Tag Archives: John Amos

The Safdie Brothers’ Uncut Gems

There’s a certain gleeful, masochist rush in watching a protagonist who is essentially an irredeemable piece of shit circle the proverbial drain of a self inflicted downward spiral for two hours and then, by his own hand, disappear down it. These stories are often relentlessly stressful and hellishly unpleasant and that goes to a certain degree here but because Uncut Gems is a film by Josh and Benny Safdie we are treated to something absolutely fucking spellbinding and told in such a breathless, unique fashion that the ugliness just becomes somehow tolerable. These are two filmmakers who understand movies, clearly have many films from back in the day in mind when they stylistically craft their work from credit font to score cues to editing, have a clear and inspired grasp of storytelling, sound design, music, cinematography and as such no matter how depressing, dire or distressing their films are in tone or subject matter, they are always gems themselves.

Adam Sandler acts up such a storm here I was periodically afraid that he’d have a stroke playing NYC jeweller Howard Ratner, a man with a mile wide gambling problem, apparent adrenaline addiction and a self destructive streak that blows a crater into both his personal and professional lives. Howard owes a shit ton of money to many people including loan shark Arno (Eric Bogosian, isn’t it nice to see him in stuff again?) who has dispatched his best goon Phil (Keith William Richards in a stunning debut performance) to harass, terrorize and pursue him all over the big apple. He’s got a wife (Idina Menzel) who hates him, a girlfriend (Julia Fox, who could be Debi Mazar’s daughter) who loves him, or hates him or perhaps both, she’s at that age where even she probably can differentiate between the two. He makes the mistake of showing NBA superstar Kevin Garnett (Kevin Garnett) a raw fire opal that’s worth many monies and soon it’s off to the races in a series of chases, confrontations, verbal standoffs, close quarters violence and scenes of irresponsible gambling that most definitely don’t fall into the ‘know your limit, play within it category.’ Howard is addicted to the mad rush of the bet, so much so that he’s willing to put his life, marriage, relationship and entire career on the line nearly without hesitation and if you’ve reached that point in your addiction, well… you are past the event horizon the way I see it.

The Safdie brothers have a way of bringing their environments, namely New York City, thrillingly alive in ways that one might not always think to infuse into the art of motion picture. Their casting is a deft mix of beloved Hollywood talent and people right off the streets that have no experience acting whatsoever, a choice that could cause tonal clashes in someone else’s hands but for them seems effortless and simply the way they were meant to make films. Take Phil for example, the violent goon who chases Howard until he’s simply had enough of his bullshit and provides the films biggest WTF surprise. Apparently they just spotted non-actor Williams heading to the L train in NYC and casted him right from there, or so the IMDb trivia page claims. The guy is pure fucking charisma, with touches of Frank Gorshin, Michael Rooker but possessing his own ruthless tough guy essence that doesn’t just steal scenes, but murders them with sinewy, real world magnetism. Hollywood’s highest paid casting director wishes they found this guy. Innovation and inspiration like that is what has put these two filmmakers ahead of the pack so far in their work. Gotta mention the score by their collaborator Daniel Lopatin too, for a film grounded on the streets of NYC there’s a beautifully ethereal nature to this composition full of swoops, swirls, synths, hisses, surprise choral passages and experimental sensibilities that tie into the intro and outro of the film, both presented in abstract form and are two of the most wonderful sustained transitions I’ve ever seen used to tell a story. Great film.

-Nate Hill

John Flynn’s Lock Up

John Flynn’s Lock Up is a great early Sylvester Stallone prison flick, back in the late 80’s heyday of the action genre where envelopes were pushed, no punches were pulled and rough, brutal scripts were green-lit on the daily. Stallone plays Frank Leone, a genuinely likeable guy who has a few weeks left on a sentence that resulted from a trumped up charge to begin with, and he’s ready to get out. Donald Sutherland’s Drumgool, the new warden, has other plans though, as the two of them have a rocky past and he has nothing but contempt for Frank. This spurs an onslaught of ruthless, bloody prison violence, yard fights, shankings, betrayal and riots as sneering sociopath Sutherland does his best to ensure that Stallone never again breathes free air. The film is so charged up and cold blooded it’s almost comical at times, but always enjoyable and hard hitting. Director Flynn is responsible for stuff like the Steven Seagal bone cruncher Out For Justice and notorious 70’s exploitation flick Rolling Thunder, so grit and machismo are par for the course and then some. Sutherland just goes above and beyond as Drumgool, it’s one of the great under-sung villain performances in the genre, the guy is fucking evil personified and the legendary actor eats up every frame of screentime, demolishing scene partners left and right with that leering glare and slate granite drawl. John Amos scores as the incredibly stoic captain of the guard, there’s great work from Sonny Landham, Darlene Fluegel, Frank McRae, Larry Romano, Danny Trejo and a stunning film debut by Tom Sizemore, already a scene stealer as a fast talking con who plays sidekick to Stallone. You won’t often hear this mentioned in the prison flick round table discussion but it’s really one of the best out there, rough and ready to brawl, with a galvanized steel veneer over the fight sequences, hard bitten performances, nice moments of fleeting humour and no shortage of breathless, pulverizing violence.

-Nate Hill

“I’m gonna do something far worse than kill you”: Remembering Ricochet with Russell Mulcahy by Kent Hill

Among the flurry of big action movies that graced our screens from the late 80’s and into the 90’s, it was easy to see how some lost their way to an audience. But thanks to video, these movies that did not enjoy a successful theatrical release were quickly rediscovered on VHS, and some might say because of it, they have endured long after they could have so easily vanished.

They say all a movie cheerfully needs is a man with a vision, and the talented former music video genius turned Hollywood go-to guy for stunning visuals and artful storytelling was looking for exactly that – another story to tell. Russell Mulcahy had made a name for himself long before he directed a little movie called Highlander, but he had just come off of an unpleasant experience directing that film’s sequel when the script for an action/thriller, Ricochet, came across his desk.

The film was being produced by the legendary, machine gun-mouthed Joel Silver and was fixed by the man, Steven E. de Souza, who would eventually pen Die Hard. It would be headlined by the talented John Lithgow and future Academy Award winner Denzel Washington.

Washington plays Nick Styles, a cop on the L.A.P.D. At a carnival, criminal Earl Talbot (Lithgow) takes a hostage after a botched drug deal. Styles and Blake confront each other, during which Blake is wounded by Styles and is  imprisoned. Seven years later, Blake escapes and begins to carry out his revenge against Styles, which centers predominantly around destroying his life and career.

It’s a fast-paced, fun ride as Lithgow turns Washington’s world upside down. It is also a film of excellent performances from the whole cast. Lithgow is such a delicious villain and the ever solid Washington exudes the charisma which would see his career skyrocket over the following years.

Russell’s direction, as ever, is stunning, fluid, and he captures action like few other directors. It was really cool to sit down and have a chat with him while taking a break from working on his new film here, in the great down under; and, I’m happy to report, like most of the cool filmmakers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to, you always get more than you hoped for. Russell told me about an upcoming re-release of his debut feature Razorback and it’s hard not to touch on the subject of his cult classic Highlander. You’ve probably heard all the stories by now – but it is a far different experience when they are recalled for you by the man himself.

I really love Ricochet and I always enjoy talking to Russell, so this one was a real pleasure to bring to you. If you’ve not seen Ricochet then go to it, you won’t be disappointed. It is out there on DVD, but if you can, check out the Blu-Ray for the film in all its true visual splendor.

Mulcahy on Ricochet. Press Play…