Tag Archives: Jack Nicholson

The Taming of the Killer Shrews by Kent Hill

It was weird sitting down and watching Return of the Killer Shrews. My wife and I were not far in when I paused the movie and said, “Hang on, I’ve seen this before.” I jumped up from the chair and went to the library. Removing row upon row of DVDs, I soon came across it. I took out the disc, popped it in the player and “yes”, right I was – I had seen the movie before – under the guise of a re-titled release called MEGA RATS.

But I kept on. In part because I love the flick and the genre it is a part of. Also because I have such fond memories of watching the 1959 original on a rainy day with my grandmother on her big plushy green couch, with a huge bowl of warm, buttery popcorn and the open fire’s glow dancing against our faces. Truth is she loved monster flicks. THEM, JAWS, DARK AGE, ANACONDA, even BIG ASS SPIDER was one of the last she saw and enjoyed.

Me personally, it hits the right notes just like pictures of its ilk like PRIMAL FORCE, PIRANHACONDA, HOUSE OF THE DEAD (because yeah, I’m a stickler for Dr. Boll alright – I get a giggle out of it), and SCREAMERS (not to be confused with the Christian Duguay film, but the Sergio Martino film also known as Island of the Fishmen).

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Steve Latshaw directs James Best, returning after 53 years to take on those nasty, blood-ravenous shrews with a little help from a couple of the Dukes of Hazard. A reality TV crew, in the midst of an island paradise, soon find they are no match for the four-legged terrors that are stalking them at the behest, it would seem, of the deliciously villainous Bruce Davison (who is clearly relishing his part). ROTKS is as delightful, endearing and just as loaded with double, B-movie-cheesy-goodness as the original. It’s streaming NOW, so jump on the couch and grab a bite and thrill at those killer shrews, while enjoying that buttery popcorn you’ll chew.

My guests are a couple of the men behind the shrews. Director/screenwriter extraordinaire, Steve Latshaw, and special effects maestro, Jeff Farley.  Have a listen and gain some insights on the careers this pair of amazing cinematic artists and how they came together to try and tame those killer shrews…

STEVE LATSHAW

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Born in Decatur, Illinois, Steve began his film career in a distinctly Corman-esque style, directing a string of successful B movies in Florida in the early 90s. These included the home video/cable hits Dark Universe (1993) and Jack-O (1995), as well as the cult classic Vampire Trailer Park (1991). Relocating to Los Angeles, Steve continued his career as both writer and director, though on markedly larger budgeted projects. With a filmography well into the double digits, Steve’s recent screenwriting credits have included the family adventure _American Black Beauty (2005), starring Dean Stockwell and the upcoming Sci Fi Channel superhero adventure, _Stan Lee’s Lightspeed (2006).

JEFF FARLEY

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Jeffrey S. Farley was born on August 21, 1962 in Glendale, California, USA. He is known for his work on Demolition Man (1993), The Blob (1988) and Pet Sematary (1989).

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Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Confession time: I saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the first time last night. I know, late to the party. Gotta say, I get the hype. From the first haunting, magisterial helicopter shots that follow Jack Torrence’s car up a gorgeous Montana mountain road to the icy snowbound finale in and around the deserted Overlook Hotel, this is one effective chiller that doesn’t quit, and succeeds in whipping up an atmospheric mania that culminates in the final shot, a simple black and white photograph that says it all. Nicholson is terrifying in every staccato gesture and possessed, ravenous glare as Torrence, a man who already has the capacity for volcanic violence if pushed, and all it takes is the seething malevolence of the hotel to push him right over that edge and turn him into a homicidal monster. Danny Lloyd is appropriately creepy as his kid and handles the dual voices thing in creepy fashion. My favourite performance of the film has to be Shelley Duvall though, and now it stands as one of my favourite works of acting in the horror genre itself. I’ve heard that Kubrick pushed her to some pretty dicey places to play Wendy Torrence, and fuck man she really got there. When shit starts getting freaky, she reacts in a raw, naturally progressive way that shatters all artifice and practically burns organically right into the celluloid, I believed her outright terror and her work pulled me right into the situation. Joe Turkel and and Philip Stone are super creepy as, shall we say, permanent residents of the Overlook, and Scatman Crothers is good if a little cartoonish as Halloran, the head chef who tries to help the Torrence family before it’s too late. Now, it’s no secret that Stephen King dislikes this film, and honestly I can’t see why anyone was surprised. I’m a huge King disciple and I’ve noticed that literally every other adaptation of his work but this one has felt like King, without really doing its own thing. Kubrick boldly went and made a totally different vision than King had, and that’s fine. This is a cold, desolate chiller with none of King’s trademark emotional beats or fiercely internal storytelling, and it works wonders as that. It isn’t perfect, some of the dialogue in the first half is awfully stilted and awkward, but that was sometimes a hallmark of the 70’s. I also wish there was more character development with Jack before he goes postal, it sort of makes it so you mostly only care about Wendy as opposed to the family as a unit, which would have been more effective. The film overall is brilliant though, particularly in score, cinematography and atmosphere. So many images are now iconic: the kaleidoscope carpet design, the room full of blood, those two creepy girls, that axe busting through the door, and they are all beyond fantastic, but some of my favourite frames are the ones less celebrated, like the stark moonlight through foggy snowdrifts outside, the sentinel hedge maze on the grounds, the opening vista shots of wilderness that suggest the horror comes from some vaguely elemental place. The score is a broad, varied soundboard of threatening death notes, ambient passages and startling cues. This is every bit the beloved horror piece I’ve always heard about, I’m glad I finally saw it, I enjoyed the hell out of it and I can’t wait to revisit.

-Nate Hill

Being Hal: An Interview with Amy Scott by Kent Hill

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There is no denying that a good percentage of the films we count today as iconic, came from the 70’s. With the birth of the easy riders and raging bulls, it would be the first and last time filmmakers would enjoy true creative freedom, as well as being able to present personalized films to the movie-loving audience at large.

Now. When we think of the 70’s, the new Hollywood, there are the usual suspects that come to mind. But, there is a name that, for whatever reason, has been absent from the list when it leaks from the tongues of cineastes the world over. That name is the name of Hal Ashby. One of the great individualists to come out of his era, Ashby’s cinema is at once quietly profound and intensely calm. He was an artist that saw the world for what is was – in its entire obnoxious, absurdist best, Ashby captured the beautiful frailty of the moment, no matter how strange, or violent, or sensual, or funny.

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Still, with all the freedom they enjoyed, the filmmakers of the 70’s were far from immune from the ‘tampering of the suits’. Ashby, like his contemporaries, raged against the ludicrous interference and mindless nitpicking of the powers that control the content that comes to a cinema near you. And, in fighting for his vision, he was labelled troublesome, rendered weary and eventually would succumb to a career that watched him bravely, and perhaps at times foolishly, burn the candle at both ends.

Amy Scott has produced, at last, the grand portrait of a man who made some of the defining films of his generation – or any generation from that matter. With the blessing of Ashby’s estate she as unearthed a veritable trove of Ashby gold, from letters to recordings of the man himself – telling it like it is, or was, or perhaps someday will be.

Hal is a documentary that has been on the road to find out. I for one can’t wait for you to see it – I for one, am just glad it’s out…

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE:

http://hal.oscilloscope.net/

https://www.facebook.com/halashbymovie/

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed

Martin Scorsese’s The Departed is like being at a frat party where you slowly begin to realize that every other person there is an irredeemable asshole, but they’ve somehow strung you along with charm and charisma thus far. Like a nihilistic den of wolves where everyone involved is out to get each other, its quite simply one of the most hellbent, devil may care, narratively self destructive crime flicks out there. I admire that kind of reckless abandon in a huge budget Hollywood picture with a cast so full of pedigree it’s almost like The A list agencies just packed up all their talent in a clown car, drove it to South Boston and turned them loose on the neighbourhood. By now you know the fable: Two roughnecks, one a mobster (Matt Damon) who has infiltrated the state police, the other a deep cover operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is posing as a crime figure. Both are are intrinsically connected to Boston’s most fearsome gangster Frank Costello, played by Jack Nicholson in a performance so balls to the wall one almost feels like his 89’ Joker ditched the makeup and left Gotham for Southie. He’s a calculating maniac who openly mocks the veteran sergeant (Martin Sheen) putting in every effort to take him down, and rules over his vicious soldiers (Ray Winstone is a homicidal bulldog and David O’ Hara gets all the best comic relief) like a medieval despot gone mad. At well over two hours, not a single scene feels rushed, drawn out or remotely dawdled, there’s a breathless tank of violent machismo and wicked deception that never runs out, as the artery slashing editing reminds you every time it cuts to a new scene before the soundtrack choice has made it past the intro. The supporting cast has work from the gorgeous Vera Farmiga as a sneaky cop shrink, Anthony Anderson, James Badge Dale, Kevin Corrigan and more. Mark Whalberg also shows up to do the bad cop routine in a role originally meant for Denis Leary, and as solid as he is I kind of wish old Denis took a crack at it because you can obviously see how perfect he would have been, and is the better actor. As much as Jack Nicholson eats up the spotlight and chews more scenery than the T-Rex from Jurassic Park, my favourite performance of the film comes from Alec Baldwin as the head of the police tactical team. Spouting profanity like a fountain, slamming Budweiser as he swings his 9 iron and kicking the shit out of his employees, he’s a mean spirited, violently comical force of nature and I fucking love the guy. Scorsese has clearly set out to not deliver a heady message or lofty themes here as some do with crime epics; the characters all operate from the gut, use animal instinct and never pause to ponder or pontificate. The only message, if any, is the oft spouted ‘snitches get stitches’ as you can clearly see by the film’s final shot, also the only frame containing anything close to a metaphor. I admire a film like that, and certainly enjoyed the hell out of this one.

-Nate Hill

Bob Rafelson’s Blood & Wine

Bob Rafelson’s BLOOD & WINE operates as the capstone at the end of a neo-noir resurgence in the 90s. Cut from the same whiskey and blood-soaked cloth as James Foley’s AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and CITY OF INDUSTRY the hard-lined revenge vehicle for Harvey Keitel; BLOOD & WINE is about lust, greed, and revenge set in the smoky backrooms and emptiness of decaying wealth.

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Rafelson assembles a marvelous cast that is able to navigate in and out of the faux royalty and seedy underbelly of Miami. Jack Nicholson, in his fifth and more than likely final collaboration with Rafelson, plays Alex who is a high-end wine salesman with maxed out credit cards and a marriage that is imploding. Nicholson brings gravitas and menace and he transitions it in a very low key way, he’s a stalled out businessman and worn out salesman who is looking for a way out.

Stephen Dorff and Judy Davis are his packaged deal, makeshift family. Dorff as his stepson, and Davis his codeine induced wife who is self-medicating her way through the last rung of their marriage. Jennifer Lopez, in one of her earliest performance, plays the love interest to both Nicholson and Dorff, which creates a rather rich and perverse subplot.

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Michael Caine gives one of his most underappreciated performances as Victor, a tuberculosis-ridden master thief who pairs with Nicholson to rob his most affluent wine client. Caine is remarkable in this picture, playing a man with little left to lose, who springs to life with terrifying intermittent bursts of rage who refuses to die without pulling others down to Hell with him.

Rafelson, whose career never quite rebounded from his landmark 70s pictures, constructs a very moody and treacherous film that lives in a world of double and triple crossing, a film plentiful of smoke absorbed pastels and cutthroat men navigating a world that has left them behind. The film can be frustrating for some because the ax never falls from the shadow, it stays in its place the entire film, even though the final frame. Which is the trick of the film, the ax doesn’t fall, it stays tightly in its place, and allows the story to continue even after it is over.

Tim Burton’s BATMAN

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Frank is joined with filmmaker and recurring Podcasting Them Softly co-host, Derek Wayne Johnson to discuss one of their favorite films, Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Derek also speaks on his current projects in post-production, STALLONE: FRANK THAT IS and his documentary on the original ROCKY.

Tim Burton’s Batman

Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.

-Nate Hill