Tag Archives: Bill Duke

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang

Tony Krantz’s The Big Bang is one of the most interesting indie flicks to have come along in recent years, and while I can’t quite call it a great film, it has to be one of the most ambitious I’ve ever seen. There are so many concepts, characters, creations, ideas and pontifications running about here that it almost becomes a swirling soup made up of parts of itself as opposed to a cohesive meal, but I’ll never turn down original ideas and unique creative expression, no matter how fucking bonkers it’s all presented.

This is one of those films with a cast that is the very definition of eclectic. A handful of actors are gathered up here who would normally not be seen in the same thing together, let alone casted as against type as they are, and I’m always an advocate for casting against type. It’s basically a noirish California detective story infused with themes of physics and pseudoscience, like Phillip Marlowe by way of Nikola Tesla. Antonio Banderas does an impressive encore here as Ned Cruz, a low rent private eye who is hired by one monster of a Russian prizefighter (Robert Maillet) to find a pen pal girlfriend named Lexie Parsimmons, who he has never even met. As with all detective stories like this, that one seemingly simple task leads Ned on a riotous goose chase all over LA and the outskirts, encountering every oddball, weirdo and pervert the sunny state has to offer. His search is also intercut with scenes in the future where’s he’s somehow been arrested by three spectacularly corrupt LAPD big shots and is being interrogated to the nines.

I greatly admire Krantz for giving his film life, vitality, filling in every corner with substance and conversation and providing every character, right down to those who only get one scene or so, with their own personality, quirk or viewpoint. The three cops are played by William Fichtner, Delroy Lindo and Thomas Kretschmann and if you’re a fan of either you’ll know what scene stealers they are, they constantly try to one up each other with pithy barbs and are all fantastic to watch in action. Most memorable has to be Sam Elliott as Simon Kestral, an eccentric billionaire who is funnelling big bucks into literally recreating the infamous Big Bang using scientific equipment, it’s a hilariously counterintuitive casting choice for such an earthy cowboy but it just somehow works. Look at the rest of the lineup too, which is populated by people like James Van Der Beek, Jimmi Simpson, Bill Duke, Sienna Guillory, Rebecca Mader, Autumn Reeser and Snoop Dogg as a porn director who greatly enjoys acting in his own films, because of course Snoop would.

The plot here is impossibly convoluted and packed to the gills with nonsense, runaway trains of thought, synergetic visual poetry, scenery chewing from almost every actor and all manner of sideshow trickery, but as they say, the fun is in the journey, and what a journey Krantz provides for his characters. I can’t call this a great film but I can say that I love it a lot, I think it’s one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever seen attempted, it looks so fucking sexy onscreen (just look at the poster) and you don’t find films this unique every day. With the upcoming release of David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake, which I’ve still yet to see, I’ve been fixated on LA noir films (this one is that and then some) and I’ve been going back in time to revisit some of my favourites. What are yours?

-Nate Hill

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“You vicious snowflake.” A review of Mandy – By Josh Hains

The last time I saw a movie as batshit-fucking-insane as this year’s Mandy, a young woman was hacking apart her demonically possessed friends during a rainstorm of literal blood in Evil Dead (2013). And just like Evil Dead before it, Mandy earns its insanity by establishing it right from frame one with an epigraph containing the last words of the deceased murderer Douglas Roberts (who killed a man whilst under the influence of drugs):
“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones in my head and rock ’n’ roll me when I’m dead.”, a stanza which is evocative of the impending descent into a similarly drug induced murderous frenzy the character of Red will endure.

The plot is so exceptionally simple you can practically predict the ending from a mile away: happily in love lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) and the introverted artist and convenience store worker Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough, who doesn’t have to stretch much here but is still great nonetheless), are living a peaceful existence near the Shadows Mountains of the Mojave desert in California, when the megalomaniacal cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his drug addled Jesus-freak followers and a few near demonic drug fueled psycho bikers who growl and roar like pissed off dragons, kidnap and murder Mandy, and Red sets out on an obvious path of bloodthirsty revenge. You’ve seen plenty of movie with similar plots to this one, haven’t you?

While your answer may be a resounding yes, what separates Mandy from the typical revenge thriller is how the movie is executed by director Panos Cosmatos (the son of the late George P. Cosmatos, whom directed Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Cobra), with lush and often trippy visuals occuping the space between small bouts of impactful dialogue, or gory killings at the hands of the broken hearted Red. After kickstarting the movie with the aforementioned metal mantra, and accompanied by a haunting score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson that sounds like a 2 hour theme for the arrival of an apocalypse, Cosmatos beautifully conveys the idyllic lifestyle of Mandy and Red through lush, high contrasted photography while simultaneously gradually disintegrating the visuals into a trippy style that operates like a fusion between the surrealism of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the nightmarishly hallucinatory trip of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, as the film’s events become more hellish and violent.

This first half of the movie is literally separated from its second half by the title card “Mandy”, followed by Red suffering an all-out emotional and psychological breakdown that allows Cage to go “full Cage” without the scene itself feeling fake or forced. Red then arms himself for bloody battle, collecting a crossbow from an old friend (Bill Duke) forging an axe that would give Thor heart palpations, and unleashes his near animalistic, boiling like an active volcano rage upon Mandy’s murderers. And yes, the rumours are true, there is indeed a one-on-one chainsaw duel, and it’s every bit as metal, badass, and grotesque as you’re wishing it to be. And no, that’s not the goriest death in Mandy.

Of course, Mandy does have a couple flaws in its blood drenched body armour. A confrontation between Mandy and the cult that provides deeper insight into their madness serves great purpose, but ultimately felt like it brought the movie to a grinding halt until this prolonged sequence finally came to a close. I also found a supporting performance by an unknown actor as a cult member who I can only assume was intentionally meant to annoy the audience, didn’t match the tone of the movie and was distractingly campy, though thankfully limited in their screen time.

Mandy may not be a revolutionary, game changing motion picture by any means, but along with the similarly slick and brutal (and goddamned great) revenge flick Upgrade, it is the kind of gloriously gory genre fare that Hollywood used to make in fistfuls, and needs to keep producing at this level of craftsmanship. So if you’re looking to spend the night all cozied up with a violent movie pulsing on your television, or screaming in your ears at your go-to theatre, look no further than the blood soaked beast that is Mandy.

*Mandy is currently in limited theatrical release and available through VOD and iTunes across North America, and features a brief post-credits sequence.

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy

“When I die

bury me deep

lay two speakers around my feet…

wrap two headphones around my head, and rock and roll me when I’m dead”

Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. Wow. This is a film I have been waiting a year for, and while I eagerly devoured up every production still, sound byte and trailer released for marketing, none of that diminished the thunderous, neon drenched nirvana that was the experience seeing it on the big screen. Cosmatos is madly, deeply in love with 80’s horror/fantasy/scifi cinema, and after the initial stroke of brilliance that was Beyond The Black Rainbow, he has evolved into something more cohesive and specific, but no less balls out surreal and brazenly expressionistic. Set in the same austere, timeless 1983 twilight zone meta-verse as Rainbow, this one sees tortured lumberjack Red (Nicolas Cage) exacting apocalyptic vengeance on both a maniacal cult and a clan of demon bikers for the murder of his beloved girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). That is of course the nutshell, analytical summary you’ll see in the online rental guide. What really fills up this two hours of nightmarish bliss is a more free flowing, right brain amalgamation of everything special to Cosmatos in both cinema and music, mottled using material from his own lively imagination, wearing influences both proudly and organically on his sleeve and giving us the gift of one of the most intensely invigorating pieces of art I’ve ever seen. The rage is all about Cage and his gonzo performance, and while that is a sideshow later on, it’s certainly not the main event and the real strength of his performance lies in the restrained, beautiful relationship he has with Mandy, which only makes his crazed rampage cut all the more deep later on. Riseborough is really something special in her role too, she’s the crux of the whole deal and gives Mandy an ethereal, introverted aura that’s just creepy enough and cute enough to live up the film’s title. Linus Roache is really something else as Jeremiah Sand, the fiercely insecure, manically dangerous cult leader, it’s a career peak for the former Thomas Wayne and he plays him like a bratty failed folk musician who’s delusions have fused into his very soul and made him really fucking sick. Ned Dennehy is freakishly deadpan as his second in command, while chameleon actor Richard Brake has a key cameo and veteran Bill Duke shows up to provide both weapons for Cage and a tad of exposition regarding the Hallraiser-esque bikers. This is the final original score composed by Johann Jóhannsson before his untimely passing, and it’s one hell of a swan song. After a gorgeous, arresting opening credit sequence set to King Crimson’s Starless, its all dreamy synths, thunderclaps of metal, extended passages of moody, melodic strains and threatening drones, a composition that leaves a scorched, fiery wake in its fog filled path. One thing that’s missing or at least depleted in film these days versus yesteryear is atmosphere: Back then there were ten smoke machines for every acre of set, title fonts were lovingly hand painted and scenes took their time to unfold, rather than tumbling out of the drawer in a flurry ADHD addled action and exposition. Cosmatos is a physician to this cause and his films feel like both blessed nostalgia and an antidote to that which many filmmakers have forgotten. With Mandy he has created a masterpiece of mood, violence, dark humour, hellish landscapes, softly whispered poetic dialogue, Nic Cage swilling down a sixty pounder of vodka in his undies, fire, brimstone, roaring engines, beautiful music, a tiger named Lizzie, and a pure unbridled dove for making the kinds of films I want to see at the multiplex. Best of the year so far.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Predator

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.

-Nate Hill

In the footsteps of Schwarzenegger: An Interview with Peter Kent by Kent Hill

Ever been mistaken for somebody famous? Someone ever come up to you sayin’, “Hey you know, you look a hell-of-lot-like (insert famous actor here). You could be his stunt double.”

peter

Peter wasn’t in Hollywood long before he heard about a little film being made called The Terminator. He went down and met with the film’s director, this young guy named James Cameron. Then, he met the film’s star, a chap named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter bore a striking resemblance to the man who would ever be Conan. It was after this encounter that would secure Peter a gig for the next 13 years as guy who made Arnie look as though all the rough stuff he endured on screen looked like a cakewalk.

Of course, along the way, Peter became a star in his own right; not only playing small roles in Schwarzenegger movies, but amassing an impressive list of credits in both film and television alongside his stunt work.

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Nowadays however, Peter is a contented family man and is equally as dedicated to training the next generation of stunt performers. And who better to learn from than one of the best. This was a great interview with tales of life with Arnold, fighting over the channel changer with Jesse Ventura and having a beer with Charlton Heston.

So dear PTS listeners I give you a chat between two Kents. And no, I’ve never been mistaken for Peter.

Enjoy . . .

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(FOR MORE ON PETER’S STUNT SCHOOL FOLLOW THIS LINK: http://peterhkent.com/1school.shtml )