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Quentin Tarantino’s kill bill volume i

“You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right about now, if I wanted to.”

What was once a film that would star Warren Beatty in the title role, wherein Bill would have been more James Bond and less David Carradine, tensions mounted as production stalled due to Uma Thurman’s pregnancy. Beatty grew impatient with not only the delay in production, but the constant reference to Beatty playing the role like Carradine would. Beatty inevitably left the picture, imploring Tarantino to cast the only actor alive or dead to play Bill, David Carradine.

The film marks one of Tarantino’s most dynamic screenplays, a soundtrack featuring score tracks only used in other films films, Robert Richardson’s richly fulfilling cinematography, and an ensemble bread from his most organically diverse cast.

What is encompassed within is his most seminal and homage laden film to date is referencing everything from Mark Goldblatt’s THE PUNISHER, to the STREET FIGHTER films, with a ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST capstone.

This isn’t just some hardcore, stylishly sexy revenge flick (which it is), at its heart is a story about a scorn lover whose hubris sets a deadly chain of events in motion. Bill, who is only heard and whose hands and boots are only seen, loves the heroine so much, he would rather kill her than to be without her. Potent stuff.

What ensues is a tale of bloody revenge where Tarantino’s most ass-kicking character stops at nothing to exact a near equal measure of revenge to those who killed what was supposed to be the greatest day of her life, marrying “some fucking jerk” and leaving behind her life of being a member of the Deadly Viper Assassin Squad.

In the Tarantino-Verse, things get much more colorful and downright self indulgent, but baby, it is absolutely glorious.

Uma Thurman gets shot in the head, Daryl Hannah is featured in the best Brian De Palma homage ever, Michael Madsen acts as the thread that directly leads into the second volume, Production I.G. came in and did an amazing animated segment, RZA supplied the sound effects, Lucy Liu gets a reintroduction sequence that any actor would kill for; not to mention getting scalped, Sonny Chiba gives an encore as Hatori Hanzo, Michael Parks returns as Sheriff Earl McGraw, Vivica A. Fox delivers one of the most memorable on screen deaths in a QT movie, and David Carradine is the man.

None of that even begins to scratch the surface.

The first volume of KILL BILL is what rebirthed Tarantino into an acutely self righteous auteur. Making films for not just his rabid and loyal fanbase, but most importantly films that he, as a passionate fanboy of cinema, would want to see on screen.

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It’s hard to know who to trust, isn’t it, Jack? : Remembering Cocoon with Tom Benedek by Kent Hill

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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.cocoon-54a0436aebccd

The men who had produced JAWS, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, brought together a group of impeccable professionals to join Howard behind the camera – at the same time they assembled an extraordinary group of acclaimed Hollywood veterans, cast to fill out the leading roles of the members of a retirement community on the verge of a close encounter of the third kind. Wilford Brimely, Hume Cronyn, Don Ameche, Jack Gilford, Jessica Tandy, Maureen Stapleton, together with brilliant performances by Brian Dennehy, Steve Guttenberg, Barret Oliver and Tahnee Welch are our guides through a story about youth, and how we find things in life that allow us to hold on to that vital part of our spirit – so that we may live richly, even as the years decline.

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.

Chasing Tarantino: An Interview with Con Christopoulos by Kent Hill

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

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

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

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

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

This is the story of one such dreamer…

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Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2

Roger Ebert observed about Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 2 that although it takes place in a heightened reality that’s removed from the realism of our own, the human behaviour and emotions explored couldn’t be more real or more relatable. That insight is precisely why it is my favourite Tarantino film and in particular I think that the last half hour or so is the best, most thoughtful and intuitive thing he’s ever directed in a career that for the most part hasn’t dug that deep in such a way.

Every filmmaker must duck expectations and adapt or fall victim to self parody and repetition, and the guy understands this well. Volume 1 is a thrilling love letter to samurai films, peppered with sword fights, hectic editing and celebrates movement, choreography and synergistic expression. With this film though he moves inward, not just showing us the extreme actions of these characters, but why they’re doing them. The first film opens with the how, as Bill (David Carradine) tenderly puts a loaded gun to the temple of The Bride (Uma Thurman) and pulls the trigger. This film shows us what led to that, and the consequences yet to come, why indeed she feels the need to Kill Bill. It’s a beautiful story that’s acted to the nines by Thurman and Carradine, both giving their career best. The samurai vibe is somewhat present again but here the tone is that of a spaghetti western. Anyone who knows or loves this genre (pauses typing and raises hand) is familiar with the aesthetic: languidly paced shots, long glances lingered on by a camera that moves slowly, stolidly. Orchestral significance placed upon seemingly mundane or small gestures and measured, introspective performances. It’s all here, from the glorious wide shots of the California desert to the laconic inwardness of Michael Madsen’s Budd to the Morricone strains that Quentin loves to sample.

The Bride continues her quest stateside, taking on Madsen’s lowkey deadly cowboy, tussling with Daryl Hannah’s treacherous banshee Elle Driver, punching her way out of a sealed coffin six feet deep and even finding time to stop in for a quick visit with Michael Parks, sneakily playing a different role than Volume 1. Madsen is off the chain spectacular as Budd, a gruff, sadistic badass who has seen better days and seems done with life until she brings out the fire in him once again. His quiet scene with Carradine outside the rundown trailer is a showstopper, as is his priceless expression when chewed out by an asshole boss (Larry Bishop, providing the funniest moment in either of the two films). Tarantino brings out the best in Madsen and this is their finest collaboration, proving in tandem what creative forces both or them are.

This is the Uma and David show when it gets down to it though, their eventual confrontation is what we’ve been anticipating since the beginning, but he doesn’t quite give us what we expect. They meet at a quiet Mexican villa, she sees her daughter for the first time and the words spoken between them cut deeper than any of the physical blows, of which there are barely any. Both The Bride and Bill know exactly what their respective actions have done to them both individually and as a couple, and that there’s no going back from a betrayal like that. The fascinating thing, for me at least, is seeing how despite this anguish and hatred, they are still very obviously in love with each other, something that isn’t easy to get across without spelling out, but these actors nail it. I love the writing here, the body language, the time and attention spent on exploring the pathos, I think it’s Quentin’s showcase sequence and the one that dispels anyone from thinking of him only as ‘that guy who makes violent movies.’

He often works with his pal Robert Rodriguez and most people might immediately think of GrindHouse or Sin City but this is my favourite of their collaborations. Robert isn’t seen or present behind the camera but he composes an original score that is heartfelt, evocative of the western genre and altogether a brilliant composition, particularly the cues around Madsen. This is unique in the fact that it’s the only film Tarantino has made using a score in a career of distinctive soundtrack choices.

From the stunning opening sequence shot in dreamy black and white and aching with palpable yet guarded emotion to the intense, exhaustive training montages with warrior Pai Mai (Gordon Liu, also showing up in a different role) to the blood n’ dust takedown of Elle and Budd in the bone dry desolation out west to the final showdown and reconciliation of sorts with Bill, this is a fantastic story and one hell of a piece of filmmaking on every level. The two Volumes are so very different and I noticed the other day that although I’ve seen both probably hundreds of times, I’ve never watched them back to back. They are separate entities, two sides of the same coin. Bill tells The Bride that her side ‘always was a little lonely.’ The same goes for Volume two, there are less characters, more time spent on emotion and a slightly mournful feeling that the frenzy of Volume one just didn’t have time for. I love this portion of the story the most, I’ve always felt just a tiny bit more at home in Volume 2, and I will never have anything but absolute love for it.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: Hard Cash

Hard Cash, aka Run For The Money in some regions, is a silly piece of junk, with its low budget passport grasped firmly in hand. Every actor doing the hammy shtick, every pulp B movie cliche present and accounted for. Christian Slater seems to have peppered his career with a bunch of such flicks, and he’s front and centre here as the Robin Hood-esque leader of a buncha’ thieves. He’s a bit of a legend, and goes for one job too many, a job that lands corrupt, scheming FBI Agent Val Kilmer straight in his lap when he lifts some marked bills. Kilmer wants it only to take them down, but a giant piece of the loot for himself and basically is just a greedy bastard, while Slater wants to break even and get away with his crew. It’s okay-ish stuff, decidedly low brow but that’s the arena. Kilmer is actually really fun in a candid, often improvised take, and his description of himself when he gets to little sleep is priceless. The cast is fairly strong, with work from Bokeem Woodbine, Sara Downing, Vincent Laresca, Balthazar Getty, Daryl Hannah, William Forsythe as a nastily racist fence and the late Verne ‘Mini Me’ Troyer as Slater’s most valuable lil’ asset as he can fit in tight spaces the rest of the crew can’t. It’s breezy trash, decent enough for what it is.

-Nate Hill

Robert Atman’s The Gingerbread Man: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Robert Altman’s The Gingerbread Man isn’t the director’s best, but it’s worth a looky-loo just to see this solid cast cavort around in a sweltering Georgia atmosphere and play out a narrative that’s part sultry seduction thriller and part hard boiled whodunit. I remember watching it and going ‘meh, I’ve seen this type of thing a thousand times and this one didn’t raise the bar at all.’ I’m thinking now that perhaps my mindset was in the wrong space, and that Altman set out to simply bring us the romantic murder mystery in its purest form, without deviation or higher ambitions. In that case he’s made a neat little potboiler with a suitably ludicrous ending, some truly effective red herrings and a really great troupe of actors, so,e going nicely against type. The multitalented Kenneth Branagh plays suave Georgia lawyer Rick MacGruder, who finds himself in deep trouble when he has an affair with sexy, slinky and shady Mallory Doss (the very underrated Embeth Davidz). She’s a good enough girl, but she has a backwoods nutcase of a father named Dixon (Robert Duvall being uber strange and loving every second of it) who is stalking and threatening her. Dixon is a bedraggled, cult-leading swamp rat and Duvall plays him to the frenzied hilt of uncomfortable ticks and unkempt theatrics. MacGruder, being smitten with Mallory, is of course compelled to use his legal and personal power to help her, and concocts a convoluted scheme involving a subpoena to Mallory’s belligerent ex husband Pete Randle (a cranky Tom Berenger blusters about in the third act). This of course sets off all kinds of back door motivations and sweaty double crosses that are hard to keep track of until all is revealed in the final act, prompting a collective audience reaction of “huh??”. It’s all in good fun though and at times it seems like Altman is deliberately dipping into B movie territory just to shirk his high art mantle and spice up this gumbo with some trashy, lowbrow flavour. I say bring it, that’s exactly the way to my heart. Writing this review I’m now realizing I probably like this film way more than my ending statement might suggest, but sometimes we need to hash it all out on paper (or in this case a cramped iPad keyboard) to reevaluate our perception of a certain piece. The cast gets juicier, with Robert Downey Jr. doing a quick bit as Macgruder’s slick buddy who works as a private investigator for the law office, Daryl Hannah and Famke Janssen as Rick’s jilted wife as well. It’s based on a John Grisham novel, and Altman seems to be the first director to adapt his work with a ramped up style and personal flair that goes beyond the academic thrills on the page. This one feels heightened, sultry and oh so sweaty in the way that only a southern set thriller can be. Cool stuff. 

Wildflowers: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Wildflowers is a film that examines the aftermath of 1960’s counterculture and the hippie movement. The free love sentiment produced many children who were raised unconventionally, and in some cases outright abandoned by their flower power parents. Cally (Clea Duvall) is one such girl, a wild tomboy who lives with her sometimes employed father (Thomas Arana), and spends her days cavorting around with adolescents in similar situations. It’s rare that Duvall gets a starring role, and she’s absolutely wonderful here, steering Cally along with longing, resentment and just a bit of touching ‘lost girl’ emotion. She’s an actress who needs to be cast in more stuff to showcase her talent, and not just thrown into lesbian roles because she identifies as such (grrr!). She steals the show and proves what a magnetic presence she is. Cally never knew her mother, and hope arises with the arrival of mysterious Sabine (Daryl Hannah) a woman old enough to be her mother and seemingly connected to her somehow. Sabine is a free spirit with a turbulent mindset, a result of the fragmented lives that people led back in that time period, often leading to wayward souls with no sedimentary existence to slide into after the show finishes and they realize they aren’t as young as they used to be. Cally’s story plays out beautifully, a girl just coming into her own and realizing who she is, via experimentation and intuition. She meets a drug dealer named Jacob, played by Eric Roberts. He’s the friendly drug dealer, a cinematic archetype often sought after by filmmakers. Roberts could play an evil dictator and still come off like Prince Charming, he’s just that likeable, and as such is perfect for the role, a kindly rapscallion with lessons and advice for Cally which don’t quite play out as one might think. In the end, it’s Duvall’s show, one of the only lead roles she has that is even out there to hunt down, such is the rarity of many films in her career. It’s filled with terrific scenery, a whimsical yet real world aura and performances of emotional truth. Worth tracking down for Clea’s fans (I’m proudly a die hard) and a delight for the casual viewer.