Tom and Frank are back with their latest installment of Podcasting Them Softly’s James Bond series, For Your Ears Only. This time they discuss Terence Young’s final outing as Bond helmer with THUNDERBALL. Tom and Frank are joined by fellow James Bond aficionado Mark Ashby as they discuss in great detail what many consider one of the best Bond films.
This film might not seem like a big deal to you. It could merely appear as another throwaway action flick on your regular streaming service – one that you glance at out of curiosity, and then move on. But I really loved SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, and here’s the reason why . . .
Once, a long time ago, in the age of wonder, they were these glorious palaces that we called, Video Stores. They were a veritable treasure trove for cineastes of all ages to come and get their movie-fix. They housed the cinema of the ages and best of all, there would be movies you could find there, that hadn’t played at a cinema near you.
These were the titles that were made specifically for this new medium of VHS. Like the drive-in before it, these stores needed product. Thus a new genre was born, and it was called Straight-to-Video. What arose were glorious movies, some of which, sadly, died along with their era. Awesome were the sci-fi, the horror, and specifically speaking now, the action movies that would appear on the shelves. And such action. Real, intense, dynamic and always in frequent supply. It was good versus evil in all its glory – the villains wore dark shades and the heroes carried big guns. So, it was while watching SHOWDOWN that I was hit by this wave of nostalgia, engulfed by memories of the golden age of home entertainment.
The plot of the film is simple. But isn’t that true of the best action flicks? The package is a beautiful cocktail of old and new, peppered with filmmakers wishing to deliver a splendid throwback, mixed with the stars that climbed to the dizzying heights of VHS stardom.
For those who know what I’m talking about, and even those that don’t, I say, go check out this little gem that is cut from the past, and at the same time, is polishing by the future. So, here now, I present a trio of interviews with the film’s stars Alexander Nevsky(The man on the rise), Matthias Hues(The action legend), and the man responsible for that important seed from which all great cinema grows, the script, Craig Hamman(the veteran screenwriter).
Alexander Nevsky is a Russian bodybuilder, actor, writer, producer. His life changed when he saw Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron and that spark would light the fire which continues to burn bright. In 1994 Nevsky graduated from State Academy of Management (Moscow). In 1999 he moved to California. He studied English at UCLA and acting at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute. He has risen from a bit-part-player to an international action star the cannot be ignored. With his imposing intensity, versatility and personal drive, Alex, I believe, is poised to enter the arena of formidable action superstars – its only a matter of when.
Matthias Hues is a German-born actor and martial artist as well as being an action movie icon. He came to L.A. not knowing how to act or even speak English. The fateful moment would come when he joined Gold’s Gym and the establishment’s manager received a call from a producer who had just lost Jean-Claude Van Damme for his movie and needed a replacement. Matthias tested for the role, and he managed to convince the producers to give him the part despite having no prior acting experience. The movie, No Retreat, No Surrender 2, was a moderate success, but it opened the door. He is, of course, most recognized for Dark Angel, but has also played everything from a gladiator turned private investigator in Age of Treason to an aging hit-man in Finding Interest to a bumbling idiot trying to kidnap a rich kid in Alone in the Woods to a dancing lion tamer in Big Top Pee-wee. He’s even played a Klingon general in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Craig Hamann came up alongside another young aspiring filmmaker whose work would go on to define a generation. When he and Quentin Tarantino embarked upon the journey to make their own movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday, there was no telling then, where the road would lead. Well we all know where Quentin ended up, but Craig too has enjoyed a long and prosperous career that has been anything but ordinary. He’s a writer, former actor, that has watched the industry ebb and flow. He’s directed Boogie Boys, had encounters with Demonic Toys and of course, of late, he’s been a part of an action-thriller in Manila. Craig has other projects in the works, and with the company he keeps, these efforts are, I’m sure, set to explode and entertain. Yet he remains a humble gentleman with a passion for his work and a dedication that has seen him endure as a great veteran of the movie business.
There is a filmmaker working in Hollywood right now, who is out to show the big boys that you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars to make the movies you want to make. Shahin Sean Solimon is the man behind the movement. Together with his talented group of like-minded artists, he is forging new waves to achieve epic results without the big budget price tag.
“If I inspire some thirteen year old kid somewhere to pursue his or her dreams as I have, no matter what the nay-sayers say, I’ve done my job.”
And getting the job done is exactly what Shahin has been doing. Beginning with his first feature Djinn, Based on ancient middle eastern fairy tales written thousands of years ago, and passed down from generation to generation, Shahin crafted luscious, fantastical realms along with a pure and moving tale love and destiny.
With his second film he took it to the next level, conjuring the days of high adventure and summoning cinema which brings to mind the heady days of Ray Harryhausen with: Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage. When the Sultan’s first born is taken by an evil sorcerer, Sinbad is tasked with traveling to a desert of magic and creatures to save her. Add into this the talents of Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), who offered his distinct vocal styling as the films narrator. He also turns out to enjoy Subway, but you’ll have to listen for more on that.
Now, for the next big thing. In his third feature Alpha: The Awakening, Shahin is tackling the sci-fi and post-apocalyptic genres with one mighty stroke. It is the story of a man, Apollo, who wakes up in the future to realize the human race has been wiped out because of an ancient virus.
There seems to be no end to his creativity or his ability to realize his visions. I thoroughly enjoyed chatting with this talented filmmaker who is, without a doubt, taking the bull by the horns and making the movies he wants to make.
“My inspiration as an artist is not about money, or fame…but about trying to project imagination, show a different perspective of life, and simply entertain.”
And entertaining us is what he has done and will, I believe, continue to do.
Gale Anne Hurd, the producer of Aliens and The Terminator, headed the charge back in the early 90s toward the adaptation of a book written by Richard Herley titled, The Penal Colony.
Set in 1997, it tells the story of how the British Government runs island prison colonies as a means to stem the tide of an overflow in mainland jails. There are no guards, no cells, and the island is monitored via satellite surveillance.
We follow the a character named Anthony Routledge, who is brought to the island for a sex-crime that he did not commit. He soon discovers that under the guidance of a charismatic leader, a community on the island has evolved.
No Escape (1994)
Now if that’s not the ideal film to make here in Australia, (if your are aware that it is pretty much how our nation began) then I don’t know what is. The production would hire future Bond director Martin Campbell, along with stars Ray Liotta, Lance Henriksen, Stuart Wilson and Ernie Hudson.
Then a screenwriter named Michael Gaylin, a man who had slaved away in obscurity in Hollywood for more than a decade, would come into contact with a colleague of Hurd’s. He went for a meeting and, finally, after a career of false starts and forgotten promises, he was going to be writing on a film that would eventually, make it to the big screen.
After a long wait, I finally had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Michael about his career and his experiences during the making of No Escape or Escape from Absolom (as it was released over here). What I discovered, during our conversation, was not merely an insight into a film I heartily enjoy, but also the story of a resilient writer who finally had one script break through. A real life story very much akin to the journey of the hero of the film; who would take on all conflicts and eventually overcome them . . . and escape.
It is a great film in the grand tradition of Franklin J. Schaffner’s Papillon.
People rag on Lee Tamahori’s 007 effort Die Another Day quite a bit, but.. I really dig it. Look, the James Bond films were always meant to have a silly flair and air of camp to them, dating back to the original 1960’s spy romps with Connery and stretching forth to the cheesy 90’s entries starring Pierce Brosnan, who for my money is the second best Bond, following Daniel Craig’s gritty metamorphosis. Brosnan’s stint as Bond is the most whacked out the franchise has ever gotten, and this one is arguably the craziest of the four, but it’s a way unfairly panned. It’s got gadgets, exotic settings, two sexy Bond babes, a hilariously over the top bad guy, and enough cartoonish action scenes to fuel two movies. What more do you want? Well, obviously people wanted a more grounded, realistic take or the Craig films would never have been green-lit, but that’s besides the point. Every incarnation of 007, from the silliest to the most down to earth, has the right to frolic in a franchise with enough wiggle room for over two dozen entries, so let them have their fun. Brosnan has some picturesque arctic adventures here, and I love when Bond gets to go play in the snow. There’s a North Korean radical (Rick Yune) with a meteor shower of real diamonds embedded in his face, so how’s that for a villain. Halle Berry smokes it up as one of the hottest Bond vixens to date, Jinx Johnson, the image of her emerging from the water in a bikini now burned into the minds and bedsheets of countless viewers who saw this before the dawn of internet porn and broke the rewind button on their remote. Rosamund Pike is the other, an ice queen named Miranda Frost, whose surname accents her initial attitude towards 007 nicely. Judi Dench and John Cleese return as M and Q, at the height of their dry and droll mannerisms. There’s a cool new character played by Michael Madsen too, some CIA bigwig called Damian Falco, who I imagine we would have seen a lot more of had the Brosnan universe continued, which sadly was not to be. Anywho, the reason I picked this one to review today is because it was the most ridiculed 007 film I could think of in the canon, an area that always fascinates me in any franchise. Sure, it’s a laugh in places and so far over the top it soars above the satellite used by the villain to threaten the planet below. But people should really take a step back and examine the art their bandwagon jeers are pointed at, and look for the positives. Visually, this is probably one of, if not the most good looking 007 film ever, thanks to the sweeping Icelandic locations captured by cinematographer David Tattersall. The sight of Brosnan wind surfing down the face of a glacier that’s being melted by a giant space laser beam from aforementioned satellite is inspired, and taken to a whole new level because the guy does all that *in his fucking tuxedo*. Re-read the previous sentence and try and tell me that’s not one of the coolest Bond scenarios you’ve ever pictured. It looks even better in film than it does on paper, too. Give this one another shot, because it’s not even close to being the weakest of the bunch, and I try and discourage such witch hunts in any franchise to begin with. The films are all there to enjoy, so why not leave the negativity fuelled nitpicking stowed in your suitcase and do just that. Die Another Day is a blast.
I remember a rainy evening long ago when I went with some friends to see The Rocketeer. This was a time when superhero movies were touch and go. We had Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher and Alec Baldwin’s Shadow, Billy Zane’s Phantom and Pamela Anderson’s Barbed Wire. The movie gods had spoiled us with Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman – but The Rocketeer, for my money, was a return to form.
Featuring solid direction from Joe Johnston (Alive, Congo, Captain America), a great cast featuring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connolly, Alan Arkin and the delightfully villainous Timothy Dalton, combined with a beautiful and heroically-sumptuous score from the late/great James Horner – The Rocketeer stayed with me after that rainy night back in the early 90’s, and it’s an experience I find myself going back to again and again.
The film though, was not an easy gig for it’s writers. They began their comic book adaptation of The Rocketeer in 1985. Writing for Disney, the partners were hired and fired several times during the five years of the movie’s development. The two had a rough executive experience, in which scenes were deleted only to be restored years later. The film finally made it to theaters in 1991.
But The Rocketeer isn’t the only picture co-penned by Danny Bilson that I love. There is Eliminators, which he wrote with his career-long collaborator Paul DeMeo (They he met and graduated from California State University, San Bernardino and together formed Pet Fly Productions.) One great tale Danny offered is that Eliminators was a poster before it was a movie. I would kill to have worked like that for the Charles Band stable back in the day. Being handed a title or a poster and being told, “Now go write the movie.”
Eliminators, Zone Troopers, Arena and Trancers would be written by DeMeo and Bilson, who aside from being a writer, is also a director and producer of movies, television, video games, and comic books. They worked on the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2003), the television series The Sentinel (1996), Viper (1994, 1996) and The Flash (1990), and issues of the comic book The Flash. Bilson also directed and produced The Sentinel and The Flash.
Danny Bilson was born into the industry, the son of Mona (Weichman) and the director Bruce Bilson (Bewitched, Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes). But, after college, Danny struggled to break into the movie business, working as an extra while writing screenplays. Bilson and DeMeo produced their first script, Trancers (1985), a noir tale about a time-travelling detective from the future. Five sequels would follow. Bilson debuted as a director for Zone Troopers (1985), co-written by DeMeo, a tale of American World War II soldiers who find an alien spacecraft. Following this, the duo performed the same roles in The Wrong Guys (1988) a comedic spoof of boy scouting.
VIPER, Dorian Harewood, James McCaffrey, Joe Nipote, 1994
Danny and Paul, though the screen has seen their writing credit absent for some time, continue to work. I long for the hour when I see their names up there again, as their collaborative efforts will and always stand, for this cinephile anyway, as an invitation for adventure and excitement. While a Jedi is not meant to crave such things – of my cinema-going prerequisites they are high the list – bordering on essential.