Barry Sonnenfield’s Get Shorty could also laterally be called Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, since star John Travolta fought tooth and nail to keep all of the author’s dense, intelligent and pop culture soaked dialogue intact. The film is not only better for it but comes out a glowing gem, a giddy crime/comedy classic that’s as special to me as a comfort blanket to a toddler. A rainy day film, a lazy Sunday go-to DVD, I could watch the thing anytime and not only be consistently entertained with each revisit, but notice something I didn’t the previous couple hundred times. Travolta has never been cooler as Chili Palmer, a silver tongued Miami mobster who is propelled on a meta odyssey to Los Angeles after his boss dies and a whirlwind of confusion is whipped up. There he gets a taste for the film industry after meeting sad-sack B movie mogul Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman, priceless), scream queen actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo, never sexier) and a host of others. It’s a Hollywood satire, a pulpy crime thriller, a brilliant dark comedy and ensemble screwball piece that comes as close to the shores of perfection as movies can get. Dennis Farina gives one of his timelessly precious, angry wiseguy turns as Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni, another Miami hood and the barbaric, obnoxious answer to Travolta’s cool cucumber gentleman act. Delroy Lindo has further villain duties as crime kingpin Bo Catlett, who also has his sights set on celluloid and will intimidate, kill and extort his way there at any cost. Danny DeVito does a sly, biting send up of method acting as Martin Weir, a lovable thespian with his head just a wee bit jammed up his own ass. James Gandolfini is pure class as Bear, the stuntman who moonlights as an enforcer and carries his adorable daughter around anywhere he goes. Rounding out the cast are perfectly pitched turns from Jon Gries, David Paymer, Bette Midler, Martin Ferrero, Miguel Sandoval, Jack Conley and a special surprise cameo that I won’t spoil. Although not my favourite Leonard adaptation (Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight holds those honours), it’s definitely the most fun, and by far the most entertaining. The cleverness of offhand Hollywood jargon, peppered with obscure references that expect the cinephile in you to keep up are pure bliss, not to mention the tongue in cheek tough guy banter, the playful music by John Lurie, the lighthearted, whip crack editing from Jom Miller/Ted Woerner and the showcase performances from all actors involved, feasting on Elmore’s fine dialogue like steak & lobster. There’s a sequel called Be Cool which I have been reluctant to see, so I can’t weight in on it but apparently it doesn’t measure up, so you could always divert and check out Sonnenfield’s 2001 comedy Big Trouble, which is fun too and shares some costars with this (Farina and Russo appear in both). Or you can just pop this masterpiece in for another visit, and let it be it’s own sequel. I do all the time.
Gore Verbinki’s The Mexican has always been a huge favourite of mine. It’s sort of a diamond in the rough in the sense that it didn’t meet very explosive box office or critical acclaim, but upon closer inspection is actually a uniquely structured, sexy, dangerous, eccentrically funny romantic black comedy. It’s one of those laconic yet feisty crime flicks, the kind that Elmore Leonard writes and Soderbergh directs, but this one is given the trademark oddball humour and distinct flourish that Verbinski brings to all of his films, the guy is so undervalued in Hollywood. Brad Pitt, in one of his scrappiest turns, plays perpetual fuck-up Jerry, a low level mob package boy who couldn’t deliver a pizza without dicking it up. He’s tasked by his freaky boss (a scary Bob Balaban) to deliver an ancient antique pistol across the Mexican border. Of course everything that can go wrong does, like the Murphy’s law of caper flicks. His high maintenance, wired girlfriend Samantha (Julia Roberts) tracks his course and ends up in quite a bit of danger. It’s all a breezy affair that goes from one episodic, densely written and excellently acted scene to the next, with redundant complexities of plot less important than character development and singular instances of violence and dark comedy. I won’t ruin the surprise cameo near the end but it’s someone who you’d always expect to find in smart ass films like this and shows up like he meant to be there the whole time but got caught in border traffic. J.K. Simmons is hilarious as a slightly odd colleague off Jerry’s, but the best performance of the film by far comes from the late James Gandolfini as Winston Baldry, a gay contract killer with both a soft and a dangerous side who kidnaps Samantha and holds her ransom until he finds Jerry. The brilliant script by J.H. Wyman focuses on and develops their relationship beautifully until we believe both as human beings in full colour and personality, as opposed to just characters on the page. Gandolfini could play a barstool on camera and still have enough depth and human spirit to win over an audience, the guy was just that good and this remains my favourite character he has ever created. There’s always a qualm people have with this film, and it’s that despite billed as a romance, Pitt and Roberts barely share any screen time together, instead running around the southwest and Mexico trying to find each other. Well, perhaps the poster shouldn’t have shown that image of them sharing a moment like that, but to me this story was never about them together, but the journey they take finding each other, all the crazy people they meet along the way and the strange parable of the pistol Jerry must deliver, which gets it’s own black and white aside flashback sequence that has a Robert Rodriguez feel. This one is a charmer, has enough action, wit and warmth to fill it’s leisurely two hour runtime, and languishes in each minute of it like any good, well thought out story does.
Initially I felt the same way about Déjà Vu as I did Gilliam’s12 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.
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…
It’s hard not to be romantic about the sports film. From classics like The Natural and Bull Durham to more modern efforts like The Blind Side and Moneyball. They range across all genres and all sports. Football (Rudy, Any Given Sunday), Golf (Tin Cup, The Legend of Bagger Vance), of course, Baseball (Field of Dreams, For Love of the Game) and in the case of Hoosiers, Basketball (Blue Chips, He Got Game). But Hoosiers, and I happen to share this sentiment, is one of the finer examples of the sports genre and is, for my money, the best basketball film ever made.
Now, I use the term sports film very loosely. Yes all of the aforementioned contain the listed sports as part of their narratives. But, the games are not really what lies at the heart of these tales. The true centerpiece are themes like redemption, romance, the search for self, the search for acceptance – all these things within the characters either as player, coach, fan etc.
So why do I think Hoosiers is the best example of this genre? Well, it’s simple. Hoosiers has all of these working within it. Comedy, romance, drama, redemption, the search for self, the search for acceptance. Okay, so it doesn’t have a crazed Bobby De Niro terrorizing any of the players to feed his grossly misguided obsession and distorted view of the world – but that doesn’t mean that it lacks thrilling, intense and impactful moments that keep you watching and ultimately cheering for the underdog, the little team that could. One could argue that this is a key ingredient in these kinds of films. A down-on-his-luck former golf pro, a disgruntled former player trying to manage a failing team, a boxer with all the odds stacked against him or a basketball team from a town in the middle on nowhere that couldn’t possibly take on the big schools and win.
Then there are the characters – all looking for second chances. Hackman’s coach, Hopper’s alcoholic father, Hershey’s teacher. They all have something to prove, something to gain from the victories the home team are accumulating. And, they are all masterful turns by each of the three principals. Indeed from all concerned with the production. None more so than that of first-time screenwriter and my guest Angelo Pizzo.
The man who was headed for a career in politics eventually ended up going to film school. After graduating, and spending sometime working in the arena of television, Angelo felt the need, at last, to make a film about a subject he was passionate about – basketball. And, being unable to find writer for the project . . . well . . . he decided to have a crack at it himself.
This wonderful film, under marvelous direction, David Anspaugh, from a great script with a stellar cast and punctuated by a phenomenal Jerry Goldsmith score is a small miracle that has, not unlike the team portrayed in its story, taken on the giants and carved out its place in cinema history.
If you haven’t seen Hoosiers, I urge you to do so. Don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry…
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…
The films of Paul Kyriazi hold a special place in my cinema-viewing adventures throughout the years. I, naturally, encountered them during the heady days of the era of VHS – I still have my copies in that format of Paul’s work. Then, not unlike Terrence Malick, Paul disappeared, and I lamented his absence having come to admire his film-making style and diversity.
So, rejoice I did, when I learned that he had returned to the director’s chair. Eagerly I sat down to watch Forbidden Power – and I was not disappointed. With his new film, Paul returns with his unique voice, his visual dexterity and his great command of unfolding an exciting thriller that doesn’t release its grip on you till it’s time to fade to black.
Fascinated by his study in the field of personal empowerment, Paul takes us on a journey where the achieving of super-human abilities is contracted via sexual intercourse. The character at the center of the story is a mysterious and provocative woman – who seemingly hypnotizes her partners with a type of mystical persuasion. The character we follow, after his eerie yet passion-fueled encounter with the female antagonist, wakes to find her vanished, but also having left behind for him a gift of sorts.
In this superhero-movie-saturated age we find ourselves, it was refreshing to witness a different spin on the getting of super-powers. Our hero, just like in any superhero origin story, has a delightful time discovering the extent of his new-found abilities. But, as it is with the coming of great power, there comes along with it, great responsibility.
Thus we go along on the adventure, and soon discover that plot is deeper than one might first imagine. I’ve no intention of spoiling it for you here, because I want you to see the movie. What it will say is – this is well crafted film-making that you can definitely become immersed in.
It was a true honor for this fan, not only to talk to Paul, but also to two of the film’s stars – the stunning and talented Nazanin Nuri and the man, the legend, Harry Mok (another exceptional, multi-talented performer whom I too, like Paul, encountered first in the heyday of home video).
I encourage you to seek out Forbidden Power, if you are a fan of Kyriazi cinema or not. I promise you, you will not be disappointed…
At age 8, I see The Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on Disneyland TV and decided to become a movie director. Age 16, I start filming 20 minute action stories using my father’s 8mm camera. Age 18, my father bought me a used Bolex camera. I film a 30 min color action movie titled Trapped and it wins the Berkeley Film Festival. I start taking karate to be like James Bond. My Sensei introduces me to samurai movies. Seeing that action with great film techniques of the Japanese directors, moves me into martial arts movies, even before the TV show Kung Fu. I transferred to San Francisco State University making more 20 minute karate stories and placing 3rd in the next Berkeley Film Festival. I graduate with a BA in film. I join the Air Force movie department and film space launches for NASA. I take leave to film my first feature Drawn Swords in 35mm black & white Techniscope. It’s about 3 samurai going to England to enter a fencing tournament. I use all my cash and credit cards, loans, and refinancing my car. I get out of the Air Force and return to San Francisco unable to sell my movie. I promise myself if I get another break I will make a color movie that is so commercial the distributors will have to buy it. I meet karate tournament fighter Ron Marchini who has me re-edit and sell his Philippine produced movie Murder in the Orient. Ron then hired me to write and direct Death Machines. To be commercial, we come up with a story of 3 karate killers (white, black, Asian) to cover all markets. Then we add a cop/gangster plot, big fight scenes in a karate dojo, bar, and police station, and we actually blew up a piper cub airplane. The completed movie is immediately picked up by Crown International Pictures with big advertising. It opened in 50 theaters in LA making it a #14 top grosser. However, I still can’t raise the money to produce my own movie, so I direct a sequence for Sesame Street. I pick up a copy of The Million Dollar Secret Hidden in Your Mind by Anthony Norvel. I take his classes for three months in LA, then return to the San Francisco. In 10 days I raise the money to produce and direct Weapons of Death. The panavision film plays all over the USA breaking a house record in a New York theater. I next produce and direct Ninja Busters. This was followed by the cops and gangsters story One Way Out. Next came writing and directing Omega Cop starring: Adam ‘Batman’ West, Troy Donahue, and Stuart Whitman. An actress from Weapons of Death hires me to produce a travelogue in Phuket, Thailand, Thailand Adventure proving you never know what contact will end up getting you movie work. I write two novels in hopes of getting them produced as movies. When many people ask me “How do you survive as a freelance?” I write How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle. In 2003, I produce In the West – a 90 minute travel production for Japan. Appearance by Pat Morita. In 2005, I produce my novel Rock Star Rising as an audio-book narrated by Rod Taylor, performed by Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Robert Culp, James Darren, and Kevin McCarthy. It has full effects and music, making it an “audio movie” of sorts. In 2006, I direct the largest production in audio-book history, McKnight’s Memory. Narrated by Frank Sinatra Jr, it stars Robert Culp, Nancy Kwan, Don Stroud, Henry Silva, Alan Young, David Hedison, and Edd Kookie Byrnes. In 2007, I Direct Edd Byrnes’ My Casino Caper audio-book. It’s Edd’s memoir of being stalked for his 3 million dollar Las Vegas win. With Alan Young, Henry Silva, and David Hedison playing themselves, recreating the incident that happened in 1977. Michael Callen plays the part of criminal that stalked Edd. In 2008, I direct Barbara Leigh’s The King, McQueen, and the Love Machine audio-book. Her memoir of being a top model involved with Elvis, Steve McQueen and MGM president Jim Aubrey. Joe Esposito introduces it and plays himself in the dramatizations. In 2012, I update & expand the James Bond Lifestyle on Kindle, Nook, iTunes & Kobo. In 2013, I write & produce – 3 Wild Thrillers – Three fiction stories on Kindle that includes the audio-book. In 2014, I produce The Mexican Swimmer, a 3 hour audio-book performed by Julian Scott Urena. I also write Wicked Players, a story of gambling and survival in wild Las Vegas
I always imagined moving to New York City, before even really knowing what that meant. As a child, I spoke gibberish, pretending to be American, and constantly begged my family to travel to New York. Somehow, without having ever seen any of it in person, I was fascinated by the skyscrapers, Statue of Liberty, and the opportunity New York City had to offer. For as long as I can remember, I had this recurring dream, where I was swimming for so long, exhausted and not sure where I was going, until finally I’d look up and realize I’d swam all the way to New York City. I’d wake up screaming, “I made it! I made it!” I finally left everything in Switzerland behind and made my way to US as an Au Pair. In 2012, with just two suitcases, I moved to San Francisco and lived with a host family. After a year in the states, I began to feel comfortable communicating and expressing myself in English. I extended my job for another year and moved to Long Island, New York. After working for two years as an Au Pair, I was ready to pursue my dream. I moved to New York City and signed up for ESL classes to master my English. As fate would have it, I stumbled upon The William Esper Studio, an acting school that changed my life forever. I was honored to be accepted in Bill Esper’s acting class and enrolled in the two year full-time program. As cheesy as it sounds, acting found me! As I studied the art and spent time learning the craft in my classes, I increasingly realized that my entire journey led me to what I really love. Acting is my calling and all I want to do in my life. At the end of my first year of acting school, I spent the summer of 2016 in Switzerland. I wrote and starred in my first short film entitled “Where Am I”. The film was very well received at the Wellington Film Festival with an honorable mention as it won the “Best Narration” category. I graduated from The William Esper Studio in summer 2017 and was right away cast as the lead – playing Veronica Hawthorn – in Paul Kyriazi’s feature film “Forbidden Power”. After we were done shooting “Forbidden Power” in Seattle I traveled to Utah to film an experimental short film that I wrote, produced and starred in. That untitled short film is in the editing phase and expected to be released in 2018
Harry Mok’s career in the entertainment industry is attributed to his well-known expertise in the martial arts field. His career began as an actor and stuntman, performing and or starring in such films as Rambo II, Uncommon Valor, TC 2000, Talons of the Eagle, Femme Fontaine, For Life or Death, College Kickboxers, The Vineyard, Tiger Claws II, Ninja Busters, and more. In 1987, Harry produced and wrote his first feature film, The Vineyard, which was released by New World Pictures. Shortly after, he began producing, creating, and designing action games for Atari/Time Warner Interactive. During this period, Harry invented a new filming technology, a 180 degree five camera blue/green screen system that would revolutionize digitization of 2D characters. He filed a patent for this technology. In August of 2005 Harry was honored with induction into the prestigious GSKA Black Belt Hall of Fame. In January 2007, he was inducted into the World Martial Arts Masters Hall of Fame. He is currently based in Northern California. He is one of the founders of 10+ Entertainment and is currently involved with producing a new reality show, New Hollywood Stars.
In the early days of writing for PTS, I did a little piece on Superman Returns (which you’ll find here:https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/08/31/a-nice-day-for-supermans-return-by-kent-hill/). It was, if you like, a hymn of praise to a glorious afternoon, when the exaltation of the moment, combined with the wave of nostalgia – and the fact it was my birthday – all blended together on the day of the premiere of the first Superman movie in a really long time.
Of course, as is the case with a lot of films, a second viewing broke the spell. What I was left with was something of a mixed bag of emotions that I still ponder to this day. How did it all go wrong? What happened to the Bryan Singer who had recently made X2 (which was great)? Were there too many cooks in the kitchen? Was the whole thing a multi-million dollar rush job? Should they have rolled the dice and made Superman Lives? (Hell, YES!!!)
Today I was sent another great behind the scenes glimpse from my friend, filmmaker and co-screenwriter Sean Ellis, who edited the footage (see here:https://vimeo.com/262035539/ea3164da85). There is even a moment when you can see Robert going about his stock-in-trade in documenting the making of the picture.
There has been more of Superman on the big screen since then. Admirable attempts, but, far from that iconic and wondrous unification of elements which saw the 1978 film explode onto screens, and into our hearts and minds for evermore. Now, I like Cavill in the role, and with the climax of Justice League there appeared a glimmer of hope. That maybe they buried the moody/brooding Superman, and with his resurrection would also be born a welcome return to form?
Only time will tell whether DC cinematic universe can recapture, in part, its days of honor. Lighting, as I once said, has already struck (circa 1978 with Donner’s film), now all we are left with is the thunder and its echoes. Do I hate Superman Returns? No. It was, in this man’s opinion, a valiant attempt to resurrect the Man of Steel after a long slumber – yet for all its magic, it didn’t cast a spell of significant longevity – though it wasn’t as silly as Superman’s CG shave in his most recent big screen outing.
I have a dream, as it was once uttered, that one day the grey clouds will part, the blue yonder shall emerge in all its heavenly brilliance and, there in the stillness, a figure traveling faster than a speeding bullet will rip across the vast firmament and we’ll look up in the sky – and maybe, just maybe, another magical retelling of the adventures of the most romantic of the superhero cast will descend – there we’ll find another great Superman movie?