Nobody is a nice riff on the one man army revenge shtick and is not only in the tradition of John Wick, it’s also written by one half of the same creative forces behind it so it sorta has that feel, albeit of a more… suburban dad variety. Bob Odenkirk is a left field choice for the ‘invincible ex-spook’ archetype and while I had my doubts that his physicality could pull off some of the stuff I saw here, he no doubt has the grit and charisma in spades to inhabit this intense role. He’s Hutch, an unassuming family man whose wife (nice to see Connie Nielsen) and kids don’t seem to think much of him, especially after he appears to be totally ineffective at defending them from violent home invaders one night. It turns out this random blue collar family man is an ex government assassination guru and pretty soon that one encounter with burglars leads to an ongoing, cataclysmic feud with the Russian mob, spearheaded by a sociopathic (or soviet-pathic?) piece of work named Julian, played by Aleksey Serebryakov in an impressively rambunctious portrait of pure unfiltered evil, like a Slav kingpin version of the joker or something. The action here is wonderfully choreographed, relentlessly brutal and crisply filmed, especially a bone smashing close quarters fight on a public transit bus that kicks off the central conflict. The great Christopher Lloyd has a nice bit as Hutch’s dad, a veteran living in a rest home who proves he isn’t quite out for the count yet and gets some great kills in alongside his son, and we also get RZA as a former colleague who steps in for some action too. Unfortunately the film chose to include the always awesome Michael Ironside but inexplicably decided to cast him in a wholly inconsequential sideline role that has nothing to do with the plot overall and could have been played by any Joe Nobody, an ill advised casting choice that would have caused me to remove a star from the rating if I were doing that star thing. Don’t hire Michael Ironside unless it’s a memorable, badass, worthy role, it’s just common sense. Anywho, it’s a solid flick, great villain, superb action and while I may not be onboard with the hype as much as some I’ve seen, I still had a good time. I will give it extra credit for one of the most gruesome, satisfying, laugh out loud villain deaths I’ve seen in action cinema.
Trying to produce a successful sequel to a groundbreaking film nearly a decade later is always going to be a hurdle in every way from preserving originality to breaking new ground to keeping the magic alive. Robert Rodriguez faced quite the task in picking up the reins of Sin City: A Dame To Kill so many years after his original film revolutionized aspects of filmmaking, and this was never going to feel as fresh or innovative as the first, but I still love it, it’s still firmly rooted in the gorgeous and terrifying world of ‘hyper-noir’ lifted from the pages of Frank Miller’s comics and the stories here, although quite different from the first, are just as brutal and poetic. However, whether or not you are a fan of this film overall there is one indisputable factor that makes it amazing, perhaps even more so than the first and her name is Eva Fucking Green. Casting Basin City’s scariest, sexiest femme fatale was always going to be a hurdle and I remember everyone from Rachel Weisz to Angelina Jolie being considered. Green is an actress of unreasonable talent, intimidating presence and staggering sex appeal and she is devilishly divine as Ava Lord, the black widow spider in human form, a psychopathic bitch who ruins the lives of anyone who gets close to her, most notably Josh Brolin’s square-jawed incarnation of Dwight. This is the film’s most effective story mostly because of her and because it’s an OG Sin City yarn whereas the other two are brand new material Miller dreamed up for this film. Other vignettes include Joseph Gordon Levitt as a hard luck gambling man looking for retribution and Jessica Alba’s now borderline maniacal Nancy, out for bloodiest revenge against mega-villain Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) for the death of her guardian angel Hartigan (Bruce Willis in ghostly visions). The other strongest point of the film is Boothe, who had one quick but deadly scene in the first film, Rodriguez expands his role into full fledged, cigar chomping, homicidal scene stealing frenzy here and he’s gotta be one of the craziest, over the hill comic book villains ever put to film. I will concede that this film doesn’t have the propulsive, elemental momentum of the first. There’s a staccato, circus sideshow vibe that’s different from the fluidity of the first’s narrative, which was more well oiled than every humming automobile under its hood and had this organic flow that was almost intangible. But the visual beauty, playfulness in colour vs black & white, cheerful brutality and startling nihilism, everything else that made it special are all still at play here and I refuse to see it get written off as some dud sequel, because it’s far better than that. Not to mention that Rodriguez once again assembles an absolute bonkers cast including Mickey Rourke once again playing that big lug Marv, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple, Julia Garner, Dennis Haysbert stepping in for the late Michael Clarke Duncan, Marton Csokas, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jaime King, Alexa Vega, Jamie Chung, Lady Gaga as a friendly truck-stop waitress, Christopher Lloyd as some freaky doctor who can only operate after a shot of smack and Stacy Keach in a bizarre cameo as basically Jabba the Hut in a fancy suit. Try shaking a stick at that lineup. It’s true this doesn’t have the same monochrome lightning in a bottle magic of the first but it’s still more than worth the attention of anyone who enjoys spending time in this world and appreciates gorgeous looking, star studded, unforgiving things dark pulp artistic cinema. Plus it deserves a watch just for Eva Green as probably my favourite femme fatale ever committed to celluloid, she’s that good.
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.
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.
How does a terrific film by an Oscar nominated writer/director with an all star cast end up going direct to video? Who knows, but I hope the persons responsible were tarred and feathered off the studio lot. On a must mention list of staggeringly overlooked films, Bob Gale’s Interstate 60 ranks pretty goddamn far up there for me, and how it slipped past both marketing fanfare and enduring notoriety is both beyond my comprehension and a full on crying shame. Gale also wrote a little flick you may have heard of called Back To The Future, which went on to gather a decent amount of steam, and if that story was packed with interesting ideas, wait until you see the kind of dense, highly philosophical and tantalizingly verbose scenarios he whips up here. Remember that old book The Phantom Tollbooth by “? If you do, you’ll remember it’s protagonist, a precocious kid named Milo and his grammatically scintillating descent into a world where meaning takes on a meaning of its own and every character he meets has a very specific thematic part to play. Well, Interstate 60 is kind of like if Milo grew up into James ‘Cyclops’ Marsden and continued his journey down the literary yellow brick road for a brand new, adult orientated set of adventures starring a whole host of Hollywood heavy hitters whose involvement still somehow couldn’t shake this piece out of sleeper-ville. Marsden is Neal, a young man at a crossroads in terms of jobs, relationships and his place in the world. After a bizarre accident puts him in the hospital, the mysterious duty doctor (Christopher Lloyd) gives him the keys to a sports car and sends him off on a strange odyssey along Interstate 60, a stretch of highway that doesn’t appear to exist on any maps. This is of course a journey of self discovery, with life lessons and painful truths blooming in thickets along the way like wildflowers on the roadside. He’s looking for answers, which he often finds but not in the way he thought or hoped, also searching for his dream girl, whom he finds in adorable Amy Smart but not without a deft test of character first. The cast is all out brilliant here: Chris Cooper is dangerously engaging as an unconventional bank robber, Kurt Russell painfully funny as the sheriff of a small county who has a cheerfully bohemian attitude towards narcotics, and a very important point to prove. Watch for a quick cameo from Marty McFly too. The episodic nature is fluidly soldered together by Gary Oldman’s recurring oddball O.W. Grant, a man with no genitals who grants everyone one wish by blowing green smoke out of his monkey shaped pipe. Such are the delightful eccentricities on display and more, but it’s never just about silliness and surrealities, there are important, enlightening ideas at play here, the script is almost too inspired to serve one film only, there’s so much going on. I wish this one would get picked up for re-distribution or something, it’s too great of a film to be exiled in obscurity the way it has been, there isn’t even a decent DVD out there. If you like your comedies smart, insightful and the right amount of weird, please go seek this one out. I mean, just look at that cast.
It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.
Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion
Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films asBack to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.
I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.
To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!
And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.
I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.
So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.
In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.
Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.
While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.
KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?
WDR: First I wanted a paper route. Then I wanted to run a circus. Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher. Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?” But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there. Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.
I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties. In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE. They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.
KH: How did you break in to the business?
WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent. I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra. That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it. Presto! I was a produced screenwriter.
KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula,Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?
WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential. You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from. That came later.
KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time withBanzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?
WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”. After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.
KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’sQ & A whose guests were Wellerand Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?
WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him. As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.
KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?
WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say. It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc. So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig. The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center. The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there. Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed. John and Kurt settled on that themselves.
You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”
Turns out I did write it. I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.
KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?
WDR: Definitely. I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.
KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.
WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience. Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion. Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.
KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?
WDR: The “writing” never really stopped. I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director. But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time. It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.
WDR: Crazy. The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose. My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page. I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages. So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact. I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.
KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?
WDR: Write. Write. Write. But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers. Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?
KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.
The 90’s was a heyday of hard boiled, ultraviolent film noir, a ripple effect that can undeniably be traced back to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, however it’s silly to say that they all are derived from that film, because plenty of them have their own distinct groove and flavour. One such flick is Gary Fleder’s Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, a mouthful of a title that serves as harbinger to one of the most idiosyncratic, verbally flamboyant scripts Hollywood ever produced, penned by Scott Rosenberg. They scored the cast to back it up too, for a beautifully melodramatic neo-noir pulp opus that should be as legendary as any of the household name films to come out of that era. Andy Garcia is the definition of slick as Jimmy The Saint, an ex mobster on the straight and narrow who’s pulled back into the game by The Man With The Plan (Christopher Walken) his former employer and the most dangerous crime boss in all the land. Hired to scare the piss-ant boyfriend who stole Walken’s son’s girl, Jimmy rounds up a crew that shouldn’t be trusted to watch a junkyard. Pieces (Christopher Lloyd, brilliant) is a diseased old porn shop owner, Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), tough guy with a heart of gold Big Bear Franchise (William Forsythe) and Critical Bill (Treat Williams) the psychopathic wild card who uses his day job at a mortuary as an anger outlet by pummelling the corpses like punching bags. Of course they royally fuck up the job, and Walken places scary, symbolic ‘hits’ on each of them. The clock ticks as they all try to either leave town or face the music, but Jimmy is the one with something to lose as he’s fallen in love with elegant, posh rich girl Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar). The script could have easily gone for just colourful carnage and glib posturing, but there’s real, palpable gravitas to the character relations, especially between Jimmy and Walken, who’s history is hinted at and brought to complex life by the two pros. This is Walken at his weirdest and wildest, confined to a spooky wheelchair and locked up in a guarded, dimly lit estate like Count Dracula. There’s a touching subplot involving wayward hooker Lucinda (Fairuza Balk, always terrific) that brings out the dormant humanity in hardened Jimmy. The cast here really is a marvel, and includes Don Cheadle and Glenn Plummer as a couple of loudmouth criminals, Jack Warden, Jenny McCarthy, Tiny Lister, Marshall Bell, Bill Cobbs, Michael Nicolosi, and Steve Buscemi as a freaky hitman named Mr. Shhhh, because he shoots first and doesn’t ask any questions at all. The dialogue is unique and flows from the actors like urban Shakespeare, it’s one of the coolest scripts ever written, and serves not just to be slick for the sake of it, but use jive and jargon to bring forth character naturally, and effortlessly provide buoyancy to the story. One of the great hidden gems out there. Boat Drinks.
They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.
Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.
Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.
For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. There’s a title, eh? The film lives up to it too, and is simply one of the most unique, bizarre and original sci fi flicks out there. It’s the very definition of cult to its abstract bones, filled to the brim with eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. For me it represents a certain genre niche that’s nestled squarely in goofball mode, splayed out across the borders of science fiction, comedy and farce, without a care in the world and not an iota of self consciousness or any fucks given. Call it Buck Rogers meets The Avengers meets Bonanza doesn’t even scratch the surface. Peter Weller, that eternally cool bastard, plays Buckaroo Banzai, who is somewhat of a renaissance man. He’s a neurosurgeon, a rock star, a scientist and above all a lover of adventure, always sporting Weller’s unmistakable deadpan charm. Buckaroo and his band are also a crime fighting team called The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and include roughneck but lovable cowboy Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and slick New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum). Buck has perfected a device called the oscillation overthruster, which allows him to travel through solid matter and on into the eighth dimension. Only problem is, the red lectroids, an alien race from planet 10, want to steal the device for their own. They are led by an unbelievably funny John Lithgow who gets the spirit of the film and then some. Buck also finds romance with the adorable Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), whisking her off into super sonic adventure with him and the Cavaliers. It’s beyond silly, super arbitrary and random, and I love every glorious unfiltered minute of it. This type of wantonly bizarre stuff is my cinematic bread and butter, especially when it’s done with such pep in its step, as well ass love and commitment to being an oddball venture. The cast is huge and all in that loopy sleep deprived state where everything is funny and strange organic creation comes from the abstract. Watch for Dan Hedaya, Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, John Ashton and Christopher Lloyd too. A wacky gem with a style all its own, constantly tapped into a well of creation, humour and fun.