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Dinner with Hercules by Kent Hill

What is it about heroes like Hercules that endure? They come and go throughout the years in so many incarnations; transforming with the times while still remaining timeless. And who among you does not long for the power of a God at your fingertips…or to wield ancient and powerful weapons, to strike with the might of great Zeus’s thunderbolts, into the dark hearts of those angry Gods and vengeful outcasts, mythical colossus’s, woken titans….?

This is the cinema of the legendary Son-of-God, and just like peanut butter he comes in oily and dry, crunchy and smooth. From Reeves to The Rock, the man and his name that has ascended to the heavens, where the stars spell out his glory are always adventures worth going the distance for. So when I first saw Kevin Sorbo take up the mantle, here again came a joyous and wonder-dipped slice of a pie that I had not tasted since that marvelous, though short-lived series, Wizards and Warriors. Here we would trek on the heels of the champion of Olympus on a regular basis, through the ancient worlds and ancient wonders, discovering forgotten realms and the magic that dwelt there.

Through the classics to the contemporaries, from the unintentionally funny to the down-right awesome, Hercules put enough of a hit on me, if I were a bear…I might have been launched into orbit…but seriously, I dig the cat enough to want to write my own private blended drink of a tale, that saw the man loose his strength because of his father’s mortal fornications and thus is forced to take on an attacking other-worldly titan…with a shotgun. But…I stress this was not conceived to mock or denigrate the character. It was written with tremendous affection. Because, for my money, a good Hercules story dances that fine line between the wondrous and the wacky…that just below that surface veneer of cinematic insanity there is in fact…brilliance.

So who better to sit down with for a chat with than one of the longest serving performers to ever carry the role through many a legendary journey. Kevin Sorbo would, as the fates would have it, turn out to become a real life Hercules. He is a man who has been on his own private odyssey, and it was by far, more arduous than anything he ever put on screen. Sorbo , however, in a fashion similar to the hero he portrayed, lived to fight another day and has gone on seemingly possessed with God-like strength and determination and has become not only an endearing screen icon, but a prolific producer, writer and director.

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When the hour cometh the hero shall be tested, and there, at the glorious moment, in that final stillness be found triumphant or wanting. These are the marks of few, the bold…those that will be marked by the lights of distant stars. So it was cool indeed to chat with the Legendary Hercules. Unfortunately, as I had hoped, I can’t present to recording as, because of a technical issue, it is not of sufficient quality. So I have taken the time to go through and transcribe what remains…though I regret that some has been saved only in my memory. Still…the journey continues…

Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls of all ages…I give you the mighty, Kevin Sorbo…

maxresdefaultKH: You came from Minnesota originally?

KS: Yes.

KH: What was it, during your early days there, that lead on the crazy adventures you’ve been on ever since?

KS: Well…it probably started when I was this eight year old kid, and my Mom would watch the old matinee movies with Katherine Hepburn and Cary grant…just all the people from the golden age era, and I loved those movies, and I went to the Guthrie Theatre, a famous theatre in Minneapolis, and a lot of Hollywood shows come there, or they start there. Then I remember going to a play in New York, The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. Now, I don’t know what they were talking about, I was eleven, but I remember being mesmerized by these actors on stage, and it wasn’t long after that I went to my parent and told them I was going to be an actor. But I was a closet thespian because I was also a jock, and we used to make fun of guys in the theatre being jocks ’cause you know I played American football, baseball, basketball…took up golf…love the game of golf and I still play it to this day…so I didn’t really do anything about the acting till I got through college, feeling that peer pressure…but the seed was planted so…I knew that was the road I was gonna take some day.

KH: See if you can tell me where this line comes from…ready?

KS: (laughter) Okay.

KH: This ain’t Jim Beam!

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KS: Arh…I did a Jim Beam commercial back in 1992, down in New Zealand. I get down there and I was in Auckland and got see some of the surrounding beaches and stuff, and thought it would be really cool to come down here to see this country more…of course I got Hercules a year later and I ended up coming back to New Zealand for seven years so…be careful what you wish for (laughter) …no, I love it down there…but that little commercial got me fan mail for like five years…I got more fan mail from that commercial than I did for Hercules. (laughter) But it was interesting they chose do it that spot in new Zealand when there are plenty of places in Texas that would be considered a redneck bar…which they were trying to reproduce. But then the guys from Jim beam told that because of the campaign there sales had gone up 80%, I said you guys owe me a little more more money ’cause I’d rather be paid by percentage…

KH: They thought you’d be happy with a lifetime supply of Jim Beam?

KS: There it is. (laughter)

KH: But we should talk about that briefly because you are a bit of an ANZAC, having spent a number of years in Australia as well as New Zealand, and, as you mentioned in your email prior to our chat…it was like a second home to you…?

KS: I actually was in Australia for two year. Back in 1986…I went to Sydney to shoot a commercial at Bells beach and I ended up staying, and my agent in Los Angeles flipped out, and I said to him, I’ve wanted to come to Australia since I was twelve years old and now I’m here I want to see it. I went to Melbourne as well…I lived at Bondi beach…I’ve been down there for Comic con’s in Brisbane and Townsville, Perth…so I’ve been there a lot and I’m in talks right now with a production company down there to come and shoot another one…so we have a TV series that we could be shooting down there in the future…

KH: Splendid…well done. We’ll it will be nice to have you back…yet again.

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KS: I’m looking forward to it.

KH: Awesome. So, moving right along…are the rumors true, because the internet should always be questioned and never taken for granted, that you were just beat out, by a nose, for Lois and Clark and The X Files?

KS: With the X Files it was more like I was in the final six, not the last three. With playing Superman though, I did test for that. Both Dean and I tested with Teri Hatcher and I go the the part…so I went out, celebrated, next morning I get a phone call and they say, “We’re going with Dean Cain!” So, that’s the nature of the business…but Dean’s a good friend of mine and for him it was meant to be…but…three months later, I got Hercules, so Dean was like, “You got the most watched TV show in the world and I got cancelled after three seasons.” But, it is what it is.

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KH: Exactly. But…do you think you would have liked to have played Superman?

KS: Oh I think I would have enjoyed it…but Dean was right for the part…I think was better at the alter ego part of Superman, rather than the actual Superman. Would I have liked it…sure…but I was pretty happy doing Hercules so…

KH: Well Hercules takes up a massive chunk of your early career. You were in New Zealand doing crossovers with Xena…

KS: Xena didn’t exist when we started. We did five two hour movies, and by the end of that season two, they introduced that character not knowing it would become a spin-off, that’s how that came about, and with the son of Hercules in season five, it would be twenty year old Ryan Gosling playing me so…

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KH: There you go. But in the midst of all this, the dark clouds of tragedy move in, it was between seasons four and five…you were doing press at the time for KULL the Conqueror and you had a series of four strokes?

KS: An aneurysm went to my left sub clavicle, that effected strength in my shoulders, balance, I was getting bumps and bruises…I loved working with the stunt team down there…so I blew it off. I went back to the States, my doctor found a lump, he thought it might be cancer and wanted to do a biopsy, I had the first stroke and then three on the way to the hospital, it affected things like my speech and took a long time to recover but I wrote a book, True Strength, back in 2012, and it allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t have done like public speaking which I still do on the subject. Of course I did return to Hercules, but it was in a limited capacity and then came Andromeda and that was like the third year of recovery and I was starting to feel recovered.

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KH: I was a fan of you as Hercules, but being a life-long aficionado of Robert E. Howard…now…of course Schwarzenegger made Conan his own and brought that character into public consciousness, but Kull never as much, yet, we got a Kull movie…tell us what making that was like?

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KS: Well Kull was the last novel Howard wrote before he blew his brains out so….you know….the original script was very dark, though the rewrites didn’t help. Conan was a brooding anti-hero where Kull was more able to articulate his thoughts. And I fought for him to use the battle axe as opposed to a sword…Conan was all about his sword but if you look at the art work inspired by Howard’s books, a majority of his warrior heroes carried axes. We shot for three weeks in Croatia on that movie. There were a lot of people that worked on it that had worked on the Conan films and it was well directed by John Nicolella, who has sadly passed away. It was fun a to a big budget action film…went to the big premiere in DC…it’s always a thrill.

KH: I can only imagine. So lets talk about TV, you’ve had such a variety of roles on the small screen. Andromeda was another big chunk of your career…tells of the journey from sword and sandals, so-to-speak, to the space and far-flung stars?

KS: I always was a big believer in the message Roddenberry was trying to put out there with these stories of humanity no merely being envoys for our race but far-reaching students of the vastness and complexity of our galaxy…but you know…when you spend a big chunk of time on one show and then on another…it still strikes me as delightful that, when I go to conventions, you’ll have your die-hard Hercules and your die-hard Andromeda fans…and never the twain shall meet…but that’s okay…that’s why variety is essential in entertainment…there’s something for everybody.

KH: My sister wanted me to ask you about a film of yours she enjoyed…Never Cry Werewolf?

KS: (laughter) Yeah…that was done up in Toronto and I gotta say that was a blast doing that one. It was one of those cases where….I get so many offers to do parts….and it was a small part, I think they sent me the twenty pages of script that I was in…these independent producers have their stock stable of crew and its a matter of go in and shoot and move on to the next…but I honestly have so many projects of my own, as well, that I’m working on, I have a slate of five films, features…some I’m in some I’m producing, I’m off to do a civil war movie and then after that I’m going to England to film a Charles Dickens adaptation…

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KH: Wow….you’re no slouch mate. Don’t let them tell you you’re not on top of your game…and how you do it all is a mystery to me, for sure and certain. But…among your TV credits I know and have seen the episode you did of Murder She Wrote, you’re a part of the glorious group of performers that garnered a guest spot on Murder She Wrote. What was that experience like?

KS: It was a great experience. We shot on the Universal lot and I was able to meet Angela Lansbury and her Husband….and, one thing I found out later is that Angela had apparently been checking me out, to see what kind of a character I was during set-ups before she introduced herself which I thought was sweet and funny, but again I had a great time. Angela is a true professional and a legend, I mean, I saw her again when she was touring around with a theatre production, you know, so many years later…that’s impressive to me.

KH: Yes, the lady indeed is an absolute treasure. But, another of your credits I wanted to ask you was advertised at the end of one of my favorite films The Sword and The Sorcerer, but it would take Albert Pyun another 30 years to finally give us Tales of an Ancient Empire?

KS: Well when we filmed initially we only shot part…like fifty percent of the movie so I knew it was going to take time for them to gather the rest of the film, which sometimes happens on independent productions, but I loved the role, I loved the script…but it was the first thing I was ever involved in where they ran out of money and had to shut down at the time. But I can see the ambition and how it was part of a much larger story, on a Lord of the Rings type of canvas, there would have been a bigger world on display had the budget been there, but my character was kind of a shady, jerk, womanizer…which was fun to play. But I know Albert has had a lot of health issues lately…and it’s been a while since we’ve spoken…but he was a great guy…I wish him all the best with the struggles he’s going through, being someone who has had debilitating health issues…I pray for him.

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KH: Tell us about your part in The Kings of Mykonos?

KS: Oh that was a great location, shooting on the sunny island of Mykonos. I played this American guy with a bad Italian accent who was very popular with the ladies (laughter)…it was just fun you know…we had a good time…a lot of laughs on the set. I know that film did really well, especially in your and in European regions. It came out on DVD over here, but sadly never got a theatrical release.

KH: I thought you were great in it…you have the comedic touch…which you did get a chance to showcase again in a little film called Meet the Spartans?

KS: I remember I had a meetings, and they were four hours apart in Hollywood, and 300 was screening, so with the time in between meetings, I went to a matinee and I thought, this is the perfect movie to spoof, so eventually when the part came around I jumped at it, playing the lieutenant to King Leonidas. It was great, there was the opportunity to improvise and in some cases they used those takes where we just riffing on each rather than what was scripted…the key to a good a parody is not just poking fun but presenting the futility of the situations sometimes…I know that I sound like a broken record but again…it was a lot of fun to do.

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KH: Did you ever consider spoofing Hercules in a similar fashion…’cause got your story. Hercules with a Shotgun. A retired Hercules has been stripped of his God-like strength because Zeus has been kicked out of Olympus by his wife for philandering constantly with mortal woman. Thus the son of Zeus is forced to take on a monstrous titan with nothing but a shotgun?

KS: Hey…get it funded and we’ll talk.

KH: No sweat…I’ll get the money in the bank and have my people call your people.

KS: Well I don’t have an agent any more so just get in touch with me.

KH: No worries…I’ll find someone to pick up the cheque and I’ll give you a bell.

KS: Sounds great.

KH: Well Kevin…been awesome to chat to you mate, I better let you get on ’cause I know the bases are loaded.

KS: Yeah I’m actually off to Oxford on Monday to finish up a documentary so…there’s always something going on. Your listens can of course keep up with it all on my official Facebook page and my official website: http://www.kevinsorbo.net/  , and thank you for the conversation Kent and a big G’day to all the folks there Down Under…a great place on this Earth.

KH: Best wishes with all you got going mate…an maybe we’ll catch you back in this neighborhood some day soon…?

KS: You sure will…take care.

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The Return of Director Richard Stanley: A Conversation on Color & Cage with Kent Hill

Right off the bat, I really wanted to give you a cool video interview. But, sadly, the bandwidth was being powered by a couple of mice on tiny treadmills. Everything looked fine. Skype said it was recording, the image was good.

Skip ahead to the next day. I saved the file, I opened it, I’m watching it and . . . damn! Not only did the picture freeze but the sound stopped recording. Luckily for both of us, I had my trusty digital recorder silently working at the same time.

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So fear not. Here is the complete video of my chat with Sir Richard (with the picture freezing part the way through and the sound shifting to my back-up recorder). The last time we talked, and Color was the topic, he threw me a little whistle. The whistle said the film was a go . . . but they were waiting. Who were they waiting for dear listener? Not for the second coming, Guffman or Godot. They were waiting on Cage. NICOLAS CAGE!

When the news of this broke I was like an alcoholic left unsupervised, tending the bar. It was an actor/director combination born on some faraway star. The culmination of two wildly original and esoteric forces of nature, one can scarcely perceive of such a collaboration ever, becoming a reality. Yet here it is, Color out of Space, H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite among his tales (so I have heard). Brought to the screen in an acid-trip-phantasmagoria of a ride into a world of pure nightmarish elegance and sublime terror. Helming this master-work is the man who the trailer even heralds with a title card: “The Return of Director Richard Stanley.” His glorious Malick-like return to the fray pairs Stanley with the apotheosis of a true, renaissance man, Nicolas Cage, in a role that seems almost tailored, not to the wild man or the meme, but to the Academy Award Winner, Nicolas Cage. A performer of greater depth and color, that some will forever deny him the credit of possessing.

With the current crisis and the film’s limited release in some regions, I will not spoil it for those who have not seen it. But, what I will say is the same thing, that has been echoed by my learned colleagues and film-loving friends around the world that have seen it, and that is go see it! It is already available in many territories on Blu-ray and DVD. And, don’t forget it’s streaming away as well. (click on poster below)

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So now, I, Kent Hill am proud to welcome back once again, a man of many colors (and Cage) . . . “The Return of Director Richard Stanley.”

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Arthur Penn’s NIGHT MOVES

 

70s cinema was at its absolute best when it birthed softly nihilistic, introspective films where the protagonist lived within moral ambiguity and hard shades of grey – wherein this picture, Gene Hackman gives his finest, most low-key performance as a former football player turned private investigator who takes on a case of a missing girl that lands him in Florida from LA, and uncovers a well-layered and richly defined plot of smuggling, lies, and deception all the while discovering who he really is, as well as the world around him.

With a taut script from Alan Sharp, a groovy score by Michael Small, director Arthur Penn crafts a remarkably quiet film; which plays more like a documentary where the camera just follows Hackman through his journey, all scenes from the film are of Hackman’s point of view, and there are not any overt, showy set-pieces or flash edits, popular music; the film just lives.

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Sharp’s screenplay, coupled with Penn’s vision and the actors performing his written words, is perfect. There are so many memorable lines of dialogue that have staying power, so much of the characters are revealed through the brief, yet potent, exchanges. This truly is a masterclass in writing.

A lot can be said for Hackman, being one of the longstanding true craftsmen of his profession; being one of the finest actors to ever grace the screen. In this picture, he is noticeably muted and brings a striking weariness to the role, he is not the self-righteous and volatile Hackman, he is just here to observe, and internalize his emotions. He gives a remarkably raw performance that is more about self-discovery than anything.

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Harris Yulin, Jennifer Warren, Edwards Binns, Kenneth Mars, Janet Ward, John Crawford, Susan Clark, James Woods, and Melanie Griffith round up the supporting cast, and Hackman plays off of each one magnificently. The characters in the film are very real, as are their homes, places of work and so on. There is a deep-seated reality to the film, where it doesn’t take place in the movie world, it takes place in reality.

The film’s narrative is remarkable, not only with the overall detective storyline, but also with how defined Hackman’s character and life is; and how his two worlds begin to blend together; where he is just not solving the case, but also solving who he is as well.

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NIGHT MOVES is a film that came out at the right time, the mid-70s, while everything was in flux, and people were just trying to understand how to be in the world. In actuality, the film is timeless with its themes, making an excellent time capsule of a picture that came from an era of film, that is so universally well regarded. 70s cinema might just be the best decade of American cinema, and NIGHT MOVES is one of the best films to come from that time and place.

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STEVEN LAMBERT: From Reel to Real by Kent Hill

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Steven Lambert has crafted what is, the apotheosis of a war chest of cinematic tales, told in such a vivaciously detailed manor . . . you crave each and every page. It was staggering to read this man’s life and his journey from the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, to the Mount Olympus of the movies.

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Buckle up for what has to be the wildest tell-all, behind the scenes peek into movie history, bursting at the seams with an incredible life, never before told. A self-proclaimed “punk kid”, Lambert trained in the martial arts before becoming an in-demand stuntman in the final golden age of Hollywood, rising from glory to glory, working with and beside screen legends such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Ford, Al Pacino and James Woods.

Lambert relates such staggering exploits – putting his life on the line for death-defying stunts in films such as Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, where he literally hung from the Statue of Liberty without a harness, doubling Sho Kosugi, the original screen ninja, in films such as Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination. He witnessed the meltdowns and bad behavior from Nicolas Cage and Sean Penn on Racing With the Moon while doubling Penn. And, last but not least, “THE TRUTH” behind the Gene LeBell and Steven Seagal showdown on the set of Out for Justice.

But it’s not just action stars on offer . . . no . . . film-making masters also feature: such as Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, and Roland Emmerich – plus the infamous producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the infamous Cannon Group.

He’s heard and seen it all – from Chuck Norris to Charlton Heston. I personally could chat to Steve for days, but I’m honored to have been given the time I had, and was humbled to read his utterly absorbing tome that is so packed with awesomeness, you just gotta get out there and get it! From the Streets of Brooklyn, to the Halls of Hollywood – NOW!

(See link below)

GET STEVE’S BOOK HERE:

Simon West’s The General’s Daughter

The General’s Daughter is one of those films that’s well acted and staged enough from a technical standpoint that the excessive, overcooked script, self righteous snark and needlessly perverse plot could almost be forgiven. Almost. This is a lurid, sweaty southern gothic military murder mystery, and as amazing as that sounds, it’s actually quite an unpleasant piece to sit through. Based on a book by Nelson DeMille (crown prince of airport novel thrillers), and directed by Simon West (Con Air), it’s given the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the nuance of a rogue missile. At least the acting is decent, starting with jumped up John Travolta as a private investigator called to a military base after the daughter of a powerful General (James Cromwell) is found dead on the property in… a compromising way. The suspects are lined up neatly like ducklings and include the General’s faithful aide (Clarence Williams III), an arrogant high ranking officer (James Woods, practically assaulting the dialogue), another officer on base (Timothy Hutton) who went to Westpoint with her and naturally the General himself. Travolta is joined by another investigator (Madeleine Stowe) who he has a romantic history with, because of course he does. They’re threatened by unseen assailants here and there, and stalled by a local redneck Sheriff (the late Daniel Von Bargen) who has it in for him. The investigation gets so weird, convoluted and messed up that it’s a wonder the writers could even keep track of their own work when scotch taping the third act together. When the inevitable flashbacks show up to tell us just what happened to her, we wish we didn’t know. The poor girl, played by Leslie Stefanson, is humiliated, brutalized and murdered in a way that’s miles beyond bad taste, totally unnecessary to show in graphic detail other than for the film to reiterate what a miserable display of ‘too much’ it is in every category. The scene doesn’t even stand to serve her character arc either, as we’re informed she has a history in S&M type shit. The depravity is there simply to exist on its own and turns a relatively run of the mill thriller into something deranged. It’s a spectacle, you won’t be bored, it’s well mounted and acted by a solid cast, but is it a good film? Nowhere close.

-Nate Hill

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact

Robert Zemeckis’s Contact is a periodically good film that suffers from over-length, clutter and sideshow syndrome, as in it doesn’t trust itself to stick to the effective core story without throwing in all sorts of other hoo-hah just for for the sheer hell of it. At two and a half hours it feels more stretched than Bilbo did before leaving the Shire, and would have been way better off slicing out a good half hour to streamline. What does work is really captivating though, especially a fantastic Jodie Foster in a performance of striking determination as a woman who never loses the sense of wonder she had as a child, and strives to make contact with anyone that may be out there in the vast universe. Of course her efforts meet budget cuts, skepticism and sneers from the government and fellow colleagues like Tom Skeritt’s prestigious researcher, a sadly one note character whose allegiance turns on a dime when she actually receives a message from a faraway galaxy. Speaking of one note characters, get a load of chest puffing James Woods as an obnoxious NSA prick with all the depth a kitchen sink has to offer. John Hurt fares better as an eccentric billionaire who offers Foster funding and support, as does always terrific David Morse as her father. Matthew McConaughey is sorely miscast as a spiritual man and love interest, William Fichtner is excellent as her loyal colleague and friend, Jena Malone great as nine year old Jodie Foster, while Jake Busey, Angela Bassett and a whole armada of unnecessary tabloid celebrity cameos show up too, leading right up to Bill Clinton, who I’m convinced is an alien himself. The thing is, so much of the film is just commotion and nonsense, geared towards wowing audiences instead of trusting the fact that they’ll be at ease with just Foster’s story, which is the connective tissue. The elaborate and drawn construction of a machine based on alien blueprints, pesky religious extremists, theological fanfare that falls flat and incessant faux tv newsreel footage that buzzes around like unwanted house flies and kills the atmosphere, there’s too much in the way. My favourite scene of the film takes place somewhere deep in the universe Foster has travelled to through a wormhole, in which a mysterious being tells her that “human beings are capable of such beautiful dreams, and such terrible nightmares”, a sentiment that parts the clouds and gives the story clarity, as does her arc, relationship with her father and desire to know what’s out there, who we are as a race and where we came from, and it’s in that wonder that the film finds its strength. Much of the rest is just lame earthbound noise.

-Nate Hill

Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye


Cat’s Eye is Stephen King’s stab at the Twilight Zone, anthology formula, and a damn fine one at that. Just this side of horror, it’s a trio of weird and wacky tales as seen through the eyes of a meandering stray cat who manages to get itself tangled up in each thread. I’ve always marvelled at how they get animals to behave or sit still long enough to do a take and make it look realistic, but I guess that’s why they’re the movie magicians. This kitty fared well and even has a recognizable little personality of it’s own as it navigates each freaky scenario. The first segment sees a jittery James Woods enlist the help of an unorthodox ‘Doctor’ (Alan King knows just how over the top this satirical fare needs to be and goes there) and his… interesting methods of helping people to quit smoking. I won’t say more but this first third of the film feels the most like Twilight Zone in it’s borderline surreal mentality, and is a lot of fun. The middle segment is a hard boiled, vertigo inducing tale of a whacked out gangster (serial scenery chewer Kenneth McMillan in top form), tormenting his wife’s lover (Airplane’s Robert Hayes) in a Las Vegas high rise, whilst the cat looks on and contributes it’s own helping to the mischief. The third story sees an adorable Drew Barrymore adopt the poor stray, only for it to have to fight off a vicious little goblin thing that’s taken up residence in her room. This one is the most simplistic and closest to horror one finds in these three stories, and while a bit underwritten when compare to the others, is definitely the most visually engaging. All together they’re classic warped King, set to a hazy Alan Silvestri score and supported by a screenplay by the King himself. Great stuff. 

-Nate Hill

The Specialist: A Review by Nate Hill 

The Specialist is everything that action was about in the 90’s, and simply one of the most exhilarating Stallone flicks out there. This is the type of early career stuff he tried to infuse into his meta action extravaganza The Expendables, and while fun, those films always seemed like a mimicry of original gold like this, trying a little too hard to recreate feelings from a bygone era. This one is right up there with Nighthawks and Rambo as one of his best, despite a lukewarm reputation that has long since settled. You can’t even find a decent dvd of it, which is kind of sad. Sly plays Ray Quick, an ex explosives special ops tough guy who turned in his talents after a falling out with former livewire partner Ned Trent (a rabid James Woods) resulted in needless bloodshed. He spends his days moping around Miami until his services are once more required, by a woman in trouble. Sharon Stone is mysterious May Munro, whose entire family were slaughtered when she was but a young’n hiding in the closet. The mustache twirlers responsible are Cuban mafia don Joe Leon (Rod Steiger juggles his accent like three filing cabinets) and his brash, violent son Tomas (Eric Roberts, never scummier). They have anticipated Ray’s involvement though, and as soon as bombs start decimating their lovely beachfront nightclubs, they hire none other than (guess who) James Woods, now a berserker of a freelance mercenery, to hunt our hero down. It’s big, bold and full of explosions, machismo, gunfights and old school bad boys doing what they do best. Woods nearly walks off with the whole film in a performance so robust it almost outshines the pyrotechnics themselves. Stallone dispatches hordes of baddies using both fists and fancy C-4 gadgetry, bringing home the action bacon enough to sate the fans. Using the sweaty, neon spattered locales of Miami as a playground for these heightened characters to leer at one another and blow everything to smithereens, the filmmakers have forged what I consider to be one of the best in the genre for the decade. 

BEST SELLER – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Best Seller (1987) is an example of an odd convergence of talent with a screenplay penned by B-movie schlockmeister Larry (It’s Alive) Cohen, directed by journeyman crime film director John (Rolling Thunder) Flynn, and starring A-list talent like James Woods and Brian Dennehy. The key to enjoying this film is if you can swallow Cohen’s pulpy B-movie nonsense: a slick, corporate hitman convinces a hard-boiled police detective, and sometimes author, to write his memoirs. Once you get past this rather odd premise, Best Seller is quite enjoyable to watch, especially the interplay between the two lead actors who do their best to sell the film’s set-up.

Flynn’s no-nonsense, self-assured direction quickly establishes itself in the film’s prologue set in Los Angeles circa 1972 with an ill-fated bank heist. There are some nice touches in this sequence, like the lone bum sleeping on the steps of the building that is about to be robbed, and all of the crooks wearing Richard Nixon masks (anticipating the Ex-Presidents in Point Break). A cop named Dennis Meechum (Brian Dennehy) barely survives the heist (although, a couple of his fellow officers aren’t so lucky) and goes on to write a best-selling book about the incident.

Fifteen years later, Meechum has graduated to undercover work, despite being a high-profile author in his spare time (?!), busting bad guys. During one case he’s almost killed if not for the last minute intervention by an enigmatic stranger. We are given a little insight into this cop. He’s a widower raising a teenage daughter (Allison Balson), facing lots of unpaid bills, and has missed the last four deadlines on his latest book. He’s not quite the burn-out cop that Nick Nolte was known for playing in the 1980s but he’s stuck in a rut.

Meechum finally meets the mystery man known as Cleve (James Woods) who proceeds to pitch an idea for a new book about his life and the dirty work he did for tycoon David Madlock (David Shenar) and his company Kappa International. During one of their meetings, Cleve lays it all out for a skeptical Meechum: “Corporations deal in two things, period: assets and liabilities. I removed the liabilities and I provided some assets.” It turns out that Cleve was in on the bank heist back in ’72 and helped Madlock get his start. However, he’s had a falling out with the businessman and wants to expose his corrupt enterprise with Meechum’s help. And so, Cleve and Meechum form an uneasy partnership that is volatile at best as the hitman attempts to back-up his wild claims to the understandably wary cop.

James Woods had quite a run in the ‘80s with intense performances in films like Salvador (1986), Cop (1987) and True Believer (1989). He’s in fine form here as an ultra-confident killer. His best moments are when he tries to convince Brian Dennehy’s cop of some of the people he murdered for Kappa International. Woods brings his customary intensity to these scenes and a certain reptilian charm as a corporate assassin. Cleve really isn’t a nice guy – in fact’s he’s an arrogant prick – but Woods manages to get us to like him anyways because the actor is so charismatic in his own right.

Woods plays well off of Dennehy’s variation of the cop he portrayed in F/X (1986). He’s not as rumpled and still has his issues but there’s the same sharp intellect. Meechum plans to string Cleve along until he gives him enough evidence to bust him and get some much deserved payback for the ’72 bank job. While Woods is all wiry intensity, Dennehy is a solid, imposing figure with his stocky figure. Most of the film’s best scenes involve watching these two top notch actors bounce off each other.

This is evident in a scene where Cleve tries to pick up a woman at a bar and gets into it with her date only for the guy to be put in his place by Meechum. Just one look by Dennehy makes the man back down. I know I wouldn’t want to mess with someone like Dennehy. Cleve demonstrates his considerable willpower (and threshold for pain) and, in doing so, reveals a part of his past that sets off Meechum. The tension between the two characters in this scene is tangible and ups the ante in their relationship.

Cleve’s crusade against his former corporate handlers is Larry Cohen’s blatant attack on corporate greed so prevalent in the “Greed is good” decade. Cohen wrote the screenplay, reportedly based loosely on Los Angeles cop Joseph Wambaugh, who tried to remain on the police force after several of his novels became best-sellers, in 1981 for Columbia Pictures but it was stuck in development hell due to a change in management. Orion Pictures eventually picked it up. Flynn rewrote Cohen’s script but was unable to get credit because he failed to prove to the Writers Guild of America that he had written 51% of it. The film was originally called Hard Cover but was changed to Best Seller in post-production as the former title didn’t test well with preview audiences. At the time of the film’s release, Cohen said, “I think the idea of being a killer for a major corporation was a little bizarre seven years ago. But time has caught up with the story when we’re reading all these stories about corruption in big business and corruption in Wall Street and the craziness in Washington.” Cleve’s ruthless tactics for Kappa International are meant to show just how far corporations are willing to go to exert their influence and power. It is this commentary that elevates Best Seller above your typical crime thriller – that, and the performances of Woods and Dennehy.

Best Seller
was backed by Orion, an independent studio that pushed through all sorts of fascinating cinematic gems in the ‘80s, from efforts by auteurs like Woody Allen, to genre fare like RoboCop (1987). None of the major studios would’ve touched pulpy material like this and it’s a shame because a film like this has become scarce in the 2000s. The film does a good job delivering the requisite genre conventions under John Flynn’s workman-like direction and the television cop show production values only add to the tawdry B-movie vibe. Best Seller is certainly no masterpiece but it is a solid piece of entertainment and one of those underappreciated gems from the ‘80s waiting to be rediscovered.