Tag Archives: Cult Classics

Robo & The Butterfly: A Fan’s Journey Continues by Kent Hill

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Eva Rojano is not your average RoboCop fan. I remember Mark Hamill’s narration of the TV special SPFX: The Empire Strikes Back, in which he states, and I’m paraphrasing here: “that Star Wars has excited a generation to such an extent that the children who have seen the film are motivated to become doers . . . as well as watchers.

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Eva seems to be the modern day personification of this ideology. What began at the tender age of eight, has blossomed into more the obsession. It is now, unbridled creation.  Of course with all artists, we find and fixate on books, movies, comics, fine art, music. These, while they may not have planted the seed, are certainly the fertilizer in which the formation and manifestation of dreams thrive.

Eva’s journey through the wilds of the universe which began with the brutal murder of officer Alex J. Murphy and his subsequent, phoenix-like resurrection as RoboCop, has seen her not only receive friendship and guidance for two of the franchises integral staples; in the form of Nancy Allen (eternally the dynamic and resourceful Officer Anne Lewis) and Edward Neumeier (one half of the creative genius writing team that gave rise to a franchise).

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Under luminous glow and encouragement, Eva has ascended from her enthusiastic efforts in the production of electrifying art and fan-fiction, directly associated with the Robo-Universe, to a place where she now has the courage, just as all artists who have come before her, to step out from under the wing of the movie that has nurtured her dreams, and into the light that is birth of her own original concept and voice.

This current incarnation of Rojano’s prolific creative output manifests itself as a novel entitled: The Black Butterfly. And I was intrigued as ever to learn the story, the motivation . . . the journey behind what drove this fan among fans to dig below the surface of her own creative crust – unearthing something fresh, unique and touchingly profound.

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What was once purely driven by that glorious cinema classic that is part man, part machine, all cop, now transforms into a bold new vision from a creator that has been fostered by the cinematic equivalent of lightning in a bottle – exploding on to the printed page near you…

NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S BRONSON — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Bronson was the film that brought director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Tom Hardy into my cinematic sights, and since then, I’ve followed both artists with intense fervor and anticipation. This film is like nothing else I’ve ever seen, and even if it blends elements from other films within its framework, the overall originality of the entire endeavor is wild to watch unfold. The film uses a highly stylized structure consisting of surrealistic performance art, abrupt flashbacks, and jarring tonal shifts which makes sense given the extremely heightened aesthetic. Hardy stars as real life British convict Charlie Bronson, aka, The Most Violent British Criminal Ever, a man given to massive fits of rage and stunning moments of primal, animalistic physical violence. The film is a crazy, bloody, kinky kaleidoscope of his oversized life, showing him in an out of the slammer, trying to adjust to the outside world, falling in love, getting mixed up with a variety of wacky side characters, and always spinning back on Bronson’s violent tendencies in almost every situation that he faced. Hardy is extraordinary, giving quite literally one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from any actor in any film. This is a forcefully bizarre movie, and he carries the entire thing, appearing in almost every scene, and letting it all hang out (literally and metaphorically), giving a ferocious performance of astonishing energy and personal chaos. His character is so unpredictable and so unstable that the viewer is constantly left to wonder what will happen next. All of the supporting performances are stellar and help contribute to the zany mood of the entire piece.

And then there’s the eccentric, eclectic soundtrack, featuring numerous classical opera pieces, as well as stuff from The Pet Shop Boys, Doris Day, and David Cassidy, all of which adds to the dense sonic layers of the soundtrack. I love how Refn brilliant subverts your expectations at almost every turn with this perverse movie. He knows you’ve seen other prison films and biopics, and I love how he defiantly refuses to play anything safe in this movie, which is probably the best overall piece of work in his already sensational career. He downplays the customary visual language of this particular genre, going for something more aggressively stylish and baroque than usual, and I love how he’s constantly undermining the inherent masculinity of Bronson as a character and the thugs that he encountered. The way Refn views his psychologically complex lead character suggests that he’s both in awe of Bronson, and totally in fear of him. Macho posturing is elegantly skewered all throughout, with the interesting layer of homosexual social commentary thrown in to spice things up, and also demonstrating the interesting duality to Bronson’s unique persona. Refn is constantly provoking his audience with every film he makes, always throwing multiple layers at you, and it seems to be his M.O. as a filmmaker to challenge whatever genre he’s working in, and it’s going to be extremely exciting to see how he develops as a filmmaker.

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DUNCAN JONES’ MOON — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Duncan Jones’ smashing directorial debut Moon, which he co-wrote with Nathan Parker, is exactly my type of science fiction film — thoughtful, stylish, mind-bending, narratively challenging, and totally consuming on both an emotional and aesthetic level. Sam Rockwell, easily one of our finest working actors, delivered what amounts to likely the top performance of his sterling career, portraying a worker-bee situated on the far side of the Moon, working to harvest a helium-based energy source which is being sent back to Earth to be used by its inhabitants as the planet is suffering from an oil crisis. But when something truly life-changing happens to Rockwell during his three-year stint all alone in space, the film takes on a sinister sense of misdirection, enveloping the audience in a story of a man losing his grip on his own sanity, with detours into cosmic introspection as well as the expected genre based thrills that have been slyly upended in most instances. Kevin Spacey’s creepy and dry voice work as Rockwell’s “trusted” robot companion GERTY was certainly indebted to the HAL character in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but Jones was too smart to attempt any sort of rip-off; his mechanical creation is certainly its own thing and the final act contains more than one surprise which I’d never reveal in a review. Following it’s premiere at the 2009 Sundance film festival, Moon received a very limited theatrical release before becoming an immediate cult item on DVD and Blu-ray, and it’s easy to see why — it’s the type of film that’s more interested in brainy ideas than empty, flashy action, with notions about identity and humanity and loneliness on full display, while fusing together an exciting, beat-the-clock scenario that plays out with escalating tension while never sacrificing anything in the intelligence department. The fact that this film only cost $5 million is staggering; massive kudos to production designer Tony Noble and cinematographer Gary Shaw for crafting a film that looks 10X bigger and fancier than its actual budget. Clint Mansell’s riveting score is also a major plus; he’s easily one of the finest film composers currently crafting music.

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10TH ANNIVERSAY REVIEW OF TONY SCOTT’S MASTERPIECE DOMINO — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Without question or hesitation, I can firmly state that Domino is my absolute favorite Tony Scott film, the one I keep coming back to the most, and at 10 years old, I feel it’s time that this insanely undervalued pièce de résistance from one of our ultimate modern auteurs got the critical attention and audience credit that it truly deserved. Ahead of its time yet also fabulously au courant when the film was unleashed upon cinemas in 2005, Domino is a smashing entertainment, the perfect synthesis of Scott’s gritty yet slick, highly aggressive style that he developed in the 80’s and 90’s with The Hunger, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Beverly Hills Cop 2, Revenge, The Last Boy Scout, True Romance, Crimson Tide, and The Fan, which then led to a decidedly expressionistic (and at times impressionistic) aesthetic in the mid to late 2000’s, with such works as Man on Fire, Beat the Devil, Agent Orange, Déjà Vu, The Taking of Pelham 123, and his final film, the hard-charging and incredibly entertaining Unstoppable, pushing his trademark visual flourishes to the absolute extreme. Sandwiched in between were his two “silver-blue sheen” political thrillers Enemy of the State and Spy Game, with the former sort of predicting our post 9/11 world climate, and the latter commenting on it in real-time. But for me, Domino is the *Toniest* Tony Scott film that the iconic filmmaker ever crafted.

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Easily one of the most misunderstood, sadly maligned films of the last decade, Domino is due to gain a much-deserved cult following. It bombed at the box office, and with the exception of a few sharp critics (Ebert, Dargis, Strauss), people really attacked Scott over this distinctly personal and hyperactive piece of purposefully heightened cinema. And make no mistake, like an effort by Picasso, Domino is a work of collage-inspired art, maybe the first piece of true cubist-cinema ever crafted, leading a super-charged group with the likes of Running Scared by Wayne Kramer, Joe Carnahan’s Smokin’ Aces and Stretch, Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘em Up, and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs.The World, all of which feel spiritually and stylistically connected to Scott’s over the top yet highly artistic sensibilities. Simply put, Domino is one of the most visually elaborate and sophisticated movies ever created, and all of these efforts feel birthed from the seismic contribution that Oliver Stone’s breakneck masterwork Natural Born Killers brought to the forefront in 1994, with its unrelenting sense of visual dynamism, outlandish humor, graphic violence, experimental tone and structure, and an emphasis on constant forward momentum. It’s also more important to note that Scott went on record as saying that Domino was his most favorite film that he ever directed; at the end of the day, he got the movie made the way he wanted to make it, and that says a lot in our current bean-counting movie climate.

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I know that this is Scott’s most divisive, most critically savaged film. Many people hate it. Some people, like me, consider it to be the apex of Scott’s razzle-dazzle career as a storyteller and stylist, with a wild cast of characters (Keira Knightley, Mickey Rourke, Edgar Ramirez, Mo’Nique, Christopher Walken, Dabney Coleman, Delroy Lindo and many others) who all throw themselves into the filmmaking process with gusto and unending enthusiasm for the lurid material. The film is a slightly insane, pseudo-biopic of infamous bounty hunter Domino Harvey (the fantastic Knightley) that exists primarily as a showcase for Scott’s obsession with style and form and, as per usual, a heartfelt narrative. What makes Domino work as a whole is that the story is as unhinged as the style, always complimenting each other, always doing this crazy cinematic dance. Also, many people forget that much of the film takes place through a cloud of mescaline, and most of the third act incorporates a hallucinogenic-trip aspect to the proceedings. And then there’s Domino herself – a wild, rebellious British model turned bounty hunter who wanted only to march to the beat of her own drum. The real Domino Harvey did in fact lead a crazy life, but it probably wasn’t as over the top as Richard Kelly’s crisscrossing and zigzagging script, which was based on a story co-created by The Last Seduction scribe Steve Barancik. The filmmakers make it clear upfront that they’ve taken liberties with the facts – there’s even a graphic that reads: “Based on a true story…sort of.” What I love most about Domino is how frenetic and in your face the filmmaking is, and how incredibly intricate the plotting becomes by the finale. Scott’s hyperventilating and exhilarating style would mean diddly-squat if it wasn’t in service to an exciting plot with characters you like and stakes that are high. Knightley shredded her good-girl image with her balls-out performance as the titular heroine; from the lap-dance scene to breaking Brian Austin Green’s nose to busting out the double machine guns during the finale, she grabbed the role and ran with it. Mickey Rourke’s recent career resurgence really began here, with a gruff and stern performance as Domino’s boss. And Edgar Ramirez, who would later blaze up the screen in the epic five hour terrorist biopic Carlos, busted out in a big way as Domino’s volatile partner, Choco, and the love story that develops between them is as soft and tender as the rest of the film is jagged and primal.

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Many complained that Scott’s directorial tricks and kinetic editing patterns were a major problem in Domino. To those individuals I say: Go home and watch Driving Miss Daisy. First off, lest anyone forget, the film is framed through the P.O.V. of a main character who is tripping on mind-altering substances – that should be the first sign to the viewer that the film is going to be a bit off-kilter. Kelly’s labyrinthine yet still coherent screenplay is a marvel of ingenuity, character construction, and dense plotting with a couple of his customary satiric zingers thrown in for good measure. Daniel Mindel’s super-saturated, kaleidoscopic cinematography bleeds with intense color as the images jump off the screen, assaulting and overwhelming the viewer’s senses – it’s a hot-blooded cinegasm of technique, designed to get you off. Repeatedly. And when you take into consideration that Kelly’s off-the-wall but still rooted in reality screenplay frequently shoots off in various directions at any given point, always carrying the potential to spin wildly out of control, you have to applaud the zeal of all the people behind this crazy undertaking. Strip away all the pyrotechnics and the nonlinear structure and you’re left with a rather simple story of love, deceit, revenge, and emotional and physical catharsis. And let me tell you – if you don’t find it cinematically satisfying when Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez are speeding down that elevator shaft in the Stratosphere hotel while the penthouse level is exploding from an I.E.D., well, I’m not sure what to tell you!

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There are just so many glorious sights that this movie has to offer: The epic opening credit sequence which needs to be played at full volume blast, Christopher Walken stealing scenes as a lunatic reality TV producer with a serious “font issue,” Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green destroying their 90210 celebrity personas in hilarious cameos, Tom Waits as a tripped-out roamer of the desert with some poetic and interesting notions regarding fate, Knightley giving a bra and panty lap dance to a gang member in order to get her crew out of trouble – this movie never stops chugging and churning, throwing stuff at the audience, egging them on for a visceral response. The Jerry Springer interlude with the unveiling of the “mixed-race flow chart” is still a pisser for the ages, and overall, the bizarre nature of the narrative can never really be pinned down, which is a huge part of the fun factor. This was Tony Scot unleashed, the moment where you felt Scott put ALL OF HIMSELF into making a movie. It’s that rare, expensive, personal project that only gets funded by private investors who then let the filmmaker do whatever it is that they want. Domino is Tony Scott’s undying love letter to cinema as a whole and stands as his immortal masterpiece. As Manohla Dargis of the New York Times said in her glowing review of the film: “It’s all the Tony Scott you could want in a Tony Scott movie.” Damn straight.

ZACK SNYDER’S WATCHMEN — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Watchmen is as bold, risk-taking, and ambitious as a major studio event movie starring actors in spandex suits is going to get. Without the runaway success that 300 became, divisive but undoubtedly gifted director Zack Snyder was never going to be allowed to make a $150 million hard-R comic book movie. Throughout the years, a diverse group of filmmakers including Joel Silver, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass, and many others all tried – and failed – to bring Alan Moore’s wildly revered graphic novel to the big screen. The big-wigs calling the shots at Warner Brothers at the time of Watchmen’s production (the Alan Horn-era?) deserve some serious accolades, as this project could have been turned into a PG-13, watered-down version of its incredibly nihilistic source material. And it wasn’t. I’m not judging the film version against the graphic novel. They are two totally different mediums, and what works in one doesn’t necessarily translate to the other. The big changes were A-OK by me, and quietly frankly, made a lot of sense from a cinematic point of view. I’ve read the Watchmen source material, and I never thought for a moment that what Moore put on the page would be exactly copied and transferred to the screen; this was not going to be 300 all over again, with a film that literally feels TORN from the pages of its original inspiration. Back on opening weekend in 2009, I saw the film in the IMAX format and it was an overwhelmingly powerful visual experience. It was honestly too much to fully process on initial viewing, even with the benefit of having read the graphic novel beforehand. But over the course of multiple viewings and endless online discussions, I’ve been able to boil down all of the plot lines and key thematic discussions, with the visuals and action and special effects never losing their dynamic impact. Billy Crudup’s scenes as Dr. Manhattan are easily my favorite; the Mars interlude has an elegance to it that’s hard to describe.

I’m stunned by the overall sense of design and visual sophistication of the film, especially the opening credit sequence, which dispenses with backstory and motivation in such an economical and purely visual fashion that it’s nearly impossible not to become immediately engrossed. Set to Bob Dylan’s classic tune “The Times They Are A Changin’,” Watchmen opens up with a glimpse of our society that’s just a tad skewed from what we’re familiar with, all done in glorious Snyder-vision, showing the formation of the Minutemen, their eventual collapse, and the birth of the Watchmen, while providing a political timeline that expands upon this alternate universe – it’s visceral poetry in motion and one of the most startling openings to any film. Snyder seems to love the ability to literally turn a graphic novel into a living, breathing piece of moving celluloid, and Watchmen has a fantastic, surreal quality because much of it was done on practical sets and real locations, but also utilizing CGI environments and backdrops, giving the film a rough yet slick and totally heightened quality. With Watchmen, he took a supposedly “unfilmable” graphic novel and made it – at least to my eye – into one of the most uncompromising, demanding, and insanely brutal superhero films that’s ever been attempted. There’s so much to sift through – the alternate political timeline, the subversion of the superhero genre, the blending of film noir with science fiction – Watchmen feels like an uncanny amalgam of 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, Dark City, Sin City, The Dark Knight, and the works of Raymond Chandler. It’s a very heady brew, trippy and surreal at times, ironically campy in a few instances, always nasty, frequently kinky, and always interesting to experience. This is a one of a kind film that really stands alone within the space of the comic book film, and even though it’s not perfect, it’s so ambitious and at times downright hypnotic to watch that I find myself under its spell in no time whenever I put on the Blu-ray.

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JEAN-JACQUES ANNAUD’S THE BEAR — 25TH ANNIVERSAY REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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The Bear = the very definition of uncompromised, masterpiece-level filmmaking and storytelling. This is one of the most stunning achievements that I’ve ever seen. Of this I am certain. As a child, I was fascinated and consumed by this gorgeous piece of work, and as I’ve gotten older, my love for it has expanded in ways I can’t possibly describe. Guided by the elegant, extremely confident directorial hand of the eclectic French filmmaker Jean-Jacques Annaud, this is an “animal movie” that transcends that simple description; there’s nothing else remotely like it, in both original aim and final execution. The patience – oh the glorious patience(!) – that this film required in order for it to get made gives me a mini-migraine to contemplate. The magisterial cinematography from all-time great Philippe Rousselot produces one flabbergasting image after another. No CGI. No camera tricks. Just raw, primal beauty with an intrinsic understanding of how to use the 2.35:1 frame. American audiences were also introduced to the amazing character actor Tcheky Karyo as a result of this multi-national production, and while most of this film is silent, the few actors who do appear, Karyo most especially, cut convincing portraits of men doing what they know how to do, having been carved by the environment, but who still have the capacity to empathize with their prey.

The Bear is an almost incomparable work of naturalistic beauty, and for a long time, the only way to see this film on the Blu-ray format was via a German import. It’s now been released all over the world as a 25th Anniversary Special edition by Shout!, and the film should become essential viewing for anyone not already familiar. This is a powerful story of humans, animals, the bonds between both, and how the inherent feeling of struggle and survival is within us all. It’s also a universal story about the importance of friendship, stretching from species to species in equal, observant fashion. This film is so undervalued it almost makes me sick. Every child should be subjected to The Bear, and yes, while the harrowing and painful opening moments depicting the random cruelty of the natural world still sting to this day, it’s a piece of work that young minds should engage with because the overall message is so vital and forever-lasting. Included on this newly released Blu-ray is a 55 minute long, and totally vintage, making-of documentary, that’s almost as good as the film itself. You’re treated to an amazing amount of behind the scenes filming, and you get a chance to observe the intense training that the animals were put through. Seriously amazing stuff. And let’s not forget: Bear Cub Tripping on Mushrooms POWER. Bear Cub VIVIDLY DREAMING POWER. As I said in my first sentence: Masterpiece.

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CINEMATOGRAPHER SPOTLIGHT: STEVEN POSTER, ASC — BY NICK CLEMENT

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Veteran cinematographer Steven Poster, ASC has compiled a wide-ranging mix of theatrical and television credits throughout the years that stretch various genres and styles. After getting a start as a camera operator on Robert Altman’s brilliant 1978 comedy A Wedding, he moved into second unit work, getting a chance to cut his teeth on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China. In recent years, he’s developed a close working relationship with maverick indie director Richard Kelly on the cult classics Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, as well as the underrated sci-fi thriller The Box, which approximated the look and feel of the 1970’s in ways that few modern movies ever attempt. He shot the provocative Los Angeles sexual drama Spread from rising star director David Mackenzie (Perfect Sense and Starred Up), Ridley Scott’s 1987 neo-noir thriller Someone to Watch Over Me, audience favorite Rocky V, the subversive and totally wild sequel Big Top Pee Wee, and 80’s classics Strange Brew and The Boy Who Could Fly. In addition to his duties behind the camera, Steven currently serves as President of the International Cinematographers Guild, and in previous years, served as President of the American Society of Cinematographers. His upcoming projects for 2016 include the horror sequel Amityville: The Awakening, a new Richard Kelly movie, and the indie drama All Good Things. He’s an artist always looking to change it up with varying material and specific aesthetic choices, while always stressing smart control with imagery and a disciplined sense of camera placement.

Donnie Darko announced the arrival of the challenging filmmaker Richard Kelly, and the film became a calling card for the director, and for a generation of high school and college kids looking for something offbeat and unique. A big reason for the film’s overall level of success is the dreamy visual style that Poster brought to the project. Shot in 2.35:1 widescreen and frequently emphasizing the middle of the frame, the film has an ominous tone all throughout, with much of the story set at night, while Poster’s camera glides through one surreal cinematic moment after another, using slow-motion in a perfect fashion, heightening the emotional moments with force and purpose. Another Poster/Kelly collaboration is Southland Tales, the divisive, Dr. Strangelove-esque political and social satire that feels like 10 movies stuffed into one, with an aesthetic style that feels like a smart and logical extension from Donnie Darko, again maximizing the use of the widescreen space, filling the screen with hallucinatory images that wash over you like some sort of wild, psychedelic trip. The saturated colors favored by Poster in this film made the volatile world being presented in the narrative all the more seductive, while the final 30 minutes represent something of a stylistic freak-out on the part of everyone involved, with Poster emphasizing the otherworldly through lens flares, bold nocturnal images, with an exploding zeppelin and a floating ice-cream truck providing him with the opportunity to craft images that feel like nothing you’ve ever seen. And Poster’s work on Ridley Scott’s underappreciated thriller Someone to Watch Over Me is a clinic on how to shoot a neo-noir that never feels overly slavish to other genre entries, always taking cues from the past while imbuing it with a (for the time) slick and sexy visual style that feels oh-so-gloriously late 80’s in retrospect. Shadows, smoke, darkness, moonlight, neon, and all sorts of atmospherics played a big part in Poster’s overall mise-en-scene, and under the firm direction of Scott, Poster was able to craft one of the best looking films of his stellar career.

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