Tag Archives: Brian Dennehy

DAVID MORRELL: It’s a long road by Kent Hill

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‘Cause the road is long yeah
Each step is only the beginning
No breaks just heartaches
Oh man is anybody winning…

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As LAST BLOOD approaches, you kinda know how it’s gonna go. John Rambo will win, he has to – he’s the hero. But now it’s a new war, outside his back door – by the looks of it. But, will this be last blood? There are Elvis guys, Beatles guys, Rocky guys and Rambo guys. Well, I’m a Rambo guy…..and here’s why – like this action monolith, I’m at my best when the stakes are high, and failure just doesn’t compute baby…

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But what do I think of, when I think of RAMBO. I think of my Grandmother. One of my Grandmother’s favorite movies, or at least the one I can remember her watching more than once, was RAMBO III. God bless her, she loved it. She was right there with him. Her favorite scene is the night infiltration and escape from the fortress. Man it was a treat to watch her watch that movie. “Gee whizz, he’s tough,” she’d say, with this tiny, elated grin.

From my guest’s, David Morrell, novel to Ted Kotcheff’s brilliant opener, through the 80s action-movie majesty of First Blood: Part 2, on to the comic book insanity of 3. Then, Stallone, like a bolt of lightning, too bright to ever be forgotten, brings back RAMBO (ROCKY too).

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And so we come to LAST BLOOD – will this be Stallone’s primal valentine to the character he and he alone embodies? Just like the characters he plays, so has his career seen thrilling heights (Cliffhanger …. literally) and – I don’t wish to piss off the STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT people, but while it has a nostalgic quality, it is but a relic that survives purely because of sociological interest. Just this man’s opinion…okay.

Then, just like Rambo, Sly finds something deep within. A flame, a light that was unwavering once. So, in what cinema history may recount as a stroke of genius, Stallone proceeds to pour a little of that old 80’s gasoline over the flame and BOOM!, Sly’s back. Hell, they’re all back, right?

But who’ll draw last blood? Is this finally the sun going down on a legend . . . or will this be something else. Redemption? Which ever way it goes it was a thrill to take the journey from FIRST to LAST BLOOD with the man, without whom, none of this would exist. David is so gracious, eloquent and insightful. His view of the way John Rambo has evolved is a unique insight, not only in terms of how a creator views his creation, but the wonderment of a fan – who’ll be at the cinema opening night . . . with the rest of us.

The same people who’d show up for KING CONAN . . . the same people who are gonna be there for MAVERICK, hell, if you believe what you read in the trades, COBRA is stirring – shit, I know I’ll be front of the queue for Tango and Cash 2.

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So there’s only one thing left for you to do now. Have a listen to David and me get romantic about RAMBO, then, go see LAST BLOOD…

…see  if we get to win this time.

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It’s hard to know who to trust, isn’t it, Jack? : Remembering Cocoon with Tom Benedek by Kent Hill

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What’s strange is, for the longest time, I had only ever seen the final scenes of Cocoon. A sea covered in mist, a young boy in the water, a boat loaded with elderly people being chased. Then the sky above lights up. The clouds part majestically as James Horner takes over and the ship ascends into a gigantic spacecraft. Wow, I thought. Cool. Have to see that rest of that! It would be a few days later, but, at last, the whole story was mine to experience.

To talk about films like Cocoon, you need to go back to a different age in cinema. Before most of the popular films were adaptations of characters from the funny papers and franchises and cinematic universes were lined up, as far as the eye can see. It was a time of great risk and invention. When a person with a great idea was king, and the power of Hollywood could make such visions sing.

The era of high concept brought us many of the enduring classics which now appear, in many ways, to be timeless. A young Ron Howard would helm the picture, taking control after another icon of the times, Robert Zemeckis, decided to go off and romance a stone, before heading back in time. Howard had already delivered a fascinating modern day fairy-tale with his magical, romantic, comedy-adventure, Splash. In hindsight this was a fortuitous match, one which would propel Howard’s career to new heights, eventually seeing him become the ideal fit for another 80’s fantasy masterpiece, Willow.cocoon-54a0436aebccd

The men who had produced JAWS, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, brought together a group of impeccable professionals to join Howard behind the camera – at the same time they assembled an extraordinary group of acclaimed Hollywood veterans, cast to fill out the leading roles of the members of a retirement community on the verge of a close encounter of the third kind. Wilford Brimely, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, together with brilliant performances by Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver and Tahnee Welch are our guides through a story about youth, and how we find things in life that allow us to hold on to that vital part of our spirit – so that we may live richly, even as the years decline.

This phrase has become a cliché with me, but long have I waited to chat with someone connected with this movie – one of the fantastical cinematic staples of my youth. My guest Tom Benedek was the man tasked with taking an unpublished novel and turning it into a story for us all. A story of how sometimes it takes a stranger to show us what those we share our lives with fail to point out, a story about the wondrous mysteries and possibilities that dance in the sky so full of stars above our heads, and a story about our grandparents and the lessons, indeed the wisdom they try to send us . . . and how when their time comes, how hard it is to let them go.

So, as it has happened so many times for me while writing for PTS, my dreams have come true. I now have a glimpse, and not a mere EPK look behind the scenes. I have my story of the creation of a science fiction and fantasy film-making high water mark, from the man who brought it to life on the humble script page.

Assault On Precinct 13: A Review by Nate Hill 

Assault On Precinct 13 is less of a remake of John Carpenter’s balls out, guerilla action treatise and more of a branch off into timeless, near western archetypes, as well as the good old siege thriller format. It’s also one of the meanest, grittiest cop films of the last few decades, deserving a higher rung on the ladder of adoration than it has so far ascended to. Dark, merciless and full of yuletide gallows humour, it’s a searing blast of gunfire and snowbound pulp starring a roster of fired up talent, starting with an intense Ethan Hawke and an unpredictable, predatory Laurence Fishburne. Fishburne is Marion Bishop, a legendary criminal kingpin wrapped tight in police custody and shipped off to a remote precinct on New Years eve with a busload of fellow prisoner transports. The station is run by a few relaxed cops, all preparing to punch that clock and get the New Year’s festivities underway. Unfortunately, a gang of corrupt detectives have other ideas, descending upon the ill guarded outpost with the fury and firepower of animals set loose, determined to murder everyone inside and level the place to the ground in order to cover up their actions. Hawke is the veteran cop with a dodgy undercover past, blessed with the grit and gristle necessary to rally the troupes and self preserve til the morning light. Drea De Matteo, who’s awesome and welcome in anything, is a tough female sergeant, Maria Bello the sharp police psychiatrist caught in the middle, Brian Dennehy the salty old dog, and a laundrey list of rabid felons who pitch in to save their own asses, including Ja Rule, Aisha Hinds, Currie Graham and a wired up John Leguizamo. Together they all make a veritable wild bunch to hold down the fort, but the forces they’re up against are tactical and terrifying. The opposition is headed up by a dangerously quiet Gabriel Byrne as deeply a corrupt Police Captain, doing a coiled viper rendition of a Christopher Walken villain, his work one of the strongest aspects of the film. Watch for Matt Craven and Kim Coates in brief cameos as well. The action is a ballistic blitzkrieg of firefights, standoffs and ditch efforts, scarcely giving the audience time to breathe, let alone tally up the casualties, of which there are many. This ain’t no cakewalk, in terms of action films. It’s down, dirty and has no time for quips, smart mouths or villains that monologue. Everyone involved in a caged animal prepared to go to extremes at the drop of a hat in order to achieve their goals, with kneejerk reactions and off the cuff violence that feels real, and cuts deep. If you are serious about your action films, and enjoy ruthless, non patronizing narratives that get as cold as the snow drifts surrounding the precinct and as casually indifferent as the bullets that ventilate it, this is your ticket. 

BEST SELLER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Best Seller (1987) is an example of an odd convergence of talent with a screenplay penned by B-movie schlockmeister Larry (It’s Alive) Cohen, directed by journeyman crime film director John (Rolling Thunder) Flynn, and starring A-list talent like James Woods and Brian Dennehy. The key to enjoying this film is if you can swallow Cohen’s pulpy B-movie nonsense: a slick, corporate hitman convinces a hard-boiled police detective, and sometimes author, to write his memoirs. Once you get past this rather odd premise, Best Seller is quite enjoyable to watch, especially the interplay between the two lead actors who do their best to sell the film’s set-up.

Flynn’s no-nonsense, self-assured direction quickly establishes itself in the film’s prologue set in Los Angeles circa 1972 with an ill-fated bank heist. There are some nice touches in this sequence, like the lone bum sleeping on the steps of the building that is about to be robbed, and all of the crooks wearing Richard Nixon masks (anticipating the Ex-Presidents in Point Break). A cop named Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy) barely survives the heist (although, a couple of his fellow officers aren’t so lucky) and goes on to write a best-selling book about the incident.

Fifteen years later, Meechum has graduated to undercover work, despite being a high-profile author in his spare time (?!), busting bad guys. During one case he’s almost killed if not for the last minute intervention by an enigmatic stranger. We are given a little insight into this cop. He’s a widower raising a teenage daughter (Allison Balson), facing lots of unpaid bills, and has missed the last four deadlines on his latest book. He’s not quite the burn-out cop that Nick Nolte was known for playing in the 1980s but he’s stuck in a rut.

Meechum finally meets the mystery man known as Cleve (James Woods) who proceeds to pitch an idea for a new book about his life and the dirty work he did for tycoon David Madlock (David Shenar) and his company Kappa International. During one of their meetings, Cleve lays it all out for a skeptical Meechum: “Corporations deal in two things, period: assets and liabilities. I removed the liabilities and I provided some assets.” It turns out that Cleve was in on the bank heist back in ’72 and helped Madlock get his start. However, he’s had a falling out with the businessman and wants to expose his corrupt enterprise with Meechum’s help. And so, Cleve and Meechum form an uneasy partnership that is volatile at best as the hitman attempts to back-up his wild claims to the understandably wary cop.

James Woods had quite a run in the ‘80s with intense performances in films like Salvador (1986), Cop (1987) and True Believer (1989). He’s in fine form here as an ultra-confident killer. His best moments are when he tries to convince Brian Dennehy’s cop of some of the people he murdered for Kappa International. Woods brings his customary intensity to these scenes and a certain reptilian charm as a corporate assassin. Cleve really isn’t a nice guy – in fact’s he’s an arrogant prick – but Woods manages to get us to like him anyways because the actor is so charismatic in his own right.

Woods plays well off of Dennehy’s variation of the cop he portrayed in F/X (1986). He’s not as rumpled and still has his issues but there’s the same sharp intellect. Meechum plans to string Cleve along until he gives him enough evidence to bust him and get some much deserved payback for the ’72 bank job. While Woods is all wiry intensity, Dennehy is a solid, imposing figure with his stocky figure. Most of the film’s best scenes involve watching these two top notch actors bounce off each other.

This is evident in a scene where Cleve tries to pick up a woman at a bar and gets into it with her date only for the guy to be put in his place by Meechum. Just one look by Dennehy makes the man back down. I know I wouldn’t want to mess with someone like Dennehy. Cleve demonstrates his considerable willpower (and threshold for pain) and, in doing so, reveals a part of his past that sets off Meechum. The tension between the two characters in this scene is tangible and ups the ante in their relationship.

Cleve’s crusade against his former corporate handlers is Larry Cohen’s blatant attack on corporate greed so prevalent in the “Greed is good” decade. Cohen wrote the screenplay, reportedly based loosely on Los Angeles cop Joseph Wambaugh, who tried to remain on the police force after several of his novels became best-sellers, in 1981 for Columbia Pictures but it was stuck in development hell due to a change in management. Orion Pictures eventually picked it up. Flynn rewrote Cohen’s script but was unable to get credit because he failed to prove to the Writers Guild of America that he had written 51% of it. The film was originally called Hard Cover but was changed to Best Seller in post-production as the former title didn’t test well with preview audiences. At the time of the film’s release, Cohen said, “I think the idea of being a killer for a major corporation was a little bizarre seven years ago. But time has caught up with the story when we’re reading all these stories about corruption in big business and corruption in Wall Street and the craziness in Washington.” Cleve’s ruthless tactics for Kappa International are meant to show just how far corporations are willing to go to exert their influence and power. It is this commentary that elevates Best Seller above your typical crime thriller – that, and the performances of Woods and Dennehy.

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was backed by Orion, an independent studio that pushed through all sorts of fascinating cinematic gems in the ‘80s, from efforts by auteurs like Woody Allen, to genre fare like RoboCop (1987). None of the major studios would’ve touched pulpy material like this and it’s a shame because a film like this has become scarce in the 2000s. The film does a good job delivering the requisite genre conventions under John Flynn’s workman-like direction and the television cop show production values only add to the tawdry B-movie vibe. Best Seller is certainly no masterpiece but it is a solid piece of entertainment and one of those underappreciated gems from the ‘80s waiting to be rediscovered.

31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Centerpiece Film: Terrence Malick’s KNIGHT OF CUPS

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“You don’t want love, you want a love experience.”

Despite the little we collectively know about Terrence Malick, it has become apparent since THE TREE OF LIFE that he has been telling us his own story through the guise of abstract filmmaking.  His new film, KNIGHT OF CUPS, was this year’s centerpiece film at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and it is one of the best films I have ever experienced.

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Set in modern day Los Angeles, the camera follows a screenwriter, Rick (played by Christian Bale as a placeholder for the filmmaker), who hasn’t so much lost himself, because he doesn’t know who he is.  He has been wandering through his adult life, questing through money, drugs, and women.

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This cast is huge, it’s akin to THE THIN RED LINE.  Bale is the mainstay, but the abundance of recognizable actors in miniscule parts is awesome.  Malick’s producer, Sarah Green, was on the red carpet for the premiere and I asked her what it’s like casting a Malick film and what the actor’s responses are to Malick’s interest.  She told me that even though this film did not have an orthodox script, Malick has reached the point in his career where if there is interest shown in the actor, they immediately say yes.

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KNIGHT OF CUPS producer Sarah Green on the red carpet for its US premiere at the SBIFF

This film marks Green’s four collaboration with Malick, with an addition two more films pending release.  I asked her if there was something about KNIGHT OF CUPS that sets it apart from her other films with Malick, and she said that this film was set modern day (like TO THE WONDER) but was set and shot in LA.  And that this film was shot on a whim, run and gun style. 

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KNIGHT OF CUPS is a journey through Malick’s subconscious.  It is a remembering of faded memories.  Some are reconstructed, some a fantasy.  Rick is a placeholder for the camera, who rarely interacts with anyone or anything.  He watches, he broods, and most importantly he remembers.  When he does interact with others, maybe it is real, maybe it is what he thinks is real, or maybe it is what he thinks he should have done. The film chronicles life–his life, our life.  Success, fame, love, emotion, family, safety – that doesn’t even scratch the surface. 

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A Malick film is like Hemingway’s iceberg theory but reversed.  We are shown everything, yet we know nothing.  We piece it together through an overwhelming abundance of emotion captured on screen, and what’s beneath the water is Malick’s intent.  His answer, his reasoning, his life.  KNIGHT OF CUPS is a painfully beautiful and personal journey of escaping the darkness and finding the light.

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“You gave me peace.  You gave me what the world can’t give.  Mercy.  Love.  Joy.  All else is cloud.  Mist.  Be with me.  Always.”