Tag Archives: John Lithgow

“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

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The Puppet Master: An Interview with Kevin McTurk by Kent Hill

They say in the film business, never work with children or animals. Of course you may find yourself working with dinosaurs, aliens, lions, beast-people, scrunts, kothogas, ghosts, morlocks, Batman, Spiderman, Hellboy, kaijus, wolfmen, clones, cliffhangers, vampires, giant crocodiles, homicidal maniacs, killer sheep, Predators, cowboys and mysterious brides out to Kill Bill.

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? But that’s just some of the astounding creations and magnificent beasts that Kevin McTurk has encountered in his eclectic career in the realms of special effects.

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Working under the banners of legends like Stan Winston, Jim Henson and the new titans like Weta Workshop, Kevin has had his hand in erecting and simulating everything from the real world as he has from empires extraordinary. And, while I could have spent the entirety of our chat talking about his adventures working on the countless films, which are favourites of mine, he has in his CV, his impressive effects background is only part of the story.

For Kevin McTurk is a bold and visionary filmmaker in his own right. His puppet films, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, The Mill at Calder’s End and now The (forthcoming) Haunted Swordsman are exercises in capturing a style from a bygone era with modern filmmaking techniques. The results are beautiful, not only in their aesthetic quality, but in the level of excellence from the many different disciplines on display.

There is still time for you to join Kevin in his latest cinematic offering (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/935772123/the-haunted-swordsman-a-ghost-story-puppet-film), and to listen in now to the man himself talk about his movies, influences and career.

I give you the talented Mr. McTurk.

Visit Kevin’s website for more: http://www.thespiritcabinet.com/

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A Civil Action


A Civil Action is a quiet, sobering tale of gross corporate evils and one lawyer with the stones to stand up to it all. John Travolta can be the skeeviest slimeball, the most affable Everyman, terrifying arch villain or unwavering hero in his work, he’s just that adaptable. His character here is a small time lawyer in a four partner firm that can barely afford a collective pot to piss in, and are in dire need of a case. In a local county, there’s suspicion of a factory dumping lethal toxic waste into the nearby rivers, causing the death, illness and birth defects among many children. Problem is, it’s a ruthlessly expensive case that could bankrupt their entire firm, and the rival lawyer (Robert Duvall) is an Ivy League bigwig who could bury them. Travolta is steadfast though, calmly and methodically tackling one obstacle at a time with compassion for the victims, determination to smoke out the corruption and a reserved charm that puts the film in a relaxed yet pressing groove. The cast here is absolutely unreal as well. Standouts include James Gandolfini and David Thornton in heartbreaking turns as blue collar workers affected by these misdeeds, Dan Hedaya as a malicious perpetrator, William H. Macy and Tony Shaloub as Travolta’s firm partners, Daniel Von Bargen as a belligerent witness, as well as further work from John Lithgow, Harry Dean Stanton, Zelijko Ivanek, Mary Mara, Sydney Pollack, Stephen Fry, Paul Ben Victor, Michael P. Byrne, Josh Pais and more. It’s never too hectic though, despite having so many characters and being a courtroom drama, a sub genre usually steeped in fire and brimstone melodrama. There’s a sad, quiet aura to the proceedings here. The damage is done, and all these people are looking for is a little recognition, compassion and a settlement to ease the strife thrown at them by a very callous and uncaring bunch of people. Travolta is the harbinger of catharsis, a warmhearted man who gets invested in so deep that it isn’t about the money anymore for him, it’s about helping those in need. Powerful, understated stuff. 

-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…

The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension: A Review by Nate Hill

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The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. There’s a title, eh? The film lives up to it too, and is simply one of the most unique, bizarre and original sci fi flicks out there. It’s the very definition of cult to its abstract bones, filled to the brim with eccentricities and idiosyncrasies. For me it represents a certain genre niche that’s nestled squarely in goofball mode, splayed out across the borders of science fiction, comedy and farce, without a care in the world and not an iota of self consciousness or any fucks given. Call it Buck Rogers meets The Avengers meets Bonanza doesn’t even scratch the surface. Peter Weller, that eternally cool bastard, plays Buckaroo Banzai, who is somewhat of a renaissance man. He’s a neurosurgeon, a rock star, a scientist and above all a lover of adventure, always sporting Weller’s unmistakable deadpan charm. Buckaroo and his band are also a crime fighting team called The Hong Kong Cavaliers, and include roughneck but lovable cowboy Rawhide (Clancy Brown) and slick New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum). Buck has perfected a device called the oscillation overthruster, which allows him to travel through solid matter and on into the eighth dimension. Only problem is, the red lectroids, an alien race from planet 10, want to steal the device for their own. They are led by an unbelievably funny John Lithgow who gets the spirit of the film and then some. Buck also finds romance with the adorable Penny Priddy (Ellen Barkin), whisking her off into super sonic adventure with him and the Cavaliers. It’s beyond silly, super arbitrary and random, and I love every glorious unfiltered minute of it. This type of wantonly bizarre stuff is my cinematic bread and butter, especially  when it’s done with such pep in its step, as well ass love and commitment to being an oddball venture. The cast is huge and all in that loopy sleep deprived state where everything is funny and strange organic creation comes from the abstract. Watch for Dan Hedaya, Lewis Smith, Pepe Serna, Vincent Schiavelli, Jonathan Banks, John Ashton and Christopher Lloyd too. A wacky gem with a style all its own, constantly tapped into a well of creation, humour and fun.

Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger: A Review by Nate Hill

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Renny Harlin’s Cliffhanger is to this day one the best and most exhilarating action films of the 1990’s. It’s big, bold and full of protein for lovers oft the genre. From the lively villain to the unbelievable stunts to the set pieces, it’s a tough package to beat. A stunning, vertigo inducing opener set high atop a snowy peak that ends in tragedy. A breathtaking airial heist carried out between two planes via cable wire. A whopper of a helicopter crash. Countless bone snapping, visceral hand to hand combat scenes. The list goes on. Sylvester Stallone puts his physique to great use as Gabe Walker, a rock climbing mountaineer guide who is accidentally responsible for the falling death of his best friend’s girlfriend. His buddy Hal (Michael Rooker) blames him no end, and he leaves in personal disgrace. Elsewhere, ruthless backstabbing psychopath Eric Qualen,  (John Lithgow) leads a team of dangerous mercenaries through aforementioned heist, plundering millions from a US treasury department plane and disappearing into the snowy desolation. Soon they come across Hal and a group of people touring the region, who are soon hostages. Word somehow gets out to Stallone and he’s back in business, out for redemption and then chance to brutally dispatch this gang of snow pirates. The action, refreshingly absent of digital gimmicks, packs one hell of a punch. Every fight scene feels breathless, dangerous and desperate. Every blow is thunderously felt, courtesy of director Harlin’s commitment to his work and the efforts of a stellar stunt team. Stallone isna beast and I forget that every time I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s almost as big as the mountains he scales here and each and every bad guy damn well finds this out. Rooker is as intense as he always is, love the guy. Lithgow is a freaking villain for the ages, in a role intended first for David Bowie, then Christopher Walken. I’m glad the ball ended up in his court, because he subsequently knocks it back out of the park with his cold blooded, deliciously evil performance. He makes Qualen so scary and merciless that even his own people get the jitters around him. There’s also work from Rex Linn, Caroline Goodall, Craig Fairbrass, Max Perlich, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, Don S. Davis, Bruce McGill and Janine Turner. This is just one of the finest action movies to ever swing into theatres or onto dvd. Brutal, scenic, adventurous, exciting, violent, snowy, just plain kick ass. If you don’t like this movie, you don’t like ice cream.