Thirteen Ghosts is one weird fuckin movie. It’s the closest thing I can think of to a direct movie version of the haunted houses you find at carnivals, which is good for carnivals but not really handy for keeping up a story that makes any bloody sense. I would have loved it if the my just completely abandoned attempts at logic and made this a full music video or something but no, they just had to get the exposition cannon out and needlessly blast us all. At least it looks great.
The ‘story’ goes as follows: the nephew (Tony Shaloub) of a creepy old billionaire (F. Murray Abraham) has inherited his giant old haunted mansion and the thirteen vicious ghosts the reside within it, specifically in big glass cubes engraved with special incantations so they’ll stay put. Of course they don’t, and when the nephew invites a bunch of folks over to observe these spectres with special Ghost Vision Goggles they all get loose and start terrorizing everyone no end. Among the cannon fodder are Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth and Embeth Davidtz who is just as far above lowbrow shit like this as Shaloub and Abraham are.
Now my words so far may suggest that I dislike this film, but that’s not the case. I love it despite knowing full well that it’s wanton trash. The whole thing is a ludicrous theme park of crashes, bangs, loud metal and pandemonium not helped much by chainsaw editing, frenetic music cues, bombastic performances and hilarious special effects. The design, names and makeup of the thirteen ghosts are actually quite inspired, from a great big fat murderous adult baby to an angry, beautiful spurned lover and more. This is part of a trio of films that I have unofficially dubbed the ‘ Warner Brothers late 90’s/early 2000’s heavy metal chaotic horror remake’ trilogy alongside Ghost Ship and House On Haunted Hill. They’re not effectively scary, subtle or otherwise anything close to what horror should be. But for clanging, rambunctious background noise and stark, surreal imagery at a Halloween party they do the trick, this one especially wth all its baroque weirdness.
The How To Train Your Dragon series has been quite a ride, filled with quality storytelling, humour and heart, breathtaking animation and gorgeous music. It caps off the trilogy with The Hidden World, a rollicking third chapter and conclusion to this legend that sees Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his beloved companion Toothless searching for a new home to migrate to, a kingdom beyond the end of the world where dragons originally came from and a place he heard in tales from his father (Gerard Butler in brief flashbacks). Out to stop them is dragon hunting guru Grimmel, played by a sassy F. Murray Abraham who has just about as much fun with his voiceover role as he could without actually physically being there. Grimmel wants to eradicate all Night Furys from the world, and it’s a race against time, the elements and the reliable stupidity of Hiccup’s endearing childhood buddies to seek out this new home. Hiccup is a fantastic hero because he started out as anything but that, a sensitive, bullied youngster who grew into the strong leader he is today but is still full of self doubt and has never lost his softer side, people like him always make the best leaders. Cate Blanchett is around again as his mom, but sort of takes a spectator’s seat to her son and his rapscallions, including wife to be Astrid (America Ferrera). The real magic here is the relationship between Toothless and a newfound love, a beautiful white female Night Fury who flirts, plays heard to get and frolics with him all across the oceans and skies in a display of animation that’s hard to believe, especially when they reach the fabled Hidden World that looks like something out of Avatar. These films share a wonderful message of love towards the animal kingdom, teaching that if you show trust, admiration and kindness to these creatures, the lives of both species can be enriched. I love the symbiosis between humans and dragons in this series, the variety and personality of each different breed and the pure imagination employed in bringing such designs to life. Highly recommended.
I feel like John Mctiernan’s Last Action Hero doesn’t get enough love. I mean, people like it and it has a lasting legacy.. but there’s a weird lukewarm reception among critics, and I’ve always found it to be one of the most gloriously meta, excitingly enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there. A young boy (Austin O Brien) spends his days glued to the seats of a creaky old movie theatre (many of us can relate) run by a mysterious projectionist (Robert Prosky), who gives him a magical ticket that brings all kinds of cinematic archetypes and characters to wild, screaming life including badass action hero Jack Slater (Arnie). It’s basically like a trip into the Hollywood version of those Where’s Waldo illustrations that are just packed to the brim with colour, life and incidence, and in this case joyously wall to wall film references, cameos, in jokes and self referential bliss. The villains are wonderfully tongue in cheek including Charles Dance’s cranky assassin Benedict, Anthony Quinn’s moronic Sicilian mobster Tony Vivaldi and Tom Noonan in a vicious, memorable turn as The Ripper, an axe wielding psycho who escapes the land of film and attacks the actual Tom Noonan in real life, also played by Tom Noonan. See how much fun this thing sounds? It’s a fucking blast for anyone who is a fan of the action genre, reality smashing fantasy, wowza production design or simply cinema itself. Arnold has so much fun with the role, bringing the best aspects of T-101, John Matrix, Harry Tasker and Dutch, throwing them into a blender of a performance that’s just silly enough and just tough enough to win us over. There are so many cameos I couldn’t even list them all here without busting a few algorithms, but my favourites have to be Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone, very briefly), the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Ian McKellen as Death, who stalks right out of an old black and white picture when the shit really hits the projection reel and the worlds of cinema blur into the edges of reality. It may not be coherent much of the time or employ rigidity in the narrative, but with a film this eclectic, I’d rather have no guardrails along the road it furiously careens down and have elements spill over, crash and tumble as McTiernan uses everything in his bag of tricks to both send up the genres and express his love for them. One of my absolute favourites, a cauldron of mischievous celluloid gold, I feel lucky for the fact that it was even made every time I revisit.
Slipstream was alluring from the moment I saw the poster in the front window of my local theater. From the producer of STAR WARS and the director of TRON was the proclamation, and I was sold. The film, even then, delivered, as far as I am concerned. It offered a different world, an intriguing premise, great performances and . . . yes, I’ll admit a disjointed viewing experience. Still, I love the movie and have always been curious as to the production and what elements combined to bring this fascinating story to the screen.
At length, I finally made contact with Tony Kayden, a veteran screenwriter and the credited scribe of the film (as well as a man with his own amazing set of adventures in the screen trade). And it didn’t take long to learn that the narrative irregularities of Slipstream were the result of no one really knowing what kind of film they wanted to make.
With the money in escrow, the movie was being made, that was definite. The script that Tony was brought on to rework was, at its heart, a stock-standard Star Wars rehash. Enter producer Gary Kurtz. After enjoying success serving alongside George Lucas and Jim Henson on the Dark Crystal, Kurtz came to the project seeing another unique film on a grand scale and an adventure born in the wind. The director tapped to steer the ship was Tron director Steve Lisberger. His work on Tron was extraordinary, original, and one could only imagine what he might do with a larger canvas combined with thrilling aerial action, accompanying a compelling human story. But then then problems began. The Producers wanted action and more sexual interaction where possible. Kurtz wanted something cleaner, no graphic violence and something more Star Wars. Lastly there was Lisberger, having just become a father, and wanting to make something for kids.
Then you have the poor writer. Only hired for four weeks, Tony ended up residing in England for three months, trying in vain to mix this maelstrom of indecisiveness into a cohesive plot. Kayden saw the movie as a kind of post-apocalyptic version of the The Last Detail. You can see the surviving elements of this in the interactions between Bill Paxton and Bob Peck’s characters of Matt and Byron. One a fugitive being taken in for the reward, the other an opportunist looking to make a quick buck. But, ultimately they become friends and seek to merely flow with the slipstream they are, for better or worse, traveling along.
These two are chased by Tasker, Mark Hamill, in a platinum performance as the mustache-twisting law man whose faith has been replaced by devotion to duty and routine whilst maintaining order here in this desolate society. He harbors a Javert/Valijean type relationship with Peck’s curiously, emotionally-distant accused killer – who just so happens to be an android.
The journey down the stream brings Matt and Bryon into contact with fellow adventurers/survivors Sir Ben Kingsley (who after a chat about the script in the commissary with Tony, sought out a part in the movie), and eventually, another Oscar winner in the person of F. Murray Abraham, the caretaker of one of the last sanctuaries – a literal museum to the past, complete with all its folly and decadence.
But the movie ends in tragedy and triumph. While the evil pursuer is vanquished, Bryon’s hopes for happiness are dashed. He is forced to leave his new found friend and seek out his own kind, wherever they may be.
That all might come across as a little confusing? Like I said before, the film is disjointed. This doesn’t prevent it, however, from being fun. The the actors give solid performances, the photography is brilliant, the locations amazing, Elmer Bernstein’s score magnificent – it is just a shame that the powers behind this movie couldn’t seem to agree.
As Tony told me, “the writer often takes the blame.” Though that is not the case here. If anything he should be commended for fighting the good fight in a losing battle.
Still, my fondness for Slipstream endures. In part for what it is, but also for the possibility of what it might have been. Like I said to Tony, in the age of the reboot, there might be a second life yet for Slipstream. Now all we need to do is get Dwayne Johnson on board…
There’s a whole bushel of ‘Most Dangerous Game’ films out there, tweaked versions of the same motif in which human beings are hunted for sport, and often large sums of money as well. Surviving The Game is probably the most bombastic and excessive one (John Woo’s Hard Target is the way to go if you want something slicker), but it’s a hoot of a flick, a dingy, mean spirited exploitation piece with an eccentric cast and thrills right up to the last scene. Ice T stars here under a giant heap of dreadlocks, playing a grumpy homeless man who is approached by an alleged social worker (Charles S. Dutton, intense) and offered help in the form of some vague rehab program way out in the woods. Soon he’s out in the woods at the remote retreat run by a sinister ex military Rutger Hauer, joined by other oddballs from all walks of life including F. Murray Abraham and a hopelessly coked out Gary Busey, who chews enough scenery that those giant teeth of his actually go to good use. This is no sabbatical though, as Ice soon finds out, and before he knows it he’s scrambling through the wilderness for his life as Hauer & Co. pursue him with a giddy amount of heavy artillery. The film isn’t interested in the morality or ethics of it’s concept, it’s here for a down n’ dirty romp and not much else, as long as you’re in popcorn mode you’ll get a kick out of it. Hauer is intense as ever, with some inspired costume choices and that ever present half smirk that signals danger and violence aren’t far off the horizon. Busey is certifiably, completely off his head, spouting monologues that weren’t even in the script (Hauer’s autobiography provides hilarious behind the scenes insight) and staring down everything that moves in true loosey Busey fashion. Throw in a manic John C. McGinley as well and you’ve got just about as much crazy as the film can handle. The combat hunting scenes really are impressive and thrilling, well staged stunts against a wilderness backdrop and raucous gunplay all round. An oddball of a flick, in the best way.
Ever been mistaken for somebody famous? Someone ever come up to you sayin’, “Hey you know, you look a hell-of-lot-like (insert famous actor here). You could be his stunt double.”
Peter wasn’t in Hollywood long before he heard about a little film being made called The Terminator. He went down and met with the film’s director, this young guy named James Cameron. Then, he met the film’s star, a chap named Arnold Schwarzenegger. Peter bore a striking resemblance to the man who would ever be Conan. It was after this encounter that would secure Peter a gig for the next 13 years as guy who made Arnie look as though all the rough stuff he endured on screen looked like a cakewalk.
Of course, along the way, Peter became a star in his own right; not only playing small roles in Schwarzenegger movies, but amassing an impressive list of credits in both film and television alongside his stunt work.
Nowadays however, Peter is a contented family man and is equally as dedicated to training the next generation of stunt performers. And who better to learn from than one of the best. This was a great interview with tales of life with Arnold, fighting over the channel changer with Jesse Ventura and having a beer with Charlton Heston.
So dear PTS listeners I give you a chat between two Kents. And no, I’ve never been mistaken for Peter.