side in a human host, and if he’s able to get laid with a carefully chosen girl, he gets to take over the world. Some dodgy theology there, but this is an Arnie flick. The human host in question happens to be slick stockbroker Gabriel Byrne, who is soon causing havoc all over the Big Apple in his search for Robin Tunney, the girl marked by a satanist cult decades before and groomed to be his concubine. Arnie’s hangdog private security tough guy and sidekick Kevin Pollak are unlikely heroes to stop the prince of evil himself, but Theron lies the fun, and Cane is actually one of his best, most unique characters to date. Throw in Rod Steiger as a priest whose middle name is exposition, Miriam Margoyles as Tunney’s sinister Aunt (also the only 5 foot tall, chubby middle aged woman to whip Arnie’s ass in a fight), Udo Kier as the freaky cult priest, CCH Pounder as a no nonsense NYPD bigshot, Mark Margolis as the melodramatic Pope in Rome and others, you’ve got one solid cast. Byrne really steals the show and is up there with my favourite cinematic incarnations of Beezle, especially in his smooth, smug and smouldering delivery of some truly patronizing, vicious dialogue to try and dispel Jericho. Arnie’s retort? “You ah ah fucking choirboy compared to me!!” Priceless. The action is big, loud and utilizes NYC to its full scope, with subway scenes, a daring helicopter chase sequence and all kinds of explosive mayhem. The horror element is spooky as all hell too, especially in the first third of the film where atmosphere mounts and dread creeps in (that weird albino dude on the train will forever haunt me), plus the score from “ echoes around like a spectre as well. Not one of Arnie’s most celebrated critically, but will always be one of my favourites.
Action doesn’t get more rough, badass or straight up entertaining than John McTiernan’s Predator. The popcorn summer movie mantle was designed for stuff like this and throughout the 80’s and 90’s each one made its own influences and shaped the way the blockbuster has evolved. This is arguably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best, just behind or right along side the Terminator films. Packed to the gills with the kind of gruesome, blood soaked action intrigue we don’t see much anymore or at least without glossy CGI. Here the violence is tactical, doused in gallons of blood and amped up for maximum impact, like when Arnie’s Dutch and his team of rough n’ ready mercs stumble upon bodies that have been skinned alive. Called in for a routine black ops mission in the jungles of Central America, they discover there’s something far worse out there than rebels, and that something happens to be an eight foot tall trophy hunter from another galaxy, with whiplash dreadlocks and a face that would give Freddy Krueger nightmares. He’s essentially an extraterrestrial big game hunter who picks off humanity’s toughest customers in the ultimate intergalactic safari, and Arnie happens to be right in his path. His team is made up of the most colourful badasses the 80’s has to offer including wiseass Jesse Ventura, jumpy Carl Weathers, spooked out Bill Duke and stoic tracker Sonny Landham, who’s my favourite by far (“there’s somethin in that jungle, and it ain’t no man”). Also on their team is Shane Black, of all people, which I didn’t realize until my most recent rewatch but it makes sense since he’s the mastermind behind this fall’s The Predator, which I’m very excited for. The highest praise doesn’t even do this film justice; it’s simply one of those ones that isn’t even up for debate in terms of quality, it practically spawned its own genre. Arnie & Co. light up the jungle with enough heavy artillery to launch a coup, the Predator uses cunning tactics and brutal tricks of its own to hunt them one by one, and the whole region erupts with the sound, fury, carnage and commotion of their fight for survival. This has gone on to produce a sequel (which is just as brilliant, fight me), a Robert Rodriguez helmed update (also great), a couple crossovers with the Alien franchise (which were just plain awful) and the aforementioned Shane Black rendition. This started it though, from Arnie chomping up cigar after cigar to Ventura levelling the trees with a giant mini gun to Landham feverishly taking on the Predator with just his 13 inch hunting knife, it’s an action palooza that’s very of it’s time and therefore refreshingly un-PC (I trust in black to keep that spirit alive for his version), and has stood the time as a gold standard of action sci-fi genre heaven. Don’t forget to get to that chopper.