Tag Archives: bruce willis

Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin

Like Bruce Willis’s cranky hitman Goodkat assures us in the sleepy opening to Paul McGuigan’s Lucky Number Slevin, this is a story that pulls the rug out from under you big time, going left when you look right and anchoring the very glib, cavalier crime shenanigans in something solid and emotional in the eleventh hour. It’s a wild, wacky film that borrows from others and often gets sidetracked by itself, but it’s also one of the most stylish, ambitious and beautifully made crime dramas of the last few decades, and has become an all time favourite for me.

Josh Hartnett plays the mysterious Slevin, a hapless dude who is constantly mistaken for an even more hapless dude named Nick Fisher. Fisher is in a lot of trouble, owing large gambling debts to feuding NYC mobsters The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley), debts which now forfeit to Slevin simply because he’s consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then there’s the overzealous, shady NYPD cop (Stanley Tucci in mean mode) shadowing him, plus the bubbly girl next door (Lucy Liu) who tags along in his adventures in mistaken identity. It’s all very overelaborate, convoluted and long winded, but it’s part of what makes the thing so magical. Characters often use ten words where two will do, employ quirky anecdotes, monologue and show their pithy eccentricities, it’s an oddball script by Jason Smilovic that makes for one labyrinthine ride through New York City’s peculiar underworld dating back to the 70’s. The actors are having an absolute blast here and we get further work from Mykelti Williamson, Cory Stoll, Danny Aiello, Peter Outerbridge and more. A standout is the great Robert Forster in a cameo as a cop who delivers more exposition in one single scene than I’ve seen in some entire films, he’s a great enough actor that he fills a seemingly inconsequential role with wit and personality.

McGuigan is a stylist who throws colour and pattern into the mix even when the scene doesn’t call for it, to great effect. Why shoot in a drab warehouse or monochromatic apartment when you can douse your set in kaleidoscope design just for the sheer hell of it? It works, the offbeat production design serving to illustrate and accent a very strange, often hilarious yet ultimately human story. Much of the film is near cartoon level neo noir that doesn’t dig two deep, but there are three scenes, and I can’t be specific here without spoiling, that anchor it straight into the ground, provide an emotional core and make something heartfelt cut through the tomfoolery. Many people wrote this off as just silliness, but that’s lazy criticism 101. This is a fantastic film, full of many things to love. It’s probably Hartnett’s best work in a very eclectic career and his romantic chemistry with Liu (also superb) is patiently developed and adorable to see. Freeman and Kingsley eat up the dialogue like wisened old alligators and have a blast playing their arch villains. Willis is darkly charismatic and empathetic when he needs to be, stealing every scene. A classic for me.

-Nate Hill

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Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction

You ever been to one of those house parties that turns out so well, is so full of awesome, entertaining people and so much fun that you kind of wish it wouldn’t end? Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is like that, for nearly three hours you wish would extend into three more. It’s one of those urban mosaic stories that chucks slices of life into a pan, fries them up and hurls the resulting delicious recipe right at your face. I’ve read a lot about how this revolutionized narrative structure in Hollywood or changed the way characters are written and that may be the case for the crime genre, but the mosaic motif was present in many areas before QT, namely in the films of Robert Altman, a filmmaker I’ve never seen compared to our Quentin before but the parallels are there. In any case everyone knows, loves and agrees that Pulp Fiction is a fucking badass flick, an enduring barnstormer of outlaw cinema that is every bit as potent, catchy and kinetic as it was when it blew the pants and panties off of Cannes in ‘94.

Tarantino gave us an appetizer with Reservoir Dogs, and with Pulp he produced a ten course meal that’s more polished, structured and assured than we had seen before. His mosaic concerns the lives of several LA individuals all directly or indirectly related to the criminal underworld. Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta are two hitmen who dressed like Men In Black before Men In Black was a thing, out to retrieve the ever mysterious briefcase for their omnipotent gangster overlord (Ving Rhames), whose sultry wife (Uma Thurman) Travolta is to entertain while the big man is out of town. Elsewhere a disloyal prizefighter (Bruce Willis) and his bubbly girlfriend (Maria De Medeiros) hide out from Rhames’s wrath too until Willis goes from the frying pan into one terrifying fire. Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer are two liquor store bandits who branch off into the diner scene and royally fuck up everyone’s day in the process. Christopher Walken gives arguably his greatest and definitely his most bizarre monologue in a scene out of place and time from the rest of the film but somehow right where it needs to be in the narrative. Harvey Keitel suaves it up as LA’s resident 007. Others make vivid impressions in the mosaic including Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Paul Calderon, Frank Whaley, Angela Jones, Duane Whitaker, Stephen Hibbert, Tarantino himself, Julia Sweeney and perennial bad guy Peter Greene.

By now the story is secondary to those iconic moments we all know and love. Zed’s dead. Samuel’s terrifying bible session. A wristwatch up Walken’s ass. Pride only hurts, it never helps. That needle to the heart. The dance competition. The Gimp. The exploding head. These are all now hallmarks of one of the greatest stories ever put to film. What makes it so great? Tarantino has the time for his characters, and wants to converse with them. The dialogue isn’t just about plot or characters intimidating each other. It’s about life, music, personal taste, culture and cheeseburgers. These are people who remind us of many others we know, and the relatability is what has turned this into a platinum classic. That and other factors, including a killer soundtrack, brilliant performances round the board and editing that brings LA out of the gloss, down to earth and just as dirty. It may not be my ultimate fave Tarantino film, but it is definitely his flagship outing so far, in its epic scope. We’ll see if this year’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood perhaps dethrones it as his magnum opus, who knows. Either way it’s a masterpiece and will remain so for all time.

-Nate Hill

Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks

Bruce Willis is the type of action hero who is never idealistic, chipper, optimistic or overtly upbeat. There’s always a sarcastic reluctance whenever he gets pulled into a gunfight, hostage situation or standoff and I think that’s the quality that has made him such an endearing star presence. In Richard Donner’s 16 Blocks he plays an NYC Detective named Jack Mosley, who is a burnt out, sardonic alcoholic who couldn’t give a shit about his job anymore, let alone the motor mouthed convict (Mos Def) he’s assigned to escort the titular distance to testify against some mob bigwig. Jack can almost be seen as the same Willis character we’ve been watching our whole lives but after all the others, a progression that has lead to this one portrayal where the archetype has just reached the end of his rope. It’s a wonderful performance from him and a strong, solid suspense thriller. Def’s character is an annoying, fast talking hustler who we just want to deck right in the face, but I suppose that’s kind of the point of him here so we can see Jack’s tolerance boil over and eventually warm up to the guy. There are forces aligning against them though, factions on both sides of the law that have stock in Def not making it those 16 blocks with his pulse still going, and Jack must dust off his old reflexes to take on what appears to be the entire New York City police force, along with a fellow detective and old friend who has gone rogue, played with affable menace by the always awesome David Morse. This is a terrific thriller with well drawn, relatable characters stuck in one shit show of a situation, it’s minimalist without being too low key and fired up without being overblown or silly. The photography by Glen McPherson makes great use of looming NYC architecture, narrow streets and artifices that could get shattered by a rain of bullets any second, and the exciting score by Klaus Badelt sets a nervous mood of urban menace while introducing Willis with a melancholy twang. This was Donner’s last film before going on apparently permanent hiatus and I’m not sure why, I’ve always loved his work and would love to see a comeback. Willis gets a lot of hype for guys like John McClane and Butch Coolidge who are definitely legends, but Jack Mosley is one of his best creations, a hard bitten boozer with a compassionate lining under the scruff and a brutal resilience in the face of overwhelming odds, it’s his version of Eastwood’s Ben Shockley in The Gauntlet and an underrated character in his canon. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2

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.

-Nate Hill

We’re off to see the Wizard: An Interview with Mike Jittlov by Kent Hill

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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.

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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 Rodriguez was 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.

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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:

 

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-wizard-of-speed-and-time-soundtrack-on-vinyl#/

So I met this guy who worked on Street Fighter by Kent Hill

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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 Chewbacca and 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.

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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) …

 

 

 

Barry Levinson’s Bandits

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.

-Nate Hill