Tag Archives: Brendan Fraser

PHILLIP NOYCE: An Interview with Kent Hill

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One of the great things Phil told me – aside from passing through my hometown to play footy in his youth – was that Queensland had a big part to play in convincing the studio powers that Blind Fury (my personal favorite of Phil’s pictures) could be a hit.

After a regime change – as often is the way in Hollywood – the new brass didn’t have much faith in a film the previous caretakers saw fit to green-light. Phil knew he had a good picture and thus persuaded the powers to let him take it to the far side of the world and release it in the Sunshine State, where, with the help of a publicist, they sold the heck out of Blind Fury and brought in $500,000 buckaroos.

So Phil went back to the blokes in suits and told them if the movie can do that kind of business 7,510 miles from Hollywood, I think we have a shot. See that’s the Phil Noyce touch ladies and gentlemen, remaining Dead Calm in the face of Clear and Present Danger. If you believe that there is even a Sliver of a chance your movie can Catch a Fire, you can’t just sit there like The Quiet American and take it with a grain of Salt. You need to fix your courage to the sticking place, follow the Rabbit Proof Fence all the way home and for your hard work they’ll call you The Saint for being the The Giver of great cinematic entertainment. You can play Patriot Games till the cows come home, but if you attack them on the Newsfront then you’ll be The Bone Collector and bring home the receipts.

I’ve watched many a great interview and read many a great book about the life and career of Phillip Noyce – never thinking that one day I might catch a moment’s grace and be able to have a chat with him. I have to thank (again) a top bloke by the name of Nick Clement for putting in a good word for me – without Nick I’d still be dreamin’.

Phillip Noyce is a marvelous chap of the old school and the maker of some truly wondrous pictures. He really needs no introduction from me for his reputation speaks for itself. Without further adieu . . . the master . . . Phillip Noyce.

Blast From The Past

Blast From The Past is an apt title indeed, since not a lot of folks seem to remember this brilliant, high concept farce from the late 90’s that should be basking in notoriety to this day. It’s so forgotten these days it could almost be considered a cult classic, but either way it’s pure cinema bliss. In the early 60’s,

an eccentric scientist (Christopher Walken, because who else) builds himself a swanky underground bomb shelter for himself and his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacey) to hide in, should the missile crisis become a reality. They head down there during a false alarm, a plane crashes into their property confirming his fears and they pretty much stay hunkered in for over 30 years, raising their baby into a full grown man (Brendan Fraser, the life of the party). Then they head back up, or at least Fraser does anyway, to a bustling San Fernando valley in the midst of the late 90’s, which is a culture shock and a half for his sunny 50’s mindset and impossibly naive outlook. It’s a terrific concept that’s milked for a full on laugh riot as he makes his way around the city with not a clue how to interact or carry himself. Falling in love with a classic valley girl (Alicia Silverstone, excellent) in a sweet romantic subplot that soon becomes the backbone of the story, seeing the ocean for the first time, and a few hilarious cultural misunderstandings (“A negro!” He exclaims, having never seen variety in colour beyond his two parents) are just a few of the well written, thought out jokes and set pieces he rambles to and fro in. Fraser makes it a performance of physical comedy, deadpan cheekiness and puts genuine sweetness into an arc that some actors may have interpreted just slick shtick. Walken is his kooky self, while there’s work from Dave Foley, Bruce Slotnick and a jarring cameo from young Nathan Fillion. Filled to the brim with laughs, heart and the kind of humour birthed organically from story, it’s a gem.

-Nate Hill

Henry Selick’s Monkeybone

Henry Selick’s wacktastic, surreal Monkeybone is off its head, and while it never quite coalesces into something wholly memorable, the images and impressions on parade are not something easily shaken. To start with, the visual production design is so detailed and thoroughly deranged it deserves it’s own art gallery after the fact. Selick, the other half of the creative team behind Nightmare Before Christmas, create’s here what is maybe one of the most unsettling, eye popping mood boards in any film of the century. It’s just just in keeping us awake with the storytelling that he falters somewhat, not enough to sink the ship, but enough that not a lot of people remember or revere this film these days, which is a shame because it’s quite an achievement in areas. Brendan Fraser, who seems to actively seek out oddball scripts, plays cartoonist Stu Smiley, who goes into a coma, gets sent to a place called Downtown where the veggies go until they either croak or wake up, and is put in jeopardy once someone has the idea to pull the plug on him. His loving girlfriend (Bridget Fonda, who I wish was still in the acting game) waits for him, while his newest creation, a little plush horn-ball named Monkeybone, gets a little too sentient and tries to steal his body, which has a certain organ he wasn’t endowed with on the drawing board. The story is too weird and raunchy for kids, and falls into the Roger Rabbit/Cool World arena of adult oriented fare that still has a childlike sensibility. Downtown is essentially a haunted DisneyLand astral plane, a reject realm where ghosts, ghouls and monsters with disturbing anatomy roam free and feed on nightmares, siphoned from the psyched of those upstairs stuck in comas. Weird enough for you? You don’t know the half of it. The nightmare scenes are shot in stark black and white and have a genuinely subconscious, tuned in vibe to them that actually feels like one does in dreams, not an easy aura to pin down onscreen. Fraser does a wicked job, especially when the monkey hijacks his body upstairs and starts prancing around like a mental patient, it’s an inspired bit of physical comedy from the man who brought us George Of The Jungle. Monkeybone is apparently played by none other than John Turturro, but his voice is so tripped out on helium effects it’s fairly unrecognizable. The film gets downright hilarious when Stu follows the scamp back up in the avatar of a corpse with a broken neck (bravo to Chris Kattan), a dementedly genius sequence. There’s cameos and vaudeville supporting turns galore, including Rose McGowan as a sexy cat/human hybrid, Bob Odenkirk, Thomas Haden Church, Giancarlo Esposito, Lisa Zane, and Whoopi Goldberg as Death, a sly meta rework on her Ghost character. The film is at it’s best when it focuses on Downtown, which really is a vibrant atmosphere to hang around in, always an odd mutant creature to look at or a morbid one liner for chuckles. The stuff back on earth can be fun too but really doesn’t pick up until Kattan comes roaring in and steals the climax with his bobble-head gymnastic fanfare. If only this had been a little more in terms of story and character, it could have matched it’s truly impressive visual scope. As it is, it’s worth it just to see how weird and surreal mainstream movies can get when they want to.

-Nate Hill

Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles 


If Tales From The Crypt were set in the Deep South with more of a pulp crime vibe, you’d get Wayne Kramer’s Pawn Shop Chronicles, a sweaty, sleazy anthology mixup with one legendary ensemble cast and a deliberative effort to disturb the audience at every turn. Segmented into three zany outings, each one connected to a shady pawn shop run by Vincent D’Onofrio and Chi McBride, by a different specific item each time. In the first it’s a shotgun which passes through a few different meth addled hands, as two strung out junkies (Paul Walker and Lukas Haas) foolishly try to rob their cook/dealer (Norman Reedus, but it could have been anyone because you literally never see his face). This is one grease-ball comedy of errors, as these two morons are way too high to actually get anything done, their feverish efforts culminating in a noisy Mexican standoff, an enjoyable bit especially to see Walker playing way against type. The second story is the most perversely extreme, as we see Matt Dillon and his new bride buying a wedding ring from the very same shop. Suddenly he recognizes another ring that belonged to his missing ex wife and gets all determined to track her down. This leads him to the home of clean cut yuppie Elijah Wood, who of course is anything but innocent and one ups his depraved character in Sin City, no easy task if you’ve seen that film. Speaking of one upping, director Kramer seems to be trying to outdo himself and churn out a story more sickening than the infamous ‘Hansel and Gretel’ sequence in his crime masterpiece Running Scared. While not quite as effective as that, this midsection will make many squirm and have you nervously eyeing both the door and the spot on the seat in front of you where a barf bag should be. The third and silliest tale sees Brendan Fraser as a sad-sack Elvis impersonator who can’t hold down a gig. It’s odd because this sequence is sort of pleasant even, Fraser being his usual affable self makes you feel vaguely comforted after the heinous happenings in the previous Matt Dillon bit. I wish I could rave about this flick, but there’s a few inconsistencies; some of the writing is shallow and disengaged, and in other spots it tries to hard to be shocking, while in Running Scared, for example, that just came organically somehow. However, it’s never short on entertainment value and you certainly won’t forget it anytime soon after. Plus there’s even more actors in the impressive lineup including DJ Qualls, Pell James, Kevin Rankin, Sam Jennings, Matt O Leary, Michael Cudlitz, Ashlee Simpson and Thomas Jane as a mysterious cowboy apparition. The very concept of a southern themed, vaguely horror anthology set around a pawn shop is brilliant though, and this almost seems ripe for an episodic streaming pickup, via Netflix or the like. 

-Nate Hill

THE MUMMY – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Many cinephiles view director Stephen Sommers as the cinematic equivalent of Satan, and with everything that has gone horribly wrong with Hollywood blockbuster films. And, to be fair, with films like Van Helsing (2004) and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009) on a not-too impressive resume (in fact, looking over his filmography, there’s only one film of his I like), he’s hardly a filmmaker one equates with quality, but I will admit to being quite fond of The Mummy (1999). As far as Indiana Jones rip-offs go, it is pretty good. If that sounds like faint praise, I don’t mean it to be as Sommers’ film is actually a lot of fun and entertaining as hell.

The movie is the very popular re-imagining of the old Boris Karloff classic and would go on to spawn two inferior sequels and transform Brendan Fraser into a bonafide leading man. Up to that point he had a reputation for starring in forgettable comedies like Encino Man (1992), The Scout (1994), and Airheads (1994). With The Mummy, he demonstrated some serious action film chops with a hint of romantic leading man qualities that were complimented by his knack for comedy, thankfully doled out in relative moderation this time. The end result is a satisfying popcorn movie with no other agenda than to entertain.

It’s 1923 and the French Foreign Legion engage the Medjai, descendents of Pharaoh Seti I, in battle at the legendary Hamunaptra, the City of the Dead. When his superior officer deserts, Rick O’Connell (Fraser) finds himself in charge, much to his chagrin. It certainly is an exciting way to introduce our leading man as he and his fellow soldiers attempt to stand their ground on the city walls as the Medjai attack in wave after wave. Brendan Fraser shows some decent action movie skills as his character valiantly tries to stay alive despite being overwhelmed by superior numbers and abandoned by his cowardly sidekick (and comic relief) Beni (Kevin J. O’Connor). Rick narrowly escapes and runs off into the desert where the Medjai leave him to die.

Three years later in Cairo, we meet bookish librarian Evelyn Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) at the Museum of Antiquities as she single-handedly manages to topple over a room full of towering bookcases like dominoes when she attempts to shelve a book. It’s a cute bit of slapstick that establishes Evelyn as one of the most not-so graceful people on the planet. With her hair tied up and sporting a thick-rimmed pair of glasses, the movie’s greatest special effect may be trying to convince us that the gorgeous Rachel Weisz is a socially awkward bookworm (yeah, right). Evelyn’s application to bigger and better things has been rejected yet again because she doesn’t have enough field experience. Along comes her older ne’er-do-well brother Jonathan (John Hannah) who has discovered a trinket at an archaeological dig in Thebes. Inside it contains a map to the mythic Hamunaptra, the place where the earliest Pharaohs are said to have hidden the wealth of Egypt. No one has ever found it and naturally Evelyn’s boss scoffs at the notion of its very existence.

It turns out that Jonathan actually stole the map from Rick who is rotting away in prison. Jonathan and Evelyn pay him a visit and he agrees to tell them where the City of the Dead is located but only if they free him. They do (and just in the nick of time) and set out for the site with a rival expedition of American fortune hunters also looking for it. As luck would have it, they are led by Beni, setting up a personal rivalry between him and Rick. Both groups arrive at the City of the Dead and split up, each looking for treasure. However, the American fortune seekers uncover a curse that condemns their party to death.

Meanwhile, Rick and Evelyn uncover the coffin of Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo), the ruler of Hamunaptra and who carried on a forbidden affair with Seti I’s wife Princess Anck-su-namun (Patricia Velasquez). He was buried alive for his indiscretions while she killed herself. Evelyn unlocks the legendary Book of the Dead and reads from it, unwittingly resurrecting Imhotep who proceeds to kidnap Evelyn with the intention of sacrificing her so that his lover will also come back to life. It’s up to Rick, Jonathan and Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr), the enigmatic leader of the Medjai, to stop Imhotep.

One of the things that makes The Mummy work is the chemistry between Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. At first, Evelyn sees Rick as an uncouth mercenary and he sees her as a naive stuffed shirt. But the more time they spend together, especially in death-defying situations, the more they grow to admire and respect one another. The two actors handle this development quite well and certainly make for an attractive couple with Fraser’s matinee idol good looks and Weisz’s beautiful appearance – a little something for everyone. They manage to transcend the predictable screenplay and often clichéd dialogue through the sheer force of their natural charisma. This is readily apparent in the campfire scene where one-night Rick teaches Evelyn a bit about hand-to-hand combat even though she’s had a little too much to drink. She ends up passing out just before they kiss, much to his bemusement. There’s a bit of an old school Hollywood vibe to this scene and to how these actors approach their respective roles that works.

mummy2.jpgAs far as Indiana Jones clones go, Rick doesn’t quite bring the slight air of danger that Harrison Ford brought to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the most obvious influence on The Mummy. Not to mention, Fraser has more hulking boyish good looks as opposed to Ford’s roguish charm. Also, Fraser relies more on comedy than Ford but as far as action-oriented treasure hunters go, you could do worse than Rick O’Connell. Fraser hasn’t really been able to capitalize on the success of this film, appearing in several generic children’s adventure films – although, he showed some promise co-starring with Michael Caine in an adaptation of The Quiet American (2002).

While Evelyn is certainly not as feisty and as capable as Marion in Raiders, she has more of an arc as she goes from sheltered academic to damsel in distress to experienced adventurer. At the time, Weisz was known for appearing in small, independent films and the success of The Mummy would launch her into the A-list stratosphere. She has fared the best of the cast, appearing in delightful romantic comedies like About a Boy (2002) and Definitely, Maybe (2008), and winning an Academy Award for her excellent work in The Constant Gardener (2005).

Sommers handles the action sequences with refreshing simplicity (something that would be absent from his subsequent films). We always know what’s going on and where everyone is. He clearly took notes while watching Raiders and manages to capture its flair for 1930 cliffhanger serials. The Medjai siege on the boat to Hamunaptra early on in the movie is particularly exciting and well-staged, evoking a real Indy Jones vibe.

As with so many big budget tent-pole movies for Hollywood studios, The Mummy was a project that gestated for years and went through many hands before it wound up with Sommers. This new version’s origins lie with producer James Jacks who decided in 1992 to update the original film for the 1990s. He struck a deal with Universal Pictures who agreed to back it but only on a budget around $10 million. Jacks remembered that the studio “essentially wanted a low-budget horror franchise.” To this end, he hired filmmaker/writer Clive Barker whose version was about the head of a contemporary art museum built like a pyramid. The man was actually a cultist trying to reanimate mummies. Jacks described it as “dark, sexual and filled mysticism.” Sadly, after several meetings, Barker and Universal lost interest in the project and parted ways.

Once Barker was off the project, George Romero was brought in and he wanted to make a zombie-style horror film along the lines of his legendary feature film debut, Night of the Living Dead (1968). However, Jacks and the studio wanted to make a mainstream film and felt that Romero’s vision was too scary. Next up was Joe Dante with a contemporary reincarnation tale with elements of a love story starring Daniel-Day Lewis as a brooding Mummy. John Sayles even co-wrote the script but Universal was only willing to spend $15 million on his vision. Jacks then offered the project to Mick Garris and also Wes Craven, both of whom passed.

In 1997, Stephen Sommers contacted Jacks with his take on The Mummy “as a kind of Indiana Jones or Jason and the Argonauts with the mummy as the creature giving the hero a hard time.” He saw the original film when he was only 8-years-old and with his version wanted to recreate the things he liked about it only on a bigger scale. He had wanted in on the project since 1993 but other writers or directors were always involved. Seizing a window of opportunity, he prepared an 18-page pitch to Universal. As luck would have it (for Sommers, that is), the studio had taken a bath on Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and in response, decided to revisit its successful franchises from the 1930s. Executives were so thrilled with Sommers’ concept for The Mummy that they increased the budget from $15 million to a staggering $80 million. Once he got the gig, he spent six months researching the film and then eight weeks writing the screenplay.

When it came time to cast Rick O’Connell, Jacks offered the role to Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck but they were either not interested or too busy. Jacks and Sommers were impressed with the box office receipts from George of the Jungle (1997) and cast Brendan Fraser as a result. The actor was drawn to the project because he was looking for an action film and liked the idea that Universal was reinventing one of its properties from the 1930s. For the character, he drew inspiration from the likes of Robin Hood, Buck Rogers and Sinbad. Most importantly, he understood that Rick was the kind of character who didn’t “take himself too seriously, otherwise the audience can’t go on that journey with him.”

The Mummy
was shot over three months in Morocco and not in Egypt because of the unstable political conditions there. They also had the official support of the Moroccan army. In a reassuring touch, the cast had kidnapping insurance taken out on them. In addition, the cast and crew had to deal with blinding sandstorms and bad-tempered camels. The production had wranglers on set to catch snakes, scorpions and spiders at the end of every shooting day. This still didn’t prevent many crew members from being airlifted out after being bitten. Everyone also had to worry about dehydration when filming moved to the Sahara Desert. The production’s medical team ended up creating a beverage that the cast and crew had to drink every two hours.

mummy3Looking back, whatever good will Sommers garnered with The Mummy, he has subsequently pissed it all away with The Mummy Returns (2001), which reduced the number of quiet moments that developed the characters and told the story in the first movie in favor of wall-to-wall frenetic action and the addition of a bratty child (Rick and Evelyn’s offspring, natch) into the mix. Sommers didn’t return for the third and most disappointing installment (neither did Weisz) which is just as well. The damage had already been done with The Mummy Returns but the first movie is still a rousing, entertaining ride.