The late Tony Scott and Denzel Washington collaborated on five films, the second last of which is underrated sci fi thriller Deja Vu. It contains Scott’s trademark visual style, all skitchy sketchy frames, deliriously rapid editing and deep, gorgeously saturated colours that pisses a lot of people off in its garish, flippant aesthetic. I for one love his style, and here he is coming down off the high that was his masterpiece, Domino, exercising restraint that was no doubt mandated by the studio bigwigs. Nevertheless, the same unmistakably heightened forces of filmmaking that flow through the veins of this crackling thriller can be found in most of his work, just in smaller doses here. The film tackles a lot in its unassuming narrative, from terrorist bombing, an elliptical story that’s put in an otherworldly trance by a plot point involving a high tech time travel capability, and a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrant that somewhat sneaks up on you. During a captivating opening credit sequence, we see a horrific explosion onboard a navy transport ferry in the New Orleans harbour, killing over five hundred people including women and children. ATF Agent Doug Carlin (Washington) is called in to investigate, and before long his cunning intuition catches the eye of FBI Agent Pryzwara (an unusually calm Val Kilmer) who is spearheading a very hush hush investigative technique that’s being used to track the terrorist in the days leading up to the incident. What Kilmer doesn’t tell him is the mind-bending metaphysical implications of it, but keener Denzel gets wise to their act, and throws himself headlong into a quest to stop the bomber, save the mysterious Claire (Paula Patton, just phenomenal) who was murdered and has ties to the event, and reverse time. Denzel is an implosive wrecking ball of determination, his ingenuity and reserve made me wonder why Carlins career aspirations stopped short of the ATF. I don’t know why Patton isn’t in more films (she recently starred alongside Denzel again in the super fun 2 Guns), she brings a battered resilience to her work, and is a radiant beauty to boot. Peppy gerbil Adam Goldberg is the obligatory one liner spewing techie who’s got more going on than his exterior may read, and Bruce Greenwood is all stern bluster as the FBI honcho in charge. This film doesn’t often come up in discussions of either Denzel’s or Scott’s greatest hits, but it’s ripe for rediscovery and praise. Propulsive action, far fetched sci fi intrigue that’s hard to digest and follow, yet simultaneously wicked fun, and like I said before an emotional core that takes you by surprise. There’s a sentence that I internally intone to myself whenever I see a film, or aspects within a film that fire up my adrenal glands, tear ducts or simply rouse my soul. Be it a banger of an action sequence, a romance that hits all the right notes, a good old fashioned fantastical invention or visual flights of fantasy that stir wonder within me. That sentence is “This is why I watch movies”. I get no greater pleasure in my cinematic escapades than being able to say that to myself as my heart pumps to the tune of whatever grand spectacle I’m witnessing before me onscreen. I can tell you, the sentence was uttered while watching this one, and now that I think of it, pretty much every film in Scott’s portfolio. Highly recommended.
I used to own a copy of Richard Rush’s Color Of Night, and I could kick myself in the teeth for ever pawning it in times of financial despair. It’s one of the steamiest, wackiest and most ludicrous erotic thrillers that the 90’s has to offer. I’m not kidding, this one navigates its way to the edge of the map of believability and logic, and with a knowing wink, dives headlong right off the edge of it into realms of sweaty, sexy excess, characters so strange they seem to be from a looney toons episode directed by David Lynch, and a preposterous story that has to be seen to be disbelieved. That’s not to say I don’t like it; I love the hot mess and yearn for a re-watch, just as soon as I track down a dvd. Bruce Willis eases into the erotic tropes with gusto that would make Michael Douglas proud, playing color blind psychiatrist Bill Capa who gets a nerve shake-up when a distraught female patient (Kathleen Wilhouette in a cameo of gushing melodrama) takes a suicidal swan dive out of his forty story office to the NYC streets below. Soon after, he’s tasked with taking over a support group previously run by a colleague (Scott Bakula) who was murdered under mysterious circumstances. The group is populated by several oddball weirdos, one of whom may be the one who offed the good doctor Bakula. There’s tortured ex cop Buck (Lance Henriksen, always welcome and one of the only performers who takes things seriously here), OCD weasel Clark (Brad Dourif) and a host of others, all competing as to who can be the strangest red herring in the proceedings. Capa soon finds himself sexually involved with the impossibly sultry Rose (Jane March). And when I say sexually, I. Mean. Sexually. It’s hard to reach the clawing levels of heightened on-screen copulation that this baby throws at us without slipping into outright parody, and indeed sometimes it feels like we’re watching the 9/12 Weeks spoof scene in Hot Shots Part 1. It helps though, that March is breathtakingly sexy and spends a solid slice of the film absolutely in the nude, and slathered with all kinds of fluids, bodily and other. What doesn’t help? Willis’s grizzly bear fur coat of a torso and the moment where he bears his wee willy winker dinker in naked glory, making sure that anyone who didn’t quite get that image burned into their retinas with a similar scene in Pulp Fiction gets a glorious second chance here. Oh goody. Anyways, between bouts of feral coitus, Willis and March navigate treacherous waters to smoke the killer out and save their skins. They also get bothered by a bumbling detective (vivacious Ruben Blades) that would make Columbo proud. Supporting work is also provided by Kevin J. O Connor, Shirley Knight, Erick Avari, Eric Lasalle and Lesley Ann Warren who add extra incredulity to gild the already silly tone. It’s large. It’s loud. It’s oiled up. It’s a really unbelievable piece of violent eroticism, and despite everything… I loves me some Color Of Night.
Before John Carpenter’s Halloween, there was Black Christmas, and no it’s not a Tyler Perry holiday special. It’s a slick little slasher set in a 1970’s sorority house during Christmas break, when many of the girls have gone home. Suddenly mysterious phone calls start to plague the ones still there, and one by one a murderous, unseen prowler starts to murder them. The phone calls themselves aren’t overly threatening, but instead sound like the nonsensical babbling of someone who is a couple reindeer short of a sleigh, making them all the scarier. I remember watching this years ago and being far more creeped out at the phone calls rather than the actual murders. That is a perfect example of using atmosphere to get under your audience’s skin rather than straight up gore, and a testament to the fright films of the 70’s and 80’s, which really seemed to have all the atmosphere vs. gore dials in the right positions. This positively drips with tension and ambience. The silences in between screams are almost deafening in their vacuous anticipation of terror to come, and strange as it sounds, there’s actually a nice Christmas-y feeling in places where the fear hasn’t yet struck, despite it being a horror movie. Olivia Hussey plays Jess, the main target of the killer with appropriate wide eyed intensity, Margot Kidder is briefly seen as the house mother, and horror regular John Saxon shows up as a suspicious Police Chief as well. I’d say this one achieves a state of suspense and atmosphere that can step up to the same plate as Halloween any day, it’s just a little overlooked I suppose. The house they are in is the perfect setting, a sprawling Yuletide manor of creaky hallways, desolated basements, dark, dingy attic space and an uneasy thrum of awaiting gloom that gives the words Silent Night a new meaning. The poor girls just never know when a shrill telephone ring will slice through the eerie corridors, forcing them to answer it and hear an unnerving voice warble out “It’s me, Billy” on the other end.
PS: avoid the remake at all costs. It takes everything that was creepy and restrained about this classic and turns it into a disgusting nightmare.
Recently myself and a good friend of mine, Mo Barrett, have begun to craft special ‘interactive’ video summaries of some of our favourite darker, more challenging films. This installmeant sees us look at Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead, a terrific. Option picture which we both have a mutual love for. Please click the link below and enjoy!
Bringing Out The Dead
Created By Mo Barrett and Nate Hill, with thanks to the support of Frank Mengarelli and Nick Clement of Podcasting Them Softly.
Pleased to bring you my latest interview, with veteran actor Peter Onorati. Peter has appeared in many films including Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Rocketman, Shelter, The Last Ride, Postcards From The Edge, Blood Deep, The Last Ride and more. He’s also acted in Television shows including Sex And The City, Tales From The Crypt, CSI, NCIS, Monk, Crossing Jordan, ER, Batman Beyond, The Wild Thornberries, The Outer Limits, 24, Blue Bloods, Sons Of Anarchy, Castle and many more. Enjoy!
Nate: You have done quite a bit in life, before and besides acting, including playing football. When did you know you wanted to be an actor, and knew it would be something you would enjoy doing indefinitely?
Peter: I really never thought about acting until I was challenged to take a 1-night stand class in comedy in NYC, which turned out to be a class in Improvisation. At the time, I had my MBA and I was the Director of Marketing and Research for 3 of McCall’s magazines and dating a childhood crush who was the Art Director of one of the magazines. After the 1-night class I was asked to join an Improv group in NYC that ended up being called Port Authority Theatre Ensemble or Pate (pronounced Pattay like the French word). The Group was named so because NONE of us were in the acting business and we came together from as far as Boonton N.J. (me) and Queens and the boroughs. We were indeed very much like a Pate. We played all he shit-holes in NYC for a few years and competed in the Improvisation Olympics in Chicago at Second City. I met a starving actress in the group named Jeanette Collins who was classically trained in Improv and who had moved to NYC from California. When my childhood crush broke up with me Jeanette took pity on me and dated me. Soon after I had some of my research published in Advertising Age and was being sought after by some big package good firms like P&G. I let my boss at McCall’s know and she decided that I wasn’t worth keeping so she made my life miserable for a few months. During that time Jeanette said “I think you could be an actor” to which I replied “Yeah, so I can have 4 jobs and starve like you?” When I subsequently removed the ice-pack from my eye, I decided to try acting. I walked into McCall’s and quit and within 2 weeks was on hold for a national beer commercial. Within about 2 years I had made more money as a commercial actor than I did as a Marketing Exec and I got my first break in TV on the last season of Kate and Allie. From there you can check my resume cause there’s too much to type.
Nate: Who are some actors/filmmakers whose work you enjoy and maybe have inspired you in your own work?
Peter: Actors who inspire me: DeNiro (whom I worked with in my first big movie Goodfellas) Robert Duvall, John Casales, Christian Bale, John Garfield, James Gagney, Spencer Tracey (too many to type) – Filmakers/Actors – Redford, Stallone, Clooney. Barry Levinson, Scorsese (again too numerous to type)
Nate: You have a very rambunctious, energetic nature to your work; many of your characters have a vitality that lights up the screen and commands attention. Is this something you consciously have done with practice and training, or do you think it comes out of your own personality?
Peter: Most of what I do comes from me. I have no real formal training as an actor so I have nothing to draw upon except my own life experience. For better or worse, there is always a huge piece of me or somebody I loved or hated in what I do. Let’s face it, I have no other resources.
Nate: 24: how was you experience working on this show?
Peter: My experience on 24 was GREAT and would have lasted longer except for the way this stupid business works. I am an acquaintance of Jon Cassar the Exec Prod (he has subsequently climbed on board with a script I co-wrote to be the Exec Prod.) They offered me that role and that doesn’t happen too much to actors at my level. However they did not make it a “Regular Role” and lock me in. (probably because they didn’t want to pay me). So in the middle I was offered a 4 episode arc on Desperate Housewives and took the guarantee over the possibility of more episodes of ‘24’. So as most of the stories of this business go, ‘24’ called me for more eps but I committed to Desperate Housewives so I did no more.
Nate: You have done a fair amount of voice work in your career. How did that come about, do you enjoy it, and how does it compare to acting in front of a camera in live action?
Peter: As one who got kicked out of Catholic School in 5th grade for mimicking the Nuns and Priests, I never thought I’d make money doing exactly what I did wrong so long ago.
Nate: I remember a little film you did called Shelter, with Kurtwood Smith and Costas Mandylor, who played your brother. You stole the show as the hyperactive Greek mafia boss. Any memories from that one, and how was the experience?
Peter: One of the best experiences of my career. Not only did I get to sit across from the great Charles Durning but I got to do something actors at my level NEVER get to do. Unless you’re Dustin Hoffman or Christian Bale, you never get to do maladies or accents. The writer/producer and the director let me speak in Greek and do the Greek/American accent at my suggestion for the character. This is unheard of for us guys at the lower levels.
Nate: Any upcoming projects you are excited for and would like to mention?
Peter: Nothing in acting right now. I have had some success writing and have put together some strong and interesting packages for my work. Actually I am writing something right now with my wife ( in 30 years together we haven’t done this) She is part of a writing team Collins an Friedman and has been everything from Exec to Co-Exec producer on shows since we moved to California.
Nate: Some of your favorite roles you have played over the course of your career so far?
Peter: I love ALL of my own series. They gave me a sense of security and a long term approach to finding my characters. I specifically loved doing a show that my agents and managers kept me from doing for a while as it was not “the thing to do”. The show was Walker Texas Ranger and I had a BLAST and Chuck was incredibly congenial and respectful of my ideas for my character. I can’t mention all the special jobs that stretched my chops like “Harry’s Law” and the joy and fatigue that accompanied the work. I guess that when I’m not working like most actors I feel unaccomplished. When you come to this town it’s all about the trophies and the P.R. but when you’ve been here as long as I have, you realized it’s a major accomplishment just to raise a family, put your sons through college and stay in your house. So I guess I made out ok.
Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall is sweeping Hollywood grandeur at its finest. It’s a raging typhoon, one part family high drama, one part war film, wrapped in a nostalgic, old world romance that hearkens back to the golden age of cinema. It’s an epic as only the pictures can show us, blowing a gust of storytelling wind at us and depositing us on the endless plains of the 1900’s, in the monumental Rocky Mountains of Montana. The story focuses on Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins, gnarled nobility incarnate), living with his three sons in the desolation of an old world making way for a new, as the four of them deal with love, loss, war, nature and interpersonal conflict in a story that plumbs the chasms of human nature and spits out characters that bleed raw feeling, reach out to one another in the clamour of a nation only just being formed (like the land itself), and clash in tragic harmony, spanning years in their lives and showing us desperation, grief and brotherhood. Brad Pitt, in the fiercest performance I’ve ever seen him muster, plays Tristan, Ludlow’s half Native son with a wild streak a mile long and a kinship with the tangled wilderness he calls home. Aiden Quinn plays the middle brother Alfred, a reserved, analytical type. When their younger brother Samuel (Henry Thomas), arrives home with his beautiful fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) sparks fly between her and Tristan, and an immediate rift is formed in the family that Ormond sees all too well, but cannot deny her love for Pitt. Samuel is a fragile, easily traumatized man, and when the boys are driven from their lands to fight in the war, it dampens his soul with a ruining force of horror that leaves him scarred forever. Tristan, being almost animalistic at heart, sinks into the carnage of combat with the keen resilience of a wolf, and is transformed in a different fashion. This to me is the penultimate sequence of the film, as it strays from the picturesque grandeur of their life before, removed from the world of conflict, into the sheer reality that befalls a country in formation, representing a loss of innocence so to speak. Neither of them are the same after that, and the cracks in their brotherhood only etch further after tragedy befalls Susannah, blackening their idealistic home life as well and tainting the memory with aching sadness. Tristan tries to move on, either to wrap the hurt in a cloak of new events, or because his instinctual nature spurs him on, but he almost seems to be cursed, and more hardships step into his path as well. I don’t want to deter you from seeing this by laying all this doom and gloom into my review, because it’s actually a very beautiful film to see unfolding, it just deals with incredibly tragic subject matter that will leave you breathless with tears, like Titanic, or Romeo & Juliet. Pitt.. What can I say. He’s outstanding, giving Tristan the fearsome gaze of a wounded animal, and the love struck longing that’s shot down by fate, turning him into a prisoner of his own ephemeral love for those who are taken from him. It’s my second favourite of his roles (it’s hard to top Twelve Monkeys) and he shines in it like a silver star over the Montana horizon. Montana itself basically screams to be pored over by a camera, and the cinematography will make you feel every gust of mountain air and gasp at the looming crags and sun dappled glades that leap out from your screen at you. It’s one of the last of a dying breed: the romantic epic. Like Titanic, or Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhievago before it, it posses that untouchably bold quality that showcases emotion, tragic happenstance and deep longing all set in a breathtaking setting that is meant to move and astonish you. A classic.
Ted Demme’s The Ref is one of my favourite holiday comedies of all time, one I re watch every and never tire of. It’s the most cheerful black comedy I can think of, while at the same time being one of the most cynical, acid tongued Christmas movies on record. In spite of this pissy tone, however, it still manages to elicit warm fuzzy feelings and make you care for its loveable, curmudgeonly characters. It’s also got a spitfire of a script, given wildly funny life by its star, the one and only Denis Leary. Leary, every the motor mouthed, nicotine fuelled teddy bear, is an actor who’s work is very dear to me. Many times when I was younger and wasn’t in the best place in my head, I’d watch various films of his, and his standup and he always put me in a better place. Here he plays short tempered cat burglar Gus, who is forced to lay low in a small town on Christmas Eve after being busted and nearly caught by a state of the art alarm system. He takes a middle aged couple hostage to hide out at their house, and goes from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play the couple, who bicker endlessly and drive Gus up the wall by constantly being at each other’s throats and never shutting up. Spacey never comes up short in intense performances, whether dramatic or funny, and he owns the role, meeting Leary and Davis’s manic energy with his own verve. Davis, an underrated actress, pulls out all the stops an delivers like she always does as well. The three of them are left in the house to hash out their issues, criticize each other, fight, make constant jabs at character and all that other lovely Christmas-y stuff. The hilarity peaks when Spacey’s insufferable brother and his family show up for the most awkward Christmas dinner in history, as the trio tries to disguise the fact that they’re harbouring a criminal from the dimwitted clan, and Spacey’s tyrannical bitch of a mother (Glynis Johns). There’s balance to the stressful vibe, though, as Leary’s presence elevates every emotion from the couple and eventually turns things around, all expertly played by the actors for laughs both obvious and subtle. The excellent Raymond J. Barry is crusty delight as the mean spirited Sheriff, and there’s great work from J.K. Simmons, Christine Baranski, Arthur Nascarella, Vincent Pastore, Richard Bright, Adam LeFevre and B.D. Wong. A Christmas classic for me, for a number of reasons, and one of the funniest, overlooked holiday flicks out there.