Tag Archives: Jennifer Connelly

Keith Gordon’s Waking The Dead

Year after year I keep coming back to Keith Gordon’s Waking The Dead, a spellbinding, haunting political romance with supernatural undertones and a dreamlike atmosphere that sustains attentions for the duration of a love story unlike any other. The film is virtually unheard of and fairly hard to find, I feel like it was intended as a much bigger release and meant to gain notoriety for years to come, but one of the studios involved either shut down or went bankrupt and as a result the film has been snowed over and left in obscurity. While somewhat a shame, I kind of like it’s hidden gem status, a buried treasure of a story waiting to be discovered and recommended to new viewers. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly have never been better as Fielding Pierce and Sarah Williams, two star crossed lovers who couldn’t be cut from more different cloth. He’s an upstanding potential congressman who leans towards conservatism, she’s a fiery activist who champions the downtrodden and wants nothing to do with the system that’s grooming him for power. The film opens with a stab to the heart as he observes news footage of her death in South America, and right away it’s made clear that this will be a fractured, bittersweet romance told out of space and time. There’s always that one girl you can’t let go or shake the memory of, and as he goes about his political campaign sometime in the 80’s, he’s haunted by her memory to the point where he believes he sees her everywhere, like a ghost refusing to rest. Is he projecting his unresolved heartbreak into waking dreams of her? Did she somehow survive after all and has now resurfaced? The film approaches this dilemma in a solemn, slightly ambiguous way, never giving the viewer what they want but somehow feeling satisfactory in the resolution, albeit devastating to the emotions once we become invested. Speaking of that, we get to know them through interspersed flashbacks to the late 60’s as they meet, fall in love and experience their radically different views as obstacles in the relationship. The film posits that no matter how different or from opposite sides of the tracks two people are, if the love is there then it’s simply there, and sometimes not even death can have anything to say about it. Crudup and Connelly are knockouts here in two of the most overlooked performances of the century, playing these two as intelligent, fiercely independent beings who know that finding each other has changed the both of them forever in ways they’ve still yet to experience. They circle each other like two stars and are surrounded by a galaxy of perfectly pitched supporting talent including Janet McTeer as his worried sister, Stanley Anderson as his compassionate father, Paul Hipp as his wayward brother who hopes to gain a green card for his Korean girlfriend (Sandra Oh), Hal Holbrook, John Carroll Lynch, Molly Parker and uh… Ed Harris too, who Skypes in a bafflingly brief cameo. The film opens with Joni Mitchell’s A Case Of You, closes with Peter Gabriel’s Mercy Streets and is filled to the brim with an elemental original score by TomAndAndy that is at once spooky, unconventional and ethereal. This is one of the ultimate love stories, a tragedy gilded by ghostly implications, anchored by the two brilliant lead performances that inhabit a slightly monochrome, gorgeously black and white-esque visual realm and tell a story for the ages of love found, lost and remembered again. One of the all time ‘best films you’ve never seen’ films and I really hope it gets more traction and love as the years continue.

-Nate Hill

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Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is an odd one, a film that I enjoyed for the fact that it somewhat cuts ties to the biblical tale it bases itself on and does it’s own thing. The style and tone are so out of place and out of time that one could almost imagine this being set sometime far, far in the future instead of the distant past. Aronofsky introduced a very earthy, tactile and nature based aesthetic with his film The Fountain (which is my favourite film ever made), and he explores it further here, with time-lapse photography of plants growing, barren landscapes that suggest either a very young planet earth or a very old one and simple, elemental costumes that could be of both ancient ilk or post apocalyptic fashion. The story is quite literally as old as time, and given new life by a fantastic cast of actors starting with Russell Crowe as Noah, a man jaded by humanity and conflicted by forces beyond his own understanding. Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman and others play his family, one of whom knocks up Emma Watson, causing quite the controversy when the almighty creator commands Noah to build that ark before the monsoons come. Anthony Hopkins is the prophet Methuselah, and Ray Winstone’s Tubal Cain a rough hewn archetype of all of our worst qualities as a race. Coolest of all might are Frank Langhella, Mark Margolis, Frank Oz and Nick Nolte as some ancient looking stone golems who are actually angels sent down by the creator to shepherd humans when needed. It’s funny because Nolte is so grizzled and rugged in his old age these days he probably could have just played the role in person instead of voiceover, but as it stands the special effects used to bring them to life are spectacular, a standard that holds throughout the film from landscapes, props, wildlife and general visual mood. Now, I can never get behind Christian films or take them seriously, so it’s a good thing that Aronofsky remains at arm’s length from the religious stuff and takes a more mythological approach to the story in the sense that this could be happening in any world or universe, and isn’t tied down to one theology. Not a perfect film, but the arresting visuals, fantastic cast and overarching message of love and reverence for life in all forms make it something special.

-Nate Hill

Dario Argento’s Phenomena

Dario Argento’s Phenomena isn’t one you usually see in a greatest hits list offhand from the oddball Italian horror-meister, but it ranks number two for me in his filmography. Set in the already spooky, airy Swiss Alps, this one sees a very young Jennifer Connelly and her classmates at a boarding school terrorized by an unseen killer who, like in most Argento films, just loves to stab people with super sharp objects in excessive closeup. Connelly has a special power and affinity for insects, which comes in handy when she meets entomologist McGregor (the lovely Donald Pleasance), his pet chimpanzee and they try to snare the killer using their own keen instincts and that of the vast collection of bugs in his care. It’s a unique, eclectic setup for a horror flick, but what’s interesting here is the outright horror and nastiness doesn’t even show up until the hectic, gross out final act. Most of the film is like an atmospheric, eerie fairy tale. Connelly is a darkly radiant beauty and you can practically see the effortless star-power percolating even at the age of fifteen. This film is unique in Argento’s career for several reasons; he takes full enjoyment and advantage of the setting here, the cavernous, looming alps and vast, flower speckled fields of Switzerland provide a more nature themed, organic palette here than his usually urban choice of old European cities and historic edifices, it’s a switch up that works quite well. Mostly though this one is notable for a sense of compassion that isn’t there in any of his other films, brought in by kind eyed Pleasence and his friendship with Connelly. As per usual, some of the acting, pacing and continuity is really off balance here, but that has become an Argento trademark and you kind of have to just roll with it at this point, the guy’s forte has always been atmosphere, music and the feeling behind what’s onscreen, not so much the logic of plot or realism in performance. Speaking of music, this also has to have the coolest soundtrack he’s ever amassed. Not only is there an electrifying, thunderous synth score by Goblin and Claudio Simonetti with a very lyrical, dreamlike vibe, we’re also treated to original rock compositions by the likes of Motörhead and Iron Maiden, making it one of the most collectively memorable soundtracks out there. There’s another cut of this film called ‘Creepers’, but it’s awkwardly edited down by chunks and loses all the magic, so don’t even go near it. The Anchor Bay DVD is the way to go. One of Argento’s best, and a gem amongst horror films.

-Nate Hill

ALEX PROYAS: An Interview with Kent Hill

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Dark City was (and is still) an incredible experience when it arrived in theatres – albeit in a form which didn’t accurately reflect the director’s vision.

Yet the power of the film is undeniable. Thinking about it and revisiting it makes me sad in many ways. In part because original films that tell stories that are fun, entertaining and with unique complexity are few and a galaxy far, far away in between. In the age of streamlined, market-researched, great score on Rotten Tomatoes-type movies, we see few, if any, interesting tales told from personal places as opposed to a facsimile of what’s trending well at the moment.

Director ALEX PROYAS on the set of KNOWING, a Summit Entertainment release.

Enter the cinema of Alex Proyas. Be it low budget or big-time-blockbuster, Alex injects his work with a very distinct style, a mastery of cinematic arts along with a passion for the story he is bringing to a theatre near you. But what I found most intriguing is that there is a price for everything in the market place. A toll which one must pay on many levels as a concept makes the arduous journey from script to screen.

Alex has fought many battles both while making the movies he wants to make, but also after the film is taken out of the camera and projected for your viewing pleasure. And, personally, I feel it is a nonsensical exercise to place hurdle after hurdle in front of the artists giving their all to satisfy themselves and we the movie-loving public. A foolish endeavor to hinder the music makers and the dreamers of the dreams – when all they seek to do is take you away from your dreary existence for an hour or two.

Filmmakers have usually already talked about, at great length, the makings of their pictures. So, as much as I love his work, I decided to talk to Alex about the state of movies in general. It is after all, always fascinating to hear the other side of the story. I’ve always been as intrigued by the mechanics of films and the men who make them, as I am with the end result.

It was truly an honor, as it ever is, to have a chat with an artist one admires – Alex Proyas was no exception. A great gentleman, an important filmmaker . . . my dear PTS listeners . . . I give you, Alex Proyas.

Alex Proyas’s Dark City

Alex Proyas’s Dark City is a radiant jewel of sci-fi beauty, madness and mystery, one of the best films of the 90’s, a testament to just what kind of world building is possible using special effects and a textbook example of deep, ponderous ideas one might explore in this area of the medium. It kind of got overshadowed by the release of The Matrix the same year (which is also masterful) and slipped through the cracks a bit, but it managed to hold on and re-emerge with a kind of cult aura around it, a reverie that prompts discussions in hushed tones and friends holding screenings for new generations who haven’t had their minds and eyes blown out of their skulls by the experience just yet. It kind of goes the Blade Runner route by fusing inky black retro noir with startling futurism, albeit less monolithic tech design and something more organic and otherworldly. In a nameless, perpetually nocturnal city, a man named Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a dingy apartment next to a dead hooker, with no memory of who he is or what happened. Chased all through the night by mysterious, pale gentlemen in hats and trench coats, he doesn’t so much try to clear his name as much as find out what his name actually is, and why things have gotten so strange in this city. He’s supposedly got a wife in Emma (Jennifer Connelly has never been sexier), a lounge singer who knows more than she lets on, and wily detective Frank (William Hurt, fantastic) is on his trail too. Then there’s the creepy, wheezing asthmatic Dr. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland playing against type) who has a connection to the trench coat brigade. To give too much away would be criminal, but let’s say that the story goes to some truly mesmerizing and disturbing places that explore far beyond the topical murder mystery of the first act and shake the foundations of the world we see built, rearranged and then completely disassembled right before our eyes. At the heart of the narrative lies perhaps the biggest question ever asked by humans: what are we, where are we and what’s the reason for all this? The film blazes it’s own trail of answers to fit the story, but is no less provocative than those age old quandaries, and there’s a point in the third act (you’ll know when it happens) where the lid is blown off of what these characters think their world is, and it’s like a collective gasp from all the universe, one of the most simultaneously harrowing and tantalizing moments in cinema. Sewell plays it opaque as always, I’ve never really been able to connect with him as an actor, but because his character here has sort of a vacant, blank slate thing going on anyways, it works. Hurt has always had a questioning in his eyes while at work, a tender, inquisitive nature that’s put to the test and then some over the course of his brilliant arc. Connelly has all the stars of the galaxy in her gorgeous eyes and it’s so cool to watch her go from sidelined wife/songstress role into take no prisoners, dark angel mode as she joins the search for truth. As the impending legion of trench coats there’s a handful of varied faces including Ian Richardson, Bruce ‘Gyro Captain’ Spence and the absolutely terrifying Richard O’Brien, who goes down in history as one of the scariest villains on hand here. Director Proyas did the classic The Crow in which another atmospheric metropolis takes centre stage, the man knows how to set us right in the environment and keep eyes rooted to the screen with each and every shot. The disconcerting score by Trevor Jones is a restless jangle that puts forth auditory fragments like half remembered clues from a dream before, adding further to the atmosphere. It’s simply one of the best tales ever told on celluloid, a timeless piece of storytelling that speaks on all levels of consciousness. Oh, and remember Shell Beach.

-Nate Hill

Hey . . . you wrote The Rocketeer: An Interview with Danny Bilson by Kent Hill

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.”

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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.

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.

Here he is folks . . . Danny Bilson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi0Et31E7s4

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Weaving with Magic: An Interview with Ellis Flyte by Kent Hill

Really awesome it is to interview people who have been a part of the cinematic high water marks of one’s life. But this one was special. Several weeks back my beloved wife, Jennifer, was looking at pictures online from the MoPOP (The Museum of Popular Culture): Jim Henson exhibit. She, as am I, is a fan of the worlds created by Henson and particularly thrilled at seeing Sarah’s ball gown from Labyrinth. She said I needed to track down the costume designer and interview her. So I did. Easier said than done right? Well yeah. I admit, I have had ridiculous luck since joining the crew at podcastingthemsofly.com when it has come to tracking down industry professionals for a chat. During the construction of my anthology trilogy Straight to Video, I had prided myself on getting a hold of filmmakers, some of whom I knew, but many I didn’t. Following that, and in starting my on modest publishing business, I tried to keep the magic going – hoping to secure forewords from filmmakers who were willing to read friend’s books and write introductions for them.

I was so happy to do it this time for my wife, who, while she has tastes that differ from mine, we certainly share a bunch of common cinematic favorites of which Labyrinth is one.

So I am proud to present this brief insight into the life of Ellis Flyte, costume designer on Labyrinth and also part of the creative team that brought us that other Henson spectacular, The Dark Crystal. From humble beginnings, she worked in theater and television but also enjoyed success as a fashion designer in demand. Then there came her work with the Henson Company; on two of its crowning glories. She was also, for a time, married to Henson’s son Brian.

Ellis was very generous to lend some of her time to answer a handful of questions on her contribution to a remarkable film.

So through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to present to you, ladies and gentlemen . . . Ellis Flyte.

 

KH: Could you tell us a little of your origins?

EF: In brief, I am Scottish and as a youth spent a lot of time making clothes out of rugs and similar strange fabrics to everyone’s amusement, but primarily wanted to be a ballet dancer. Following a very severe accident I completed my exams at school and left to London to study fashion instead.

KH: What were your creative aspirations? Was working in the fashion industry or film always your dream?

EF: My first employment during college evenings was in theatre in the costume department which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both fashion and costume would be the two key passions for most of my life, and I worked in many great theatres, contemporary dance studios and television. However I was to become more celebrated in those years as a fashion designer, working from my living room in South London, and selling through Liberty and Browns and Harvey Nichols. Later on in my career I would also design and dress actors, singers and celebrity as well as my collections. Both are really all-consuming creative lifestyles with very little time off but you love it so I have no problems with this!

KH: How did you come to work for the Henson Company?  It must have been so incredible to work with Jim Henson; he seems to have been such a vital spark, a creative genius?

EF: I had taken a television job which was coming to an end and I saw an advert to work in film, so I went along for an interview. You can imagine how astonished I was to be asked if I had ever worked on puppets. My first job was as an assistant to Polly Smith, working on the extraordinary “Dark Crystal”. This was of course a Jim Henson film and also the concept of Brian Froud, where I and a large team of the best artists and technicians worked together in various departments creating the special effects vital to the end result. Long hours but so much fun. We shot the film at Elstree.

Following the release of Dark Crystal six of us were asked to design the “Dark Crystal fashion collection” of gowns based on the movie characters which turned into another totally new and exciting project! So as you can see I had already met the genius Jim Henson and loved working in their company!

KH: Tell us about your experience on the production of Labyrinth? Sarah’s masquerade dress in Labyrinth, indeed all the costumes you did, were based on concepts created by you along with Brian Froud?

EF: Labyrinth was considerably later and a joy to be chosen for the position! Yes it is a Jim Henson film and once again the Conceptual Designer was Brian Froud.

He brought to me many sketches of costumes from which my job would be to create and realise the ideas and also introduce new detail or interpretation. My first responsibility would be to David Bowie and to Jennifer Connelly, and then to the surreal costume ball. It has to be said that I employed a large team of people from  pattern cutters and sewing technicians, screen print and dye specialists, special effect creators, jewellery designers and make-up and hair stylists, amongst others, and it is due to their continued hard work, originality and independent skills that we came to the finished product!

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KH: Did the final costumes mirror the concept drawings or we’re the altered as filming commenced, and material did you use? The dress now seems yellowed in photos from the MoPOP exhibit,  is that purely due to age or was that the way it was lit during filming to lend it the ethereal quality of the sequence?

EF: Sarah’s ball gown took a lot of sampling and camera tests to achieve! We wanted her to look like an otherworldly princess and very different to the others at the ball. The ethereal effect was achieved by many secret devices including layers of lace, lame and rainbow paper, spray paint and broken jewels, and then the entire ballroom garments were distressed to look as if they had been dancing forever! Hemlines were broken down and dust was sprayed into the creases – the masks also present a sinister look to the event don’t they? The fabric choice for the ladies was chosen to give depth and colour and also for movement as you say, although of course all dresses were crinoline underneath.

KH: What was your favourite costume to design and which costumes were the most challenging to not only create but to realize in a finished garment?

EF: The ballroom sequence was a terrific challenge but I really enjoyed all of it, my two favourite costumes in that sequence were probably those for Jennifer and David’s jewelled velvet tail coat. The trickiest pieces were most of David’s as they were designed to be highly original and didn’t always transfer from sketch to actual garment! A leather jacket with a special effect finish was particularly tricky but we got there in the end! Plus we had a load of laughs with the stretch trousers over various cod-pieces. We also tried many different hair styles and make-up effects before Jim and Brian made their final selection! To realise the characters and then have the creative freedom to add or expand my ideas is a costume designers dream and when it works it is really wonderful! It was a huge task to put it all together plus detail of jewellery, accessories and hair pieces but I loved the way it was shot.

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KH: Labyrinth is a treasured film of my youth. Looking back at the film and the experience, how do you see the work and the film today?

EF: I think Labyrinth was ahead of its time as was Dark Crystal.

KH: What aspects of costume design do you enjoy the most and do you feel that costume design is an underrated element in films, attaining the recognition it deserves?

EF: To design costume there are so many dynamics – you have to enjoy the ability to multi-task!

You must understand the person you are dressing and their bodies, their favourite parts and their insecurities so that you can give your personal touch and increase their confidence and happiness and never disturb their performance. Also it is important to know how and where to shop for everything from highly individual/ period costume /unusual accessories/ to ordinary base cloth! And then to know how to work many different effects from any base or other fabrics and add the knowledge of what works on-screen in terms of colours, textures and finishes. I enjoy all of this, regardless of the project, and I have been lucky enough to have worked on many very different projects! Each one is challenging in a different way and a lot of research is required before you start. I do think costume is valued especially when it is well done! It is as important as the script or storyline and should help to identify a character, whatever the circumstances. It is now beginning to receive the acclaim it deserves.

KH: Have you ever been approached or would you consider putting out a book of your work?

EF: The book – that seems to be a constant question. I have had several magazine features but not yet a book on my fashion and film work.

 

There you have it. I was just as surprised to get in touch with Ellis as I was to have her participate in this interview, so, I send a big thank you.

I would like to add that the questions for Ellis were prepared by my wife and I was thrilled at her response to the answers. This one’s for you baby and I am here always…

…should you need us.

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