The Assassination Of Richard Nixon is loosely based on a true story and does indeed have an attempt on the former president’s life woven into its narrative, but in no way is it a sensationalistic thriller and the main focus lies on Sean Penn’s journey as Samuel Bicke, the ultimate disgruntled American citizen. Sam is a hard working average joe who finds himself dealt a near constant shitty hand in life, and blames it on the one personification of the country’s entire problems: the president. He works under a two faced tyrant of a boss (Jack Thompson), is served divorce papers by his wife (Naomi Watts) who wants nothing to do with him anymore, and all attempts to get his own business underway with a partner (Don Cheadle) seems to fail when presented with the tumultuous economic and political climate of the times. The thing is, much of what makes you successful or not successful in any given time period is attitude and frame of mind. Not solely of course, some eras are just tougher to grind through and come out on top of then others, but internal perspective and outlook always play a big part, and Sam’s is one of self predicted defeat and jaded forlornness almost from the get go. He is a man who wants to do good and wishes prosperity for himself and others, but feels helpless against the obstacles in his way, begins to mentally deteriorate and lashes out. One scene in particular between him and his well spoken businessman brother Julius (Michael Wincott in a stern, savage, brutally honest and scene stealing cameo) lays it all out: Julius berates and shames him for breaking the law and stealing goods from his business for plans of his own, no matter how honourable or constructive his intentions were. Samuel responds not with an apology, but with a long winded, bitter rant about how everything and everyone in the country has it in for him, how hard it is as the little man to make your daily bread or come out a winner. His mental climate is fascinating as it ultimately leads to a reckless, dangerous act, but we can trace every moment along the way where his stability falters and see why he is the way he is. The actual attempt itself involves hijacking a plane and bombing tricky Dick himself in the White House, but once we see him try and go through with it it’s just sad, anticlimactic and almost irrelevant. The real power lies in what led him there, how he felt betrayed by his own country and how, in the end, he blamed one man who probably didn’t even have that much power over everything to begin with. Penn is raw and ragged in a performance that almost hurts to watch, in a story that isn’t cinematic, cathartic or pleasant in any way. But it is important, and makes for a great film.
When Hong Kong action alchemist John Woo mixes up his gracefully brutal aesthetic with big budget Hollywood high gloss, the results are an irresistible flavour. While not quite the balls out, blitzkrieg masterpiece that Face/Off is, his military gong show Broken Arrow is still one walk on the wild side of stunts, explosions, overblown madness and maniacal behaviour from John Travolta, who seems to be amping up the histrionics in double time just to cover Nicolas Cage’s shift this time around. He’s a navy pilot psycho called Deakins here, an unstable traitor who hijacks a volatile nuclear warhead and holds congress hostage, giggling like a schoolgirl the whole time. It’s up to his trainee and former partner Hale (Christian Slater) to hunt him through Death Valley where they’ve crashed, causing as much pyrotechnic commotion as possible and prep for the inevitable one on one smackdown that’s neatly foreshadowed by an opening credits boxing sequence between the two that’s an appetizer for the adrenal glands in prep for the chaos to follow. The action is fast, fierce and extremely violent, as is the amped up macho banter between the two, but Travolta really takes the role and sails off the charts into the ‘here there be dragons’ realm of acting reserved for only the most memorably over the top performances in history. “You’re fucking insane”, Slater sneers at him; “Yeah! Ain’t it cool?” Travolta smirks back with a face that would be straight if not for the knowing glint in his eyes. Park ranger Samantha Mathis helps Slater in his quest to bring the lunatic down, and there’s an impressive laundry list of character actors rounding out the military faction including Howie Long, Delroy Lindo, Frank Whaley, Bob Gunton, Chris Mulkey, Daniel Von Bargen, Vondie Curtis Hall, Jack Thompson, French Stewart, Raymond Cruz and Kurtwood ‘Red Forman’ Smith. Hans Zimmer does the score here and it’s an undervalued composition in his canon, a chromed up tune that drips cool and hurtles alongside the action awesomely. Woo has had some dodgy luck in Hollywood since (Mission Impossible 2 and Paycheck are painful), but this is one of his best stabs at the Western style of action, brought to eccentric life by Travolta’s oddball psycho and full of crazy ass action spectacle.
My Grandmother was the avid cinema-goer in our family. She passed her love of movies down to my Mother who in turn, passed it on to me. Another little boy who learned about the wonders of the movies from his Mother was Brett Leonard.
This love would grow, forging a filmmaker whose career that has been eclectic, but always on the cutting edge. The man who was once a killer clown from outer space, has in many ways been one the pioneers in the eventually, all-compassing integration of the digital age into the celluloid art form. With his ground-breaking work in The Lawnmower Man, Leonard has since been blazing a trail throughout the industry. His early concepts of combining virtual reality with the cinematic experience are still expanding, and his vision of where it is all going to go, is far from complete.
Yet I was fascinated with the journey this humble gentleman has taken. He has worked both independently and with the studios, he has directed some of the finest actors to grace the screen, he has bore the brunt of the dark politics that whirls below surface of the filmmaking process. Still, he manages to laugh it off and move on to the next project with an energy and optimism that has served him well.
I thrilled at the revelations Brett shared with me about his movies, which I admire greatly, but also about his personal adventures including something I was, I admit, grossly unaware of: he a spent a significant period of his life living and working here in Australia. To such an extent he even was labelled an Australian filmmaker by the local media. He said, in the great Down Under, he learned not only the true value of mateship, but also spent some of his most glorious days.
He was a pleasure to interview, a true gentleman, a fabulous filmmaker – ladies and gentlemen, I give you, Brett Leonard…
Wake In Fright is like one of those clammy nightmares where you are stuck in some godawful place full of ugliness and depravity, and try as you might, you simply can’t escape or outrun the horror around you. Such is the plight of John (Gary Bond) a schoolteacher in a desolate county of the Australian outback, on his way to Sydney for a little R&R on winter break. His journey takes him to a pit stop in Bundanyabba, an ass backwards mining town in the middle of the middle of nowhere. He stops by the bar, where the leathery sheriff (Chips Rafferty) offers to buy him a beer. And another. And another. And another. You see, the Yabba is such an isolated doldrum of a place that it’s inhabitants resort to extreme alcoholism on a daily and nightly basis, which combined with their sun baked brains leads to some harrowing displays of excessive and whacked out behaviour, that poor John comes face to face with. It’s funny that his last name is Bond, because he has the air of sophistication akin to our dear old 007, and it clashes with these yowling yokels like baking soda and petrified vinegar. His composure starts to creak as each pint of lager cascades it’s way down his esophagus, until the line between civilization and primal Instinct starts to scare him. But is it too late by then? He somewhat befriends Doc Tydon (Donald Pleasence) a raging drunkard who hangs around with a group who do nothing but drink, howl like lunatics, fight and hunt kangaroos. Pleasence is transfixing as a once cultured man of medicine whose soul has been drenched in the endless consumption of beer and calcified by the mad, acrid sun, until the whites of his eyes begin to reveal the decay beneath. The scenes of alcohol drinking in this film are staggering, frequent and very, very disturbing. The lonliness has bred this behaviour and these people know nothing else but inebriation and idle time wasting, their lives reduced to one long episodic bout of day drinking and nocturnal revelry. John veers eerily close to falling directly in line with them and going to far down that path, especially during a nighttime kangaroo hunt that serves as some perverted form of an initiation ritual. I must warn you: not only are the hunting scenes very, very graphic, but they’re completely un-staged. The adage “it’s just a movie” doesn’t apply to these sequences, and the carnage we see unfold is horrifying geniune. The hunts were supervised by the Australian government and conducted in an overpopulated area by experts. None of that makes them any easier to watch. This film serves as an anthropological treatise on what happens to human beings who live in the farthest and most remote corners of the world, left to their own devices by seclusion and time, relegated to near animalistic states that to them is just another day in the Yabba. Billed as a horror film, but the horror comes solely from the human elements, which to me is always far scarier. Deliverence ain’t got nothing on this baby, and we’re lucky we even got to see it at all. Some years after the film’s bitterly received release (Australians were pissed at the depiction of their people, and probably stung deep by the truth of it) it disappeared so far into obscurity that all prints seemed to be gone, and the consensus was that it was lost forever. One day the editor was cleaning his garage on the very day he was going to liquidate everything he didn’t need, and found a single print. This was nearly twenty years after the film’s release, and today you can watch it on netflix Canada. Quite the story, quite the film. Just strap on a thick skin, it’s a sweaty, dusty, boozy rollercoaster that dips to the very rock bottom of the human condition.