Tag Archives: Jean Reno

THE ‘HIT’ MAN: An Interview with Dominik Starck by Kent Hill

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Dominik Starck is a cool guy who loves and makes movies. That’s a man I’m down for spending some time with – so I did. His new movie, The Hitman Agency, is a complex nest of intrigue, danger, action and redemption. Throw those altogether and you have a great blend that tastes a little like something we’ve had before – yet it’s flavored by Mr. Starck’s unashamed passion for his many cinematic influences as well as the sheer joy he has being a filmmaker.

Most of us, at one time or another, who make fatal decision to go off and pursue a career as an artist, are met with the inevitable speech for our parents which carries the immortal lines like, “You’ll never make any money,” or “Why don’t you get a real job.”

Now Dominik tried that – he tried to deny the fire inside, the voice telling him he wasn’t doing what he was meant to be doing. He wasn’t, as the Bard would say, to thy own self being true.  So he started doing what he had to do, and, for my money, what he does well – he started making movies.

“Making an indie film is close to being a hitman; choose your goal, aim and go after it no matter the obstacles. And like assassinations, it’s a hit and miss with movies. I consider our movie the latter but it’s up to the target audience to decide if that’s the truth or not,” says Starck, the writer/director. While the German independent production by Starck Entertainment and R.J. Nier Films is represented by distributor Generation X Group GmbH at the film market in Cannes (May 8th to 17th) for international sales, the US audience is the first to be able to watch THE HITMAN AGENCY on Amazon.com where it’s available for rent and buy.

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This movie is the directorial debut of writer/producer Dominik Starck who previously worked on the award winning mercenary action film ATOMIC EDEN, starring Blaxploitation legend Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas (RENEGADE). While being a deliberately different type of movie, THE HITMAN AGENCY features a special appearance by 11 time kickboxing champion Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson from BLOODFIST-fame. Starring American-born Erik Hansen (THE COUNTESS) and LA-based Everett Ray Aponte (ATOMIC EDEN) as competing hitmen from different ends of their assassin-careers, THE HITMAN AGENCY is a character-driven conspiracy-thriller with twists and turns, spiced with some martial arts outbreaks and assassinations. Shot on locations in Germany in English with more blood, sweat, and tears than a real budget, this underdog movie is proof to the phrase that nothing can stop you from making a movie when you really want it. Not even in Germany where there’s no platform for genre films at all.

Like I said at the top, Dominik is a cool guy and a cool filmmaker. He was worried about his English before we spoke but I tell you now as I told him then – “his English is as beautiful as his film-making.” Seek out THE HITMAN AGENCY… (follow the link below)

https://www.amazon.com/Hitman-Agency-Everett-Ray-Aponte/dp/B07BY5Y1XL

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Knights be Damned: An Interview with Silvio Simac by Kent Hill

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Knights of the Damned is a film of a type you don’t see much of any more. When I was a kid there were fantasy films by the country mile – with titles including Wizards of the Lost Kingdom, Sword of the Valiant, Hawk the Slayer, The Archer, Zu Warriors, Knight of the Dragon.

But then, like the Western before them, they dried up and have henceforth become sporadic and fleeting. Knights of the Damned marks a return which sees the fantasy genre clash with the zombie phenomena in a film which sees a band of returning nights having to fight their way back to the castle of their sovereign lord through dragons, sirens and dark alchemy which has caused the dead to rise and stalk the living.

It is an exciting throwback to those fantasy films I know and love, as well as being something fresh and a little bit different. So, thrilled I was to speak with the star of show, Silvio Simac. And, thrilled was I to learn that KOTD is the first installment in an epic trilogy. Silvio is no doubt a future action movie notable and comes to the Damned with a CV of great roles in a vast array of high-concept cinema.

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So, for all you fantasy lovers out there that secretly yearn for a return to the heady days of high adventure – I won’t spoil it for you – check out Knights of the Damned now, and press play to listen to a fun interview with one of the knights most bold from days of old, whose mighty sword slashes the heads of those undead . . .

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(Courtesy of Kung-Fu Kingdom.com)

Silvio Simac is a Croatian-born British martial artist and actor who has enjoyed a long and varied three decade career with some outstanding achievements. These include being (multi-time) British, European and World Taekwondo champion. Aside from TKD, Silvio holds black belts in Choi Kwang Do, kickboxing, karate and combat self-defence. Having starred in numerous movies with such action superstars as Jet Li, Scott Adkins, Kane Kosugi and Jason Statham he also regularly attends martial arts and health-oriented seminars and conferences alongside such friends as Benny The Jet, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, Don Wilson, Shannon Lee and many more! Silvio is widely respected by his peers for being a fount of martial arts knowledge and experience on training techniques, nutrition and philosophy; he remains a hardcore student of life, happily sharing and communicating what he’s learned with ease, covering those details that can be so easily overlooked by other teachers in this day and age.

Conceptually Speaking: An Interview with Sylvain Despretz by Kent Hill

 

Sylvain Despretz really is the personification of honnête homme. And he has been a man of the world since an early age. Travel was a part of his life; the other constant being his love of the cinema.

He is an artist of great style and skill and after his schooling he worked as an art director for a top Madison Avenue agency then moved on to illustrating Graphic Novels in California under the mentoring of the internationally famed artist Moebius. From there he would set out upon what would become and astonishing career as a story board artist and conceptual designer.

 

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His work you’ll have seen, gracing the screen in a myriad of films in a variety of genres. Movies like Gladiator, Alien Resurrection, Panic Room, The Fountain, (Tim Burton’s) Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. These including work on Don’t tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and the coming Luc Besson sci-fi extravaganza: Valerian. He has worked with  and on films directed by the true masters of the screen including Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

But, as you will hear, Sylvain has become disenchanted by the current repetitive nature of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter output. He is now driven by the notion that the only way to usher in change, is to be part of a creative revolution that places an emphasis on original voices instead of corporate responsibility.

 

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To this end he is now embarking on a journey that will see him stepping away from the drawing board and moving behind the camera; bringing his own visions to life using that mysterious blending of industrial light and storytelling magic.

He is a learned Hollywood veteran who has seen the Dream Factory from the inside, and his stories and wealth of knowledge and experience was and is fascinating to experience.

The designer behind the scenes and the future man in the director’s chair, proud am I ladies and gentlemen to present this interview with the one and only, Sylvain Despretz.

VISIT SYLVAIN’S OFFICIAL SITE:

http://www.metaprogram.net/

Hector & The Search For Happiness


I’ve read a lot of reviews for Hector & The Search For Happiness, and there’s a common, and fairly petty gripe that seems to be a theme throughout them, pissing me off no end. In the film, Simon Pegg plays a wealthy psychiatrist with a solid career and a beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike). Deep down though, he feels empty, unfulfilled and as if something is missing, and embarks on a spontaneous, unplanned global voyage to essentially search for the meaning of happiness, or at his own on the smaller scale. Now, a few critics have this whiny sentiment that because he’s well off, stable and lucky in life (I won’t even use the dreaded ‘P’ word), that it’s somehow offensive to see him search for more, or find himself unhappy. He ventures forth to places like Tokyo, L.A. and Africa in his travels and it seems to be some consensus that because he runs into people from third world areas who haven’t been dealt as lucky a hand as he has, materially speaking at least, that he has no right to complain or contest his position or mindset in life. Absolute butthurt. Everyone on this planet, be they billionaires, orphans, middle class mothers, movie stars or refugees, everyone is going through their own private set of problems and inner turmoil, and no one has the right to so blindly insist that some people’s problems, mental and/or material, matter more than others just because they have more money or resources than. The richest, most capable individuals could be going through hell on the inside, and they deserve to be acknowledged and sympathized with just as much as anyone else. Grow up. Now that my rant is over, on to the film, which is somewhat of an oddball and not easy to define, genre-wise. The posters and trailers make it out to be one of those quirky ‘find yourself’ comedy dramas where some plucky misfit goes on a journey, meets various archetypal characters and discovers a bunch about themselves, until the inevitable revelation that caps their story. Well, it is that, and it kind of isn’t as well. It’s certainly structured like that from beginning to end, but at times it gets quite dark, more than merely momentarily, and has far more of a brain in it’s head, both in terms of script and technical execution, than you would see coming. Pegg feels adrift in his profession, smothered by his doting but high maintenance wife and needs that leap into the unknown, which he takes. His first encounter is with a cynical hotshot businessman (Stellen Skarsgard), a man who lives in planes, airports, hotels and nightclubs, filling his time with life’s pleasures and the power of commerce, yet fully aware of what else he’s missing out on, perhaps the reason he is drawn to Pegg’s character. Over to Africa next, where he spends time with relief workers, to see if fulfillment can indeed be found in selflessly aiding others, but things turn intense when he’s captured by scary rebels and somewhat befriends a volatile arms dealer (nice to see Jean Reno, who’s been laying low these days) with a sad secret of his own. His trip takes him to the states, where he reconnects with an old flame (Toni Colette), no doubt allured by the sweet promise of nostalgia, a powerful force that doesn’t always yield happiness when adhered to. A loopy self help guru (Christopher Plummer), Skype sessions with Pike back in England and other encounters beset him, and in the end we wonder what the point of it all was, but this is his journey, not ours. I like that it doesn’t necessarily follow a blueprint that we’re used to, moves forward in fits and starts, meanders a bit, even veering into thriller territory briefly, his path truly an unforeseeable one that could lead anywhere based on chance, timing and the decisions he makes. That’s the mark of a good script, one that surprises and confounds in the best possible of ways, and shirks all labels applied to the final product, arriving on our screens as something just weird enough to be memorable and just this side of accessible in order to not be too much of an off-putting black sheep. Interesting stuff. 

-Nate Hill

The Crimson Rivers: A Review by Nate Hill 

There’s a serial killer loose in a small mountain town located in rural France, and who better to track them down than the country’s two most prolific film actors (or the ones with better physiques than Gerard Depardieu anyway), Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Reno is the seasoned, slightly eccentric Parisian detective, called in to assist and step on the toes of local investigator Cassel, who is too hot headed to realize he could use the help. A body has washed up in a nearby river, mutilated to an unspeakable degree in gruesomely specific ways (think Sev7n on ice). The town just happens to be solely inhabited by the creepy residents of a nearby university that is notorious for incestuous classism and rumours of ties to the occult. You can imagine where this is heading, and it’s fun watching Reno and Cassel follow the bloodstained breadcrumb trail towards increasingly grisly secrets that would test even David Fincher’s gag reflex. Genetic research, mysterious twins (both played by Nadia Fares), and multiple corpses are a few of the hurdles our two heroes encounter. It’s delightfully convoluted, in the best way possible. Some people say that less is more, but I find that makes way for laziness and complacency, two attributes you don’t want to find in the horror/thriller genre. I’d rather a film throw every little brainstorm and margin doodle into the mix, even if it doesn’t all add up, than present a barely filled in canvas that begs for more. The real stunner with this one is a near Bond-esque climax set on a giant glacier overlooking the valley below, full of desperate violence and giddy exposition. You’ll need a strong stomach for the dark places this one ventures to, but it will reward you with crisp cinematography and lurid, blood soaked intrigue. Brutal stuff though. 

Leon The Professional: A Review by Nate Hill

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Leon The Professional is purely and simply one of the best films ever made. From Natalie Portman’s stunning debut performance, to Gary Oldman’s absolutely nightmarish baddie, to Jean Reno’s lovable and eccentric protagonist, it’s a classic, a piece of achingly beautiful cinema that I could watch on the daily and never get tired of. The three actors are the bricks which make the film so special, and Luc Besson’s fluid, sensitive direction is the mortar which holds them together. Portman is simply miraculous in her first film role as Matilda, a young girl whose entire family is murdered by psychotic DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Oldman). Highly introverted assassin Leon (Reno), takes pity and allows the orphaned girl into his home and his life. Matilda is a strange girl whose specific idiosyncrasies both clash and amusinly interact with Leon’s. He is an exile of sorts as well, with a tragic past and not a whole lot going on in his life besides the contracts he carries out for kindly, paternal mobster Tony (a phenomenal Danny Aiello). Leon and Matilda makes an interesting team; she is brash, unfiltered and lively, he is reserved, awkward and deafeningly quiet, resulting in unique character building and bonding that Besson handles wonderfully. Now, there’s two versions of this film, because apparantly American people can’t handle slightly taboo undertones, even when they’re handled in a caring and tasteful manner. You definitely want to see the longer, European cut which has some interesting scenes that crackle with sexual tension on Portman’s part. Yes, she’s twelve years old, at a very confusing crossroads of her life, the stark black and white mindset of a child dissolving into the very ambiguous and complex psyche of a woman. She believes she loves Leon, and he handles her advances in a way that requires maturity and intuition that he never had to begin with, but rises to the occasion. Call these scenes what you will, but there’s no denying their esential place in the film’s complete story, and to censor them for the sake of prudeness is a straight up crime. Matilda wants revenge against Stansfield and his team, which means going up against his wrath, and also means Portman sharing some incredible scenes with a voracious Oldman. Oh, Gary. This is his final form, the most terrifying villain in his stable, a flamboyant, deranged lunatic that one can scarce believe ever was allowed to be a cop. There’s a fairy tale esque feel to the film, where the bad guys do what they want in the urban forest, never in uniform and free to roam, kill and terrorize with the full might of the NYPD at their dastardly disposal. Oldman is the Joker on mescaline, and in fact Stansfield pops mysterious pills from a little casket, when he’s not murdering people while listening to Beethoven. He’s loud, scary, stylish and animalistic, so intense one feels like his very presence will melt the tv screen. Portman is so superb it’s hard to believe this was so early on in her career. In my mind she did her best work right out of the gate, in this film. Matilda is wise for her years, which she uses to mask the gulf of vulnerability residing in her, a hallmark trait found in children from abusive households. The family and friendship she finds with Leon strengthens her as as human being, and we start to see the emerging person she will continue to grow up to be. Natalie displays all of this uncannily well, and is the bruised, beating heart at the centre oft the film. Reno sells the eccentricities (Leon loves golden age Hollywood musicals) and sorrowful resolve of Leon so well, taking a character that is all action and very little talk, and speaking volumes with both body language and silence which, take it from me, is tough stuff. Besson, whether directing a quiet, introspective scene or a balletic action sequence, gives everything a stylized, earthy quality that makes the film stand out amongst other action ventures. You could spend a billion dollars on production design, but it all comes down to the human element behind the wheel, and if you don’t have a director, cast and team that has the current running through them to create something special, all those dollars go out the window. This one has all of that, and is a solid gold classic.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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A lot was riding on Mission: Impossible (1996) for Tom Cruise. Not only was it the first film he produced (in addition to starring), it was also his first attempt to kick start his own film franchise. And what better way to do this than resurrecting a classic television show from the 1960s? Cruise, always the calculated risk taker, wisely surrounded himself with talented people: Robert Towne co-wrote the screenplay, Brian De Palma directing and the likes of Jon Voight, Jean Reno, and Vanessa Redgrave in the cast. At the time, the James Bond franchise was in a transitional period and didn’t produce a new film until the following year. Mission: Impossible was a huge box office success spawning a franchise that continues to produce installments.

Jim Phelps (Voight) leads his group of IMF agents on a mission to intercept Alexander Golitsyn (Marcel Iures), a traitorous attaché, who has stolen a list of the code names for all of the CIA operatives in Europe. He plans to steal the other half of the list with their real names from an embassy in Prague. One by one, members of the team are killed off by mysterious assailants. Only Ethan Hunt (Cruise) survives the bungled mission and rendezvous later with his superior, Kittridge (a wonderfully twitchy Henry Czerny) in a restaurant. Over the course of their conversation, Ethan realizes that he was set-up and that another team was shadowing his own. Kittridge reveals that the embassy debacle was actually an elaborate scheme to expose a traitor within the IMF organization and he believes that it is Ethan and that he also killed his entire team.

De Palma conveys Ethan’s growing sense of paranoia and panic in this scene through increasingly skewed camera angles as the magnitude of what has happened begins to sink in. Henry Czerny plays the scene beautifully as Kittridge talks to Ethan as a parent might scold a child. The conversation between them culminates with a daring escape as Ethan causes a large aquarium to explode, using the ensuing chaos to make his getaway. This scene was Cruise’s idea. There were 16 tons of water in all of the tanks but there was a concern that when they blew, a lot of glass would fly around. De Palma tried the sequence with a stuntman but it did not look convincing and he asked Cruise to do it despite the possibility that the actor could have drowned.

Ethan regroups at a safe house where he meets Claire (Emmanuelle Beart), another surviving member of his team. He must find out who set him up and retrieve the list. To aid him in his endeavor, Ethan enlists the help of Claire and two other disavowed agents (Ving Rhames and Jean Reno). The film really gets going once Cruise hooks up with Reno and Rhames (playing an ace hacker no less) and they decide to break into CIA headquarters for what is Mission: Impossible’s most famous set piece. This impressively staged sequence is cheekily dubbed the “Mount Everest of hacks” by Ethan and is masterfully orchestrated by De Palma. The heart of this sequence is nearly soundless proving that one doesn’t need a ton of explosions and gunfire to have an exciting, tension-filled action sequence (Michael Bay take note).

Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the television series and had tried for years to make a film version but had failed to come up with a viable treatment. Cruise was a fan of the show since he was young and thought that it would be a good idea for a film. The actor chose Mission: Impossible to be the first project of his new production company and convinced Paramount to put up a $70 million budget. Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner worked on a story with filmmaker Sydney Pollack for a few months when the actor hired Brian De Palma to direct. They went through two screenplay drafts that no one liked. The screenwriting team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) wrote a draft and then David Koepp (The Shadow) was reportedly paid $1 million to rewrite it. According to one project source, there were problems with dialogue and story development. However, the basic plot remained intact. De Palma brought in screenwriter Steve Zaillian (A Civil Action) and finally Robert Towne to work on the script. According to the director, the goal of the script was to “constantly surprise the audience.”

Amazingly, even with all of these talented screenwriters working on it, the film went into pre-production without a script that the filmmakers wanted to use. De Palma designed the action sequences but neither Koepp nor Towne were satisfied with the story that would make these sequences take place. Towne helped organize a beginning, middle and end to hang story details on while De Palma and Koepp worked on the plot. The director convinced Cruise to set the first act of the film in Prague, a city rarely seen in Hollywood films at the time. Reportedly, studio executives wanted to keep the film’s budget in the $40-$50 million range but Cruise wanted a “big, showy action piece” that took the budget up to the $70 million range.

The script that Cruise approved called for a final showdown to take place on top of a moving train. The actor wanted to use the famously fast French train the TGV but rail authorities did not want any part of the stunt performed on their trains. When that was no longer a problem, the track was not available. De Palma visited railroads on two continents trying to get permission. Cruise took the train owners out to dinner and the next day they were allowed to use it. For the actual sequence, the actor wanted wind that was so powerful that it could knock him off the train. Cruise had difficulty finding the right machine that would create the wind velocity that would look visually accurate before remembering a simulator he used while training as a skydiver. The only machine of its kind in Europe was located and acquired. Cruise had it produce winds up to 140 miles per hour so it would distort his face. Most of the sequence, however, was filmed on a stage against a blue screen for later digitizing by the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic.

The filmmakers delivered Mission: Impossible on time and under budget with Cruise doing most of his own stunts. Initially, there was a sophisticated opening sequence that introduced a love triangle between Phelps, his wife Claire and Ethan that was removed because it took the test audience “out of the genre,” according to De Palma. There were rumors that Cruise and De Palma did not get along and they were fueled by the director excusing himself at the last moment from scheduled media interviews before the film’s theatrical release.

In some scenes, Cruise has a tendency to over-emote, like when Ethan is reunited with Claire after their entire team has been wiped out. Sleep deprived and paranoid, Ethan yells at Claire, “They’re dead! They’re all dead!” It’s an embarrassing bit of overacting on Cruise’s part but the actor redeems himself somewhat later on in a cheeky bit of acting when he cons Reno over a CD of vital information through a clever display of sleight of hand.

The film’s overriding theme is one of deception, a world where nothing is what it seems. The prologue has a disguised Ethan trick a captive man into giving up a name of a key operative. This is only one of many disguises (created by make-up legend Rob Bottin) he adopts throughout the film in order to obtain information or trick an opponent. The prologue also cleverly serves as a metaphor for filmmaking. The spy trade, like cinema, is all about creating an illusion and pretending to be something that you’re not. In addition, several members of his team are not who they appear to be as well and this keeps the audience guessing as to who is “good” and who is “bad.”

mi_still02The common complaint leveled at Mission: Impossible was that it was hard to follow, fueling speculation that De Palma’s original cut was non-linear in nature and that Cruise re-cut it after disastrous test screenings. Regardless, if one is paying attention to what is happening and what is being said (or not being said, in some cases) it isn’t difficult to navigate the film’s narrative waters. The script is lean and unusually well-written for a big budget action blockbuster, which is quite amazing when you consider how many writers worked on it. Make no mistake about it; this is a paycheck film for De Palma. However, being the consummate professional that he is, the veteran director still delivers an entertaining film with some nice stylistic flourishes. What more could you ask for from this kind of film?