Tag Archives: Ian McKellen

John McTiernan’s Last Action Hero

I feel like John Mctiernan’s Last Action Hero doesn’t get enough love. I mean, people like it and it has a lasting legacy.. but there’s a weird lukewarm reception among critics, and I’ve always found it to be one of the most gloriously meta, excitingly enjoyable Arnold Schwarzenegger films out there. A young boy (Austin O Brien) spends his days glued to the seats of a creaky old movie theatre (many of us can relate) run by a mysterious projectionist (Robert Prosky), who gives him a magical ticket that brings all kinds of cinematic archetypes and characters to wild, screaming life including badass action hero Jack Slater (Arnie). It’s basically like a trip into the Hollywood version of those Where’s Waldo illustrations that are just packed to the brim with colour, life and incidence, and in this case joyously wall to wall film references, cameos, in jokes and self referential bliss. The villains are wonderfully tongue in cheek including Charles Dance’s cranky assassin Benedict, Anthony Quinn’s moronic Sicilian mobster Tony Vivaldi and Tom Noonan in a vicious, memorable turn as The Ripper, an axe wielding psycho who escapes the land of film and attacks the actual Tom Noonan in real life, also played by Tom Noonan. See how much fun this thing sounds? It’s a fucking blast for anyone who is a fan of the action genre, reality smashing fantasy, wowza production design or simply cinema itself. Arnold has so much fun with the role, bringing the best aspects of T-101, John Matrix, Harry Tasker and Dutch, throwing them into a blender of a performance that’s just silly enough and just tough enough to win us over. There are so many cameos I couldn’t even list them all here without busting a few algorithms, but my favourites have to be Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone, very briefly), the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick) and Ian McKellen as Death, who stalks right out of an old black and white picture when the shit really hits the projection reel and the worlds of cinema blur into the edges of reality. It may not be coherent much of the time or employ rigidity in the narrative, but with a film this eclectic, I’d rather have no guardrails along the road it furiously careens down and have elements spill over, crash and tumble as McTiernan uses everything in his bag of tricks to both send up the genres and express his love for them. One of my absolute favourites, a cauldron of mischievous celluloid gold, I feel lucky for the fact that it was even made every time I revisit.

-Nate Hill

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Hoping for resurrection: Michael Mann’s The Keep

It’s a shame that Michael Mann feels the way he does about The Keep, and although I can’t really blame him after the Leatherface worthy hack job the studio inflicted on his original three plus hour cut, it’s a heartbreak and a half that we may never see a director’s version because what is left is still one of the most haunting, beautifully done Lovecraftian horror fever dreams one can find in VHS-land. Based on a brilliant novel by F. Paul Wilson, Mann employs a legion of smoke machines, a troupe of eclectic character actors all cast against type and giving marvellous work, and a drop dead gorgeous original score from Tangerine Dream that remains in my top OST’s to this day. Somewhere deep in the Romanian mountains, a squadron of German soldiers led by weary Captain Woerman (Jurgen Pröchnow) comes a across a tiny hidden village that harbours a dark secret: just beyond the township is a looming, mysterious structure built to keep something locked inside, and has lain dormant for centuries. Their gravest mistake is setting up camp in this unholy basilica, for soon they’ve awoken whatever resides within, and it really wants out. Cue the arrival of sadistic SS officer Kaempffer (a very young Gabriel Byrne) and his Nazi bastard crew, as well as a professor of ancient languages (Ian Mckellan) with his daughter (the late Alberta Watson). Elsewhere in Europe, otherworldly stranger Glaecken (the great Scott Glenn) is stirred by the happenings at the Keep and treks across the war torn continent towards an unknown end. What follows is an entrancing supernatural fusion mixup of old school prosthetic effects, genocide metaphors, lovingly creaky production design and synth music that will scorch your soul. Glenn plays the shadowy warrior better than ever here, with a paranormal gleam in his eyes and the stone-faced, gravel voiced resolve to see his strange quest through to a brutal conclusion. McKellen emotes fiercely both in and out of some well done old age makeup, sometimes almost unrecognizable but always spirited and present. Pröchnow rarely gets non villain roles with depth but this might be his best ever, early in his career too. He turns the Captain into a sorrowful picture of regret and compassion that one doesn’t often see in Hollywood based German army roles from WWII. Watson is a doe eyed beauty whose loss of innocence and discovery of love is portrayed wonderfully by the actress, who sadly passed away long before her time. Byrne is evil incarnate, with a startling cropped haircut that would be right at home in this day and age it seems. Mann favourite Robert Prosky also shows up as a local priest with knowledge of The Keep. Somewhere out there in someone’s garage there lies a full cut of this film, just waiting for an extended Blu Ray transfer, complete with tweaks on sound design (its fuzzy commotion at times), special features and the redemptive treatment that a sterling genre addition like this deserves. There’s so much quality to be found in it, from the alluring atmosphere that’s so thick it finds its way into your dreams after, to the aforementioned Tangerine Dream soundtrack that haunts the film’s visual landscape like an auditory phantasm to the silver and purple hued neon production design, resplendent in its tactile, tangible glory, it stands as a flawed classic with the potential to be so much more, if Mann mans up and makes the effort to give one of his very best efforts that care and time it deserves to rise from the void and soar again. If only. Oh and one more thing: there’s one more scene before the credits that isn’t in the actual cut, but go find it on YouTube because it’s really worth it and adds a lot to the story.

-Nate Hill

The Making of: A Conversation with Robert Meyer Burnett by Kent Hill

I love behind the scenes documentaries – always have. What began as 60 minute specials and from there graduating to EPKs (or Electronic Press Kits) have become full-blown features, at times several hours long. And the longer the better I say.

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Robert Burnett has been that guy. The guy behind the scenes. Armed with light-weight equipment and a small crew, he has captured the people who make the magic and the war it is to bring a dream to life on film.

He has been there to witness the making of the multi-Oscar winning Lord of the Rings trilogy. He has seen what it took to orchestrate Superman’s return. He has ventured back in time and brought us wonderful retrospective looks at films like Disney’s cult classic Tron.

But Robert is also a passionate filmmaker in his own right. Having made his own film Free Enterprise, directing episodes of the TV series Femme Fatales along with short films as well. He is a prolific producer having shepherded films like The Hills Run Red and Agent Cody Banks 2. And, just when you’re about to say, “Stop it Rob, you’re just too talented,” he is also an experienced editor; often times chopping his own work, whether it be for DVD special features content or the films he has worked on.

Beneath all of his success, Robert is a massive film lover, citing The Right Stuff, All That Jazz and The Godfather among the countless films he adores.

It was a real pleasure to chat with him about all he has seen behind the scenes, but more so to simply chat movies with a man who knows his stuff. Turns out he loved his time here in the great southern land (Australia), along with our beer and music. It is my hope Rob finds his way back so that I might take him up on my invitation to share a cold VB (Victoria Bitter) and talk movies…

…but until then, enjoy our chat.

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The Golden Compass: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s a reason they never adapted another novel in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series past the initial stab at The Golden Compass, and it’s the same infuriating reason why many adaptations of children’s and young adult novels fail: lack of appropriate atmosphere and true menace found in the source material. Everytime Hollywood comes along and decides to try their luck at a beloved series for youngsters or young adults, they feel this feverish need to shine it up with a candy colored, over lit vibe that leaves much of the darker elements by the wayside and as a result their final product feels neutered and bereft of any weight, stakes or attention to detail. Spiderwick. Skellig. Eragon. Hell, even Narnia only made it by the skin of its teeth, blasting out of the gate with a flawless entry, only to peter off into sequels afflicted by the very symptoms I outlined above, and not even make it to the end of the saga at that. Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t happen to every series they try to adapt, but to enough of them that it’s a problem, especially when a darkly creative, eerie and unique tale like this gets turned into a glossy, pandering misfire. It’s sad because some of the elements of a good film are in place, starting with casting. Dakota Blue Richards is on-the-nose perfect as Lyra, the adventurous heroine who gets swept away on a menacing voyage to arctic lands and beyond. She lives in a curious parallel universe where every human is forever accompanied by a ‘Daemon’, essentially a piece of their soul that takes animal form, and never the two shall separate. Lyra’s uncle Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is an explorer who has returned from the north lands with tales of a mysterious phenomenon called ‘dust’, a powerful substance purported to be able to unlock other worlds and dimensions. Lyra is curious at first and then nervous when she meets icy Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) a prim socialite with a devious agenda involving children that have gone missing in the city. She has a facility on the tundra where scary research and very bad experiments are conducted. Now in the books the descriptions and eventual confrontation with this would make your hair turn white. Pullman imparts it with weight and true blood freezing horror. The filmmakers *deliberatly* tone it down and castrate it, leaving anyone who was a fan of the series in total disgust. It just doesn’t have the same dark, otherworldly atmosphere it did on the pages, it feels too bright, chipper and lacking any real wonder. It does have some wicked visuals going for it in places, such as the two rival talking bears, voiced with baritone boom by Ian McKellen and Ian McShane, the landscape of the north as seen from the hot air balloon of grizzled sky-cowboy Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott), and others. Eva Green also scores well as elemental witch Serafina Pekkala, but then she’s incapable of giving a bad performance anyhow. Scattered supporting cast includes Kathy Bates, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Courtney, Simon Mcburney, Derek Jacobi, as well, an impressive lineup all in all, but one that deserves a far better film for their talent. It’s just misguided and tone deaf. It may have been a series for adolescents, but the themes, implications and scenarios found in those books are harrowing, complex, very mature and not to be taken lightly, let alone given the full on Harry Potter theme park treatment. Shame, really, and a giant missed opportunity. Perhaps someday soon a network will get the rights and turn this tale into a film or tv show worthy of His Dark Materials.