Felon is a bitter,and tragic prison drama that’s packed with wrenching injustice, simmering anger and caged animal violence. Loaded with the kind of tough guy elements which make prison films exciting (check out Lock Up with Stallone), it’s also has a tender side brought forth by its extremely thoughtful and well written script, which explores ideas that are both hard to swallow and very sad. Stephen Dorff, a guy who already has the gritty look as soon as he walks into a frame, plays Wade Porter, a simple family man who is just starting out at life along with his wife (Marisol Nichols). Their hopes and dreams turn into a nightmare, however, when a violent intruder breaks into their home one night. Wade strikes out in defence of himself and his wife, accidentally killing the criminal. Because of the backwards ass way the States run things, he is accused of manslaughter and sentenced to serve out jail time. He is then thrown into the dog pit, literally and figuratively. The penitentiary he is sent to is run by sadistic and corrupt Lt. Jackson (Harold Perrineau) along with his brutal enforcer Sgt. Roberts (Nick Chinlund). Jackson organizes vicious fight club style matches between the inmates, totally off the books and beyond any correctional legislations. Wade is forced to adapt, adjust and bring out monstrous aspects within himself to survive, and make it through his sentence with both his life and humanity intact. It’s not an easy turn of events to watch unfold onscreen, but necessary in the sense that this probably happens quite frequently to people in real life, and should be seen. The only solace Wade finds is with his gruff, veteran cell mate John Smith (Val Kilmer) a lifer who once went on a massacre of revenge against individuals who murdered his family. Smith is his guiding light, steering him through the hellish carnage of what he’s forced to do and helping him to keep the candle of compassion alive within him, never losing sight of what is essential in his fight to claim his life once more. Kilmer is a force that will knock you flat in this role, an old bull with dimming fury in his eyes, a man with a bloody history that has forged the weary dog we see in the film. Late in the film he has an extended monologue to Wade, giving him both blessing and advice with some of the most truthful and affecting gravity Kilmer has showed in his career. The writer/director, who appears to be primarily a stuntman, should be commended for such a script, that could have easily been a straight up prison flick without the pathos that drips off its heartstrings. We as an audience view this painfully and prey nothing like this ever happens to us or anyone we know, hoping to see a light of hope at the end of the dark tunnel for Wade. I won’t spoil it, but it’s worth the hit that your emotions will take while watching, and there is hard earned catharsis to be had, and penance for the characters you want to shoot in the face along the way. The extends to brilliant work from Chris Browning, Anne Archer, Nate Parker, Johnny Lewis and a fantastic Sam Shepherd as another seasoned convict. This was correct to video as I recall, which is a crime. It’s up there as my favourite prison set film that I’ve ever seen, a soul bearing piece.
Dead Awake is like Memento meets The Machinist via a quirky undercover B movie gem with a hectic plot, offbeat elements that put you into the confused mindset of an amnesiac and a neat little mystery that socks you with plot turn after plot turn until you’re just as weary-boned as the protagonist, here played by Stephen Baldwin in one of the few appearances that didn’t piss me off. Let’s face it, the guy is plain mediocre, yet here manages to carry his end not too shabbily as Desmond Caine, a high profile corporate executive who suffers from extreme insomnia, spending his nights wandering about the dense urban inner city where he lives. One night he witnesses a murder, setting off an odd chain of events which pave the way to more murders, dark humour, kooky nocturnal weirdos and a general ‘After Hours’ esque vibe of strangeness. There’s an all night diner he frequents, populated by an eclectic bunch. The waitress (gorgeous Macha Grenon) hides several secrets and the lazy beat cop does nothing for his borough. It’s manic homeless drifter Skay (Michael Ironside) who provides the excitement. Ironside is always terrific, and he breaks out of his usual reserved and stern shell for a wind up toy performance that rivals anything in Jim Carrey or Robin Williams’s legacy. There’s also a squirrelly homicide detective (Edward Yankie) who does little to help Caine solve the mystery besides provide puzzling idle chatter. Caine’s girlfriend, secretary and associate may all be involved, if only he could coherently gather his thoughts, get a little sleep and figure it all out. The film does a nice job of making an uncomfortable yet darkly amusing atmosphere for the viewer, where everything appears arbitrary and nothing fits together, as it must for an individual who never sleeps. Overlooked stuff.
Antoine Fuqua’s Tears Of The Sun is a brutal, tough war machine of a flick in the tradition of the old 70’s war films, kind of like a brooding Dirty Dozen. Bruce Willis stoically heads up a team of special ops soldiers who are sent into a war torn region of Africa to rescue a doctor (Monica Belucci) from a missionary camp. Genocidal maniacs are encroaching into the area and it’s no longer safe for locals or relief workers. His orders are simple: locate and extract the doctor, and no one else. However, when he comes face to face with the refugees, and their situation, he simply can’t find it in himself to turn his back on them when he can do something to help. He then disobeys his orders, collects both his team, Bellucci and the Africans and makes a run through the jungle for diplomatic protected soil. His team are a grizzled band of warriors, each with their own unique qualities and opinion on his decision. Kelly (a badass, mohawk adorned Johnny Messner) believes it’s too much of a risk, and not their concern). Michael ‘Slo’ Slowenski (Nick Chinlund, excellent and understated) takes a compasionate standpoint. Second in command Red Atkins (Cole Hauser) trusts Willis is making the right call. Soon they are pursued by the extremists, led by a hulking Peter Mensah, before King Leonidas kicked him into the Sarlak pit. The combat scenes are hard hitting, seemingly very well rehearsed and researched. The only problem for me was the overbearing and extended sequences of genocide, which are harrowing and quite tough to watch. When it’s combat based it’s a damn fine piece, with a rugged, thoughtful band of heroes who are an absolute joy to see in action. Rounding out the team are Eamonn Walker, Charles Ingram, Paul Francis, Chad Smith and a briefly seen Tom Skerritt as Willis’s commanding officer. Tough, muscular and no nonsense, with burgeoning compassion that gives that soldiers purpouse beyond the cold lethality of the mission. Fuqua has a terrific collection of lean and mean action flicks under his belt, and this is one of the best.
Perrier’s Bounty tries hard to be as pithy and witily profound as In Bruges, but doesn’t quite manage the task. To be fair, Bruges is a masterpiece and a Goliath of a script to aspire too, but this one has its own brand of scrappy crime fun, full of enough beans to keep the viewer jumping for its slight running time. Few films can boast narration provided by the Grim Reaper, and fewer still can say that said Reaper is voiced by Gabriel Byrne. But indeed, Byrne beckons us into this violent fable with his patented tone, both baleful and quaint. The fable in question concerns Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy) an irresponsible young Irish lad who is seriously bereft of both luck and common sense. He lives in a small town in northern Ireland and owes a hefty loan to local crime lord Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson). Because of how tiny the town is, it’s pretty easy for Perrier’s goons to find and engage him in a road runner goose chase all about the area, forcing him to scoop up his on and off girlfriend (Jodie Whittaker), and head for the hills. He’s also joined by his uber eccentric father (Jim Broadbent) who believes that the Grim Reaper has visited him at night and given him the alarming prognosis that he will die the next time he falls asleep. Broadbent is a solid gold asset to any film he’s in, and practically spews perfectly timed comic banter non stop. Michael thinks he has a way out of trouble with local petty thief The Mutt (Liam Cunningham, aka Ser Davos Seaworth, also a comedic treasure here), which turns out to be another notch in the belt of bad judgment. Meanwhile, Perrier’s crew reels after one of their slain thugs (at Michael’s hand) turns out to have been involved in a love affair with another, who now has the wrath of vengeance in his eyes. There’s a scene where Gleeson comforts the bereaved hoodlum and seems deeply wounded at the couple’s reluctance to tell him of their love. Gleeson assures them he has no issue with homosexuality and wishes they would have shared with him. In the context of hardened criminals out for blood, this kind of exchange is priceless and brings rigid archetypes right down to earth, for maximum hilarity and well earned pathos. The film meanders a bit, but never out ran my attention span, following through with it’s story in ways both welcomingly bloody and predictably quirky. It doesn’t add up to anything life altering when all is said and done, but damn if the things which are said and are done along the way aren’t just pure genre entertainment, inducing chuckles, thrills and nostalgia for other films withing the niche. In the troupe of writers who look up to Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino and Martin McDonough, this scribe is on to something. Keep an eye out for Lord Varys, Roose Bolton and a young Domhall Gleeson too.
Very excited to bring you my latest interview, with actor Richard Brake! Richard has a legendary career, appearing as the fearsome Night’s King in Game Of Thrones, the murderous criminal Joe Chill in Batman Begins, and in countless films and shows including Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, Hannibal Rising, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II and the upcoming 31, Doom, Spy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Water For Elephants, Death Machine, The Numbers Station, Ray Donovan, Peaky Blinders, and more. Please enjoy!
Nate: You were born in Wales. Are you purely of Welsh background, and when did you make your way to America? Was acting something you always wanted to do, or did it find you by happenstance? Did you attend any acting schools?
Richard: I’m Welsh through and through. My parents are Welsh and my grandfathers worked in the coal mines. But we moved to America when I was young. I grew up all over, mostly down south. But we came back to Britian a lot and lived there for a while when I was a teenager.
I wanted to be a writer. I started writing stories when I was very young. When I was 17 I started writing plays, short plays, heavily influenced by Edward Albee. I went to a small high school in Ohio, and one evening I was sitting outside with my best friend when a girl came over and begged us to audition for the school Play. It seemed they didn’t have enough boys auditioning and it was a big cast. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. My friend and I sort of reluctantly agreed to audition and we got cast as the judges. After a few rehearsals I was hooked. I loved the collaborative nature of it all, rehearsing, playing, all of it. I actually loved that more than the performances. I remember walking back to my dormitory with my friend after one of the rehearsals and saying to him “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I’ve been lucky to see that come true.
I went to Duke University and studied English and Drama. I did a lot of theatre there, then studied in New York at the Michael Checkov Studio with an amazing actor Beatrice Straight. I knew I wasn’t very good, or at least as good as I wanted to be. So I went to England and Studied at a Mountview Drama school for three years. I was incredibly lucky that they had just hired a Russian teacher named Sam Kogan. He was a genius. An amazing teacher.
Nate: You have a very distinct style and energy that lends itself to playing larger than life, comic book style characters. Did you mean to take this avenue, or did those types of roles just happen to find you because of your style?
Richard: I think that just comes from the writing of those particular projects. It lends itself to a certain extreme expression. And I am willing to be extreme if it works for the piece.
Nate: What does life look like for you besides acting? Hobbies, interests, family? What lines of work did you find yourself in before the industry?
The usual, waiting tables, telephone sales, all kinds of jobs to make a few dollars.
I have two great kids, an ex wife I get on with, and a girlfriend. That keeps me busy!! If I get a chance I play a bit of guitar, badly. I also practice Ashtanga yoga. I’ve been doing that for a long time, almost daily. It keeps me sane in this insane business.
Nate: I watched an interview with you once where you mentioned that having an active imagination is important in the craft. Would you care to elaborate on that? Does it stem from your training or is this a quality you’ve unearthed in your own exploration of the work?
Richard: Active imagination was a term coined by Sam Kogan. Before I studied with Sam, if I was working on a character, I often saw the character in my imagination as if he was in the third person. I’ll give an example of what I mean, that’s probably the best thing to do. Let’s say my character needs to find out where the money is hidden. He’s a bad guy, a drug dealer. He’s captured the person who knows and tied him to a chair and now he’s torturing him. It’s a lot of money and he wants it so he can quit drug dealing and live on a remote island with the woman he loves.
An actor needs to have an objective (Sam called them “purposes”) to motivate his action. That’s a pretty basic acting tenant. You hear that all the time as a young actor. “What’s your character’s objective. What does he want?” So in this case, I want the guy to tell me where the money is. In passive imagination I see my self in the third person standing over the guy as he blurts out the location of the money. In active imagination I see it all through my eyes, feel the temperature of the room, the smell of his sweat, ect. My character has a long term objective of being on the island, peacefully enjoying life with my girlfriend. So in passive imagination, I see myself sitting on a chair in the sun drinking a mai tai, while my girlfriend rubs suntan lotion on herself. It’s like watching a movie. It’s all in the third person. In active imagination, I can feel the chair under me, the heat of the sun, the smell of the lotion, the taste of the mai tai. I see it all through my eyes, rather than watching it outside of myself. It is far more effective to prepare for a role using active imagination than passive. Passive just causes bad acting, because it doesn’t really motivate. Active imagination motivates. It get’s those objectives into the actor’s being not just his head.
Nate: Game Of Thrones: you made quite an impression as the Night’s King. How were you approached to play the role? How much of you was make up and how much was cgi? How was the battle of hardhome scene for you? Mainly cgi or a lot of practical?
Richard: I auditioned.
Very little CGI. I was in the make up chair for close to 6 hours. Then a couple of hours to get it off. The contact lenses were massive, as big as you can put in a human eye. Torture. But worth it. I loved the episode and playing the character. I’m very proud of it. It’s an amazing show that has resonated with so many people.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t available for Season 6. I had a long contractual commitment on The Bastard Executioner. I was very sad about that as I love the show and being a part of it.
Nate: Another iconic, yet smaller role- Joe Chill, from Batman Begins. How was that experience for you?
Richard: Great. I loved working with Nolan. He is so assured. Great director. And I was a huge Batman fan as a kid, so it was a dream come true to play the guy who killed his parents. Hahahaha, that’s a pretty weird dream, come to think of it, but there you go.
Nate: You mentioned before on Twitter that your favourite role you have done is Doom Head from Rob Zombie’s upcoming film 31. Why was that? And what can we expect from the film, and from your work in it?
Richard: I saw the film at Sundance and it rocks! Rob Zombie is a genius. He’s so creative, generous, inspiring. I can’t say enough good things about him. He has this incredible ability to bring out the very best in everyone who works with him. It’s a real gift, and it shows on screen. I can’t wait for people to see it.
Nate: A film I really enjoyed you in was Good Day For It, with Robert Patrick and Lance Henriksen. Was that an enjoyable experience?
Richard: We had fun. We shot it on a super low budget in the Poconos for 2 weeks or so. We all stayed in this off season ski lodge. All I remember is laughing all the time. Lance is a very funny guy.
Nate: You appeared in Death Machine in a central role pretty early in your career, with it a lot of previous credits? How did were you cast in that?
Richard: As always, I auditioned. I think I was 27 years old. I was probably a little too young in truth to play the President of an Arms Corporation, but I got it. I was so thrilled to work with Brad Dourif. He’s so focused and very generous. I was young and nervous and he was very kind to me.
Nate: Besides 31, are there any other projects you are excited for and would like to mention?
Richard: I’m in the new season of Peaky Blinders. It’s going to be the best season yet. It was one of the bests things I’ve read, and the director, Tim, did a great job. I think it comes out in early May. I’m filming Ray Donovan at the moment. It’s also incredibly well written, acted and directed. Two great shows to be a part of. I’m also hoping to shoot a film my friend Jeff Daniel Phillips wrote later this year. He stars in 31 too. It’s a psychological horror we would like to film in Wales. We are raising the money, etc now. I play a reclusive Goth Rocker from the 80’s. Things get pretty crazy and dark when a young woman comes to visit.
Nate: Thank you so much for your time, Richard, it has been an honour!
Harlan County War is a rare little TV movie that takes a partly fictional look at the union wars in rural Kentucky during the 1970’s, when a plucky band of coal miners and their wives took to the picket line in attempt to establish better working and living conditions. The story and title of the film have roots in the union wars of the 1930’s, which set the stage for this tale. Holly Hunter plays Ruby Kincaid, wife of Silas (Ted Levine) a miner who suffers through the harsh labor everyday. The townspeople are tired of the injuries, the deaths and the deadly black lung infections, and are given reluctant hope when compassionate union official Warren Jakopovich (Stellen Skarsgard) arrives to their county, promising change. Many locals are skeptical due to past corruption and disloyalty, but soon the company gets nasty and they realize that Jakopovich may be their only chance. Hunter is as fired up as she always is, her accent thicker than the moonshine everyone swills. I tracked this film down for Levine (Skarsgard too), and this is one of the best roles he’s ever gotten. He’s usually in character parts like the violent thug, stern general, gruff cowboy or yes, the skin stealing serial killer. Here he’s just a plain rural family man, a good hearted fellow who wants the best for his kin and county. Levine works wonders playing it straight here and I wish he’d get thrown more meaty and down to earth roles like this. Skarsgard can jump between being the most terrifying psychopath to the most comforting, sympathetic characters, and plays Jakopovich with compassion and dogged determination. The character building scenes between the three actors is brilliant. I feel like there’s a longer edit out there somewhere, because it jumps a bit and forgets to address one plot turn entirely, but alas it’s a tough one to affordably track down and this is the only version I could get. It’s made for TV and that shows at the seams sometimes, but it’s still solid drama about something important, and crafted very well.
The Fifth Patient is a super awesome amnesia thriller, in the tradition of The Bourne Identity. It stars Nick Chinlund (in one of his rare lead roles) as John Reilly, an american who awakens in a remote rural hospital somewhere in Africa, with no memory of who he is, how he got there or what’s going on. A local military official (Isaach De Bankolé) interrogates him, believing that he works for the CIA. He has several visitors including a woman who claims to be his wife (Marley Shelton) and a former colleague (Henry Czerny). Gradually he pieces together the fragments of his damaged mind and suddenly has memories of being involved in a terrorism plot, planting seeds of doubt and causing him to suspect he isn’t who they think he is at all. Now all he can trust are his instincts, wary of everyone around him and unsure of his own past. It’s a serpentine story with hefty work from Chinlund who handles all facets of the character superbly, including some third act surprises. Sometimes these type of thrillers fall apart at the seams in the conclusion, tripping over the rug they’re trying to pull out from the audience in terms of plot points. Not this one. It’s well constructed and makes concise sense of its story right up to the last frame. Also watch for work from Brendan Fehr, Olek Krupa as a mysterious russian prisoner and the great Peter Bogdanovitch in a nearly unrecognizable turn. Now, I’m fairly certain that this one was never officially released back in 2007, because you literally cannot find it anywhere, it doesn’t have a legit poster and even seems nonexistent in some databases. Years ago it popped up on Netflix canada for about a month, thus ending my tedious quest to see it. You’d think that such a solid film with the prolific actors in it would have been treated better, but for one reason or another, it’s been forgotten. Hopefully one day a distributor will pick it up, because it’s quite the well made, entertaining thriller with a crackling lead performance.