Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 trades in the Nakatomi Plaza skyscraper for a giant 747, which is basically just a skyscraper barrelling through the air anyways, but it also expands action from the one location concept to a sprawling, chaotic LAX airport during the Christmas Eve rush. Bruce Willis returns as eternally exasperated underdog cop John McClane, whose wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is stranded on said aircraft while a severely violent band of terrorists clutters up the whole thing and makes it impossible for them to land. While not blessed with the malicious exuberance of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, Harlin finds a steely replacement in William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart, the sociopathic, seriously scary dude in charge of the hostile takeover who has no reluctance in shooting his own guys just for fun. Franco Nero is the foreign dictator whose imprisonment ties into the airport fiasco, while the villains provide intense early career work for cool actors like Don Harvey, John Leguizamo and Robert Patrick. There’s something so relatable about McClane, Willis plays him as an everyday joe who is constantly second guessed by people way dumber than him and sort of has to go it alone based on the sheer level of incompetence he’s surrounded by, especially that of an ignoramus cop (Dennis Franz) who has it in for him big time. The action here is top tier, from the big bucks spent on the plane antics hundreds of feet above to the shootouts, explosions and combat thundering through LAX. Gotta give a special shout out to these terrorists, they possess a sadism and ruthless edge that is impressive even by franchise standards. I love this film, I think it’s every bit the worthy sequel and on the same level as the first.
There are relics from the days of VHS that have endured. They ultimately found they’re following on video and developed significant interest to warrant subsequent Director’s Cuts and Special Edition releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Some – but not all. Such is the curious case of The Wizard of Speed and Time.
Like my friend and talented filmmaker, Wade Copson, put it (and I quote): “Once upon a time, in a Video Store open down the road from our house, I was searching the titles for a movie about people making movies. I stumbled across a VHS with a shiny cover called The Wizard of Speed and Time.”
Just like Wade, I discovered TWOSAT in a similar fashion. There had been a few covers with that reflective material employed to catch the eye – another, off the top of my head, was The Wraith.
But did you know TWOSAT wasn’t supposed to be a feature? Long before Robert Rodriguezwas the one man movie-making machine, Mike Jittlov was doing it all. The Wizard was being compiled to be Mike’s show reel, in essence a calling card to display his incredible array of talents and his mastery of each and every facet of film-making.
But like all stories, there’s a villain. In Hollywood those against you for the own financial gain always seem to have a habit of landing on their feet while leaving your dream in tatters. Mike has been fighting against speed and time ever since and is now, at last, in a place where he finds himself still with the will to see The Wizard be restored to the state in which the artist (Jittlov) always intended it to be seen.
It was after Wade asked me one night, some time ago, if I was familiar with TWOSAT. The spark went off in my head; “Could I get in touch with Mike Jittlov?” Firstly because I too am a fan of The Wizard, but also because I thought he would make an incredible guest.
Ironically the first thing I found online was an interview from a British film website where the journalist, when asked how he had managed to track down Jittlov, simply said, “His phone number is on his website. I waited until the time it suggested was best to call and I phoned him – we ended up talking for an hour.”
“Could be that easy?” So I followed suit. Went to the website (which had not be updated in quite some time by the looks of things), got the number, waited till the time suggested – and made the call. Sure enough, there on the end of the line was Mike Jittlov. He had no interest in being interviewed because of prior misrepresentation, but he agreed to talk to me (and we talked for over an hour). I didn’t pause the recorder – if for any reason it was because this was perhaps the closest I’d ever get to The Wizard – the recording would be a memento.
But Mike did consent to allow me to share this with you fine folks. I have cut parts of the discussion that I feel are too personal to be revealed in this arena, and have kept the film-making side of our chat for your listening pleasure. As a fan first I was extremely nervous and thus mumbled my way through it but, what can I tell you, if you have not seen TWOSAT, get out there. YouTube is your best bet for easy access, though it is a different cut when compared to the VHS edition.
I’ll say it here publicly Wade, you a one lucky boy and I hope in a future episode to record Wade’s tales from meeting with The Wizard himself. Till then I have my experience to share, I still have my copy of the film, and last but not least I have a little prayer – let Mike Jittlov finish his work O Lord, so that the world might at last see The Wizard in all his glory….
SUPPORT THE RESTORATION OF THE WIZARD’S SOUNDTRACK HERE:
So there I was, peddling my wares. A heapin’ helpin’ of the ideas I had for movies were dying slow, dusty deaths on shelves and in draws until a friend suggested that I should simply write them all as books.
Supanova is what we have Down Under instead of Comic Con, and it was on day one of said Con that I sat, anxious, for there were no takers. Books with no pictures seemed about as welcome in that place as a sign stating: Cosplayers will be shot!
Still I kept the faith and soon enough I noticed folks were coming around. The awesome cover art and weird juxtaposition of genres were beginning to grab attention. Soon this cool cat with steampunk attire and weaponry approached the bench. To my surprise he bought a book and then, as is often the case when talking to me, the conversation quickly shifted to the topic of movies.
It was in that moment the guy, out of the blue, told me he had worked on Street Fighter – a film generally regarded as one of those tiresome ‘video game’ movies. Big, expensive, lead weights that treated the box office like the iceberg that sank the Titanic.
Sue me, okay, I gotta soft spot for Street Fighter man, it’s a guilty pleasure – plus I was intrigued, as I often am, to hear behind the scenes stories.
People line up at these Cons and spend ridiculous sums of money to get celebrity autographs. It’s money they could save, let me tell you, if folks would just hang around til the end of the day – or come in really early. It’s this tactic that saw me meet Chewbaccaand have a coffee with Nick Frost for a grand total of zero dollars. So to these types I must have appeared bonkers when I asked Daryl Zimmermann for his autograph. A guy that had worked on a film most of the kids walking the floor that day, I’m pretty sure, had no idea existed.
So Daryl, shocked as I supposed he must have been, signed the back of a card I had in my wallet. And he’s a top bloke I tell you – as well as being a man who worked on a movie I happen to like.
If you haven’t seen Street Fighter, now’s your chance. It’s written and directed by the guy who wrote Die Hard and stars Van Damme, back when he had more cocaine than brains (apparently). I have already interviewed Zengief, who gave me a few stories from in front of the camera. But, Daryl played his part in the movie too (see E. Honda Vs Zengief clip above) …
Every once in a while a quirky indie style film slips through the studio system disguised as a star powered blockbuster, and usually isn’t met with the best reception. Such is the case with Barry Levinson’s Bandits, a buddy crime flick by way of an oddball love triangle marketed as Elmore Leonard/Tarantino type fare but emerging as something way more stream of consciousness and weird. Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton play two slippery, bickering bank robbers who bust out of prison using a cement truck (that’s a new one) and continue their nationwide spree of larceny and mayhem, but none of that is even close to as violent or intense as it sounds. There’s a schoolboy charm to these two and every hostage they take, every bank they knock over is a breeze, feeling like a pleasant, quaint experience. Eventually a bored housewife (Cate Blanchett) tags along and they both fall for her, causing friction in a few ways. The three actors are perfect for each other; Willis is the cocky ladies man who has tunnel vision and doesn’t think too hard or too far ahead, Thornton ditches his usual alpha male snake shtick for a jittery, sweet natured hypochondriac fellow and their camaraderie is irresistible. Blanchett is never not in top form and it’s easy to see how a girl like her could stray into their lives, eventually becoming very important to both. Now, anyone looking for taut action scenes, an intricate plot or specifically verbose, showboaty dialogue will be disappointed. As penned by Twin Peaks writer Harley Peyton, most of the character interaction has a spontaneous, free flowing aesthetic and feels improvised half the time, which I loved. As for plot, the bank robber framework simply serves to see these guys meander around beautiful Oregon hanging out and talking with each other, with only a few succinct, clear cut set pieces. This is a film about what happens in between the action scenes or the robberies, about quiet situational humour, quirky romance and organic conversation. It’s tough to adjust to and nothing about the DVD artwork suggests how odd and airy the film will be, but if that’s your bag then you’ll love it. It drags a tad in the third act but pulls together nicely for a cheeky resolution to their story, and is overall an enchanting piece of comedic crime by way of impromptu theatrics. Loved it.
There are films that sink in almost immediately after the credits roll, others that take some days or months to absorb, and then there are ones like Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys, which in my case has taken the years since I was a kid and first saw it to digest the whole experience. Not to say it’s an especially complex or dense story, I mean it’s twisty enough but can more or less be understood with one viewing if you’re keen. There’s just a certain emotional quality to everything, coupled with the hazy unreliability that Gilliam lays over his lead character’s state of mind, an atmosphere like that of a dream you had last night and are trying to remember right as it slips away, an idea which also literally figures into the plot.
Bruce Willis plays against his tough guy image as James Cole, a shellshocked time traveller sent from a dystopian future back to the 90’s to do some cosmic R&D and figure out how a mysterious super virus wiped out almost all of humanity, forcing the rest into subterranean catacombs. Time travel doesn’t seem to be an exact science for these folks though, as they repeatedly send him to the wrong era after which he’s dumped in a mental hospital where, naturally, no one believes who he really is. Or is he even who he thinks he is? Madeleine Stowe is Kathryn Reilly, the psychiatric anthropologist assigned to his case, and Brad Pitt in one demon of a performance plays terminal odd duck Jeffrey Goines, a man whose lunatic ramblings start to sound eerily on point. The mystery of the virus sort of takes a backseat to Willis’s journey through the past, present, future and all times in between, Gilliam loves taking pause to see how he interacts with the world around him and hold scenes for a while until we get a real sense of world building. The moment James hears music for the first time is a showstopper, and the way Willis handles it is not only one of his finest moments as an actor but also a showcase of the craft in itself. Stowe always radiates fierce beauty and compassion in her work, she’s a grounding force of reason and empathy here, while Pitt takes a hyped up Joker approach to his role that takes you off guard while constantly keeping you in the dark about who he really is, the guy says nothing while blurting out everything. Others dart in and out of their story, with appearances from Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Joseph McKenna, Jon Seda, Harry O’ Toole, LisaGay Hamilton, Christopher Meloni, Bart the Bear and a super creepy David Morse.
I love this film to bits, I think it’s Gilliam’s best work and is definitely my favourite, there is just so much going on both front n’ centre and in the background. It’s a thrilling adventure story, narratives about time travel are always my bag, but it also looks at Willis’s character from a careful psychological perspective. What would time travel do to someone’s state of mind, and how would they react in the long run. Themes of reality versus dreams and imagination are present, and a gnawing sense that it could all be made up. “Maybe you are just a carpet cleaning company and this is all in my head”, James laments through a payphone that transcends space time barriers. Gilliam certainly likes to play with notions of uncertainty and self doubt when it comes to the Sci-Fi aspects, and he isn’t afraid to boldly place in a hauntingly elliptical ending that doesn’t satisfy or resolve, and if anything lingers in our thoughts for a long while, like that elusive dream I mentioned above. Gilliam almost couldn’t get this film made, there were issues with everything from script to special effects to reported studio interference, but I thank the stars that it all worked out in the end, for it is his masterpiece.
If you really think about it, pretty much everything about Mercury Rising is really, really ridiculous. The plot is one of those overcooked potboilers that’s jumped out and simmers on the stove, the government agencies here are all heinously corrupt and run by arch villains who employ comic book assassins, going out of their way to literally murder a young autistic kid (Miko Hughes, poor guy barely escaped Freddy Krueger before they put him through this nightmare) who has cracked the NSA’s most top secret code. The director of the NSA would have to be a convincing enough asshole to even vaguely pull off something so out there, but they got lucky in hiring King Asshole Alec Baldwin, who is simply hilarious in the role, justifying his sociopathic actions with delusions of unilateral national security as only the best, most self respecting villains do. It’s up to disgraced, incorruptible FBI agent Bruce Willis to shepherd the poor kid through a minefield of contract killers, attempts on his life and bodies that pile up along the way. As absolutely postal as it is in terms of a realistic plot, it does still work as a solid thriller thanks to Willis’s charisma, Baldwin’s devious charm n’ smarm, some decent action set pieces, Miko Hughes’s convincing portrayal of his character’s condition and a well rounded supporting cast. Standouts include Kim Dickens as a kindly girl who helps them out, Peter Stormare as a mute terminator style thug dispatched to hunt them as well as John Carroll Lynch, Kevin Conway, Chi McBride and Jack Conley. Made with a reliable big budget and all the fireworks in play, it’s serviceable stuff but for its hysterical premise. A group of maximum security convicts takes over an aircraft?
Okay. Terrorists with nerve gas take Alcatraz hostage? I’ll buy that. Drilling a hole, planting a nuke and blowing a deadly asteroid in half? Sure, why not. It’s just something about the director of the NSA coherently sanctioning the death of a child and putting so much effort into it that has me chuckling. Baldwin sells it I guess, in his greased hair, gravel voiced, Draconian way. Watch for his eventual confrontation with Willis in a wine cellar, it’s the warped highlight of the film.
Hostage isn’t just another Bruce Willis action movie. It is that, but a lot more and told in a unique, frightening way that evokes both horror films, impressionistic art and a European style of filmmaking. It’s frequently more intense than your usual Willis shoot em up too, the violence has a much more horrific impact and happens on a smaller, more intimate scale while the explosions take a backseat. Willis plays hostage negotiator Jeff Talley, a man who is haunted by a hair raising incident with a situation he failed to diffuse, as we see in a bleak, visceral prologue that lets us know exactly how grim and bereft of one liners the rest of the film will be. Relocated to small town California with his wife (Serena Scott Thomas) and daughter (Rumer Willis, Bruce’s own daughter with Demi Moore), he seeks the quiet life, but naturally trouble begins to follow him in a spiralling set of dark turns and unfortunate events that lead to the case of his career and the night from hell. On a routine B&E call, Talley discovers that three white trash punks have taken over the home of businessman Kevin Pollak and his two children. Two of them are twitchy petty thieves (Marshall Allman and the reliably intense Jonathan Tucker) and are just out for valuables, but the third (Ben Foster, scary as fucking shit) is a sociopathic monster capable of terrible things, and the situation escalates from there. Little does anyone know, Pollak is involved in something far more dangerous than any of this, and soon a shadowy covert boogeyman called The Watchmen (Kim Coates, managing to still be terrifying behind a ski mask the whole time) has kidnaped Talley’s family as brutal leverage. It’s an intricate web of danger, heroics and violence that erupts like a flash-bang grenade and hits hard. Willis has never been better, you can see the open wounds in his soul bared through his eyes, and feel the weight of the situation crushing him as he races to find a solution. Pollak’s mansion feels like a labyrinthine death trap as the world’s most elaborate security system descends on those inside and shuts them in. Michelle Horn and Jimmy Bennett are terrific as Pollak’s resourceful kids, dealing with Foster’s unpredictable psychopath as best they can. The mood here is dour, savage and dark, with Willis’s fallen saint of a cop anchoring it all, it’s really some his finest work. There’s an austere score by Alexandre Desplat that accents the action with thumping passages in great sweeping master shots, and spikes the scenes of claustrophobia inside the house with uncomfortable rhythms. Director Florent-Emil Siri plays with an unconventional, surprisingly artistic palette and makes what could have been another routine action film seems somehow special, in all the right ways. One of my top Willis flicks, both in terms of his work and the overall film.