Tag Archives: Denzel Washington

Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate

If you ditch the idea that Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate is a remake of the 60’s Frank Sinatra flick, you’ll have a much better time watching it without those strings attached (Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris is similarly panned by the misguided hordes). Demme’s version is a new adaptation of the novel by Richard Condon, and in my eyes the far superior thriller. Given a charged military twist, deeply disturbing psychological angles and the powerhouse acting juice of leads Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber and a staggeringly good Meryl Streep, this is where the buck stops with political thrillers. Demme’s narrative is a thickly laced web of secrets, mind manipulation, lies and corruption that isn’t always apparent or clear, given the unreliable, ruptured psyche of ex gulf war soldier Ben Marco (Washington). He’s shellshocked, but not in the traditional sense, and somehow feels as if something went very, very wrong with his unit following a deadly skirmish in the Middle East. His former fellow soldier and friend Raymond Prentiss Shaw (Schreiber) is up for senate election, fiercely prodded and chaperoned by his mad dog of a mother Eleanor (Streep). Everyone from their unit has either wound up dead or suffering from terrifying nightmares, psychosis and brain trauma they can’t explain. It’s up to Ben to trust his dodgy memories, leading him out of the dark and finding what really happened before a vague impending disaster that is Demme’s fulcrum upon which ample, nerve annihilating suspense is built around. Washington is his usual quietly implosive self and makes unnerving work of getting us to believe he’s in real psychological stress but somehow lucid. Streep is the ultimate mommy from hell, and despite the script getting near maniacal with her arc at times, she always sells it as a rogue extremist who only sees her side of the arena and will do literally anything for her son, no matter what the cost to country, colleagues or even herself. They’re joined by an impressive league of supporting talent including Bruno Ganz, Miguel Ferrer, Ted Levine, the sinister Simon McBurney, Ann Dowd, Charles Napier, José Pablo Castillo, Bill Irwin, Al Franken, Zelijko Ivanek, Roger Corman (!), Obba Babarundé, Jude Ciccolela, Dean Stockwell, Tracey Walter, Sydney Lumet (!!) and more. There’s really terrific work from Jeffrey Wright as another troubled former soldier, Kimberly Elise as a fed tracking Ben’s movements who catches feels for him, Jon Voight as a suspicious rival candidate to Shaw and Vera Farmiga as his daughter. What. A. Cast. This was one of the first R rated films I was ever allowed to see in theatres and as such the chills haven’t quite left my spine every time I go in for a revisit. It almost reaches horror movie levels of fright and nightmarish, half remembered atrocities that taint the senate election like political voodoo and give the proceedings a dark, very uneasy atmosphere. Demme goes for a big scope here with a huge cast, large scale story and high impact set pieces, but at its heart it’s a very tense, inward focused story that shows the sickness in power and just what some people are willing to do to get ahead. Like I said, forget the Sinatra version and watch this as it’s own film, it’s an incredibly special, affecting experience onscreen and you won’t find a freakier political thriller.

-Nate Hill

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Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer

If you compare Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer to the original tv series from back in the 80’s, it’s almost comical how little they have to do with each other, besides the vague theme of vigilantism. All good though because the film amps up the creaky old serial into a maniacally pulpy, hard R rated, ultraviolent, near B movie that’s given some real class by Denzel Washington, whose gravity makes all the wanton violence seem somehow rational. Fuqua is an intense filmmaker though and he firmly stamps his stylistic brand of kinetic mayhem onto this film so hard that by the time the bombastic warehouse set finale rolls around, it seems hella over the top. Denzel is Robert McCall, a quiet, cultured fellow who just happens to be a scary, highly skilled ex government spook with a heart of gold. When a troubled young prostitute (Chloe Grace Moretz) gets in deep with the reliably psychotic Russian mob, he sees something in her that makes him step up to the occasion and quite literally lay waste to their entire organization with every means of his disposable. It’s kind of like what he did to get Dakota Fanning out of the crosshairs in Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, except less fire and more Bourne-esque hand to hand combat and tactical ingenuity. He’s basically invincible to the point where even a terrifying Vor lieutenant (Marton Csokas knowingly dialing up the camp dial) can’t even put a stop to his righteous rampage. There’s a bond between him and Moretz that needs to be there to soften the blow of the extremes he goes to, and the two actors have a great chemistry in their scenes. David Harbour steals scenes as a sheepishly corrupt Boston cop who get amusingly exasperated when McCall puts the hurt on him and the whole operation. Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo have painfully brief cameos as government officials from his past, Justified’s Johnny Neumier is nasty as the abusive russkie pimp who is the first of many tough guys to fall under his hand, and Johnny Messner has a short lived cameo as a thug who grossly underestimates him. This is kind of a ridiculous film at its core, the earnest elements hilariously clashing with a hyper violent pulse that at times reaches Hobo With A Shotgun style heights. But Denzel is ever the actor’s actor and sells the flourish with his grim resolve. A fun ass flick for what it is, and I’m curious to check out the sequel this year. Oh, and there’s a cameo from that Insta-idiot Dan Bilzerian too that almost cements a tongue in cheek self aware vibe on the film’s part.

-Nate Hill

PHILLIP NOYCE: An Interview with Kent Hill

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One of the great things Phil told me – aside from passing through my hometown to play footy in his youth – was that Queensland had a big part to play in convincing the studio powers that Blind Fury (my personal favorite of Phil’s pictures) could be a hit.

After a regime change – as often is the way in Hollywood – the new brass didn’t have much faith in a film the previous caretakers saw fit to green-light. Phil knew he had a good picture and thus persuaded the powers to let him take it to the far side of the world and release it in the Sunshine State, where, with the help of a publicist, they sold the heck out of Blind Fury and brought in $500,000 buckaroos.

So Phil went back to the blokes in suits and told them if the movie can do that kind of business 7,510 miles from Hollywood, I think we have a shot. See that’s the Phil Noyce touch ladies and gentlemen, remaining Dead Calm in the face of Clear and Present Danger. If you believe that there is even a Sliver of a chance your movie can Catch a Fire, you can’t just sit there like The Quiet American and take it with a grain of Salt. You need to fix your courage to the sticking place, follow the Rabbit Proof Fence all the way home and for your hard work they’ll call you The Saint for being the The Giver of great cinematic entertainment. You can play Patriot Games till the cows come home, but if you attack them on the Newsfront then you’ll be The Bone Collector and bring home the receipts.

I’ve watched many a great interview and read many a great book about the life and career of Phillip Noyce – never thinking that one day I might catch a moment’s grace and be able to have a chat with him. I have to thank (again) a top bloke by the name of Nick Clement for putting in a good word for me – without Nick I’d still be dreamin’.

Phillip Noyce is a marvelous chap of the old school and the maker of some truly wondrous pictures. He really needs no introduction from me for his reputation speaks for itself. Without further adieu . . . the master . . . Phillip Noyce.

Russell Mulcahy’s Ricochet

Russell Mulcahy’s Ricochet is a fucking balls out, crazy ass flick. I thought I’d get s routinely hard boiled Denzel cop flick a lá Out Of Time or The Mighty Quinn, but this thing is more aligned to the nasty grindhouse flicks from the 70’s, starting with its terrifying villain played by John Lithgow. Lithgow has always had a flair for playing heinous creeps in everything from Cliffhanger to Raising Cain to Showtime’s Dexter. His character here though would intimidate all of those dudes put together he’s such a monster. Cornered by rookie cop Nick Styles (Washington) at an amusement park, hitman Blake (Lithgow) is captured and put away for life. Styles goes on to become Assistant D.A. Years later Blake hatches an ultra violent plan to bust out of prison that includes killing Jesse Ventura, maiming guards with various power tools, inciting a riot, hijacking an ambulance and shooting the old dude that brings the book trolley around to the inmates. If that sounds bad, you wouldn’t believe the lengths of evil stored in his plan for revenge against Denzel, he’s just a sadist and then some, Lithgow really has fun with the role and it’s the twisted core that powers the film through its dark beats. This thing reaches Abel Ferrara levels of grit and urban mayhem, and maybe even exceeds them. Styles finds himself at a loss when he’s framed for murder by the guy, and turns to his old pal Odessa for help, a gnarly street thug played by Ice T, customary verbal attitude fully intact. One could say that Mulcahy has made a pretty great career out of making lurid, bear exploitation style films. This is definitely the benchmark of how down n’ dirty he’s gotten with a project though, it’s deliciously wicked, cheerfully in bad taste and mean to the bone, and I loved it for that.

-Nate Hill

“We’ve got some unique time constraints.” : Remembering Déjà Vu with Bill Marsilii by Kent Hill

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Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. Both of the inaugural screenings I attended were sullied by external forces which greatly influenced my mood during the viewings and thus, my opinion of the films.

But time, it was once said, is the ultimate critic. Under different circumstances I watched both films again, and, this time around, my feelings toward both movies were drastically adjusted.

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In several books on the art of screenwriting it is often put about that, if you cannot sum up the film you are writing in a single sentence, then you may want to rethink the plot. There is a great moment on the commentary track of this film in which the late, great Tony Scott admits that even he struggled to distill Déjà Vu into the logline form.

It’s a science-fiction/action/thriller/time-travel/romance in which the hero, Denzel Washington, meets the girl he will eventually fall in love with on the slab – dead as disco. Unbeknownst to him, he will eventually join a team that will, along with the help of a device that can see into the past, aid him in bringing her killer to justice. And it was from this humble yet intriguing premise that my guest, Bill Marsilii and his co-writer Terry Rossio constructed this rich, multi-layered tale which deserves more applause than some would proffer for its inventiveness and compelling real-world take on the age old time machine story.

 

But what I uncovered as I spoke to Bill was far more than a series of behind the scenes anecdotes and your typical boy meets idea, boy turns idea into a screenplay, screenplay sells for big dollars, boy lives happily and successfully ever after in Hollywood kind of scenario.

And yes, while it is true that Déjà Vu is the highest earning spec script thus far, beating out other entries like Basic Instinct, Panic Room and The Last Boy Scout, the story of how Bill came to, not only the concept, but how the writing and selling of the script changed his life is just as compelling as anything Jerry Bruckheimer and Co. managed to get onto the screen.

 

This interview, at least for me, proved also to be somewhat of a masterclass in, not only screenwriting, but the ever painful and soul-crushing journey the writer must endure to actually sell the script. It’s about the luck, timing, persistence and internal fortitude that you must have sufficient quantities to survive the gauntlet that exists between the page and the screen.

Bill’s heart-warming, inspirational adventure to make it in the realm where dreams are brought to life with that strange blending of art, science and commerce – that ultimately no one can tell you how, when a film is successful, it all comes together in the perfect proportions to ensure success is on the menu – is a conversation that could have gone on and on.

I hope you’ll will enjoy some extended insights into Déjà Vu, but more than that, I hope you, if you are one of those dreamers still out there trying to write your own ticket to cinematic glory, that Bill’s wisdom you’ll take onboard and continue pounding away on those keys until fortune smiles and your efforts will be coming soon, to a theater near us…

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Bill Marsilii . . .

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“Roadblocks won’t stop somethin’ that can’t be stopped.” : Remembering The Wraith with Mike Marvin by Kent Hill

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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.

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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.

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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…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Mike Marvin.

 

 

Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen


A demon angel. A Badass Denzel Washington. Tony Soprano singing the Rolling Stones. Creeping psychological dread. Browned, burnished production design. A deliciously mean spirited, ballsy twist ending. All this and more can be found in Gregory Hoblit’s Fallen, an atmospheric spook-house of a flick that gets tone, fright and suspense just right. Nestled in that sweet spot of the 90’s where detective stories often had a neat supernatural twist (The Prophecy is another dope one), it’s a film that demonstrates the power of storytelling and atmosphere done right, like a campfire tale that cops tell their youngsters. Denzel is Hobbs, a detective who oversees the graphic execution of serial killer Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas, terror incarnate), a monster he once caught. Case closed, right? Not so much. Soon after he kicks the bucket, one or more copycat killers show up, and once again the crimes happen under Hobb’s watch. Coincidence? Paranormal? It’s a neat, eerie game of cat and mouse with an antagonist who possesses a few unearthly methods of skulking around in the dark. Hobbs is helped by his two colleagues, salt of the earth John Goodman and hothead James Gandolfini, bumps heads with the obstinate police captain (Donald Sutherland), and runs into his foe at every turn, each time in a new vessel which gives the actors, right down to extras, an opportunity to have some devilish fun. Embeth Davidz is her usual withdrawn self as a woman with ties to the killer’s past, and watch for Robert Joy and Gabriel Casseus as well. Composer Dun Tan’s unearthly drone of a score compliments the drab shadows, oppressive nocturnes and threatening frames of the film eerily as well, creating a mood-scape that drips ambience. The end is an acidic kick in the nuts, and I admire a film that has the stones to chuck in such a shock tactic, embracing the dread that has been built up to that point with one last sardonic, hopeless cackle. Film noir to it’s roots, subtly mystical, a perfect one to settle down with as we move into the Halloween season. 

-Nate Hill