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Chasing Tarantino: An Interview with Con Christopoulos by Kent Hill

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What price do you put on a dream? How much do you give, day after lonely day, on the steady climb toward that magical vision that no one else can see . . . but you? The truth is we all started that way. Then you learn that if you dream in one hand and crap in the other – one fills much quicker. The chances you are given dictate some of your rise, while luck, that iconic variable which many still refuse to acknowledge as an important player in their ensemble equaling in triumph, can also see you cross the finish line just as effectively. Being in the right place, at the right time.

Yet, the main forces that drive those with an obsession to see their dreams realized on film are hunger . . . and heart. So, I give to you the story of Con Christopoulos – a man whose relentless courage, determination and passion was at once inspiring, gravitating and above all, infectious. Con’s drive – the sheer pleasure that emotes from his lips while talking about the victories and defeats he has known along the path to unleashing his cinematic voice upon the world is simply staggering. I have seldom met others like myself – those faced with impossible odds and uncertain conditions in the seas before us as our voyage continues – that has exhibited so completely all of the pure exuberance and discipline required to see the journey through to that glorious moment, when the house lights dip, and the screen fills with all you have. The grand total of a life spent loving movies.

I first encountered Con when I saw a Facebook post and a video entitled Chasing Tarantino. I sat and watched in amazement as the man on the clip boldly declared, most convincingly I might add, that he had a truly captivating story and was desperately seeking passage into the halls of power, where the mighty QT might be sitting, idly waiting, for the next big thing. As intrigued as I was curious, I contacted Con and asked to read his opus. It was then he told me that he had pitched the idea to Australian genre-film legend Roger Ward. Ward had apparently warmed to the concept and said if the film ever materialized, he would be on board. After hearing this and reading the material I automatically thought of the great Ozploitation director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. I told Con I would attempt to reach out to Brian with the hopes he might at least have a glance at the treatment and offer some feedback.

To my delight he did just that. He was critical but constructive, as Brian always is, and it does one good to have notes from the masters. You move forward with a new sense of purpose and a rejuvenating feeling coursing through your body, fortified a little more before again breaking camp, trying once more to reach the summit.

It’s hard not be romantic about dreamers. They, after all, are responsible for some for the scintillating, sublime and stupendous visions and stories, music and magic – the stuff that keeps the cycle perpetuating. An inspired individual realizes his dream and shows it to the world. One or more members of the audience are so moved to action, ignited from within, that they then, in turn, devote their lives to such a pursuit.

This is the story of one such dreamer…

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Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

What kind of heist flick is it where we don’t even see the heist? The best kind. The Quentin Tarantino kind. Reservoir Dogs has aged incredibly well, it’s his leanest and meanest film to date and stands as the blood soaked crash course leading to the sustained, verbose historical epics we have come to know him for these days. Many consider Pulp Fiction to be his official breakout but the magic first took flight here on the outskirts of LA as a band of marauding jewel thieves in identical suits tries to smoke out a rat from their very midst. Like a bizarro world version of the Rat Pack, this profane, volatile murder of ex-con crows discuss Madonna, tipping waitresses, The Lost Boys and more before erupting together in a cascade of yelling and bloodshed that remains as exciting now as it no doubt was in the initial theatrical run. Dialogue runs the show here, whether between Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White and Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange, Chris Penn’s Nice Guy Eddie and his gangster father Joe (Lawrence Tierney) or Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde and whoever he’s decided to intimidate on a whim. Madsen gives the performance of his career early on and Blonde is a character for the ages, a self appointed psychopath who tortures an LAPD hostage (Kirk Baltz) more out of vague amusement than outright malice in a scene that has since been inducted into time capsules everywhere. When we meet these guys, they’re casually having breakfast in a greasy spoon diner, chattering on about everything under the sun except the jewel robbery they’re about to commit. It’s only after the stylized opening credits and the hectic aftermath of said robbery that Tarantino flashes back to scattered exposition and backstory for these guys, and it’s that kind of deliberate editing that has not only become a hallmark for the filmmaker, but keeps his stories so fresh and enthralling. The audience knows almost right off the bat who the rat is, but the fun is in observing paranoia levels rise in their ranks as they each begin to suspect the man next to them and turn on each other like a pack of hyenas in the Serengeti of industrial Los Angeles. From the iconic torture scene set to Stuck In The Middle With You to the tense Mexican standoff to the frantic escape and firefight with LA’s finest, this is one gritty slice of life crime piece that the years have been most kind to. Tarantino has evolved and adapted as his career has moved forth, but its always nice to come back to the scrappy little picture that started it all, see how it’s influenced countless other filmmakers over the decades and bask in the bloody, expletive filled, dialogue heavy bliss again every once in a while. An all timer.

-Nate Hill

Corky Romano

Call me crazy but after finally daring to watch it, I can’t say I’m one of the many people who think that Corky Romano is one of the worst films ever made. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid fucking toilet destroying turd of a film, thoroughly shitty no doubt, and yet… I laughed. A lot. I’m still trying to figure out if the laughs were ironic, genuine or spurred on by the eight plus beers in my system, but irregardless, I can’t say it wasn’t a good time. Chris Kattan is one of those actors like Rob Schneider, Seth Green or David Spade who are in what I call the ‘mosquito category.’ They can’t act, they’re not really that funny and they seem to exist for no reason other than to buzz around like vermin. As twitchy, dysfunctional mafia brat Corky Romano, Kattan is admittedly his annoying self but he nails a few laughs nicely, and lands one big one spectacularly involving cocaine and schoolchildren. His mobster dad (Peter Falk and his loopy eyes) is about to be testified against by a mysterious informant, so his two volatile brothers (Chris Penn and Peter Berg) and uncle (Fred Ward, slumming it and loving it) hatch a cockamamie plan to send him in to the Bureau as a fake Fed and destroy evidence. If you’re wondering why, or how this is a good plan, don’t bother. The film’s haphazard script is like several post-it notes drunkenly stuck on a fridge, and instead of coherency in plot we get an insane parade of slapstick shenanigans and situational comedy masquerading as a story. Saddled with a stern FBI boss (Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree), a foxy partner (Vinessa Shaw) and jealous bureau cohorts, it’s a laundry list of fuckups, arbitrary car chases, third grade level humour and unapologetic what-have-ya. This came out in 2001 and it’s funny to see how much times have changed and people’s tolerance for certain types of humour have dried up, they use words and scenarios here that would have the film swiftly boycotted these days, but it’s refreshing to watch older films where they didn’t have to tiptoe on eggshells quite as much. What else is there to say, really? This is a wantonly childish display of bottom feeding comedy, and the immature man-child in me found it to be a fucking laugh riot. Uneven, sure. All over the place, definitely. But funny as all hell in fits and starts.

-Nate Hill

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish

Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish is a gorgeous, star studded look at street hoodlums of the 1950’s through a strange, dreamlike prism of off kilter dialogue and mesmerizing characterization. It’s based on a book by S.E. Hinton, who also wrote The Outsiders, which Coppola adapted as well, this one is a bit of a different animal. Where one might expect a grounded, topical, straightforward script and narrative, we’re instead treated to a lyrical, dense and almost experimental tone. Characters exude archetypal charisma that is stunningly thrown off balance by the poetic, otherworldly dialogue that’s at times almost inaccessible, but always feels intuitively… right somehow. It’s as if The Outsiders went to sleep and had a dream, functioning on a similar yet highly unconscious plane. Once you get accustomed to such an aesthetic, it’s a film to draw you in and give you poetic dreams of your own. Young Matt Dillon is Rusty Ryan, a naive upstart with dreams of notoriety in the worn doldrums of his urban sprawl neighbourhood. He lives under the intense reputation of his older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). Rourke is at the peak of his moody blues James Dean phase here, and commands the screen with a laid back abandon and smirking charm. He gets romantically involved with angelic local beauty Patty (young Diane Lane, stunning), and deals with his loveable deadbeat father (Dennis Hopper). The scenes between Hopper, Dillon and Rourke have an easy swing to them, and the three inhabit a lived in dynamic that strengthens their characters, individually and as a group. Rourke is under the suspicious eye of robotic, violent local cop Patterson (William Smith), who is just waiting for him to step out of line. Dillon and his thug pals, including Nicolas Cage, Chris Penn and Vincent Spano, daydream their days away pining for the oft talked about days when gang warfare was commonplace. There’s a splendid supporting cast including Laurence Fishburne, Sofia Coppola, Diana Scarwid and Tom Waits, mumbling sweet existential nothing’s to themselves in the local diner, the silent streets and other beautifully shot locations. The film is shot in wistful black and whites with the vivid exception of the titular rumble fish, who appear in vibrant hues to accent their metaphorical presence. The film exists in a realm of heightened emotions where the characters all seem to be a little larger than life, but nevertheless human. There’s a gorgeous, entrancing surreality to it too, a free flowing, dreamy vibe of chrome on asphalt, lazy afternoons and long glances at pretty girls in windows. An unconventional masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Fist Of The North Star


If you ever want to see an entire film production embarrass themselves royally, check out Fist Of The North Star, a misguided, thoroughly awkward live action version of some obscure Japanese manga series. It’s one of those ones that painfully doesn’t translate into the realm of live action though, like that bizarre Super Mario movie they made. Full of notable character actors, packed with steampunk-esque special effects, it could have worked with a different story, but the theatrical intensity and specific vibe of oriental pop culture just doesn’t come to life well on the North American big screen. It’s also at war with itself tonally: there’s a light, PG Power Rangers feel in some places, but many scenes have graphic violence that pushes a hard R rating into the deep end, which makes for a jarring experience. Gary Daniels stars as Kenshiro, a lone warrior out to get Lord Shin (Costas Mandylor under one mess of a mullet), a brutal warlord who murdered his father, briefly played by Malcolm McDowell. McDowell pulls a classic McDowell move, showing up in the flesh for about thirty seconds before disappearing and lazily lending his iconic voice to a talking skeleton version of his character later in the movie. Don’t ask me to remember more of the plot than that because it would involve a rewatch, and ain’t nobody got time for that. Chris Penn is fun as Jackal, an angry vagabond with a giant potato head and the psychotic temper to match. Watch for Dante ‘Rufio’ Basco, Downtown Julie Brown, Clint Howard, Mario Van Peebles and more in equally ridiculous getups. The sole thing I can recommend here is the production design, lifted straight from some striking post apocalyptic video game, it makes somewhat of an impression. The rest lands with a colossal thud and just sits there, doing not much of anything. 

-Nate Hill

Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls: A Review by Nate Hill

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Lee Tamahori’s Mulholland Falls gets a bad rap in some circles for being boring and uneventful despite its charismatic cast and opulent setting that’s ripe for peppy action sequences. I think they are confusing boring with the concept of a paced and very slow burn, yet one with all the texture and richness of an action film, one that admirably decides to take the route of the old school noir, with loving care put into story and character, two elements which the action and violence live simply to serve, and not to take the driver’s seat against. Or it’s simply not some people’s cup of tea, which is totally okay too. Personally though, I love a good L.A. cop yarn that has a story to go with the toughness. This one bears striking similarity to 2013’s Gangster Squad, which also had Nick Nolte playing a 1940’s Los Angeles cop in charge of a squad that operates outside of the law. That film is pure cheese, all razzle dazzle and no plot. Mulholland Falls falls somewhere between Gangster Squad and L.A. Confidential; not quite up to delving into the serpentine intrigue of the latter, yet infinitely more interested in telling a worthwhile story than the former. And tell it does, in high flying style that only a crime film set in that time period can do. Nick Nolte plays Hoover, a whiskey voiced, take no prisoners LAPD badass who heads up an elite anti corruption task force that operates far outside the red tape and pretty much do what they want to stomp out corruption. His squad consists of Michael Madsen, Chris Penn and a scene stealing Chazz Palminteri as the oddball of the bunch, with serious impulse control issues. A straight up dream cast of tough guys, and although I’ll admit that Penn and Madsen are a tad underused, their presence alone boosts the film’s credentials into an epic pantheon. The film revs up with a kicker of an opening sequence in which the squad severely roughs up a troublesome mobster (an uncredited William L. Petersen). “This isn’t America, it’s Los Angeles” Nolte growls to him, stating the tone of perverse lawlessness which permeated the city back then. Soon he’s drawn into a tawdry scandal involving the murder of a young prostitute (Jennifer Connelly) who he previously had encounters with. The search leads him far and wide, crossing paths a sleazy photographer (Andrew Mcarthy), a dying air force tycoon (John Malkovich manages to ham it up even at his most laid back) and his stern lieutenant (Treat Williams). Nolte also has a poor jilted wife played nicely by Melanie Griffith in limited but effective screen time. The plot is hard boiled to the bone, with Nolte in one his most gruff mid career roles and loving every stressed out, rage fuelled second of it. The conclusion is his show, with a whacked out Palminteri in tow for a spectacular sequence set aboard a doomed military aircraft. The cast gets deeper, believe it or not, with Daniel Baldwin, Ed Lauter, Kyle Chandler, Titus Welliver, Louise Fletcher, Rob Lowe and Bruce Dern contributing gamely. This one’s got style on it’s side and then some, replicating a sense of time and place with the torque ramped up to near Sin City levels. Admittedly not perfect, but a pure and simple blast of a flick, in my opinion.

MULHOLLAND FALLS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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They say timing is everything and this certainly applies to the release and reception of movies. Case in point: Mulholland Falls (1996). Released a year before the very similar L.A. Confidential (1997), it was also a retro-neo-noir set in 1950s Los Angeles and featured a murder mystery leading to a vast conspiracy. However, Falls was promptly blasted by the critics and quickly disappeared from theaters while Confidential became the toast of critics and received awards from all over the world. So, what went wrong? Falls featured an impressive cast of solid character actors (it had more name actors than Confidential) and a critically acclaimed director with Once Were Warriors’ Lee Tamahori as opposed to Confidential’s Curtis Hanson who had only done adequate B-movies like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The River Wild (1994). Now that a few years have passed, Mulholland Falls has aged surprisingly well.

Set in 1953, the first image is one of a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb explosion. It is one of the enduring images from that era and one that hangs like a shadow over the characters and events in the film. Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) leads a group of four cops known as The Hat Squad who do things their own way, like bullying out-of-town gangsters and dropping them off one of the deserted stretches of Mulholland Drive (aka “Mulholland Falls”) as a deterrent for setting up shop in L.A. One day, Max and his crew – Coolidge (Chazz Palminteri), Eddie (Michael Madsen) and Relyea (Chris Penn) – go out to a construction site to investigate the murder of a beautiful woman (Jennifer Connelly) who has been literally pressed into the ground. There is a shock of recognition on Max’s world-weary face. His connection to the dead girl and his subsequent investigation into her murder leads to a dangerous conspiracy involving the United States government and a mysterious General Timms (John Malkovich), head of the Atomic Energy Commission.

After the success of Once Were Warriors, Tamahori was offered many projects before finally choosing Mulholland Falls. Michael Mann was originally attached to the film but left at some point. One of the first things that is so striking about this film is the gorgeous attention to detail with vintage cars, suits and music from the period. This is enhanced by the gorgeous cinematography of the legendary Haskell Wexler who evokes classic film noir in every frame of Mulholland Falls. Tamahori assembled an impressive crew including the likes of production designer Richard Sylbert, who worked on Chinatown (1974) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Wexler, who won an Academy Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and worked One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and In the Heat of the Night (1967) amongst others.

Tamahori says that people within the industry were surprised that he hired veterans like Sylbert and Wexler and realized that Hollywood was being run by young executives: “It’s a kind of youth-oriented thing, and—blast, blam, blam, blam, make the action for the under-25-year-old crowd. Do this, do that, you’ve got to be on top, you have to be fast. They see age as being old and boring.” Mulholland Falls consciously eschews this approach for a slower paced, more thoughtful vibe that harkens back to films made before music videos and their kinetic editing changed the way films were made in Hollywood.

With his gravelly voice and weathered good looks, Nick Nolte is well cast as the conflicted tough guy, Max Hoover. If there is one significant problem with the film it is the lack of screen time given to the excellent members his crew. They are given little time to develop their characters with only Chazz Palminteri edging out the others. Palminteri plays Nolte’s best friend and second-in-command. He’s the most sensitive of the bunch (although, that’s not saying much) because he’s seeing a female psychiatrist and this makes him the voice of reason, often curbing Max’s more self-destructive impulses. Tamahori met Burt Reynolds and Tom Arnold for the role of Coolidge but felt that Reynolds was a little old for the role.

Little time is devoted to developing the chemistry between them. The filmmakers should have used The Untouchables (1987) as inspiration – although, the crucial difference is that in Brian De Palma’s film we see how Eliot Ness and his crew come together while in Mulholland Falls, Max and his group have been together for some time. Pete Dexter’s screenplay doesn’t do a good enough job making us believe that they are a tight-knit crew. That being said, the chemistry between Nolte and Palminteri begins to kick in towards the end of the film but it is too little, too late.

The casting of actresses Jennifer Connelly and Melanie Griffith is right on the money as they both have the voluptuous body type common to that era, especially Connelly who has curves in all the right places and that were also used to great effect in The Rocketeer (1991). Sadly, Connelly and Griffith aren’t given too much screen time but this does give Connelly’s character something of an ethereal, mysterious quality that is quite haunting and works well in the film.

John Malkovich essays yet another one of his cultured bad guy roles as General Timms. The first meeting between him and Nolte is good as we watch two different acting styles bounce off each other. Timms tries to dazzle Hoover with philosophical double speak while the cop plays dumb but subtly applies pressure on the scientist. What is so interesting about this scene is what is not being said. Watching this film again, I was struck by the eclectic cast featuring the likes of Treat Williams, Andrew McCarthy, Bruce Dern, Daniel Baldwin, William Petersen, and Rob Lowe.

There is somber tone that hangs over Mulholland Falls and the ending is refreshingly downbeat (unlike the very classic Hollywood ending of L.A. Confidential) evoking Chinatown of which it was most often compared to. Like any good noir protagonist, Max’s shattered life stays shattered. The murder has been solved but at a terrible cost to his own life. While Falls is a flawed film and certainly not as strong as Confidential, it is not an awful effort by any means and actually has a lot of merits. It is definitely worth another look if you haven’t seen it since it debuted or if you’ve never seen it before.