Tag Archives: Christopher Lee

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Christopher Lee Performances

Christopher Lee was the kind of guy that came to mind whenever you heard the term ‘commanding presence.’ He had a legendary career that bridged the gap from 70’s Hammer horror fare all the way to being a regular in Tim Burton films as well as memorable voiceover work and a handful of instantly recognizable roles in iconic Sci-Fi/fantasy franchises. The one aspect to this wonderful actor was his strikingly deep voice, like molasses poured over mahogany and put to use in countless treasured performances. These are my personal ten favourite!

10. Victor in Disney’s Return From Witch Mountain

This is an admittedly lacklustre sequel to a magical Disney classic but it’s on here for a reason. I grew up with Escape To Witch Mountain, I’ve seen it a trillion times and I waited forever for Disney to release this one from the vault. It’s enjoyable if not as amazing as the first but I really loved seeing Lee as the darkly charismatic mad scientist who wants to harvest the hero’s supernatural powers, stepping in for Ray Milland’s maniacal billionaire antagonist from the first film.

9. Rochefort in The Three Musketeers

This is a totemic role for me because many actors I adore have played it including Michael Wincott in the 90’s as well as Tim Roth and Mads Mikkelsen more recently. This 1973 musketeers film is admittedly a silly version but Lee makes an imposing incarnation of the one eyed anti-musketeer.

8. Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Jinnah

I’ve admittedly only seen part of this on TV in Europe but it’s one of Lee’s personal favourite roles that he himself cherishes and an important piece of acting/filmmaking. Jinnah was the political founder of Pakistan and a man who believed that all human beings everywhere have the right to worship whichever god they choose and can coexist and be free. It’s a stunning performance from the man and if you YouTube any interviews where he is asked what roles he cherishes most in his career he always brings it up and you can feel how important it is and how much it meant to him playing that historical figure.

7. Dr. Catheter in Joe Dante’s Gremlins 2: The New Batch

If there’s one thing Lee was great at it was keeping a straight face in the midst of sheer lunacy. He’s a maniacal scientist hellbent on weird experiments here as the huge high rise building he works in becomes infested with nasty Mogwai, and he plays it pricelessly deadpan.

6. Burgomaster in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow

He’s only in this for like two minutes right at the beginning but he basically singlehandedly sets the mood with a couple lines. I’m not sure what a ‘burgomaster’ is but he appears to be some kind of austere judge who dispatches Johnny Depp’s Ichabod Crane to Sleepy Hollow and is the first character in the film to actually say the town’s name in that iconic voice.

5. Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man

The legacy of this awesome British cult horror film is obviously now scarred by the obnoxious Nic Cage remake but seek it out anyways, Lee plays the deeply philosophical and extremely unnerving head of a pagan cult with supernatural proclivities and a hostile attitude towards puritans. He embodies this charismatic fiend with affability that swiftly turns into menace, a very fascinating antagonist.

4. Dracula in a bunch of Dracula films

Lee in the Vampire getup is such totemic symbol of 60’s/70’s horror, what can I say. I haven’t seen all the Dracula stuff he did but the image of him as the character is imprinted in my pop culture subconscious as I imagine it is for many.

3. Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun

One of the classiest, most dangerous and cool Bond villains, an assassin for hire with a literal golden gun and a… uh… third nipple. Lee is calm, sociopathic and deadly as the guy, who enjoys killing people a lot and is good at it too.

2. Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus in George Lucas’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones

My second favourite Star Wars antagonist after Darth Maul, Dooku is a no good scheming arch-baddie who incites a war, pits intergalactic factions against each other and masterminds one of the most memorable gladiator arena matches in cinema history. He gives the guy an ever so slight air of aristocracy and swings around a cool curve handled lightsaber like nobody’s business.

1. Saruman The White in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings

This was the first film I ever saw him in and will always be the character I remember him for. He’s unbelievably intense, measured in line delivery and incredibly malevolent in an implosive portrait of power hungry mania. Saruman is the wizard gone bad, and Christopher takes full advantage of that arc, not to mention nailing the stark look of the character wonderfully.

-Nate Hill

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

I feel like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride doesn’t get nearly enough love and praise for what a wonderful film it is. The acclaim and lasting impression really stuck to Burton and Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and rightly so, but this is every bit as inspired, packed with catchy tunes, casted with beloved actors and filled with gorgeous stop motion splendour. Plus it’s the keystone Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter outing for me because even though we only get their voices the animation is tailored to each respective essence and we feel their physical presences heavily in spirit.

Depp voices Victor Van Dort, a spindly, nervous creation who’s about to be pressured into one of those delightful old arranged Victorian marriages by his domineering parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). The bride to be is Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) and wouldn’t you know it they actually do fall in love despite circumstances, which is a nice subvert of the trope that I enjoyed. There’s always gotta be a third though and she arrives in the form of the titular Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter), a deceased girl brought back to life when Victor practices his vows in the local cemetery. This sets in motion a chain of fantastical, macabre, adorable and altogether brilliant set pieces, musical numbers, fight scenes, rich and thoughtful character relations and visual genius like a big old animated Halloween parade.

The cast is stacked too, full of beloved Burton regulars like Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley as Victoria’s crusty, aristocratic parents, Christopher Lee as a cantankerous undead vicar, Richard E. Grant, Michael Gough, Deep Roy and Danny Elfman himself as a rambunctious spooky skeleton called Bonejangles who fronts an undead jazz band. Hell there’s even a worm that looks and sound like the great Peter Lorre which I couldn’t tell if was done deliberately but if so bravo. This thing doesn’t even breach ninety minutes but it’s so full of life, death, colour, incident, song, music, dance and joy that it seems way longer than it actually is. It’s also got a grounded maturity in the way we see this completely ridiculous yet somehow very touching love triangle unfold, and by the end you really feel for Carter’s Corpse Bride and empathize with her situation. A technical marvel, a beautifully told tale and one of Burton’s very best.

-Nate Hill

Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

The middle chapter in any trilogy has the unfortunate luck of being an oasis interlude that by definition can’t have an opening or a conclusion, because a hunk of story came before it and, naturally, there’s more to come after. However in the case of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, it adapts and adjusts that malady by finding it’s own groove with a surging forward momentum that is removed from the episodic nature of both Fellowship and Return Of The King. It’s not my personal favourite of the three (Fellowship holds that trophy on sheer potent nostalgia alone) but to me it’s the most unique in the sense that *because* it has no bookend on either side of its narrative, it ironically feels like the most independent chapter.

There’s a restless surge of movement from every side of the action here; Frodo and Sam are uneasily led by Gollum through a haunted, labyrinthine marsh ever closer to the acrid peaks of Mordor. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli furiously race to save the entire population of Rohan from devastation at the hands of Saruman, the good wizard who went about as bad as you can go, and his manipulative lackey Wormtongue. Merry and Pippin are whisked away on the shoulders of Ent elder Treebeard on an endless hike through Fangorn Forest, and eventually Isengard itself. Even Gandalf doesn’t get a sit-down or a smoke break, propelled on a dizzying battle with the Balrog and thrown right back into the struggle for Middle Earth with Tim for nought but a wardrobe update and hair dye. It’s that movement, the ever forward rhythm that sets this one apart and emphasizes what a truly massive journey this whole story is. Fellowship had dreamy interludes in Rivendell, whimsical leisure time spent in The Shire and near constant time to reflect and sit down for these characters, and Return had… six different endings that broke the pace. Two Towers begins with fiery chaos in Moria, holds that note throughout and finishes literal moments after the thunderclap battle of Helms Deep, which is still just an incredible piece of large scale filmmaking.

This one also introduced two of my absolute favourite characters in the whole trilogy, Theoden king of Rohan and his warrior niece Eowyn. Played by Bernard Hill and Miranda Otto, these two performances just sing through the whole film, drawing sympathies not just for Rohan but the entire human race, it’s struggle and earning every cheer out loud moment. The whole conflict with Rohan, despite again not being the inciting event in the war for Middle Earth or even the final battle, feels very immediate and important thanks to Hill, Otto, everyone involved and the monumental special effects involved in bringing the terrifying Uruk Hai army to life. There’s a tactile use of CGI that’s almost subtle enough to blend in with the real world elements, and despite being made like almost two decades ago, they still hold up and eclipse other similar efforts in more recent years, especially with the battle, Treebeard and poor Gollum who still looks fantastic. The stuff with Frodo is less compelling, or at least to me, I’ve always found in the latter two films that his trajectory gets increasingly dark, horrific and suffocating and find myself counting down the seconds until we rejoin the others. I suppose that’s the point as he is carrying that terrible Ring, but nevertheless, always tough to make palatable.

The climactic battle that goes on for nearly fifteen minutes, the incredibly cathartic siege of the trees on Isengard, the hair raising Warg attack, Gandalf’s final boss battle with the Balrog, Eomer (Karl Urban, a study in badassery) and his company massacring the Uruk war party, all are standout moments and fantastic pieces of cinema. But there are a few moments that are always present and important in my mind when watching this film: As a small village in Rohan is plundered by marauding orcs, a desperate mother sends her two (Robyn Malcolm) sends her two children ahead of her on horseback, and nothing is more heartbreaking or immediate than this parting. Later on, Theoden stands by the grace of his son and weeps against a twilit sky while Gandalf looks on in sorrow and utters words of comfort. Elsewhere, Frodo, despite being under the malicious influence of the Ring, takes pity on Gollum and treats him with compassion even though the creature has a track record of nasty behaviour. It’s the little moments like these that ground the story in emotion, create a stirring palette for the characters to interact in and make the battle scenes count for something.

-Nate Hill

For Your Ears Only: Guy Hamilton’s THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

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Tom and Frank are honored to be joined with filmmaker Wayne Kramer (THE COOLER, RUNNING SCARED, PAWNSHOP CHRONICLES) to discuss Guy Hamilton’s final directorial effort, The Man with the Golden Gun.

B Movie Glory: Russell Mulcahy’s Tale Of The Mummy

Russell Mulcahy’s Talos: Tale Of The Mummy is a fascinating failure of huge proportions, a well casted, unbelievable muck-up that has to be seen to be believed. When your low rent Mummy flick comes out at pretty much the same time as Stephen Sommer’s classic The Mummy, you know you have no shot at getting it out there past a few cable runs, especially when the film has been plagued by one nightmare of an editing fiasco from day one, not to mention low budget and more pacing issues than spastics in a sack race. There’s two apparent versions of it, a 115 minute international cut that was edited down to 88 minutes because of some humour that was in bad taste and aforementioned pacing problems. I saw the shorter version, and I can’t imagine the flow of the film being any worse than what I bore witness too, so maybe they should have just gone with the original cut, but who can really say. The film is essentially just two very cluttered, chaotic prologues jam packed with cameos and creaky special effects, and then one long boring extended horror sequence set in London, so you never get the feeling that they knew what they were doing before the editing process even commenced.

The opening sees archeologist Christopher Lee unearthing some ancient tomb in Egypt with his assistant (Jon Polito), both getting very quickly dispatched by some evil via a flurry of visual effects that are either really cool or really bad, jury is still out on that one for me, they’re just weird more than anything. Skip ahead some years and yet another team falls victim to this Talos Mummy thing, led by Louise Lombard, Brit tough guy Sean Pertwee and Gerard Butler of all people, in what is probably his first movie gig ever. Flash forward to London some months later, we see the Mummy thing roaming around killing people at will, and also seemingly at random. Two detectives played by Jason Scott Lee (looking very out of place in England) and Jack ‘Commodore Norrington’ Davenport investigate and the story just loses itself to nonsensical doldrums and lame ‘scares’ for the rest of the duration. Shelley Duvall bizarrely shows up as a journalist, as well as Honor Blackman and the Sean Pertwee character, now a raving madman who no one will believe when he says the Mummy is out to get them. I’m still aghast at the sheer number and variety of notable actors Mulcahy got to appear in this thing, most of them fleeting or short lived but still making hilarious impressions in a story they had to know was just plain silly. There’s a few things that work; the FX in the Christopher Lee sequence are a neat, schlocky blend of CGI and practical and work on their own scrappy terms. There’s a very brief flashback sequence to Ancient Egypt that shows how Talos became an evil creature that’s visceral and well designed, but doesn’t last long enough to boost the overall quality. Everything in London with the two cops is just laaammee though, and drags it all down the sewer. Talos there resembles a filthy shower curtain that went through a paper shredder and subsequently got carried away by a strong gust of wind, neither remotely scary nor stylish, just your average half assed B flick monster. Worth a watch simply for the odd spectacle of it all, and for research purposes.

-Nate Hill

“I didn’t want to be Mr. Werewolf.”: An Interview with Philippe Mora by Kent Hill

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Back when I was just new around here at PTS, I had the opportunity to interview Philippe on one of my favorite movies under his direction, The Return of Captain Invincible (which you’ll find here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/10/08/what-the-world-needs-now-remembering-the-return-of-captain-invincible-with-philippe-mora-by-kent-hill/). Since then, I’ve wanted to sit down with one of my country’s truly unique artists, who has really done a little bit of everything.

Philippe was born in Paris, but after a long journey his parents ended up in Australia. With his multicultural background, surrounded by a cosmopolitan locale, as a young man I can image Philippe surrounded by inspiration.

As a man destined to make some truly wonderful films, he like us all who aspire to it, started by making short films and documentaries. Then he went and made a classic. He convinced the Easy Rider himself, the late, great Dennis Hopper, to go bush and take on the guise of one of Australia’s most colorful outlaws, Mad Dog Morgan.

What would permeate from that thrilling debut is an extraordinary, eclectic list of credits that has action, aliens, werewolves, and even Pterodactyl women.

Of late, Philippe has returned to the documentary scene, bringing us stories both powerful and confronting. He also, being a talented artist, has turned his hand to graphic novels like The ABC of the Holocaust and Monsieur Mayonnaise which you can check out here:

He is a gentleman and a scholar, as well as the maker of some great movies. He has rubbed shoulders with the top echelons in the both the arenas of art and cinema. And, he has what I consider the best spin on a Merchant/Ivory title for a comedic-horror film.

Here he is, my guest (again), the fun and the fascinating . . . Philippe Mora.

Fun, and in every sense civilized: An Interview with Charlie Haas by Kent Hill

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Charlie Haas began his life with no thought of working in film. He was interested in fiction and journalism until, that is, at UC, Santa Cruz he started attending a film history class taught by his future collaborator Tim Hunter.

1978 comes around, and their first collaborative effort, Over the Edge, is sold. It is highly unusual for a first time screenwriter to have his early work produced, but that was what happened. After that it was a rise and rise. A young Matt Dillon would go on the star in Hunter and Haas’s next film Tex, and while hanging around at Disney, Charlie found himself doing an unaccredited dialogue polish on, the now cult classic, Tron.

Tron (1982) Spain

Two other favorite films of mine were penned completely by Charlie Haas. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Matinee.  Both of course were directed by Joe Dante, a famously collaboratively-generous filmmaker. Charlie’s experiences were similar to those had by Eric Luke (whom I’ve chatted with before) who spoke fondly of his Dante adventure on Explorers. Gremlins 2 was a free-for-all kind of sequel. The studio wanted it and so Joe and Charlie were given quite a lot of rope creatively. Meanwhile Matinee is sadly an unsung delight that surprisingly few people I talk to have seen. If you are one of these people, hopefully listening to this may prompt you to check it out, and, if you’re a fan and you haven’t seen it in a while, well, now might be a good time to rediscover this lost little gem of a movie.

Charlie Haas is a true gentleman and it was great to finally shoot the breeze as they say. Though he is not in the industry anymore he is far from unproductive. He has been writing novels, which I shall post the links to below, so check those out.

Whether you have encountered his writing in print or on screen, please now take the time if you will to encounter the man behind the words, the great, Charlie Haas.

https://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parody-Charlie/dp/0843107960/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510213067&sr=1-5&keywords=charlie+haas

The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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The Golden Compass: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s a reason they never adapted another novel in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series past the initial stab at The Golden Compass, and it’s the same infuriating reason why many adaptations of children’s and young adult novels fail: lack of appropriate atmosphere and true menace found in the source material. Everytime Hollywood comes along and decides to try their luck at a beloved series for youngsters or young adults, they feel this feverish need to shine it up with a candy colored, over lit vibe that leaves much of the darker elements by the wayside and as a result their final product feels neutered and bereft of any weight, stakes or attention to detail. Spiderwick. Skellig. Eragon. Hell, even Narnia only made it by the skin of its teeth, blasting out of the gate with a flawless entry, only to peter off into sequels afflicted by the very symptoms I outlined above, and not even make it to the end of the saga at that. Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t happen to every series they try to adapt, but to enough of them that it’s a problem, especially when a darkly creative, eerie and unique tale like this gets turned into a glossy, pandering misfire. It’s sad because some of the elements of a good film are in place, starting with casting. Dakota Blue Richards is on-the-nose perfect as Lyra, the adventurous heroine who gets swept away on a menacing voyage to arctic lands and beyond. She lives in a curious parallel universe where every human is forever accompanied by a ‘Daemon’, essentially a piece of their soul that takes animal form, and never the two shall separate. Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is an explorer who has returned from the north lands with tales of a mysterious phenomenon called ‘dust’, a powerful substance purported to be able to unlock other worlds and dimensions. Lyra is curious at first and then nervous when she meets icy Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) a prim socialite with a devious agenda involving children that have gone missing in the city. She has a facility on the tundra where scary research and very bad experiments are conducted. Now in the books the descriptions and eventual confrontation with this would make your hair turn white. Pullman imparts it with weight and true blood freezing horror. The filmmakers *deliberatly* tone it down and castrate it, leaving anyone who was a fan of the series in total disgust. It just doesn’t have the same dark, otherworldly atmosphere it did on the pages, it feels too bright, chipper and lacking any real wonder. It does have some wicked visuals going for it in places, such as the two rival talking bears, voiced with baritone boom by Ian McKellen and Ian McShane, the landscape of the north as seen from the hot air balloon of grizzled sky-cowboy Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), and others. Eva Green also scores well as elemental witch Serafina Pekkala, but then she’s incapable of giving a bad performance anyhow. Scattered supporting cast includes Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Courtney, Simon Mcburney, Derek Jacobi, as well, an impressive lineup all in all, but one that deserves a far better film for their talent. It’s just misguided and tone deaf. It may have been a series for adolescents, but the themes, implications and scenarios found in those books are harrowing, complex, very mature and not to be taken lightly, let alone given the full on Harry Potter theme park treatment. Shame, really, and a giant missed opportunity. Perhaps someday soon a network will get the rights and turn this tale into a film or tv show worthy of His Dark Materials.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – A Review by Nate Hill 

Some people give me funny looks when I say I enjoyed the Hobbit films. There’s this giant festering stigma around the entire trilogy that’s hard to wade through if you are one who geniunly did enjoy a lot of what Peter Jackson brought us with his second barrage of Middle Earth sagas. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of things he muffed up, the chief aspect being editing and length. We did not ask for, need or want an entire LOTR lenghth trilogy based on a book that could have fit into one volume of that series. Jackson has a tendancy to overreach, film too much and throw it all into his final cut. It started with the extended cuts of LOTR, which were somewhat unneeded, continued with King Kong, which could have been at least 45 minutes shorter, and has now climaxed with The Hobbit films. They’re so long and stretched out that at times we realize we’re not even watching stuff from Tolkien’s annexes or archives, but simply shit old Petey made up to pad the waistline of content that’s begging to be slimmed down. I’m still waiting for a fan edit that condenses everything down into what is necessary to tell the story, and pitch everything else into the purgatorial halls of DVD deleted scene land. And therein lies my argument: There’s gold to be found here, but a lot of folks are so turned off by all the unnecessary razzle dazzle that they have become blind to what actually worked. An Unexpected Journey kicks off the trilogy and definitely fares the best, feeling the most akin to the book. Martin Freeman is lovely as a young Bilbo, baffled to find thirteen rowdy dwarves dumped on his doorstep, the work of Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen, like he never left the role), who wishes to prod him in the direction of a most dangerous and thrilling adventure. Bilbo is a mild creature and deeply in love with the comforts of home, but is whisked along all the same, after a chaotic dinner party and plate throwing contest from this knobbly group of mountain dwelling pygmies. Orcs, Wargs, Goblins, colossal mountain giants and an appearance by the ever fascinating Gollum await them. There’s an interlude into Elrond’s heavenly glade where Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) have a little CSI: Rivendell episode with an ancient dagger that hints towards the return of Sauron. One thing Jackson added that is a highlight is additional wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) an eccwntric hippie who rides a chariot led by massive rabbits in breakneck bouts of Need For Speed: Middle Earth with Orcs atop Wargs. A distinct feature about these films compared to LOTR is the ramping up of CGI; many Orcs are no longer stuntmen in gloriously goopy makeup, but giant computer rendered behemoths, taking some of the texture and authenticity away. Jackson also chose to shoot in many more frames per second than the human eye is used to, giving everything a strange, wax museum sheen that is pretty distracting. Close your bag of tricks and make us a goddamn straightforward flick Pete. Fuck sake. For all the issues, it’s terrific to be back in Middle Earth, however different it looks and feels. The production design is still an elaborate wonder of creative design and decoration, Howard Shore’s now timeless score makes a triumphant return and there’s a beautiful new song courtesy of the dwarves. Say what you want, bitch and moan til the Wargs come home, I love this first outing dearly and rank it nearly as high as LOTR. I can’t say the same for the next two, especially the exhausting Battle Of Five Armies which diminished my patience for Jackson and his tricks a whole lot. But, like I said, there’s always gold to be mined from the needless padding that’s been tossed in. One day someone will edit that perfect cut for us, and we’ll have that definitive Hobbit film. Until then, cherry pick the best parts and try to put the rest from your mind.