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Exploring the Nic Cage B Grade Cinematic Universe with Nate: Tokarev aka Rage

Good god this one was depressing, like knowingly, on purpose, almost cheerfully fucking bleak, with no clear theme or message to wring out of it. It’s called Tokarev officially and was renamed Rage for North American distribution (don’t get me started) but it kinda works because the original title is only mentioned once in the film and so fleetingly I couldn’t even surmise who or what a Tokarev was and how it related to the story whatsoever. Nic plays reformed career criminal Paul Maguire here, an upstanding citizen forced to return to violent ways from the past when his teenage daughter is kidnapped and murdered. Assembling his two former buddies (Max Ryan and Michael McGrady, both badass and likeable) he launches a covert quest for revenge and justice that manages to somehow be both high octane and not very focused for… odd results. He’s hassled by a hotshot detective played by Danny Glover who literally is too old for this shit now and just seems disinterested, even in a monologue that’s meant to be introspective but comes across hilariously tone deaf and out of context to the conversation he and Cage are having. Peter Stormare shows up as a crime boss in a wheelchair and at first I didn’t want to admit to myself that any filmmaker would try and cast him as an Irish dude but the character’s name is Francis O’Connell and Peter’s usual brisk, eccentric Swedish twang is harried by a disastrous attempt at brogue and I just couldn’t with that casting decision man, and usually I’ll buy Peter in any role because the guy is an acting genius. Anyways I’ll give credit where it’s due: director Paco Cabezas has undeniable skill with action and there’s a few scenes that are impressively, kinetically staged with a sense of space and dynamics with the camera. The brotherly camaraderie between Cage, Ryan and McGrady feels quite authentic and is both well written and strongly acted by the three. But that’s about it man, this is a dour, punishingly violent film without the kind of impactful story to make any of it earned or worthwhile and a wannabe Mystic River twist ending that feels out of left field and very unconvincing. You’ll just feel shellshocked when all is said and done and get off the couch feeling like a truck hit you for no good reason. Two Cages out of five.

-Nate Hill

Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz

For such a measured, introspective and anti-Hollywood prison break film, Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz is a fantastically entertaining and unbearably suspenseful thriller. This isn’t a film with action sequences, huge set pieces, scenery chewing wardens, shanks in the shower fight sequences, extreme near misses or anything you’d expect from a studio escape film. The warden (Patrick McGoohan with malfeasance on a low burn) is a terrifyingly strict piece of work to be sure, but he’s curt, to the point and buttoned down. Our hero Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) isn’t a preening rapscallion or rascally rogue but a straightforward, quiet, surprisingly compassionate and determined fellow. The obligatory aggressive inmate (Bruce M. Fischer) he clashes with isn’t some contraband adorned gang chess piece but rather a hulking bruiser who gets right to the point. The escape itself is a dank, claustrophobic trek through corroded crawl-spaces and could be considered anticlimactic of it didn’t feel so darn authentic. Like, this is what it would *really* be like to bust out of that joint of all joints in the curiously tranquil San Francisco harbour and I both admired and greatly enjoyed this film for its down to earth, by the book presentation. That’s not to say it’s dry or boring, despite being remote. Most of the story is told through quick glances, offhand mannerisms and clipped dialogue, but beneath that, if one intuits it out, are carefully placed pockets of psychological depth, wellsprings of human behaviour buried under the blunt aspects that are a wealth to anyone who loves complexities not readily apparent. Just look at Frank’s carefully cultivated relationship with stone-spirited bookkeeper English (Paul Benjamin) and the payoff that comes later, given their subtle interactions. Or examine the cold heartbreak and mental unravelling of Doc (Roberts Blossom) when the warden takes away his painting privileges, an activity that singlehandedly fuels his will to survive behind bars. That sequence cuts deep in a way that’s tough to impart in words. This film treats the day to day life in prison with the same dutiful care and attention to craft as it does the eventual escape and the result is something that feels lived in, mature, effortlessly magnetic and so simple that one might need to do several double tales to soak in the yawning profundities tucked in behind every monosyllabic utterance, every deliberately chosen camera placement, every flick of the eyes towards the prison walls that seem like dimensional barriers and the skies above them, somehow so close and so far. Few Hollywood prison films reach for heights in such a direct way, and succeed in doing so. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Peter Weir’s Witness

Witness is one of those films that in the hands of a less inspired director could have turned out to be pretty run of the mill thriller stuff, but they gave the script to Peter Weir, and he’s made a career out of films that could be called just about anything but run of the mill. This is essentially a fairly grounded tale of big city detective Harrison Ford undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who accidentally saw a cabal of corrupt cops murder someone in cold blood. It’s a fish out of water tale, it’s got budding romance, hot blooded action and even some comedy here and there. But there’s also this lyrical, esoteric atmosphere Weir brings to every project that really makes it something special. There’s a danger present in the Amish community, or rather the threat of such as seen in the long grass of the fields or sensed on the fringes of their village where the tree line looms. There’s a blessed calm as Ford learns the ways and customs of these folk and gets close with the daughter (Kelly McGillis) of one of their elders (Jan Rubes, a scene stealer) but alongside that there’s this restless, inexorable foreboding that these evil officers of the law could turn up at anytime and turn the calmness into a storm to follow. They eventually do, of course, and are played by the fearsome likes of Josef Sommer and Danny Glover, arriving like phantoms to herald a showdown of stealth and gun violence that is Western to its core but still stings with the grit of an urban cop flick. I love this film not so much for the story or script (both of which are just fine) but for the *feeling* it evokes, the ambience spun onscreen by Weir and composer Maurice Jarre, whose work here is ecstatically beautiful. There’s an extended sequence where we see the Amish folk building a barn and it’s a simple enough task, but something about the dutiful way Weir films it coupled with an almost grandiose passage of Jarre’s music makes it come alive in a way that not many scenes of its nature do in film. And always, lurking in the background, is the fear that danger is on its way, a sustained distillation of unease that helps to make this a gorgeous, effective thriller and all round great film.

-Nate Hill

Created in a Deluge: The Rising of Waterworld by Kent Hill

The future. The polar ice caps have melted covering the earth with water. The Universal logo spins as we watch the world change as the camera descends, through the atmosphere, and eventually we find the ‘new world’ where those who have survived have adapted. We are now in Waterworld.

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Then Costner takes a whiz and, after a pass through his handy filtration system, drinks it. Regardless, it was at this point of the movie my Mother checked out. See, in Australia, the term getting on the piss is connected with getting together with mates and drinking an inordinate amounts of cold beers. But it is Waterworld that took the phrase to a whole new level.

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I was just about done with my high school years – and whilst on a family vacation – when I first saw Waterworld. And I came to it, as I often did in those days, as an innocent, in a time before the ice caps melted and a media torrent covered the globe. I had no concept of the vortex of negative press that Waterworld carried with it like a cargo hold full of dirt ready for the traders.cec78fc510ba16e5f3a175fe4471509ee3212963 It was, at that time, the largest theatre I’d been to. This rendered Kevin Reynolds’ epic feat of film-making monolithic in scale. Of course Waterworld really doesn’t need the big screen for you to witness just how incredible the production is. It’s, aside from a few computerized flourishes, real for real. The action, the set pieces – CGI wasn’t quite there yet – so this monumentally impressive picture carries the imposing span of the ocean, which is its stage, and the blinding brilliance of sun, pouring its radiance over this bold new vision of the post-apocalyptic future.

I’m sure by this point dear reader, that there are few that are not acquainted with this out and out classic. But for those for whom the picture is a stranger like Costner’s Mariner, sailing out of the horizon, then you have picked the right time to stop and check it out – the common courtesy extended when two drifters meet.0760137198383_p0_v1_s1200x630 From Arrow, the home of splendid re-release packages of some of the more famous/infamous cult classics of the age, comes the definitive, limited edition Blu-ray extravaganza that is the tale of the search for Dryland. Here at Water’s End you’ll find the three restored versions of the film, a loaded treasure trove of extras; the crown jewel being Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld, an enthralling documentary feature chronicling the birth, rise, fall and ultimately redemption of one of the truly awesome adventure movies in cinema history. It may be fortuitous that this release surfaces in the wake of another sea-going fantasy – the billion dollar triumph that is Aquaman. And while the DCEU’s latest opus is no Mad Max on water, they share the same enduring quality films of this type have in common. The world building is awe-inspiring, the joy experienced while watching them infectious and they both leave the stage set for voyages of astonishing proportions to be explored.

I love this movie. Think of me how you will. But Waterworld is outstanding in my book and I am thrilled, not only that this release exists, but that its supplementary material finally sets the record straight – as well as allowing fans and first-timers alike to really marvel at what it took to cover the earth with water and allow we, the movie-loving audience, to take a ride that you’ll never see made this way again. Such a magnificent event as this calls for an equally impressive effort on my behalf.

That being the case I have a trio of insightful interviews with my guests David J. Moore (co-author of the supplementary booklet), Daniel Griffith (the filmmaker behind the documentary I’ve waited for, Maelstrom: The Odyssey of Waterworld) and, get ready for it, the man without whom the film would not exist, the film’s creator and initial screenwriter, Peter Rader. So stretch out in your deck hammock with an extra-large cup of hydro and stare at the majesty of the horizon, where the land meets the sea and watch in wonder as Waterworld engulfs you in a wave of splendor; this Everest’s peak of action/adventure cinema you can’t help but sink into.

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David J. Moore has written articles for Fangoria, Filmfax, Ultra Violent, VideoScope, Lunchmeat, Flickering Myth, and L’Ecran Fantastique. Interviews he’s conducted can be found on OutlawVern.com. He has worked as a freelance film journalist, visiting movie sets around the world. His next book is called The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Stars and Their Movies, and it will be published in 2015. He lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

DANIEL GRIFFITHdanielgriffith

Daniel Griffith has produced and directed more than 35 bonus feature productions, as well as five feature-length documentaries, including “LET THERE BE LIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF DARK STAR” and “THE FLESH AND THE FURY: X-POSING TWINS OF EVIL”. He is also the documentarian for Shout! Factory’s “MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000” DVD boxed sets. Recently, he produced and directed the one hour documentary on the legacy of Rod Serling’s celebrated TV series, “THE TWILIGHT ZONE”, for CBS Films. Griffith won the 2012 Rondo Award for best DVD Bonus Feature for his biography on Universal B-movie actor, Rondo Hatton. He is the owner/founder of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures.

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Peter Rader is a director and writer, known for Waterworld (1995), The Last Legion (2007) and Grandmother’s House (1988).arrow-vid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Wan’s Saw

As much as the Saw franchise has become a screaming mad runaway train from which there is no escape or slowing down (I think they just rolled out the eighth one? Fucking Christ), sometimes I need to remind myself that the first is in fact an excellent horror film and worthy of the mythic status it has earned these days. Written by and starring Leigh Whannell who has recently branched out to direct this year’s awesome genre bender Upgrade, it’s directed by James Who has gone on to become a superstar in the genre, but it’s a bit ironic because with this he basically pioneered a whole new tributary of gore-centric horror, yet went on to do fright flicks that notoriously toned down the carnage in favour of real scares. In a dark, damp room, a doctor (Cary Elwes) and a smart ass (Whannell) are held prisoner, chained to radiators. They are informed by unseen serial killer Jigsaw that they must either chop off a limb with the rusty hacksaw laying about, or die in captivity. A corpse lies near them as well as several other tools and riddles, both of the men have secrets that will come to light and play a part in the unfolding horrors to come. Elsewhere, a weary police detective (Danny Glover) follows the trail of clues and tries to hunt down the elusive Jigsaw killer. It’s all a wickedly paced mechanization that moves along like one of Jigsaw’s jagged, gruesome traps until it reaches that final staggering revelation that has since become legend. Others along for the ride include Lost’s Michael Emerson, Tobin Bell, Monica Potter and Shawnee Smith as the now infamous Amanda. The key to all this, and something that they forgot when churning out those ridiculous sequels, is that less is more. This was a low budget shocker that largely relied on one location, and the looming threat of grisly violence rather than wanton gore every other minute. I suppose every successful idea gets saturated by money and excess once the ball gets rolling but holy fuck did they ever let these Saw films get out of control. The first two are like being at a bar with a few of your friends having casual drinks, then three and four roll in as those crazy friends of friends who order way too many shots and start breaking stuff, by the time five and six show up everyone is dancing and throwing up all over the bar and you forgot how you even got there, and the seventh (in 3D no less, because that’s what we needed) is the anguished hangover the next morning and by then you just want it to stoooopppp. At least that’s how I felt watching the them. I’d just as soon stick to this one, it’s a dark, surprisingly thoughtful chiller with a strong story and one of the best yuck moments in the genre. People forget how measured and restrained it is compared to the un-contained wildfire that those sequels smothered it with.

-Nate Hill

The STUNTWOMAN: An Interview with Cheryl Wheeler by Kent Hill

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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 as Back 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.

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Jeb Stuart’s Switchback

I’ve always really liked Jeb Stuart’s Switchback, despite it not being as taut a thriller or as well oiled a machine as it thinks it is, it’s one of those slightly Hitchcockian, well photographed and terrifically casted shockers that still services and sort of grows on you. I also remember, before ever being allowed to see stuff like this when I was really young, seeing a few short scenes of it on cable at my dad’s work and being riveted to the seat in fear and fascination as Danny Glover and Jared Leto drove through the night in the Rocky Mountains, each trying to out-creep the other. I had no idea what the film was, but years later I found the DVD and was reminded of those few short scenes I saw that had immense power on my still impressionable perception. The hook is that either Leto or Glover is the killer, and we’re saddled with an extended guessing game as they plough through snow covered highways and the tension mounts between them. Elsewhere, Dennis Quaid plays a stoic, relentless rogue FBI Agent whose infant son was kidnaped by the same killer a year or so before. His search leads him through a string of remote mountain towns where he clashes with local law enforcement and gradually gets closer to the murderer’s trail, which went cold a while back. It’s an odd, obtusely paced concept for a thriller that almost seems a bit muddled and reworked from something more succinct in the scriptwriting phase, but it’s one of those that you buy anyways simply because the cast and cinematography are so first rate. Quaid is cold and desolate as the Agent, hoarsely intoning his lines with enough intensity to implode a diamond, deliberately reigning in his usually charming persona and famous mile wide grin. Glover is boisterous, and just friendly enough that the creep factor sets in, while Leto plays naive and sensitive til we see through the facade (see how long it takes you to guess which is the killer). The late great R. Lee Ermey is excellent here in a rare soft spoken performance as a kindly local Sheriff who assists and befriends Quaid, even when it puts his badge at risk. Ted Levine shows up as his head deputy, and watch for Walton Goggins and underrated William Fichtner as an opposing candidate for Sheriff’s office. Like I said, this isn’t the crackling thriller it should be with all this talent onboard, it has its issues with a weirdly drawn plot and some clunky story beats. But when it works, it’s memorable, and you can’t beat intrigue set in the gorgeous Rockies, especially when there’s a tense freight train set piece involved. Fun, engaging, slight overall but definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Tales of Enchantment, Aliens, Arthurian Legend and the Lone Ranger: An Interview with Edward Khmara by Kent Hill

Edward Khmara grew up in California and had the desire to become an actor when he sold his first script and his career was set in motion.

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It was not the first script he’d written, but he was the one that got him noticed. It was a little film called Ladyhawke. But, as all first-time screenwriters know, once you make that sale, you have very little input into the journey your film will take from there.

Still, now a screenwriter, Edward would go on to pen one of the truly great, often forgotten gems of the eighties, Hell in the Pacific in outer space: Enemy Mine. This time he would right in the middle of it all. From being on set, to being invited to watch dailies, to having to comfort his daughter after her terrifying encounter with a completely transformed Louis Gossett Jr. in his Drac make-up.

Like most folks who have worked in show business, Edward has known the lows as well as the highs. But those negative experiences didn’t discourage him as he charged ahead, tackling to legends. One in the form of a lavish television production with an all-star cast; Merlin would be the telling of Arthurian days solely from the perspective of the mythical wizard. Then of course there would be his work on the retelling of the life of another legend, one who achieved this status during his own lifetime, Bruce Lee.

But one of the truly heart-warming moments of our conversation was chatting with Edward about him finally getting his shot at the profession he sought after before he took to the typewriter – his part in Gore Verbinski’s Lone Ranger.

A true gentleman of the old school, full of great tales and tremendous experiences – it was a real pleasure to interview him and now to present to you my conversation with the legendary screenwriter (and sometimes actor) Edward Khmara.

Predator 2


-Nate Hill-
Predator 2 is a gem of a film, and don’t let anyone ever try and convince you otherwise. It’s just so different and so much crazier than the first that I think people had a knee jerk ‘wtf’ reaction and panned it. It’s tough to top the sheer bombastic overdrive of the first one, which is considered a classic, but if anything the sequel switched the nitrous dial past maximum and blasts off into the stratosphere of excessive R rated chaos, an impressive feat. It also switches settings, from the sweaty jungles of South America to the equally sweaty and opulent grime of the urban jungle, namely Los Angeles of the future, bursting at the seams with so many over the top criminals and hectic, delirious violence that by the time the Predators show up they not only fit in, but seem relatively sane compared to everyone else. Seriously, every human character in this film is a coked up tornado of cartoonish energy and brashness it’s hard to keep up unless you’ve hoovered up a few rails yourself prior to sitting down and popping in the blu ray (the blu ray of this is wicked by the way, gorgeous transfer). So get this: Danny Glover, before he got too old for this shit, basically serves as a renegade SuperCop in this hellhole of a metropolis, waging all out war on loads of feral gang members and degenerates, constantly leaned on by the obligatory pain in the ass of a police commissioner (Robert Davi, god bless his republican ass) and backed up by a team of state of the art badasses, including Aliens’s Bill Paxton, who gets all the best lines and delivers them with the gusto the material deserves. He’s also backed by Ruben Blades and tough girl Maria Conchita Alonso, whose appearance and scenes with Paxton call to mind him and Jannette Goldstein side by side in Aliens, or is that just the fanboy in me having an aneurysm? Together they achieve 80’s action movie squad goals by messily wiping out as much of the criminal faction in the city as they can, including weird Rastafarian crime lord King Willie (Calvin Lockhart, spooky as all hell), until something else comes along. Something they can’t see, hear, or easily empty clips at whilst cheerfully spewing profanity. The predators have branched out, and this time there’s more than one, giving their inherent tactical nature a whole new twist. So who better to take on these extraterrestrial game wardens? Glover of course, who positively froths at the mouth. You know you’re overacting when Gary Busey has to keep up with you, and he does his loony best as some hush hush Fed who has been keeping tabs on the Preds for sometime, and has big notions of taking them down. It’s all in good fun, with jaw dropping, spectacularly brutal set pieces, violence that would not go over well these days (the 80’s didn’t give a fuck, man) and a seriously chaotic vibe humming through the whole breathless ordeal. I’d even be so bold as to say that this is the better of the two Predator films, upon getting all misty eyed and craving a rewatch after writing this. Go ahead, shame, me. It’s just too great of a flick to be as under appreciated as it is. Oh, and watch for a sly cameo from another otherworldly baddie late in the third act.