Tag Archives: Giovanni Ribisi

David Lynch’s Lost Highway

High beams pierce a nocturnal interstate as David Bowie’s ‘I’m Deranged’ eerily cuts through a still night and we realize that David Lynch’s Lost Highway isn’t going to be your average road trip, let alone overall viewing experience. This is a fuzzy, feverish portrait of a fractured mind attempting to make sense of extremely distressing circumstances that are both alienating and possibly self inflicted. Lynch is always keen on probing the murky cerebral waters which border on potentially paranormal occurrences, and the often frustrating line, or lack thereof, which is drawn in, around and between these two aspects. Psychological terror, ambiguous scenes that leave you scratching your head once you’ve caught your breath, identity crisis, elliptical narratives that leave us haunted and wanting more are all tools in his bag, ones he’s employed countless times throughout his monolithic career. Usually he implements that in an esoteric, earthy way, but there’s something cold, clinical and unsettlingly voyeuristic about this that somewhat separates it from a lot of other stuff he’s done. The term ‘Lynchian’ in itself has become its own genre, there’s no debating that anymore. It’s usually within this self made realm that he explores, but it’s almost like with this one he went in with a mindset to play around with a sordid, almost De Palma-esque style of genre, and then inject it with his trademark eerie weirdness, in this case to great effect.

Bill Pullman stars as jazz trumpet player Fred, spending his nights belting out unnerving solos in smoky clubs. Pullman is an all American prototype, seen in a lot of generic, regular Joe roles. Observing him venture into sketchy material is jarring and super effective (see his career best work in David’s daughter Jen Lynch’s Surveillance for an even better example of this). He and his gorgeous wife Alice (Patricia Arquette) wake up one ominous morning to discover a packaged video tape on their doorstep, the contents of which show someone breaking into their house and filming them while they sleep. They feel both horrified and violated, and call the police who prove to be just south of useful. From there things get terrifically weird. Fred attends a party where he meets the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who plays a mean spirited magic trick on him that will have your skin crawling out the door. This was one of Blake’s last two roles before the unfortunate incident that cut his career painfully short, but he’s perfect for Lynch’s stable and eats up the frames he inhabits, a pasty faced ghoul with beady black jewel eyes and a piercing laugh that will stain your dreams. Before he knows it, Fred wakes up and is accused for his own wife’s murder, whisked away to a dank death row cell, plummeting the film into a new segment, Lynch’s way of letting us know this isn’t going to be an easy watch.

Fred wakes up sometime later… And isn’t Fred anymore. He’s a young dude with amnesia who’s been missing for a while, played by the edgy Balthazar Getty. It’s a stark narrative left turn, a stinging reminder that from there on in, we’re in for some nasty antics with no light at the end of the tunnel. Getty is released from prison, since he’s not Pullman who they arrested to begin with. From there he gets entangled in one hot mess involving a volatile gangster porno king (Robert Loggia), his seductive wife (also Patricia Arquette) and the ever present Mystery Man who lurks over both planes of the film’s narrative like a malicious puppeteer. I’m trying to be deliberately vague about the plot (lord knows Lynch did as well), both to not spoil any surprises for you, and partly because after many viewings, I’m still not sure exactly what it means for myself. It’s a great big clusterfuck of extremely disturbing sequences, surreal passages of auditory and visual madness and a frothing undercurrent of atmosphere that constantly pulls on your sleeve to remind you that something is terribly wrong, but never gives you the solace of telling you what that something is. Traumatic viewing to say the least.

Lynch assembles an extraterrestrial supporting cast including Michael Massee, Jack Nance, Natasha Gregson Warner, Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, Mink Stole, Jack Kehler, Giovanni Ribisi, Richard Pryor and the one and only Gary Busey (when Gary is one of the calmest, sanest people in your film you know you’ve driven off the cliff). Some highlights for me are anything to do with Blake’s paralyzing spectre of a character who is one of the best Lynch creations ever, Loggia intimidating an obnoxious driver is priceless and the closest the film gets to comedy, and the final twenty minutes where the lines of reality, fantasy and the jagged planes of perception within the characters minds collide, providing us with a creepy non-resolution, part of what makes the entire show so memorable and affecting. A classic that begs countless revisits before it can fully cast all aspects of its spell on you, and one of Lynch’s unsung best.

-Nate Hill

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The Man who would be Cage: An Interview with Marco Kyris by Kent Hill

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I feel like I’m somehow getting closer to Nicolas Cage. I’ve spoken to a man who has directed him – a man who has “Nic-polished” his scripts. So, you can image my delight when Marco Kyris, Cage’s stand-in from 1994 till 2005, agreed to not only have a chat, but also to give me a preview of his new documentary, UNCAGED : A Stand-in Story.

People ask me, “What’s with this Cage obsession?”

My answer is always…I think he’s a genuinely smart actor, with eclectic tastes and a wide repertoire which has seen him enjoy Oscar glory, big box office success and become a champion of independent film.

The son of August Coppola (nephew of Francis Ford), but with a name lifted from the pages of his comic book heroes, Cage is at once both an actor and a movie star. With a legion of devoted fans worldwide and, heck, even a festival that bears his name – celebrating the wild, the weird, and the wonderful of the cinema of Nicolas Cage. From the genius of Con Air to the brilliant subtlety of Adaptation, the exceptional character work of Army of One to the gravitas of Leaving Las Vegas – Cage is a ball of energy that needs only to be unleashed on set.

It was my sincere pleasure to talk with the man who stood in for the man when the man wasn’t on set. Marco’s tales are a fascinating glimpse – another angle if you will – in the examination of one of the movie industry’s true originals. I know you’ll find his story and his film, UNCAGED, compelling viewing  – for both those curious as to the life of a stand-in, and also those looking for a unique look at the life of a superstar.

I’ve been privileged to chat with the people who made the rough stuff look easy for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rene Russo…

Now it’s time to uncage the legend.

(ALL IMAGES COURTESY OF MARCO’S WEBSITE: https://www.mkyris.com/)

BEFORE YOU GO, CHECK THIS OUT…

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Dominic Sena’s Gone In 60 Seconds

I’ve always liked Gone In 60 Seconds, even if it is one of the more lukewarm notches in Jerry Bruckheimer’s belt. Helmed by Dominic Sena who comes from a music video background, you get what you’d expect from a craftsman like that in the way of a flashy, eye catching popcorn flick that sees an easygoing Nicolas Cage as Memphis Rhaines, a car thief guru culled out of retirement when his dipshit little brother (Giovanni Ribisi) gets in deep with a dangerous UK mobster (Doctor Who). It’s the perfect setup for one long night of auto boosting as the villain gives them a laundry list of sweet cars to steal and ship out of the port by sunup or they end up as fuel for his scary flame factory/junkyard thing that these guys always seem to own and live in. The real fun is in seeing Cage put together an eclectic team of fellow thieves to work their magic, including Will Patton’s slick veteran booster, Scott Caan playing yet another insufferable horn-dog, Robert Duvall as a sagely old fence, Vinnie Jones as the strong silent muscle and Angelina Jolie as the motor mouthed tomboy who inevitably ends up in the saddle with Cage. They’re all hunted by two detectives, one an intuitive veteran (Delroy Lindo) and the other a misguided rookie (Timothy Olyphant) who always are naturally one step behind them, and so the formula goes. The cars are indeed pretty cool, especially Eleanor, Rhaines’s fabled unicorn automobile that happens to be a gorgeous matte silver Shelby GT with a seriously sexy purr. The supporting cast is solid and includes William Lee Scott, James Duval, Chi McBride, Michael Pena, John Carroll Lynch, Master P ad Twin Peak’s Grace Zabriskie as Cages’s feisty mom. This isn’t a knock your socks off flick or anything revolutionary in the genre, but it cruises along with an easy swing, carefree urban vibe and the actors, as well as Sena’s sharp and snazzy visual editing make it fun enough. Oh and it doesn’t get much cooler than those wicked opening credits set to Moby’s Flower, that’s how you lay down a mood for the film to follow.

-Nate Hill

John McTiernan’s Basic

John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.

-Nate Hill

The Big White: A Review by Nate Hill 

Snowbound location. Pitch black comedy. A corpse that’s central to the plot. The Big White was obviously influenced by Fargo, the Pulp Fiction of wintry crime comedies, but holds its own fairly well thanks to solid acting and writing. It’s nothing new or incredible, but it’ll get you your perversely humerous noir fix, and who can say no to Robin Williams, playing a pitiable travel agent who spies a risky way to end his financial problems. Discovering a frozen corpse, he has the brilliant idea to pass it off as his deceased brother and collect the insurance money. A few problems lie ahead: a dogged insurance investigator (Giovanni Ribisi), two moronic hitmen (Tim Blake Nelson & W. Earl Brown) and the small detail that his brother isn’t actually dead, and comes waltzing back into his life in the form of a rampaging, unstable Woody Harrelson. William’s spitfire wife (Holly Hunter) looks on in exasperation as her husband turns their lives into disaster, while everyone is somewhat clueless and misinformed, leading to great amounts of hilarity. Sound chaotic? It is, sort of. It’s also kinda laid back and deadpan enough to make the Coen brothers proud. Harrelson and Williams both bring their very different brands of manic, Williams I’m a forlorn desperate sense, and Harrelson  just the unhinged wildcard. Alison Lohman is also running about, but it’s been so long since I saw it I can’t remember exactly who she plays. Fans of Fargo will be tickled, those with a weird sense of humour as well. Fun stuff. 

Sam Raimi’s The Gift: A Review by Nate Hill 

Anyone who loves a good slice of southern gothic murder mystery should check out Sam Raimi’s The Gift, one of several films in the eclectic scoundrel’s ouvre which made a departure from his usual brand of chaotic horror. Cate Blanchett stars as Annabelle, a single mother with a very perceptive telepathic ability, which in rural USA is greeted without any skepticism by the locals. She is renowned for her gift, and often approached by people in need. The story sees her trying to locate young Jessica (Katie Holmes), who has gone missing, and discovering some nasty secrets about the people around her in the process, people she thought she knew better. Jessica’s fiance (Greg Kinnear) is desperate but clearly knows something he’s not saying. Also involved is battered housewife Valerie (Hilary Swank), her terrifying abusive boyfriend Donnie (Keanu Reeves), a local mechanic (Giovanni Ribisi) who befriends Annabelle,  and others. It’s an ugly tale contrasted by Blanchett’s striking beauty, which the cameras capture in all the right instances. She could be rearranging a bookshelf and still be compelling and elegant, and always is in whichever role she takes on. Reeves is a scary tornado of pent up rage and sickness, cast way against type and loving every rage fuelled second. As if the main cast wasn’t packed enough with talent, we also get stellar work from Gary Cole, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Rosemary Harris, a random cameo from Danny Elfman and a sly turn from J.K. Simmons as the county sheriff. What a cast, eh? Raimi puts them to good use, and each one gets their moment to shine. I’ve never seen a film by the director I haven’t loved; the guy just makes super fun, accessible genre treats that are irresistibly likable. Pair that with the evocative southern tone and Blanchett’s winning presence and you’ve got one hell of a little package. Very overlooked stuff. 

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) was a film bound to polarize audiences and critics alike. Loving homage or blatant rip-off? It really depends on whether you love or hate this movie. Personally, I was transported away to this cinematic dreamland for the entire running time. Kerry Conran’s labor of love is an unabashed tribute to the old pulp serials of the 1920s and 1930s (Doc Savage, Flash Gordon, etc.). It succeeds where previous pulp serial homages of the 1990s failed (The Shadow, The Phantom, Dick Tracy). Like those films, Sky Captain successfully captures the look and feel of these vintage serials but, most importantly, it also stays true to their spirit — something that these other films failed to do (The Rocketeer as the lone exception). The road to its creation is a fascinating one, from a black and white independent film to big budget movie released by a major studio.

A striking image opens the film: a gigantic zeppelin docks with the Empire State Building while the night sky is filled with lightly falling snow. The world’s top scientists have gone missing and ambitious newspaper reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow in Lois Lane mode) is covering the story for The Chronicle. She meets secretly with the last scientist who hints at a top-secret project. She soon has an idea of just how important this project is as huge, flying robots swarm over the city’s skies. They begin attacking the city, turning cars over like tinker toys.

Before you can activate your Commander Cody decoder ring, Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) and his squad of fighter planes arrive to save the day. It becomes obvious that Joe and Polly have a history together. There is a sexual tension between them as they form an uneasy alliance: she shares information with him in exchange for an exclusive scoop on the source of the robots and the mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence Olivier). They are aided in their adventure by Joe’s trusty sidekick, Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), a whiz technician capable of inventing a deadly ray gun, and Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie), Joe’s ex-girlfriend and commander of a squadron of flying fortresses.

Kerry Conran grew up on films and comic books of the ‘30s and 1940s and commented in an interview, “The stuff that was most visually striking were the covers of the ‘30s and ‘40s. The graphic images just in the covers, I thought, told stories on such a grand scale…The artwork of that era, they just dreamed up things on that level.” He and his brother, Kevin, were encouraged by their parents to develop their creative side at a young age. According to Kevin, their mom “didn’t buy us coloring books and have us color them in, she’d bring us blank pads of paper with pencils and you’d make your own picture and color it in, that sort of stuff, which didn’t seem like a big deal, but it sort of is. We always had a lot of support in that respect.” The Conran brothers were also influenced by the designs of Norman Bel Geddes who did work for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and designed exhibits for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Geddes also designed an Air Ship that was to fly from Chicago to London. Another key influence was Hugh Ferriss, one of the designers for the 1939 World’s Fair and who designed bridges and huge housing complexes.

Conran went to CalArts, a feeder program for Disney animators and became interested in 2-D computer animation. While there, he realized that it was possible to apply some of the techniques associated with animation to live-action. He remembers trying to “use the computer that was just emerging as a technology that was viable for filmmaking, and use a technique that was used traditionally forever – you know, the blue screen – but taken to a real extreme conclusion.” Conran had been out of film school for two years and was trying to figure out how to make a film. He figured that Hollywood would never take a chance on him — an inexperienced, first-time filmmaker. So, he decided to go the independent route and make the movie himself.

In 1994, Conran set up a blue screen in his living room and began assembling the tools he would need to create his movie. He was not interested in working his way through the system and instead wanted to follow the route of independent filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh. Initially, the Conrans had nothing more than “just a vague idea of this guy who flew a plane. We would talk about all the obvious things like Indiana Jones and all the stuff we liked.” Conran spent four years making a black and white teaser trailer in the style of an old-fashion newsreel on his Macintosh personal computer. Once he was finished, Conran showed it to producer Marsha Oglesby, who was a friend of his brother’s wife and she recommended that he let producer Jon Avnet see it. Conran met Avnet and showed him the trailer. Conran told him that he wanted to make it into a film. They spent two or three days just talking about the tone of the film because, according to Avnet, he wanted to “make sure we were on the same page, because he was going to write it. It wasn’t written at that point.”

Avnet and Conran spent two years working on the screenplay and developing a working relationship. Then, the producer took the script and the trailer and began approaching actors. In order to protect Conran’s vision, Avnet decided to shoot the movie independently with a lot of his own money. “I couldn’t protect him from the studios. I prayed we could shoot the movie and then show it to the studios. And we’re lucky, they all wanted it.” The producer realized that “the very thing that made this film potentially so exciting for me, and I think for an audience, which was the personal nature of it and the singularity of the vision, would never succeed and never survive the development process within a studio.”

When it came to casting actors in the movie, Avnet used his connections and reputation and started “looking for people who fit the look, looking for people who had the right theatrical pedigree, if possible, looking for people who weren’t over-exposed.” In 2002, he showed Jude Law the teaser trailer and the actor was very impressed by what he saw. He remembers, “All I got at that early stage was that he’d used pretty advanced and unused technology to create a very retrospective look.” Avnet gave him the script to read and some preliminary artwork to look at. Law: “What was clear was also that at the center was a really great cinematic relationship, which you could put into any genre and it would work. You know, the kind of bickering [relationship]. I always like to call it African Queen (1951) meets Buck Rogers.”

Avnet wanted to work with Law because he knew that the actor had “worked both period, who worked both having theatrical experience, who worked on blue screen, who hadn’t hit yet as a major action star.” The actor had just come off doing Cold Mountain (2003) and was intrigued at going from filming on real locations to working on a movie done completely on a soundstage. Law recalls, “At the time, there was no money attached, and he [Conran] was a first time director. It took us a year and a half to put it together and even then, we didn’t have a studio deal.” The actor believed so much in Conran’s movie that he also became one of the producers and used his clout to get Gwyneth Paltrow involved. Once her name came up, Law did not remember “any other name coming up. It just seems that she was perfect. She was as enthusiastic about the script and about the visual references that were sort of put to her, and jumped on board.” Paltrow said in an interview, “I thought that this is the time to do a movie like this where it’s kind of breaking into new territory and it’s not your basic formulaic action-adventure movie.”

Giovanni Ribisi met with Avnet and, initially, was not sure that he wanted to do the movie but after seeing the teaser trailer, he signed on without hesitation. Angelina Jolie had literally come from the set of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) and agreed to work on the movie for three days. Despite her small role, she had conducted hours of interviews with fighter pilots in order to absorb their jargon and get a feel for the role.

Avnet went to Aurelio De Laurentiis and convinced her to finance the film without a distribution deal. Nine months before filming, Avnet had Conran meet the actors and begin rehearsals in an attempt to get the shy filmmaker out of his shell. Avnet recalls, “By the end of three days of rehearsals, I remember where he said something, describing the ice cave where the dynamite is, and I could see the actors looking really, really intently on him. I realized that he got them.”

Ten months before Conran made the movie with his actors, he shot it entirely with stand-ins and then created the whole movie in animatics so that the actors had an idea of what the film would look like and where to move on the soundstage. To prepare for the movie, Conran had his cast watch old movies, like To Have and Have Not (1944) with Lauren Bacall for Paltrow’s performance and The Thin Man (1934) for the relationship between Nick and Nora that was to be echoed in the one between Joe and Polly.

Working on a soundstage surrounded entirely by blue screens required a new way of looking at the acting process. Ribisi remembers, “The analogy that you say to yourself is it’s like doing theater or avant-garde theater. There’s just a stage and the actors and all of that. But no, it is different, and it’s something that actors are going to have to be getting used to and [they need to] develop some degree of technique for that.” Law echoed these sentiments: “It almost felt like make-believe playing, rather than limiting because I couldn’t see something specific.” Avnet constantly pushed for room in this meticulously designed movie for the kind of freedom the actors needed, like being able to move around on the soundstage.

Conran and Avnet were able to cut costs considerably by shooting the entire film in 26 days (not the usual three to four months that this kind of film normally takes) and working entirely on blue screen soundstages. After filming ended, they put together a 24-minute presentation and took it to every studio in June of 2002. There was a lot of interest and Avnet went with the studio that gave Conran the most creative control. They needed studio backing to finish the film’s ambitious visuals. At one point, the producer remembers that Conran was “working 18 to 20 hours a day for a long period of time. It’s 2,000 some odd CGI shots done in one year, and we literally had to write code to figure out how to do this stuff!”

Sky Captain
is an absolutely gorgeous looking movie filled with eye-popping visuals and drenched in atmosphere. Everything is bathed in a warm sepia filter and captured in a soft focus lens clearly meant to evoke the glamour of classic Hollywood cinema. Sky Captain is a marvel of set design and visual effects. The movie’s elaborate backgrounds were created through a series of photographic plates and 3D animation. By creating an entire world through CGI, Conran raised the bar on these kinds of films. Now, filmmakers are only limited by their imagination… and their budgets.

The problem with most films of these kinds is that the actors are often overwhelmed by the striking visuals. Fortunately, Conran has assembled a strong cast. Jude Law does an excellent job as the wisecracking, square-jawed matinée hero while Gwyneth Paltrow is his ideal foil, criticizing him at every opportunity but you know that it is done out of love. Law remembers that he “tried doing it like an American using 1930’s speak, but it felt like we were sending it up and what we wanted to do was to play it for real, so people didn’t think that we were making a modern version of a 1930’s movie.” Everyone is clearly enjoying breathing life into these archetypal characters. High caliber actors like Law, Paltrow and Angelina Jolie take these intentionally cliché characters and make them interesting to watch.

Sky Captain
has all the markings of a debut by a first-time filmmaker. There is a go-for-broke, let’s-cram-everything-in-this-one attitude that a first-timer has a tendency to adopt because they do not know if there are going to get another chance. Conran has said that his intention was to create something “almost innocent and fun, the things that inspired me in wanting to make movies, the qualities of why I wanted to go to the movies. You lose yourself and escape into a world that didn’t exist anywhere else but in the movies.” Sadly, Sky Captain failed at the box office thus insuring the unlikely prospects of a sequel. It is too bad because the movie presents a richly textured and detailed world with fun and exciting characters.