The Wraith was like many a glorious find back in the day at my local video store. The cover had a holographic shimmer to it – a strange robot-like character standing in front of some bad-ass, customized car that looked as though it would be more comfortable zipping through the galaxy rather than flying at break-neck speeds along the long stretches and cactus-lined roads of Arizona.
Yes sir, that cover held the promise of sci-fi mysticism combined with heat-thumping vehicular action to rival the Road Warrior.
Oddly enough, Dr. George’s post-apocalyptic action-adventure was the template for Mike Marvin’s Cult Classic. When the man who started out making skiing films came to Hollywood and saw an opportunity to fuse High Plains Drifter with Mad Max 2, one would assume it was a concept any studio would be happy to throw their weight behind.
But, then as now, the movie business can be treacherous, and Marvin’s experiences making The Wraith were far from pleasant. As a matter a fact, they were a nightmare. Plagued by unscrupulous producers, a tragic death while filming – along with all the other perils of production – it is a wonder that this certified 80’s classic ever made to to the screen.
Lucky for us, however, thanks must go, in no small part, to a string of wonderful performers, a dedicated crew and a talented director at the helm, The Wraith survives as a one of a kind mash-up of genres that has endured and is, for this film writer at least, yet to be equaled.
This interview was conducted before I was able to sample Mike’s great and candid commentary on the Region 1 DVD release of the film. And while some of what he relayed to me you will find on that release, the truly glorious thing that I experienced was to hear these insights, plus a couple that were not covered in that commentary track, first hand from this journeyman warhorse of a film-maker.
So seek out the The Wraith, those of you who have not yet experienced it. Let this interview, hopefully tantalize your interest to learn more about this incredible film that really was both ahead of its time, a product of its time and most assuredly one of a kind…
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.
I have always been a fan of underdog stories. They hold for the viewer a message of hope that – should one’s fortitude and perseverance be fixed to the sticking place – then there is nothing that can’t be accomplished or overcome.
Having enjoyed the first installment of the Martial Arts Kid, as well as having a chance to chat with two of its legendary cast, Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock, I was thrilled at the prospect that, not only would the story continue, but that I would have a chance to meet the players from this exciting second chapter.
Of course, it is obvious, that there are parallels to be drawn with John G. Avildsen’s iconic The Karate Kid. Still this is a story onto itself – a story of the discipline it takes to rise to the challenge, and ultimately find redemption in the wake of defeat.
The Martial Arts Kid 2: Payback sees the return of Wilsonand Rothrock, headlining an all-star cast of Martial Arts professionals in a tale of courage and honor in the face of adversity. My guests include Producer, Dr. Robert Goldman and stars T.J. Storm, Matthew Ziff and Brandon Russell – all returning from the MAK. I’m certain this shall be another inspirational story, combined with the finest Martial Arts action, and featuring the real life champions of the various styles. A pleasure it was to talk to each of them, and more exciting, the anticipation of the release of the MAK 2. I trust you will enjoy my guest’s insights along with the movie . . . upon its release.
Dr. Goldman is a 6th degree Black Belt in Karate, Chinese weapons expert, and world champion athlete with over 20 world strength records and has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Some of his past performance records include 13,500 consecutive straight leg situps and 321 consecutive handstand pushups. Dr. Goldman was an All-College athlete in four sports, a three-time winner of the John F. Kennedy (JFK) Physical Fitness Award, was voted Athlete of the Year, was the recipient of the Champions Award and was inducted into the World Hall of Fame of Physical Fitness, as well as induction into numerous Martial Arts Hall of Fames in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. He founded the International Sports Hall of Fame, recognizing the world’s greatest sports legends, with ceremonies held annually at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Sports Festival the largest sports festival in the world, with over 200,000 participants, 70+ sports represented and over 20,000 competing athletes, making it double the size of the Olympic Games.
In high school Storm was shy and started break-dancing as a way of trying to “fit in”. Dance quickly became T.J.’s passion and he would win over 200 dance competitions in the genres of hip hop and break-dancing. He received a dance scholarship and this paved the way for his move to Los Angeles and dancing in music videos. Dance was his passion, but it only provided him with enough money for rent and a diet of Ramen Noodles and Pop Tarts, with little left for anything else. Devoted to the martial arts, Storm often found himself stopping by and observing an outdoor Northern Shaolin class on his way home from work. Eventually Storm was approached by the teacher and he was asked to join class, allowing him to add the knowledge of Northern Shaolin to his others arts. Using his talents for dance and martial arts, T.J. began to pursue acting. He graduated from the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown Acting Academy. While playing the role of Bayu on the television series, Conan The Adventurer, Storm developed the unique action style that he is known for. His brand of action is a combination of martial arts, acrobatic skill, comedic timing, and an almost balletic grace. Storm has since gone on to work with Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Kelly Hu, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Michelle Rodriquez, Neal McDonough and Kristanna Loken. T.J. Storm made motion captures for Captain Josh Stone and Dave Johnson in Resident Evil 5. He is known for his roles as Criag Marduk in the Tekken Series, and Strider Hiryu in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Soon you will hear T.J. Storm in the video game Battlefield Hardline (2015), and see him in The Gold Rush Boogie (2015), Jonny Flytrap (2015) Bullets Blades and Blood (2015), Boone: The Bounty Hunter 2014 and as Coach Laurent Kaine in The Martial Arts Kid (2014).
Matthew Ziff’s professional career started two months after he was born when he signed with the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency in New York. He has been featured in numerous print ads and campaigns including Glamour magazine. By age 10, due to his talent as well as his professionalism, not only was he considered a top child model, called upon constantly for magazines, clothes and toy boxes, as well as various commercials, he had already appeared in comedy skits on both the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows. During his high school years at The Blair Academy, Matthew kept active with acting classes, as well as performing in stage productions, not only as an actor, but also as a director. Once in college at the University of Miami, he signed with Stellar and Elite Talent agencies where he filmed multiple commercials and embarked more thoroughly on his film career. Matthew has worked in many genres in such films as Six Gun Savior (Eric Roberts, Martin Kove), Treachery (Michael Biehn, Sarah Butler, Jennifer Blanc), Hardflip (John Schneider, Randy Wayne), Online Abduction (Brooke Butler, David Chokachi), Mansion of Blood (Robert Picardo, Gary Busey), Safelight (Evan Peters, Juno Temple), Among Friends (Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder) and Searching for Bobby D (Paul Borghese, William DeMeo). In addition to acting, Matthew has his second degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do and has studied Hapkido as well as Kendo (swords). In July, 2012, he represented the USA in the International Quidditch Association’s Summer Games during the Olympic Torch Relay in England, where Team USA won the Gold medal. He is also a marksman with rifles and pistols and is a multi-instrumental musician specializing in guitar, bass and saxophone. Matthew has a Master’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from the University of Miami. He is a member of SAG, AFTRA, AEA and GIAA. He maintains homes in California, New York and Florida.
Brandon expressed an interest in acting at the age of 3 and by 5 was already a member of SAG. His biggest role to date was his lead role in the feature film, Smitty (2012), which was released in April 2012. Brandon plays the lead role of Ben Barrett and worked alongside: Peter Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Louis Gossett Jr., Lolita Davidovich, Jason London, and Booboo Stewart. Since filming Smitty, he has gone on to film supporting roles in Wiener Dog Nationals (2013) and The Martial Arts Kid (2015). He also had a lead role in the UPtv holiday movie, Beverly Hills Christmas (2015). Brandon has also been seen on Tosh.0 (2009), Supah Ninjas (2011), and Instant Mom (2013). Later, he portrayed Peter Michaels in Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent (2016) alongside Patrick Muldoon and Dina Meyer.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that the Australian film industry was launched onto the world stage by a band of rebellious genre filmmakers, that would take international cinema screens by storm. Regrettably that age, to the naked eye, may have come and gone like the VHS tape. But not all hope is lost…
Enter Travis Bain. The boy from New South Wales who, after encountering George’s galaxy far, far away, decided to run off and join the circus so to speak. In short – become a filmmaker. But unlike Spielberg and Abrams, he was not to the 8mm camera born. Young Travis would craft his fantastic adventures on audio tapes, creating a cinema of sound.
From there he thought he might be able to launch something in a literary manner, writing work that would later become the bread and butter of Aussie action author Matthew Reilly. But, he learned all to quickly that the road to the Everest of publishing was just, if not more arduous, than path toward the Mount Olympus of movie-making.
Down but not discouraged, he took to learning the fundamentals of the cinematic arts and in time would make a debut feature. He would come north to the Sunshine State (Queensland) and find, and you’ll pardon me, his place in the sun.
His latest film is Landfall, starring the iconic Australian acting legend, Vernon Wells (my chat with him here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/09/30/zero-defects-remembering-innerspace-with-vernon-wells-by-kent-hill/ ). Travis has ambitious plans for the future. As I listened to him speak passionately about his journey, his current projects, his hopes for the strengthening of the local industry – let’s just say I’m a believer. We need artists of his ilk now more than ever; to bring the spark back to our slumbering screens. And, you can quote me if you like, Travis Bain might just be the man to lead Aussie genre filmmaking in a bold, new direction.
◦ I’m pretty sure that Walter Hill’s The Long Riders does something that no film had done before or after, least to that extent: pull off the biggest sibling stunt casting session in history. Based on the rowdy, violent exploits of the James Younger gang in the old west, Hill casts real life brothers as the troupe, a choice which could have been south of silly in any old director’s hands, but works like gold here. James and Stacy Keach play Frank and Jesse James, David Robert and Keith Carradine are the Younger clan, while Randy and a very mean, very young Dennis Quaid fill the boots of the Millers. It’s fairly brilliant, well organized and pays off nicely, especially if you’re a fan of any of these guys, which I am and then some. Now, the film. Most westerns about these hotshot outlaws take a quippy, cavalier standpoint and go for sterling silver charm. Not Hill, a notorious trend shirker and trailblazer whose tactics in casting, music, editing and tone have never followed the Hollywood grain. The film is downbeat, somber and mostly a series of vignettes that topple against each other like dominoes. The gang shuffles from robbery to holdup almost reluctantly, like it’s written in the stars and they have no choice but to commit crimes. They clash royally with the ruthless Pinkerton agency, who cause more than a few casualties on their side. The shootouts here are no sanitized 50’s Lone Ranger fluff, they’re brutal, bloody and amped up to extreme violence, which is always to be expected from Hill. The life of an outlaw is not glamorized here either, a choice rarely, if ever made in the western department. These are hard men resigned to their rough lives, not fast talking hot-doggin prince charmings like insufferable Young Guns type crap. There’s scattershot subplot about the brother’s lives, but mostly the focus is rooted in their exploits and run ins with the law. David Carradine’s Cole Younger has a cool knife fight sequence up against half breed injun Sam Starr (Hill favourite James Remar) over the favour of pretty hooker Pamela Reed. The actors are all gritty and grizzled, from James Keach’s long-faced, Moody Jesse James to Dennis Quaid’s volatile psychopath Ed Miller. Hill’s go to music guru Ry Cooder provides another achingly gorgeous score with echoes of his composition on Southern Comfort a few years later, a melancholic tune stripped bare of any action sequence swells or orchestral hoo-hah. Pretty damn underrated as far as big screen westerns go, with a tone and look that seems somehow far more genuine than many others in the genre.
Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of those textbook disaster flicks where every recognizable element is in full swing: determined scientist, sure of his curveball theories that no one else buys, saddled with a dysfunctional family and a clock that’s quickly ticking down towards some looming cataclysm, in this case severely bat tempered weather. It’s cliche after cliche, but this is one of the ones that works, and I have a theory why. These days it seems like the formula for the disaster film is pretty dead, or at least doesn’t carry the same magic it did throughout the 90’s and early 00’s.
Stuff like San Andreas, 2012, Geostorm (shudder) just feel dead on arrival, and instead we go back and revisit things like Armageddon, Independence Day, and for me, ones like this. There’s a quality, a feel for time and place that got lost somewhere along the way as time passed in Hollywood, and this is one of the last few that serve as a milestone as to where that happened. The first half or so is cracking stuff, followed by a slightly underwhelming final act. Dennis Quaid is the scientist who gets all in a huff about an extreme weather front that’s apparently barrelling towards the east coast, threatening to give the whole region one wet day in the park. There’s an exaggerated halfwit Vice President (Kenneth Welsh) who scoffs at him, an excitable veteran professor (Bilbo Baggins) who eagerly supports him, and an estranged family right in the storm’s crosshairs who he must rescue. The special effects are neat when the maelstrom slams into New York like a battering ram, pushing over buildings with walls of water and chucking hurricanes all about the place. Quaid’s wife (Sela Ward) and wayward son (Jake Gyllenhaal) are of course stuck in this mess, as he races to find out what’s causing it, and how to escape. The initial scenes where it arrives are big screen magic, especially when Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend (Emmy Rossum) is chased down main street by a raging typhoon and barely scapes into a building, a breathless showcase moment for the film. The second half where the storm levels off isn’t as engaging, despite attempts to throw in extra excitement, such as wolves, which I still can’t quite figure out the origin of, despite watching the film a few times now. Holed up inside a library, it’s a long waiting game in the cold dark where the writing and character development is spread a bit thin for the time they have to kill, but what can you expect here. Should have thrown in a T Tex or some ice dragons to distract us from sparse scripting. Still, the film gets that initial buildup deliciously right, the nervous windup to all out chaos, the editing between different characters and where they are when the monsoon shows up, and enough panicky surviving to make us thankful for that cozy couch and home theatre system all the more. One of the last of the finest, in terms the genre.
Charlie Haas began his life with no thought of working in film. He was interested in fiction and journalism until, that is, at UC, Santa Cruz he started attending a film history class taught by his future collaborator Tim Hunter.
Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters
1978 comes around, and their first collaborative effort, Over the Edge, is sold. It is highly unusual for a first time screenwriter to have his early work produced, but that was what happened. After that it was a rise and rise. A young Matt Dillon would go on the star in Hunter and Haas’s next film Tex, and while hanging around at Disney, Charlie found himself doing an unaccredited dialogue polish on, the now cult classic, Tron.
Two other favorite films of mine were penned completely by Charlie Haas. Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Matinee. Both of course were directed by Joe Dante, a famously collaboratively-generous filmmaker. Charlie’s experiences were similar to those had by Eric Luke (whom I’ve chatted with before) who spoke fondly of his Dante adventure on Explorers. Gremlins 2 was a free-for-all kind of sequel. The studio wanted it and so Joe and Charlie were given quite a lot of rope creatively. Meanwhile Matinee is sadly an unsung delight that surprisingly few people I talk to have seen. If you are one of these people, hopefully listening to this may prompt you to check it out, and, if you’re a fan and you haven’t seen it in a while, well, now might be a good time to rediscover this lost little gem of a movie.
Charlie Haas is a true gentleman and it was great to finally shoot the breeze as they say. Though he is not in the industry anymore he is far from unproductive. He has been writing novels, which I shall post the links to below, so check those out.
Whether you have encountered his writing in print or on screen, please now take the time if you will to encounter the man behind the words, the great, Charlie Haas.